Halfway through his college career, I have no idea what to make of Leaky Black. He was recruited, as far as we know, as a 6’7 point guard: somebody with the distributing instincts of a throwback point guard (not this “lead guard” business we’re getting into these days) in a wing’s body. After an injury-riddled freshman year, the offseason fluff was insane: Roy Williams called him a player without a ceiling, the reporting was that he’d been on the verge of a breakthrough if injury hadn’t interfered, and Garrison Brooks called him one of the best defenders in the ACC. I’m doubtful on those first two, after getting a more extended look at him. That last one, though, seems dead-on. Especially as the season went on, Black settled in as an elite, disruptive wing defender, and that’s why he’s my pick for UNC’s defensive player of the year.
Having been more or less relegated to the wing full-time because of the roster’s construction (and because of his own relative inability to check opposing point guards), Black’s length really stood out on the defensive end with his ability to deny passes to the wing, help out on traps, and provide some weakside rim protection as well. He averaged 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, or 1.7 and 1.1 per 40 minutes. In conference play, that improved to 1.5/1.0 per game and 1.9/1.2 per 40, as he settled into his new role and the team started to learn what it was. Those are big-time disruptions, and his ability to single-handedly ruin multiple offensive possessions per game was big-time while this team began to figure itself out during the ending stretch of the season. He wasn’t, thankfully, a gambler, either, who let through easy buckets while stat-hunting. He played great team defense, most clearly shown by his willingness to step up on halfcourt traps. And he managed to play defense without fouling, averaging just 2.2 personal fouls per game. All of this added up to a team-second place Defensive Rating of 101.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, well below the team’s average for the year.
In first place in DRtg was Armando Bacot, who got heavy consideration for this award as well but was ultimately denied because of his penchant for fouling and the help he got from Garrison Brooks, an excellent positional defender. Brooks could also have gotten this award, and did earn the most (by far) DPOG awards from the coaching staff, but his lack of rim protection, disruption, and perimeter help for a team that was relentlessly attacked from the outside meant that it was Black’s award.