Player of the Week
Day'Ron Sharpe, PF/C, North Carolina Tar Heels
A new star big man is emerging in Chapel Hill and this time it is true freshman Day’Ron Sharpe (pictured). An 0-2 start to ACC play could have become a lot worse for the Tar Heels if it were not for Sharpe and his crucial performances against Notre Dame and Miami this week. Against the Irish, Sharpe scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds with seven of them coming on the offensive glass. He followed up this breakout performance with another seven offensive rebound day but tallied 16 total rebounds and combined for three steals and a block in the two contests.
North Carolina boasts a loaded frontcourt with as many as four big men who can take over a game and the star of the show seems to change each game. Sharpe worked his way into the starting lineup with Garrison Brooks moving to the bench and the 6’11 freshman is not looking back. His strengths include athleticism and length that make him a formidable defender and a high vertical that allows him to soar for rebounds all over the court. It is rare to see Roy Williams players go one-and-done, so Sharpe will most likely not hit draft boards for at least a year, but he has all of the tools to become the next fearsome forward in Chapel Hill.
Aamir Simms, PF, #19 Clemson Tigers
The Clemson Tigers are 9-1. They are on a four-game winning streak including three in a row in the ACC against Florida State, Miami, and NC State. The toughest thing to do in a stacked conference is win games on the road because you need experience and confidence to pull out close games. Even without fans, teams across the nation are struggling on the road and a narrow road victory against the Hurricanes and an overtime victory against NC State are huge gut checks for a Tigers team that is not used to this level of success.
The biggest reason why the Tigers were able to pull out these victories was Aamir Simms, the senior leader for Clemson. He came up with two huge shots in OT to build a lead against the Wolfpack and dominated Miami from start to finish and delivered the game-winning shot with 19 second to play. He finished the game against Miami with 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four blocks on 71% shooting. Simms’s value cannot be understated for the Tigers and he has Clemson back in the top 20.
Matthew Hurt, SF/PF, #21 Duke Blue Devils
Matthew Hurt stayed hot for Duke this week and his sophomore surge has him in pole position to take home ACC Player of the Year this season. Hurt is my favorite to win the award and the Blue Devils would be lost without him. He put together two more impressive performances this week in tight home wins against Boston College and Wake Forest. He scored 26 against the Demon Deacons on the weekend and hit a crucial go ahead three-pointer against Boston College with 90 seconds remaining.
Hurt is up to 19.6 points per game, which leads the ACC, and he is also in the top five in rebounds. Hurt will have to continue his success in the coming games as the Blue Devils hit the road for a three-game road trip against #19 Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Louisville, who all boast at least two wins in conference play. If Duke is going to stay hot, Matthew Hurt must continue to show improvement and come up big in the clutch and his draft stock will only continue to rise if he does.
Garrison Brooks, PF/C, North Carolina Tar Heels
What goes up, must eventually come down and nobody knows this better than Garrison Brooks this season. Brooks began the year as the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. Now he is coming off the bench for the Tar Heels and shooting 3-14 from the field over his last two games. The emergence of Day’Ron Sharpe mentioned above is moving Brooks down the pecking order and diminishing the once promising draft stock of the senior forward.
A year after averaging nearly 17 points and nine rebounds, Brooks is down to just above 10 points with a 10 percent drop in shooting percentage as well. The good news for Brooks is Roy Williams rotates big men as much as any other coach in the nation and he will have plenty of opportunities to earn his spot back. It will have to happen sooner rather than later if he is going to improve his draft stock and hope to play at the next level.
Boston College Eagles
There are only three teams left in the ACC without a win in conference play and the Eagles are the least impressive of the bunch with five losses compared to three for Notre Dame and Wake Forest. The Eagles are 2-9 to start the season and a 1-8 stretch in their last nine is a cause for major concern. They nearly knocked off #3 Villanova to start the season and proceeded to defeat a talented Rhode Island team the next day. The season has fallen off a cliff in the aftermath and they find themselves all but eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in early January. Two games against teams in the bottom third of the conference could potentially get the Eagles back on track, but two more losses would essentially end the season for Jim Christian’s squad.
Top Upcoming ACC Games
#21 Duke Blue Devils at Pittsburgh Panthers, Tuesday 1/19, 9 PM
Duke is finally hitting their stride in this young season and they will face off against a surging Panthers squad led by former Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel. This is the team Capel imagined when he took this job, and he will have the chance to make a huge statement with a win over the Blue Devils. Pitt will be without breakout sophomore Justin Champagnie but can still pull off a major upset led by Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney.
North Carolina Tar Heels at #25 Florida State Seminoles, Saturday 1/16, Noon
The Tar Heels have squeaked out a few close games to salvage their season and their reward will be a date with the reigning conference champions in an arena where the Seminoles are 67-4 since 2016. Scottie Barnes and MJ Walker will lead the way against a balanced Tar Heels team in Tallahassee in what promises to be one of the best games of the ACC season.
#22 Virginia Cavaliers at #19 Clemson Tigers, Saturday 1/16, 6 PM
Anyone who enjoys watching offense and high scoring games can just stop reading at this point because this game will not interest you. This is a game where the first to 50 might end up winning the game. Virginia is perennially the top defense in the conference, but Clemson is going to give them a run for their money this year with a suffocating defense that has not given up more than 70 points in a game this season. This is the first step in the defining stretch for Clemson’s season which features Virginia and trips to both Florida State and Duke coming up in January.
#25 Florida State Seminoles at Louisville Cardinals, Monday 1/18, 7 PM
This matchup is between two of the top three teams in the ACC in my opinion and will feature two of the more intriguing draft prospects in Scottie Barnes and David Johnson. Barnes is arguably the top freshman in the conference but just needs to put up the numbers to prove it. David Johnson is a do-it-all point guard who does just about everything well. It is very early in the season, but this is one of those games that could determine the eventual ACC regular season champion and I cannot wait.