Player of the Week
Caleb Love, PG, North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina loses their Tobacco Road rivalry against Duke if Caleb Love plays anything like the way he played for 90% of the season. However, the 6’4 freshman showed out and showed off his perimeter game for one of the first times all season. He dropped in four threes out of five to account for 25 points and carry the Tar Heels to a 91-87 road victory. Shot selection and poor shooting percentages are the major criticisms of Love, but he put all of that behind him in the biggest game of the season in the biggest rivalry in college basketball. There were a ton of players who broke out of slumps in this game such as Leaky Black, Jeremy Roach, and Joey Baker, among others, but Love was the biggest star on the biggest stage for Roy Williams and the Heels.
We know that UNC have all of the big guys to win a national title, but the guards have clearly held them back all season. If Love can springboard off of this performance and find his shooting stroke, North Carolina will be an extremely tough out in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. Just the threat of Love shooting the deep ball will open so many avenues to 1-on-1s in the post for more consistent stars like Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Garrison Brooks. The Heels are a dangerous team right now and a matchup against #9 Virginia on Saturday will be a huge test to see if they are truly contenders this season.
Jay Huff, C, #9 Virginia Cavaliers
Huff is potentially the most valuable player on the Cavaliers roster and also one of the most underappreciated players in the entire country. The Cavs do not have a lot of depth on the interior and few seven-footers can spread the floor and protect the rim as well as he does. Tony Bennett implemented a five-out offensive style late in the year last season and Huff was the central piece that made everything click. It led to a late-season surge by the Cavaliers and a more than likely spot in the NCAA Tournament before the season was cancelled. A similar offensive set is used this season where Huff spreads the floor and is versatile enough to engage in two-man action and attack on the inside and out. He is shooting 46% from three-point range and also averaging 2.4 blocks per game on the other end. The 7’1 senior deserves a lot more recognition and I am here to give it to him.
Wendell Moore Jr., SG/SF, Duke Blue Devils
Even if the Blue Devils are struggling, Moore’s draft stock is not. After working his way back into the starting lineup in late January, the former top-22 recruit is finding his form down the stretch. He is shooting the ball considerably better than he has at any point in his career to this point and it is improving his all-around game as a result. With more recognition of his perimeter game, Moore is able to attack the basket much easier, the staple of his offensive style. Moore’s athleticism and strength will get him onto NBA courts in the future and his minutes will ultimately depend on how well he develops this perimeter game that is flourishing at 44% in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
Matthew Hurt, SF/PF, Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils are in free fall and it is no coincidence that Matthew Hurt is struggling as well. Hurt kept this team afloat for the large part of this season, but foul trouble and shooting struggles led to the second three-game losing streak in Duke’s horrendous season. Hurt failed to reach double figures for the first time all season at the most inopportune time against arch-rival North Carolina. Foul trouble also robbed him of a few minutes against Notre Dame and the Irish made them pay. Only 13 points and four rebounds were registered by Hurt and a loss to the Irish was the demoralizing result. The Blue Devils now sit under .500 for the first time this century and their NCAA Tournament hopes are all but lost with limited time to right the ship.
Florida State Seminoles and Louisville Cardinals
The ‘Noles and Cardinals are currently out of action due to COVID-19 and both programs have missed at least three games so far. It is so important for teams to go into March with momentum and the inability to even play, let alone get hot, could be even extremely costly. Florida State is hoping to get back into action on the weekend, but Louisville does not have a game on the schedule until next Wednesday. If these teams are not back in action soon, there could be severe consequences once single-elimination basketball starts up in a month.
Top 5 Overachievers in the ACC
Of the six true freshmen that were a part of the North Carolina class this season, Walton was easily expected to be the smallest contributor. Five of them were in the top 60 in the class while Walton was just the #23 SG in the nation. He has massively outperformed the likes of Walker Kessler and Puff Johnson and has shown far more growth than fellow guard R.J. Davis of late. Walton is the very definition of a sharpshooter and is shooting 46% from distance to show for it. A 4-4 performance against Duke was pivotal and a huge reason why the Tar Heels were able to pull off a huge resume-boosting win.
4. Isaiah Wong
Miami’s star guard stepped up in light of the Chris Lykes injury early in the season. Lykes is the most experienced player on the roster and has only competed in two games thus far. Wong, in his absence, has taken the reigns and become the star player for the Hurricanes. The star sophomore is averaging over 17 points per game and rarely fails to show up for his team. With all of the injuries for the Hurricanes this year, the consistency of Wong has been influential, and his emergence is the lone bright spot in a disastrous season for Jim Larrañaga’s group.
3. Carlik Jones
Despite his tremendous success at Radford, few believed Carlik Jones could be this good for the Louisville Cardinals. The best part about Jones is that he elevates his teammates around him. He has averaged over 15 points and five assists in each of the last three seasons with two of them coming at Radford. He does not shoot the three particularly well, but he makes up for it everywhere else on the floor. Louisville would not be anywhere near where they are in the ACC standings without Jones as his overachieving is leading to overachieving for the Cardinals.
2. Keve Aluma
When Aluma followed head coach Mike Young from Wofford to Blacksburg, the Terriers could have never imagined how devastating the loss of these two would be. Young is one of the favorites for ACC Coach of the Year and Aluma is averaging close to 16 points and eight rebounds per game. He is the undisputed star for the Hokies and has them in position for a late season run at the ACC title. The length and versatility of Aluma is transforming the Hokie offense and he could be the X-factor in a potential Cinderella run for Virginia Tech.
1. Justin Champagnie
Overachieving is a complete understatement when referring to the emergence of Justin Champagnie in his sophomore campaign. A rise of 10 points in both field goal and three-point percentage is leading to Champagnie topping the conference in both points and rebounds per game by a considerable margin. If he can keep these numbers up as the season winds down and leads a late season charge for the Panthers, it will be impossible to take away ACC Player of the Year from the breakout sophomore.