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C.J. Leslie looks to lead NC State to ACC title
After a long wait, NC State’s hopes for ACC supremacy may be realized. The Wolfpack have not won an ACC regular season title since 1989 and haven’t won the ACC tournament since 1987.
But after two decades of wandering through mediocre seasons, NC State may be ready to contend with Duke and North Carolina this season. As usual, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels will be stocked with talent, but their hold on the top of the league may be more fragile than it has been in recent years thanks to the departures of a combined six first-round NBA draft picks since last season.
A year after reaching the Sweet 16, NC State adds a highly touted freshman class to a talented veteran core. And even the Florida schools -- Miami and defending ACC tournament champion Florida State -- have reason to believe they can contend in the league.
|ACC FACTS AND FIGURES||2012-13 ACC SUPERLATIVES|
|2011-12 regular season champion: North Carolina||Player of the Year: C.J. Leslie, NC State|
|2012 NCAA Tournament teams: Duke, Florida State*,||Best Defensive Player: Michael Snaer, Florida St.|
|NC State, North Carolina, Virginia||Most Underrated Player: Kenny Kadji, Miami|
|New coaches: James Johnson (Virginia Tech)||Newcomer of the Year: Rodney Purvis, NC State|
|*won conference tournament|
|ATHLON ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM||ALL-ACC SECOND TEAM||ALL-ACC THIRD TEAM|
|G Lorenzo Brown, NC State||G Erick Green, Virginia Tech||G Ian Miller, Florida State|
|G Michael Snaer, Florida State||G Seth Curry, Duke||G Durand Scott, Miami|
|F James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina||F Kenny Kadji, Miami||F Scott Wood, NC State|
|F C.J. Leslie, NC State||F Ryan Kelly, Duke||F Richard Howell, NC State|
|F Mason Plumlee, Duke||C Reggie Johnson, Miami||F Okaro White, Florida State|
1. Duke (27-7, 13-3)
The Blue Devils are ranked No. 9 in our preseason rankings: Full Preview
Duke possesses all the pieces necessary to challenge for the ACC championship. The Blue Devils have three experienced senior starters returning in Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee who will provide scoring from the perimeter to the post. Kelly and Plumlee are strong team defenders and rebounders. To reach maximum potential, which at Duke means competing for a NCAA championship, the Blue Devils must find a competent, consistent point guard. They’ll also need scoring and defensive contributions from newcomers Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson, and Rasheed Sulaimon must prove he can score and defend at college basketball’s highest level.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
2. NC State (24-13, 9-7)
The Wolfpack is ranked No. 11 in our preseason rankings: Full Preview
The door’s wide open for NC State to win the ACC’s regular season for the first time since 1989. North Carolina and Duke lost six first-round picks to the NBA between them and are both vulnerable to a veteran team, with new talent, like State’s. But Mark Gottfried’s right. The Wolfpack went 9–7 in the ACC and will have to make a leap to the 12- or 13-win range . With elite talent like C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, Gottfried and the Wolfpack will have a chance “to do more” during the 2013 season. Just how much more will depend on if the Pack can pick up where it left off after a surprising NCAA Tournament run.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Related: McAdoo, Leslie make appearances on Athlon preseason All-America Team
3. North Carolina (32-6, 14-2)
The Tar Heels are ranked No. 14 in our preseason rankings: Full Preview
The ACC isn’t as strong at the top — or from top to bottom — as it used to be. So this North Carolina team, even with the talent it lost, can contend for the conference championship. A trip to the Final Four, where no player on the current roster has been before, seems less likely. But if the Tar Heels get strong play at point guard, improve their outside shooting and avoid the serious injuries that have short-circuited recent seasons, they’ll find themselves in the mix just as the 2005-06 North Carolina team did. If they come up short in those areas, they could produce a result closer to what the 2009-10 team did.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Related: North Carolina’s Paige one of top 10 freshmen for 2012-13
4. Florida State (25-10, 12-4)
Losing four starters at Florida State used to guarantee a rebuilding year. Four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament — the school’s longest streak ever — has changed that. FSU has turned into a perennial ACC power, a program that is expected to win big regardless of how much its roster changes. Hamilton has four veterans to build around, including last season’s leading guard Michael Snaer, and will be counting on seven newcomers — two junior college transfers and five freshmen — to create depth. Long a shutdown defender, Snaer had a breakout year offensively last season, posting career highs in scoring (14.0 ppg), 3-point shooting (.404) and free throw shooting (.846). The intangibles he brings also add plenty of value. Junior Ian Miller, who emerged as one of the ACC’s top sixth men by averaging 10.3 points last season, will likely take over most of the point guard duties, though Hamilton plans to still use him on the wing some. The intimidating presence of departed big men Bernard James and Xavier Gibson (combined for 126 blocks last season) won’t be replaced, but Okaro White and Terrance Shannon give the Seminoles a pair of experienced 6-8 junior forwards capable of playing bigger roles. The Seminoles will play great defense. That is a constant under Hamilton. It might take some time for the young players to adapt to the Seminoles’ style, but Hamilton can lean on a solid group of veterans who have played and contributed in big games.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out
Related: Florida State’s Shannon a key player returning from injury
5. Miami (20-13, 9-7)
With the core of last year’s team back and North Carolina, Duke and Florida State losing its top players, Miami should be in the thick of the ACC race. The extent of Miami’s success could well rest on 284-pound center Reggie Johnson, who missed part of last season with a knee injury then under-performed after an impressive sophomore campaign in which he nearly averaged a double-double. At times, Johnson can look like one of the best big men in the ACC, but in several other games, Johnson was a complete non-factor. Kenny Kadji was one of the ACC’s biggest surprises last season after transferring from Florida. The 6-11 Kadji is only average with his back to the basket, but he’s deadly from long range and is a presence defensively as a shot-blocker. Durand Scott is tough, physical and the heart and guts of Miami’s team. Best when he’s attacking the basket and drawing contact, Scott has also grown into a much better ball-handler and distributor, cutting his turnovers in half between his sophomore and junior seasons. This could well be Miami’s best and deepest team since it jumped from the Big East to the ACC in 2004 and it shouldn’t be a shock if the Hurricanes, who have never finished higher than a tie for fourth in the league standings, make a strong run at the ACC title.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament First Four
6. Maryland (17-15, 6-10)
Mark Turgeon duct-taped a team together last season, somehow won 17 game and gave mercurial sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin — who has since departed — a green light to gun it and lead the ACC in scoring (21.6 ppg) in an offense that simply didn’t have much bite on the block. Point guard/glue-guy Pe’Shawn Howard will be back and youngsters like Nick Faust and Alex Len are a year older and wiser in the ways of the ACC. Moreover, Maryland has had a major influx of talent with a ballyhooed recruiting class that has Turgeon’s Terps ready to rejoin the upper echelon of the ACC. Faust may fill Stoglin’s role of go-to scorer, slashing to the basket to create for himself and teammates. He averaged 8.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists while playing three different positions as a freshman. He has stardom written all over his game at both ends. The muscular Howard, who only played in 14 games last year due to injury, is at the point. Senior James Padgett, who averaged 8.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field, is back, and he’ll be even better. His gangly post moves will be more refined, and he will be more of a factor on defense.
Postseason prediction: NIT
7. Virginia (22-10, 9-7)
Tony Bennett plans to stick around. The Virginia coach, who led the Cavaliers to their first NCAA Tournament since 2007, signed a five-year extension following the season. Now, if he can just get his players to stick around with him. After the midseason transfers of K.T. Harrell and James Johnson last year, Bennett is left with just two of the six members of his first recruiting class, which was to be the foundation of his program. Bennett has brought in another five-man class, and at least a couple will have to contribute immediately. That could bode well for the long term. Virginia is loaded with wings — the roster contains six guards listed between 6-3 and 6-6. The standout in the crowd is junior Joe Harris, a career 40 percent 3-point shooter who is the team’s top returning scorer. The steady Harris will need to be more assertive, now that he’ll no longer have the luxury of playing off of Mike Scott, who drew defensive attention that led to open looks on the perimeter. Directing traffic will be senior point guard Jontel Evans, a defensive pest and steady ball-handler who has 94 games and 70 starts under his belt. Like Harris, he’ll be asked to provide veteran ballast to a young team. At first glance, it’s hard to envision Virginia getting major production up front. With Scott gone, the Cavaliers don’t have an obvious go-to player inside, and offense doesn’t appear to be the strength of the group.
Postseason prediction: NIT
8. Clemson (16-15, 8-8)
Asking for patience is justifiable given that second-year coach Brad Brownell is losing his top two scorers from last season in Andre Young and Tanner Smith, and relying on a roster that features a whopping 10 freshmen and sophomores. Brownell has shown in his first two seasons that he was an excellent choice when Clemson found itself looking for a new coach after Oliver Purnell’s abrupt departure for DePaul. He’s done an impressive job of developing players and cultivating substantial improvement as the two years have worn on. But he has no juniors, largely the result of unexpected attrition during and after his first season (three players elected to transfer). And seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, while talented, haven’t inspired abundant confidence that they are the building blocks for rousing success in 2012-13. Booker and Jennings shouldered more of the burden last season and produced so-so results. Now, with Young and Smith gone, these two must take their games to a higher and more consistent level if the Tigers are going to make substantive improvement. There’s a major void at point guard with Young gone. Sophomore Rod Hall will get competition from freshmen Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper — probably more Filer than Roper — for the starting point guard spot. Hall will need to make significant improvement as a shooter to keep defenders from backing off and playing the drive.
Postseason prediction: NIT
Related: Former Clemson assistants among key hires for 2012-13
9. Virginia Tech (16-17, 4-12)
James Johnson has his work cut out for him. Johnson, 40, was finally awarded a head coaching job after 19 years as an assistant, but he inherits a program surrounded by uncertainty after an unexpected regime change in the spring. In the aftermath of the coaching change, Johnson, the youngest head coach in the ACC, is left with only eight scholarship players and the expectations of a fan base hungry for an NCAA Tournament appearance after some agonizingly close calls in the past five years. Guard is one of the Hokies’ strengths, and Johnson hopes to take advantage of that by employing an up-tempo style of offense. Senior point guard Erick Green has improved every season in college and made a substantial jump last year, averaging 15.6 points and 2.8 assists en route to earning second-team All-ACC honors. Lack of front line depth could be an issue for the Hokies this season. After Greenberg’s dismissal, Tech lost two forwards who were both expected to play prominent roles in 2012-13. Dorian Finney-Smith, one of the most heralded recruits in school history and the team’s leading rebounder as a freshman last season, decided to transfer to Florida. And Montrezl Harrell, a 2012 recruit who saw his stock rise during his final high school season, elected to back out of his commitment and sign with Louisville.
10. Wake Forest (13-18, 4-12)
No coach may need wins this season more than Jeff Bzdelik. After two years at Wake Forest, Bzdelik hasn’t won a lot of games (five total in the ACC), and he’s lost a lot of fans. The former Air Force and Colorado coach hopes a seven-player recruiting class will provide the spark. The youngsters will combine with the league’s top two returning scorers, guard C.J. Harris and forward Travis McKie. With the two primary point guards from last year no longer on the roster — Tony Chennault and Anthony Fields transferred out — freshman Codi Miller-McIntyre will be handed the reins of the offense. He will give the Deacons their first legitimate threat to get to the rim and create shots since Ish Smith graduated in 2010. Wake Forest finished second to last in the ACC in rebounding margin, and it lost both of its centers. To say the frontcourt is an issue is an understatement. McKie put together solid numbers but found it difficult to carry the team. Although only 6-7 and able to play either forward spot, he did his best offensive work in the lane. When forced to try to create from the wing, he struggled. Bzdelik is running out of time and excuses. To re-energize the fan base, he needs a team that is competitive, both in spirit and in the ACC race. He’ll have to do it with a squad that is thin at key positions and has only two scholarship upperclassmen.
Related: Wake’s Bzdelik among coaches on hot seat
11. Georgia Tech (11-20, 4-12)
Few will be surprised — perhaps not even Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory — if the Yellow Jackets finish near the bottom of the ACC standings again. Georgia Tech could make considerable progress in Gregory’s second season without a corresponding improvement in the standings. The Yellow Jackets do bring back the core of the roster with the exception of guard Glen Rice Jr. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder continually bumped heads with Gregory, leading to his dismissal from the team. As much as anyone, point guard Mfon Udofia responded to the coaching change from Paul Hewitt to Gregory. Going into his senior season, his jump shot needs to improve, but he should have a much firmer grasp on what Gregory wants out of the position. Udofia had a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio in Georgia Tech’s final nine games after a 0.8 rate in the first 21. In center Daniel Miller and power forward Kammeon Holsey, Georgia Tech has a pair of bangers who’ve become a respectable post duo. Holsey needs to take better care of the ball and stay out of foul trouble, but he’s an active defender who is willing to take charges, and he shot 59.0 percent from the field. Miller ranked second in the ACC in blocked shots and finished the season by scoring in double figures in eight of the last 10 games. The Yellow Jackets will also get a boost from the opening of the $45 million McCamish Pavilion, a complete renovation of the old Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Still, Georgia Tech is probably a year or two from breaking through.
12. Boston College (9-22, 4-12)
When Steve Donahue took over at Boston College in 2010, he embarked on a rebuilding plan. The first phase was the demolition, which was swift and thorough. Within a year, there were no holdovers from the Al Skinner era. Such a drastic overhaul was predictably bumpy. The Eagles had seven freshmen in the rotation last season. Despite the lack of a scholarship upperclassman, the large crop of sophomores will be expected to make considerable strides in their development. Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford were thrown into the fire with bigger, stronger, more athletic frontcourts on a nightly basis last season and held up reasonably well. With an offseason to improve their skills and bodies, Donahue is expecting big things from his sophomore big men. The Eagles are going to rely heavily on their two recruits to step into major roles in the backcourt. Olivier Hanlan, a 6-4 native of Quebec, should be the starting point guard from the outset. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by fellow freshman Joe Rahon, a physical 6-2 combo guard. It’s unrealistic to expect the Eagles to transform from an ACC doormat into a contender in one year. Donahue has maintained the view that it will take about 50 games together for this group to start to show major strides. If this sophomore-laden group learns from last year and develops mentally and physically, Donahue expects to see noticeable improvements by the end of the season.
|More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store|
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11. NC State
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