ACC Basketball 2010-11: The Top 10 Players in the Conference
The ACC is always among college basketball's most elite conferences.
As one of the most-televised conferences in the country (thanks in large part to the national following that Duke and North Carolina generate), the ACC is a hotbed for NBA talent and championship-caliber teams.
Seven of the first-round NBA draft picks were from ACC schools two years ago when guys like Ty Lawson, Gerald Henderson, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Teague were around. There may be even more NBA talent in the conference this year with eight ACC players currently projected to go in the first round of the 2011 draft.
Three of the top five scorers from last season have returned for one last hurrah.
There is a ton of incoming talent headlined by Duke's Kyrie Irving and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes.
After all is said and done, who are the top players in the conference?
We've ranked them according to what we expect them to accomplish in the upcoming season (not solely based on talent or NBA potential). Click through to find out who comes out on top.
There were a host of players just on the cusp of cracking our top 10.
Chris Singleton (Florida State)—Singleton is one of the best defenders in the ACC. This year, he'll be looked to score more to keep the Seminoles near the top of the conference.
Mason Plumlee (Duke)—Plumlee has a ton of upside and athleticism. Duke's up-tempo game this year will play more to his strengths than last season's half court grind-it-out approach.
Jeff Allen (Virginia Tech)—Allen doesn't get a lot of hype, but he's been an incredibly consistent player in his first three seasons at Virginia Tech. He has averaged around 12 points and eight rebounds in every season he has played, and there is no reason to believe he'll stop producing this season.
Reggie Bullock (North Carolina)—Along with Harrison Barnes, Bullock is North Carolina's most offensively gifted player. He fills a big need for the Tar Heels with his ability to shoot the ball, and he'll get plenty of looks as a freshman this season.
Tyler Zeller (North Carolina)—Zeller joins Henson and Alabama transfer Justin Knox in the Tar Heels front court this year. He is capable of putting a lot of the points on the board and he runs the floor extremely well for a seven footer, but he needs to stay healthy.
No. 10: John Henson (North Carolina)
Last Season—5.7 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.6 blocked shots (4th in the ACC)
Henson's stats from last season aren't very impressive on paper, especially since he was considered to be one of the top five recruits coming into the NCAA.
In all fairness, Henson was playing out of position for most of the season. Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller were taking the majority of minutes in the post and Henson began the season playing the small forward position. Unfortunately, his skill set limited him on the perimeter.
After Davis was sidelined about halfway into the ACC season, Henson was moved to the power forward position and showed a lot of improvement. He averaged a respectable 9.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in last 13 games of the season.
There are few players in the NCAA with as much upside as Henson. He's very athletic, quick and long (you can't teach length). Defensively, he has a fantastic knack for blocking shots and cleaning up the boards. His offensive game is still very raw, though, and he struggled mightily from the free-throw line last year.
Henson has added a few pounds to help him hold his own in the paint. He'll certainly have a chance to show fans why he was considered one of the best players coming into college basketball last season.
No. 9: C.J. Leslie (NC State)
Last Season—McDonald's All-American
Leslie may just be the most athletic player coming into college basketball this season. He just might be the most athletic player in all of college basketball come to think of it. In other words, he'll be on SportsCenter.
The thing that makes Leslie special is that he's more than just an athlete. He handles the ball very well for a 6'8" forward and he has the ability to shoot the ball as well.
That said, his athleticism can't be overstated.
He's a constant danger on the offensive glass, and his explosiveness allows him to score quickly when he does get an offensive board (expect a lot of putback dunks).
Leslie could be the go-to guy for NC State on offense, but he's not alone. Lorenzo Brown, Ryan Harrow and Tracy Smith will complement his game and make sure that defenses won't be able to focus their complete attention on Leslie.
Will his high-wire act be enough to get the Wolfpack back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006? NC State fans had better hope so, because they are unlikely to see him stick around for more than one season.
No. 8: Jordan Williams (Maryland)
Last season—9.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg (2nd in the ACC), ACC All-Rookie Team
When last season started, the big question mark for Maryland was their post play. Everyone knew Greivis Vasquez was going to be big and that Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne would be solid, but Maryland had been missing a legitimate post presence for some time.
Williams erased the questions pretty early last season, proving to be one of the best post players in the conference as a freshman.
He averaged close to a double-double, and he'll have to improve his production to keep Maryland fighting for a top spot in the ACC. Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne are gone. Williams is now the man.
Fortunately, he has the skill set to transition from role player to star well enough.
He also has one of the best coaches in the nation behind him. Gary Williams definitely has the coaching chops to adjust Maryland's offense to center around Williams (Jordan, that is). It doesn't hurt that most of the elite bigs in the conference went to the NBA after last season too.
Maryland may not be where they were last year when conference play is over, but Williams has the talent to keep them from slipping far.
No. 7: Tracy Smith (NC State)
Last season—16.5 ppg (7th in the ACC), 7.3 rpg (8th in the ACC), 2nd team All-ACC
Finally, Smith has some talent surrounding him at NC State. It might be young talent, but he'll take it.
Smith had a great junior season for the Wolfpack. He was one of the most improved, not to mention effective, players in the conference.
This season, he'll likely be the premier big man in the ACC.
Although undersized at 6'8", Smith plays with an intensity and aggression that more than makes up for a few inches in height. Like Clemson's Trevor Booker last season, he plays like a man among boys.
This season, Smith will be the leader for the Wolfpack. If the young talent coming in matches Smith's intensity and work ethic on the court, NC State could be in for a big year.
No. 6: Durand Scott (Miami)
Last Season—10.3 ppg, 3.4 assists, ACC All-Rookie Team, First Team ACC All-Tournament
Scott blew up at the end of last season.
He scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games, including an incredible 29-point performance at North Carolina.
In the ACC tournament, he carried the Hurricanes past a good Virginia Tech squad and almost single-handedly beat Duke in a close 77-74 contest.
Scott is lightning quick and has the ability to put a lot of points on the board quickly. He also takes care of the basketball. As a freshman, he finished with a respectable 1.5/1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Although Scott will just be a sophomore, he'll be one of the best point guards in the conference without question.
He doesn't have a lot of help, but the Hurricanes showed last season that they are, if anything, competitors who can win games they shouldn't win on paper.
Scott is a big reason Miami they might surprise a lot of ACC fans this season.
No. 5: Kyrie Irving (Duke)
Last season—McDonald's All-American
When recruiting experts compare a player to Chris Paul, John Wall and former Blue Devil Jason Williams, expectations will be high.
Fortunately for Duke, Irving isn't the type of player likely to disappoint.
Irving is the best point guard coming into college basketball. He runs an offense effectively, handles the ball extremely well and boasts the speed and quickness of, well, Paul, Wall and Williams (go figure).
He also happens to be a prolific scorer with the ability to shoot the three and drive into the lane at will. His athleticism and soft touch make him a fantastic finisher around the basket.
The Blue Devils are retooling their entire offense to take advantage of Irving's talent. He and Nolan Smith will give Duke the most explosive back court in the ACC.
Irving may not be in Durham for more than a year (he's projected to be a high lottery pick), but one year may be enough to win it all with a talent of Irving's caliber.
No. 4: Harrison Barnes (North Carolina)
Last season—McDonald's All-American
Barnes is the top-rated player coming into college basketball for a number of reasons.
He can score in virtually any way imaginable, he plays with incredible intensity and he has a maturity and drive that exceeds his years—those are just a few of the reasons.
From the moment they take the court, Barnes will be North Carolina's leader.
He'll also be the guy they depend upon to create scoring opportunities and put points on the board (they were desperately missing that player last season).
At 6'8", Barnes is a difficult matchup for most front court players. He is just as comfortable shooting from behind the arc as he is taking it to the basket, and he happens to be extremely efficient at both. He is also a very capable rebounder.
If this countdown were based on pure NBA talent, Barnes would be at the top of the list. He's currently projected to be the first pick in the 2011 draft.
There is no doubt that he will be the star in Chapel Hill this season.
He'll probably need a Carmelo Anthony-like freshman year to take the Tar Heels far in the tournament, but that's not outside the realm of possibility.
No. 3: Malcolm Delaney (Virginia Tech)
Last season—20.2 ppg (1st in the ACC), 4.5 assists (6th in the ACC), .842 FT (3rd in the ACC), First Team All-ACC
Delaney was the ACC's top scorer last season, and he's back for his senior year.
Last year, Delaney carried Virginia Tech (almost single-handedly at times) to the third best record in the league.
He is a threat to score the ball any time he has it in his hands, and he still manages to keep his teammates involved in the offense with a lot of success.
One thing Delaney does better than any guard in the conference is getting to foul line and converting at a high rate. No one in the ACC even came close to his 273 free throw attempts last season, and he hit 230 of those (the next closest was Duke's Jon Scheyer with 221 attempts, and he played in seven more games than Delaney).
With virtually everyone back at Virginia Tech this season, the Hokies look poised to make a run for the top spot in the conference and get back to the NCAA tournament (they should have gone last year, and probably the two years before last year too).
If the Hokies are going to be on top of the ACC, they'll do it riding Delaney's coattails.
No. 2: Nolan Smith (Duke)
Last season—17.4 ppg (5th in the ACC), Second Team All-ACC, First Team ACC All-Tournament
Smith took his game to a whole other level last year.
After showing flashes of his potential during his first two seasons, he came out of the gate aggressive and poised last year, setting his career high scoring total in his first game of the season.
While Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler got most of the press coming into the season, Smith was an important cog in Duke's "Big Three." He was the only Blue Devil player capable of creating his own shot on a regular basis, and he did so often and with success.
As the fifth-leading scorer in the conference, Smith scored in double figures in 36 out of 38 games last season. He had 16 games in which he scored 20 points or more, including a stellar 29-point performance that lifted Duke over Baylor in the Elite Eight on their way to the national championship. In other words, he had the breakout season of breakout seasons.
This year, Smith won't be one of the most improved players in the game—he will be one of the best.
He's been projected to be a first team All-American along with Singler, and he certainly has the talent and experience to do so.
No. 1: Kyle Singler (Duke)
Last season—17.7 ppg (4th in the ACC), 7.0 rebounds (10th in the ACC), .789 FT (7th in the ACC), .399 3-Point PCT (2nd in the ACC), First Team All-ACC, First Team All-Tournament Team, ACC Tournament MVP, Final Four MOP.
We really don't need to write anything to explain why we have Singler as the top player in the ACC. If the above list of stats and accomplishments from last season doesn't convince you that he is top dog in the conference, nothing will.
What's perhaps most impressive about his accomplishments from last year is that he really could have done better.
Singler made the switch to the perimeter last year after spending his first two seasons in the post. He took some time to acclimate to the new position, but once things clicked against Georgia Tech in early February, there was no looking back.
There isn't much Singler doesn't do—he shoots well from long range, he finishes through contact, he gets rebounds and loose balls (just ask ESPN's Dan Shulman), and he hits a high percentage of his free throws.
Singler surprised a lot of people when he decided to stay for his senior year, but an incredibly successful year with more hardware added to the trophy case won't surprise anyone this season.