It’s pretty hard to believe that not only in college basketball back, but we’re already a handful of games into the 2017-18 slate. Our staff got together to discuss this season as it pertains to the ACC.
1) What are you most looking forward to in the ACC this season?
Jeff: I’m looking forward to seeing if a team other than the two bluebloods steps forward this year to win the ACC. Can Player of the Year candidate, Bonzie Colson, lead the Irish to the ACC title? Will the FBI case be too much of a distraction for Miami and Louisville? Is there a surprise team waiting in the wings that will emerge this season? Time will tell, but that’s what I’m looking forward to watching this season.
Grant: I’m excited to see how the middle of the ACC shakes out. At this point, pretty much everyone is in agreement that Duke is at the top. Close behind are UNC, Miami, and maybe even Notre Dame. But what about 5-9? Some teams seem to be on the rise, such as Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Others are projected to take a step back from last year whether it be from losing a coach (Louisville) to losing NBA talent (FSU). I think it’s quite possible that the ACC could have 8-9 teams make the Big Dance, so those 5-9 spots will be crucial. Im excited to see how it plays out.
CJ: Conference play. This looks like the deepest conference in the country. You have the typical heavy-hitters, Duke, UNC, Louisville and Notre Dame but then you have teams like Virginia Tech, Syracuse, FSU, Clemson, UVA and NC State that should make a strong case for the tournament.
Justin: Mass chaos and memes. There’s always a fair bit of unpredictability but with some of the offseason drama, I think things will be heightened this season. Louisville and UNC lead the rise in the meme economy, but Miami is ready. There should also be some outstanding basketball played along the way,
Mike: The most intriguing story that I’ll be watching is at Louisville, where David Padgett takes over one of the most talented teams in the ACC, that all of a sudden, has no expectations from the media of actually being any good. It’s amazing how low the stock can drop after losing a Hall of Fame head coach in Rick Pitino. I’m of the opinion that the Cardinals could still make some noise in the ACC, so I’m interested to see how they play under adverse circumstances.
2) Which team will be the biggest surprise?
Jeff: I think the team who may surprise people this year with some unexpected wins and stay near the top of the standings is Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams is entering his fourth season in Blacksburg and has established his style of play with the Hokies. He knows his way around the league now and could cause trouble for teams picked ahead of the Hokies in the ACC.
Grant: There are a couple teams in my head that I could choose to answer this question, but I’m going to go with Wake Forest. Danny Manning is as good a hire as any in the last few years, and the Deacs already had a big turnaround from 2015-16 to 2016-17. Admittedly, they lost some talent to the NBA, most notably sophomore forward John Collins. In addition, Dinos Mitoglou and Austin Arians graduated, who are both also forwards. So, if Wake has a weakness, it will be the frontcourt. That said, they have an outstanding point guard in Bryant Crawford, and grad transfer Terrance Thompson is intriguing. The Demon Deacons were picked 11th in the ACC, but I can see them finishing as high as 8th.
CJ: NC State. Kevin Keatts is for real and his turn-around at UNC-W was quick. Before Keatts took over for the Seahawks, they had two seasons of more than 10 wins in the previous nine years. In his first season, they went 18-14 and made a trip to the CIT tournament.
Justin: Clemson has a favorable schedule but I’m not sure if they quite have the horses to be anything more than about what they usually are record-wise. If they can weather the storm until Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson return from early-season suspensions, Georgia Tech is my pick to make some noise here.
Mike: I think it will be Louisville. The Cardinals are loaded and all of a sudden have almost no real expectations due to the scandal involving former coach Rick Pitino. If Louisville can weather the storm under media scrutiny, I believe they still have a chance to be one of the best teams in the conference because of the talent that they have on their roster.
3) Which team will be the biggest disappointment?
Jeff: In this new era of one-and-dones, teams loaded up with these players are “supposed” to win it all. So in that case, if the Duke Blue Devils fail to win the national championship, then they will be the biggest disappointment in the ACC. They were loaded last year, but injuries hurt their chances down the stretch to make a real run at it. But this season, it’s national title or bust for Duke.
Grant: Louisville is going to have a rough time this year. They lost three of their top five scorers, as well as sleazy head coach Rick Pitino. The interim head coach, David Padgett, looks like he is about twelve years old. The Cardinals did get Deng Adel back, which was a big plus for them. However, I see him being one of the only bright spots for this team. Senior point guard Quentin Snider has never really been able to score the ball effectively, and the frontcourt is thin behind Adel. Louisville will still make the tournament, but they are not going to be a threat to win the ACC like they have been in years past.
CJ: Louisville. This one might actually be a bit expected, but there’s no way a team dealing with this much turmoil has very much success. This program is a mess and the rest of the conference is too deep.
Justin: Wake Forest has to be the clubhouse leader with bad losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty to start things out. Given what they lost from last year, it’s hard to envision the Demon Deacons doing much of anything.
Mike: I might be in the minority here on this one, but I think Virginia is due for a step back. Without the steady hand of point guard London Perrantes, I’m interested to see how well UVA deals with the ups-and-downs of ACC play with a young roster. By default, I feel like they are due for a step back.
4) How many ACC teams will make the NCAA Tournament?
Jeff: Seven ACC teams will make the NCAA tournament.
Grant: I’d say definitely eight teams will make it, with a possible ninth slipping in. Last year there were nine, which was a conference record. If the ACC is as good as it’s supposed to be, a .500 mark in conference play is a feat. That means that in order to make the tournament, teams will need to have little to no slip ups in non-conference play. That’s not to say that everyone has to go undefeated in non-conference play, especially if you’re Duke and playing teams like Michigan State in the second week of the season. But any loss to an inferior team will make it much tougher to get in.
CJ: Seven. This really depends on Virginia Tech and Clemson playing well. Both of those look like they’re on the bubble early.
Justin: Eight with maybe a ninth team depending on records. That seems to be the standard over the last few, considerably stacked, ACC groups.
Mike: Anywhere between 8-10 seems like an acceptable answer, so I’ll say nine teams make it out of the nation’s elite basketball conference.
5) Who will be the ACC Freshman of the Year?
Jeff: Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Grant: Barring a miracle or injury, Marvin Bagley III (Duke) seems like the clear favorite to win the FOY award. At the ACC media day, Bagley got 58 votes for preseason FOY, compared to three for the nearest competitor (Lonnie Walker IV, Miami). That being said, there’s another freshman I’d like to talk about: Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker. In two games this season, Alexander-Walker has led the Hokies with 24 and 29 points. Surprisingly, Alexander-Walker did not get any preseason votes, even though he was ESPN’s No. 21 player in this class. Even Aamir Simms of Clemson got a vote, and he was unranked. Not that preseason voting really means anything, but Alexander-Walker is an incredible player, and hopefully he will play with a chip on his shoulder. Still, Bagley will probably win easily.
CJ: Marvin Bagley. This is the easy pick…I know, but anyone who says anything different is flat out lying. He gives Duke the rebounding edge they missed last year, and he can shoot.
Justin: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech. Partly, because it looks like he’s the real deal, also because only uncreative people (and the 76ers) pick Duke big men.
Mike: Marvin Bagley III, Duke
6) Who will be the ACC Player of the Year?
Jeff: Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Grant: Again, the preseason poll had a clear favorite in this category. This time, though, I’m going to disagree. Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson received 49 votes, and while he is one of the best players in the country, I don’t think he will win POY. The player I would bet on tied for second with 9 votes: Joel Berry II. Having led his team to a National Championship in 2017, Berry is coming back to UNC to try and do it again. I’m not sure the entire team is as talented as it was last year, but Berry sure is. Now, if only he could get over that nagging hand injury…how’d that happen again?
CJ: Is Josh Okogie going to play? If he is back by conference play (which he should be), he’s a strong candidate. If not, Grayson Allen.
Justin: Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame. Few will put together stat lines as complete as his.
Mike: I’m of the belief that we are all going to partake in the Grayson Allen Revenge Tour here in 2017-18. I think he wins ACC Player of the Year narrowly over Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson.
7) Who will be the ACC Coach of the Year?
Jeff: Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Grant: I believe Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams deserved this honor last year and didn’t get it. After all, Josh Pastner won, and his Georgia Tech team did not make the NCAA Tournament while the Hokies did. I know what you’re thinking: “It’s not about who is the most successful overall, it’s about who exceeds expectations.” Well, Virginia Tech was picked 10th and finished 7th, while Georgia Tech was picked 14th and finished 11th. Both moved up three spots. Anyways, enough about my pent up anger, back to this year. Buzz Williams has a talented young squad poised for a big year.
CJ: Kevin Keatts, NC State
Justin: Louisville’s David Padgett (If he can keep things on track, that’s a very unique situation)
Mike: David Padgett, Louisville (I’m really pulling for the Cards, aren’t I?)
8) Who will win the ACC?
Grant: I’m sorry to keep going with the crowd, but in this case I think the crowd is right. Duke is the best team not only in the ACC but in the entire country, and I don’t see anyone deep enough to give them a run. North Carolina will be solid again, but they lost Justin Jackson, Tony Bradley, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks. That’s a lot to replace. Notre Dame is very thin outside of Bonzie Colson, and one player can’t win the ACC by himself. Miami is close, but they aren’t quite there yet, especially after losing two key defenders in Kamari Murphy and Davon Reed. Right now, I don’t see anyone taking this title away from Duke.
CJ: Regular Season: UNC / Tournament: Notre Dame
Justin: Notre Dame
9) Will the 2017-18 National Champion come out of the ACC?
Grant: If the National Champ does come from the ACC, it will be Duke. While the ACC has a plethora of solid teams, there is only one that I believe has the capability of being a true powerhouse and winning the NCAA tournament. Not only did Duke return one of the best players in the country (Grayson Allen), they also bring in four of the top 15 recruits in the country. But, outside of them, no one in the ACC has the depth to win a National title. So, I guess what I’m saying is Duke is really the ACC’s only true hope for a National Title.
CJ: I’m saying yes…but I’ll feel more secure if Joel Berry comes back and isn’t allowed to play Xbox during March.
Mike: No. For some reason, I think it is Tom Izzo’s time once again at Michigan State.