ACC Basketball Tournament 2011: Nolan Smith, John Henson and the Top 10 Players
The Atlantic Coast Conference features some of the NCAA's premier players. The ACC tournament offers the country a chance to see the league's best come together on one floor in Greensboro, North Carolina to battle for bragging rights and an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament.
The ACC Championship has featured some great individual and team performances in recent years, and the best players always seem to rise to the occasion with the season on the line.
Some recent MVPs of the ACC tournament include Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, Tyler Hansbrough, Brandan Wright, J.J. Redick, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier.
The ACC pedigree of headline players is strong. The tradition continues this year as the league converges on its de facto center, the state of North Carolina.
Here are the top 10 players who will take the court this weekend in Greensboro.
Demontez Stitt, Clemson
The senior guard is one of the ACC's most consistent scorers, having scored between 14 and 17 points in each of the last eight games.
Clemson's 5-3 run in those games to finish fourth in the conference is partly credited to Stitt's leadership and scoring.
He will be a player of note in games against Boston College/Wake Forest and then top seed North Carolina.
The Tigers will mostly be overlooked, but Stitt can rally his teammates as they fight for a tournament bid and make some noise with his 14.1 points per game.
Jordan Williams, Maryland
The Terps have a bright outlook for the next two years as long as their star forward is around.
Williams, just a sophomore, had his coming out party this year with averages of 16.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
Though Gary Williams' team isn't going to make the NCAA tournament, a bid to the NIT or CBI is likely. Just because he's not playing in the big dance doesn't mean that Williams can't get noticed by NBA scouts. Any strong postseason showing by high-potential players gets noticed these days.
Williams can finish his coming out party with a standout performance in the ACC, then in one of the lesser postseason tourneys.
Chris Singleton, Florida State
The 6'9" junior leads the Seminoles in scoring and rebounding and has increased his scoring, rebound, block and field-goal averages in each of his three years at FSU.
He led his team to an upset of No. 1 Duke earlier this year and a third-place finish in the conference. He's experienced in the ACC tournament atmosphere and in orchestrating the upset.
Florida State is fortunate to be playing on Duke's side of the bracket, because the less athletic Blue Devils present less of a challenge to Singleton's explosive athleticism than would North Carolina.
Though Florida State is not as talented or deep, Duke will certainly give the Noles the respect they deserve after losing to them earlier in the year.
Kyle Singler, Duke
You've heard about Singler before. It feels like the Blue Devil senior forward has been around forever, but rest assured, it's only been four years.
In his time at Duke, he's proven himself to be one of the country's most versatile players. He loves the three-point line, but can also play inside or handle the ball. He was instrumental in Duke's run to the national championship last season and is central to everything they do this year.
While not as exciting or explosive as Singleton or Williams might be, Singler's polish and basketball IQ make him a great watch.
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
The freshman phenom from Iowa was the top recruit in the Class of 2010, and lately, he's shown why.
He's had trouble with his shooting this year, but Barnes scoring prowess jumps out at the viewer. Already in the ACC's top 10 in scoring at 14.1 points per game, he will certainly set the rest of the ACC on fire for as long as he's a Tar Heel.
Barnes has responded well in Carolina's big games and has played especially well recently. It will be interesting to watch how someone with so much talent and fanfare responds when the intensity heats up to tournament level.
Like Williams, Barnes will have a great opportunity to showcase his NBA potential on the big stages that March provides.
Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech
The 6'5" junior guard does it all for the Yellow Jackets.
He leads the team in scoring (17.1), rebounding (6.1), assists (3.5) and steals (2.7). Too bad his game is wasted on the ACC's 11th-best team.
Shumpert's Jackets won't go very far in the ACC because of serious deficiencies, but whatever amount of success they experience will be due in majority to their star.
Is a first-round upset over six-seeded Virginia Tech out of the question? Shumpert's talent is the kind that can carry a team for days or weeks at a time, so I won't rule it out.
Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
The senior guard from Baltimore is the heart and soul of the Hokies. He is arguably the best pure scorer in the ACC, having hovered around the 20 point threshold for three years strong.
He scored 20-plus points 12 times this season and was instrumental in an upset of Duke a few weeks ago. He has played every minute in 13 games, establishing himself as more of a mainstay than any other player in the league. His importance to his team is unrivaled by single player in the ACC.
Should Virginia Tech advance late into the ACC weekend, listen for Delaney's name to be called over and over by the ESPN broadcasters and his scoring ability praised.
Reggie Jackson, Boston College
Jackson, the Eagles' junior point guard, has really stepped up the scoring in his third season. His average jumped from 12.9 points last year to 18.3 this year, good for third in the conference.
His .497 shooting percentage also represents a drastic improvement over last year's 43 pecent. Both that percentage and his three-point percentage are as high or higher than anyone in the ACC who averages as many attempts.
His improvement is evident, and his importance to his team cannot be understated. BC's surprise fifth-place finish can be attributed to Jackson's quick development and penchant for stuffing the stat sheet.
Look for him to shine in an opening round game against Wake Forest, then in a head-to-head showdown with Clemson's Demontez Stitt in the quarterfinals.
John Henson, North Carolina
The 6'10" Tar Heel sophomore is oozing NBA potential out of every pore.
In fact, no ACC player is as coveted by NBA teams as Henson is for his ridiculous wingspan, athleticism, shot blocking and rebounding.
Any time you can average 3.1 blocks, 9.7 rebounds and shoot 51percent from the field, you're going to turn heads. In just 25 minutes per game, Henson is doing just that, along with pouring in a tidy 11.3 points per game.
His ability to literally control the game from the paint is seen a few times per generation of big men. Try to name three other players in college basketball who can do what Henson does around the basket. It's a struggle to rattle off any.
The power to make teams shoot from the outside because they're afraid to shoot from inside the paint is something that many coaches never get the opportunity to experience, but all dream of having.
Henson's blessings will be just one reason that the Heels will be must-see TV for the next few weeks, especially if they tangle with Duke again on Sunday morning for the ACC crown.
Nolan Smith, Duke
Who else were you expecting to find here?
Smith is simply the ACC's best player this year. He leads the league in scoring and big moments, and his team is the best when at full strength.
The senior has improved dramatically in the last three years, maturing into one of the country's top handful of players. This wasn't necessarily the case when he arrived at Duke in a smaller role.
His improvement is what makes him attractive to NBA people and what makes him fun to watch now; you're liable to be wowed by him doing something that you didn't think he could do previously.
His willingness and flexibility to step into the point guard spot when superstar freshman Kyrie Irving went out paved the way for a perfectly seamless transition of leadership to the one most equipped to possess it.
Smith owns the iconic performance of the ACC in 2010-11 with his 22 second-half points to rally and beat North Carolina. He brought Duke back from 14 down at half in front of a deflated Cameron Indoor crowd and pumped life into the building with bucket after bucket.
He ended that game with 34 points, which marked and has stood as his season high.
Smith is the face of Duke and the face of this year's ACC. The league could hardly ask for a better player or person to be its icon heading into March.
Others Worth Mentioning Whom You Should Watch
Joe Trapani, Boston College
Malcolm Grant, Miami
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Mustapha Farrakhan, Virginia
Corey Raji, Boston College
C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State