Conference Preview: ACC

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With a 1 seed (Virginia) and a pair of 2 seeds (Duke and North Carolina), things looked pretty good for the ACC heading into the NCAA Tournament last season.  When the dust settled, the conference did not put a single team in the Final Four, and it felt like it was Florida State and Clemson that made the most noise with second weekend runs.  Of course, Virginia made a different kind of noise, becoming the first 1 seed ever to lose to a 16 seed in the Round of 64.  The loss still stings for the Hoos, but they return a team that is more than capable of making up for last season.

The preseason pick to win the league is Duke, though it is always tough to go with a team made up of all newcomers.  The talent appears to be there, though they will be pushed by both North Carolina and Virginia again.  Virginia Tech could be a surprise contender for the league crown, while Louisville may be better than expected under new head coach Chris Mack.  At the end of the day, do not be surprised to see 8 or more teams from this league back in the Big Dance.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Duke – It is tough to pick in favor of a team with almost no one returning from the season before; however, when the new talent coming in is as highly rated as the recruiting class that Coach K assembled this year, it is tough to pick against the Blue Devils. Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson are all names that will be discussed a lot this season – and likely next June at the NBA Draft as well.
  2. North Carolina – The Tar Heels have enough talent to be champions – both of the ACC and of the entire NCAA. They are led by two key returnees, forward Luke Maye and 6-9 guard Cameron Johnson.  The only question will be at the point, where Coach Williams may need freshman Coby White to show that he is ready to lead the way from Day One.
  3. Virginia – Assuming that the Cavs put what happened last March in their distant memories, this team should once again be right near the top of the conference standings. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome form a fierce backcourt duo, while having De’Andre Hunter back healthy, and adding Alabama transfer Braxton Key, will help a ton.  The question in Charlottesville may not be how well they do in the regular season, it may be whether or not they finally are able to make a deep tourney run.
  4. Virginia Tech – The Hokies did lose Justin Bibbs in the offseason, but with Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear and Ahmed Hill all back, it would not be smart to bet against them.
  5. Syracuse – The Orange return four starters from a team that won 23 games. They just need to find a way to score more – especially from outside the arc.  With Tyus Battle leading the way, if the offense shows up, ‘Cuse could finish even higher than this in the league standings and will enter March as a lock for a dance ticket.
  6. Florida State – The Seminoles may be the deepest team in the ACC, as it would not be a shock to see 10 or even 11 players get significant minutes this season. With guys like sixth-year senior Phil Cofer and Terance Mann to lead the way, Florida State should find a way to return to the NCAA Tournament again this year.
  7. Louisville – Chris Mack takes over as head coach and does not have a complete rebuild on his hands. The Cardinals have a solid group of young returning players, led by V.J. King.  They also add some transfers that should be able to help out right away, most notably former Samford point guard Christen Cunningham, his former school’s career leader in assists.
  8. Clemson – The Tigers finally broke through and made the Big Dance last season, and then promptly made a Sweet 16 run. They may be hard-pressed to match that level of success this year with the team probably lacking the depth needed behind returning starters Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas.  One player to keep an eye on is Oral Roberts transfer forward Javan White.
  9. NC State – Starting guards Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn all return this season. However, pretty much no one else on the entire roster was here last season.  If head coach Kevin Keatts can get the Wolfpack playing cohesively early, they could finish higher than this, especially with former Ohio State forward DJ Funderburk among the newcomers this season.
  10. Boston College – Just a few years removed from an 0-18 ACC run, the Eagles are coming off an NIT season and look to be continuing to head in the right direction, though a ticket to the Big Dance is probably still a few years away. It might have been closer had Jerome Robinson passed on the NBA and returned for one more year, but the Eagles have all four other starters back including Ky Bowman, who will likely average over 20 points per game this year.
  11. Notre Dame – Mike Brey tends to find ways to succeed every time it looks like his team is down, so it would not be a complete shock if the Irish were in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid. On the other hand, this team finished below .500 in ACC play last season and missed the Big Dance – and that was with Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell (at least part of the season due to injuries they suffered).  J. Gibbs should lead the way, but he will not be enough.
  12. Miami – The Hurricanes will need Florida Gulf Coast transfer Zach Johnson to quickly prove that he can play ACC-level basketball if they want any shot at coming even close to last year’s 22-win total. In the end, there just don’t appear to be enough pieces here to replace the losses of Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown.
  13. Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets lost three double-digit scorers in the offseason, including Josh Okogie. For a team that was 329th in the nation in scoring, that is not a good sign.  Jose Alvarado will need to pick up even more of the scoring load for this team to have any success.
  14. Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons lost 20 games last season, and then lost over 66% of their scoring to graduation and transfers in the offseason. That is not a good combination, but a solid recruiting class at least has next year looking better.
  15. Pittsburgh – Jeff Capel takes over the complete and utter mess left behind by Kevin Stallings after an 0-18 ACC season.  The good news is that it cannot get worse.  The bad news is that it will likely take several years to get much better.
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