ACC Preview

Steve O Speak

By contributing Fanspeak writer Geoff Nelowet

1. North Carolina (6)

The Tar Heels do not rebuild – they reload, and that is what they are doing after winning a national title a season ago. Sophomore forward Ed Davis is a pre-season All-American pick, and he will undoubtedly be North Carolina’s best player. Sophomore PF/C Tyler Zeller, a McDonald’s All-American, will also have a big role this season, as he backed up Tyler Hansborough a year ago before suffering a major wrist injury that kept him off the court for 13 weeks. Senior forward Deon Thompson will get his shot at leading the Tar Heels. He is also a top-notch talent that would start on any team. The question marks come in the backcourt for the Tar Heels, as they are lacking experience aside from senior Marcus Ginyard, who is also coming off a major injury. Ginyard, though, will be a great asset because his defensive skills are among the best in the ACC. If Ginyard stays healthy, he could push UNC as a top-five team.

2. Duke (9)

Kyle Singler is arguably the best player in the ACC, and he is one of the best in the nation. He averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 boards a year ago, and he will improve on those numbers. He has both an inside and outside game, and he is very versatile as both a scorer and rebounder. Jon Scheyer, at point guard, is also one of the best in the ACC. His length and skills make him hard to guard, and his decision-making is nearly flawless. Duke plays very sound, fundamental basketball, but to be a one-seed come March, they will need players such as junior guard Nolan Smith and freshman Mason Plumlee to play at a very high level. Unfortunately, Plumlee recently hurt his wrist, and he will be out for the next few weeks. Smith, though, has made major strides this offseason, and his coaches and teammates expect him to have a breakout year. Should this happen, Duke could win the ACC.

3. Clemson (22)

I hesitate to rank Clemson this high because they always seem to fade at the end of the season. Last year was the only time they maintained strong play over the last few weeks. Oliver Purnell is a good coach, though, and he will have this talented team ready to play consistently. Trevor Booker at power forward is the Tigers’ best player, and he is a definite all-ACC prospect. Booker is the center of the Tigers’ success after averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds last season. His younger brother Devin Booker has joined the Clemson roster, and he could be a contributor this year. Heralded freshman Milton Jennings will decide how far Clemson will go this year. He is a McDonald’s All-American, and he could be a big threat on the offensive end at the forward position. Clemson has an abundance of talent this year, and it will fall on Purnell to make everything work. I would expect big things from Clemson this year, and a two or three-seed in March would not be out of the question.

4. Maryland (25)

Greivis Vasquez is familiar name around the ACC, and his senior campaign comes with high expectations. After averaging over 17 points per game over the last two years, it will be hard to statistically top his past years, but he could improve in the assist category. He averaged nearly 7 assists two seasons ago, but last year that number took a dive to 5 per game. Getting his teammates involved should be a major priority. Also, Vasquez has worked on his outside shot this off-season, which has been a major weakness. Senior guard Eric Hayes is essentially the antithesis of Vasquez, as his game is based on his outside shot. He will have to become a bigger factor in the offense to push the Terps to the next level. It is important to note that Vasquez led the team in rebounding a year ago, which is problematic. Maryland lacks an inside presence, and that equates to very few easy baskets. This team will go as far as players other than Vasquez will take them. Expect a 6-8 seed in the NCAA tournament.

5. Georgia Tech (21)

Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors are the center of this team.  Forward Gani Lawal averaged over 15 points and 9 rebounds last season, and Derrick Favors is coming in as one of the most highly touted freshman in the nation. The Yellow Jackets will hard to match up with down low, and they will be the best rebounding team in the conference. Their backcourt is solid with Iman Shumpert returning after a strong freshman year averaging 10 points 5 assists and just over 2 steals per game. Those three players could all be first round NBA draft prospects next summer. It is hard to tell just how good Georgia Tech is, as one of their primary players is a freshman, but they are definitely one of the most talented teams in the conference, and they can contend with any team. They will make the NCAA tournament.

6. Wake Forest 7. Virginia Tech 8. Florida State

It would not be a big surprise if one or two of these teams made the tournament. Virginia Tech has one of the best players in the conference in point guard Malcolm Delaney.

9. Miami 10. Boston College 11. Virginia 12.  N.C. State

These are the bottom feeders of the conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one of these teams has an overall losing record. The one intriguing team is Virginia. They have a first-year head coach, and they have some talent. Returning ACC freshman of the year Sylven Landesberg makes things interesting in Charlottesville.

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