Notre Dame-Virginia matchup headlines this week in ACC play
A look at things to watch this week in the Atlantic Coast Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Virginia at No. 13 Notre Dame. The Cavaliers (14-0, 2-0 ACC) enter Saturday’s game with their best start since 1980-81 while proving there was nothing fluky about last year’s run to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. With Jerian Grant back from academic suspension, Mike Brey’s surging Fighting Irish (15-1) have started league play 3-0 – something they never did during nearly two decades in the Big East – a year after going 15-17. ”They’re a proud group, man,” Brey said after Monday’s win at North Carolina.
LOOKING AHEAD: UNC (11-4, 1-1) could face another climb in the standings when it visits rival North Carolina State (11-5, 2-1) on Wednesday in a rematch of an overtime classic from 2014. The Tar Heels, who host No. 5 Louisville on Saturday, began league play 0-3 last year before regrouping for 12 straight wins that included two against the Wolfpack.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas is making a case as the ACC’s most improved player. His average of 17.3 points is up 11.5 from last year, and he is the only player among the ACC’s top five in scoring and rebounding (8.9) heading into Sunday’s game with Florida State. Coach Jim Boeheim points to big men making gradual improvements, and Christmas getting more chances with the Orange being weaker on the perimeter. ”He’s worked very hard,” Boeheim said. ”(Assistant Mike Hopkins) has done an unbelievable job in terms of getting him ready this year, and he’s responded.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: ACC schools are doing a solid job on the boards. The league boasts three of the nation’s top five teams in rebounding margin after Wednesday’s games: No. 3 Virginia (plus-12.7), No. 4 Georgia Tech (plus-10.9) and No. 5 UNC (plus-10.8). Virginia Tech (minus-3.9) is the only ACC team with a negative margin.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: With starting forward Xylina McDaniel possibly out for the season with a leg injury, Stephanie Mavunga has upped her game for No. 8 UNC. She averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 82 percent (23-for-28) in wins against East Tennessee State and N.C. State earlier this week. ”I guess the game is just coming to me more,” she said after the N.C. State win. The Tar Heels will need another big performance from the 6-foot-3 sophomore when fourth-ranked Notre Dame visits next week.
Compiled by AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary and Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina.