With only two weekends and three games remaining in the regular season, it's time to begin looking at which teams have already done enough to punch a dance card for March, which still have some work left to do and which need a miracle four-game run in the ACC tournament to continue their dancing beyond this year's ACC tournament site, Atlanta.
North Carolina (24-3, 10-3 ACC, RPI: 3, SOS: 19) The Tar Heels practically came into the season with their ticket punched -- if that is even possible. The Heels are currently slated to be a No. 1 seed with only a surprising collapse keeping them from it. Since they are North Carolina's best team, look for them to get a short trip to Greensboro in the first round.
Duke (22-5, 9-4 ACC, RPI: 4, SOS: 8) The Blue Devils are also a certified lock to be in the tournament, although their seeding is up for some debate. Currently they're the second best team in the ACC, which should have them earning at least a three seed and likely a two seed. Their play has strengthened considerably since their 2-4 swoon, winning against Wake Forest and on the road against an improved Maryland squad. If the Devils' continue their strong play look for them to solidify a No. 2 seed and an assured trip to Greensboro.
Wake Forest (22-5, 8-5 ACC, RPI: 18, SOS: 71) The Demon Deacons are in the same position as Duke, except they lost the more recent match-up between the two teams.
TV/RAYCOM - N.C. State hung around...and hung around Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum Thursday night. But, in the end, the Wolfpack could not overcome a stellar night by Wake Forest sophomore forward James Johnson as the Demon Deacons avenged their Feb. 11 loss in Raleigh with a 85-78 victory.
Johnson scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to pace the 13th-ranked Demon Deacons, who improved to 21-5 on the season (yet only 8-5 in conference play). Ishmael Smith came off the bench with a season-high 18 points, and center Chas McFarland added 15 points. For the game, Wake Forest shot 52.5 percent from the field and, most significantly, out-rebounded N.C. State 41-25.
Still, the Wolfpack had their chances.
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—A charged, playoff-like atmosphere, a 2-1 decision, excellent goaltending at both ends, Buffalo fans being escorted away from the game…it was just like old times at the RBC Center. Cam Ward stopped 36 shots and the Hurricanes walked away with the extra point as a result of Jussi Jokinen’s shootout brilliance. The ‘Canes needed to win this one in regulation to jump ahead of Buffalo in the standings, but instead pulled into a tie for eighth place. During the regular season, games played act as the first tie-breaker, and Buffalo has one game in hand.
You have to give the ‘Canes credit for being committed to their efforts, win or lose. If they win, it’s often by several goals, but if they lose, it’s a blowout. The last time a game made it to overtime was Feb. 5 at San Jose, and aside from Tuesday’s 2-goal differential, all of the games were decided by a three-goal margin or more.
SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL -- The No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels survived a late Miami push to win 90-76 on senior night.
UNC's Rashanda McCants contributed 21 points and routinely slashed to the bucket for easy scores while Cetera DeGraffenreid piled in a career-high 23 points and grabbed seven boards.
"She [DeGraffenreid] was actually sick at halftime in the locker room throwing up," head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina senior Rashanda McCants started senior night on a tear, scoring 11 points in the first half and pushing the Tar Heels to a 46-34 halftime lead against the Miami Hurricanes Thursday.
Three different seniors scored early for UNC's first six points after being honored prior to tip-off.
The No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels trailed 17-15 nearly halfway through the first half after numerous turnovers and allowing Miami to shoot wide open jumpers in transition, forcing head coach Sylvia Hatchell to burn a timeout -- a Roy Williams no-no.
Hatchell and Williams' philosophies just about only differ when it comes to timeouts. Both teams use half-court traps and the full-court press to fuel their fast-pace offense.
The Tar Heels did an excellent job keeping the Hurricanes from scoring at the rim but continued to give up wide open jump shots, allowing the Hurricanes to convert five 3-pointers, including 4-7 3-point shooting from Miami's Epiphany Woodson.
Off the bench, Jessica Breland grabbed seven rebounds and nailed several big shots for the Tar Heels and pushed the lead to 35-25 with 5:28 to play.
Defender David Stokes and goalkeeper Chris McClellan, both two-year veterans of the RailHawks, are no longer on the roster. As recently as yesterday, both players were still listed as part of the team lineup.
McClellan played every minute of every league game last year, and recorded six clean sheets.
Here's his stat line, copied from the USL Web site:
Stokes had a more erratic record with the club. He saw a lot of minutes, and had a memorable draw-saving goal against the Seattle Sounders last July 3, in the 87th minute off a Steve Curfman corner. But he also had a penchant for picking up cards, particularly red ones: He was sent off three times last year. A native of Virginia, Stokes played for three seasons with UNC-Chapel Hill before being drafted by D.C. United in 2003, the fifth player taken.
The RailHawks roster is now down to 19. A team official said that the final roster would be about 24-26 players. The maximum roster size under USL rules is 26.
The team official had no comment on the departures of McClellan and Stokes.
The last remaining major question mark from last year's RailHawks squad has been forward Dan Antoniuk. Now it seems he signed very recently with the Chicago Storm of the four-team Xtreme Soccer League.
According to this news item of Feb. 20, 2009, Antoniuk joined the team for that day's game against the Detroit Ignition and was expected to suit up as soon as he passed the physical. The Storm is two-thirds of the way through its season, which ends April 5.
The 6-foot-3 bruiser played for the ’Hawks last year after a fine 2007 with the Atlanta Silverbacks in which he notched 23 points and was a finalist for USL-1 MVP.
He didn't achieve the same level of effectiveness in 2008 with the offensively challenged RailHawks, but he and mid-season addition Hamed Diallo did establish a groove late in the year.
We didn't see Antoniuk in camp when we visited two weeks ago.
The RailHawks, with the recently signed Paul Ritchie, now have 21 players on the roster.
Coach Martin Rennie won't have the only Scottish brogue at WakeMed this summer. Today, management announced the signing of 33-year-old defender Paul Ritchie to the lineup.
Ritchie, who last played professionally two seasons ago, is a veteran of both the Scottish and English Premier Leagues, playing for Manchester City, Derby County and Portsmouth in the latter (he also played for Bolton during a period when that club played in the Championship).
According to his wikipedia bio, Ritchie's career heyday appears to have been with his first club, Heart of Midlothian of Edinburgh, Scotland, for whom he made 133 appearances in seven seasons from 1992-1999, scoring six goals.
Ritchie has seven international caps, as well—all but one earned prior to his 2000-03 stint with Manchester City, a period that seems to have been a frustrating one.
From 2004-06, Ritchie made 45 appearances with Dundee United of the SPL. Perhaps significantly, he also seems to have done some coaching with Dundee.
Ritchie last played professionally in 2006-2007, for the Cypriot side AC Omonia, in the Greek Cypriot League.
According to the Herald-Sun, NCCU, which botched its move to Division I last year (read Jaymes Powell's account in the Indy here) and found itself a pariah among the majors, adrift without a conference, will be reconsidered for membership in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference next year.
Hopefully, the move—if it transpires—will lend the program the legitimacy and recruiting clout it needs. This season, the Eagles are 2-25, and 0-18 on the road.
However, the article's sources are officials from NCCU, not MEAC.
N.C. Central plays the final home game of the season this Friday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m.
One of the Triangle’s teams was involved in a big match-up this weekend, and another’s match-up turned out to be more important than it initially seemed because of the outcome. Let’s see what the four factors tell us about both Duke and Carolina’s performances, and what we can expect from them going forward. First, I’ll look at the upset in College Park.
There is one of the four factors that is definitely the most important of them all, and the Tar Heels really hammered that point home on Saturday. Shooting can make up for a lackluster performance across the other three factors, or doom an otherwise well-played game.