Frank: ACC Preview

Take a Hall of Fame coach, two All-Americas, three other key veterans, five exceptional freshmen, blend them together and what do you have? You've got a Duke team that is the clear-cut favorite to finish atop the ACC standings this season. And watch for Boston College to make a big impact during its ACC debut.


It's a foregone conclusion, probably even in cities where sports fans barely know the difference between Blue Devils, Blue Demons and Demon Deacons, that Coach Mike Krzyzewski's Duke squad is the overwhelming favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

 

As well it should be, with a 10-man, active roster of scholarship players that includes six McDonald's All-Americas . . . one of which isn't John R. Wooden Award candidate Shelden Williams.

 

But the Blue Devils aren't going to navigate their 16-game ACC schedule without encountering multiple speed bumps.

 

It seems reasonable to assume that at least five other teams will be part of the 65 clubs whose players will have the biggest grins come March 12.

 

And the addition of Boston College – (Duke faces the Eagles in Chestnut Hill on Feb. 1) – gives the ACC another quality program to take a pop at the Blue Devils this season.

 

By the way . . . it wouldn't be a surprise if Duke is 20-0 when it takes on Boston College, which could be ranked in the Top 10 at the time.

 

A closer look at the ACC:

 

Projected finish

1. Duke

Frank's spin: There's not much "spin" needed with these guys, not with a couple of preseason All-Americas, Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, returning, along with three other key contributors from last season's 27-6 team. On almost any other club in America, 6-10 Josh McRoberts – the cornerstone of an exceptional five-member freshman class – would be the leading scorer and rebounder. His numbers might not be eye-popping this season but the team wouldn't be the favorite to win a national title without him.

Postseason possibilities: Anything short of a spot in the national championship game on April 3 will be looked upon as a disappointment by many. Such is life for the most high profile program in the country right now.

 

2. Boston College

Frank's spin: The Eagles couldn't have picked a better time to join the ACC – although those already in the conference might beg to differ. They return four starters from a team that was 25-5 (including 13-3 in conference) during the program's final season as a member of the Big East. Forward Craig Smith is a consensus preseason All-America and has the best opportunity of anyone not named J.R. Redick or Shelden Williams of being the 2005-06 ACC Player of the Year. The development of backcourt depth is a must for Coach Al Skinner. The return of sophomore center Sean Williams would be a huge (as in 6-11) plus.

Postseason possibilities: The Eagles were a No. 4 regional seed last March. They should be well within that range 12 months later.

 

3. North Carolina State

Frank's spin: Sure, one of the best players in the program's history – guard Julius Hodge – is now in the NBA. But Coach Herb Sendek returns seven players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game during the team's Sweet 16 run last March, a couple of those, forwards Ilian Evtimov and Andrew Brackman, who are among the better players in the conference. As Sendek's exceptional trio of freshmen continues to develop, this team's depth may be second to none in the ACC.

Postseason possibilities: A second consecutive trek into the second week of the NCAA Tournament wouldn't be stunning.

 

4. Wake Forest

Frank's spin: The Demon Deacons could do some serious damage in any national 2-on-2 tournament, courtesy the duo of guard Justin Gray and center Eric Williams. Both will bag all-ACC honors as seniors but their classmates – most notably Trent Strickland, Chris Ellis and Kyle Visser – will need to turn in their best-ever seasons for the loss of Chris Paul and three key seniors not to sting too sharply.

Postseason possibilities: A sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament seems in the offing.

 

5. Maryland

Frank's spin: The Terps won 19 games last season – two against Duke. But they also lost three times to Clemson, which was a significant reason why their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances was snapped at 11. Seniors Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray combined to average 30 points per game last season. But the key to winning 20-plus games this season and returning to the NCAA Tournament will be in how D.J. Strawberry (sidelined the final 18 games last season after ACL surgery) evolves into a playmaker.

Postseason possibilities: They'll be back in the NCAA Tournament and could finish a few notches higher than this in the ACC, if all breaks well.

 

6. North Carolina

Frank's spin: The Tar Heels, flush after winning a national title, being picked sixth in the ACC? Sounds almost surreal, right? But Coach Roy Williams lost his top seven players from that 33-4 squad, four of which were lottery selections in the NBA Draft in June. But senior David Noel, the only returnee who was a regular part of Williams' rotation, should be one of the ACC's best. And center Tyler Hansbrough will be among the freshmen leaders, nationally, in scoring and rebounding.

Postseason possibilities: If the rest of Williams' freshman class is as good as most think, there should be enough wins to get an at-large bid as a No. 8 or 9 regional seed.

 

7. Miami

Frank's spin: The Hurricanes will be without one element in their wonderful trio of guards for awhile as playmaker Anthony Harris is expected to be sidelined for up to six weeks with a broken foot. The other parts of that triangle, Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite, combined to average nearly 36 points and 10 rebounds. The caliber of post play Frank Haith gets in his second season as the program's coach will determine which post-season tournament his team plays in during March.

Postseason possibilities: They could be wrestling the next two clubs for the conference's seventh NCAA Tournament spot – if it gets that many.

 

8. Virginia Tech

Frank's spin: The Hokies had success that bordered on the starting during their first ACC season, splitting their 16 conference games and finishing 16-14 overall, with Seth Greenberg being chosen Coach of the Year. Hitting eight and 16 again this time around could be tough, especially with the addition of Boston College (which they play twice) to the ACC. Greenberg lost just one full-time starter, and returns three who scored in double figures: Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and Coleman Collins.

Postseason possibilities:  A probable 6-0 beginning will be a start on the road to fulfilling those expectations.

 

9. Georgia Tech

Frank's Spin: The Yellow Jackets lost almost all of the team that played in the national title game in 2004, including NBA Draft first-round choice Jarrett Jack, so Coach Paul Hewitt will have rely heavily on his sophomores and freshmen to keep the teams from slipping too far down the ACC pack. Ra'Sean Dickey (6-8, 255) and wing Anthony Morrow are two of the second-year players Hewitt will count on the most. Lewis Clinch seems the best of the newcomers.

Postseason possibilities: An NIT* (*or whatever it will be called in March) bid seems most likely. But I thought the same thing two years ago, too.

 

10. Clemson

Frank's spin: With three starters and several other players who saw extensive action last season, this is a team that wouldn't be buried nearly this team in most other conference's standings. Coach Oliver Purnell has a roster deep in quality perimeter players, including Cliff Hammonds (all-ACC freshmen team last season), Shawan Robinson and Vernon Hamilton. And freshman K.C. Rivers (from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia) gives him another.

Postseason possibilities: The Tigers could be 7-0 before heading to Puerto Rico for a tournament. That's a nice start toward post-season action.

 

11. Florida State

Frank's spin: The Seminoles were forecast by some to challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament before winning just 12 games (four of those in the ACC to tie for last). And that was a disappointment, even if basketball isn't quite the passion in Tallahassee that it is in, say, the North Carolina cities of Durham and Chapel Hill. But Coach Leonard Hamilton has a roster dotted with gifted sophomores (Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann) and freshmen (Uche Echefu and Cassan Breeden).

Postseason possibilities: In all probability . . . not real good.

 

12. Virginia

Frank's spin: David Leitao was lured away from DePaul and he'll eventually have the Cavaliers challenging for upper-division (hence, NCAA Tournament bids) finishes. But not this season and probably not in 2006-7, either. But he and his staff will reel in enough quality players to clear plenty of space between the program and the ACC cellar before very long. He inherited a nice trio of guards in J.R. Reynolds, Sean Singletary and T.J. Bannister.

Postseason possibilities: All but non-existent.

 

Projected All-Conference First Team

  • Shelden Williams (6-9, Sr., Duke)
  • J.J. Redick (6-4, Sr., Duke)
  • Eric Williams (6-9, Sr., Wake Forest)
  • Craig Smith (6-7, Sr., Boston College)
  • Justin Gray (6-2, Sr., Wake Forest)

Projected All-Conference Second Team

  • Andrew Brackman (6-10, So., North Carolina State)
  • Guillermo Diaz (6-2, Jr., Miami)
  • Nik Caner-Medley (6-7, Sr., Maryland)
  • Jared Dudley (6-7, Jr., Boston College)
  • Taylor Hansbrough (6-9, Fr., North Carolina)

Most influential newcomers

  • Tyler Hansbrough (6-9, Fr., North Carolina)
  • Josh McRoberts (6-10, Fr., Duke)
  • Cameron Stanley (6-7, Fr., Wake Forest)
  • Brandon Costner (6-8, Fr., North Carolina State)
  • Lewis Clinch (6-3, Fr., Georgia Tech)

Most underrated player

  • Andrew Brackman (6-10, So., North Carolina State)

Top pro prospect

  • Josh McRoberts (6-10, Fr., Duke)

An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com



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