ACC 2019-20 Tipoff

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 21st, 2019

We are now just over two weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next two weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be sharing our preseason thoughts on Twitter. Follow us there – @rtcACC, Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald). But first, let’s put a bow on last season and take a quick peak ahead at the upcoming campaign.

2018-19 Recap

Redemption and miracle finishes were the themes in Virginia’s dramatic run to the 2019 National Championship. (USA TODAY Sports)

It was another highly successful year for the conference. The ACC became the first league in history to land the top three rankings in the final AP poll – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – all of which earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in one of the all-time best NCAA turnarounds, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers collected the program’s first National Championship just one year after suffering the agonizing distinction of becoming the first top seed in history to fall to a #16 seed. To add to the drama, Virginia faced extreme peril in each of its final three games in last season’s tourney. According to KenPom’s win probability model, the Cavaliers overcame the following situations:

  • Elite Eight vs Purdue – Trailed 70-67 with 16 seconds to play (Win Probability = 12.2%)
  • Final Four vs Auburn – Trailed 61-57 with 17 seconds to play (Win Probability = 5.5%)
  • Title Game vs Texas Tech – Trailed 68-65 with 22 seconds to play (Win Probability = 13.0%)

While the chance of success in any one of those three scenarios was low, the probability of beating the odds in all three was downright microscopic (.087%). Individually, Duke freshman Zion Williamson became a national icon and swept most National Player of the Year awards before becoming the first player selected in June’s NBA Draft. Nine other ACC players joined him in the first-round, tying the all-time record for a conference’s single-season output (ACC – 2017).

Quick Look at 2019-20

Louisville’s Jordan Nwora is the ACC’s top returning scorer in 2019-20. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With so many departed stars hearing their names called on draft night, the ACC is looking at a talent deficit heading into this season. For the first time in league history, the ACC does not return a single member of the first and second team all-ACC selections. In fact, among the top 20 players who received all-ACC votes, only three return – Louisville’s Jordan Nwora (3rd team), Notre Dame’s John Mooney (3rd team) and Duke’s Tre Jones (honorable mention). The personnel losses among the league’s upper echelon are significant as well — Virginia and North Carolina each lose three of the ACC’s top 10 players, and Duke will be missing two of those as well. While those three programs will be expected to remain among the nation’s elite this year, it is quite likely that they come back to the pack somewhat within ACC play. At ACC Operation Basketball earlier this month, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said, “This year I think it’s wide open . . .  and I think the league will be more balanced.”

As usual, Duke was the media’s choice to win the league, followed by a North Carolina team that features the media’s choice for the ACC’s top newcomer – flashy point guard Cole Anthony. With a solid group of returnees in the fold (including ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Nwora), Louisville is receiving a lot of national love – Chris Mack’s squad finished third in the ACC Media’s preseason poll, just ahead of Virginia. We also expect substantial improvement from several of last year’s ACC bottom dwellers, i.e., Notre Dame, Miami and Pittsburgh. That should result in a very compressed cluster of clubs in the middle of the conference standings, putting multiple ACC teams on NCAA bubble-watch lists in February and March.

The ACC Network channel finally launched in August 2019 and, in related news, the ACC is implementing its new 20-game format for league play beginning this season. It’s not a coincidence that the expanded conference slate is going into effect at the same time that the league’s brand new network needs to add live programming to its inventory. To jump-start both initiatives, every school except Duke (Champions Classic) will open the season with an ACC game on either Tuesday, November 5 or Wednesday, November 6. And the ACC Network will be right there to bring us the action – two games each night will be telecast on the league’s newest platform.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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