By Kevin Sweeney
Just last week, perhaps the biggest story in recent college basketball history rocked the college hoops world, and no program was hit harder in the early-goings of this FBI investigation than Louisville. Following an FBI affadavit stating that Adidas had coordinated with the Louisville coaching staff to deliver a payment of $100k to 5-star recruit Brian Bowen, legendary head coach Rick Pitino was fired along with AD Tom Jurich. Meanwhile, this investigation hangs over the heads of the rest of the conference, as other schools could be implicated at any time. This makes the ACC hard to project this year, but I give it a shot here.
I may update these projections if new information on the investigation becomes available.
- Duke: Sure, this Duke roster has a few key flaws. Depth is a concern for me, but the Blue Devils are super talented and are a consensus top 5 team in college basketball going into the 2017-18 season. Can Grayson Allen lead this team to a national title in his senior season?
- Miami: I’m very high on the Canes this season. Bruce Brown is one of the elite scorers in all of college basketball, and incoming 5-star freshman Lonnie Walker makes that backcourt even more dangerous.
- North Carolina: Big question marks up front, but the defending national champs have a Wooden Award candidate in Joel Berry and have a ton of options in the backcourt.
- Louisville: Hard to find the right spot for the Cardinals with all the uncertainty they face at this time. It will be a tall task for interim head coach David Padgett to get his team focused on basketball. That said, Louisville does have a top-10 roster nationally, even without Bowen, so a fall to 4th seems appropriate at this point.
- Notre Dame: The 5-7 spots were by far the toughest to project, but you have to love the duo of Bonzie Colson & Matt Farrell for the Fighting Irish. I trust Mike Brey to figure out the rest.
- Virginia: One of the more interesting teams to evaluate this preseason. If the pieces come together right, Tony Bennett’s squad could be very dangerous. Replacing London Perrantes won’t be easy though.
- Virginia Tech: Lots of talent in the backcourt, but injuries and transfers this offseason have taken a toll on the Hokies up front. Chris Clarke must stay healthy. Still, Buzz Williams continues to do an outstanding job in Blacksburg.
- Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner’s club stunned everyone by winning 21 games a season ago. Now, with a pair of potential all-ACC players in Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers returning, the Yellow Jackets have a real chance to go Dancing this season.
- NC State: I’m fairly bullish on the impact of a new, energized coach in Kevin Keatts could have, and Mark Gottfried leaves behind a lot more talent than some people realize. The Wolfpack could surprise some people.
- Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have one of the most underrated stars in college basketball in Bryant Crawford, but are inexperienced up front. The play of junior Doral Moore and freshman Olivier Sarr will be critical if Danny Manning’s team wants to make another trip to the Big Dance.
- Syracuse: The amount of question marks on this Syracuse roster scares me, but I expect super sophomore Tyus Battle to have a big year and keep the Orange afloat. Still, I have major concerns about point guard play and frontcourt depth.
- Florida State: A lot departs from last year’s squad, but the Seminoles quietly bring in the nation’s 12th-best class highlighted by 5-star guard MJ Walker. He and Terrence Mann should form a dynamic duo on the wing.
- Clemson: The king of the close loss a season ago, we’ll see if the Tigers can finally get the job done this year. If not, Brad Brownell’s job may be in jeopardy.
- Boston College: The trio of Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, and Illinois State transfer Deontae Hawkins will keep Jim Christian’s team in a lot of games. It feels like the Eagles are a piece or 2 away from being a thorn in the rest of the ACC’s side.
- Pittsburgh: Kevin Stallings’ club loses a ton of production from a team that went 4-14 a season ago, with no clear replacements waiting in the wings. If a few of the 10 newcomers that are eligible to play this season don’t make a major impact, it could be a super ugly season in Oakland.
While I do have my trepidations about the Blue Devils this season in terms of them being the surefire #1 team in the country, I do still believe they are the best team in the ACC. Grayson Allen returns for his senior season as a Wooden Award candidate if he can keep his head on straight, while an absolutely loaded recruiting class that features 4 potential starters in PG Trevon Duval, SG Gary Trent, and big men Wendell Carter & Marvin Bagley should produce in a big way. My main concerns are sharing the ball and depth. Duval is known as a shoot-first point guard, while Allen will need the ball in his hands a lot and the bigs will certainly need their touches. Previous national title teams that relied on freshmen also had veteran role players who took on leadership roles. Will Allen let his numbers take the backseat and be a leader? That is my biggest question with these incredibly talented Blue Devils.
Dark Horse: Virginia
While there hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz going into the season about UVA, I truly believe this team has a ton of upside. If things go the way I think they can, a top 3 finish in the ACC and top 15 national ranking would be quite possible. With youthful guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome taking on increased roles in the backcourt, as well as the additions of Rutgers grad transfer Nigel Johnson and redshirt freshman wing DeAndre Hunter, this Virginia team might be the most talented offensive squad Randy Bennett has had in Charlottesville. Combine that with the fact that we all know the Cavs will be elite defensively, and I believe that there’s a good chance Virginia stuns a lot of people this season.
All-Conference First Team:
- G: Joel Berry (North Carolina)
- G: Grayson Allen (Duke)
- G: Bruce Brown (Miami)
- F: Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame)
- F: Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech)
Player of the Year: Bonzie Colson- If I had told anyone when Bonzie Colson began his time at Notre Dame that going into his senior season he’d be a national player of the year candidate, they would have said I was crazy. Yet here we are, with the undersized forward who averaged more than 17 points and 10 rebounds a season ago ready to top those numbers in 2017-18. Colson’s long arms help him play much taller than his 6-5 frame would suggest, and as a result he is a terror on the glass. Colson and fellow senior Matt Farrell form one of the best duos in the country.
Breakout Player of the Year: Dewan Huell (Miami)- Miami’s backcourt looks absolutely loaded this season. However, there are question marks up front. Huell is the guy who can answer those with a breakout campaign. A former highly-touted recruit, Huell gave the Canes solid production as a freshman. If he can take the next step many think he will, Jim Larranaga’s team has a chance to be one of the best in the country.
Newcomer of the Year: Marvin Bagley (Duke)- I went real original here and picked the top player in the 2017 recruiting class and serious candidate for the #1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bagley, a versatile 6-11 forward capable of doing just about everything on the basketball court, reclassified from the 2018 class to join the Blue Devils. He’ll be a matchup nightmare against collegiate frontcourts, too fast and athletic to be guarded by centers but too strong and powerful down low against quicker power forwards. A big year is in store for Bagley and the Blue Devils.