RTC Conference Primers: #4 – Atlantic Coast ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on November 3rd, 2010
Matt Patton is the RTC Correspondent for the ACC.
Predicted Order of Finish
- 1. Duke (15-1)
- 2. Virginia Tech (12-4)
- T3. North Carolina (10-6)
- T3. NC State (10-6)
- 5. Florida State (9-7)
- 6. Maryland (9-7)
- 7. Clemson (8-8)
- 8. Miami (7-9)
- 9. Boston College (5-11)
- 10. Wake Forest (4-12)
- 11. Georgia Tech (4-12)
- 12. Virginia (3-13)
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)
- G: Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech (20.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.5 APG)
- G: Nolan Smith, Duke (17.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.0 APG)
- F: Kyle Singler (POY), Duke (17.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.4 APG)
- F: Harrison Barnes, UNC (26.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.1 SPG for Ames High School)
- C: Tracy Smith, NC State (16.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.1 APG)
Chris Singleton (F), Florida State (10.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.2 APG)
Harrison Barnes (F, UNC) and Kyrie Irving (G, Duke).
Here’s the catch. Barnes might be the better player statistically, and he should have an unbelievable season, but if Duke’s repeat hopes rest on Irving’s shoulders, I’m not sure how he couldn’t be an impact newcomer. Both have NBA scouts fawning over them.
What You Need To Know
People will probably say the ACC is having a down year again, but statistically, in the ACC’s “down season” last year, it finished as the highest ranked conference by Ken Pomeroy (just above the Big 12). Even though the conference has won five of the last ten NCAA championships, people will argue it’s in decline after perennial contender UNC had a devastating season and Duke caught a few breaks on the road to the National Championship. That said, the ACC will not be the country’s deepest conference this season, but that doesn’t mean it will be irrelevant beyond the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. The ACC has five recruiting classes in ESPN’s top 25, which should ease the loss of important conference players like Greivis Vasquez, Jon Scheyer, Sylven Landesberg, Trevor Booker and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Duke (NCAA #1 Seed) – Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad should not only be favored to win the conference, they should be favored to win the NCAA Tournament. Duke returns two Preseason All-Americans in Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith from last year’s championship team. Kyrie Irving is the highest-touted Duke recruit since Jason Williams, who led the Blue Devils to the 2001 title. Irving is also considered by scouts as the best true point guard of this class. Additionally, the Blue Devils picked up four-star power forward Joshua Hairston and Seth Curry (who averaged 20.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG and 2.3 APG in his freshman season at Liberty), both of whom should see lots of playing time. Duke loses three starters from last year’s team: Jon Scheyer (18.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.9 APG), Lance Thomas (4.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 APG), and Brian Zoubek (5.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.0 APG). Losing three starters would normally lower expectations for a team. But, if anything, this Duke team should be more talented than last year’s squad. According to Evan Daniels of Scout.com: three people who have watched Duke recently “are raving about their overall talent and Kyrie Irving.” If you’re looking for more praise (not likely), Dan Wetzel tweeted: “Keep hearing from NBA scouts who’ve seen Duke practice describe Devils as ‘scary’ ‘complete’ ‘even better.’” He followed that up rebutting the pro-Coach K media saying “These are NBA scouts raving about Duke, not supposedly pro-Coach K media.” And last but not least, Luke Winn ranked the Blue Devil backcourt first in the nation and the frontcourt second (after Purdue, whose loss of Robbie Hummel almost certainly drops them a couple of spots). Long story short, Duke is going to be very, very good this year, especially if Mason Plumlee has the breakout season people are expecting.
Normally, this section would be called “Contenders,” but Duke should run away with the ACC this season. If you’re looking for reasons, I think plenty were mentioned above.
- Virginia Tech (NCAA #3 seed) The Hokies return all five starters, including four seniors, headlined by Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson (15.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.9 APG). Make sure to keep your eyes on Hudson this season, as he has the capability to put up all-ACC numbers, and he’ll probably be the difference between Virginia Tech being a pretty good team (no worries Hokies fans, you’re still an NCAA team) and a very good team (a la Maryland last season). Last season, Virginia Tech was snubbed on Selection Sunday for having a weak non-conference schedule. That shouldn’t be a problem this season, assuming they can win some games in the 76 Classic (the top teams should be Murray State and UNLV), Kansas State, or Purdue in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. But most importantly, Seth Greenberg’s squad should hear their names called come Selection Sunday, and they should be a pretty high seed.
- UNC (NCAA #5 seed) – There’s no way around it: The Tar Heels had a horrendous season. I challenge you to come up with a worse scenario for UNC fans than having an undeniably talented team crash and burn down the stretch (having to scramble for a .500 record), losing in the final game of the NIT (making the NIT is bad enough), and having their Tobacco Road nemesis win the National Championship after crushing the Tar Heels by 32 in Durham. But that’s water under the bridge; the Tar Heels should be much better this season. They bring in a stellar recruiting class lead by top prospect Harrison Barnes (who has already garnered a Preseason National Player of the Year pick from Gary Parrish), the first freshman to be named to the AP’s Preseason All-American Team since 1986, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall (all McDonalds All-Americans). Roy Williams’ team lost its top four scorers to graduation, the NBA draft and violations of team rules (Will Graves) and Travis and David Wear transferred to UCLA. This lack of leadership and frontcourt depth is the major issue with picking the Tar Heels to do much better than a five seed (and why they could be as low as a nine). UNC needs to prove they can win. Roy Williams’ teams rely on a star point guard to run his breakneck pace: much of their struggles came down to Larry Drew II and Dexter Strickland’s lack of consistency at the point. Harrison Barnes cannot do it all by himself, and one of their potential point guards needs to step up next season if they’re going to be the top-15 team experts are projecting.
- NC State (NCAA #7 seed) will also be relevant this season. In a desperate attempt to save his job, Sidney Lowe brought some major talent to Raleigh this season. Power forward CJ Leslie (another McDonalds All-American) and backcourt duo Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown are the Wolfpack’s freshest faces. On top of their talented freshmen, they also return three starters: Second Team all-ACC Tracy Smith, Javier Gonzalez (9.5 PPG, 3.7 APG) and sharpshooter Scott Wood (7.8 PPG). If Lowe can find the chemistry in this team, they have the talent to make a run for second in the ACC. That’s probably a big if though, as Lowe has struggled ever since coming to NC State. With the temperature rising, we should see his best effort to get this team to the Big Dance.
- Florida State (NCAA #7 seed) lost center Solomon Alabi (11.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.3 BPG) to the NBA. They led the NCAA in field goal percentage defense last season largely thanks to Alabi’s ability to clean up anything that got by the Seminole perimeter defenders by blocking and altering shots. Junior college transfer Jon Kreft (7’0) should be able to help make up for Alabi’s absence, but he probably won’t be nearly as productive in his first season with the Seminoles. Luckily, Chris Singleton is back following his ACC Defensive Player of the Year campaign. FSU brings in a solid recruiting class that should fill in the remaining holes in their roster. Don’t look for Florida State to be the most exciting team in the conference, but they should be good enough defensively to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
- Maryland (NCAA #9 Seed): The Terrapins come off a season culminating in a three-seed to the Big Dance, but lost their top three scorers, including conference Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez (19.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.3 APG). But don’t totally count the Terrapins out. Gary Williams always finds a way to make his team relevant, even if he doesn’t have to best players around. That and Jordan Williams had a phenomenal freshman campaign, almost averaging a double-double. Sean Mosley also had a very efficient season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics, so don’t be surprised if he ends up stepping up as his usage increases this season.
The Middle of the Pack
- Clemson (NIT) has to fill some major holes this season. First, they lost leading rebounder and scorer Trevor Booker. Then Oliver Purnell packed his bags for DePaul. (Were people really confused why Purnell left his job at Clemson when DePaul offered him a contract worth more that two million dollars a year at a fallen program, or that DePaul offered a coach who hasn’t ever made it past the first round of the Big Dance a contract worth more than two million dollars a year? I’m confused.) Now the Tigers are left with a younger team that’s going to have to work a lot harder for offense. Littlejohn Coliseum is still a tough place to play, and if Brad Brownell takes advantage of his team’s athleticism, it should still win a handful of games.
- Miami (NIT) really put it together at the end of last season, blowing out NCAA Tournament-bound Wake Forest, beating Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament and coming three points short of upsetting Duke. The best news about the late-season Hurricane surge is that it was largely thanks to returners Reggie Johnson (who scored 22 points with four rebounds in the win against Wake Forest) and Durand Scott (who put up 17 points and six rebounds to beat Virginia Tech and 21 points and four rebounds in the close loss to Duke). Reggie Johnson in particular was very efficient and should benefit the Hurricanes a lot with more possessions.
- Boston College (NIT/CBI) also faced a little offseason turmoil after firing Al Skinner. The Eagles finally settled on Cornell’s Steve Donahue, fresh of his Sweet Sixteen run) as the new coach. The good news is that Donahue didn’t lose any returnees to transfer, and four of last year’s starters (everyone but Rakim Sanders) are still with the Eagles. Donahue is going to need to prove he can win at the ACC level, however, which could be very challenging. He’s a great coach, but his Cornell teams were consistently the most talented in the Ivy League, whereas Boston College does not fit that description in the ACC (and also lost to Cornell’s Ivy brethren Harvard last season). I think Donahue will be a great choice in the coming years, but I don’t expect him to win a ton of conference games next year.
Not To Be Forgotten
- Wake Forest looked like a team trying to lose in the NCAA Tournament last year. Luckily, they played a Texas team that fell apart even more (in an ugly matchup, the teams combined missed 22 free throws, including six when the game was on the line) only to go on to get blown out by Kentucky in the second round. The only difference this year is the Demon Deacons have a new coach, need to replace four starters, and released Tony Woods after an investigation into a domestic abuse incident with his girlfriend. Coach Jeff Bzdelik has a longstanding relationship with Athletic Director Ron Wellman, and firing one coach for not having postseason success and replacing him with a man who never took Colorado to the postseason sounds like shaky reasoning, so we’ll see how this effort turns out.
- Georgia Tech lost everything from last year. They had arguably the strongest (certainly the most talented) frontcourt in the country last year with Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal and Zachary Peacock. This year, they have nothing up front. The Yellow Jackets will have to rely on Iman Shumpert, who had a horrendous 38.5% field goal percentage, and Glen Rice, Jr. Coach Paul Hewitt seems like he’s on the hot seat every year, but he has such a large buyout and brings in insanely talented recruiting classes (like last year’s) that the university is reluctant to let him go. If he keeps underperforming, he might not be so lucky.
- Virginia looked like a promising team at the beginning of last season. Tony Bennett’s team started conference play off five and two before the wheels came off, and they lost their last nine conference games. This year, they bring in a fairly talented recruiting class lead by KT Harrell and James Johnson, but there’s no way the newcomers can take the place of double-edged sword Sylven Landesberg. The positive of Landesberg’s early departure may be more team chemistry, as he and Bennett were on visibly bad terms at the end of the season. But the Cavaliers need a go-to guy, and the returning starters benefited hugely from other teams having to focus on Landesberg. With a solid recruiting class this year and a couple of strong verbal commits on the horizon, Tony Bennett’s rebuilding should be realized within the next season or two.
Top 10 RPI Boosters
- Nov. 15, 2010 (ESPN, midnight) – Miami @ Memphis. Josh Pastner’s recruiting makes Memphis a top-25 team.
- Nov. 16, 2010 (ESPN, 4PM) – Virginia Tech @ Kansas State. The Wildcats are legitimate National Title contenders behind AP Preseason First-Teamer Jacob Pullen.
- Nov. 18, 2010 (ESPN2, 7PM) – Maryland vs. Pittsburgh (Coaches vs. Cancer). Pitt is the Big East favorite, but Maryland won’t go down without a fight.
- Nov. 23, 2010 (TBD) – Duke vs. Kansas State/Gonzaga (CBE Classic) – In an early challenge for the Blue Devils, they’ll either get a truly neutral game against Gonzaga, or a de facto roadie against the hot Wildcats.
All in all, the ACC got very lucky with the Challenge this year, with the toughest games largely at home. I think it’ll be another very close year, with the winner of UNC-Illinois making the difference (right now I’m giving the edge to the Illini).
- Nov. 30, 2010 (ESPN, 7:30PM) – Ohio State @ Florida State. It should be a very interesting to see how the Buckeyes handle the Seminoles’ stifling defense without Evan Turner.
- Nov. 30, 2010 (ESPN, 9:30PM) – UNC @ Illinois. Illinois is going to be very good this year, but UNC is probably more talented. Should be a close one.
- Dec. 1, 2010 (ESPN2, 7:15PM) – NC State @ Wisconsin. An awesome matchup. NC State has the talent; Wisconsin has experience and home-court advantage (the Badgers are almost impossible to beat in Madison).
- Dec. 1, 2010 (ESPN, 7:30PM) – Purdue @ Virginia Tech. This game probably got much closer (and may even favor the Hokies) after Robbie Hummel tore his ACL again.
- Dec. 1, 2010 (ESPN, 9:30PM) – Michigan State @ Duke. The premier non-conference matchup of the season. Don’t be shocked if these teams are 1-2 in the polls.
Other Notable Non-Conference Games
- Dec. 4, 2010 (CBS, 12:30PM) – Kentucky @ UNC. Two teams no one knows how to rank right now. Both are extremely talented; both rely heavily on youth.
- Dec. 4, 2010 (ESPN, 3:15PM) – Duke vs. Butler. A rematch of last year’s championship game? Count me in.
- Dec. 4, 2010 (ESPN2, 5:30PM) – NC State @ Syracuse. The Tracy Smith-Fab Melo matchup in the post should be great.
- Jan. 2, 2011 (FSN, 1:00PM) – Gonzaga @ Wake Forest. Unfortunately, this should be a thumping, but don’t underestimate home-court advantage.
- Feb. 23, 2011 (ESPN2, 7:00PM) – Temple @ Duke. Coach K’s signature “late-season good mid-major to gear up for the NCAA Tournament” game.
Important Conference Games
- Jan. 13, 2011 (ESPN/2, 9:00PM) – Virginia Tech @ UNC. The Hokies only play the Tar Heels once, and it’s on the road.
- Jan. 19, 2011 (ESPN, 7:00PM) – Duke @ NC State. The Wolfpack shocked the Blue Devils in Raleigh last year.
- Feb. 2, 2011 (ESPN/2, 7:00PM) – Virginia Tech @ NC State. Like UNC, State only has one shot at the Hokies.
- Feb. 9, 2011 (ESPN, 9:00PM) – UNC @ Duke. The best rivalry in the game is always important.
- Feb. 23, 2011 (Raycom, 9:00PM) – UNC @ NC State. Could have major implications for the conference standings.
- Feb. 26, 2011 (ESPN Game Day, 9:00PM) – Duke @ Virginia Tech. Might be Duke’s best chance for a loss, and the Hokies’ best chance to win the conference.
- Mar. 5, 2011 (CBS, 8:00PM) – Duke @ UNC. Watch the Tobacco Road rivalry for the first time on a Saturday night network TV timeslot.
The ACC is the only conference in Division-I basketball to have ten teams win 20 games or more, and it has happened twice in the last four years. Last year Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, UNC, NC State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest all won at least 20 games. As a side note, the conference only had nine teams prior to adding Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College in 2004.
NCAA Tournament History
Even casual fans know the ACC is swimming in postseason success, having won five championships in the last ten years. UNC and Duke are, not surprisingly, in the nation’s top four in all-time Tournament wins as well as National Championships. By winning percentage, the Blue Devils sport the nation’s best record in the Big Dance, at a 94-30 (.758) clip, and only the Pac-10 has more titles (15) than the ACC (12). The top-heavy track record makes it feasible to believe that NC State, a team which hasn’t made the Elite Eight since 1986, is fourth in the ACC in NCAA Tournament wins.
The ACC will be a very exciting league to watch. It has everything: a National Championship favorite; talent, young and old; and, most importantly, uncertainty. Any of Virginia Tech, UNC, NC State or Florida State could come in second. They could all be incredibly average, too. Apart from Duke, I think the ACC will have a lot of parity this season, which makes for great basketball.