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(RNN) - By Christmas time, we've usually gotten enough of an opportunity to "unwrap" a team from its preseason expectations to find out what they have inside.
Sometimes, the big box with all the ribbons and bows turns out to be the best present under the tree. Duke and Syracuse come to mind.
Sometimes, it's tube socks: 4-8 Boston College or 7-5 Maryland.
Other times, a flimsy parcel wrapped in newspaper and duct tape turns out to be a game-used, autographed jersey - think 9-2 NC State or 10-2 Wake Forest.
But for those who are ready to take their teams back to the store and exchange them for something else, they may want to hold on a bit longer. There's no better time to turn things around than the New Year, which promises a fresh start with the kickoff of ACC play.
Player Power Poll: Dec. 14 - 25
1 .T.J. Warren, NC State Wolfpack
32 points, 14 of 23 shooting, eight rebounds, two steals Saturday vs. East Carolina (W 90-79)
Everyone knew T.J. was a scorer. What we didn't know was if he could be a leader for a team that sorely needed one, or if he would just rack up 25-point games in losses all year.
We're happy to report what the fans in Raleigh already know: he is the total package. And while the Pack don't have the individual talent they did a year ago, they may have a better team now.
The sophomore further inflated his ACC-leading scoring average with a career-high output against ECU, draining jumpers and getting to the basket with ease. Expect him to top that tally a few more times before the season ends.
2. Anthony 'Cat' Barber, NC State Wolfpack
12 points, six rebounds, four assists Dec. 18 at Tennessee (W 65-58)
Coach Mark Gottfried didn't need long to figure out his team was much better off with the Cat installed as starting point guard. The freshman already showed he had the skills for the job, and he displayed the poise of a mature player while leading NC State to a road win against a quality Tennessee team.
He is one of the most exciting players in the league to watch, too. This guy is so fast, we half-expect him to leave a trail of fire in his wake a la Doc Brown's DeLorean.
3. Aaron Thomas, Florida State Seminoles
18 points, 8 of 8 free throws, four rebounds Saturday vs. UMass (W 60-55)
We're pretty sure FSU's guys are drawing straws to see who will be the big dog from week to week. This is an extremely athletic team that already has seen standout performances from every position on the floor.
The second-year guard has looked lost on occasion in 2013. But he showed his skills as a scorer in the team's last two games - 44 points on 15 of 25 shooting, 11 of 12 free throws and 3 of 5 from behind the arc.
4. Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils
23 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four 3-pointers Dec. 19 vs. UCLA (W 80-63)
So much has been said about Jabari, so we won't pile on. Just watch and enjoy - guys like this don't come along often.
5. Quinn Cook, Duke Blue Devils
14 points, eight steals, five assists Dec. 19 vs. UCLA (W 80-63)
The junior point guard embarrassed a pretty good UCLA team by causing turnover upon turnover in the second half. Blessed with extremely quick hands, superior court vision and an almost preternatural sense of "the moment," he's as good of an on-court leader as a coach could ask for.
6. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse Orange
Zero points, three rebounds, one steal Dec. 15 at St. John's (W 68-63)
He barely registered on the stat sheet, but his defensive performance against the longtime Big East rival was nearly perfect. Midway through the second half, the Red Storm had wiped away a 12-point halftime deficit and were carving through the vaunted Syracuse 2-3.
Then Gbinije came in and unplugged the St. John's offense. He used lightning quick footwork to keep their guards from getting anywhere near the basket, St. John's could only score three points the final 5 1/2 minutes and the Orange got out of Madison Square Garden with the win.
7. C.J. Fair, Syracuse Orange
21 points, five rebounds, two steals Dec. 15 at St. John's (W 68-63)
Gbinije led the charge on defense, C.J. took care of the offense - 11 points in the second half.
8. Marcus Paige, North Carolina Tar Heels
23 points (21 in second half), 10 of 10 free throws, three steals Dec. 14 vs. Kentucky (W 82-77)
The Tar Heels followed a game where they controlled throughout against the Wildcats with a bit of a stinkbomb Dec. 18 against Texas (UNC lost, 86-83). However, Marcus has not been a victim of the extreme ebbs and flows of his teammates.
This team really should be undefeated right now. And if someone could hit a free throw besides the sophomore combo guard, it would be - he's shooting 92 percent from the line; the rest of the team is at 55 percent.
9. Travis McKie, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
16 points, three rebounds, two steals Dec. 17 vs. St. Bonaventure (W 77-62)
The Deacs were down nine in the second half to the Bonnies before they showed how quickly they can break out the heavy artillery. A roughly two-minute span where McKie caused two turnovers, hit 3 of 4 free throws, made a breakaway dunk and knocked in a 3-ball helped turn a tight game into a blowout.
10. Devin Thomas, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
18 points, six rebounds, three blocks Dec. 17 vs. St. Bonaventure (W 77-62)
This guy has been stuffing stat sheets instead of stockings this season; he leads the conference with nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Wake fans have long had a new coach on their wish list, running ads during last year's ACC tourney and starting the website FireBZ.com to spur the release of Jeff Bzdelik. And the success this season hasn't moved the needle much: the schedule has included no true road games and most of this administration's woes have come in conference play.
But with Devin, Travis and the rest of the rotation playing well, this turnaround could become Bzdelik's own little Christmas miracle.
Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tourney.More >>
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