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Running On Empty?

ACC players who had to stay on the floor.

Boston College v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 05: Ky Bowman #0 of the Boston College Eagles drives against Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 05, 2019 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 80-55.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Public praise and gaudy stats are grand goals, but to achieve them the coin of the realm in basketball is minutes played. Paeans to unsung heroes among walk-ons and also-rans notwithstanding, you can’t prosper, contribute significantly to your team’s success, or make a positive impression unless you get on the court.

How much time a player spends in action is a reflection of a number of factors – an individual’s strengths, teammates’ and opponents’ weaknesses, squad depth, a coaching staff’s assessment of what is needed to maximize unit performance. Casual observers tend to focus on offensive prowess, but a player is most valuable who can hold his own or, better, alter the terms of engagement at both ends of the court without noticeable fluctuations in effectiveness.

Last season seven ACC players were so highly valued by their teams they played at least 35 minutes per game, about 88 percent of the time possible. This includes games close and lopsided, in conference and beyond. A dozen players averaged more than 35 minutes in ACC action.

Regardless of the circumstances no ACC performer saw more action in 2020 than Virginia point guard Kihei Clark. Overall he played 37.07 minutes per game, 38.12 in conference competition when the stakes were highest, a minute and a half more on average than anyone else in the ACC.

Surely recognizing his importance to the Cavaliers, the underclassman played with unusual control. Aided by close monitoring from Tony Bennett and staff, Clark didn’t foul out of a game.

Yet, indispensible as Clark was, his game usage was nothing special in the context of the past decade. The 5-9 Californian’s minutes per outing didn’t even qualify among the top 10 many-minute men who preceded him since 2011.

Syracuse, which wasn’t in the conference until the 2013-14 season, provided five of 11 of the most-employed ACC players since 2011. Three were on a 2018 Orange squad that went 23-14 and finished tied for tenth in the league.

That high level of usage is enabled by a zone defense which limits chances for individual players to commit fouls. It may also simply reflect the preference of coach Jim Boeheim to rely on a select corps of performers – akin to former UNC and South Carolina coach Frank McGuire and his protégé, Georgia Tech’s Bobby Cremins.

That being said, it was Boston College’s Ky Bowman who topped all league players across the last decade, appearing for an average of 39.32 minutes in 2019. The 6-1 guard led BC in scoring, assists, 3-pointers, steals, field goal and free throw attempts and stood second in rebounding while playing two more minutes per game than Clark, the 2020 pacesetter.

Bowman, who during the 2018 season also had the sixth-most minutes played over the past decade, was voted second team all-conference in 2019 by a league-approved roster of selectors.

Most Minutes Averaged Per Game, Last Decade
(* Led ACC In Minutes Played In Season Indicated)
Min/G Player, School Year Gs Mins Team W/L
39.32 Ky Bowman, BC* 2019 31 1219 14-17
39.00 Tyus Battle, SU* 2018 37 1443 23-14
38.73 Anthony (Cat) Barber, NS* 2016 33 1278 16-17
38.46 Frank Howard, SU 2018 37 1423 23-14
38.24 Malcolm Delaney, VT* 2011 34 1300 22-12
38.20 Ky Bowman, BC 2018 35 1337 19-16
38.14 Oshae Brissett, SU 2018 37 1411 23-14
37.92 Michael Gbinije, SU 2016 37 1403 23-14
37.84 Eric Adkins, ND* 2014 32 1211 15-17
37.76 C.J. Fair, SU 2014 34 1284 28-6
37.63 Olivier Hanlan, BC* 2015 32 1204 13-19