I wrote an article clamoring for people to get on the Michael Young bandwagon before the start of his sophomore season. He's now roughly a third of the way into his junior season. If you're not on by now, what in the world are you waiting for? At this point, you can make a case for him as the best power forward in the ACC. Let's take a look at the competition.
Devin Thomas, Senior, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
One of only four players in the entire conference averaging at least double-digits in both points per game and rebounds per game. Thomas is enjoying his best yet: Six double-doubles in nine games, added over six points to his per game scoring average from last season, nearly three additional boards, more than doubled his blocks per contest, and connecting at a very efficient 56.2% from the floor.
He ranged from good to dominant in a three-game stretch at home, which included victories over the Indiana Hoosiers (ranked 13th at the time) and a UCLA Bruins team that would beat the Kentucky Wildcats (ranked 1st at the time) a week later. Throw in the road victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to end the month of November, which saw Thomas average 19.5 and 10 on 52.8% from the field while getting to the line a whopping 34 times during that span, and you have a strong candidate for best at the position thus far.
Charles Mitchell, Senior, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Credit Mitchell for not only averaging a double-double - 14.2 and 12.8 - but for also recording one in all nine games thus far. Those nine double-doubles are already two more than he managed all of last season. Unlike Thomas, it was a little more of a stretch to see this kind of start to the season for Mitchell.
The former Maryland Terrapin posted an impressive 16 points and 11 rebounds in a losing effort at home against the Villanova Wildcats in late November, a day after dropping 18 and 18 in a win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. He's only broken the 20-point mark once, but I am sure he's fine with leading the league in rebounds per game, and in the top-3 for field goal percentage (61.2%).
Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina Tar Heels
Johnson is probably the player who most would assume is the stiffest competition for Young in this type of analysis. Like Young, he's not the rebounder that most of the other players on this list are, and he takes a lot of two-point jumpers. He's 4th in the ACC in field goal percentage at 60.8%, and converting a rather insane 95.8% at the rim. Again, like Young, he's a very good from the charity stripe, connecting at an 87.5% rate.
His 16 points and six rebounds were very solid in their home win over the Maryland to start the month. Although, he was less than stellar in a road loss to the Northern Iowa Panthers in mid-November. Still, North Carolina entered the season ranked #1 in the polls for a reason, and Johnson was a big part of that reason.
Amile Jefferson, Senior, Duke Blue Devils - In truth, has there been a more valuable player to his team than Jefferson? You can certainly make a case for him. He was sensational against Kentucky (ranked 2nd at the time) in mid-November, but then was saddled with foul trouble the next two games. He may deserve to be higher, but is out indefinitely with a right foot injury that currently has no timetable for his return.
Zach Auguste, Senior, Notre Dame Fighting Irish - I docked points here because of the two home losses already, even though Auguste recorded a double-double in both those games. His averages of 14.4 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game are impressive, but mostly against lackluster competition. He's enjoyed a very good season thus far, but slightly below the level of Thomas, Mitchell, and Johnson.
Zach LeDay, Junior, Virginia Tech Hokies - He was pretty good in a lopsided loss at home to the Iowa State Cyclones in late November; he recorded 19 points and eight rebounds. Outside of that, Virginia Tech has played no one, and he no-showed against the Northwestern Wildcats to start the month; he netted just two points and one rebound in 17 minutes.
Now that we've looked at the competition, what does Young's resume look like? For starters, he's the only player in the conference to rank in the top-15 in points per game (8th), rebounds per game (9th), and assists per game (14th). His 17.4 points per game rank him 2nd on this list, but his 8.0 rebounds per game rank last. His 83.9% from the free throw line ranks 11th in the league, and second on this list, trailing on Johnson.
What really jumps off the page about Young is his passing, especially out of double teams. His 3.9 dimes per contest are 1.5 more than Thomas, the next highest player on this list. Granted, most teams don't use their power forwards to facilitate offense, but that's more a testament to Young and head coach Jamie Dixon than anything. He was really good in the half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and posted an impressive 16 and 12 in a home loss to the Purdue Boilermakers earlier this month. The schedule has been pretty easy beyond the game against Purdue, however.
I'd probably lean towards Thomas right now given his performances against better teams and in victories. You wouldn't have to twist my arm to talk me into Young though. It's still a very young (no pun intended) season, and ACC play hasn't even started. The good news for the Pittsburgh Panthers is that they have one of the best players at their respective positions in the conference.