Against all odds, the college basketball season is set to begin on Nov. 25. Right now, it’s the middle of October and there are a lot of things that need to go right — or could go wrong — between now and then for the season to begin and go off without a hitch.
But as of right now, it’s time to prepare as though there will be a college basketball season and 110 Sports is getting you ready for just that. Starting with the ACC, we will be breaking down the major conferences in college basketball while surveying the outer edges of the sport to get a complete picture prior to the long awaited 2020-21 campaign.
Without further ado, let’s begin with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the ACC, and try to decipher how this conference chock full of talent might shake out by predicting the final standings in the ACC.
The Cavaliers weren’t very good last season. They finished 42nd at Kenpom with a 23-7 record that looks much better than it really is after a solid stretch to end the conference schedule, losing just one game between Jan. 26 and the end of the regular season (that loss was at Louisville). They returned to the more traditional Tony Bennett team that lacked playmaking on the offensive end. Like clockwork, they were first in defensive efficiency at KenPom but 234 in offensive efficiency while being third-to-last in tempo. That’s not a good recipe for success.
With that being said, they went 15-5 in ACC play, finished 23-7, and tied for second in the conference alongside Duke and Louisville. The losses of Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key are certainly negatives, but they have some new playmakers, a top 20 recruiting class and experience that is hard to match at the major conference level. They still have their defensive anchors, Kihei Clark at the point guard position and Jay Huff protecting the rim and they’ve added pieces around them to suggest the offense will be much better.
Let’s start with the Marquette transfer, Sam Hauser. The 6’8 forward averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in his last season at Marquette, shooting 40.2% from deep (which was by far his worst percentage in three seasons). He’ll serve as both a go-to scorer and floor spreader for a team that desperately needed that in 2019-20. They’ve also got a pair of freshmen, Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Reece Beekman, that should see the floor right away as the first and second options off the bench. They should be bench pieces early in their careers and develop into the next set of veteran stars for Bennett.
UVA’s offense was laughable last season and they still finished just a game back of first place. The combination of additional creators and Bennett’s proven conference play strategy will return the Hoo’s to the top of the ACC.
Like every year in the one-and-done era, the Blue Devils will be tasked with replacing a lot of production from the 2019-20 season. Vernon Carey Jr., Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley took over 45 points, nearly 20 rebounds and nine steals per game with them to the NBA draft. Not to mention long-time Blue Devils Javin DeLaurier and Jack White.
However, they will replace them with four five-star recruits and a recruiting class that ranks third nationally, according to 247Sports, as well as Patrick Tape, a transfer from Columbia who averaged 11.2 points and 5.9 rebounds in 2018-19. They’ll be joining sophomores Wendell Moore Jr. and Matthew Hurt, who are the key returners from last year’s squad.
Jalen Johnson, the No. 20 recruit in the class of 2020, will step in as the next star-caliber player at Duke along with guards Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward. Roach is a solid replacement for Tre Jones who can shoot it a little bit and is aggressive on the defensive end and Steward will be one of the best shooters on this Duke team. This team might not have any bonafide stars that are the cream of the recruiting class crop, but then again neither did last year’s team that finished top 12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency at Kenpom. They have depth, experience, talent, defense. Coach K’s squad should be very good, they just won’t win the ACC (something a Duke squad hasn’t done since 2010).
3. North Carolina
There’s no disputing that last year was a disappointment for Roy Williams. The Tar Heels lost 19 games, the most since they lost 20 in 2001-02. They had an uber-exciting freshman in Cole Anthony but he was hurt and there clearly was just a lack of talent outside of the five-star guard and were plagued by injuries. Well, not this year.
UNC boasts the second-best recruiting class in the country behind Kentucky led by three five stars in the top 22 of the player rankings. Caleb Love is a score-first guard with lots of upside on the defensive end. Day’Ron Sharpe is a massive 6’10, 250lb that will be an elite rebounder early in his career in Chapel HIll and Walker Kessler joins him in the interior at seven feet tall. Kessler’s offensive game is much more advanced than Sharpe’s. The Tar Heels are going to be huge this season.
The most important returning player is Garrison Brooks, who finished last season averaging 16.8 points per game and 8.5 rebounds. He’s joined by upperclassman Leaky Black and sophomore Armando Bacot. Apart from Love, the majority of UNC’s No. 2 recruiting class will probably come off the bench to start the season which is a testament to UNC’s depth this season.
The biggest question in Chapel Hill is perimeter, off-ball scoring. The top seven scorers from last year’s team were either Cole Anthony, an interior player or graduated from college and the bulk of this year’s recruiting class (and top end talent) is on the interior. Hopefully, Anthony Harris can have an impact after tearing an ACL in 2019-20 after five games. Either way, the Tar Heels will be good again.
4. Florida State
The Seminoles are losing three of their top four scorers from last year’s ACC regular season champion. Trent Forrest graduated and Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams both left for the NBA draft as likely first round picks. However, they return every other important piece of their roster from a year ago and add the No. 7 recruit in the class of 2020, Scottie Barnes. The Montverde prospect is the highest-rated recruit in program history and they also add Sardaar Calhoun, one of the top junior college prospects in the nation.
The Seminoles, once again, are going to be long and athletic. Every one of their rotation pieces that returns from last season is 6’4 or taller. They will be a lot to deal with on the defensive end especially with the added versatility of Barnes as a freshman. The No. 15 defense at Kenpom has a very good chance to be even more devastating on that end of the floor in 2020-21.
The biggest question for head coach Leonard Hamilton’s team lies on the offensive end. Forrest was the lead guard last season and his departure puts RayQuan Evans in the spotlight. Vassell had the 24th best offensive rating in the country last season as well as an effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage in the top 225 nationally (not to mention his 41.5% from deep). Only one returning player averaged more than six points last season.
Hamilton always has his team playing at a high level. The defense will be their hallmark and the offense will be sufficient enough to keep them in the top four of the ACC.
With the departure of Jordan Nwora, the Cardinals lost their top four scorers from last year’s 24-7 team that finished in a tie for second in the ACC. It’s indisputable that Chris Mack’s team lost a lot of production. With that being said, they also added a lot of production that has experience playing college basketball.
Without a doubt, the biggest difference between last year’s team and this one is the addition of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones. Quite simply, Jones is a bucket getter. He averaged 20 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game for the Highlanders a year ago and Mack is leaning on him to bring that level of production to the ACC. They’re really going to need it. San Francisco’s Charles Minlend is also on his way to Louisville after averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a year ago. The backcourt production will heavily lean on transfers but David Johnson should take a significant step forward in year two.
The guard showed flashes of a special player like his 19-point, 7-assist performance against Duke on 8-of-12 shooting last season. He and Jones should work well together in the backcourt. Despite being the lowest-rated recruit in Louisville’s 2019 recruiting class, he was by the far the most productive. Hopefully, Samuell Williamson, the No. 20 player in the class of 2019 has a better season than he did in year one.
The Cardinals have the potential to be a staple top-20 team this season, but we’ve seen that depending on transfers (see 2019-20 UNC) can be hit or miss depending on the situation. If the transfers hit, the Cards will be tough to handle again in 2021.
6. Miami (FL)
Few teams bring more back in this conference than Miami. The only player they lost from last year was Dejan Vasiljevic, who averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds for the Hurricane. That’s not to say, however, that Miami will be inspiring this season. They won’t be.
However, they do bring back Chris Lykes, who led the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game. He’s only 5’7, but he’s exciting to watch with the ball in his hands. Both he and Kameron McGusty missed time with injuries last season and health is a big part of the equation for this team again this season. Isaiah Wong showed promising signs in the absence of those two players and should be a contributing member of the backcourt once again.
They’re adding some size in Cincinnati transfer Nysier Brooks, but the questions on the defensive end are still there for Jim Larranaga’s team. They were outside of the top 180 in Sports Reference offensive rating and just inside the top 300 in defensive rating. Their only top 85 recruit coming in is 6’6 guard Earl Timberlake who is a freak athlete that can be a versatile defender for the Canes.
Miami has a lot to prove and improve on, but they have continuity from last year’s team and added several pieces that suggest they might be able to get back into the conversation for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
7. Virginia Tech
The top four scorers on last year’s Virginia Tech team were freshmen, and three of them will be coming back, just not their best player Landers Nolley II. Nolley transferred to Memphis after the season and the loss of the 6’7 guard is not insignificant for Mike Young’s squad. He averaged 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists last season and was the most dynamic player for an offense that ranked just 147th in offensive efficiency. They also lost their highest producing upperclassman from a year ago, PJ Horne, who transferred to Georgia.
The Hokies will bring back their three best 3-point shooters from last season who all shot better than 38.9% from beyond the arc, but neither of those players, Jalen Cone and Hunter Cattoor, played more than 20 minutes per game last season. Virginia Tech’s offense will really benefit if those two shooters can maintain efficiency with an uptick in shots in their sophomore seasons. They’ve also added Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra and two top-100 freshman Joe Bamisile and Darius Maddox. They also return floor general and experienced guard Wabissa Bede who averaged 5.5 assists per game last season.
The most important additions to this roster are Keve Aluma and Cordell Pemsl because they help solve the Hokies’ size issue from a year ago. Both players are transfers from Division I basketball schools. Granted, Aluma played a much bigger role at Wofford than Pemsl did at Iowa, but VT definitely has more size this season which makes them much more capable of handling the size in conference play.
Finishers 8-15 (Previous year record)
- Clemson (16-15, 9-11 ACC)
- NC State (20-12, 10-10 ACC)
- Syracuse (18-14, 10-10 ACC)
- Georgia Tech (17-14, 11-9 ACC)
- Notre Dame (20-12, 10-10 ACC)
- Boston College (13-19, 7-13 ACC)
- Pitt (16-17, 6-14 ACC)
- Wake Forest (13-18, 6-14 ACC)
Player of the Year
Garrison Brooks, Duke – Brooks was fourth in the conference in points last season and fourth in points per game. The three players ahead of them were Elijah Hughes, Jordan Nwora and Vernon Carey Jr. All three players have left for the draft, leaving Brooks as the favorite to lead the conference in scoring for one of the best teams in the ACC. Despite having a score-first point guard on his team, Brooks still led the ACC in total field goals and 2-point field goals. With another stacked roster in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels will be in the running for the regular season crown and Brooks will be the guy to lead them there.
Rookie of the Year
Jalen Johnson, Duke – Johnson is the highest rated freshman in the ACC this season as the No. 13 player in the class of 2020. He’s a silky smooth 6’8 player with a lot of skill for a guy of his size. He’s got great court vision, a nice jumper and will have the ball in his hands a lot of Coach K in Durham. He edges out some of these talented freshmen due to Duke not having an obvious veteran to have the ball in his hands and another freshman in Jeremy Roach at the point guard position.
Coach of the Year
Tony Bennett, Virginia – Yes, this is boring, but Virginia is going to be the most well-rounded ACC team throughout conference play. They have veteran leadership, new talent and a model that is much more consistent than that of the other teams in this conference. Despite finishing second in the conference, Virginia clearly wasn’t great last season. They will pass the eye test this year and be at the top of the conference for the entirety of conference play. Coach Bennett gets the credit and ACC Coach of the Year. If UNC is great, Roy Williams’ case will be intriguing after a disappointing 6-14 for the Tar Heels last season.
Photo by: User B at Wikipedia