Player of the Week
From an NBA draft standpoint, Zeller has greatly raised his stock by becoming a better rebounder, a more polished defender and a smarter passer. It's refreshing to see a prospect that understands his weaknesses and uses his time at school to actually make himself a better player. The fact that Zeller has raised his field-goal shooting percentage and his point, rebound, assist, block and steal averages every single season of his college career is a great testament to his strong work ethic and willingness to improve. He capped off the regular season by scoring 19 points (9/11 from the floor) and pulling down 10 rebounds in an 88-70 blowout win at Duke. Not bad. Maybe it doesn't live up to the 30-point, 20-made free-throw standard that he set in his previous game (win against Maryland on Wednesday), but it did help his team win the regular-season title over their rivals. Anyway, Zeller was recently named the ACC Player of the Year, and it's hard to make a case for anybody else with the way he's been producing lately. If he can carry his recent play into the postseason, then UNC has at least a good chance of winning a national championship.
I remember writing about Ian Miller last summer. Florida State wasn't a good offensive team the previous season, and after losing Chris Singleton to the NBA, they needed a new go-to scorer. Miller was a freak athlete and a quality shooter with a year under his belt. It appeared that he would have every opportunity to break out this season. While he didn't become a go-to scorer (not yet, anyway), he is averaging a respectable 10.8 points per game this year and did perform like a hero in last week's FSU/Virginia matchup. Miller scored 15 points in the second half, including the last second tie-breaking triple, to help FSU come back from a double-digit deficit to defeat the Cavaliers and clinch a first-round bye in the ACC tournament. This was only the latest in a series of clutch performances from FSU players. Forward Michael Snaer hit a buzzer-beating three in January to give the Seminoles a victory at Duke. He did it again a few weeks later, making a three with 2.6 seconds left to give his team a 48-47 win against Virginia Tech. Florida State is consistently a great defensive team, and there's little doubt they'll be taking that ability into the tournament with them. If Miller and Snaer are providing offense to go along with that, then FSU becomes a sleeper team.
Player of the Week
Ryan Kelly hasn't been the top performer in the ACC this week, but he's been a nice contributor for Duke throughout the year and I wanted the chance to talk about him before the season came to an end. I figured this would be the best chance I had to do so, as he's coming off a career-high 23 points scored in a win against Wake Forest. For the past three and a half months, Kelly's been more of a luxury than anything else. He's maybe the third or fourth scoring option on the team. He provides the roster with a little more size and doesn't hurt the team by making a lot of mistakes. My point is that he's a good player, but not exactly the biggest cog in Duke's system. However, his usefulness could skyrocket this weekend if the stars align. Let me explain: Duke has the top record in the ACC (13-2). North Carolina is right behind them (12-2) and could tie that record with a win against Maryland on Wednesday. Should UNC win, the regular season title would come down to the UNC/Duke matchup on Saturday. If there's one thing that makes Duke a better team than UNC, it's their perimeter shooting. In their previous matchup (which Duke won), the Blue Devils made 14 three pointers (including one at the buzzer). The Tar Heels just made one. Ryan Kelly gives Duke another big man that can shoot it. But he’s not only giving the team shooting from a unique position, but Ryan is also forcing one of the UNC bigs to defend away from the hoop. Scoring in the paint can only be easier without a John Henson or Tyler Zeller there to bother you. Ryan’s shooting reputation could become a huge factor in this potentially title-deciding game.