It’s no secret that the ACC is the best and deepest conference in college basketball, with North Carolina, Duke and Louisville harboring legit national title aspirations.
As many as 11 of the league’s 15 schools could be selected to play in this year’s NCAA Tournament, an absurd number. That’s why, despite UCLA, Oregon and Arizona looking strong for a top-heavy Pac-12, and Kansas, Gonzaga and defending champion Villanova poised to make a mad dash to the Final Four, the best action going down this week is without a doubt at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the ACC is hosting its postseason tournament.
Throughout the year, we’ve been inundated with the exploits of the usual suspects, those players on the glamour squads that appear on national television every week. This is taking nothing away from North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, the conference player of the year, and his teammates Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks and Theo Pinson, or Duke’s Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Amile Jefferson, or Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snyder and Den Adel. They are all fantastic players and worthy of watching throughout this week in Brooklyn.
But I wanted to give some shine to some of the other players in the conference that are rarely talked about on a national scale outside of their own fan bases. Folks who study college basketball know all about these guys, but if you’re just now tuning in to get ready for your March Madness preparations, I’d suggest you pay attention to these less-heralded names.
For the sake of this discussion, I’m looking at my favorite players on some of the teams other than the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Cardinals that are either already in or have an chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
JOSH OKOGIE, Guard, Georgia Tech
The 6-foot-4 freshman from Snellville, Georgia has been exceptional this year for a Yellow Jackets squad that walked into the season with many doubting that they could win even a single game in conference. Okogie is the surprise player from the most surprising team in the ACC this year. He came out of the gate going 7-for-9 in his first college game while scoring 18 points against Tennessee Tech.
Two weeks later he dropped 38 points on Tulane. In Georgia Tech’s surprising win over North Carolina on New Year’s Eve, Okogie gave the Tar Heels 26. Two weeks later, he poured in 27 against N.C. State. And against a loaded Florida State squad toward the end of January, he had his signature game of the year with 35 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in the Yellow Jackets’ surprising 78-56 drubbing of the Seminoles.
JOHN COLLINS, Power Forward/Center, Wake Forest
The 6-foot-10 sophomore from West Palm Beach, Florida was a viable conference player of the year candidate after averaging 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 62.3 percent from the field. This dude is a certified beast who will certainly be a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
He is yet another example that proves that high school basketball rankings aren’t to be trusted. He was not deemed good enough by some so-called “experts” to be included in the top 100 rankings for the Class of 2015, but I’m sure he’s been on his Kool Moe Dee swag recently, on some, “How you like me now!?“
Last year, Collins averaged seven points and four boards per game. This year, he suddenly became one of the best players in all of college basketball while being the focal point of one of the country’s most efficient offenses. He’s been a double-double machine all year, and gave out his best work against Duke a few weeks back to the tune of 31 points and 15 rebounds.
BRUCE BROWN, Guard, Miami
Miami’s experienced backcourt of junior Ja’Quan Newton and senior Davon Reed is very good, but the guy to watch, to me, is Brown, the 6-foot-5 freshman from Boston who is the Hurricane’s most explosive and best all-around talent.
Last year, my homie up in Boston kept telling me that I needed to get up that way to check Brown out because he was flying under the radar. And man-oh-manischewitz was it worth the trip.
He makes an impact on the game on both ends of the floor and when he attacks the rim, hold your breath! He has some Russell Westbrook type explosiveness in his aerial repertoire. He’s equally as effective as a facilitator who can distribute the ball and as a slasher off the pick-and-roll.
He plays a physical brand of ball and will mix it up in the interior with the big boys to secure some hard-fought rebounds.
If you want to see most of his prowess as a downhill, attacking combo guard who can also find his teammates, pull up off the dribble with range, defend and rebound, check the masterpieces he put up against North Carolina and Duke, where he went off for 30 and 25 points respectively.
ANDREW WHITE III, Guard, Syracuse
White transferred to Nebraska after his freshman and sophomore years at Kansas. Last year, he was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player who tallied 17 points and six rebounds per game.
The 6-foot-7 grad student from Richmond, Virginia is averaging 18 points per game this year for Syracuse, and he had a savage seven-game stretch from January 24th through February 13th where he lit up Wake Forest, Florida State, N.C. State, UVA, Clemson, Pitt and Louisville to the tune of 27, 24, 28, 23, 23, 20 and 22 points respectively.
He left a lasting impression in The Cuse’s final game of the year with a 40-point scorcher against Georgia Tech.
SETH ALLEN, Guard, Virginia Tech
Zach LeDay is an absolute stud for Buzz Williams‘ Hokies, but if they want to make some serious noise in March, they’ll need some exceptional performances from shooter extraordinaire Seth Allen. The Maryland-transfer is no stranger to getting buckets. As a sophomore with the Terrapins three years ago, he scored 32 points against Florida State.
Allen, a 6-foot-1 senior from Woodbridge, Virginia scored 25 points while converting 6-of-8 from deep against Louisville in mid February. If he gets hot at the right times, don’t be shocked if Virginia Tech makes a run to the Sweet 16. This is a very balanced squad that Williams, one of the best coaches in the country, trots out, with five players averaging double figures, led by LeDay’s 15.6 points per game.
Allen is right behind him, averaging 13.1 points while hitting on 47% of his three’s. In order to stay around while dancing deep into March, you need a tough, clutch-shooting guard that rises to the moment in tight situations. This slick left-hander fits the bill.
BONZIE COLSON, Forward, Notre Dame
The spontaneously combustible Dick Vitale, who seemingly loves to slobber over players wearing Duke or North Carolina uniforms, picked Colson as his ACC Player of the Year this season. The 6-foot-5 junior from New Bedford, Massachusetts is an undersized bruiser in the post who averages 17.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
Despite being small for a power forward and lacking elite athleticism, he makes up for those deficiencies by having a non-stop motor and playing with an aggressiveness that wears his opponents down.
He can score on the move, off the bounce and while facing the basket in space with an array of crafty moves and a nice touch around the rim. And his game off the boards is as elite as it gets on the college level.
His 33-point, 13-rebound game against Florida State on February 11th was, as Dickie V would say, “Super! Scintillating!! Sensational!!!”
DWAYNE BACON, Guard, Florida State
I can’t understand why more people aren’t singing the praises on my man Leonard Hamilton, who has guided FSU to the program’s first appearance in The Big Dance since 2012, and possibly its best seeding ever in the NCAA Tournament.
6-foot-10 freshman small forward Jonathan Isaac is dripping with limitless potential and will be a Top-5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. But for me, Florida State gets cooking with Bacon, as in Dwayne Bacon, the 6-foot-7 sophomore guard from Lakeland, Florida.
He is an explosive leaper who is very long and faster than a hiccup in the open floor. On the move, he’s practically unstoppable and he’s a ferocious finisher at the rim. Bacon has a creative offensive repertoire and can bang the ball consistently from deep. He can handle the rock like a point guard and is equally adept at both starting and finishing the break.
Defensively, he’s big, quick and athletic enough to guard the 1, 2 and the 3, and will disrupt an opponent’s passing lanes like Trump barges in on people’s preconceived notions of common sense.
For all you need to know about what he can do when he gets it going, check the 24-point game against Florida, the 29-point gem against UVA and the recent 23-pointer he put up against Miami in the Seminoles final regular season game this weekend.