2009-2010 ACC Conference Preview

Wed, 10/28/2009 - 11:49pm

Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams expects to see more parity in the ACC this season.

“If you look at the ACC this year, I think you look at it and you see a lot of good teams that are right at the same level,” Williams said at the Terrapins' media day earlier this month. “You don't see a whole lot of difference. In other words, last year at this time I think a lot of people would have said, 'North Carolina, they're better than everyone else.' Well, this year, I think there's more teams at a certain level. There may not be that one team at the Carolina level.”

No, North Carolina hasn't been kicked out of the league. But the 21st-year Maryland coach's point comes down to this: Last season, the eventual National Champion Tar Heels were clearly the best, most talented team in the league. No, they didn't win the league tournament. But throughout the year, there was little denying the qualities that allowed the Tar Heels to be the last team dancing in April.

This season, the Atlantic Coast Conference seems loaded with uncertainty. Every team has a clear weakness, be it the Tar Heels' lack of a point guard or the Terrapins' size disadvantage. There are at least four teams in the bunch good enough to contend at the Sweet 16-level, yet none, right now, stand out as being of Final Four-quality.

Still, there remains a lot of raw talent in the ACC this season, and how those players develop will determine how late the league can play into the NCAA Tournament this season. With that said, let's break down the team, in order from projected best to projected worst:

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

2008-09 Record: 34-4 (13-3 ACC) National Champions

Outlook: There is no certainty at the top of the ACC this season. The four most important pieces in the Tar Heels' title run last year are all gone, replaced by a solid but hardly perfect recruiting class. Sophomore Ed Davis should make up for the loss of superstar Tyler Hansbrough. But replacing Ty Lawson, perhaps the ACC's best player last year, will be significantly more difficult. The Tar Heels are relying on less-than-spectacular Larry Drew II as their only natural point, but it's likely one of two freshmen, Dexter Strickland or Leslie McDonald, will be converted to the position. Still, at every other position, this team is stacked. Davis's decision to pass on being a lottery pick, coupled with swingman Marcus Ginyard's return from injury, should make this team ferocious on defense. It should be an interesting juggling act, though, to see how Roy Williams handles giving Davis, returning starter Deon Thompson, top freshman John Henson and long sophomore Tyler Zeller all their fair shares of playing time. But that's the kind of question most coaches would love to have.

Key Departures: C Tyler Hansbrough, G Ty Lawson, G Wayne Ellington, F Danny Green

Newcomers: F John Henson, G Dexter Strickland, G Leslie McDonald, F David Wear, F Travis Wear

Top Returnees:
C Ed Davis (6.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg), PF Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), F Marcus Ginyard (6.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg in 2007-08)

Non-conference games to watch: Coaches vs. Cancer, 12/1 vs. Michigan State, 12/5 @ Kentucky, 12/19 vs. Texas (in Arlington, Texas)

2. Duke Blue Devils

Kyle SinglerKyle Singler2008-09 Record: 30-7 (11-5 ACC), Sweet 16

Outlook: About to enter the season with just two guards on the roster, Duke was bailed out by early-entrant Andre Dawkins. By registering early, Dawkins provides the Blue Devils with at least some depth in the backcourt. Still, they will rely heavily on Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer. If Smith can turn things around after a horrible 2008-09, things could go really well in Durham. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a deep frontcourt starring ACC Player of the Year favorite Kyle Singler. The development of forward Lance Thomas and center Brian Zoubek in their senior years should be an interesting story line this season, but the additions of freshmen Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly may allow Duke to overcome continued mediocrity from the veterans.

Key Departures: G Gerald Henderson, G Elliot Williams, F David McClure, G Greg Paulus

Newcomers: F Mason Plumlee, F Ryan Kelly,

Top Returnees: F Kyle Singer (16.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Jon Scheyer (14.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg)

Non-conference games to watch: NIT Season Tip-Off, 12/2 @ Wisconsin, 12/19 vs. Gonzaga (in NYC), 1/6 vs. Iowa State (in Chicago)

3. Maryland Terrapins

2008-09 Record: 21-14 (7-9 ACC), Round of 32

Outlook: To say the Terrapins overachieved last season is equivalent to suggesting Barack Obama won the minority vote last year. Maryland appeared dead in the water after a loss in the regular season's final game at Virginia. But a couple wins in the ACC Tournament and an upset of California in the NCAA Tournament first round left the Terps feeling fairly satisified with the end result of the season. Greivis Vasquez is a mirror of Gary Williams – intense, unafraid to speak his mind and at his best in big games. This season, for the first time in Vasquez's four years in College Park, expectations will be high. How he reacts when people aren't counting his team out will be interesting. But Vasquez isn't the only Terp who will need to live up to expectations. The Terps haven't had a good center in at least five years, and hopes are high for recruit Jordan Williams, who dominated lower-level competition in Connecticut.

Key Departures: F Dave Neal

Newcomers: C Jordan Williams, F James Padgett

Top Returnees: G Greivis Vasquez (17.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5 apg), F Landon Milbourne (11.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

Non-conference games to watch: Maui Invitational, 12/6 vs. Villanova (in Washington, D.C.)

4. Clemson Tigers

2008-09 Record:
23-9 (9-7 ACC), NCAA Tournament First Round

Outlook: In 21 years as a head coach, Oliver Purnell has never won an NCAA Tournament game. It's a pretty unbelievable streak. Purnell's teams are becoming known for being among the last to lose a game each season, taking advantage of very soft non-conference schedules. They are also known for collapsing after that first loss, and have consistently underachieved in the second half of the season, as ACC play takes its toll. This year, expect some changes to the standard formula. Center Trevor Booker is among the best returnees in the conference, and freshman forward Milton Jennings may be the biggest recruit in Clemson history. The key, then, will be the team's play at point guard. Demontez Stitt was, himself, a huge landing for Purnell. But Stitt has been a starter for two years and hasn't shown the kind of improvement people expected of him so far. If Stitt can't get the job done this year, he may be replaced by 5-foot-9 sophomore Andre Young. Expect this team to start three freshmen by midseason, but that could be a good thing considering the strength of this recruiting class.

Key Departures:
G K.C. Rivers, G Terrence Oglesby, F Raymond Sykes

F Milton Jennings, F Noel Johnson, G Donte Hill, C Devin Booker

Top Returnees: C Trevor Booker (15.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2 bpg), G Demontez Stitt (8.7 ppg, 3.8 apg)

Non-conference games to watch: 76 Classic, 12/2 vs. Illinois, 12/6 vs. South Carolina

5. Virginia Tech Hokies

2008-09 Record: 19-15 (7-9 ACC), NIT Second Round

Outlook: Seth Greenberg is one of the most underrated coaches in America. Just the fact that he's made the Hokies into a consistent threat despite a general lack of interest in the basketball proves so. And he brings back an underrated group to move on with. The loss of A.D. Vassallo may leave the Hokies lacking on the wing, but Malcolm Delaney is one of the ACC's two best point guards, along with Maryland's Vasquez, and big man Jeff Allen has gained some muscle this off season to help him bang with bigger players in the paint. He's one of the league's most productive post players, and the type who could go down as Virginia Tech's best rebounder ever. The key, then, will be getting production from guard Dorenzo Hudson, who has all the size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and ability but has yet to put it all together. If he, or one of their other, less-experienced wings can keep some pressure off Delaney and Allen, the Hokies should be headed to the NCAA Tournament again.

Key Departures: G A.D. Vassallo, F Chieck Diakite

Newcomers: G Erick Green, F Manny Atkins, C Cadarian Raines, G Ben Boggs

Top Returnees: G Malcolm Delaney (18.1 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4 rpg), C Jeff Allen (13.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg)

Non-conference games to watch: Philly Hoop Group Classic, 12/6 vs. Georgia, 1/2 vs. Seton Hall (in Cancún, Mexico).

6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2008-09 Record: 24-7 (11-5 ACC), NCAA Tournament First Round

Outlook: This is the season where Dino Gaudio has to prove he's more than a recruiter. Last season, the second-year coach was able to ride the obvious talent his roster boasted. Jeff Teague lit up the scoreboard in big wins, and there was early talk of Gaudio as national Coach of the Year. But that discussion fizzled after a horrendous finish to the year, in which the team went one-and-out in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. Now, two stars, Teague and forward James Johnson, have gone onto the NBA, and glue guy Harvey Hale has graduated. Gaudio still has the talent to win big – perhaps enough to even contend for the league title. Sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu should be considered for conference Player of the Year awards, while centers Chas McFarland, Tony Woods and Ty Walker all have great potential. But Gaudio's going to have to overcome that deer-in-headlights look he displayed in his postseason misadventures last season.

Key Departures: G Jeff Teague, F James Johnson, G Harvey Hale

Newcomers: F Ari Stewart, G C.J. Harris, G Konner Tucker

Top Returnees: F Al-Farouq Aminu (12.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg), C Chas McFarland (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), F L.D. Williams (8 ppg, 2.7 rpg)

Non-conference games to watch:
12/1 at Purdue, 12/5 @ Gonzaga, 1/3 vs. Xavier.

7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Derrick FavorsDerrick Favors2008-09 Record: 12-19 (2-14 ACC)

Outlook: Let's set the record straight from the start: There is no team in the ACC with more individual talent than the Yellow Jackets. But frankly, coach Paul Hewitt has not proven anything to anyone since making a run to the 2004 National Championship game, and his teams have been consistently defined by a lack of chemistry and perpetual underachievement. The disarray appears likely to continue this season. Iman Shumpert is hardly a point guard, more a turnover waiting to happen. But if Hewitt slides Shumpert, who is quite talented in driving to the basket, to the wing, he risks neurtralizing a player who struggles mightily with his jump shot. Still, freshman Mfon Udofia should be running this offense by midseason. Another freshman, super-duper recruit Derrick Favors, should play a huge role as the starting center. But there's worry that he and power forward Gani Lawal may clash as they both look for the ball in the post. Hewitt has compiled the talent, but he's going to have to sort it all out this season if he wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Still, there's enough ability here – thanks largely to a tremendous recruiting class – that this team should give Hewitt his third winning season in the six years since that title game appearance.

Key Departures: G Lewis Clinch, C Alade Aminu

Newcomers: C Derrick Favors, G Mfon Udofia, F Brian Oliver, G Glen Rice, Jr., F Kammeon Holsey, C Daniel Miller

Top returnees: F Gani Lawal (15.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg), G Iman Shumpert (10.6 ppg, 5 apg)

Non-conference games to watch: O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 12/5 vs. USC, 1/5 @ Georgia

8. Florida State Seminoles

2008-09 Record: 25-10 (10-6 ACC), NCAA Tournament First Round

Outlook: Leonard Hamilton finally got over the hump last season. With his job on the line, the Florida State coach made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years at the school. But his Seminoles suffered a huge upset, losing as a No. 4-seed in the first round to Wisconsin. Now, most of the key parts are back, but the one that is gone was the biggest part: point guard Toney Douglas. Without Douglas, the team's only double-digit scorer, the Seminoles are hoping a bunch of relatively unproven players can take the mantle. Forward Chris Singleton and center Solomon Alabi are the big names, both NBA prospects. But the key may be guard Derwin Kitchen, who, besides having a great name, displayed good basketball savvy last year. The top player, though, may be freshman Michael Snaer, a shooting guard with tremendous scoring ability and five-star hype. Let's not forget, though, that until last season, Hamilton had the reputation of being an underachiever. And one season can be a fluke, especially when you consider just how good Douglas – the league's most valuable player, even if he didn't receive an award describing him as such – was last year.

Key Departures: G Toney Douglas, F Uche Echefu

Newcomers: G Michael Snaer, F Terrance Shannon

Top Returnees: C Solomon Alabi (8.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg), F Chris Singleton (8.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G Derwin Kitchen (7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg)

Non-conference games to watch: Old Spice Classic, 12/2 @ Ohio State, 12/17 vs. Auburn

9. Boston College Eagles

2008-09 Record:
22-12 (9-7 ACC), Round of 32

Outlook: No team in the country is adding less to its roster than Boston College. The Eagles gain no one – not a freshman, transfer or even redshirt player. What does that mean? Well, for one, Al Skinner will have to replace All-ACC second-teamer Tyrese Rice from within. But it also means this team is chock-full of experience after a year of overachieving. And they have the benefit of one of the league's best coaches, Skinner, now in his 12th year with the program. The onus of the responsibility in picking up the slack for Rice, who averaged a team-high 16.9 points per game, will fall on guard Rakim Sanders. Sanders is an outstanding athlete, and he will surely have help from forward Joe Trapani and fellow wings Corey Raji and Reggie Jackson. Biko Paris should make a smooth transition into the point guard position and is a more natural distributor than Rice. If center Josh Southern can make a leap in his development, the Eagles should be able to contend for an NCAA Tournament position. And if they do, Skinner deserves a raise.

Key Departures:
G Tyrese Rice

Newcomers: None

Top Returnees: F Joe Trapani (13.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg), G Rakim Sanders (12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg), G Corey Raji (9.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

Non-conference games to watch: Paradise Jam, 11/28 vs. Providence, 12/2 @ Michigan, 12/30 vs. South Carolina

10. Miami Hurricanes

2008-09 Record: 19-13 (7-9 ACC), NIT Second Round

Outlook: For the past three seasons, Jack McClinton has defined Miami's identity. Now, it must search for a new one. This is a team filled with inexperienced potential stars and guys who are still working out what their role will be on the team. Expect Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant to shine, as his quickness has left coach Frank Haith raviing about finally having a reliable point guard after two years of forcing the ball in the hands of the since-dismissed Eddie Rios and since-graduated Lance Hurdle. Alongside Grant, expect James Dews to try to pick up some of the scoring while former five-star recruit DeQuan Jones attempts to live up to his potential in his sophomore year. Meanwhile, down low, the team is hoping to find a compliment to big man Dwayne Collins, one of the ACC's most feared dunkers. Haith has an interesting task ahead of him, sorting out a roster that stands out as being fairly middle of the road. The chemistry will have to work itself out as the season goes on, but if they can get returns on Jones, the Hurricanes could really surprise some people this season.

Key Departures: G Jack McClinton, F Brian Asbury, F Jimmy Graham, G Lance Hurdle

Newcomers: G Malcolm Grant, G Durand Scott, F Donnovan Kirk, G Antoine Allen, F Garrius Adams, C Reggie Johnson

Top Returnees: F Dwayne Collins (10.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), G James Dews (8.2 ppg) F DeQuan Jones (2.7 ppg)

Non-conference games to watch: Charleston Classic, 12/2 vs. Minnesota

11. Virginia Cavaliers

2008-09 Record: 10-18 (4-12 ACC)

Outlook: I don't think anyone is surprised that the only ACC team to change head coaches this offseason was Virginia. Tony Bennett was an intruiging hire, a guy I believe to be a tremendous basketball mind but one from the other side of the country who has yet to really prove himself as a recruiter. He inherits a team that was flat-out lousy last year, one of the worst in the conference. There's not a whole lot of talent on this team, though Bennett's first recruiting class, starring swingman Tristan Spurlock, should help. It will be interesting to see to what level this group of Dave Leitao's players will buy into Bennett's grinding style of play. He demands top-notch defense and slowed-down offense. The key will be to find a role for star sophomore Sylven Landesberg. Landesberg isn't a great shooter, but he can really drive to the basket and should build off being the highest-scoring freshman in the conference last season. Forward Mike Scott also has a lot of potential, with great athleticism. The team shouldn't miss either of its two departed seniors from last year, Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye, very much at all. An easy non-conference schedule could help this team reach .500.

Key Departures: G Mamadi Diane

Newcomers: F Tristan Spurlock, G Jontel Evans

Top Returnees: G Sylven Landesberg (16.6 ppg, 6 rpg), F Mike Scott (10.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg)

Non-conference games to watch:
Cancún Challenge, 12/7 @ Auburn, 12/30 vs. UAB

12. N.C. State Wolfpack

2008-09 Record: 16-14 (6-10 ACC), NIT Second Round

Outlook: Ladies and gentlemen, now presenting your clear-cut worst team in the ACC: the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Coach Sidney Lowe stick around this offseason despite persistent rumors that he might go back to being an assistant in the NBA. I'm not sure it was a right move. Granted, ever coach wants to have the chance to coach his own players, and Lowe will have that opportunity in this, his fourth, season. Still, let's be honest: Lowe has struggled to win with talented rosters, and this team really doesn't qualify as “talented.” With that said, the youth should bring some level of excitement. With their top three scorers from last season gone, the Wolfpack will be starting anew, led by forward Tracy Smith, a potent low-post presence who works hard on defense and is an expected leader on this team. There are a few other forwards who should play important roles, namely senior Dennis Horner, but the real problem with this team remains in the backcourt. The point guard situation is unsettled, but the shooting guard situation may be even worse. In the end, I can't imagine the Wolfpack having solid ball control, and that will lead to a lot of losses.

Key Departures:
F Brandon Costner, F Ben McCauley, G Courtney Fells

Newcomers: F Richard Howell, C DeShawn Painter, G Scott Wood, F Josh Davis, C Jordan Vandenberg

Top Returnees: F Tracy Smith (10 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Javier Gonzalez (6.6 ppg, 3.3 apg)

Non-conference games to watch: Glenn Wilkes Classic, 12/5 @ Marquette, 12/23 @ Arizona, 1/3 vs. Florida

The Hoops Manifesto
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It's crazy that North Carolina can lose that much talent and still remain the team to beat in the ACC.

Jeff Fox

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Joined: 05/11/2009
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He is a great shooter that is nonsense. He may have had a down year but I can assure he can stroke. For years his biggest strength has been his 3-pt shot.

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