It’s hard to believe we are approaching conference college hoops play with how the college and NFL Football seasons are going. On top of that there have been at least a hundred cancellations or postponements of games throughout the country.
However, just like football before it, college hoops pushes on. This year, however, we have already become infatuated with the way Gonzaga is playing basketball this year. The Zags have started 4-0 and have already taken out some giants like (3) Kansas , (7) West Virginia, and (4) Iowa. T
hey were scheduled to play the second-ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday, December 5th, in Indianapolis. It looks like we might just have to wait until the 2021 Final Four to see those two programs collide. For now though, we’re sticking the possibly the deepest conference in all of the Country: The ACC!
Last Year Florida State won the ACC Tournament by default after the games were cancelled. Heavyweights Duke and North Carolina seem to be heading in opposite directions, right now at least. Virginia might be a slight favorite in the early going, but the Cavaliers had two ugly wins in the off-season slate versus, including the time when they beat Kent State at home in overtime. So, we’re going to try and make these brief previews, and expand on them in our new weekly podcast, 94 Feet In 94 Minutes or Less. Lets get down to business.
(Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Florida State)
Virginia: The highest ranked team in the AP Poll, coming in at 16th is Tony Bennett and the reigning national champions*, the Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are sitting pretty early with a record of 3-1. Their lone loss came at the hands of the San Francisco Dons in the HomeLight Classic. Per usual, Tony Bennett’s team relies on their defense and balanced offensive scoring. The Cavaliers leading scorer is Sam Hauser, who sat out last year after transferring from Marquette. This is the most wide open the ACC has been in years, and if the Cavaliers can keep up their defensive pressure, and find ways to get to the bucket, they will be right near the top of the ACC all season long.
North Carolina: After a disastrous season last year, Roy Williams looks to get the Heels back on their normal path. The Heels come in 1 spot behind the Cavaliers in the AP Poll at 17th. Williams brings in the second ranked recruiting class, only behind 1-6 Kentucky. Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler are all five star recruits who should get a bunch of early playing time. Williams also brings back 2019 second-team all-ACC center Garrison Brooks. Love is the key to Roy Williams fast paced offense. The 6 foot 4 ball-handler will be relied on heavily, after Cole Anthony skipped another year in Chapel Hill to start playing in the NBA for the Orlando Magic. Look for the Heels to score a little less than usual this year. However, their defense should be much better considering they will have guys like Brooks, Kessler, Sharpe, and returning center Armando Bacot.
Duke: Duke was one of the first schools to openly push for the college basketball season to be started later. Might it be because Coach K knows his team is not nearly as good as his past couple teams in Durham? The Blue Devils did bring in the third ranked recruiting class, but this team is not the same team from 2018 with Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish. The Blue Devils have started rocky, losing games to Michigan State and Illinois, who are both good teams. Coach K returns Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore. Hurt leads the team in scoring with 18.8 points per game early in the season. Look for the Blue Devils to stick near the top half of the ACC for most of the season.
Florida State: Florida State is ranked 21st in the latest AP Poll. The Seminoles lost Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell to the NBA. Williams went fourth overall to the Bulls, and Vassell went 11th to the San Antonio Spurs. The Noles’ sit at 5-1 on the season, with their only loss coming at the hands of the UCF Golden Knights. M.J. Walker leads the team in scoring, pouring in 16 points per game. The Seminoles bench is very deep, but not necessarily good. Head Coach Leonard Hamilton will have to coach very well to keep this Seminole team in the top three of the ACC.
The Middle of the Pack
(Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Miami, Louisville, Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina State)
Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech surprised a lot of people last year by finishing fifth in the ACC. However, they did have a lucky conference schedule. The Yellow Jackets return what could be the best back-court duo in the ACC. Michael Devoe and Jose Alvarado combined for 30 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds per game last year. They are also both good defenders, snatching three steals a game between the two last year. Look for the Jackets to hang tough with the top teams in the conference, but come up a little bit short most of the time. The Jackets could finish 3rd or fourth but the most likely is fifth or sixth, just like last year.
Syracuse Orangemen: This year’s Boeheim coached team will not be shy to shoot. Joe Girard and the coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim will be shooting threes at will this year. Boeheim also brings in seven freshmen. The real question about the Orange this year will be whether or not they can improve upon their vaunted 2-3 zone defense. With seven newcomers, Boeheim will have to coach quickly to get the young guys up to par.
Miami Hurricanes: After a lot of success from 2014-2018, the Canes’ are coming off of two straight losing seasons. However, they do have one of my favorite players leading them, 5 foot 7 point guard Chris Lykes. The Hurricanes should be able to compete for a spot in March Madness, but replacing last year’s leading rebounder, Sam Waardenburg, who is out this year after suffering a broken foot in October, should be the hardest part of Jim Laaranaga’s job this year.
Louisville: The Cardinals have been crushed by injuries early on this year. Big man Malik Williams, a team captain, will most likely miss the entire season after breaking a bone in his foot for the second time in 14 months. San Francisco graduate transfer Charles Minlend is out six weeks with a knee injury. That means Radford transfer Carlik Jones, will handle most of the load on offense. He will be helped out by sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson. Johnson is an NBA-prospect who plays a physical game at the point guard for the Cardinals.
Clemson: Apparently Dabo Swinney isn’t the only coach at Clemson that can recruit. Tigers head Coach Brad Brownell is bringing in his best recruiting class that includes three four-star players. P.J. Hall, a 6 foot 8 wing player, Olivier Maxence-Prosper, a player from the NBA’s Latin America Adademy, and big man Lynn Kid, are all first year players who will be relied on heavily in their freshmen campaigns. Joining them will be returning players Aamir Simms, who averaged 13 a game last year, Al-Amir Dawes, who averaged 9 points a game, and John Newman III, who averaged around ten a game last year. If the trio of freshmen can come in and contribute quickly, while also playing up to high standards, then Clemson could finish much higher than ninth in the ACC.
North Carolina State: Head Coach Kevin Keatts will use almost his entire roster to keep his up-tempo pace humming. Returning for the Wolfpack are three seniors who are very experienced playing in Keatts up-tempo offense. Devon Daniels, D.J. Funderburk, and Braxton Beverly all return to play in Keatts system. Also returning is junior defensive standout Jericole Hellems and sophomore rim protector Manny Bates. Add in Nebraska transfer Thomas Allen, and the Pack might have the defense Keatts needs to run his offense.
Notre Dame: Surprisingly Notre Dame has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2017. However, they got back on track last year, winning 20 games for head coach Mike Brey. It’s really now or never time for the Fighting Irish, as their junior class, which arrived in South Bend with a lot of hype two years ago. However, they haven’t lived up to expectations so far. Guards Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin combined for 22 points per game last year. Another man from the talented junior class is Nate Laszewski, who put up 7 points and 5 rebounds a game last year. The fans in South Bend also have high hopes for Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan, and returning big man Juwan Durham. The Irish should be a bubble team all year long.
(Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Boston College)
Virginia Tech: Mike Young in is his second year in Blacksburg and is still rebuilding. They started great last year, going 14-5, however, the bottom fell out late as the Hokies finished 16-16. The Hokies do return some three point shooting in guards Jalen Cone, Nahiem Alleyne, and Hunter Catoor. The Hokies should be fighting for a top ten finish in the conference, but that’s about it.
Pittsburgh: Pitt finished last year tied for last in the ACC. They do return some important players like Xavier Johnson (11.7 PPPG 4.9 APG), Justin Champagnie (12.7 PPG 7 RPG), and Au’Diese Toney (10 PPG 5 RPG). However, they expected high impact transfer Nike Sibande to be playing this year, but his request for immediate eligibility was denied. Sibande would have been huge for the Panthers. He scored over 1400 points in three seasons at Miami (OH).
Boston College: Boston College will be rebuilding for a couple of years. Former Kent State Head Coach Jim Christian was lucky to be brought back after a poor season last year. This will be his 11th year at Boston College, with his best finish in the ACC be at 7-11. Guard Wynston Tabbs, averaged 19 points per game back in 2018-2019, before missing all of last season with an injury. Joining the Eagles this year is Providence transfer Makai Ashton-Langford, who should form a formidable back-court with Tabbs. Big man Steffon Mitchell could be a double-double guy as the season goes along.
Wake Forest: Like the Eagles of Boston College, the Demon Deacons will be rebuilding for a couple of years. New head coach Steve Forbes, arrived in North Carolina after a great run at East Tennessee State. However, former head coach Danny Manning didn’t leave him much to build around. The Demon Deacon’s best returning player was 7-footer Olivier Sarr, who transferred to Kentucky. If they are coached right, these Demon Deacons can be aggressive and pesky defenders at their best. Don’t expect much from coach Forbes and the Demon Deacons this year.
Awards & All-Conference Teams
Player of the Year: Garrison Brooks, C, North Carolina: Lost in the disappointing year last year, was Brooks’ fantastic season. The 6 foot 9 big man had six Tyler Hansbrough-esque games to finish the season. In the final six games Brooks averaged 24 points and 10 free throws per game. Even with newcomers Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe, the Tarheel offense will run through Brooks. He is already second on the team in scoring, and second in rebounds. However, he has struggled from the charity stripe at times, so he needs to step up his game if he wants this to be a Tarheel season to remember.
Newcomer of the Year: Sam Hauser, F, Virginia: With plenty of freshmen joining the ACC this year, it is an experienced transfer player who will make the most impact. Hauser, who transferred from Marquette two years ago, had to sit out last year. During that time head coach Tony Bennett has had a lot of time to erase the memory of Marquette’s defense and implement the Cavaliers bullish brand of defensive basketball. Hauser is already averaging near 13 points per game this year.
Dark-Horse to Win the Conference:
Clemson: As mentioned earlier, the Tigers bring in a trio of four-star players this year. If those youngsters can adapt and play at a high level early, Clemson could make some noise in the ACC. However, as of now, the two returning players Aamir Simms and Al-Amir Dawes lead the team in scoring. Be on the lookout for the Tigers, as in their first six games they have games at North Carolina, and hosting Florida State and Virginia.
Sam Hauser, F, Virginia
Garrison Brooks, F, North Carolina
Matthew Hurt, F, Duke
M.J. Walker, G, Florida State
Wynston Tabbs, G, Boston College
Follow Me on Twitter: @BrownlojCLE
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