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Did Nolan Smith Launch Himself Into the POY Race Last Night Against UNC?

In a word: yes. And we’re not just talking ACC POY, which you might just want to hand him right now. This morning, along with the usual complete coverage of what was a really good game last night, sportswriters both regional and national were taking to their respective platforms to declare how good Nolan Smith looked last night pouring in 34 points against a legitimately dangerous North Carolina team, and if he wasn’t already in the discussion for National Player of the Year, he certainly is now.

Frankly, the fans and media much prefer giving attention to breakout players who have brought their team to unforseen heights, as opposed to praising the consistently best players on the best teams, which is why, let’s face it, it’s doubtful that Nolan Smith will be able to pass Jimmer Fredette, Jared Sullinger or maybe even Kemba Walker in the Player of the Year voting. But after last night, he absolutely deserves to be mentioned.

On a court filled with potential lottery picks and, at the very least, a lot of guys who will make NBA rosters, Smith was the best player on the floor, bar none. He fulfilled every criteria you can ask of a great player: with his team struggling, he carried the Blue Devils through a miserable first half and put them over the top in the second, on the biggest stage of the season thus far, against their hated arch-rival. The only way it could have been better personally for Smith was if the teams were playing in Chapel Hill and he hit the game-winner (please, God, don’t let this post be eerily foreshadowing three weeks from now).

In a head-to-head statistical analysis of Smith with Fredette and Sullinger, the latter two do still seem more valuable to their club, but Smith is surprisingly close in a number of categories inluding offensive rating and true shooting percentage, and his Roland rating even exceeds that of the other two, reinforcing his value on a Duke team that is supposedly choc full of offensive options.

In my analysis of Duke this year posted earlier this week, I said that too much of the offense went through Nolan Smith for my liking. Well, I think it’s fair for me to say I was wrong, and very wrong at that. Nolan Smith isn’t just a senior leader on a top-5 team; he is one of the best players in the country and Duke’s key to getting back to the Final Four this year. Here’s hoping people keep talking about him for NPOY, because he deserves it.