01/28/11 — Stevens: ACC's Big Four still have plenty of time to grow

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Stevens: ACC's Big Four still have plenty of time to grow

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 28, 2011 1:47 PM

Roughly two months into college basketball season, contenders and pretenders have separated themselves, story lines have developed and conference races have heated up.

Atlantic Coast Conference play is in full swing and it's time to hand out some mid-season report cards to North Carolina's four ACC schools.

Duke (18-1, 5-1 ACC)

Strengths: Duke continues to ride the offensive production of seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Smith and Singler average 20 and 18 points per game respectively.

The Blue Devils lead the ACC in scoring offense, free throw percentage and field goal percentage. Sophomore forward Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 20 points in Duke's win at Wake Forest on Saturday. If Kelly can continue to develop into a consistent scorer, the Blue Devils' already formidable offense becomes that much more potent.

A trip to Maryland and two meetings with North Carolina are Duke's biggest hurdles remaining in the regular season.

Weaknesses: The loss of big men Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas to graduation is an absence Duke has yet to fill. Brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee don't bring the same physicality that Zoubek and Thomas delivered on the interior. Sophomore guards Andre Dawkins (10 ppg) and Seth Curry (7 ppg) have yet to develop into the scorers head coach Mike Krzyzewski had hoped they would be.

Mid-term grade: A -

UNC (14-5, 4-1)

Strengths: Carolina's roster full of underclassmen continues to mature and develop. The Tar Heels have just two seniors and six freshmen and sophomores.

The ACC leaders in offensive rebounds, Carolina continues to get consistent production out of big men Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Zeller leads the Tar Heels in scoring at 14 points a game, while Henson adds 10 points a contest.

Weaknesses: The Tar Heels are 11th in the ACC in free throw percentage and none of North Carolina's guards are averaging double figures in scoring.

UNC looked like an NCAA tournament worthy team in a win over Kentucky in December and a two-point loss to Texas. A head-scratching 20-point loss at Georgia Tech, and back-to-back early-season losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt exposed plenty of room for improvement.

Mid-term grade: B+

N.C. State (12-8, 2-4)

Strengths: The Wolfpack continue to receive balanced scoring with four different players averaging double figures. N.C. State is among the top-seven in the ACC in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, offensive rebounds, points per game and free throw percentage.

Forward Tracy Smith leads the Wolfpack with 15 points and five rebounds a game.

Weaknesses: N.C. State saw a 19-point lead disappear in a loss at Clemson on Tuesday night that dropped the Wolfpack to 2-4 in ACC play. Chances to get back into the thick of the conference race and bolster State's NCAA resume remain with two meetings with North Carolina, trips to Duke and Maryland; and a home game with Florida State still left on the schedule.

Mid-term grade: C

Wake Forest (7-13, 0-5)

Strengths: Finding a silver lining to Wake Forest's season at this point is no easier than the Demon Deacons earning a win over the last month and a half of the season will be. Perhaps the lone bright spot to a forgettable season is a team full of freshmen and sophomores who can only grow and improve through adversity.

Weaknesses: The Demon Deacons rank last in the ACC in nearly every major statistical category. Wake Forest's last win came on Jan. 5 against High Point. First-year head coach Jeff Bzdelik better hang on to that game tape, it may be the Deacons' last win of the season.

Mid-term grade: F