Joel Berry is arguably the most important player for North Carolina. When he’s playing well, the team tends to also. However, the player who has most consistently put up the best numbers this season has been Justin Jackson.
Since ACC play began, Jackson is averaging 20 points per game and over four rebounds per game, and for the season he’s going for almost 19 and five. Even in games where he’s struggled shooting percentage-wise, he’s still managed to put up points.
With him as the top scorer as on the current ACC leaders, is there anything Jackson could do to put himself in the national player of the year conversation?
In an article posted February 1st, CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish puts Jackson in the top 20 current NPOY of the year candidates. (Berry was also in the top 20, but it’s a little harder to see an argument for him as long as he keeps averaging four assists as the nominal point guard.)
All of the players listed ahead of Jackson definitely have better arguments as of this moment. However, with North Carolina’s upcoming schedule, Jackson will definitely have a chance to play himself into the conversation on a big stage.
In the final seven games of the regular season, North Carolina will face Duke twice, Virginia twice, and Louisville. All five of those games will be on primetime on ESPN. Those games will not only give Jackson a chance to shine, but they will also give the Tar Heels a chance to cement their resume, which is often just as important for a player’s NPOY candidacy.
Unlike some other individual awards (or even ACC Player of the Year), the national awards tend to go to someone on a really good team. Andrew Bogut in 2005 was the last player to win NPOY on a team who wasn’t at least a four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
If (an admittedly big if) Jackson continues putting up numbers similar to what he has all season, it’s hard to see him not at least get some votes.
Jackson has most definitely had some bad games this season. He had just seven points on 3-15 shooting against Tennessee just to name one. If he has two, or maybe even just one game like that in the final month, then this conversation is probably over. However, it’s been a while since he had a bad game. Even when he went 6-17 against Georgia Tech, he still scored 16.
Is Justin Jackson going to win National Player of the Year? Probably not, no. After saying all that, he still might be too far back to make a real charge at the award. It’s just not unrealistic that he could get some buzz.
Now considering what the next game is, everyone knock on everything wood in your house after you finish reading this.