With basketball season just starting up let's take a quick look at each of the ACC teams while we're still full of optimism and explore what it will take for each team to reach it's full potential.
Boston College: Can Tyrese Rice get a little help…please?
The Boston College Eagles suffered one of their worst seasons in recent memory and the reason was pretty clear: their offense relied solely on superstar Tyrese Rice.
Rice is certainly a phenom and will make the first team All-ACC by year’s end, but the Eagles lacked the inside presence they had become accustomed to when Craig Smith and Jared Dudley ruled the paint.
The Eagles have talented sophomores at the three, four and five spot, but they need consistency. Rakim Sanders saw the most action and may be the top candidate to be the Robin to Rice’s Batman.
Still, a good Eagle team will need a strong rebounding presence as well. Rice is also the team’s leading rebounder which means the big men will have to fill the bigger roles they will assume.
An inside presence will make or break the Eagles this season.
Clemson: Will Clemson win the big game?
Oliver Purnell is one of the best coaches that no one ever talks about. The Tigers had always been nipping at the top of the ACC standings, but never seemed to be able to take out the big dogs like Duke and UNC.
The past two years Clemson has come out the gates blazing, but have still had to battle hard for every single conference win.
Last year, Clemson scored a big breakthrough win over Duke and had some incredible match-ups with the Tar Heels and yet they could not nail the finishing blow against Carolina.
The reason is pretty obvious: free throws.
I have never seen a school this talented be so atrocious at the line. Free throw shooting separates the contenders from the pretenders (just ask Memphis). It single-handedly allowed Virginia to overcome a 15-point deficit in 2007 and it hurt them again in the NCAA tournament.
Free throws are just part of the little things that you have to do to win the big games and it is something Clemson must learn.
The Tigers have big losses with Mays and Hammonds gone, but Oglesby and Rivers will shoulder the scoring load for a team that many predict can repeat their NCAA success.
However, if Clemson cannot make the clutch plays down the stretch, it will be yet another season of wondering what could have been?
Duke: Will Duke find an inside game?
The Blue Devils are obviously the gold standard in college basketball.
ESPN slurps up the aura of Coach K and Duke is almost always assured a 20-win season and a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
It is amazing how we just come to expect Duke to be in the top two of the ACC and stay in the top ten nationally.
While all the preseason hype seems to center around the decision to start Nolan Smith at point guard, all of that will mean little if Duke cannot provide a better inside presence.
The problem that any Duke fan must admit is that the Blue Devils have become too reliant on their three-point shooting and guard play to win a National Championship.
Sure Greg Paulus and John Scheyer can run an offense, but the NCAA tournament requires the ability to pound the other team into submission and the Blue Devils have simply not had the pieces to do that.
With Josh McRoberts gone, expect Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson to try and bolster the inside scoring while allowing Duke to keep a rather quick tempo.
Their experience helps, but what may really determine how far they go in the tournament in the play of Miles Plumee. Plumee is a big bruiser, whose physical presence will help shore up the interior defense and, if so, Duke will make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
Georgia Tech: Can the Jackets avoid another identity crisis?
Is it me or is Paul Hewitt stuck on rebuilding mode?
The Jackets went all the way to the NCAA Championship game in 2004 and appeared to be on the road to being a great team.
When Hewitt landed future NBA first rounders Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young it appeared the Yellow Jackets would be a fixture in the upper echelon of the ACC, but both left after a 20-12 freshman campaign.
Since then Georgia Tech has been trying to recover from unexpected losses and rediscover their identity. This year is no different, the Jackets have to replace the entire frontcourt and an unexpectedly clutch performer in Matt Causey.
Lewis Clinch is a great scorer, but even he will have to take on a greater leadership role. That means the learning curve will be steep in the brutal ACC and the frontcourt will have a great deal of “on the job” experience. It will take time to figure out just what this team can and cannot do, whom it can rely on and who still needs some to develop.
All of that will result in some serious growing pains for the Jackets.
Georgia Tech will need a lot of things to fall into place for a run at the NCAA tournament this season, but if Hewitt can actually keep his players on the roster, he has the foundation for a great team for next year.
Yeah…I’ve heard that before too.
Part II Coming Soon