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ACC Preview: Cardinals are the favorites, but Seminoles and Wolfpack are nipping at their heels

The No. 7 Louisville Cardinals appear beatable, while the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles made program history with a 13-0 start to the season before losing to Syracuse on Thursday. The No. 9 NC State Wolfpack remain undefeated, plus more in ACC play!

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 31 Div I Women’s Championship - Quarterfinals - Connecticut v Louisville
The Louisville Cardinals need guard Dana Evans to be at her best in ACC play.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the Notre Dame Fighting Irish losing so much of their talent to the WNBA, the Louisville Cardinals have emerged as the ACC front-runner. The Cardinals already have a win over the preseason No. 1 Oregon Ducks.

But Louisville has stumbled, with a loss to unranked Ohio State and recent close calls against the UT Martin Skyhawks and the Syracuse Orange. The Cardinals lost all-time great Asia Durr, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, so they are now somewhat vulnerable. But junior guard Dana Evans has morphed into one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation, and she is doing a pretty good job of distributing, too.

In the hunt

The Florida State Seminoles and NC State Wolfpack will try to spoil Louisville’s plans of winning the conference and both teams already have a signature win. Florida State bested then-No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies by 21 points by keeping their star player, Chennedy Carter, in check. Meanwhile, NC State defeated then-No. 9 Maryland Terrapins with a phenomenal defensive showing of their own.

Elsewhere in the ACC, the No. 23 Miami Hurricanes are not happy with where they are, having dropped five spots from where they began in the preseason poll. They climbed back into the rankings on Dec. 23, but will likely drop out again after their loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets last night. But they will always be a threat with preseason AP All-American Beatrice Mompremier on their squad.

Syracuse also was ranked in the preseason but fell even further than Miami, landing with a 6-5 record entering conference play in the aftermath of an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule. However, Syracuse did give Louisville a run for its money on the road, losing by just four points at the Yum! Center, and the Orange beat the Seminoles last night in overtime, which could lead to votes or a return to the rankings.

Sleeper

As of games played through Jan. 1, Georgia Tech (11-2) has the best defense in the conference and second-best in the nation, with 45.6 points allowed per game. They are also tied with the North Carolina Tar Heels with the fourth-best overall record among ACC teams, so look for them to do damage to some of the ranked teams — they already started with a big win over Miami last night.

Once dominant programs

Both UNC and the Duke Blue Devils were receiving votes in the preseason but the Blue Devils have fallen to 7-6 overall. Meanwhile, the Irish are 6-8 after a 2018-19 season in which they were the NCAA Tournament runner-up.

5 best matchups of ACC play

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Syracuse Orange

When: Thursday, Jan. 16, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY

How to watch/listen: ACC Network Extra/Cuse TV

Key to the matchup: Has Syracuse’s tough non-conference schedule prepared them for Georgia Tech’s elite defense?

Florida State Seminoles at Louisville Cardinals

When: Thursday, Feb. 6, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY

How to watch/listen: ACC Network/TUNEIN or Cards Radio

Key to the matchup: Can Florida State’s big three scorers (Nausia Woolfolk, Kiah Gillespie and Nicki Ekhomu) do enough damage to counter Dana Evans’ output?

Virginia Tech Hokies at Wake Forest Demon Deacons

When: Sunday, Feb. 16, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC

How to watch/listen: Virginia Tech Sports Network/TUNEIN

Key to the matchup: Can Wake Forest find a way to cool down the excellent 3-point shooting of Virginia Tech?

NC State Wolfpack at Miami Hurricanes

When: Thursday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Watsco Center in Coral Gables, FL

How to watch/listen: ACC Network/TUNEIN

Key to the matchup: The battle in the post between Elissa Cunane and Beatrice Mompremier.

Duke Blue Devils at North Carolina Tar Heels

When: Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, NC

How to watch/listen: ESPN2/Blue Devil Network or TUNEIN

Key to the matchup: Can Blue Devils star Haley Gorecki, who leads her team in points and assists and is second on the team in rebounding, step up and sway this rivalry game in favor of Duke to spoil UNC’s senior day?

Here’s a link to the full conference schedule.