Yesterday, Bleacher Report released its Way-Too-Early National Player of the Year rankings. Unsurprisingly, Purdue’s Zach Edey is at the top as the seven footer is putting together another dominant season, averaging 24.8 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 63% from the floor. The top five is rounded out with Hunter Dickinson (Kansas), Tristen Newton (Connecticut), Tyler Kolek (Marquette), and Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois). If you want to see the full top ten rankings plus honorable mentions, click here.
Of the 26 players that were listed, two of those guys hail from Carolina. It shouldn’t be much of a shock that those two are Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, both of whom have been driving forces for the Heels’ success this season. Bacot slotted in at number 8 in the rankings while Davis was named as an honorable mention.
Bacot is no stranger to these kinds of rankings as he had already been named a first-team preseason All-American. Nevertheless, he’s backing it up by averaging a double-double for the third straight season with 15.9 points and 11.9 rebounds. What has stood out the most in the early going is his improvement at the charity stripe, shooting 78.6% (66.5% last season). He’s also logging a career-best 1.9 blocks per game.
On one hand, Bacot hasn’t always looked the part of a NPOY candidate as he’s seemingly had more difficulty finishing plays around the basket. On the other hand, the stats speak for themselves, and it feels like Bacot’s best is yet to come as this team continues to figure things out. After dropping some weight in the offseason, it’s probably harder to play with the same physicality he’s used to. Once he fully adjusts, I don’t see any reason he can’t at least end up on an All-American team.
Despite being ranked lower, RJ Davis is arguably the better candidate at this juncture. He’s averaging 21 points and 2.7 assists while shooting a ridiculous 95.3% from the free throw line (second in the ACC). Davis is currently in the midst of a five-game stretch in which he’s scored at least 23 points.
While this Carolina offense continues to work out the kinks, Davis has been the guy who the team turns to when in need of a bucket. Tar Heel fans are well aware of his scoring prowess, but with the veteran help and and pass-first mentality of Elliot Cadeau, Davis has had more freedom to get his shots. There’s been perhaps too much pressure on him at times, but that should alleviate as other guys settle into their roles. If he continues to average 20+ with the way he’s playing, Davis could oust Bacot as Carolina’s NPOY candidate.
Ultimately, in the best way possible, I don’t believe this UNC team will have a serious player of the year candidate. While the importance of Bacot and Davis can’t be overstated, players like Cadeau and Harrison Ingram have arguably been just as vital. In the early going, it feels like this team’s “best player” could be someone different from one night to the next. Thankfully, I don’t think this group is too concerned with personal accolades.