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Preview: No. 3 NC State Wolfpack vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies headlines intriguing ACC matchups

Six ranked ACC teams are in action on Sunday afternoon. A showdown between No. 3 NC State and No. 13 Virginia Tech is the headliner, followed by No. 22 Florida State vs. Clemson, North Carolina vs. No. 16 Notre Dame and Boston College vs. No. 25 Syracuse.

Illinois State v NC State
NC State junior guard Saniya Rivers is introduced before a recent game.
Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The second weekend of ACC play features six top-25 teams in action, led by a high-noon showdown between the No. 3 NC Wolfpack (14-0, 2-0) and the No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2, 2-0) in Blacksburg (12 p.m. ET, ACC Network).

So far this season, the better the opponent, the better the Wolfpack play, as the nation’s third-ranked team has double-digit wins over then-No. 2 UConn and then-No. 3 Colorado.

Considering Virginia Tech began the season ranked No. 8 and was favored to win the ACC while NC State was unranked and projected to finish eighth in the conference, the Wolfpack, who admittedly have been motivated by the lack of preseason confidence in their capabilities, should enter the afternoon’s contest with extra oomph. After NC State knocked off Colorado in late November, head coach Wes Moore trumpeted:

We were picked to finish eighth in the ACC, and we weren’t ranked two weeks ago. It’s what I’ve been telling them: ‘Stay hungry, stay hungry and keep doing what you’ve been doing.’ Right now, they’re putting the team first, and not caring who gets the credit.

That attitude has carried the Wolfpack to an undefeated 14-0 mark, and it should allow them to extend their record to a perfect 15-0 on Sunday. In addition to their mentality, the Wolfpack also match up well with the Hokies. Grad center River Baldwin and grad forward Mimi Collins—at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3, respectively—possess the size and scrap to cause trouble for Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-6 star center Elizabeth Kitley. (It’s worth noting that Baldwin did depart NC State’s overtime victory over Florida State on Thursday with an injury, leaving her status for Sunday unclear.) On the perimeter, the Wolfpack similarly can use a size advantage to contain Hokie senior guard Georgia Amoore, deploying the combination of junior guard Saniya Rivers and senior guard Madison Hayes.

On offense, any of Rivers, Hayes, Baldwin and Collins, in addition to freshman guard Zoe Brooks and junior guard Aziaha James, can step up with a big scoring game, making it difficult to slow, much less stop, the Wolfpack.

Here are the other ranked teams worth watching on Sunday:

No. 22 Florida State Seminoles (11-4) vs. Clemson Tigers (8-6, 1-1)

Will Ta’Niya Latson score 30 points for the four-straight game?

The superb sophomore scorer has tallied exactly 30 points in the Seminoles’ three conference games. FSU got wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest before falling to NC State on Thursday. The ‘Noles did take the Wolfpack to overtime, with Latson helping her team overcome a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to push the game to the extra period.

Beyond Latson’s potential for another 30-ball, expect it to be an offensive affair on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, ACC Network). FSU and Clemson allow the most and second-most points per game in the conference. The Seminoles also are the second-most prolific scoring team in the ACC at 84.9 points per game, while the Tigers average a middle-of-the-pack 74.7 points per contest.

North Carolina Tarheels (10-4, 2-0) vs. No. 16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2, 1-1)

These two teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. While the Tarheels may finally be finding their stride, the Fighting Irish’s accumulation of injuries might be catching up to them.

UNC has won four-straight games, most recently dispatching Syracuse, 75-51, behind a triple-double—16 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists—from senior wing Alyssa Ustby, the first in program history. Ustby, along with senior guard Deja Kelly, grad guard Lexi Donarski and junior big Maria Gakdeng, give the Tarheels are reliable quartet of productive players.

Notre Dame, in contrast, remains without two of their expected top players, as junior guards Olivia Miles (right knee surgery) and Sonia Citron (right knee sprain) still are sidelined with injuries. The Fighting Irish also lost freshman guard Emma Risch to season-ending hip surgery. Notre Dame dropped their conference opener to Syracuse, 86-81. Against Pitt on Thursday, a game in which the Irish rotation was limited to seven players, Notre Dame blew a 20-point lead before escaping with a 71-66 win.

All this has foisted a lot of responsibility on freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo. And she’s responded, leading the conference in scoring and steals. Our ACC expert Josh Felton analyzed her effectiveness and excellence recently. However, despite all of Hidalgo’s hutzpah, it’s going to take a lot from her for Notre Dame compete with Carolina, even in South Bend (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Boston College Eagles (9-6, 1-1) vs. No. 25 Syracuse Orange (11-2, 1-1)

After opening ACC play with an upset of then-No. 13 Notre Dame, Syracuse appeared on track to upend expectations and emerge as a bona fide conference contender. Then, a Thursday road loss at UNC that saw the Syracuse score a measly six points in the pivotal third quarter threw cold water on any percolating excitement about the Orange. However, an authoritative bounce-back performance against Boston College (6 p.m. ET, ACC Network) can reignite optimism.

As has been the case since she joined the Orange last season, Syracuse’s success depends on grad guard Dyaisha Fair. The scoring dynamo had a down game against UNC, going 7-for-22 from the field and 3-for-12 from 3 as she worked her way to 17 points. However, as Josh highlighted a few weeks ago, Fair has continued to evolve into an evermore dangerous scorer because she has become a higher volume and more efficient 3-point shooter. While her percentages have dipped from her early-season apex, converting almost 38 percent of 8.4 3-point attempts per game still qualifies as excellent. If her shot is falling from behind the arc and she earns a fair share of trips to the free throw line—something that did not happen at UNC—Fair can carry the Orange to an easy home win.

Game information

No. 3 NC State Wolfpack (14-0, 2-0) vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2, 2-0)

When: Sunday, Jan. 7 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, VA

How to watch: ACC Network

No. 22 Florida State Seminoles (11-4, 2-1) vs. Clemson Tigers (8-6, 1-1)

When: Sunday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, SC

How to watch: ACC Network

North Carolina Tarheels (10-4, 2-0) vs. No. 16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2, 1-1)

When: Sunday, Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, IN

How to watch: ESPN2

Boston College Eagles (9-6, 1-1) vs. No. 25 Syracuse Orange (11-2, 1-1)

When: Sunday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. ET

Where: JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse, NY

How to watch: ACC Network