ACC Preview

The ACC is coming off a banner year by having three one seeds and having the eventual National Champion Virginia, come from its conference. That being said no major Conference will go through as much turnover as the ACC, as 13 of the ACC’s 15 All-League players have left either to graduation or to play in the NBA. That being said, just because this league has massive turnover doesn’t mean that it won’t be one of the Top-3 leagues in the sport because there is still a boatload of talent within the league. Without any further introduction, it is time to look at how the league will shape up with my full ACC Preview.

1.Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals come into this season as the team that has the most experience, which makes them potentially the favorites to win the league. The Cardinals begin and end with Jordan Nwora who is maybe the favorite to win the league Player of the Year award. Nwora is an effortless scorer, plays the game with a high-IQ and is a matchup nightmare for teams with his 6’7” frame and he plays the game with guard-like skills. While Nwora is certainly a great player, he is not alone as the Cardinals have plenty of other guys that can step up as well. 

Among those is guard Dwayne Sutton who is very lengthy and has shown an ability to guard multiple positions and shoot it from deep. Steven Enoch was a good interior scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker as well for the Cardinals. Malik Williams has the ability to come in and play at times better than Enoch down-low, while he has shown an ability to occasionally step out and shoot it to keep teams honest. Let’s not forget the addition of Samuell Williamson who is a big athletic five-star guard that looks poised to come in and make a huge impact for the Cardinals from Day One. 

The Cardinals are maybe the deepest teams wing and forward wise but for them to achieve a level of success that many are looking for they will need good guard production. That is where the addition of Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble comes in, as he has shown himself to be a steady influence at the point. Elsewhere Darius Perry and Ryan McMahon should be capable producers off the bench and the freshmen David Johnson, Josh Nickelberry and Aidan Igiehon should get minutes. 

Overall this team just has the talent and experience that I look for to carry very well in an ACC that can be absolutely brutal at times. To achieve the goal of winning the league and winning the National Championship, I look for everyone to get a little bit better while I look for Jordan Nwora to be the for the conference POY award.

2.Duke Blue Devils

While Louisville is my pick to win the league, Duke is certainly a team that can win the league as they have a lot of talented players that can lift them to an ACC title. The Blue Devils will be led by Tre Jones who is known for his defensive tenacity and ability to get others involved passing. With him back the Blue Devils will have a team leader and a true point guard to help them contend not only for an ACC title but also another National Championship.

While Jones will get the majority of the credit, the freshmen will need to have big production for Duke to be great. Vernon Carey looks to be the dominant force inside for the Blue Devils, as he has shown the ability to overpower opponents. Matthew Hurt should feed off of Carey as he is more of a stretch-4 but has shown an ability to do guard-like things on the offensive end. Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley will probably both start for the Blue Devils at the guard positions, both players could be one and done level prospects. 

Off the bench, Javin DeLaurier should provide some interior defense and rim-running in limited playing time. Alex O’Connell and Jack White both have shown an ability to stretch the floor and make shots to help provide some scoring off the bench. Don’t overlook Jordan Goldwire as he’s a solid defender and if he can shoot it from deep he could become a valuable piece. 

Duke obviously has a great collection of talent but the real key is their ability to get their freshmen to produce at the level of years past. If they can get the improvements in shooting from Tre Jones, while Carey and Hurt show themselves to be a dominant duo inside, the Blue Devils should contend for an ACC and a National title. 

3.North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina will lose five of its top six scorers from last year’s team, yet thanks to a series of recruiting wins and grad transfer pickups the Tar Heels look to contend for the ACC title. The headline is Cole Anthony, who is a player many expect to be maybe the best freshman in the sport. Anthony is a very athletic guard that can make shots in a hurry and has shown the ability to be an elite-level passer, which makes him the perfect presence at the point guard position. 

Inside the Tar Heels will once again look to overpower teams on the interior thanks to three dominant bigs inside. Let’s start with the Tar Heels leading returning scorer Garrison Brooks, who is a really good interior defender, rebounder and is a decent scorer inside. Armondo Bacot is another big with good size, strength, and agility that should help him score easily inside. Don’t forget about Sterling Manley, who missed a lot of games last year but can also score and rebound for the Tar Heels. 

While having an elite lead guard like Cole Anthony and a good collection of big men, one of the more important things to have as a team is guards to play alongside those guys. This is where the additions of Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce should come in to help them as grad transfers. Rising sophomore guard Leaky Black also looks poised to take his game to another level after playing bench minutes as a freshman. The late addition of Anthony Harris Jr. is one that should help them get production off the bench. 

While the expectations at this program usually involve a National Championship and this team certainly has the chance to do that. If so, Cole Anthony will need to be one of the five best players in the sport while they will need steps forward from Leaky Black and Garrison Brooks. 

4.Florida State Seminoles

After the top three teams, the ACC really begins to drop off as there is a multitude of teams that could contend for that number four spot in the conference, that is where the Florida State Seminoles come in to play. The Seminoles lose their top two scorers from last year’s team but still will have the overall depth that can compete with anyone in this league. 

The two players that should lead the team will be MJ Walker and Trent Forrest. Let’s start by talking about Trent Forrest who is basically the de-facto point guard for this Seminoles team. He is 6’5” and has shown the ability to score the ball for the Seminoles while he is a capable lead ball-handler. Meanwhile, MJ Walker is still in College after somewhat disappointing his first two years. With that being said, Walker is a physical defender, a good athlete and at times a good shooter. Both players have been up and down in years past but will be asked to be team leaders this year. 

While those two should be the team leaders, I also would look for improvements from the Seminoles sophomore class. The main headliner is Devin Vassell, who is a long and athletic guard that I look for to be lights out from behind the arc. Anthony Polite and Raiquan Gray look like they will compete for the last starting spot at the 4, as both could take steps forward this season. Wyatt Wilkes is a junior but he too could step in and play big minutes for the Seminoles. If you are looking to buy stock in any under the radar freshmen, I would recommend looking at Patrick Williams who is a long and explosive guard that will get minutes as a freshman. 

The battle for the starting spot at the center spot should be an interesting race as the Seminoles will look for 7’1” Balsa Koprivica to play right away. The addition of grad transfer Dominik Olejniczak will act as an insurance policy if Koprivica isn’t ready out of the gates. As for the race to be the tallest player on the court, that will go to Naheem McLeod who stands at 7’4”. 

With Florida State, there are a lot of question marks with different players. One of my main ones is asking whether or not they have enough offense to not only compete but also win games. With that being said Florida State will have one thing going for them and that is a high amount of talented pieces that can play a role this season.

5.Virginia Cavaliers

After winning the National Championship last season, Virginia will probably go through a rebuild as they lose their top-three scorers from last year’s team. We all know what Virginia is going to do as a team, they are going to play very slow and run their pack-line defense to another NCAA Tournament but in order to stay at the top of the conference, they will need many players to step up. 

The likely leader in scoring and rebounding for this Virginia team will be Mamadi Diakite, who started and averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, which isn’t exactly great but there is more to that. Diakite blocked 1.7 shots per game and is a great piece in the pack-line because of his ability to switch. The other starter from last year’s title game was Kihei Clark. Clark technically was the point guard for that team but played the role of pass the ball to Ty Jerome the ball and let him run the offense. Clark can create offense for others, he can make shots but what he does better than anything else is being a pest for other teams lead guards. 

Elsewhere, Virginia will be looking for some other players like Braxton Key and Jay Huff to step into more of a role this year. Key is a former Alabama transfer who was a decent piece off the bench in from a play defense and rebound type of role but he failed to really breakout scoring-wise. That being said during his freshman year at Alabama he averaged 12 points per game while shooting 33 percent from three, if he can get back to that level it would really help Virginia. Jay Huff was the de-facto eighth man for the Cavaliers last season, he can shoot it really well, especially for a guy that is 7’1” but he wasn’t really all that good beyond that. 

The guy who will almost certainly start at the two will be Four-Star freshman Casey Morsell. Morsell is a 6’2” Top-50 recruit that looks to be an impact scoring-wise out of the gates for Virginia. Elsewhere, look for JuCo transfer Thomas Woldetensae who is regarded as an excellent shooter to make an impact offensively for Virginia. One other name that looks to make an impact is 7-foot redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro missed last season due to a knee injury but has real upside. 

This team will not be as good as last year‘s team won the National Championship especially given their offensive limitations. That being said, they will certainly guard at a high level, which will keep them in games, allow them to be a tournament caliber team and finish near the top of the ACC.

6.NC State Wolfpack

Year two of the Kevin Keatts era didn’t go exactly as planned but the Wolfpack look to brush off that year and get back to the NCAA Tournament this year with a lot of the team coming back for another year. NC State will return a lot of pieces from last year’s team, including Markell Johnson who looks to lead the team in both points and assists while doing everything possible to help the Wolfpack win. While Johnson has shown his ability to be great on the court, he a lot of times isn’t consistent enough but I look for that to change a little bit this year.

Johnson’s backcourt mate will once again be Braxton Beverly, Beverly is a really good three-point shooter and a really good ball-handler, which makes him a good Yin to Markell Johnson’s Yang. Elsewhere in the backcourt, Blake Harris will look to try to make an impact this year for the Wolfpack, he’s a good shooter and a capable passer but what has kept him on the bench is the fact that he is very turnover prone. 

CJ Bryce and Devon Daniels look to pick up the majority of minutes playing at the 3 and the 4 this year. Bryce is a former UNC Wilmington guard who followed Keatts over and made a big impact for the Wolfpack. Bryce is a really good shooter/ scorer and is likely the go-to guy behind Markell Johnson. Devon Daniels is was really good at Utah but did struggle shooting the ball in the ACC, that being said his length and defensive tenacity makes him pretty valuable to this NC State team. Jericole Hellems will be another piece to look out for at that small-ball 4 position, he has a larger frame at 6’7” which does make help him guard traditional 4’s. The big question with this team will come from the center spot, the main guy to look for in order to start is DJ Funderburk who is an excellent playmaker on both ends of the court and plays hard when he’s on the court, his big issue is oftentimes foul trouble. When Funderburk gets in foul trouble look for redshirt freshman Manny Bates to step in and play a big role for the Wolfpack. 

Overall this is a very talented team with a good roster build, that being said I liked this team last year heading into the NCAA Tournament, so while you can get excited about this roster construction, there will be games where this team just doesn’t show up. If they can improve upon that consistency issue then this is a secondary tier ACC team, if not look for them to once again be floating on the bubble. 

7.Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Trivia time. Do you know who finished last place in the ACC last season? If you guessed either Pittsburgh or Notre Dame you were correct. There were a lot of reasons for that result but the main one is the midseason loss of Rex Pflueger to a knee injury. Pflueger is a do-everything guard who can take on the other team’s best players, guard at a high level and is a really smart player. 

While Pflueger may have been the most important piece for the Irish there is no argument that John Mooney is the team’s best player. Mooney averaged 14.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season which played a big role in his All-ACC selection. TJ Gibbs has been a key piece for what feels like year’s, while he didn’t take a step forward like most expected last season, he still is a solid piece. 

The big thing for Notre Dame will be the expected improvements from their young players. Prentiss Hubb is the guy with the most to prove, he is a decent scorer and a good passer, he was good at times but appeared to hit a wall in ACC play. Dane Goodwin is a decent player that looks to play a role as a sixth man. Look for Nate Laszewski to be a really good piece down-low playing alongside John Mooney.

This Notre Dame team should be much improved from the one that we saw last year. Look for players like Hubb and Laszewski to take steps forward while another good season from John Mooney and a healthy Rex Pflueger should be enough to carry the Irish to the NCAA Tournament. 

8.Syracuse Orange

After going through the ACC, I have determined that this Syracuse team is where there is a major drop off in the overall talent from the league. The Orange come into this season off another somewhat disappointing season, which largely had to do with their inability to run good offense. With some newer faces coming in, maybe that can be fixed but it is safe to say that this Orange team will have its questions surrounding them. 

The likely leader on the offensive end will be Elijah Hughes who is their leading returning scorer and looks poised to have a big season given all the talent that is gone from this team. Sophomores Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim will be asked to step up and make a bigger impact this season. Carey was benched a lot of last season, but does have the type of profile that should project him into a big role. Boeheim got consistent minutes and struggled at times, that being said he does now how a little more experience going into this year. 

Look for freshmen guards Brycen Goodine and Joe Girard III to make an impact this year for the Orange in either a starting or reserve role, both players can play as the starting point but may not see that role early on. Upfront the Orange will look for Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj to slide in and play the five for the Orange, while Jesse Edwards could see minutes in a reserve role. 

The Orange will do what they do, they will 2-3 zone teams which will help them stay in games but once again the questions are about their offense. Can Elijah Hughes be an All-ACC player? can Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim take big steps forward offensively? How will the freshman guards fit in? If they can answer those questions then this team could potentially reach the peak from last season but if not, it will be another missed NCAA Tournament for the Orange. 

9.Miami Hurricanes

One of the teams that struggled last season was the Miami Hurricanes who finished 11th in the ACC standings despite having a pretty good overall roster. The top player for this team is Chris Lykes who is an outstanding guard. Lykes is only 5’7” but is a really good scorer and a good finisher in the paint. His overall scoring ability will allow the Hurricanes to be in most games with a chance to win. 

Lykes backcourt-mate is Dejan Vasiljevic, who is a really good shooter from deep and can play as a secondary creator. Transfers Kameron McGusty and Keith Stone look to start right away for Miami. Both those guys have shown flashes of greatness for other programs but weren’t able to be consistent enough. Elsewhere freshmen Harlond Beverly, Isaiah Wong, and Anthony Miller look to provide a sense of optimism for the future. 

Overall this Miami team has a really good star player in Chris Lykes, some good other pieces and what looks to be a good freshman trio. I’m not exactly sure that this team is an NCAA Tournament team but they will at least be able to win a decent amount of games in ACC play. 

10.Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

It very well could be a make or break year for Josh Pastner as he continues to miss on recruiting targets and really hasn’t had enough success to date. That being said, thanks to the return of a lot of key pieces this could be his best team while at Georgia Tech.

The best and most valuable piece for this Yellow Jackets team is junior guard Jose Alvarado, who isn’t the most talented player in the sport but does go all out in order to win and is a skilled scorer and passer. A lot of Alvarado’s assists last year went into big man James Banks, who is a skilled big man that can score effectively on the interior and can rebound at a high level. Those two should continue to be solid but the addition of USC transfer Jordan Usher does have many people excited about this season. Usher is a 6’7” guard that can play as a small-ball four. 

This team will also need other players like Michael DeVoe to step up and play a role this year. DeVoe is an extremely skilled guard that showed he can shoot it from deep and also be a secondary ball-handler for this team. Sophomore guard Khalid Moore is another player that could take a step forward and become a good rotation piece. Moses Wright will likely start the season at the 4, he’s a decent defender but doesn’t do a whole lot more than just playing rotation minutes.

This Georgia Tech team certainly has the talent that it needs to win but a lot will come down to the overall coaching and development of guys like Michael DeVoe and Khalid Moore. If those guys can become consistent contributors this team could contend for an at-large bid. If not it will be another disappointing season that leaves Josh Pastner’s seat red-hot heading into the 2020-21 season. 

11.Pittsburgh Panthers

The Pittsburgh program hit rock bottom in 2018 when they went 0-18 in ACC play and needed an immediate program rebuild which started with the firing of Kevin Stallings. Less than two years later, there is hope going into a Pittsburgh Panthers season debut and that is built around a good coach and an All-ACC level player in Xavier Johnson. Johnson was one of the best freshmen in the ACC last season, averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. His scoring abilities will be critical for this Panthers team but Johnson will look for some help elsewhere in the lineup. 

A couple of the other guards to look for production include Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, who should both play big minutes for Pitt this season. McGowens will likely have the role of a secondary scorer for Pitt, he is a good scorer but did have turnover issues last year. Toney is a bigger guard that can play as a small-ball four for this Pitt Panthers team. Terrell Brown will play the role of rim-protecting and rebounding big man for this team, he really just needs to do those roles effectively for this team to have success. 

Overall this Panthers team doesn’t have a whole lot of depth with this roster, as only four are what I would call starting-caliber pieces at a high-major level, that being said, the Sophomore trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGownens, and Au’Diese Toney were all good as freshmen and should get better after getting an offseason to learn upon last years experiences. Assuming they all get better, Pittsburgh should avoid the bottom of the ACC standings. 

12.Virginia Tech Hokies

Buzz Williams to Texas A&M was a move that many people saw coming, that being said it absolutely devastated a Virginia Tech program that was on the rise. Now they will look for Mike Young to both recruit and coach this team up in order to keep this program in the NCAA Tournament on a consistent basis. While their roster looks questionable at best for this year, there are some good young players that should get this team back to the NCAA Tournament in the future. 

Yes, the Hokies do lose their entire starting lineup but the return of guard Wabissa Bede, who was an excellent on-ball defender and passer last year will help a little bit. Guards PJ Horne and Isaiah Wilkins played off the bench last year, while neither were vital to the team’s success, that at least is worth something. Landers Nolley is a former Top-100 recruit who missed his first season due to suspected cheating on his ACT by the NCAA but his ability to play as a small-ball four will get him minutes from Day one. Jalen Cone and John Okiako are the two most notable freshmen for this Hokies team, both of them should start this season as it is better to give the younger players more experience. 

This 2019-20 season will not be anything about making the NCAA Tournament but it instead should be about preparing for the future. Mike Young has been really good in the actual coaching of players and if he can do that there is no reason to think that Virginia Tech won’t be back to where they were in the Buzz Williams era. The key thing for Hokies fans need to remember is to be patient with these younger guys because they will make mistakes early and often. As for their expected finish in the ACC, they will for sure be a bottom-five team in the league, the talent and experience just aren’t there for them to have a good season.

13.Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The Danny Manning era continues at Wake Forest despite a pretty terrible record and the main reason is because of his buyout being so high. While the coach is definitely an issue, the overall roster isn’t actually that terrible, so while they certainly won’t be close to making the NCAA Tournament, they at least should avoid a last-place finish within the league based on talent alone. 

Brandon Childress will be the team leader for the Demon Deacons, he is a good scorer and acts as the primary playmaker for others as the team’s lead guard. Chaundee Brown will play as an off-ball guard, he is a bigger guard that is a decent shooter and physical enough to get rebounds for this team. The player I look for to make the biggest jump is forward Isaiah Mucius, he should be able to score efficiently inside and will keep teams honest with his ability to step out and shoot. Sophomore guard Sharone Wright Jr. played off the bench last season but was definitely a good piece especially defensively, he should take a step forward. Upfront Olivier Sarr and Sunday Okeke will look to split minutes at the five. 

My first impressions with this Wake Forest team isn’t that it is a complete dumpster fire like I figured it would be coming into this season. That being said, Danny Manning has been pretty bad at coaching this team, so I would not anticipate this team being good or anything like that. 

14.Clemson Tigers

Things were going great for Clemson about a year ago, Clemson had made the Sweet 16 and was returning most of the players from that team. The expectations were not only another NCAA Tournament appearance but there was some thought of the team making a run to get to the Final Four. Here we sit one year later and Clemson is picked second to last in the ACC after a missed NCAA Tournament. That just shows how quickly can change for a program and it certainly is not for the better when it comes to Brad Brownell and the Clemson Tigers. 

The lone returning starter from last year’s team is Aamir Simms, who is a forward that can score from anywhere on the court and has a good physical toughness about him. Tevin Mack is a former Alabama and Texas forward that has hopped around at a rapid pace. Mack looked good in the World University games but I still do question his ability to bring it to the College level. Tulsa grad transfer Curran Scott is someone that could be decent for the Tigers this year. Also, look for guards Al-Amir Dawes and Chase Hunter will leave some optimism for this Clemson going forward. 

This Clemson team is one I really don’t like heading into next season and there are a lot of reasons why. For starters I don’t think Aamir Simms can step up and be a go-to guy, Tevin Mack has yet to show any sort of consistency at the high-major level. I also don’t know if you can trust this backcourt at all. 

15.Boston College Eagles 

If you are looking for the early favorite to finish last in the league look no further than Boston College. The Eagles lost their number one player from last years team in Ky Bowman but had a sense of optimism with Wynston Tabbs coming back. Then just about a week ago, word came out that Tabbs was going to be out for the entire season, which puts them behind the eight ball. 

Looking at this team, Nik Popovic has been really good down-low for Boston College and will be the anchor for this team. Former Duke and USC guard Derryck Thornton will run the point and look to create for others. Elsewhere Steffon Mitchell, and both Jared and Jarius Hamilton will play a role for this team. 

This team wasn’t really going to be all that good with Tabbs in the lineup but they will be much worse without him. Maybe Popovic or Thornton will be really good players, or maybe Steffon Mitchell can improve. We shall wait and see on that but there shouldn’t be a question on whether or not this team will be a good ACC team, because the answer at least from me is a resounding no. 

ACC Awards:

ACC Player of the year: Jordan Nwora 

ACC Freshman of the year: Cole Anthony 

ACC Newcomer of the year: Christian Keeling 

ACC 6th Man of the year: Malik Williams 

Breakout Player of the year: Devin Vassell

All-ACC teams

1st Team All-ACC

Jordan Nwora 

Cole Anthony 

Tre Jones 

Vernon Carey

Markell Johnson

2nd Team All-ACC

Mamadi Diakite 

Chris Lykes

Xavier Johnson 

John Mooney

Elijah Hughes

3rd Team All-ACC

Trent Forrest 

Jose Alvarado 

Matthew Hurt 

Dwayne Sutton 

Garrison Brooks 

1st Team All-Freshman 

Cole Anthony 

Vernon Carey

Matthew Hurt

Samuell Williamson

Armando Bacot

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