With the 2021-22 ACC regular season in the rearview, it’s time for some postseason awards. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite subject: defense! Here’s the official ACC Sports Journal list for ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive Team(s).
Reece Beekman = DPOY
Over the last decade of ACC basketball, four different Virginia players have won ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The most recent Cavalier to do this was De’Andre Hunter, who edged out Duke’s Zion Williamson back in 2019. Reece Beekman is the next in line. There are several players with deserving cases for the DPOY award; however, Beekman was a nudge higher than Mark Williams, Leaky Black and Justyn Mutts.
After a sneaky-good freshman season, Virginia guard Beekman returned to the ACC as one of its premier defenders. As Beekman assumed a much larger role on offense, the 6-foot-2 point guard continued his work as one of the most dominant presence at the point of attack..
Beekman led all ACC players with a 4.0 percent steal rate, which ranked inside the top 40 nationally. Only one other Tony Bennett-coached player at Virginia has finished a season with a steal rate of at least 4.0 percent: Jontel Evans (2009-10).
The anticipation skills of Beekman are incredible, which is why he so rarely gets burned (2.0 fouls committed per 40 minutes). Beekman sees things develop one step ahead and pounces. He leaves a trail of unsuspecting ball handlers and cross-court passers in his wake.
During conference play this season, Beekman recorded 3.8 steals per 100 possessions, which is up from 2.4 per 100 last year.
Through 30 games this season, Beekman has 18 games of 2+ steals. That’s tied with Miami’s Kam McGusty and Jaeden Zackery of Boston College for most multi-steal games this year.
Beekman is damn good when he’s in Cover Corner Mode, but he’s equally as devastating when he turns into a free safety on the weak side of Virginia’s defense.
So far, Beekman failed to record a steal in only three games this season.
There’s no one in the ACC like Beekman in terms of screen navigation — both on and off the ball. Beekman short-circuits various pick-and-roll attacks with his ability to glide around would-be screens while staying attached to the ball handler. At times, it looks impossible to screen Beekman.
Opponents will try to slip screens against Virginia’s Pack Line hedge coverage; however, when opposing big men don’t screen, it’s tough to gain any actual advantage. Beekman just stays glued to his man. If the pass to the slipper isn’t immediately available, well, the offense just ran through one action and got nothing. It’s time to start from scratch, again, with less time on the shot clock.
Beekman’s ability to run around screens as a chase defender is sensational, too. Over the same of one week, Beekman could spend one game guarding Alondes Williams, working through ball screens and 1-on-1 downhill drives, and the next he’d be on Virginia Tech’s Hunter Cattoor.
In the latter matchup, Beekman would spend the vast majority of his time off the ball, ruthlessly chasing one of the country’s premier movement shooters around a maze of pindowns, dribble handoffs and misdirection.
By my charting, 18 of Hunter Cattoor's touches with Reece Beekman as the primary were off-screen (DHO/pindown/flare/Chicago)— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) February 16, 2022
– Cattoor passed out of 17 of these touches
– 0-1 FGA
– Only 1 assists (David N'Guessan, empty corner dunk) https://t.co/sNnFF5Jrm7
With his length, quick hands and anticipation skills, Beekman also emerged as one of the best rejection artists among guards in the county. Beekman blocked an impressive 1.4 shots per 100 possessions, including this chasedown effort on Charlie Moore.
Currently, Beekman is one of only four high-major players — under 6-foot-3 — with a block rate of at least 2.5 percent.
Once again, this is an area where Beekman uses his ability to suck up space 1-on-1 defensively as a means for creating havoc.
Taller players think the can shot over the top, but Beekman either anticipates those jumpers or he’s reactive enough to recover and contest.
This dude is just a special defender.
Now, look at Beekman completely blow up this entire possession vs. Notre Dame, one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
Beekman switches on Blake Wesley, who quickly passes out. Once Wesley is off the ball, Beekman makes sure he won’t get it back as the shot clock dwindles — Beekman digs at the nail to help vs. Prentiss Hubb’s drive, then recovers and aggressively denies a pass out to Wesley. Notre Dame swings the ball and runs empty-corner pick-and-roll, which eventually results in an open layup for 6-foot-10 Nate Laszewski. Beekman, however, has other ideas and swats an easy 2-point attempt into the crowd.
Much was made this season about this not being a traditional Virginia defense, although there were improvements as the season went along. Over the last 10 games, UVA ranked top 40 nationally in defensive efficiency, per Bart Torvik. Obviously, one of the big swing factors for Virginia’s defense was the presence of Beekman.
According to Pivot Analysis: when Beekman was on the floor this season, Virginia was +106 in 1,036 minutes. This includes a solid defensive rating of 103.6 points per 100 possessions. With Beekman off the floor, Virginia was outscored by 11 points in 164 minutes — with a defensive rating of 118.5 points per 100 possessions.
There can be plenty of noise in these types of on/off metrics and splits. Really, 30 games isn’t that much of a sample, either. Plus, some of those minutes with Beekman off the floor occurred in garbage time, when one of both teams have benchwarmers in the game and the competitive potion is over; that can skew the data, too. With that said, it’s an additional data point that further emphasizes Beekman’s defensive impact.
Reece Beekman, Virginia, G
See above: he’s very, very good.
Mark Williams, Duke, C
It’s rather easy to make a case for Williams as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year, too. Williams picked up where he left off after an encouraging close to his freshman year: blocking every shot in his sight.
Williams finished the regular season with a block rate of 11.9 percent — up from 9.6 percent his rookie year. During ACC play, Williams blocked a ridiculous 4.5 shots per 40 minutes. As a result, Williams leads the ACC with a Defensive Box Plus-Minus (BPM) of 4.7. That’s narrowly ahead of Beekman: 4.5
With his 7-foot-7 wingspan, mobility and lightning-quick second jump, Williams is an intimidating presence at the rim — even against some of the most ferocious downhill drivers in college basketball, like Alondes Williams of Wake Forest.
Williams is also impactful as a screen defender vs. pick-and-roll. The 7-footer has the ability to defend closer to the level of the screen, which he mixes with the speed/motor to closeout on pop actions and ball rotations.
The sophomore center isn’t a technician in terms of his coverages, although he’s made strides since his arrival in Durham. As Williams moves to the NBA, this will be a big part of his appeal as a prospect: some versatility guarding ball screens and drop coverage upside vs. the pick-and-roll.
To do that, though, Williams must improve his ability to play in space, which starts with initial positioning and morphs into the ability to guard two players at once: the pick-and-roll ball handler and the screener/diver going to the rim. Some of that gradual improvement should come with more reps, too. Not every big man prospect can be Evan Mobley.
Williams has the ability to recover and erase smaller mistakes or missteps. That’ll become more of a challenge on the next level, though. (Williams also has a tendency to over-help, which can leave the rim open for put-backs or drop-off passes.)
With that said, there have been moments this season when the game seemed to slow down. Duke’s communication on defense hasn’t always been there this season; however, Williams shown that he’s capable of quarterbacking the unit — calling out actions and plugging holes in the middle of the floor.
Duke’s defense allowed 102.0 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor (+259 in 688 minutes) this season, according to Pivot Analysis. (When Theo John was in at center, Duke’s defense has been slightly more stingy: 96.3 points per 100 possessions allowed.)
As Williams gets stronger, he’ll become a more refined post defender. Shorter post players had some success vs. Williams this season when they were able to establish deep position, keep Williams off balance with contact and quick-finish.
Williams, however, is improving in this capacity. When he manages to hold his ground, Williams can stay on his feet and wait to attack the shot while it’s in the air.
So far, Williams has committed only 3.6 fouls per 40 minutes this season — down from 3.9 last year.
Early in the season, Williams struggled some defensively vs. 5-out offense; he played only six minutes vs. Campbell, 14 minutes vs. Elon and 12 minutes vs. Virginia Tech, which was the first game Duke really dialed up its small-ball lineup with AJ Griffin and Paolo Banchero as the de facto 5.
During the regular season finale, as UNC’s stack pick-and-roll carved up Duke’s defense, Williams was on the bench for the closing portion of the game, while the Blue Devils went small with Paolo Banchero at center.
Justyn Mutts, Virginia Tech, F
Mutts is a relentless team defender who impacts this side of the floor in countless ways. Every time you watch Virginia Tech, the play of Mutts screams through the monitor: he’s everywhere on defense.
He’s not the most physically imposing player, but Mutts is rangy and an incredibly disciplined defender. Whatever Mike Young asks, Mutts tries to execute: guard the post, switch across multiple positions and close down the paint as a help-side rim protector.
Check, check, check: whatever you need.
He’s also an incredibly savvy defender. Mutts is constantly in the right place; he’s wonderful with his shows as a help defender. Plus, he’s exceptional at using his lower body, footwork and angles to make plays — seemingly out of nowhere.
This dude plays hard as hell, too. Mutts is long enough and athletic enough to cause lots of havoc; however, it’s his motor and willingness to attack that so often creates trouble for opponents.
Mutts leads Virginia Tech in defensive rebound rate (21.5 percent) and block rate (3.5 percent). He ranks second on the roster in steal rate, too: 2.5 percent.
Currently, he’s one of only two ACC players — along with Louisville’s Malik Williams — with 20 percent defensive rebound rate, 2.5 percent block rate and 2.5 percent steal rate.
Mutts is also one of the ACC’s most versatile defenders. He can cover a variety of sizes and positional archetypes, including uber-talented hybrid forwards, like Paolo Banchero.
These are the types of players that get labeled as “matchup problems for defenses. Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia is another example of this player type: forwards that are too powerful to be defended by a smaller player and too skilled to be defended by a frontcourt bully.
And yet, Mutts is right there, making life miserable. Muttsinjects a defense with the best of all worlds: size, speed and the mentality to hang in against guys that, in theory, require more than one defender to stop.
Leaky Black, North Carolina, F
Black is one of the premier defensive specialists in college basketball. A low-usage player on offense, who empties the bucket defensively in an effort to neutralize the No. 1 option scoring threat. Black is built to defend, too. As a 6-foot-8, 200-pound wing, Black has the size and lateral quickness to slide and cover 1-4 in college.
Black can sit in a stance as an intimidating one-on-one defender or as the key piece setting the point of attack in North Carolina’s Ice pick-and-roll coverages.
Black may be skinny, but he’s a strong and smart defender. He’s shown that he’s capable of guarding guys despite being at a weight disadvantage, including Duke’s Banchero.
Even when the post touches come deeper in the paint, Black can erase attempts at the rim. He’s a rangy athlete and a quick leaper.
In recent weeks, there’s been a groundswell (if you can call it that) from Hubert Davis and UNC fans to make Leaky the Defensive Player of the Year. That’s understandable; he’s their guy and he’s a very good defender.
Black can take really good offensive players out of the game, although I still buy Beekman as the ultimate lockdown perimeter defender in the ACC. He’s unmatched at the point of attack defensviely.
Beekman has a significantly better steal rate than Black, and he’s also top three in the league in Defensive BPM. Despite being six inches shorter, Beekman also posted a higher block rate than Black’s 2.4 percent.
Moreover, as good as Black is on the basketball, he can space out from time-to-time when he’s off ball.
Black has a tendency to ball watch; this allows guys to relocate into open pockets of space along the perimeter or come off a screen with room, looking to shoot.
Other times, he’s guilty of over-helping. It’s fine to be aggressive and hunt for steals, but when it comes outside the defensive scheme, and there’s no easy path towards getting back to your guy, then it’s playing with fire.
With that said, Black is an excellent wing defender — one of the best in the country. North Carolina’s defense has struggled at times this season, but take Black out of the lineup and replace him with an average wing defender and things look far worse.
Jake LaRavia, Wake Forest, F
Much of the discourse this season with LaRavia has centered on his offense. To an extent, that’s understandable: LaRavia is an industrious and skillful playmaker on that side of the floor. However, over the course of the season, I gained more and more appreciation for his work as a team defender.
LaRavia is 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds. He’s also a super technical basketball. Combine the two features — he’s big and usually in the right place — and you have a solid floor for a defender. Next, add in his ability to see the floor — similar to what he does on offense — and you have an especially disruptive as a weak-side helper.
His anticipation skills are so good and he’s excellent at reading the eyes of daring pick-and-roll passers.
If an opponent throws a soft pass in his vicinity, LaRavia will waste no time breaking on the ball and looking for transition offense.
LaRavia also possesses quick, strong hands. Opponents have to be judicious with the basketball when LaRavia is in the neighborhood. If not, there’s a decent chance Wake Forest’s go-go offense is running in the other direction for a high-percentage look.
Along with Mutts and Beekman, LaRavia is one of only three ACC players with 3.0 Defensive BPM, 2.5 percent block rate and 2.5 percent steal rate.
All-Defense, Second Team/Honorable Mention
Wendell Moore Jr., Duke, G
Similar to Leaky Black, Moore is a strong wing defender, who routinely draws the toughest perimeter assignment for Duke’s half-court defense.
Once again, Moore has created his fair of share of steals this season. The junior from Charlotte has a career steal rate of 2.4 percent.
However, Moore can simply play really good assignment defense, too. When Duke’s staff decides it wants to try to turn the water off for a certain opposing player, Moore usually gets that assignment.
Moore isn’t the longest defender, but he’s athletic and strong. With a good lower-body base, Moore can hang with a variety of A1 offensive creators, including the powerful Alondes Williams.
Kadin Shedrick, Virginia, C
During his redshirt sophomore season, Shedrick got better and better on the defensive side of the floor. Shedrick is now one of the emerging ground-coverage big men and help-side rim protectors in college hoops.
After a challenging 2020-21 season, Shedrick returned to the floor in better health this year. His improved physio made a massive difference. Shedrick showed punch at the point of attacking while hedging ball screens in Virginia’s Pack Line defense.
When pick-and-roll ball handlers reject the screen, driving away from the hedge, Shedrick will flash his ground-coverage skills — racing to the basket to contest layups or dunks, including NC State’s Dereon Seabron, another elite driver.
Slipping screens is a tactic opposing offenses have used against Virginia since Tony Bennett’s arrival. However, Shedrick he can get out on the hedge and recover to the man slipping to the basket.
Assuming Mark Williams heads to the NBA following this season, Shedrick will have the opportunity to return as the ACC’s premier frontcourt defender. (I suppose NC State’s Manny Bates could factor into this discussion, too, although his return is up in the air.)
Jordan Miller, Miami, F
Similar to Justyn Mutts, Miller is an excellent team defender. The Hurricanes were a subpar defensive unit this season, but Miller, who transferred in from George Mason, made a real impact.
As a weak-side defender, Miller was spry attacking long passes and looking for steals. Miller was one of four Miami defenders to finish the regular season with a steal rate above 3.0 percent. That’s what Miami’s defense wanted to do: offset a lack of size (8.7 percent block rate) by putting two on the ball in pick-and-roll coverages, hoping to create chaos.
Miller reliably hits his spots as a team defender. When he gets called into pick-and-roll action as the screen defender, Miller has the necessary footwork and length to trap the ball, too.
He was at his best on the back side of coverages, though. It may sound simple, but Miller just constantly hit his marks: tag the roller, rotate, weak-side stunts — whatever the situation required.
In addition to all of that, Miller was an absolute pest guarding post-entry passes.
Often, Miller was asked to guard opposing power forwards, which usually meant giving up some size. Not only would the 6-foot-7 Miller battle on the block; he’d also use his quicks and anticipation skills to his advantage.
Miller would bait opposing perimeter players into throwing a soft entry passes, then snap on the ball and earn Miami another offensive possession.
Cormac Ryan, Notre Dame, G
Ryan didn’t put up big numbers in terms of blocks or steals, but he’s a darn good perimeter defender. Some of that can be attributed to Notre Dame’s defensive system, which is more conservative. Mike Brey runs with a tight rotation; he wants to keep his guys on the floor and opponents away from the free throw line.
Once again, Notre Dame’s defense ranks inside the top 20 nationally in opponent free throw attempt rate, which is an annual tradition in South Bend, according to KenPom: 22.3 percent.
That said, when Ryan needs to make a play, he’ll hustle his way into a big-time block or steal.
More importantly, though, Ryan can check guys 1-3; while he isn’t a pure shutdown defender, the veteran wing makes opponents work for their offense.
Dallas Walton, Wake Forest, C
The blocks are likely what stand out most for Walton this season, including his game-saving rejection in overtime vs. Syracuse. Walton anchored a top-60 defense this season, while leading the team with a 5.7 percent block rate.
However, Walton’s defense was felt far more frequently with his versatility guarding ball screens.
Stuff like this doesn’t end up in a highlight reel, nor does it come through with a counting statistic in a boxscore. That doesn’t mean it isn’t critically important to a defense, though. Walton set the tone for the Demon Deacons — game in, game out.
Walton is a “whatever you need” type screener defender: hedge, show, Ice side ball screens and play close to the level of the screen in the middle.
As someone who watched from the sidelines, I think this aspect of Wake Forest’s defense — the ability to mix things up guarding pick-and-roll — was a big reason why the defense settled in as one of the better units in the ACC.
According to KenPom, the Demon Deacons finished ACC play second in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Walton’s been healthy this season and a constant presence in the lineup. Walton started all 31 games and averaged 25.3 minutes per contest, well above his career average at Colorado.
Charlie Moore, Miami, G
Moore, a veteran point guard, provided a jolt to Miami on both sides of the ball this season. During ACC play, Moore finished second the league in steal rate: 3.9 percent. (On the final day of the season, Florida State freshman Jalen Warley edged Moore out in this category.)
Trevor Keels, Duke, G
Keels, on both sides of the floor, is a ball of pressure. He provides Duke’s half-court offense with shot creation and downhill driving, which puts pressure on the defense. On the defensive side of the floor, he’s a menace at the point of attack.
While Mark Williams anchored Duke’s defense, and Wendell Moore Jr. took on tough perimeter assignments, Keels was a tone-setter for this unit with his ability to heat up the basketball.
With his size and strength, Keels has the ability to switch around and defend different position types, including Ohio State’s EJ Liddell, one of the top power forwards in the country.
When Keels pressures the ball at full volume, it forces opposing offenses to extend and get into sets later in the shot clock. By that point, things are scrambled and the possession is inherently less efficient. With Keels and Williams, Duke can bookend its defense with power.
Keels can be a dangerous off-ball defender, too. He’s quick getting into passing lanes and show good anticipation while breaking on passes.
Keels, who boasts a 2.7 percent steal rate, is one of the league’s best a turning defense into instant offense.
Dre Davis, Louisville, F
This season was pretty much a disaster for Louisville, although there were some bright spots, including the defense of Davis. While the offense still is a work-in-progress (21.6 3P%, 8.0% assist rate career), Davis is tough, rugged defender.
With his size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), Davis has the ability to guard a variety of position types; however, he’s best served matching up with some of the rangier on-ball creators in the ACC.
Davis will get in a stance and slide while guarding one-on-one or out of the pick-and-roll. He also has the timing and length to make plays when needed.
Davis saw his block (2.8 percent) and steal rates jump this season.
Jesse Edwards, Syracuse, C
During the 2021-22 season, Edwards stepped into a much larger role for Syracuse. Unfortunately, a wrist injury cut the year short for Edwards. Not only did Edwards (3.1 Defensive BPM) play more minutes this season — the 6-foo-11 center was far more productive on a per-possession/minute basis.
After blocking 2.4 shots per 40 minutes across his first two seasons with the Orange, Edwards upped that rate this year: 4.0 blocks per 40 minutes. Edwards — along with Auburn’s Walker Kessler and Marcus Bingham of Michigan State — is one of three high-major players with 11 percent block rate, 2.0 percent steal rate and 15 percent defensive rebound rate.
You’d be hard pressed to find another ACC athlete that was better at blocking 3-point attempts than Edwards. He’s long and has enough closing speed to closeout to the corner from the middle of the zone when the ball rotates around.
RayQuan Evans, Florida State, G
Unfortunately, injuries derailed a Florida State defense that, once again, had the chance to be special this season. Evans, one of the team’s key leaders, made leap during his senior season — on both sides of the floor. Evans shot it well and created offense, but the strength of his game is on defense.
During the 2021-22 season, the 6-foot-4 Evans was one of only five ACC players to finish with 3.0 percent steal rate and 2.0 percent block rate.
Jaeden Zackery, Boston College, G
Going back to the 2007-08 season, Zackery is one of only 29 ACC freshmen to post a steal rate of at least 3.0 percent.
John Butler, Florida State, F
Butler is dripping with potential on the defensive side of the floor. The lanky 7-foot-1 freshman posted a block rate of 7.5 percent. He’s capable of covering ridiculous patches of ground on defense, too. Butler needs time to develop and he’s at a great place for that work: Florida State, one of the better player-development programs in the country.