Conference Preview: ACC

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This is the place where we expected to be writing about North Carolina starting their national title defense and Duke coming in with another roster full of some of the best looking one-and-done players in the nation.  That all changed in the final week of September when the FBI dropped a bombshell on college basketball.  The explosion from the investigation led directly to a complete house-cleaning in Louisville that took out Athletic Director Tom Jurich, head coach Rick Pitino, and highly touted recruit Brian Bowen.  As of the moment, it is unclear if the Cardinals will even be post-season eligible, but that may not even matter.  The investigation touched a handful of other programs across the nation, including Miami, but for now at least we will assume that the Hurricanes will be playing with a full roster and eligible for the Big Dance.

Turning matters to the on-court stuff, the Tar Heels lost a ton in the offseason, but should still be strong enough to contend for the league crown.  Virginia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame and Virginia should all be in contention as well, but to win the title teams will have to get past Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils, and his team is so loaded that just does not seem possible.  The conference will be deep again, with a chance for 8 or more bids.  Georgia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina State could all push for postseason invites, though the latter two would certainly be surprises to anyone but us.  As usual, the worst team in the conference looks like it will be a pushover; however, this year that team plays in Pennsylvania – not Massachusetts.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Duke – Despite losing four double-digit scorers, the Blue Devils have a great chance to make it to San Antonio with Grayson Allen leading the way and heralded freshmen Trevon Duval, Gary Trent, Jr., Wendell Carter, Jr. and Marvin Bagley III.  Don’t forget Marques Bolden, who could be primed for a breakout season.
  2. Miami – Assuming the ongoing FBI investigation stays away from the court, the Hurricanes could have one of the nation’s best backcourts, especially if Ja’Quan Newton can improve his ball-handling skills.  Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker have a chance to score a ton of points –  more than enough to make up for a frontcourt that will be better defensively than on offense.
  3. North Carolina – The defending national champions must make up for a ton of offseason losses but should still be strong in the backcourt with Joel Berry II and Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson.  The problems may be down low where Theo Pinson will need to step up and get help from a bunch of newcomers.
  4. Virginia Tech – Buzz Williams continues to build the Hokies into a legitimate ACC contender.  The addition of highly-touted freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker and the return of Kerry Blackshear Jr. from injury, together with the likes of Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill, Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs should lead them back to the Big Dance again this year.
  5. Notre Dame – The combination of point guard Matt Farrell and power forward Bonzie Colson may be one of the best two player combos in the nation and the two of them alone may be enough to have the Irish near the top of the ACC standings.  They will need to find some more scoring help though, especially with Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem gone.
  6. Virginia – The Cavaliers always play great defense and this year should not be any different.  The question, as always, will be scoring.  Senior Devon Hall, an improved Kyle Guy and the additions of redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter and Rutgers transfer Nigel Johnson could all be key factors here.
  7. Georgia Tech – Despite not making the NCAA Tournament, the Yellow Jackets were one of the nation’s biggest surprises in Josh Pastner’s first year, making a run all the way to the NIT title game when they were predicted by many to finish at the bottom of the league.  Expect even better results with year with Tadric Jackson, Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers all back and ready to go.
  8. Florida State – Most teams that lose three double-digit scorers (Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jonathan Isaac) will be in rebuilding mode, but that may not be the case in Tallahassee.  Terance Mann returns at guard and is joined by five-star wingman recruit M.J. Walker.  The ‘Noles have a ton of size down low too with a pair of seven-footers leading the way.  Another 12 win ACC season is a longshot, but don’t be shocked to see FSU back in the Big Dance.
  9. North Carolina State – The Wolfpack have a chance to be the conference’s surprise team, especially with Omer Yurtseven and Lennard Freeman healthy down low.  Although Kevin Keatts is supposed to have a rebuilding project ahead of him, there are enough pieces here to be competitive this season.
  10. Louisville – After everything that happened in late September, with the FBI investigation eventually leading to Rick Pitino being placed on what will eventually be a permanent leave of absence, Brian Bowen being declared ineligible, probably never to play a minute of college hoops, and David Padgett finally taking over head coaching duties, it is close to impossible to figure out what will happen on the court this year.  The Cardinals do have some very good pieces, led by the likes of Quentin Snider and Deng Adel, but even if the team technically remains postseason eligible, it is tough to see them getting away from the offcourt issues to actually make it there.
  11. Syracuse – Tyus Battle and USF transfer Geno Thorpe will do the majority of the outside scoring, but there are lots of question marks defensively and down low.  This looks like another season riding the bubble.
  12. Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons have a pair of guards in Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods good enough to keep them in most games.  However, there are way too many questions (and very few answers) down low to put this team back in the NCAA Tournament picture.  The good news is the team is very young, and the outlook may be a lot different this time next season.
  13. Clemson – The Tigers were a disappointing 6-12 in ACC play last year and that was with Jaron Blossomgame leading the way.  Without him, it is tough to see them even being able to match that mark.  Unfortunately for head coach Brad Brownell, another season that doesn’t come close to a dance ticket could be his last one here.
  14. Boston College – Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson will help make the Eagles a fun team to watch again this year, which is more than can be said of Boston College for quite some time.  Illinois State transfer Deontae Hawkins could be a big piece inside, but there is still not enough depth or talent in Chestnut Hill to finish anywhere but near the bottom of the league standings.
  15. Pittsburgh – The Panthers won only 4 ACC games last year.  Their top five scorers from last season are gone.  They have no true point guard on the roster.  And they have Kevin Stallings as their head coach.  In other words, it is going to be bad.  Very bad.
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