GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon couldn’t ask for a more ardent advocate than Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who voted Brogdon not only the ACC player of the year but also the conference’s top defender.
Brogdon did not receive either award, in the coaches’ or media balloting. Both parties named North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren and Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels the player and defensive player of the year, respectively.
“I ended up voting for Malcolm Brogdon,” Larranaga told me on the eve of his team’s first-round ACC tournament game Wednesday versus Virginia Tech, “because I greatly believe that you should vote for the guy that’s the best player on the best team.
“Not that there aren’t other great players in the league. If you tell me you’re a great player, then I tell you you should lead your team to victory. That’s what great players do, and I go back to Bill Russell. He didn’t lead the NBA in scoring. He just led the league in championships, and to me that’s what the best player’s all about.
“Now if Virginia was a team that averaged 88 points a game, Malcolm Brogdon would be averaging 20, 23 or 24 because of the volume of offense. But they don’t. They’re a low-possession team. They average 60, he averages double figures. He’s their leading scorer. He’s basically led them to victories. He’s hit game-winning shots. He’s made game-winning plays and they’ve won the regular season.”
Larranaga’s narrative is spot-on. Brogdon averages a team-high 12.6 points, and the Cavaliers score 66.3 per game. He made a game-winning 3-pointer at Pittsburgh and hit clutch free throws to close out other wins as Virginia (25-6, 16-2) won the regular season outright for the first time since 1981, when Larranaga was a Cavaliers assistant under Terry Holland.
When I asked Larranaga whom he deemed defensive player of the year, he said, “Guess.”
“Akil Mitchell,” I replied, knowing how much Larranaga and other coaches admire how Virginia’s power forward guards the post and perimeter ball screens.
“He was second,” Larranaga said. “Malcolm Brogdon. I thought to myself, maybe if he doesn’t win player of the year, he’ll win defensive player of the year. What was my criteria? Best defensive team. They’re the best defensive team in the league, and I think he’s the guy that keys their defense, although Akil Mitchell is a huge part of their defense.”
Warren this season joined Clemson’s Horace Grant (1987) and Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan (1997) as the only players to lead the ACC in scoring (24.8 points per game) and field goal percentage (53.2). McDaniels is the league’s top shot-blocker at 2.77 per game.
Virginia Tech coach James Johnson voted with the majority on player of the year.
“Warren hurt us,” Johnson said, “and since we played them, he’s been hurting a lot of people.”
Johnson compared Warren to Erick Green, who as a senior last season at Tech led the nation in scoring at 25.0 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent.
“Erick put up a lot of points for us,” Johnson said, “but he didn’t take a lot of shots. I wanted him to take even more shots. … (Warren’s) not chasing shots. He’s not jacking up shots. … Man, zone, it’s tough to guard him. And, I think he plays both ends of the floor.”
He does. He had an ACC-best 32 steals in conference games.
Not surprisingly, Larranaga offered a spirited defense of his “very dear friend” Johnson, against whom, oddly enough, he is 0-2 this season, the Hokies’ lone ACC victories.
“He’s doing a terrific job,” Larranaga said, fully aware that Johnson, with a new boss and only six league wins in his two seasons, is embattled. “Coaches are always judged, first and foremost, on one category, record. Have you won enough games?
“But from my point of view, the first thing a coach needs is the time to build his own program in his own likeness. And if you look at some of the young players that James and his staff have bought in, he’s really headed in the right direction. I think Joey van Zegeren’s going to be an NBA player. I think (Devin) Wilson and (Ben) Emelogu are two very good freshman guards and Trevor Thompson’s a good freshman big guy. They’re positioned, with another good recruiting class, to make a major step forward.”
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