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ACC makes strong case for 3 No. 1 NCAA seeds

Four teams from the ACC are ranked in the top 10 in the RPI this week and three have legitimate shots at earning No. 1 seeds in this year's NCAA Tournament. And none of them have players on their rosters named Redick, Hansbrough or Caner-Medley.

Although national attention usually focuses on the dominance of the ACC's perennial men's basketball powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina and Maryland, this March the hype has shifted to their women's teams as they seek to make history by clinching three of the four No. 1 seeds in the big dance.

To put this feat in perspective, ACC teams have earned No. 1 seeds only 10 times since the women's tournament began in 1982. There have never been two No. 1 seeds from the ACC in the same year.

Despite having the highest conference RPI for the second consecutive season, players and coaches in the ACC still feel as if they have a lot left to prove this postseason if they want to cement themselves as the premier league in the country.

"I think the national perception is changing, but it's a slow change," Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I think we need to send several teams to the Final Four and win a National Championship for our conference before we make believers out of everybody else."

Historically, the national perception has been that the SEC, with teams like Tennessee and LSU, is the leading conference in the women's game. Yet both UNC and Duke went undefeated in their non-conference schedules, including the Blue Devils' 75-53 rout of the Lady Vols in January.

The Terrapins, who have three losses this season, lost just one non-conference game, to Tennessee Nov. 26.

Maryland's climb to the top of the polls exemplifies the continued growth of of the ACC. As recently as 2003, the Terrapins had a 10-18 record, winning only four games in conference. This season, their 26 regular-season wins are the most in the history of the program.

"When I was a freshman, Maryland was usually one of the lower teams in the conference and for them to go from there to being one of the top four teams in the country says a lot about how the ACC has grown and how we can compare to the other, usually more dominant conferences like the SEC," Duke senior Monique Currie said.

With three ranked teams and four others receiving votes-Boston College, Florida State, N.C. State and Virginia Tech-in the final AP poll of the regular season, there is more parity in the ACC than ever before.

There are also seven conference teams ranked in the RPI's top 27, suggesting the league could get at least that many NCAA Tournament berths. Last season the ACC received eight bids, a league record.

"I've been in this league 20 years and every year we say we're so good," North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "But this year I think everyone would agree we're just heads above all the other conferences."

Rigorous conference schedules could lead to longer runs through the tournament for ACC teams. Goestenkors said that to be the best, her team needed to play the toughest teams. She said her players are well prepared for this postseason because they have already seen the best teams in the country.

"It's a pretty exciting time for the ACC and hopefully we'll end up with three No. 1 seeds," Goestenkors said.


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