The independent news organization of Duke University

Highly re-guarded

Dominant, scoring big men may be a thing of the past in the ACC.

Gone are the days of Tim Duncan, Antwan Jamison and Elton Brand. Only three post players rank among the top 15 ACC scorers this year, and the highest is Wake Forest’s Eric Williams, who is eighth on the list.

Guards now rule the conference, as perimeter players lead 10 of the 11 ACC teams in scoring. ACC guards have shown they can hold their own against top players throughout the country—they make up six of the 30 finalists for the Naismith Award, given out to the nation’s best player.

The main reason guards have become more prominent in the ACC and in the rest of college basketball over the last few years is that many talented inside scorers have gone straight from high school to the NBA. Big men are also more likely to leave college early because pro teams are so willing to take a chance on frontcourt players with potential.

“Most of the guys who are drafted early or straight out of high school are the guys with size, so a lot of times your more experienced players in the college game are your perimeter players—particularly your guards,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I think that’s part of it, but the other part of it, in this league, is the quality of the guard play is at such a high level that they would be doing a fantastic job regardless of who the big men were.”

The style of ACC teams is particularly conducive to successful perimeter play. The conference is home to many run-and-gun teams like North Carolina and Wake Forest and is the highest scoring league in the nation. The number of top-flight guards in the league outnumbers top inside scorers, despite the fact some coaches said it is tougher to recruit outside scorers than post players.

“I think guards are more difficult,” Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. “Big guys are tough to recruit, but they are more meat and potatoes.”

Newcomers Virginia Tech and Miami have had success in this fast-paced league partly because they are led by guards. Zabian Dowdell has led the Hokies, and Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite of the Hurricanes rank second and fourth in the league in scoring, respectively. Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said before the season that he anticipated the ACC would be significantly faster-paced than the Big East. He has been more than correct, as the Hokies’ former conference is currently the lowest scoring conference in the nation.

Despite the low number of prolific post players, a solid inside presence has still been the difference between good and great ACC teams this year. The top three teams in the conference standings also have three highest scoring big men.

“I think in college basketball, the games start with the guards, but you can create separation with frontcourt players,” Greenberg said. “When you have a guy that can carve out space and draw help, it makes everyone else better.”


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