The college basketball season is about 3 weeks underway and I know previews happen before the season, but ACC games don’t start until January, so I feel fine posting this while the season has already started. No secret to anyone, the ACC will be down this year, as Duke and North Carolina are head and shoulders above anyone in the conference. There are four new coaches entering the league this year along with three other coaches starting their second year, so 7 of 12 teams have coaches on the job for just l8 months. Only half of the combined starters return from 11 ACC teams excluding UNC. The ACC only received four bids to the NCAA tournament last year, and will be hard pressed to increase that number this year. But I still love ACC basketball and the fight for 3-12 in the conference will be an interesting fight. Below are my ACC predictions starting from worst to first. Part 2 coming tomorrow. Enjoy.
Boston College: Eagles team will look completely different this year as they lose their entire starting lineup as junior guard Reggie Jackson jumped to the NBA early and four seniors (Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, Biko Paris and Josh Southern) graduated. That leaves BC with….nobody. This is the first time I’ve looked at an ACC roster before the season and not recognized one player on the team. Turns out Al Skinner just stopped recruiting, which is why he was fired before last season. With nine freshmen on the roster, this has to be the least experienced team in ACC history. And quite possibly could be the worst. If Steve Donahue manages to win more than 2 games in the ACC, he'll have done a magnificent coaching job this year.
ACC record: 1-15
Wake Forest: Last year’s team lost more ACC games and more games overall than any team in ACC history. With heavy losses from graduation, NBA, and off the court problems prior to last year, Wake and coach Jeff Bzedilk were forced to throw unproven freshman and sophomores into the fire and they just weren’t competitive. There was more turmoil after last season with three more players leaving, notably their best freshman last year JT Terrell’s dismissal for a DUI arrest. Wake will be better with less distractions and a more mature and experienced team. They have ACC caliber players in Travis McKie at forward and C.J. Harris at shooting guard. I don’t know if they will climb much higher on the ACC ladder, but based on the handful of games so far, they will be more competitive and successful than last season.
ACC record: 4-12
Georgia Tech: Big changes abound for the Yellow Jackets from the head coach to the basketball arena to the players. Gone is Paul Hewitt, who only went to the tournament once in the past four seasons. He was an effective recruiter, as he brought in highly touted players like Chris Bosh, Derrick Favors, Thaddeus Young, and Javaris Crittendon, but was unable to keep them, causing constant roster turnover and no cohesion and continuity from year to year. In is Brian Gregory, who was an assistant for Tom Izzo before coaching Dayton for 8 seasons, but only managed 2 NCAA appearances in his time there. Gone is Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Georgia Tech’s home since 1956. It will undergo a $45 million renovation and will be renamed Hank McCamish Pavilion. During the renovation, Tech’s home games this season will split between Philips Arena and Gwinnett Arena. Gone is their best player last year Iman Shumpert, who left early for the NBA. Forward Glen Rice Jr. (13ppg last year) will be asked to step up in scoring and leadership. Their biggest weakness will be down in the paint as PF Kammeon Holsey is a respectable returning player but they have no depth or ability behind him. In a year of transition with a new head coach, new system, and expanding roles for returning players, plus the added wrinkle of no real home court, and Tech will struggle to finish better than the bottom four of the ACC.
ACC record: 5-11
Maryland: In continuing the theme of transition and change, nothing will be more different than looking towards the Maryland bench this year and not seeing Gary Williams, sweating profusely through his suit and yelling obscenities at his bench at what seemed any time he pleased. Gary retired as the third winningest coach in the ACC behind only behind Coach K and Dean Smith, and that in itself speaks for the quality program Gary led at Maryland. Maryland hired Mark Turgeon, who was Big 12 Coach of the Year the last two seasons at Texas A&M, and I believe will bring Maryland back to ACC prominence in the coming years. But it won’t be this year. Maryland has only eight scholarship players and only three are taller than 6-6, thanks to Jordan Williams inexplicably announcing for the NBA draft and Haukur Palsson leaving to play professionally in Europe. Sophomore Terrell Stoglin is a great scoring point guard and he along with senior forward Sean Mosley and highly recruited freshman shooting guard Nick Faust will have to shoulder the scoring load as sophomore guard Pe’Shon Howard is out for half the season with a foot injury. Mark Turgeon would be ecstatic to coach this team to win more than 6 games in the ACC, which could possibly win him another Coach of the Year award, but the future looks bright for Maryland basketball.
ACC record: 6-10
Clemson: Brad Brownell took advantage of an experienced squad last year led by Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant and was able to secure an NCAA bid in his first season as head coach and a win in the tournament, something Oliver Purnell could not do with teams more talented than last year’s version. With those two seniors gone, Brownell will have his work cut off to get back to the tournament. He returns two reliable guards in Tanner Smith and Andre Young and pair of workers in the post in Milton Jennings and Devin Booker. But they don’t have enough behind these four to repeat last year’s success unless Jennings or Booker takes a huge step up in production inside and become All-ACC caliber.
ACC record: 6-10
Virginia Tech: Tough year last year as injuries diffused what should have been the best team VT has had since joining the ACC, but again they found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble. This will be another year where Tech and Seth Greenberg struggle to make the NCAA tournament. VT lost as much talent as anybody in the league, as gone are All-ACC guard Malcolm Delaney, ACC second team forward Jeff Allen, and once again forward JT Thompson after tearing his ACL again in preseason practice. Respectable talent returns at guard with Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green and forward with Victor Davila and Jarell Eddie. Tech's ultimate success or failure this season does ride a lot on three impact freshmen. Robert Brown, Marquis Rankin and Dorian Finney-Smith are the best recruiting class Greenberg has brought in during his tenure. How fast they can acclimate to the rigors of ACC basketball will determine if VT can escape bubble purgatory.
ACC record: 7-9