It’s probably about time to size up Cat Barber’s candidacy for the ACC’s player of the year honor.
The N.C. State guard isn’t the only plausible choice for the award, and there’s still roughly half of the league schedule to navigate (Barber and the Wolfpack have played 10 of 18 ACC games after Monday’s 77-73 loss at Florida State). There’s no need to begin etching a nameplate just yet for the league’s leading scorer (23.4 points per game).
As long as Barber tosses up 30-point nights, though, he’s going to warrant attention. He has three such outings in a row, four in his last five games and six overall this season. Everybody else in the ACC has combined for 12.
The greatest thing working against Barber isn’t a miserable shooting percentage to go with all those points (he’s making 43.7 percent of his tries) or a tendency to take wild outside shots (the percentage of his attempts from beyond the 3-point line is down from last year). It’s the long-running tendency of voters to believe the best player must come from one of the best teams.
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Barber would probably have to overcome that stigma with the Wolfpack (12-11 overall) stuck at 2-8 in league play. Only twice in the ACC’s first 62 seasons has a player of the year come from a team with a losing conference record.
The first was Len Bias, who played for a Maryland team that went 6-8 in a loaded league in 1986. The other was Virginia Tech’s Erick Green, who led the nation in scoring in 2013 as the Hokies went 13-19 overall and 4-14 in the league.
On just two other occasions did the voters select a player of the year from a team with a .500 ACC record: Wake Forest’s Charlie Davis in 1971 and N.C. State’s T.J. Warren in 2014.
There’s clearly a progressive element at play in more recent electorates that views the honor as the “player of the year” and not the “player of the year on a good team,” and that enhances Barber’s chances. But points alone aren’t enough to win over voters, as recent league scoring champions Olivier Hanlan (a lone player of the year vote in 2015) and Terrell Stoglin (not even a first team all-ACC pick in 2012) can attest.
The guess (and it’s strictly a guess) is if North Carolina’s Brice Johnson continues to average a double-double and Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon sustains his strong play for another month while their teams continue to prosper, they’ll receive the majority of the player of the year votes. It’s the historical norm, and both are enjoying tremendous seasons to date.
Should his prodigious scoring totals continue, however, Barber figures to attract a decent chunk of support as well.
Who are the only four players in ACC history to score at least 30 points in five consecutive games?
Jackson back in action
Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson missed nearly two full games after suffering a pulled hamstring early in a Jan. 23 game against Boston College. The Fighting Irish managed just fine without him, but their struggles in an 81-66 loss at Syracuse in his absence illustrated just how vital the junior is to Mike Brey’s team.
Yet if that wasn’t enough, Jackson returned Sunday to drop 14 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and six steals (the latter matching the most of any ACC player this season) on Wake Forest in an 85-62 rout.
The Irish (15-6, 6-3), who play host to North Carolina on Saturday, tend not to play a deep rotation. That means every regular is valuable, but perhaps none moreso than a guard who is averaging 16.5 points and 5.2 assists per game.
The only four players in ACC history to score at least 30 points in five consecutive games are Wake Forest’s Len Chappell (eight in a row in 1962); Maryland’s Walt Williams (seven in a row in 1992); Virginia’s Buzz Wilkinson (two six-game streaks and one five-game stretch between 1954 and 1955); and Duke’s J.J. Redick (five in a row in 2006). Barber can join that group with 30-point games against Duke and Wake Forest.