Early tourney exits mean ACC has something to prove
Could a conference that sent a record nine teams to the NCAA Tournament and produced the national champion last season really need to prove it’s not overrated?
When eight of those teams failed to get past the second round, that’s the label the ACC was pegged with after being hailed as the best conference in college basketball for much of the 2016-17 regular season. That lack of group success in the postseason was likely a fluke — the ACC sent six teams to the Sweet 16 in 2016 — but the conference will have to perform better in the NCAA Tournament in order to prove it. And there are plenty of reasons to believe it will redeem itself.
Duke will be extremely young but extremely talented. Another highly touted recruiting class that was ranked No. 2 nationally will team up with the enigmatic Grayson Allen, who needs to bounce back from a tumultuous junior year.
Louisville may have the best blend of talent and experience in the conference, but it's unproven head coach David Padgett that will be leading this team following the dismissal of Rick Pitino. Meanwhile, Notre Dame may have the best player in versatile forward Bonzie Colson.
Defending national champ North Carolina still has Final Four potential despite losing most of its dominating frontcourt. Joel Berry II ranks among the nation’s top point guards, and graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, who has already played in the ACC with Pittsburgh, is one of the conference’s top outside shooters.
Miami looks poised for a breakthrough year with the return of a solid backcourt from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament. Prized Canes freshman Lonnie Walker has one-and-done potential.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Coach K reloaded again. Three five-star recruits will be counted on to replace three first-round draft picks. Point guard Trevon Duval should be an instant star.
Rick Pitino is no longer the man in charge, but the Cardinals still have a star-studded roster that is good enough to win the ACC title. Interim coach David Padgett is charged with keeping this team focused.
3. North Carolina
Don’t expect a program that’s been to back-to-back national title games to slide back much. Good guard play and outside shooting will make up for big losses in the frontcourt.
This is the most talented team Jim Larranaga has had in his seven years at Coral Gables, and Larranaga has guided the Canes to the Sweet 16 twice before.
5. Notre Dame
Bonzie Colson should make a run at National Player of the Year honors. But a deep NCAA Tournament run comes down to the supporting cast.
6. Virginia Tech
Having such a balanced club last season will ease the loss of Tech’s top two scorers. Three double-digit scorers return, giving Buzz Williams more than enough to build on.
If possible, the Cavs may play an even slower pace. Replacing point London Perrantes will be a giant task.
8. Florida State
Despite losing their top three scorers from a 26-win team, the Noles return enough depth to avoid a big drop-off.
9. Wake Forest
Nobody in the ACC returns more experience, but it’s hard to see the Deacs getting better without John Collins.
10. Georgia Tech
The buzz is building after a surprising 21 wins and thanks to the return of key players Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie.
Landing grad transfer Geno Thorpe (South Florida) will add some much-needed offense, but there are lots of huge holes to fill with just five scholarship players returning.
With Jaron Blossomgame gone, the Tigers appear headed for a step back. They haven’t been to the NCAA Tourney since 2011.
13. NC State
Landing an NIT bid would be a solid start for new coach Kevin Keatts, who will build around senior big man Abdul-Malik Abu.
14. Boston College
The top five scorers return, but that’s where the good news ends. BC has won 10 ACC games the last four seasons.
This will be the definition of a rebuilding year for second-year coach Kevin Stallings. The Panthers have only three scholarship players returning.
Player of the Year: Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Best Defensive Player: Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech
Most Underrated Player: Bruce Brown, Miami
Newcomer of the Year: Trevon Duval, Duke
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM
Grayson Allen, Sr., G, Duke
Joel Berry III, Sr., G, North Carolina
Bruce Brown, So., G, Miami
Bonzie Colson, Sr., F, Notre Dame
Trevon Duval, Fr., G, Duke
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-ACC SECOND TEAM
Deng Adel, Jr., F, Louisville
Bryant Crawford , Jr., G, Wake Forest
Matt Farrell , Sr., G, Notre Dame
Ben Lammers, Sr., C, Georgia Tech
Quentin Snider, Sr., G, Louisville
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-ACC THIRD TEAM
Wendell Carter, Fr., F, Duke
Chris Clarke, Jr., G, Virginia Tech
Josh Okogie, So., G, Georgia Tech
Theo Pinson, Sr., F, North Carolina
Lonnie Walker, Fr., G, Miami