[Editor’s Note: The ACC is so nice, we’ve previewed it twice. Actually, we just messed up, but here is your first of two excellent ACC Previews, this one by BeingSven.]
Let’s start by saying this; This isn’t your father’s ACC.
No, sir. My father’s (Maryland ’66) ACC was a conference nationally recognized for decades as the best collegiate basketball had to offer; top-heavy with talent, ripe with history and guaranteed to be a factor in the NCAA tournament. In fact, over the past twenty years, the conference has had a least one participant in the Final Four (including six champions).
But just like the Roman Empire eventually fell from its perch atop civilization (more evil – Krzyzewski or Caligula?), so has the ACC. While still a talented collection of programs, the conference took a step towards mediocracy in 2005 when ACC commissioner John Swofford drastically altered Tobacco Road hoops forever by pushing expansion forward. Hungry for a piece of the ever-growing honey pot of football cash, the Tarheel tried to make the ACC into a football conference, and in the process, eliminated the home-and-away between each school that still played a part in making the conference basketball schedule so special.
So, two years after the expansion, we’ve got three programs that don’t belong, two divisions and a watered down conference. Congratulations, Mr. Swofford.
Not to say it’s all doom and gloom. The ACC sent seven teams to the Big Dance last year and few send a handful again this season. There will be some great b-ball played in-conference this year. The added teams actually make the ACC tournament a bit more exciting. And, there could be some real movement amongst the pack, making preseason picks & rankings look silly come Spring.
But, honestly, it’s Carolina who is likely head-and-shoulders above everybody else this campaign. So, after the jump(ball), a look at the predicted Order of Finish and then the individual programs…
Last Year: 31-7 (11-5). Lost to Georgetown and the ghost of Downtown Freddie Brown in the regional finals of the NCAA tourney.
The Rundown: Many peoples’ popular pick to make the Final Four last year, the Tarheels only lost freshman forward Brandan Wright (a significant loss) and senior forward Reyshawn Terry (not-so-significant) to the NBA. (Wes Miller doesn’t even count) That means Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and (Ty)Wayne Ellington are back on Franklin Street and ready to fuck shit up.
We all know the ball is going down low to #50 (Hansbrough, dummy), delivered there by the capable hands and speedy feet of PG Lawson. But, sophmore forwards Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson are going to have to step up their production when the inevitable double- and triple-teams come the white boy’s way (not that those might even stop him). Ellington should drop bombs from outside (not guaranteed to find their marks, however), joined by Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard on the wings. Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas should give the Tarheels some reliable minutes backing-up the backcourt.
This squad is a genuine national championship contender. After tasting the bitter last season, expect a hell of a lot more sweet this time around.
Interestingly enough, Coach Roy Williams didn’t bring any freshman in this year. He’s got two newbies in a transfer (from UNC-Greensboro of all places) and a redshirt, but no pimple-faced froshs.
Last Year: 20-16 (5-11). Lost to West Fucking ‘Virgina’ in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
The Low(e)down: This could be the year that coach Sidney Lowe and his incredibly awesome throwback blazers bring back a little prestige to a once-proud program? What used to be team that was thin on talent may now just be the second-best squad in the conference. With Herb Sendek and his crappy offensive sets now forgotten, can the conference tourney runners-up make the jump from underdogs to front-runners?
More than anything, the Wolfpack should be able to score. Sophmore forward Brandon Costner, 6’9” Ben McCauley and swingman Gavin Grant all return to Raleigh. In fact, those three were amongst the top seven scorers in the league last season. Add to that the ten points a game of wingman Courtney Fells (who came alive in the ACC tourney) and State has themselves a few weapons.
Lowe has brought seven (yes, seven) new faces to (the relatively hottie-free) campus, led by forward/center JJ Hickson. The big man runs the floor and rebounds and should give the Wolfpack even more muscle below the backboard. As for the backcourt, the options aren’t as clear cut.
With Grant likely playing the 2 when State goes big, the point will be run by a newbie. Which newbie is the question. Transfers Marques Johnson (who isn’t eligble until second semester) or Farnold Degand will both gets looks, but freshman Javi Gonzalez will likely see some minutes early on. In a conference historically known for strong guard play, Coach Lowe will need to find himself an on-court general to harnass the sheer power that could be the Wolfpack.
Get ready for the NCAA tourney, Raleigh.
Last Year: 22-11 (8-8). Slain in the first round (!) of the NCAA tourney by mighty VCU.
The Skinny: Although Good magnificently triumped over Evil last year, the Dark Side never learns it lesson and Coach K and his horde of demons are back at it once again. But, they’ll be doing it (and by ‘it’, I mean ‘the devil’s work’) without Josh McRoberts, who was chomping at the bit to do his best Danny Ferry impersonation (but without the national championship), eager to start his wash-out from the NBA a year or two early.
Fear not, the Dookies still have plenty of talent to root against. Guards Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and DeMarcus Nelson and their collective 38 PPG/7.5 APG back in the barn known as Cameron Indoor Stadium. And, the Blue Devils will need it as they don’t feature much size or power down low (that’s what she said!). Center Brian Zoubek is 7’1”, but after him, it’s 6’8” Lance Thomas and David McClure (you may remember him from such stats as 4.2 PPG!) at a whopping 6’6”.
There are three freshman joining Coach K’s harem of McDonald’s All-Americans, with the 6’8” forward Kyle Singler being the name you’ll quickly become most familiar with. The squad could use his renouned shooting. (Gun-Singler, anybody?) This should be a team that shoots from outside, especially beyond the arc. Paulus shot 45% from the 3-pt line last campaign and Nelson was their leading scorer with 14.1 PPG. But, if teams chose to clamp down on their guard play and physically bully their post players, Duke could struggle to find the points, sending Dick Vitale into severe depression.
But, the on-air recruiter should be alright come March when they’ll be back in the tournament, ready to thrill the nation with another eventual early (i.e. non-championship game) exit.
Last Year: 21-11 (11-5). Fell down Rocky Top (Tennessee) in the 2nd round of the NCAA’s.
The 411 in the 434: The Cavaliers broke in a new arena last season in style (the John Paul Jones Arena replacing the rather lame University Hall) by grabbing a piece of the regular season championship and returning to the Big Dance. And with NBA pullout Sean Singletary back, the second season could be even more promising then the first for Coach of the Year Dave Leitao.
The Wahoos aren’t short of talent around the perimeter. PG Singletary likes to jack it (huh-huh, huh-huh), having shot 38.9% from the three. The speedy All-ACC guard is the real deal (with Bill McNeil) and will likely improve on last season’s 19 PPG average. Swingmen Will Harris and ‘Deadeye’ Mamadi Diane (yea, I just made that up) will see time next to Singletary, but turncoat freshman Jeff Jones (after decommitting to Maryland) will join them. Even forward Adrian Joseph can drain it from deep. Still, the loss of JR Reynolds will be noticable.
Under the rim, Virginia has some size; it’s just a question of whether they know how to use it. Senior Tunji Soroye stands 6’11” but averaged 2.1 PPG last season, Ryan Pettinella is 6’9” but can’t shoot a free throw to save his life and the 6’8” Laurynas Mikalauskas showed promise as a frosh but not so much as a soph. Sophmore Jamil Tucker is expected to take the next step (not to be confused with The Step — he’s not quite that good).
In addition to Jeff Jones, the Cav’s also have four other fresh faces (almost all guards), among them 6’8” freshman Mike Scott, who could find some PT down low.
Another conference title isn’t bloody likely, but another trip to the Big Dance is. But if the lynchpin that is Singletary goes missing, the offense will suffer.
Last Year: 25-11 (7-9). Lost to West Fucking ‘Virgina’ in the NIT championship game.
25 wins is a pretty damn good season for a program that historically has lived in the shadow of football’s Death Valley. But after starting the season with a promising 17-0 record, Oliver Purnell’s Tigers went nuclear (as in MELTDOWN), losing 10 out of their last 14. What shoulda/coulda/woulda been a NCAA tournment year turned out be another NIT consolation prize for Purnell’s improving program.
For better or worse, Clemson returns four staters from that meltdown, having lost only their starting point guard. The frontcourt of NBA draft-pullout James Mays and F/C Trevor Booker will give the team a promising (enough) due down-low, augmented by the shot-blocking Raymond Sykes. Up top, Cliff Hammonds and KC Rivers will see the majority of the minutes, pulling the trigger from deep. But Rivers is a swingman and Hammonds (who can play PG, SG and OG) will likely defer to incoming freshman (and North Carolina’s Mr. Basketball) Demontez Stitt at the point (assuming he doesn’t play like shitt).
Clemson has also brought in a legacy (of sorts) with the addition of a skinny 6’8” Jerai Grant, nephew of former Clemson stand-out Horace Grant.
If the point guard position gets nailed down and the team learns to shoot free throws (57.8% from the charity stripe last term), Clemson could have a very promising season. After three years of eating NIT ground chuck, this could be the year they rediscover the prime filet that is the NCAA.
Last Year: 25-9 (10-6). Crapped the bed against Butler in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament.
Word on the Street: After two seasons with the most unlikeable teams I’ve ever had the displeasure of having to root for, the Terps put the pieces back together last campaign and returned to the NCAA tournament. In an awfully familiar scenario, coach Gary Williams faces an interesting season after losing seniors but keeping a promising (and likeable) core. With a mix of young and old talent, a season of mixed expectations may just provide exactly the kind of situation which the nation’s premier sweater seems to prosper with.
In the backcourt, the Terps have sophmore combo of Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez (which might be Spanish for ‘flat-out baller’). With the Venezuelan’s emergance as a scorer, Hayes will likely be the official PG. But much like the Dixon-Blake pairing, both handle the rock very well and we’ll likely see them both do so extensively. They’ll be joined by Landon Milbourne, who may be 6’7”, but prefers perimeter.
In the paint, Maryland have another promising duo whose time has come (whether they’re ready or not). James Gist is the leading returner scorer and will be joined by fellow senior Bambale ‘Boom’ Osby. Gist is the flair to Boom’s muscle. They’ll be joined by freshman Braxton Dupree, all 260 pounds of him. Maryland has seven new faces, with Dupree being joined at the head of the class by swingman Cliff Tucker and local guard Adrian Bowie.
This is a team that led the league in blocked shots last year (and former players shooting at the White House) and will play the game just like Gary wants — with passion, defending tough and running the floor. But, they’re going to need consistent scoring, especially on the blocks. We’ll see if they get it.
This season, the Terps will be wearing the new uniforms showcased by Ohio State and Florida last March, in what I hope will stamp the beginning of a new run of consecutive tournament appearances for my beloved Maryland. I’ll tell you the truth — I think this team, whose sum is greater than its parts, is better than Clemson and Virginia.
Last Year: 20-12 (8-8). Run over by the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV in the 1st round of the NCAA’s.
The Buzz: GT had two freshman lead the team in scoring last season and back to the tournament. Now they’re gone, having fled to the NBA. What’s left for Paul Hewitt to peace back together is anybody’s guess. But, it could be worse — they could be the Falcons.
G Lewis Clinch, who had been the team’s leading scorer before an academic suspension, is back in the fold. Unfortunately, no other player averaged in double digit scoring. G/F Anthony Morrow missed it by a tenth a percent and will have to help fill the scoring void. The point will be run be either transfer Matt Causey (GT is his third school, after transferring from Georgetown and North Georgia) or freshman Maurice Miller, both of whom are pass-oriented.
In the frontcourt, Tech has some size. Ra’Sean Dickey (enter your own Dickey joke here) and Mouhammad Faye both stand 6’10”, with Zach Peacock and promising freshman Gani Lawal measuring 6’8”. Forward Jeremis Smith will also grab some rebounds and a few points, along with 6’11” redshirt project Brad Sheehan.
The youngsters for Tech look to hold the most promise, assuming Hewitt can keep them in school. It may not be a pretty year for the Ramblin’ Wreck as they’ll likely struggle to best their .500 conference record. GT for the NIT.
Last Year: 22-13 (7-9). Quarterfinal loss to Mississippi State in the NIT.
The Hash in Tallahassee: Florida State beat Duke and eventual champion Florida last year, but has continually underachieved the past few seasons under coach Leonard Hamilton, also not having tasted the NCAA’s in almost a decade. There are those that if the program makes it a decade in March without having donned dancing shoes, Hamilton is gone. So, motivation likely isn’t a problem. Top-notch talent, however, could be.
The Seminoles can boast a veteran backcourt, with Isaiah Swann, Ralph Mims, Jason Rich and Toney Douglas all ready to contribute. Douglas will provide the points while Swann handles the point guard duties. Mims will also help run the offense, while Rich could step up his points production. Down below, F/C Uche Echefu will hope freshmen Solomon Alabi (7’1”) and Julian Vaughn (6’9”) can step in to help battle the ACC’s big men. The newbies may be more defensive oriented, but will see plenty of action.
It’s hard to say this team will be much better than last year’s outfit, but they won’t be too much worse. But that and a NIT bid aren’t much of a consolation prize, are they? Man, remember the days of Charlie Ward and Sam Cassell?
Man, remember Jen Sterger?
Last Year: 21-12 (10-6). Put down by Georgetown in the 2nd round of the Big Dance.
The Haps: Gone are the ACC Player of the Year forward Jared Dudley and shot-blocker Sean Marshall (not to mention guard Sean Williams), leaving BC a shell of the formidable squad they were last season. With only two seniors on the team, coach Al Skinner is going to find out how the other half of the conference lives after two successful seasons.
Senior big men Tyrelle Blair and John Oates, not particularly known for scoring will be joined by two freshmen, Cortney Dunn and Josh Southern. But it’s the 6’6” Shamari Spears that should lead the frontline.
But, the real talent on the team resides in the backcourt with junior guard Tyrese Rice. Not only is he the leading returning scorer (17.6 PPG), but he’s also the point guard who was among the league leaders in assists (5.4). If frosh Biko Paris can handle the PG duties, Rice will play the 2.
Points could also come from freshmen wingmen Corey Raji and Rakim Sanders, but Coach Skinner will be lucky to get so much production from his freshman class. But, a year of hard knocks could give this squad the education it needs for success down the road. Just don’t expect it this season.
Last Year: 12-20 (4-12). Probably saw some of the postseason in South Beach.
Blah Blah Blah: Why are they in the ACC? I don’t know. Does anybody even go to watch this team in person? They certainly don’t belong in the conference and never will be welcome as far as I’m concerned.
F/C Anthony King is back after gaining another year of eligibility through a medical hardship. He and guard Jack McClinton will lead the Hurricanes into battle (but not necessarily rock) against their opponents. F/C Dwayne Collins, G/F Brian Asbury and F Jimmy Graham will help give other teams some fits. Senior G Ray Hicks could also be in the mix, if he doesn’t top his season-high two suspensions from last season. Miami also boasts super freshman guard Edwin Rios, who can score with the best of them.
The ‘Canes will probably surprise a few people and if karma is any indication, that will include my Terrapins. But the athletic department, which is bleeding money, isn’t getting any postseason cash from this club. The football team is still a national power, right?
Last Year: 22-12 (10-6). Lost to Southern Illinois in the NCAA second round.
The Story: VT (who also doesn’t belong in the conference) lost five seniors (three starters) from last season’s squad and features no less than eight new faces (all freshman). They even had a recruit decommit because of the shootings. What’s left is forward Deron Washington and G/F AD Vassallo, the only two players who averaged double digit scoring last campaign.
By the time coach Seth Greenberg learns the names of his new players and gets everybody introduced, they’ll already be a few games in the hole. Look for a lot of freshman contribution — which generally means fantastic things one game and disasterous the next. This could mean trouble for the ACC later down the line, though.
Last Year: 15-16 (5-11).
The Sad Truth: The program was rocked by the death of Coach Prosser and the fallout will likely continue on the court this season. A young club in transition gets thrown into general disarray, and now it’s up to assistant Dino Gaudio to sort it out. Sadly, Gaudio’s head coaching resume is long on the L’s.
PG Ishmael Smith will look to keep up his impressive assist numbers while cutting down on his impressively horrible turnover numbers. Freshman Jeff Teague and junior Harvey Hale are also supposed to help. In the paint, David Weaver, Chas McFarland and Jamie Skeen will all struggle to help LD Williams out.
It’s going to be a long season in Winston-Salem. Longer than a Virginia Slim.