The nation’s best player is still a matter of opinion. There’s Jimmer Fredette. And Jared Sullinger. And Kemba Walker, though he’s fading a bit.
But it’s getting more and more difficult to ignore Nolan Smith.
The Duke senior is on various Player of the Year lists (these two are worth noting). But after his 34-point, three-assist performance during a 79-73 win against North Carolina when all of college hoops is watching, it’s time to point out the obvious, and do so in an emphatic, direct way.
Nolan Smith is the nation’s best player.
If it feels like a stretch, it shouldn’t. He’s averaging nearly 26 points and five assists a game for the last month. In fact, Smith’s been this good for more than a year.
When the Devils won it all last season, Smith was the guy creating off the dribble, hitting mid-range jumpers and setting the tempo for the eventual champs. He made the All-Final Four team, but got more notoriety for the emotional aspect of winning a title in the same city where he dad did with Louisville.
And that’s been much of Smith’s game. He’s Duke’s go-to guy, but Kyle Singler grabs the attention. Or Kyrie Irving. Or Seth Curry.
Take Wednesday night. When the Devils were laying an egg in the first half, Smith was the one who ensured they weren’t completely sunk. He scored 12 of their 29 first-half points and was often the only Devil who looked remotely comfortable on the floor in a game that showcased North Carolina at its best.
Then he raised his game. Ten of Duke’s points during their 16-6 run to open the second half were from Smith. And when the defense keyed on him, Curry stepped up. The sophomore guard scored half of his points in the next five minutes, helping Duke grab the lead for the first time. Cue the credit.
“The main thing was, Seth started to get hot and hit a lot of shots,” UNC guard Kendall Marshall said. “And they jumped out on us.”
Curry was great. The guy hit 8 of 12 shots and finished with 22 points. But Smith set it all up. Always has.
Look, if this season didn’t have Fredette’s obscene stats or Sullinger’s brutal efficiency, Smith would be a slam-dunk PoY. But here’s the thing: Smith’s stats and efficiency are awfully impressive, too.
Compare those to Fredette’s.
And it’s clear Smith’s not far behind in overall production, or in efficiency. (Smith’s just 1 point back.) Considering Smith’s a far better defensive player, and it’s easy to make the case for Smith.
I know, that’s just asking for BYU fans to inundate me with emails and tweets. That’s how it goes. But there’s a month remaining on the season. And I’m excited to see how Smith, Fredette and Sullinger finish. May the best player win.
Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.