ESPN College GameDay crew on ACC player of the year: Malcolm or Brice?

acc player of the yearThe ACC player of the year race is a “coin flip” between Malcolm Brogdon and Brice Johnson, ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Friday on the eve of the matchup between #3 Virginia and #7 North Carolina.

When pressed, Bilas joined colleagues on ESPN College GameDay, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg, in giving a slight nod to Brogdon.

“If it ended today, I’d probably give it to Brogdon, because he is the best defender in the league. He plays at the highest level at both ends of the floor. But it’s a coin flip,” said Bilas, who will call the 6:30 p.m. Saturday game for ESPN.

Brogdon is averaging 18.2 points per game, fourth best in the ACC, shooting a career-best 47.5 percent from the floor and 40.8 percent from three-point range.

Brogdon also usually guards the best perimeter opponent, and has had success against the likes of two likely fellow first-team All-ACC performers, 6’1” NC State point guard Cat Barber and 6’9” Duke power forward Brandon Ingram.

But Johnson has had an equally impressive season for UNC, averaging 17.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and shooting an ACC-best 61.8 percent from the field.

“Brice Johnson has been magnificent all year long. To lead the league in field-goal percentage, and he’s been such a good rebounder. In ACC play, he’s averaging almost eleven and a half rebounds a game. That doesn’t happen. You have to go after the ball, and he’s going after the ball. He has such a wonderful shooting touch. He makes NBA shots inside 18 feet,” Bilas said.

Maybe Bilas is hedging because he was a post guy in his years at Duke. And maybe former great Duke point guard Jay Williams is biased toward Brogdon because he knows what it takes to succeed on the perimeter.

“Malcolm has been great, and one of the things I really enjoy about watching him is that, with the exception of that last shot he took against Miami, that three-point shot when they were down two, he for the most part plays within himself,” Williams said. “I think that’s a skillset that goes a very long way. A lot of us want players to be a lot more than what they are. One of the things you look for as an analyst and as an NBA scout is, I want players who know who they are. If they blossom into something different in time, great, but they know who they are, and they’re extremely efficient.”

The issue for Johnson as a big, to Williams, is that North Carolina “needs to make it a priority that he’s always going to get touches on the block.”

“It’s to say nothing negative about their guards, and their guards are good, but Marcus Paige and Nate Britt and Joel Barry, that’s their role, to make sure they get into right set and make sure he gets enough touches. I don’t expect UVA to have that problem running things through Malcolm Brogdon,” Williams said.

So we’ve got one slight lean to Brogdon from Bilas, a stronger lean to Brogdon from Williams. Now to the coach, Seth Greenberg.

“Right now, today, I would say it would be Malcolm Brogdon, just because of his consistency. Malcolm, you know what you’re going to get out of him each and every night,” said Greenberg, the former head coach at Virginia Tech.

The coach in Greenberg values Brogdon because he’s a “guy that I know each and every night what I’m going to get out of him.”

“You’re going to get leadership, you’re going to get toughness, you’re going to get the best on-ball defender maybe in the league. You’re going to get a guy who people say maybe isn’t a great shooter, but he makes big shots. You’re going to get a guy who people say maybe isn’t that quick, but he gets in the lane. And get a guy that people follow. You don’t have to scream and yell for people to follow. Malcolm has every intangible that you’d want in a player. I just admire him,” Greenberg said.

– Story by Chris Graham