Basketball season is approaching.
With ACC Men’s Basketball Media Day taking place on Tuesday in Charlotte, we’re less than one month away from Virginia’s season opener at Syracuse. Before we get to on-court action, there’s time to project, prognosticate and predict.
The projected order of conference finish and the preseason All-ACC team are two of the most anticipated parts of ACC Media Day.
I received a vote for this year’s poll and wanted to put the logic behind my votes on paper.
Transparent voting generates quality discussion, and it gives fans a hard copy of my predictions for when they want to critique my incorrect predictions in March.
You’re welcome, ACC fans.
1. Duke — Despite losing Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish to the NBA, the Blue Devils return one of the conference’s best point guards. Tre Jones joins incoming recruits Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. to form a dynamic offensive attack. While the Blue Devils are far from a lock to win the ACC, the overall talent level combined with slightly tempered expectations make Duke a dangerous team. The Blue Devils might not be as flashy as last season, but it probably won’t take a 16-2 ACC record to win the league this year.
2. Louisville — Another team with a strong case for the No. 1 spot, Louisville’s returning players might be the best in the league. Jordan Nwora decided to return for his junior season a year after averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Nwora is arguably the best player in the league, and he’s primed to lead Chris Mack’s squad to a top-2 ACC finish. He’s joined by Dwayne Sutton and grad transfer Lamarr Kimble among others.
3. Virginia — Much like Duke, Virginia lost a trio of stars. With Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter gone, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark and Braxton Key assume larger roles. Given Tony Bennett’s successful system and the experience of the returning players, UVa should contend for a conference title. Keep an eye on freshman Casey Morsell, who may play meaningful minutes early in his career.
4. North Carolina — Freshman Cole Anthony enters UNC with tremendous hype. The young point guard needs to perform well for the Tar Heels to work their way to the top of the ACC. The speed in which this team gels together after adding talented freshmen like Anthony and mid-major grad transfers like Justin Pierce (William & Mary) and Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) will determine how successful this team can be.
5. N.C. State — After starting last season 13-1, Kevin Keatt’s squad went 11-11 the rest of the way. With a combined four seniors and graduate students on the roster, the Wolfpack bring the necessary talent and experience to compete for an ACC title. Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and C.J. Bryce form one of the best backcourts in the ACC.
6. Florida State — Trent Forest and MJ Walker provide Leonard Hamilton with a reliable backcourt. With a strong defensive mindset and good guards, the Seminoles will be a tough out in the ACC. If 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak limits opposing offenses from scoring in the paint, FSU might be a sleeper team in the conference. Olejniczak is a grad transfer who most recently played at Ole Miss. Freshman Balsa Koprovica brings another 7-footer into the mix, making FSU one of the biggest teams in the conference.
7. Syracuse — The Orange don’t lack talent, as Elijah Hughes, Marek Dolezaj and Jalen Carey are all capable of posting solid seasons. Buddy Boeheim, the son of head coach Jim Boeheim, also is an intriguing sophomore guard who did a few nice things last season. There are question marks with this team, but the talent and coaching should make Syracuse a competitive squad.
8. Notre Dame — Rex Pflueger returns from injury, and Notre Dame should be drastically improved from last year. The Fighting Irish struggled without their star guard last season. The Irish feature five seniors or graduate students, which makes Notre Dame a possible NCAA Tournament team.
9. Miami — Chris Lykes stands at just 5-foot-7, but the junior guard is one of the most entertaining players in the entire ACC. He’s an elite talent at guard, and he’ll keep Miami in most games. It remains to be seen what exactly the Hurricanes can expect out of the rest of their roster, though. If Lykes’ supporting cast performs well, Miami could sneak into the top half of the league.
10. Pittsburgh — Jeff Capel embarks on his second season leading the Panthers armed with good talent. Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson enters this season as one of the 5-10 best players in the conference, and he’s capable of leading Pitt to a .500 record or better this year.
11. Wake Forest — Finishing 11th might be closer to Wake Forest’s ceiling than its floor. The Demon Deacons are an ACC bottom dweller, but senior Brandon Childress and junior Chaundee Brown form a capable backcourt. If junior Olivier Sarr can develop into a better scorer at the center position, Wake could be better than expected.
12. Clemson — Losing guard Clyde Trapp to a season-ending injury in the offseason makes it hard to get too excited about this Clemson team. The Tigers bring in a pair of graduate transfers, but it likely won’t be enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
13. Georgia Tech — The Yellow Jackets face a postseason ban, which puts a damper on whatever this team achieves. Josh Pastner will rely on nine upperclassmen to help Georgia Tech put together a respectable regular season.
14. Virginia Tech — Mike Young comes to Virginia Tech with a roster that’s not up to last year’s level. Keep an eye on junior guard Wabissa Bede, but it’s a stretch to think this team makes the NCAA Tournament. Look for Young to instill good habits in his young players and build for next season.
15. Boston College — Senior Nik Popovic averaged 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season, and he’ll be asked to play a major role again this season. Even with Popovic, the Eagles are shorthanded after Ky Bowman went to the NBA and Wynston Tabbs underwent surgery last month. Tabbs will miss the season.
I also cast a vote for an All-ACC team. Each voter needed to vote for a minimum of five players for the All-ACC squad.
Tre Jones — Duke’s sophomore point guard stood out last season, even with Barrett, Reddish and Williamson on the roster. If he makes his jump shot consistently, he’s one of the most challenging players in the league to defend.
Cole Anthony — Despite not having played a college game, Anthony’s talent level is undeniable. He’ll fit perfectly in UNC’s up-tempo offensive attack. Look for the freshman point guard to gain confidence as the season progresses. He received my Preseason ACC Rookie of the Year vote.
Xavier Johnson — The Pittsburgh guard showed throughout his freshman campaign that he’s an elite ACC guard. In Jeff Capel’s second year, the Panthers should play better and give Johnson a larger spotlight.
Jordan Nwora — My Preseason ACC Player of the Year, Nwora excelled in his sophomore season at Louisville. The forward can shoot, slash and rebound with the best of them. He’s a player with the ability to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Mamadi Diakite — Virginia’s big man was the hero of the Purdue game, and he’s gained confidence ever since. He’s ready to play a bigger role for the Cavaliers, and he could end up leading the team in multiple statistical categories.