Player of the Week
Much has been said about Nolan Smith during this season. Ever since Kyrie Irving's injury, Smith has been the primary ball handler for the Duke Blue Devils, and in doing so, he's dispelled any concerns about his ability to play the point guard position at the college level. In fact he’s even put himself in contention for the National Player of the Year award. He's leading the ACC in both points per game (21.5) and assists per game (5.5), a feat that has never been done before in the ACC. This past week, Nolan Smith also showed that he can get it done when it counts. Against their arch-rivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels, Smith helped Duke rally back from a 14 point halftime deficit to win the game 79-73. Smith scored a career-high 34 points (22 in the second half) on 13-23 shooting. Duke needed this kind of performance from him, as teammate Kyle Singler was struggling from the field (only 10 points on 3/17 shooting). This shows the kind of leadership ability that Nolan Smith has. His knack for stepping up in big games will serve Duke well in March, and his well-rounded skill-set will certainly place him in 1st round discussions as we approach the draft season.
Jeff Allen continues his strong play. Outside of Malcolm Delaney he is the most important player on the Virginia Tech roster. He's a strong low-post scoring presence (13.2 PPG), an active and aggressive rebounder (10.0 RPG) and a solid defender (1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG). In fact, Allen is the active ACC leader in career steals, rebounds and double-doubles. In his last four games, Allen has averaged an impressive 19.0 points on 53.4% shooting and 13.0 rebounds. That includes a 25 point, 19 rebound outburst in a loss against Boston College last week. The fact that the Hokies lost the game, despite Allen's performance actually showcases a lot of their weaknesses. They don't have much of a bench (0 points off the bench), they depend too much on Allen, Delaney and Erick Green and their lack of outside shooting (Delaney was the only player who made a three). These issues, coupled with injuries might end up keeping Jeff Allen and his team from reaching the NCAA tournament yet again.
North Carolina State
We are seeing a very talented Wolfpack roster underachieve this season. They were considered a bubble tournament team in the pre-season, but NC State has lost seven of their last eight games and only boasts a 2-7 record in conference play. As the losses continue to mount, finger-pointing becomes inevitable, and most of those appendages are pointed squarely at head coach Sidney Lowe. His overall ACC record since becoming a head coach is 22-51, and none of his teams have managed to reach a birth in the NCAA tournament. As people call for Lowe's head, the general health of the Wolfpack is also hurting their record. Tracy Smith missed six weeks of non-conference play with a knee injury, and even now that he's back he has yet to find his niche this season, averaging 13.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG on 48.3% from the field (down from 16.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 52.4% last season). Freshman point guard Ryan Harrow missed two recent games due to a viral illness, and scored a goose egg in his return (0 points, 0/3 FG). Another issue has been freshman CJ Leslie. He came in as a highly touted forward capable of being a game-changer with his athleticism, and at times this season, that's exactly what he has been. However, he's run into trouble recently. He was benched a few weeks back, and didn't respond well at all to his new role. He's been the butt of criticism among fans, due to his lack of intensity and toughness (he hasn't had a double-digit rebounding game in 2011). He was also suspended for a game, though the specific reason for the suspension is still unclear. At the moment, it's hard to imagine any good coming out of the remainder of the team's season. Leslie does not look interested in playing college basketball and Sidney Lowe might not be around much longer either.
Top 5 Teams (Updated)
1. Duke - The best offensive team in the conference proved their toughness with a grind-it-out, comeback win over the Tar Heels. With seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler leading the charge, Duke has a chance to take home another national championship.
2. North Carolina - They could have capitalized their recent surge with a win over Duke last Wednesday, unfortunately for them, the better team won. Still, with Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all starting to gel together, this team has a lot of potential.
3. Florida State - The Seminoles probably have the easiest closing schedule of any ACC team. Out of their six remaining games, only two are against .500+ teams. This long, athletic squad will be a handful in the ACC tourney.
4. Virginia Tech - Like Duke, this team has a lot of senior power. Unfortunately, unlike Duke, this team does not have a bid for the NCAA tournament set in stone. They'll have to gain some momentum heading into the post-season if they don't want to suffer the same fate that has befallen them in past seasons.
5. Clemson - One of my favorite players, Jerai Grant, is the anchor to a suddenly outstanding Clemson Tiger defense. The team is beginning to get a little deserved attention after winning four of their last five, including an 18 point beat-down on Florida State.
Harrison Barnes came back to Earth with a 9 point, 6 rebound performance against Duke. Let's see how he recovers on Saturday against Clemson... Maryland also plays Boston College on Saturday in what should be an interesting matchup between two teams that will spend the rest of the season attempting to build a resume for a tournament bid... Kendall Marshall dropped 16 assists against Florida State last Sunday... Happy Valentine's Day!!...
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