Player of the Week
I felt strongly over the summer that the success of the 2011-2012 Duke Blue Devils would ultimately depend on their defensive anchor, Mason Plumlee. The 6'10" center was already considered a good defender and rebounder, but that wasn't enough. He also had to establish a more refined offensive game in the post to complement the remainder of his squad, which is significantly more perimeter-orientated. We're now a couple of weeks into conference play and the results are promising. Not only is Plumlee rebounding (9.8 rpg), passing (2.1 apg) and defending (1.5 bpg) well, but he's also becoming a much harder player for teams to deal with in the post (12.0 ppg, fourth on the team). He's been particularly hot since his team’s home loss against Florida State, averaging 19 points on 66.7% shooting, with 14.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game during that time period. Also looking up is Plumlee's free-throw shooting, as he's shot 74.1% from the stripe in his last five games (well above his season average of 47.5%) This kind of strong production is exactly what Coach K needs for his team to be competitive against teams that possess a lot of frontline size (like FSU and UNC).
The Florida State Seminoles have stormed back from their disappointing non-conference schedule and are currently riding a five-game winning streak. They beat the two powerhouses in UNC and Duke during that stretch, and have recently re-entered the national top-25 AP rankings (#21). The team has achieved this success without having to rely on any one player for offensive; instead they each seem to take turns in the spotlight. Tomorrow it could be Ian Miller, Bernard James, or Deividas Dulkys. Hell, the roster has eight players currently averaging over seven points per game. Recently, the hero has been Michael Snaer. The athletic wing player is better known for his defense (along with most of his teammates), but he's averaged 17.0 points over his last four games and shot 50% from behind the arc during that time (8/16, one of which was a buzzer-beating game-winner to end Duke's 45-game home winning streak). Defense, intensity and size are what give Florida State the opportunity to beat any team, but to beat the higher-level teams, their offense has to click. If Snaer can consistently contribute buckets like he has been doing lately, the Seminoles are going to be an extremely tough out in March.
Dorian Finney Smith
Not too long ago, I wrote that the Virginia Tech Hokies were surpassing expectations. I noted that they lacked any real fire power, but were winning regardless due to their coaching, experience and depth. Well they’ve made a fool out of me. After playing well during a non-conference schedule, the team has lost six of their first seven ACC games (strangely enough, the one win during that stretch came against the red-hot Virginia Cavaliers, who had won 13 of their last 14 games). Injuries and inconsistent play have been the team’s downfall, but the one Hokie in particular who has been ice-cold is freshman Dorian Finney-Smith. The 6'8" forward is already a jack of many trades, and is the top rebounder (7.2 rpg) and second-best passer (2.1 apg) on the team. His scoring, however, is nowhere to be found. Finney-Smith has scored a total of 12 points during his last 163 minutes of playing time, and has only made a field goal in one of his team’s seven conference games. That means he's averaging 1.7 points per game on 12.9% shooting from the floor during all of his games played in the year 2012. Because he does so many other things well, he'll continue to get playing time and have a chance to turn this around. Hopefully that'll be sooner than later.
Top 5 Interesting Matchups of the Season
1. North Carolina @ Duke, March 3rd - It's shaping up to be exactly what it was supposed to be: a battle for the top seed in the ACC Conference Tournament. The Cameron Crazies will certainly be an advantage for the Blue Devils, but with Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels have the advantage running the point.
2. Duke @ North Carolina, February 8th - This one is coming soon, just as both Tyler Zeller and Mason Plumlee are starting to heat-up. That should be the matchup to watch within the matchup to watch.
3. Florida State @ Virginia, March 1st - Like the late-season UNC/Duke matchup, if the ACC order doesn't shake up too much over the next month, this game could prove vital when in comes to seeding. The best two defensive teams in the conference will battle it out in what should be an ugly, but exciting game to watch.
4. North Carolina @ Virginia, February 25th - Watching the top two power forwards in the conference (John Henson and Mike Scott) go at it will be a lot of fun. UNC is equipped with a more talented roster, but Virginia won't go down without a fight.
5. Duke @ Florida State, February 23rd - I'd be disappointed if the Blue Devils didn't have this one circled on their calendar. Duke was proud of that winning streak FSU took from them, and will have a chance for redemption at Florida State later in February.
We're starting to see a clear distinction from the top-tier (North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Florida State) in the conference, to the second-tier (Miami, North Carolina State, Clemson, Maryland) ... Tyler Zeller set a career-high in rebounds (18 against Wake Forest) only two games removed from originally setting it (17 against North Carolina State) ... North Carolina leads the nation in team points, rebounds and is fourth in assists ...