DURHAM, N.C. — The ACC has spent the season regularly putting the most teams in the Top 25 and touting itself as the nation's deepest conference.
Now those teams are jostling for the ACC crown with three weeks left in the regular season.
Eighth-ranked North Carolina is still within reach of a second straight regular-season title, though its loss at Duke on Thursday night cost the Tar Heels sole possession of first place. They're tied with No. 14 FSU, while the 18th-ranked Blue Devils, No. 4 Louisville, No. 12 Virginia, Syracuse and Notre Dame lurk nearby.
The top seven teams in the 15-team league are within two games of one another. And the race isn't solely about winning the regular-season title; it's also about securing a top-four seed for next month's ACC tournament and a double-round bye.
UNC (21-4, 9-3) and FSU (21-5, 9-3) have had their only meeting this season, a 96-83 Heels win on Jan. 14 to claim the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But FSU — which won the ACC tournament in 2012 but has never won the regular-season crown — has already emerged from the toughest part of its schedule, going 5-1 in a stretch of six straight games against ranked teams. The Seminoles play at Notre Dame at 6 tonight (ESPN, 1010-AM) and at Duke on Feb. 28, but three of their final six games come against teams 12th or worse in the standings.
Four of FSU's last six games are on the road.
"There's no doubt that this going to be a challenge," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We have to be smart in our preparation. This is crunch time for all of us."
The Tar Heels still have two games against Virginia, a home game against Louisville on Feb. 22 and a home finale against Duke on March 4.
WASHINGTON: Forward Malik Dime was indefinitely suspended for slapping a student during a loss at Colorado. Coach Lorenzo Romar said Dime's action Thursday night wasn't consistent with his typical behavior, but Romar said it was unacceptable. Dime slapped the student after the halftime buzzer. Washington coaches had to restrain Dime, who was sitting out his ninth consecutive game with a broken right finger. Dime said in a statement issued by the school that he made a poor decision after getting caught up in the emotion of the game.
Football: USF hire seems to complete Strong staff
TAMPA — Marshall defensive ends coach Sean Cronin, a graduate assistant at Florida during the Gators' last two national title seasons, reportedly has been hired to join Charlie Strong's staff at USF.
FootballScoop.com first reported the hiring Friday.
Cronin's addition would complete Strong's staff. Miami Carol City defensive coordinator Damon Cogdell reportedly was hired by Strong this week, but no official announcement has been made by USF.
Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.