Player of the Week
Coby White, North Carolina
The rookie point guard was terrific against the Hokies, leading his team to its most complete performance of the season. Finishing with 27 points on nine made field-goal attempts, White marked the thirteenth time he has scored in double digits this season. He did a lot more than just score for the Tar Heels. White added seven rebounds, six assists, four steals, and one block to his stat line in the 21-point rout of Virginia Tech.
It was not just another great performance for White, it was a historic one. The star freshman became the first Tar Heel in 18 years to lead North Carolina in points, rebounds, assists and steals all in one game. The Goldsboro, N.C. native jump-started a 20-0 run for the Tar Heels, drilling three threes in a 2:44 span in the first half. White is settling into his role as point guard and is arguably the most important player on the team. White’s team is currently fourth in the ACC with a solid 5-1 record. When the Tar Heels are clicking, they look like a top five team in the country.
The Cardinals picked up two wins against NC State and Pittsburgh to improve to 6-1 in the ACC. Since falling to the Panthers in early January, Louisville has won five straight and is one of the hottest teams in the conference. In the victory at home against the Wolfpack, five Louisville players scored in double-figures. Then on Saturday, in a revenge game with the Panthers, shots were not falling for Louisville. Despite a poor shooting performance, it was the Cardinals’ defense that won the game, holding the Panthers to 35.2% from the field. Chris Mack’s squad is figuring out how to win games even when it’s not pretty, which should prepare them for their upcoming grueling schedule.
Nassir Little, North Carolina
After an up and down start to the season, it looks like Nassir Little has finally arrived. In the Tar Heels’ three-game win streak, the 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists all while coming off the bench. Little scored a career-high 23 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists in 20 minutes of playing time, playing an important role in a blowout victory against a top-ten Virginia Tech team. While the three game stint is a small sample size, it seems like the five-star prospect has turned the corner, making the Tar Heels a legitimate conference threat and title contender. Expect his playing time to increase and to see him possibly earn a spot into the starting five.
Virginia Tech’s Defense
Virginia Tech is a very vulnerable team on the road and unstoppable at home. Before an embarrassing 22-point loss to their in-state rival Virginia, the Hokies entered the game ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense (57.3 ppg). The Hokies allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 59% from the field and 54.2% from 3-point range. One week later, Virginia Tech traveled to Chapel Hill to take on its second ranked opponent in three games. The Hokies gave up 103 points in the loss, which included 16-made North Carolina three-pointers in another 21-point beatdown.
Blue Devils’ 3-point Shooting
Many of Coach K’s teams have thrived from the 3-point line, but that is far from the truth this season. The Blue Devils have made 26 of their last 100 three-point attempts and are shooting slightly over 30% as a team. On Saturday, the Blue Devils survived a scare from Georgia Tech and pulled away in the final ten minutes. Still, Duke was 2-for-21 (9%) from downtown. This year, Duke is clearly a strong post-oriented team, but is still struggling to hit wide-open threes when defenses collapse inside. Duke has players that can shoot from long-range—Jack White, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett—but they have been too inconsistent. The Blue Devils have shown in spurts that they can hit threes, but this could very well be their downfall.
The Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the league, but are far from that early season prediction. Clemson dropped to 1-5 in the conference after blowing a 6-point lead to the Wolfpack with 26 seconds remaining. Senior Marcquise Reed, who shoots a team-best 84.3% from the free throw line, missed two critical ones with 14 seconds remaining. Then, he missed two more with seven seconds on the clock, leaving an opportunity for NC State to win the game. NC State’s Braxton Beverly nailed a three from NBA range at the buzzer to complete the comeback. This is a road game that the Tigers let slip away.
Top Five Point Guards
1. Tre Jones, Duke
Returning from an AC joint separation that prevented the 6’2’’ 185-pound guard from playing in three consecutive games, Tre Jones brought back what Duke had been lacking the past two weeks: a top-notch defender and facilitator. In the opening six minutes against Syracuse before injuring his shoulder, Jones tallied four steals and two assists, proving exactly why Duke cannot afford to lose him. Jones, who leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio, is the only player in the nation averaging 5.0+ assists, 2.0+ steals per game with a 5.0+ assist-to-turnover ratio.
2. Ty Jerome, Virginia
This is the best offensive team that Tony Bennett has coached and a lot has to do with point guard Ty Jerome getting the ball into the hands of the right players at the right time. The 6-foot-5 floor general is averaging 4.8 assists per game and has the the third-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference (3.11). Shooting over 40% from 3-point range, averaging 13.1 points, and 4.1 rebounds per game, Jerome clearly does a lot more than just pass the ball. And of course, he does what every player wearing a Virginia uniform does—plays elite defense.
3. Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech
Senior Justin Robinson is the glue for this Virginia Tech team. On Saturday in a contest with Syracuse, it was announced that Robinson broke the Hokies’ career assists record. The Virginia native leads the ACC in total assists this season with 106 and has recorded six or more assists in 11 of the Hokies’ 19 games this season. Aside from being a passing threat, Robinson has the ability to go off on any given night. Against Syracuse, the 6-foot-2 guard scored a career-high 35 points, drilling nine of his 13 three-point attempts.
4. Ky Bowman, Boston College
Since his team sits ninth in the conference with a 2-4 conference record, junior Ky Bowman does not get nearly enough recognition. The Eagles have a pure scorer in Bowman who is averaging 20.5 points per game and shooting 80% from the charity stripe. Bowman has already recorded three 30+ point games this season, including a career-high 44 points in December. He is averaging 8.1 rebounds and dishing out 3.6 assists per game, making him one of the most difficult players to guard in the ACC.
5. Markell Johnson, NC State
After suffering a lower back injury, Markell Johnson returned to the court Saturday against Clemson, scoring 16 points in limited playing time. Without Johnson, the Wolfpack went 1-2 with losses to Wake Forest and Louisville. Once Johnson is 100% healthy, the Wolfpack will be back in the conversation to finish in the top tier of the ACC. The 175-pound junior is averaging 11.8 points per game and 7.5 assists per 40 minutes.