Duke, UNC to host Miami, FSU in key ACC series this weekend
Both North Carolina and Duke will welcome division leaders from Florida this weekend, with their ACC and NCAA Tournament futures possibly hinging on the results.
UNC will host Atlantic Division leader Florida State at Boshamer Stadium (today at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.), while Duke will face Coastal Division leader Miami at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (today at 6 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at noon).
The Blue Devils (30-18, 15-9) are fourth in the ACC standings and the Tar Heels (29-19, 13-11 ACC) are fifth. Only the teams with the top six league records receive a bye into conference tournament pool play, while teams seeded 7-10 must compete in a play-in game. Duke visits FSU and UNC travels to Miami next weekend to conclude the regular season.
Beyond guaranteeing a longer stay in the ACC Tournament, wins against Florida State (37-11, 17-7) and Miami (35-14, 19-5) will help both local teams impress the NCAA selection committee. The Blue Devils are striving to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961, while the Tar Heels haven’t missed the event since 2001.
Duke coach Chris Pollard admits he looks at the bracket projections, which have the Blue Devils either in the field or on the verge of making it in. He and the team don’t discuss the situation, though.
The good news, Pollard and the Blue Devils say, is they have a chance to take care of things themselves on the field over the next two weeks.
“Your RPI for all of us bubble teams ebbs and flows so much,” Pollard said. “The thing that we have going for us is we’ve got six games left against top 10 RPI teams and three of those are on the road. It’s squarely in our hands.”
Pollard said he likes where the Blue Devils are mentally as they enter this important stretch leading into the ACC Tournament, even though the team is devoid of post-season experience.
“We just focus on the fun part of it,” Pollard said. “Sometimes there’s pressure in a program that goes every year because there’s an expectation there. For these guys, they feel good about themselves and the way they’ve been playing. We try to focus on that. Enjoy the way you are playing. Enjoy the journey.”
UNC coach Mike Fox said he also hasn’t talked with his team about its ACC or NCAA Tournament chances, and he doesn’t expect the players to feel any additional stress this weekend.
“I don’t think these kids feel pressure, I really don’t,” Fox said. “I think they have high expectations, but the pressure, we (coaches) probably feel it more than the players do. We have so many young guys on the team, I don’t think these freshmen quite know what’s going on.”
This will be UNC’s first weekend series against Florida State since 2010. The teams played in Tallahassee in 2011, and then weren’t scheduled to play ACC games in 2012 or 2013.
“I’ll let you know after Sunday whether it’s good to have them back on the schedule or not,” Fox said. “I always enjoy playing them. Just an unbelievably consistent program and it will be a great challenge for us.”
NOTE — Fox said that he expects leading hitter Michael Russell to be back on the field “at some point this weekend.” The junior shortstop is batting .361 and is on a 19-game hitting streak, but he was suspended from Wednesday’s win at Elon because of a violation of team rules.