Player of the Week
Joseph Girard III (Fr., Syracuse)
The freshman guard from Glens Falls, NY, who scored more points in his high school career than any other player in the history of New York high school basketball, was balling like it was senior year again this past week. In his two games against NC State and Florida State this past week, Girard averaged 26 points per game, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Against NC State on 2/11, he played his best game as a member of the Orange, going for 30 points, 1 assist, 5 rebounds, and a steal in 40 minutes. Although Syracuse went 0-2 in the two games they played this week, the spike in production during what was already a nice freshman season for Joe Girard III is a positive thing to take away from the week. As Syracuse continues to fight for NCAA tournament consideration, Joe Girard will look to continue his hot streak and form a 1-2 punch with forward and leading scorer Elijah Hughes.
So far this season, when the Clemson Tigers have been featured in this blog, it typically has not been for good reason. Sitting at 13-12, it has definitely been an up and down season for the Tigers, as they have gone on both a five-game win streak and a four-game losing streak, and have lost to teams such as Yale and Wake Forest. Wins have not been exactly easy to come by, especially against the top teams in the conference, which makes the feat this team accomplished this past week even more surprising and impressive. Beating Louisville 77-62 on 2/15 gave Brad Brownell and his team their second win over a top-5 team this season, marking only the second time in Clemson basketball history that they have two wins over top-5 ranked teams in one season. John Newman III led the Tigers with an extremely efficient game, going for 23 points on 7-9 shooting (2-3 from deep), 6 rebounds, 1 block and 2 steals. Credit goes to Brad Brownell and his team for continuing to play hard even during a down year and salvaging a reason to celebrate out of it.
Mamdi Diakite (Sr., Virginia)
Diakite, one of the only players remaining on Tony Bennett’s team from the 2018-2019 championship squad, has been holding down the paint in Charlottesville for the past four years, and did more of the same this past week. In wins over Notre Dame and UNC, the reliable senior averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. Against Notre Dame on 2/11, Diakite scored 20 points, his highest in ACC play this season, two of which came on a game tying bucket with 25.1 seconds left. With Diakite leading the way, it has been a bit of an off year for the Cavaliers, who are 17-7. Regardless of how the regular season goes, though, no team wants to see Virginia and their suffocating defense in the postseason.
While Louisville has experienced great success this season, even claiming the #1 ranking at one point, many Cardinal fans still have a valid reason to be skeptical about the potential of this team. While the talent is definitely there, as Jordan Nwora is one of the best players in the ACC, and players such as Dwayne Sutton and Ryan McMahon lead a capable supporting cast, it just seems as if there are games where the team is not able to figure it out. A large part of the problem is the struggles of their best player at times. It seems that when Nwora does not play well, the team also suffers. At Clemson, the Cardinals went 24-69 from the field (34.8%), and 6-27 (22.2%) from behind the arc. Sure enough, Nwora also struggled mightily, finishing with 5 points and 4 turnovers on 1-5 shooting in 29 minutes. Louisville has now dropped two games in a row, to Clemson (13-12), and Georgia Tech (12-13). With March rapidly approaching, now is not the time for Chris Mack and his team to fall apart, especially during a college basketball season where no one team has been able to separate themselves from the pack as the overall favorite to win the championship.
North Carolina Tar Heels
If somebody were to tell me in November that North Carolina was going to be in the position they are currently in at this time, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. With a top recruiting class featuring Armando Bacot and of course Cole Anthony, expectations were that the Tar Heels would be competing for an ACC and NCAA tournament championship. Things were looking good for them, as they started the season 5-0, and Cole Anthony looked to be one of, if not the best player in college basketball. But, then, Anthony went down with a knee injury that kept him sidelined for over a month. Since starting 5-0, the Tar Heels have gone 5-15. Even since Anthony’s return, things have not changed, as they are currently on a five-game losing streak and sit in last place in the ACC. It has truly been tough to watch such a historic program and coach struggle as much as UNC has this season. With another strong recruiting class coming in next season, it is time to start looking to the future in Chapel Hill.
Top 5 Best Big Men in ACC This Season
5. Manny Bates (Fr., NC State)
The freshman leads the ACC in blocks, and is ranked 8th nationally at 2.96 blocks per game. A freshman has not led the ACC in blocks since 2009, but Bates looks to break that streak this season. Manny Bates has the potential to be a record-breaking shot blocker in college basketball, depending on how long he stays in school for.
4. Mamadi Diakite (Sr., Virginia)
Diakite is a seasoned vet, and has been anchoring the paint for Tony Bennett for the past four years. He is averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds this season, and continues to be one of the best defenders in both the conference and entire country.
3. Garrison Brooks (Jr., UNC)
Although it has been an extremely difficult year in Chapel Hill, there are still some glimmers of hope coming through that are giving fans some reasoning to cheer. The biggest glimmer of hope comes from the breakout performance of big man Garrison Brooks, who is averaging 14.9 points, and 8.6 rebounds. He has basically doubled his scoring average from last season and has not shied away from an extended role while Cole Anthony was out with injury.
2. John Mooney (Sr., Notre Dame)
Even after putting up 12 double-doubles in a row, leading the country in double-doubles, and averaging 13 rebounds per game this season, John Mooney remains one of the least talked about stars in college basketball. The senior has been virtually unstoppable in the post this season, averaging 16.4 points, and 12.8 rebounds, and has put up some monster stat-lines this year, including a 28-point, 14 rebound performance against Syracuse on 1/4.
1. Vernon Carey (Fr., Duke)
Carey came into the season with extremely high expectations, as a five-star recruit who has been tasked with filling in the role left behind by Zion Williamson. He started off a little slow in the first month or two of the season, but has seemed to have figured out the college basketball game. He is averaging 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds this season and has Duke looking primed to make another title run next month.