After a season that saw the conference send just four teams to the NCAA
tournament, none of which made it past the Sweet 16, the ACC is on the rebound
this year. Conference coaches are already beating the drum, touting the league
as an eight-bid league in 2006-07. Virginia Tech hopes to be one of those bids,
for the first time since 1996 and only the second time since 1986, and we’ll
preview the Hokies tomorrow. Here’s our ACC preview, letting you know what to
expect from the other 11 teams in the league.
Boston College has been good for a long time under Al Skinner. They don’t
win with a lot of flash, but they play physical basketball underneath, and they
have fundamentally sound perimeter players who can hit the open jump shot.
However, it will be difficult for them to repeat last season’s result of ACC
BC lost two of their top players in the offseason. Center Craig Smith was one
of the top post players in the nation, and he is off to the NBA. Point guard
Louis Hinnant also used up his eligibility. But the Eagles do have capable
replacements, and their low post defense will probably be better this season.
More so than in seasons past, BC will rely much more on their perimeter game.
Wings Sean Marshall (11.1 ppg) and Jared Dudley (16.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg) return
for their senior seasons. Dudley will be BC’s “name” player this year. At
6-7, 225, he is very versatile, showing the ability to hit the outside jumper
and mix it up on the inside.
Perhaps the most important player on the team is sophomore point guard Tyrese
Rice. Rice had a very good freshman season for the Eagles, averaging 9.1 points
per game and showing the ability to hit the deep three-pointer. But this season
will be different, as Rice will be counted on to run the offense.
The big question mark will be on the inside. Sean Williams will start at
center, and he is the best shot blocker in the ACC, averaging two per game last
season. John Oates is a competent player as well, and he can step out and shoot
the ball well. But these players, who averaged a combined 6.5 ppg and 5.9
rebounds per game, will not be able to match the production of Craig Smith.
Akida McClain could also start at power forward, and he would give the Eagles
much more of an offensive boost than Williams and Oates.
BC is very well-coached, and they have some very nice talent on the wings,
and a mismatch in Jared Dudley. They’ll be back in the NCAA tournament in
Clemson got on a roll to end the season last year behind the play of senior
guard Shawan Robinson and senior center Akin Akingbala. Like the Hokies, they
were a hard luck team. They lost three games in overtime and six other games by
six points or less. Like the Hokies, the losses were partly caused by poor
shooting from the field and the free throw line.
The Tigers will return the services of junior post player James Mays, a
former Virginia Tech recruiting target. Clemson was 11-0 with Mays in the lineup
last season, but he was ruled academically ineligible after the first semester
and missed ACC play. He was averaging 9.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game
Clemson plays very much like Virginia Tech. They do a great job protecting
the basketball, and while they aren’t great shooters, the extra possessions
that they gain off turnovers help them stay in and win games. Vern Hamilton is
Clemson’s senior point guard, and he should have a good year.
Sophomores K.C. Rivers and Julius Powell gained important experience as
freshmen last season. When combined with Hamilton, as well as junior guard Cliff
Hammonds, Clemson will have some solid depth in the backcourt.
The question mark for Clemson is on the inside. James Mays is a proven
player, but who will start at power forward? Undersized 6-5 Sam Perry is an
option, however freshman Trevor Booker started in the Tigers’ recent
Clemson has a chance to make some noise if they can become a better shooting
team, but unless the rest of the ACC is worse than expected, don’t look for
the Tigers in anything better than the NIT when the postseason arrives.
It’s going to be really, really weird watching Duke play without J.J.
Reddick this year. Not to mention Shelden Williams, Sean Dockery, and even Lee
Melchionni. That’s a major exodus of talent and experience. But this is Duke.
As long as Coach K is there, they will be a team to be reckoned with and will
make the NCAA tournament again this year.
Unfortunately they have started the preseason off on the wrong foot (pun
intended), as returning starting point guard Greg Paulus broke a bone in his
foot during the preseason. It is unknown how long he will be out, but that means
that freshman guard Jon Scheyer will see a lot of time in the backcourt with
As many as three freshmen could start for the Blue Devils. Wing Gerald
Henderson will bring an athletic element to the small forward position that has
been sorely lacking at Duke for the past couple of years.
Duke has a couple of lineup options on the inside. They will be a more
athletic team this year, so they could start freshman Lance Thomas at power
forward, as he fits in with an athletic lineup. That would make Josh McRoberts
the biggest player in the Duke lineup. Their other option is to start 7-1
freshman Brian Zoubek at center, and keep McRoberts at power forward. That would
make the lineup a bit less athletic.
There won’t be as much star power as in the past, but Coach K appears to
have more depth and more lineup options this year. The Blue Devils could go as
many as 10 deep when they get Paulus back from his injury. Duke will find
themselves at or near the top of the ACC, as usual.
Florida State would be a team that nearly everyone would pick for the NCAA
tournament if center Alexander Johnson had returned for his senior season. But
Johnson departed for the NBA, and while Florida State returns a good backcourt
and one of the ACC’s top players in Al Thornton, they are lacking quality
depth in the frontcourt.
Florida State’s top backup center was Diego Romero, but his eligibility
expired after last season. Blue chip recruit Jon Kreft was supposed to be the
heir apparent, but he won’t be playing for the ‘Noles following his arrest
for felony cocaine possession.
With so many losses inside, Florida State will have one of the smaller
lineups in the ACC. A natural wing, Al Thornton will play FSU’s version of the
power forward position, while former VT recruiting target Uche Echefu will start
The Seminoles will use a three guard lineup, with returning starters Isaiah
Swann (another former VT recruiting target) and Jason Rich playing on the wing.
FSU will pick up a new point guard in Toney Douglas. Douglas averaged 16.9
points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a freshman at Auburn two years ago. He sat
out last year per NCAA transfer rules, but he is ready to go this season.
So while FSU lost their starting point guard in Todd Galloway, they pick up a
better player in Douglas. And they have solid backcourt depth in senior Jerel
Allen and junior Ralph Mims. Underweight (6-8, 195) sophomore Casaan Breeden and
freshman Ryan Reid will provide depth in the frontcourt.
Florida State has some very nice talent, and if they had more depth in the
frontcourt they would be a favorite to make the Big Dance. Even without the
frontcourt star power, the Seminoles still have a great chance to meet their
goals and get to the NCAA tournament this year.
Georgia Tech could be a team that goes from the bottom of the conference to
near the top. They lost a lot of close games last season, including one to the
Hokies in Blacksburg. But they return some very experienced players and bring in
one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. In fact, this group of freshmen
could have a bigger impact on their team than any other class in the nation.
The Yellow Jackets return a very formidable inside duo in power forward
Jeremis Smith and center Ra’Sean Dickey. Experienced post depth will be an
issue, but not one that the Jackets shouldn’t be able to overcome. Smith and
Dickey should be one of the dominant inside duos in the conference this year.
Anthony Morrow will see most of his action at shooting guard this year,
instead of his past position at small forward. Morrow is a very good shooter. He
led the ACC in three-point percentage last season at 42.9%. He is a spot up
shooter who could really elevate his game by doing more off the dribble. He
averaged 16 points per game last year, which led the team.
Georgia Tech will be depending on two freshmen to man the point guard and
small forward positions. Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets, they are two of the
highest regarded freshmen in the nation.
Javarris Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard, is the highest-rated player to enroll at Georgia Tech since Stephon Marbury in 1995. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by fellow freshman small forward Thaddeus Young. Young was a McDonald’s All-American, and at 6-8, 217, he’s a major mismatch on the wing.
Freshman center Zach Peacock, 6-8, 235, is set to start Georgia Tech’s season opener against Elon. But that’s likely nothing more than a wakeup call to Ra’Sean Dickey from head coach Paul Hewitt.
The Maryland basketball program has lost a bit of its luster the past two
years, with two NIT appearances rather than the usual NCAA tournament berth.
Things don’t appear to be getting any better in College Park this season, as
the Terrapins lack quality depth coming off the bench.
The player who doesn’t get talked about a lot for Maryland is shooting
guard Mike Jones, but he has the potential to have a good year this season.
Jones averaged 10.5 points per game and shot 41.5% from three-point range last
year, but didn’t break into the starting lineup until Chris McCray became
academically ineligible. Jones was the #2 shooting guard in the nation coming
out of high school, behind only LeBron James. Jones needs to finally step up and
have a good year.
Freshman point guard Eric Hayes will probably start for the Terps this year.
Hayes has the potential to be a very good player, but not until he gets some
experience and some more weapons around him.
Maryland’s headliner is D.J. Strawberry, who should move back to his
natural position of small forward this season. Strawberry is a good defender who
averaged 10.3 points per game last year.
Junior James Gist and senior Ekene Ibekwe will anchor the frontcourt for
Maryland. They are a solid combo, but Maryland’s main problem is depth off the
bench. Center Will Bowers and guard Parrish Brown are just bit role players.
Freshmen wings Greivis Vasquez and Landon Milbourne may be Gary Williams’ best
players off the bench.
Don’t look for anything better than a middle of the pack finish from the
Terps this season. They appear to be headed back to the NIT for the third season
in a row.
Coach Frank Haith has done a good job in his time at Miami. Unfortunately for
Haith, he lost arguably the best backcourt in the ACC in Robert Hite and
Guillermo Diaz to the NBA. That’s a lot of star power to lose from a starting
lineup, and it looks like Miami will be heading back to the NIT again, although
the potential is there for more.
Miami used a three guard lineup in the past and returns senior starter
Anthony Harris (9.5 ppg). He is a good foundation to build upon, as the
Hurricanes struggled last season when he was out of the lineup with an injury.
He will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Denis Clemente (5.5ppg).
Clemente is smallish at 6-0, but he is lightning fast in the open court.
Miami could go back to a three guard lineup, or they could use a traditional
small forward. They will have the services of Jack McClinton, a 6-1 guard who
transferred from Sienna. 6-7 wing Brian Ausbury will be the choice if Frank
Haith elects to go with a more traditional lineup.
Miami must improve on the inside if they want to make noise in the ACC this
year. Anthony King is a good defender and a very good rebounder. He will need
6-7 power forward Raymond Hicks (4.7 ppg) to help him out. Hicks is skilled and
showed what he could do in the ACC tournament last season.
6-8 sophomore Jimmy Graham is another player who could help on the inside
this year. Like Hicks, he impressed in the ACC tournament and showed that Miami
has a chance to improve in the future, despite the loss of Hite and Diaz, two of
the top players in school history.
UNC is the odds-on favorite to win the ACC this season. They return a number
of talented players and also bring in one of the top recruiting classes in the
country. They will be a dangerous team at each position this year.
The Tar Heels will have just two seniors in their regular rotation. Forward
Reyshawn Terry (14.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is very good, and the Heels’ second leading
scorer. Backup guard Wes Miller is a walkon who can really shoot from the
outside if he’s left open. But other than that, UNC will be playing freshmen
and sophomores this season.
Everyone knows about returning sophomore center Tyler Hansbrough (18.9 ppg,
7.8 rpg), who has established himself as one of the top players in the nation.
But Hansbrough has a very talented cast of other sophomores around him. Bobby
Frasor (136 assists) mans the point guard position, and he did very well as a
freshman last season. But he could be pushed by super athletic freshman Ty
On the wing, the Tar Heels will likely start Marcus Ginyard (6.3 ppg) and
Danny Green (7.5 ppg). Both got a lot of experience as freshmen last season and
should be ready for breakout years in 2006-07. They will be pushed by 6-4
freshman Wayne Ellington, one of the top recruits in the nation.
Besides the aforementioned players, UNC will have other options off the
bench, including 6-3 junior guard Quentin Thomas and 6-9 freshman forward
Brandan Wright, among others. They are very talented and deep, and they will win
the ACC this year and go deep into the NCAA tournament. But I think they are
another year away from being National Champions, assuming everyone returns for
NC State must replace a number of players, as well as head coach Herb Sendek,
who departed for Arizona State because of a fan base that did not appreciate his
years of winning ways. Sidney Lowe assumes the head coaching duties for this
year, and his roster lacks depth and proven starters.
The point guard duties will fall to senior Engin Atsur (10.8 ppg, 108
assists), who has a lot of experience as a starter. Junior Gavin Grant (8.3 ppg)
will start at wing, and he showed that he is capable of big performances during
the ACC tournament loss to Wake Forest.
Sophomore Courtney Fells is set to start at shooting guard, while freshman
Brandon Costner and sophomore Ben McCauley will start on the inside. These
starters must not only play well for the Wolfpack to be successful, but they
must stay healthy as well.
True freshman wing Dennis Horner was originally recruited by Herb Sendek, and
the only Sendek recruit to stick with his commitment to NC State. He has the
reputation of a very good shooter, but he was a perfect fit for Sendek’s
offense, and it remains to be seen if he fits in well with Lowe’s style of
7-3 true freshman Bartosz Lewandowski certainly looks the part of a true
center, but the Poland native will need to adjust to ACC play. Former Pitt
signee Trevor Ferguson, a r-freshman, should also play a big role. But other
than that, State doesn’t have much depth.
It looks to be a tough transitional year for Sydney Lowe. An NIT bid should
be considered a success.
Dave Leito did a very good job at Virginia last season, reviving a program
that had fallen to the depths of the ACC under Pete Gillen. The Cavs won a
number of close games last season, including three very narrow wins over
Virginia Tech that went down to the wire. UVA made the NIT last year, and they
are looking for bigger things this season.
Leito will have the luxury of having arguably the best backcourt in the ACC.
Sean Singletary (17.7 ppg) is known as one of college basketball best
playmakers. He can get to the glass, and he can hit tough shots in traffic. He
also knows how to run the offense. His biggest downfall is that he turns the
ball over more than you want from a point guard.
Singletary’s backcourt mate is J.R. Reynolds (17 ppg), who improved his game
by leaps and bounds upon Leito’s arrival. He is a very good three point
shooter who seems to be even better whenever he is being guarded by a player
wearing the Orange and Maroon.
Adrian Joseph (9.4 ppg) should start at wing for UVA, and he is a good
athlete who can hit the open jumper. Jason Cain, Tunji Soroye and Laurynas
Mikalauskas will all play in the post for UVA this year. If the Cavs want to
have a complete team, these players need to improve.
Leito should also have more depth to work with this year, including freshmen
wings Solomon Tat and Will Harris, and 6-8 freshman Jamil Tucker. There is no
backup at point guard however, because T.J. Bannister transferred to Liberty in
the offseason. Reynolds will have to spell Singletary at the point from time to
The Cavs should at least be back in the NIT this season, and they do have a
chance to make the Big Dance with some lucky bounces. They might not improve
much on their ACC record because so many wins were so close last year, such as
Virginia Tech’s 2004-05 season, but the program appears to be on the rise.
So much for Skip Prosser to Cincinnati. Prosser’s team struggled mightily
at the beginning of ACC play last year. They finally rallied at the end of the
season and earned an NIT bid, but it was a disappointing season for a team that
featured talented players like Justin Gray, Eric Williams, Trent Strickland and
Now all four of those players are gone, and the Demon Deacons are in
rebuilding mode. The most experienced players are walk-on starting small forward
Michael Drum (5.5 ppg) and underachieving center Kyle Visser (5 ppg). Both of
those players are seniors, and the rest of the team is young.
Wake could end up starting freshman Ishmael Smith at the point guard
position. Sophomore Harvey Hale (5.6 ppg) would join him in the backcourt.
Freshmen Anthony Gurley and L.D. Williams, as well as sophomore Shamaine Dukes,
will provide depth in the backcourt.
Kevin Swinton will start at power forward, and he has a chance to be a good
player for the Demon Deacons. Wake has a number of freshmen, including Jamie
Skeen, David Weaver, Casey Crawford and Chas McFarland, who could potentially
help on the inside as well.
This is a team that lacks true ACC talent from its most experienced players.
They have little to no experience at point guard, and no experience off the
bench at all. Wake appears to be a team poised to finish in or near the ACC