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This week in the ACC: Duke and Virginia struggle to stay on track before conference play

Most of the ACC’s teams are doing well in non-conference play, but the Duke Blue Devils and Virginia Cavaliers are struggling.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Albany Regional-Duke vs Connecticut
Duke forward Leaonna Odom hopes to get the Blue Devils in better form before conference play starts next week.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC remains women’s college basketball’s top conference from top to bottom. Three teams — the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals, the No. 9 NC State Wolfpack and the Virginia Tech Hokies — are still undefeated heading into the last weekend of the year. In addition, three more ACC teams with one loss are ranked: the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the No. 15 Syracuse Orange and the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes.

Though most of the ACC’s teams are well above .500, two teams are having down starts for their standards: the Duke Blue Devils (6-4) and Virginia Cavaliers (5-7).

Duke has had a challenging non-conference schedule, losing to ranked opponents including then-No. 21 Missouri on Nov. 25 and No. 11 Oregon State last Thursday. For the Blue Devils, redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki and junior forward Leaonna Odom are averaging 16.7 and 16 points per game, respectively. The Blue Devils were projected to finish just sixth in the ACC in preseason polls, but it is still a bit disappointing to see Duke struggling to stay above .500 in non-conference play when most major-conference teams are able to pad their regular-season records a bit before entering the conference season.

The Virginia Cavaliers are having a rougher start and are the only ACC with a losing regular-season record. They had a solid 74-67 victory over USF last Friday, but they lost two consecutive games which included a 57-44 loss to Big South team Radford on Dec. 8 and a 64-52 defeat to Alabama on Dec. 20. These losses raise questions regarding how well the Cavaliers expect to be once ACC play begins.

For UVA, juniors Jocelyn Willoughby and Dominique Toussaint are averaging 12.9 and 11.3 points per game, respectively. Both are still getting adjusted in new head coach Tina Thompson’s system, so perhaps they will continue to improve once conference play begins.

Games of the week

Here are three games to watch this weekend before non-conference play comes to an end.

Duke Blue Devils (6-4) vs. East Carolina Pirates (9-2)

When: Thursday, Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC | TICKETS

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: The ECU Pirates have done very well so far in the non-conference season, though their losses to William and Mary on Nov. 27 and Charlotte on Dec. 1 were particularly unimpressive. Since Duke hasn’t played great this season, this is a chance for the Pirates to get a second win over an ACC team. Their first was against Wake Forest on Nov. 24.

No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-1) vs. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (8-2)

When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, IN | TICKETS

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: The Irish finish their non-conference schedule with a match against Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks were just 15-15 last season but have raced to a very strong start in their 2018-19 non-conference schedule. Lehigh hasn’t played any major-conference opponents besides a 70-48 loss to Villanova on Nov. 16. Notre Dame should win this game comfortably, but Lehigh could make things interesting in the beginning while everyone is still fresh.

Virginia Cavaliers (5-7) vs. Charlotte 49ers (7-3)

When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 2 p.m. ET

Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA | TICKETS

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: The 49ers have fared well against most of the mid-major conferences they played against so far this season and lost to Wake Forest on Dec. 5 in their only match against a major-conference opponent. The Cavaliers should be the favorites, but after their loss to Radford earlier this month, it would not be a surprise to see them lose this one.

ACC schedule and results