GREENSBORO COLISEUM/GREENSBORO UNC is the pick of the Blue Ribbon panel to win the regular-season championship in ACC women's basketball.
But a lot of that, of course, is predicated on the health of senior forward Jessica Breland.
Breland (pictured at left), who was found in the off-season to be suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma, was named to the five-player preseason All-ACC team selected by the 45-member panel of school representatives as well as national and regional media.
But whether or not she plays this season is still up in the air.
"She's feeling great and she looks good," Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell said of Breland, who is undergoing a fifth month of chemotherapy. "She comes to practice and does a little bit of shooting. If I had to make a decision right this minute, I would say she's probably going to redshirt. But, the first of December doctors may say she can go. They've got a lot of testing the next few weeks, and then we'll sit down and see."
Hatchell said at ACC Women's Basketball Media Day that Breland may play in a few regular-season games before the decision is made whether or not to give her a medical redshirt.
"I told her 'If you can make All-ACC and play as well as you did as sick as you were, imagine what you can do when you're well," the coach continued. " ... I can tell you from a coach's position that for the past two years the kid has not been well. First we thought she had asthma, because she's having breathing problems and they treated that. And then she got better, and then it was the same old thing. And then we thought she had allergies and they tested her for allergies and started allergy shots and all this. And then this past year, the whole year she had breathing problems.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Joanne P. McCallie got a little creative when three members of her Duke women's basketball team were too banged up to play in the team's annual Blue/White game.
The coach invited some boys to play.
Not just any, of course, but the crew of Duke men who oppose her team in practice on a regular basis and sometimes win the battles.
The Blue Devils, ranked as high as No. 4 nationally in some preseason prognostications, led 10-1 early and 35-9 after the first of four 10-minute quarters, rolling to a 110-43 rout over a team the public address announcer occasionally referred to as the "Washington Generals."
Senior wing Bridgette Mitchell - whose career high is 20 - hit 24 points with eight rebounds and four steals in just 17 minutes to lead the charge. Jasmine Thomas, Duke's other regular returning starter added 18 points and six assists while Kathleen Scheer had 14 points including four 3-pointers, Karima Christmas chipped in 13 points and Joy Cheek 10.
Jason Pifer led the guys with eight points and nine rebounds, while three teammates chipped in six points each.
The women's team outrebounded the opposition 47-29, outshot them 58.9 percent from the floor and committed 19 turnovers to their 32. McCallie's squad was 12-for-25 from 3-point range.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Mike Krzyzewski said the reason he scheduled his Duke basketball team's first exhibition so early was because it would be on Parents' Weekend.
Maybe it's a good thing for Pfeiffer that the Blue Devils haven't been practicing all that long.
(No, I'm not going to be the Duke men's basketball beat writer for Triangle Offense. I'm just pinch-hitting. But I have done spot coverage for a long time and was actually in the house for Krzyzewski's first game as the Blue Devils' head coach, a 67-49 win over Stetson on Nov. 29, 1980.)
Duke took on an outside opponent for the first time this season and had a lot of fun, scoring the game's first 14 points and rolling to a 128-70 win over the Falcons from Conference Carolinas.
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke had had an open date to get ready for what may turn out to be its biggest game of the year.
Maryland (2-5, 1-2 ACC) is the visitor on a day when - let's hope - the rain has already fallen. The Blue Devils are 3-3, 1-1 in ACC play, and will very probably need to win this one to meet second-year coach David Cutcliffe's stated goal of an appearance in a bowl game.
To get there Duke, which hasn't made such a trip since 1994 - also the last year in which the Blue Devils beat Maryland in Durham - needs to finish at least 7-5. The seven is necessary because the win over N.C. Central, still in its transition phase from Division II to Division I's Championship Subdivision, won't count.
Representatives from the Chick-Fil-A (Atlanta) and Champs Sports (Orlando) Bowls are in the house.
It's the teams' first meeting since 2004 under the ACC's two-division alignment.
And the stadium seems to be a little over half full at kickoff in a game that's as ugly as the weather - but not on the scoreboard as Duke dodges a bullet to survive 17-13.
Duke gets some early momentum by stopping the Terps on fourth-and-short at the Blue Devils' 31, and then puts together a pretty nine-play, 69-yard march. Thaddeus Lewis hits Donovan Varner across the middle for a 24-yard touchdown, and Will Snyderwine's boot makes it 7-0 with 7:24 left in the first.
"Battle of the Sexes," anyone?
Duke women's basketball will hold its Blue/White game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
And because three players - Keturah Jackson, Shay Selby and freshman Janee Johnson - are hurt and the Blue Devils have only nine healthy team members, instead of holding their traditional intrasquad exhibition they will square off with the male Duke students who regularly provide opposition in practice.
Admission is free to the public, and all who ask at the Cameron Indoor Stadium ticket office may also have free tickets to the Blue Devils' 3 p.m. women's soccer game against Virginia Tech at Koskinen Stadium.
After the basketball game, Coach Joanne P. McCallie's team will distribute free posters and sign autographs.
Duke, which went 27-6 last season and was 14-0 at home, is ranked an average No. 5 in the country in three national publications. Junior guard Jasmine Thomas (pictured), who was named a second-team preseason All-American by The Sporting News and senior wing Bridgette Mitchell are regular returning starters from last season.
Duke's other two exhibitions - against Wingate on Nov. 5 and Alaska-Anchorage on Nov. 8 - will also be open to the public.
KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina pulled out all the stops for the visiting Florida State Seminoles.
New uniform combination. First Thursday night contest in Kenan Stadium. The best fan atmosphere since the Notre Dame victory in 2008. Oh, and a bounty of gadget plays that healed the pathetic offensive performances against UConn, Georgia Tech and Virginia.
But it wasn't enough as quarterback Christian Ponder directed a 24-point second half, including three touchdown passes. The UNC secondary looked as though it took a step back to 2008. The defense was content to stay in zone coverage and rarely showed blitzes prior to the snap.
KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL -- Both UNC and FSU took advantage of the bye week to implement new offensive formations, but through the first 30 minutes, the Tar Heels had more big plays through the air, leading to a 17-6 halftime advantage.
The Tar Heels and Seminoles motioned out of sets and ran gadget plays, which made for an entertaining half.
UNC fullback Bobby Rome competed a 31-yard pass to Greg Little off a trick play to set up the first score of the game -- a 5-yard reverse by Little.
FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins nailed two field goals, including a 26-yard kick just before halftime.
Duke hasn't been involved in a "must win" football game in quite some time.
Maybe since 1994, the last time the Blue Devils actually played in a bowl game. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the last time Duke beat Maryland at Wallace Wade Stadium.
David Cutcliffe, in his second year as head coach of a Duke program that hasn't won consistently in a generation, has set winning seasons and bowl games as his stated goal. And after his team's 49-28 victory at N.C. State two weeks ago that wasn't out of context, the chuckles have been getting more and more muffled.
Duke is 3-3, 1-1 in ACC play, and since its win over N.C. Central can't be counted toward the six wins needed for bowl eligibility Duke can go worse than 7-5 to get a football game in December.
Maryland is 2-5 and 1-2, and since the Blue Devils' other remaining opponents all have better records than Ralph Friedgen's Terps then Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game in Durham would appear to be the most likely "W" left on the schedule.
Since it's hard to see how Duke goes 4-1 in its last five after losing at home to the Terps, that makes this one a must win.
The Terps have won five straight in the series, which has not been contested since 2004 in the ACC's system of rotating cross-divisional foes.
"Our players don't know a lot about Maryland, so I did a little bit of education," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "They're used to winning championships and they're an annual bowl team and those kids are used to winning. Kids don't see much past 'now' today and all they know is Maryland has had a difficult start. But when you put on the tape they see a good football team. They've seen a lot of tape and they know what a good football team looks like and what a bad team looks like.
"A lot of people may take exception to this because of their record, but they're not a bad football team. They just haven't taken care of the ball in critical situations and that's cost them games. Both teams should be hungry for a win. This should make for a pretty good football game."
Cutcliffe said his game captains for the Maryland contest will be senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, senior defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, senior linebacker Vincent Rey and redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Kyle Hill.
North Carolina (4-2) vs. Florida State (2-4)
[8 p.m., Oct. 22, Kenan Memorial Stadium]
Televised by ESPN
The Thursday night atmosphere was supposed to be window dressing for a pivotal ACC contest midway through the season. Unfortunately for these two teams, neither has beaten an ACC foe and the loser will face an even tougher road to bowl eligibility.
UNC coach Butch Davis pitched for a Thursday night contest in Chapel Hill as part of his plan for advancing the football program. After all the fuss, a loss won't do much to further that mission.
Bobby Bowden, meanwhile, needs a victory to stop the bleeding in what could be his final season coaching.
No surprise. Triangle area players are all over the honors lists in The Sporting News' preseason college basketball magazine.
On the men's side, Duke's Kyle Singler and UNC's Ed Davis are both second-team All-Americans, and both are also on the preseason All-ACC team. N.C. Central's C.J. Wilkerson is rated as the top newcomer among Division I independents.
UNC is picked to win the ACC with Duke second and N.C. State 10th. The Tar Heels are rated No. 4 nationally and the Blue Devils eighth.
The Tar Heels' Jessica Breland is on the 10-player first women's All-America team, while Duke's Jasmine Thomas and UNC's Cetera DeGraffenreid are on the second unit and the Tar Heels' Italee Lucas on the third.
UNC 's women are rated No. 4 nationally and Duke No. 5.