The Atlantic Coast Conference will look a little bit different during the 2013-14 college basketball season.
Premier programs Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join the fold (with Louisville hot on their tails in the 2014-15 campaign), which will make one of the strongest leagues in the country that much better.
With premier programs come premier players, meaning the incumbent statistical leaders will have their hands full if they hope to hold on to their nightly average crowns. Read on to see who will lead the new-look ACC in each major statistical category this season.
Despite a disappointing 2012-13 season for Virginia Tech, Erick Green of the Hokies led the nation in points per game. However, he has graduated, and the crown is once again up for grabs this year.
It may be going out on a limb to give a freshman the nod here, but there is a reason Sports Illustrated raved about Duke’s Jabari Parker being the next great player long before Andrew Wiggins-mania began (even calling Parker the best high school player since LeBron James).
He is arguably the best recruit in the past five years not named Wiggins but just happens to be stuck in the same class as the Kansas-bound star.
Duke is the way-too-early ACC favorite largely because of the talent Parker brings to the table. He is a pure scorer who can find the basket from nearly anywhere. He has the ball-handling skills to attack the rim off the dribble, has a formidable mid-range shot and can post up smaller defenders.
Look for C.J. Fair of Syracuse to have a say in this race as well, but Parker can score in such a variety of ways that he will lead the conference in points in year one.
As long as we are jumping on the freshmen bandwagon with the Jabari Parker pick for points per game, let’s give the hypothetical ACC assist title to freshman Tyler Ennis of Syracuse.
According to Ennis’ Scout.com profile, his best attributes on the floor are a high basketball IQ, impressive ball-handling abilities and advanced court vision. If a coach could pick three traits to have for a point guard, especially a young one, he would be hard-pressed to find three better ones than those.
Ennis isn’t much of a scorer at this point, which only helps his chances to average more assists a night than anyone else in the conference. He will be a pass-first distributor from the lead guard spot in Jim Boeheim’s offense.
The amount of talented teammates who will surround the young Ennis will help him settle in early and post impressive assist totals. Look for C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and the rest of the Orange to benefit from Ennis’ passing prowess.
Akil Mitchell is the leading returning rebounder in the conference following a season where he pulled down nine boards a night for a Virginia squad that just missed the NCAA tournament.
Mitchell will be a senior in 2013-14, and there is no reason not to expect his numbers to improve during his final collegiate campaign (from sophomore to junior year Mitchell’s rebounds-per-game more than doubled).
His defensive effort and tenaciousness on the glass are two of the primary reasons why the Cavaliers hope to finish the job and actually make the Big Dance this year.
Much like the scoring title race, look for C.J. Fair to insert himself into the rebounding battle as well. However, it will be Mitchell's athleticism, wingspan and impressive hops for his size that will win out by season’s end.
Quinn Cook has been sharing backcourt duties with the likes of Austin Rivers and Seth Curry the past two seasons in Durham, but the 2013-14 campaign will be his opportunity as the primary point guard.
While that clearly comes with an entire set of offensive responsibilities, Mike Krzyzewski will undoubtedly be leaning on his junior lead guard to improve on what was already an impressive sophomore year on the defensive end. Cook averaged nearly 1.5 steals a night in an ACC that had plenty of formidable ball-handlers.
Cook will see more minutes this season and will spearhead a defensive attack that will be breaking in a handful of new players (Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are in, while Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Curry are out). His confidence and fearlessness will help him lead the ACC in steals.
Also working in his favor is the fact that point guards Shane Larkin and Lorenzo Brown are no longer in college, which eliminates two competitors for this statistical crown and two of the better ball-handlers in the league.
K.J. McDaniels plays for Clemson, so he doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but he is a shot-blocking machine.
McDaniels swatted more than two shots a contest in 2012-13 as a sophomore, and now that he is an upperclassman with experience and a better understanding of the defensive game, he will dominate the paint in the ACC this year.
There will be some challengers for the blocks title, but McDaniels will redirect more shots than anyone else in the conference.
If Clemson hopes to improve on a very disappointing season, McDaniels will need to anchor both the defense and the offense from down low. The ACC will be even more difficult in 2013-14, so he needs to make an early statement that the Tigers won’t be pushovers.
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