A View From the Cheap Seats -- All-ACC Teams

Perhaps the most common topic of discussion this winter among college basketball fans has focused on how difficult it will be to vote on the All-ACC teams.

Vitale, Bilas, Packer, your uncle, your co-worker – everyone in the heart of Basketball Country has an opinion, and this season there isn't necessarily a consensus among the faithful.

Indeed, everyone has their favorites and everyone can make their case for them, but every list always seems to somehow end up with around 10 names. Ordinarily, that might seem unreasonable, but the ACC really is that deep with talent this season; contributed to in no small part, surprisingly, by the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech and more particularly, Guillermo Diaz and Jamon Gordon.

Returning from last season's first-team All-ACC are Rashad McCants, Julius Hodge, and Justin Gray. Of these, in my opinion, only Hodge is the obvious first team selection in 2005.

All-ACC voting is by no means imaginable a black and white science; more like a fine art. Intangibles such as a player's floor presence and leadership qualities are just as important – if not more so – than the measurable tangibles such as scoring statistics when it comes to evaluating a player's worth. And it becomes an increasingly grayer art when you factor in whether or not ACC Player of the Year should be awarded to the conference's best all-around player, or rather the most-important all-around player to his team.

Personally, I would opine that if you base your judgment on the latter, then I would have been compelled to make a persuasive argument for Anthony Grundy being the ACC Player of the Year in 2002, as he almost single-handedly carried us into the NCAA tournament. Instead, Juan Dixon received the honor, and deservedly so based upon his performance as the league's best player.

While the intangibles play no small part in a voter's decision-making process, you undoubtedly cannot ignore the fact that the definite tangibles – scoring, rebounds, assists – greatly influence voters' decisions and the undeniable fact of the matter is that numbers simply do not lie.

And yet, somehow, they do not necessarily always reveal the complete truth either.

For instance, the argument can be made that last season's leading vote-getter, Rashad McCants, is not leading the conference in scoring because Carolina's offense is so well-balanced; he is after all, averaging 2.7 assists per game. Unfortunately, the ACC does not track stats for throat slashes or minutes spent pouting.

Consequently, should McCants be considered All-ACC based on his changed role on a much-improved team? What about Gray and Hodge, who were also members of the first team last season – have they maintained the numbers to be automatically considered again this March?

Speculation abounded before the season that Chris Paul could not be the ACC Player of the Year because he was not even the best player on his own team; Paul even personally deferred that distinction to Justin Gray. Gray's numbers have slipped somewhat, particularly his rebounding and assists, but his scoring average is virtually even with his total from last season; by no means has he seen this seemingly drastic decrease in production from a year ago that has become the common perception among ACC fans.

As for Hodge, while his free throw shooting has inexplicably yet drastically slipped nearly 23 percentage points, he still has a commanding presence on the court that more than solidifies his spot on the first team. And while the perception seems to be that Hodge's senior year is a down season – it's common to hear the comment that he should have went pro last year, although I dare you to find a single State fan that at the time did not breathe a colossal sigh of relief at his decision to stay – in fact, his numbers are on pace to match, if not exceed, last season's.

In 2003-04, Hodge's per game averages were 18.2 points, 3.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 50.7% shooting, and 1.2 blocks. In contrast this season, per game Hodge is averaging 18.0 points, 4.2 assists, 7.2 rebounds, 50.9% shooting, and 0.7 blocks.

He is off-the-pace in scoring by two tenths of a point and in blocks by half a percentage point. Otherwise – minus his numbers from the charity stripe – he is putting up almost identical numbers to his Player of the Year campaign last season, which is quite impressive considering just how badly this team has struggled in so many areas this year.

Indubitably however, more often than not, perception is more convincing than reality.

Yet a very simple evaluation of player statistics can help bring reality back into focus, as well as provide us with a solid benchmark on which to make a qualified argument for the top candidates. Once the facts are known, then the time comes to put numbers into perspective. Again, numbers do not lie, but there are often varying versions of the same story.

To find this benchmark, I did a very simplified analysis of player statistics, calculating an average of each player's rank in each of the major statistical categories tracked by the conference. For those not meeting the minimum requirements in each category, they were assigned the rank of the next highest ranking not listed. For example, for every player that is not ranked in the top 15 for steals, if only 15 players were listed for that category, they each received a 16.

This method is a little skewed, of course, but no one said it was a perfect evaluation – just one curious fan's humble opinion on how to find the benchmark.

Player Rank in Each Statistical Category (Through February 14th)

(RK=Rank, S=Scoring, R=Rebounds, FG=Field Goal%, A=Assists, FT=Free Throw%, St=Steals, 3-PT=3-Point%, B=Blocks, A/T=Assist/Turnover Ratio)

RANK IN EACH CATEGORY
RK Player - Team
S
Rs
FG
A
FT
St
3-PT
B
A/T
Avg Rank
1 S. Williams - DU
9
1
2
16
15
16
16
1
13
9.89
2 Hodge - ST
3
8
6
7
16
15
16
16
8
10.56
3 Paul - WF
16
26
16
2
6
2
16
16
1
11.22
4 May - NC
12
2
4
16
11
16
16
13
13
11.44
5 E. Williams - WF
8
6
1
16
16
16
16
12
13
11.56
6 Ford - CU
15
5
5
16
16
16
16
4
13
11.78
7 Jack - GT
13
19
16
5
3
7
16
16
12
11.89
8 Felton - NC
25
26
16
1
16
4
1
16
4
12.11
9 Redick - DU
1
26
16
16
1
16
4
16
13
12.11
10 Smith - VA
6
15
7
16
9
16
14
16
13
12.44
11 Caner-Medley - MD
7
16
9
16
8
16
16
16
13
13.00
12 Gilchrist - MD
18
20
16
3
14
14
16
16
2
13.22
13 Ewing - DU
10
26
14
9
16
6
13
16
9
13.22
14 Dowdell - VT
13
26
11
14
16
11
3
16
13
13.67
15 Diaz - UM
2
26
12
16
16
12
10
16
13
13.67
16 King - UM
26
4
16
16
16
16
16
2
13
13.89
17 Gordon - VT
26
22
16
6
16
1
16
16
7
14.00
18 Gray - WF
5
26
15
16
10
16
9
16
13
14.00
19 McCants - NC
11
26
8
16
12
16
8
16
13
14.00
20 Hite - UM
4
21
16
16
16
12
12
16
13
14.00

Source: TheACC.com

Based upon this seemingly ingenious method of averaging player ranks for each statistical category, the argument can be made that the first-team All-ACC team should be, respectively: Sheldon Williams, Julius Hodge, Chris Paul, Sean May, and Eric Williams.

Sheldon Williams, by virtue of having the best average rank, would likely be the ACC Player of the Year. Williams just happens to be lights-out from the floor and is leading the conference in boards as well as blocked shots. He's a dominating force inside and State fans, particularly, are aware of just how bad he can hurt you with his little pick-and-roll move from the high-post.

The second-team would consist of Sharrod Ford, Jarret Jack, Raymond Felton, J.J. Redick, and Devin Smith. The third-team would be Nik Caner-Medley, John Gilchrist, Daniel Ewing, Zabian Dowdell, and Guillermo Diaz. Honorable mention would go to Anthony King, Jamon Gordon, Justin Gray, Rashad McCants, and Robert Hite.

It really is that simple, isn't it? Not a chance.

Perhaps the most glaring omission from the first team is J.J. Redick, who just happens to lead the conference in scoring, is automatic at the free throw line, and is likely as good, if not better, than teammate Sheldon Williams, who currently maintains the top spot. The fact that he ostensibly dares opposing teams to leave him unguarded on the perimeter for even the briefest of moments and then makes them pay when they do is almost reason enough to consider him. His presence alone on the perimeter gives fits to players trying to honor their defensive assignments. There really is no justifiable reason for leaving him off the first team.

Hence, in effect, we would have to vote one of the first team players off – Survivor, Tobacco Road style.

So who gets the boot?

Unlikely it would be Paul, who is likely still most people's favorite for ACC Player of the Year. Paul might be the conference's most complete package, placing in the top five in assists (2nd), steals (2nd), and assists to turnovers ratio (1st). If you leave the lane open, Paul will make you pay for it; he makes very few mistakes. The scary part is that he is only a sophomore.

And if not for Julius Hodge's 18.0 points per game and 4.2 assists per game, State would likely be even lower in the ACC standings; besides, as discussed earlier, he has more than matched his Player of the Year numbers from last season, which in itself makes him deserving of a first team assignment.

This leaves May and Eric Williams, but is there a way to rationalize leaving off either of these two?

May is a dominant inside player that allows Carolina to open up its nation-leading scoring offense. He finishes strong every time, he wipes the glass clean with 9.9 boards per game, and he is usually the outlet for Felton's assists; without his presence in the paint, McCants and Felton would be forced to bear more of the scoring burden for the Tar Heels.

And so remains Eric Williams, who leads the conference in field goal percentage and is top 10 in scoring and rebounds. Williams is a major reason why Paul is second in the conference in assists and a big part of the reason Paul is a strong Player of the Year candidate.

And so it's settled... or is it? Should Jack replace May or Eric Williams on the first team? In my opinion, he has proven to be the most versatile player in a conference rich with point guards. Not only did he masterfully fill in the gap created when Elder missed all of January due to a hamstring injury, his consistency has proven irreplaceable for a Georgia Tech team trying to put itself back into contention for another March run. Jack, incidentally, has a slight edge in scoring over Chris Paul, is nearly automatic at the free throw line and as a solid compliment, he adds 4.5 assists per game.

Should Sharrod Ford have any less consideration because he is forced to carry the workload on the boards and in the paint for a struggling Clemson team? He is currently in the top five in the conference in rebounds, field goal percentage, and blocks. For that matter, should Raymond Felton be given any more consideration because he leads the conference in assists and is shooting a blistering 46.1% from behind the arc on a potent Carolina team?

And so the argument doesn't really end here, rather it finds fuel for the fire at this benchmark. Every player in the top five is a floor leader and invariably commands immense respect from opposing players in their own way.

And so I'll take the easy way out, and have a six-man All-ACC team: Sheldon Williams, Julius Hodge, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Sean May, and my sleeper, Jarret Jack.

I'll let you decide who ended up tied for fifth.


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