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I suspect there will be some outrage around the league next week when the ACC announces its 2012 basketball awards and it's dominated by players from North Carolina.

Just as there is a myth that ACC refs favor Duke and North Carolina, there's a widespread belief that the voters for All-ACC awards have a strong bias toward UNC or (depending on where you reside in the league) for the ACC's four North Carolina teams.

And when this year's All-ACC vote is announced, the team is going on be crowded with players from this state - maybe (even probably) as many as four of the five first-team members.

Of course, a rational person might think, "Hmm, Duke and North Carolina are playing Saturday night for the ACC regular season championship. They are the league's two best teams. They've been ranked in the top 10 all season. They SHOULD get the most All-ACC recognition."

But as we've seen in the great officiating debate, the conspiracy buffs won't listen to reason. There's got to be another reason that UNC and Duke have been honored so frequently by the voters. The majority of the voters (members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association) are from North Carolina, they'll point out. And the majority of those are graduates of UNC's school of journalism.

Both of those charges are true, but a quick reference to the history of the voting does not support the claim of regional bias.

To start with, match the number of ACC players of the year against the league champions. There's no rule that the player of the year has to come from the league champion, but you'd think the best teams would have the best players. And if there was bias, the voters would certainly reward their team in championship years, right?

Wrong. Duke has won 19 titles … and has had 14 ACC players of the years (one of those shared with UNC). UNC has 17 titles … and 13 ACC players of the year (one of them shared with Duke).

What are all those UNC school of journalism grads doing?

Well, a lot of them seem to be voting for Wake Forest players. The Deacons have four ACC titles in their history and 10 ACC player of the year awards. That might be evidence of an in-state bias, except that N.C. State with 10 titles has just seven player of the year winners. On the other hand, Maryland, South Carolina, Clemson and Boston College all have more player of the year winners than ACC titles.

In fact, almost every valid voting controversy in ACC history has involved a played from the Big Four getting shafted in competition with a player from another state.

Gary Williams used to be one of the loudest complainers, but it's amazing how often Terrapin players got the benefit of the doubt from ACC voters in a close race. There was Len Elmore beating out Tommy Burleson for All-ACC center in 1974 (a year when the voters had to pick by position). There was Len Bias' election as ACC player of the year in 1986 - the only time in history where a player from a losing ACC team won that honor. Bias is one of two Maryland players to win ACC player of the year honors over a Duke player who was named national player of the year. He beat out Naismith winner Johnny Dawkins, while Juan Dixon beat out consensus national player of the year winner Jason Williams in 2002.

I'm not saying those choices were wrong, but they certainly make is hard to argue that Maryland was the victim of some kind of voting bias - at least as far as the ACC voters were concerned.

It's not just Maryland, of course. Virginia's Ralph Sampson over UNC's Michael Jordan for player of the year in 1983? Georgia Tech's Mark Price over Duke's Johnny Dawkins for rookie of the year in 1983?  And the most ridiculous votes ever, when South Carolina's John Roche was twice picked ahead of UNC's Charles Scott for ACC player of the year.


The voters don't have a bias against out-of-state teams, but they do seem to have a curious blind spot when it comes to playmakers.

UNC's Ed Cota and N.C. State's Chris Corchiani - two of the three greatest distributors in ACC history - never made first-team All-ACC. Clemson's Grayson Marshall, No. 5 on the league's career assist list, never even made second team (even though he led Clemson to an unprecedented second-place regular season finish in 1987). Even Bobby Hurley, the NCAA's career assist leader, didn't make first team until his senior season, when he upped his scoring average of 17.0 a game.

The voters love scorers.

The historic disregard for playmakers doesn't bode well for UNC's Kendall Marshall in this year's vote. True, UNC's sophomore is on pace to shatter Craig Neal's 24-year-old ACC single-season assist record (303 in a season) … then again, Neal didn't even make second-team All-ACC in his record-setting season.

Marshall's biggest problem is that he's a fairly one-dimensional player. He's a mediocre defender and (despite a nice shooting night against N.C. State), not much of a scorer.

The voters' biggest problem is that Marshall's one dimension is pretty spectacular. He's one of the two or three greatest playmakers in ACC history - right up there with Hurley, Corchiani and Cota.

How do you measure the value of that?

The other problem for both Marshall and the voters is the fact that there are four Tar Heels in the mix for first-team All-ACC honors: Marshall, center Tyler Zeller, forward John Henson and swing man Harrison Barnes. All four are legitimate candidates, but no one - unless the conspiracy buffs are right and there are a bunch of UNC partisans voting - is going to vote for all four.

That leaves at least one and maybe two of the Tar Heel stars out in the cold (or, in other words, on the second team).

The interesting thing is that there is such a wide variation of opinion as to the relative value of the UNC four. For the last week, I've been asking my friends in the media how they would rank them. There is a strong consensus that Zeller deserves a first team vote. But after that, I've gotten them in every order you can imagine.

Some of my friends admire Barnes because he's the best scorer on the team - and the second-best scorer in the ACC. Others complain that he's a one dimensional player who doesn't rebound or work very hard on defense.

Henson is awkward offensively and a terrible liability at the free throw line. But he's the best interior defender in the ACC and a beast on the backboards.

Marshall, as we've noted, is only a playmaker … but he's a playmaker supreme. Even the guys who aren't sure they'll vote for him first team agree that he's UNC's most indispensable player.

I can't predict which - or how many - of those four will make the first team. I'm certain all four will make one of the first two teams.

The exact number is likely to depend on the outcome of this weekend's Duke-UNC game Saturday night.

It would be hard for many voters to put three Tar Heels on the first team if UNC does not win the regular season title. There has only been one instance in ACC history when one team finished with three first-team picks, although oddly that was in 2002 when Duke put Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy on the first team - while finishing second to Maryland in the regular season race.

If UNC does beat Duke in Saturday's finale, I have no doubt that the Tar Heels will end up with three first-team picks. It could happen anyway, but it would be less likely for a second-place UNC team.

There is also a chance that the Tar Heels could end up with four first-team picks. As I said, I don't expect anybody (or more than a handful of closet fans) to actually vote for four UNC players, but the first team vote is going to be so split that almost anything could happen. All four UNC players will get substantial support - Zeller might be the only first-team lock right now, but Barnes, Henson and Marshall all have their supporters.

Here's how I see it:


UNC's Zeller and Virginia's Mike Scott are the two virtual locks right now.

The other three first-teams will come from Marshall, Barnes and/or Henson of UNC; Terrell Stoglin of Maryland, Michael Snaer of FSU, and Austin Rivers of Duke.

That's six guys for three places.

Stoglin is going to lead the ACC in scoring, albeit for a sub-.500 team. The last time the ACC scoring leader DIDN'T make first-team All-ACC was 1999, when Clemson's Terrell McIntyre was the No. 7 vote-getter. It's only happened four times in all - twice by Clemson's Butch Zatezalo, who led the league in scoring in 1968 and 1969, but was the No. 6 vote-getter each year.

Snaer is the strongest candidate for an FSU team that is going to finish a strong third in the ACC. He's hit two of the most dramatic shots of the season - late 3-pointers to beat Duke and Virginia Tech. In addition, he is the best perimeter defender in the league - at least close to UNC's Henson for overall defensive value. FSU's late-season fade has hurt his chances a bit.

Rivers is merely a rookie, but that's never stopped the voters in the past. He's finishing strong, which helps, plus he's the strongest individual candidate from a Duke team that's tied for first going into the last game of the season. If that's not enough, there was always that shot he hit in Chapel Hill. Should he play well and Duke wins Saturday night, I'd move him into the lock category.


The three first-team candidates that don't make it into the top five will fill out 60 percent of the second team.

That's the easy part.

The hard part is that there are almost a dozen candidates for the last two spots on the second team.

Start at the top of the standings and work down: Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee of Duke; Bernard James at Florida State; Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji at Miami; Lorenzo Brown at N.C. State; Erick Green at Virginia Tech and C.J. Harris and Travis McKie at Wake Forest.

I'm sure some voters will consider Miami's Reggie Johnson, although he's missed much of the season with injury, suspension or foul trouble, and N.C. State's C.J. "Calvin" Leslie, a gifted, but often unfocused player. I might have considered Virginia's Joe Harris before he suffered his setback with a broken hand and N.C. State's Scott Wood before his total collapse four games ago.

And there are players I admire - Tanner Smith and Andre Young at Clemson, Jontel Evans at Virginia, Richard Howell and C.J. Williams of N.C. State and Ryan Kelly of Duke - that have played well, but aren't likely to make the cut.

As it is, I've got nine firm candidates for two second-team and five third-team spots. I'm not quite sure how to divide them up.

Certainly this weekend's games will have a big bearing. I agree with Dean Smith, who long ago argued that the voters should reward the best teams. So while I do believe there can be deserving candidates from middle or lower echelon teams, if I'm struggling with a decision, I almost always vote for the player from the better team.


The easiest choice on the ballot is Austin Rivers for rookie of the year.

There simply isn't another candidate. If Rivers isn't unanimous, it's clear that somebody has a little anti-Duke bias showing.

There are some other promising freshmen to join Rivers on the All-Freshman team.

I think Miami's Shane Larkin has the most long-term potential of the bunch. The son of Major League Hall of Famer Barry Larkin has energized the Hurricanes since his insertion into the lineup.

Boston College has started four freshmen for most of the season and forward Ryan Anderson has emerged as the best of the bunch. He's going to lead his team in scoring and rebounding. Center Dennis Clifford and maybe guard Lonnie Jackson also deserve consideration for the all-freshman team.

Maryland Nick Faust and Virginia Tech's Dorian Finney-Smith have both had their ups and downs this season, but both seem to be finishing strong.

I know that Rivers, Larkin and Anderson will get my vote. Choosing two from among Clifford, Jackson, Faust and Finney-Smith will be a bit harder.


I don't think John Henson's defensive reputation is overblown.

True, he can be physically bullied at times, but his length and his extreme quickness make him a difficult player to deal with inside - plus he can also work on the perimeter.

I know that Wake Forest's Ty Walker blocks more shots, but he's actually not a great fundamental defender. His shotblocking is valuable, of course, but I don't put him in Henson's class.

On the perimeter, FSU's Michael Snaer and Virginia's Jontel Evans are the two best on-the-ball defenders in the league. They'll join Henson on my all-defensive team.

For the last two spots, I'm looking at Walker, Duke's Tyler Thornton, N.C. State's C.J. Williams, FSU's Bernard James and Miami's Shane Larkin. UNC's Dexter Strickland and Virginia's Assane Sene were candidates before their season-ending injuries.

Every year before the tournament, Barry Jacobs polls the ACC coaches and gets their choices for the All-ACC Defensive team. I'm always interested - I suspect their choices are far more knowledgeable than the official team, picked by the writers.


For most of the ACC season, I've had Virginia's Michael Scott penciled in as my player of the year.

I'm glad I used pencil.

I was giving Scott credit for pushing Virginia into the top third of the ACC. But the injuries and defections that have depleted the Cavs' roster may be beyond even Scott's ability to repair.

It's not like Scott is fading - he had 25 points/7 rebounds and 20 points/9 rebounds in Virginia's recent back-to-back victories over Maryland and Virginia Tech. In the context of Virginia's slow tempo, those are huge numbers.

But Scott has misfired a number of times in the last few weeks. He was especially ineffective against UNC in Charlottesville, when the Cavs had a real chance to make a statement win.

At the same time, Zeller has been driving UNC towards their showdown with Duke. In conference play, he's fourth in scoring, second in rebounding, first in field goal percentages, seventh in free throw percentage and sixth in blocked shots. He just finished his home career with a 30-point performance against Maryland on Senior Night at the Smith Center.

Obviously, it's possible to argue that he has more help on a UNC team with three other All-ACC candidates. On the few nights when Scott has a clunker, the Cavs lose … UNC has won when Zeller stumbles (except for his miscues late in the Duke game … an even in that one, he played very well until the last two minutes).

I can't see another candidate. If Snaer had hit a few more clutch shots and prevented last week's meltdown, maybe he could have gotten in it. Rivers has surged late, but he's only established himself as Duke's leader since the UNC game. While a couple of the other UNC guys will get votes, I don't think the sentiment in this area is as split as for All-ACC.

No, it's going to be Scott or Zeller.

And while I'm not the best predictor in the world, I think this one basically comes down to the Duke-UNC game. If Zeller helps the Tar heels win the regular season title, he'll probably get it. If Duke takes the title, I think that gives Scott a real chance, provided he can finish strong.


The hardest decision on the ballot.

I know Duke fans think that Coach K has accomplished remarkable things with this team - and he has. This is a remarkably inconsistent team with a collection of remarkably inconsistent players. Yet, Duke is 26-4 and No. 3 in the coaches poll and has victories away from home over three teams that are vying for a No. 1 NCAA seed (Kansas, Michigan State and UNC).

It's impressive that he's 8-0 on the road in the ACC. It blows me away that he has a better record at this point - 26-4, 13-2 ACC - than his 2010 national championship team had at the same point - 25-5, 12-3 ACC. And that team started three seniors and two juniors.

Still, I think there is a reluctance to credit Krzyzewski for his accomplishment this season. His program is so good that he's supposed to win. A year ago, when he lost the best player in college basketball after eight games, but still finished the regular season 27-4 and ranked No. 5 nationally, K got three of 75 votes.

I think he could win it this year - if Duke beats UNC Saturday and the Blue Devils win the regular season title. A second place finish and the voters are likely to find somebody else.


That depends on the way several teams finish. Virginia's Tony Bennett is in the mix for lifting the Cavs into the upper part of the ACC and holding the team together through a barrage of injuries.

Brad Brownell has done an amazing job with a team that doesn't appear to have the talent to compete in the ACC, yet has a good chance to finish .500 in the league.

Jim Larranaga has had to overcome injuries and suspension at Miami, yet he has the 'Canes driving for an NCAA bid at the end. He's the only coach in the league to have beaten Florida State and Duke, beating the Blue Devils in Cameron and ripping the Seminoles with Reggie Johnson on the sidelines.

N.C. State's Mark Gottfried was a strong candidate with 11 minutes to go in the game at Duke, but his team's recent slide has killed his chances. Leonard Hamilton looked like a good candidate a couple of weeks ago, but his team (and chances) have faded. Besides, it bugs me that the Seminoles struggled so much in November and December. It's not like Hamilton had a young, inexperienced team that had to find itself. A team as old and as experienced as the 'Noles shouldn't have been losing at home to Princeton or on neutral courts to Harvard or a grossly overrated UConn team.

They won't get many (if any) votes, but I also think Maryland's Mark Turgeon and Boston College's Steve Donahue have done a superb job under difficult circumstances. I said before the season that if Donahue won four ACC games with this bunch - the youngest ACC team in history - that he'd deserve to be coach of the year. He got his fourth win Thursday night and with a little luck, he could have three or four more.

There have been a lot of good coaching jobs in the ACC this season.

That's what makes it a tough call.

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