Virginia-Florida St. Preview
By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- Mainstays North Carolina and Duke unsurprisingly sit atop the ACC standings, though upstarts Florida State and Virginia are just as much a part of the race.
The 21st-ranked Seminoles try to maintain at least a share of first Saturday with a seventh straight win overall and ninth consecutive home victory over the 16th-ranked Cavaliers, who can pull even with the Seminoles in the ACC race.
Florida State (15-6, 6-1) is tied with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils - teams it has already upset - for first place after a 68-54 win over last-place Georgia Tech on Wednesday, its sixth consecutive win.
Coming off a six-day layoff, the Seminoles trailed by a point at halftime before shaking off the rust and pulling away behind a game-high 21 points from Michael Snaer.
Coach Leonard Hamilton said his team should prepare for more tough games given its surprising place in the conference standings.
"This was a good opportunity for us to get that feel of what it's going to be like when people are going to be playing you when you are in first place in a league that is as talented and as well coached as the ACC," said Hamilton, whose team could grab sole possession of first place with a win and a North Carolina loss at Maryland on Saturday.
"We are in a position that we have never been in before ... at the top of the heap and people are wanting to get to that type of spot."
One such team is Virginia (18-3, 5-2), which is seeking a fourth consecutive victory after holding off Clemson 65-61 on Tuesday. Mike Scott scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Joe Harris had a season-high 19 points.
The two used an inside-outside attack, feeding off each other's strengths. Harris, who hit 5 of 6 from 3-point range, found himself open outside when Clemson focused on Scott down low.
"Mike, he just kind of opens up everything for everybody because most teams are so focused on stopping him, and they're bringing two guys and all the other defenders, their eyes are on the ball when Mike has it," Harris said. "And he does a great job of finding the open guys."
Scott praised Harris' ability to help take the pressure off him as well.
"It's pretty easy because now teams are worried about Joe now and they're forgetting about me, or they're worried about me and forgetting about Joe," Scott said.
Virginia, which is second in the nation in scoring defense (51.1 points per game), has made a habit of playing close games in conference play. Five of its contests have been decided by four points or fewer.
Florida State, meanwhile, has won four ACC games by double digits, and the Cavaliers will have to prevent the Seminoles from running away if they're to win their first road game in the series since a 69-66 victory Feb. 17, 2001.
Florida State has won five consecutive meetings overall, including a 63-56 home victory in the most recent meeting Feb. 12, when Snaer led the Seminoles with 16 points while Harris and Sammy Zeglinski combined for 36.
This will be the first matchup with both teams ranked in the AP poll since No. 10 Florida State beat No. 24 Virginia 99-84 on Feb. 8, 1993.
Updated February 3, 2012