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Pitt, rest of ACC chasing blue bloods again with conference play set to start

| Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, 7:18 p.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't interested in thinking about how his latest group compares to his past teams.

Regardless, this year's team — led by senior Grayson Allen and star freshman Marvin Bagley III — sure looks like a squad set to win another ACC championship as the bulk of league play arrives this weekend.

“I've never tried to figure that out because you can't,” Krzyzewski said last week about the year-to-year comparison. “They're kids. They're human beings.

“So where are we? Are we good? Are we getting better? I can see we're better than we were against Boston College. ... I spend my time just thinking about that and trying to figure out combinations, how these guys are getting better. Because it's all new for them. They've played 13 games. It's a lot going on.”

No. 4 Duke (12-1, 0-1 ACC) has done little to undermine its preseason-favorite status beyond an 89-84 loss at Boston College on Dec. 9. That came after a demanding opening month that included a win against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago, consecutive big second-half comebacks to beat Texas and Florida in the PK80 Invitational, and a win at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Duke has played just once since the BC loss, allowing Krzyzewski to put his team through refining practice work after having little time for it in November.

The Blue Devils host No. 24 Florida State on Saturday. Pitt (8-5) plays Duke twice in January: at home Jan. 10 and Jan. 20 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Three other ACC teams are in the Top 25: No. 9 Virginia, reigning national champion North Carolina at No. 13 and No. 15 Miami.

The Tar Heels (11-2) were picked to finish second and have seen junior Luke Maye (18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds) blossom into a candidate for ACC Player of the Year. They're working to integrate Pitt graduate transfer Cameron Johnson (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), who missed the opener with a neck injury and 10 more games because of knee surgery.

The 6-foot-8 projected wing starter had 14 points and five rebounds off the bench in last weekend's win against Ohio State, though he said UNC's upset home loss to Wofford in his debut a game earlier would stay with him.

“I'll continue to try my best to give maximum effort and contribute in any way I can,” Johnson said. “I'll get back in the gym. I'll shoot more. I'll get my conditioning back up, because a loss like that, to be my first game back, it's tough.”

Johnson and North Carolina host Pitt on Feb. 3.

Here are other things to watch as ACC play begins:

Virginia's start

The ninth-ranked Cavaliers (11-1) were picked to finish sixth, but their only loss came at No. 7 West Virginia. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy (16.2 points, 45 percent from 3-point range) has taken over the offensive lead, and the always-strong defense ranks No. 1 in KenPom's adjusted efficiency rankings (86.2 points per 100 possessions).

Ranked Hurricanes

Miami (11-1) had a tough time in last week's Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, losing to New Mexico State, then falling behind by 13 early in the third-place win against Middle Tennessee. But they're on similar footing to two seasons ago when they ended up in the NCAA Sweet 16, owning a top-15 ranking as they enter ACC play at Pitt (8-5) at 4 p.m. Saturday behind Dewan Huell (13.9 points).

Cardinals settling in?

Louisville has faced plenty of turmoil under interim coach David Padgett since he replaced Rick Pitino on Sept. 29, weeks before the Hall of Fame coach was fired in the wake of a federal corruption investigation into college basketball. But the Cardinals have won six straight entering Friday's game at No. 16 Kentucky and appear to be grasping Padgett's defensive philosophy that naturally resembles Pitino's aggressive approach. “I definitely see progress,” Padgett said.

Seminoles have it tough (again)

Florida State started last year's ACC schedule with six ranked opponents in seven games. Things aren't much easier this time, with FSU following its trip to Duke with games against UNC and Miami. “In reality, you have to play them anyway,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said in shrugging off that opening stretch.

Keatts' debut

N.C. State (10-3) has a big win against then-No. 2 Arizona under new coach Kevin Keatts, who has the Wolfpack playing a more aggressive, pressing style. N.C. State will be tested immediately in ACC play with road games against Clemson and Notre Dame — which won the Maui Invitational — followed by a home game against Duke.

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