Quick, agile, nimble, and crafty, all adjectives commonly associated with your typical house cat. Those qualities are also on display when you watch a different kind of cat, North Carolina State’s electric point guard Cat Barber. Barber’s standout performance this season has propelled him into the national spotlight and the forefront of ACC Player of the Year consideration.
Following last year’s run to the Sweet Sixteen N.C. State lost its two leading scorers, Ralston Turner to graduation and Trevor Lacy declaring for the NBA draft. Their departures created an offensive void that somebody would have to fill.
Barber has seized the opportunity, dramatically increasing his scoring output. He currently leads the ACC in points per game averaging 24.1 a contest, nearly double the 12.1 a game he averaged last season. Amazingly, he’s done so without sacrificing any efficiency either. Despite a heavy increase in shot volume, his field goal percentage has remained steady at a healthy 44 percent from the field.
Barber’s game has always been predicated on innate speed and quickness. His blistering pace wreaks havoc in transition, leaving hapless defenses scrambling to catch up. In the half-court game, he uses a lighting quick first step to blow past defenders and into the paint almost at will. To complement his blinding speed, Barber boasts a vast array of savvy finishing moves around the hoop. Utilizing creative pivots, step backs, and unorthodox release point’s Barber keeps his opponents off kilter. Certainly not afraid of a little contact, he also leads the ACC in free throw makes and attempts.
During his offseason preparation Barber honed in on improving his sometimes shaky jump shot. His scoring boost this season has undoubtedly been aided by a silkier shooting stroke.
“I worked tremendously hard in the offseason you know with my shot,” said Barber on coach Mark Gottfried’s radio show last week, “My decision making, shot selection, and you know just being a leader on the court getting teammates involved. I think I do a good job at that now. I feel like it’s paying off.”
The progress by Barber as a marksman has made him even deadlier on the offensive end. He’s already made more three-pointers than he did all of last season. His free throw percentage a robust 86 percent is also up from 73 percent a year ago. Frightened of getting burned off the drive, defenses sagged off Barber and ducked under ball screens last season, daring him to shoot the ball. Thanks to a more reliable jumper defenders no longer have that luxury.
Despite playing for a team that ranks near the bottom of the ACC standings, Barber’s sensational play hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s drawn especially high praise from a couple of College Basketball coaching legends.
“Cat Barber, if he’s not the best premier backcourt player in college basketball, he’s one of the top three,” noted Louisville coach Rick Pitino, “He’s improved his shot immensely”.
Hall of Famer and Duke coaching icon Mike Krzyzewski has spoken extremely glowingly of Cat Barber as well.
“Don’t judge just how good a guy is by the record of his team because they’re close to winning five more games, but he gives them a chance to win every game,” said Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, “He’s the toughest out in the league.”
Following Duke’s 88-80 victory over NC State last week, Krzyzewski had an extended conversation with Barber, commending him on his game and competitiveness. Coaches of Pitino’s and Krzyzewski’s ilk don’t hand out compliments like that to just anybody.
Barber has taken his game to new heights of late. Averaging 30 points per game over his last seven appearances, Barber has simply been on fire. In Saturday’s 99-88 victory over Wake Forest Barber carried the Wolfpack to the win, piling in a career-high 38 points. He made 10 of his 20 shots from the field and got to the free throw line an unbelievable 20 times, converting on 17 of them. It appears Cat Barber’s game may be reaching even loftier heights.
College basketball fans should enjoy Barber while they can. A probable first round pick in this year’s NBA draft, Barber will likely forgo his senior season and jump to the professional ranks. For now, the man his mother nicknamed, “Big Cat,” stands center stage, leading the charge as alpha dog of NC State’s Wolfpack.