ACC's Miami, UVA among nation's top defenses - Tucson News Now

ACC Player Power Poll: Getting defensive

Clemson's team has secured wins in the ACC through its sterling defensive play. (Source: ACC Digital Network) Clemson's team has secured wins in the ACC through its sterling defensive play. (Source: ACC Digital Network)

(RNN) – Scoring points is out, man. It's gone the way of the dinosaur, the way of MySpace. It has become more out of fashion than a bedazzled jean jacket with leather tassels and matching hat.

We here at ACC PPP like to keep up with the trends. And nothing is more nouveau than "D."

The conference has three teams ranked among the NCAA's top-20 in offensive output – NC State (6), North Carolina (9) and Duke (16). Yet those three are giving ground in the standings to teams that put emphasis on the other end of the court.

Teams like Miami, Virginia and Clemson have fierce defenses that dare league rivals to score 60 on them.

Boring, you may say? Basketball has gone sour even? PPP responds: How do you like your tomahawk? I like mine with "jam."

How does a play like that start? Oh yeah, with defense.

PPP PS – How about a nice, chilled blocked shot? Make mine a double.

We are all for a discussion of the ups and downs of NCAA hoops. But when your commentary inspires a brain-teasing response like "I haven't watched a college basketball game in the past 2 years ... the game has become boring," then you and they aren't paying attention.

Newspapers ... so '90s.

With all of that in mind, we present this week's rankings with a special emphasis on the guys who get up to shut down.

Player Power Poll, Jan. 23 to 29:

1. Shane Larkin, Miami Hurricanes

Last game: Eight points, nine rebounds, six assists vs. Florida State (W 71-47).

This list could have been almost all Hurricanes with the week they had. The win against the Seminoles on Sunday was preceded by a 90-63 handling of then-No. 1-ranked Duke on Wednesday.

But in an effort to spread the love to some non-Miamians, PPP chose the starting point guard to accept the award on the team's behalf. Plus, he gets bonus points for being a little guy (5'11") who rebounds and the son of baseball hall of famer Barry Larkin.

Despite giving up a foot in height to at least two other guys on his team at all times the soph led the way with 10 boards against Duke and nine against Florida State.

A good PG is like a good chess player: They anticipate the opponent's moves before he makes them. That's how they create easy shots for teammates with passes.

Larkin and other rebounders of diminutive stature (relative to basketball, anyway) apply the same philosophy to rebounding. Rather than battle it out among the trees or forget about it altogether, they watch for a clearing where the ball will land and get there before everyone else.

His quickness also aids Miami's Top-20 defense (58.1 points per game allowed through Jan. 27), as he leads the ACC in steals (2.2. per game).

2. Joe Harris, Virginia Cavaliers

Last game: 22 points, four rebounds, three 3-pointers vs. NC State (W 58-55).

Kids, if you want to learn how to shoot a jump shot, look no further than Mr. Harris.

It's no mistake the guy shoots 46 percent form 3-point range – he has one of the best strokes in the college game. The consistency of the form; the height and balance on the jump; the quick release; the prominent flick of the wrist; it's all there.

He and his fellow 'Hoos are pretty good on the defensive end, too. And by "pretty good," we mean "the best."

They give up the second fewest points per game (51.1) in the nation, and PPP feels confident UVA's schedule has been tougher than Stephen F. Austin's without looking it up.

3. K.J. McDaniels, Clemson Tigers

Last game: 15 points, five rebounds, two steals vs. Georgia Tech (W 63-60).

The 6'6" sophomore has been a picture of consistency in the Tigers' last three, scoring 15, 17 and 15 as they went 2-1.

McDaniels has become an exceptional offensive rebounder, and has no problem taking the shot when time is running out in the game. With his team leading by one against Georgia Tech, he made two free throws with 15 seconds left in the game to secure the win Tuesday.

He bolsters his resume more by being among the ACC's top-10 in steals (1.4 per game) and blocks (2.1). Clemson gives up the 13th fewest points in the country, at 57 per game.

4. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke Blue Devils

Last game: 25 points, six 3-pointers, two assists vs. Maryland (W 84-64).

The blowout against Miami was equal parts Hurricanes-good, Blue Devils-bad. Everyone on the Duke squad had an off night – except Sulaimon.

The freshman scored 16 points, including 6 for 6 from the free throw line, and added four steals. He followed that up by opening fire from 3-point range against Maryland on Saturday, finishing 6 for 8 behind the arc and 9 of 13 overall.

The Blue Devils have been dealing with injuries and needed someone to step up on offense. The talented first-year guard may be that guy.

5. Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Last game: 16 points, four rebounds at Clemson (L 63-60).

Not much love has been sent the Yellow Jackets way so far here at PPP. And by "not much," we mean "none."

That's over now, after the Ramblin' Wreck secured its first ACC win in explosive fashion against Wake Forest on Saturday, 82-62. Miller chipped in eight points, five boards and five assists from the center position.

The 6'11" junior also kept his team close on the road against the Tigers. With less than a minute left, he leapt over another player for a putback slam to get the game within two points.

Alas it wasn't to be, but he'll be relied upon to stay consistent as his freshman teammates have their ebbs and flows.

6. P.J. Hairston, North Carolina Tar Heels

Last game: 14 points, three assists, four 3-pointers at Boston College (W 82-70).

Hairston hit 4 of 4 from 3-point range against BC on Tuesday before sustaining a concussion from a collision with teammate Dexter Strickland. It appeared his head struck Strickland's elbow then his head whipped back as he hit the floor.

The sophomore is a key guy for the Heels, and has been playing well this month. Most important, he tweeted Wednesday, "Thanks to everyone for the support, I'm [sic] okay just a very very bad headache...."

7. Erick Green, Virginia Tech Hokies; Richard Howell, NC State Wolfpack (tie)

Last game (Green): 25 points, five assists, four rebounds at Clemson (L 77-70).

Last game (Howell): 12 points, 11 rebounds, six assists at Virginia (L 58-55).

As much as PPP likes to mix it up, it will be hard to keep these guys off the list each week. Both work tirelessly on the court from whistle to whistle.

Howell is constantly in the right spot to make a play on the ball. If he's not in the right spot, he's not afraid to dive into it either. He's physical, sets screens, moves without the ball and has above-average passing skills for a big man. And his beard looks terrific.

Every other NC State player has dealt with severe highs and lows in their play. Howell churns out strong performances every time.

Meanwhile, Green breaks defenses down off the dribble, with his passing and with his shooting touch. Even Virginia couldn't slow him down (they just shut every other Hokie down); he dropped 35 points on them Thursday in a losing effort.

His speed, leaping and long arms allow him to get to the basket and pull off shots in space that didn't appear to be there a second before. He's like the Manny Pacquiao of layups – you never know which angle the next shot may come from.

9. Devin Thomas, Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Last game: Eight points, 13 rebounds, five blocks at Georgia Tech (L 82-62).

Thomas did a lot of things right against the Yellow Jackets, like his overall defense, his shot blocking and his rebounding. He also did some things wrong, namely turning the ball over seven times – four in the game's opening five minutes as Georgia Tech opened a 22-5 lead on the Demon Deacons.

If the big man can cut down on the giveaways, he should give his team a chance to play spoiler for the rest of the conference.

10. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College Eagles

Last game: 22 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals vs. North Carolina (L 82-70).

Hanlan has become the ACC's top-performing rookie. He turned in his best stat line of conference play against UNC on Tuesday and appears to be getting stronger as the season goes along.

His jump shot still needs a little work, but he can take the ball to the hoop against any defender. The Eagles are the youngest team in the conference, so they're taking some lumps in 2013.

Expect to hear about the team, and Hanlan, a lot more in the coming seasons.

Rimmed out: C.J. Leslie, NC State; Robert Carter, Georgia Tech; Michael Snaer, Florida State; Kenny Kadji, Miami; Akil Mitchell, Virginia; the rest of the Miami and Virginia starting lineups (and some of the reserves).

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