“Once more Tobacco Road shall rule the ACC….and we shall have peace”
Not to offend anyone whose allegiances fall outside the Raleigh-Durham area but when the ACC media released their predictions of a UNC-Duke-NC State 1-2-3 finish it was as though the sports world as we know had been restored to the glory years of the 1980s when the Triangle schools battled each other for ACC supremacy and it was fantastic. It would appear that his season we are slated to relive those days. The ACC, while sapped of some of its overall strength, still produces the best basketball in the nation and following a football season that has been less than exciting it will be a welcome sight.
The ACC this season can be broken down into three clear tiers of teams. The top tier heading into the season is clearly that Tobacco Road contingent. North Carolina is the favorite returning experience and talent from a team that came within six minutes of the Final Four. The two biggest challenges for UNC will come from Duke and NC State. Duke lost only Josh McRoberts which might be addition by subtraction. The Blue Devils will rely heavily on an excellent freshman class led by Kyle Singler and a mix experienced players like Greg Paulus and Demarcus Nelson. Duke plays good defense and will look to speed up the offense over last season’s Princeton like production. The Wolfpack ride into this season with a lot of confidence from the run that ended the last one and must address one huge issue, the point guard. With Engin Atsur gone, NCSU will look to transfer Farnold Degand initially though other players awaiting injury and eligibility to work themselves out could emerge. The Pack boast an excellent frontline and versatile athletes besides. What happens when these three play each other likely will decide how the top of the standings shake out.
The middle tier should make for some fairly entertaining jockeying since this is where the greatest margin of error occurs with any preseason predictions. If you are looking for the basic difference between the top three and the middle six it is the top three have most of the pieces in place and deal with 1-2 issues. The middle six generally have a handful of pieces in place but either do not have enough talent or have serious deficiencies at key spots. Clemson for example returns several key players from a team that started out 17-0 before they remembered they were Clemson. At any rate, Oliver Purnell is more than capable of getting this team into the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are probably the best of the middle six on paper. One team that has a cloud of questions around them is Virginia who have Sean Singletary and a cast behind him that no one really knows how they will fare. If they are surprisingly good then UVa could be in a battle with Clemson for fourth. Otherwise UVa could slip if the Cavs have to lean on Singletary too much. I think UVa will end up being a step ahead of Clemson when it is all said and done. Boston College and Maryland have good guard play coming back but lost so much at the other positions it will be imperative for the respective point guards direct the offense into consistent productivity. Georgia Tech has to replace Javaris Critteton and Thaddeus Young. Critteton is the more important loss since GT has to break in a new PG in a conference that depends heavily on PG play. Florida State must address the loss Al Thornton but has a good core intact. Then again FSU has perpetually teased NCAA Tournament only to come up short and Leonard Hamilton is mostly ineffective as a head coach.
The bottom tier of the conference could be called the hurting and wounded division. Two of the three teams projected for the bottom of the conference have seen incredible tragedy in the past year impacting the team. Wake Forest lost head coach Skip Prosser to a tragic and sudden death. The Deacons proceed under Dino Gaudio who was promoted following Prosser’s death. Wake is appears to be on the upside of a rebuild with quality recruits on the way and some good players already in place. The added emotion of the past few months might inspire this team to overachieve which means a move into the middle tier is entirely possible. Virginia Tech begins life after Zabina Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and Coleman Collins. That life was made tougher by the transfer of one guard and an incoming player who asked to be released following the shootings last April. This Hokie team has Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo along with a very young team. It will be a return to the way things have traditionally been in Blacksburg, at least for this season. As for Miami I would never suggest that the state of the Miami basketball program is “tragic” on the level of the what Wake and VT has endured. However within the context of basketball only, Miami is an unmitigated mess that will have them at rock bottom in the ACC.
In my mind watching an ACC season unfold is an incredibly entertaining saga. This season should be more of the same.
3. NC State
6. Georgia Tech
8. Florida State
9. Boston College
10. Wake Forest
11. Virginia Tech
Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough, UNC
Rookie of the Year: J.J. Hickson, NC State
Coach of the Year: Dino Gaudio, Wake Forest
Tyler Hansbrough, UNC
Ty Lawson, UNC
Brandon Costner, NC State
Sean Singletary, UVa
Kyle Singler, Duke