One regular-season weekend remains before the start of the ACC tournament and now is as good a time as any to reflect on a season that’s been unlike any other in recent memory. And that’s a good thing, since it hasn’t exactly been the best of seasons for the ACC.
N.C. State, the preseason favorite to win the league, has been consistently inconsistent. Duke and North Carolina could finish in a tie for second place, and both of them suffered embarrassing, blowout defeats at Miami. And the Hurricanes? They’ve been the best team in the conference, so in this nonsensical season maybe it makes sense that they’ve lost to two of the league’s worst teams – Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
This was a season in which few things made sense. But things will be clearer in hindsight.
The envelope, please …
Best performance in a supporting role: Seth Curry, Duke. The Blue Devils’ senior guard became the go-to perimeter player Duke needed him to be. He’s averaging 17 points and shooting 43.9 percent on 3-pointers.
• Runner-up: Kenny Kadji, Miami. Perhaps the most versatile player in the league, the 6-foot-11 Kadji is a matchup nightmare for any team. He’s as comfortable playing in the paint as he is shooting 3s.
Best game: Duke’s 79-76 victory against Miami on March 2 in Durham. It will be remembered for Ryan Kelly’s performance, but more on that later. This was the kind of game rarely seen in the ACC this season – well-played, intense and highly competitive from start to finish.
• Runner-up: Miami’s 79-78 victory against N.C. State on Feb. 2 in Raleigh. The Wolfpack led by five with two minutes to play, but Reggie Johnson’s put-back at the buzzer won it for the Hurricanes.
Best individual performance: Ryan Kelly, Duke. In his first game back after suffering a broken foot, Kelly scored 36 points to lead the Blue Devils to that 79-76 victory against Miami. “Ridiculous” is how Miami coach Jim Larranaga described Kelly.
And he was. He made seven 3-pointers and those 36 points came on just 14 shots.
• Runner-up: Joe Harris, Virginia. Harris scored 36, too, to lead Virginia to a 73-68 victory against Duke on Feb. 28. Until Kelly matched it, Harris’ 36 points were the most by any player in the ACC this season.
Best late-game performance: Michael Snaer, Florida State. During the past two seasons, Snaer made six game-winning shots in the final seconds against ACC opponents. He did it again Thursday night when his floater in the lane with four seconds left gave the Seminoles a 53-51 victory against Virginia.
• Runner-up: Any of Snaer’s other late-game heroics this season. He made game-winning shots in the final seconds against Georgia Tech, Maryland and Clemson.
Coach of the year: Jim Larranaga, Miami. Before the season, the experts in the media picked Miami to finish fifth. Instead the Hurricanes spent much of the season undefeated in conference play. Miami, which ascended to No. 2 in the national rankings, has been one of the best stories of the season.
• Runner-up: Roy Williams, North Carolina. Ol’ Roy and his team took a beating – both on the court and off – amid early disappointments. But if they beat Duke Saturday, they have a chance to finish in a tie for second place in the ACC. The Tar Heels have won six straight since Williams saved his team’s season by going small.
Player of the year: Shane Larkin, Miami. Larkin has been most instrumental to the success of the best team in the league, and that’s usually a prerequisite for player of the year. His numbers aren’t overpowering – 13.8 points and 4.4 assists per game – but when you consider his defense Larkin becomes the most deserving candidate.
• Runner-up: Mason Plumlee, Duke. Plumlee has faded down the stretch – he has scored more than 14 points just once in his past six games – but he has been Duke’s best player for long stretches this season. And even amid his relative recent struggles, he’s still averaging a double-double (17 points and 10.2 rebounds per game).
Just when we thought the ACC’s NCAA tournament picture was clear, Virginia muddled it with road losses at Boston College and Florida State. Those have likely knocked the Cavaliers out of the tournament field – for now.
With 12 conference wins, Virginia would have been a tournament lock. But 10 or 11 – depending on what happens on Sunday against Maryland – the Cavaliers’ early-season non-conference woes will come back to haunt them.
In honor of the four things we hope to see less of in the ACC next season: 1.) Parity. Makes things interesting, sure, but too much of anything is bad. 2.) Offensive futility. Good defense has something to do with it, but seven ACC teams are averaging less than 70 points per game. 3.) Poor free-throw shooting. Seven ACC teams are shooting less than 70 percent from the line. 4.) Physical play. This goes for college basketball as a whole. The game has become less about skill and more about brute force – especially down low. That needs to change.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter