Let’s hoop it up!

Published 12:58 pm Monday, October 23, 2017

That ‘thump, thump, thump’ fans are hearing in towns like Chapel Hill, Greenville, and Tallahassee are the sound of basketballs hitting the floor, because nothing cures a disappointing football season like the advent of hoop-it-up time and nothing flutters above your head like a good alley-oop lob better than lofty hoop dreams.

While I’ll try to get around to several of the leagues where our readers have interest, you almost always have to start with the ACC.

After two years of historic NCAA Tournament success, the league suffered something of a disappointment last March.

After having the second most schools in the Big Dance (nine, as opposed to the 11 the Big East sent dancing in 2011), the league didn’t have nine lives: only one team made it to the Sweet-16. Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, and Louisville all ignominiously exited in the round of 32.

Some may say, that failure was only partially offset because North Carolina did go on to win it all.

Now, in 2017-18, three of those nine teams – North Carolina, Virginia, and Duke – face significant roster turnover, and there will again be a team likely to struggle so much in non-conference play that it hurts the league’s ability to gain extra tournament berths (you, Pitt and Syracuse!), although the team providing that service is new and a little surprising.

This season we also have to factor in a major recruiting “scandal” at Louisville that is likely to change their postseason outlook as well. Last season, after an early – and eerie – exit from the Dance, then-coach Rick Pitino declared his team as a pre-season favorite to return not just to the Tournament, but to be one of the national title-contenders.

Something that always helps is the outstanding recruiting the league always pulls off. This season, folks are saying the ACC again landed 20 percent of the top 100 recruits in the country.

This could also be the year of surprises; in a league where the biggest surprise would be if there is no surprise. In January, Georgia Tech’s upset of UNC was considered a fluke. By season’s end, Josh Pastnor had another ACC team – Georgia Tech – in the championship game, this one the NIT. Someone out there tell me that revitalization was expected. And let’s not cast off Wake Forest, whose 19 wins – though none of them were significant – just steady – getting in as the league’s ninth team.

What Pastnor did for the Yellow Jackets, people are now hoping former UNCW wunderkind Kevin Keatts will attempt to do the same for NC State. Keatts’ first point guards will be young and while the point guards will be young, they will be flanked by high end, experienced shooters and scorers starting on the wings. And if his history with teams is an indication, these young wolves will be a pass-first group.


Overall, the top of the league will be loaded once more, although repercussions at Louisville – and possibly at Miami, too – could leave the ACC with as few as six or possibly seven NCAA Tournament bids.

Right now Duke with one of the three-best recruiting classes in the country looks to be the early favorite as coach Mike Krzyzewski rebuilds in Durham. Virginia will be formidable, as will Miami, if the Hurricanes escape the eye of the FBI. UNC lost a lot and will have to fight to be a top-three team, but they do have Roy ‘Find-a-way’ Williams and don’t have the specter of NCAA probation hanging over their heads. Notre Dame is a year older and Rick Pitino is gone from Louisville, but not all that talent. Florida State rounds out my top-7, but won’t have the hot start coach Leonard Hamilton coaxed out of this bunch a year ago.

A lot can happen between now and the end of the season, as anyone reading this well knows. Since everybody’s crystal ball gets a little bit cloudy, I won’t make any apologies for the fogginess of mine by the time the spring blooms blossom.

Take for example, last year when no less than the ACC coaches themselves picked Grayson Allen (Duke), Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson), Joel Berry II (UNC), London Perrantes (UVA), and Dennis Smith Jr. (NCSU) for the pre-season All-ACC first team.

Guess how many of those five players made the first team? Zero.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.