Virginia Tech’s Erick Green has led the nation in scoring for about a month, and retaining that stature would be notable on several levels. But there’s another Green statistic that worries Hokies coach James Johnson.
“I sense a little bit of fatigue, some wear-down in him,” Johnson said Monday when I asked about Green during the ACC’s weekly media call. “He’s seeing a lot of different defenses, and he's seeing a lot of big strong bodies now as we go through the course of this ACC season.
“You're looking at guys that are 6-5, 205 pounds that are guarding him now, and they're sending 6-9, 240 at him, trapping him in ball screens and bumping him. In the whole game played on Saturday, he played 43 minutes of that. That’s a lot.”
Green stands 6-3 and began the season at 185 pounds. Most stressful, he is the only reliable weapon on a team that appears destined for a losing season after a 7-0 start that included a victory over then-No. 15 Oklahoma State.
The overtime setback at North Carolina -- Green scored 14 points and missed 14 of his 21 shots -- was the Hokies’ fourth straight and eighth in the last 10 games. They are 11-10, 2-6 in the ACC, entering Thursday’s home date with Maryland.
About 38 hours later, they’ll encounter Georgia Tech at 1 p.m., Saturday.
The Terps and Yellow Jackets are bigger and stronger than the Hokies and have plenty of bodies to throw at Green, who scored 28 points each against Maryland (loss) and Georgia Tech (overtime win) last month.
“Mentally, I think he's handling it and being positive about it,” Johnson said, “but … sometimes your legs just don't have it, and I think that he wore down a little bit on Saturday.”
Green has always struck me as an unlikely national scoring champion.
Not because I don’t respect his shooting touch, creativity and baseline-to-baseline speed. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a gem to watch and can score in myriad ways.
But historically, the rigors of major conference defenses exact their toll. The most recent player from a so-called BCS league to lead Division I in scoring was Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1994. The only ACC player to do so was South Carolina’s Grady Wallace in 1957.
This season, Green and Providence guard Bryce Cotton the only major conference players among the nation’s top 10 – Cotton is sixth. The remainder of the top 10: Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Iona’s Lamont Jones, Oakland’s Travis Bader, Central Connecticut State’s Kyle Vinales, Florida Atlantic’s Greg Gantt, Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Brigham Young’s Tyler Haws.
Green averages 25.0 points. McDermott, a 6-7 forward and Green’s nearest challenger, averages 24.0 for the 16th-ranked Bluejays. McDermott is shooting 56.5 percent, Green 48.9.
The ACC’s 18-game conference season reaches the halfway mark for most teams this week, but already some are speculating whether Green can become only the league’s second Player of the Year from a team that finishes in the bottom half of the standings. Len Bias of sixth-place Maryland won the honor in 1986.
Candidates from the conference’s best teams include Duke’s Mason Plumlee and North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie. Miami is 8-0 in the league, but good luck distinguishing among Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott and Shane Larkin, the leaders of the Hurricanes’ balanced lineup.
Veteran ACC reporter Al Featherston asked several coaches Monday about Green’s Player of the Year viability.
“I know you've got to wait until the ACC season is complete and see how teams fare, his continued impact on it,” Virginia’s Tony Bennett said. “But his ability and his impact on the game (are) certainly worthy of that consideration.”
Green scored 35 points in Tech’s 74-58 loss to Virginia. Saturday at North Carolina he managed only 14 on 7-of-21 shooting, but Tar Heels coach Roy Williams still considers him a PoY candidate.
“When I was at Kansas (in 1991) we had Rex Walters that I thought was the best player in the (Big Eight) conference, and we won the regular season,” Williams said, “but Shaun Vandiver was Player of the Year. He led the conference in scoring and rebounding for Colorado, and they were in the second half of the league. …
“Most of the time I think the player of the year in the league should come from one of those (teams) that's first or second in the league. But in saying that, Erick's statistics are up there so high, you have to -- to use your words -- he has to be in the mix. When you're a guard leading the nation in scoring and shooting right at 50 percent, I think he was one shot below 50 percent coming into our game, I mean, that's a phenomenal year that he's having. …
“I think winning is the most important. But boy, he's having such a phenomenal year you can't leave him out.”
No you can’t. What Green’s coach wonders is whether he can sustain the pace, absorb the pounding and carry Virginia Tech for another seven weeks.
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