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.
Somebody had to bear the responsibility for Duke’s loss, and while it isn’t fair to single out any one player, that’s exactly what I’ve decided to do. Yeah, it’s my blog and I say everything is Ryan Kelly’s fault. I mentioned last week that he could be one of the determining factors in the game against UNC and he kind of fell flat on his face, shooting 1/8 from the floor, missing all five of his three-point attempts and pulling down only one rebound in 28 minutes of play. But it was really the collective poor shooting performance all-around from the Blue Devils that cost them the game. As a team, they made only six shots from behind the arc, compared to the 14 they made to beat UNC earlier in the season. I guess you should also consider the fact that they were outrebounded 42 to 22. Really, everybody shoulders some fault for the loss (except maybe Miles Plumlee, who shot 7/9 from the floor and was the only player on the roster to pull down five or more rebounds) A lot has to go wrong for Duke to get blown out at home, and this time that’s exactly what happened.
Top 5 Teams in the ACC (Updated)
1. North Carolina – The win against Duke last Saturday earned the Tar Heels the ACC Regular Season Championship and potentially a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. They’ve got a lot going for them, and definitely have a chance to challenge for the national championship.
2. Duke – If everything goes as expected, Duke projects to face Florida State in the semifinals (such is the fallout of losing the regular season crown to North Carolina). That could be a headache for Duke, who lost at home to the Seminoles earlier in the season. As usual, Duke’s success will ultimately depend on their outside shooting. They have a lot of great shooters, and if the team gets hot then they become extremely hard to defeat.
3. Florida State – The Seminoles have beat every team in the ACC this season outside of the Boston College Eagles. Fortunately, FSU has a first-round bye and in all likelihood, will avoid the only team that has a clear advantage over them. But seriously, this team can beat anybody and somehow becomes a very dangerous offensive team in the last few seconds of close games.
4. Virginia – They had a lot of steam a few weeks ago, but have recently lost a good deal of that momentum. Virginia plays hard, but outside of Mike Scott they really don’t have a lot of firepower. Their defense keeps them in games (six of their eight losses have been by three points or less), but somebody else is going to have to step up if the Cavaliers want to last long in the postseason.
5. Miami – I like Miami during the ACC Tournament; maybe not to win it all, but I like them to be extremely competitive anyhow. They have great size in Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson to go along with their backcourt of Malcolm Grant, Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. If they advance past Georgia Tech, they’ll match-up with FSU in the quarterfinals, which could be interesting.
Bernard James wrote the University of Virginia a letter of apology after kicking Joe Harris following a collision during Thursday’s game … John Henson was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season … Austin Rivers was named the ACC Rookie of the Year … Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton was named the ACC Coach of the Year … The ACC tournament kicks off on Thursday the 8th. Whoot! …