Player of the Week:
Tre Jones (Duke)
Tre Jones was a part of the historic 2018 Duke recruiting class, which famously featured fellow five-star recruits Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish, who were drafted 1st, 3rd, and 10th in the 2019 NBA draft respectively. As a facilitating point guard, Jones was forced to take a back seat to the trio, as they were all ball-dominant players who seemingly took turns in being the focal point for the Blue Devils potent offense each game. After a heartbreaking Final Four loss to Michigan State, Jones watched his freshman buddies bolt to the pros. As a sophomore this year, Jones finally has the keys to Coach K’s offense, and has shown that he is one of, if not the best college point guard in the country. When Jones plays well, Duke plays well. They are 24-2 in his career when he scores in double figures. On 12/4, a week after Duke’s crushing home upset loss to Stephen F. Austin, the Blue Devils faced off against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a game which taught us a lot about Tre and this year’s Duke team. He thoroughly outplayed Cassius Winston, who many people consider to be the best point guard in the country, putting up 20 points, 12 assists, and 3 steals as he got his revenge for last year’s NCAA tournament loss. He followed that with a steady 15-point performance in an easy win versus a good Virginia Tech team. Although he is only a sophomore, Tre Jones plays with admirable poise and a quiet confidence that any point guard needs to be successful. He is the leader of this talented Blue Devils team, and although it is still early on in the season, it is easy to see that Duke’s success this year hinges on the play of their point guard.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (7-2)
It was a dominant week for an underrated Wolfpack team, as they quietly continued their hot start to the season. They faced off against Wisconsin on 12/4 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and clearly displayed their dominance over the Badgers. Sophomore Jericole Hellems put up a career high 23 points, on 8-13 shooting from the floor and 4-6 from three, and two others also scored in double digits as NC State showed they were clearly the stronger side in the matchup. Three days later, they looked for their first conference win of the season in a matchup with Wake Forest, and once again flexed their muscles on the Demon Deacons in a convincing win. They started off hot, obtaining a double-digit lead five and a half minutes into the game, and never trailed in the game after that point. After a tough loss to Georgia Tech in the season opener, the Wolfpack have found their footing, and should not be taken lightly by the opposition.
Vernon Carey (Duke)
While Tre Jones may be the unofficial leader of this year’s Duke team, Coach K and his team depend on freshman big man Vernon Carey just as much as they do Jones. Carey, the former five-star recruit, is hard to miss when watching Duke, as he stands at 6’10 and roughly 270 and is a nightmare for opposing big men to match up with. It took him about two games to get acclimated to college basketball, as he averaged only 11 points and 4.5 rebounds before finally going off for 17 points and 10 boards in his third game against Colorado State. Since then, he has scored at least 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in every game hes played in, and has looked truly dominant. What is special about Carey is that he doesn’t necessarily need to use his size to score, as he is shooting 60% from the field this season, and has hit 4 of 5 shots from beyond the arc. He has progressed extremely quickly, as he worked with Tre Jones to absolutely dominate Xavier Tillman and Michigan State, going for 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks in the big win. He followed that with a steady 12 point, 5 rebound, 2 assist performance against Virginia Tech. With fellow freshman Cassius Stanley out with an injury, Carey has stepped up and been everything fans in Durham could ask for, and when he is on, is one of the toughest players in all of college basketball to stop.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Led by freshman sensation Cole Anthony and big men Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, this UNC squad is one of the most talented college basketball teams on paper. Anthony, one of the most hyped freshmen coming into the season, has been everything as advertised so far, averaging 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.4 assist, and 1.9 steals, but has not gotten much help from his teammates in the big games so far. Ranked #6 in the country, the Tar Heels welcomed #7 ranked Ohio State into the Smith Center on 12/4, and found themselves in a close game at half, as they only trailed 29-27. It was in the second half that everything went wrong. The Buckeyes built a double-digit lead about midway through the second half, and then used a late 17-2 run to give UNC their worst loss since 2002, 74-49. Roy Williams’ guys could not hit water if they fell off a boat in this game, shooting 17-62 (27.4%) from the field, including a 4-15 performance from Anthony, whose points came entirely from three pointers and free throws. They followed that disappointing performance with a 9-point loss to Virginia, a game in which the Heels once again struggled offensively, going 17-46 (37%) from the field, and only hitting one three all game. It was a disappointing week for a talented Tar Heels team, but it is still early on in the season, so you can expect them to regain their footing and find their form again soon.
With the College Football Playoff coming up, it seems like everyone down at Clemson has their focus on the gridiron, including the basketball team. After rattling off a five-game win-streak in November, the Tigers have struggled, losing two in a row, with an 18-point defeat at Minnesota in the Big Ten/ACC challenge (12/2) and a 19-point loss at Florida State (12/8). The Tigers have been a middle of the pack team in the ACC statistically so far, and the lopsided losses this week to an average Minnesota team and good Florida State team may have been the writing on the wall for how the rest of the season is going to go for Clemson basketball.
Top 5 Biggest Suprises in the ACC this season:
5. Derryck Thornton (Boston College)
Thornton was a highly sought after five-star recruit, who was a part of the 2015 Duke recruiting class that featured future NBA players Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard. Thornton spent just one season in Durham, where experienced a disappointing freshman campaign before deciding to transfer back home to USC. Thornton played out the rest of his undergraduate career there, and then committed to Boston College and head coach Jim Christian last May to play out his final season as a graduate transfer. So far, in his return to the ACC, Thornton is averaging 15.2 points per game, good for 10th in the conference, and has become much more efficient as a scorer. To go along with that, he currently sits 9th in the conference in assists per game with 4.1, and 4th in steals per game at 1.8. Thornton, once an afterthought in the college basketball world, has been a revelation for the Eagles, who are 5-5 on the season, but 2-0 in conference play.
4. Michael Devoe (Georgia Tech, sophomore)
Michael Devoe was an important player for Georgia Tech as a freshman last year, averaging around 32 minutes per game, and putting up nearly 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He was an impactful player for the Yellow Jackets, but playing in the same conference as fellow freshman such as RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Coby White, Devoe flew under the radar. Devoe chose to return to Tech for his sophomore season, and has been dominant out of the gate for Josh Pastner and his team. He is second in the conference in scoring at 21.4 points per game and has established himself as one of the premier players in the extremely talented conference. He has been relied on heavily by his team, averaging nearly 40 minutes per game (37.37), and has kept the season alive early on for Georgia Tech, as they currently sit at 4-3 on the season. That record would most likely look a lot worse if it weren’t for Michael Devoe’s drastic improvement.
3. Virginia loss to Purdue in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
Going into their Big Ten/ACC Matchup with a then 4-3 Purdue Boilermakers team, Virginia had been playing some extremely dominant basketball, specifically on the defensive side of the floor. They had not let up any more than 55 points in a game up to that point, and were fresh off a win against Maine in which they gave up only 26 points. The confidence was high for Tony Bennett and his squad, who walked into a rowdy Mackey Arena and were completely dominated. The Cavaliers almost allowed Sasha Stefanovic to score more points than they had allowed to the entire Maine team, as he went for 20 points, with 18 of those coming from three. Four different Boilermakers scored in double figures, while only two did for Virginia, as [Player:Jay Huff] scored 11 and Mamadi Diakite put in 10 points. Purdue has not been the strongest team offensively this season, put they put on a show against the nation’s best defense while exposing Virginia’s lack of offensive firepower. The 29-point loss Virginia sustained against Purdue just goes to show that anything is possible in college basketball.
2. Landers Nolley II (Virginia Tech, freshman)
Landers Nolley was a part of the 2018 recruiting class for Virginia Tech, but opted to redshirt for his first season, giving him a year to get acclimated to the college lifestyle and also granting him an extra season of eligibility. After the Hokies lost star Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the 2019 NBA draft, head coach Mike Young and his team needed someone to step up and become the player the Hokies offense would play through. Landers Nolley II has been just that in his redshirt freshman season. He began the season by averaging 19.7 points in the Maui Invitation Tournament, making the all-tournament team, and leading the Hokies to a big win over then-#3 ranked Michigan State. He has been named ACC freshman of the week twice (11/18/19 & 12/2/19) and currently sits 5th in the ACC in scoring at 18.6 points per game. He has clearly established himself as the leader of the team and has been everything that the Hokies have asked him to be and then some. Landers Nolley II has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the college basketball season so far, and has played himself onto NBA scouts’ radars.
1. Duke loss to Stephen F. Austin at buzzer
Duke entered this game ranked #1 in the country, and had just come off a hard-fought victory against a talented Georgetown team at Madison Square Garden four days prior. The Lumberjacks, a usual powerhouse in the Southland Conference, were 4-1 at the time, and had just lost their first game of the season, a 12-point defeat to Rutgers six days prior. Duke was riding a 150-game home win streak against nonconference opponents, and hadn’t lost a nonconference game at home since St. John’s was able to beat them in February of 2000, nearly 20 years ago. The game was tied at 83 with about 15 seconds to go when Tre Jones missed a jump shot, but Duke was able corral the offensive rebound and get the ball back to Jones, who then attempted to force a bounce pass towards the baseline which got broken up. The loose ball caused chaos to ensue on the ground, until SFA was able to retrieve the ball and get it to Nathan Bain, who split two Duke defenders before going the length of the court to lay in a wide-open layup at the buzzer to give the Lumberjacks a historic win. It all happened in the blink of an eye, and although Duke has bounced back since that game, the events that took place in Cameron Indoor Stadium on the night of November 26, 2019 will immortalized in the college basketball history books for the rest of eternity.