Few argued when Duke vaulted twice into the No. 1 ranking this season, but North Carolina State and Miami made sure everyone realized there are other contenders within the ACC by ending those reigns.
Facing each other presents a whole new challenge for each.The 19th-ranked Wolfpack may not have starting point guard Lorenzo Brown available Saturday when they try to knock off the conference leaders and prevent the No. 14 Hurricanes from earning their first win in Raleigh.N.C. State (16-5, 5-3) became the first team to defeat Duke, earning an 84-76 home victory Jan. 12 that also knocked the Blue Devils from the top spot in the polls.After Duke regained the No. 1 ranking less than two weeks later, Miami (16-3, 7-0) made that reign short-lived with a 90-63 rout Jan. 23.While both teams added a signature victory to their resume, the Wolfpack have been inconsistent since the win while the Hurricanes have continued to surge.N.C. State is 2/3 since beating Duke, including a 58-55 loss at Virginia on Tuesday. Making matters worse, Brown sprained his left ankle after stepping on a defender's foot in the first half and has since been forced to wear a walking boot.Coach Mark Gottfried doesn't believe Brown, averaging an ACC-best 6.9 assists, will be able to play Saturday."We'll see how he feels (before the game)," Gottfried said. "The probability in my mind for him to be recovered enough to cut and move and sprint and jump is pretty slim. I think we'll have to prepare as if he's not going to play."That means shooting guard Rodney Purvis likely would move to the point while fellow freshman Tyler Lewis plays a larger role off the bench."Tyler and Rodney both have point guard experience so they need to step in there and do a good job like I know they're capable of doing," senior forward Scott Wood said.Lewis, though, averaged only 4.6 minutes while scoring a total of seven points in his previous seven games before playing 15 minutes Tuesday."Hopefully if (Brown's) not able to play we can come in and make an impact during the game," Lewis said. "We're probably not going to do as well as Zo because Zo is the best point guard in the country, but other than that it's just come in and play with a lot of confidence."The Hurricanes seem to have plenty of it, following their win over Duke with a 24-point blowout of Florida State on Sunday and a 73-64 victory at Virginia Tech on Wednesday.Shane Larkin hit a career-best five 3-pointers en route to his 25 points, two shy of his career high. He also recorded three of his 42 steals, second-most in the ACC behind Brown's 44."I think (Larkin) took it upon himself that he has to play well," said Kenny Kadji, who scored 18 points and averages a team-high 13.3. "He did everything for us."Larkin has saved some of his best games for the Hurricanes' toughest opponents. The 5-foot-11 sophomore had 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds versus Duke, and he had 15 points with clutch baskets down the stretch in a win over No. 13 Michigan State on Nov. 28.Miami has won eight straight since an overtime loss to Indiana State on Christmas Day, including four on the road."It's always fun to shush a home crowd," Larkin said.The Hurricanes, though, have dropped each of their previous six trips to Raleigh. The Wolfpack have won 13 straight at PNC Arena, beginning with a 77-73 victory over Miami in the most recent meeting Feb. 29. Kadji and Larkin combined for 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting.