All-Week team: North Carolina’s Joel Berry II leads the midseason squad

Team basketball is a sight to behold, but when an individual player is in a zone, sometimes the best strategy is simply to get the heck out of his way and let him dominate.

Across the country, we see these kind of epic performances on a nightly basis. It’s part of what makes college basketball so great — talented student-athletes showing off their spectacular abilities in front of millions.

Each week at NCAA.com, we’ll select a college basketball All-Week team. Comprised of five positions, the squad is selected based on games and performances from the week prior. Let’s get to this week’s edition.

ICYMI: Last week’s team

G Keon Johnson, Winthrop

Winthrop guard Keon Johnson (5) has scored 20 or more points in four straight games for the Eagles.

Winthrop Athletics

Winthrop guard Keon Johnson (5) has scored 20 or more points in four straight games for the Eagles.

The Winthrop Eagles have played in the Big South Conference Championship game three years in a row. Only problem is the team’s last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2010. In other words, Winthrop has been the runner-up in the Big South three years straight. Always a bridesmaid never a bride, if you’ll pardon the cliché, but the adage rings true. Winthrop hasn’t gotten over the hump in recent years, but if the 2016-17 season is finally the time for the Eagles to shake that monkey off their back, then senior point guard Keon Johnson will be right in the thick of things.

Winthrop, at 79.1 points per game, leads the conference in scoring, and Johnson (21.3 ppg) has been on a scoring tear of late — four straight games of 20 or more points (10 such games on the year). Johnson’s running mate, Xavier Cooks (16.1 ppg), has been keyed in offensively as well, as the Eagles are off to a 3-1 start in conference. The lone Big South loss came in an 82-80 battle with Radford, a game in which Johnson scored 37 points. Johnson and Cooks are the highest-scoring duo in the Big South, but there’s little reason for a sense of entitlement. Given the defense — or relative lack thereof — that the Eagles play, most teams can knock off Winthrop with good solid execution. And maybe a little defense of their own is the recipe the doctor ordered for Winthrop’s postseason blues.

As NCAA.com’s Brian Mull noted in his October preview of the Big South conference:

With two of the best players in the conference on its roster, Winthrop is the obvious choice to make its first NCAA tournament appearance under coach Pat Kelsey. The former Wake Forest and Xavier assistant led the program to a 35-17 conference record the last three seasons but each one ended with a loss in the tournament title game. Better defense could be the key to reaching the ultimate goal. In conference games, Winthrop was fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency (104.6), and allowed 1.08 points per possession or more in seven of nine overall losses.

G Joel Berry II, North Carolina

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North Carolina Basketball: Joel Berry II | Player of the Week

A busy week for the Tar Heels meant business as usual for lead guard Joel Berry II. The numbers stand out in their own right as Berry averaged 25 points, five rebounds and four assists to help lead the Tar Heels to a pair of wins against Clemson and North Carolina State, but the hot shooting from the 6-foot junior is really what stood out. In a 3-point overtime win against Clemson, Berry connected on 12 of 19 shots from the field, including an eye-popping seven 3-pointers, en route to a career-high 31 points on the night. The bout with NC State was not nearly as close, with UNC rolling by 51 points in a 107-56 romp (the Tar Heels’ biggest margin ever in an ACC game, according to NCAA.com’s Mike Lopresti) — but Berry still made his impact with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes of play.

North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II (2) scored a career-high 31 points against Clemson.

Joshua S. Kelly | USA TODAY Sports Images

North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II (2) scored a career-high 31 points against Clemson.

He’s seen across-the-board upticks in nearly every category, including: points, assists, rebounds and all of his shooting percentages (FG, 3-point, FT). The only thing that’s gone down for Berry are his minutes, which will help keep stave off some of the normal wear and tear that’s to be expected in the ACC. The return of swingman Theo Pinson, arguably the team’s best perimeter defender, should help on the defensive end by allowing Berry more room to roam and create havoc. But if Berry keeps knocking down shots at anywhere near the rate he’s doing right now, head coach Roy Williams and company will be just fine.

G/F Josh Jackson, Kansas

Kansas' freshman guard Josh Jackson flirted mildly with a triple-double in a two-point win over K-State.

Kansas Athletics

Kansas’ freshman guard Josh Jackson flirted mildly with a triple-double in a two-point win over K-State.

If there’s anyone on Kansas’ roster who has been the beneficiary of the stellar play from Kansas’ starting backcourt Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham, it’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson. Well, to be fair, everyone is benefitting from the combined 10-plus assists that Graham and Mason are averaging (Kansas ranks 11th in the nation in assist-making), but Jackson’s role has been made significantly easier with the support of his upperclassmen teammates. As a result, Jackson has been running wild of late with dunks galore and a bevy of athletic, hustle plays from the wing position. 

In a pair of wins this week against Kansas State and Texas Tech, Jackson flirted with a triple-double (22 points, nine rebounds, six assists) and notched his third double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) of the year. He also displayed some of his playmaking ability and a bit of a stroke from the 3-point line in the two wins, but the athleticism was consistently front and center.

F Eric Mika, BYU

Brigham Young forward Eric Mika (12) had a pair of double-doubles to lead the Cougars' frontcourt play.

Chris Nicoll | USA TODAY Sports Images

Brigham Young forward Eric Mika (12) had a pair of double-doubles to lead the Cougars’ frontcourt play.

BYU is no stranger to scoring the basketball, just ask head coach Dave Rose who has had his Cougars in the top 25 in scoring for the better part of the decade. But in years past it’s been a guard-dominated attack that led the way for the Cougs. However, the return of a familiar face upfront this year — forward Eric Mika — has BYU focusing a bit more on its play inside the paint. BYU faithful last saw Mika on the floor as a freshman during the 2013-14 season, but a two-year hiatus for a mission trip to Italy meant the 6-foot-10 big man was away from campus for a few years.

Well, the team has welcomed him back with open arms, and things are going swimmingly for the Utah native. He’s currently averaging more than 20 points a game to go along with just over nine boards a night, but his toughness is the aspect of his game that sticks out. It’s no secret that BYU tends to go smaller with its lineups than most opponents, which puts the onus on the big man to shoulder the duties in the middle. Against Saint Mary’s (Calif.) on Thursday, Mika was one of only two BYU players to reach double figures. Unfortuantely, Mika’s double-double (28 points and 10 rebounds) was not enough in the 81-68 loss to the Gaels. Nonetheless, Mika has shown a knack for controlling the paint on both ends at times this year. It’s clear that he’s enjoying a return to the game that he missed for two years, and he’s playing like he’s making up for lost time.

F Ivan Rabb, California

Cal's Ivan Rabb (1) averaged a double-double and had the game-saving block against USC.

Gary A. Vasquez | USA TODAY Sports Images

Cal’s Ivan Rabb (1) averaged a double-double and had the game-saving block against USC.

Cal forward Ivan Rabb is the main engine for the Golden Bears and head coach Cuonzo Martin, and the big man from Oakland, California, has been carrying the load. He’s averaged a double-double (15.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg) through the midway point of the season. The early portions of the Pac-12 schedule have not been easy either, with three ranked matchups, including recent trips to No. 4 UCLA (81-71 loss) and No. 25 USC (74-73 win,) — but Rabb has helped steer his team to a 2-2 record through the second week of conference play. This week proved to be a de facto battle for California supremacy, and though the first stop didn’t go exactly according to plan, Rabb still tallied a monster night (17 points, 20 rebounds) in a 10-point loss to UCLA.

However, the 6-foot-11 sophomore atoned by putting his stamp all over Sunday night’s win against USC. Rabb converted on a pair of late free throws with just about five seconds left to give his team a one-point lead, and then came up with the block on the other end as time expired to preserve the win (17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks). The sophomore’s play in the Pac-12 is showing the benefit of the experience he earned in conference play a year ago, as he doesn’t shy away from contact in the paint. Case in point, on Cal’s final possession Rabb took USC’s forward Chimezie Metu down to the left block for a post-up touch before drawing the foul on a left-handed jump hook. That confidence carried over to the free-throw line, as Rabb calmly stroked two makes to give his team the final lead of the night. He has upped his per game averages to 17.5 points and nearly 15 rebounds a night in conference, which will certainly be a boon to the Bears’ fortunes going forward.

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