The temperatures are dropping outside and that can only mean one thing -- basketball season is on it's way. Teams around the country started practice last week and the anticipation for the opening tip-off is beginning to build on Tobacco Road. Click through as we take a look at each of the ACC squads this season and make predictions about where they will end up. The league looks as if it will have more parity this season than the past couple years, which should makes things very interesting in February and March.
In reverse alphabetical order:
Wake Forest - As you might expect, the first fact that comes up about the Demon Deacons is the loss of James Johnson and Jeff Teague to the NBA draft. However, Wake still has a lot of talent, length and experience on their roster. They will be led by preseason All-American candidate Al-Farouq Aminu and senior point guard Ish Smith, who will look to claim the number two spot in assists in the Wake Forest record books by the end of the season. Alongside Smith will be seniors L.D. Williams and Chas McFarland. Williams has never been much of a threat from the outside, but brings a great defensive and athletic presence to the Deacon lineup. The 7'0 McFarland is by far the best post scorer for Wake and can be a force in the paint if he keeps his head in the game and stays out of foul trouble. Helping McFarland in the post will be a trio of big bodies in Tony Woods, David Weaver and Ty Walker. The preliminary reviews of Woods' improvement have been positive, as he looks to make a big jump in his sophomore season. The biggest wild card for Wake is newcomer Ari Stewart. At 6'7" with nice touch, the versatile Stewart can score inside and out and will be tough to keep out of the starting lineup. Wake is thin in the backcourt, so Konner Tucker, Gary Clark and C.J. Harris will need to be ready when their numbers are called. If Aminu, Stewart and Smith can pick up most of the scoring slack left behind by Teague and Johnson, the Deacons should comfortably be an NCAA tournament team.
Virginia Tech - The Hokies have, in my estimation, the best guard in the conference in Malcolm Delaney. Delaney averaged 18 points and nearly 4 assists last season and always seems to make a big play when it is needed most. The Hokies' other star player is Jeff Allen, who averaged nearly 14 points and 9 rebounds last season. Allen is a big-bodied forward who is a reliable post scorer and can also step out and make long jumpers. The key for VT will be finding someone to replace the scoring of departed senior shooter A.D. Vassallo as well as a reliable backcourt mate for Delaney. The candidates for the other guard spot are junior Dorenzo Hudson and freshmen Erick Boggs and Ben Boggs after last year's backup point guard Hank Thorns left the program unexpectedly. Forward J.T. Thompson figures to be in the starting lineup after bringing a lot of energy to the floor last season and sophomore Victor Davila should be in the mix as well. If the Hokies are going to finally slip off the bubble and into the tournament, they will do so on the shoulders of Delaney and from unexpected scoring from a couple of the unheralded freshmen.
Virginia - New Cavaliers coachbrings an offense to the ACC that will have opponents frustrated more often than not. His slow paced attack was very effective at Washington State and if UVA's players can adjust, it could make for some very interesting games in Charlottesville. Of course, the Cavs are led by star sophomore Sylven Landesburg. Landesburg can play several positions and is a threat to score from outside or off penetration. As a freshman he averaged just under 17 points per game and was named the ACC rookie of the year. Calvin Baker and the speedy Sammy Zeglinski fill out the UVA backcourt and will look to take some of the pressure off the shoulders of Landesburg. The second option for the Cavaliers is power forward . Scott was inconsistent last season, but showed flashes of what he can become in his final two seasons in the paint. Helping Scott in the post will be developing center Assane Sene, smooth shooting forward Jamil Tucker and versatile freshman Tristan Spurlock. While Virginia should be improved from last year, it may take some time for Tony Bennett to get them back into the tournament. However, judging by his recruiting lately, this may happen sooner than other ACC fans are expecting.
North Carolina State - While the talent level of this N.C. State team is not great, Wolfpack fans are happy to finally get rid of the drama that was Brandon Costner, Courtney Fells and Ben McCauley. This season they will be starting fresh behind the leadership of experienced guards Javier Gonzalez and Farnold Degand and the talent of some up-and-coming frontcourt players. State's biggest scoring presence is forward Tracy Smith, who was impressive at times last season playing behind the seniors. Smith, who averaged 10 points last season, showed that he can be a very productive low-post player for the Pack. However, if State is going to climb out of the cellar this season, it will be behind the play of the freshmen. Despite the fact that highly talented guard Lo Brown had to go to prep school for a year, the Wolfpack still have some notable freshmen in Scott Wood, Deshawn Painter, Richard Howell and Jordan Vandenberg. Painter, Howell and the Aussie Vanderberg will all try to earn minutes in the frontcourt, while Scott Wood is known for raining threes with regularity. Other returning players not previously mentioned are Dennis Horner, C.J. WIlliams and Julius Mays. Since Tracy Smith is the only returning player who averaged in double figures last season, State's biggest challenge will be putting enough points on the board to compete. Getting consistent backcourt play will also be important for the Pack, as Gonzalez and company have been frustrating at times for State fans the past few seasons.
North Carolina - The defending national champions lost a ton from last season, but Roy Williams has restocked the talent pool as he always does in Chapel Hill. The strength of this year's Heel squad is unquestionably in the paint, where they have a bevy of players that would start for just about any other school. The starters will be senior Deon Thompson and super sophomore Ed Davis. Thompson has often been overlooked during the course of his career, but can hit the baseline jumper with great consistency as well as score in the paint. Davis had a great run in the NCAA tournament last year and hopes to keep it going in his second campaign. He is a great shot blocker and rebounder on the defensive end and on the other end he possesses a good baby hook and looks to attack the rim. Helping out in the post will also be Tyler Zeller and the Wear twins from Mater Dei HS in California. The guards and wings are certainly the biggest question mark for the Heels. Running the show will either be sophomore Larry Drew or newcomer Dexter Strickland, who is more of a scorer than lead guard. Marcus Ginyard is the only experienced wing player for the Heels, as the defensive mastermind returns for his 12th year in the program. Also on the wing will be freshmen John Henson and Leslie McDonald. Standing at 6'11" but weighing only 195, Henson is a matchup nightmare as a small forward. While his jump shot is not going to be a big factor, Henson can run the floor extremely well and has unusual skills for a guy his size. Finally, the Heels are hoping that wing Will Graves will bring an outside threat to the team. Overall, UNC will definitely be an outstanding defensive team. If they can get some consistent scoring from the backcourt, they will likely be a top ten team again this season.
Miami - Life after Jack McClinton begins this year for the Hurricanes. The good news is that the Canes have a big post presence along with a big-time transfer at point guard. Of course, the post presence is rugged senior Dwayne Collins. Collins, who averaged nearly 11 points per game last season, is a solid scorer in the paint and a beast on the boards. The transfer at PG is Malcolm Grant, who left Villanova after his freshman year. Grant is a good shooter from the position, but it remains to be seen if he can be an effective distributor. Another new face for Miami is highly coveted guard Durand Scott. Scott is a gifted scorer who will log big minutes immediately for Frank Haith. Other likely starters James Dews and DeQuan Jones return for the Canes. Dews can be a threat from behind the arch while the uber athletic Jones will look to capitalize on his increased minutes this season. Cyrus McGowan and Adrian Thomas are both versatile forwards who will look to help out Collins in the paint. Obviously, Miami has a lot of interesting pieces that are, for the most part, unproven at the ACC level. This is definitely a team that could surprise a few people if Coach Haith can make these pieces fit effectively.
Maryland - After a slow start to last season, thepicked it up at the end and managed to squeak into the NCAA tournament with a 7-9 conference record. This season the Terps return everyone from that squad but the husky Dave Neal and have added some much needed post depth as well. The key player for Maryland is the fearless (and often annoying) Greivis Vasquez. The 6'6" point guard tested NBA draft waters, but decided to come back in an effort to be a first round pick next season. Vasquez is a big shot maker, solid distributor and an overall matchup problem for other conference point guards because of his height. Helping out Vasquez on the perimeter will be Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley and Adrian Bowie. None of these guys are terribly consistent, but Hayes is a good perimeter shooter and Mosley and Bowie are solid role players. Small forward Landon Milbourne is the second biggest scoring threat on the team and will look to build on his performance last year with a strong senior season. Since Maryland does not have any experienced post players, undersized guys like Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory will continue to play against guys much taller and bigger than them. is certainly hoping that the 6'10" Jordan Williams and the 6'8" James Padgett are ready to make contributions immediately, which would give the Terps a more traditional lineup. It is never a good sign when your point guard leads the team in rebounding, which Vasquez did last season.
Georgia Tech - In a conference full of loaded frontcourts, Georgia Tech has the best one-two punch in the paint with future first round draft picks Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, the freshman sensation. It is hard to imagine the Yellow Jackets getting out-rebounded at any point this season with those two manning the interior. Both of these guys are also effective scorers in the paint and will be a load for any team to handle. The talent doesn't stop there for Tech as gifted guard Iman Shumpert looks to improve on his freshman season, where at times he was very turnover prone and seemed unsure of himself. One potential benefit for Shumpert this season will be the move to shooting guard thanks to another highly-regarded freshman, Mfon Udofia. Udofia has the skills to be a starter at the point right away for the Rambling Wreck, but he will have to beat out junior Mo Miller first. A lineup of Lawal, Favors, Shumpert, Udofia and experienced forward Zach Peacock would likely be the most talented lineup in the ACC. In addition to Miller, the Jackets will have freshman guard Glen Rice Jr., team leader DeAndre Bell, potential shooter Lance Storrs and thin center Brad Sheehan coming off the bench. One potential shortfall for Georgia Tech is post depth, although Peacock is versatile enough to play significant minutes in the post when Lawal or Favors get in foul trouble.
Florida State - Even though Florida State does not return a double figure scorer, there are plenty of reasons for Seminole fans to get excited about basketball season. While the loss of do-it-all point guard Toney Douglas is damaging, adding a McDonald's All-American to the backcourt certainly softens the blow. Michael Snaer is that man for the 'Noles and the talented 6'5 guard from California will almost certainly be in the starting lineup from day one. Alongside Snaer will be junior college transfer Derwin Kitchen in his second year in the ACC. Kitchen came on strong at the end of the season and capped it off with a game winning drive to basket to beat Georgia Tech in the final seconds in the ACC tournament. Like many ACC teams, the Seminoles have a very strong frontcourt, headlined by 7'1" center Solomon Alabi and versatile former McD's All-American Chris Singleton. It was incredible to see the improvement of Alabi in every single game last year. By the time FSU got around to beating North Carolina in the ACC tournament he was a dominant force, especially with his shot-blocking ability. Singleton fell in love with the three-pointer a little too much last season, as he has the skills to be a very effective player around the basket. If the 'Noles are going to finish in the top half of the ACC, Singleton will have to increase his efficiency on the offensive end and average around 15 points per contest. Other notable players for Florida State are crafty point guard Luke Loucks, hard-hitting centerand team leader Jordan Demercy.
Duke - This will not be your guard oriented Duke team of the past. Since the Blue Devils only have three scholarship guards (and no true point guards) on their roster, they will employ a big lineup this season. Starting at point guard will be Jon Scheyer, whose great decision making, sharp shooting and height may make it difficult for opposing teams. However, he will be tested on the defensive end as he tries to stay in front of the quicker guards in the conference. The other starting guard will be Nolan Smith, who has reportedly improved a great deal in the offseason. Duke fans expect Smith to be a force this season, and if the scrimmage at Midnight Madness is any indication, they will be pleased. The most notable Blue Devil is Kyle Singler, who had a very productive sophomore season. This year Coach K has announced that Singler will play exclusively on the wing. While Singler is certainly versatile enough to pull this off, it seems that Duke will miss his presence on the offensive boards. Last season Singler repeatedly outworked his opponents to gain cheap buckets in the paint, so it will be intriguing to see if he tries to keep that up from his new position. Manning the power forward and center spots for Duke will be Miles and Mason Plumlee, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, and Ryan Kelly. Mason Plumlee is a very athletic All-American freshman that Duke fans think will crack the starting lineup early on. While his offensive moves are not quite refined, he has the tools to make a big impact immediately. Miles Plumee saw limited action last season, but it seems that Coach K may have elevated him above Lance Thomas for the last spot in the starting rotation. Miles will look to add some muscle in the interior for the Blue Devils. The other guard on the team is freshman Andre Dawkins, who enrolled at Duke a year early when he saw there was a need for him (it would've been his 5th HS year). Dawkins is known for his deep range, but his athleticism will surprise people as well. Overall, Duke should be near the top of the conference with Singler and Scheyer leading the way, but if injury strikes one of the guards they could be in serious trouble.
Clemson - Oliver Purnell definitely has the Tigers on the right track. The next step is seeking out some wins in March, which have been hard to come by after first round losses to Michigan and Villanova the last two years. Despite the losses of K.C. Rivers and Terence Oglesby, Clemson could be even better this year than they were during the regular season last year. The main reason for this is the return of Trevor Booker, one of the best power forwards in college basketball. Booker attacks the rim regularly, collects tons of rebounds and has developed his jumper over the course of his career as well. Unfortunately for ACC fans, Trevor's 'little' brother will be joining him this season in Clemson orange. Freshman Devin Booker is an inch taller and the same weight as his brother. Though Clemson is very deep in the paint, expect D. Booker to crack the rotation and get some experience as well this season. One of the most heralded freshmen in Clemson history will also take the floor this year. Milton Jennings, a 6'9" face-up forward, was a McDonald's All-American and will be yet another ACC freshman that will make a big impact early on. The centerpiece for the Clemson backcourt is lighting quick point guard Demontez Stitt. Stitt showed major improvement last season and is one of the top returning point guards in the ACC. When he is scoring at a high rate from penetration and jump shots, Clemson is very tough to beat. Rounding out the Clemson rotation will be freshman shooter Noel Johnson, Tanner Smith, David Potter, Jerai Grant and Andre Young.
Boston College - Though the Tyrese Rice era is finally over, Coach Al Skinner feels that his team has plenty to work with this season. The center piece in the equation is Rakim Sanders, a big-bodied guard than can score in a variety of ways. Sanders is your classic under the radar Al Skinner recruit that blossoms into an All-ACC player. The Eagles also feature Vermont transfer Joe Trapani in his second year in Chestnut Hill. Trapani is a face up forward that is deadly from the perimeter if left open, but can also do damage in the paint. Another player that will be interesting to watch this season will be sophomore Reggie Jackson. Jackson showed moments of brilliance during his first year and will need to show some consistency in order to at least partially replace the production of Rice. An area of weakness for the Eagles is definitely the frontcourt, which is troubling in a conference stacked with talented post players. Other than Trapani, BC is thin in the paint. Coach Skinner will need a big improvement from center Josh Southern in order to feel better about this situation. Corey Raji will also be there to help, but while he is an effective rebounder for his size, it is tough for a 6'6 forward to make a living in the paint in the ACC. Other guys that will play significant minutes include point guard Biko Paris, shooter Tyler Roche and big man Courtney Dunn.
Prediction of Regular Season Final Standings (Tournament teams in bold)
1. North Carolina
4. Georgia Tech
5. Wake Forest
7. Florida State
8. Virginia Tech
10. Boston College
12. N.C. State
First Team All-ACC
Kyle Singler (POY)
All-ACC Rookie Team
Derrick Favors (ROY)