A year ago, the argument over the ACCs best point guard provoked a career night from North Carolinas Kendall Marshall. Spurred on by the contention that N.C. States Lorenzo Browns versatility gave him the edge, Marshall exploded for 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Tar Heels 86-74 win at N.C. State.
There is no debate this season: Brown is clearly the best.
As the Wolfpack prepares to host Duke in the ACCs game-of-the-season-so-far, the Blue Devils Quinn Cook is really the only contender to Browns dominance. Hes also the kind of feisty player who thrives with something to prove, whose strategy for dealing with Browns 4-inch height advantage is be annoying.
Which raises the question: Could Saturdays game be another referendum on point-guard preeminence?
Every player looks at matchups, Duke forward Mason Plumlee said. People are going to have their arguments about why ones better than the other, but well see.
There are some solid point guards in the league Miamis Shane Larkin and Marylands PeShon Howard come to mind immediately and Virginia Techs Erick Green is posting Brown-like numbers as a combo guard while leading the ACC in scoring, but when it comes to point guards, theres Brown, then theres Cook, then theres everyone else.
Lorenzo, hes a great player, Cook said Friday. Hes not where he is for no reason. Hes the key to their ignition over there. I know its going to be a tough task, but Im ready for it.
Theyre 1-2 in assists in the ACC and 2-3 in steals. Even Brown noticed when Cook had 14 assists in an 0-for-11 shooting game last weekend, then followed that with a career-high 27 points in a win over Clemson on Tuesday. Only four other Duke players have averaged 10 points and six assists per game, and its pretty significant company: Dick Groat, Bobby Hurley, Jason Williams and Chris Duhon.
Quinn is one of the most underrated point guards out there right now, Brown said. He went from 14 assists one game when he didnt even score, then next game he had 27 (points), so hes playing great. Hes leading their team right now, I think.
Nevertheless, Brown is statistically superior to Cook in every category except assist-to-turnover ratio. Hes the focal point of his teams offense in a way Cook isnt. Thats another similarity to last years Brown-Marshall debate: how do you compare a scoring point guard like Brown to a consummate set-up man like Marshall or Cook?
Marshall deferred offensively to Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller. Cook defers offensively to Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. Brown defers offensively to no one.
He made some risky plays, too, but hes just got a flair in the open court, to be able to dissect the defense, Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said after Brown posted 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in Wednesdays win over the Yellow Jackets.
Hes got great length. He made the two 3s, and hed only made six all season. ... I said last year as a sophomore he was one of the premier point guards in the country and theres no doubt about that. Hes proven it night in and night out.
The Wolfpack has everything to prove Saturday against the undefeated, No. 1 team in the country. And the Blue Devils, despite that status, have to prove they can win without the injured Ryan Kelly.
Just as compelling is the game-within-a-game at point guard: Brown has to prove hes the best. Cook has to prove hes closer than anyone other than Brown thinks.