At the beginning of the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season, the Duke Blue Devils were heavy favorites to repeat as ACC champions and possibly national champions.
The Blue Devils started with a lethal big three in Kyle Singler, Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith. Singler was the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Final Four and was named the preseason ACC Player of the Year.
Irving, a freshman point guard, was Duke's newest weapon and had NBA potential even at his young age. Irving was the type of player that could elevate Duke from a good team to a national championship team.
Smith was an underrated guard that was a huge reason Duke won the Final Four last season. He was just a piece of the puzzle at the time.
Smith was easily the third best player on his own team. Then the fabulous freshman Irving went down with a toe injury. The team turned to Singler, who isn't quite living up to the hype he was given this season, averaging 17 points a game. With Irving gone, Smith became Duke's point guard and took on the role as the Blue Devils' new leader.
Smith became a scoring machine. He has rocketed from third best on his own team to one of the best players in the ACC and possibly the nation. When Irving and Smith were on the court together for seven games, Smith only had one 20-point game. In the 16 games Irving has been out, Smith has dropped at least 20 points in 12 of them.
Smith has had three 30-point games, including the game against North Carolina. Smith was the reason Duke was in the game in the first place and was also the reason why the Blue Devils went on to win such a key conference game. Being down 14 at the half, Smith led Duke to a 79-73 thriller win. He had 22 second-half points and a career-high 34 points on the game.
Duke struggled early in the game, especially with their big men. Mason and Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly were out-rebounded like they weren't even in the game. The three had 24 rebounds combined. In the first half, North Carolina had the majority of its points through the transition game. In the second half, Duke was a new team that was led by Smith and Seth Curry that didn't try to fix its 14-point deficit all at once.
Right now, it's tough to see another player that has earned ACC Player of the Year honors more than Smith. He is the most valuable player on Duke's roster. Since Irving has been out, Smith has carried Duke on his shoulders and has led it to a 14-2 record. Smith is leading the ACC in points (21.5) and assists (5.5) per game. If he finishes the season first in both categories, he will be the first player ever in ACC history to do so.
Not only is Smith the main candidate for ACC Player of the Year, his statistics are also making him a front runner for national player of the year. Smith is an electrifying player that creates opportunities for himself when he is in control of the basketball. Without him, Duke wouldn't be in such a great opportunity to win the ACC and possibly reach another Final Four.