Iron Lion Zion

Player of the Week

Zion Williamson, Duke

Zion WilliamsonZion WilliamsonHe scores the loudest points in college basketball. Duke forward Zion Williamson nearly blew the roof off Cameron Indoor Stadium in the second half after picking up a mid-court steal and throwing down a one-handed 360-degree dunk against the Clemson Tigers. It was that type of night for Williamson. All Dick Vitale could spit out was “Are you serious?” Aside from another monster dunk, the 285-pound forward logged another spectacular performance to his freshman campaign.

Playing their first game in 16 days, the Blue Devils were rusty in the first half, but Williamson took over after intermission. In Duke’s 19-point rout of Clemson, Williamson carried his team to its seventh straight victory with 25 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks in just 22 minutes of playing time. He was 9-for-11 from the field with his two missed shots coming from the 3-point line. This marks Williamson’s seventh 20-point game this season and sixth game with ten or more rebounds. Performances like this is what could earn him National Player of the Year and a lottery pick in the NBA draft. Duke hasn’t won an ACC-opener since the 2015-16 season, but Zion made his team’s first conference win look easy against an older and experienced Clemson squad.

Who’s Hot

Kyle Guy, Virginia

The 2nd-ranked Cavaliers dominated the Seminoles in a 65-52 victory. The score was very misleading, as Virginia had a 29-point advantage with two minutes remaining. The Seminoles ended the game on a 16-0 run, but the game was already decided. Junior guard Kyle Guy led the way with 21 points, five rebounds, and three assists. The 6’2’’ 175-pound guard drilled five of his six 3-pointers in the game. The sharp shooter has converted on 12 of his last 15 three-point attempts. With Guy developing into an elite scorer, Virginia becomes the team to beat in the ACC. This season, Guy has been knocking down contested shots, which was one of his inconsistencies as a sophomore.

NC State’s Offense

The early-season skepticism surrounding the Wolfpack due to their weak non-conference schedule seems to have worn off. On Thursday night, NC State proved many people wrong after grinding out a road win at Miami for a perfect 1-0 start in the conference. The Wolfpack’s rise to success is of course in large part because of second-year head coach Kevin Keatts, but also the team’s offensive weapons—Markell Johnson, C.J. Bryce, Torin Dorn, and the list goes on. The depth on this team is unreal. Not one player is averaging more than 25.9 minutes per game. In the conference, the Wolfpack rank in the top three in points per game, assists per game, field-goal percentage, and 3-point percentage.

Who’s Not

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The 2017-18 basketball season for Notre Dame was plagued with injuries and unfortunately this season is headed that way, too. Two weeks ago, senior guard Rex Pflueger faced a season-ending ACL tear. The effects of losing the senior captain have been evident in Notre Dame’s 0-2 ACC start with losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse. Pflueger was by far the best defensive player and leader on the court for a very young Notre Dame team. He had come alive weeks before suffering his injury at Purdue— averaging 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.7 steals. The Irish are also without freshman guard Robby Carmody for the rest of a season due to a shoulder injury. Although the Pennsylvania native has played sparingly, he contributed in his short minutes with the Fighting Irish. Mike Brey is an intelligent coach who has dealt with situations like this before. Once again, we will get to see how Brey and his team handles adversity this season.

Top Five Burning Questions Entering Conference Play

1. Can the ACC surpass the league’s record nine teams sent to the NCAA tournament?

Last season, the ACC tied its highest number of teams sent to the Big Dance with nine. The league is loaded with talent this season and teams that normally finish in the middle of the pack, such as NC State and Virginia Tech, have key players to make a statement this season. If the tournament started today, Virginia Tech, Virginia, NC State, Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State would be locks. If those six teams stay healthy, they all have a favorable chance of making the tournament. The next tier—Syracuse, Louisville, Clemson—could certainly generate one or more teams that get in. It is more likely that the ACC will tie its nine-team bid from last season than passing it. Boston College, Notre Dame, Miami, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech must finish above .500 and lock up several signature conference wins if they want to be in consideration for the tournament.

2. How much will Duke’s inexperience play a role in their conference schedule?

Mike Krzyzewski lost four freshmen to the NBA last season, just to replace that group with a more impressive freshman class. While several of Duke’s five-star recruits such as RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish have shown signs of youth this season, highlighted by stretches of shooting inconsistencies and turnovers, Duke’s upperclassmen have exceeded expectations. Juniors Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, and Marques Bolden have contributed tremendously on the defensive end and have developed into veteran glue guys. Duke’s tough upcoming road schedule includes Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville and North Carolina, so of course there will be moments of inexperience with four freshmen in the starting rotation. However, the Blue Devils should be well-prepared for a rigorous conference schedule after defeating four top 25 teams in their non-conference stretch. Duke has more than enough talent at every position to triumph its youth.

3. Which team has the most under-the-radar potential?

For a team that was expected to experience many growing pains, Louisville appears to be transitioning well. Yes, the Cardinals have four losses, but four narrow ones all to top 25 teams. Chris Mack’s team has proven that they are more than capable of pulling upsets in their wins against Michigan State and Seton Hall this season. Sophomore forward Jordan Nwora is off to a hot start, averaging 17.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. Both juniors Dwayne Sutton and Ryan McMahon’s playing time has increased from the previous season. As Louisville’s minutes leader, Sutton does a bit of everything for the Cardinals. The 6-foot-5 forward plays multiple positions, defends well, draws charges, and is a catch-and-shoot threat. Although Louisville is far from perfect, Mack’s players do not lack effort. The Cardinals could make some noise in the conference and have an excellent head coach to make it happen.

4. Who is the favorite to win ACC Player of the Year?

As of now, there is no clear-cut favorite. North Carolina’s Luke Maye was voted as pre-season Player of the Year, but his early-season performances are being overshadowed by Duke’s freshmen RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson. Maye’s scoring and rebounding has slightly decreased from his breakout junior campaign, however he is only 0.2 rebounds shy from averaging a double-double this season. Barrett is the conference’s leading scorer, while Williamson is an absolute beast on both ends of the court. Virginia’s junior guard Kyle Guy and NBA prospect De’Andre Hunter deserve to be in the conversation as well. Both are vital players for the Cavaliers and are off to a great start this season. Lastly, no one can forget Tyus Battle from Syracuse who is one of the conference’s elite scorers and closers. It is evident that the ACC is stacked with talented athletes. Zion Williamson likely has the edge at the moment, but there is no telling what will happen by the end of conference play.

5. Will Virginia win the conference again?

The Cavaliers are certainly playing at the same level, if not better, than they were last season in the ACC. Virginia’s “Big Three” of De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome carry the Cavaliers’ offense and are each incredibly difficult to guard. It is no surprise that Virginia leads the country in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 51.4 points per game. The Cavaliers looked more than ready for conference games to start after absolutely dismantling the 9th-ranked Seminoles. Duke and NC State are the two teams with the most overpowering offenses that could knock off the undefeated Cavaliers. But right now, Virginia’s high-intensity defense and improved offense from last season make for a convincing argument to repeat as conference champions.