By Kevin Sweeney
Last season, the ACC once again staked its claim as the deepest conference in college basketball. With the exception of Wake Forest and Boston College, the ACC was as competitive from top to bottom as I can ever remember a league. The league sent 2 teams to the Final Four last season, with North Carolina reaching the championship game as a number one seed and 10th-seeded Syracuse went on a Cinderella run to the Final Four. Just like most years in the ACC, there are plenty of new faces, but we can once again expect a deep, competitive conference in 2016-17.
- North Carolina
- Notre Dame
- NC State
- Virginia Tech
- Florida State
- Wake Forest
- Boston College
- Georgia Tech
Champions: Duke- The Blue Devils enter this season as one of the most hyped-up teams in recent memory. They combine the experience of star guard Grayson Allen and forward Amile Jefferson with one of the best recruiting classes in college basketball history. This incoming class includes 3 of the top 10 recruits in the nation, including #1 Harry Giles and #3 Jayson Tatum. Duke looks to improve on a disappointing season last year, which included a 5th place finish in the ACC, but the Blue Devils struggled mostly due to the loss of Jefferson, whose season ended early due to a foot injury, and inconsistency at the point guard position. If freshman point guard Frank Jackson can help run the show, along with Allen and senior guard Matt Jones, the Blue Devils will be able to solve the point guard issues from a year ago. With the return of Jefferson, who helped the Blue Devils to an 8-1 record in the games he played, and stability at point guard, the Blue Devils will be a force to be reckoned with.
Dark Horse: Clemson- Last season, Clemson was one of the most dangerous, yet inconsistent, teams in the ACC. At one point, the Tigers won 5 straight over Florida State, Syracuse, Louisville, Duke, and Miami. However, they also suffered some inexplicable losses, like an early season dud at Minnesota and back-to-back losses to NC State and Georgia Tech. This inconsistency caused the Tigers to miss the NCAA Tournament, but I that this season’s more experienced team will grow from the inconsistencies of last season. They return their 3 leading scorers, including dynamic wing Jaron Blossomgame, who averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season. They also add Marcquise Reed, who sat out last season after transferring from Robert Morris following a terrific freshman season that included 24 points against North Carolina and 22 in the NCAA Tournament against Duke. If the Tigers are more consistent this year, they could make a deep run in March.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson)
- F: Michael Young (Pitt)
- G: Joel Berry (North Carolina)
- G: Grayson Allen (Duke)
- G: Dwayne Bacon (Florida State)
Player of the Year: Jaron Blossomgame- While it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of Duke’s super freshmen have a monster year and win the award, as Jahlil Okafor did in 2014, I have to go with experience for this pick. Blossomgame is a match-up nightmare as a small forward or stretch four due to his knock-down 3 point shot (44.8% last season) and incredible athleticism. He can attack the basket, score from mid-range, and light it up from downtown, creating a lethal combination of scoring prowess. He must improve his passing, as he averaged more turnovers than assists per game last season, and will have to deal with double and triple teams all year, but Blossomgame could put up some massive numbers this season for the Tigers.
Newcomer of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State)- He may not have the same name recognition that Tatum and Giles due thanks to choosing NC State over other top programs, but Smith is already a projected top 5 pick in this June’s NBA Draft. The 6-3 point guard appears fully recovered from an ACL tear that ended his high school career prematurely, and ready to take the reigns for a NC State team that looks to improve on a disappointing season a year ago. Smith will lead the way, and with a game that compares favorably to that of Russell Westbrook, Smith could take college basketball by a storm. Check out some of his high school highlights below: (Video courtesy of BallisLifeEast/Youtube)