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 today when they try to knock off the conference leaders and prevent the No. 14 Hurricanes from earning their first win in Raleigh.
NC 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.
NC 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.
No. 14 Miami (16-3, 7-0 ACC) at No. 19 NC State (16-5, 5-3 ACC)
Game time: Saturday, Feb. 2, 4 p.m. — PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
PG — 2 Lorenzo Brown (6-5, 186, Jr., 12.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.9 apg, 2.1 spg) or 0 Rodney Purvis (6-3, 195, Fr., 9.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.7 apg)
PF — 5 C.J. Leslie (6-9, 200, Jr., 15.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg)
C — 1 Richard Howell (6-8, 257, Sr., 12.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 bpg)
PG — 0 Shane Larkin (5-11, 176, Soph., 12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.2 spg)
SG — 1 Durand Scott (6-5, 203, Sr., 13.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.8 spg)
SF — 4 Trey McKinney Jones (6-5, 220, R-Sr., 10.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 19. apg)
PF — 35 Kenny Kadji (6-11, 242, R-Sr., 13.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.5 bpg)
C — 45 Julian Gamble (6-10, 250, 6th-Sr., 6.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg)
Location: Coral Gables, Fla.
2011-12 record: 20-13 overall, 9-7 ACC
2012 postseason: Lost 78-60 to Minnesota in the second round of the NIT Tournament
Coach: Jim Larranaga 27th season overall (486-337) and second season at Miami (36-20)
Series: NC State leads 9-4
Last meeting: NC State won 77-73 on Feb. 29, 2012, in Raleigh
Miami: Senior combo guard Durand Scott, who is 6-5 and 203 pounds, has averaged in double figures all four years at Miami. He played point guard until midway through his junior year when then-freshman Shane Larkin took over the duties. Scott had a season-high 25 points Jan. 23 in the 90-63 thrashing of Duke, and he scored 20 points in a 73-58 win at Hawaii Dec. 23. Scott has scored at least 11 points in all but three games … Fifth-year senior power forward/center Kenny Kadji held down the fort inside when fifth-year senior center Reggie Johnson was out with a thumb injury. Kadji has four double-doubles, including 11 points and 14 boards in a 62-49 win at Georgia Tech on Jan. 5. The Florida transfer is shooting 35.4 percent from three-point land, which is down from 41.8 percent last year. Kadji had 22 points against Duke, and 19 points in a 69-50 loss against Arizona Dec. 23. He added 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in a 68-59 win at North Carolina Jan. 10 … Durham, N.C., native Julian Gamble, a rare sixth-year senior, has 13 starts in place of Johnson. Gamble had 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks at UNC, and had eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks the next game in a 54-47 win over Maryland Jan. 13. Gamble also had 16 points and 13 rebounds against Hawaii … Fifth-year senior Trey McKinney-Jones, a transfer from Missouri-Kansas City, is shooting 40.8 percent from three-point range, shot 5 of 7 from beyond the arc for 18 points in a 67-59 win over Michigan State Nov. 28 and went 4 of 5 on three-pointers for 14 points in a 76-59 win over La Salle Jan. 2 … Larkin originally signed with DePaul, but ended up at Miami. The son of MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is shooting an impressive 41.0 percent from three-point land. He scored 27 points and had five assists in a 73-57 win over Jacksonville Nov. 16, and he had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Duke. He had 25 points and went 5 of 10 on three-pointers in a 73-64 win at Virginia Tech on Jan. 30. The speedy Larkin has scored in double figures in all but five games … Johnson injured his thumb and had been out since the Central Florida game Dec. 18, before coming back to play 16 minutes against Duke. The 6-10, 292-pounder from Winston-Salem (N.C.) Prep, is averaging 9.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in 10 contests. Johnson averaged 10.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in a suspension-shortened 23-game redshirt junior season … Junior shooting guard Rion Brown has started five games, and had 22 points and went 4 of 6 on three-pointers in a 62-49 win at Georgia Tech Jan. 5. The 6-6, 200-pounder is averaging 6.1 points per game, but is shooting 23.2 percent from three-point land, down from 39.4 percent last year … Senior wing Garrius Adams from Apex (N.C.) Middle Creek is likely out for the season with a knee injury … Raleigh Word of God product Bishop Daniels left the program in late December after playing in three games.