Player of the Week
Cameron Johnson, North Carolina
Thanks to a huge contribution from senior wing Cameron Johnson, the Tar Heels picked up their first marquee win of the season with a 103-90 victory against no. 4 Gonzaga. The last time the two teams faced off was in the 2017 National Championship game, however Johnson was not a part of the Carolina squad that took home the title. On Saturday night, the Tar Heels were a stellar 13 of 25 from 3-point range, with six of those coming from Johnson. It was one of those nights where no player in the country could have stopped him. Johnson drilled a deep 30-foot 3-pointer under six minutes in the second half to extend North Carolina’s lead to 17—the team’s largest lead of the night. In addition to a game-high 25 points, the 6-foot-9 guard added 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal, shooting a sensational 66% on the night.
The senior set the tone early and the rest of his teammates followed, feeding off his shots. North Carolina is at their best when Cameron Johnson is. With his impressive performance, Johnson reminded the country that he can score with anybody. As a team, the Tar Heels shot 55%, which was more than enough to secure a much-needed win against an experienced and talented Gonzaga team. Head coach Roy Williams will need Johnson to shoot lights out in their next top-25 matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats.
Virginia Tech Hokies
After a one-point upset from Penn State two weeks ago, the Hokies have won four straight games, including a signature road win at Washington—a team that nearly knocked off Gonzaga. In the Penn State loss, Virginia Tech lacked toughness and a sense of togetherness, but that was not the case against Washington. The Hokies withstood the Huskies’ second-half rally, and their swarming defense forced 15 Washington turnovers in the game. Led by guards Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Hokies are playing with a newfound confidence and are talented enough to make a deep run in the Big Dance.
After sliding their way back into the top-25 after a gritty win against the Georgetown Hoyas in their previous game, Syracuse was left stunned by Old Dominion in the Carrier Dome. Tyus Battle’s 23 points was not enough this week to grind out another win. The Orange had a horrendous shooting night, making just 33.3% of their field goals and connecting on only 8 of their 22 three-pointers. Along with a poor shooting performance, the team missed 12 free throws which contributed to the 6-point loss as well. Now with losses to Uconn, Oregon, and Old Dominion—three teams that may miss the NCAA tournament—Syracuse is in position to be a bubble team. However, on the bubble seems to be their preference year in and year out.
Top Five Freshmen (So far)
Entering the season, the hype was centered on Duke’s four freshmen for good reason. The nation’s top two NBA prospects—RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson—have been absolutely dominant. Mix in point guard Tre Jones, who is exceeding expectations, and the Blue Devils have every necessary piece to be the last team standing. Although the season is young, Duke’s standout freshmen have been the headline of the ACC and college basketball season. The Blue Devils’ fourth freshman, Cam Reddish, and North Carolina’s Nassir Little have been too inconsistent in the early season to crack this list. Here are the conference’s most impressive freshmen so far, and yes three of them are on the same team.
1. RJ Barrett, Duke
There is much debate to whether RJ Barrett or Zion Williamson has been the more impactful Duke freshman. Despite that the two are teammates, they will be analyzed and compared to each other for the entire season. The 1 and 2 spot for this top five list could easily be interchangeable. RJ Barrett is fearless in transition and finishes at the rim better than anyone in the country. The Canadian native leads the conference in scoring, averaging 24.2 points per game. Although he has gotten scrutinized for taking too many shots, Barrett lives for game-pressure situations and wants the ball in his hands. This is the type of mindset that Coach K’s players have lacked in recent years. In nine of Duke’s 10 games, the 6-foot-7 forward has scored 20 or more points, and is one of only four players with multiple 30-point games this season.
2. Zion Williamson, Duke
The freshman sensation is an icon on social media, best-known for his jaw-dropping dunks, but has proven to be so much more than a monster dunker. Williamson is ranked second in the conference, scoring 20.4 points per game, behind teammate RJ Barrett. The 285-pound forward scores effortlessly and hardly misses at the rim, shooting 67% overall on the season. For someone that is 6-foot-7 and weighs as much as he does, Williamson is a tremendous passer and a reliable ball handler. He is also a stud on defense—constantly diving for loose balls, blocking shots, and corralling rebounds. Opponents have learned that it is in their best interest to step out of the way when Zion Williamson is headed towards the rim.
3. Tre Jones, Duke
Duke, again. The last time Duke had a point guard as efficient as Tre Jones was in 2015 when Tyus Jones—Tre’s older brother—led the Blue Devils to their fifth national title. Tre Jones doesn’t score much, but he doesn’t have to. He does everything else. The feisty 6-foot-2 floor general plays a suffocating defense and is averaging nearly 2 steals per game. Phenoms Barrett and Williamson often overshadow how great their point guard has been, but it is Jones who maximizes the potential of his teammates. The freshman is dishing out 5.6 assists per game, good enough for second-best in the conference. He rarely turns the ball over—tallying just 12 in Duke’s first ten games.
4. Coby White, North Carolina
Coby White is a dynamic asset offensively for the Tar Heels. After his explosive performances in the Las Vegas Invitational several weeks ago, the 185-pound freshman garnered a lot of public attention. An ankle injury prevented White from competing against UNCW last week, but he led his team in scoring in the previous three games. During the three-game stretch against Texas, UCLA, and Michigan, White averaged 58% from the 3-point line, 21.3 points and 5 assists per game. The Carolina native shoots well off the dribble and is active with his hands on defense. When the 6-foot-5 point guard hits his first few shots, he stays on fire for the rest of the game.
5. Jaylen Hoard, Wake Forest
Once again, it is a rebuilding season for the Demon Deacons and not enough people are paying attention to freshman forward Jaylen Hoard, who chose to play for Wake Forest over the traditional powerhouse basketball programs. Hoard, a projected first round draft pick, is just the third five-star recruit in Wake Forest’s recruiting history. The athletic and versatile power forward has contributed significantly on both ends of the court this season. Averaging 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, Hoard sits in the top 15 in conference scoring and rebounding. He has struggled tremendously from behind the arc, but shoots excellent inside. The 6-foot-8 lengthy forward gets to the free throw line often, attempting 5.5 per game. Jaylen Hoard’s effort is never in question and his intensity level is what could turn the Demon Deacons’ season around.