Tight race resumes for ACC Player of the Year

With less than three weeks before the conclusion of the regular season,

the ACC’s Player of the Year race remains a bit jumbled.

Five

players are still in contention, and with a flare here and a drop off

there, it should whittle down. But as of now, here are the remaining

five candidates in order of the current leader to the longest shot:

Erick Green, senior guard, Virginia Tech

Green

is having one of the most unique seasons in ACC history. He currently

leads the nation in scoring at 25.3 points per game and is vying to

become just the second ACC player to lead the nation in scoring.

South

Carolina’s Grady Wallace did so in 1957, but didn’t win Player of the

Year. The award instead went to Lennie Rosenbluth, who led North

Carolina to a perfect 32-0 mark and national championship.

While

Virginia Tech is 11-14 overall and 2-10 in the ACC, which includes

having lost eight consecutive games, Green’s play has not dropped off,

nor has his commitment to getting his teammates involved.

“He’s a

true point guard,” Hokies’ coach James Johnson said. “He plays with a

point guard’s instincts. He’s not trying to be a leading scorer in the

nation, he wants to win and he makes the right basketball play out

there.”

Green also averages 4.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.4

steals per outing. The assist numbers really stand out because they

could be higher, but as Johnson also noted, teammates have missed plenty

of easy looks they should have converted.

Consider: Green is

shooting 47.7 percent from the floor while the rest of the team is at

39.8 percent. Green has attempted 38.8 percent of the team’s free

throws. The model of consistency, Green has passed the 30-point mark

just three times, never scoring more than 35 in a contest. He has failed

to score at least 20 points twice.

And he’s done this with defenses game-planning to stop him.

“He’s

a terrific player and young man,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

“He’s a scoring machine, and as a result he creates opportunities to for

his teammates to score because he draws so much attention. And to draw

that attention and still score the way he does is remarkable.”

Green

is also second on the team in rebounding and has more than twice as

many steals as any other Hokie. And despite the pressure and team

struggles, Green’s effort never wanes. He works so hard that late in a

recent game he was carried off the court battling dehydration. 

“He’s

not putting up those points in 20 and 30-point losses, it’s every night

against really good teams in really close games,” N.C. State coach Mark

Gottfried said. “So, I don’t want to be the guy that penalizes him for

the fact that their team has won (many) games.”  

Shane Larkin, sophomore guard, Miami

Larkin

may be the most intriguing candidate because statistics don’t come

close to telling the entire story of his impact on the Hurricanes. He’s

tied for the team lead averaging 13.1 points per game, plus he’s

grabbing 4.1 rebounds, handing out 4.3 assists, and picking up a pair of

steals per game.

Larkin is converting 42.2 percent of his

3-pointers and is at 48 percent overall. He’s has three 20-point games

and eight games with 15 or more points. He’s totaled just 18 points in

Miami’s last two games, both low-scoring narrow wins for the Canes

(23-3, 13-0).

“His speed, quickness and his ability to make

decisions is phenomenal for a sophomore,” Florida State coach Lenard

Hamilton said. “I haven’t seen anybody that has the whole package like

he does…

“We didn’t have an answer for Larkin. I think he is the most valuable player on the Miami team.”

Larkin

has great bloodlines, which his father recently inducted in the

Baseball Hall of Fame and plenty of other close relatives having starred

in various sports. But while his natural gifts are obvious, it’s the

cerebral part of his game that makes him possibly the ACC’s top point

guard.

That and the fact that Larkin is doing this while playing

in a rotation with teammates at least a couple of years older really

sets him apart. His maturity is off the charts.

“It started last

year,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “Shane was very much about

winning and last year he really deferred to the upper classmen. He

didn’t try to come in and take over someone’s job. He came in and tried

to learn and help. He developed very good relationships with the

players, they were all very impressed with him on the court.”

Boston College coach Steve Donahue loves Larkin’s game, and has fallen victim to it twice this season. 

“He

drives it, he kicks it, you go under a ball screen he hits it,” Donahue

said. “What other things he does, he creates so much on the defensive

end, getting steals and easy baskets. Just real impressed with his

development and confidence. I think he’s ideal for that team.”

Lorenzo Brown, junior guard, N.C. State

The

Wolfpack went 0-3 with Brown out of the lineup dealing with an ankle

injury. He went down 10 minutes into a loss at Virginia, which prompted

the skid. Brown had been playing the best basketball of his life to that

point.

He is averaging 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists

and 2 steals per contest, but in the eight games prior to the injury,

Brown was at 14.8 points and 8.8 assists per game.

“I think

Lorenzo Brown is a guy who is playing very unselfish,” Clemson coach

Brad Brownell said. “I think there are times he really holds them

together because of his unselfishness. I think he’s a guy that gets

everybody involved and thinks about others.”

Brown can take over

the scoring load for the Wolfpack (19-7, 8-5) when necessary. He has

gone for 20 or more points three times and has reached at least 15

points in 11 games. The flip side, however, is what puts Brown on this

list: He has handed out a minimum of 10 assists in seven games.

Then

there are nights he does both, such as in NCSU’s home win over UNC when

Brown totaled 20 points and 11 assists just days before the injury.

“The

best thing he does is in transition,” said Georgia Tech coach Brian

Gregory. “He can really make the plays in transition… He makes some

risky plays, too, but he’s just got a flare in the open court to be able

to dissect a defense.”

Duke’s Krzyzewski hasn’t seen many other point guards this season that can match up with Brown.

“Brown’s as good as there is in the country in transition,” the legendary coach said. “He’s just a superb guard. He’s terrific.”

Joe Harris, junior guard, Virginia

A

recent entry onto this list, Harris can shoot his way to a Player of

the Year honor, but only if the Cavaliers (18-8, 8-5) can spring a

couple more quality wins and clearly seal their fate as an NCAA

Tournament team with him pouring in the points.

The Washington

native is averaging 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

He’s converting 48.1 percent of his 3-point attempts and 50 percent

overall from the floor. Only one other Cavalier averages more than 6.9

points per game, so Harris is doing this under a lot of pressure and as

the primary focus of opposing defenses.

“He does a lot of

different things,” said Virginia Tech coach James Johnson. “He can score

multiple ways. He’s mentally and physically tough, he can shoot the 3,

he can post up, get offensive rebounds. All he does is just play the

game.

“He’s not a guy out there talking and getting caught up in

other’s distractions, he just plays basketball… That man certainly is

an all-league type of player.”

Harris had scored 20 or more

points in four consecutive games prior to Tuesday night’s 54-50 loss at

No. 2 Miami. He went for 16 in that game. He had also netted at least 20

points in five of six meetings prior to Tuesday.

Harris is

averaging 18.4 points per contest in ACC games and has failed to reach

double figures just once. His coach, Tony Bennett, said Harris will do

whatever is asked of him, and compliments his sharpshooter for not

getting searching for his points.

Bennett also said Harris is a

“great encourager.” He’s also working with younger players on and off

the court to more quickly and efficiently help them assimilate on and

off the court.  Maryland coach Mark Turgeon just loves Harris’ game.

“What

a great player,” Turgeon said. “He plays at a pace that he’s

comfortable with. He’s probably one of the smartest players that I’ve

ever coached against… He’s like a security blanket for them. They go to

him, they run their three game when the game gets tough and he usually

comes through.

“He’s good. He’s a heck of a player and he’s one of the best we’ve played against this year.”

Mason Plumlee, senior center, Duke

For

a while early this season, it looked like Plumlee might run away with

the honor. He is still very much in contention, but has dropped off a

bit of late.

He is averaging 17.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.8

assists, 1 steal and 1.6 blocked shots per game. Plumlee his shooting

59.5 percent from the floor, as well. He has put together 14

double-doubles on the season, including four games with 20 or more

points and 10 or more rebounds for the Blue Devils (22-3, 9-3).

“I

don’t know if he’s the best player in the league, but there’s no player

who’s more important to his team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said

about Plumlee. “There is no substitute for him, so those kind of guys

need to get the ball.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams is impressed by how much Plumlee has improved since arriving at Duke.

“Each

year he’s gotten better and better,” the rival coach said. “I think

this year to go from 11.7 points per game to 17 points per game is

pretty significant increase in your point production. And he’s still

rebounding and blocking shots the way he has before… Mason has

significantly stepped that up.”

Plumlee hasn’t been the same

player since fellow senior Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury six

weeks ago. Plumlee has two 30-point scoring games since then, but no

other game in the 20s, and three times he’s failed to score in double

figures. In fact, in the nine of 11 games he hasn’t reached the 20-point

mark since Kelly went down, Plumlee is averaging just 13.5 points per

outing.

He has played all 40 minutes in three games this season,

all since Kelly went down, and has had just two double-digit rebound

games in his last seven. His season lows in both categories – four

points and three rebounds – came in last Saturday’s loss at Maryland.