We get a prelude to the madness when we tune into the 2014 ACC tournament. For some players, it will be their last dance in the collegiate game—their last taste of the frenzied college atmosphere. Some are graduating to the professional ranks, and this conference tournament will be critical for their leap to the NBA.
This list doesn’t feature Duke freshman Jabari Parker because his stock is already so high. Sure, he will benefit from a strong tournament, but he’s already a likely top-five pick anyway. No, this list features prospects that have plenty at stake in Greensboro, N.C.
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis has come out of nowhere to force his way into the discussion of the “Fabulous Freshmen.” He may not have the star power of the other first-years, but Ennis has been just as good as any point guard in the country.
The recent stumbles of Syracuse notwithstanding, Ennis has been phenomenal and he’ll continue to wow scouts with his poise and leadership on the court.
For starters, Syracuse is just too good not make it to at least the semifinals of the conference tournament, and Ennis will be instrumental in that success.
His command of the game is so rare that he’s drawn comparisons to Chris Paul—the Wake Forest version. Peter Bukowski of Sports Illustrated makes that analogy:
Chris Paul was a quicker player at Wake Forest, but Ennis has a similar ability to change directions to beat defenders and similar steal numbers for players of similar height and build (Chris Paul was 6-foot, 175 pounds coming out, whereas Ennis is listed at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds). As a passer, Ennis actually has a higher assist percentage as a freshman than Paul in his first season.
There still are limitations that will prevent him from leaping up into the top five, like his questionable defense and decent-but-not-great perimeter shot. Those defensive concerns will not be assuaged by coach Jim Boeheim’s zone defense, but Ennis will push his way up draft boards with his heady play, calmness under pressure and pure point-guard instincts. And plays like this:
We’re guaranteed to see Ennis use the conference tournament to build on his impressive resume in the clutch:
Ennis is the best point guard in this conference—arguably in college basketball—and he’ll continue to prove that with more takeover performances in the ACC tournament.
Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Rodney Hood plays second fiddle to Jabari Parker at Duke, but he is just as important to the Blue Devils’ success. The 6’8” wing is good athlete with a pretty, southpaw shooting stroke. Hood is shooting well for Duke, connecting on 43 percent of his long-range attempts and wooing scouts in the process.
The ACC tournament will be the former Mississippi State player's chance to show his well-rounded offensive repertoire. He also can demonstrate his ability to harness his size, length and athleticism as a top-notch perimeter defender.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a way of getting the best out of his players when he needs them the most, and Duke will definitely need Hood at his finest.
Hood will be assigned to some of the best scorers in the conference (players like C.J. Fair and Joe Harris), so he’ll get the chance to prove his defensive mettle.
That, paired with his range, will boost him up draft boards.
Joe Harris, SG, Virginia
Joe Harris is not a highly touted draft prospect—at least not to the degree of the other guys on this list. He’s generally considered to be a second-round pick and finds himself out of the top 85 draft prospects in the eyes of draft experts for ESPN (Chad Ford—subscription required) and CBSSports (Gary Parrish).
But the Virginia senior is going to open some eyes over the next few weeks starting with his play in the ACC tournament.
Make no mistake, Harris is not an all-around star or going to vault up into the lottery, but he’s going to elevate himself into the end of the first round because he has an elite skill that is always marketable: perimeter shooting.
Analytics have shown us just how important and efficient the three-point shot can be. Every team can find a spot in its rotation for a player who can provide floor spacing and points—three at a time.
Playing the tough and varied defenses of the ACC (the grindhouse, physical defense of Pittsburgh and the lanky, 2-3 zone of Syracuse) will give Harris a chance to show his offensive versatility and exhibit his splendid shooting stroke.
Moreover, it will be a chance to showcase his underrated defense against some of the best wings in the country.
Playing on an upstart Virginia team that is better than most people give them credit for, Harris—and his team—will open some eyes and advance deep into the ACC tournament.
In the process, Harris’ stellar play will leave a favorable impression in scouts’ eyes.
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