by Justin Mathis, @J_Math23
It’s not often that you’d use the term “mixed results” in a sentence when describing ACC basketball, but the 2016-17 season would definitely qualify as such.
The University of North Carolina Tar Heels became the kings of the college basketball world once again, claiming their seventh national championship in program history and third under the direction of UNC alumnus Roy Williams. On the flip side, nine ACC teams made the NCAA tournament, but eight of them were eliminated before or during the round of 32, including Duke, who dropped an 88-81 decision to South Carolina in the Greenville (SC) regional.
During the offseason, we saw Louisville dismiss head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich as a result of a corruption scandal involving Adidas. The NCAA also revealed the results of their investigation into the UNC academic scandal (no sanctions will be handed out).
- That’s what we know. Here’s what we don’t know…
How will UNC and Duke, two of the perennial powers, look after seeing some major roster turnover due to the NBA Draft and/or graduation?
What can Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers do in order to find some consistency on offense?
How will Louisville react to a different voice at the helm?
How will Kevin Keatts fare in his maiden voyage with the NC State Wolfpack?
What lies ahead for Josh Pastnor and Georgia Tech after finishing as the runner-up in the NIT last season?
Below is the 2017-18 preseason poll and several accolades, all of which were voted on during ACC Media Day in Charlotte:
Duke (57 first place votes)
North Carolina (7)
Notre Dame (4)
Player of the Year: Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Rookie of the Year: Marvin Bagley III, Duke
All-ACC First Team
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Grayson Allen, Duke
Joel Berry II, UNC
Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech
Bruce Brown Jr., Miami
Quentin Snider, Louisville
Deng Adel, Louisville
Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech
Jerome Robinson, Boston College
Now, let’s take a look at each team.
To quote Ric Flair, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” Yes, the Heels are the reigning national champions, but they face a bit of uncertainty as they aim for a second straight title, having lost several key pieces like Justin Jackson (18.3 points per game) and Kennedy Meeks (12.5 ppg) to the NBA Draft and graduation. Joel Berry II will return for his final season at Chapel Hill and will be relied on heavily to help guide the Tar Heels’ offense. Also, look for transfer Cameron Johnson to make a difference on the offensive end. Season Opener: vs Northern Iowa, Nov. 10th at 7 PM.
Duke (Preseason #1)
The Blue Devils looked poised to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament last season, but were upended by a Gamecock team that eventually made their way to the Final Four. Duke lost seven players in the offseason, six of whom either graduated or moved on to the NBA. Two names that headline that group are Luke Kennard (19.5 ppg) and Jayson Tatum (16.8 ppg). When you add it all up, the Blue Devils lose nearly 72 points per game. Mike Krzyzewski will see senior Grayson Allen (14.5 ppg) return, but will have to rely on several underclassmen, including a couple from the most recent recruiting class (Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval) . Season opener: vs Elon, Nov. 10th at 7 PM.
The Fighting Irish enter the upcoming campaign coming off their third top-five finish in the ACC in as many seasons. Gone are V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, who averaged 14.5 and 13.1 points per game, respectively, but Mike Brey has done a great job of preparing guys to step in when their name is called. Matt Farrell will be expected to take on a leadership role and provide a spark on the offensive end. Season Opener: at DePaul, Nov. 11th at 4 PM.
The Hurricanes aim to improve on their middle-of-the-pack finish (tied for 7th) last season after having to depend on defense and rebounding to make up for a lack of scoring, especially at point guard. There’s quite a bit of young talent on this team. Don’t count them out. Season opener: vs Gardner-Webb, Nov. 10th at 8 PM.
Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers lose a big force in the form of London Perrantes (12.7 ppg). Keep an eye on Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, both of whom had some bright spots last season as true freshmen. It’ll be interesting to see how they’ve matured after getting a year under their respective belts. Keep an eye on how Nigel Johnson, a Rutgers transfer, factors in on the offensive end of the court. Season opener: vs UNC-Greensboro, Nov. 10th at 7 PM.
There are quite a few questions that surround the Cardinals regarding what to expect. They won’t eligible for the postseason for the second time in three seasons after enforcing a self-imposed ban for the 2016 postseason as a result of a different scandal. Donovan Mitchell (15.6 ppg) was selected in this year’s NBA draft. Keep an eye on sophomore forward V.J. King this year for the Cardinals. Season opener: vs George Mason, Nov. 12th at 2 PM.
The Seminoles are coming off of their first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2011-12 campaign. They lost two valuable scoring options in Jonathan Issac (12 ppg) and Dwayne Bacon (17.4 ppg), the latter of whom was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. Leonard Hamilton’s offensive system isn’t exactly known for a lot of ball movement, which could be a problem for a team that lost 49.3 points per game due to graduation or players moving on to the NBA. On the defensive end, look for Ikey Obiagu (who is seven foot and one inch tall) to cause opposing teams some trouble. Season opener: vs George Washington, Nov. 14th at 7 PM.
Buzz Williams enters his fourth year in Blacksburg after the Hokies suffered an early exit in the 2017 NCAA tournament, their first tournament appearance since 2007. Two of the Hokies’ top scorers, Zach LeDay (16.5 ppg) and Seth Allen (13.3), graduated, but Justin Robinson (10.4 ppg) comes back to help led the Hokies. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Nickeil Alexander Walker. Season opener: vs Detroit Mercy, Nov. 10th at 6 PM.
The Orange lose three players who averaged double-digit scoring (Tyler Lydon, Andrew White, and John Gillon) after missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Jim Boeheim did sign graduate transfer Geno Thorpe, who comes to Syracuse from South Florida. Thorpe averaged just over 15 points per game last season with the Bulls and looks to have a solid defensive presence as well. Season opener: vs Cornell, Nov. 10th at 7 PM.
It was an up and down year for Brad Brownell and the Tigers, who were ousted in the first round of the NIT by Oakland at home. Clemson struggled to find consistency on offense at times last season and it hurt them, dropping nine games by five points or less, six of them which ended up being one possession contests. Jaron Blossomgame (17.7 ppg) was picked by the San Antonio Spurs in this year’s NBA Draft after completing his senior season. Keep an eye on whether or not the Tigers can establish a strong post presence on the offensive end. Season opener: vs Western Carolina, Nov. 10th at 7 PM.
Josh Pastnor surprised some people last year by taking the Yellow Jackets to the NIT championship game (lost to TCU) in his first year in Atlanta, but now this season will be a bit tougher as he lost Josh Heath (5.3 ppg) and Quinton Stephens (10.7 ppg) to graduation. Watch out for Josh Okogie to step up and provide a spark on offense. Season opener: at UCLA, Nov. 10th at 11:30 PM.
The Demons Deacons made their return to the NCAA tournament last season, but now face life after John Collins (19.2 ppg). It’s not all bad news as Bryant Crawford (16.2 ppg) returns to guide the offense. Keyshawn Woods (transfer from UNC-Charlotte) made a big impact as well, especially from beyond the arc, where he shot 43.8%. Season opener: vs Georgia Southern, Nov. 10th at 7:30 PM.
North Carolina State
Kevin Keatts comes to Raleigh after guiding the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks to the NCAA tournament in two of his three seasons there. This won’t be an easy fix, given that the Wolfpack will have to replace around returning starters Malik Abu and Torin Dorn. Season opener: vs VMI, Nov. 10th at 7 PM.
The Eagles went 2-16 in ACC play last season are still in search of their first NCAA tournament berth in nearly a decade. The backcourt featuring Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson could be troublesome for the opposition. Season opener: vs Maine, Nov. 10th at 7:30 PM.
The Panthers face a tough road, having lost their top five scorers (who combined for 65 points per game). I foresee another rebuilding year for Kevin Stallings and the Panthers this season. Season opener: at Navy, Nov. 10th at 9:30 PM.
Well, college hoops fans, it’s almost time for tipoff. Follow along here at College Hoops Digest for ACC Basketball coverage all year long.