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Turn the Paige

Player of the Week

Marcus Paige, UNC

Marcus PaigeMarcus PaigeWhile Marcus Paige has not had a spectacular 2014-15 campaign, he has certainly had a spectacular January 9-15 week. The star point guard led the Tar Heels to a dramatic comeback-victory over the #5-ranked Louisville Cardinals last Saturday with a clutch, go-ahead, game-winning layup. He followed this with a tremendous performance against the NC State Wolfpack; scoring 23 points (5/5 shooting from deep), with 5 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals, and no turnovers in another UNC victory. Oh, and he's doing all of this while dealing with a foot injury that's been keeping him from practicing at full speed with the rest of the team. Paige has been a bit up-and-down all season, but good competition and high-pressure situations seem to bring out the best in him, and the ACC will provide plenty of each. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, when Paige is on, the team is capable of knocking off anybody in the conference.

Hot

The Syracuse Orange

Despite losing two of their most important players to injuries (Chris McCullough, DaJuan Coleman), the Syracuse Orange are one of only two teams (Virginia) in the conference that have yet to lose this season against an ACC opponent. A friendly schedule is partially responsible for this success, but the team has really been carried by their trio of starting upper-classmen. Juniors Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije have each made huge strides this season. Cooney's starting to play like the perimeter scorer/shooter the team has desperately needed. He averaged 24.5 points in the two victories this week, making 12/23 of his three-point jumpers. Gbinije, on the other hand, has done a bit of everything; averaging 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists over those same two games. Senior Rakeem Christmas exploded for a career-high 35 points in an overtime victory against Wake Forest. Christmas' emergence as a leader on both ends of the court has been one of the conference's biggest surprises, and his ability to make clutch free-throws has now been the deciding factor in two games this season. Syracuse was looking like a major disappointment a few weeks ago, but they've now won seven in a row. We'll see if they can sustain this recent success, in spite of their serious lack of depth.

Angel Rodriguez, Miami

In many ways, Angel Rodriguez's play this season mirrors the overall play of the Hurricanes. He's undersized, scrappy, and streaky; all qualities that represent the team as a whole. Of course, streakiness comes with the territory of a perimeter-orientated approach (unless you're the Fighting Irish, apparently). Now, Rodriguez is making a lot of the same outside shots he was missing in December, and Miami has really benefited from it. Angel is averaging 22 points in his past three games (including 24 against Duke), and the Hurricanes have gone 2-1 over that period (with the one loss being to the second-best team in the country in double-overtime). Miami will be one of the most threatening teams through the remainder of the season, because they have – just as Rodriguez does – the potential to explode at any time.


Trevor Lacey, NC State


Trevor Lacey was quietly having an excellent season up until the Wolfpack upset the Blue Devils; now he's loudly having an excellent season. Against Duke, Lacey scored 21 points (8/13 shooting) and made 5 of his 7 three point attempts, leading a fantastic NC State offensive barrage to hand Duke their first loss. The junior transfer from Alabama is averaging 17.1 points on 48.7% shooting on the season. He's also one of the top shooters in the conference, connecting on 44.2% of his 5.1 three-point attempts per game. Lacey and the Wolfpack have proven themselves capable, even if their overall record of 12-6 doesn't totally reflect that.

Cold

Duke Blue Devils

It wasn't a week ago that Duke was undefeated and ranked second in the country. The team had more talent than any other in the conference, and looked poised to dominate offensively with Jahlil Okafor as the rock in the center. While Okafor has remained solid, the rest of the team has been falling apart. Duke has lost two straight games, both of which were to non-ranked teams, and both were by double-digits. Their first defeat came at the hands of NC State, who shot 55% from the floor, and made 10 of their 16 three-point attempts. Miami defeated the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium two days later, shooting 51.8% from the floor and making 10 of 20 from outside. The perimeter defense has clearly been lacking, but a few key players' offense has also dropped off. Notably, Tyus Jones (a player I crowned the best point guard in the ACC a few weeks ago) has not responded well to ACC competition. Jones has only been averaging 5.3 points on 22.2% shooting over his last four games. His freshman teammate, Justise Winslow, has also been cold as of late, only averaging 6 points on 21.1% shooting this past week. If Duke's going to get things back on track, they're going to have to do it under some harsh conditions. Four of their next five games are on the road, and three of those road games are against ranked opponents. The Blue Devils have the talent to get Coach K his 1,000th career win within the next couple weeks (he's at 997 now), but they'll need to tighten things back up again before they can seriously compete for the ACC title.

Top 5 Seniors

1. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame - A senior academically, but a junior in terms of eligibility, Grant is the primary scoring option, as well as the primary playmaker, on the most efficient offensive team in the nation. Though his scoring has dropped since his junior year (19.0 to 16.3 PPG), he's leading all ACC players in assists, averaging 6.3 per game with an impressive 3.5 assist/turnover ratio.

2. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse - I've gushed about Christmas quite a bit lately, but I can't help that he's turned into one of the best players in the nation. His averages of 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks are all within the top-5 among ACC players; as is his 58.8 FG%. On top of everything, Christmas is an outstanding defender and (as mentioned above) an emerging team leader.

3. Quinn Cook, Duke - As the lone senior on Duke's roster that has played a total of more than five minutes this season, Cook's provided some much needed experience and consistency to the team's rotation. He's a proven facilitator (2.2 assist/turnover ratio), an effective scorer (14.8 points per game), and one of the best shooters in the conference (40.6% on 6.6 three-point shot attempts).

4. Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame - Connaughton has a nice fastball, that can hit the mid-nineties with good s-- Hm? Oh. Connaughton is perfectly suited for Notre Dame's offense. He operates primarily off the ball, using his exceptional shooting ability (45% from outside on 6.1 attempts) to space out the floor. However, he also a great rebounder (8.2 per), and an underrated defender.

5. Chris Jones, Louisville - Jones has finally hit his stride now that conference play has started, both in terms of scoring (17.5 points per game) and playmaking (7 assists per game). He's also shooting 49% from the floor and 50% from behind the arc, both of which are sharp contrasts from his overall season shooting numbers of 35.4 FG% and 33.3 3P%.

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