ACC Hoop Preview
November 28, 2013
Just in case you have not noticed, the quality of basketball within the ACC had been slipping a bit in recent years. Yes, North Carolina and Duke perennially put national title contenders on the court. But it has been awhile since any of the remaining schools have consistently put a scare into anyone.
There is some evidence to bear out my belief. It was quite evident that the Big 10 was the best conference in college basketball last year. Actually, the ACC is getting quite tired of running into the Big 10. The ACC hasn’t won an ACC–Big Ten Challenge since 2008. But all of that is about to change. The ACC now has Syracuse, Pitt, Connecticut, and Notre Dame on its side. And it will add Louisville in 2014.
How about this? As it stands right now, the ACC has three of the four best coaches in the game and three of the five winningest programs in college basketball history. It claims 13 national championships, six of which have come in the past 12 years. When Louisville joins the fold, the conference will have the four best coaches in the game and five of the 12 winningest programs. So, yeah, the ACC is moving into a new era of greatness.
Even with the changes, I still think Duke will emerge with the ACC title. I like Syracuse next followed by North Carolina. This Duke team is actually a fun team to watch. They are young, but they are very athletic. The Blue Devils should get better and better as the season progresses while learning how to mesh together as a unit. They will always have plenty of offense with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood on the floor. From what I have seen so far, both provide mismatches no matter who guards them. These mismatches, especially when Coach K spreads the floor like he is doing, frees up open shots for the likes of Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson.
Syracuse will contend because that is what the Orange do every year. They are bigger than Duke and they have two great scorers in C.J. Fair and Jemari Grant. Syracuse also has its famed 2-3 zone defense that has driven Big East opponents crazy over the years. That zone is especially tough during tournament time so it would not surprise me one bit if Duke wins the regular season title while the “Cuse” wins the ACC Tournament.
North Carolina has the talent to contend for either title. But that has been the case for a few years now and there is very little to show for it. Leadership and attitude seem to be the current issue at UNC. Things could be different this year as the Heels have a core group back. James McAdoo needs to begin exhibiting some leadership. Considering that P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are suspended indefinitely, it doesn’t make much sense for either of them to assume a leadership role.
Maybe sophomore point guard Marcus Paige can step up.
If McAdoo or Paige make positive strides and if Hairston and McDonald can get their issues resolved, it would not be surprising at all to see the Tar Heels surpass Duke or Syracuse.
While Parker of Duke may be the most exciting player in the league, Fair of Syracuse is my early pick for Player of the Year. He carried the Orange into the Final Four and was their top scorer during the latter half of the season. After starting the season as the team’s third option on offense, Fair ended the season by tallying double-figures in points in 28 of his last 30 games. He recorded 22 of Syracuse’s 56 points in the team’s Final Four loss to Michigan.
And Fair can play defense too. Fair, who is a senior, will have to wrestle the Player of the Year award away from Parker who is clearly a one year and done player. Parker will be a very high NBA draft choice next summer. He has an NBA game now and it is hard not to like his enthusiasm and confidence. It appears like he is having alot of fun while on the court. Of course, when the game comes as easy as it looks to him, it probably is a very fun game. Like I said earlier, it is fun to watch Duke play and he is the primary reason.
Other players to watch out of the ACC this season include T.J. Warren of North Carolina State. Warren may get the Pack into the NCAA tournament while he averages 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. Another guy who could average 20 points a game is Joe Harris of Virginia. Harris will rarely make highlight reels but he is one of the smarter players in the nation. Virginia will likely struggle again but Harris makes them dangerous. The senior averaged just over 16 points a game last season.
There are other story lines within the conference. For instance, my pick for coach on the hot seat is Jeff Bzdelik of Wake Forest. How this guy is still employed by Wake is beyond me. Explain to me how the school’s previous coach, Dino Gaudino, got fired for posting a three year record of 61-31 and Bzdelik is still around with a three year mark of 34-60? It used to be fun watching Wake Forest win games and pull off annual upsets over Duke and UNC. There is a solid chance that twin brothers, from different schools, will make all conference teams. Jerian Grant was Notre Dame’s leading scorer last season and his twin, Jerami, is expected to be a double-double threat now that he has moved into Syracuse’s starting lineup.
You may be wondering why I have yet to mention Miami even though it won the ACC last season? Well, the Hurricanes opened the campaign with an overtime loss to St. Francis of New York and needed overtime to beat Georgia Southern. With the expansion and its early season struggles, it is hard to see Miami repeating.
Enjoy the ACC this year. The new additions will give the conference exciting and entertaining matchups on a weekly basis. The league finally will have some depth and that can only be a good thing.
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