The ACC should be one of the most exciting conferences in college basketball this season. How will it all shake out?
Finally. As the calendar turns to November, the college basketball season will soon be upon us, as many teams are opening their campaigns with scrimmages. The summer without college basketball is always long and grueling, and there are teams across the nation that are facing major changes in their program. The ramifications of those changes won’t become clear until the calendar turns and conference play kicks into full gear, but for now, it’s time to enjoy the best four months of the year.
First, I would like to dive into what looks to be the best conference in basketball once again, the ACC. Here are my projections for the 2017-2018 season.
1.) Duke Blue Devils
When you combine the influx of talent to the roster with the senior “leadership” of college basketball’s most hated villain, Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils are poised not only to cut down the nets in Brooklyn, but also in San Antonio. With the reclassification of Marvin Bagley III, the Blue Devils have a freshman phenom reminiscent of Anthony Davis. Although questions remain about his defensive skill set, he should provide a safety blanket on offense for freshman point guard Trevon Duval and company.
2.) North Carolina Tar Heels
The defending National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels may be losing a great deal of talent from the team that went all the way last year, but Roy Williams will have something to say about his Tobacco Road rival winning the conference this year. Although they will be without Joel Berry II for the beginning of the season, the 2017 Final Four MOP should be back to lead the Tar Heels into conference play. Look for Luke May to step up big this year like he did against Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
3.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Led by Preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson, the Fighting Irish have high hopes for being atop the ACC and going far in the NCAA Tournament this year. Mike Brey will have his team prepared for the gauntlet that is the ACC and, as usual, he is armed with numerous shooters who can spread the floor and tear apart many defenses in the conference.
4.) Virginia Tech Hokies
I am looking for a breakout year in the ACC for Buzz Williams and the Virginia Tech Hokies. Coming off a trip to the Big Dance last year, the Hokies will be eager to get back. A nucleus of solid returning contributors combined with freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker should make the Hokies a tough test for most, especially at home.
5.) Miami Hurricanes
Perhaps one of the more interesting stories in college basketball this season will be how the off-court news that was exposed this summer will impact what we see on the court this year for the U. Poised to make a deep run into March and be a contender in the ACC, Miami will rely heavily on one of the best shooting guards in the country, Preseason ACC Second Team selection Bruce Brown Jr. Barring any issues off the court regarding head coach Jim Larranaga, Miami will be a tough out in the ACC.
6.) Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals are still an enigma in the wake of Rick Pitino’s departure. First year coach David Padgett steps into what seems like a dream for most first year coaches, at least with the talent he will have at his disposal. Quentin Snider and Deng Adel were both Preseason ACC Second Team selections, and will be leaders both on and off the court as they try to rebuild the program in the face of adversity.
7.) Virginia Cavaliers
Tony Bennett’s team will be one of the nation’s stingiest defenses yet again this year, but the Cavaliers will need to find a replacement for London Perrantes. De’Andre Hunter will be one of the top freshman in the league this season.
8.) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Led by Josh Pastner, the Yellow Jackets were the surprise of the ACC last year. After a deep run in the NIT that ended in a loss to TCU in the championship game, Georgia Tech will look to end up on the right side of the bubble this year. Preseason First Team Center Ben Lammers, a double-double machine, along with Preseason Second Team selection Josh Okogie, will look to lead the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA Tournament this year.
9.) Syracuse Orange
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a die-hard Syracuse basketball fan and most of this pains me to write.
At one point, Syracuse fans thought this was going to be it: 2017, Jim Boeheim goes out on top. The Orange easily could have been at the top of the ACC this year with a lineup consisting of Kaleb Joseph (transferred to Creighton), Tyus Battle, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon, and Chris McCullough. Of course, in today’s college basketball, it is not expected that freshman will stay all four years, but I just wanted to make the cut a little bit deeper and think about what could have been.
However, only one of those five remains (Tyus Battle), and this will not be Jim Boeheim’s final year leading the Orange, as Mike Hopkins (Syracuse’s designated coach in waiting) took the job at Washington. Boeheim signed a five year extension to coach his son and said at ACC Media Day that he will coach forever—unless this team kills him first.
Tyus Battle will be one of the top guards in the nation. The issue for Syracuse: who will step up alongside him? Boeheim went the grad transfer route again getting South Florida transfer Geno Thorpe, and will look for significant contributions from freshman Oshae Brissett and Matthew Moyer. The Orange will go as junior point guard Frank Howard goes. Howard struggled against Power-Five competition in non-conference play last year and lost his starting spot to John Gillon. Howard does not have any sort of contingency plan behind him this year. He needs to produce if America’s favorite bubble team wants to dance this year.
10.) Florida State Seminoles
Many questions remain for Florida State as they lost Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon to the draft last year. A team that finished second in the ACC last year will look to rebuild this year with another stellar recruiting class coming in 2019.
11.) Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The Demon Deacons lost one of the best front court players in college basketball last year, John Collins, to the NBA Draft. After making the NCAA Tournament last year, Wake Forest will need to step it up on defense in order to make it back. Wake Forest could be a sleeper in the ACC behind Mitchell Wilbekin and Bryant Crawford.
12.) North Carolina State Wolfpack
With an injury to Abdul-Malik Abu and Braxton Beverly losing his appeal to the NCAA, the Wolfpack will more than likely end up near the bottom of the ACC again following Dennis Smith Jr.’s departure for the NBA Draft.
13.) Clemson Tigers
Following a disappointing output in ACC play last year and a dismal performance in the NIT, Brad Brownell may be on the hot seat at Clemson this year. Without Jaron Blossomgame, Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham will look to keep the Tigers competitive in the ACC.
14.) Boston College Eagles
The Eagles will look to their backcourt duo of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson to lead the team out of the cellar of the ACC, but for now I will leave them down in the basement. If they are one of the best backcourts in the country, as Jim Christian claims, maybe they could surprise some people in the ACC.
15.) Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pitt Panthers round out my picks in the ACC. With the much discussed departure of Cameron Johnson, Pittsburgh will undergo a rebuilding year under second year coach Kevin Stallings.
*As discussed above, I am a huge Syracuse basketball fan and will write recaps of their games, make picks for the week, and highlight any important news from the college basketball world.