College Basketball 2011 Predictions: Projecting the ACC
While the ACC is home to the country's most talented team, it recently hasn't looked like the same power conference that we saw in the 1980s and '90s. That's close to changing with the additions of top Big East programs Pitt and Syracuse, who should help return the ACC to the top.
With four programs debuting a new coach this year and three more in the second year of a new coaching staff, some help could be on the way for fallen programs like NC State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. A talented crop of recruits should also help the league as it tries replacing the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft (Kyrie Irving), as well as players like Kyle Singler. Reggie Jackson, Malcolm Delaney, Nolan Smith, Chris Singleton, Iman Shumpert and Jordan Williams.
This year the league isn't expected to have a banner year, with the bottom third of the league looking awful on paper and only two teams expected to be in the Top 25. The good news is that those two teams will open the year in the Top 10 and could bring the league another championship.
12. Boston College
The Eagles had a surprising first season under Steve Donahue, going 22-13. After losing his top five scorers from that team, Donahue will need some real magic just to come close to that number of wins. All ACC guard Reggie Jackson will be the toughest player to replace, as his all-around game was a huge reason the Eagles were able to be a surprise team a year ago.
The good news is that Oregon transfer Matthew Humphrey will be eligible to play this year. A 6'5" shooting guard who is known mostly as a very good deep shooter, Humphrey is a good bet to lead the Eagles in scoring and minutes this season as he is the most talented player on campus.
Sophomore Danny Rubin is the lone returning starter from last year, although he averaged only 4.1 points per game. Rubin is likely to start on the wing, but could end up losing time to the newcomers. Point guard is likely to be manned by sophomore Gabriel Moton, a player that played 14.9 minutes and averaged 2.5 points per game last year.
The bench will be filled by a trio of freshmen, led by 6'5" German import Patrick Heckmann. Heckmann is a bit on an unknown, but appears to be a solid all-around player with the ability to shoot from deep and play all three backcourt positions. If Heckmann is as good as some Internet reports, it would be a shock if he didn't take Rubin's spot.
Point guard Jordan Daniels is quick and a better player than his recruiting suggests, but at only 5'8" and only 135 pounds he has to prove he can hold up in major college basketball. Shooting guard Lonnie Jackson is also a bit skinny, but is a very talented shooter who could carve out a role this season.
The bad news is that the entire frontcourt will be made up of freshmen, both the starters and the bench. Power forward is likely going to be Ryan Anderson, the Eagles' highest-rated recruit, although he us more of a face-up player than a true post player. Next to Anderson will be 3-star recruit K.C.Caudill, a big body at 6'11" 205 who can score in the post as well as be a force in the paint on the defensive end.
Dennis Clifford will be competing with Caudill for the starting center spot, but the 6'10" big man is considered by talent evaluators to be very raw and in need of some time to develop before making a real impact. The other options in the all-freshman frontcourt are Eddie Odio, a solid shooter, and Ryan Kilcullen, a player that can add some toughness.
The Eagles really don't have much talent and are desperately lacking experience, but they could potentially move out of the basement if Heckmann is as good as the reports and some of the freshmen step up. Sure, that isn't likely to happen and the Eagles appear to have a long season ahead of them, but some of the young players have talent and could develop into solid players down the road.
Preseason Awards: None
11. Wake Forest
Coach Jeff Bzdelik's first season in Winston-Salem wasn't expected to be a very strong one, however no one expected the 8-24 disaster of a season that came with the only real bright spot being the play of then-freshman forward Travis McKie. The Demon Deacons only lose two guys from that team, although both were key contributors.
McKie will be the go-to guy for Bzdelik's team after he spent his freshman season averaging 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in a combo-forward role. McKie wasn't the only highly rated freshman starting in Wake's frontcourt last year, as 7'0" sophomore Carson Desrosiers was a top-50 recruit. Desrosiers only averaged four points and 3.2 rebounds, but he gained experience and has the ability to double those numbers this year.
Another seven-footer, senior Ty Walker, could start up front if Bzdelik decides to play McKie more in a small forward role than as a power forward. Walker only averaged 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game, but he's a presence in the middle on defense that really gives the Deacons a large front line.
The first player off the bench is likely going to be Nikita Mescheriakov, a former Georgetown transfer that averaged 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 14.1 minutes after he became eligible following the first semester. Skinny 6'9" freshman Daniel Green is a very high-upside player, but he's very raw and isn't likely to contribute much this season.
The backcourt will be led by junior CJ Harris, a player capable of improving upon last season's numbers with an increased role heading his way. Harris averaged 10.2 points, 3.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds, but didn't get much notice from the media due to the Deacons' terrible year.
The other starter is likely to be Tony Chenault, who averaged 4.5 points in 17.5 minutes as a freshman. Chenault is primarily a point guard, and using him there would allow Harris to play off the ball and provide more scoring. The bench will consist of a pair of freshmen in Chase Fischer and Anthony Fields. Fischer is a shooting guard with limited ability outside of his deep shooting, while Fields is being looked at to provide depth at the point.
Wake Forest has some talent, but their lack of depth after losing JT Terrell and Melvin Tabb during the offseason pretty much guarantees that they will finish near the bottom of the ACC again. Still, McKie is an All-ACC-caliber player that Bzdelik can build a team around and the Deacons should be much better next year after gaining experience as well as adding a promising recruiting class.
Second-Team All-ACC: Travis McKie
The retirement of legendary coach Gary Williams will be a huge loss for Maryland, but former Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon is a promising young coach who should help ease the loss. The loss of four of their top five scorers from last year, including star big man Jordan Williams, won't be easy to replace. Turgeon does return two starters and was able to land a very big recruit, so the cupboard isn't totally bare.
The backcourt is in great shape led by sophomore point guard Terrell Stoglin. Stoglin had a pretty impressive freshman season, averaging 11.4 points and 3.3 assists, but he's likely to take his game to the next level after having an offseason to improve. The other returning starter is senior Sean Mosley, a leader capable of much more than the 8.1 points and 3.3 rebounds he averaged last year.
The other starting job is likely going to belong to sophomore Pe'Shon Howard, a player that averaged 5.4 points and 3.2 assists in 18.5 minutes per game as a freshman. If Howard progresses as expected, the Terrapins could have a very talented starting backcourt. If Howard doesn't start, it would be because top-50 recruit Nick Faust has taken the job. The well-rounded wing can do a little bit of everything, including provide quality defense. If there are any issues here, it's that there isn't much depth.
The issues for Maryland are in the frontcourt, as the projected starters have very limited experience. Junior James Padgett played only 8.7 minutes per game last year, although he did average 3.3 points and 1.9 in his limited time. Center could be taken be New York City product Ashton Pankey, a player redshirted last season. Off the bench, 6'10" senior center Berend Weijs added some much-needed weight, but still weighs only 200 pounds. The Terps need more from Weijs than 1.8 points and 1.1 boards in 5.2 minutes per game in order to have any type of rotation.
Sophomore small forward Mychal Parker has talent to do more than the 1.3 points and 1.3 boards he averaged in 6.2 minutes per game last year. Alex Len, a 7'2" freshman from the Ukraine, is a bit of an unknown and isn't expected to do much this year.
Maryland has the potential to catch some teams off guard because of their strong backcourt, but the frontcourt is loaded with questions. If Maryland had a a proven starter or more depth up front, I'd feel more confident picking them higher than 10th. I'm only picking them behind Georgia Tech because Tech has a bit more balance.
On a side note, the ACC is so loaded with talented players this year that Terrell Stoglin couldn't make my projected third-team All-ACC.
Preseason Awards: None
9. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is facing many challenges this season, so they are facing long odds at being a real player in the ACC race. The first obstacle is longtime coach Paul Hewitt was fired and replaced by former Dayton head man Brian Gregory. Then the Thriller Dome is closed for renovations this year, leaving the Yellow Jackets as a homeless team. Add in the fact that the team is short on scholarships, and you can see the odds being stacked against them.
The place to start looking at this team is in the backcourt where junior small forward Glen Rice Jr. could break out this year. Rice averaged 12.8 points and 5.6 rebounds last year, but struggled a bit at times, especially shooting from deep where he excelled as a freshman. Rice is an extremely talented player who has the ability to fill up a stat sheet.
The shooting guard will be sophomore Brandon Reed, a transfer who averaged 15.1 points per game at Arkansas State two years ago as a freshman. Reed, who can also play at the point, does belong at this level but may not be able to produce the same level of numbers in the ACC.
Junior point guard Mfon Udofia gets a clean slate after the former top-50 recruit struggled to get going the last year-and-a-half following a hot start to his freshman season. Udofia averaged 6.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game last year.
The bench is led by sophomore wing Jason Morris, an explosive athlete that averaged six points and 2.2 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game as a freshman. The point guard situation got a boost over the summer when the Jackets landed Florida State transfer Pierre Jordan, a player immediately eligible because he has already graduated from Florida State. Jordan wasn't a key player at Florida State, but he adds speed and ball-handling to a team with an unstable position.
Senior Nick Foreman is a former walk-on given a scholarship for this season. Foreman is a solid defender that played decent minutes as a freshman due to issues with scholarship numbers but has played limited minutes since.
The frontcourt is filled with questions, but there are some pieces to build with. Daniel Miller, a 6'11" center, is a returning starter that averaged 4.4 points and five rebounds. Miller did that as a redshirt freshman because he came to Tech very raw, so the growth is a positive sign.
Fellow sophomore Kammeon Holsey also redshirted his first year on campus, but that's because the former top-100 recruit tore his ACL as a freshman. Holsey played 14.4 minutes per game and averaged 3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds, numbers that could improve in his second year back from injury. If Holsey doesn't start it's because top-100 recruit Julian Royal is as good as the hype. Royal is an athletic power forward with a very high ceiling.
Rounding out the bench will be 6'10" sophomore center Nate Hicks, a late addition to the class a year ago who averaged 1.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.4 minutes per game.
The Jackets don't have a bad roster, but there are major questions at point guard and in the frontcourt. If Udofia comes close to living up to his billing and the Jackets get solid play out of their big-man rotation, they could make a little noise in the ACC. Still, they do face very long odds at making the NCAA tournament.
Third-Team All-ACC: Glen Rice Jr.
All-Freshman Team: Julian Royal
ACC Newcomer of the Year: Brandon Reed
8. NC State
After striking out on their top couple targets, the Wolfpack finally landed former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried to be their head man. Gottfried had some early success at Alabama before experiencing some struggles which ended up costing him his job. He inherits a program that has some quality players and a league with some very weak teams at the bottom, which could help the team have a strong season.
The best player is sophomore big-man C.J. Leslie, who lived up to his hype as a freshman by averaging 11.0 points and 7.2 rebounds. Leslie is a player capable of having a first-team All-ACC-type season.
The other starting job up front will be a competition between a pair of juniors in Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter. Howell, a 6'8" power forward, played 18.2 minutes a year ago and averaged 7.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per night. If Gottfried wants a true center then the 6'9" Painter, a player that averaged 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.1 minutes, is the guy that would get the job.
After those guys, the rest of Gottfried's options have some questions. Jordan Vandenberg, a 7'1" junior center, hasn't been able to see significant playing time in the first half of his career. Tyler Harris, brother of NBA draft choice Tobias Harris, is a 3-star recruit but comes in very skinny at 6'8", 185 pounds. Thomas de Thaey, the other recruit in the class, is a little-known import from Belgium not expected to contribute much early on.
The backcourt lost talented point guard Ryan Harrow to a transfer, but they still return some talent. Sophomore Lorenzo Brown is a high-scoring combo guard set to play the point after averaging 9.3 points, 3.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds. Brown's talent makes him a breakout candidate this season, as long as he doesn't struggle at the point.
Small forward Scott Wood, who averaged 9.7 points last year, is one of the best long-range shooters in the ACC. The shooting guard job is likely going to 6'5" senior CJ Williams, who is more of a defender than a scorer. Williams played 17.6 minutes per game last year and averaged 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Another option in the backcourt is CSU Bakersfield transfer Alex Johnson, a 5'10" point guard eligible immediately because he enrolled as a graduate student. Johnson averaged a career-high 13.3 points last season, but his assist-to-turnover ratio was less than 2-to-1. The only other option in the backcourt is freshman shooting guard Jaqawn Raymond, a player brought in for his defensive ability.
The Wolfpack may have some questions, but having a very good player upfront in Leslie and Brown, who has the potential to become one one of the better players in the league, giving them the ability to surprise some people. If Johnson proves he can play a major role at the ACC level, Gottfried's squad will be in great shape in a weakened ACC.
Second-Team All-ACC: CJ Leslie
Second-year coach Brad Brownell has to replace four-year starting point guard Demontez Stitt plus second-leading scorer Jerai Grant. Still, it appears on paper that he has enough talent and experience to finish in the middle of the pack of the ACC.
The leader of the team will be 5'9" senior point guard Andre Young, a talented player despite his lack of size. Young averaged 11.1 points and three assists last year, numbers that will likely increase now that Stitt has to be replaced. Senior Tanner Smith is also back after averaging 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds a year ago. Smith is a good shooter and veteran presence that will help Brownell's squad win.
The potential starter at small forward is Bryan Narcisse, a 6'6" senior who averaged 2.9 points in 12.1 minutes per game last year. Narcisse is the typical highly athletic Clemson small forward who provides strong defense. The bench will be made up of all freshmen led by 3-star combo-guard Daniel Sapp. Sapp is a player that Brownell has high expectations for, so he's likely the team's sixth man.
Wings Kevin McDaniels and Devin Coleman are both high-level athletes, while Rod Hall adds another ball-handler to the mix.
The frontcourt will see bruising junior Devin Booker become the go-to guy now that Grant has moved on. After averaging 8.1 points and 5.5 rebounds as a sophomore, Booker is ready to follow in his brother Trevor's footsteps. Junior Milton Jennings is a former 5-star recruit who found some success last year, averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. The bench features just one big man, 4-star recruit Bernard Sullivan, a player that could play both inside or outside.
Brownell has all the athleticism needed to keep Clemson on the right path. Young is a talented leader while Booker and Jennings are both ready to take that next step and Smith is a solid player. If some of the freshmen are able to contribute right away, the Tigers could surprise some.
Third-Team All-ACC: Andre Young
Third-Team All-ACC: Devin Booker
Entering his third year in Charlottesville, coach Tony Bennett appears to have the Virginia program headed back in the right direction. Bennett's team played .500 ball in his first two seasons, but this could be the year that his talented recruiting classes mature enough to really compete for an NCAA Tournament birth.
Virginia is led by senior power forward Mike Scott, a 6'8" bruiser who was averaging 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game until getting hurt after 10 games last year. The return of Scott will surely give the Cavaliers a boost even though it's unlikely he will match last year's stat line.
Starting next to Scott will be another senior, 7'0" Assane Sene. Sene is an intimidating presence on the defensive end because of his shot-blocking ability, and he also chipped in 5.1 points and 5.5 rebounds last year.
The bench lacks much experience, but there are some talented options for Bennett to utilize. The only player off the bench that played last year was 6'8" sophomore Akil Mitchell, a player who saw increased playing time because of the injury to Scott and averaged 2.4 points and three rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game. James Johnson, an athletic 6'9" freshman, redshirted last year to add bulk and improve his game. Johnson did come in as a consensus top-100 recruit, so he could surprise after working on his game for the last year
The final piece of the frontcourt is freshman Darion Atkins, a skinny 6'8" power forward with plenty of upside that could help on the boards this season.
The backcourt loses leading scorer Mustapha Farrakhan, but he shouldn't be too hard to replace for a team with a pair of talented sophomores ready to take their games up to the next level. Joe Harris, a 6'6" wing, averaged 10.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last year while hitting 42 percent of his three-point attempts. KT Harrell, a 6'4" shooting guard, averaged eight points in 22.1 minutes per game off the bench and has the potential to score a lot more this year.
The starter at the point will likely be 5'10" junior Jontel Evans, one of the top defenders in the league as well as a strong ball-handler, but that doesn't mean that Sammy Zeglinski won't see major minutes. Zeglinski, a 6'1" senior with 55 career starts, averaged 25.6 minutes and scored 7.8 points with 2.2 assists per game after returning from an injury but those numbers were down from his junior numbers. A healthy Zeglinski shouldn't have much trouble improving upon last season's numbers.
The bench is rounded out by a pair of freshmen, Malcolm Brogdon and Paul Jesperson, known for their ability to shoot from deep.
Virginia is a program capable of having a breakout season, but I'd like to see some of the young players take a step forward before considering them a Top 25 team. Bennett should be able to bring the Cavaliers back to the NCAA tournament this year.
First-Team All-ACC: Mike Scott
5. Virginia Tech
Despite the presence of stars Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen, the Hokies haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2007. Now Seth Greenburg's program has to replace both players, although they did land a very good recruiting class led by the top recruit in program history when Dorian Finney-Smith signed.
The frontcourt must replace Allen, but does get a boost with the return of JT Thompson from injury. Thompson, an undersized power forward at 6'6", averaged 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game two years ago in only 20.1 minutes. Thompson will likely get a chance to expand his role this year with Allen gone, and his numbers should improve—especially the boards. Center Victor Davila returns after averaging 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds last year, and gives the Cavaliers a solid presence in the middle.
Finney-Smith is a 5-star recruit too good to keep off the floor and is capable of hitting threes or the offensive boards, although he does need to add bulk. The two options that Greenburg has off the bench are Cadrian Raines, a defensive presence, and CJ Barksdale, a top-100 recruit with a very high ceiling.
The backcourt features junior point guard Erick Green, a big guard (6'4") who stepped up his game last year. With Delaney gone, Green could get the chance to improve upon last year's numbers of 11.6 points and 2.7 assists per game. Next to Green will be senior Dorenzo Hudson, a player that averaged 10.4 points a year ago before getting injured and missing the rest of the year.
The backcourt adds some new talent led by 4-star point guard Marquis Rankin, a true point guard that should help Green carry the team. Robert Brown is another 4-star recruit, and the wing should help immediately on defense. Sophomore point guard Tyrone Garland averaged 2.7 points per game in only 6.6 minutes, and should see those numbers increase as his minutes increase.
Add in talented 6'7" wing Jarell Eddie, last year's top recruit who averaged 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.9 minutes per game before being suspended for a marijuana arrest.
The Hokies have some questions, mostly in the frontcourt, but are loaded with talented athletes. If JT Thompson can emerge or Dorian Finney-Smith is as good as advertised, the Hokies could end their tournament drought.
All-Freshman Team: Dorian Finney-Smith
Miami is a pick to have a good season after trading coach Frank Haith for George Mason's Jim Larranaga, a coach with Final Four experience on his resume. Larranaga inherits a talented team and starting lineup good enough to be a Top 25 team when fully healthy.
The backcourt is the strength of the team, led by senior point guard Malcolm Grant. Grant averaged 14.8 points and 3.2 assists a year ago and is a leader for the 'Canes. Junior shooting guard Durand Scott is actually the 'Canes' best player, and one who averaged 13.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists a year ago. Scott gives Miami a go-to scorer.
Junior small forward Garrius Adams is a solid player that averaged 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds a year ago. The bench will be led by 6'6" sophomore wing Rion Brown, a player who scored 4.4 points in 16.9 minutes per game as a freshman last year. UMKC transfer Trey McKinney-Jones, a 6'5" wing, is eligible after sitting out last year. McKinney-Jones is the wild card, and as a sophomore he averaged 10.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, but those numbers were against inferior competition.
Freshman Bishop Daniels, a 3-star shooting guard, is a talented athlete who isn't expected to have a major role this year unless he can be a defensive role player. Point guard Shane Larkin, a 3-star recruit, son of future MLB Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin and former DePaul recruit, will not be eligible until next year.
The frontcourt is led by 6'10", 305-pound junior center Reggie Johnson. Johnson averaged 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game last year, but he's the reason the 'Canes aren't ranked higher. Johnson will not be back until January because of knee surgery, and if he doesn't come back in shape he may not be very useful this year.
Potentially starting next to Johnson will be senior DeQuan Jones, a talented athlete who has failed to live up to his recruiting hype. Jones had his best season last year, playing 13.9 minutes and averaging 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. If he takes another step up this year, he could be a decent starter.
Likely starting at center while Johnson is out is Florida transfer Kenny Kadji, a 6'11" former top recruit that also hasn't lived up to his recruiting hype. Undersized power forward Erik Swope isn't the most skilled player, but his motor is impressive. The final option for Larranaga is 6'10" sophomore Raphael Akpeijori, who only played 4.9 minutes per game last year but averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds. The 'Canes' loss of Julian Gamble for the year due to injury really hurts now that Johnson is out, but he will help next season.
The 'Canes could potentially challenge for third in the league or finish as low as seventh, all depending on how Johnson looks when he returns. The backcourt of Grant and Scott will make sure that Miami has a strong year no matter what Johnson does.
First-Team All-ACC: Malcolm Grant
Second-Team All-ACC: Durand Scott
3. Florida State
Leonard Hamilton's Florida State program is a clear third in the ACC heading into the year, but that doesn't mean what it used to. The Seminoles aren't a projected Top 25 team at the moment, but a strong ACC record could have them there before the season ends.
The backcourt needs to replace starting point guard Derwin Kitchen, but fortunately they appear to have a replacement. That replacement is sophomore Ian Miller, a former top-50 recruit who had a solid debut. Playing 14.5 minutes per game last year, Miller averaged 5.8 points, a number that should increase as his minutes increase.
Senior Deividas Dulkys brings a wealth of experience and strong defense as well as 7.3 points per game. Junior wing Michael Snaer is a talented playmaker ready to step up his game and add to the 8.8 points he averaged last season.
The bench will feature senior point guard Jeff Peterson, a transfer who has played at both Iowa and Arkansas already and gives Hamilton another ball-handler. Luke Loucks is a 6'5" pass-first point guard who averaged 2.9 points and 2.2 assists in 14.8 minutes per game. Freshman Terry Whisant is a strong shooter from long range, something that could get him at least some early playing time.
The frontcourt starts with 6'10" center Bernard James, a military veteran and junior college transfer, who averaged 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in his Seminole debut as well as being a force as a shot-blocker on the defensive end. The other starter is likely to be 6'7" sophomore Okaro White, a former elite recruit who weighs only 180 pounds. Even though he lacks bulk, White debuted averaging 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game.
Senior Xavier Gibson is an athletic big man who averaged 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14 minutes per game. Terrance Shannon is a 6'8" junior with a nonstop motor who averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12.9 minutes a year ago and should continue to be a solid role player in the rotation. Jon Kreft, a 7'0" senior center, adds more size to an already-huge front line. Kreft only played 9.8 minutes in his first season in Tallahassee, but averaged an impressive 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds.
The frontcourt also adds a pair of recruits to it, with 6'11 junior college transfer Kiel Turpin. Turpin may be a redshirt candidate due to the depth in the frontcourt and the fact that three of the five returnees are seniors. The young talent comes in with top-50 recruit Antwan Space, a very athletic forward who can play inside or out. Space is talented enough to break into the Seminoles rotation immediately.
Florida State is deep with athletes and has players like Snaer, James and White potentially ready to break out and become household names. If one of the trio of Miller, Peterson and Loucks proves to be a capable starter at the point, then you could expect to see the Seminoles in the Top 25 for most of the year.
Second-Team All-ACC: Bernard James
Third-Team All-ACC: Michael Snaer
Mike Kryzewski has a bit of rebuilding to do after losing the No. 1 selection in the NBA draft, Kyrie Irving, as well as All-ACC players Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. If almost any other program had to replace those three guys, they would be in for a long season. But Duke isn't any other program and their recruiting class is special.
Even though they don't have a true go-to scorer, the strength of this Blue Devil team will be the frontcourt. The two junior big men, 6'11" Ryan Kelly and 6'10" Mason Plumlee, are both back. Kelly, who disappointed as a freshman, improved enough last year to average 6.6 points and 3.7 rebounds—numbers that would have been higher if the Blue Devils didn't have such a talented rotation. Mason Plumlee averaged 7.2 points and 8.5 rebounds a year ago, numbers that show he was capable of posting a double-double any given night.
The first guy off the bench will likely be Plumlee's brother Miles Plumlee, a 6'10" senior who averaged 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game last year. The Blue Devils were so deep last year that sophomore Josh Hairston, a top-50 recruit, saw very limited time a year ago—something that may not change this year. The reason for that is there is a third Plumlee on campus.
Marshall Plumlee, a 7'0" top-50 recruit, is the most skilled of the trio of brothers and may be good enough to pass Hairston on the depth chart. Combo-forward Alex Murphy, brother of Florida's Erik Murphy, is a skilled player capable of playing a point-forward type of role
The backcourt is full of questions, but unlike most teams with questions the Blue Devils' issues are because of the amount of talented options they have. One thing that can be pencilled in is the fact that Seth Curry will start somewhere. Curry, a talented deep shooter like his brother Stephen, averaged nine points per game in his first year since transferring from Liberty.
Junior Andre Dawkins is a 6'4" deep shooter who averaged 8.1 points in 21 minutes last year, but isn't likely to start despite the fact that he is the second-most experienced player in the backcourt. The third member of the backcourt with any experience is sophomore point guard Tyler Thornton, a former 4-star recruit who only played 9.9 minutes per game last year and could potentially open the year as the starting point guard.
Another likely starter is freshman Austin Rivers, a 6'5" shooting guard and son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers who ranks in the top five recruits in the nation. Rivers is too good and too mature as a player to keep out of the lineup.
The guy who will challenge Thornton at the point will be Quinn Cook, a pure point guard and top-50 recruit that will likely be the starter before the end of the year. Small forward Michael Gbinjie is a top-30 recruit bringing elite athleticism and strong defense, something that could earn him a spot in a deep rotation.
Duke is certainly rebuilding, but will still be ranked in the Top 10 to begin the year. If Rivers is the real deal and the Blue Devils find a point guard, expect to see them making a run at another Final Four. However, as good as they are, they aren't on the level of North Carolina.
Freshman of the Year: Austin Rivers
All-Freshman Team: Austin Rivers
All-Freshman Team: Quinn Cook
First-Team All-ACC: Austin Rivers
1. North Carolina
North Carolina is absolutely loaded this year, returning all five starters from a team that went 14-2 in ACC play last year and adding a pair of high-profile recruits. It's easy to call them the No. 1 team in the country, but will they be able to live up to the hype?
The talent starts in the frontcourt, where Harrison Barnes shocked many by coming back for his sophomore season and passing up a chance to be the top draft choice overall. Barnes lived up to his freshman hype by averaging 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Barnes isn't the only lottery pick in the frontcourt though, as 6'10" junior John Henson also passed up the NBA last year. Henson, a former top-five recruit, broke out as a sophomore last year averaging 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. That's not all though, as 7'0" senior Tyler Zeller is also a big NBA prospect. Zeller averaged 15.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last year.
Add in top-10 recruit James McAdoo, a classic power forward capable of starting for almost any other team in the country right now. McAdoo will be the sixth man, but the rest of the bench is a bit of a question. Freshman center Desmond Hubert was a top-100 recruit but lacks bulk, although he could help on the defensive end this year. Another freshman, Jackson Simmons, was signed to add depth and defense in the post.
The backcourt also returns talent, led by sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall. All Marshall did as a freshman in the ACC was average 6.2 points and 6.3 rebounds, becoming one of the top pass-first point guards in the nation already. Junior combo-guard Dexter Strickland averaged 7.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists, but may be moved to the bench in favor of a better pure scorer. That pure scorer could potentially be 6'6" sophomore wing Reggie Bullock, a 5-star recruit who averaged 6.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game as a freshman.
If Bullock isn't the scorer, it's this year's 5-star freshman, PJ Hairston, a player capable of scoring at the rim or from the arc. The rest of the bench will include 6'4" senior Justin Watts, a depth piece who averaged 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds in 9.2 minutes per game last year. Also adding more depth will be freshman point guard Stilman White, a smart ball-handler. The Heels lost sharpshooting wing Leslie McDonald to a torn ACL, a big loss especially in terms of depth.
Roy Williams has the most talented squad in the nation, with a little bit of everything. It would be a major upset if the Heels failed to reach the Final Four.
ACC Player of the Year: Harrison Barnes
First-Team All-ACC: Harrison Barnes
First-Team All-ACC: Tyler Zeller
Second-Team All-ACC: John Henson
Second-Team All-ACC: Kendall Marshall
All-Freshman Team: James McAdoo
Sixth Man of the Year-James McAdoo
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