The college basketball season is right around the corner, and here at The Sports Fan Journal we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know. We’ll kick off our coverage with previews of the major conferences, beginning with the ACC.
The ACC is the deepest conference in college basketball in 2016-17. It is a safe bet that the conference sends double-digit bids to the NCAA Tournament, and the number could creep as high as 11 or 12.
That may sound crazy, but you need to look no further than the initial USA Today Coaches Poll to see the potential. The ACC boasts five teams in the top 25 and has six more in the “also receiving votes” ledger. When you add in N.C. State, who isn’t getting any love from the coaches but is a consensus pick to finish squarely in the mix of second-tier ACC teams, you have 12 programs with legitimate Big Dance aspirations.
Teams You Need To Know
The Blue Devils enter the season as not only the favorite to win the ACC, but also the top threat to unseat reigning champion Villanova. For Duke, it all starts with Grayson Allen. The junior averaged 21.6 points per game last season and is the leading candidate for the Wooden Award. In addition, the Blue Devils have Amile Jefferson back after he missed most of last season to injury. The 6-9 forward averaged a double-double before said injury and provides veteran leadership so many big programs lack these days. Duke also returns Matt Jones and Luke Kennard, who also averaged double figures last season.
As if that wasn’t enough, Duke boasts an embarrassment of riches in its incoming recruiting class. The class contains four of the top 15 players in the country, which includes four five-star recruits and a four-star recruit, headlined by power forward Harry Giles and small forward Jayson Tatum. The class also includes point guard Frank Jackson, center Marques Bolden and power forward Javin DeLaurier.
Duke enters the season as one of the favorites to win the national championship.
The Tar Heels enter the season with a load of experience. The starting five will likely consist of two seniors and three juniors, and North Carolina returns six players who played significant minutes in last season’s run to the National Championship Game.
Joel Berry leads the Tar Heel backcourt while getting help from Nate Britt and incoming freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson. The bigs look to be a strength for UNC, as returning players Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks anchor the frontcourt. Then there’s 6-6 Theo Pinson and five-star center Tony Bradley, both of whom should be key contributors as well.
Losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson hurts, and the Tar Heels are still looking for a consistent three-point threat — but North Carolina is poised to make noise come March as per usual.
Tony Bennett has built Virginia into a perennial contender in the ACC, and 2016-17 will be no different. The Cavaliers should once again be right in the mix at the top of the ACC. After earning No. 1 seeds in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, Virginia wants to take that next step and put disappointing tournament showings behind it.
The Cavaliers lose Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, two players who will tough to replace. London Perrantes is expected to fill some of those shoes and lead the team the way Brogdon and Gill did during their time at UVA. Virginia needs him to replicate his 49 percent three-point percentage and maintain his role as a facilitator. Memphis transfer Austin Nichols will be relied upon to make an immediate impact on his new team as well. The 6-9 forward averaged 13.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game two seasons ago for the Tigers. Junior Isaiah Wilkins is the kind of role player that is necessary on any successful basketball team.
Losing two players like Brogdon and Gill is a tough thing to handle, but Virginia has the coach and the personnel to do it. The Cavaliers should be a team that no one wants to play in March.
Louisville enters the season as a talented team dealing with a fair share of questions. The Cardinals lose their three leading scorers from a season ago as well as their top rebounder, so head coach Rick Pitino is looking for a reliable three-point threat to emerge as well as someone who can be a legitimate post threat.
Forward Jalen Johnson and guard Quentin Snider are the only returning Cardinals who started more than 10 games last season. Snider is a capable leader and floor general, someone who could provide some outside pop for Louisville. Freshman V.J. King, Penn transfer Tony Hicks and sophomore Deng Adel are others Pitino hopes to get perimeter scoring from. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell will see an increased role in the backcourt, while Johnson, Raymond Spalding, Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud must anchor the frontcourt.
Louisville enters the season in the top 25 and has the potential to make some noise. The development of this relatively young roster will determine how much of a threat the team can be and something to watch as the season progresses.
The Best Of The Rest: Syracuse, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Pitt
Players To Watch
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Bloosomgame is a versatile player who flirted with the NBA before deciding to return for his senior season. Last year the 6-7 forward averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He shot 51 percent from the floor and an impressive 45 percent from three. Blossomgame finished third in scoring in the ACC. He is a first-team All-ACC talent who will be key as Clemson looks to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons.
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State
Smith Jr. is an impact freshman for the Wolfpack. He is an athletic freak who can jump out of the building. Smith can score in a variety of ways and possesses a tight handle. He could very well be a one-and-done player who hears his name called in the lottery next June. Paired with fellow freshman Omer Yurtseven (who has a nine-game suspension) on a roster laden with experience, N.C. State becomes a very intriguing team in a deep ACC.
Regular-Season Champion: Duke
Nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s hard to go against the Dukies. With the return of Allen, Kennard and Jones along with the addition of that ridiculous recruiting class, the Blue Devils are the clear favorites, and it’s hard to see anyone stopping them.
Player Of The Year: Grayson Allen
Allen is the best player on the best team. He will be a 20+ ppg scorer on a team that should spend the entire season in the top five. He is arguably the preseason favorite to win the Wooden Award and will assert his dominance on the ACC all season long.
The ACC enters the 2016-17 season as a must-watch conference. It boasts two bona fide championship contenders in Duke and UNC. Virginia has been one of the best programs in the country over the last few years and has a chip on its shoulder. Louisville has a talented roster looking to overcome the loss of three key players. The conference is rife with talent in both upperclassmen and newcomers. After the top three, the second tier is wide open, and it should be exciting watching teams jockey for position. It remains to be seen how beating up on each other through the conference slate affects the conference come March, but double-digit tournament representation is a distinct possibility. Regardless how things shake out, this conference will be fun to watch.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.