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/ Jan.9, 2005

With conference play ready to take over the remainder of the schedule, each team has room for improvement or a desperate need for someone to step up and take the team to new heights for postseason positioning. While the superstars will get most of the headlines and the spotlights, wins and loses will hinge on the play of the following players:

CLEMSON: Vernon Hamilton, Sophomore Guard

Looks like Hamilton’s lucky number is 35. He leads the Tigers with 35 steals, and is third on the team with 35 assists. However, he has also committed the most turnovers on the team with—surprise, surprise—35. Hamilton emerged at the end of last year as a playmaking guard on both ends of the court with a very bright future. This year he has been passed over by freshmen Cheyenne Moore and Cliff Hammonds in the starting lineup, as Hamilton has only started four out of the Tigers’ 13 games. His points per game average is down from 7.3 last year to 6.7 this year, and he’s scored in double figures just three times all season. For the Tigers to make any noise in conference play they’ll need Hamilton to create on offense and get everyone involved like he did last season.

DUKE: Daniel Ewing, Senior Guard

The title of “unsung hero” really depicts Ewing’s entire career in a Duke jersey rather than his play this year. Ewing has been overshadowed by other stars such as Chris Duhon, Shane Battier, Jay (the artist formerly known as Jason) Williams, and Carlos Boozer among others. Even this year he is overshadowed by more heralded stars J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Ewing brings an incredibly smooth shot and a knack for making the big play every time he steps onto the court. He hustles on defense, has great leaping ability, and has gotten better every year he’s been at Duke. With Duke’s already limited depth taking a serious blow with Shavlik Randolph being diagnosed with mononucleosis and Reggie Love breaking his foot, don’t be surprised to see Ewing’s already stellar numbers improve.

FLORIDA STATE: Take Your Pick

Each member of this cast of characters needs to step up. The team is 8-6 with great wins at home against Florida and at Minnesota, and one tough loss on the road to Maryland in overtime. Von Wafer showed flashes of his talent in the Florida win, knocking down six treys en route to scoring 20 points. Adam Waleskowski scored 18 points, Al Thornton scored 17, and Alexander Johnson scored 10. Don’t be surprised if the four of them come out flat in their next game against Virginia Tech and combine for 30 points. The Seminoles’ X- Factor might be Diego Romero. The Argentine forward scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the season opening win, but since then his play has been on the decline. As highly touted as he was coming into the program, he’s only scored in double figures one other time since the opener. This whole team is like the report card filled with B’s and C+’s that you take home to mom. It’s ok, and some parts look real good, but looking back, it could’ve been and should’ve been a whole lot better.

GEORGIA TECH: Luke Schenscher, Senior Center

The big Aussie center broke out last year helping to lead Georgia Tech to the national championship game. So far this season, though, his play has been a little lacking compared to expectations. Schenscher is currently seventh in the ACC in rebounding, (7.5 RPG) and scores only 10.1 points a game. With the recent struggles of B.J. Elder and with teams concentrating on shutting down the guard play of Elder, Jarrett Jack, and Will Bynum, Schenscher needs to step up his game. If he could establish a low-post presence and alter teams’ defensive strategies, he could go a long way in helping Georgia Tech regain dominance after recent loses to Gonzaga and at Kansas. January 12 will be a huge test for Schenscher, as he goes head-to-head against Sean May in Chapel Hill, N.C.

MARYLAND: Nik Caner-Medley, Junior Forward

The discrepancies in Caner-Medley’s numbers when Maryland wins and loses are astounding. While John Gilchrist may be the most important and best player on the team, it can be said that as Caner-Medley goes, so does Maryland. In Maryland’s nine wins this season, Caner-Medley averages 15.6 points per game and shoots 54 percent from the field. In the loses to Wisconsin and George Washington, he averaged 11.5 points and shot 29 percent from the field. In the nine wins he has committed 10 turnovers. In the two loses he has committed nine turnovers. Caner-Medley’s play against the likes of Wake Forest and North Carolina will go a long way in determining if Maryland can repeat and build on last year’s March success, or if they will be just another also-ran in the nation’s best conference.

MIAMI: Anthony King, Sophomore Forward

King has shown flashes of brilliance this season, most notably with his triple-double against Florida Atlantic. The Hurricanes have two proven players in Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz. Hite and Diaz play great around the perimeter, and average a combined 35.1 points per game. An established low post presence like King could foster their play and help Miami to some upset victories. They have already surpassed expectations up to this point, starting off the season 9-2 with wins over Florida and Massachusetts. King is capable of putting up 10 points and 10 rebounds a night. If he can achieve this sort of consistent play, Miami could really open up some eyes.

NORTH CAROLINA: Jawad Williams, Senior Forward

Felton, May, McCants. Felton, May, McCants. If you ask anybody to describe this year’s Carolina squad, you are guaranteed to hear those three names over and over again. There’s no doubt that The Trio is incredible, but the glue keeping Carolina together this year has been its senior member, Williams. Jawad, not Rashad McCants, leads the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game. He’s tied for the team lead in blocks with Sean May (12), he chips in four rebounds a game, and shoots an electrifying 66 percent from the field (including 45 percent from 3-point range). Williams has played through the darkest days of Carolina basketball, and now he seems poised to lead this team back to prominence. As the team gets deeper into conference play, look for Williams to put up spectacular numbers in the shadows of The Trio.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Ilian Evtimov, Junior Forward

Now more than ever, the Wolfpack need someone like Evtimov to step up his play and help bring back North Carolina State to consciousness. The Wolfpack lost their last two games to St. John’s and West Virginia, with star Julius Hodge being sidelined with a sprained ankle for the loss against the Mountaineers. Against St. John’s the team score 10 points in the first half. 10 points. There’s a large chance your local high school team could’ve done better. It wasn’t exactly the same NCST team that was ranked as high as ninth in the country at one point this season. Evtimov, coming off knee surgery, looks as if he’s starting to hit his stride. He scored a season-best 16 points against West Virginia, and was an extremely effective shooter last season, shooting 46 percent. If he can regain his form, then Evtimov, along with the emergence of Andrew Brackman and Cameron Bennerman, can help NCST overcome these past games and move forward in a positive direction.

VIRGINIA: Sean Singletary, Freshman Guard; J.R. Reynolds, Sophomore Guard

Singletary’s play thus far has been great. He’s averaging about 10 points and four assists a game, and getting everyone involved in the offense. Most importantly, he feeds the big dogs, Devin Smith and Elton Brown. Singletary was the catalyst for the upset victory over Arizona in the second game of the season, scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists. Reynolds, too, has played at least up to, if not surpassing, expectations. He’s scoring about 11 points a game and dishing out three assists a night. This backcourt combo has been the reason for Virginia’s 8-2 start, and figures to be at the heart of the blueprint for Pete Gillen’s plan to raise this team from ACC underdog to contender. Smith and Brown will get their points and rebounds, but the backcourt play of these two inexperienced guards will determine whether the Cavaliers cross the threshold from the NIT into the NCAA tournament.

VIRGINIA TECH: Deron Washington, Freshman Guard/Forward

Washington opened up the year on a hot streak, scoring over 20 points in his first two collegiate games. He is extremely athletic, can jump through the roof, and knows how to finish. The problem is he hasn’t been doing enough of the finishing recently. He’s totaled 20 points in the last four games, and the team has gone 1-3 in those contests. A nice nucleus has formed around Carlos Dixon, Zabian Dowdell, and Jamon Gordon. If Washington can get back on track and become the fourth member of this nucleus, we might see the Virginia Tech team that opened the season 4-0 instead of the one that’s gone 2-5 in its last seven games.

WAKE FOREST: Taron Downey, Senior Guard

Downey’s presence alone, as a senior, should be a factor that helps Wake to some wins as conference play roles on. Every senior wants to go out on top, and Downey is no exception. One stat that really jumps out at you is his free throw percentage. He is tied with Chris Paul for the team lead at 86 percent. There’s no bigger comfort for a coach and a fan base than a senior who can step to the line and knock down pressure-packed free throws in crunch time. Surprisingly, Downey is fourth on the team in scoring (8.2 PPG) even though he’s only started once. He chipped in 16 points to help Wake to a tough road win at “The Pit” in New Mexico, one of the toughest arenas to play at for visiting teams. His propensity to knock down shots and make free throws gives Wake another weapon in its arsenal to use in the tough conference games ahead.

STANDINGS (Through January 4, 2005)
			Overall		Conference
1. Duke     		   9-0		  1-0
2. North Carolina	  12-1		  1-0
3. Wake Forest	  12-1		  1-0
4. Maryland		   9-2		  1-0
5. Georgia Tech	   9-2             	  0-0
6. Miami		   9-2		  0-0
7. N.C. State		  10-3		  0-0
8. Virginia		   8-2		  0-1
9. Clemson		   8-4		  0-1
10. Florida State	   8-6		  0-1
11. Virginia Tech	   6-5		  0-1







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