ACC hoops: the domination continues

Published 10:36 am Monday, November 21, 2016

Politics aside, I wanted to get my Atlantic Coast Conference basketball picks in before the season is more than two weeks old. 

I’ll make this a two-parter, starting first with the home-state Big Four (UNC, Duke, NC State, and Wake Forest) and adding “other” contenders, Virginia, Louisville, and Syracuse. That will leave seven more as my Thanksgiving gift for you next week.

For an overview, and anyone who came in late: the league enters 2016-17 having dominated the NCAA Tournament overall for two straight years, last year getting seven teams into the Big Dance. Six of those made the Sweet 16 and two made the Final Four.  Now, with recruiting and the returning talent at the top of the conference, it’s possible to get four teams in the Elite 8 again and put eight, or even nine, teams in the Tournament.

NORTH CAROLINA: Although last season ended in heartbreak, reaching the National Championship has to be considered a success.  Now the graduation of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, the team’s two best players for each of the past two years, will leave Roy Williams with a very different challenge for the upcoming season. While the Tar Heels struggled to shoot from behind the arc a season ago, they were nevertheless one of the more efficient offenses in the country. While rebounding may hold steady, the frontcourt will have less depth and offensive punch. UNC should still have enough talent to find its way back into the NCAA Tournament; however, a return to the top of the ACC is likely a year or two away.  PICK: 2nd in the ACC

DUKE: Considering the talent the Blue Devils lost following their title run in 2015, last year’s Sweet 16 appearance was quite an accomplishment. With the nation’s premiere recruiting class and the return of Grayson Allen, expectations will once again be incredibly high for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad. Eight of Duke’s 10 potential rotation players are former McDonald’s All-Americans; making it the most athletic, talented team Krzyzewski has ever, or will ever, coach on the college level. If touted freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum adjust quickly and develop into the top 5 picks they’re projected to be, the trio they form with Allen could be among the best there has been in college basketball in some time. PICK: 1st in the ACC

NC STATE: Some post-season departures (Cat Barber, the Martin twins) left the Wolfpack perilously thin after last year. Add a 2015 pre-season injury and things seemed to multiply with State’s lack of depth, which relegated the team to a near bottom of the conference finish in 2016. The departure of the Martin twins seemingly leaves the Wolfpack in a similar position heading into this season, but two late additions (Dennis Smith and Charlotte transfer Torin Dorn) have substantially changed the Pack’s outlook for the better. PICK: 6th in the ACC

WAKE FOREST: Last season was a bitter disappointment for Danny Manning and the Demon Deacons. With well regarded senior leadership and a strong recruiting class, there was reason to believe they would begin to climb the league ladder in respectability. They went 6-2 in their first 8 games including a win over Indiana, but then the walls came tumbling down as the team struggled to a 5-18 mark over their final 23 games, managing only two conference wins. The Deacons will have a much better chance to succeed with the amount of talent now on the roster. At the very least, Wake Forest should win significantly more than two ACC games this season and be in line for a postseason berth; depending on how much the sophomores improve.  PICK: 12th in the ACC

VIRGINIA: Last season the Cavaliers reached the Elite 8 for the first time since 1995, and, while they have since lost their best perimeter player (Malcolm Brogdon) and their best post player (Anthony Gill) for the third straight year, this will be the first year Tony Bennett’s success at Virginia will be fully reflected in his incoming talent. PICK: 3rd in the ACC

LOUISVILLE: Despite the lure what would have been at least a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville made themselves ineligible for the postseason last year to minimize the effects NCAA sanctions over a recruiting scandal would have on the program. It was a questionable move that essentially will likely allow the team to return to the NCAA Tournament this year without losing any recruits in the process. PICK: 4th in the ACC

SYRACUSE: Syracuse will again feature an imposing (zone) defense; steals will decrease, but overall field goal percentage defense, rebounding, and shot blocking should improve.  Coach Jim Boeheim seemingly made the impossible happen by taking his team to the Final Four last season.  While that shouldn’t be the expectation this year with the uncertainty in the backcourt, it will be a possibility. PICK: 5th in the ACC

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211