Every year, from 1954 when Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric won the very first award, all the way to last year when Duke’s Jahlil Okafor earned the honor, a player from one of the ACC’s member institutions was crowned as the league’s Player of the Year. There is no reason to expect this year to be any different, even though the only discussion that seems to be taking place surrounds a guy we’re being told can’t win because his team is not having a very good season.
The case for Cat Barber is fairly simple … he’s averaging 24.1 points per game, which leads the league, and he’s a half-assist per game away from leading the league in that statistic as well. Just saying it out loud sounds silly. A guy is *this* close from leading the ACC in scoring AND assists. His team is having a very, very bad season, which certainly hurts Barber’s chances. Not because an individual should be punished because of his team’s record when making a case for an individual award, but because of what we, as viewers, remember. Oh, by the way, those are the folks who determine the winner.
The ACC post season awards are determined by a popular vote among paying members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. What’s the criteria for membership? Well, you have to pay your dues. No, like, literally. Just pay your dues. That’s not to say that an independent blogger doesn’t put in more time and effort than a traditional media legend in picking their all-ACC teams, but it does mean that the process is opened up to more “non traditional” voters who try to go beyond the box score when defining “best”.
Grayson Allen, Duke
Allen is 2nd place in the ACC in scoring at 20.6 points per game, and is shooting an incredible 49% from the floor for a shooting guard, largely due to his ability to get to the rim and finish. He also hit the game-winner in one of the best ACC games of the season. Did Pitt or Florida State media tune in to see Cat almost drop 40 on Wake Forest? No. Did they see Allen go for 19 and 25 against Louisville and Virginia, respectively? Absolutely. Big performances in important games hold much more weight in voters’ minds than elite performances in games among the league’s bottom third.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Brodgon is the league’s best defender, and it’s not even close. Oh, hey, he’s also third in scoring in the ACC. That feat is remarkable when you consider how much effort he expends on the defensive end of the court, which was on full display in Virginia’s loss at Duke this weekend. He makes winning plays, and every game Virginia plays is high on the importance meter, meaning he’s a player that sticks out in the mind of voters, just like Allen. Defense is also HUGE for voters who love advanced metrics, and when you couple Brodgon’s importance there with his offensive numbers, he’s an extremely likely pick for the award.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina
Johnson not only had the most dominant single performance of the season during UNC’s win at Florida State, he also gets the “best player on the best team” bump for those who feel that’s the criteria for ACC Player of the Year. On the other hand, it’s not hard to make a case for Johnson on his entire body of work, either. 11th in scoring, 4th in rebounding, first in field goal percentage. All of those stats coming in games that have a tangible impact on the league this season.
The case for Barber brings up the 2012-13 ACC Player of the Year race when Erick Green from last place Virginia Tech took home the award with similar statistics (Green averaged a full point per game higher than Cat Barber). The biggest difference between 12/13 and now isn’t between Barber and Green, however, it’s between 2nd place finisher Shane Larkin and the three players mentioned above. Larkin averaged 13.7 points per game, a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and shot 40% from three point range. Larkin was the best player on the best team that year, and was the only viable candidate to challenge Green for player of the year.
Of course, that’s not to say that Barber “can’t” or even shouldn’t be the ACC’s Player of the Year. He’s had a season deserving of the honor, just like Erick Green did in a similar situation. The problem for Barber is that others are deserving, too. And those three players above, along with Demetrius Jackson from Notre Dame, and maybe even Freshman of the Year lock Brandon Ingram from Duke, are all playing meaningful basketball right now.
In an election year for our country, it’s simple to remember that elections are often won and lost solely by the demographics of the voters. Cat will win the box score vote, hands down, but will greatly struggle to secure the eye-test vote, the gut-feel vote, or the stat nerd vote.