BtB 2009-10 ACC Preview


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North Carolina claimed the conference's 11th national title last season, but thanks to major personnel losses, they'll be hard pressed to repeat.  The Tar Heels aren't alone, as the overwhelming majority of teams in the ACC lost at least one key player during the offseason.  Not only will Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, and Ty Lawson not be in the league next year; players like Alade Aminu, Brandon Costner, Toney Douglas, Gerald Henderson, James Johnson, Jack McClinton, Terrence Oglesby, Greg Paulus. K.C. Rivers, Jeff Teague, and A.D. Vassallo will be missing as well.  But as is traditional, plenty of high-profile recruits have signed on with the league's 12 teams--with Derrick Favors, John Henson, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumley, Durand Scott, and Michael Snaer the most prominent newcomers. 

These freshmen will join several returning stars who have already shown brightly in the ACC universe, like Al-Faroq Aminu, Trevor Booker, Ed Davis, Malcolm Delaney, Gani Lawal, Sylven Landesberg, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Greivis Vasquez.  Those are the type of impact players who can keep the league at the forefront of the national conversation for yet another season.

The big question is whether one of the teams can get the old and new to mix well enough to claim the conference's 12th crown in Indianapolis in April.  More on the 12 contenders after the jump.

Here's a recap of last year's ACC standings.


Atlantic Coast Conference Standings

(updated 4.7.2009 at 12:22 AM EDT)


Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order.  If a team's name appears in red, click the link to visit that school's SB Nation site, where you'll find complete coverage and analysis throughout the season.

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NC State (last NCAA: 2006) The Wolfpack could be in for a very long season, as the top three scorers are gone from a team that won only 6 ACC games last season.  6-8 junior F Tracy Smith (10 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is Sidney Lowe's leading returning scorer, and the coach has to settle on a point guard with Javier Gonzalez (6.6 ppg, 3.3 apg), Farnold Degand (4.7 ppg, 2.4 apg), and Julius Mays (4.7 ppg, 1.9 apg) all options.  6-9 senior Dennis Horner (6.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg) joins Smith in the frontcourt, but three freshmen--6-7 Richard Howell, 6-9 DeShawn Painter, and 7-0 Australian Jordan Vandenberg--will see significant minutes.  Another newcomer, 6-6 Scott Wood, will get time as a swingman.  NC State's schedule includes a home game with Georgia State in the Glenn Wilkes Classic, followed by games with Akron, Austin Peay, and Auburn in Daytona Beach.  They face Northwestern in the ACC/BIg Ten Challenge; visit Marquette; and face Arizona and Florida in Raleigh.

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Miami (last NCAA: 2008) PG Jack McClinton graduated after a season that ended with a loss to Florida in the second round of the NIT.  It was a disappointing end to a year that started with high expectations.  Now, McClinton's replacement, Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant, walks into a situation where he'll be the floor general for a team with few hopes.  Frank Haith's squad got a major boost when 6-8 senior F Dwayne Collins (10.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) decided to withdraw from the NBA Draft.  That decision really helped the Canes' frontcourt, as 6-9 senior Cyrus McGowan (4.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-7 senior Adrian Thomas (5.1 ppg, 2.3 ppg) would have been the most experienced players on the unit.  6-9 redshirt freshman Reggie Johnson will see action this season, as will several backcourt newcomers.  6-6 Garrius Adams, 6-1 Antoine Allen, and 6-5 Durand Scott--one of the top SG prospects--in the country will be called into immediate action to support Grant and 6-4 senior James Dews (8.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg).  The Canes will take on Tulane in their first game at the Charleston Classic, then face either UNC Wilmington or NIT champ Penn State.  They also host Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and visit Pepperdine.

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Virginia (last NCAA: 2007) Tony Bennett was the surprise choice to replace Dave Leitao as head coach during the offseason.  Now, while Bennett's arrival won't improve an offense that rated 11th in the league last season, the defense should improve (and it won't be hard as UVa rated 12th in scoring D in the ACC).  That should result in more wins for a team that has talent.  6-6 sophomore Sylven Landesberg was a worthy replacement for Sean Singletary, as he averaged 16.6 points, 6 boards, and 2.8 assists a game during his freshman year.  6-8 Mike Scott is a frontcourt talent, but he needs to be more assertive.  If he can do that, he'll improve on his already decent numbers of 10.3 ppg and 7.4 rpg.  Virginia fans are hoping Bennett is working closely with his guards, as 6-2 Calvin Baker (8.4 ppg, 2.8 apg) and 6-0 Sammy Zeglinski (7.8 ppg, 3 apg) are just about as adept at passing the ball to the other team as they are to feeding teammates. (Both averaged 2.5 TO per game last season.)  5-11 freshman Jontel Evans is ready to take over the point if they don't improve.  6-8 freshman F Tristan Spurlock provides the Cavaliers with a legit inside/outside threat, so he'll see time right off the bat as well.  The Cavaliers will be tested in the Cancun Challenge, and not only in the games in Mexico against Stanford, then Kentucky or Cleveland State.  They face two difficult opponents, Rider and Oral Roberts, in Charlottesville before they head to the Caribbean.

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Virginia Tech (last NCAA: 2007) Seth Greenberg has a major hole to fill, thanks to the graduation of A.D. Vassallo, but the Hokies' roster still features a lot of talent.  6-3 junior PG Malcolm Delaney becomes the face of the program, and he's already one of the best returning players in the league (18.1 ppg, 4 rpg, 4.5 apg).  6-7 FJeff Allen (13.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg) could fill the same role in the frontcourt, if he stays consistent and on his best behavior.  6-6 junior J.T. Thompson (6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) should provide more support after struggling through an injury-plagued season, as should 6-8 Victor Davila, who averaged 3.1 points and 2 boards a game in limited action.  The Hokies' newcomers will see some time right off the bat--6-4 Erick Green backing up Delaney, 6-4 Ben Boggs at off guard, and 6-7 Manny Atkins in Vassallo's swingman spot.  VPI's schedule features games against Delaware and Temple in the Philly Hoop Group Classic; at Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; at Penn State; and against Seton Hall in Cancun to kickoff the New Year.

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Wake Forest (last NCAA: 2009) The Demon Deacons will be without James Johnson and Jeff Teague, two major losses for a team that faded after a brief stay atop the polls.  Even without Johnson, Dino Gaudio's frontcourt is a talented one, thanks to the presence of 6-9 sophomore Al-Faroq Aminu (12.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg).  7-foot senior C Chris McFarland (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) could be more of a factor if he can play more consistently and stay off the bench.  After those two, the Deacons' other bigs have a lot of room to improve.  David Weaver, Tony Woods, and Ty Walker only managed to average a combined 6.2 points and 6.2 boards a game last season.  6-7 freshman Ari Stewart could see a lot of the minutes Johnson played in '08-09.  In the backcourt, Teague's scoring punch will be missed.  6-0 PG Ishmael Smith (6.2 ppg, 3.4 apg) is a good passer, but lacks an outside shot, while 6-4 L.D. Williams (8 ppg) is more of a factor on the defensive end.  6-4 JC transfer Konner Tucker, who committed to Kentucky out of high school, will play shooting guard.  Wake's schedule isn't overwhelming.  They take on Purdue in the ACC/BIg Ten Challenge, visit Gonzaga, and host A-10 powers Dayton and Xavier around the New Year.

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Boston College (last NCAA: 2009) Al Skinner's squad should be OK this year as they learn to play without Tyrese Rice, but expect next year to be even better as 6-7 reserve F Tyler Roche is the only senior on the roster.  6-1 junior Biko Paris (3.4, 1.7 apg) will get the first crack at replacing Rice, while 6-5 swingman Rakim Sanders (12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-3 Reggie Jackson--a 44 percent shooter who only averaged 7 points a game last year--will provide offense from the backcourt.  The frontcourt will be pretty good, as 6-8 F Joe Trapani (13.4, 6.6) and 6-6 F Corey Raji (9.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) have shown they can be a force in the ACC, and 6-10 Josh Southern (6.5 ppg while shooting 50.3% from the floor) could be if he's more assertive.  The Eagles will face St. Joseph's in their opening game at the Paradise Jam, with a contest against either Purdue or South Dakota State to follow on day 2.  The Eagles travel to Providence and Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, while they host UMass and South Carolina.

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Clemson (last NCAA: 2009) Three key players from last year's squad are gone--swingman K.C. Rivers, big man Raymond Sykes, and sharpshooter Terrence Oglesby, who left to play professionally in Europe, but the top rebounder and field goal shooter in the league, 6-7 Trevor Booker (15.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg) is back for his senior season.  The arrival of his brother Devin, a 6-8 F/C, and 6-9 Milton Jennings, a McDonald's All-American, gives the frontcourt an immediate boost.  6-6 Noel Johnson, a swingman who originally committed to Southern Cal, should prove to be a nice replacement for Rivers.  The backcourt could be a bit of a concern for Oliver Purnell; however, as 6-2 junior PG Demontez Stitt (8.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) can be a bit inconsistent.  That means 5-9 Andre Young (4.4 ppg, 2.1 apg) could see plenty of time at the 1 spot.  Overall, the Tigers will really have to do better from the charity stripe this season, as they ranked 10th in the ACC last season.  The Tigers will play in the very tough 76 Classic in Anaheim, where they open with Texas A&M.  They also take on Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and host archrival South Carolina.

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Florida State (last NCAA: 2009) The Seminoles' heart and soul of the past few seasons, ACC leading scorer and Defensive Player of the Year Toney Douglas, graduated, as did F Uche Echefu.  So that means FSU will be headed back to the NIT, right?  Well, thanks to the return of a bunch of key players and one top recruit, don't expect the Noles to fall too far.  7-1 sophomore Solomon Alabi (8.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg), an inside force and the team's leading returning scorer, anchors a frontcourt that also features 6-9 Chris Singleton (8.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), 6-11 Xavier Gibson (2.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg in 6 mpg), and 6-8 senior Ryan Reid (4.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg).  The big issue for FSU's backcourt is finding a replacement for Douglas.  6-4 junior Derwin Kitchen (7.9 ppg, 2.5 apg) could be the answer from a passing and defensive perspective, while 6-5 freshman Michael Snaer--who averaged 28 ppg during a senior year in which he was named California HS player of the year--could replace his scoring.  If the returnees kick their scoring up a notch, FSU will be right back in the Dance.  The Seminoles will be tested by a schedule that includes the Old Spice Classic--where they should have more of a home advantage than UCF had in 2007.  They'll open that tournament with Iona, then face Alabama or Baylor on Day 2.  Leonard Hamilton's squad also travels to archrival Florida and faces Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

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Maryland (last NCAA: 2009) The equation for the Terrapins is pretty simple. If Greivis Vasquez is healthy and playing well, they'll be pretty good.  The 6-6 Venezuelan senior decided to not enter the NBA Draft, and that's a good thing for Gary Williams' side.  It not only would have been difficult to replace his 17.5 points, 5.4 boards, and 5 assists per game, but it would have been impossible to replace his heart and spirit.  6-4 Eric Hayes (10.3 ppg, 3.2 apg) and 6-2 drive-first junior Adrian Bowie (9 ppg, 2.5 apg) join Vasquez to form one of the top backcourt units in the league.  The frontcourt features 6-7 senior Landon Milbourne (11.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and not much else in the way of experience, especially after Dave Neal's graduation.  Freshmen James Padgett (6-8) and Jordan Williams (6-9) will be expected to provide instant interior presence for the Terps.  Maryland will play in Maui, where they open with Chaminade before facing either Cincinnati or Vanderbilt on Day 2.  They visit Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Villanova in DC at the BB&T Classic.

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Georgia Tech (last NCAA: 2007) While the Yellow Jackets won't have the services of either Alade Aminu inside or Lewis Clinch outside, they will be a bigger threat thanks to the arrival of a true game-changer, 6-10 freshman Derrick Favors.  He'll join a frontcourt that retains 6-9 junior Gani Lawal (15.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and 6-8 Zachary Peacock (9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg).  The backcourt could be Paul Hewitt's squad's Achilles heel, however.  6-5 guard Iman Shumpert's (10.6 ppg) assist-to-turnover ratio of 5 to 3.7 was way too high.  He may handle the ball less this season, especially since 6-2 Maurice Miller (5.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) and 6-2 freshman Mfon Udofia are both capable point guards.  The Yellow Jackets' schedule features some nice matchups, as they face Dayton, then either George Mason or Villanova in the first two days of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.  Tech also hosts Hewitt's former employer, Siena, and USC.

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Duke (last NCAA: 2009) In a rarity for a recent Duke team, Mike Krzyzewski's 2009-10 Blue Devil outfit will be frontcourt-oriented, thanks to the departure of Gerald Henderson, Greg Paulus, and Elliot Williams.  While 6-5 Jon Scheyer (14.9 ppg, 2.8 apg) and 6-2 junior Nolan Smith (8.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg) are back, and 6-4 freshman Andre Hawkins enrolled early, the Duke backcourt will be extremely thin.  It's so thin that Kyle Singler, a 6-8 junior who averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game in '08-09, will spend a lot of time on the wing this season.  The frontcourt is talented, but will lack experience.  7-1 senior C Brian Zoubeck (4.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and 6-8 senior PF Lance Thomas (5.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) are the key holdovers from last season, but they'll be pushed hard by two 6-10 McDonald's All-Americans,  Mason Plumlee (brother of Duke soph Miles) and Ryan Kelly.  They're two players who will cause major matchup problems for opponents, as they love to get out and play on the perimeter on offense.  If the new guys live up to the hype, it could be a big year in Durham.  Duke's schedule includes the NIT Season Tip-Off.  They'll take on Coastal Carolina in their first game, then face either Charlotte or Elon with a ticket to New York on the line.  The Blue Devils will play at Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, face Gonzaga in New York, Iowa State in Chicago, and Tulsa in a rare late February non-conference tilt.

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North Carolina (last NCAA: 2009) This pick relies on a lot of "ifs."  Considering that Roy Williams lost an average of 66.2 ppg when Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, and Ty Lawson left Chapel Hill, it won't be easy for the Tar Heels to repeat as NCAA Champion.  It will even be tough for them to retain the ACC title.  That being said, between the returnees--led by 6-8 senior Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and 6-10 Ed Davis (6.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, but bound to do better when playing more minutes)--and a sterling group of newcomers, the Heels should be able to keep making national noise.  Davis and Thompson will be joined in the frontcourt by 6-10 frosh John Henson, who does a lot of everything well.  The biggest knock on him is his weight (195 lbs.), but that won't stop him from being a force at this level.  6-5 swingman Marcus Ginyard was out for all but three games last year with an injury, while 6-6 G/F Will Graves (4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is also back after missing time last season for disciplinary reasons.  Freshmen Leslie McDonald (6-4) and Dexter Strickland (6-3) will also see plenty of action in their first season.  The revamped Tar Heels will get their first test against in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, with a game against Ohio State to start, then one with California or 

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