Player of the Week
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
With March about a week away, you can expect a predominant amount of postseason speculation integrated wherever possible throughout this blog from here on out. I can get that out of the way pretty quickly when talking about Boston College. The Eagles postseason chances are non-existant. Judging from a conference-worst 1-12 ACC record (and confirmed by a Magic 8-Ball), the Eagles are going to be watching the majority of the action this March from home. On the bright side, there’s always next season right? The team already has a star in junior Olivier Hanlan, and if he continues playing as he has been, he could lead the team to respectability almost on his own. I listed Hanlan as "Hot" last week, but he’s playing on another level right now, averaging a whopping 32 points on 52% shooting in two losses this week. After these two big performances, Hanlan is now leading the entire conference in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game on the season. His recent success is especially impressive when you consider how much the team relies on him. Over his last five games played, he’s been on the floor for a total of 208 out of the possible 210 minutes. I’d argue that the kid needs a rest, but he’s shown no signs of fatigue despite playing nearly every minute while carrying the team on his back. Hanlan has NBA talent, though at the moment is a bubble draft prospect, and — fortunately for the Eagles — should return to school for his Senior year.
Tyus Jones, Duke
"Pressure can burst a pipe, or pressure can make a diamond." We may have seen an excellent example of Robert Horry’s legendary quote this week in the latest matchup between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils. With the Blue Devils down by seven points and less than a minute-and-a-half remaining in the contest, Tyus Jones exploded to outscore the Tar Heels 9-2 by himself, to send the game into overtime. He finished the game with a line of 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists as the Blue Devils overcame their rivals to win 92-90 in overtime. His 22 points tied his career-high. Interestingly enough, one of the times he matched that output was at Wisconsin (a top team in their own right). He also scored 22 points against St. Johns a few weeks ago, though you may remember it as Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career victory. Notice a pattern yet? Tyus Jones seems to shine in big games; an attribute that should serve Duke well in March, where just about every game is big. The comparisons to Trey Burke (who was picked 9th overall in 2013) are becoming more and more valid. While lottery talks seem like a stretch for Jones, who knows what a strong postseason run could do for his stock? Stay tuned, folks.
Sheldon McClellan, Miami
McClellan has made huge strides in his offensive game since transferring from Texas in 2013. His scoring has increased from 13.5 ppg to 14.8 ppg, his field-goal percentage has increased from 38.2% to 51.7%, his three-point field-goal percentage has increased from 27.3% to 38.0%, and his assist to turnover ratio has increased from .53 A/TO to 1.4 A/TO. Only a junior, McClellan will have the chance to see another major jump production-wise next season. He may have given us a glimpse of that potential this past week, averaging 22.5 points on 60% shooting (including 60% from deep) with a 12.0 A/TO ratio. Sheldon has everything a great offensive player needs at the college level. He’s got an great frame to play on the perimeter, standing 6’5" and 205 lbs. He’s an excellent athlete, capable of finishing lobs around the rim and scoring in transition. His shooting ability is smooth and controlled when spotting up, as evidenced by his outstanding percentages. With all this, you may figure he’s a future first-round draft pick, and that’s not outside the realm of possibility. Shooters will always be in demand; especially athletic, efficient ones. What separates him from the first-round at the moment is likely his defense, which remains poor, even at this level. If he improves in that area, NBA teams would flip for his potential as a role-player.
Marcus Paige, UNC
On weeks that follow those greatest-rivalry-in-sports matchups, it’s customary for this blog to detail a member of the losing team down here. Sometimes that’s not fair, but it certainly applies in this case. Marcus Paige has been ice-cold lately. In two losses this week, the Preseason ACC Player of the Year has averaged just 6.5 points on 22.7% shooting (20% from outside). That includes a season-low 5 points on 2/11 shooting against the mighty defensive wall (or something) that is Quinn Cook. Despite having a less-than-stellar season (only 39.2 FG%), Marcus can usually be counted on to step up in important moments. He proved against Louisville a month ago, that he’s not afraid to take the last shot. It just so happened that this week, someone on the other team (see above) had the "clutch factor". Like Virginia and Notre Dame, UNC has a very unselfish team. In fact, they lead the nation in assists per game, dishing out an average of 17.7 as a team. Paige is unquestionably the team’s leader, and plays a big role as the primary ball-handler and distributor. However, as we saw this past week, the team needs him to be more than that. Last season he was one of the best scorers in the conference, averaging 17.5 points per game, but that’s fallen to just 13.6 this season. As an observer, it’s easy to imagine the Tar Heels making a major run this postseason if Paige gets his mojo back. Without him firing on all cylinders, I don’t see the team advancing past the Sweet Sixteen.
Top Five Bubble Teams
1. NC State Wolfpack – There’s really no excuse for overlooking the Wolfpack any longer. With Trevor Lacey leading the way, NC State has two major upsets on their resume against Duke and Louisville. They have five games remaining on their schedule, including one against a ranked opponent in UNC. Now, the Wolfpack should feel comfortable if they can win four out of these next five. Anything less than that may put them right back on the edge.
2. Pittsburgh Panthers – With wins over both UNC and Notre Dame, Pittsburgh already has a decent case for a bid. The problem is that a lot of teams can claim to have a "decent case", and the Panthers may have exhausted their chance to turn that into a great case. With no remaining games against ranked opponents, winning out almost seems necessary, barring a strong showing in the ACC tournament. Jamal Artis has been fantastic over the last month, but he’ll probably need help (calling Sheldon Jeter?) to get the Panthers a bid on Selection Sunday.
3. Miami Hurricanes – Blowing out the Blue Devils in Duke earlier this season was a statement by the Hurricanes. Getting blown out at home by Georgia Tech a couple weeks ago was a different kind of statement. Miami has a loaded backcourt, featuring Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, and Manu Leccomte; but has been plagued with inconsistency. If Miami can get everyone playing well at the same time (as they did against Duke), they’re capable of beating anyone. They’ll likely need to start this Saturday at Louisville to be considered for the NCAA tournament.
4. Clemson Tigers – Clemson has a solid 5-5 record in conference play, but has yet to score a signature win within the ACC. In December, they managed to knock off Arkansas, but nothing big since then. The Tigers play four more games in the regular season, including games against Duke and Notre Dame. Regrettably, both games are on the road, so Clemson is going to have to play out of their minds to close the season if they want a bid.
5. Syracuse Orange – The Orange finally got their first win against a ranked opponent Wednesday against Louisville. Rakeem Christmas went off for 29 points on 9/10 shooting, and Michael Gbinije remains one of the hottest players in the conference. It’s probably important to note that regardless of the strength of their resume, Syracuse is banned from the postseason this year, so technically they wouldn’t classify as a "bubble" team. Still, they would have warranted consideration, and deserve some recognition for it. I see you, Syracuse.