The North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils won a combined zero NCAA Tournament games last season as the Blue Devils failed to even make the tournament for the first time since 1995. Coach Krzyzewski only has one chance to make up for this disappointment as he will be saying goodbye to college basketball with one last season in Durham. Fortunately for him, he has arguably the most exciting player in college basketball joining him in ACC Preseason Player of the Year Paolo Banchero, a true freshman.

The Tar Heels finished a pedestrian sixth in the ACC a season ago and were dominated by the Wisconsin Badgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They return four starters and brought in several productive transfers who should elevate the Tar Heels back towards the top of the standings.

Florida State and Virginia should also remain in the picture for an ACC Championship with Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Louisville looking to play spoiler right behind the cream of the crop in the conference. No matter what happens this season, we are sure for one of the most exciting seasons in the history of college basketball as we return to some sort of normalcy and Coach K desperately searching for the fairytale ending he deserves.

Top Five Prospects in the ACC

1. Paolo Banchero, Duke

When you have a guy who wins ACC Preseason Player of the Year before playing a single game at the collegiate level, you know you have somebody special. Paolo Banchero is that somebody special. Standing at 6’10 with excellent ball skills and perimeter shooting ability, Banchero has the chance to take the nation by storm and hear his name called before anyone else next June.

The 18-year-old has a legitimate shot to be the first overall selection in this year’s draft and if he lives up to all of the preseason hype, it should come down to himself and Chet Holmgren all the way over in Spokane. Banchero’s athleticism for his size is what really sets him apart and if the legendary Coach K can refine his skills, he could be the next great Duke freshman and future NBA superstar.

2. AJ Griffin, Duke

A second Duke freshman, with considerably less hype, is Adrian Griffin, Jr, the son of former NBA player Adrian Griffin who spent nine years in the NBA. His son is looking to sustain an even longer career and put it up far better numbers and it all starts in year one for the Blue Devils. He’ll have to take advantage of his only season with Coach K and live up to his lottery projection right now on our Mock Draft.

Griffin is a physical wing with good handles and a relentless motor on both ends of the floor. Few will want to stand in his way on the drive or sprint full speed at him on the other end of the floor. Griffin is one of the more NBA ready freshman in this class because of how physical he is and the brute strength that he possesses. He should be joining Banchero in the NBA Draft at the end of this year and it is likely his name will not be called too much later than his fellow teammate.

3. Matthew Cleveland, Florida State

The final freshman on the list is a Florida State Seminole looking to continue the trend of true freshmen under Leonard Hamilton being selected in the top-four. Like Patrick Williams and Scottie Barnes before him, Cleveland is a physical wing player who will probably come off the bench and manage to get first round draft hype anyway. Few have been better than Hamilton with development of young freshmen and no other coach is able to prepare players like him even with limited playing time.

This true freshman is smooth and strong around the rim (sound familiar Seminole fans) and holds his own on the defensive end with versatility and strength (it’s almost like Coach Hamilton has a type). It is important to watch as many Florida State games as possible with the limited minutes and deep rotation, so make sure you start early if you want to get a good look at the next star freshman playing in garnet and gold.

4. Caleb Love, North Carolina

Prepare yourself to see a completely different Caleb Love this season. It will be weird to see a player take such a huge step after losing a Hall of Fame head coach in Roy Williams, but Hubert Davis is already hinting that we’ll see an entirely different Love this season. RJ Davis will likely handle more of the ball and allow his fellow sophomore guard to create and cut off the ball to create offense the best way he knows.

There was a lot of pressure on Love to be just like the many guards in a row before him like Cole Anthony, Coby White and Joel Berry just to name a few. But this year, Love won’t be trying to be that primary ball-handler shooting and creating off the dribble. This year we’ll see a lot more of RJ Davis working as a pass-first ball-handler looking to get the star beside him the ball. A season ago we saw Love shoot 31% from the field and 26% from distance. I expect some huge jumps in those categories as this kid is just too talented and competitive to go through another difficult season. Love and the Tar Heels will be back in full force this year and should compete for an ACC Championship.

5. Mark Williams, Duke

Williams is the only player om this list who actually played well down the stretch last year, and yes, I know there was only one other player who actually played collegiately. The point is that Mark Williams really turned it on for the Blue Devils and in his final game of the season he scored 23 and grabbed 19 rebounds against Louisville. He finished in double figures in five out of the last six games and averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds per 40 minutes.

It is easy to see why there are so many people excited to see what he can do with his size, strength and an entire year to develop and grow as a player. If we can see a development of any kind of jump-shot and decent passing ability, Williams should soar up draft boards as he plays more and more like Day’Ron Sharpe from a season ago.

Preseason ACC Rankings

1. Duke Blue Devils

2. Florida State Seminoles

3. North Carolina Tar Heels

4. Virginia Tech Hokies

5. Virginia Cavaliers

6. Syracuse Orange

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

8. Louisville Cardinals

9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

10. NC State Wolfpack

11. Clemson Tigers

12. Miami Hurricanes

13. Pittsburgh Panthers

14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

15. Boston College Eagles


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