Player of the Week
MJ Walker, SG, #16 Florida State Seminoles
After a two week absence due to COVID-19, the Seminoles could not afford any rust with two games in three days and Walker made sure that did not happen. After a scare against Wake Forest on Saturday, Walker led the Seminoles to a dominating win against the #7 Virginia Cavaliers. The ‘Noles seemingly could not miss from three-point range and it started with Walker who ended 5-6 from distance. He is now shooting 48% from beyond the arc and is emerging as one of the premier shooters in the entire nation. Another ranked matchup against #18 Virginia Tech is coming up on Saturday and if Walker can continue his hot shooting, he could bring his team one win closer to an ACC title. Despite a zero point output against Pitt on Saturday, Walker is this week’s ACC player of the week.
It would be difficult to find a team as hot and cold as the Clemson Tigers in the entire nation this year. Right now? They’re hot. An incredible to start the season with five straight wins, four coming against Power-Five teams, was followed by a loss against Virginia Tech in the middle of December. Four more wins in a row brought the Tigers to 9-1 and #12 in the country. Enter a three-game losing streak by a combined 82 points. I am not lying when I say that the Tigers looked like they belonged in an entirely different conference throughout these contests. Now they have won four out of five and are right back on track despite the three dismantlings that occurred in ACC play.
There are so many questions about the Tigers, but they only have four scheduled games left against teams in the bottom half of the ACC standings, and if they win out, they could realistically jump to third in the conference before the ACC Tournament starts in early March. The reemergence of Aamir Simms has done wonders for the rest of the roster and Brad Brownell has his guys clicking at just the right time once again.
Raiquan Gray, SF/PF, #16 Florida State Seminoles
While M.J. Walker is the seasoned veteran and leading scorer for Florida State, Raiquan Gray impacts the game just as much as the senior guard. Gray is a 6’8, 260 pound freight train with the basketball and his ability to get to the basket is his best trait and his massive frame is a major reason why. The true junior is physical, but also crafty as he dishes out over two assists per game and grabs over six rebounds too. Gray truly does it all on both ends of the floor and his consistency (7 straight games in double figures) would be impossible to replicate through anyone else on the roster. He may just be the X-factor for the ‘Noles in an eventual March Madness run.
Jalen Johnson, SF/PF, Duke Blue Devils
If losing his starting spot for three straight games was not enough for a bad week, Jalen Johnson also opted out of this disappointing Blue Devils season. After playing only eight minutes against NC State, the news became official on Tuesday and the freshman phenom will not return for the remainder of the season. He finished the season with only 11 points per game, six rebounds, and two assists with an additional steal and block per game.
There is no doubting Johnson has all of the skill in the world and will get plenty of minutes at the next level, but this move was rather surprising to everybody outside of the Duke camp. Johnson now turns his sights to the NBA Draft and will look to put much of this season behind him on his way to the professional level. The next time we will hear Johnson’s name called will be on draft day, but the Blue Devils will have far less time to recuperate with the #7 Virginia Cavaliers coming to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
Justin Champagnie, SG/SF, Pittsburgh Panthers
The struggles for the Panthers cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of Champagnie, but after six losses in seven games, there is plenty of blame to go around for everyone, including the potential ACC Player of the Year. He is still impacting the stat sheet and is not playing terrible by any means, but his shooting percentages in this season-defining stretch have left a lot to be desired. A 3-11 showing for the standout sophomore against NC State proved costly as the Panthers fell at home to the Wolfpack. He is also shooting 1-10 from beyond the arc in his last four games.
Again, the Panthers are certainly not losing because of Champagnie’s struggles, but they dropped to 5-7 in conference play this week and are effectively eliminated from the NCAA Tournament barring a Cinderella run to win the ACC Tournament in a month. A home game against #16 Florida State and two matchups with the surging Clemson Tigers at least provide the Panthers a shot to make some noise at the end of the year and they will need anything they can get from their Player of the Year contender.
Top Five Underachievers in the ACC
This week I will be listing the top five underachievers in the ACC to go off of last week’s top five overachievers. You can check out that list on last week’s ACC blog!
5. Walker Kessler, North Carolina
The North Carolina big man came in as one of the top centers in this year’s draft class and was expected to compete with Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, and Day’Ron Sharpe for valuable minutes all year. Kessler never lived up to those expectations and has never threatened to take many minutes away from the trio listed above. Kessler will have to return for another year in Chapel Hill and with pending departures from as many as all three of the other current frontcourt options, he will be in line for a breakout season in his sophomore campaign.
4. Earl Timberlake, Miami
Timberlake is another freshman who was expected to have a much larger role, but for a team with far lower expectations than the Tar Heels. Miami was hoping Timberlake could complement the dynamic backcourt duo of Chris Lykes and Isaiah Wong, but injuries to both Lykes and Timberlake at the beginning of the season threw this plan into a dumpster fire. The ‘Canes have struggled all year long and the injuries to Timberlake did not allow him to provide any impact for a team who needed all of the help they could get.
3. Wabissa Bede, Virginia Tech
No one ever confused Bede for a prolific scorer in the backcourt, but many had to expect a little more than what he has done this season. He is an integral part of this team, but only four points and three assists are both down from last season as well as a decrease in minutes. Bede has registered 10 points or more just once this season and while he has not missed a start, his production is undoubtedly slightly disappointing at the very least.
2. Wendell Moore, Duke
Moore had a rather disappointing freshman campaign as he only averaged seven points per game and shot poorly from the field to go along with it. A lot of people were expecting a huge bounce-back this season, especially considering he received All-ACC Second Team honors and seven votes to win ACC Player of the Year before the season started. Moore is struggling once again as a sophomore with comparable shooting splits, but he will have a chance to emerge as a star in Jalen Johnson’s absence in the final stretch of the Blue Devils season.
1. Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
Not only was Garrison Brooks voted as the Preseason Player of the Year in the ACC, but he won in convincing fashion. Brooks earned 102 votes while the next best, Sam Hauser, only received 24. The Tar Heels were expected to respond to a horrendous season in 2019-20 in a huge way and Brooks was expected to lead the way. Instead, he is the third leading scorer on his own team and nowhere near the top of the race for ACC Player of the Year. With Carolina barely projected to make the NCAA Tournament, Brooks will need to step up in his final season if he wants to compete in March Madness one last time.