Duke freshman Jabari Parker is the conference’s No. 2 scorer and leading rebounder and may be the first overall pick of the NBA draft. Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels has blended efficiency with spectacular plays like few others. Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon is the best player on the ACC’s best team.
None is my ACC player of the year.
Roy Williams has rescued North Carolina from a 1-4 ACC start to 12 consecutive victories and a possible second-place league finish. Brad Brownell has guided a Clemson team picked 14th in preseason into the upper half.
Neither is my ACC coach of the year.
Indeed, while the league’s expansion from 12 to 15 teams this season will not net the 8-10 NCAA tournament bids some envisioned, there has been no shortage of individual excellence. Which makes for difficult choices as Sunday’s all-conference voting deadline beckons.
Every team except Notre Dame plays this weekend, but barring the strange and unusual, I’m virtually set on the major awards.
Player of the year: North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren is poised to join Clemson’s Horace Grant (1987) and Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan (1997) as the only players to lead the ACC in scoring and field goal percentage. Care to guess the PoYs from ’87 and ’97?
Grant and Duncan.
Yes, Grant’s and Duncan’s teams finished second in the ACC, while Warren’s is tied for eighth. But Warren’s numbers — 24.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, 52.8 percent shooting — are too good. He scores more, 24.5, in conference games, and his 41 points at Pittsburgh on Sunday are an ACC-best this season.
Warren was a sterling 16-of-22 from the field against the Panthers, and his four steals gave him an ACC-high 29 in league contests. Oh, and Warren also leads the ACC in offensive rebounds.
Coach of the year: Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers figured to improve this season and reach the NCAA tournament. But few, if any, expected this.
Ranked fifth nationally, Virginia is 25-5 overall and 16-1 in the ACC entering Sunday’s regular-season finale at Maryland. The Cavaliers clinched their first outright regular-season league title since 1981 with Saturday’s rout of Syracuse, and good luck finding an opposing coach who doesn’t rave about how Bennett and his staff orchestrate Virginia’s unforgiving man-to-man defense and resourceful offense.
Bennett was the consensus national coach of the year as a rookie big whistle at Washington State in 2007 and is among 10 finalists for this season’s U.S. Basketball Writers Association coaching award. He’s unlikely to win — Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Southern Methodist’s Larry Brown are the frontrunners — but he’s the lone ACC coach on the ballot.
Rookie of the year: Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis leads the league in assists and hit the season’s most dramatic shot, a 35-footer to stun Pitt at the buzzer. But Parker’s 13 double-doubles are four more than anyone else in the conference and he’s likely to win this honor in a landslide.
Defensive player of the year: Virginia’s Justin Anderson is the most conspicuous and dynamic defender on the ACC’s premier defense. But coaches throughout the conference are more enamored of Akil Mitchell. A senior forward, Mitchell is capable of guarding the perimeter and low post, and he’s arguably the league’s best at disrupting the pick-and-roll.
As if to further tax voters, the ACC this season has added awards for best sixth man and most-improved player. Here I’m hopelessly undecided.
Anderson (8.9 points per game) doesn’t score as much as other top reserves, but the spark he provides off the bench, especially on defense, is palpable. He made decisive 3-pointers in a tight victory at Virginia Tech and had momentum-altering blocked shots against Maryland and Notre Dame.
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson averages 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, shoots 54.3 percent and leads the Tar Heels with 37 blocked shots. Florida State’s top two scorers, guards Aaron Thomas and Ian Miller, only recently began starting.
The field for most improved is more crowded with the likes of McDaniels, Warren, Thomas, Miller, Pitt’s Lamar Patterson, Syracuse’s Jerami Grant, Miami’s Rion Brown and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige. The more I think about it, the more I lean toward Paige because he’s so much better this season in the same role, starting point guard, as last season.
Ballots, which include first-, second- and third-team all-conference, plus all-defensive and rookie teams, are due by 9 p.m., Sunday. As blogged yesterday, my first team likely will be McDaniels, Warren, Brogdon, Paige and Parker.
I’ve yet to figure out the rest but will post Sunday night for y’all to ridicule.
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