ACC Hoops: Focus Returns to the Big Three

This past season can be clearly classified as a disappointment by ACC standards. The conference managed to get a record seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, but those seven produced only seven wins – three of which by North Carolina, the only ACC team to advance to the Sweet 16.

This past season can be clearly classified as a disappointment by ACC standards. The conference managed to get a record seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, but those seven produced only seven wins – three of which by North Carolina, the only ACC team to advance to the Sweet 16.

The season produced signs that although Carolina had continued to be a dominant program; the power focus in the ACC had shifted from the Triangle area teams (the Big Three) to other parts of the eastern seaboard. Duke had one of their worst seasons since 1995, and NC State was recovering from a coaching change that had turned the program upside down.

But things are going to change in 2007-08. Next season, expectations are that all three Triangle teams will stand atop the ACC and represent the conference in nearly every preseason poll. How will this happen? Here's a brief breakdown:

The Wolfpack will rise again.
While NC State suffered through the 2006-07 campaign with a limited roster and a new coach at the helm, it became clear as the season went on that there is talent on the roster and that Sidney Lowe has the program moving in the right direction. As evidenced by their amazing post-season run through the ACC Tournament and the NIT, as well as some signature victories over area rivals Duke and Carolina, the Wolfpack could beat anyone at anytime.

Now, with a majority of the team returning, they will look to make even more noise. Forward Brandon Costner is an All-ACC caliber player, and others like Gavin Grant, Courtney Fells and Ben McCauley are solid contributors who can grab the spotlight on any given night. While point guard Engin Atsur was the heart and soul of the team, transfer Farnold Degand can run the team at a much faster pace – which is what Lowe wants from his floor leader.

Plus, when you add a recruiting class featuring one of the top low post prospects in the nation in J.J. Hickson, the potential for this team is unlimited.

The Blue Devils will rebound.
Mike Krzyzewski hasn't been sitting around feeling sorry for the team that fell so short of expectations this past year. Instead, he's been preparing his troops for a return to prominence.

Even though Duke lost the services of forward Josh McRoberts (who took an early exit to the NBA), the Devils will add three more McDonald's All-Americans to the roster (which now has a total of nine), and each will provide a scoring punch that Coach K's team has lacked over the past couple of years. Without McRoberts in the middle, the team will be significantly quicker with the likes of DeMarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer bringing the ball up the court.

While sophomores Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas continue to develop along the front line, Gerald Henderson will explode in a more prominent role for the Devils. The additions of Kyle Singler, Taylor King and Nolan Smith add further dimensions and creativity to the Duke offense, and K's staff is already working with the upperclassmen to shore up the defensive schemes.

Krzyzewski knows what didn't work last year, and he's more resolved than ever to fix whatever was broken.

The Heels remain on top.
The loss of freshman superstar Brandan Wright to the NBA was tough, but if any team could absorb such a loss, it would be North Carolina.

Roy Williams has done a phenomenal job of stocking the cupboard with top-notch talent, and all of it will be on display next season. The return of All-American center Tyler Hansbrough along with Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington give the Heels a strong nucleus that no other team in the nation possesses. And when you factor in all of the other supporting players, like Danny Green, Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard, UNC looks like a virtual lock for a Final Four berth. Sophomores Deon Thompson and Alex Stephenson will split time filling Wright's vacant frontcourt spot, and both are proven performers.

There is no doubt the Heels will be somewhere at the top of the national rankings when the first polls come out in the Fall, and Roy knows from their Elite Eight exit in this past year's tourney that all he needs to do is pull it all together for 60 minutes at a time.

The rest of the ACC is rebuilding.
Around the conference, various other teams are losing key personnel, and the losses are relatively significant.

Boston College loses Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall, Virginia Tech loses Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, Florida State loses ACC scoring leader Al Thornton, Virginia loses J.R. Reynolds and (possibly) Sean Singletary, and Maryland loses four of their starting five. Miami is still trying to gain some consistency (and health), Wake Forest is still a year or two away and Clemson is… well, Clemson. About the only team that could match up with the Triangle trio in terms of talent and potential is Georgia Tech – and they've lost their brilliant point guard, Javaris Crittenton, to the NBA.

With all of this going on, is there any wonder why experts are pointing to Carolina, Duke and NC State to carry the ACC next season?


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