Predicted Order of Finish
Last year the pick for the top spot was pretty clear cut. And while there are plenty of people who will pick North Carolina to win the conference (with Duke the runner-up), things are definitely a bit murkier this year. To me, the easier part is picking a team to finish last: North Carolina State, no question in my mind. I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Georgia Tech to win the ACC, thanks in large part to newcomer Derrick Favors as a strong addition to an already intriguing roster. There is a strong group of teams in the middle of this conference (probably spots 4 through 10 or so) who all have the capability of making the tournament, but as always, at least a couple of them will be on the outside looking in.
1. Georgia Tech – Favors likely will only be in town for one season, so Paul Hewitt and the Yellow Jackets had better make the most of it. Gani Lawal’s decision to skip the NBA draft and come back for his junior season was a good first step.
2. North Carolina – Hansbrough’s gone. Lawson’s gone. Ellington’s gone. Green’s gone. And yet the Tar Heels remain a consensus top 10 (if not top 5) pick for this season. No doubt, a lot of talent returns and some new talent arrives, but this team will be young and potentially inconsistent throughout the season.
3. Duke – the Blue Devils got very lucky when recruit Andre Dawkins decided to skip his senior year of high school and head out to Durham a year early, giving Coach K a whopping total of three scholarship guards on his roster. At some point (and maybe several points) during the season, that lack of depth in the backcourt will be a problem.
4. Florida State – Leonard Hamilton lost Toney Douglas to graduation, but with sophomore wing Chris Singleton on the verge of stardom and a nice supporting cast, the ‘Noles shouldn’t lose any ground.
5. Clemson – the Tigers will not get off to the same type of start this season as the last couple. They’ll likely lose a game (or a couple) before conference play. The key for this program, however, is not how they start, but how they finish. There is enough potential here to win an NCAA tournament game, but at some point, Oliver Purnell’s squad needs to put it all together.
6. Maryland – Greivis Vasquez is back, choosing College Park over the NBA for now. And while Gary Williams has surrounded his senior star with more talent and experience than in years past, the Terrapins still do not have the talent to compete for an ACC title.
7. Boston College – Al Skinner’s team will be a tough out just about every night, with athletes across the floor and plenty of hard work, but let’s go ahead and put them on the bubble right now, a place they’ll likely still be in March.
8. Wake Forest – the Demon Deacons seemingly lost almost as much as their more decorated rival in Chapel Hill, with Jeff Teague and James Johnson playing at the next level this season, but with soph stud Al-Farouq Aminu leading the way, Dino Gaudio’s club could have just enough to go dancing.
9. Virginia Tech – much like BC, the Hokies are going to be a team that not a lot of coaches look forward to playing: lots of athletes, strong coaching, and tough environment. But, once again, the Seth Greenberg may be disappointed in the middle of March.
10. Miami – with Jack McClinton gone, the Hurricanes have a gaping hole at the head of their offense. If Villanova-transfer Malcon Grant can fill that spot, and if either exciting soph Dequan Jones or senior big man Dwayne Collins can take the next step, it is possible that Frank Haith will have his squad dancing again. This is a strong 10th place team.
11. Virginia – new head coach Tony Bennett comes to Charlottesville and he will bring discipline and toughness, and the Cavs will likely play a lot of close games. If Sylven Landesberg can be the big-play guy at the end of games, perhaps this squad can finish higher in the rankings. But, the lack of talent that Bennett finds on his roster will prevent the Cavs from finishing much higher.
12. North Carolina State – this is not a good team. With last year’s underachieving senior class gone and with JJ Hickson defecting early a couple season’s back, the cupboard is nearly empty in Raleigh. There had better be signs of life from what does remain, however, or else the Sidney Lowe era could end prematurely.
G Greivis Vasquez, Sr, Maryland
SF Chris Singleton, So, Florida State
F Trevor Booker, Sr, Clemson
F Ed Davis, So, North Carolina
C Derrick Favors, Fr, Georgia Tech
G Jon Scheyer, Sr, Duke
G Sylven Landesburg, So, Virginia
F Al-Farouq Aminu, So, Wake Forest
F Kyle Singler, Jr, Duke
F Gani Lawal, Jr, Georgia Tech
All Freshman Team
G Michael Snaer, Florida State
F Milton Jennings, Clemson
F Mason Plumlee, Duke
F John Henson, North Carolina
C Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
Preseason Tournament Tie-Ins
Boston College – Paradise Jam
Potential Opponents: St. Joseph’s, Purdue, Tennessee
Clemson – 76 Classic
Potential Opponents: Texas A&M, West Virginia, Butler/Minnesota/UCLA
Duke – NIT Season Tip-Off
Potential Opponents: Charlotte, Arizona State/TCU, LSU/Western Kentucky/UConn
Florida State – Old Spice Classic
Potential Opponents: Iona, Alabama/Baylor, Creighton/Marquette/Michigan/Xavier
Georgia Tech – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Potential Opponents: Dayton, George Mason/Villanova, Indiana/Kansas State/Ole Miss
Maryland – Maui Invitational
Potential Opponents: Chaminade, Cincinnati/Vanderbilt, Arizona/Colorado/Gonzaga/Wisconsin
Miami – Charleston Classic
Potential Opponents: Tulane, Penn State, Davidson/South Carolina
North Carolina – 2K Sports Classic
Potential Opponents: Ohio State, Cal/Syracuse
Virginia – Cancun Classic
Potential Opponents: Stanford, Cleveland State/Kentucky
Top Ten Non-Conference Games
12/1 Michigan State @ North Carolina - the title game rematch is the jewel of this year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge.
12/2 Boston College @ Michigan- an interesting matchup of quality teams and excellent coaches.
12/2 Illinois @ Clemson – one of a handful of tough games prior to the ACC season for the Tigers.
12/2 Duke @ Wisconsin – the Blue Devils take a tough trip into Big Ten country to face the disciplined Badgers.
12/2 Florida State @ Ohio State – an early season test for a ‘Nole team with high hopes.
12/2 Minnesota @ Miami – this is the type of game that the ‘Canes will need to win to build their tournament resume early.
12/5 North Carolina @ Kentucky – the shine is back on in this rivalry, a matchup between a couple of the best teams in the country.
12/6 Maryland vs. Villanova in Washington DC – a tough neutral site matchup for the Terps.
12/19 North Carolina vs Texas at Cowboy Stadium – another pillar in a tough non-conference schedule for the Tar Heels. I wonder if the giant scoredboard will come into play.
1/30 Duke @ Georgetown – perhaps the best non-conference game of the season to occur after conference play has begun.