The Atlantic Coast Conference season didn't end six weeks ago Tim Pickett. It didn't end four weeks ago Julius Hodge. And it didn't end last week Chris Duhon. It's not over yet. So why are the league's sportswriters unwilling to accept Rashad McCants as the best player in the conference?
OK; so McCants is not the best defender to ever wear a North Carolina uniform (though UNC is winning games because of his defense, too, of late). However, he is the most feared offensive threat in the league in leading the Tar Heels to a 5-2 mark in the second half of conference play so far with his unmatched output.
McCants humiliated the trash-talking Hodge in their two head-to-head meetings, and while Duhon's leadership qualities have been noted all season long, his statistics are mundane at best. Meanwhile, both the Blue Devils and the Wolfpack appear to be backing themselves into the postseason.
Leadership is an excellent quality; so is passing, dribbling and rebounding. But ultimately games are won on the scoreboard, and to try to ignore McCants' superiority in this category is unfair.
OK; so he wasn't exceptionally likable during the Genesis of North Carolina's rise back to respectability last year. However, it was the media that tried to prolong, if not fabricate his so-called attitude problems deep into this season, until finally it just got old. UNC coach Roy Williams, who will be brutally honest both to and about his players, has said all along that McCants has been the most misunderstood player he's ever coached.
"He continues to play like one of the best players in the league and I think he's one of the best players in college basketball," Williams said following McCants' 30-point performance in the Tar Heels' 69-53 win over Clemson on Tuesday. "…much discussed and much cussed – but I would hate to see where we would be without him."
Maybe the sophomore McCants just didn't care much for losing last season, but that is obviously so far behind him now. For anyone to deny that McCants is not at least in serious contention for ACC Player of the Year honors is being dishonest with his or herself.
Love him or hate him, he has been the most productive player down the stretch on a team nobody wants to face in either the upcoming ACC or NCAA Tournaments.
Let's look at his accomplishments, as compiled by UNC Athletic Communications. You may want to take a break first, as this will take a while:
Leads the ACC in scoring in all games (19.9 ppg) and ACC games (21.7 ppg)
The only player in the league shooting 50 percent from the floor in ACC
games (117 for 234)
Third in the ACC in field goal percentage in all games (.490)
Leads the ACC in three-point field goal percentage (.476) and
three-pointers made (3.27) in conference games
Second in the league in three-point percentage (.425) for all games
Eighth in the league in steals (and you say he can't play defense?)
Bidding to become the first UNC player to lead the ACC in scoring since
Antawn Jamison in 1998 (Jamison and Michael Jordan are the only Tar Heels to
lead the ACC in scoring since 1966)
Would become only the fourth sophomore in 20 years to lead the ACC in
scoring (Joe Smith in 1995, Will Solomon in 2000 and Jason Williams in 2001)
Is 12th in ACC history in scoring by a sophomore
Has scored in double figures in all but two games this year, including 20
or more points 14 times, 25 or more points 10 times and 30 or more points
Scored a season-high 31 points at Georgia Tech when he hit 7 of 13
Scored 30 points, including a UNC-record tying eight three-pointers, in
March 2 win over Clemson
Has made four or more three-point field goals nine times, including in
five of the last six contests
Averaging 22.8 points and shooting 54.6 percent from the floor in the last
13 games (has eight 25-point or more games in that stretch)
Is 28 for 50 (56 percent) from three-point range in the last six games
Hit game-winning three-pointer with 6.2 seconds to play to beat No. 1
ranked Connecticut (had 27 points that game)
Hit game-clinching basket with 33.5 seconds to play in 68-66 home win over
Tied Duke at the end of overtime with a three-pointer with six seconds to
play (had 27 points in first game against the Blue Devils)
Hit three-pointers late in the game as shot clocks expired in consecutive
home wins over Maryland and Florida State (Maryland one came after Terrapins
cut 20-point lead to three; Florida State one came after FSU cut 18-point
lead to one)
Sensational in the win at NC State as he scored 22 points and had five
rebounds and three assists. Hit back-to-back three-pointers, one from 25-feet away in front of the UNC
bench, with 4:08 and 3:06 to play to give Carolina a four-point lead that it
would not relinquish in win at NC State
Whether McCants wins the award or not may have already been decided in the minds of the press; and that would be unfortunate. However, if he goes off on Duke Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium and then beyond in the ACC Tournament; maybe, just maybe then, he will receive the honor that he has earned.
Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in newspapers across the country such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State (Columbia, S.C.), The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.