ACC Basketball: In-Depth Preview, N.C. State Is Better Than You Think

Charlie LiContributor IMay 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  Nolan Smith #2 of the Duke Blue Devils looks to pass the ball against Shelvin Mack #1 of the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke won 61-59. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Well, the 2010 recruiting class is finally finished, so it's time to preview some college basketball. Yeah . . there's still like six months until the season starts, but we gotta do something while baseball is crushing our souls. First, let's take a look at the ACC, my personal favorite league. The ACC overall is probably going to be a little weaker than the the Big Ten this year, but should have enough quality teams to send seven or maybe even eight teams to the NCAA tournament. The Big East is slightly down this year with teams like UConn, Syracuse, and Georgetown not quite as strong as they are traditionally, so the ACC should be in contention for the second most powerful conference.

1. Duke

Last Year’s Record: 35-5 (13-3)

Key Departure: Jon Scheyer

Key Recruit: Kyrie Irving

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Kyrie Irving

SG: Nolan Smith

SF: Kyle Singler

PF: Miles Plumlee

C: Mason Plumlee

Not much to argue about here. Many consider my Blue Devils the preseason No. 1 overall. This team is absolutely loaded in the back court, and it could be justified that this is the best back court in the nation. Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins will form the core of the Duke perimeter rotation, and has the potential to be the highest scoring back court in the nation.

Back Court: Kyrie Irving will be a star, and the scary thing is, he's only going to improve because of the talent that surrounds him at Duke. Additionally, he is a player who will make everyone on the team better because of his ability to penetrate the defense with his great ball handling, hit the three pointer, and make plays with both his passing and scoring. Nolan Smith will join him in the starting lineup, where he flourished in his junior year as a dynamic scoring guard with the ability to create plays for himself and his teammates off the dribble. He is also a much improved shooter. Nolan's leadership will play a large part in this team's success. While he and Kyle Singler were named co-captains, there can be no doubt that Nolan is the heart and soul of this team, and their fortunes in the postseason will largely depend on his ability to foster team chemistry. Seth Curry will also surprise many people with his great ability to score. Even though he will come off the bench (at least to begin the season), Seth is one of the most talented players in the ACC. Andre Dawkins will be a year removed from the tragedy that struck his family last year, and should return as a dead-eye shooter who will stretch defenses. Freshman Tyler Thornton may also see some minutes as a defensive specialist.

Front Court: Up front, the Blue Devils aren't quite as deep as last year, when they rotated four guys in and out for the power positions. The losses of Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek will hurt in terms of rebounding and interior defense, but without big slow Zoubs, Duke can really run now. Mason and Miles Plumlee are both big, athletic, and most importantly, mobile. Both of these guys are capable of running 94 feet and finishing strong on a fast break. Expect both Plumlees to have breakout years. Kyle Singler needs no introduction. As last year's Final Four MOP, Singler will be a candidate for First Team All-America honors. Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston will both see some some minutes off the bench, most likely depending on the foul situation. Both players are more perimeter oriented forwards with good shooting touch, and both need to get stronger. Carrick Felix, the highly anticipated JUCO transfer decided to opt out of his letter of intent, so it is important that Kelly and Hairston develop quickly in to good role players.

Outlook: Duke will be a completely different team than last year, but with the addition of a pure point guard in Irving, we will see a fast, up and down style team who will have many three-point shooters and defend opponents past the three-point line. Mike Krzyzewski is a master of changing styles based on his personnel, so look for Duke to put up a strong bid for a title defense.

 

2. N.C. State

Last Year’s Record: 20-16 (5-11)

Key Departure: Farnold Degand

Key Recruit: C.J. Leslie

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Ryan Harrow

SG: Javier Gonzalez

SF: Scott Wood

PF: C.J. Leslie

C: Tracy Smith

This may come as a surprise to many people, but to me, the Wolf Pack added a VERY strong recruiting class to a decent team that won five games in the ACC last year, including a great win at home against my Dukies. Returning seniors Tracy Smith and Javier Gonzalez will provide the leadership for the three high impact freshman joining N.C. State. The amount of talent in the triangle area (better known as Tobacco Road) will be incredible this year. I believe this team is dangerous.

Back Court: Star freshman point guard Ryan Harrow will be given the controls from the first game. He is a dynamic athlete and will quickly become one of the best ball handlers in the league. Although he is a bit undersized at 5'11", Harrow has the hops to play much bigger. His fellow freshman Lorenzo Brown could challenge for a starting spot as well. Brown is also a very good athlete with the ability to really get up and play above the rim. Senior Javier Gonzalez will most likely start at the off guard position. Scott Wood will provide outside shooting.

Front Court: C.J. Leslie will be an instant impact player. He is a freak athlete and is a powerful finisher at the rim. I have been high on Leslie for a long time, and I believe he is the real deal. He can rebound, block shots and score equally well. Leslie has the vertical aptitude and the length to be able to affect almost every play near the basket and will be a strong candidate for All-ACC, if not national honors. Tracy Smith is a formidable interior scorer who led the Wolf Pack in scoring last year (16.5 ppg), and DeShawn Painter will provide rebounding and toughness off the bench.

Outlook: Many people will probably disagree with me that NC State is No. 2 here, but I think this team is fully capable of beating any team in the ACC. Ryan Harrow is extremely underrated, and C.J. Leslie is just an absolute BEAST. I fully believe that they can have the type of immediate impact that some of the freshman stars from last season did. The biggest question here is coach Sidney Lowe. If Lowe can make full use of his talent and find a way to bring out the best in his outstanding freshmen, N.C. State will be a force not only in the ACC, but in postseason play as well. However, if State somehow manages to fail to reach the NCAAs with this plethora of talent, Lowe is almost certainly out as head coach.

 

3. Virginia Tech

Last Year’s Record: 21-11 (9-7)

Key Departure: None

Key Recruit: Jarrell Eddie

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Malcolm Delaney

SG: Dorenzo Hudson

SF: Terrell Bell

PF: Jeff Allen

C: Victor Davila

Virginia Tech's core of Malcolm Delaney,  Dorenzo Hudson, and Jeff Allen have all returned and will lead the Hokies in a strong ACC campaign. With literally the same squad as last year plus a few recruits, this team has the experience and the senior leadership to really do some damage. Seth Greenberg is, in my opinion, one of the better coaches in this league, and that's saying a lot, considering how many national title winning coaches there are in the ACC.

Back Court: Delaney will be a contender for ACC player of the year throughout the season. There are very few players who are as good as him at slashing to the paint and scoring or getting fouled. Delaney lead the ACC in free throw attempts last year, and I don't see why he can't repeat that performance. Dorenzo Hudson is a big two guard who can really get to the basket. Look for him to become one of the outstanding scorers in the ACC this year. However, he must improve on his perimeter shooting, as that is one of the main weaknesses of this squad. Terrell Bell and Erick Green will be solid backups at the wing positions.

Front Court: The Hokies are one of the deepest teams in the league, but they lack size. Victor Davila (6'8") and Jeff Allen (6'7") will need to work hard to defend against the taller opposition in many games, and this could prove to be a minor chink in the Hokie's defense. Fortunately, Tech does have a wealth of front court players. Cadarian Raines, who is still a project, but is 6'9", 240 lbs. could emerge as a viable option in the post, and 6'8" Allan Chaney, a transfer from Florida could also contribute immediately. Tech is known for its swarming high pressure defense, and the depth of this team could allow it to constantly throw high energy reserves into the mix to create havoc.

Outlook: With the three studs in Delaney, Hudson, and Allen, this team will have no trouble scoring. In addition, Seth Greenberg coached teams always play very good defense, and I suspect this team will follow suit. Since no key players left, this team will have played together longer than anyone. I look for Tech to have a very good year, and contend for the ACC title. Their lack of size will be offset by their incredible amount of depth at every position, and Malcolm Delaney is a bona fide star who can carry them offensively when things get tight.

 

4. North Carolina

Last Year’s Record: 20-17 (5-11)

Key Departure: Ed Davis

Key Recruit: Harrison Barnes

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Larry Drew II

SG: Reggie Bullock

SF: Harrison Barnes

PF: John Henson

C: Tyler Zeller

Ah yes, the hated Tarholes of UNC. I'll be frank, I'm still bitter over the whole Harrison Barnes ordeal. I mean, he was a Duke lean for SUCH a long time. But now that Singler is back, it doesn't hurt quite as bad. Harrison is going to regret his decision, because with the departure of Ed Davis to the NBA draft and the transfer of the Wear sisters, UNC's lineup looks awfully thin up front, and he's going to spend a great deal of time at power forward whether he likes it or not. However, I still have them at No. 4 because Barnes may just be the most talented player to come to North Carolina since No. 23.

Back Court: The guards were certainly the greatest weakness of last year's pathetic squad that went down in flames in the NIT finals. While Larry Drew was an adequate play-maker, he often took bad shots and turned the ball over way too often for a starting point guard in the ACC. With another year under his belt, I look for him to improve his play a bit. (Although not much) Fortunately for him, he will have help this year in terms of ball handling. Freshman point Kendall Marshall will challenge him for the starting spot, and many have described Marshall as one of the best passers in the 2010 class. Reggie Bullock will immediately give Will Graves a run for his money for the starting two guard spot. Both players can hit the three, but Bullock is more physically imposing and is an aggressive defender, I would give him the nod.

Front Court: A reversal of fortunes suddenly transforms last year's deepest front court in the ACC into it's thinnest. With the sudden defections of the Wear twins, UNC will have just two true post players (and that's pushing it) in the made-of-glass Tyler Zeller and the bulimic Jon Henson. Transfer Johnny Knox will be a big body who can come off the bench and spell one of the starters for a few minutes, but I don't see him contributing in any significant capacity. Zeller is a capable scorer when healthy, and has the size to compete, but how will he bounce back from two injury riddled seasons? Henson showed flashes of his defensive brilliance late last year, but will he return for his second year with a bit more bulk and a legit offensive repertoire? Obviously, the real gem of this front court has to be Barnes, the do-it-all freshman who will need to be the leader of this team from day one. How well he fares will play a large part in the fortunes of Carolina as a whole.

Outlook: No, I didn't put them at No. 4 because I'm a Dukie, I'm just really high on NC State, and I couldn't justify putting UNC ahead of Va. Tech. However, I could easily be wrong and the Heels could be No. 1 in the ACC when it's all said and done. That's the type of talent they have. The Tar Heels will be much improved over last season's forgettable campaign, but their severe lack of depth up front will hurt. A key injury could derail the entire season. However, if Tyler Zeller's shaky knees hold up, UNC will make a strong case for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAAs, and with a transcendent star in Harrison Barnes, could make some serious noise. Will ol' Roy figure out how to cover up his weaknesses? We'll find out.

 

5. Miami

Last Year’s Record: 20-13 (4-12)

Key Departure: Dwayne Collins

Key Recruit: Rion Brown

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Durand Scott

SG: Malcolm Grant

SF: DeQuan Jones

PF: Julian Gamble

C: Reggie Johnson

Miami started out last season strong against very questionable competition, then faded early in the ACC slate, but made a bit of a push towards the end, crushing Wake Forest, beating a very good Va. Tech squad, and then losing to Duke by just three in their final three games. Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson were a big factor late in the season, and both gave a glimpse of what could be in store for 2010-11.

Back Court: Scott is a marvelous athlete who resembles a running back in his build. He is a scoring machine, and is capable of taking over a game at any time. He will be an NBA point guard at some point in the future. Scott flourished towards the end of the year as he put up 29 against UNC and then 21 against Duke. Look for him to be one of the top scorers in the league this year. Malcolm Grant and Garrius Adams will provide and offensive spark with their outside shooting. Rion Brown is a high flying wing player who could be inserted for a bit more speed.

Front Court: Reggie Johnson is the major story here. Although it took him a while to develop, he became an absolute beast at the end of the year. At 6'10", 295 lbs, Johnson will not be pushed around by anyone in the country, and will form one of the best 1-2 scoring punches in the ACC with Durant Scott. Dequan Jones is a super athletic wing player who can score in double digits in the right match ups, and Julian Gamble is another big body who began to show flashes of brilliance late in the year.

Outlook: Although the loss of three seniors will hurt to an extent, this team is young and athletic and has great size and strength at every position. Scott is a star and will be able to provide play-making and scoring in bunches. Johnson and Gamble may create a bit of jam up front since both are more true centers than power forwards, so this team will be a bit more half court oriented. Frank Haith has recruited very well for Miami, and this team will be a tough out in the NCAA tournament.

 

6. Boston College 

Last Year’s Record: 15-16 (6-10)
Key Departure: Al Skinner (Coach)

Key Recruit: None

PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Biko Paris
SF: Corey Raji
PF: Joe Trapani
C: Josh Southern

While everyone else improved or lost key players, Boston College pretty much stayed the same,.minus a head coach. Thus, my prediction for them is about where they were last year, in the middle of the league. Contrary to popular belief, coaching actually matters in college basketball, and the departure of Al Skinner may offset the extra year these kids have played together. Steve Donahue, formerly of Cornell, will teach a completely different style of play, and it will take some time to adjust. Personally, I'm not a fan of Ivy League style play, but Donahue could surprise me. I just don't think it will work particularly well in the ACC, where games are physical and grueling. (Or I could just be completely wrong and he could throw out the old offense and install one that suits the ACC.)

Back Court: Reggie Jackson will be one of the better point guards in the league this year and I expect his play to improve with another year alongside the same exact team. Biko Paris will need to step up his scoring if the Eagles want to improve on their 6-10 mark in the league last year.

Front Court: The Eagles have a great player in Joe Trapani. He is a match up problem for most teams because of his size and shooting ability. Josh Southern must get in shape and become more of a factor. His size will be needed. Corey Raji and Rakim Sanders will continue to provide scoring on the wings.

Outlook: As I said before, I'm not sure how good of a fit Steve Donahue is, he may or may not work out. Therefore, I have the Eagles at No. 6, but they could be as good as #4 if it truly turns out to be a great match. Who knows? As it is, Boston College is a good team with a chance to make it into the NCAAs. They have a  great amount of experience, and that will definitely help them in the ultra-competitive ACC.

 

7. Clemson

Last Year’s Record: 21-11 (9-7)

Key Departure: Trevor Booker

Key Recruit: Cory Stanton

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Tanner Smith

SG: Demontez Stitt

SF: Bryan Narcisse

PF: Jerai Grant

C: Devin Booker

Clemson took a hit when coach Oliver Purnell decided to leave for DePaul, but there shouldn't be a huge drop off with new coach Brad Brownell. Brownell will not employ the same full court press that Purnell often used, but he coaches a tough defensive style that should translate reasonably well in the ACC with this athletic team.

Back Court: Tanner Smith and Noel Johnson are capable perimeter scorers and defenders, and Demontez Stitt is an experienced senior guard. They also boast an energetic and tough sixth man in Andre Young who can also light it up from the perimeter.

Front Court:  Jerai Grant provides a formidable post presence, but if the Tigers want to challenge for a first-round conference tournament bye, Devin Booker and Milton Jennings need to have breakout years. The graduation of four-year stalwart Trevor Booker will open up opportunities for these players and they must step up.

Outlook: It's always hard to tell how a team will respond to a new coach, but this particular team has the senior leadership and the athleticism to compete. The Tigers are as talented and experienced at every position as any team in the conference. They will play tough defense, and have good senior leadership. The coaching change will shake things up a bit, but with the returning upperclassmen, things should stay fairly consistent. Plus, Littlejohn is never an easy place to play a road game.

 

8. Florida State 

Last Year’s Record: 22-10 (10-6)

Key Departure: Solomon Alabi

Key Recruit: Okaro White

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Derwin Kitchen

SG: Michael Snaer

SF: Chris Singleton

PF: Okaro White

C: Xavier Gibson

The loss of Solomon Alabi was a big hit to one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but the Seminoles may still have hope. Chris Singleton and Michael Snaer return to provide leadership, and I don't expect the defense to take a significant drop off even with the absence of Alabi's 2.3 blocks per game. Scoring however, will be more difficult to come by.

Back Court: Derwin Kitchen will have a solid senior season for the 'Noles, he has great size for the point guard position, and should use it effectively to his advantage. Michael Snaer will need to step up his offense and become a leader. Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks will both be valuable scorers off the bench as perimeter snipers. Both shot over 40 percent from three last year.

Front Court: Inside, Xavier Gibson seems ready to break out of his shell and start dominating games with his combination of size and athleticism. Okaro White will need to contribute immediately, as the Seminoles are not particularly deep up front. Singleton will need to be the do-it-all playmaker on offense and defense for this team to succeed at a high level. 

Outlook: This is a very good team that will still play super tough defense and hold opponents to low scoring totals. However, a great deal of their offense will live and die with perimeter shooting, which is never a good thing. When they are hitting the threes, I suspect Florida State will beat some good teams, but when they aren't, it could get ugly. Overall, they have a good shot to make the NCAAs and have a relatively good year.

 

9. Maryland

Last Year’s Record: 24-9 (13-3)

Key Departure: Greivis Vasquez

Key Recruit: Mychal Parker

PG: Adrian Bowie

SG: Sean Mosley

SF: Cliff Tucker

PF: Dino Gregory

C: Jordan Williams

Maryland lost a huge chunk of their core with the graduation of their top three scorers from last year in Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne, and will likely experience a rebuilding year in the bottom half of the ACC. However, this does not mean the Terrapins can't be good enough to make the field of 68 (lol). Anytime you have a coach like Gary Williams, you can never count Maryland out.

Back Court: Adrian Bowie will need to fill the role of Vasquez in his senior year, and it will be a tough job. Bowie played a relatively small role last year, but his assist to turnover ratio was decent. Sean Mosley will need to step in and become the leader of the squad, as he will get the majority of the shots in the back court. Mosley is a great defensive stopper, but was erratic on offense last year. Cliff Tucker will need to step it up on offense as well. Mychal Parker is an athletic wing who will come off the bench and provide energy. Freshman Terrell Stoglin is an interesting point guard prospect who could compete for immediate minutes.

Front Court: Jordan Williams will need to be the star of this team. He was a big reason why the Terps were able to secure a share of the ACC regular season championship last year, and he will once again be a premier post player in the league. Outside of Williams, there isn't much experience up front. The Terps will need to rely on Dino Gregory and James Padgett, who both had limited roles last seasons. These players will really need to step up for Maryland to succeed. Berend Weijs is a JUCO transfer who could become the X-Factor for Maryland. He is a an outstanding shot blocker and has great size.

Outlook: Although this teams does have plenty of seniors, most of them have been role players to this point. The Terps have a good six man recruiting class, and will feature a star post player in Jordan Williams, but overall, with so many young and inexperienced players, I can't see them beating the top tier teams in the ACC. However, they still have a chance to make the NCAAs with a great coach like Gary Williams, and Comcast Stadium is still one of the toughest places to play in the country.

 

10. Georgia Tech

Last Year’s Record: 23-13 (7-9)
Key Departure: Derrick Favors

Key Recruit: Jason Morris

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Iman Shumpert
SG: Glen Rice Jr.
SF: Brian Oliver
PF: Daniel Miller
C: Brad Sheehan

Tech lost a great deal of talent to the draft, but there's still enough lying around for them to make a run if their shooters can get on a roll. However, the loss of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal can not be understated. It is never an easy thing to replace size and rebounding. Tech will be hurting big time up front.

Back Court: Iman Shumpert has been a prolific scorer at times, and  Brian Oliver and Glen Rice, Jr. are both capable wings who can shoot the ball. Mfon Udofia was in the starting lineup to begin the season last year, but fell out of favor as the season progressed, look for him to improve and get back to his early season form.

Front Court: Really not much here . . . Daniel Miller was a welcome addition at the last second, and is touted as a good shot blocker, but he is just a freshman, and big men take time to develop. Seldom used Brad Sheehan will need to play extended minutes this year. Jason Morris is a good wing player, but this team has plenty of depth on the wings. I suspect they will have trouble with the ACC teams with size.

Outlook: Not great, but definitely not terrible. Tech has enough talent on the perimeter to score with the big boys, but it will be difficult for them to match up with the more talented bigs in the league. Shumpert will be in the running for All-Conference honors, but don't look for Tech to make the NCAAs.


11. Wake Forest

Last Year’s Record: 20-11 (9-7)

Key Departure: Al-Farouq Aminu

Key Recruits: J.T. Terrell

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: C.J. Harris
SG: J.T. Terrell
SF: Ari Stewart
PF: David Weaver
C: Tony Woods

There is perhaps no team in the NCAA that will be rebuilding like Wake Forest. This team is almost entirely new from top to bottom. Al-Farouq Aminu, Ish Smith, L.D. Williams and Chas McFarland are all gone, and so is head coach Dino Gaudio. Fortunately, Gaudio's top 10 recruiting class decided to stick around, and the future looks good for Wake. Many questioned the hiring of Jeff B Zdelik (I definitely had to look up how to spell that), but he does bring some experience in the NBA, and he did convince all the recruits to stay with Wake Forest.

Back Court: C.J. Harris is going to need to hit the ground running in his sophomore year, as he is the highest scoring returning player from last season. Harris is going to need to be the star for this team, and his questionable shot selection will need to improve. J.T. Terrell will need to step in and contribute immediately.

Front Court: Ari Stewart and Tony Woods are the only two players in the front court who saw any meaningful minutes last year, and both will need to be consistent and lead this very young team.

Outlook: In the short term, things won't be pretty in Winston-Salem. This will be a VERY young team. The incoming freshmen are very talented, however, and in a year or two, the Demon Deacons will be back in Business.

 

12. Virginia

Last Year’s Record: 15-16 (5-11)
Key Departure: Sylven Landesburg 

Key Recruit: K.T. Harrell

Projected Starting Line-Up:

PG: Sammy Zeglinski
SG: Jeff Jones
SF: Mustapha Farrakhan
PF: Mike Scott
C: Assane Sene

Virginia is another team in the midst of a rebuilding effort. Three players decided to leave the program in the offseason, including leading scorer Sylven Landesburg. However, a great recruiting class will be joining the Cavs this year, and it will be interesting to see how they develop on the fly.

Back Court: Mustapha Farrakhan and Jeff Jones will need to provide senior leadership for this young team. Jones and Junior Sammy Zeglinski will be able to score in bunches with his outstanding perimeter shooting.K.T. Harrell is a talented wing player who could work himself into the rotation.

Front Court: Mike Scott will be a stabilizing force up front with his scoring and rebounding, but he will find help hard to come by. Assane Sene is still a work in progress, but his great size will at least help him grab some rebounds. Freshman James Johnson could step in and steal a starting spot if he plays well.

Outlook: There's a good amount of young talent here, but there's just not enough experienced post players. Virginia will have to wait a couple of years for this freshman class to develop.

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