Duke has been able to tread water and then some due to Luke Kennard, who along with Matt Jones is the lone Blue Devil to appear in every game this season. Kennard, sporting a 19.8 point-per-game average on 50 percent shooting, has particularly balled out against top-tier competition—in 13 games against “Tier-A” opponents as defined by KenPom, the southpaw has posted a 131.0 Offensive Rating and made 54 percent of his threes. Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson have cases to make, too. Mitchell, nicknamed “Spider,” boasts the ACC’s top Steal Rate and has connected on 40 percent of his three-pointers in league play. Colson’s interior dominance belies his 6-foot-5 size—the junior puts up 17 points and 11 rebounds per evening, is an 80 percent free-throw shooter, and has even knocked down 17 triples this year. For my money, this is the most difficult race to predict, as any of Kennard, Mitchell, or Colson could take the proverbial green jacket from Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, last year’s winner. And two more candidates remain: an obvious choice as well as a sneaky dark horse. We begin with UNC’s Justin Jackson, the best player on the conference’s best team, which ought to be his simple go-to slogan. Jackson may be the most improved wing in America this season (18.4 PPG, 4.7) despite being really, really good last year. The 6-foot-8 junior’s three-point improvement is silly. He made 30 percent of his 212 three-point attempts during his initial two seasons on Chapel Hill….yet has sunk 39 percent of his 214 threes this year alone. Jackson also possesses a lethal, throwback midrange arsenal composed of floaters and leaners.
Good Lord, Grayson Allen. That's filthy. pic.twitter.com/36SxAdHi0Q— Mike McCurry (@Mike_McCurry16) February 10, 2017
That leaves the dark horse candidate. Wake Forest’s John Collins is the best player you’ve probably never heard of. The best Demon Deacon big since Tim Duncan, Collins is currently on a run of 12 straight 20-plus point games—the 6-foot-10 sophomore is recording 24.3 points and 11.1 rebounds over this span—which is the ACC’s longest streak since North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren reeled off 15 such performances in 2013-14. You know what hardware Warren took home that season? ACC Player of the Year. Collins has nearly singlehandedly accelerated Danny Manning’s rebuilding job, propelling Wake into the bubble conversation despite playing just 26 minutes per contest. The West Palm Beach (FL) native is the league’s best rebounder, draws nearly eight fouls per 40 minutes, and makes 62 percent of his twos. Using Player Efficiency Rating, an all-encompassing metric truncated into one number, Collins occupies the top spot on a list normally reserved solely for John Calipari-coached freshmen or Wisconsin frontcourt stars. Mike’s POY: Justin Jackson Adam’s POY: Justin Jackson Photo: @UNC_Basketball Follow Mike on Twitter Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter And like ZAGS on Facebook
Another 20-point outing for Justin Jackson (23 points, 5-11 from deep) to lead the way at Pitt pic.twitter.com/rNNlXGOqHt— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) February 25, 2017