While teams like North Carolina and Duke did not quite live up to their high expectations, this ACC season was still as exciting as ever. The emergence of programs like Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, the unexpected inconsistencies of hopeful programs like Clemson and Pittsburgh, and the steady success of powerhouses like Florida State and Virginia provided plenty of excitement in an unusual college basketball season.
Almost every program went through some sort of COVID-19 pause during the season and while there were struggles that came with this, most of the elite programs eventually found their way and solidified their status as an NCAA Tournament team. We are likely to see at least seven ACC teams fighting in the big dance and any one of them has proven that they have the potential to make a run and fight for the coveted NCAA Championship. Even with all of the uncertainty that COVID-19 brought to this unusual season, March Madness is certainly (and finally) here.
Player of the Year: Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Moses Wright was voted ACC Player of the Year on Monday morning, but I truly believe that there is a more deserving player on his own team, and it is Jose Alvarado. The senior point guard affects the game in countless ways on both ends of the floor. He averages 15.5 PPG and over four assists while only turning the ball over twice per game. His efficiency is even more impressive with 51/41/88 shooting splits on a relatively high volume.
Alvarado’s impact comes far beyond the stat-sheet and anyone who watched the Yellow Jackets play this year knows that. The 6’0 senior has the heart of a lion and plays every possession with everything he’s got. I’ve said it over and over this season, but Alvarado is truly the heart and soul of the Yellow Jackets and he has the largest impact of any of their big three of Moses Wright, Michael Devoe, and himself. He struggled in the last few games, but his entire body of work this season is more impactful than any other player in the conference. Moses Wright is more than worthy of this honor, but I have to go with my gut and give Alvarado the recognition he deserves.
Freshman of the Year: Scottie Barnes, #11 Florida State Seminoles
Player of the Year was a tough call with plenty of deserving winners, but there was considerably less deliberation about this award. Barnes (pictured) was the clear winner from start to finish this season. Jalen Johnson showed promise early on and North Carolina boasted several highly-touted recruits, but Barnes is simply from a different planet. There are not many 6’9 players in the nation who are as versatile defensively or can create offense in the ways he can. He handles the ball exceptionally well and is able to find the best option, which is often himself, when he has the ball in his hands.
The star freshman ranked in the top six in both assists per game and AST/TO ratio in the ACC as a 6’9 point forward. He took tremendous care of the ball as only a freshman and showcased his ability to take over a game in his most recent showing against Notre Dame. The Seminoles fell behind early, and Barnes took it upon himself to get them back in the game, which he did, before they came up short in the end. There is a bright future ahead for Barnes who will certainly hear his name called in the upcoming NBA Draft lottery.
Coach of the Year: Mike Young, #22 Virginia Tech Hokies
Few coaches had to deal with more than Mike Young of Virginia Tech this season. Between seven cancellations or postponements of games in four separate stretches, the suspension of a star player halfway through the season, and several new faces turning into contributors or stars, the overall body of work for Young is overwhelmingly impressive. In just his second year with the Hokies, Young has the program moving in the right direction as they are currently ranked in the top-25 and have been for the large part of this season since a huge upset over #3 Villanova in late November.
Young appeared in the NCAA Tournament five times as the head coach of Wofford in 17 years and is heading back with Keve Aluma, a transfer from Wofford who played with Young in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Aluma provided a huge boost for the Hokies this season and emerged as an All-ACC 2nd Team member who is an integral part of the 3-and-D style that Young implements. The Hokies only surrender 65 points per game which ranks 3rd in the ACC and top 40 in the nation. This team made some noise in March two seasons ago under Buzz Williams and they are poised to do it again under Mike Young’s direction.
Biggest Surprise: Keve Aluma, SF/PF, #22 Virginia Tech Hokies
The biggest reason for Mike Young’s success in Blacksburg this season is a guy he brought with him from Wofford in 2018. Keve Aluma was a starter for the Terriers as a sophomore, but he only averaged seven points and attempted one three-pointer all season. After a redshirt season in 2019, Aluma raised this scoring average to 16 points and shot 37% from three-point range on 54 attempts. This dramatic improvement took the entire ACC by storm and turned him into one of the most unguardable bigs in the conference. Aluma was a 66% FG shooter as a sophomore, so his prowess in the post was never a problem. The development of a consistent jump shot game him more 1-on-1 opportunities down low and turned him into a superstar in one of the country’s best conferences.
Biggest Disappointment: Jalen Johnson and the Duke Blue Devils
The entire season for the Blue Devils was a huge disappointment and it starts with star freshman Jalen Johnson. Johnson showed out in his first career game, but failed to live up to the hype afterwards, which led to him opting out of the season in the middle of February. The Blue Devils ranked 9th in the preseason AP Poll and rose as high as #6 after an opening night victory, but three separate three-game losing streaks in conference play as well as losses to Michigan State and Illinois at home could lead to Coach K’s first .500 record or worse since 1994-95. Despite Johnson’s struggles, he is still projected to go in the first round of the upcoming draft. Duke’s struggles do not have this kind of silver lining. They are projected to miss the tournament for the first time in 26 years – the last time Coach K held a sub .500 record. Unless the Blue Devils make a deep run in the ACC Tournament, the rapid development of Matthew Hurt will only prove useful in the NIT Tournament.
Top 5 ACC Prospects
1. Scottie Barnes, Florida State
My favorite prospect by far in this year’s class is Scottie Barnes. I was a huge fan of this guy from the beginning and it only grew as I continued to watch him play. He is an explosive athlete with a quick and powerful first step to go along with great court vision and good decision making (4.3 assists per game vs. 2.1 turnovers). His three-point percentage is poor at 26.5%, but he has a far more natural stroke than Jalen Johnson and could easily improve in a short time. He can influence games on both ends of the floor and plays with relentless energy whenever he’s out there. After the top-five prospects are off the board, Barnes would be the first guy I choose at #6.
2. Jalen Johnson, Duke
Johnson made major headlines by opting out of the season with a little more than a month left in the season and it was not for a lot of good reasons. There was a lot of backlash for his decision with claims that he quit on his team, but there should not be too steep of a slide in the upcoming draft because of it. Johnson is a freak athlete at 6’9, 220 pounds and is similar to Barnes because of his ability to create for himself and others on the drive. His AST/TO ratio is far worse than Barnes, but he shot a higher percentage from distance, on less attempts, and rebounded better than the FSU freshman. He should still get consideration for a lottery selection and is almost a guarantee to be a first round selection in June.
3. Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina
I do not really understand a lot of the hype around Sharpe as a possible lottery pick in this year’s draft. His size, strength, and rebounding are elite to say the least, but his inability to shoot any kind of jump shot and immense struggles at the free-throw line are problematic for a league that prioritizes jump-shooting more than ever before. Sharpe cannot spread the floor as he poses no threat to hit shots outside of the paint at this point in his career. The physical tools and interior dominance are easy to drool over, but until he develops a jump shot, even if it is only 12-15 footers, he will be a floor-spacing liability at the next level.
4. Trey Murphy III, Virginia
Murphy may end up staying another year at Virginia, but his physical traits and shooting are worthy of recognition. Murphy hit a huge growth spurt at the end of high school, and it continued early on at Rice. He now stands at 6’9, 206 pounds and shoots over 44% from three-point range. He is an elite wing player with great length who can protect the rim and also defend on the perimeter. Once he gets comfortable in his own body, he could be a superstar at the next level. He already has the shooting and size, but his defense and slashing will come in time, which makes him an exciting, high-ceiling prospect either this year or next year.
5. MJ Walker, Florida State
I chose Walker over David Johnson here because while Johnson has great length for a combo guard, he has a major turnover problem and a miserable AST/TO ratio of barely over 1. Walker is also a great shooter with excellent form and shoots a high percentage from beyond the arc. Johnson improved his jump shot this season, but Walker is still a much better shooter with a similar AST/TO ratio despite playing as a SG. Florida State’s star senior can make an immediate impact on a contending team as a player who can come off the bench and score in bunches. He can heat up in a flash and also defends well on the perimeter. Look for Walker to come off the board late in the first round or early in the second with a contending team desperate for shooting taking a chance on him.
ACC Power Rankings
1. #15 Florida State Seminoles, 15-5 (11-4 ACC)
2. #16 Virginia Cavaliers, 17-6 (13-4 ACC)
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 15-8 (11-6 ACC)
4. North Carolina Tar Heels, 16-9 (10-6 ACC)
5. #22 Virginia Tech Hokies, 15-5 (9-4 ACC)
6. Louisville Cardinals, 13-6 (8-5 ACC)
7. Clemson Tigers, 16-6 (10-6 ACC)
8. Duke Blue Devils, 11-11 (9-9 ACC)
9. Syracuse Orange, 15-8 (9-7 ACC)
10. North Carolina State Wolfpack, 13-9 (9-8 ACC)
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 10-14 (7-11 ACC)
12. Pittsburgh Panthers, 10-11 (6-10 ACC)
13. Miami Hurricanes, 8-16 (4-15 ACC)
14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 6-15 (3-15 ACC)
15. Boston College Eagles, 4-15 (2-11 ACC)