Note From The Editors: With NCAA basketball starting up, we're going to give you previews of the major conferences, as well as a run-down of mid-majors to look out for. We know the season has already started, but the "big" games and the conference play hasn't started yet, so now is the time for previews. Up now is the ACC courtesy of phillydeac4life. Enjoy.
Year in and year out, the ACC is the most competitive conference in College Basketball. It is certainly the most historic conference with the teams of North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, and Wake Forest - otherwise known as Tobacco Road. Let’s take a look at what could happen this year in the ACC.
In my opinion, North Carolina was the best team in the country last season. But the NCAA Tournament is not designed so that the best team wins, it's designed for the enjoyment of the fans, and UNC ended up going home a bit early. Still, it's not like UNC is the type of program that has to wait years between national title chances (like Memphis, for example). So, will the Tar Heels be back as a title contender next season? That's going to depend on a few things. UNC's roster was a bit odd last season in the makeup of its classes. Because Roy Williams is able to bring in so many good players at a time, he can't fit them all on his roster, and he basically took a year off of bringing in new kids. Last year's team was made up almost exclusively of juniors and sophomores. The only senior or freshman who got over 6 minutes per game of playing time was Quentin Thomas, a senior that averaged about 16 minutes per game.. Honestly, at least four different UNC players could have left to go pro last year, but they have all stayed to dominate the ACC and make a run for a National Title. Three of them achieved All ACC Honors, Hansbrough 1st Team, Ellington 2nd Team, Lawson Honorable Mention, and Ginyard achieved 1st team ACC All Defensive. That means another season of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green and more running up and down the court embarrassing teams at times. Look for a breakout season by junior Deon Thompson. Also, UNC has brought in another top ranked recruiting class coming in, led by Ed Davis the #15 overall rated recruit in the country . However, Tyler Zeller the #34 ranked overall High School player last year, broke his wrist in the 1st game of the season, and will miss the entire year. Zeller was supposed to take up Hansbrough’s spot until he was healthy. On the bright side, Hansbrough is now back. Furthermore, Ginyard has a stress fracture in is foot. It is believed that Ginyard will be ready when ACC Division play starts in early January. Personally, I do not believe the injuries will affect UNC because of the depth of their talent, and the main goal of the season does not start until March. There is not one weakness one this team. The only team that can beat UNC, is UNC. In other words, they'll definitely the front runner to win the ACC this season..
So what about the Dukies? First Team All ACC player and ACC All Defensive Team (the only player in the ACC to achieve both honors) DeMarcus Nelson graduates, and Taylor King has transferred out, but everybody else is expected to return. Duke also solves one weakness in recruit Elliot Williams (Rivals: 16, Scout: 4 SG), who is a very quick attacking guard who can create his own shot at will. Duke probably has the best set of three point shooters in the nation (Greg Palus, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith), but they really need an elite creator to open up more shots. But their Achilles heel last season was no secret, size. And I don't see any solution on the horizon. The recruiting class lacks any serious size, and there is no extra size waiting on the bench. The one possibility that I see is Brian Zoubek. The 7'1" Zoubek was very highly touted when he came out of high school, and seems to be the ideal solution to Duke's problems. But for whatever reason, Coach K just is not big on the guy. As a sophomore he got only 11 minutes per game, and even less against the better opponents. It's possible that Zoubek had a renaissance during the off-season and will make the All-ACC team this year, but if not I just don't see how Duke is much better than they were this past year. Duke needs a big man to be back on top in both the ACC and the country, aka Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Sheldon Williams because they are unable to stop teams from penetrating and driving to the hoop. They'll still be a great team that will spend time in the Top Ten, but I don't see them as a serious national championship contender. I except them to finish near the Top of the ACC.
What about the third best team in the conference last year, Clemson? They lose two key starters to graduation. Cliff Hammonds (3nd team All ACC) 11.4 pts 4.1 reb and 3.9 ast and one of their best 3pt shooters, and James Mays 10.7 pts and 7.8 reb (2nd team ACC All Defensive Team). I think Trevor Booker showed flashes of being an unstoppable inside force late last season, and the emergence of rising-sophomore Terrance Oglesby provides a nice complement who should start this year, after being probably the best 6th man in the ACC last year shooting 40.3% behind the 3pt line and averaged 10.5 pts . Also, do not forget 2nd Team All ACC K.C. Rivers returns to Clemson after testing the waters of the NBA Draft, and averaged 12.6 pts and shot 40.2% from 3pt land. The Tigers also bring in three national ranked recruits, Tanner Smith, Catalin Baciu, and Andre Young - another Top 25 recruiting class for Oliver Purnell. One thing that Clemson needs to improve on is closing out games. Last year they had big leads on #1 UNC, Miami, and GTech only to lose in last couple of minutes. I don't see them in the same stratosphere as Carolina, but the Tigers should be near the top of the conference yet again.
The “Dark Horse” in the ACC this year is Wake Forest. After getting off to a promising start last year in the ACC, including a win over #9 Duke who they had not beaten since 2004 to get to 6-5 in the ACC, they lost four of their final 5 ACC games, and did not make any postseason tournament. They graduated nobody from their roster and there is only 1 senior this year (Harvery Hale, a role player), they also bring in the best recruiting class in the ACC, and arguably the best recruiting class in the country. Led by the #7 ranked player in the country Al-Farouq Aminu, and the the #2 and #3 ranked centers, Ty Walker and Tony Woods, WFU will have a great inside presence. Wake Forest’s problem will be finding playing time for all of their players, which is probably the deepest team in the ACC. Most likely the starting lineup will feature Teague PG (ACC All Freshman Team), Williams SG, Johnson SF (3rd Team All ACC), Aminu PF, Woods C with 5 players able to come off the bench. In other words, they're already looking like a probably Tournament team before we even get to the recruiting class - and that's where the real upside is. WFU has all the tangible parts to be a great team, good and deep guards, the biggest frontcourt in the ACC and is also deep, and has a few players that can shoot the 3. Last year they vastly improved on defense, something WFU has struggled with for years, and with the addition of Woods and Walker it should only get better. This team will need to learn how to win games because leadership past down from generation to generation (Rodney Rogers, Randolph Childress, Tim Duncan, Josh Howard, Tarron Downey, Justin Grey) has been lost. Also, one or two players will need to emerge as a leader, and I a looking to Jeff Teague and/or LD Williams to do this. Personally, I believe they finish 2nd the ACC, and will become a house hold name again after a few years of fertility.
Two other teams that should look to be improved are Virginia Tech and Miami. Hokies fans worried that some of their recruits would bail after last year's tragedies, but their freshman class turned out just fine. Four of them got 18 minutes or more of playing time per game. VTech only looses one senior in Deron Washington; however, he was a very emotional player and the team fed off of his energy, which led to big runs at times. Also, Washington achieved Honorable Mention All-ACC. Therefore, VTech will be an experienced team, which is always huge when it comes to playing other ACC teams. A.D. Vassallo (2nd Team All ACC) should emerge as the leader of this team, who others will look to for leadership. Also, look for sophomore Jeff Allen (ACC All-Freshman) to have a breakout year in the ACC. Freshman, Victor Davila is a nice recruit in 6'8 I don't see why Tech won't be better next year, and expect them to finish around 4th or 5th. Last year Miami was the surprise team of the conference, and nearly knocked off Texas in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament to advance to the “Sweet 16”. Miami loses three starters to graduation, Dews, King, and Graham. The loss of King and Graham could appear to bigger than their stats because they were players that did all the “little things” that do not appear on the stat sheet. However, Miami does return 6 players who saw a lot of playing time led by, 1st Team All ACC, Jack McClinton, one of the best guards in the ACC, has really started to establish himself as a below-the-radar star in the ACC (if there is such a thing). Miami should compete again this year in the ACC, and will finish in the middle of the pack. If McClinton can continue to improve in his final season with the Canes, Miami will be dancing once again.
This past year was a rebuilding season for Maryland, and a number of their young players stood out as potential stars in the future led by Gerivis Vasquez (2nd Team All ACC). Even though last year was a rebuilding year they were able to finish 8-8 in the ACC, which is not too bad for their situation. Maryland only lost one senior, James Gist, and for some Terp fans this couldn’t have happened sooner because of an attitude problem which some believe had a negative impact on last year’s team. Speaking of seniors, there are none on this year’s team, which is a problem in the ACC because there is not “one player” that the team can look to for leadership. Gary Williams doesn't have his greatest recruiting class by any measure (He needs to learn there are other places than the Mid-Atlantic, and never capitalized with a national recruiting base after winning the NCAA Title) , and it appears that guard Sean Mosley will be the one that will get the most playing time. However, it will be a learning year because he is a freshman guard in the ACC. Maryland biggest weakness is their frontcourt, and will need senior Dave Neal to step up his game. Also, sophomore center Braxton Dupree will need to have a good year for Maryland’s frontcourt to keep them in games this year. I believe Maryland is still one year away from making a serious run in the ACC, and should finish in the middle of the pack. However, their greatest asset is coach Gary Williams who might be able to steal a few games with his coaching ability.
A team that disappointed last season was NC State, and it unfortunately it looks like another long year for Wolfpack Fans. Last year’s freshman star, freshman J.J. Hickson (ACC All Freshman Team) went pro. Gavin Grant has graduated as well, meaning that Sidney Lowe lost two of his best front court players. Therefore N.C. State could be exposed inside if Ben McCualey and Brandon Costner do not “step up”. It's a very mediocre draft class (when you compare it to their ACC competition, at least), so I don't see why State will be any better next year than they were this year. N.C. State fans expect only the best, and want to compete with rivals North Carolina and Duke. The alumni ran former head coach Herb Sndek out of town, after competing in the ACC year in year out, went to a few ACC Tournament finals, and had led the team to a few “Sweet 16’s” in his final years at N.C. State. If N.C. State does not turn it around soon, Lowe might need to start looking for some running shoes.
I believe Florida St. will be the surprise team of the ACC. Yes, they lost a few seniors and key players off of a deep bench. However, senior Toney Douglas (3rd Team All ACC and 1st Team All ACC Defense) is probably the most underrated guard in the country, and will lead the 9th best recruiting class in the country (2nd in the ACC behind WFU) that features #12 overall ranked player and #3 ranked SF Chris Singleton, and 4 highly ranked guards including #69 overall #15 SG Deividas Dulkys and #86 overall #12 PG Luke Loucks. Now some people are probably asking didn’t you say that freshman guards will struggle at time in the ACC? Yes, and they will, but FSU is a system team that plays the 2nd best defense in the ACC, behind Duke. FSU is able to hang around games, and if they are only down by a handful of points with a few minutes left, anything can happen in the ACC. FSU does bring back 3 seniors, which is a lot now-a-days in college basketball, and should be more than enough leadership to help out the younger players. Also, FSU will go 3 or 4 deep on the bench this year because of their freshman class. The problem with FSU is that because they do not have the talent to match up with most ACC teams, and rely a lot on their defense there are games in which they just do not show up to play. FSU has the guards and the defense to compete in the ACC, they will play “spoiler” to a few teams, but will finish in the middle of the pack.
One last team to look at is Boston College. The Eagles lost 3 starters from last year, 2 to graduation and one transferred. One of them was a significant loss in 1st Team All ACC Defense Tyrelle Bell.. However, Tyrese Rice (1st Team All ACC), probably the best guard in the ACC, came back for his senior. Other than Tyrese Rice there is not a stand out player; however Rakim Sanders could emerge in his sophomore year to be one of the premiere players in the league. Even though the ACC is known for their premiere guard play, a team can not win without a good front court.For example, this year’s team does not feature a Jared Dudley or a Sean Marshall. However, at times last year Tyrese Rice literally took over games last year, and BC was able to win the game because of his performance. I except Rice to do the same again this year, but it will not be enough for BC to seriously compete in the ACC. The combination of a weak frontcourt, and a weak recruiting class will have BC near the basement yet again
I have not mentioned Virginia or Georgia Tech because my Momma said if you can not say something nice about someone, then do not say anything at all. Both UVA and GTech lost their best players (Sean Singletary and Anthony Morrow), and do not have much to replace them.
Here's how I see the full conference playing out:
1. North Carolina (15-1) - Only team to beat them is themselves.
2. Wake Forest (12-4) - Probably best back and front court behind UNC
3. Duke (11-5) - The lack of a big man will hurt them .
4. Clemson (10-6) - K.C Rivers leads a tough team, but needs to learn to close games
5. Virginia Tech (9-7) - The same team from last year minus Washington
6. Miami (9-7) - McClinton will lead a team to show last year was not a fluke
7. FSU (8-8) - Toney Douglas leads a talented young team that plays great defense
8. Maryland (7-9) - Lack of a frontcourt and still a young team without a true leader
9. Boston College (6-10) - Rice will win a few games by himself
10. NC State (5-11) - Lost their two best players, and are a young team
11.Georgia Tech (3-13) - Lose their only two double-digit scorers to graduation.
12. Virginia (3-13) - Who if anyone will setup from the void left by Sean Singletary?
What do ya’ll think will happen in the ACC this year? What players will become household names? Can UNC run the table? What coach is on the hot seat?