It's been a long time coming but ACC Ballers is back and ready for the 2008-2009 season. While the new season is still a few days away I think it's a good time to do a lil' prognosticating. To start off, I'm going to predict that Maryland's 6-9 freshman forward Jin Soo Kim will be a fan favorite from the moment he steps on the floor in College Park. The versatile Korean import has the ability to shoot ball from the outside, something that Maryland could use a little more of.
He's number 5.
1. North Carolina
Carolina comes into the season ranked #1 in any poll you can find, and the voting wasn't really close. They bring everyone back except Alex Stephenson, who's off to USC to be closer to family. Roy Williams really lucked out when he received the news that Psycho-T, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, and Wayne Ellington all decided to forgo the NBA draft to return to Chapel Hill. Point blank, they shouldn't lose a game this year even without Hansbrough for the first 2 weeks of the season. Pre-season first team All-ACC point guard Ty Lawson and big time shooting guard Wayne Ellington are going to have their way with some of the youth in many ACC backcourts. If this wasn't enough, they add a heralded freshman class headlined by Mickey D's All Americans Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis. These two post players should just add more depth to an already crowded bench. The third McDonald AA of the class, point guard Larry Drew Jr. (son of the former NBA player Larry Drew), should be able to improve the backcourt. Too add, former McDonalds All-American point guard Bobby Frasor returns from injury. Basically everybody on this team is either really good or great. Heres a video, and then we're moving on.
(again, it's the Ty Lawson clip because it still has the best song of any basketball video on youtube. period)
They're going to be a lot better this year, and they weren't bad last year (26-4, 13-3). They have added a ton of front court depth and have finally decided to bring Paulus off the bench. No offense to Paulus (because he is a very productive ACC player) but he lacks the lateral quickness to stay with elite point guards and make plays for your teammates. The other reason that Coach K moved to Paulus to the bench was the emergence of Nolan Smith, the highly touted guard from Maryland who apparently was the best player on campus this summer. Throw in pre season All ACC first team F Gerald Henderson, big time shooter John Scheyer, and highly skilled freshman PF Miles Plumlee and the Blue Devils look as though they're ready to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament this year. I guess that's why they're ranked #5 in the espn/usatoday preseason top 25 poll. While I have Carolina winning the regular season title I think Duke will get the automatic bid if Smith is as good as advertised. Here is video of this year's version of their annual Blue/White game (the song in this video is horrible but it's pretty good footage).
The starting lineup of Smith, Scheyer, Henderson, Kyle Singler, and Mason Plumlee should be enough to put away most teams they face retalitvely early in agmes. Singler is a stud 6'8 sophomore who should blow up this season. Look for him to improve upon his 13 points and 6 boards a game this season. The addition of ultra athletic and highly coveted 6'4 two guard Elliot Williams (espn.com's #18 ranked player nationally) from Memphis should add even more depth to the guard position
3. Wake Forest
Youth and Talent would be the best two words to describe this year's version of the Deacs'. They've got plenty of returning talent in dynamic backcourt Junior Ishamel Smith and Sophomore Jeff Teague (13.9 ppg, 40% from three point range) to go along with much improved 7 foot junior center Chas McFarland (8.4 ppg last season as a sophomore) and James Johnson (3rd team All-ACC last season as a freshman). Heres a bit of what James Johnson can do.
To go along with this, Wake Forest has brought in a top 3 class according to rivals.com. The headliner is Georgia native Al-Farouq Aminu (espn.com's #17 ranked player nationally). Aminu is a highly skilled 6'8 SF with exceptional ball handling skills for someone that size. He's also a beast inside because he started his HS career as more of a post player. The descendant of African Kings has a brother, Alade, that gets good run for Georgia Tech. As if this weren't enough, the late Skip Prosser brought in talent inside prospects in hometown boy Ty Walker (rival.com's #2 ranked Center) and Tony Woods (rivals.com's #3 ranked Center) of Georgia. There is no reason for this team to not finish near the top of this conference this season and I expect the Deacs' to advance deep into the ACC tourney. Not many teams in the country will be able to match the speed in the backcourt that the Coach Gaudio can and maybe only a handful of teams can match the depth in the frontcourt. Should be an exciting season in Winston-Salem.
This team lost a lot of its swagger with the losses of seniors James Mays and Cliff Hammonds. Luckily for Couch Purnell outstanding 2 guard K.C. Rivers brings his 14 points and 6 boards a game back for one more season. Rivers, along with clutch shooter Terrence Oglesby and shot blocker Trevor Booker (1.9 bpg) should be the glue of this talented team. One player whose numbers and time should improve this year is 6'6 junior guard/foward David Potter. Potter is a great athlete who has a nice feel for the game and good touch. His minutes went up 5 in his sophomore season and I expect them to go up even more. Clemson needs another shooter and he seems to fit the bill. Moving on, Jerai Grant, nephew of former NBA player and Clemson All-American Horace Grant, is a year older and should provide some depth inside. While Demontez Stitt played very well as a freshman point guard in the toughest league in the land, last year's Tigers needed another guard who could bring the ball up court against heavy pressure. Purnell took care of this issue by bringing in dynamic 5-9 point guard Andre Young, espn.com's 28th ranked point guard. He also added Caitlin Bacui, a 7 footer who will add size inside. Overall Clemson should make the NCAA tournament again and they might have added enough pieces to advance a few rounds.
This team has a lot of potential, which is why the Terps are at the five spot. This could end up being too high if their inexperience inside becomes a problem but their backcourt is really good. Last season Second Team All-ACC guard Greivis Vasquez (17 points, 5.7 boards and 6.3 assists per game) returns along with fellow junior guard Eric Hayes. Hayes quietly averaged about 10 points and a shade under 5 assists per game. Adding to the backcourt depth is incoming freshman 6-5 freshman two guard Sean Mosely out of Charm City. Mosely, espn.com's 9th ranked shooting guard in the country, can really score the ball and is a beast on defense. Just the type of guy that plays early and often for Gary. While the backcourt is straight the front court leaves a lot to be desired. Williams will have to rely on sophomore wing Cliff Tucker and junior forward Landon Milbourne to help out inside a bit. Milbourne, a lefty who can do this
improved tremendously as a sophomore and one has to think he'll continue to improve this year. 6'9 four man 3rd year sophomore Jerome Burney should man the post area along with 6'8 wide body sophomore Braxton Dupree. These two will have to adjust quickly as they'll be asked to do much more this year with the losses of James Gist and Bambale Osby. One player who should help is the aforementioned Jin Soo Kim. He'll give Gary a shooter who can help force teams out of zones.
The Hurricanes bring back a talented team with 6'1 senior guard Jack McClinton and his 17.7 points a night average (a ridiculous 42.7% beyond the arc). Take a look at what he did in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Frank Heath's team also returns 6'3 junior James Dews, who averaged over 10 a night last season as a sophomore. While this team is ranked is ranked 16th by the espn/usatoday poll, I have a feeling that they will miss 6'9 big man Anthony King more than most think. He was their leading rebounder and gave them 24 big minutes a night last season. While Dwayne Collins is a promising young post player the Canes just don't have enough big guys down low with to make up for their lack of a true point guard. Nobody on the team averaged even 3 assists per game. In college basketball, if you have holes inside and noone to make plays for other people you'll have a hard time making much noise. This team is still talented though and should be even better with the arrival of 6'6 Five Star (scout.com) small forward DeQuan Jones. Jones can absolutely fly and should help Miami on the boards.
7. North Carolina State
The year's Wolfpack should look a lot more like the 2006-2007 season than the 2007-2008 team. Gone are stud freshman J.J. Hickson and big game senior wing Gavin Grant but Coach Lowe's team has a lot of talent returning. More importantly, the Wolfpack will have their point guard Farnold Degand back from injury. Of all the things that went wrong for N.C. State this was the biggest blow due to lack of depth at the position. Although they had enough talent to keep up with the rest of the ACC the Pack just couldn't protect the ball at the end of games. Aside from protecting the ball, I believe the return of Degand will probably lead to improved numbers by former Mickey D's All American Brandon Costner, whose production dipped to 8.5 point per game as a junior after averaging 16.8 as a sophomore. Every thing I have heard leads me to believe that Hickson's touches really limited Costner's ability to score. With J.J. now a first round pick playing for the Cleveland Lebron's Costner should have much more room to operate down low and the perimeter. I also like 6'9 senior Center Ben McCauley's high basketball IQ and ability to score down low. 6'6 Senior guard Courtney Fells is an ACCBallers favorite and should provide quality outside shooting and monster dunks for the Wolfpack as well. This team will be in the thick of it for an NCAA at large bid by season's end.
8. Virginia Tech
This year's Hokies squad will miss a lot of what Deron Washington brought to the table. The announcer's reaction says it all.
He brought a type of athleticism that most teams in the country couldn't account for. A 6'7 guy should not be able to do what he did in the air. For that reason alone Tech will have issues winning some of the close games they won last season. Enough of what they don't have. This team is actually pretty talented. They return 3 of their top 4 scorers including leading scorer A.D. Vassallo. A.D. proved he can shoot it by averaging about 17 a night on a shade under 40% shooting from three. A.D., along with talented rising sophomores Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen should be enough to compete at home and on the road this year. If highly regarded 6'9 Center Victor Davilla can give them quality production as a freshman, this team might finish higher than this in the league and challenge for a tournament big. I just don't see it right away though.
9. Georgia Tech
The Ramblin' Wreck should be much improved from last season, and could possibly finish higher than this if senior Lewis Clinch can return to his sophomore form when he averaged 13 a night. He would have averaged more by years end in my opinion but his season was cut short due to an academic issue, looks like things might not have changed though. He's already been ruled academically ineligible for at least the first seven games of the season. When he gets back, Clinch should have a bit more help this season though as incoming McDonalds All American combo guard Iman Shumpert sets to make his Yellow Jacket debut. Coach Hewitt saw his team give up several leads last season due to shaky backcourt play. He needs the 6-4 Shumpert to help Clinch and point guard Mo Miller with handling the ball on the perimeter and chances are he will. He's got a pretty mature game for a 18 year old freshman two guard. See for yourself.....
Aside from Shumpert, the Jackets have a number of talented players on the roster who should help out this year. One of these being 6'8 former high school All American Gani Lawal. Lawal is a beast down low and should significantly improve upon his 7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Another player who should really come out this season is junior Zach Peacock. He averaged just about 10 a night last season in just 20 minutes a night. He's a skilled post player and should really be able to exploit many of the young ACC post players this season. The experience Georgia Tech has down low should help them compete for a higher finish but scoring might still be an issue for this team. They have the potential to be on the bubble for the big dance but chances are they'll be NIT'ing it in March.
10. Florida State
The Seminoles are very young but should at the very least be fun to watch. The Seminoles like to run and luckily for them they return one of the ACC's leader in steals last season in senior guard Tony Douglas. Douglas was also the the leading scorer for this team at 15.4 a night and will probably need to do even more to keep this team competitive. Of the 12 scholarship players on the roster only have 4 are upperclassmen. This would normally be a recipe for disaster if their freshman class (ranked 9th in the nation by rivals.com) wasn't so good. Hamilton has somehow managed to bring in top 25 versatile 6'8 forward Chris Singleton, to go along with skilled center Xavier Gibson (#56 overall by rivals.com), guard Deividas Dulkys (#69 overall by rivals.com), juco All American pick up Derwin Kitchen. This class is loaded and should help the 4 returning starters win some games that the Seminoles might not have one in the past. Singleton's ability to rebound and get out and run should be a matchup problem for almost every team on the Coach Hamilton's schedule.
This year, my beloved Cavaliers will have an uphill battle on their hands almost each time out. Coach Leitao loses the heart and soul of the team for the past 2 years, all everything guard Sean Singletary and his almost 20 points and 7 dimes a game. This year, the Cavs will rely heavily on incoming McDonald's All American Sylven Landesberg, a 6'6 combo guard with ability to shoot the ball and slash to the basket. Sylven, espn.com's 19th ranked senior in the class of 2008, will have to come in with the ability to take care over games for the Wahoos to finish higher than this. This is a bit of what he can do (number 15).
Along with Landesberg, Virginia will need help from off and on senior forward Mamadi Diane. Mo, the second leading scorer for the Cavs last season at 11.8 a night, needs to improve upon his average and score consistently for this team. Starting power forward Mike Scott should improve upon his decent numbers (5.7ppg, 5.3rpg) as a sophomore and should be aided by the return of senior center Tunji Soroye. Last season Coach Leitao's team had an issue with depth inside but that should not be a problem this year. Along with the addition of Landesberg, he added highly rated 6'11 center John Brandenburg (#77 overall by espn.com) and 7'0 late bloomer Assane Sene from Senegal. Both of these post players are extremely athletic and will shore up the Cavs interior defense immediately. The commitments of Sylven, JB, and Sene gave UVA honorable mention status on espn.com's 2008 team recruiting rankings. If not this year, this class should be key to the Cavs future success.
12. Boston College
This season will be pretty tough for the Coach Skinner and the BC Eagles. While they return super guard Tyrese Rice and his 21 points and 5 dimes a game the Eagles don't return much else. Sophomore Rakim Sanders should continue to improve on his outstanding freshman numbers (about 12 points and 5 boards a night) from the guard position. Of the 12 scholarship players on the roster, Coach Skinner returns one senior (Rice), and only one junior (6'7 forward Tyler Roche). Everyone else is either a freshman or a sophomore. For a team that was 4-12 in conference last season, relying on so many young players is a recipe for disaster in the ACC. Hopefully talented sophomore center Josh Southern will continue to get better and provide the Eagles with an inside presense at some point this season.