Is the title’s Duke’s to lose? Not so fast, my friend

Published 2:05 pm Monday, November 19, 2018

The college basketball season opened last week, and interestingly, it came on Election Night. In case you missed it, with Duke’s throttling of Kentucky, the Blue Devils have caught everyone’s eye thanks to another talented freshman class for Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

But, enough of the ‘Blue Bloods’, let’s finish with my predicted order-of-finish in the ACC. Just to recap from last week’s column, my 15-8, counting up, were: Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Boston College, Louisville, Miami, and NC State.



A top defensive team in the league returns quite a few pieces from one of last season’s big surprises. Because of his emphasis on defense, Coach Brad Brownell’s not afraid to go ‘small ball.’ What the Tigers need, however, is to develop a reliable bench from Oral Roberts transfer Javan White and super-freshman John Newman. Otherwise, they’ll be a middle-of-the pack team.



What’s with these Orangemen? Counted out two years ago and they make the Final Four. Last season, same thing into the Sweet Sixteen. Okay, I must give Hall-of-Fame Coach Jim Boeheim some of the credit. Getting All-ACC guard Tyus Battle to stay helps an already potent squad, though losing recruit Darius Bazley did take some of the luster off this team climbing to, say, fifth-place. ECU transfer Elijah Hughes may help fill some of the scoring gap; and they’ll miss him in Greenville.



Speaking of fifth-place picks, this Seminoles team returns seven of their top nine players from an Elite Eight team of a season ago. So why are they picked so low? First, they have to develop a consistent third scoring option behind double-figure scorers Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer. Rising junior C.J. Walker did transfer out of the program to Ohio State, but David Nichols and Malik Osborne transferred in from Rice and Albany, respectively. If one of these guys can become the new scoring threat, this team may make Seminole Nation forget about their dismal football season.



Talk about football schools that can use a basketball boost: slowly, but surely, Buzz Williams is building a winner in Blacksburg. 2018 marked the second straight year the Hokies have made the NCAA Tournament. Justin Bibbs is the only top-eight player on Williams’ roster who opted for the pros (signed by the Celtics, but playing in the G-League!). While the Hokies led the ACC in three-point shooting last season, they often struggled on the glass and on the defensive end. If this team can be good on both ends of the floor, then playing the second weekend in the NCAA’s shouldn’t be a stretch.



The defending ACC champs I’m putting in the three-spot. D’Andre Hunter, one of the top scoring sixth-men off the bench a season ago, will be a starter this year. Improving offense is going to be what everyone is watching for from Dick Bennett’s team. Since Virginia got run out of the gym by UMBC, putting up points has been a big subject with this team. Defense is no problem, but with NBA talent on their roster that can really shoot, Virginia is hoping to have more consistent offensive firepower this year.



No, I’m not trying to be a ‘homer’ by sticking the Heels ahead of the ‘Hoos. I have been impressed with the progress of Coach Roy Williams’ second-year players as well as how the freshmen (Nassir Little and Coby White, particularly) have fit in for these early games. Luke Maye looks like a good choice – for now – for Player of the Year; but the key for the Heels will be the development of their bench as the season progresses.


1 – DUKE

I could end it with just that one word after seeing the Devils in these early games. While Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Joey Baker and Tre Jones may not be the second coming of the Fab Five, they are putting up the kind of numbers that draw attention. Scoring shouldn’t be too much of an issue for these kids. Getting consistent stops is likely going to dictate whether this team lives up to its ultimate potential. And keep in mind, there’s four more months left in the season.


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