This whole ACC Newcomer of the Year thing was supposed to be easy. UNC's Harrison Barnes was a pre-season All-America; expected to dominate from day one, claim the ACC and National POY honors and go No. 1 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. Easy. Except the freshman struggled out of the gate, as freshmen so often do. It doesn't help that his entire team is failing to dominate as well.
The national spotlight jumped immediately to Duke's Kyrie Irving, and in his case, the hype was justified. Over eight games, the point guard from New Jersey made the defending national champs even more scary to contemplate, averaging 17.4 points and 5.1 assists against premium competition like Kansas State, Butler and Michigan State. Then came the toe injury that has kept him out of the Blue Devils' last three games, and could sideline him for the rest of the season.
It says a lot about the recruiting acumen of ACC coaches that they can recruit freshmen who merit national POY consideration, even in a season when the overall conference profile is less than elite. Of the remaining freshmen, who has the early edge on ACC success?
First, the stats. I'm going to sort by minutes played, and rank anyone who plays more than 20 mpg.
Do you get the sense that, if Wake Forest were playing better as a team, we might be hearing a lot more about Travis McKie? His stats across the board are very impressive for a freshman big man. Jeff Bzdelik definitely has something to work with in Winston-Salem.
Looking at the ACC's official Rookie of the Week honors, Irving leads, having won the award all three weeks he was healthy. The only other player to win twice has been N.C. State's C.J. Leslie, though one week he was beat out by his own teammate, Harrow. McKie and Virginia's K.T. Harrell have each been honored once.
There are some names on this list that have had virtually zero national exposure. Daniel Miller and Danny Rubin are pretty much unknowns at this point. If BC continues to build upon a good early-season showing, Rubin may yet see some of the spotlight.
Of the remaining contenders, however, only Barnes has the national profile to turn an ACC FOY into a national FOY honor. Considering that he hasn't won even a single weekly honor, that still seems like a long shot. Still, I don't blame Barnes for that. He didn't ask to be the first freshman ever placed on the preseason All-America ballot, which was clearly a premature, hype-fueled honor.
This will all shake out more clearly when these kids go head-to-head in conference play, but for now, my front-runners for ACC Freshman of the Year would have to be C.J. Leslie and Travis McKie. Gun to my head, I'd pick Leslie right now. If either leader adds consistency to his resume, and helps his team win league games, his stock will go up. Some of these other guys are going to be great team building blocks over the next couple of seasons, but for now, they're also-rans.