Welcome back! It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you, without a....never mind. I'm not Timbaland so I shouldn't recite his lyrics. What I will do is discuss this upcoming ACC Basketball season. There are a ton of changes this season and for the first time in years there really isn't clea cut #1 team in this conference. Even the media at the ACC's Operation Basketball event couldn't decide. Duke and UNC both finished as co-favorites to win the league. Honestly the league is so wide open that neither of these teams could finish atop the ACC standings come the end of the regular season. I guess this is what happens when your conference loses 7 players to the first round of the NBA draft alone. Without further ado here is ACC Ballers' first 2009-2010 ACC Rankings and don't forget to check the new twitter account (@accballers)
This might be the only place where you'll find Maryland a top any preseason rankings for anything outside of Lacrosse but let me explain. Of the seven ACC teams that made the NCAA tournament year ago only the Terrapins return their starting back court. Greivis Vasquez has made the past two all-ACC teams and came in second in the preseason Player of the Year voting at the aforementioned ACC media event. It's going to be difficult for any ACC team to contend with a 6'6 senior point guard that averaged 17 points, 5 boards, and 5 assists the year before. Better yet for Gary Williams is that he has two starting guards in junior Adrian Bowie and sophomore Sean Mosley that gained valuable experience last season and have proven to be great defenders. Bowie has turned himself into a largely overlooked recruit into a bonafide ACC starter. His 9 ppg and defensive prowess have made him a legitimate ACC starter. Mosley, a Maryland high school basketball legend was expected to come in and provide Maryland with a big, physical wing that can score. What Coach Williams ended up getting was a fearless freshman who constantly made hustle plays when it counted. Mosley's elite ability to defend coupled with his court presence should help him elevate other aspects of his game this season. Furthermore, Maryland brings back four of five starters. The lone starter to leave was the cerebral yet undersized Dave Neal and Gary has brought in two legit big boys in James Padgett and Jordan Williams who should more than make up for his production. All the talk out of Maryland's first few practices and scrimmages are that both bring elements to the front court that the Terps lacked last year.
2. North Carolina #4
The defending National Champions are once again loaded. They bring back two very experienced starters in power forward Deon Thompson and small forward Marcus Ginyard. Thompson started last year and gave Coach Williams valuable minutes throughout the year. Ginyard was sidelined for the majority of the 2008-2009 season but was a full time starter for the Tar Heels in 2007-2008. The strength of this unit is in the front court as they showcase Thompson and projected top 5 2010 draft pick Ed Davis. Davis is a kid of a pro and a pro in waiting himself. He should blossom this year with minutes left behind by Tyler Hansbrough. Tar Heel nation need not worry as ole Roy has another talented Tyler to rely on in 7 foot sophomore center Tyler Zeller. Zeller is as talented as he is skinny (listed at 220lbs, looks 200lbs). He's got excellent touch and has the skills to put the ball in the basket. He was starter last year before he went down with a wrist injury early last season. For any other team it would be ridiculous for me not have mentioned the addition of a 6'10 high school All American small forward but that's how good it is in Chapel Hill recently. The 6'10 future pro I'm speaking of is John Henson from Sickles high school in Florida. This kid was a decently talented guard before he grew 6 or 7 inches in a year or two stint of high school. He will be the Tar Heels starting small forward and his length is going to help Roy out a lot this year. The question mark is at the guard spot where the Heels will have to rely heavily on two 2009 rivals.com 4 star guards in 6'4 Leslie McDonald (#65 overall) and the cat quick 6'3 guard Dexter Strickland (#34 overall). Larry Drew II, son of the former NBA guard, returns as the starter this season and he'll need to be great this year for this team to win it's last game. In reality this is a quality team that could make the elite 8 but might fall short the weekend before. With all of the talent Roy has this year they will at the very least be fun to watch.
3. Duke #8 (Unlike the ACC Media, we don't do ties here)
This year's Duke team will test whether quality is more valuable than quantity. The Dukies return starting point guard John Scheyer and part time starter Nolan Smith. A combo that averaged 23 points a game last year in supporting roles to now departed star guard Gerald Henderson. The issue is that there are no experienced guards behind these two. In fact, there is only one other guard on the roster and he's a freshman. Ok ok, Andre Dawkins is definitely a big time frosh that was top 10 in the class of 2010 but graduated a year early to help out the backcourt. With that said, the real strength of this team, and the reason they're in the #3 slot, is their front court depth. Unlike in recent years, Coach K has assembled a quality stable of big men that should help them dominate the glass. They will go with the very experienced senior forward Lance Thomas and the much hyped high school All-American Mason Plumlee. Thomas is a steady, defensive minded 4 with decent basketball IQ. He is usually in great position on the defensive end and he'll be asked to lead the front court. Mason, brother of current Duke sophomore Miles Plumlee, should really help to bolster Duke's interior defense. The Blue Devils haven't had a shot blocker or even a player who truly disrupts interior shots in years and Mason should finally fill that void. He's got great leaping ability and he's pretty savvy as well. The bench will be solid but the lack of back court depth will come back to haunt them at some point this year. This will probably also lead to an earlier than expected exit in the NCAA tournament.
4. Wake Forest
Dino Gaudio lost two first round draft picks from his starting lineup this summer (Jeff Teague and James Johnson) and still has enough talent left over to finish in the top four in this league. For those that don't know this is an impressive feat. While Gaudio deserves a lot of credit for keeping this unit in tact the reason this team can have such high expectations is the emergence of All-ACC freshman Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu, now more of a combo forward, has a tremendous combination of height, athleticism, and ball handling skills that proved to be a problem for the majority of Wake's opponents last season. He was rated as the #1 ranked Small Forward in the country coming out of high school in 2008 by several services and he could have been a lottery pick in this past year's NBA draft had he chosen that option. Aminu will most certainly improve upon his very admirable 13 points and 8 board average in his sophomore season. Word is that he's been working on his game at Lebron's camp and that he spent a good bit of the summer doing the same down in Winston Salem. As you might be thinking, one guy alone is not good enough to lead a team to a top 4 finish in this conference. The players Gaudio has in place to compliment Aminu are surely capable. Senior point guard Ishamael Smith and junior two guard L.D. Williams are terrific defenders that can put pressure on opposing ball handlers full court, for 40 minutes. These two played significant minutes on a team that at one point was ranked #1 in the country last season. Nuff said. The front court Gaudio has returning should also keep Wake fans excited this winter. Aside from Aminu, the Deacs return seven foot 235lbs. Chas McFarland (8 ppg, 6 rpg), 2008 Mcdonald's All American Tony Woods and highly recruited seven foot sophomore Ty Walker. This front line should be able to compete with just about every other front line in the country. The only concern this team will have will be it's ability to score. Of the returning players only Aminu put up a double digit scoring average last season. Projected starting point guard Ishmael Smith is more of a true point than Teague was last season and he can really get by his defender but he's not much of a shooter (24% 3 point field goal percentage in 2008-09). Much of the same can be said about Williams as most of his 8 points per game came on breakaway dunks and layups. If highly recruited newcomers Ari Stewart and C.J. Harris can't help in this regard the Deacs will probably experience a few more scoring droughts than desired. Defense is this teams strong suit and they should play it well enough to stay in the top half of the ACC standings this season.
5. Georgia Tech #20
This might be too high for Paul Hewitt's bunch (finished dead last at 2-14 in the ACC last season) but they are talented enough to finish higher, so we had to give the Jackets the nod over Clemson. When you talk about this year's Tech squad all conversations must begin with the two future first round picks they have in the front court with 6'9 junior Gani Lawal and 6'10 incoming power forward Derrick Favors. Lawal is a an athletic freak who could have entered the draft last year. He had work to do on his game (notably free throw shooting and shot mechanics in general) this summer so he decided to spend one more year in Atlanta. For those that don't know Favors was Scout.com's top ranked player overall in the class of 2009. Favors should come in and put up decent numbers right away as his ability to operate in the low post, defend the post, and overall skill set are well above par for the college level. Fortunately for Hewitt and co. the post is not the only upgrade made to this team over the summer. The additions of the rest of rivals.com's 4th ranked recruiting class will help stabilize the back court. Hewitt brought i n 3 rivals 4 star guards in point guard Mfon Udofia, wing Glen Rice (son of the former NBA All Star guard that goes by the same name), and Brian Oliver (not related to the former Georgia Tech star by the same name). Udofia is the stud of this group as rivals 6th ranked point guard (32nd player overall in 2009) can really get after it defensively. His superior quickness should have him in the starting lineup sooner rather than later as it will allow last year's All-ACC freshman selection Iman Shumpert (10 points, 5 assists per last season) to move to his more natural shooting guard position. The last two members of this loaded freshman class are pretty fantastic players in their own right. Kammeon Holsey is a 6'8 power forward with elite level athleticism that is yet another ESPNU top 100 player in this class. Unfortunately he will rehab a torn ACL this season. This might work out to his advantage as he will not have to spend his first season backing up the future NBA pros already on Tech's front line. The key for Tech this season will be to reduce their turnovers and use their athleticism to defend at an elite level. If these two goals are achieved there are not many teams in the country, much less this conference, that can compete with them. The aforementioned Shumpert should be primed for a breakout sophomore year and this is what Hewitt's squad will need to really challenge for a top seed in the ACC tournament this coming year. Should be a make or break season for Hewitt as well. If he can't win with this team in this year's ACC a change in regime might ensue. Big year for the Jackets.
6. Clemson #24
Many believe this Clemson team will finish higher (ACC Media picked them to finish 3rd) but I think their previous seasons may have been weighed too heavily in this prediction. Clemson lost two of their top three scorers with K.C. Rivers graduating and Terrence Oglesby deciding to start his professional career early. They still retain All-ACC selection Trevor Booker (15 ppg, 9.7 rbg) in the low post but they lack a consistent second option now that Rivers and Oglesby are no longer providing about 35% of their points. The good news for Clemson fans is that they have more talent this season than ever. 6'9 McDonald's All American Milton Jennings (#26 in 2009 ESPNU top 100) is power forward with range out to the three point line. His addition combined with the 2009 ESPNU top 100 player (ranked 30th overall) Noel Johnson and Devin Booker (Trevor's brother) has significantly enhanced the talent that Coach Oliver Purnell has inside. Johnson was a huge get for Purnell as he was slated to go to USC before Tim Floyd resigned. Johnson is an elite level scorer The back court is in decent shape as well as the Tigers return two year starter Demontez Stitt at the point guard position and a couple of talented wings in 6'5 Tanner Smith and 6'6 David Potter. Backup point guard Andre Young proved that he could run the break in his first season (almost 3:1 assist/turnover ration) and hit the open shot (39% from three). Clemson will finish higher than this if they can get their opponents to play at their pace. The trouble is they might have a difficult time playing at this pace due to their inexperience and lack of a true and proven outside scoring threat. With this said, this team is talented enough to be dancing in March and might be able to sneak in on Selection Sunday.
7. Florida State
Leonard Hamilton, fresh off of a contract extension, is finally directing this program in the right direction. Last year they came within a game of an ACC tournament title and made the big tournament for the first time in years. Unfortunately for Hamilton and the rest of Seminole nation the leading scorer from last season now gets paid to play. That's right, Toney Douglas now plays for the Knicks and he took his 21.5 points and almost 2 steals a game with him. This could pose a huge problem as the next highest scorer averaged under 10 points per game. Hamilton will need to figure out where the offense is going to come from right away. For right now the plan seems to be that the Seminoles will turn to future NBA pro Solomon Alibi. Alibi put up 8 points, 5 boards, and 2 blocks last season but his skill set is far advanced than these numbers would suggest. The 7'1 250lbs center has quality post moves and counter moves that will allow him to be effective down low if the young Seminole guards can get him the ball. Along with Alibi, Florida State looks to former McDonald's All American (08') Chris Singleton to provide rebounding and defensive prowess. Singleton is a long combo forward who can hit the three as well as defend multiple positions. His development will be critical in determining how good this team can be. Another player who falls under this context is 6'4 junior point guard Derwin Kitchen. Kitchen, a JUCO transfer that became eligible for the second semester last season was instrumental in FSU's success last season and will be counted on to build on his solid performance last season. Lastly but certainly not leastis 2009 Mickey D's All American Michael Snaer. Snaer a 6'5 two guard that Hamilton convinced to make the cross country trek from California is a tough nosed big time scorer who will be counted on immediately to provide scoring. This team should battle for a NCAA tournament bid all season and my guess is that they will be sitting on the edge of their seat come Selection Sunday. If Snaer is great, they're in. Anything short of great, their games in Mid March will all be early in the week. In other words they'll be in the NIT.
8. Boston College
Al Skinner returns a very talented team with players like junior forward Joe Trapani (13 points, 6 boards per game) and junior guard Rakim Sanders (13 points, 4 boards per game). The Eagles also return 2 other starters in center Josh Southern and guard Corey Raji, both of whom have established themselves as legit ACC players. The reason for concern stems from the fact they basically lost their best player and by far their most clutch performer in Tyrese Rice. Rice was the go to guy for Skinner the past two years and his leadership will be very difficult to replace. While Sanders and Trapani are very capable of keeping the Eagles in games this year neither have been go to guys on an ACC team before and they are in for a rude awakening. This league is tough and when teams scheme for you scoring becomes that much more difficult. The good news for the Eagles is that they will likely have an all junior starting lineup that could take advantage of the younger teams in this conference. They didn't bring in anyone this year so this team should be able to gel earlier than most. The Eagles will have opportunities to steal games early due to their experience and if they can do that they'll finish higher than this.
9. Virginia Tech
The Hokies are my wild card team this year. Seth Greenberg has two studs returning in junior guard Malcolm Delaney (18 ppg last season) and junior forward Jeff Allen (13.7 ppg, 8rpg). Both of these players have the ability to be top 5 at their respective positions in this conference and should take advantage of their considerable experience this season. The key to this season will be how well the rest of the Hokies play. Big forwards Victor Davila and J.T. Thompson will have to improve on their very modest statistics from last season. These two very talented players only averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds between them. That will not be good enough if they would like to finish higher than 9th. To add some depth Greenberg brought in four freshman this season highlighted by 6'3 point guard Erick Green and 6'3 two guard Ben Boggs. These two players in particular hold the key to Tech's season in my opinion. If Green, who played his senior season in the renowned DC Catholic league in an attempt to ready himself for ACC basketball, can play significant minutes at point guard this season this team will finish higher than this. Better yet, if Boggs lives up to his big time reputation as a shooter and not hinder the team too much on defense this team will be dancing in March. If it takes these players a bit longer to develop the Hokie Pokie will be the only dancing done this season.
New head man Tony Bennett will bring a new style of play to the Cavaliers and the players ability to adapt will be instrumental to this team's success this season. The Cavaliers return 2008-2009 ACC freshman of the year Sylven Landesberg (16 ppg, 6 rpg last season) and their entire starting lineup. Power forward Mike Scott will be expected to improve on his 10 points and 7 boards a game. No reason to think he won't. 7'0 foot starting center Assane Sene has been playing pick up basketball with NBA pro's like Troy Murphy this summer and word is that he has held his own. Expect to see an improved offensive game (just 2.5ppg last season) from Sene as well. He must be able to stay in games for longer than 17 minutes this season though. The real improvement for the Cavaliers must be made in the back court. Point guard Sammy Zeglinski must be able to keep players in front of him on defense without having to foul and he as well much improve on his very pedestrian 1.2/1 assist to turnover ratio. This season the Cavaliers will have help in that regard as freshman point guard Jontel Evans should at least provide defensive pressure at the point guard spot that has been lacking since Sean Singletary left two seasons ago. The key to this season for the Cavaliers will be how good junior guard Jeff Jones has become. If he has finally regained the form that made him a 4 star guard coming out of high school in Philadelphia the Cavaliers will steal several games in this young conference. If not, the Cavaliers will have to gut out wins just to make the NIT.
This is certainly a rebuilding year for Frank Haith's Hurricanes but that doesn't mean this squad doesn't have talent. Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant is finally eligible and not a season to soon. This talented combo guard will more than likely man the point guard spot this season and should make the loss of sweet shooting guard Jack McClinton a bit easier to stomach for Haith. Along with Grant are forward/center Dwayne Collins and 3/4 forward James Dews, the second and third leading scorers from last season. These two players should build on their success from last season and can hold their own in this conference. This team, while solidly built still lacks the skill level to compete at a high level in this conference. Haith will need major production from incoming two guard Durant Scott (#43 in the ESPNU 100) from the acclaimed Rice high school in NYC. Two other players from Haith's 4 man class that should provide some depth are 6'5 two guard Garrius Adams from North Carolina and 6'8 post Donnavan Kirk from the basketball factory that is Detroit Country Day School (Detroit, Michigan). This team is at least a year away from making any major impact but they do return arguably the league's best athlete in 6'6 guard/forward DeQuan Jones. Jones, a rivals 5 star player in 2008, had his moments last season and will need to have many more this season for this team to compete.
12. North Carolina State
Absolutely a rebuilding year for the Wolfpack and coach Sidney Lowe. This team lost its top three scorers from last season and will rely on junior power forward Tracy Smith (10 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and junior Javier Gonzalez (6.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg) for much of their offense. Outsider marksman Dennis Horner returns for his senior season and should be able to stretch the defense a bit with his ability to connect from the land of 3 (35% from 3pt range last season). Another player who should help the Wolfpack from downtown is 6'6 freshman two guard Scott Wood. Many players have already commented on how well this kid can shoot it and this team will need all the good shooting it can get. This season does not look very promising for the Wolfpack but if this team can gel this season the 2010-2011 season should be very exciting. You see, in 2010 the Wolfpack have the 5th rated recruiting class in the country coming in. This group includes two rivals five star players and one very highly rated guard (Lorenzo Brown, 4 star guard in 2009) set to come to Raleigh.