The balance of power in the ACC may not change much this season, but the faces on the court certainly will. After the NBA draft gutted the conference of rising stars like Iman Shumpert and Reggie Jackson, the 2011-12 season will see new players stepping into leading roles for teams across the conference.
The glaring exception is at North Carolina, where a loaded starting lineup returns intact. Harrison Barnes and company are the clear favorites after last year’s 14-2 conference mark.
Read on for a look at Barnes and all the rest of the ACC’s best heading into this season.
Few teams in college basketball had their rosters shredded this offseason like the Boston College Eagles, who graduated eight seniors while losing star guard Reggie Jackson to the NBA.
With no obvious saviors on the way in this year’s freshman class, the Eagles will have to lean on their few returning players in 2011-12.
The best of that thin crop is rising sophomore Danny Rubin, a 6’6” guard who shot 43.4 percent from beyond the arc last season. He’ll need to get more aggressive with his drives (a mere 10 free-throw attempts in 488 minutes), but his shooting touch provides at least a glimmer of hope for the BC offense.
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Few players get more out of 5’9” worth of height than Andre Young. The rising senior is the Tigers’ returning leader in points (11.1), assists (3.0) and steals (1.4), and he even managed to pull in 2.6 boards a night.
With standouts Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant gone, Clemson will need Young to play even bigger this season. If he and Tanner Smith can keep the Tigers’ high-pressure defense up and running, Young should get plenty of opportunities on offense in 2011-12.
With apologies to prize recruit Austin Rivers, experience counts for a great deal in college basketball, and few Blue Devils have as much of it as rising junior Mason Plumlee.
With three starters to replace, the 6’10” Plumlee (7.2 points and a team-high 8.5 boards a game last year) is going to have a heavy load to carry.
Plumlee has put up better numbers to date than younger brother Miles, the team’s other returning starter. If Rivers and Seth Curry can keep the backcourt play up to Duke’s lofty standards, both Plumlees should see nice boosts to their scoring averages this season.
One of the highlights of Florida State’s impressive 2010-11 season was the college debut of Bernard James. The former Air Force MVP became not only a team leader but a sensational defender, blocking 2.4 shots a game.
With star forward Chris Singleton off to the pros, James will need to carry more of the offensive load after averaging just 8.4 points a game last season. With his size (6’10”, 240 pounds) and strength, he has the potential to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA tournament.
Glen Rice Jr. finished second on the 2010-11 Yellow Jackets in points (12.8), rebounds (5.6), assists (2.5) and steals (1.5). Considering that Iman Shumpert—who led the team in all those categories—is gone to the NBA, the spotlight will be squarely on Rice this season.
Although Rice’s three-point touch can’t yet compete with that of his famous father (an iffy .302 percentage from long range last season), the rising junior's athleticism and 6’5” frame make him tough to guard.
He won’t make up for the loss of Shumpert by himself, but Rice looks to be poised for a monster season.
By season’s end, this spot may well belong to freshman Nick Faust, but until Faust proves that he can match up with ACC backcourts, rising sophomore Terrell Stoglin is the pick. Stoglin led all returning Terrapins with 11.4 points and 3.3 assists per game last season.
The rising sophomore will have a very different challenge trying to keep Maryland’s offense flowing without NBA-bound Jordan Williams or senior PG Adrian Bowie.
Stoglin’s own numbers will almost certainly climb as he gets increased touches, but whether he can keep the Terps competitive in the ACC is another question entirely.
It’s a close call whether Reggie Johnson or high-scoring Malcolm Grant is Miami’s best player, but there’s little doubt who the most physically imposing Hurricane is.
That would be the 6’10” 303-lb Johnson, who averaged 9.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks (both team highs) along with 11.9 points last season.
Johnson is projected to miss some time at the beginning of the season after undergoing knee surgery this summer. Once he gets on the court, though, his year of experience as a starter will make him even tougher in 2011-12.
The scary thing about Harrison Barnes is how much better he could theoretically be. Already, as a 6’8” freshman, Barnes averaged 15 points and 5.5 rebounds a game for a team that earned a No. 2 seed and made the Elite Eight.
Barnes, who might be the best pure athlete in the country at the SF spot, is still growing into his enormous talent. If he can pick up his pedestrian defensive numbers (0.4 blocks and 0.7 steals a game last year), he has the potential to be the most complete player in the college game.
Coming off a 5-11 season in ACC play, the Wolfpack could use some reasons for optimism. One major reason is the play of freshman forward C.J. Leslie.
The 6’8” Leslie averaged 11 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, leading all NC State returnees in both stats. He’d do well to put on some weight (listed at just 206 lbs for last season), but on the floor he, like his team, has nowhere to go but up.
A close call over backcourt mate Jontel Evans, Joe Harris does a little of everything for Virginia. The 6’6” shooting guard led all returning Cavaliers in scoring (10.4 points a game) while also putting up 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 steals a game in 2010-11.
Harris (pictured giving up about 100 lbs in a matchup with Reggie Johnson) will be a sophomore this season, and he’s only going to get better after a year of starting experience. If he can improve on an already-solid .417 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, Harris could put up major scoring numbers in 2011-12.
Virginia Tech looks to be headed for a rebuilding season after the graduations of Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. One major asset in that effort will be the presence of rising senior power forward Victor Davila.
The 6’8” Davila led all returning Hokies with 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. If he can pick up his scoring average from last season’s 7.7 points a contest, he’ll be a welcome inside presence on a perimeter-heavy roster.
It’s hard to find many good things to say about a season in which Wake Forest finished 1-15 in conference play. There was one bright spot, though, in the performance of freshman power forward Travis McKie.
The 6’7” McKie led the Demon Deacons with 13 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. After being thrown into the fire last year, he and his young teammates will be the better for their experience in 2011-12.