Player of the Week
David Johnson, PG, Louisville Cardinals
Johnson does not wow with stats or take over games with streaky shooting, but he is the model of consistency and the engine that helps this 6-1 Louisville team go. The sophomore point guard is averaging 13.6 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game for the Cardinals who are coming off an impressive victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. Johnson carried the load for Louisville by playing all 40 minutes with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Johnson is everything you can ask for in a point guard. He controls the game, he dribbles well, he is a great passer, and a competitor on defense. The one thing he needs to sure up is his turnovers, which are sitting at four per game. Regardless, Johnson impressed many across the country last season and he is continuing to do so this season. He is one of those guys that you need to actually watch to appreciate, so it will be no surprise to see him climbing draft boards in the near future.
Nate Laszewski, PF/C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Unlike Johnson, Nate Laszewski proves his worth on the stat sheet as well. The 6’10 junior is emerging as one of the best stretch-fours in all of the ACC. He is averaging 16 points per game and eight rebounds, but what is most impressive is his 57% three-point percentage on 28 attempts in this young season. Laszewski can stretch the floor and also dominate in the post and he showed it during a 28-point outing against Virginia in a losing effort.
In this contest against the Cavaliers, Laszewski kept the Irish alive in a game they would have been dismantled without him. He scored nearly half of their points and shot efficiently (8-11 FG, 4-7 3PT) in the process. A changing NBA calls for spreading the floor and having all five guys able to shoot from distance. Laszewski is a perfect fit for this new style and has the size to play on the interior if he has to. If he can continue to shoot well from beyond the arc and prove he has the strength to play in the post, Laszewski could hear his name called whenever he chooses to enter the draft.
Is Clemson … a basketball school? Obviously, this is not the case with the football team booking a CFP berth for the sixth consecutive season, but the basketball team is making some noise as well. They knocked off arguably the most impressive ACC team so far this season and the reigning conference champions, the Florida State Seminoles. A 10-point win on Tuesday night capped off an impressive 2020 calendar year. They will enter 2021 with the second-best overall record in the conference and their sights set on a conference championship in a struggling ACC.
MJ Walker, PG/SG, #18 Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles have lost two of their last three games one year removed from a season where they only dropped five contests. Both of their losses came at the hands of unranked opponents and the most recent one can be partially blamed on MJ Walker. The ‘Noles could not find anyone to turn to against a great Clemson defense and Walker’s 1-6 performance from distance was part of the reason why.
He could not come up with the shots when Leonard Hamilton needed them most and as the most experienced player on the team, it is fair to put it on his shoulders. I have no doubts that he will be able to turn it around, but many were hoping for a much better bounce-back performance after his seven-point, five turnover display against Gardner Webb a week before. Walker is the veteran of this team and will eventually need to hit the big shots and carry this team to a deep postseason run.
North Carolina Tar Heels
A few weeks after I predicted the Tar Heels to win the ACC, they have lost two consecutive conference games on the road to unranked opponents to post an 0-2 start to conference play. They have left themselves a rather large mountain to climb if they are going to win the ACC, but if anyone has the talent and depth to do it, it is the Tar Heels.
Armando Bacot has taken huge strides in his second season and currently leads the Tar Heels in scoring with 12.2 points per game and eight rebounds to go with it. He is also shooting 73% on the season which leads the conference. Preseason ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks is on a different trend after being moved to the bench for the Tar Heels matchup with Georgia Tech on Wednesday. Roy Williams is moving guys all over the place with eight players already earning a start in only nine games so far. If they cannot find some continuity or a lineup they can trust, it could be another long season in a top to bottom competitive ACC season.
Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions for ACC Teams
5. Miami (FL): Get your stars back on the court
Miami is struggling in the early part of this season and the biggest reason why is their inability to get their star players on the court. The Hurricanes secured the 37th ranked recruit this season, Earl Timberlake, and he has only been able to play in two games so far. Returning senior Chris Lykes is also unavailable with a sprained ankle as he has only participated in two games this season as well. Timberlake is just now getting back while Lykes is hoping to return in the near future and if the Canes can get them clicking, they can make some noise this season.
4. Virginia: Find a Star
Many believed Sam Hauser would be the star of the Cavaliers after he transferred from a Marquette team who earned a 5-seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament before Ja Morant ended their run prematurely. While Hauser may be the leading scorer, he has been far from a true star for Virginia. He struggled mightily in the biggest game of the season against Gonzaga and has failed to register a 20-point game this season. Whether it is Hauser, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark, or Trey Murphy, Virginia needs a guy to take over games and none have proved themselves so far.
3. North Carolina: Take care of the ball
The Tar Heels are averaging an astounding 16 turnovers per game and unsurprisingly lead the conference in this category. Roy Williams always likes to play at a fast pace, but 16 turnovers is still inexcusable. The struggles of RJ Davis and Caleb Love in the backcourt are a major reason why that number is so high, and Williams might try slowing the game down for them to try to fix this problem.
2. Duke and Wake Forest: Play Some Games
Though this is almost entirely out of their control, Duke and Wake Forest have combined for 10 game cancellations or postponements. Duke cancelled non-conference play, which accounts for two of the cancellations, but these are two exciting teams who we would love to see string a couple of games together without cancelling. The Demon Deacons are a tough game for anyone in the conference and Duke is one of the most storied schools in all of college basketball. The country is anxiously awaiting to see these teams play and I am a part of that group.
1. North Carolina (again): Win A Road Game
The Tar Heels are currently 0-3 in true road games and this is clearly not a sustainable trend if they want to compete for a conference championship. This is a strange ACC season with no clear front-runner, so an 0-2 start is not the end of the world, but the Tar Heels need to start winning road games and fast if they want to avoid a second straight disappointing sea