CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — For a guy who is arguably the best two-way college basketball player in the entire country, Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon looks awfully bored more often than not.
The Cavaliers faithful at John Paul Jones Arena were in an absolute frenzy as Brogdon poured in 13 of his game-high 26 points within the first eight minutes of play, but the star inciting the riot was calm, cool and collected throughout No. 3 Virginia's 79-74 win over No. 7 North Carolina.
It was a game of utmost importance to get Virginia back to within one game in the loss column of a third consecutive ACC championship, and the Cavaliers got a huge night from their star.
He was quietly already deserving of consideration for ACC and National Player of the Year honors, but like Buddy Hield's 46-point statement against Kansas on Jan. 4, Brogdon certainly helped his own case by having a huge night with the whole world watching.
In short, he was sensationally casual.
"He's been terrific most all of conference play," said head coach Tony Bennett after the game. "Really, all of his career, I should say. He was efficient as ever. Made the tough plays. ... He even did his traditional yawn before tipoff just to let us know that he was steady."
Why exactly we yawn has puzzled scientists for decades, but fatigue certainly wasn't the reason in Brogdon's case, because he was everywhere Saturday night. Yes, he had buckets aplenty, but he also led all players with six defensive rebounds and chipped in further with three assists, two steals and a block.
What got the fans most fired up, though, was a play that doesn't even show up in the box score.
As they are wont to do, the Tar Heels tried to push the tempo early in the first half with an outlet pass up the left sideline. But Brogdon saw it coming and sprinted about 12 feet from the free-throw line before lunging like a soccer goalkeeper to knock the pass out of bounds, sliding to a stop just in front of his own bench—which appreciated the effort just as much as the screaming fans.
His transition defense deserves most of the credit for North Carolina scoring an atypically low two fast-break points in the entire game.
In the seven years since Bennett took over as head coach of this program, Virginia's fans have come to love defense above all else. Sure, they go crazy after Brogdon hits a three-pointer (61 so far this season), but you haven't heard a deafening roar until Virginia forces a shot-clock violation on its home court.
So, of course Brogdon is their favorite player, because defense is his favorite part of the game.
"I enjoy not having my opponent score and making it a terrible night for them more than I (enjoy) scoring points," Brogdon said after the game.
Before the season began, Rob Dauster of NBC Sports reported an anonymous ACC coach saying of Brogdon, "He's a MFer, man. In every way." And when told of that preseason scouting report on Saturday, the normally stone-faced Brogdon couldn't help but crack a smile.
Perhaps he was just caught off guard and found it amusing, but there's no denying there was a glimmer of "You got that right" from the man who takes the most pride in what he does on the defensive end of the court.
And that's what sets him apart from the crowd in college basketball's Player of the Year races, and what had the capacity crowd chanting "M-V-P" toward the end of the game.
On the ACC POY front, North Carolina's Brice Johnson is averaging a double-double and N.C. State's Cat Barber is sixth in the nation in points per game. But those guys don't get after it on the defensive end like Brogdon.
Neither does Oklahoma's Buddy Hield or Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, in case you're ready, willing and able to start thinking about Brogdon for the Wooden Award.
Those at KenPom.com think Brogdon belongs in that conversation, as he's currently No. 3 in those POY standings. His rating was 1.676 on Saturday morning and jumped to 1.715 after the game. How that number is calculated isn't entirely clear, but, hey, it's higher than every single player in the country except for the two widely regarded as the top candidates for the Wooden Award, so that's saying something.
Brogdon's teammates think he's pretty deserving of consideration as well.
"He's been playing great this year," senior forward Anthony Gill said. "It makes it a lot easier on everyone else when he's hitting the shots that he's hitting. So for him to get that chant after the game was just awesome."
"He gets my vote," junior point guard London Perrantes said. "I feel like he's been able to do this since I got here, but now that he's been the one guy on our team who's 'The Man,' I think he's just raising it to another level."
Because of Virginia's infamously slow pace of play, Brogdon has often been praised for his efficiency—typically performing very well in the per-possession metrics while struggling to get recognized for his less impressive per-game figures.
But his per-game numbers are better than ever, and even on a per-possession basis, Brogdon is light-years ahead of where he has been in years past.
|Malcolm Brogdon By Season (Per 100 Possessions)|
|Sports-Reference (Sr. year totals through Friday)|
According to Sports-Reference, Brogdon entered Saturday's game averaging 35.6 points per 100 possessions. To put that number in perspective, Valentine is at 35.5 this season and Duke's Jahlil Okafor recorded a 34.9 last season.
For a guy who prides himself on defense, that's some ridiculously good offense.
"I try to come out aggressive every game," Brogdon said. "I try to take what the defense gives me. But at the same time, I try to sense when my team is struggling on offense and adjust my game to that.
"That's really what you saw tonight."
All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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