2015-16 NCAAB Previews – ACC
The Atlantic Coast Conference is loaded up at the top once again with a bunch of teams from the bottom who have improved and will be looking to make some noise in the conference.
The reigning National Champ Duke Blue Devils lost their main core but should be right in the mix as Coach K brought in a fresh crop of freshman talent once again. Despite how good Duke has been recently, they haven’t won the ACC Regular Season title since 2010 when they shared it with Maryland.
In fact, the last three regular season winners haven’t been any of the historically big names of college basketball. Virginia has won the last two regular season titles and Miami won in 2013. These three along with Tar Heels and the reigning ACC Tournament Champ Notre Dame Fighting Irish will all be right in the mix for this year’s regular season title.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels will be without their starting point guard, Marcus Paige, for the first three weeks of the season. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem as the Tar Heels open with a relatively soft non-conference schedule. He might not be back for the December 1st game against Maryland but he’ll be back with plenty of time before conference play.
The Tar Heels have Paige – one of the best point guards in the country – but they have more than just that. They have depth, guards, size, experience, and of course – the great Coach Roy Williams.
With potential NCAA violations looming and this loaded roster, Williams may feel some urgency. He has had a hell of a coaching career and if the NCAA drops the hammer on the Tar Heels program because of the violations, Williams could call it a career. He will want to end on a high note. This roster has the potential not only to win the ACC but to win the NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels at times last year became too reliant on Paige – expecting him to do everything. They have enough talent returning that they shouldn’t need to do that. That could be their only downfall but don’t expect it to limit them too much.
Duke Blue Devils
The reigning National Champs lost their three headed monster of Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor to the pros but are expected to be right back in the mix this year. They are bringing in some highly ranked freshman and return a core of players with some experience.
But, the real reason the Blue Devils are in the conversation once again is Coach K. Sure, they bring back Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, and Matt Jones. They welcome freshmen Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton, and Brandon Ingram who are all expected to start. Those three are all very good but they won’t be at the level of Tyus Jones, Okafor, and Winslow. Coach K will be able to maximize their talent while mixing his veterans into the rotation.
The Blue Devils will be a fine polished product by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. But, they could struggle in conference play a bit as the conference depth has improved and the freshman will learn what it is like to play in hostile conference road environments.
The Blue Devils will be competitive in the ACC as always but they might lack the depth and experience to compete for the regular season title.
The Hurricanes snuck up on people in 2013 but don’t expect that to happen this year. Sure, everyone will talk about Duke and UNC and the two-time reigning champ Virginia. But, the teams and coaches in the ACC are well aware of how good the Hurricanes can be.
They won at Duke last season by 16, took Virginia to double overtime, and had Louisville and Notre Dame on the ropes a couple times each.
They have one of the best guard combos in the conference in Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. Rodriguez is an excellent facilitator and both can score the basketball. The question looming for the Hurricanes is who will be their inside presence. Seniors Tamari Murphy and Tonye Jekiri will be relied upon but they aren’t exactly polished post players.
This team will go as far as their guards take them – which could be pretty far. McClellan is a candidate to lead the conference in scoring but if he and Rodriguez go cold on the same night this team is in big trouble. Expect the Hurricanes to be near the top of the ACC but they won’t present a real threat to win the title.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The reigning ACC Tournament Champs bring back a solid core of players that has them eyeing a repeat and more. They lost point guard Jerian Grant to the NBA but still have plenty of guys that can score the basketball. Guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia form one of the most dangerous guard combos in the country. Forwards Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson stuck with the big guys of Kentucky in last year’s Elite Eight matchup so they’ll be confident that they can stick with anyone.
Auguste has serious talent on the low block and Colson is a big time energy player that provided the Irish with a spark off of the bench in many games last season. The X-Factor that could push the Irish to the top is junior forward VJ Beachem. There were high expectations for Beachem when he got to South Bend and he hasn’t fulfilled them yet. He played just 15 minutes per game last year but will be relied on more heavily this season.
Coach Mike Brey has done a remarkable job building this program up and last year’s team finally made a run in the NCAA Tournament. They nearly knocked off Kentucky and provided a blueprint for Wisconsin on how it could be done. The loss of Grant and Pat Connaughton will hurt but the Irish gained valuable experience last year and bring back a group of talented players that should make a serious run at the ACC Title.
The ACC can’t be discussed without mentioning the two-time reigning regular season champs. Virginia has lost just four ACC games over the last two years with only one of those coming at home. The Cavaliers haven’t done it by lighting up the scoreboard; they have done it with defense.
Coach Tony Bennett has gotten his guys to commit to playing defense from whistle to whistle. Last season, Virginia led the nation in scoring defense – allowing just 51.4 points per game. That was in a conference that included Duke, Notre Dame, and North Carolina – all in the top 15 in the nation in scoring offense.
This year, Bennett will be forced with the task of replacing Justin Anderson. Anderson was a do-it-all type of player for the Cavaliers but the main thing they will miss is his scoring. Although he averaged just 12.2 points per game last season, that is a decent portion of Virginia’s scoring.
They win with defense but if they can’t score well, it doesn’t matter how good the defense is. Malcom Brogdon will be expected to carry the load offensively but the Cavaliers will need a second scoring option to step up if they want to make a run at repeating as conference champs. Anthony Gill could be that guy; but if he is not, the Cavaliers could surpass their conference loss total for the last two years.
While the Cardinals are in a bit of rebuild mode and up a creek with the NCAA, the ability of Coach Rick Pitino and the talent of two graduate transfers forces them into the ACC discussion. The Cardinals welcome Damion Lee (21.4 ppg at Drexel) and Trey Lewis (16.3 ppg at Cleveland State) as they look to compete in the loaded ACC.
Both Lee and Lewis are proven college scorers but it will be interesting to see how their talent translates to the ACC. The Cardinals’ commitment to defense will be telling on their success this season. The new shot clock rule provides significant benefits to Pitino’s system. The reduction from 35 to 30 seconds might not seem like a lot. But, when Louisville’s full court pressure is not allowing teams to get into their sets until about 15 seconds into the shot clock, it becomes a real factor.
Their full court pressure and the additions of Lee and Lewis will keep them relevant in the ACC this season. The looming violations leave questions about the future of the program but expect this team to be in the mix for a double bye in the conference tournament.
Remaining Teams Odds – List Here
• North Carolina +135
• Duke +175
• Virginia +450
• Louisville +900
• Miami FL +1000
• NC State +1100
• Syracuse +1350
• Florida State +1400
• Notre Dame +1550
• Pittsburgh +1750
• Clemson +2750
• Georgia Tech +4150
• Virginia Tech +5000
• Wake Forest +5000
• Boston College +5750
ACC Conference Prediction
North Carolina has the depth and talent to not only win the ACC but win the NCAA Tournament. Coach Roy Williams returns his best player in Paige and could be due for another National Title. At +135, the return isn’t great for a team in a conference loaded with a bunch of other good teams. Duke isn’t worth the premium at +175 with the uncertainties of the newcomers.
The pick to take is Notre Dame +1550. The Irish lost Grant and Connaughton but oddsmakers are clearly underrating Jackson, Vasturia, and Auguste. Those three are legit scorers and the Irish will put up a ton of points. UNC will be tough to knock off but the winner of this conference could have four losses in conference play. The value of these odds is incredible and Notre Dame has what it takes to win the ACC.
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