The ACC featured a lot of parity lost year, but it also could be said that it feature a lot of mediocrity instead. Expect the conference to look similar this year. UNC and Duke at the top, and maybe a challenge here or there from another conference member.
1. UNC – What can you say about the Tar Heels that hasn’t already been said about Nick Nolte leaving happy hour? They are both loaded and in the driver’s seat. Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough returns up front alongside returning starter Deon Thompson. Thompson struggled to fill the void in the frontcourt left by Brandan Wright last year, but he may have help with McDonald’s All-Americans Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis. The perimeter should be loaded for the Tar Heels with Ty Lawson back at the point and Bobby Frasor healthy again to fill the role as a capable back up. Wayne Ellington was second on the team in scoring last year and he will be back at shooting guard this year. Marcus Ginyard, the team’s best defender, will miss 8 weeks with a stress fracture, but 6th man Danny Green is capable of being the team’s best player for stretches of the game. A national championship is the expectation for the Tar Heels, and the only thing in their way is some improvement on defense.
2. Duke – Krzwyzesyzsyzwyskiville has every reason to think that Duke may have one of its better teams in recent years and should be able to avoid fading down the stretch. The key will be to have some help up front for Kyle Singler who had to shoulder too much of the load against the ACC big men. The answer must come from freshman Miles Plumlee or from veterans David McClure, Lance Thomas, or Brian Zoubek. So basically, Miles Plumlee has to contribute. McClure and Thomas are serviceable but opponents’ defenses won’t have to focus on them. Zoubek is good for eating up space. The backcourt will be loaded for the Devils. DeMarcus Nelson is gone, but a good mix will come from Greg Paulus, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Elliot Williams. So expect plenty of three pointers being hoisted from them, and some slashing ability from Henderson, Smith, and Williams. The key for Duke revolves around the dribble. Paulus and Scheyer struggle to stop the dribble penetration, and on offense open threes have to be created by attacking the basket.
3. Miami – The Hurricanes burst onto the national scene when they gave Texas a run for their money in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. With a lot coming back including Jack McClinton, Miami could take the next step and get to the Sweet 16. McClinton is the only proven consistent scorer, but there are plenty of players who can break out on a given night. Lance Hurdle returns at point guard where he is as fast as they come. The frontcourt doesn’t look spectacular but Dwayne Collins showed he can dominate at times last year. He will be helped by the energy-guy, Jimmy Graham, up front. The small forward position looks solid with James Dews and Brian Asbury returning. The Canes could reach higher if transfer Cyrus McGowan contributes off the bench and the freshman DeQuan Jones flashes his athleticism.
4. Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons did better than expected under Dino Gaudio’s first season as head coach. Everybody returns for this teams and some impact freshmen will join the mix. The frontcourt returns leading scorer James Johnson, but also boasts three top-50 recruits in Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker, and Tony Woods. Gaudio will have plenty of options in the frontcourt, and hopefully that will also help them rebound better on the defensive end where they gave opponents too many second chances. The backcourt isn’t as full, but Jeff Teague and Ishmael Smith return. Wake Forest has plenty to be optimistic about, but they must get better on the road.
5. Clemson – Don’t expect the Tigers to fall too far despite losing James Mays and Cliff Hammonds. Mays departure will be absorbed somewhat by the development of Raymond Sykes during Mays’ injury last season. Trevor Booker and Sykes could be just as good of a duo in the frontcourt if they can grab offensive rebounds at the same rate that the Booker and Mays duo did last season. Depth has to come from either Jerai Grant or Catalin Baciu. The backcourt figures to be the teams strength this year with KC Rivers, Demontez Stitt, and Terrence Oglesby returning. Last year Clemson thrived on forcing turnovers and clamping down on opponents’ three point attempts. Depth may be an issue for maintaining that harassing defensive style.
6. Virginia Tech – The Hokies 9-7 conference record last year isn’t near as good as advertised, playing North Carolina, Duke, and Clemson only once. Still, they could make it back to the tournament this year. Jeff Allen is a beast up front, but he will need help either from Lewis Witcher or Cheick Diakite. The Hokies won’t be as solid on the wing with the loss of Deron Washington. JT Thompson, Terrell Bell, and Dorenzo Hudson are the likely candidates to fill in that vacancy. AD Vassallo returns as the leading scorer and is a great three-point threat. Malcolm Delany returns at the point but could see some time at his natural position of off-guard if Hank Thorns can develop into a starting point guard.
7. Florida State – The Seminoles will be without three pretty productive guards from last year’s team in Ralph Mims, Jason Rich,a and Isaiah Swann. Defensively, the Noles could improve with plenty of length in the fontcourt. Uche Echefu is back for his senior season, and he will joined up front by the 7’1” Solomon Alabi and the McDonalds’ All-American Chris Singleton. Ryan Reid also returns after playing valuable minutes last season. The backcourt will be led by Toney Douglas, but not much else is known after that. They have to break in some newcomers to join Douglas.
8. Boston College – Tyrese Rice may have more help this season, even with the losses of Tyrelle Blair, John Oates, and Shamari Spears. Rakim Sanders and Joe Trapani are the two biggest candidates to help out Rice in the scoring department. Rice will be joined by Sanders in the backcourt, and Biko Paris should see some time in the backcourt as well. Joe Trapani is the wildcard, as he has to fill the void left up front as he teams up with Tyler Roche who started 23 games last year. Josh Southern played in 20 games last season but won’t be able to maintain the shot-blocking presence that BC has featured with Tyrelle Blair and Sean Williams the last number of seasons.
9. Georgia Tech – Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith were two very efficient scorers for the Yellow Jackets and both are gone. Matt Causey and Ra’Sean Dickey are also gone. Georgia Tech may still have some weapons and could get back to a postseason bid. Zack Peacock is the leading returning scorer, and he will be joined up front by the one time McDonald’s All-American Gani Lawal. Maurice Miller returns for a second season at point guard for the Yellow Jackets, who have not had the same point guard for two seasons since Jarret Jack. Iman Schumpert should play plenty as a freshman, but Lewis Clinch has to score like he did as a sophomore to help absorb the loss of Anthony Morrow.
10. Maryland – The Terrapins haven’t had much success since their 2002 national title, and this year could be the worst season since then. Outside of Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes are both capable of playing the point guard position, but Vasquez will likely play the 2-guard to continue to be the leading scorer. The Terps will be hurting with the losses of James Gist and Bambale Osby from the frontcourt. Expect Braxton Dupree and Jerome Burney in those roles. Landon Milbourne, Cliff Tucker, and Adrian Bowie will have to make big leaps this season for Maryland to have any hope of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
11. NC State – The hope for the Wolfpack is that Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley can get back to how they were playing two years ago before JJ Hickson joined the team. Hickson was the most talented player on the team, but Costner and McCauley digressed by playing out of position where they weren’t a matchup problem for other teams. The point guard position is still a question mark, but the Wolfpack would like to see Farnold Degand become a solid leader. Courtney Fells is the leading returning scorer, and he should move to the small forward position as NC State tries to go with a quicker lineup this year.
12. Virginia – The Cavaliers are about as unproven as they come without leader Sean Singletary. Calvin Baker is the likely replacement at point guard. The leading returning scorer is Mamadi Diane who will have to be more aggressive looking for 3-point shots this year. The frontcourt is pretty bare as most players were injured last year and Mike Scott and Jamil Tucker are undersized. The dismissal of Laurynas Mikalauskas also hurts the frontcourt in terms of experience and size.