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Cat Barber is NC State's one-man army for every minute of every game

The Wolfpack's junior point guard has put up incredible numbers on a mediocre team in America's toughest conference. And he's done it by never coming off the floor.

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The 'complete game' is supposed to be a stat exclusive to baseball, a measure of an unrelenting effectiveness and a tireless durability in equal parts. Decades ago, the complete game wasn't only a barometer of dominance, it was a badge of honor top pitchers expected to wear every time they took the mound. Times have changed: last season, no one threw more than four complete games, which equates to about 12 percent of a season's worth of starts.

No one tracks complete games in basketball, but Cat Barber is presenting a compelling argument that maybe someone should. The NC State point guard has started and finished 13 games without a breather this season, a number that includes a 45-minute game in an overtime loss to Virginia Tech and does not include a 43-minute game in an overtime win against LSU. That means Cat Barber has played every minute of every game for 48 percent of NC State's season.

To put it another way: Barber has played 96 percent of NC State's available minutes this year, second in the country behind only Yonel Brown of Kennesaw State. It's not especially a point of pride for Barber, and there is no hidden motive behind it. Barber doesn't come off the floor because if he did, the Wolfpack would be in major trouble.

"I don't go into the game thinking I'm gonna play the whole game," Barber told SB Nation. "I just keep playing and I don't get tired, so coach keeps me in games."

It's not just that Barber is playing as much as anyone in the country: he's also essentially playing as well as anyone in the country, too. Oklahoma's Buddy Hield is the frontrunner for every player of the year award with eight 30-point scoring outbursts this season. Barber has scored 30 or more seven times, and he's done it while posting more than twice as many assists as Hield.

It's even more impressive when you consider opposing defenses have been keyed in on Barber all season, knowing full well NC State doesn't have many other weapons. The Wolfpack are just 14-13 this year, and 4-10 in the ACC. After four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and a Sweet 16 appearance last year that included a victory over top-seeded Villanova, a miracle run through the ACC Tournament is the only way NC State will be able to extend its season.

The unexpected loss of Trevor Lacey, last season's leading scorer, and big man Kyle Washington were simply too much to overcome. It's forced Barber into being something of a one-man army this season. Perhaps that's the role he was always born to play.

Barber grew up in Hampton, Virginia, the same town Allen Iverson hailed from. Barber started hearing Iverson comps as early as he can remember, and it isn't hard to see why: both are smaller, ultra fast lead guards defined by their ability to get to the basket at will.

Barber has always been viewed as a show-stopper. He led Hampton High to a state title as a junior, was named a McDonald's All-American as a senior and made some starts as a freshman with the Wolfpack on a team led by T.J. Warren.

What he's doing this season amounts to a star talent coming full circle due to circumstances both in and out of his control. After averaging 12.1 points per game as a sophomore, Barber is leading the ACC in scoring by averaging 23.1 points per game this year.

"I could always do this," Barber said. "My confidence just got back to where it was in high school. My confidence got me back to what I'm used to doing."

Barber isn't wrong: he's become one of the best players in college basketball this year largely by playing the way he's always played. There might not be a faster guard in the country, and he's been relentless in getting to the hoop all season. He's doubled his free throw attempts per game as a junior, jumping from 4.3 to 8.6. As an 86.6 foul shooter, he also rarely misses when he gets to the charity stripe.

But there is something noticeably different about Barber's game this year, and it's a testament to how hard he's worked. The three-point shot has long been considered the one thing holding Barber back. This year, he's become a much more willing outside shooter, and he's turned into a pretty good one, too.

Barber is hitting 39.3 percent of his threes in ACC play, and has knocked down 36 percent of his triples (on 3.4 attempts per game) on the year. He's already hit more threes in ACC play this season (33) than he did in his first two years combined.

Barber isn't hesitant to shoot from beyond the arc this season, whether it's off the dribble or from the catch-and-shoot. And that's helped open up the rest of his incredible dribble drive game.

It's an open secret that this is likely Barber's last year of college ball. He had a daughter born around this time last season, and NC State has already recruited his replacement in 5-star point guard Dennis Smith. Barber has always played with a sense of urgency, but that trait has become even more pronounced this season in part because of his newfound responsibility as a parent.

"It opened my eyes and let me know I'm not just playing for myself," Barber said. "I'm playing for her."

Barber's time in college basketball is running out, but what he's done deserves to be appreciated. He believes he should win ACC Player of the Year despite his team's struggles, and he's made a convincing argument for that award all season.

There might not be another player in the country who gives his team as much as Barber does, and he's done it the only way he knows how: by going all-out for 40 minutes (and maybe more) every night.