At a marquee position in the league, which has been well-documented here among other places, Carter stands out for his all-around play. No other point guard, be it Kansas' Frank Mason, Iowa State's Monte Morris or the likes of Oklahoma State's Juwan Evans, has the balanced game of WVU's floor general. Not only does Carter lead the Big 12 in steals with 85 (a stat which ranks seventh nationally in average per game) but he also ranks eighth in assists, not atypical for a point guard.
But here's where it gets surprising. The junior is 12th in the league in defensive rebounding, at 4.0 per game. Of those on the list ahead of him, just two others are guards in Deonte Burton of Iowa State and OSU's Jeffery Carroll. And both of those players are shooting guards who are three and four inches taller, respectively, than the 6-2 Carter.
"I play hard and just in playing hard, I found myself around the ball all the time," said Carter, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. "It was nothing I could do without my teammates. If I was the only one playing hard it wouldn't show. But I have four guys out there playing just as hard if not harder than I do. It's not just about me. It's about those guys as well."
Head coach Bob Huggins was initially attracted to Carter's hustle when he watched him at Proviso High in Maywood, Ill. Carter's deflection numbers and effort were apparent, and it fit the mold of Huggins' style of player in one whose exertion rates are unquestioned. Molding that into a polished, collegiate-level product becomes far easier with that quality than without, and it's why the Mountaineer coaching staff mines the prep ranks with a different definition than most of what their ideal player is.
"That's what separates him from everybody else," Huggins said of Carter's defensive intensity and acumen. "He has taken great pride in being able to guard people. He has been that way since his freshman year. And he wants the ball and we have a lot of confidence in him having the ball. It's a maturation process. He's grown up."
One of just three players to be named to three All-Big 12 Defensive Teams in the 21-year history of the Big 12, Carter leads the second-seeded Mountaineers in points (12.9) and minutes played (31.4), among a host of defensive categories. Those averages actually increase in conference play, Carter hitting for 14.6 points per game over 34-plus minutes, the eighth most in the league. There's simply, as Huggins as said, no way to get him off the floor for extended periods. And that's why, with WVU slated to face a game Texas team coming off a first-round upset of Texas Tech, Carter's play will be the catalyst for West Virginia's postseason push.
"Hard work pays off, and that's what I pride myself on," Carter said. "Being a hard worker is starting to show. I noticed if I was going to have a chance to play basketball, it was going to be on the defensive end. There are scorers all over the world, but not too many people take pride in playing defense. The defense will help me standout."
Literally. After a face-off this evening with UT's Kerwin Roach, Carter could draw Baylor's Manu Lecomte - the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year - before KU's Mason or Iowa State's Morris potentially come calling in the finals. That's a series of marquee match-ups where Carter will need to impose his will for the Mountaineers to be one game better in the Big 12 Championship than they were a season ago.
"Stay confident. There are going to be days when shots all or don't fall, but you have to find other ways," Carter said. "We plan to be here all three, four days. We plan to win every game and we plan to win it all. It's that time when it is win or go home. You have to give your all."