ACC competition run down

By on November 18, 2014

By Dalton Ray–

Heading into this college basketball season, the ACC is arguably the toughest conference in the country. Five teams are ranked in the top 25 of the AP preseason poll, four of which are ranked in the top ten. Duke is ranked fourth, North Carolina is ranked sixth, Louisville is ranked eighth, Virginia is ranked ninth and Syracuse is ranked 23.

The conference has four Hall of Fame head coaches in Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.

Of the AP’s five preseason All-Americans, three are in the ACC. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.

With a mix of old Big East foes and new ACC powerhouses, Louisville’s entry to the ACC completes a conference that is as deep as it is filled with top end talent.

DUKE-

Four 2014 five-star recruits are now freshmen Duke Blue Devils: center Jahil Okafor, guard Tyus Jones, forward Justice Winslow and guard Grayson Allen.

The newcomers will join an already talented roster of what could be one of the most talented teams in the nation.

The backcourt is bolstered with senior guard Quinn Cook and junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, both nearing 1,000 career points. Juniors, forward Amile Jefferson at 6-foot-9 and center Marshall Plumlee at 7-foot, give Duke great size down low accompanied by the 6-foot-10 freshman center Okafor.

Winslow and sophomore forward Semi Ojeleye will have a chance to emerge as Mike Kryzewski’s star wing players. An elite talented roster, experienced guard play and a great coach give Duke a great chance of playing late into March.

NORTH CAROLINA-

Junior guard Marcus Paige established himself last year as one of the best players in the conference, if not the country. If the talented roster can click together, the Tar Heels could have a great tournament stretch in March.

Forwards Brice Johnson and Kenndey Meeks will be helped by five-star recruit Justin Jackson, and the three could produce one of the best frontcourts in the league. A deep backcourt is what gives this team an edge, along with guards Paige, freshman Joel Berry II, sophomore Nate Britt and freshman Theo Pinson. These players will team up to give UNC a diverse scoring selection.

A top four finish in the conference is on the radar for the Tar Heels and with coach Roy Williams still in charge it is a great possibility.

CLEMSON-

After losing All-ACC conference player KJ McDaniels to the NBA, Brad Brownell’s team will have to rely on defense to have success this season.

Senior guards Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison, along with junior guard Jordan Roper, will look to continue their top 20-defense from last year. The trio averaged a total of 25 points, six assists and five rebounds, so they must improve after losing their number one player.

Forward Donte Graham will look to add a spark as a 6-foot-8 true freshman in the frontcourt. Forward Jaron Blossomgame is back after a solid freshman season averaging five rebounds.

MIAMI-

Junior guard Angel Rodriguez transferred to UM from Kansas State and will be given the task of leading the Hurricanes this season.

Head coach Jim Larranaga added multiple transfers to the team and has to lean on learning on the go for his squad to have success. The backcourt will be carrying Miami this year as junior Sheldon McClellan joins Rodriguez, four-star recruit Ja’Quan Newton and high school All-American Deandre Burnett.

The downfall could be in the frontcourt as the Hurricanes have little experience and proven talent. Juniors Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Uceda will have a steep learning curve and must learn on their feet this year.

FLORIDA STATE-

The Florida State program has churned out consistent teams over the past several years, and Leonard Hamilton’s 2014 squad could be dark horse material.

Junior guards Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert averaged 22 points and five assists in the backcourt last season and will look for freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes to make a key impact this year. Upperclassmen in the backcourt and frontcourt should lead the Seminoles to the NCAA tournament after spending two years in the NIT.

Three seven footers in senior Kiel Turoin, junior Michael Ojo and junior Boris Bojanovsky team up with athletic forwards, freshman Phil Cofer and sophomore Jarquez Smith. Size, experience and athleticism could make FSU a sleeper team in the ACC.

GEORGIA TECH-

Brian Gregory looks to lead his Yellow Jackets out of the darkness of the ACC’s cellar with his 2014 team.

Junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt can have his time to shine on a team that can have multiple starting line-ups. The scoring production of all the parts might be a tough task, but the team has added a hefty number of transfers in hopes of finding the answer.

The incoming players should add an impact to GT, but guards Travis Jorgenson and Tadric Jackson must pick up the slack to keep up with the conference.

BOSTON COLLEGE-

First year coach Jim Christian has his hands full with the Eagles as they lost two key players to transfer.

Junior guard Olivier Hanlan will have more freedom to score after putting up 18 points per game in last year’s campaign. With a team full of upperclassmen that holds seven current seniors, BC can hope their experience can come together and make a run. New additions Idrissa Diallo, a 6-foot-11 240 center, and guard Dimitri Batten can provide the help that the Eagles definitely need: explosive scoring opportunities and rebounding.

The main question with Boston College is if they have enough talent to play consistently in a deep and talented conference.

SYRACUSE-

Fresh off a season collapse that ended much sooner than expected, Syracuse must rely on leftover talent to step up in order to be contenders in the league.

Guard Trevor Cooney and forward Rakeem Christmas will lead the way for the Orange, and a handful of sophomores must pick up the slack to keep Syracuse rolling.

Junior forward DaJuan Coleman looks to bounce back after injuries and could be the x-factor on this season’s team. Also, how well freshman guard Kaleb Joseph can adjust to the college level will be an indicator of how the Orange’s season will go. Jim Boeheim’s defense is still in place, so Syracuse will be no slouch to play against.

NC STATE-

After losing TJ Warren to the NBA, the Wolfpack are in a similar situation as Clemson. If no one can step up and fill where Warren left, NC State could slip this season.

Guards Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber and Trevor Lacy are manning the backcourt and should provide the offense the team will need. Along with Barber and Lacy, the Wolfpack will have Ralston Turner and Desmond Lee to add depth to their guard play.

The frontcourt will be by committee with little experience in the bunch. Freshmen Abdul-Malik Abu and Caleb Martin and sophomores Lennard Freeman and Beejay Anya will look to hold down the fort. If a star doesn’t emerge, NC State could get lost in a talented conference.

NOTRE DAME-

Serving an academic suspension last season, senior guard Jerian Grant is back and looks to partner up with fellow senior guard Pat Connaughton again to give the Fighting Irish a better outing in their second year in the ACC.

After losing games by seven points or fewer multiple times last year, Grant could be the difference maker after averaging 19 points in 2012. Junior forward Zach Auguste continues to develop and looks to give Notre Dame three solid contributors.

Forwards Martinas Geben and Bonzie Colson Jr. have to pick it up on the boards and defensive side of the ball if the Irish want to be a contending team.

VIRGINIA-

The Cavaliers have improved their record every year under Tony Bennett, and in his sixth season, he looks to continue that streak.

Last season, Virginia had the nation’s number one scoring defense, so the 2014 team will lead by defense as well. The question becomes who will step up in place of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes will look to continue after very successful seasons last year.

Bennett is hoping Dominique Wilkins’ stepson Isaiah Wilkins can fill Mitchell’s shoes and freshman BJ Smith can do the same for Harris. If the offense is there for the Cavs, another top conference finish could be in sight.

WAKE FOREST-

Danny Manning is in his first season with the Demon Deacons, and he will lean on junior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre to lead the way.  After leading in points and assists last year, the junior returns and will continue to improve.

Scoring in the frontcourt shouldn’t be too hard to come by with forwards Devin Thomas and Darius Leonard being two proven big men to get points. Center Andre Washington had two blocks per game last season and didn’t play more than eight minutes a game. If he can stay on the court, the Deacons could have something going for them.

Manning has said he wants his team to be a scrappy team, and they have the intangibles to do so. The problems come in conference play regarding whether they have enough talent or not.

VIRGINIA TECH-

Buzz Williams is one of the nation’s most animated coaches on the sidelines and now calls Blackburg home.

In his first year, Williams took recruit, guard Ahmed Hill, with him from Marquette, and he will give Hill his chance to shine with the Hokies. After losing the team’s leading scorer, the natural shooter could prove to be a great grab.

Junior forward Shane Henry is back after an impressive season averaging 13 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Devin Wilson was third in the conference last year in assists and will continue to develop.

The frontcourt could be a hassle for VT, but the shot blocking forward Joey van Zegeren could be the rim protector they need. Williams’ Hokies can be a surprise this year, but he has a lot to deal

PITTSBURGH-

Jamie Dixon has already installed his physical defensive style of play in his first ACC season, and it looks like it is here to stay.

The upperclassmen heavy team will rely on their defense to keep them in the hunt, but senior guard Cameron Wright will be asked to step forward in the 2014 season. After averaging 10 points, he along with juniors Durand Johnson and James Robinson will be leading the Panthers this year.

If solid scoring production comes from the wing and improvements get made to their free throw and three point percentages, Pitt could make a move in the conference.

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