by Gus Elvin
Last season the ACC only received 4 bids to the NCAA Tournament and this year don’t expect a dramatic increase as once again there is a huge drop-off after North Carolina and Duke. In the offseason the ACC expanded adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh for the future but for now the ACC will continue to struggle in basketball as there are no tournament locks after Carolina and Duke. This season the ACC welcomes 4 new head coaches as Jim Larranga (Miami), Mark Gottfried (NC State), Brian Gregory(Georgia Tech) and Mark Turgeon(Maryland) all make their ACC coaching debuts. The conference is clearly in a transition phase but that does not mean the ACC is void of talent as teams like Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State all should contend for NCAA berths behind the aforementioned top 2. While the ACC loses players like Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Chris Singelton and Malcolm Delaney it does bring in some of the elite incoming freshmen as players like Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, James McAdoo and Dorian Finney-Smith should all become household names by midseason. The ACC has two legitimate Final Four contenders in North Carolina and Duke but a lot of question marks exist after that as teams like Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida State appear to be tournament contenders but all 3 also have notable weaknesses. To tipoff our ACC Preview we’ll examine preseason #1 North Carolina.
ACC Conference Projected Standings
1.North Carolina Tar Heels
2.Duke Blue Devils
3.Florida State Seminoles
4.Virginia Tech Hokies
7 Clemson Tigers
8. North Carolina State Wolfpack
10. Boston College Eagles
11.Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
1.) North Carolina-The Tar Heels rebounded surprisingly well last season as their young players after a slow start really took off as the Tar Heels went from a fringe Top 25 team to one of the favorites come tournament time. The Tar Heels this year will be counted on from day 1 to succeed as they appear to be the clear favorite in college basketball largely thanks to a talented trio that all chose to return to school. That trio, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson combined for an amazing 44 points and 23 rebounds last season and all could have moved on for the NBA but chose to return to school to pursue a championship. Last season after a 4-3 start Roy Williams turned the point guard duties over to freshman Kendall Marshall who averaged 6 points and 6 assists and led Carolina to a 29-8 record and a regular season ACC title. That switch was the turning point for Carolina as Marshall seemed to settle down a young Tar Heel team on his way to becoming one of the best “true point guards” in the nation. Offensively North Carolina will be led by senior Tyler Zeller who really took his game to that next level last season averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds. Zeller took his game one step farther in the NCAA Tournament emerging as a dominant post scorer averaging 26 points and 9 rebounds in 4 NCAA Tournament games while becoming the go to player for the ‘Heels. The other key offensive player will be Harrison Barnes who struggled to meet almost impossible expectations last season but finished strong with averages of 16 points and 6 boards. Barnes more than anyone appears ready for a breakout season as the sophomore and former top overall recruit has a year of experience and confidence under his belt now to go along with his unparalleled ability. Down low look for John Henson to keep improving offensively as the freakishly long forward averaged 12 points last season in addition to his amazing rebounding and block totals. Henson is an athletic specimen who originally was very raw offensively but seems to be really improving on that end as his offensive game is slowly catching up with his already NBA ready defensive play. Also expected to contribute this season are 2 McDonald’s All Americans James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston. McAdoo gives North Carolina more frontline scoring and depth while Hairston could be an explosive scorer off the bench who should help North Carolina improve their poor 3-point shooting numbers(33%). In terms of role players UNC also returns defensive stalwart Dexter Strickland and former McDonald’s All-American Reggie Bullock but received bad news when backup guard Leslie McDonald tore his ACL this offseason and is likely lost for the year. UNC will have to get used to being the hunted once again as their young players are now going to be expected to reach the Final Four and win an ACC title. I expect Harrison Barnes to have a breakout season as he should really settle in and become the player Carolina expected him to be last season as a freshman. Barnes and Zeller are legitimate All-America selections and if freshmen McAdoo and Hairston contribute there is no reason the Tar Heels won’t reach the Final Four in New Orleans. Kendall Marshall is the key as his leadership and court vision will determine jus how good Roy Williams’ Tar Heels can be this year.
2. )Duke- The bad news for Duke is that their best 3 players from last year are gone as #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving, and fellow draft picks Nolan Smith(21st Portland) and Kyle Singler(33rd Detroit) have all moved on to play professionally. Smith and Singler, 2 staples from Dukes National Championship team 2 seasons ago were both All-ACC performers and will be missed not only for their scoring and rebounding but for their tremendous leadership and heart. Duke will especially miss Smith the reigning ACC-Player of the Year who averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists during a banner senior season. Irving on the other hand missed most of last season with a foot injury but was a times the best player in college basketball but left Duke after just one injury plagued year. The good news for Duke is that they have reloaded and amazingly remain a top 10 preseason pick largely due to their incoming freshman class. Coach Krzyzewski’s recruiting class features 5 players ranked in the top 50 according to ESPN led by top 5 recruit Austin Rivers. Austin Rivers who in some publications is the top ranked recruit is the son of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and is expected to be one of Duke’s leading scorers this season. Rivers a 6-4 guard is a prolific scorer who can both shoot from 25 feet or aggressively drive the rack and finish with contact. Rivers might be the most advanced offensive player in this year’s class and his tremendous shooting range and ability to score in a variety of ways make him unstoppable at times. Duke also brings in highly touted point guard Quinn Cook from prestigious Oak Hill Academy, fundamentally sound forward Michael Gbinije and forwards Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee. The key returnees for Duke will be led by Seth Curry who last season had some big games but was mostly relegated to being a role player (9.0ppg). Curry this season along with fellow 3-point marksmen Andre Dawkins will be expected to scorer more and expect both to be up to the task. Curry is more than capable of being a go to scorer as during his freshman season at Liberty he led the Flames in scoring at over 20 points per game. Look for Curry and Dawkins, specifically Curry to increase their scoring totals on this young team as Duke must replace the scoring vacated by Smith, Irving and Singler. Besides youth and lack of experience the other key question mark with Duke is post play. Duke will really need contributions from the Plumlee trio and well as Ryan Kelly as the Blue Devils need rebounding and some occasional scoring from their interior players. Mason Plumlee I think is most likely to step up as the junior is the most athletic of the Plumlee clan and had very solid averages of 7 points and 9 rebounds as a sophomore. Duke does not return many of their go to scorers but their role players from last season and their highly touted freshmen should step up this season and have Duke right behind North Carolina in the ACC. Austin Rivers will make an immediate splash in Durham, and with Rivers, Curry and point guard Quinn Cook the Blue Devil have a dangerous trio of scorers in the backcourt. If Duke can get some solid play inside from the Plumlees and company the Blue Devils could have a very good year and could threaten to return to the Final Four even without Smith, Irving and Singler.
3.Florida State- While Duke and North Carolina received most of the attention last season in the ACC, the Seminoles of Florida State quietly had a very good season finishing 11-5 in conference and reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. This year FSU is once again the pick to finish behind Duke and Carolina but that has more to do with the weakness of the conference than who the Seminoles return. FSU loses their 2 leading scorers in Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen which is scary considering who offensively challenged the ‘Noles were with those 2 players last year. Singleton is the biggest loss as he was FSU’s best player on both ends of the floor leading the team in scoring at 13 points a game in addition to being named ACC-Defensive Player of the Year each of the last 2 seasons. Even with the early departure of Singleton, FSU returns a solid nucleus of players led by Bernard James, guards Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks and former McDonald’s All-American Michael Snaer. The issue this season for FSU like it has been in years past will be scoring. The Seminoles will once again be stout on the defensive end under Leonard Hamilton but career role players like James, Snaer, Loucks and Dulkys will have to take on more of a scoring load with someone emerging as a go to offensive option. Two players likely to breakout this season are 26 year old defensive stopper Bernard James and the former standout high school player Michael Snaer. James, an Iraq War veteran flourished late last season as the 6-10 senior played his best ball during FSU’s tournament run averaging 11 points, 10 rebounds and almost 4 blocks over the 3 games. Snaer on the other hand is FSU’s leading returning scorer at just under 9 points a game but has not had the offensive impact expected of him during his first 2 seasons. Now that Singleton is gone, expect Snaer to pick up some of the scoring slack and become that go to scorer FSU envisioned when they recruited him. FSU has a very strong frontline with Bernard James, Xavier Gibson, Terrence Shannon and Okaro White so expect FSU to rank among the nation’s leaders in blocked shots and rebounding margin, 2 statistics that will be key to their success this season. FSU will look for sound guard play from Dulkys, Loucks and sophomore speedster Ian Miller but most of FSU’s damage this season will be done down on the block and on the offensive glass. FSU will also welcome offensive contributions from highly touted freshman Antwan Space and former Arkansas transfer Jeff Peterson who is eligible to play immediately because he has already graduated. Leonard Hamilton’s squad will have to make up for the loss of All-ACC performer Chris Singleton but with tremendous front court depth and a pair of senior guards expect the Seminoles to reach the Big Dance for the 4th consecutive season.
4.) Virginia Tech-The Hokies once again left their fate up to the NCAA Selection Committee last season and once again they were left out of the NCAA field for the 4th time in 5 years. This year Seth Greenberg will have to fill the void left by the graduation of 2 tremendous seniors Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney. Delaney, was the Hokies’ leading scorer the past 3 seasons and finished his career as #3 scorer in school history. Allen on the other hand had a solid 4 year career, climaxing in a senior year where he took his game to the next level averaging a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. This year Virginia Tech will count on a pair of returning guards as the Hokies’ aspirations will hinge largely on the shoulders of Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson. Hudson who missed all but 9 games last year with a foot injury is back healthy and Seth Greenberg hopes he can duplicate his junior season of 2009 in which he averaged 15 points a game. Hudson will be paired with Erick Green a 6-4 guard who emerged last season in the absence of Hudson and averaged 11 points and 3 assists last year alongside Malcolm Delaney. This year the 2 should combine to form one of the better backcourts in the ACC and if the Hokies can get some consistent post play, Virginia Tech could finally crack the NCAA field even without the star power of players like Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. The other key player this season will be highly touted freshman Dorian Finney-Smith a forward who ESPN ranks as the 18th best prospect in the 2011 freshmen class. Dorian Finney Smith is a smooth wing who can attack the rim, rebound on the offensive glass and shoot from beyond the 3-point arc and instantly will be counted on for scoring as a freshman. Other expected contributors this year will Victor Davila(7.4ppg, 5rpg) and forward J.T Thompson who missed last season but averaged 7 points and 5 boards as a junior in 2009-10. Seth Greenberg will also look to a trio of incoming freshmen from the Hargrave Military Academy for contributions. The trio of C.J. Barksdale, Robert Brown and Marquis Rankin will all be counted on for minutes off the bench as Virginia lacks much returning depth and could use some production from their freshmen. Even after losing their best 2 players expect Virginia Tech to compete during a down year for the ACC. The Hokies are not as good as last year but with a veteran backcourt and some promising young freshmen, the Hokies should finally be primed for an NCAA Tournament berth under Seth Greenberg something they have not been able to achieve since 2007.
5.) Miami- After only 1 NCAA tournament appearance in 7 seasons under Frank Haith, Miami decided to bring in a proven head coach with tournament experience. That coach Jim Larranaga formerly of George Mason has “plenty” of experience, 27 years of head coaching experience to be exact. Larranaga left a good situation at George Mason but walks into another good one as the Miami Hurricanes return their top 3 scorers led by guards Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. Scott and Grant both originally from New York are tough minded guards who can both score and pass effectively. This season Larranaga will try to up the defensive tempo which should feed into the games of Grant and Scott who both like to get out and run in transition. The other key returnee for the ‘Canes is Reggie Johnson an immovable force on the offensive end who was only slowed down last season by foul trouble. Miami and Johnson though suffered a tough break this summer as Johnson who averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds last year tore his meniscus in his knee and will be out until ACC play starts in January. Losing Johnson for half the season is a tough blow to the new look ‘Canes but don’t write off Miami just yet as the Hurricanes still have one of the best backcourts in the ACC and shoot the 3-pointer as well as anyone in the conference at 38 percent. Outside of Grant and Scott, Miami returns 3 point gunners Rion Brown and Garrius Adams, defensive center Julian Gamble and 6-7 wing DeQuan Jones. This season it will be up to Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott to take the Hurricanes to the next level especially without Reggie Johnson, as the two New York City guards will be counted on to provide the bulk of the scoring for the ‘Canes. Jim larranaga inherits a pretty decent situation as he walks into a program with 2 veteran guards, an established post player and some capabale outside shooters so expect the ‘Canes to contend for an NCAA berth. If Miami can weather the storm in non-conference play without Reggie Johnson the Hurricanes could be in position to earn an NCAA berth in an Atlantic Coast Conference that is way down this season. Larranaga should do well during year 1 in Coral Gables but his longterm success will hinge on how he is able to recruit, specifically in the talent rich state of Florida.
6.) Virginia- This is not a misprint. I’m picking the Cavaliers to finish in the top half of the ACC this season because of strong core of returning players and not to harp on it but a very weak conference. Tony Bennett has made strides in his first 2 years in Charlottesville but this season Bennett and UVA fans will be looking for a lot more than a .500 season. The Cavaliers will be led by forward Mike Scott who was averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds last season before going down with an ankle injury after 10 games. Scott is back for a 5th season and I expect the physical forward to have a huge season and make a name for himself nationally on an underrated UVA team. Scott who averaged 12 and 7 as a junior is one of the best rebounders in the country at his height and will be a strong contender for ALL-ACC honors this season. The Cavaliers in all return 6 of their top 7 scorers from last year and should be in the conversation for post season play with players like Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski. Zeglinski headlines a trio of formidable outside shooters as Zeglinski (8ppg), Joe Harris (10.4ppg) and K.T. Harrell (8ppg) all shot better than 39 percent from 3- point range last season. This statistic will be key to Virginia’s success as the Cavaliers were one of the better 3 –point shooting teams in the ACC and that will need to continue if the Cavs want to improve on last years’ 17 win campaign. Leading assist man Jontel Evans(3.5apg) also returns and pairs with Zeglinski to form a solid veteran backcourt for Tony Bennett. Although UVA relies on the 3-point shot they will need to improve as a rebounding team as they ranked 11th last year in the ACC but should improve with a healthy Scott and the return of 7 foot center Assane Sene. Virginia will also receive a boost from 2 incoming freshmen Malcolm Brogdon and Paul Jesperson. Brogdon is expected to be an immediate contributor as he is a sharp shooter from the 2 guard spot but also has recently improved his game as a penetrator Jesperson is also a good outside shooter but at 6-7 he can also play the wing effectively and draw larger defenders away from the basket. The Cavaliers should be better this season and expect them to finish in the top half of the ACC behind strong play from one of the most underrated players in the country Mike Scott and a group of sharp shooters led by Sammy Zeglinski, K.T. Harrell and the freshman Malcolm Brogdon. UVA will contend in the ACC and could be in the ballpark for an NCAA berth this year but I don’t think they have enough just yet to reach the NCAA’S but the NIT is definitely attainable for Bennett and the Wahoos.
7.) Clemson- Last season Clemson surprised many prognosticators by reaching the NCAA Tournament under 1st year coach Brad Brownell. If Clemson is able to repeat that feat this season it will be just as surprising as the Tigers lose their top 2 scorers to graduation as point guard DeMontez Stitt (14.5ppg, 3.3apg) and center Jerai Grant (12.4ppg, 6.7rpg) both have expended their eligibility. These 2 players put up great numbers last season but their leadership and experience will be missed just as much as their scoring and rebounding. Clemson’s leading returning scorer this season is Andre Young a 5-9 guard, who shot just under 40% last season from 3-point range. Also returning for Clemson are returning starters Tanner Smith (8ppg), Devin Booker (8ppg, 5.5rpg) and former McDonald’s All-American Milton Jennings. Young will be counted on to lead the way in terms of scoring this year but the Tigers’ will also need key contributions from post players Booker and Jennings. Jennings and Booker are both very talented and physically gifted but so far the 2 have been inconsistent and disappointing during the college careers. This season the 2 will see major minutes and both will have an opportunity to erase the bust labels that have been associated with their names during their first 2 seasons of college ball. I would look for both to make major strides this year as the 2 will be counted on for scoring in support of Andre Young. Although Clemson loses Stitt and Grant they do return 3 starters and have a solid nucleus for 2nd year coach Brad Brownell to build on down in Tiger country. Also at Brownell’s disposal will be senior reserve Bryan Narcisse and incoming freshman Bernard Sullivan. Sullivan an effective post scorer adds to the depth of Clemson’s frontline which should be among the best in the ACC as long as Booker and Jennings progress like expected. Backcourt depth will be a major question mark as Young is not a true point guard and Clemson’s only other point guards are true freshmen. Young will be the Tigers’ primary ballhandler but in order to get him open 3-point shots look for either Daniel Sapp or Rod Hall to emerge as point guard option for the Tigers. The Tigers return a solid core of players and if they can get the most out of players like Milton Jennings, Devin Booker and Bryan Narcisse, Clemson could be in contention for a NCAA bubble berth with teams like Miami and Virginia Tech. Brad Brownell already has inked some highly touted recruits for 2012 and with a solid young core Brownell could be building something special for years to come in Clemson.
8.) North Carolina State- After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament in 5 seasons under Sidney Lowe, North Carolina State brass looked to hire a coach with a tournament pedigree to get them back to the Big Dance. N.C. State gets that in new coach Mark Gottfried formerly of Alabama and Murray State. Gottfried has led his teams to the postseason in 10 of his 12 full seasons as a head coach including 7 NCAA Tournament appearances. Gottfried inherits a team that won 15 games last season but has a lot more talent than their win total would indicate. That talent starts with C.J. Leslie the teams’ leading returning scorer and rebounder who averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds last year as a freshman. Leslie a former McDonald’s All-American has unlimited potential but his attitude and selfishness at times got in the way last season and hurt not only his own game but his team. This year Leslie will have to adjust to a new coaching staff but he should remain the top offensive option for the Wolfpack and could have a big year if he focuses on basketball. N.C. State will also look to guards Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown for contributions as Wood is the teams’ best outside shooter at 42 percent, while Brown a sophomore should take over as the fulltime starting point guard now that Javier Gonzalez has graduated and Ryan Harrow has transferred to Kentucky. Wood who averaged 10 points a game last season will be counted on for more scoring this year as N.C. State tries to make up for the scoring vacated by Tracy Smith and Ryan Harrow. Also expected to see major minutes this season for North Carolina State are junior frontline players Richard Howell and Jordan Vandenberg. One impact freshman to keep an eye on is Tyler Harris the brother of Milwaukee Buck 1st round pick and former Tennessee forward Tobias Harris. Harris a 6-8 lefty wing is a threat both in the lane and from the perimeter and is a product of basketball factory St. Benedicts Prep in New Jersey. The Wolfpack will be in a rebuilding phase this season but with C.J. Leslie and sharpshooter Scott Wood, North Carolina State will be in many of their games this season. Mark Gottfried is a safe selection as head coach as he is a proven winner but this year I see N.C. State sitting around the .500 plateau for most of this season. C.J. Leslie could have a big season individually but North Carolina State lacks a multitude of talent around him and will miss the NCAA’s for the 6th consecutive season.
9.) Maryland- A new era begins in College Park as legendary coach Gary Williams retired after 22 seasons at Maryland in which he led the Terps to 461 wins, 14 NCAA Appearances, 2 Final Fours and the National Championship in 2001-2002. In steps Mark Turgeon who at the relatively young age of 46 has already tallied 250 head coaching wins in stops at Jacksonville State, Wichita State and Texas A&M. Unfortunately for Turgeon he steps into a traditional powerhouse that has its weakest team on paper in recent memory. The Terps return very little from last years’ team that underperformed to the tune of 19 wins and a 7-9 conference record. Gone are Jordan Williams (16.9ppg, 11.8rpg), Dino Gregory (9.1ppg 5.8rpg), Cliff Tucker (9.6ppg) and Adrian Bowie(8.8ppg, 3.5apg) leaving Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley as the only key returning contributors. Stoglin, the Terrapins 2nd leading scorer and assist man last season with averages of 11 points and 3 assists is the key returnee for new head coach Turgeon. Mosley on the other hand is a very sound defender and role player (8ppg) but will be counted on to be a secondary scorer this year on a team that returns very little in terms of scoring or experience. Stoglin just a sophomore will be one of the better guards In the ACC this season but Maryland has very little around him which will make it tough for the Terps to compete for a berth in postseason play. Another returning player expected to step up this year will be sophomore Pe’Shon Howard who showed flashes as both a scorer and a playmaker during his first season in College Park. Another player to watch will be incoming freshman Nick Faust. Faust who is ranked in the top 50 incoming freshmen by almost every recruiting service is a 6-6 guard who brings a polished offensive game to Maryland. Faust is a very athletic wing type player who can go the rim, pull up from mid- range or knock down the 3-point shot over his defender due to his length. Look for the freshman to be one of the Terrapins top scorers this year as Faust should be a strong candidate for the All-ACC Freshman team and could be a very good player down the road if he hangs around in College Park. In the paint Maryland will rely on players like James Padgett and Mychal Parker to make major strides this year to make up for the loss of a double-double machine Jordan Williams. Those 2 players averaged only a combined 5 points and 3 rebounds last season numbers Maryland will need to rise considerably if they want to be competitive in games in the ACC. Maryland will not be the most talented team in the ACC with only 8 or 9 scholarship players but they will take on the tough defensive mindset of their head coach, which will keep them competitive and moving in the right direction for the future. Also in the mix this season will be Haukur Palsson a 6-6 forward originally from Iceland who last season saw increased minutes down the stretch and should build on that experience early this season and compete for a starting job. Although this year no one will “Fear the Turtle”, Maryland should install a tough defensive system in an attempt to claw out victories against more talented opponents. The ACC should get their shots in now at Maryland because I don’t expect the Terrapins to be down for long as Turgeon has already signed 3 high profile recruits for the class of 2012 and his 97-40 record at Texas A&M clearly exhibit the man can flat out coach.
10.) Boston College- After inheriting a veteran laden team last season replacing Al Skinner, Steve Donahue is forced to start from scratch this year in his 2nd season at Boston College. The Eagles lose their top 5 scorers from last year and their leading returning scorer Danny Rubin, averaged just 4 points a game last season. With very little returning this year Donahue will earn his pay check as he will look for role players and a series of freshmen to rise up with the departures of players like Reggie Jackson and Joe Trapani. Two players that will be expected to slide into larger roles will be leading returning scorer Danny Rubin and expected starting point guard Gabirel Moton. Moton should replace Biko Paris at point guard while Rubin should become the Eagles best shooter and starting 2 guard in his sophomore season. Although the Eagles will rely heavily on their sophomore backcourt, freshman Ryan Anderson may be the most important player for Boston College this year. The 6-8 Anderson is the highest rated recruit Boston College has brought in since Reggie Jackson and should get an immediate opportunity to impress on a team with 11 newcomers and 9 freshmen. Anderson the 2011 California Gatorade High School Player of the Year, is a solid face up forward who has very good shooting touch even extending out to 3-point range and also is a capable rebounder and a good passer. Anderson will be expected to play major minutes and provide big production and will most likely be a starter from day 1 in Chestnut Hill. Another newcomer who is expected to step right in and start is Matt Humphrey a transfer from the University of Oregon who in 2 seasons averaged 5 points a game for the Ducks. Humphrey when he was recruited was expected to be a big time scorer both in transition and behind the 3-point line and a fresh start at Boston College could be just what Humphrey needs to jump start his career. BC will definitely look for major contributions from Humphrey and Anderson but they are not the only newcomers who will be counted on. Steve Donahue also brings in 6 other freshmen in addition to Anderson, many of them not elite level recruits but solid players who should fit nicely into Donahue’s system. BC brings in 2 bigmen in Dennis Clifford and K.C. Caudill. Clifford is a very skilled shooter at 7-0 who fits Donahue’s fast pace system while Caudill is more of a banger who can clean up on the offensive glass and finish around the rim. In terms of guards BC very quietly brings in a very good duo of freshmen from California in Jordan Daniels and Lonnie Jackson. Jordan Daniels is a 5-8 speedster, who was not highly recruited because of height but has all the point guard skills to be a good 4 year player and should gain valuable experience this year as a freshman. Jackson on the other hand is a Steve Donahue player as he is a prolific outside shooter who will help keep BC among the best outside shooting teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Another freshman to watch will be Eddie Odio who at 6-6 has a solid shooting touch and should continue to improve his range with more experience. Boston College will go through a tough rebuilding year but their underrated recruiting class and coach Steve Donahue’s system will help the Eagles build toward a brighter future. The Eagles lose 95 percent of their scoring and rebounding and 88 percent of the teams assists but a plethora of exciting newcomers and a few young retuning guards will help BC avoid the basement of the ACC. Steve Donahue formerly of Cornell has never been able to grab the top recruits but he does know how to recruit the right players for his system and I think this class quietly will go down as one of the better ones in recent years at Boston College. BC on paper doesn’t jump out at you but the players in place fit Donahue’s 3-point offense well and the Eagles will once again live and die with the 3 this season.
11.) Georgia Tech- As I mentioned earlier the ACC at the bottom is very weak as Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech all have a number of glaring weaknesesses and I personally would be shocked if any of these schools won more than 5 conference games this season. Georgia Tech gets the nod at #11 in the ACC because of they return the best player of the bottom 2 schools in Glen Rice Jr. Tech also brings in a new coach in Brian Gregory and brings in the most highly touted freshman of the 3 schools. Rice Jr. will be the key for the Yellow Jackets this season as they will rely heavily on the junior guard for scoring now that Iman Shumpert has moved onto the NBA. Rice Jr. had an a solid sophomore season with averages of 12 points, almost 6 rebounds and 2.5 assists but his shooting was inconsistent as he shot only 42 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3 signs he forced things and sometimes had poor shot selection. Rice Jr. will evolve into the primary option this year for Brian Gregory but outside of him little returns for the Jackets. Also expected to have an impact this season will be guards Mfon Udofia and Jason Morris who combined for 13 points last season. This year Udofia and Morris will be expected to score more often as without Shumpert and Brian Oliver the Jackets will try to piece together 28 points they lost from last season. Georgia Tech will also look for early contributions from their lone freshman Julian Royal, an ESPNU Top 100 recruit out of the state of Georgia. Royal is a 6-8 power forward who is very skilled inside and also possesses a decent mid-range offensive game but must work on his conditioning and defensive effort to fulfill his potential. With very little returning in the frontcourt expect Royal to compete for a starting position with sophomore Kammeon Holsey who averaged 14 minutes a game last season. Brian Gregory finally has his “primetime coaching gig” at Georgia Tech but he walks into a far from desirable situation in year 1. Gregory can coach and his ability to recruit which he showed at Dayton should help him to continue to grab the top players in the state of Georgia like his predecessor Paul Hewitt was able to do. The Yellow Jackets will not be playing in the postseason this season but it’s only fair to give Brian Gregory some time before we start pointing fingers and dishing out coaching grades.
12.) Wake Forest- Jeff Bzdelik is back for his 2nd season in the ACC and the former Air Force and Colorado coach hopes his young team will continue to progress from last seasons’ 8 win campaign. Wake Forest was the youngest team in the conference last season and this year their players are a year older and a year wiser which Bzdelik hopes translates into more victories. The bad news for Wake is that 3 players who were expect to make major contributions this season have left the team for conduct and off the court issues as Ty Walker, Melvin Tabb and the teams 2nd leading scorer J.T. Terrell have all been suspended or have left the team. The key returnee for the Demon Deacons is sophomore Travis McKie who had a banner freshman season leading Wake Forest in scoring at 13 points per game and rebounding at 8 boards per game. McKie is a bully down low in terms of rebounding and when he gets the ball in good positions he finishes with the best of them in the ACC, shooting 50 percent from the field during his freshman season. Also returning for Wake Forest is junior guard C.J. Harris who averaged 10 points and 3.5 assists last year but needs to improve his turnover to assist ratio which was just 1-1. The key loss is Terrell, who although sometimes selfish and erratic, was a capable scorer who would have helped this team greatly as a sophomore. With Harris and Terrell the Deacons would have had a very productive backcourt but without him Wake Forest will have to once again find a shooting guard. One option at guard will be freshman Chase Fischer who is a knock down outside shooter but is very one dimensional at this point. Fischer may help this team some offensively this year but his all-around game needs a lot of work before he can be counted on to be anything but a catch and shoot guy. Another freshman to watch is Anthony Fields a tough point guard who made very good decisions as a high school point guard and could move to the point and allow Harris to be more of a scorer off the ball. In terms of post players Wake will look to Carson Derosiers and Nikita Mescheriakov, Mescheriakov is a skilled bigman who played sparingly during first 2 seasons at Georgetown. Wake Forest will be hurt this season by their 3 unexpected departures but Travis McKie is a really good player poised for a big season individually. Wake Forest is a program that is still way off at this point but Bzdelik has a big recruiting class on tap for 2012 and if the Demon Deacons can continue to progress next year they could once again become relevant.
ACC Preseason Accolades
G-Malcolm Grant, Miami
G-Austin Rivers, Duke
F-Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
F-Mike Scott, Virginia
C-Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
G- Terrell Stoglin, Maryland
G-Seth Curry, Duke
F-Michael Snaer, Florida State
F- C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
C- John Henson, North Carolina
Player of the Year-Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Last year Harrison Barnes became the first freshman to be selected as an AP Preseason All-American and Barnes frankly struggled to live up to the gaudy and in reality unfair hype. No he wasn’t an All-American but Barnes had a very good freshman season averaging 15.7 ppg and 5.8 rpg, helping his team to an Elite 8 appearance. Barnes who could have gone to the NBA is back this year and expect him to have a breakout season now that he has a year of experience under his belt to go along with his all-world ability. Barnes is a special talent and in his 2nd year in Chapel Hill look for the 6-8 forward to build off a strong finish last year and emerge as a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate. North Carolina is once again the team to beat and with Harrison Barnes on their side, there is no guarantee they will be beat this season. Harrison Barnes may not have lived up to the unprecedented hype he garnered as a freshman but this year Barnes will prove he is every bit as good as advertised and help lead North Carolina deep into March.
Also Considered: Tyler Zeller-North Carolina, Austin Rivers-Duke, Malcolm Grant-Miami, Bernard James-Florida State
Freshman of the Year-Austin Rivers, Duke
This year the ACC is a young conference with a lot of impact freshmen but 1 freshman will stand above the rest and that is Austin Rivers. Rivers, may just be the best freshman in all of the land and his all-around offensive game and ability will be put to use from day 1 in Durham. The Blue Devils will be a very young team and on that team expect Rivers to emerge as the offensive star as he possesses tremendous shooting range, dribbling ability and great finishing ability inside. Don’t expect Rivers to blend in this season as this freshman will become a household name very early in his first season of college basketball. Duke will need someone to step up without Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving and the freshman Rivers has the skills and the confidence to lead the Blue Devils at the tender age of 19. Duke will rely on young Rivers to put up huge numbers if they want to contend with Carolina in the ACC and the Naismith Prep Player of the Year should be more than up to the task. Coach K doesn’t get this excited about freshmen often so you know Rivers is the real deal.
Also Considered: Dorian Finney-Smith-Virginia Tech, James McAdoo-North Carolina, Malcolm Brogdon-Virginia, Antwan Space-Florida State.
Coach of the Year-Tony Bennett, Virginia
This was a tough one as there are a number of coaches who will have tough jobs this year in the ACC but Tony Bennett of Virginia sticks out when you look at how his program has gradually improved since the 10 win team he inherited 3 seasons ago. Bennett finally has a competitive roster and his team looks like they can contend for at least the NIT if not the NCAA’s which would be something when you consider where this program was just 3 years ago. UVA will sneak up on some people this year and a top 5 finish from the Cavs would merit some recognition for Bennett who has done a great job with this team. Bennett gets the most out of his players and that will be rewarded this season as the Cavs should qualify for some form of postseason play. Lookout for Miek Scott and the Cavs as Virginia will no longer be the whipping boy of the ACC.
Also Considered: Mark Turgeon-Maryland, Seth Greenberg-Virginia Tech, Jim Larranaga-Miami, Leonard Hamilton-Florida State.
Most Improved Player-Michael Snaer, Florida State
Most times when you think of Most Improved Players you don’t think of top recruits or heralded high school players but with Michael Snaer both labels fit. Snaer was a McDonald’s All-American 3 years ago and after 2 so-so offensive seasons will be called upon to lead FSU on the offensive end as a junior. FSU’s leading scorer and best player Chris Singleton is gone and that leaves Snaer(8.8ppg) as the teams’ leading returning scorer. Snaer who has struggled offensively in his first 2 seasons has the ability to score as he was the 2009 California Gatorade Player of the Year and led Rancho Verde High in scoring at over 28 points per contest. This season is the breakout for Snaer as he will finally be the primary option and if can find that scoring touch he exhibited in high school the sky is limit for him and the rest of the ‘Noles. Look for Snaer to dwarf his numbers of 9 points and 3 rebounds and also to shoot a better percentage as he elevates from role player to star during his junior season.
Also Considered: Bernard James-Florida State, Milton Jennings-Clemson, Seth Curry-Duke, Sean Mosley-Marland
Best Game: February 8th Duke at North Carolina/ March 3rd North Carolina at Duke
Duke vs. North Carolina need I say more. Seriously a no brainer as the biggest rivalry in college basketball enters another year with both teams ranked in the top 10. North Carolina and Duke is always worth the price of admission and when the teams are this good which they have been a lot recently it even adds to the rivalry and the spectacle that is the battle for Tobacco Road. This game will have more than enough star power as Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall take on a young Duke team with Seth Curry and freshmen phenoms Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook. With both teams stacked with future NBA Lottery picks grab some popcorn and enjoy the show. The Zeller vs. Plumlee family rivalry is also an interesting side story not that this rivalry needed any more of those.
Also Considered: None.