Column | ACC’s top tier dominate conference award season

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Photo courtesy of Matt Hawley, Pitt Athletics

Sophomore forward Justin Champagnie (11) finished second in points per game and first in rebounds per game in the ACC. In comparison to last season, he increased his scoring average from 12.7 to 18.4 points per game, and his rebounding average from 7.0 to 11.1 per game.

By Kyle Saxon, Staff Writer

The ACC followed the leading men’s college basketball conferences across the country in 2021. The only thing one could count on was unpredictability.

In the face of a shortened offseason, program pauses and game postponements due to positive coronavirus tests and widespread roster turnover, ACC teams managed to complete the regular season on time. But other than Virginia finishing as the regular season champion, the final conference standings are starkly different from the preseason media poll.

As is the case in any season, the ACC will honor top performers in the conference for their accomplishments. While the conference looks ahead to the ACC Tournament this Tuesday, these are where the award races stand in my eyes.

ACC Player of the Year: Sam Hauser, Virginia

While Virginia Cavaliers senior forward Sam Hauser was one of the favorites for player of the year honors prior to the season, this was not the case for much of the year. Due to Virginia’s methodical style of play, its star players rarely post eye-catching statistics. Consequently, players such as Pitt sophomore forward Justin Champagnie and Georgia Tech senior forward Moses Wright overshadowed Hauser for much of the season with their statistical accomplishments.

However, with the season now at its end and Virginia at the top of the standings, Hauser certainly has a compelling case. He finished eighth in the conference in scoring with 15.7 points per game, and did so with absolutely excellent efficiency, as he shot 51.7% from the field and a stellar 44.4% from 3-point range. On top of his scoring totals, he finished 13th in the ACC with 6.8 rebounds per game, leading his team in both categories.

On top of his offensive numbers, Hauser had a signature performance in the final game of the regular season, willing Virginia over Louisville to clinch the ACC regular season title. He finished the game with 24 points and eight rebounds, and quite simply did not seem like he could miss a shot. His heroic performance is what truly propelled him to the top of a list of many deserving contenders.

While Champagnie and Wright may very well be better overall players than Hauser, he will benefit from the nature of the award. Being the best player on the best team will certainly help him in this race, especially right after carrying his team to a title-clinching victory.

ACC Coach of the Year: Mike Young, Virginia Tech

Mike Young came to Virginia Tech in 2019 with the task of a program rebuild. In just his second season, the Hokies finished third in the conference.

The progress Young has made in such a short time is truly remarkable. Before the season, the media predicted his team to place 11th in the ACC, and this prediction did not seem unreasonable. Virginia Tech did not appear to possess the talent that the top teams in the ACC do, but excellent coaching and breakout performers have hoisted the Hokies up among the best teams in the conference, as they were a few years ago.

Perhaps Young’s biggest accomplishment is convincing a player he formerly recruited at Wofford, Keve Aluma, to come play for him in Blacksburg. Aluma was not a well-known player prior to the season, but ultimately presented a matchup problem to any team he faced, and emerged as one of the best players in the ACC.

However, one player does not deserve all of the credit. While Virginia Tech often has a disadvantage in raw talent, it has managed to achieve huge wins against teams such as Villanova and Virginia. The Hokies are capable of beating any team they face because they play with poise and togetherness, and the core reason for this is their head coach.

All-ACC 1st Team:

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech

Carlik Jones, Louisville

Sam Hauser, Virginia

Justin Champagnie, Pittsburgh

Moses Wright, Georgia Tech

All-ACC 2nd Team:

Prentiss Hubb, Notre Dame

M.J. Walker, Florida State

Aamir Simms, Clemson

Matthew Hurt, Duke

Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech

All-ACC 3rd Team:

Isaiah Wong, Miami

Scottie Barnes, Florida State

Alan Griffin, Syracuse

Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse

Jay Huff, Virginia

These teams are easily the most subjective and difficult honors to determine. While the first team selections are all but universally agreed upon, there are numerous players who are entirely interchangeable between the second and third teams. The most notable snub is Florida State junior forward RaiQuan Gray.

While Gray is absolutely crucial to the success of his team, the reason for his omission is quite simple –– he plays on a defensive-minded team with a lot of other great players at his position. Gray finished second on the team in scoring, and also played a pivotal role for the Seminoles on the glass. However, he plays in the same front court as star first-year Scottie Barnes, who has a more prominent role facilitating the offense, and offers more defensively as well.

Most Improved Player: Justin Champagnie, Pittsburgh

Pitt’s own Justin Champagnie is the runaway favorite to receive this honor. Despite being the best player for the Panthers his first season, Champagnie improved in a way that not many people anticipated.

The star sophomore forward finished second in points per game and first in rebounds per game in the ACC. In comparison to last season, he increased his scoring average from 12.7 to 18.4 points per game, and his rebounding average from 7.0 to 11.1 per game. Additionally, Champagnie recorded 16 double-doubles in 19 games, and had back-to-back games with 20 points and 20 rebounds in December.

Pitt’s lack of success this season significantly harms Champagnie’s case for player of the year, which is simply the nature of these all-conference awards. However, if he were to win that honor as well, I sincerely doubt anyone would take much issue with it.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech point guard Jose Alvarado has been the leader of his team for all four years he’s worn a Yellow Jacket uniform. Alvarado embodies the identity of the team, and in a year where it finished in fourth place, that identity has been built on the defensive end.

Alvarado led the ACC with a remarkable 2.9 steals per game, and his defensive impact has directly translated to team success. Georgia Tech prided itself on forcing turnovers all season, and Alvarado is the catalyst in doing so. The Yellow Jackets led the ACC in turnover margin at +4.13 per contest, and also forced the most total turnovers with 355.

Not only is Alvarado one of the most sound perimeter defenders in the country, but his defense translates to steals, and therefore extra possessions. Georgia Tech has talent across the entire roster, but Alvarado is the unquestioned leader, and he certainly leads by example with his aggressive, stifling defense.

All-Defensive Team:

Jordan Goldwire, Duke

Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech

Alan Griffin, Syracuse

Jay Huff, Virginia

Manny Bates, NC State

Freshman and Sixth Man of the Year: Scottie Barnes, Florida State

Not only does Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton consistently produce phenomenal teams, he also always seems to have a remarkable sixth man. First-year forward Scottie Barnes looks to join last year’s winner, Patrick Williams, as yet another Florida State first-year to take home the sixth man of the year award.

Make no mistake –– Barnes may very well be Florida State’s best player. He is a former top-10 recruit and a projected NBA lottery pick, but Leonard Hamilton has a philosophy regarding his rotation. Based on the results he gets, I doubt anyone will question why he brings Barnes in off the bench.

Although Barnes started seven games, he serves the role of sixth man when the Seminoles are fully healthy. In 24.6 minutes per game, he posted a stat line of 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Barnes produced at a high enough level to take freshman of the year honors, sixth man of the year honors and even All-ACC honors. His impact on both ends of the court make him one of the most impactful first-years in the country, and he certainly deserves the various honors that he is likely to receive.

All-Freshman Team:

Caleb Love, North Carolina

DJ Steward, Duke

Scottie Barnes, Florida State

Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina

Jae’Lyn Withers, Louisville

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