“And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground.” -Preacher Purl in ‘Hoosiers‘
Hopefully that will be the quote that comes to mind on Sunday, March 13th as the ACC Tournament Championship Game concludes. Hopefully Virginia Tech will be cutting down the nets in the Greensboro Coliseum. Hopefully the Hokies will have risen to the top of the ACC and captured their first ACC title while the Philistines, unc and duke (with nine NCAA Tournament Championships and 35 ACC Tournament titles combined), lay on the ground in disbelief.
It won’t be easy, though. unc and duke have combined to win 13 of the last 14 ACC titles. Oh, and duke is the reigning national champs with two huge stars (Singler and Smith) back and a man named ‘Curry’. unc has the top freshman in the nation in Harrison Barnes, a guy you would think was already Kevin Durant by all the hype. There are also nine other pretty good programs to deal with that you cannot forget… actually, let’s forget about them. The ACC champion will be unc, duke, or Virginia Tech, I’ll say that right now with strong confidence. But seriously, the Hokies have a real shot at hoisting up the hardware on that fateful Sunday. Tech returns 10 of the 12 guys that scored a point last season (it was 11 of 12 before JT Thompson’s injury), have an All-American candidate in Malcolm Delaney, one of the top rated power forwards in the country in Jeff Allen (I’ve seen him ranked as high as #2 at PF), Zo Clutch who is money when the game is on the line, and all these guys have loads of experience and tons of hunger, having never played a NCAA Tournament game. Plus they add two 2,000 point scorers from their respective high schools in Jarell Eddie and Tyrone Garland. And the biggest sign of Hokie respect? The ACC media picked VT to finish second in the conference, ahead of the might tar heels. That’s one small blow to the Philistines.
The League: This will likely be another weak year for the league by ACC standards. Going into last season, 10 of the 15 All-ACC players from the year before were gone, leaving a lot of holes in terms of star power in the conference. This year is a little better – seven of the 15 All-ACC players from a year ago are back. But four of those seven that are returning are on either duke or Virginia Tech, hence why you see them at the top of the class.
Let me breakdown the league this year from worst to first.
The hoos have lost 34 ACC games in the last three seasons. They’re, uh, they’re not good. Adding to their misery is the fact leading scorer Sylven Landesberg is gone after just his sophomore year. He was their one big, consistent threat and gave them some star power and cannot be replaced. Their #4 and 5 leading scorers are also gone in Jones (who also bolted) and Meyinsse, and Tristan Spurlock (who had been a 4-star recruit) decided to leave. uva has to play duke and Virginia Tech four times, which won’t help.
Big man Mike Scott does return. He has a wealth of talent, but like Jeff Allen, is very inconsistent. He’s not the type of player you want as your leader. Outside of him they don’t have a real scoring threat returning.
The good news for the handful of hoo hoops fans is they did bring in a solid recruiting class. K.T. Harrell is their stud. Rivals.com had him as the #30 guy overall in this past class. He’s a shooting guard. K.T. will have to fill the void left by Landesberg’s departure. But even if he does, they’d only be back to where they were last year, and that was a team that went 5-11. So things are not looking bright for uva, at least not this year until these freshmen get some experience.
11. wake forest
Just two years ago wake forest claimed the #1 ranking in the country. Now, heading into the 2010-11 season, most predictions don’t have them in the top 10 in the ACC. The media had them dead last. Gone from last year’s squad are lightning bolt point guard Ishmael Smith and NBA first round pick Al-Farouq Aminu. Both were ACC Second Team last year. They also lost their best defender, L.D. Williams, and their top big man, Chas McFarland. wake has just five scholarship guys back who had a combined 30 starts last year (that’s less than the number of games they played). In contrast, VT has 166 returning starts from a year ago.
Like uva, the future is what the deacons are banking on. They bring in four 4-star recruits plus another 3-star guy, filling out an entire lineup. How they do this season depends on how those guys develop under new coach Jeff Bzdelik. But freshmen tend to struggle in the ACC, and it isn’t like they have kentucky’s class of last year, or even the star-studded class they had two years ago that was more hype than substance.
10. georgia tech
I’d probably have the yellow jackets down here at #10 even if they had Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors back. Why? Paul Hewitt is still their head coach. He’s the second worst coach in the league, posting a 67-93 record in ACC games in ten seasons at georgia tech. That’s at georgia tech, in the ATL. A great city that has to be easy to recruit to (and they do recruit very well). Yet he’s posted just one winning record in conference play in 10 years. How does he still have a job? Yes, he did make it to the 2004 NCAA title game, but that was six years ago… and they lost it. Hewitt’s ability to lose road games is legendary – they are 1-15 on the road in ACC games the last two seasons.
Gone now are Lawal and Favors to the NBA, and Zachery Peacock is also gone, leaving a gigantic hole in the low post for georgia tech. They only return one player over 6’6″, and he’s not very good. Two of their other bigs redshirted last year which tells you all you need to know about them.
The jackets are strong on the perimeter with Shumpert, Miller, Udofia, and Rice. Shumpert could become a star in the ACC this year. But those guys are turnover machines, probably thanks in large part to poor coaching. Plus, they don’t play smart defense, taking way too many chances and giving up easy hoops. Plus, now they have no low post presence. All this equals Paul Hewitt’s final season at georgia tech.
I see clemson and bc as very similar unknowns this year, but I like bc’s returning players more than clemson’s, hence they get the nod. clemson has a new coach in Brad Brownell. Gone is the strangling, up-tempo press style of Oliver Purnell. While that could be good for the tigers long term, it changes the type of players you need. For example, forward Jerai Grant is 6’8″ but just 220, not exactly a bruiser inside. Brownell’s system may not work with the athletic bodies Purnell coveted who couldn’t shoot to save their lives.
clemson must learn to live without their long time star, Trevor Booker who is with the Wizards. He averaged 15.2 ppg and 8 rpg and was just a beast of a presence inside. They have two quick, and good three-point shooting point guards in Stitt and Young. Good guard play can carry you. But who can they feed the ball to when they get cut off? That will be the big question they have to answer. Grant isn’t good at creating his own shots or scoring with his back to the basket, Tanner Smith is a very streaky shooter at guard (28% on 3’s), and Milton Jennings was a huge disappointment as a former 5-star recruit at forward. He averaged just 3.3 ppg and 2.7 rpg last year. If he can elevate his game under Brownell, they have a chance to vault up the standings to the #6 range.
FYI: They only brought in one recruit, a 3-star.
8. boston college
The eagles, like clemson, also have a new coach in Steve Donahue. I like them more than the tigers because they return Joe Trapani (14.1 ppg) as a perimeter-shooting forward, and electric guard Reggie Jackson (12.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.5 apg). They also have wing player Corey Raji (11.4 ppg). Not many ACC teams have three returning double-digit scorers. The eagles also have a quality shot-blocker in Josh Southern inside at 6’10”.
Had the eagles been able to keep Rakim Sanders, they really could have contended for a bye in the league. But he bolted for fairfield along with his 11.3 ppg. Seldom used Evan Ravenel also left. The eagles added no recruits of note.
The eagles are experienced and I like teams with experience. Just look at unc a few years ago, duke last year (and this year), maryland last year, and VT this year. While Jackson, Trapani, and Raji don’t have the talent those other teams had, they also are in the ACC in a down year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them vault us as high as #5 in the league. And I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish ahead of nc state…
7. nc state
The media picked the wolfpack to finish fourth in the ACC… hold on… give me a minute… I’m still laughing hysterically… OK, I think I’m better. Word to the media – SIDNEY LOWE IS STILL THEIR COACH!!! In his four years at the helm, state is 20-44 in ACC play. That’s an average of 5-11, which was their record last season. They’ve lost at least 10 games in conference every year, including the year they had J.J. Hickson who is tearing it up for the Cleveland Cavs. And you think now he’s going to start winning? Ha!
So why is the media high on the pack? They do return Tracy Smith, a preseason All ACC pick and a very good 6’8″ forward. I like him. And their three recruits coming in are absolute monsters. They bring in two 5-stars in PF C.J. Leslie and PG Ryan Harrow, and fellow PG Lorenzo Brown was #37 overall.
But Gonzalez their point guard shoots under 40% from the floor. In fact, five of their seven main returning players shoot under 40% and state is not known for their defense. Also, guards tend to struggle their freshman year in the ACC adjusting to the skill and speed of the game, as well as the intensity. So I’m not expecting much from Brown or Harrow. Leslie may do well, but they stunk when they had Hickson with Costner and McCauley. These guys are going to have to learn to all play together at the same positions, and based on Lowe’s track record, I’m not banking on it. In fact, I can’t believe I have them as high as I do at #7, but the rest of the ACC is just that bad. If I had been their AD, I would have waited until their stud recruits signed their LOI, immediately fired Lowe, hired a new guy, and tried to convince the recruits to stay. But that’s just me.
Other than wake forest, no one in the ACC was hit hard by lost players than maryland. Gone from the team that tied duke for the regular season title last year at 13-3 (yes, tied duke) are super punk (and arm-curl victim) Greasy Face-quez, forward Landon Milbourne, and guard Eric Hayes. That’s a loss of 44 ppg, 12 rpg, and 11 apg. That’s a lot to make up for. But Jordan Williams is set to be a Tracy Smith-like star and Sean Mosley started every game last year and averaged 10 ppg.
The terps have struggled to recruit in the last several years and that trend continued this past offseason. Despite the ability to sell early playing time at a basketball crazy school, they signed just one 4-star recruit of the five they inked (who would have thought VT’s recruiting would be surpassing maryland’s). Mychal Parker was #60 overall and gives them an athletic wing player at 6’6″ that can help fill Milbourne’s void.
The key for the terps is how their guys that used to be supporting cast like Bowie, Gregory, and Tucker can step up. I bet they will lose a couple of bad out of conference games, but Gary Williams is a good coach and knows how to beat the weaker ACC coaches in the league, as well as pull off the occasional upset. This pick is based solely on my familiarity with Williams. I don’t think maryland will finish any higher than this, and I think they could finish as low as 9th.
You have to have one crazy pick, right? There’s always one big mover each season. And I am NOT putting nc state in that role. So why not the c-a-n-e-s canes? Yes, they finished 4-12 in the ACC last year. But then they beat #5 seed wake and #4 seed VT before battling #1 duke in the semi-finals, all without Dwayne Collins who isn’t back this year anyway.
Sophomore guard Durand Scott became a money playmaker at the end of the year, beating VT almost on his own with his ability to drive. Malcolm Grant is a big time three-point shooter, giving them a deep threat. Inside, Reggie Johnson is really fat (295 lbs), but showed he can play in spurts and be productive. They have a decent cast of supporting characters, too. And they add 4-star SG Rion Brown to lessen James Dews’s loss, but you know how I feel about freshman guards in the ACC. That said, he doesn’t have to do much since they have two good guards already.
The key is can they play the rugged, street-mugging style defense Frank Haith had them playing a few years ago? If so, they are always a tough team to beat. And with the ACC down again this year, someone has to finish 5th. I could also see the canes fall as low as 9th, too.
4. florida state
It is scary to think Leonard Hamilton is now considered one of the better coaches in the ACC, but quietly he has turned the noles into one of the better programs in the ACC. They’ve had three winning seasons in the ACC in the last five years, including two straight 10-6 seasons and a first round bye in the ACC Tourney. They played in the ACC Tournament title game two years ago. Hamilton’s success has been built on defense. The noles don’t score a lot, but they also don’t let you. And in a conference that doesn’t play much defense, Hamilton has found that as their way to win.
The noles lost probably the best true big man in the ACC, Solomon Alabi, to the NBA. That will leave a void in the middle. But they have had the ACC’s defensive player of the year two years in a row, and last year’s winner is back – Chris Singleton. He is an extremely athletic 6’9″ post player who averages 10.2 ppg and 7 rpg. Michael Snaer came on at guard as the season went along and could explode this year. Xavier Gibson gives them a 6’11” low post player to lessen the loss of Alabi. Kitchen is an average PG, but will be a three year starter this year. And Dulkys gives them an outside shooting threat.
The noles also add two 4-star recruits, a PG (Miller) and a PF (White). They don’t have to produce a lot, but can certainly add depth to an already solid club. I see a third straight first round bye in the ACC Tournament for fsu.
3. north carolina
Harrison Barnes. That’s what it all comes down to for the heels. Harrison Barnes. A guy that has never played a minute in college is the reason why the heels, who went 5-11 in the ACC last year, are picked third in the league and in the top ten in the nation. He’s the consensus #1 recruit in the nation. He just became the first freshman ever named a preseason All-American (yes, first team All-American… nationally). If he can have the type of impact a fresh like Kevin Durant had at texas, unc will live up their hype. But that’s a lot to live up to.
The heels do not return a lot of studs. Gone is Ed Davis, their best player and a very good big man, to the NBA. The Wear twins transferred. Will Graves was kicked off the team. Tyler Zeller struggles to stay healthy but should be a very good big man when he does play. Larry Drew gets a ton of assists (6 per game), but let’s face it – he’s not even half as good as Ty Lawson was. Drew is a distributor, but not a playmaker like Ty was. Drew’s maturation and development will be one of the big keys to the heels’ success. And can he hit open shots? Kendall Marshall (a freshman from my neck of the woods in Arlington) will push Drew for time at PG if Drew struggles again this year.
The other big key for the heels is John Henson. He was a very highly rated 5-star recruit a year ago. But beanpole Henson struggled to make the adjustment to ACC play, though he did get better as the year went on. If he isn’t much better than the 5.7 ppg and 4.4 rpg he had a year ago, or if Harrison Barnes is more Henson than Durant, this could be another rough year for the powder blue. Either way, it shows the Hokies have arrived when the unc hype machine still is behind the Hokies in the preseason predictions.
2. VIRGINIA TECH
The Hokies are the second best team on paper in the ACC, plain and simple. Thank goodness the media realized that. The loss of JT Thompson for the season and Chaney’s healthy issues hurt, but this team is still loaded and have over 300 career starts as a whole.
For more on the Hokies, see our SEASON PREVIEW.
duke won the ACC regular season title, tournament title, and NCAA title last year. They return two of their three best players (Singler and Smith, Scheyer is gone). Singler could battle for National Player of the Year, and Smith is a great playmaker (what unc is missing). They added a Seth – Seth Curry. They have the Plumlees and Dawkins, plus Kelly. They add a 5-star PG (Irving) and a 4-star PF (Hairston from VA). They don’t have many weaknesses. They are good.
If they do have a weakness, it would be in the low post. They lost starters Zoubek and Thomas. But neither of those guys were counted on to score. But they were great on the glass and Thomas was solid on defense. Kelly did not have much strength last year. How much he’s bulked up will decide how effective he is, and the Plumlee’s are athletic bigs. The problem for everyone else is they can’t exploit this – there aren’t many talented bigs in the ACC this year. And duke has the experience and talent to kill you in an up-tempo or half court game. They are good in either style.
It will be interesting to see how Seth Curry adjusts to being at duke. His dad was the man at VT. His bro was the man at davidson. He was the man at liberty. Now, he’s just the third man at best for the defending champs. Can he play close to the level Jon “Crazy Face” Scheyer played at? Either way, duke is still loaded. They are far and away the best team in the league on paper. But the Hokies can make it interesting and do get the blue devils at home in their only meeting, and the Hokies do have more experience.