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Tobacco Road schools stumble at start of ACC play

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January 15, 2014 | Leave Comment

RALEIGH, N.C. — Looks as if there’s a dead end on Tobacco Road.

Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest entered the week a combined 3-9 in Atlantic Coast Conference play after losing on the same day for perhaps the first time in the storied history of this hoops hotbed.

The Tar Heels (10-6, 0-3) have last place all to themselves. The Blue Devils, Wolfpack and Demon Deacons (each 1-2 in the ACC) are part of an eight-team tie for next-to-last.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Monday that his team and Duke in particular “really have been pretty doggone good and have stood the test of time.”

He wonders if “this is a bad year or a bad month or a bad week or two bad games. Who knows?”

Preseason favorite Duke tumbled from No. 7 to No. 23 in two weeks after its worst start to ACC play since 2006-07.

A 13-point loss at Clemson last week prompted Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski to say “we’re not a good team right now.”

N.C. State’s 31-point loss to Virginia marked its worst loss in the 15-year history of PNC Arena.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest has dropped both of its conference road games by at least 15 points apiece and is 1-26 under fourth-year coach Jeff Bzdelik on the road in ACC play.

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was talking specifically about his team Monday, but he could have been discussing the rest of his instate rivals when he said “we had a difficult day. We’ve got to get ourselves back up.”

Part of the problem for each school has been inexperience.

The only Duke starter who was in the program as recently as 2011-12 is point guard Quinn Cook. N.C. State has only three players back from last season.

And Wake Forest has been in perpetual rebuilding mode since Bzdelik took over in 2010, with only one fourth-year scholarship senior on the roster for the second straight year.

“Even Duke — they’ve got young players,” Gottfried said. “People forget that (phenom Jabari) Parker’s a freshman and those type of things. I’m watching North Carolina and they’re playing young guys. We’re playing young guys. So sometimes you can be very high and very low.”

No team has shown more inconsistency than North Carolina — which has wins over three top-10-at-the-time teams in Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State, and losses to Belmont, UAB and every ACC team they’ve played so far.

The Tar Heels also have been dealing with NCAA distractions, announcing last month that they won’t pursue reinstatement for leading scorer P.J. Hairston after his rules violations included using rental vehicles tied to a felon and party promoter in Durham.

Guard Leslie McDonald missed the first nine games for receiving improper benefits and North Carolina has lost four of its seven games since his return.

The stat sheet points out obvious holes for each team.

No ACC team shoots better or scores more than Duke — but the Blue Devils simply haven’t been able to defend, ranking 13th in scoring defense and 14th in field goal percentage defense.

“We’re a very young team and we get predicted to do something based on me being old,” the 67-year-old Krzyzewski said after the Clemson loss. “That’s the way it is. And we have to measure up to something we probably weren’t good enough to do to begin with.”

North Carolina is the ACC’s top offensive rebounding team — but the Tar Heels, the league’s worst team from the free-throw line, are 14th in rebounding defense and have lost five games by six or fewer points.

“We just need to get better in so many different areas,” Williams said. “You’re not going to just get your teeth cleaned. You’re going to go get some work done on every tooth.”

N.C. State ranks 14th in 3-point shooting and 13th in rebounding margin. Wake Forest is 14th in free-throw shooting, 12th in defending the 3-point line and last in rebounding defense.

And everything came together last Saturday in a decidedly imperfect storm.

At the same time North Carolina lost by 12 at Syracuse, Wake Forest fell by 15 points at Pittsburgh. Clemson used a strong second half to beat Duke 72-59 and the Wolfpack made it 0-for-4 on Tobacco Road with its 76-45 loss to Virginia.

Another instance of the four schools losing on the same day couldn’t be found. Wake Forest’s media guide doesn’t list complete dates of games played before the 1950-51 season and N.C. State’s doesn’t before 1946-47.

If nothing else, all four won’t lose on any day this week — because they’re going to play each other.

N.C. State visits Wake Forest on Wednesday night and plays at Duke on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of success with these programs, and it’s stood the test of time,” Williams said. “So my first inclination would be to say, ‘Let’s not bury us yet.’”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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