Player of the year: Erick Green, Virginia Tech. In the end, I couldn’t ignore the fact that Green is leading the entire country in scoring, not just the conference. That includes the small-conference machine-gun scorers like Nate Wolters, Lamont “Momo” Jones and Doug McDermott, guys who aren't playing against ACC defenders on a nightly basis.
It’s worth pointing out that despite all the Hall of Famers who have come through the conference in the past 50 years, no ACC player has led the nation in scoring since South Carolina’s Grady Wallace in 1957. Wallace was a unanimous first-team all-ACC pick for a team that went 5-9 in the ACC, sixth out of eight teams (and lost to eventual undefeated national champion North Carolina in the title game) but lost out to the Tar Heels’ Lennie Rosenbluth for player of the year, 43-4.
Green’s team isn’t any good, this is true. But there certainly isn’t a Lennie Rosenbluth around this season, nor an undefeated national-championship contender. The Hokies’ lack of overall talent only makes what Green has accomplished all the more impressive, playing against double - and triple-teams and not only scoring at will but finding his teammates as well -- he’s sixth in the ACC in assists -- and his teammates aren’t exactly Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly and Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook.
Which brings us to Mason Plumlee, whose once looked like a lock but has seen his candidacy damaged during the ACC season. To a large extent, what Plumlee did in the first half of the season against the toughest competition imaginable seems to be slightly overlooked at the moment. National player-of-the-year voters don’t seem to have forgotten, by and large, but those who watch him every night in the ACC saw a player who failed to dominate at that same level against conference foes.
Certainly, Kelly’s absence had something to do with that, but being swarmed by defenses didn’t slow Green down, and he’s not exactly surrounded by Grade A talent the way Plumlee is. It’s impossible to shake the notion that a player as unquestionably talented as Plumlee should have fared better with Kelly out. That drops him to No. 2 behind Green.
As for Shane Larkin, who will get many, many votes and may end up winning POY, I don’t think there's any doubt he’s one of the top three players in the ACC this season, but I have a hard time moving him ahead of Green or Plumlee. The most common argument for him seems to be “he’s the best player on the best team” and that holds no water with me; I think that’s a lazy way to look for POY candidates. Sometimes, a really good team doesn't have a POY candidate (see UNC in 2011, when the Tar Heels didn't even have a first-team selection).
In this case, Larkin is certainly a POY candidate, and clearly one of the best guards and best players in the league, but whatever arguments you can make for Larkin I think are stronger for Green and Plumlee. There’s nothing wrong with being No. 3 on this list, and there’s a huge gap between Larkin and the next tier of Joe Harris and Richard Howell and Seth Curry and Kenny Kadji and so on in my opinion.
Freshman of the year: Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. I was so impressed with Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon but his struggles over the past four games make voting for him patently impossible, which made it a two-player race between Hanlan and T.J. Warren of N.C. State. Warren's gotten better and better as the season has gone on, but there have been too many nights when he didn't show up in the box score. Hanlan's been a rock for Boston College, a freshman guard on a team full of freshmen and sophomores who has held his own against a long line of NBA-bound guards in the ACC.
Defensive player of the year: Michael Snaer, Florida State. He's been overlooked a little bit this season because the Seminoles have been so disappointing, but Snaer's still the best lockdown man-on-man defender in the ACC. Strong personal sentiment here to go with Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech's extremely underrated shot-blocking center. In a year without many great defensive post players -- from the league that brought you John Henson and Tyler Zeller and Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton and so on in recent years -- Miller stands out. (A healthy Ryan Kelly, who can defend any position, might have been an option.) But Snaer is Snaer, and Florida State's struggles haven't changed his ability to lock down on D (or hit clutch shots, not that his late-game prowess is a factor here).
Coach of the year: Jim Larranaga, Miami. Sure, he returned a ton of talent from last season, but he returned a ton of talent from the No. 6 seed in the ACC tournament and turned it into a first-place team. (Unlike, say, N.C. State, just for example.) Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski, as usual, make compelling cases for this award, and you might as well put Tony Bennett in that annual group too at this point. Steve Donahue and Brian Gregory won’t get as much consideration as they probably should, either. This award too often goes automatically to the coach whose team that finishes first in the regular season, but in this case, it’s justified.
As for the rest of the ballot, I stuck with Harris and Howell on the first team over Curry and Kadji. Reggie Bullock and Lorenzo Brown were solid second-teamers for me, and I ended up making BC’s Ryan Anderson my final pick there because I think he’d be a huge star playing in a basketball market like … anywhere but Boston.
The third team was really tough. I’d expect a lot of variance across ballots here, and I think you can make a pretty good case for five different guys than the five I voted for (P.J. Hairston, Hanlan, C.J. Harris, Akil Mitchell, Durand Scott and maybe even Dez Wells). Went down to the wire on this. Toughest decision for me was McAdoo over Scott and/or Hairston. Miami really deserves three players on my ballot, but I just had a hard time putting Scott ahead of McAdoo, who despite his struggles at times has been the focus of the entire North Carolina offense both before and after the lineup change.
The C.J. Leslie haters can take their anger somewhere else -- despite his maddening inconsistency, he was still sixth in the league in scoring, ninth in rebounding and did have his dominant moments. C.J./Calvin wasn’t what anyone had hoped he would be this season, but what he was wasn’t bad, either.
Same tough choices on the all-rookie team, where I had Marcus Paige, Robert Carter and Devin Thomas for two spots and chose Paige and Thomas.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Joe Harris, Virginia
Richard Howell, N.C. State
Shane Larkin, Miami
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Ryan Anderson, Boston College
Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Seth Curry, Duke
Kenny Kadji, Miami
Devin Booker, Clemson
Quinn Cook, Duke
C.J. Leslie, N.C. State
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Devin Thomas, Wake Forest
T.J. Warren, N.C. State
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Alex Len, Maryland
Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Tyler Thornton, Duke