Countdown to Tipoff: 8 Days
Now that we’re inside of 10 days before tipoff, let’s take a look at which ACC teams should expect to punch tickets for March Madness and who should start preparing award acceptance speeches.
Tier 1: National Title Contenders
1. Duke Blue Devils
It’s been 7 seasons since Duke has won even a share of the ACC regular season title and over a decade since they’ve won it out right, but it’s hard to put anyone else at the top of the conference right now. The Blue Devils are one of the most talented teams in the country and if everything comes together, will be one of the favorites to cut down the nets come March. That said, everything needs to come together. Outside of everyone’s favorite player to hate, Grayson Allen, this is a very young team so it may take some time for the pieces to gel. Allen’s development as a leader (remember, he was stripped of his team captaincy last season after another tripping incident) will be key to Duke’s chances.
Tier 2: ACC Tournament Double Bye Contenders
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
4. Miami Hurricanes
5. Louisville Cardinals
6. Virginia Cavaliers
I wouldn’t be shocked if any of these teams won the ACC regular season crown. I would be kind of surprised if they walked away with a National Championship, so they’re going a step below Duke. That said, it would be a pretty big suprise if any of these five teams failed to make the NCAA Tournament entirely.
Notre Dame has to replace several key pieces but a fantastic core with PG Matt Farrell and F/C Bonzie Colson returning for their senior seasons. Head coach Mike Brey is also (somehow) one of the most underrated coaches in the country and will have the Irish in the thick of it.
The defending National Championships are going to have to rely a lot on Joel Berry II’s leadership. They’ll miss him while he’s out with a broken hand but he should be back by the time the conference season starts. Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson will be a huge factor for the Heels on the wing.
I’m not totally sure if I’m buying Miami in the same way other people are but there’s no denying they’ll be very good. Sophomore PG Bruce Bowen is one of the most intriguing prospects in the ACC and freshman Lonnie Walker should be a stud.
Louisville has a lot of pieces in place to be very good with Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, and Anas Mahmoud forming a strong core. The big unknowns are if their freshmen can form a reliable bench and how big of a step down acting head coach David Padgett is from Rick Pitino.
The Cavaliers are going to miss London Perrantes a lot but as long as Tony Bennett stays in Charlottesville, he’ll have UVA playing great defense and near the top of the ACC. The development of sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will decide how far the Cavs go in 2017-18.
Tier 3: On the Bubble
7. Virginia Tech Hokies
8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
10. Florida State Seminoles
11. Clemson Tigers
12. Syracuse Orange
I’d expect half of the teams in this group to make the NCAA Tournament. I feel pretty good about VT being one of those six, but not good enough to group them into Tier 2. The other five could be ordered pretty much whatever way you want. All six teams bring back a star or two but have significant holes on the roster.
My confidence in VT making the tournament comes down to confidence in coach Buzz Williams continuing to build and continue the Hokies’ rise. They’ll miss star F Zach LeDay a lot but if G/F Chris Clark can stay healthy, he may end up being just as good.
The Yellow Jackets probably bring back the best duo of players in this tier in G Josh Okogie and C Ben Lammers. The rest of the team is very young and very thin. Quinton Stephens’ production could be harder to replace than anyone would have thought this time last season.
Wake Forest’s season will likely hinge on finding someone to man the post in place of new Atlanta Hawk John Collins. While that will be a huge challenge, PG Bryant Crawford has the ability to be a stud and lead the Deacons back to the NCAA Tournament.
Seminole guard M.J. Walker is one of the best recruits in the conference but there’ll be a lot on his shoulders after the Seminoles lost their two best guards in 2016-17 to the NBA. Coach Leonard Hamilton always seems to have a few 7-footers stashed away on his roster but none of them have the toughness of Michael Ojo or the upside of Jonathan Isaac, both of him have also moved into the professional ranks.
A lot of analytic ranks are a lot higher on the Tigers (KenPom and SI both have them 8th) , but I’m having a hard time seeing Clemson doing better after losing star F Jaron Blossomgame. They’re not without talent - Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed are a nice guard combo - but it could be a tough season for Brad Brownell’s crew.
Like every other team in this tier, Syracuse returns some nice pieces (guards Frank Howard and Tyus Battle) but also faces a lot of question marks. Coach Jim Boeheim will have the Orange ready to battle with any team and the zone defense is always a pain to deal with but I have a hard time seeing Cuse climb much higher in the ACC.
Tier 4: The Basement
13. NC State Wolfpack
14. Boston College Eagles
15. Pittsburgh Panthers
I can see an argument for sliding the Wolfpack into Tier 3 but I really have a hard time envisoning NC State making a postseason run in Year 1 with Kevin Keatts. They should be strong in the post with F Abdul-Malik Abu and C Omer Yurtseven anchoring the team but guard play could be a bit hard to come by, especially after freshman Braxton Beverley was ruled ineligible for taking summer classes at Ohio State prior to Thad Matta’s firing.
If one of these teams is going to make an improbable, Georgia Tech 2017-type leap out of the basement, my money is on Boston College. The guard combo of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson is formidable on both ends. There are some other interesting pieces but the Eagles are probably still a year or more away from making any real noise.
It’s kind of incredible how far and how fast Pitt has fallen. This year could be very ugly. The Panthers return just 3 letterwinners from last year’s squad. Only one of those three, senior F Ryan Luther, played significant minutes for the team and he missed 12 games with an injury. I suppose it’s possible that the newcomers are better than anyone thinks and everything gels but it would be truly shocking if Pitt wasn’t one of the bottom two teams in the ACC this season.
ACC Player of the Year
F Bonzie Colson - Notre Dame
Also Considered: G Grayson Allen - Duke, G Joel Berry II - UNC, G Bruce Bowen Jr. - Miami, Marvin Bagley III - Duke
Colson was the runaway winner of the media’s preseason ACC Player of the Year award and it’s really hard to argue with that. Colson is an incredible player and will be a strong candidate for national awards. Allen is extremely easy to dislike but the guy can ball and will have a chance to shine on a title contender. If Duke is as good as expected, a freshman, such as Bagley, could be in the PotY discussion too.
ACC Freshman of the Year
F Marvin Bagley III - Duke
Also considered: G Lonnie Walker - Miami, G M.J. Walker - FSU, G Trevon Dural - Duke
The day Bagley reclassified from the 2018 to the 2017 recruiting class he was immediately the top ranked prospect. His decision to enroll at Duke really but the Blue Devils over the top in the eyes of many prognosticators. If Miami ends up winning the ACC and looking a national title threat, Lonnie Walker will be a big reason why and could snatch the FotY award from Bagley.
ACC Defensive Player of the Year
C Ben Lammers - Georgia Tech
Also considered: F Isaiah Wilkins - Virginia, C Anas Mahmoud - Louisville, G Ky Bowman - BC
To be honest, I don’t know many contenders outside Lammers but last year’s winner has to be the odds on favorite. If Lammers slips, someone from UVA, who will likely have the ACC’s top defense, seems like a pretty obvious choice. If Wilkins can come back strong from a weird illness last season he could be that guy.
ACC Coach of the Year
Mike Brey - Notre Dame
This award tends to go the coach that most overachieves expectations (see: Pastner, Josh). If there’s no big suprise, Coach K, Roy Williams, Tony Bennett, or Jim Larranaga are always good bets and have multiple CotY awards on their mantles. All that said, I think this is the year that Brey finally gets recognized for building Notre Dame basketball into one of the most consistent programs in the nation’s toughest conference. No coach in the ACC without a CotY award deserves one more.