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Preview: No. 9 NC State, No. 13 Florida State battle for ACC second seed

The No. 9 NC State Wolfpack and No. 13 Florida State Seminoles square off in a matchup of two Top 25 teams. Which will assert itself as the second-best team in the ACC?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament - Notre Dame vs UNC
Nicki Ekhomu (right) is guarded by Kai Crutchfield (left) and Elissa Cunane (center) during last season’s ACC Tournament.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 9 NC State Wolfpack (15-1, 4-1 ACC) and No. 13 Florida State Seminoles (15-2, 4-2 ACC) are expected to be the next best teams in the ACC after the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals. From there, it’s a big drop-off in the national rankings, with no other ACC teams featured in the AP Poll Top 25.

Rankings aside, the conference has a lot of parity right now. NC State was upset by the unranked UNC Tar Heels a week ago. The Tar Heels are a solid 12-4 but the Wolfpack’s loss to them will still leave a blemish on NC State’s resume.

Highlights: Wolfpack fall to Tar Heels in 66-60 affair

Meanwhile, the Seminoles have picked up two losses in January — one to a Syracuse Orange team that had high expectations coming into the season but is now unranked and the other to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who have surprised the conference with a 4-1 start in ACC play. The Yellow Jackets join the three ranked teams as the top four teams in the ACC standings.

Highlights: Seminoles were forced into 21 turnovers to the Yellow Jackets’ nine in 67-52 loss

A lot of parity exists outside of the ACC, so it’s important to get as many resume wins as possible. That means today’s 6 p.m. ET bout between Florida State and NC State is going to be important for both teams.

Wolfpack center Elissa Cunane is the top scorer entering the contest, with 17.2 points per game. Florida State, however, scores more points per game as team — and the Seminoles are led by the three-headed monster of Kiah Gillespie, Nausia Woolfolk and Nicki Ekhomu. Each member of that trio averages between 14 points and 16 points per game.

NC State was the last undefeated team in the nation last year before losing to UNC but was thought by many to be overrated because the team had not faced Top 25 competition. This time, the Wolfpack entered conference play with a key win over then-No. 9 Maryland Terrapins. NC State then went as far as it was supposed to in the NCAA Tournament as a three seed before bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen. This year, the Wolfpack had been hoping to avoid upsets in ACC play but fell to the Tar Heels again, this time in their fourth conference game.

NC State bounced back from the loss with a dominant win on Sunday over the struggling Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a contest that saw Cunane record a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double. The sophomore sensation went 8-of-10 from the floor, 2-of-2 from 3-point range and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. Cunane was held to just eight points against North Carolina, though, and took one more shot from the field than she did against Notre Dame. Thus, it wasn’t an issue of the rest of the Wolfpack not getting her the ball. Cunane will need to avoid a repeat of that 3-of-11 outing to help her team get past the Seminoles.

The Seminoles are coming off a 14-point win over UNC in which Woolfolk and Ekhomu both scored 20-plus points. They have the 23rd best offense in the nation, averaging 77.2 points per game, but it’s no secret that the Seminoles lack great scorers outside of their big three. The same is true for NC State outside of Cunane. The rest of the Wolfpack’s starting lineup (which has been the same in all 16 games) needs to be on top of its game, too. If there’s one player who might be up to the task it’s junior guard Kai Crutchfield, who stepped up while under pressure against Maryland to help the Terrapins seal a big-time win.

Game information

No. 13 Florida State vs. No. 9 NC State Wolfpack

When: Thursday, Jan. 16, at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh, NC

How to watch/listen: ACC Network/Go Pack All-Access or TUNEIN