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This week in the ACC: North Carolina continues late-season surge by upsetting NC State

It’s unclear just how good NC State is due to their strength of schedule. Also, Virginia Tech bounces back after their rough start, and six ACC teams are ranked in the top 25.

North Carolina guard Stephanie Watts led the Tar Heels to a big win over NC State on Sunday.
Courtesy of University of North Carolina Athletics via Twitter

Last week, North Carolina defeated then-No. 1 Notre Dame 78-73. Since then, the Tar Heels have gone on a four-game winning streak that included a 64-51 win over then-No. 7 NC State on Sunday. The win over the Wolfpack is also NC State’s first loss of the 2018-19 season.

The Tar Heels won Sunday with redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 3-of-4 from the three-point line. North Carolina actually finished the first half behind 32-31, but they went on a 19-8 run in the third quarter and forced NC State to miss 12 consecutive shots.

For the Wolfpack, Kiara Leslie led with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

North Carolina still has work to do to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth in four seasons. But their latest win streak has given the Tar Heels a chance for a berth if they can finish the rest of their season strong. After a mediocre start to their season, the Tar Heels are now 14-9 overall, 5-4 in conference play and 3-2 against teams ranked in the AP top 25.

The Tar Heels will host Duke tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

Just how strong is NC State?

After their loss to the Tar Heels, the NC State Wolfpack only fell two spots to No. 9 in both of the national polls. But unlike North Carolina, the Wolfpack haven’t played a single top-25 team this season.

There is reason to believe that NC State isn’t as strong as its 21-1 record. They lost their then-leading scorer Grace Hunter for the season after she tore her ACL in a win against Duke on Jan. 3. Also, their last three wins before facing North Carolina last Sunday were by single-digit margins. There is more parity in women’s college basketball than in the past, but most top-10 teams should still be able to defeat their unranked opponents comfortably.

For the Wolfpack, five of their remaining seven games are against ranked opponents. Their first ranked opponent will be No. 24 Florida State tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

ACC games of the week

No. 15 Syracuse Orange (17-4, 6-2 ACC) vs. No. 2 Louisville Cardinals (21-1, 8-1 ACC)

When: Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: The Syracuse Orange have won two in a row against Duke and Virginia, who figure to finish at the bottom of the standings. However, they will face a tough test against Louisville, who remains one of the favorites to win the conference and even the national championship.

No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-2, 8-1 ACC) vs. No. 24 Florida State Seminoles (19-3, 7-2 ACC)

When: Sunday, Feb. 10, at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Edmund P. Joyce Center, Notre Dame, IN

How to watch: ESPN

Notes: The Irish will play the Seminoles this weekend after going on the road to face No. 25 Miami tonight. Assuming they beat the Hurricanes, a win against Florida State on Sunday will give Notre Dame a second consecutive win against a top-25 team. As for Florida State, they could have two wins against two top-10 teams in a week if they beat NC State tonight. If they win both, the Seminoles could see themselves ranked closer to the top-10 themselves.

Elsewhere in the ACC:

  • Virginia Tech has woken up after a disastrous 0-7 start in ACC play. They defeated Pittsburgh last Thursday 74-58 and beat Boston College on Feb. 3, 95-86. Senior forward Regan Magarity was the ACC Player of the Week and freshman forward Dara Mabrey was the Freshman of the Week after the Hokies’ wins.
  • Six of the 25 teams ranked in the AP and ESPN polls are from the ACC: Notre Dame, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Florida State and Miami. Florida State is the only team with a significant difference in ranking between the polls, as they are No. 24 in the AP Poll and No. 19 in the Coaches Poll.