Commentary

DeCock: Point guard matchup worth another look in showdown

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2013 

  • More information LORENZO BROWN vs. QUINN COOK PPGAPGA/TRPGSPG Brown13.16.72.04.12.2 ACC rank1816372 Cook11.46.12.83.91.9 ACC rank2925393 SOURCE: NCAA, N&O RESEARCH

A year ago, the argument over the ACC’s best point guard provoked a career night from North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall. Spurred on by the contention that N.C. State’s Lorenzo Brown’s 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 ACC’s game-of-the-season-so-far, the Blue Devils’ Quinn Cook is really the only contender to Brown’s dominance. He’s also the kind of feisty player who thrives with something to prove, whose strategy for dealing with Brown’s 4-inch height advantage is “be annoying.”

Which raises the question: Could Saturday’s 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 one’s better than the other, but we’ll see.”

There are some solid point guards in the league – Miami’s Shane Larkin and Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard come to mind immediately – and Virginia Tech’s Erick Green is posting Brown-like numbers as a combo guard while leading the ACC in scoring, but when it comes to point guards, there’s Brown, then there’s Cook, then there’s everyone else.

“Lorenzo, he’s a great player,” Cook said Friday. “He’s not where he is for no reason. He’s the key to their ignition over there. I know it’s going to be a tough task, but I’m ready for it.”

They’re 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 it’s 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 didn’t even score, then next game he had 27 (points), so he’s playing great. He’s leading their team right now, I think.”

Nevertheless, Brown is statistically superior to Cook in every category except assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s the focal point of his team’s offense in a way Cook isn’t. That’s another similarity to last year’s 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 he’s 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 Wednesday’s win over the Yellow Jackets.

“He’s got great length. He made the two 3s, and he’d only made six all season. ... I said last year as a sophomore he was one of the premier point guards in the country and there’s no doubt about that. He’s 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 he’s the best. Cook has to prove he’s closer than anyone other than Brown thinks.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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