The story line entering Monday night’s tilt between No. 7 Virginia and N.C. State was that it would be a chance for Cat Barber to state his case as the ACC’s Player of the Year.
The combination of playing on Big Monday and going up against one of the nation’s best defensive teams was the perfect opportunity for a kid that entered the game averaging 31.6 points in his last seven games to showcase that ability on a national stage.
Instead, it was Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon that looked deserving of winning the award. He finished with 22 points and five assists while holding Barber to just 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting to go along with five turnovers in a 73-53 drubbing in Charlottesville. This came after Brogdon was the guy to slow down Brandon Ingram in the second half against Duke on Saturday.
He’s as good as any perimeter defender in the SEC.
And he’s averaging 17.8 points on the team that averages the fewest possessions in college basketball.
That’s why Barber is going to have a difficult time gaining traction as a candidate for the conference player of the year award. It’s not because he’s having a poor season; he’s been terrific, even if N.C. State has been one of the biggest disappointments in the conference, if not the country. The other candidates in the league are just so strong.
For my money, Brogdon is the favorite as of today. He can shut down 6-foot-9 wings and 6-foot point guards and is one of the most efficiency scorers in the league. Then there’s Brice Johnson, who is averaging 16.4 points and 10.0 boards for the team that is currently sitting at first place in the league. And you can’t forget Grayson Allen, who’s averages of 20.6 points, 4.7 boards and 3.7 assists might be comparable to Barber’s numbers if he wasn’t playing alongside Ingram, who has turned into one of the ACC’s most lethal offensive weapons in ACC play.
Barber’s having a fantastic season, one that is on par with Erick Green’s 2013 campaign, when he was named ACC Player of the Year on a last place Virginia Tech team. In a vacuum, he’s probably playing well enough to win the award despite being on a .500 basketball team.
But this isn’t in a vacuum.
It’s in a league where Johnson, Allen and, specifically, Brogdon all reside.
And if tonight taught us anything, it’s that Brogdon is currently the best player in the conference.