Player of the Week
The Maryland Terrapins have won seven games in a row, and even though the opposition hasn't been great during that stretch, playing undefeated basketball for over a month should earn you a little recognition. Explosive scorer Terrell Stoglin has been doing most of the work so far this season, but help may have finally arrived, and it's in a 7'1" Ukrainian package. Freshman center Alex Len has finished serving his mysterious ten-game NCAA suspension, and is playing extremely well. In his first three career games, Len is averaging 14.0 points on 78.9% shooting along with 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He also looks comfortable from the stripe, shooting a respectable 66.7% on 18 attempts. It's been suggested that Len could be a first-round pick when he decides to leave Maryland and it's not hard to see why. He's a more than decent athlete for a plus-seven footer. While he's raw offensively, he runs the court well and displays good instincts around the rim. Maryland is a lot more exciting with Len in the post, and he'll fit in well with Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard (who also returned to the team recently). Other teams can no longer sleep on the Terps.
Wake Forest is not likely to be challenging for the ACC championship this season, but they are much-improved from a season ago, and a lot of that is forward Travis McKie. McKie has polished his offensive ability, not having to rely so much on his athleticism anymore (though he still scores a lot of points off of cuts and transition opportunities). He's clearly more comfortable than he used to be on the perimeter, where he makes 1.1 threes per game on 39.0% shooting (up from 0.5 threes made on 30.4% shooting in 2010-2011). But unlike many players who become better outside shooters, McKie is still a physical player on both ends of the court. He uses his strength a lot better when posting up smaller players, and aggressively pursues contact. He's shooting more free-throws per game (5.9 attempts this year), and it has improved his efficiency across the board. Over the course of his sophomore season, he's averaging 17.9 points per game and he should only get better in time.
Leslie isn't playing bad by any stretch, but he is disappointing a lot of people who had him pegged as a break-out player this season. Despite leading a very balanced team in scoring (all five NC State starters are averaging between 12.2 and 12.9 points per game), Leslie hasn't made those significant strides in his offensive game that we were anticipating. He's still a freak athlete with an uncanny (seriously, an unreal) knack for finishing around the rim with contact, and that's his real selling point. But just like last year, we're seeing him make a lot of poor decisions with the basketball. His shot-selection can be horrifying at times and he's quite turnover-prone when putting the ball on the floor. He is shooting 53.5% from the floor this year (up from 43.3% last year) and his shot-blocking rate is up as well (2.2 bpg). Despite his eagerness to be more versatile than he's ready for, Leslie needs to stay as close to the rim as possible. This is clearly the best way to utilize his exciting skill-set.
Top 5 Teams in the ACC (Updated)
1. North Carolina - This may not be the popular opinion at the moment, but I still like North Carolina over Duke. The Tar Heels might have the most talented starting five in the nation, and definitely have more depth than they know what to do with. Last season, we saw Harrison Barnes break-out around this time of the year. UNC will be a force to be reckoned with if he starts playing better again now that the stakes are higher.
2. Duke - There's a lot to like about Duke. The Blue Devils are absolutely loaded with explosive perimeter scoring, and have the best collection of three-point shooters in the conference. I'm skeptical of rating them above UNC, as leading scorer Austin Rivers is still a bit of a shaky decision-maker (though improving) and acting point guard Seth Curry isn't a natural playmaker.
3. Virginia - Virginia has a ton of momentum heading into conference play, having won 11 games in a row. 6'8" forward Mike Scott and 7'0" center Assane Sene give the team enough size/defense to hang with UNC and Duke, while Sammy Zeglinski and Joe Harris provide the perimeter shooting and scoring. This team is talented, highly experienced and should finish the season near the top of the standings.
4. Virginia Tech - The Hokies aren't as big or nationally revered as the other teams on this list, but they compensate with a very deep roster that plays together well. This is a classic over-achieving team, and there's no reason to think they'll hit a wall in conference play.
5. Miami - I could go a lot of different ways with this last spot, but Miami has a very positive outlook with the returns of Reggie Johnson and DeQuan Jones. They have a deep and dynamic inside/outside combination that can compete with any team in the ACC.
Florida State's recent struggles continue, as they lost a triple-overtime battle against Princeton on Friday by a score of 73-75 ... Kendall Marshall is heading into conference play averaging 10.0 assists per game, the second-highest rate in the nation ... Tyler Zeller has had five straight games of double-digit rebounds, which is another very promising sign for the Tar Heels ... Miami junior Kenny Kadji exploded for a career-high 30 points on Monday in a victory against UNC Greensboro ... NC State's Richard Howell has averaged 15.5 rebounds in two games this week ... Wednesday is the last day before conference play. Get excited ...