Tyler Zeller shoots the ball over Virginia Cavaliers forward Mike Scott in the first half at John Paul Jones Arena.
The ACC Player of the Year race has narrowed to two people – Tyler Zeller and Mike Scott. And predictably, the internet has exploded in debate. The most recent flashpoint it Caulton Tudor's tweet leaving Scott off his All-ACC ballot, followed by this explanation:
Guys, Scott's fouls kept him on the bench for most of first halves in some of the team's most important games.— Caulton Tudor (@CaultonTudor) March 2, 2012
Virginia fans are, understandably, not happy about this. And most of the media rumblings divide the votes along North Carolina (the state) writers and those outside the state. But which player should be Player of the Year?
Let's break it down statistically. FIrst with the standard numbers most sportswriters are going to use. In conference play, here are the totals the two put up:
Pretty similar, in fact. Scott also shoots the occasional three, making three of eleven, for what it's worth. Zeller does not. But how do things look once things are equalized for minutes played? We can pull up Ken Pomeroy's stats for the season just as easily:
Again, pretty similar. Scott is a much larger piece of Virginia's offense, leading to more possessions and shots. He's also a better shooter, in contrast to Zeller whose the better defender. (Scott also plays 76.4% of possible minutes, compared to Zeller's 68.2%.) Now these stats are all tempo-free, and should balance Carolina's breakneck pace with Virginia's incredibly slow one. So those rebounds, for example, are the percentage of all possible boards (offensive plus their opponent's defensive ones, for OR%). This is important because one of the big arguments for Scott is that if only he played on a team like Carolina, his stats would blow Zeller's out of the water.
Well, the tempo-free stats don't really show that. But it's a lousy comparison to begin with. Stats simply don't scale like that. Put aside my belief that Scott couldn't run at the pace Zeller does – he faded pretty badly at the end of the two UNC games – and think about how VIrginia gets Scott the ball. The Cavaliers take the full shot clock on offense, often to find Scott the ball. Don't forget, he's taking 30.3% of their shots, a point in his favor in the POY race. Anyone who's watched the Carolina offense knows they try to get Zeller the ball, but aren't going to burn excessive amounts of clock to do so. If he's covered, there are other weapons. Frankly, if Virginia played at UNC's pace, Scott would not simply get an extra 4 possessions a game. UVa would have to find other weapons.
Of course, those folks who have only seen the two games between Virginia and Carolina wouldn't come away with the impression Zeller and Scott are equals. Scott had 18 points and 6 rebounds in their first meeting, and only 6 points and 7 rebounds in the second. Zeller's numbers were 25 and 9, and 20 and 6, respectively. He also played roughly twelve more minutes than Scott, mostly due to foul trouble Virginia fans... contest.
Tudor gives Scott the reputation of disappearing in big games, but that's really just a UNC thing. Against Duke he played 34 minutes, and had 23 points and 9 rebounds. Against FSU, which much stronger big men, he played 32 and 38 minutes, scoring 16 and 28 points, and 11 and 10 rebounds. The Cavaliers lost all three games.
But it's hard to shake the fact that in two direct meetings, Zeller outperformed Scott dramatically. In the end however, I believe the debate between Zeller and Scott comes down to a fundamental disagreement on what the ACC PLayer of the Year represents. If you believe it's the most valuable player to a team, Mike Scott is your choice hands down. WIthout him, Virginia is a train wreck, while without Zeller UNC was still be a pretty strong team. If, however, the award should go to the best player in the conference, well, Zeller is pulling away from Scott. It's not nearly as clear cut as the most valuable player side of things – Ken Pomeroy for instance puts Scott sixth and Zeller eighth in his national player rankings, for instance – but a sportswriter can vote Zeller for the award with a clear conscience, if thats his view of its purpose.
Me? If I had a vote, I'd be marking Tyler on the ballot, but that's what you'd expect, right?