Updated: Oct 29, 2021
ACC Conference Preview
2. Florida State
3. North Carolina
4. Virginia Tech
8. Notre Dame
9. Georgia Tech
11. NC State
14. Wake Forest
15. Boston College
Player of the Year – Paolo Banchero (Duke)
Coach of the Year – Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)
Freshman of the Year – Paolo Banchero (Duke)
Field of 68 Teams
1. Duke Blue Devils (2020-2021 Record: 13-11, 9-9)
The greatest coach in college basketball history will be retiring after this season. Coach K’s farewell tour is the biggest story in the ACC and in the entire college basketball landscape. I believe his 42nd year as the Blue Devils head coach will be one his best yet. Coach K once again did an amazing job recruiting some of the top Freshman in the country which includes the projected NBA 2022 #1 overall pick Paolo Banchero. He will be the best player in the ACC and is my pick to win conference POY and Freshman of the Year in the entire NCAA. Duke has not won a standalone ACC title in more than a decade, but I envision this season to be a story book ending for Coach K and the Blue Devils. ACC champion and Final Four is in the cards for this team - enjoy the ride Cameron Crazies.
2. Florida State Seminoles (2020-2021 Record: 18-7, 11-4)
Leonard Hamilton only returns 34% of his scoring and lost lottery pick Scottie Barnes to the Toronto Raptors, but that will not stop this team from being ranked in the AP Preseason top 20. Hamilton recruited the 2nd best class in the ACC and the 8th best class in the entire country. Top 25 recruit Matthew Cleveland fits the mold of a typical Seminole wing that we have seen in the past and has a chance to be an All-ACC player in his first campaign. In addition, Caleb Mills and Cam’Ron Fletcher are two high major conference transfers that will have immediate roles this season. FSU has inserted themselves with the blue bloods of the ACC being able to reload athletic talent rather than rebuild. New bloods as some would call it.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (2020-2021 Record: 18-11, 10-6)
The Roy Williams era is officially over after he spent 18 years at the head of the UNC basketball program. He has so many accomplishments to list including leading UNC to nine regular season ACC titles, five Final Fours, and three National Championships. Hubert Davis takes over the head coaching duties after spending nine seasons as an assistant to Williams. It does not seem like much will change under Davis as he managed to bring back ten of his guys as well as two high major conference transfers in Brady Manek and Dawson Garcia. This team will need shoot the ball from the perimeter at a higher clip this season and will need better production from former five-star point guard Caleb Love. The talent on this roster is there to be an ACC contender - the main question remains how the switch of the head coaching duties will go.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies (2020-2021 Record: 15-7, 9-4)
It only took former Wofford coach Mike Young two seasons to get Virginia Tech back in the NCAA tournament as a number ten seed - who eventually lost to Florida in the first round. That overtime loss to Florida was a tough pill to swallow and should motivate this team to get over the hump this March. VT brings back Keve Aluma who averaged 15.7 points and 7.9 boards a season ago. He is a legitimate star in this league who will be a 1st team All-ACC player at the conclusion of the regular season after starting his career at Wofford with Young. His former teammate, Storm Murphy, joins the fun in Blacksburg for his final college season. He will be a bucket getter just as he was last year shooting over 40% from beyond the arc. The Hokies bring back three starters in addition to acquiring Murphy via the transfer portal, so this seems to be a breakout season waiting to happen. I have them just a tad bit above their in-state rival Virginia and easily in the field of 68.
5. Virginia Cavaliers (2020-2021 Record: 18-7, 13-4)
It feels wrong to have Tony Bennet’s Virginia squad this low in my ACC rankings especially considering they are the regular season defending champion. UVA has finished in the top four of this league in nine of the last ten seasons, but this team only brings back two starters who both averaged less than ten points per game. Senior point guard Kihei Clark will run the show once again and will get some help from Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin and East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner. This team is not your usual Virginia talent but then again, we are talking about Tony Bennet here. Their Pack line defense will continue to cause team’s problems and allow them to grind out low scoring games in the dog days of the season. The leadership of senior point guard Kihei Clark will be crucial if UVA wants to be a second weekend team. I still have the Cavaliers finishing top five in the ACC and comfortably making the NCAA tournament.
6. Syracuse Orange (2020-2021 Record: 18-10, 9-7)
The family affair just got a little bit bigger at Syracuse as Jim Boeheim’s son, Jimmy Boeheim, has made his way over transferring from Cornell for his final season. Syracuse lost Quincy Guerrier, Kadary Richmond and Alan Griffin from last year’s Sweet 16 team, so Jimmy will have meaningful role from the jump in an Orange uniform. Jim’s other son, Buddy, will look to continue his success from last year where he averaged 17.8 points per game and put on a very impressive display during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. He is one of the best players in the conference this season and was a no brainer for my preseason 1st team All-ACC. Syracuse always finds a way into the tournament after having an average regular season record. I am predicting much of the same for the Orange this season slotting them to finish in the middle of the ACC pack and making their way to another big dance.
7. Louisville Cardinals (2020-2021 Record: 13-7, 8-5)
Louisville was a difficult team to figure out last season as they had numerous Covid pauses and only finished the year playing 20 total games. They finished three games above .500 in ACC play, but the NCAA tournament committee believed other teams deserved the nod to the big dance. Carlik Jones and David Johnson are gone, so Chris Mack will rely on a handful of newcomers to get his team back up to Louisville standards. One returner for the Cardinals that will need to make a huge jump in his sophomore season is Jae’Lyn Withers. During his freshman campaign, he averaged 10 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, so he is poised to make some serious noise in year two. It will take some time for all these newcomers to mesh, but in the end, I think Louisville sneaks onto the right side of the bubble. Chris Mack will most likely have to wait another year for his first NCAA tourney win at Louisville though.
8. Notre Dame (2020-2021 Record: 11-15, 7-11)
The Irish are a bubble team and just outside the field of 68 coming into this season in my eyes. Mike Brey had an outstanding stretch leading Notre Dame to seven NCAA tournaments and two elite eight appearances, but it has been a struggle to win games these last four seasons. ND has a veteran roster as I believe Brey is planning to start four seniors and one redshirt Junior in Cormac Ryan. There is no question that this team can light it up from downtown, but their defense needs to make tremendous strides if they want to sneak into the big dance for the first time since 2017. Computer numbers (Ken Pom, Barttorvik) suggest that ND will finish much higher in the ACC race and easily make the NCAA tourney, but I am not quite there. I need to see if this team can successfully defend for all 40 minutes before they enter my field of 68. The Maui Invitational in Las Vegas will give us an early indication of which direction they will be heading.
9. Georgia Tech (2020-2021 Record: 17-9, 11-6)
The Yellow Jackets had tremendous momentum going into the big dance last season after winning the ACC tournament but got knocked off in round one by eventual sweet 16 team Loyola-Chicago. 2021 ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright contracted Covid just before that matchup and that truly heartbreaking for him and the entire squad. That marked the first time GT went dancing since the 2010 season and the first time they won the ACC tourney since 1993. Josh Pastner is an amazing coach, but the loss of Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado will be a difficult task to overcome. Returnees Michael Dovie and Jordan Usher will try to give Georgia Tech back-to-back tourney appearances, but I do not believe it will be enough. NIT is likely this season, but I expect them to be in the bubble conversation throughout.
1st Team All-ACC
G Buddy Boeheim
G Kihei Clark
F Paolo Banchero
F Keve Aluma
C Armando Bacot
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