|Atlantic Coast Conference Outlook|
|By Scott Haynes, Associate College Basketball Editor|
OUTLOOK: Things looked to be normal in the ACC when the season came to a close last year. North Carolina won the conference and finished with a conference- best 32 victories. Five other teams notched 20 or more wins, once again solidifying the ACC as one of the deepest leagues in the nation.
However, winds of change are inevitable, even in the ACC, and the 2012-13 season could prove to be different in many regards.
North Carolina and Duke have battled it out for conference supremacy for decades and pretty much left everyone else in their rearview mirror. Well it may be the Tar Heels and Blue Devils that get left behind this season, due to the team not far down the road in Raleigh.
With a ton of returning talent and a top-notch recruiting class, it is NC State that sits atop most lists as the team to beat this season. Not only are the Wolfpack good enough to take home the conference crown, they are built for an extended postseason run that could land them in Atlanta as part of the Final Four.
Fan bases along Tobacco Road need not fret, as they will still have plenty to cheer about. Both UNC and Duke remain among the upper echelon in the ACC, even if they aren't as loaded as in years past. They will be joined by a couple of schools from the Sunshine State in Florida State and Miami-Florida. Both programs possess a solid nucleus of veterans and that leadership could prove key come March.
The next rung on the ladder is inhabited by Wake Forest, Virginia and Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons possess some serious scoring punch and the talent level continues to rise at Georgia Tech. Virginia is known for its defense and that should help the Cavaliers to once again post a winning record, not to mention post an upset or two both in and out of conference.
The lower level in the conference will consist of Maryland, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Of the four, only Maryland and Clemson are coming off winning seasons, but will be young. Often times, youth doesn't bode well for a team, unless that squad plays in Durham or Chapel Hill. Virginia Tech finished just under the .500 mark a year ago, but the Hokies don't give first-year head coach James Johnson much to work with in his first season in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech will battle it out with Boston College to stay out of the conference cellar. The Eagles posted a conference-worst nine wins last season, so returning just about everyone from that squad isn't exactly viewed as great news.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: NC State
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. NC State, 2. Duke, 3. Florida State, 4. North Carolina, 5. Miami-Florida, 6. Wake Forest, 7. Virginia, 8. Georgia Tech, 9. Maryland, 10. Clemson, 11. Virginia Tech, 12. Boston College
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
NC STATE: Mark Gottfried's second season in Raleigh could really be special. In his inaugural season with the team, NC State posted a 24-13 overall record, finishing tied for fourth in the league at 9-7. The team also made a run in the NCAA Tournament, giving Kansas all it could handle in the Sweet 16 before losing. The sour taste left in the mouths of the returning players should fuel the team to new heights in 2012-13. Four of the five starters return, led by ACC Player of the Year candidate Lorenzo Brown (12.7 ppg, 6.3 apg) at the point. Forwards C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Richard Howell (10.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) will dominate up front, while Scott Wood (12.4 ppg) adds scoring touch off the wing. If that weren't enough, Gottfried has some new toys with a trio of McDonald's All-Americans brought in. Tyler Lewis will be tasked with spelling Brown at the point, while Rodney Pulvis could develop into an elite scorer right away. The last of the trio is 6-8 forward T.J. Warren, who could provide valuable minutes off the bench to start.
DUKE: Yes, the Blue Devils won 27 games and finished just one game behind North Carolina for the conference crown, but Mike Krzyzewski's squad faltered down the stretch and dropped its first-round NCAA Tournament game to 15th- seeded Lehigh. Duke hasn't missed a Big Dance since 1985 and it isn't likely that the streak will end this season. There are certainly some holes to fill, with the departure of Austin Rivers, Miles Plumlee, and Andre Dawkins, who decided to take a redshirt season to deal with some personal issues. However, before anyone sheds a tear for Duke's plight, remember that Coach K recruits as well as anyone in the country and the cupboard is never bare in Durham. The backcourt features point guard Tyler Thornton and shooting guard Seth Curry (13.2 ppg). Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon (6-4, 185) should make an impact as well right off the bat. Up front, the team is a little better off, with Mason Plumlee (11.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Ryan Kelly (11.8 ppg) leading the way. Add Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood (10.3 ppg) and redshirt freshmen Marshall Plumlee (6-11, 225) and Alex Murphy (6-8, 220) to the mix and the frontcourt has depth it hasn't enjoyed in some time.
FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles continue to head in the right direction, including 25 wins a year ago and a third-place finish in the conference (12-4). Reaching those numbers again this year are certainly attainable thanks to the return of last year's top four scorers. Senior Michael Snaer (14.0 ppg) headlines the play in the backcourt. The ACC Tournament MVP has a knack for big shots and plays defense as well as anyone in the conference. He will be joined by junior Ian Miller (10.3 ppg), who will handle the point. A couple of exciting freshmen add to the depth along the perimeter in Montay Brandon (6-7, 195) and Aaron Thomas (6-5, 195). The frontcourt is a little thin in terms of proven commodities, but what FSU does possess is size. Foreign imports Boris Bojanovsky (7-3, 240) and Michael Ojo (7-1, 290) could end up being mainstays down low, while forwards Okaro White (7.7 ppg) and Terrance Shannon (8.3 ppg) could help at both ends of the floor. If nothing else, defense alone will lead the Seminoles to a number of wins. Getting over the 20-win mark certainly looks reasonable, as does yet another spot in the NCAA Tournament.
NORTH CAROLINA: This season could shape up a lot like 2009, as UNC was coming off an NCAA title the year before, but lost just about everyone to the NBA. Well, following last year's 32-win campaign and conference championship, Roy Williams and the Tar Heels will once again be trying to pick up the pieces left by the ravenous NBA, which plucked four Tar Heels in the first-round a couple of months ago. Replacing players like Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall won't be easy. Still, this is North Carolina, and there is always a revolving door of talent. This season may all hinge on a freshman at the point. Marcus Paige (6-0, 157) will be called upon to lead the way, but should receive backcourt help from a pair of returning players that were injured a year ago in Dexter Strickland (7.5 ppg) and Leslie McDonald (7.0 ppg), as well as junior Reggie Bullock (8.8 ppg) and sophomore P.J. Hairston (5.7 ppg). It is now time for James Michael McAdoo to step out of the shadows of the frontcourt stars before him and become a star in his own right. The 6-9, 230-pound sophomore could be making the jump to the next level sooner rather than later providing he lives up to expectations this season. There isn't many proven players up front for the Tar Heels, but freshman forward J.P. Tokoto could be a pleasant surprise.
MIAMI-FLORIDA: Jim Larranaga's first season was full of obstacles such as key injuries and suspensions, but the end results were encouraging heading forward. The Hurricanes finished up at 20-13 overall, including a winning record in league play (9-7). The team didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament, instead settling for an NIT bid, but the table has been set in Larranaga's second season for another step forward, perhaps a major step towards conference supremacy. There is plenty returning, with six of the top seven scorers back. The lone loss is guard Malcolm Grant (10.8 ppg), but there is more than enough on the roster to compensate for that, starting with senior star Durand Scott (12.9 ppg) and sophomore Shane Larkin (7.4 ppg), who earned All-ACC Freshman honors a year ago. Adding to the backcourt depth will be junior Rion Brown (7.2 ppg) and senior Trey McKinney Jones (7.0 ppg). The frontcourt has depth of its own, especially if center Reggie Johnson (10.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) returns to full health. He will be flanked by 6-11 junior Kenny Kadji (11.7 ppg) who plays strong at both ends of the floor. If the Hurricanes can tap into their enormous potential on a regular basis this year, the Heat won't be the only cagers down on South Beach celebrating.
WAKE FOREST: The 2012-13 season should be another step in the right direction for Jeff Bzdelik and the Demon Deacons. After posting just one win in conference play in his debut two years ago, Bzdelik led Wake Forest to a 4-12 mark in the ACC and a 13-18 record overall. The low win total belied a team that was much more competitive in 2011-12. It starts with the return of the conference's best scoring duo in senior guard C.J. Harris (16.7 ppg) and junior forward Travis McKie (16.1 ppg). Harris should be excited with the addition of freshman Codi Miller-McIntyre to the backcourt. The 6-2 youngster is the crown jewel of a solid recruiting class, along with 6-6 freshman forward Arnaud William Adala Moto. McKie is one of the best frontcourt players in the league and will certainly welcome Adala Moto to the mix, as well as fellow freshman Devin Thomas (6-9, 235). Keeping Harris and McKie in Winston- Salem this year, along with a recruiting class that rivals any in the league, Wake Forest could double its conference wins and vie for a winning record overall.
VIRGINIA: Tony Bennett will certainly have to work his magic this season, if the Cavaliers are to match last year's 22 victories, not to mention its nine league wins. Gone is frontcourt anchor Mike Scott (18.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and savvy guard Sammy Zeglinski (8.6 ppg). The backcourt has depth and leadership though, led by senior Jontel Evans (7.3 ppg, 3.9 apg), who was part of the All-ACC Defensive squad. Junior Joe Harris (11.3 ppg) adds scoring punch from the perimeter. Filling the void left by Scott's departure will be a couple of role players as well as newcomers like freshman Justin Anderson and Evan Nolte. The 6-6 Anderson is the prize of the recruiting class and could develop quickly into Virginia's next star at both ends of the floor. Maryland's Player of the Year, Anderson was a Second-Team All-American as a high school senior. Defense will once again be the mantra in Charlottesville, it just remains to be seen if the same urgency the team plays with early in the season will carry over throughout. If that happens, Virginia may surprise and remain among the better teams in the conference.
GEORGIA TECH: Brian Gregory's first season in Atlanta yielded an 11-20 record, but the conference road was a bit rougher, as the Yellow jackets finished tied four ninth place with a 4-12 mark. Although the team probably won't make a huge jump up the ACC ladder, Tech will be better in 2012-13. The team returns four of its five starters from a year ago, with the lone loss being Glen Rice Jr. (13.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg), who was dismissed from the program last March. Guards Mfon Udofia (9.9 ppg), Jason Morris (7.8 ppg) and Brandon Reed (7.5 ppg) will make up for Rice's lost production. Backcourt depth comes in the form of Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole Jr. when he becomes eligible midseason, as well as 6-3 freshman Chris Bolden and 6-5 freshman swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt. The frontcourt has depth as well, led by 6-8 forward Kammeon Holsey (9.4 ppg) and 6-11 center Daniel Miller (8.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg). The centerpiece of this year's recruiting class is 6-8 freshman Robert Carter, who can score both inside and out, as well as rebound. An improved roster from a talent standpoint, Georgia Tech has a chance to be more explosive in terms of scoring this season and as a result, a push towards a winning campaign is certainly within reach.
MARYLAND: Mark Turgeon finished his debut season with a winning record (17-15), although that was not the case in-conference, where the Terrapins finished eighth at a mere 6-10. Turgeon's second season in College Park may see the team take a step back, as Maryland no longer possesses a player that can take over a game the way Terrell Stoglin (21.6 ppg) could a year ago. To make matters worse in the backcourt, the Terps must also replace Sean Mosley (10.2 ppg). The offense will now funnel through junior Pe'Shon Howard, if he can remain healthy for a full season. The junior suffered a broken foot and torn ACL last year, derailing any progress he could have made as a sophomore. Nick Faust (8.9 ppg) is a solid option at the two-guard, and can fill in at point should the need arise. Albany transfer Logan Aronhalt (13.8 ppg) should provide scoring punch immediately and give the team much-needed leadership. The frontcourt features 6-8 James Padgett (8.8 ppg) and seven-footer Alex Len (6.0 ppg), but it is freshman Shaquille Cleare, who could become Maryland's next star. The 6-10, 285-pound youngster averaged 26.5 points and 10.0 rebounds as a high school senior last year and already has an NBA body to dominate in the low post. Still, a young team will take time to gel, as it suffers some growing pains. Expect competitive play from Turgeon's crew, although it may not result in as many wins as last year.
CLEMSON The Tigers certainly had their ups and downs last year, as their record would indicate. Clemson finished 16-15 overall, with an 8-8 mark in the ACC, good for just seventh place. This year, Brad Brownell's squad would have to really play well to reach those numbers. For the second straight season, Clemson will rely on youngsters to step up and deliver. The problem is that none come with a pedigree that would suggest they could do so. The strength of the team can be found in the frontcourt, with the return of senior forward/center Devin Booker (10.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and senior forward Milton Jennings (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg), as well as sophomore K.J. McDaniels (6-6, 190) and freshman Jaron Blossomgame (6-7, 200). A strength last year, the backcourt is in transition this season, with the losses of Andre Young (13.3 ppg) and Tanner Smith (11.2 ppg). Brownell is hoping that sophomores T.J. Sapp (3.6 ppg), Rod Hall (3.8 ppg) and Devin Coleman (2.6 ppg) can develop into consistent contributors this time around. Booker and Jennings are the anchors up front, but both will need to become All-ACC performers for Clemson to avoid a dropoff in terms of victories this season.
VIRGINIA TECH: James Johnson has been brought into Blacksburg to breathe new life in a stagnant program. Virginia Tech has had its share of great players in the recent past, but that hasn't resulted in any real postseason glory, as the Hokies haven't made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007. To make matters worse for Johnson, he lost a big time recruit that opted out (Montrezl Harrell), as well as transfers that did the same (Dorian Finney-Smith and JT Thompson). The team will rely heavily on the play of its backcourt this season and the silver lining is that senior Erick Green (15.6 ppg) is a scoring machine that could be even better in his last season in Blacksburg. The hope is that junior Jarell Eddie (9.1 ppg) finally taps into his potential and emerges as a go-to-guy as well. The frontcourt is limited, as only 6-9 Cadarian Raines (5.9 ppg) and 6-8 C.J. Barksdale (2.7 ppg) are viewed as potential contributors. To further exacerbate the problem, the recruiting class can be summed up with just 6-8 swingman Marshall Wood, who instead of being eased into the lineup, must find a way to produce right away. It looks to be a long season ahead for the Hokies, one in which they will need to overachieve to simply avoid the ACC basement.
BOSTON COLLEGE : The Eagles finished last season with the least amount of wins (nine) and while the 2012-13 season sees the team return a good deal of its production from last year, that may not be necessarily a good thing. This is year three of Steve Donahue's reign in Chestnut Hill, but it may not result in a huge improvement. Sophomores Lonnie Jackson (8.3 ppg) and Jordan Daniels (6.4 ppg) are penciled in as starters in the backcourt, but both may find themselves coming off the bench if outplayed by freshmen Olivier Hanlan (6-4, 185) and Joe Rahon (6-2, 195). Hanlan is the team's point guard of the future and that future could start rather early this season. Another sophomore, swingman Patrick Heckmann (8.3 ppg) showed flashes of brilliant play as a freshman, but needs to improve in terms of consistency. The frontcourt has a couple of established players in the form of 6-8 sophomore forward Ryan Anderson (11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and 7-0 sophomore center Dennis Clifford (8.9 ppg), who played well as youngsters a year ago. Sophomore center KC Caudill could provide valuable minutes off the bench, while Harvard graduate Andrew Van Nest (6-10, 235) is a bit of an unknown with a solid upside. There is definitely some talent in Chestnut Hill, but not much leadership. The result is likely another season of learning on the job and in the ACC, that is usually a recipe for disaster.