College Basketball Nation: Devin Booker

Class of 2014's best shooters 

May, 6, 2014
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Though the top three prospects in the Class of 2014 are big men who control the paint, there are several outstanding shooters in the class. Let’s examine the five best shooters among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
He started out as a 3-point shooter but has developed into a master of the mid-range jump shot. Most outstanding shooters are confident and comfortable from a certain spot on the floor, but that’s not the case with Jackson. He is equally effective and productive from a catch-and-shoot scenario as he is putting the ball on the deck and rising up to finish inside the arc or in the paint. A combination of length, balance and extension with a feathery touch will make him hard to defend.

This week ESPN.com will feature a position-by-position look at players to watch for the 2014-15 season.

The term "shooting guard" has never been so meaningless.

[+] EnlargeRon Baker, Jeremy Morgan
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWichita State guard Ron Baker averaged 13.1 points per game in 2013-14.
This is true of all of the game's positional designations; the traditional responsibilities associated with each spot on the floor have become less and less helpful in describing what players actually do. The old traditional conception of the shooting guard is the most outdated. The Reggie Miller/Rip Hamilton run-off-screens-and-get-open model is gone. The NBA is now a league full of small guards who drive and shoot first; perimeter shooting is considered a must-have tool in a pro guard's total package; off-guards must handle the ball; small forwards are knockdown shooters. The Venn diagram of perimeter skills looks more like an eclipse.

Everything in the NBA trickles down, which makes today's exercise -- an early list of shooting guards to watch in the 2014-15 season -- a difficult one. There might be some slight cheating involved (you'll see). Some of the below are traditional shooting guards; some are just guards. All will be fascinating to watch in 2014-15 for a variety of reasons.

Top returnees to watch

Ron Baker, Wichita State: The Shockers return both members of their starting backcourt from 2013-14, and Baker and Fred VanVleet actually do fit the traditional mold. VanVleet was a masterful pass-first point guard who steadily anchored WSU's offense; Baker attempted 179 3s and 141 2s and finished with a 120.9 offensive rating. If you're wondering why the Shockers can lose Cleanthony Early and still be the subject of huge expectations going forward, look no further.

Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: It's a bit hard to believe that after a stellar freshman campaign Sulaimon found himself so deep in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse that, in early December, Coach K buried him on the bench in the equivalent of a DNP-CD. Transfer rumors and status questions abounded. Sulaimon eventually earned his way out of purgatory and back into regular minutes, and when he did he flourished. In his junior season, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will have to take on leadership roles alongside the most talented Duke class in decades -- one with Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow ready to gobble up perimeter minutes. It's a huge season on deck for Sulaimon.

Michael Frazier II, Florida: Frazier is that rarest of modern college hoops birds: a traditional, almost literal, shooting guard. In 2013-14, Frazier shot 264 3s and made 118 of them, good for 44.7 percent -- a sterling percentage at that volume. He attempted exactly 79 shots from inside the arc. Frazier is an old-school, lights-out catch-and-shoot guy, albeit one who might need to expand his game in a Florida offense that will lose Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young. But he's already the college game's best pure shooter, and that's a hugely valuable skill to have.

Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Harrison, on the other hand, is a fantastic example of a player for whom the term shooting guard doesn't always quite fit. Despite a torrid postseason pace -- and those big-time clutch shots in Kentucky's surprise runner-up run -- Harrison finished the season having made just 62 of his 174 3s. That's not terrible, but it's not great, either. The presence of Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, as Kentucky's ostensible point guard drives the lack of distinction home. Still, Harrison's fundamental productivity -- and the odds of him improving his shot, and keeping defenders off balance, after a summer spent drilling in Lexington, Kentucky -- makes him as frightening a sophomore prospect as any player in the country.

Caris LeVert, Michigan: Was Nik Stauskas a shooting guard? Not really, which is why NBA scouts love him so much: As a sophomore, Stauskas flashed all of the Stephen Curry-esque tools (lights-out shooting, penetration work, athleticism and great passing) in a 6-foot-6 frame. Stauskas has NBA people all worked up, and understandably so. LeVert is a similar player. He's an excellent shooter whom coach John Beilein loves to run through pick-and-roll sets; according to Synergy an almost identical number of LeVert's possessions came in spot-ups (24.5 percent) as screen-and-roll plays (24.3). LeVert shot 40.8 percent from 3, 46 percent from 2, didn't turn the ball over often, and will get a ton of shots without Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III around this season. He has huge, Big Ten Player of the Year-level potential in his third year in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Top newcomers to watch

[+] EnlargeD'Angelo Russell
Kelly Kline/adidasTop-ranked shooting guard D'Angelo Russell, who is ranked No. 13 in the ESPN 100, could provide instant offense for the Buckeyes.
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut: OK, so this is kind of cheating: Purvis is a transfer, not a recruit. But I had to sneak him in here somewhere, because he might end up being the most important player on the list. With a post-national title Shabazz Napier graduating this spring, a suddenly starry Ryan Boatright can slide over to the point guard spot, allowing plenty of room for Purvis -- whom UConn coach Kevin Ollie called a "Ferrari sitting in the garage" at the Final Four in April -- to get big minutes and lots of touches in his first season in Storrs, Connecticut. How that configuration works may be the difference between another scrappy national title contender and an understandable step back in Ollie's third year.

D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The top-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2014 arrives at OSU with a reputation for sweet shooting and deep range. The timing is perfect, because another offense-free season like last season might drive coach Thad Matta over the edge.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The best recruit Seton Hall has signed in … wait, don't answer that … Whitehead is a physical scorer who explodes to the rim and absorbs contact while there. He could make Seton Hall's season really interesting for the first time in a while.

Devin Booker, Kentucky: The return of the Harrisons shrank Booker's minutes by a big margin; the fact that he might be the fourth guy off Kentucky's bench tells you all you need to know about next season's Wildcats.

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Indiana's wealth of perimeter talent gets Lannister-esque with the addition of Blackmon; whether the Hoosiers will have anybody to play on the low block is a different and more pertinent question.
The size was what got you. That's what coaches said about Kentucky as the Wildcats made their redemptive run through the 2014 NCAA tournament: You could gin up a genius game plan, but they were always going to be taller than you at just about every position. In other words: Good luck!

Here's something horrifying: Next season, Kentucky is going to be even taller.

On Wednesday, UK sophomore forward Alex Poythress announced his decision to return to school for his junior season. The decision makes sense: Save some startling highlights and solid toolbox defense in the tournament, Poythress failed to distinguish himself much in his sophomore season, especially on the offensive end. NBA scouts still aren't quite sure what he is, how he could develop, where he fits at the pro level. (Or, if they do know, "a 6-foot-8 small forward who can't shoot or handle, but rebounds his position and guards relatively well" isn't getting them excited.)

[+] EnlargeKentucky
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesSeven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein is just one piece of a Kentucky team that will be among the tallest in the country next season.
Whether Poythress can accomplish as much in his junior season remains to be seen. But his return alone ensures a couple of things about the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats:

  1. They are going to be old.
  2. They are going to be massive.

The first one is a relative term, of course. At Kentucky, where John Calipari just played seven freshmen in a Final Four game (and got the highest percentage of minutes from freshmen in said game since the Michigan Fab Five), "old" is having experienced players, period. But along with Willie Cauley-Stein's return, Poythress' decision ensures that Calipari will have two juniors with plenty of minutes under their belts in potential starting (or starting-minutes-level) roles for the first time since the Darius Miller-DeAndre Liggins-Josh Harrelson combo in 2010-11. Against all odds, a coach once determined to turn over his roster every season suddenly is peppering his lineups with hundreds of returning minutes.

The second one was a done deal no matter what Dakari Johnson decided. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Johnson dropped the size bomb: He decided to come back to school, too.

A 7-foot center whose combination of size and athletic gifts made him a low-post force in the tournament (especially alongside Julius Randle), Johnson is one of those big men who is both preternaturally athletic and still growing into his body. He has the proverbial "baby fat" scouts love to minimize in their imaginations. Either the NBA now or a year in school (and then the NBA) would have probably worked out equally well for him. A decision to return creates a crowded frontcourt situation for Kentucky, one that should terrify anyone outside Big Blue Nation's border territories.

Calipari already has two 7-footers back for next season in Johnson and Cauley-Stein. He has Marcus Lee (6-10 and maybe the most athletic player in the country) and 6-11 freshman Karl Towns as a potential backup frontcourt. Or vice versa. Or some mix therein. Poythress is a 6-8 small forward. Oh, and then there's Trey Lyles, the No. 6 overall player in the 2014 class. He is a power forward with real post moves and 17-foot range who also happens to be 6-10. That's at least two, and maybe three, waves of NBA size.

A handful of teams will have one player that big. Maybe two, if they're lucky. Calipari could create a real-life edition of Jon Bois' NBA Y2K series with no player shorter than 6-10 in his starting lineup -- if he really wanted to. (We'd highly recommend it.)

In the real world, unfortunately, someone has to play guard. The question is whether that will still be Aaron and Andrew Harrison -- who seem to be finding out for the first time in their lives that they are not necessarily first-round NBA draft picks, and possibly adjusting their plans -- or two more five-star Calipari recruits (shooting guard Devin Booker and point guard Tyler Ulis. Booker is 6-5.

If the 6-6 Harrisons are back, Kentucky will still have one of the tallest backcourts in the country. But even if they aren't, Calipari will unleash one of the biggest teams in recent college hoops history on a now-entirely-suspecting hoops populace.

The 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats will be older and wiser, sure. But they'll be bigger, too. Much, much bigger.

Class rankings analysis: Nov. 6 

November, 6, 2013
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We are one week away from the national signing period for men’s basketball. Seven of the top 17 recruits in the country are still on the board. Here's the latest on some schools rising and falling in the ESPN class rankings:


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Class rankings analysis: Oct. 30 

October, 30, 2013
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As we come down to the wire for basketball's early signing period in November, many of the best players in the nation have finished their visits and are ready to make their decisions. Here’s a look at how some of the recruiting classes are shaping up as we get closer to the signing period:

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Class rankings analysis: Oct. 9 

October, 9, 2013
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In the latest edition of the 2014 recruiting class rankings, UNLV moves in, while last year's title-game participants, Michigan and Louisville, move up. Here's a look at the latest moves and trends in the rankings:

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Video: Elite 24 slam dunk/3-point recap

August, 26, 2013
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Devin Booker took home the 3-point contest title and UNC commit Theo Pinson brought the house down in the Under Armour Slam Dunk competition by dunking over his mom.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 8, 2013
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So what was more surprising on Thursday night: Michael Snaer's fourth game winner this season (and sixth over the past two seasons), or another loss by Virginia, which continues to play slip-and-slide with the NCAA tournament bubble? With one more weekend left in the ACC’s regular season -- and it could be a doozy -- here’s another attempt at the league’s power rankings:

1. Duke. Ryan Kelly missed two months with a foot injury, but he sure hasn’t looked like it. The Blue Devils forward has averaged 27 points in the two games since his return, scoring 36 in Duke's down-to-the-wire nail-biter Saturday against then-No. 5 Miami, and then 18 on Tuesday's Senior Night against Virginia Tech. Duke is now 17-0 this season with Kelly in the lineup -- and will be trying for 18-0 in Saturday’s showdown at UNC.

2. North Carolina. One of the keys to the Tar Heels going small? Getting some big play out of wing Reggie Bullock. The junior has posted three double-doubles in UNC’s past four games, and is averaging 15.5 points and 9 rebounds during his team’s six-game winning streak. The Tar Heels have secured a first-day ACC tournament bye. And as for that NCAA tournament bubble -- what bubble?

3. Miami. Just two weeks ago, it looked as if the Hurricanes were going to win the ACC regular season in a runaway. But they’ve now dropped three of their past four -- including the down-to-the-wire classic at Duke last weekend and Wednesday's loss to Georgia Tech when they squandered a double-digit lead. Miami can still clinch the outright regular-season title versus Clemson on Saturday. But the Canes drop in these power rankings after an 0-2 week.

4. NC State. In his last game of the season at PNC Arena on Wednesday, forward C.J. Leslie played his most complete game of the season -- recording 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack have now won six of their past seven games and this weekend still could earn the third seed in the league tournament.

5. Michael Snaer. Florida State could be lower in these rankings, but the senior guard deserves an upper-half slot all by himself. After all, if not for his four game winners this season -- the latest on a left-handed runner with 4 seconds left against Virginia on Thursday night -- the Seminoles would be 4-13 in ACC play, instead of 8-9. FSU has now won two of its past three games, with Snaer averaging 18.3 points during that stretch.

6. Virginia. Is there an odder team out there, NCAA projection-wise, than the Cavaliers? Thursday night’s last-second loss at Florida State means UVa now has lost four of its past six games -- and its past two, at Boston College and at FSU, have come against teams with sub-.500 ACC records. Entering the game, the Cavs already had won four games this season against teams with a top-50 RPI, but lost four games against teams with RPIs below 150. What would you do if you were on the selection committee?

7. Maryland. Too many turnovers; too much inconsistency. As a result, the Terps are now 2-3 since their Feb. 16 upset of Duke, and they’re probably going to need the league’s automatic bid (via winning the ACC tournament) to make the NCAA field. It has been a disappointing, frustrating few weeks for coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland fans, and for good reason.

8. Georgia Tech. Talk about a confidence boost: Marcus Georges-Hunt's tip-in at the buzzer against Miami secured the Yellow Jackets’ first victory over a top-25 team since March 2010. Chris Bolden's career-high 21 points were also key to Tech winning for the second time in three games.

9. Boston College. It was a positive week for the Eagles, who got a game-winning 3-pointer from Joe Rahon with 8.2 seconds left against Virginia, followed by a solid Olivier Hanlan-led victory at Clemson. It marked the first time Rahon has scored in double figures in back-to-back games in league play, and it was Hanlan’s fourth conference game with 20 or more points.

10. Wake Forest. The Deacs have now lost three straight since upsetting Miami -- including Wednesday at NC State, where they were missing point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre because of strep throat. Senior C.J. Harris has made only 9 of 31 shots over his past three games.

11. Clemson. The Tigers have now lost five straight, and eight of their past nine. Senior forward Devin Booker is finishing strong individually, however, averaging 17.6 points over the last quintet of losses. Clemson travels to Miami on Saturday for its regular-season finale.

12. Virginia Tech. Guard Erick Green enters his final regular-season ACC game (at Wake Forest on Sunday) as the nation’s leading scorer (25 points per game). How many ACC Player of the Year votes will he get?

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 1, 2013
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski often has said he doesn’t believe in revenge games. But after losing at Miami by 27 points in January, and getting beaten at Virginia on Thursday night, is there much doubt there will be some extra, er, motivation for the Blue Devils when they host the Hurricanes on Saturday? In the meantime, here's an attempt at this week’s ACC power rankings:

1. Miami: The now-No.-5 Hurricanes bounced back from their first ACC loss of the season (by 15 points at Wake Forest) by beating up on Virginia Tech. Since then, they’ve been able to focus on the game everyone’s been talking about: Saturday’s rematch with Duke: "It's going to be a blast," guard Trey McKinney Jones said, according to The Associated Press. "We beat them here this year, and we beat them there last year, so they're going to be gunning for our heads."

2. Duke: Plus, the No. 3 Blue Devils should be especially fired up after shooting worse than 40 percent and never leading during the 73-68 loss at Virginia on Thursday. Forward Ryan Kelly, sidelined since January with a foot injury, returned to practice this week, but isn’t expected back until after Saturday’s game.

3. Virginia: Nothing like beating the No. 3 team in the nation to bolster your NCAA tournament hopes. Joe Harris scored a career-high 36 points and teammate Akil Mitchell added a double-double Thursday night as the Cavs toppled the Blue Devils and remained tied for third place in the ACC standings.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels are now 4-1 since they went to a four-guard starting lineup, and as their momentum grows, so does their NCAA tournament résumé. UNC secured another 20-win season with Thursday night’s victory at Clemson, and junior Reggie Bullock has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds the past two games.

5. NC State: The Wolfpack bounced back from their loss at UNC by blasting Boston College, securing back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since Herb Sendek was coach. Next up: a trip to Georgia Tech, with an eye on trying to work back into the top four of the conference standings. State now stands in fifth place, a game behind the Cavs and Tar Heels.

6. Maryland: The Terps are 1-6 on the road in conference play after losing at Georgia Tech, with their only ACC road win coming at last-place Virginia Tech. They still travel to Wake Forest and Virginia, and play UNC at home, during the regular season, but Maryland’s at-large NCAA tournament bid hopes are diminishing.

7. Florida State: The Seminoles remain the worst rebounding team in the league (31.3 per game) but could get a boost when 6-foot-8 Terrance Shannon -- who suffered a neck injury on Jan. 19 but has been cleared to play -- returns. FSU beat Wake Forest earlier this week, but has still lost four of its past six games.

8. Wake Forest: After scoring 23 points en route to a court-storming win over then-No. 2 Miami, Demon Deacon C.J. Harris made only one field goal, and finished with nine points, in a loss at Florida State. So continue Wake Forest’s road woes. As some consolation, two of its final three games are at home.

9. Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory called his team’s win over Maryland earlier this week the most consistent 40 minutes of basketball it has played this season. Freshman forward Robert Carter Jr. posted his fourth double-double; and at 15-12 with three games left, Tech is guaranteed at least a .500 regular-season finish.

10. Clemson: Even with double-doubles from big men Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, the Tigers couldn’t outmatch the Tar Heels’ smaller starting lineup. Thursday’s defeat marked Clemson’s third consecutive loss and sixth in its last seven games, as the Tigers continue to struggle to score.

11. Boston College: It was a tough week on Tobacco Road for the Eagles, who followed a 21-point loss at Duke with an 18-point loss at NC State. Ryan Anderson averaged 17.5 points in the two defeats.

12. Virginia Tech: The Hokies snapped a nine-game losing streak by besting FSU, only to lose at Miami. The Canes held senior guard/nation's-leading-scorer Erick Green to 16 points, only the second time during the conference season that he’s failed to score at least 22.

A Closer Look: UNC 68, Clemson 59

February, 28, 2013
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North Carolina’s smaller lineup continues to come up big.

The Tar Heels (20-8, 10-5 ACC) won their fourth consecutive game Thursday night, 68-59 at Clemson, and are now 4-1 since coach Roy Williams opted to insert 6-foot-5 P.J. Hairston into the lineup for 6-11 Desmond Hubert. And UNC continued to show signs that it’s all starting to come together -- and at the right time.

Senior guard Dexter Strickland, looking healthier and healthier as the season has progressed, led the Tar Heels with 16 points. Point guard Marcus Paige continued to show more confidence in his offense, finishing with 10 points and four assists. And Reggie Bullock did a little bit of everything yet again, recording 12 points, 6 assists and 9 rebounds.

A closer look at the Tar Heels’ victory at Littlejohn Coliseum:

Turning point: The score was knotted 18-18 with about 10 minutes to go in the first half when UNC broke away with a 12-2 run. Reserve Leslie McDonald jump-started it with back-to-back 3-pointers, Hairston added a 3, and forward James Michael McAdoo added a three-point play to give the Tar Heels a 30-20 lead.

The Tar Heels didn’t play a particularly pretty second half, as the Tigers outrebounded them and clawed to within seven points with a minute left in the game. But UNC’s cushion was plenty, especially against a foe that has struggled to score this season.

“Well, we’re happy to get an ACC win on the road,'' Williams said. "There’s no question about that. But boy, we finished the game about as ugly as you can finish it. We missed some free throws. They outrebounded us by 14 in the second half, and they ended up outrebounding us by nine for the game. You can’t have that and be very good. We got sloppy."

Players(s) of the game: Strickland made 7 of his 9 shot attempts and also added 3 rebounds and 4 assists.

Forwards Devin Booker (25 points, 11 rebounds) and Milton Jennings (12 points, 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles for the Tigers (13-14, 5-10).

What it means for UNC: Security. Beating a team with an RPI near the mid-100s might not exactly turbocharge the Tar Heels’ ever-strengthening NCAA résumé, but a loss likely would have hurt.

The victory kept the Tar Heels even with Virginia (which upset No. 3 Duke later Thursday night) for third place in the ACC standings; the top four seeds earn a first-day bye in the upcoming league tournament.

What it means for Clemson: More growing pains. Entering the game, the Tigers ranked last in the ACC in scoring (61.8 points per game) and 10th in field-goal percentage (42.6). And they were not helped by the fact that starter K.J. McDaniels, one of only two Tigers averaging double figures (10.7 ppg), sat out Thursday due to an ankle injury. The Tigers shot 39.7 percent for the game.

Etc.: The victory secured UNC’s 40th 20-win season in the last 43 years. … UNC reserve big man Joel James, who had missed four straight games because of a concussion, returned and played two minutes.

Up next: Clemson plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday; UNC hosts Florida State on Sunday.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 22, 2013
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With roughly two weeks left in the regular season, the race is on for a top-four seed (and first-day bye) in the ACC tournament. In the meantime, here are this week's rankings based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Miami. Clemson and Virginia both tested the Canes, but a late 3-pointer from Kenny Kadji at the Tigers and Reggie Johnson's tiebreaking layup versus the Cavs kept Miami undefeated in league play. The 13-0 record marks the hottest league start since Duke went 16-0 en route to the conference title in 1998-99.

2. Duke. The Devils bounced back from a close loss at Maryland with a blowout win at Virginia Tech as Mason Plumlee followed a four-point, three-rebound performance with a double-double Thursday night. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is now third on the career list for victories at one school (877), behind Dean Smith and Jim Boeheim.

3. NC State. The Wolfpack got a big boost by inserting 6-foot-8 T.J. Warren into the starting lineup this week. Not only did he turn in a 31-point, 13-rebound performance against FSU, but the team grabbed a season-best 45 boards. The Pack have won three straight, and it will be interesting to see whether they stay big against the Tar Heels this weekend.

4. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams continues to start a smaller lineup with sophomore P.J. Hairston at the 4, and the Tar Heels continue to look faster and more aggressive with another scorer on the floor. Forward James Michael McAdoo's double-double at Georgia Tech, after he scored in single digits for three straight games, is a good sign, too.

5. Virginia. The Cavs are in the midst of a tough stretch. They lost at both UNC and No. 2 Miami in the past week, play a Georgia Tech team this weekend that beat them earlier this month, and then face another test in No. 6 Duke coming up next week. Junior Joe Harris, though, continues to be on a tear, averaging 22.4 points over his past five games.

6. Maryland. Another (way) up and (way) down week for the Terps, who upset the then-second-ranked Blue Devils at home, only to lose on the road to a focused Boston College team that had won just three previous ACC games. After posting an impressive 19-point, nine-rebound game against Mason Plumlee, Maryland big man Alex Len managed only four points against the Eagles.

7. Florida State. For all his last-second shots this season, Seminoles point guard Michael Snaer hadn’t managed 20 points against an ACC foe this year, until this week. He followed a 21-point game in a win against Boston College with 20 during a loss at NC State. Next up: a trip to Virginia Tech.

8. Clemson. Another week, another home heartbreaker for the Tigers, who lost to Miami on Kadji’s 3 after losing to NC State on a Scott Wood 3 on Feb. 10. At least they won a close one in the middle at Georgia Tech. Devin Booker posted his fifth double-double of the season in Clemson’s latest loss.

9. Georgia Tech. Freshman Robert Carter Jr. hit two free throws in the final 10 seconds to beat Wake Forest before Georgia Tech lost by double figures to the Tar Heels. The Yellow Jackets were an ouch-worthy 4-for-11 from the free throw line in their latest game and remain the worst foul-shooting team in the league (63.2 percent).

10. Boston College. And to build on the above note about the importance of free throws: The Eagles hit 16 straight down the stretch to protect the lead in their win over Maryland. Freshman Olivier Hanlan scored a career-high 26 points in that game, and BC has won two of its past three.

11. Wake Forest. A three-point loss at Boston College followed by a one-point loss to Georgia Tech? The bottom tier of the ACC likes to make things interesting, at least. The Deacs are second in the league in steals, sandwiched between UNC and Duke, and C.J. Harris continues to lead the team with 14.8 points per game.

12. Virginia Tech. Erick Green is still really good, adding a 22-point game against Duke to his nation-leading scoring average. His team still is struggling, though, losing nine in a row -- including two in overtime and Thursday's loss to the Blue Devils.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 11, 2013
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Can we just call places 3 through 6 a tie? After the first week of ACC play, it’s harder than ever to judge the middle of the league pack. But here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke. Still undefeated, still No. 1 after victories over Wake Forest and Clemson. But the Blue Devils will be tested Saturday not only by an NC State team that has won nine in a row, but by playing without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who is out indefinitely with an injured right foot.

2. NC State. The Wolfpack was picked to win the ACC during the preseason by both media and coaches, and Saturday’s home game against the Blue Devils will show if it has what it takes to make that push. Lorenzo Brown, with 21 points against Georgia Tech, was the latest to lead his team in scoring. Who’s next?

3. Miami. The Hurricanes have never started 2-0 in the ACC -- until now. Senior forward Kenny Kadji had 18 points to help break his team’s 10-game losing streak to UNC on Thursday night, and sixth-year senior Julian Gamble (14 points against the Tar Heels) has been filling in admirably for the injured Reggie Johnson.

4. Maryland. Dez Wells had a bad shooting night, Alex Len at times got pushed around, and the Terps saw their 13-game winning streak snapped via a 12-point comeback by Florida State. Whether they bounce back at Miami this weekend could be a good indication of whether they’re a top-tier ACC team.

5. Florida State. Junior forward Okaro White has come up big during the Seminoles’ 2-0 ACC start, averaging 17.5 points and 8 rebounds. And so has his team. "We sat down, the juniors and seniors, with the young guys and told them we have to stop talking, and we have to show them how hard you have to play,’’ White told Tallahassee.com.

6. Virginia. Beat North Carolina, only to lose to Wake Forest? It might be that sort of topsy-turvy season for the Cavs, who should get more and more of a boost as senior guard Jontel Evans, who returned from injury last weekend, gets more and more back in sync with the offense.

7. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams said his team was stressed in the locker room after losing to Miami on Thursday night. And for good reason: This marks only the fourth time UNC has ever started 0-2 in the ACC, and things won’t get any easier at Florida State on Saturday.

8. Boston College. The Eagles have now won six of their past seven games, and gave NC State a scare in their only loss since Dec. 4. Sophomore Lonnie Jackson has posted double digit points for three consecutive games, including a season-high 22 at Virginia Tech.

9. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had a six-game winning streak broken by the start of ACC play. Tech is shooting just 35.2 percent during its 0-2 conference start.

10. Wake Forest. Despite shooting just 26 percent after halftime and failing to score a field goal for the final 10 minutes, the Deacs survived Virginia’s comeback attempt. “We stayed with it,” Wake Forest forward Travis McKie told The Times-News. “I think early in the season we would’ve put our head down and had a pity party. But we stayed with it and continued to fight hard.” Wake has now won five of seven games.

11. Clemson. The Tigers scored only 10 points, on just 12 percent shooting, in the first half at Duke on Wednesday. Yikes. Devin Booker has posted two double-doubles in Clemson’s 0-2 ACC start.

12. Virginia Tech. Already-undermanned Tech was down to six scholarship players during its midweek loss to BC, thanks to illness and injury. Erick Green continues to lead the nation in scoring, but the Hokies have now lost four in a row, and are 0-2 in ACC play.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
8:30
AM ET
Would the fourth-best team in the league please raise your collective hand? Or at least, your level of play? One more attempt to rank the ACC squads before conference competition (finally) begins this weekend. As always, feel free to debate or weigh in:

1. North Carolina: Blowout wins against Elon and Monmouth certainly don't help UNC’s RPI. But then again, its ACC opener against Boston College this weekend probably won’t either. Forward John Henson continues to average a double-double, plus a league-leading 3.2 blocks per game.

2. Duke: After a 40-point win over Western Michigan followed by a 30-point win over Penn, the Devils have one more road game, at Temple on Wednesday, to gear up for league play. Freshman Austin Rivers continues to lead the team -- and the ACC Rookie of the Year race -- with 15.4 ppg.

3. Virginia: The Cavaliers, who have won 10 straight, should get a good pre-conference test Monday night in Baton Rouge, where they will face an LSU team that has won seven straight by holding its competition to fewer than 60 points per game.

4. Virginia Tech: The Hokies have now beaten Oklahoma State twice this season, the second time snapping the Cowboys’ 37-game home winning streak against nonconference foes. Tech has won six in a row entering its ACC opener at Wake Forest on Saturday.

5. NC State: Scoring depth could be an issue come conference play, but the Wolfpack’s starting five sure knows how to keep things interesting. Lorenzo Brown leads the league in steals at 2.1 per game.

6. Florida State: For the second time this season, the Seminoles lost to an Ivy League school -- this time to Princeton in triple overtime. With six scholarship seniors on the team, FSU should be showing more motivation.

7. Miami: The Hurricanes haven’t lost since forward Reggie Johnson returned, and trail only Duke in the league in 3-pointers made per game (8.3). Malcolm Grant is the team’s leader (and the ACC co-leader) in that category with 2.8 made per game.

8. Maryland: Center Alex Len made an alley-oop dunk in the opening minute of his college debut against Albany. A sign of good things to come for the Terps? He’s averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds after two games, and Maryland has won six straight.

9. Wake Forest: Led by C.J. Harris (18.7 ppg), the Deacs have already won nine games this season, one more than 2010-11. They’ve won three straight, but are still tied for last in the league in rebounding margin, at minus-5 per game.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets’ latest loss was at Fordham, which only managed one victory in the Atlantic 10 last season. One problem: Tech can’t seem to hold on to the ball, as its turnover margin is minus-3 per game.

11. Clemson: Forwards Milton Jennings and Devin Booker are combining to average only about three more points per game than last season. More was expected.

12. Boston College: The Eagles managed only three points (all on free throws) in the final 8:32 of their loss to Harvard, and the point-less stretches are becoming a theme for young BC. Boston College is averaging a league-worst 61 ppg.

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at bylinerp@gmail.com. Twitter: @bylinerp.

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