College Basketball Preview - Atlantic Coast Conference

Published November 04, 2013

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OUTLOOK: The winds of change blew through the ACC last season, as the surprising Miami Hurricanes jumped over permanent fixtures Duke and North Carolina to claim the ACC crown.

The 2013-14 campaign will see even more change, with those same winds becoming gale-force in strength, as an embarrassment of riches begins to fall on already one of the premier conferences in college basketball.

Duke and North Carolina will still lead the charge and carry the ACC banner into the new season, but the conference gets a big boost in talent with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from the Big East.

All three new teams should find a spot amongst the upper echelon in the ACC, with 2013 Final Four participant Syracuse really giving the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels a run for their money.

Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils certainly know their way around the ACC and with a couple of high profile additions to go with a solid nucleus, it is Duke which gets the preseason nod to win the title.

Roy Williams and the Tar Heels usually factor into the conference race, but this season, their candidacy is linked in large part to star guard P.J. Hairston and his turbulent off-season. If Hairston doesn't miss much time (and there is a possibility that he will), the Heels will find themselves in the mix. However, that is a big "if."

Jim Boeheim's Orange made another long run in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, finishing with 30 victories on the season. The team has some holes to fill, but Boeheim never struggles in doing so and 2013-14 should see a seamless transition to a new conference for Syracuse.

Realignment should also come easy for Mike Brey and the Irish. Notre Dame brings an experienced bunch over to the ACC and plays the kind of basketball that should flourish from the get-go.

Virginia and Pittsburgh should compete as well in the top half of the conference. The Cavaliers are a veteran group that plays nasty defense under Tony Bennett. This could be the season that Virginia puts it all together. Meanwhile, the Panthers are similar in their defensive approach and perhaps even more so, as one of the most physical teams at both ends of the court. That kind of aggressive play will make things difficult for the rest of the conference.

The next tier in the ACC will include Maryland, Boston College, Florida State and Georgia Tech. The Terrapins must find a replacement for their lottery pick big man, but there is enough left in the cupboard in College Park to make a run at a NCAA Tournament bid. The Eagles will take another step in the right direction with all five starters returning, but not a large enough step to be considered a conference contender in 2013-14. The Seminoles were supposed to be among the elite in the league last season and disappointed. This year, expectations are a little lower and for good reason. The Yellow Jackets, like the Eagles, will take another step forward in their progression, but will probably find themselves on the outside looking in at the tournament field.

The bottom of the conference should see Wake Forest, NC State, Miami-Florida, Clemson and Virginia Tech fighting for relevance. Jeff Bzdelik is on thin ice in Winston-Salem and this is a make or break year for him and the Demon Deacons. The Wolfpack had as much talent as any team in the conference last season but they didn't play as a unit at times and thus struggled. Less talent, but more team-work may not equate to more wins for NC State this season. Unfortunately for Jim Larranaga, an ACC crown last season may seem like an eon ago when all is said and done this year, as the Hurricanes bring back little in terms of returning talent. Finally, things won't change much for the Tigers or Hokies this season. Both squads struggled to compete in-conference last season and the picture doesn't look any brighter heading into the new campaign.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Duke

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Duke, 2. North Carolina, 3. Syracuse, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Virginia, 6. Pittsburgh, 7. Maryland, 8. Boston College, 9. Florida State, 10. Georgia Tech, 11. Wake Forest, 12. NC State, 13. Miami-Florida, 14. Clemson, 15. Virginia Tech

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

DUKE: Coach K has done it again. The Blue Devils won 30 games a year ago, finished second in the ACC (14-4) and advanced to the Elite Eight. Despite losing serious talent (Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly), this year's squad could be even better. The backcourt is stocked with point guard Quinn Cook and off-guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Andre Dawkins, who returns after a year off, provides depth along with defensive specialist Tyler Thornton. The frontcourt is where Duke must find replacements. That won't be hard with the additions of Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood (6-8, 215) and freshman phenom Jabari Parker (6-8, 235), who was regarded as the second-best prospect behind Kansas' Andrew Wiggins. The one weakness on this team may come in the low post, where Duke lacks a game-changing big man. Marshall Plumlee will follow in the footsteps of his productive brothers, but the seven-footer is extremely raw. Amile Jefferson (6-9) is an athletic player at both ends of the court and should garner significant minutes in 2013-14.

NORTH CAROLINA: It is difficult to imagine a 25-win season being considered a disappointment, but in Chapel Hill, simply good just isn't good enough. The Tar Heels finished third in the ACC (12-6), and found their way back to the NCAA Tournament, but to most, including Roy Williams, anything short of a conference crown and Final Four is just unacceptable. This year's squad has a chance to move towards both of those goals, although it will depend on the fate of Hairston (14.6 ppg). The talented junior is still officially suspended for off-the-court issues this past summer and is facing some eligibility concerns as well. With him in the lineup, the Tar Heels boast one of the deepest backcourts in the league, with sophomore point guard Marcus Paige (8.2 ppg, 4.6 apg) and senior Leslie McDonald (7.2 ppg). The frontcourt is where North Carolina will see the most improvement. James Michael McAdoo (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is the star up front and may live up to the hype he didn't a year ago. A great deal of the heavy lifting up front will come courtesy of incoming freshmen Isaiah Hicks (6-8, 210) and Kennedy Meeks (6-9, 285). Hicks is as athletic as they come and can do it all at both ends of the court, while Meeks could develop into a monster in the middle.

SYRACUSE: Jim Boeheim had the complete package last season and it resulted in a 30-10 overall record and spot in the Final Four. The losses of Brandon Triche (13.6 ppg), Michael Carter-Williams (11.9 ppg, 7.3 apg) and James Southerland (13.3 ppg) cannot be minimized, but a veteran returning core, an influx of young talent and Boeheim's patented zone defense should translate into an immediate splash in the ACC. Carter-Williams wasn't a potent scorer, but there weren't many players in the nation with his distribution skills. Freshman Tyler Ennis (6-2, 180) will get the opportunity to run the point. He will be flanked by the likes of fellow freshman Ron Patterson (6-3, 195) and lanky Duke transfer Michael Gbinije (6-7, 200). There is much more stability in the frontcourt with the return of forwards C.J. Fair (14.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg), DaJuan Coleman (4.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Rakeem Christmas (5.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg). The Orange will be far better on the defensive end than the offensive end early on, but that may be enough in year one to make them a very dangerous squad.

NOTRE DAME: The Irish won 25 games a season ago, their last in the Big East, and return four starters from that group, so the transition to the ACC should be a smooth one. Mike Brey's squad was just 11-7 in conference play however, good for only a fifth-place tie. To vie for the conference crown in their new league, the Irish will rely heavily on one of the nation's best backcourt tandems in Jerian Grant (13.3 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Eric Atkins (11.2 ppg, 5.5 apg). Both are adept at running the point, but have great shooting range as well. Minutes will have to be found for incoming freshman Demetrius Jackson (6-1, 195) as well. A McDonald's All-American, Jackson averaged 25.9 ppg as a high school senior and was the runner-up for Indiana's Mr. Basketball. While the backcourt seems to be in good shape in terms of depth, the same cannot be said of the frontcourt, where Brey must find an adequate replacement for 6-9 forward Jack Cooley (13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg). Likely candidates include 6-10 center Garrick Sherman (7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) in the middle and 6-10 forward Tom Knight (5.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg). Sophomore Cameron Biedscheld (6-7, 186) is an athletic wing who showed flashes of scoring ability a season ago (6.2 ppg). His minutes should increase this year, as he will be called upon to provide frontcourt scoring depth along with 6-8 freshman V.J. Beachem.

VIRGINIA: Charlottesville is brimming with anticipation this season, after posting 23 wins last year and advancing to the quarterfinals of the NIT. The reason for the optimism is that Tony Bennett may have his most talented and deep team to date. The Cavaliers will always rely on their suffocating defensive play. They only gave up 55.6 points per game in 2012-13 (fifth nationally) and should be right around the same mark this season. The key will be improving on the offensive end and with a player like 6-6 senior Joe Harris leading the way, things certainly look bright for the Cavs. Harris was among the league leaders in scoring last season at 16.3 ppg. He shoots well from all over the floor, including last season's .430 from behind the arc. Sophomore wingman Justin Anderson (6-6, 225) is a versatile playmaker at both ends of the floor with star potential. Bennett has an embarrassment of riches at the point guard position, despite the loss of last year's starter Jontel Evans. The possible replacements include sophomores Malcolm Brogdon (6-5, 212) and Teven Jones (6-0, 181) and freshman Devon Hall (6-5, 210). Senior forward Akil Mitchell (13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) was perhaps the most improved player in the ACC a season ago, and will anchor the play in the frontcourt. Youngsters Mike Tobey (6-11, 245) and Anthony Gill (6-8, 231) give Virginia what looks to be a complete and dominant front line.

PITTSBURGH: Jamie Dixon and the Panthers may have the toughest challenge ahead of them in relation to the other newcomers to the ACC. Pittsburgh has won a ton of games over the last 10 years or so and last season was more of the same, finishing with a 24-9 record and a fourth-place finish in the Big East (12-6). Wins may be much harder to come by in the ACC, especially with the losses Pitt suffered in the off-season. Gone are players like Tray Woodall (11.5 ppg, 5.1 apg), J.J. Moore (8.0 ppg) and Steven Adams (7.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg). The backcourt will now be left to sophomore James Robinson (6.1 ppg, 3.5 apg). Another youngster with promise is freshman Josh Newkirk (6-1, 175). Veteran wingman Lamar Patterson (10.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg) will be called upon to shoulder the scoring burden, at least early on. The frontcourt is void of prolific scoring options, although 6-9 senior Talib Zanna (9.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) could surprise. Big bodies down low will include juco transfer Joseph Uchebo (6-10, 260) and freshman Michael Young (6-8, 245).

MARYLAND: Mark Turgeon's third season in College Park could be his best to date. That is certainly encouraging for a team that won 25 games a year ago and advanced to the semifinals of the NIT. Problems for Maryland however, arose in conference play, as they were just 8-10 against the rest of the ACC, plagued by inconsistent play throughout the league slate. Gone is lottery pick center Alex Len (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg), along with forward James Padgett (5.1 ppg) and guards Logan Aronhalt (6.0 ppg) and Pe'Shon Howard (3.3 ppg, 3.6 apg). Backcourt play will be headlined by junior Dez Wells. The 6-5, 215- pounder was the team's leading scorer a season ago at 13.1 ppg. He will flourish this season if sophomore Seth Allen (7.8 ppg) handles the point guard spot as expected. If Allen doesn't deliver, expect talented freshman Roddy Peters (6-4, 185) to step in and garner considerable minutes. The frontcourt will be physical this season, anchored by the 6-9, 260-pound Charles Mitchell (5.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and the 6-9, 265-pound Shaquille Cleare (3.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg). While neither has proved to be a big-time scoring threat, the addition of Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz (6-9, 235) should lighten the load in terms of frontcourt offense.

BOSTON COLLEGE: Steve Donahue is methodically building a team that can compete in the ACC and the Eagles should take another step in that direction in 2013-14. Last season, Boston College finished just under .500 at 16-17 overall, but it was a considerable upgrade from the year prior in Chestnut Hill (9-22), when Donahue had to replace five starters. This season's squad returns its top six scorers, including Olivier Hanlan, who was a revelation for BC last season as a freshman, netting 15.4 ppg to lead the team. The 6-4 195-pounder was able to do a little bit of everything for the Eagles (4.2 rpg, 2.3 apg) and could be in store for an even bigger season this time around. Hanlan will be joined in the backcourt by fellow sophomore Joe Rahon (10.1 ppg, 3.7 apg), while Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich, Patrick Heckmann (8.0 ppg) and Lonnie Jackson (8.7 ppg) provide plenty of depth and range. While the backcourt is a clear strength for BC, the frontcourt is a bit of a work in progress. The team possesses a star in junior forward Ryan Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg), but little else in terms of proven commodities. The hope is that players like 7-1, 250-pound Dennis Clifford (2.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and 6-11, 270-pound KC Caudill can provide interior toughness.

FLORIDA STATE: By virtue of several years of stellar play, Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles ascended the ACC mountain prior to last season and were given elite status. However, Florida State was unable to live up to the hype, and instead struggled to an 18-16 overall mark, including a disappointing 9-9 finish in the ACC (sixth place) and a first-round exit from the NIT. The team's usual defensive tenacity was missing in 2012-13 and FSU suffered as a result. Things may actually get worse in Tallahassee before they get better, as clutch player Michael Snaer (14.8 ppg) has moved on. All is not lost in the backcourt for FSU though, as there is some depth, highlighted by players like sophomore point guard Devon Bookert (6.5 ppg, 2.4 apg) and senior Ian Miller (5.3 ppg). A lot is expected of 6-4 freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes in terms of scoring potential, but Hamilton will have to wait a year, as Rathan-Mayes's debut will be postponed due to academic eligibility issues. The frontcourt features a solid scoring option in 6-8 senior Okaro White (12.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg). Freshman forward Jarquez Smith could provide matchup problems thanks to his size (6-9, 225) and excellent range. There is plenty of bulk inside in the form of seven- footers Kiel Turpin and Boris Bojanovsky, but neither big man adds much offensive punch and will at the very least, need to become defensive stalwarts.

GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets posted a winning season last year at 16-15, but really had a tough time of it in ACC play, finishing tied for ninth in the league at a mere 6-12. While the team seems to be taking baby steps under now third-year coach Brian Gregory, at least they are steps in the right direction. This year should provide more of the same. The team isn't yet ready to jump up the ACC ladder and contend, but there will be no shortage of competitive play in Atlanta this season. With no established point guard entering the summer, Gregory was handed a gift when Tennessee transfer Trae Golden's eligibility issues were resolved. Golden is a seasoned veteran with the ability to both score (9.7 ppg) and distribute (3.6 apg). There will be no shortage of opportunities to do the latter, with scorers like Marcus Georges- Hunt (10.8 ppg) and Chris Bolden (7.3 ppg) along the perimeter. The frontcourt has some depth as well, with senior forward Kammeon Hosley (8.8 ppg), sophomore forward Robert Carter Jr. (9.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and senior center Daniel Miller (8.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg). The wildcard up front is athletic freshman Quinton Stephens (6-9, 185).

WAKE FOREST: There is no hotter seat in the ACC than the one Jeff Bzdelik is sitting on these days. No coach in the conference has been given more and done less with it. The Demon Deacons had another down season in 2012-13, finishing 13-18 overall and just 6-12 in-conference. At 34-60 in three seasons at the helm, the fan base in Winston-Salem has seen enough of Bzdelik. This season's roster will be missing one of its better players from last year with the departure of scorer C.J. Harris (15.4 ppg), but Bzdelik is hoping that Robert Morris transfer Coron Williams (9.9 ppg) can fill the void with his perimeter range. Sophomore Codi Miller-McIntyre (8.1 ppg, 2.6 apg) showed flashes of strong play at the point last year, but will need to elevate his game this time around. Sophomore Madison Jones (6-1, 160) will also factor in at the point. The team's strength no doubt comes in the frontcourt in the form of 6-7 senior Travis McKie (13.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and 6-9 sophomore Devin Thomas (9.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg). McKie is the ACC's active leader in both scoring and rebounding, while Thomas made the All-Freshman team with his solid all-around play last season. Another youngster with a high ceiling is 6-6 sophomore Arnaud Adala Moto (5.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), who has elite defensive skills. T

NC STATE: Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack won 24 games last season and finished 11-7 in ACC play, good for a fourth-place tie. While that would be viewed as a strong season for most teams, NC State was predicted to not only vie for a conference title, but an NCAA championship to boot. The Wolfpack had all the talent in the world, but that talent seemed to have a different agenda at times than Gottfried and the result was an underachieving bunch. Gone are four double-digit scorers in C.J. Leslie (15.1 ppg), Richard Howell (12.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg), Scott Wood (12.6 ppg) and Lorenzo Brown (12.4 ppg, 7.2 apg) as well as a fifth valuable asset in Rodney Purvis (8.3 ppg). The hope is that a completely new cast of players will have more chemistry. The cupboard isn't exactly bare, especially in the backcourt, as a pair of McDonald's All-Americans will vie for Brown's minutes in sophomore Tyler Lewis (5-11, 157) and freshman Anthony 'Cat' Barber (6-2, 165). Adding immediate punch along the perimeter will be LSU transfer Ralston Turner (9.1 ppg), who finally gets on the court after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. There was a mass exodus up front for NC State, but 6-8 sophomore T.J. Warren could burst on the scene as one of the ACC's top performers after averaging 12.1 ppg in limited minutes last year. There are no proven playmakers to put around Warren up front, but freshmen Bee-Jay Anya (6-9, 275) and Kyle Washington (6-9, 215) will be given ample opportunities.

MIAMI-FLORIDA: The best season of basketball in Miami history came last year, as Jim Larranaga led the Hurricanes to a 29-7 overall record, while winning the ACC crown with an impressive 15-3 mark. Unfortunately, sustaining that kind of success will be nearly impossible, with that squad's top six players having moved on, including standout guard Shane Larkin. The backcourt is in a state of flux this season, with Belgium import Manu LeComte (5-9, 175) likely taking over at the point. Senior Rion Brown (6.4 ppg) will get plenty of court time as well. The hope is that freshmen Cornelius Elder (5-11, 180) and Deandre Burnett can help along the perimeter. Burnett was the nation's third leading scorer as a high school senior last year (36.6 ppg). Elder was the Tennessee State Player of the Year last season, but is a two-sport athlete at Miami and is currently playing football. Next year's backcourt should be much better, with the additions of Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan and Kansas State's Angel Rodriguez joining the squad. Losses along the frontcourt will be felt as well. Donnavan Kirk (6-9, 220) started his career at Miami, transferred to DePaul and is now back. Juco transfer James Kelly (6-8, 245) will also get plenty of minutes up front.

CLEMSON: The Tigers continue to spiral downward and last year saw Brad Brownell's team fall to 11th in the then 12-team ACC. Things could actually get worse before they get better. There is no sugar-coating the fact that Clemson has failed miserably in the area of recruiting and Brownell is responsible. There simply is zero star power anywhere on the roster and the forecast for the immediate future isn't bright. The team lost its two best players from a year ago with the departures of Devin Booker and Milton Jennings. The backcourt lacks any real size, with the likely starters being the 5-11 Jordan Roper and the 6-1 Rod Hall. Roper averaged just under eight points per game as a freshman last year, shooting just over 41 percent from 3- point range. Hall will handle the point after averaging 3.5 apg. The rest of the backcourt depth lacks any real punch, with Adonis Filer (6.3 ppg) and Devin Coleman (redshirted last year with Achilles injury) representing the best of the rest. The strength of the team can be found up front. Junior forward K.J. McDaniels (10.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 bpg) is effective at both ends of the floor. The hope is that 6-7 youngster Jaron Blossomgame is healthy this season and provides valuable minutes along the wing. Brownell's top newcomer may be juco transfer Ibrahim Djambo (6-10, 215), Clemson's first juco transfer since 2003.

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies possessed the ACC's most explosive offensive weapon last season and still finished dead last in the conference, posting a 13-19 overall record, with a 4-14 ACC mark. Things could get worse in James Johnson's second season at the helm, since Erick Green and his 25 points per game are no longer in Blacksburg. The backcourt this season will feature a pair of inconsistent shooters, that do possess the ability at times to fill up the basket. UNC-Wilmington transfer Adam Smith (13.7 ppg) is eligible and will be joined by senior Jarell Eddie (12.3 ppg). Depth behind those two is scarce, but Johnson hopes that German freshman Malik Mueller (6-3, 210) will make an impact right away. The frontcourt will be anchored by 6-8 junior C.J. Barksdale, who has the potential to be an All-ACC performer. Senior forward Cadarian Raines (6-9, 238) is a better rebounder than scorer at this time and will need to become a force down low for Tech. Freshman forward Trevor Thompson (6-11, 210) is another youngster that will be force-fed minutes.

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