Super Senior

By Michael Visenberg

Realignment has affected nearly every major conference in college basketball, though probably none as positively as the ACC. They took Big East stalwarts Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh last season and while they lost historically strong Maryland, they replaced it with 2013 NCAA Champions, Louisville. The ACC/Big Ten challenge showed that the conference still has a ways to go, as the Big Ten went 8-6 to take the overall match-up (To those wondering, yes, the Big Ten has 14 teams. Keeping the name for tradition?). Still, many marquee match-ups did go to the ACC, such as Duke’s big win at Wisconsin, Louisville getting the better of Ohio St., Notre Dame winning narrowly over Michigan St. and Virginia getting a nice win over now non-conference rival, Maryland.

Duke has certainly managed to live up to the hype thus far, led by freshmen that are polished well beyond their years. The league will definitely have its challengers, as Louisville has looked excellent, Virginia has been playing with confidence and Miami’s guard play has been amongst the best in the nation. North Carolina and Syracuse have both taken their lumps, though should also make some noise when conference play begins. Notre Dame also should come back after struggling in their initial ACC showing. This conference is now one of the preeminent conferences for draft prospects and it appears it may indeed become the top college basketball conference, if it is not there already. A lot of NCAA tournament teams and with the depth it has overall it should have come competitors come March. Here is a breakdown of some of the goings on in with the ACC teams in the early season.

Player of the Week

Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

Jeian GrantJeian GrantAfter missing a majority of his junior season due to academic issues, Grant was at his best in Notre Dame’s overtime win over Michigan State. He scored a career high 27 points to go with 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals, along with several clutch baskets to force an extra period and eventually come through with the big W. This is adding to a season where he is already leading all ACC players in scoring at 19.5 ppg with 7 assists per game. He has become an incredibly cerebral player and has the characteristics, along with size, that may have him contending for a first round spot in 2015.

Who’s Hot

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse

It has not been the most prosperous of college careers for the former five star recruit, but he is finally living up to the hype as a senior. With Syracuse’s guards showing their inexperience and working with a talented frontcourt mate in Chris McCullough, Christmas has been the focal point of the Orange offense. He is averaging 17.1 ppg on 59.2% FG, getting to the line often and hitting close to 70% of his attempts, plus showing his usual prowess as a rebounder and defender. He shot 15-19 (78.9% FG) in his games over the past week at a 20 ppg clip. Now that he is showing some polish to go along with his strong physical tools and athleticism, Christmas is back in the draft picture.

Justin Anderson, Virginia

Last season's ACC champions lost an NBA draftee in Joe Harris and many wondered who would replace his offense. Anderson has gone from a strong rotation player to a major offensive option and has been well up to the task. He had 16 and 6 in Virginia’s win over Maryland, averaging 15.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.8 apg over the first seven games. Most important, he has extended his range, shooting an impressive 17-30 (56.7%) from 3PT range. It would be too much to expect him to keep that pace, though the strong-bodied athlete adding this to his repertoire is going a long way towards his next level aspirations.

The Slimmed Down Tobacco Road Rivals

In this case, we point to North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina State’s Beejay Anya. Both have worked on their bodies and seemed poised for big sophomore seasons at their respective universities. Meeks already had a very promising freshman year with his soft hands, low post footwork and rare ability to see the floor for a big man. Now that he has trimmed down, he is ready to play more minutes and increasing efficiency. He is averaging 14 ppg (63.3% FG) and 10 rpg in 23.4 mpg, even chipping in 1.9 bpg as well.

Anya is still more of a work in progress, though he is noted for having an absolutely absurd wingspan (supposedly measured at 7’9”, about a foot longer than his listed height). He is averaging an ACC leading 3.4 bpg in 20.1 mpg, even posting 10 blocks in a single game. Meeks and Anya were seen as two of the better incoming centers from the 2013 HS Class. They can both still do more to reconstruct their bodies and improve conditioning. One still has to absolutely commend these guys for dropping the weight and increasing their impact in a major way as sophomores.

Sheldon McClellan, Miami

The Texas transfer had a bit of a slow start, followed by consistent scoring from all over the floor. McClellan is a confident shooter who also has the ability to finish above the rim on the break. He has been a real playmaker for Miami and an all-around performer putting in work on the boards while also being a nice secondary facilitator. He could get to the line more and maybe show a tad more intensity as a defender, though he will make Miami a potential giant killer during conference play.

Quinn Cook, Duke

The freshmen will get a majority of the headlines, deservedly so, though one has to commend him for how well he has taken to playing off of the ball. He has completely accepted his role and was a calming force in the Blue Devils huge win over Wisconsin. Cook is also averaging 3.6 assists for every turnover thus far, while shooting 51.4% FG and 44.2% 3PT, making 2.9 three pointers per game. His hot shooting and team play deserve recognition, which is why he has to get a mention here.

Who’s Cold

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

A consensus preseason 1st Team All-American, Paige has not gotten off to the hottest of starts. He still possesses major bursts of quickness and he can create offense for himself, though he is also streaky and he has not been creating as much for his teammates. This was highlighted when playing against Iowa, a school featuring a few of his old AAU teammates. He was held to 13 points on 4-16 FG, while posting no assists during the contest. Always known as more of a 2nd half performer, Paige needs to be more of a force of the games entirety for North Carolina to live up to their preseason expectations.

Chris Jones, Louisville

There is a lot to like about Louisville, who have gotten off to a great start. There is also a lot to like about Jones, he is a tough full court defender and can be very difficult to stop. With that also can come some big volume shooting and streakiness. He was only 3-15 against Ohio State and is at 30.1% FG on the season thus far. People know what Jones brings to the equation as a competitor, but he definitely has to raise these percentages to keep up his NBA aspirations.

Syracuse’s Guards

The Orangemen were obviously going to be going through a transition after losing sensational freshman and first round pick, Tyler Ennis, along with wing contributors in CJ Fair and Jerami Grant. Kaleb Joseph brought a bit more explosiveness to the point spot, just not nearly the poise shown by Ennis. To make life even more difficult, sharp shooter has really struggled to hit from long range more often than not. During their loss to Michigan, and most recently St. John’s, guard play was definitely the weak point for Cuse. Michael Gbinije has started to show some life, however if their starting backcourt does not develop some chemistry, it could lead to a disappointing season.

Early Season All-ACC Predictions

1st Team All-ACC

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina
G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

2nd Team All-ACC

C Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
C Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
F Trevor Lacey, NC State
G Terry Rozier, Louisville
G Angel Rodriguez, Miami

3rd Team All-ACC

F Chris McCullough, Syracuse
G Sheldon McClellan, Miami
G Quinn Cook, Duke
G Malcolm Brogdon,Virginia
G Tyus Jones, Duke

All-Freshman

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
F Chris McCullough, Syracuse
F Justise Winslow, Duke
G Justin Jackson, North Carolina
G Tyus Jones, Duke

All-Defense

C Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
F JP Tokoto, North Carolina
G Angel Rodriguez, Miami
G Chris Jones, Louisville

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