In the early hours of Thursday morning, after North Carolina and N.C. State put on a show that wont soon be forgotten, a colleague raised the question over postgame brews and chicken wings: Who will be the other three players to make first-team All-ACC?
The presumption was that two spots are already accounted for: Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels guard who scored 35 points in UNCs 85-84 victory against the Wolfpack; and T.J. Warren, the N.C. State sophomore forward who was every bit Paiges equal. He finished with 36 and came close to blocking Paiges game-winning shot at the rim.
After Wednesday night there should be no question that Paige and Warren deserve to be first-team All-ACC. More than that, though, they also should be considered the two favorites to earn ACC Player of the Year honors.
There might be better players in the conference, more talented players. If you were starting an NBA franchise from scratch and had your pick of players in the ACC, you would be foolish not to take Jabari Parker, the Duke freshman, with your first pick.
The Player of the Year race, though, isnt about pro potential, or whos the most talented. Its about the guy who has had the best year.
Have any players in the ACC had better years than Paige and Warren? They have never been better than they were Wednesday night, but their performances were more a continuation of what they have been doing rather than an anomaly.
Paige has two 30-point games this season the other coming in UNCs victory against then-No. 4 Louisville and time and again he has carried the Tar Heels offensively, usually in the second half. Warren has scored at least 30 points seven times, and until Wednesday night the Wolfpack was undefeated, 9-0, when he scored at least 27.
This isnt just about points, though. Among those who play at least 12 minutes per game, Warren leads N.C. State in field goal percentage and hes the Wolfpacks best rebounder. Paige, meanwhile, leads the Tar Heels in all aspects, and no UNC player ever has played more minutes per game under Roy Williams than Paige.
Sure, Paige and Warren have benefited from circumstance. Without P.J. Hairston, UNC entered the season without a dominant go-to scorer the kind that Paige has become. And after losing five of its top six players from last season, N.C. State entered the season with voids everywhere.
Parker has a stronger supporting cast at Duke. Syracuses Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair have created arguably the best tandem or the second-best, behind Parker and Rodney Hood at Duke in the ACC. Individually, Parker, Hood, Ennis and Fair dont have as much of a chance to produce numbers as impressive as the ones Paige and Warren have compiled.
Even so, theres something to be said about making the most of opportunity. Paige and Warren have made the most of theirs, and they have emerged as two of the most feared and respected players in the ACC. And they have done that going against defenses that have tried their best to limit their effectiveness.
Another way to look at this: Where would UNC be without Paige, and where would the Wolfpack be without Warren? Paige has elevated the Tar Heels, almost single-handedly at times, to one of the ACCs three or four best teams. Warren has kept the Wolfpack in the NCAA tournament picture no small feat given everything N.C. State lost.
So who wins the race? Who knows. Parker will receive plenty of consideration. Fair and Ennis will, too. Paige and Warren, though, deserve as much consideration as any of them if not more.
Unbalanced schedule benefits Cavs
Ah, the benefits and drawbacks of an unbalanced conference schedule. Virginia enters the final week (or so) of the regular season atop the league standings at 15-1. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Cavaliers havent played more than once against any ACC team with a winning record.
And they have yet to play Syracuse, which visits Charlottesville on Saturday. Virginia has played Duke, UNC, Pittsburgh and Clemson once, and the Cavaliers are finished with those teams.
The four teams Virginia will have played twice by the end of the season: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Maryland are a combined 22-39 in the ACC.
Virginia cant be faulted for its schedule. It has played well against the top of the league, too. But the Cavaliers conference record reflects in part their relatively easy road.
We wrote in this space last week that the ACC was looking more and more like a five-bid league for the NCAA tournament. Nothing changed that perception in the past week.
Clemson (17-10, 8-7, 71 RPI) and N.C. State (17-11, 7-8, 66 RPI) remain alive, though the Wolfpack has to be reeling after its loss against UNC. Both Clemson and N.C. State have winnable games ahead.
Clemson hosts Maryland, Miami and Pitt during the next eight days. The Wolfpack closes the season against Miami at home, at Pitt, and against Boston College.
If both Clemson and N.C. State beat Pitt, the Panthers could suddenly find themselves on the bubble, too. Theyve lost five of their past eight, and theyll likely end the season with one victory against a top-50 team in the RPI (Stanford, on Nov. 26).