Heading into the 2015-2016 college basketball season, the ACC figures to be one of the deepest and most entertaining conferences in the country. The conference is three-deep in terms of teams that can legitimately win the conference and challenge for a national championship. Those include the defending national champions Duke Blue Devils, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and the Virginia Cavaliers. With that said, there are plenty of intriguing teams behind the big boys that can make noise with winning seasons and deep tournament runs in March. Within the 15-team conference, there are numerous story lines including the aforementioned powerhouses, several teams with legitimate shots to knock off those heavy weights during the season, plus programs that are going through rebuilding years, coaching troubles and off-the-court issues.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect from a loaded Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
ACC Power Rankings
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
2014-2015 Record: 26-12 overall, 11-7 in ACC (Fifth place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in Sweet 16
Key Additions: Kenny Williams, Luke Maye
Key Departures: J.P. Tokoto, Desmond Hubert, Jackson Simmons, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, Kanler Coker
North Carolina has been voted the top team in the country in the preseason AP poll with 35 first-place votes and 1,566 points. The Tar Heels field one of the deepest and most experienced teams this season as nine players from last year’s 10-man rotation are set to return.
A combination of the academic scandal surrounding the university and the lack of opportunities for playing time caused a lot of top recruits to choose other schools. UNC’s incoming freshmen class does not include a high level recruit for the first time in a long time. But with so much talent returning, there’s nothing to fret about in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels were able to reel in two four-star recruits in shooting guard Kenny Williams and power forward Luke Maye, both of whom could turn into the team’s best three-point shooters. They may not bring much else to the table in their freshmen seasons, but both being able to stretch the floor adds some key firepower for a Tar Heel team in need of three-point threats.
Of course, the team’s success will largely depend on the play of their top players Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and the emergence of sophomore Justin Jackson. Jackson began to take over as the team’s go to player in the tourney and as the team’s top talent, his assertiveness will be crucial. Paige is a talented scorer and figures to blossom in his senior season. His leadership and ability to mesh with all the other scorers on this team will be paramount. Joel Berry will battle Theo Pinson for the starting shooting guard position. Berry can also play point guard and allow Paige time at the two on offense. Defensively is where there could be an issue starting Berry alongside Paige. But if UNC decides to go big, Pinson will start on the wing.
The Tar Heels’ poor shooting and lackadaisical defensive efforts contributed to losses in games that they should have won last season. The shooting woes will hopefully be solved with the addition of the incoming freshmen and an improvement in returning players such as Jackson. The team’s defensive effort could potentially continue to be a problem this season. North Carolina has been effective defensively inside and on the glass, but has struggled on the perimeter. The Tar Heels will need to improve their overall defensive intensity and shooting. But if they’re able to put everything together, they have the talent in place to win another National Championship.
2. Duke Blue Devils
2014-2015 Record: 35-4 overall, 15-3 in ACC (Second place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Won National Championship
Key Additions: Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thorton, Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard, Sean Obi
Key Departures: Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon
Duke finished the regular season in second place in the conference and did not win the ACC Tournament title thanks to Notre Dame. But head coach Mike Krzyzewski had his team ready to play at the right time of the year. The Blue Devils entered the NCAA Tournament with a 29-4 record and a No. 1 seed. However, few expected them to run the table in the Big Dance to win their 5th National Championship.
Duke won’t need to worry too much about a championship hangover considering the team is brand new, as four of their starters, including their three key freshmen, Okafor, Winslow and Jones, essentially their nucleus, left school for the pros.
The Blue Devils may have lost their core from last year, but have brought in another standout freshman class (some rate it #1 in the nation). Brandon Ingram, a 6-foot-9 wing, is the gem of the freshmen group and is projected as a potential top-5 pick in next year’s draft. The Durantula clone has added 23 pounds of muscle since July 1st, which will undoubtedly assist in his transition to the college level. His thin frame was an issue for him in high school, but he’s added strength. He’s extremely long with a 7’3" wingspan, possessing athleticism and a unique offensive skill set. Point guard Derryck Thornton and shooting guard Luke Kennard are fellow five-star recruits and give Coach K talented options in the backcourt. Thornton is a scrappy, pure point guard who will step into Jones’ role this season. Kennard is a knockdown shooter and a constant threat to score the ball. He could ultimately beat out title game hero Grayson Allen as the starter. Chase Jeter, a 6-foot-10, 240-poind center, is another freshman who should expect to contribute. He’s different from Okafor in that he isn’t a bruiser, but he’s agile in the paint and has some nice post moves. Antonio Vrankovic, Justin Robinson, and Sean Obi have also been added to bolster the frontcourt depth. Obi is a wide-bodied forward who averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds with Rice two years ago as a freshman. Brennan Besser rounds out a very talented class.
Senior forward Amile Jefferson is the team’s lone returning starter. He also returns as its top scorer with 6.1 points per game. At 6-foot-9, Jefferson plays tough, gritty defense and hits the glass hard. Also returning are aforementioned sophomore Grayson Allen and junior Matt Jones, who were both McDonald’s All-Americans although they weren’t on the level of Okafor, Winslow, and Jones last year. Allen emerged as a clutch scoring threat during the NCAA Tournament and scored 16 points against Wisconsin in the national title game. Jones should come off the bench as a dangerous shooter, but will need to earn more minutes. Marshall Plumlee is a tough interior presence, who at 7-foot, plays hard and goes after the boards.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Blue Devils until they began to start forming another banner freshmen class. Consider it reloading, as this team has the talent, albeit very young, to contend once again. With arguably the nation’s top two recruits (Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum set to come in next season, things have never been brighter for Duke basketball fans.
3. Virginia Cavaliers
2014-2015 Record: 30-4 overall, 16-2 in ACC (First place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in Round of 32
Key Additions: Darius Thompson, Jack Salt, Jarred Reuter
Key Departures: Justin Anderson, Darion Atkins
Virginia was the hottest team in the country for the majority of last season. The Cavaliers started 19-0 and were 28-1 at one point. Despite a late regular season loss to Louisville, Virginia was able to finish atop the ACC standings and walk away with the conference title with a 16-2 record. Head coach Tony Bennett’s watched as his team’s play dropped off in the most important month of the season. They got past Belmont 79-67 before suffering an upset to Final Four-bound Michigan State in the Third Round. Heading into this season, the Cavaliers will hang their hats on playing great defense and keeping themselves competitive in every game. The 2015-2016 version of the Cavaliers has an experienced roster and could certainly continue their reign atop the ACC and reach the 30-win mark for the third straight season.
Anderson left early for the NBA and was selected 21st overall in the draft. This team will miss his offensive production and has to find it elsewhere if they want to have success in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers also lost another starter in Darion Atkins, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 7.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game as a senior despite seeing his minutes reduced.
The Cavaliers beefed up their frontcourt with some physical interior players. Jack Salt, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center redshirted last season and should be ready to make an impact in the paint. Jarred Reuter is a tough incoming player and will provide the team some quality depth in the frontcourt. Justice Bartley and Tennesee transfer Darius Thompson will give Bennett some options in the backcourt. Both should be able to find regular minutes in the rotation.
A bulk of Virginia’s offense will come from senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring last year with 14.0 points per game to go along with 2.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds. He’s a great scorer and figures to take the big shots for this team. Coach Bennett will have to find a secondary scorer to take some of the scoring load of Brogdon. Point guard London Perrantes was thought to be an option, but he’s a pass-first floor general and great defender who doesn’t look to create scoring opportunities for himself often. Another option is Marial Shayok. As a freshman last year, the 6-foot-5 wing averaged close to 15 minutes per game. Shayok is a capable outside shooter and has good enough size to effectively attack the basket. He could see a significant increase in his 3.8 points per game now that there are more shots for him to take. Stretch forward Evan Nolte is also capable jump shooter, although his shot was off for much of last season. Maybe the most obvious answer of all is 6-foot-8 senior forward Anthony Gill, who averaged 11.6 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds last season. The Cavaliers hope he’ll have a big senior year.
Virginia has a bit of a history of big men having good senior seasons, much like Atkins did last year. Coach Bennett is hoping to get the same out of Gill and Mike Tobey this season. Tobey is a 7-foot interior post presence who averaged 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds mostly off of the bench last season. Tobey is a solid finisher around the rim and plays good defense. If Virginia can get about 25-30 minutes of solid rim-protecting defense from Tobey, like they got from Atkins last year, then this team has the potential to lead the nation in scoring defense again. As long as the defense plays up to par, all Virginia needs to really do is find that second and third scorer to help take some of the scoring load of Brogdon.
4. Louisville Cardinals
2014-2015 Record: 27-9 overall, 12-6 in ACC (Fourth place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in Elite 8
Key Additions: Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, Donovan Mitchell, [Player: Deng Adel, Raymond Spalding
Key Departures: Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear, Anton Gill, Shaqquan Aaron
Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals came very close to reaching the Final Four before losing in overtime to Michigan State, 76-70, in an Elite 8 matchup. While the Cardinals are expected to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, it will be a much different team then it was last season. Lousiville will be without its top four scorers and key players from last season in Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier, Chris Jones, and Wayne Blackshear, all of whom are either playing in the NBA or overseas. Together they averaged 58.1 points, 23.1 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 5.9 steals per game. Rozier led the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game. In addition, Anton Gill and Shaqquan Aaron departed, having transferred to Nebraska and USC, respectively. Although Aaron was seldomly used, Gill received regular minutes in the team’s rotation. Without Harrell, Rozier, Jones, and Blackshear on the roster, sophomore guard Quentin Snider, who averaged 4.1 points per game, returns as the team’s leading scorer.
Seeing that the Cardinals have gone through a restructuring, Pitino will have to rely on newcomers this season. Despite that, it helps that two of those newcomers have a ton of experience at the collegiate level. They are graduate transfers Trey Lewis and Damion Lee. Lewis, who transferred from Cleveland State, averaged 16.3 points and 2.9 assists per game last season and is a solid three-point shooter. At 6-foot-5, Lee arrives at Louisville after transferring from Drexel where he averaged 21.4 points on 43 percent shooting, which ranked fourth in Division I basketball. Aside from his scoring, he also rebounds well for his position. Both players are expected to start in the backcourt from day one with Lewis running the point and Lee manning the shooting guard spot. The Cardinals have backcourt depth that features Jay Henderson, Donovan Mitchell and Ryan McMahon, all of whom are freshmen. Mitchell has a chance to play a lot of minutes off the bench thanks to his scorer’s mentality, aggressive attacking style, and physicality. Freshman forward Deng Adel, who is a bit on the raw side, could step into the starting spot at small forward. Raymond Spalding, also a freshman, could see some time at power forward and will be mostly asked to rebound and block shots.
Louisville’s frontcourt has most of its returning talent. Sophomore center Chinanu Onuaku and junior center Mangok Mathiang have combined to start 35 games. Despite averaging just 3.0 points per game last season, Onuaku has shown flashes of his potential on offense. Mathiang’s offensive game remains a work in progress, but like Onuaku, he rebounds the ball well and protects the rim. Both big men could very well form a decent frontcourt at the start of the season. Louisville has a ton of interior depth that features Adel, Spalding, Jaylen Johnson and 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. Mahmoud was able to see the court as a freshman, so Pitino will expect to see some improvement in his game.
With Lewis and Lee now in the fold, the Cardinals figure to go as far as those two take them. They’ll be asked to do the bulk of the scoring and playmaking for the team. Look for Pitino to go small when he inserts Snider into the game, which will then shift Lewis to the two spot and Lee to the three. Overall, Pitino has formed a nice group of talent that is definitely capable of making it back to the Big Dance and making some noise. The big question is whether the off the court scandal surrounding the program proves too difficult to get past.
5. Miami Hurricanes
2014-2015 Record: 25-13 overall, 10-8 in ACC (Sixth place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in NIT Championship
Key Additions: Kamari Murphy, Anthony Lawrence
Key Departures: Manu Lecomte. Deandre Burnett
The experienced and talented Hurricanes will be shooting for an NCAA Tournament berth after just missing out on one last season. Despite their absence in the Big Dance, Miami was able to pick up some good postseason experience by making a nice run to the NIT Championship game, defeating Alabama, Richmond and Temple along the way. Senior guard Sheldon McClellan returns to the team after averaging 14.5 points per game last season. The 6-foot-5 McClellan is a dangerous scoring threat but needs to improve his outside shooting.
Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy could get minutes as a starter for a Miami frontcourt that has depth and talent. The 6-foot-8 junior forward is not a dynamic scoring threat, but he can get up and down the floor and crash the glass. In addition to Murphy, senior center Tonye Jekiri, and senior forward Ivan Cruz Uceda will be expected to be productive inside. The presence of those two will give freshmen bigs Ebuka Izundu and Anthony Lawrence time to develop. Jekiri is a 7-footer who can score inside, rebound and defend at a high level. Last season, Jekiri averaged 8.6 points and 1.4 blocks. He proved himself to be one of the better rebounders in the country after averaging 9.9 boards per game. Based on those numbers, he should average a double-double this season. Cruz has shown some potential throughout his collegiate career but missed significant time last season for academic reasons. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 21 contests. He could bump Murphy from the starting lineup. The future of the frontcourt looks like it could rest in the hands of Izundu. The 6-foot-10 freshman center needs to add weight and strength but has the tools to be effective on both ends.
The Hurricanes may be McClellan’s team, but senior point guard Angel Rodriguez is another experienced player with good leadership abilities on both ends of the floor. Rodriguez averaged 11.9 points and 3.9 assists last season. His backcourt mates will benefit from his savvy playmaking skills. There’s also junior guard Davon Reed, sophomore guards JaQuan Newton and James Palmer, and freshman guard Mike Robinson. Each of them will have a chance to play and earn more minutes throughout the season with solid play. Reed will likely start at small forward for this team because of his experience, shooting, and toughness on the glass. Newton will have another year to learn under Rodriguez before taking over the point guard duties next season. Palmer will function as a shooter off the bench. Overall, head coach Jim Larranaga has three really good seniors in McClella, Rodriguez, and Jekiri. If those three are able to lead the way and the role players can make shots consistently, the Hurricanes will be able to be a tough match up even for the heavyweights in the ACC.
6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2014-2015 Record: 32-6 overall, 14-4 in ACC (Third place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in Elite 8
Key Additions: Matt Ryan, [Player: Rex Pflueger
Key Departures: Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton
The Fighting Irish came close to knocking off Kentucky in the Elite Eight and advancing to the Final Four. But the rest of their NCAA Tournament run was a bit shaky. Notre Dame barely slipped past Northeastern, 69-65, in the Second Round and it took a 67-64 overtime win to surpass Butler to make it to the Sweet 16. Despite the Elite 8 loss, head coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish put together a great season in which they finished with 32 wins and in third place in the ACC.
The loss of Jerian Grant means that Notre Dame probably takes a step back in 2015-2016. Before being drafted 19th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, the senior point guard was stellar in his final season, averaging 16.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.7 steals. Grant did everything for the Fighting Irish, who can replace his scoring and ball-handling, but probably not his leadership. Pat Connaughton, a 6-foot-5 forward who currently plays in the NBA and Minor League Baseball, knocked down 42.3 percent of his attempts from long range. That is where the majority of his 12.5 points per game came from. He also proved his worth on the glass by averaging a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game.
Three incoming freshmen, power forward Elijah Burns, small forward Matt Ryan and shooting guard Rex Pflueger, will each get their shot at solidifying a spot in the rotation. Burns is a strong player but still needs some time to develop his body and game. Ryan can shoot the ball extremely well from long range at 6-foot-8. The 6-foot-6 Pflueger could end up making the biggest impact of the three because of concerns about the team’s perimeter depth. He’ll figure to be an offensive spark plug off the bench and is a smart player.
Although two starters are gone, the three who are coming back are pretty good too. Zach Auguste has the talent level of an All-American and performed great in the NCAA Tournament. Auguste is a 6-foot-10 bruiser in the paint and has great potential on the offensive side of the floor. He averaged 12.9 points per game last season but could easily average 5-10 more points this season. The Irish will have a new star in the backcourt with junior Demetrius Jackson as its point guard. Last year he served as a shooting guard and secondary ball-handler to Grant. This year, his leadership abilities will need to develop. His athleticism and shooting ability is impressive, as he averaged 12.4 points, 3.1 assists, and 1.6 steals as a sophomore. His skillset should turn him into a great point guard for Notre Dame. Forward Steve Vasturia is also returning after starting all 38 games last season. He played his best basketball in the NCAA Tournament. Vasturia is mostly an outside shooter who can run off screens, spot up, or make smart passes to open teammates. More will be expected of the junior guard after he averaged 10.1 points per game in 2014-2015.
With Jackson and Vasturia starting in the backcourt and Auguste at center, sophomore and junior forwards Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem will have the pressure of stepping up into the final two spots of the starting lineup. Even at 6-foot-5, Colson is a tough player who can play physically in the paint if need be. Beachem has the potential to be the best shooter on the team with Connaughton gone. Beachem knocked down 41.6 percent of his 101 three-point attempts last season and will have the green light to boost his 5.9 points per game average. Although backcourt depth could be a concern, this is a team with a ton of experience in the probable starting five. It may take some time for the Irish to reach the level of play it showed last season, but they will make some noise in the ACC and be a dangerous opponent to face in the NCAA Tournament.
7. Florida State Seminoles
2014-2015 Record: 17-16 overall, 8-10 in ACC (Tied for ninth in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearance.
Key Additions: Dwayne Bacon, Malik Beasley, Terance Mann, Benji Bell, Jean Marc Christ Koumadje
Key Departures: Kiel Turpin
The Florida State Seminoles’ 2014-2015 campaign was pretty unforgettable and disappointing. Expectations were high, but they finished with a 8-10 record in the ACC and just one game above .500 overall. The good thing for the Seminoles is that eight of their nine players who were in the regular rotation by season’s end are returning. Head coach Leonard Hamilton hopes that experience pays off in 2015-2016. In addition, a superb recruiting class gives FSU a nice mix of experience, talent, and youth to move up in the ACC standings. After a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.9 points and 4.3 assists, Xavier Rathan-Mayes will lead the way for the Seminoles once again. The 6-foot-4 sophomore will be one of the best guards in the ACC if he can raise the percentage on his three-point shot.
FSU was able to manage for much of last season without Aaron Thomas, who averaged 14.8 points in six games before being ruled ineligible. He will not be returning to the team this season having since signed with an agent. Florida State couldn’t quite recover from the downward spiral they were in after his surprise absence. Kiel Turpin, a 7-foot center, averaged 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds during his senior season.
The Seminoles added depth on the wings with the additions of 2015 recruits Dwayne Bacon, Terrance Mann, and Malik Beasley. Bacon is the star of the class. His McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk contest victory showed that he’s an extremely gifted athlete who can finish above the rim with ease. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, he’ll be tough to keep out of the paint for anyone who’s guarding him and is a dynamic scorer in transition. Mann and Beasley will be counted on to make an impact as freshmen. Having spent a few years at the junior college ranks, Benji Bell comes in with a little more experience. He’s a quality all-around guard who can hit shots and drive to the hoop. The junior guard was selected as an NJCAA Division I All-American last year. Jean Marc Christ Koumadje is the team’s only newcomer who’s a frontcourt player. He’s a raw 7-foot-4 center, but his size can lead to some minutes right away.
Rathan-Mayes will be the leader of the team, but seven other players are returning to help FSU. One of those players is senior guard Montay Brandon, who’s is a big 6-foot-8, 225-pound guard. Brandon can handle the ball and attack the basket with ease using his big frame. He averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 2014-2015. The Seminoles are also returning the best shooter on the team in Devon Bookert. The senior guard hit 39.3 percent of his attempts from long range last season. Robbie Berwick, a combo guard, will fight for minutes with the newcomers but showed some potential last season as a freshman. Phil Cofer, Jarquez Smith, Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo form a formidable and tough group of frontcourt players. The most productive of them all last season was Cofer, averaging 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds. The shot blockers of the group are Smith and Bojanovsky, and Ojo is a 7-foot-1 senior who started 21 games in 2014-2015 but averaged just 8.8 minutes per game.
FSU has a nice set of pieces that make up a talented and experienced team. Although they finished with just an 8-10 record in the ACC in 2014-2015, this team should compete for an NCAA Tournament berth this season. They’re in a dog fight in a tough ACC, so it’ll be interesting to see what will happen. The Seminoles must take better care of the ball and hit their shots more efficiently to see some improvement. This team also has to prove its worth on the defensive end as well. Last year, the Seminoles allowed opponents to shoot 42 percent from the floor, ranking seventh in the ACC. They are at their best when they allow opponents to show below 40 percent while also blocking and altering shots on the perimeter or at the rim. If FSU can get back to that, then they’ll have a good shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament.
8. North Carolina State Wolfpack
2014-2015 Record: 22-14 overall, 10-8 in ACC (Tied for sixth place in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in Sweet 16
Key Additions: Terry Henderson, Maverick Rowan
Key Departures: Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner, Kyle Washington, Desmond Lee
North Carolina State was able to make some noise during last season’s NCAA Tournament by knocking off one-seeded Villanova as an eighth seed. Although the Wolfpack would eventually go on to fall in the Sweet 16 to conference opponent Louisville, this team played some really good basketball throughout the season. Head coach Mark Gottfried and the Wolfpack do have questions regarding the roster after losing three of their top four scorers from last season. Still, they should have enough talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament. The most notable player on the roster is Anthony "Cat" Barber, who averaged 12.1 points per game and handed out 3.7 assists. The junior guard will be asked to do just about everything for NC State. He can score in bunches, shoot the ball from deep and create opportunities for his less experienced teammates.
NC State suffered a big, and surprising loss in Trevor Lacey, who left early for the pros and went undrafted. Lacey averaged 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists last season. Coach Gottfried hoped to have his would-be senior back as the undisputed leader of the team this year. The 6-foot-3 Lacey would have played an even bigger role with Ralston Turner and Kyle Washington both gone. Ralston averaged 12.8 points per game while knocking down 94 three-pointers as a senior. He was considered a jack-of-all-trades but master of none type player. Washington ranked third on the team in scoring with 6.8 points, fifth with 4.1 rebounds and second with 1.1 blocks in just 17.8 minutes per contest as a sophomore. He transferred to Cincinnati in the offseason.
In order to make up for Lacey’s absence, a lot will be asked of 6-foot-5 West Virginia transfer, Terry Henderson. The junior guard will play beside Cat Barber in the starting lineup and will most likely play some minutes as the backup point guard. Henderson can not only cover the loss of Lacey, but his shooting can help replace the loss of Turner as well. Two years ago with the Mountaineers, Henderson made 37.6 percent of his shot attempts from deep while averaging 11.7 points per game. Shooting is one of his strengths, but his height creates an advantage for him to be able to get the basket and finish. Henderson isn’t the only player who will be counted on to chip in on production. Incoming freshmen guards-forwards Maverick Rowan and Shaun Kirk could find minutes on the wing this year. Rowan shoots the ball pretty well and will be asked to come off the bench and make shots from day one. Kirk has potential and will fight for minutes in a crowded wing rotation.
The super versatile 6-foot-7 Caleb Martin will be a key player this season. Martin is coming off a strong freshman year, and could play at the four spot in a small lineup. He could also play as Barber’s backup at point guard when NC State goes big. Martin’s twin brother, Cody, also 6-foot-7, is more of an interior force in comparison. The Wolfpack are loaded with interior forces including Lennard Freeman, BeeJay Anya, and Abdul-Malik Abu. Freeman doesn’t have much of an offensive game but is a beast on the boards as evidenced by his team-leading 5.6 rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes per game last year. Anya is down 40 pounds from his listed weight last season, now at 285. He’s a load to handle in the paint and can finish well around the basket. He’s also the best shot blocker on the team, with an average of 2.5 blocks per game last season as a sophomore. Abu could potentially become the team’s main scoring threat from the interior. As a freshman last season, he averaged 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. In essence, Abu will score the ball while Freeman rebounds and Anya plays defense.
Will this team have enough backcourt depth is the big question for Coach Gottfried. There isn’t really a true backup point guard on the roster and the options behind Henderson are limited also. Barber and Henderson will likely play close to 35 minutes per game because of the lack of depth. Martin’s versatility does ease some of the concerns since he’s able to play the two guard spot or run the point. Should Martin have to spend more time at one of the guard spots, Coach Gottfried has a few of options at the wing to replace him. Overall, this team has more than enough pieces to get to the NCAA Tournament and make a nice run.
9. Pittsburgh Panthers
2014-2015 Record: 19-15 overall, 8-10 in ACC (Tied for ninth in ACC)
How Season Ended: Lost in NIT First Round
Key Additions: Sterling Smith, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Rozelle Nix, Damon Wilson, Rafael Maia
Key Departures: Cameron Wright, Josh Newkirk, Durand Johnson, Derrick Randle
After winning some notable games during the regular season against Notre Dame and North Carolina, the Panthers had a pretty rough end to the year. Pittsburgh ended last season with five straight losses, including a defeat against NC State in their ACC Tournament opener and a loss at home to George Washington in the first round of the NIT. By season’s end, it was clear that this was a team that looked like it deserved a spot in the NIT rather than the NCAA Tournament. Pittsburgh might write the same story this year, but the development of Jamel Artis could be the difference. At 6-foot-7, Artis averaged 13.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists as a sophomore. He’s a great shooter and could utilize his rebounding skills even more if he spends time as a big, athletic small forward instead of a stretch four.
Despite the losses of Cameron Wright, Josh Newkirk, Derrick Randle, Joseph Uchebo, Aron Phillips-Nwankwo and Joshua Ko, Pitt will still trot out a deep team with the addition of seven newcomers including six with experience. Rafael Maia, a graduate transfer from Brown, led the Ivy League in rebounds the last three seasons. Coming off a thumb injury could impede his progress early in the season, but when healthy, Maia can bring the necessary experience needed to be a strong rebounder in the ACC. Alonzo Nelson-Ododa transferred from Richmond. He’ll be serviceable in the areas of defense and protecting the paint. Sterling Smith is the last graduate transfer. Smith averaged 13.9 points per game with Coppin State last season. Junior college transfers Jonathan Milligan and Zach Smith will add depth on the perimeter while 6-foot-11 center Rozelle Nix, also a junior college transfer, will be added to the frontcourt. Nix reportedly weighed close to 400 pounds not too long ago. He’ll obviously need to get in shape, but he moves well for a player his size. Damon Wilson, the team’s lone incoming freshman, could be the point guard of the future.
Improving their rebounding numbers will go a long way to helping this team. The Panthers ranked ninth in the ACC in rebounding margin last year. Moving Jamel Artis to the small forward spot should help and Michael Young, a 6-foot-9 junior, is a very good rebounder. Young averaged 13.4 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds last season. Coach Dixon also has a few other options in the frontcourt in Sheldon Jeter and sophomore Ryan Luther, both of whom will need to show more consistency in their games. With the abundance of frontcourt players, Artis should be able to stay at small forward while James Robinson and Chris Jones Pitt start in the backcourt. Robinson averaged 5.1 assists per game last year and committed just 1.6 turnovers. He has quality on-court leadership skills and should look to score more often this season. Jones, a 6-foot-6 wing, expects to have a big junior season. He was the most prolific shooter on the team last season, knocking down 41 three-pointers. This season he’ll be asked to do even more, as having a few players who can knock down shots will open up the offense and help a team that struggled with its shooting last year.
The Panthers have not been a great team since they left the Big East for the ACC. They’ll need to find an identity and sure up a few concerns on both sides of the floor before they can compete in the ACC. Knocking down shots, playing better defense and closing the gaps in their rebounding margins will definitely be a start to turning things around.
10. Syracuse Orange
2014-2015 Record: 18-13 overall, 9-9 in ACC (Eighth place in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearances.
Key Additions: Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon, Franklin Howard
Key Departures: Rakeem Christmas, Chris McCullough, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson
Syracuse will lose three scholarships for the next four years beginning next season. Head coach Jim Boeheim will retire after three more seasons leading the Orange. He’ll also miss the first nine ACC games of this season. Syracuse’s offseason was dominated by these off-court headlines (or distractions) that’ll ultimately have an effect on the team’s long-term future. In the team’s immediate future, though, the Orange are tasked with trying to bounce back from a 2014-2015 season that saw them finish with a 9-9 conference record. A lot of the team’s success will depend on consistent play from senior guard Trevor Cooney. While he averaged 13.4 points per game, he did so shooting just 35 percent from the field and 30 percent from the three-point line. For a player who shot an average of 7.4 three-pointers per game, a 30 percent clip from that distance will not cut it.
The Orange have lost some key pieces from last year’s team. Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough are now in the NBA, B.J. Johnson transferred to LaSalle and Ron Patterson transferred to IUPUI. With those players elsewhere, there is some new talent coming aboard four-star freshmen Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon, and Franklin Howard. Lydon, a combo forward, will be asked to make an immediate impact and carry a heavy load in the frontcourt now that top recruit Moustapha Diagne will not be coming to Syracuse. At 6-foot-8, he’s a long, athletic wing who can knock down shots from mid-range. He’s not the bruiser that one might expect, but his length will allow him to be an impactful presence on the boards which will result in some major minutes. Richardson and Howard are two players who should make significant contributions on the perimeter. The 6-foot-6 Richardson has the potential to start on this team and give Cooney a viable mate on the wing. Howard is a 6-foot-4 combo guard who will provide depth.
If Richardson earns a starting spot, it may mean that sophomore guard Kaleb Joseph will be moved to a bench role. Last season, Joseph was pretty effective in passing the ball with 3.8 assists per game but showed that he lacks an offensive game. Joseph shot just 37.6 percent from the floor and 20 percent from the beyond the arc last season. For a team that will need all the scoring it can get, Coach Boeheim can afford to replace him in the starting lineup for someone who can reliably put the ball in the hoop. If Kaleb wants to remain a starter, he’ll have to start being as productive as starting senior forward Michael Gbinje. At 6-foot-7, Gbinje turned in a solid junior campaign last season with averages of 12.7 points, 3.6 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals. The senior made 39.2 percent of his 125 three-pointers on the season, proving that he’s a major shooting threat from anywhere on the floor. Including all of the newcomers joining Cooney, Gbinije and Cooney on the perimeter, Coach Boeheim surely has some options to sort through.
The biggest on-court concern for the Orange is the production and health of their frontcourt. Syracuse will need 6-foot-9 senior center DaJuan Coleman to remain healthy throughout the season. Coleman will return to the lineup after missing all of 2014-2015 with a knee injury. He’s never been healthy enough to make it through an entire season. The 2012-2013 season was his most productive year with the Orange when he averaged 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 24 games. If he’s not able to remain healthy for the bulk of the season, then the five spot will be a potential problem for the Orange. Junior center Chinonso Obokoh, who played 89 total minutes last season, may be asked to step in as Coleman’s replacement in the event that he misses time. There’s also forward Tyler Roberson, who showed great potential as a sophomore. Roberson may be able to spend some time at the center position as well. He averaged 8.3 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. If Coleman’s hard work to return from injury pays off and the backcourt’s depth can be productive all season, then the Orange will compete for an NCAA Tournament berth. If not, another 9-9 type season is on the horizon.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2014-2015 Record: 13-19 overall, 5-13 in ACC (12th place in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearances.
Key Additions: Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore, John Collins
Key Departures: Darius Leonard, Aaron Rountree, Miles Overton
Head coach Danny Manning had a subpar first season at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons had a few quality wins over North Carolina and Miami but ended up just 5-13 in ACC play. Playing away from home was a big issue. They were able to force overtime in their road games against Syracuse and Florida State, but they were defeated pretty badly at Georgia Tech and Boston College, two places where you have to get a win if you’re going to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre returns to the team after averaging 14.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds as a junior. He’ll lead the way for this team and can take over a game with his ability to finish around the basket, but will need to work on his outside shot.
The Demon Deacons lost just one starter in forward Darius Leonard. Leonard’s production is replaceable, though. He averaged 5.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in only 17.4 minutes per game. Forward Aaron Rountree is also departed. He was a regular rotation player but contributed just 2.5 points and 1.1 rebounds per contest. Miles Overton looked to be a promising player for Wake Forest after a nice freshman campaign back in 2013-2014 but decided to transfer after appearing in only a handful of games early in the season.
Three scholarship players will be added to this year’s roster and will create competition at a few positions. Bryant Crawford is one of the better point guards in this class, but will have to overcome a few seniors in front of him to earn playing time. At the least, he’ll be able to learn the ropes behind them. Crawford is more of a scoring point guard and should eventually fit in nicely as Miller-McIntyre’s replacement next season. Doral Moore and John Collins were added to the frontcourt. Moore is an interesting prospect at 7-foot-1, 250 pounds. The freshman center has a higher ceiling than Collins and is a solid athlete who packs a nice offensive game. Anthony Bilas and Britton Anderson are freshman walk-ons who will add depth to the perimeter.
Mitchell Wilbekin, Devin Thomas, and Konstantinos Mitoglou are the three other starters who are returning along wit Miller-McIntyre. Wilbekin, a combo guard, followed Coach Manning after initially signing with Tulsa. He had a promising freshman campaign with the Demon Deacons, averaging 7.2 points on 38.6 shooting from the three-point line and 1.6 assists. He can work as a scorer or secondary ball-handler depending on the lineup. The hope is that he can help cut down on the team’s turnovers. The Demon Deacons ranked second to last in the ACC in turnovers per game. Devin Thomas is a big physical body in the paint at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds. Thomas averaged 12.0 points and 8.8 rebounds last season and the offense looked pretty dynamic when it was run through him in the paint. Mitoglou averaged 9.7 points per game and knocked down a team-high 52 three-pointers as a freshman. After spending his summer playing with Greece FIBA U-19 championships, he is suddenly a very experienced sophomore. At 6-foot-10, he can shoot over most opposing defenders. Cornelius Hudson and Greg McClinton aren’t returning starters, but both of them started at least 10 games last season. Hudson, a 6-foot-6 wing, is mostly a shooter who brings offense off the bench. McClinton isn’t much of a scorer, but he is a long 6-foot-7 athlete who’s still continuing to get better after an ACL injury back in 2013.
Madison Jones is another player to keep an eye on. He’s a very efficient ball-handler who Coach Manning will call on to enter the game when Miller-McIntyre or Wilbekin need a rest. Overall, Wake Forest need to do a better job of taking care of the ball for a team that has so many ball-handlers. Also, it needs to work on improving its defense. The Demon Deacons were last in the ACC in scoring defense allowing 72.1 points game, and field goal percentage defense. Wake Forest gave up 81 points in a loss to a bad Virginia Tech team in the ACC Tournament. They still have a long way to go to fix things, but a year under Coach Manning’s system should help. A record of .500 and any postseason berth would be taking a step in the right direction.
12. Clemson Tigers
2014-2015 Record: 16-15 overall, 8-10 in ACC (tied for ninth in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearances.
Key Additions: Avry Holmes, Ty Hudson, Legend Robertin
Key Departures: Rod Hall, Damarcus Harrison, Patrick Rooks
The Tigers finished last season one game above .500 with an 8-10 conference record. Head coach Brad Brownell had to replace his top scorer but things did not turn out so well. This year, things are a little different. The Tigers will return their leading scorer from a season ago. His name is Jaron Blossomgame, an explosive 6-foot-7 athlete with All-ACC level talent. He easily led the team with 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Coach Brownell will need to be able to build a team around him. That’ll be hard to do with two of the next top three scorers behind Blossomgame gone. Rod Hall averaged 9.2 points per game and led the team with 3.4 assists. He was pretty steady and efficient at the point guard spot. Offensively, he had enough of an outside shot to keep opposing defense honest. The best shooter on the team last season was Damarcus Harrison. He knocked down 34.8 percent of his triples during his senior year. The backcourt lost Patrick Rooks, who opted to transfer after seeing limited action as a redshirt freshman. Had he stayed, Rooks probably would have been stuck behind a couple more guys on the wing this year unless his outside shot started falling.
Avry Holmes, a transfer from San Francisco, should help fill a one or two holes left behind by the departures. In 2012-2013, as a freshman with the Dons, Holmes made 47.1 percent of his three-point jumpers. The following year he knocked down 41.9 percent of his attempts and dished out 3.1 assists per game while scoring a team-high 12.5 points per game. Holmes is a shooter first but has a good handle on the ball as well. There might be a bit of an adjustment period for Holmes as life in the ACC will be different than what he experienced in the WCC, but expect him to round into form and be the team’s top shooter. Ty Hudson is the team’s only scholarship freshman. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Hudson is a tough point guard who has a knack for getting into the lane and finishing at the rim. He has the skills to play at this level and will be a dangerous point guard in the ACC for the next four years with a little work on his jumper from the outside. Legend Robertin rounds out the trio of newcomers who will be asked to make the most impact. The 7-foot center garnered a lot of Division I interest during his tenure at Chipola Junior College. His size off the bench will be very beneficial for Clemson although he isn’t the most polished 7-footer around.
Clemson is a strong defensive team, but they’ll often have stretches of poor offense that plays to their detriment. Blossomgame’s scoring output will need complementing by at least two other players who can score on their own. Donte Grantham and Jordan Roper will need to raise their games to be those guys. Grantham was a regular starter as a freshman last season and averaged 8.8 points per game. He earned the status as a big-time recruit coming out of high school and now it is time to live up to his potential. Grantham is a big 6-foot-8 forward who can block shots and runs the floor in a hurry. He is also a very capable outside shooter, having led the Tigers with 41 three-pointers last year. But his efficiency from deep needs to be improved, as he connected on just 27.9 percent of his attempts. It’ll help his game if he starts knocking down more shots or looking to attack the basket more often. Roper entered last season with great momentum after leading the team in scoring in the 2014 NIT. He came back to earth last season and averaged just 6.5 points per game. Even so, he’s still an experienced senior who can hit open shots.
Landry Nnoko, a 6-foot-10 senior center, spearheads Clemson’s defensive efforts. He blocked a team-high 2.0 shots per game while adding 7.6 points and 5.4 rebounds. With the addition of Robertin, the Tigers will always have a big defensive presence in the paint next to Blossomgame. Josh Smith and Sidy Djitte, at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-10, respectively, add more size and rebounding to the frontcourt. Overall, Clemson has enough on its roster to make a small jump from its 16-win season. They should hover around .500 for much of the season with a possible CBI or CTI bid.
13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2014-2015 Record: 12-19 overall, 3-15 in ACC (14th place in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearances.
Key Additions: Nick Jacobs, James White, Adam Smith, Sylvester Ogbonda
Key Departures: Demarco Cox, Robert Sampson, Chris Bolden
Georgia Tech was a bottom feeder in the ACC last year. They weren’t a good team, but they weren’t as bad as their 3-15 conference record would indicate. The Yellow Jackets were victims of some very close losses. What they lacked big time last season were playmakers and clutch shooters. This year, head coach Brian Gregory will be able to fill some holes with a handful of graduate transfers, but 6-foot-5 senior guard Marcus Georges-Hunt will be the catalyst of the team. Although he doesn’t necessarily help the team’s shooting woes, as he’s not much of a shooter himself, he has no issues with putting his head down and attacking the basket consistently. When he gets into the paint he usually makes things happen for his team. He averaged 13.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a junior and will be counted on to raise those numbers during his senior year.
The Yellow Jackets will be without Demarco Cox, Robert Sampson, and Chris Bolden. Cox spent one year with the team after transferring from Ole Miss. He made a big impact in his lone season, as he was third on the team in scoring with 8.8 points per game and third in rebounding with 6.1. His 6-foot-8, 276-pound frame was a big reason why Georgia Tech was the third best rebounding team in the conference. Sampson also helped in that area with his 6.5 boards per contest during his senior season. He raised he level of play during the year and ended up starting the team’s final 14 games. Bolden shot 32.6 percent from long distance in his last season with the Yellow Jackets, making him the team’s best outside shooter.
To help cover the rebounding and shooting loses, Coach Gregory is hoping that three Division I transfers will step in and step up for his team. Nick Jacobs, a senior transfer from Alabama, is a big-bodied forward who started part-time with the Crimson Tide. He averaged 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds during the 2013-2014 season at Alabama. James White, a graduate transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock, led the Trojans with 6.6 rebounds per game to go along with 11.9 points while limited to just 15 games last season. White brings toughness to the boards and scores very efficiently, which is something this team needs after ranking last in the ACC in field goal percentage. Adam Smith, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, led the ACC in three-point field goal percentage a season ago while leading the Hokies with 13.4 points per game. He figures to be Georgia Tech’s top three-point option. Sylvester Ogbonda is the team’s only incoming freshman. Ogbonda may need some time for his offense the develop, but at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, he should be able to provide some assistance on the glass as well.
Aside from Georges-Hunt, senior forward Charles Mitchell was the other player who was a consistent threat to score. Mitchell averaged 9.8 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds while playing just 22.1 minutes per game. He started 18 games but was as a scoring threat off the bench later in the season. No matter if he starts or not, he’s primed for a big senior year. Quinton Stephens, a lanky and long 6-foot-9 forward, can be utilized at the small forward, or power forward when Coach Gregory wants to go big. He’s a versatile enough on both ends to do so. Josh Heath, Travis Jorgenson, Tadric Jackson and Corey Heyward all return to the backcourt. Heath and Jorgenson split the point guard duties last season. Jorgenson ended up earning 27 starts as a freshman. He averaged 3.3 assists per game and kept his turnovers at a minimum. Heath and Jorgenson are not scoring threats, so you most likely won’t see both on the floor at the same time. Jackson was a highly-touted recruit coming to Georgia Tech last season but struggled to find his outside shot. He connected on just 16-of-90 attempts from beyond the arc. Despite his struggles, Jackson’s talent level should keep him in the rotation early in the season as a scoring threat off the bench. He has the potential to be the best scorer on the team although he hasn’t proven to be that guy just yet.
Georgia Tech’s roster is full of transfers who will be used to plug holes. Developing young players seems to be on the backburner this season. It’s a talented team still, but they’ll need to develop chemistry, learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to play together effectively. Maybe if that happens, the Yellow Jackets will win some of those close games and pull off one or two major upsets this year. In the end, it’s hard to expect consistency and a big jump from this group this early. If they can win four or five more games in the ACC, that should be what it takes to get them over the .500 mark and competing for a spot in the NIT or CBI.
14. Virginia Tech Hokies
2014-2015 Record: 11-22 overall, 2-16 in ACC (15th place in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearances.
Key Additions: Seth Allen, Johnny Hamilton, Tyrone Outlaw, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear, Justin Robinson
Key Departures: Adam Smith, Joey van Zegeren
In his second season as head coach, Buzz Williams will try to defy the odds and move his team past a mortifying first season that ended in a quick exit in the ACC Tournament to Miami. The Hokies finished dead last in the conference in 2014-2015, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like things will be much better this season.
Last year’s leading scorer, Adam Smith, transferred to Georgia Tech and their leading rebounder, Joey van Zegeren, transferred to Northwestern. The Hokies will be anchored by a group of sophomores in Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, and Jalen Hudson, as well as incoming four-star recruits Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear, and Justin Robinson. There’s also junior guard Seth Allen, who transferred from Maryland. Coach Williams was also able to pick up a JUCO 7-foot tall sophomore center in Johnny Hamilton. Hamilton comes from Jacksonville College and is a monster around the rim. He’s an inside force that the Hokies will certainly need this season and in the future. His inside presence will help keep the team in games down the stretch. Tyrone Outlaw will also be a key piece to Coach Williams’ rebuilding puzzle. Outlaw, a 6-foot-6 guard-forward, transferred from Lee College and brings speed, quickness, and aggression around the rim as a shot blocker.
Virginia tech will lack serious experience, but the amount of youth bodes well for the future of the program. However, the near future doesn’t so bright for Coach Williams in his second year. Even though they’ll struggle for most of the season, the Hokies could nearly knock off one of the elite teams in the ACC on a given night and show what the future holds. Overall, it’s safe to say that the Hokies are entering a rebuilding year but are on the up if Coach Williams continues to bring in four-star recruits on a consistent basis. It’s the first step of a project that will be in place for the next few seasons.
15. Boston College Eagles
2014-2015 Record: 13-19 overall, 4-14 in ACC (13th place in ACC)
How Season Ended: No postseason appearances.
Key Additions: AJ Turner, Matt Milon, Eli Carter
Key Departures: Oliver Hanlan, Will Magarity, Lonnie Jackson, Aaron Brown, Partick Heckmann, Dmitri Patten
Boston College made some strides last season under first-year head coach Jim Christian after suffering the worst season in program history in 2013. The Eagles will look to take another step forward but will face the challenge of replacing almost half their team.
Boston College lost its top four scorers from last season, which saw them finish 13th in the ACC with a 4-14 conference record. Instead of taking another step forward, many believe that this team will take a step or two backward.
The Eagles enter the 2015-2016 season with one of the youngest teams in the ACC and in the nation. It was a big blow to the program when their star point guard Olivier Hanlan decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA draft. Hanlan was the team’s primary scorer and playmaker, averaging 19.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. The Eagles will also be without sophomore forward Will Magarity and guard Lonnie Jackson. Magarity transferred to Davidson and Jackson will complete his final year of eligibility at Boise State. Former spot-up shooter and fastbreak highlight reel dunker Aaron Brown is out after one season with the team. He completed his final year of eligibility. Forward Patrick Heckmann and shooting guard Dmitri Patten are also no longer on the roster. Heckmann and Patten averaged 8.4 and 7.3 points per game, respectively.
Despite all of the lost, the Eagles are bringing in one their top recruiting classes in recent memory. It all starts with four-star recruit A.J. Turner, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound forward. Turner is athletic, can run the floor, drive to the basket and spot up from the anywhere beyond the arc. He has a quick, smooth release and range on his jumper. Don’t be surprised to see him in the starting lineup immediately, as he’ll provide the scoring this team will desperately need. The Eagles also added a 6-foot-4, 180-pound shooting guard in Matt Milon. Milon could also earn a starting spot right away. For a team that will look to spread the floor with a bevy of shooting threats, Milon will fit perfectly because of his shooting ability.
Coach Christian has added another shooting threat in senior transfer Eli Carter, who averaged 8.8 points on 36 percent shooting from the field and 2.0 assists in 24.5 minutes per game last season at Florida. Carter is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard who is built and can slash his way to the hoop, find an open teammate on the perimeter, and score from mid-range or off the dribble. He’ll be given the opportunity to run the show at point guard but well need to cut down on his turnovers.
Even though the Eagles have lost multiple contributors from last season’s team, they still have some returning talent in 7-foot-1 center Dennis Clifford. Clifford averaged 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a junior. He’ll be expected to carry the bulk of the load in the post while junior forward Garland Owens is going to assume greater responsibility within the offense. Owens averaged 3.4 points and 2.0 rebounds per game last season. Boston College is not without talent, but it’ll still be tough for them to get out of the ACC’s cellar this season.
All-ACC First Team
All-ACC Second Team
All-ACC Third Team
1. Brandon Ingram (SF, Duke, Fr.)
Ingram has just about as much NBA potential as any player in the nation. The ultra-skilled and athletic 6-foot-9 freshman forward possesses elite length with a 7’3" wingspan. Since stepping foot on Duke’s campus, he added some much-needed muscle to his frame and is now 23 pounds bulkier than he was coming out of high school. If he was tough to stop before, imagine the headaches he’ll give defenders playing with added muscle. For a player his size, he has a smooth handle on the ball and has a sweet-looking stroke from both inside and outside the arc. The weight he’s put on will make it easier for him to penetrate against stronger defenders. Once he gets to the rim, he rises up with ease and finishes over anyone. He’ll be a versatile option on both ends of the court for Coach K and should dominate in the what is presumed to be his lone college season. Don’t be surprised to see his name called in the top five of next year’s draft.
2. Justin Jackson (SF, North Carolina, So.)
Jackson has a smooth game that has impressed NBA scouts. He returns for his sophomore season after averaging 10.7 points per game as a freshman. He’ll take on a bigger role in North Carolina’s offense this year and he’ll have to prove that he’s up to that task. Jackson is a 6-foot-8 small forward with great size and length. He always seems to find ways to score and his midrange shooting is a strong aspect of his game. He shows great touch around the rim and utilizes an effective floater when he needs to score over outstretched arms. He’s a savvy scorer in transition and gets easy buckets by effectively running the floor and filling the lanes. He isn’t the greatest athlete and he needs some bulk, but if Jackson can continue to develop his shooting range then he’s in good shape to assume the added responsibility that Roy Williams will give him.
3. Dwayne Bacon (SG, Florida State, Fr.)
Bacon boasts a ton of NBA potential. He’s an athletic shooting guard with a physical body and good size. His scoring ability and aggressiveness makes him stand out. He’s difficult to stop in transition and creates his own offense in halfcourt settings. Bacon is strong enough to finish through contact and will bring a lot of excitement and highlight reel dunks to the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center this season. His physical tools will easily translate to the NBA on both ends of the court. Bacon will be one of the top NBA prospects in the conference and should contend for Freshman of the Year honors.
4. Brice Johnson (North Carolina),
Johnson enters his senior season as one of the top draft eligible prospects in the country. He is a jumping jack with a solid face the basket game. Weight has been an issue for him over his college career but he has gradually added the strength to his body to be a force around the basket. He’s more of a wiry strong forward that uses speed and athleticism, instead of brute strength. As a junior he was just shy of 13 and 8 on efficient shooting numbers. If he can perform to his ability, the athletic PF should be able to find a spot in the first round.
5. Demetrius Jackson (PG, Notre Dame, Jr.)
Jackson was one of the most entertaining players to watch last season. With Jerian Grant gone, he’ll be given to keys to Notre Dame’s offense and should star in his new role. He’s arguably the most explosive and athletic guard in the ACC. His explosiveness is always on display with the ball in his hands. He’s an exceptional leaper and gets his teammates involved with his court vision before creating looks for himself. Jackson also shoots the ball well from anywhere on the court, averaging 10 points on over 50 percent shooting from the field and over 40 percent from the three-point line last season. Defensively, he makes up for his lack of height with strength, which helps him close driving lanes for ball-handlers easily. Notre Dame will go as far as Jackson will take them. This can be the season when he emerges as a star.
Honorable Mention: Zach Auguste (Notre Dame), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia, Sr.), Grayson Allen (Duke), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Kennedy Meeks (North Carolina), Chinanu Onuaku (Louisville), Theo Pinson (North Carolina), Anthony "Cat" Barber (NC State), Michael Gbinije (Syracuse)