- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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Here is a quick assessment of the player and coach of the year races in the ACC:
Player of the year
Tyler Zeller has been the most consistent Tar Heel in ACC play. Harrison Barnes has come up big when the team needed shots and has the most NBA potential. John Henson is averaging a double-double. And none of them would be as effective without point guard Kendall Marshall's 9.7 assists per game.
So which North Carolina star gets ACC Player of the Year?
Maybe none of them, especially if they divide the vote. Oh, there are other exceedingly worthy candidates, too. Virginia would never have pushed itself into the top third of the league without fifth-year forward Mike Scott (16.9 ppg). And Duke freshman Austin Rivers (15.5 ppg) beat UNC earlier this month with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
But it’s hard to downplay the 7-foot Zeller, who has averaged 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in ACC play after a rather erratic nonconference season. Or ignore Barnes, the preseason ACC Player of the Year who leads his team in scoring (17.7) and has been hitting the boards harder of late. Henson (14 points, 10.4 rebounds) will get some consideration and is a pretty big shoo-in to repeat as ACC Defensive Player of the Year. And then there’s Marshall, who is on pace to break the UNC and ACC records for assists in a season.
In the end, my nod goes to Zeller, the senior who out-played foul-plagued Scott in their two matchups, and who bounced back with big games after Rivers buried that game-winning shot over him. Consistency matters, even on a team filled with NBA prospects. (As long as, in this case, those other NBA prospects don’t split the ballots.)
Coach of the year
This award will probably go to a guy whose team overachieved. The question is: Which one?
At Duke, coach Mike Krzyzewski lost the nucleus of his squad from last season, never saw this season's Blue Devils find consistent defensive footing -- yet has still won 26 games, is ranked in the top 5 and has a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
At Virginia, coach Tony Bennett has done it with defense (plus a heaping help from Scott), pushing his team into the Top 25 with a slow, methodical, frustrating-to-opponents offensive pace.
But my choice is Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. His Seminoles -- left for dead after losing to two Ivy League schools, then at Clemson by 20 points -- beat the Big Four North Carolina programs (Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and North Carolina State) in the same season for the first time in program history. His team excelled with defense, too, after losing its top two scorers from last season and returning no one who averaged double-digit points. Hamilton's Noles fell out of the ACC regular-season race by losing two games last week, but he's still my pick.