ACC Hoops…and a cloudy crystal ball

Published 7:27 pm Friday, November 1, 2019

Well, it’s here…. almost.

The 2019-20 college basketball season starts this Tuesday, Nov. 5, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

For one thing, it’ll take a lot of the football pressure off Clemson, and for another thing, it’ll take a lot of the basketball pressure off itself.

No one – for now – is predicting an ACC team to make the Final Four, and as close as I can reason it, “maybe” Louisville is in the Elite Eight.

Still, after washing the dust off my crystal ball, here’s how I’m shaping up the league’s top seven teams.

1 – NORTH CAROLINA

Okay, call me one of those souls who’s bought the Heels’ hype. While I may not have Leaky Black as first team All-ACC, there’s enough potential here to be…. well, questionable. Adding Armando Bacot allows Williams to coach ‘Roy Williams basketball’ with two big bruisers on the front line. In fact, adding the other freshman sensation: guard Cole Anthony, may’ve been all the Heels needed to rule the roost. Garrison Brooks and Brandon Robinson add more size and experience, with Anthony (my early ACC Player – not just ‘Rookie’ – of the Year) as a Coby White-type stabilizer.

2 – LOUISVILLE

While I like the Heels as regular-season champs, Louisville may be the team cutting down the nets in Greensboro in early March; and with it picking up a Regional top-seed. The Cardinals play an ACC game on Opening Night (Nov. 5 at Miami), which will be an early season test of their strength. They have the most depth and speediest backcourt, and just have to prove to the nay-sayers that they’re tough enough.

3 – DUKE

It’s been 10 years since Duke last claimed a share of the ACC regular season title, but two national championships along the way should have eased that suffering. This year’s roster isn’t a typical makeup of what Blue Devils fans have come to expect (no Zion!), but four top-50 recruits still provide coach Mike Krzyzewski with flexibility. The question is: How much and how well will Coach-K use it? Tre Jones’ return makes him one of the best point guards in the country.

4 – VIRGINIA

Yes, the defending national champs lost a lot of firepower to graduation and the NBA draft, but coach Tony Bennett has proven to be the living embodiment of persistence. Virginia has ranked first in scoring defense in five of the previous six years. This season should yield similar results with senior forward Mamadi Diakite, their best returnee, leading the charge. The turnover on the offensive end could be the main concern.

5 – N.C. STATE

The Wolfpack looked like they were close to turning a corner last season, then conference play began. They were 13–1 thru December, but a brutal second half of the season decimated its hopes and torpedoed its shot at the NCAA tournament: just 1-9 against conference opponents who finished higher than them in the standings. Retaining six of their top seven scorers should make a difference in some of those games this season. Markell Johnson enters his senior year as one of the best guards in the ACC, and State’s backcourt depth may be the league’s best.

6 – NOTRE DAME

After just three ACC wins a year ago, things are looking up for coach Mike Brey. He’s getting back four of his starters from a year ago, including guard Rex Pflueger, who only appeared in 10 games last season before tearing his ACL. So long as they can go a whole season without serious injuries to its best players, which it couldn’t dodge in recent seasons, then some continuity could drive the Irish back into the NCAA tournament discussion.

7 – FLORIDA STATE

After 29 wins – yes, 29! – a year ago, the Seminoles probably won’t reach that plane this season. While they took some tough player losses from that super-season, coach Leonard Hamilton recruited well, and if the newcomers progress, then the ‘Noles could rise all the way to the ACC’s top five. But their schedule doesn’t help: five of their first-seven are against the league’s top-tier teams.

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