ACC basketball: How each team will finish

November 7, 2013 

1. Duke

2012-13: 30-6, 14-4 ACC (2nd), lost to Louisville in NCAA regional final.

Hot topics

1. How will Quinn Cook, more of a traditional, set-up-the-offense point guard, adjust to a faster pace and full-court offense run through Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?

2. Hood is a redshirt sophomore, Parker a freshman. As talented as they are, it’s still a gamble placing such a heavy burden of responsibility and expectations on players this inexperienced at the elite college level.

•  MVP: He averaged a moderate 10.3 points as a freshman at Mississippi State, but the ceiling could not be any higher for Hood, who was named a captain before playing a game for the Blue Devils.

•  Unsung hero: He’s basically a bit player as a defensive stopper and backup guard, but feisty Tyler Thornton may be the team’s most effective leader.

•  Realistic expectations: Nothing less than an ACC championship and Duke’s first Final Four since 2010.

•  Best-case scenario: Outduel Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville – no easy task – for the national title.

Luke DeCock

2. Syracuse

2012-13: 30-10, 11-7 Big East (t-5th), lost to Michigan in Final Four.

Hot topics

1. Everyone knows Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is coming. It’s one thing to prepare for it, another to actually play against it. Over time, experience will erode Syracuse’s edge, but it will never be bigger than this season.

2. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has huge shoes to fill replacing NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. The Orange is loaded up front, but Ennis is the biggest question of many in the backcourt.

•  MVP: The allegedly parochial ACC media voted 6-8 senior forward C.J. Fair (14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds) the preseason player of the year, due respect for a versatile player who does far more than score – but is awfully good at scoring, too.

•  Unsung hero: He lasted only one fitful season at Duke, but transfer Michael Gbinije will play a key role on the perimeter for Syracuse this season.

•  Realistic expectations: Compete for an ACC title and reach the Sweet 16, where the bar is always set for Syracuse.

•  Best-case scenario: Find a way past Duke to win the ACC and give Boeheim a fifth Final Four.

Luke DeCock

3. Virginia

2012-13: 23-12, 11-7 ACC (t-4th), lost to Iowa in NIT quarterfinal.

Hot topics

1. It’s Year 5 under Tony Bennett, and his systems and personnel are in place. Virginia narrowly missed the NCAA tournament last year, but appears ready – and it’s time – to take a step forward.

2. The Cavaliers return their top six scorers, get Malcolm Brogdon back from injury and add South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill, but they’ll still have to turn their offense over to a freshman point guard, either London Perrantes or Devon Hall.

•  MVP: Part of Bennett’s first recruiting class, Joe Harris has blossomed into one of the ACC’s most reliable scorers, averaging 16.3 points last season in a slow-paced offense. It will be interesting to see if the 6-6 wing has another level to his game.

•  Unsung hero: Brogdon missed all of last season, but he played more than 22 minutes per game as a freshman.

•  Realistic expectations: Finish in top five of ACC, win an NCAA tournament game or two.

•  Best-case scenario: Virginia has the talent and experience to challenge for the ACC title and make a run at the Final Four.

Luke DeCock

4. Notre Dame

2012-13: 25-10, 11-7 Big East (t-5th), lost to Iowa State in NCAA second round.

Hot topics

1. The Fighting Irish make their ACC debut and should compete to finish in the top three or four. Four starters are back, including guards Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton – a threesome that combined to average 33.4 points per game a season ago.

2. Mike Brey, entering his 14th season, has some nice pieces back. Even so, the Fighting Irish will have to replace a pair of 1,000-point scorers in guard Scott Martin and forward Jack Cooley, who was a first-team All-Big East selection.

•  MVP: Grant, the senior guard, led Notre Dame in scoring (13.3 points per game) and assists (5.5 apg) a season ago, and was a second-team All-Big East selection. He can score from the outside and also break down a defense with penetration.

•  Unsung hero: Notre Dame is guard-oriented, but much is expected of the 6-10 senior forward Tom Knight, who started the final 16 games last season. He can step out and shoot, but he’ll need to play well on the interior for this team to maximize its potential.

•  Realistic expectations: A top-five finish in the ACC and at least one NCAA tournament win should be a given.

•  Best-case scenario: If Grant meets or exceeds expectations and Notre Dame again shoots well (it led the Big East in 3-point shooting at 37 percent), it could get hot at the right time and make a deep NCAA tournament run.

Andrew Carter

5. North Carolina

2012-13: 25-11, 12-6 ACC (3rd), lost to Kansas in NCAA third round

Hot topics

1. P.J. Hairston, the junior guard, made news for all the wrong reasons in the summer, and now he and his teammates will suffer consequences. It has been unclear how much time Hairston will miss, but he’s likely to miss most – if not all – of UNC’s most difficult non-conference games against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.

2. The Tar Heels went small out of necessity last season, but Roy Williams wants to go back to his more preferred, post-oriented offense. That makes sense given the depth, but outside of 6-9 forward James Michael McAdoo there’s not much experience. Williams needs a post player to have a breakout season.

•  MVP: Assuming Hairston doesn’t miss too much time, he should be UNC’s best player. Nobody else on the team has his skill set. He should be among the best perimeter shooters in the conference, and he’s perhaps UNC’s only player capable of consistently creating his own shot off the dribble.

•  Unsung hero: Brice Johnson, the sophomore forward, isn’t likely to receive as much attention as Kennedy Meeks, the freshman who could emerge as the starting center. But Johnson’s contributions could be vital if he’s able to play defense and provide much-needed post scoring.

•  Realistic expectations: 25 wins, a top-four finish in the ACC and a trip to the Sweet 16 are within reach.

•  Best-case scenario: The Final Four, if UNC answers all its questions – especially on the interior.

Andrew Carter

6. Boston College

2012-13: 16-17, 7-11 ACC (8th).

Hot topics:

1. Steve Donahue has said it takes 50 games for a player to adjust to college basketball. It didn’t take his freshman backcourt that long. Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon showed marked improvement during the season, and more is expected across a roster with only one senior.

2. The Eagles are smart and skilled, but there’s a desperate call for some muscle alongside Ryan Anderson up front. Technical proficiency can only go so far; the Eagles need some physical prowess to go with it.

•  MVP: Hanlan, an unheralded recruit from Quebec, outplayed a long list of McDonald’s All-Americans to take ACC rookie honors -- even before his 41-point ACC tournament explosion against Georgia Tech.

•  Unsung hero: Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich, a 6-8 guard, offers a legitimate 3-point threat that will complement Hanlan and Rahon on the perimeter.

•  Realistic expectations: A winning record and a tenuous spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.

•  Best-case scenario: Donahue gets back to the tournament for the first time since taking Cornell to the Sweet 16.

Luke DeCock

7. Pittsburgh

2012-13: 24-9, 12-6 Big East (4th), lost to Wichita State in NCAA second round.

Hot topics

1. It’s a bit of a rebuilding year for the Panthers, who lost leading scorer Tray Woodall, forward Steven Adams and a few other contributors. The talent level might be slightly down, but Jamie Dixon will have them ready on the defensive end.

2. ACC teams might not be prepared for the home-court advantage of the “Oakland Zoo.” Pitt went 16-3 at home last season, where Dixon is 164-23.

•  MVP: Small forward Lamar Patterson, who averaged 10.0 points last season, is a versatile offensive player who has the potential to blossom as a senior. He’s capable on the inside and outside.

•  Unsung hero: Senior forward Talib Zanna, who averaged 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, is a classic Dixon/Pitt forward -- big (6-9, 230), tough and defensively stout.

•  Realistic expectations: An NCAA tournament team, but not an upper-echelon ACC team.

•  Best-case scenario: Pitt’s toughness sparks a run in the ACC tournament, maybe the NCAA as well.

Luke DeCock

8. Maryland

2012-13: 25-13, 8-10 ACC (7th), lost to Iowa in NIT semifinals.

Hot topics

1. The ACC did the Terrapins no favors in their final season before departing for the Big Ten. They’ll have to play two games in three days on four occasions, most of any team, and gets only road games against Duke and North Carolina.

2. With Dez Wells returning and Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz arriving, Maryland has options on offense, particularly if Nick Faust can capture some of the potential he has shown. There’s no doubt Mark Turgeon will have the Terrapins dialed up on defense.

•  MVP: Wells, the Xavier transfer from Raleigh, is a slashing scorer who made an instant impact at Maryland (13.1 ppg) and only figures to get better.

•  Unsung hero: Point guard Seth Allen struggled at times as a freshman but probably fared better than anyone could have expected. He has a year of experience and he’ll get help from incoming freshman Roddy Peters.

•  Realistic expectations: 20 wins and an NCAA tournament bid.

•  Best-case scenario: Upset the ACC apple cart on the way out the door with a top-four finish.

Luke DeCock

9. Georgia Tech

2012-13: 16-15, 6-12 ACC (t-9th).

Hot topics

1. Very quietly, Tom Izzo disciple Brian Gregory is putting together a solid team built on gritty defense and solid interior play. They weren’t an easy team to face last season, and they’ll only get tougher this season as the talent level continues to improve.

2. Tech started practice looking for a point guard to replace Mfon Udofia

at point guard. Then Tennessee transfer Trae Golden was granted an NCAA waiver and became immediately eligible. A two-year starter for the Volunteers, he averaged 12.1 points and 3.9 assists as a junior last season.

•  MVP: Robert Carter, at 6-8, 245, showed signs of becoming an impact post player as a freshman and is one of several talented sophomores on the roster. This could be a breakout year for him.

•  Unsung hero: Not many ACC fans even know his name, but Daniel Miller is one of the league’s best shot-blockers (2.1 last season) and one of its more underrated rebounders.

•  Realistic expectations: The Jackets will show improvement from last year, even if their record remains similar.

•  Best-case scenario: Tech might be able to crack the .500 mark in the ACC if Golden can get the offense running smoothly.

Luke DeCock

10. N.C. State

2012-13: 24-11, 11-7 ACC (t-4th), lost to Temple in NCAA second round.

Hot topics

1. N.C. State loses 78.9 percent of its scoring and with T.J. Warren, Tyler Lewis and Jordan Vandenberg, the Wolfpack has a total of 17 starts returning. It’s the epitome of a rebuilding project, but in Warren the Wolfpack has a legitimate star to build around.

2. The little-used-to-this-point Vandenberg, who injured an ankle in an exhibition game, is the only returning post player. Freshmen Kyle Washington, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman will compete for time, with Washington looking the most ready to contribute.

•  MVP: Warren has the strength to play inside and can shoot from the outside; he was just scratching the surface last season after moving into the starting lineup.

•  Unsung hero: Mark Gottfried got unexpected contributions in the backcourt from fifth-year transfer Alex Johnson two years ago; he’ll try again this year with JUCO transfer Desmond Lee.

•  Realistic expectations: Finish above .500 overall, but not in ACC play.

•  Best-case scenario: Finish in the upper half of the ACC, contend for an NCAA bid.

Luke DeCock

11. Florida State

2012-13: 18-16, 9-9 ACC (6th), lost to Louisiana Tech in first round of NIT.

Hot topics

1. Can the Seminoles get back on track? Florida State had made the NCAA tournament for four consecutive seasons before stumbling last season amid injuries and inconsistent play. Four starters are back.

2. Michael Snaer is gone, and that’s good news for any team that finds itself late in a close game against Florida State. Snaer had a penchant for hitting the game-winner. Who fills his void in production and leadership?

•  MVP: Senior forward Okaro White is the team’s leading returning scorer (12.4 ppg) and rebounder (5.9 rpg) and was the only player to start every game last season. He’ll have to be even more productive this season.

•  Unsung hero: A foot injury derailed Ian Miller, the senior guard, last season. He’s reportedly fully healthy, though he didn’t play in FSU’s two exhibitions. If Miller can bounce back, so too might the Seminoles.

•  Realistic expectations: Another .500 finish in the ACC seems realistic, with FSU fighting to stay on the NCAA tournament bubble.

•  Best-case scenario: Twenty regular-season wins and a sense of optimism on Selection Sunday.

Andrew Carter

12. Miami

2012-13: 29-7, 15-3 ACC (1st), lost to Marquette in NCAA regional semifinal.

Hot topics

1. Jim Larranaga won ACC coach-of-the-year honors after leading the Hurricanes to a sweep of the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, but he’ll really be tested this season as the Canes lost all five starters and their sixth man, including point guard Shane Larkin.

2. Larkin’s early departure to the NBA leaves a gaping hole at point guard. Manu Lecomte, a 5-9 freshman from Belgium, is the ostensible replacement.

•  MVP: Apex’s Garrius Adams was out all of last season with a knee injury, but averaged 7.7 points two years ago and, at 6-6, has legitimate size on the wing. He’s proven he can score; given the state of the roster he’ll get the chance to do it a lot this season.

•  Unsung hero: Larranaga cleverly found some rotation minutes for freshman forward Tonye Jekiri at times last season. That will help him make the steep transition to the starting lineup.

•  Realistic expectations: A bottom-four finish with an upset here and there.

•  Best-case scenario: A .500 record in the ACC would be a remarkable achievement.

Luke DeCock

13. Wake Forest

2012-13: 13-18, 6-12 ACC (t-9th).

Hot topics

1. Jeff Bzdelik enters his fourth season at Wake Forest still looking for his first winning record and with a frustrated fan base waiting at the gates with pitchforks and torches. This has to be his last chance. Fortunately, there’s some talent on the roster.

2. Travis McKie has been around forever, Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre looked good as freshmen and Robert Morris transfer Coron Williams will offer immediate help. Is it enough in a stronger, deeper ACC? Probably not.

•  MVP: McKie is the last player left from the pre-Bzdelik regime, a talented and versatile forward who hasn’t always looked entirely engaged but is unquestionably of all-ACC caliber.

•  Unsung hero: While it certainly says something about the state of the Wake program that they’re looking to the Northeast Conference for help, Williams is a plug-and-play shooting guard who should score in double digits on a regular basis.

•  Realistic expectations: Another losing season finally forces AD Ron Wellman’s hand on Bzdelik.

•  Best-case scenario: Bzdelik finally gets the program over the .500 mark to cool his seat somewhat.

Luke DeCock

14. Clemson

2012-13: 13-18, 5-13 ACC (11th).

Hot topics

1. Clemson had trouble offensively even with Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, and they’re both gone with no apparent replacements. Brad Brownell is a tremendous defensive coach, but it’s hard to see where the scoring is going to come from.

2. The Tigers do have junior K.J. McDaniels, who would play for any ACC team and has developed into one of the league’s better defenders. On Clemson, he’ll also be the first, second and third offensive option.

•  MVP: A 6-6, 200-pound forward, McDaniels showed tremendous improvement between his freshman (3.9 ppg) and sophomore (10.9 ppg) seasons and a similar jump isn’t out of the question given his expanding role on the offense.

•  Unsung hero: Rod Hall finished ninth in the ACC in assists (3.5) last season and gives some polish to an otherwise ungainly offense.

•  Realistic expectations: Three or four ACC wins would be an accomplishment with this roster.

•  Best-case scenario: Perhaps there’s enough hidden talent to match last season’s record.

Luke DeCock

15. Virginia Tech

2012-13: 13-19, 4-14 ACC (12th).

Hot topics

1. Could this be one of the worst ACC teams ever? The Hokies were bad a season ago with Erick Green scoring 25 points per game and earning ACC Player of the Year honors. He’s gone and not much else is back, especially in the backcourt.

2. Will Virginia Tech gives James Johnson time? It’s unlikely the Hokies improve on their 13 wins from last season, but Johnson, entering his second season, has recruited better talent in the class of 2014.

•  MVP: The 6-7 senior forward Jarrell Eddie is the leading returning scorer (12.3), but he won’t have the advantage of playing with Green. Still, Eddie is by far the closest thing Virginia Tech has to a proven scorer.

•  Unsung hero: Cadarian Raines won’t win any beauty contests with his game on offense, but he’s a physical player who can make things difficult down low. He’s the Hokies’ leading returning rebounder and shot-blocker.

•  Realistic expectations: Virginia Tech plays only one game each against Clemson and Wake Forest, and so the Hokies face a tough road to repeat last season’s four conference victories.

•  Best-case scenario: Players you’ve never heard of emerge to cobble together four ACC wins.

Andrew Carter

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