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Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Casting our ballots: ACC

By Eamonn Brennan

A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the ACC:

Player of the Year

Thanks to the ascendancy of North Carolina and an injury to Kyrie Irving, Duke hasn’t quite dominated this conference in the singular style we all expected in the preseason. But the race for conference player of the year has been all Duke. More specifically, it’s been all Nolan Smith.

Nolan Smith
Duke's Nolan Smith is averaging 21.3 points per game this season.
The numbers are as impressive as they come: Smith leads the ACC in points per game (21.3) and trails Kendall Marshall by a tenth of a point (5.3 to 5.2) for the league lead in assists. If Smith can eclipse Marshall by the end of this season, he’ll become the first player in the history -- yes, the history -- of the ACC to lead the league in both categories. Smith has dominated the ball, but he’s been ruthlessly efficient, too. His offensive rating of 117.4 leads the ACC among players who use more than 28 percent of their team’s possessions (Smith uses 30.7). He’s been the near-perfect player for his team this season, and in the wake of a somewhat disappointing senior season from teammate Kyle Singler (the consensus ACC and national player of the year pick in the preseason) and a freak injury to Irving, Smith’s contributions have been all the more crucial.

Of course, Smith isn’t the only good player in his conference. Guard Reggie Jackson has been an underrated offensive force for a surprising Boston College team, and Maryland sophomore Jordan Williams is the best big man in the conference. But there will be zero debate when it comes time to cast and collect the votes for ACC Player of the Year. Frankly, it’s Smith in a blowout.

Coach of the Year

No one coach has a Nolan Smith-esque chokehold on his league’s top individual honors this season, but at the end of the day, Mike Krzyzewski is probably the pick here.

There are a few contenders. One is Steve Donahue, who took over a Boston College team that finished 15-16 overall last season with essentially the same personnel as he has this season. But contrary to expectations, BC isn’t a .500 team this season. This season, Donahue has turned BC’s so-so offense into Cornell on steroids, and the Eagles have turned into a possible NCAA tournament team, albeit one very much on the bubble.

Like Donahue, Clemson coach Brad Brownell has also exceeded some very low preseason expectations, and like Donahue, Brownell has turned a talent-bereft Tigers team into one with a shot to make the NCAA tournament. And by the way, UNC’s Roy Williams deserves some love here, too, if only for turning a marginal, frustrating young team into one with a legitimate chance to make the Final Four. The guy hasn’t forgotten how to coach.

But Coach K stands above all. Krzyzewski has coached two teams this season: one with Irving in the lineup and one without him. The adjustments Krzyzewski made after losing a potential No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft -- moving Smith onto the ball, using Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry as standstill shooters and adding Tyler Thornton to the rotation to take pressure off Smith at the point -- did as much to boost Duke’s ACC title chances as Smith himself. Krzyzewski went from winning the national title to a USA Basketball gold medal in the matter of months, and his performance this season has been just as good.

Click here to find out who our panel of 15 experts picked in each of the nation's 10 best conferences.