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Player of the Week

Devin Thomas, Wake Forest

Devin ThomasDevin ThomasDevin Thomas is an example of a flower growing in the pit of the conference standings. The junior forward had a career-week, averaging 27.5 points (67.6% shooting), 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and only 0.5 turnovers in two losses for the Demon Deacons. Those would be impressive statistics without any context, but I think the fact that he put them up against Duke and Louisville (two teams ranked nationally in the top 5) makes them all the more remarkable. The Cardinals have a particularly suffocating defense, and prior to meeting the anomalous force that is Devin Thomas, hadn't let any player score more than 30 points on them this season -- Thomas managed to eclipse that with 31. While this sudden scoring streak is the reason I'm writing about him now, Thomas has been producing all season. The junior forward leads the ACC in rebounding, averaging 9.4 per game. The additional scoring wasn't enough to overcome either the Cardinals or the Blue Devils, but if he continues playing this way, the Demon Deacons may turn a few heads throughout this season.

Hot

Chris Jones, Louisville

Following Louisville's loss to Kentucky a couple weeks ago, Rick Pitino benched starting point guard, Chris Jones. An extremely over-dramatic flop was cited as the reason for this decision, though Jones' 30.7% shooting percentage certainly made it an easier one to justify as far as fans and followers were concerned. When Chris found himself back in the starting lineup -- just in time for ACC play to start up -- he had one of the best games of his career. Jones scored 22 points on 7/13 shooting, to go along with 10 assists (a career-high), and 3 steals in a Louisville victory in Wake Forest. He continued to play well through his next game, scoring 22 points and swiping 5 steals in a victory over Clemson a few days later. I'm not trying to jinx him here, but it looks like his slump may be over. Perhaps all Jones needed was a wake-up call from Pitino or even a little time to rest and reflect. In any case, getting back to form is very welcome at this time. The ACC season is nothing short of a grind, as the Cardinals are about to experience first-hand. Chris Jones has the scoring instincts and perimeter ability to turn the Cardinals from a really good team, to a really great one. Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell have carried the team offensively this season, but I think Jones will be Louisville's "x-factor" as they battle with the likes of Duke and Virginia throughout the season.

Justin Bibbs, Virginia Tech

The Hokies aren't likely to be competing for the ACC crown this season, but there's a positive outlook for the team's future. With only two seniors currently on the roster, a decent 2015 recruiting class, and several developing young players; it's not unreasonable to expect Virginia Tech to improve significantly next season, especially if freshman Justin Bibbs continues to make waves. Bibbs seems to have really responded well to the intensity of conference play, averaging 23.5 points and 7.0 rebounds over his first two career games against ACC competition. He's been an excellent shooter all season (47.5% from deep on 3.9 attempts per game), but has really developed into the best overall scoring option on the team. He leads the roster in scoring, averaging 13.5 points per game on the season while shooting 50% from the field; demonstrating the ability to both spot-up and get to the rim effectively. Not unlike many young players asked to play a big role, Bibbs is also a bit turnover prone (2.6 per), but the potential to be a good playmaker is evident. I mentioned earlier this season that Bibbs would be one to watch looking forward, and he's lived up to that billing much earlier than I expected. If he continues to develop, he may be one of the best guards in the conference next season.

Cold

Cameron Wright, Pittsburgh

Missing the first seven games of the season due to foot surgery, Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright needed some time to settle back into his role with the team. The redshirt senior finished the non-conference schedule well, averaging 13 points on 55.3% shooting over the four games leading up to ACC play, but has struggled since. Over Panthers' two games this week (a win and a loss, for the record), Wright has only averaged 4.0 points on 22.2% shooting. Everybody goes through shooting slumps at some point, of course. Fortunately, Wright is an excellent defender and a smart passer, so he can still make an impact even when he's off. However, the team can't afford to compete in the ACC without his scoring production. Though he was never a go-to scorer, Wright's ability to play within the offense was very much appreciated last season. I think that's going to be needed if Pittsburgh wants an NCAA tournament bid this postseason.

Top 5 Defenders in the ACC

1. The Virginia Cavaliers - Virginia doesn't have one standout defensive player any more than they have one standout offensive player. The team composed of zero McDonald's All Americans continues to stifle opposing offenses, and it's in large part due to head coach Tony Bennett and the environment he demands of his roster. Toughness, responsibility, chemistry; he seems to get every player to buy in, and it's certainly produced results. The Cavaliers hold opponents to 50.6 points per game on 33.7% shooting, both figures are the second best in the nation.

2. Justise Winslow, Duke - Winslow has every defensive tool one can reasonably expect from a freshman wing player. He's got a strong body, a high motor, quick feet, long arms, and explosive athleticism. Beyond all of that though, he's a leader for the Blue Devils on the defensive end of the floor. He's aggressive in looking to make things happen, and won't hesitate to take a charge or dive on the floor for a loose ball if an opportunity arises. In my opinion, he's the top individual defender in the conference.

3. JP Tokoto, North Carolina - Tokoto really impressed me earlier this week when UNC matched up with Notre Dame. He was matched up with one of the top scorers in the conference, Jerian Grant, and held him to only eight points on 1/8 shooting. Tokoto has the size, lateral quickness, and instincts to compete with any wing player in the conference defensively. The Tar Heels are going to be counting on his ability to bother perimeter scorers throughout the season.

4. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse - Within the Orange's zone defense, lies one of the top rim protectors in the conference. Christmas is an imposing presence in the paint, blocking quite a few shot attempts (2.3 blocks per game) and altering even more with his length (7'2" wingspan) and athleticism. He's done a good job recently staying out of foul trouble, and (perhaps by coincidence) Syracuse has won five straight.

5. Beejay Anya, NC State - Defense is a tough thing to rank, as there really is no universal statistic that can measure absolute defensive value. Blocks, however, can be a part of it, and Beejay Anya gets many of them. Anya (using his outrageous 7'9" wingspan) rejects 3.1 shots per game, an average that leads the conference by a significant margin. He accomplishes that in only 19.5 minutes a game. So even if his mobility and awareness leave something to be desired, he's still a huge defensive presence for the Wolfpack.

lisaharris7
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