Conference Preview: ACC

Conference Preview: ACC

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

The ACC is one of the biggest, most popular conferences in college basketball across the country, but the recent results have not been on par with that status. In fact, the conference is coming off one of its worst years in recent memory, and with programs such as Duke, North Carolina and Florida State all needing statement performances in the NCAA Tournament (after no ACC team reached the Elite Eight), this seems to be a pivotal year for the conference. But will the ACC live up to the standard required, or will the teams flounder and underperform once again?

When it comes to personnel talent, the ACC is also trending in the wrong direction of late. Even though 18 of the Top 100 high-school players chose to continue their college path in ACC-based programs, only six of them rank among the top-60 prospects -- where the name of star freshman Paolo Banchero stands out. Either way, that represents a huge misstep in recruiting, something that was even more noticeable when analyzing the conference's activity in the transfer portal -- where the ACC teams lost more talent than they gained. Plus, several college basketball players left their programs for non-guaranteed professional opportunities, though that issue was noticeable across the country and not just in the ACC overall.

Either way, the ACC should once again be one of the best conferences in the country and will be a must-show spectacle once the season begins next month. Will Duke recover the glory it

The ACC is one of the biggest, most popular conferences in college basketball across the country, but the recent results have not been on par with that status. In fact, the conference is coming off one of its worst years in recent memory, and with programs such as Duke, North Carolina and Florida State all needing statement performances in the NCAA Tournament (after no ACC team reached the Elite Eight), this seems to be a pivotal year for the conference. But will the ACC live up to the standard required, or will the teams flounder and underperform once again?

When it comes to personnel talent, the ACC is also trending in the wrong direction of late. Even though 18 of the Top 100 high-school players chose to continue their college path in ACC-based programs, only six of them rank among the top-60 prospects -- where the name of star freshman Paolo Banchero stands out. Either way, that represents a huge misstep in recruiting, something that was even more noticeable when analyzing the conference's activity in the transfer portal -- where the ACC teams lost more talent than they gained. Plus, several college basketball players left their programs for non-guaranteed professional opportunities, though that issue was noticeable across the country and not just in the ACC overall.

Either way, the ACC should once again be one of the best conferences in the country and will be a must-show spectacle once the season begins next month. Will Duke recover the glory it had in past years after an impressive recruiting class? Will the Tar Heels establish themselves as the best team in the conference once again, living up to the lofty expectations around them? And what about programs such as Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville? Read on to find out our in-depth preview of the ACC.

Top Players

Overall: Paolo Banchero, F, Duke

Banchero is one of the most heralded prospects in the country and is also one of the most promising freshmen to join the ACC in recent memory, and there's a strong case to believe he's already the best player in the league based on both current ability and stardom potential. The freshman has the potential to do everything right offensively, as he can be equally effective off the dribble or in the high post, but he can also improve the team's efficiency with his passing, defends very well and can be an asset on the boards as well. All told, he would be a massive upgrade over the team's options last year. Most of Duke's success this season will depend on how quickly Banchero adjusts to the pace of college play.  

Also considered: Buddy Boeheim (Syracuse), Prentiss Hubb (Notre Dame), Armando Bacot (North Carolina)

Scoring: Buddy Boeheim, G, Syracuse

While Banchero could have also cracked this spot, it remains to be seen just how well he can adjust to the play at the college ranks and a brief adjustment period can't be ruled out. Even though he's the best raw scorer in the Conference, he's not ready to be called as the best scoring threat right now -- that honor goes to Buddy Boeheim, who is coming off the best year of his college career so far. Boeheim averaged a career-best 17.8 points per game while shooting a career-high 38.3 percent from three-point range. He decided to play one more year in college before potentially declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft, and he is likely to be a major offensive weapon for the Orangemen once again. Our projections rate him as being in line to have an even better year, as he's projected -- perhaps even conservatively -- to score 18.2 points per game in 2021-22 -- which ranks as the best figure in the entire conference.

Also considered: Paolo Banchero (Duke), Isaiah Wong (Miami), Michael Devoe (Georgia Tech)

Rebounds: Armando Bacot, C, North Carolina

An elite big man who already made major strides last season, Bacot led the Tar Heels in both scoring and rebounding while also being named to the All-ACC Third Team in 2020-21. Expect him to take another big step in his development in 2021-22, as his minutes are bound to increase following the massive roster turnover that North Caroline suffered in the frontcourt during the offseason. Thus, it wouldn't be surprising if he ends the season being selected for the All-ACC First Team once it's all said and done. Our projections system rates him to be the conference's leading rebounder at 8.2 boards per tilt, and that would be an upgrade over what he did last season after putting up 12.3 points and 7.8 boards per contest.

Also considered: Keve Aluma (Virginia Tech), Bourama Sidibe (Syracuse), Nate Laszewski (Notre Dame)

Assists: Prentiss Hubb, G, Notre Dame

Hubb, a senior, is an elite playmaker and should be one of the best players in the ACC, as well as a major cog on what promises to be a well-rounded and balanced offense once again. While he's an inconsistent shooter, he thrives as a facilitator and already averaged 5.8 assists per game in 2020-21. If he can improve on his efficiency, then Hubb could very well be among the ACC leaders in assists per game once again. For what is worth, our projections rate him to improve compared to what he did last year -- he's expected to average over six dimes per contest (6.1 assists per game).

Also considered: Kihei Clark (Virginia), Charlie Moore (Miami), Caleb Love (North Carolina)

Center: Keve Aluma, F, Virginia Tech

This one could have easily been a coin toss between Aluma and Armando Bacot, as these two players are the best big men in the conference, and the gap between them and the rest is sizable. However, Aluma gets the nod here since he's projected to have better numbers across the board, and he also provides a bigger impact on both ends of the court. In a head-to-head comparison with Bacot, Aluma rates as a better scorer (15.9 points per game against Bacot's 11.9), passer (2.1 assists per game against Bacot's 1.1) and blocker (1.5 blocks per game to Bacot's 1.2) while also averaging more steals per game (0.9 to 0.8). 

Also considered: Armando Bacot (North Carolina), Mark Williams (Duke), Samuell Williamson (Louisville)

Freshman: Paolo Banchero, F, Duke

We have discussed enough about Banchero as not only being one of the best players in the conference and perhaps the most gifted scorer as well, so it's not surprising to see him as being the best freshman. While Banchero is likely to go through a (brief) adjustment period to get used to the college ranks, he's a top-2 prospect in his own right and seems to do everything well on both ends of the court. Expect him to be a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft once he decides to turn pro. In the meantime, he is expected to play a huge role for the Blue Devils on both ends of the court.

Also considered: Benny Williams (Syracuse), A.J. Griffin (Duke), Trevor Keels (Duke), Matt Cleveland (Florida State)

Sleepers

Samuell Williamson, F, Louisville

Williamson was one of several five-star recruits that simply hasn't performed as expected once making the jump to the college ranks, but he might be in line to take a huge leap forward in 2021. Even though his offensive game is limited and his defensive awareness is subpar at best, he did show improvement as the previous season advanced. The numbers improved as well, as he averaged 10.9 rebounds per game over the team's last seven contests. If that confidence spreads to other parts of his game, particularly on offense, Williamson could have a breakthrough junior year. In fact, several experts believe he could end up as one of the best big men in the conference while ending in one of the ACC's best teams once it's all said and done. The potential is there -- he just needs to put it all together.

 Jeremy Roach, G, Duke

Roach didn't have his best season in 2020, as he had to compete with DJ Steward for playing time, but he was a five-star recruit one year ago and still found a way to score 8.7 points per contest. If things go the right way with him, and considering how talented Duke will be this year compared to the previous campaign, it wouldn't be surprising if Roach ends up being Duke's most improved player and one of the most surprising players in the entire league. Plus, Roach will probably start this season follow Jordan Goldwire's transfer to Oklahoma, meaning he will have every opportunity to display the floor leadership he was touted for coming out of high school.

 Jarrod West, G, Louisville

Small conference transfers can be very hit-or-miss, but one player to keep an eye on is West, who's widely expected to be the team's starting point guard this season. The 5-foot-11 guard posted a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year and delivered strong numbers across the board with 12.5 points, 6.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game while also shooting 40.8 percent from three-point range. In fact, West ended 11th in steals per game across the country last year and should be a pest defensively for opposing guards. One thing to keep close tabs on is whether he'll be able to adjust to the ACC or not, but the potential is clearly there.

Transfers

Jayden Gardner, F, Virginia

Gardner was a huge threat for East Carolina, averaging 18.3 points per game last season and putting up at least 16 points per game in each of his first three years in college. Now, we will have the chance to show what he can do against tougher competition. It will be interesting to see how he fits into Virginia's system, but one has to think that Gardner should be a threat to start from Day 1 as long as he buys in defensively. The 6-7 forward will have two more years of eligibility.

 Dawson Garcia, F, North Carolina

The Tar Heels are expected to improve massively this season, and one of the main reasons why they're bound to be more successful is the presence of Garcia as one of the team's new players. A 6-11 stretch five that was on the Big East All Freshman team last season, Garcia is a reliable scorer who can make an impact both in the paint and on the perimeter. He averaged 13.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season while shooting a solid 35.6 percent from three-point range, but he also has the potential to post better rebounding numbers -- especially if he gets most of his minutes on the paint and not as a stretch four, which might very well be the case.

 Caleb Mills, G, Florida State

Mills delivered respectable numbers at Houston as a freshman in 2019-20, averaging 13.2 points per game while shooting 36.5 percent from three-point range. Just four games into the 2020-21 season, however, he decided to take his talents elsewhere. One area where he needs to improve is his passing skills, as he's never been much of a facilitator and is quite likely to be a scoring-first guard. That fits with what FSU lost, however, as key pieces such as MJ Walker and Scottie Barnes are now at the professional ranks. The biggest roadblock for Mills might be how deep coach Leonard Hamilton wishes to see the rotation go.

 Armaan Franklin, G, Virginia

Franklin had a breakthrough sophomore season with the Indiana Hoosiers, as he averaged 11.4 points per game while shooting an impressive 42.4 percent from three-point range. Simply put, he has the potential to be one of the best scoring threats for the Cavaliers in what projects to be a three-guard lineup. However, he's not a one-trick pony that shoots well from the perimeter, as he can also take players off the dribble and create his own shot when he needs to. Franklin needs to improve a bit on the glass, but he stands at 6-4 and should be more active on that front too, something the team will need after losing capable rebounders such as Jay Huff and Sam Hauser during the offseason.

 Storm Murphy, G, Virginia Tech

Murphy is a graduate transfer that joins the Hokies after earning All-Southern Conference at Wofford, as he averaged 17.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range, and he is expected to work as the team's starting floor general. While he will not be the defensive player that Wabissa Bede was, Murphy emerged as an outstanding shooter during his senior year, and he's a capable distributor that is obviously already familiar with Young's offense. It remains to be seen whether he can handle the obvious step up in competition, but he did enough last season to believe he can do just that.

Top 10 Players *

1 Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
2 Buddy Boeheim, G, Syracuse
3 Armando Bacot, C, North Carolina
4 Prentiss Hubb, G, Notre Dame
5 Michael Devoe, G, Georgia Tech
6 Jayden Gardner, F, Virginia
7 Keve Aluma, F, Virginia Tech
8 Isaiah Wong, G, Miami FL
9 Dawson Garcia, F, North Carolina
10 Anthony Polite – Florida State

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with RotoWire's official 2021-22 player rankings.

Projected Team Standings

1 Duke
2 North Carolina
3 Florida State
4 Louisville
5 Virginia Tech
6 Virginia
7 Syracuse
8 Miami FL
9 Notre Dame
10 NC State
11 Georgia Tech
12 Clemson
13 Pittsburgh
14 Wake Forest
15 Boston College

Projected Team Rotations

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
MakaiAshton-LangfordBoston CollegeG
BrevinGallowayBoston CollegeG
DeMarrLangfordBoston CollegeG
FrederickScottBoston CollegeG
T.J.BickerstaffBoston CollegeF
JamesKarnikBoston CollegeF
QuintenPostBoston CollegeC
NickHonorClemsonG
DavidCollinsClemsonG
Al-AmirDawesClemsonG
HunterTysonClemsonF
NazBohannonClemsonF
P.J.HallClemsonF
AlexHemenwayClemsonG
JeremyRoachDukeG
WendellMooreDukeF
PaoloBancheroDukeF
TrevorKeelsDukeG
JoeyBakerDukeG
A.J.GriffinDukeF
MarkWilliamsDukeC
TheoJohnDukeC
RayQuanEvansFlorida StG
AnthonyPoliteFlorida St.F
MalikOsbourneFlorida St.F
Matt ClevelandFlorida St.F
JohnButlerFlorida St.F
CalebMillsFlorida St.G
JohnWarleyFlorida St.G
TanorNgomFlorida St.F
DeivonSmithGeorgia TechG
MichaelDevoeGeorgia TechG
JordanUsherGeorgia TechF
BubbaParhamGeorgia TechG
KhalidMooreGeorgia TechF
DallanColemanGeorgia TechG
RodneyHowardGeorgia TechC
JarrodWestLouisvilleG
NoahLockeLouisvilleG
D'AndreDavisLouisvilleF
MasonFaulknerLouisvilleG
MattCrossLouisvilleF
SamuellWilliamsonLouisvilleF
Jae'LynWithersLouisvilleF
MalikWilliamsLouisvilleF
CharlieMooreMiamiG
KameronMcGustyMiamiG
IsaiahWongMiamiG
HarlondBeverlyMiamiG
RodneyMillerMiamiC
Sam WaardenburgMiamiF
AnthonyWalkerMiamiF
CamHayesNC StateG
CaseyMorsellNC StateG
DereonSeabronNC StateG
ThomasAllenNC StateG
JericoleHellemsNC StateF
MannyBatesNC StateF
ErnestRossNC StateF
CalebLoveNorth CarolinaG
LeakyBlackNorth CarolinaG
KerwinWaltonNorth CarolinaG
ArmondoBacotNorth CarolinaF
R.J.DavisNorth CarolinaF
BradyManekNorth CarolinaF
DawsonGarciaNorth CarolinaF
PrentissHubbNotre DameG
CormacRyanNotre DameG
DaneGoodwinNotre DameG
TreyWertzNotre DameG
PaulAtkinsonNotre DameF
NateLaszewskiNotre DameF
FemiOdukalePittsburghG
NikeSibandePittsburghG
JamariusBurtonPittsburghG
IthielHortonPittsburghG
JohnHugleyPittsburghC
MouhamadouGueyePittsburghF
DanielOladapoPittsburghF
JoeGirardSyracuseG
BuddyBoeheimSyracuseG
SymirTorrenceSyracuseG
BennyWilliamsSyracuseF
ColeSwiderSyracuseF
BouramaSidibeSyracuseF
KiheiClarkVirginiaG
ArmaanFranklinVirginiaG
ReeceBeekmanVirginiaG
FranciscoCaffaroVirginiaC
KadinShedrickVirginiaF
JaydenGardnerVirgniaF
KodyStattmannVirginiaG
JustynMuttsVirginia TechF
StormMurphyVirginia TechG
NaheimAlleyneVirginia TechG
HunterCattoorVirginia TechG
KeveAlumaVirginia TechF
DariusMaddoxVirginia TechG
DavidN'GuessanVirginia TechF
DaivienWilliamsonWake ForestG
IsaiahMuciusWake ForestF
AlondesWilliamsWake ForestG
JakeLaRaviaWake ForestF
DallasWaltonWake ForestF
KhadimSyWake ForestF
CarterWhittWake ForestG
TariqIngrahamWake ForestF

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juan Pablo Aravena
30-year-old sports analyst and journalist. Fan of every single sport on this earth. Enjoys a good beer, some good food, and good company. NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL and soccer fan.
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