If any doubt remained regarding who the ACC player of the year should be this season, Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon probably erased it Saturday night.
The senior guard torched seventh-ranked North Carolina for an efficient 26 points, leading the third-ranked Cavaliers to a 74-69 victory.
Individual accolades are typically difficult for Virginia players to attain because the Cavaliers play at such a methodical pace, but Brogdon has managed to rack up impressive numbers even on a team that's 351st in the nation in tempo.
He's fourth in the ACC in scoring at 18.2 points per game. He has eclipsed 20 points in 10 of Virginia's 16 games this season. And he's also maybe the nation's best wing defender, making him a far more complete player than some of the other ACC player of the year contenders.
Duke's Grayson Allen has averaged 20.3 points per game in similarly efficient fashion as Brogdon, but the sophomore guard is an adequate perimeter defender at best. North Carolina double-double threat Brice Johnson is averaging 17.0 points and 10.6 rebounds for the league's co-leaders, but he too is sometimes allergic to pick and roll defense and has been far more erratic than Allen or Brogdon. North Carolina State's Cat Barber leads the league at 23.5 points per game, but it's tough to be a serious player of the year threat on an underachieving team that's 4-12 in the ACC.
Everything Brogdon does well was on display Saturday night against the Tar Heels. He did much of his damage on offense moving without the ball and reading screens, sometimes popping for catch-and-shoot jumpers and other times curling to the rim. Theo Pinson, Marcus Paige and several other Tar Heels spent time on him, but none were especially effective.
Brogdon's brilliance at both ends is a big reason Virginia is a serious threat to earn a No. 1 seed despite still trailing Miami and North Carolina by a game in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers (22-6) have as good a list of quality wins as any team in the country — six RPI top 25 wins including North Carolina, Villanova, Miami, Louisville, Cal and West Virginia.
North Carolina (23-6) remains a contender for a No. 1 seed as well, but the Tar Heels have been maddeningly inconsistent recently. They're 4-4 in their last eight games, a stretch that has included a shooting slump from Paige, a frustrating blown lead against Duke and one of this season's most dominant victories against a quality team at the expense of Miami.
While North Carolina stayed within single digits most of the game, the Tar Heels might not have been that close were it not for the outside shooting of Joel Berry. He scored 21 points and sank five 3-pointers over the top of Virginia's pack-line defense.
That wasn't enough to overcome Brogdon or Virginia's stifling defense.
Brogdon helped beat the Tar Heels, pushed the Cavaliers into the No. 1 seed conversation and all but wrapped up ACC player of the year honors in the process.
- - - - - - -