Part I featured BC, Clemson, Duke, and GT. I present to you Part II: FSU, Maryland, Miami, and everyone's pick to win it all, the UNC Tar Heels.
Florida State: Will Leonard Hamilton proves he’s the right man for the job?
Six years for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, and all he can claim is a 102-89 record and zero NCAA tournament berths.
Sure, the NIT is fine every now and then, but Hamilton cannot hang his hat on three NIT appearances, especially when he once had the No. 1-ranked recruiting class, in 2003.
Despite all that talent, Hamilton’s crew has never finished higher than fifth in the ACC standings and finished ninth or worse four out of his six years there.
This year Hamilton has a great returning guard in Toney Douglas who averaged over 15 points per game last season and has the talent to contribute even more this season.
The Seminoles also have some very talented young faces like Solomon Alabi and Xavier Gibson. Alabi provides a great defensive presence and alongside senior Uche Echefu will give Florida State one of the better frontcourts in the ACC by season’s end.
This team may be lacking experience in key positions, but what they really need is an attitude adjustment. These guys need a spark, something to make them believe that they can successfully build on a 20-win season that ended swiftly at the hands of the Akron Zips.
The Seminoles have the talent to take a big step forward. If they don’t, expect Hamilton to step out of Tallahassee, because he will not be asked to return in 2009.
Maryland: Will Vasquez become a consistent point guard?
As most experts will tell you, the point guard is an essential part to making any team work. They are the floor general, and if they play erratically, it trickles down to the entire team.
Case in point: Greivis Vasquez.
When Vazquez is playing well, he is one of the premier point guards in the ACC. He averaged 17 points and nearly seven assists last season—but that does not show the Jekyll and Hyde mentality of this talented youngster.
Vasquez must prove to head coach Gary Williams and everyone that he can avoid pressing in tight situations. It seems like sometimes he wants to win too much, and it usually results in really bad losses.
Last year, Maryland put themselves behind the 8-ball with a rather bad December where they lost to teams like American at home and could not consistently progress towards the ACC season.
Then at the end of the year, the Terrapins dropped a must-win game against Virginia by turning the ball over too much in the second half.
With the loss of James Gist and Bambale Osby, Maryland will desperately need the leadership of Vasquez if they want to avoid the ACC cellar.
If the junior can work together with his backcourt mate Eric Hayes and avoid costly stretches of offensive futility, Maryland can surprise. Otherwise, the Terps better hope they can eke out an NIT appearance.
Miami: Are the Hurricanes ready to go from being the hunter to the hunted?
Last year was one of the best seasons Miami basketball can ever claim.
Behind the amazing skill of Jack McClinton, Miami posted 23 wins, the fifth spot in the ACC standings, and even made a little noise in the NCAA tournament with an impressive comeback that just fell short in the second round.
Without a doubt, the Hurricanes have a solid backcourt that works well together and puts up impressive offensive numbers game in and game out.
Their performance last year was pretty surprising, but no one will be fooled this time around.
Even with the loss of Anthony King, Miami is essentially going to be as good if not better than last year’s crew, and that means everyone will looking to their matchup against the Hurricanes as a chance to impress the NCAA selection committee.
The Hurricanes are no longer overlooked in the ACC but will be seen as one of the few contenders to challenge the likes of Duke and particularly Carolina. Winning games is easy when no one is paying attention. Now it is time to see how Frank Haith can lead his players when the bright lights are upon them.
Miami won a great deal of close games last year, and despite being one of the last teams to lose last year, they still only mustered an 8-8 record in the ACC with more than few games that could have gone the other way.
McClinton has proven he has the ability to perform when the stakes are high, but what about the other cast of characters?
The pressure will be on all the Miami Hurricanes to back up last year’s season with some gritty, hard-fought wins. If Miami proves they learned a little bit about winning in 2007-08, expect another NCAA tournament bid and perhaps a run to the Sweet 16.
North Carolina: Can the Tar Heels stay humble?
It’s obvious that UNC is absolutely loaded this season. Roy Williams is a tremendous recruiter, and the talent and experience he has put in Chapel Hill has made everyone take notice.
Williams essentially returns his Final Four team from last year and will be hearing all year long from ESPN and every other national outlet just how amazing they are.
It reminds me a bit of the USC Trojan football team in 2005. With so much talent and prestige, ESPN might try comparing this team to all-time greats like they did with the men from Troy in order to fill air time.
Oh yeah...but USC lost that game.
The Tar Heels have to avoid falling into all the hype they are going to hear this year and just go out there and execute. College basketball has more than enough teams that can take down the Tar Heels on any given day, particularly if their minds are elsewhere.
Tyler Hansbrough has improved dramatically every year he has been in college, going from a rather stationary low-post player into a complete superstar. His health may be questioned now, but it seems obvious the only question at the end of the year will be whether he is a unanimous player of the year.
We all know UNC has high expectations every year, but you rarely see something like this in college basketball, where upsets are the norm.
Anything less than a national championship will be considered a failure for the Tar Heels.
However, that goal will only come if the Tar Heels realize that the biggest roadblock towards that prize could be themselves.