Player of the Week
Moses Wright, SF/PF, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Josh Pastner’s squad is comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field after a six-game winning streak and Moses Wright’s play down the stretch is the biggest reason why. The Yellow Jackets finished their season on this impressive streak and secured a double-bye in the ACC Tournament because of it. The 6’9 senior was easily the best player for the Yellow Jackets to close the season and put together a fantastic case for ACC Player of the Year in the process. The struggles of Justin Champagnie and Pittsburgh at the end of the season opened the door for the conference’s player of the year and Wright is hoping his late-season surge was enough to claim the honor.
Wright (pictured) finished the regular season with 18 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, and over 1.5 steals and blocks per game. He also shot above 54% from the field and drastically improved his three-point shooting to 39% this season. Wright’s two-way impact and solid stats provide a compelling argument for ACC Player of the Year and you have to think it will come down to Champagnie, Matthew Hurt, and himself when the award is announced on Monday. The Yellow Jackets are a dark horse not only in the ACC Tournament in the coming week, but also a sleeper team to make some noise in Indianapolis in a few weeks.
Scottie Barnes, SF/PF, #11 Florida State Seminoles
Just as with every Seminole that comes on this list, the stats do not necessarily catch your eye, but the play of Scottie Barnes this week is worthy of recognition. The star freshman is coming into his own and his playmaking ability is on full display. Barnes helped mount a comeback, that came up short, against the Fighting Irish on Saturday and ended up leading the ‘Noles in scoring with 17 points, nine rebounds, and two assists. He also tallied seven points and seven assists in 22 minutes against Boston College as well as 12 points and two assists against North Carolina last Saturday.
The recent success of Barnes has all but solidified a lottery selection for the true freshman and he is likely to be awarded ACC Freshman of the Year in the coming days. The defensive versatility and strength that Barnes plays with is something that sets him apart from other draft prospects and the immediate impact of Patrick Williams in Chicago bodes well for the Seminoles’ young star. The top five of the upcoming draft is fairly clear-cut but Barnes is starting to set himself apart as that #6 prospect and it shows on our latest mock draft.
Sam Hauser, SF, #21 Virginia Cavaliers
Hauser is getting hot at just the right time and his performance against Louisville this weekend showed just how much he developed this season. His greatest strength is his ability to stretch the floor and knock down threes, but on Saturday Hauser attacked the Cardinals with post-ups and a lethal mid-range scoring game. The Marquette transfer capped off his regular season with 24 points and eight rebounds on 9-14 shooting. He averaged 16 points and seven rebounds on the season with 52/44/87.5 shooting splits. Hauser is a matchup nightmare and the length of Jay Huff, Trey Murphy, and Hauser in the frontcourt is quite the challenge for any team to prepare for.
Matthew Hurt, SF/PF, Duke Blue Devils
After a 37-point showing last weekend against Louisville, Matthew Hurt struggled in the most crucial week of the season for the Blue Devils and once again completely disappeared against arch-rival North Carolina when he was needed most. The sophomore may have scored in double-figures in both games this week, but he fouled out against Georgia Tech on Tuesday and shot 2-10 from distance against the Tar Heels.
Hurt probably has the best case for ACC Player of the Year at this point, but his failure to come up big in both games against the Tar Heels, and the fact that he was completely outplayed by fellow nominee Moses Wright on Tuesday, certainly hurts his case for this award. If I had a vote for ACC Player of the Year, I would certainly consider these struggles and cast my vote for either Moses Wright or Jose Alvarado from Georgia Tech.
It looked like Jeff Capel was going to help the Panthers escape from the bottom feeders of the ACC after an 8-2 start and a huge home win over the Duke Blue Devils. It did not exactly work out that way. The emergence of Justin Champagnie as the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year played a pivotal role for the Panthers, but they were unable to sustain their hot start. A 2-9 finish to the season dropped Pitt to 12th in the ACC and provoked stars Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney to enter the transfer portal.
The Panthers now have to play a first round matchup in the ACC Tournament against Miami to set up a matchup with red-hot Clemson who ended the season with a drubbing of Capel’s squad, 77-62. Questions will have to be raised about Capel’s success, or lack thereof, in his time with the Panthers as they continue to head in the wrong direction under his supervision. Disheartening transfers by Johnson, Toney, and Trey McGowans last season also do not bode well for the former Duke assistant’s image with the university. Changes have to be made in the program, and it might just have to start with the head coach.
Top 5 Players Who Can Impact March Madness
5. Caleb Love, PG, North Carolina Tar Heels
Love has had a multitude of struggles this season, particularly shooting, but this North Carolina team is lethal whenever he makes jump shots of any sort. The Tar Heels put up huge numbers against Duke in both contests and it is no coincidence that Love was able to spread the floor and knock down threes in both. The frontcourt in Chapel Hill is one of the deepest and most talented in the nation, but the inability of the backcourt to hit threes is the only thing holding them back from a deep NCAA Tournament run. If Love can get hot and make some shots, I could see this team going as far as the Final Four. He unlocks endless opportunities for this Tar Heels offense.
4. Carlik Jones, SG, Louisville Cardinals
If Louisville is going to make a run this postseason it will be because of Carlik Jones. He has the experience to take the Cardinals far into both tournaments whether it is by scoring or setting up his teammates to score. The major criticism of teammate David Johnson is his AST/TO ratio, but Carlik Jones has no such problem. He Is averaging 17 points with 4.6 assists per game with only 2.1 turnovers per game. Johnson only has one more assist than turnover on the season, so Jones will have more and more of the ball at the end of games to make a difference and carry this team on his back.
3. MJ Walker, SG, #11 Florida State Seminoles
Walker is one of the most experienced players in college basketball and it is one of the best traits to handle the pressure of single-elimination basketball. We have seen legends made with heroic March Madness runs and buzzer-beaters, and the majority of these Cinderella stories are led by senior guards. Walker, Jones, and another senior guard to be mentioned below could all be the next to write their names in the history books. Walker is no stranger to big moments and is more than capable of knocking down a game-winning shot to keep the Seminoles season alive. But is he the most impactful player on the roster from here on out?
2. Scottie Barnes, SF, #11 Florida State Seminoles
My answer to the question above would be no. While experience is the best trait you can have in March, Scottie Barnes is one of those guys who is built for the big moments anyway. He is only a freshman, but he has already delivered two last-second shots this year to propel the ‘Noles to eventual victories. His impact will not only come at the end of games, though. Barnes is really starting to impact games in the way we thought he would all season long. His ability to score on his own and make plays for others is being seen now more than ever before and he is one of the biggest X-factors in all of college basketball. Few players are as talented as Barnes and none have a better supporting cast. Barnes can lift everyone else up around him and I would not be surprised if he has an increased role as the Seminoles prepare for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
1. Jose Alvarado, PG, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The ACC player who can make the biggest impact in the next month is undoubtedly Jose Alvarado. The players above have plenty of four or five-star talent around them and can function without too much of a hitch without them. Georgia Tech is nowhere near where they are today without Alvarado. They do have a bunch of talent around him, but his defensive impact, energy, shot-making ability, vision, passing ability – I could go on and on – could never be replaced by anyone on the Yellow Jackets. He is the heartbeat of this program and if the clock is winding down in a close game, I only want one guy in the ACC running the offense and it is Jose Alvarado.