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Monday, August 17, 2009
ACC ShootAround: UNC still the king, but plenty aiming for defending champ

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Bob Donnan/US Presswire

On a young team, North Carolina senior Deon Thompson will be counted on for leadership.

10 Things To Know From The Offseason

1. Duke's unexpected scramble: Elliot Williams asked to transfer closer to his home in Memphis because of a family illness. The transfer request was honored, and suddenly the Blue Devils were down to two guards. To solve that problem, Duke got creative and added Andre Dawkins, who gave up an extra year of high school eligibility to graduate early and set sail for Durham. Adding Dawkins should help ease the loss of Williams.

2. Clemson's unexpected scramble: Coach Oliver Purnell was stunned to learn that Terrence Oglesby decided to bolt not for the NBA draft, but for a contract in Europe. Oglesby was a difference-making 3-point shooter and it was a crushing blow to the Tigers. That is, until Tim Floyd resigned at USC. Clemson picked up a significant commitment when Noel Johnson got a release from the Trojans and signed with the Tigers. He's not as deep a threat as Oglesby, but he gives Clemson a key 3-point threat.

3. Busy bees: Georgia Tech had a busy offseason as it attempts to go from two league wins to ACC contender. The Yellow Jackets picked up one of the top three players in the class of 2009 in Derrick Favors. Then Gani Lawal took his draft decision down to the final days before deciding to return to Atlanta. Senior guard De'Andre Bell was cleared to play after having spinal surgery in December. In August, the Jackets lost freshman Kammeon Holsey to an ACL injury that takes him out for the season, but he can be replaced with the depth of Lawal, Favors and Zach Peacock up front.

Al-Farouq Aminu

Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

The return of Aminu to Winston-Salem will help offset the losses of Jeff Teague and James Johnson.

4. Aminu returns: Wake Forest had a shot to drop from irrelevance had Al-Farouq Aminu decided to declare for the draft. He didn't, which stunned most draft pundits. Guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson did leave for the NBA and were selected in the first round. Keeping Aminu at least gives the Demon Deacons one of the top scoring wings in the ACC.

5. Thompson goes international: North Carolina's Deon Thompson had played behind Tyler Hansbrough the past three seasons. Thompson wasn't the primary option. He didn't feel the pressure to produce. But Thompson got a chance to be out on his own this summer, leading the World University Games team to a bronze medal in Serbia. The Tar Heels are in desperate need of a new leader and Thompson came out of his shell a bit on the trip. It appears he's ready for the gig.

6. Practice?! New practice facilities opened at Virginia Tech and Miami. This might not sound like much, but these are two traditional football schools, and their staffs are just giddy about the new options for players and staff. Adding sparkling practice facilities improves the schools' curb appeal. Recruiting is a nasty business, and to be able to compete facility-wise with traditional hoop powers is critical.

7. Stabilizing UVa: New Virginia coach Tony Bennett has always been a players' coach. That's why the Washington State experiment worked so well. It didn't take long for Bennett to be welcomed by the Cavaliers. Ensuring that Sylven Landesberg was on board with Bennett was paramount to him having a chance this season. Landesberg didn't blink about playing for Bennett and is convinced that a more defensive-oriented team will lead to more scoring options.

8. Status quo: The ACC discussed changing the conference schedule format, but didn't get much further than a few conversations. The league is sticking with 16 games, not moving to 18, and isn't interested in moving to two divisions. The consensus among the coaches in the league: Don't mess with a good thing.

9. Seminole journey: Florida State embarked on a 10-day, four-game trip to Spain this month, and one of the intents is proving that big man Solomon Alabi is a basketball player, not just a tall guy who can block shots. The practices leading up to the departure led the Seminoles to believe that positive progress was being made toward that goal.

10. The Lowe down: NC State coach Sidney Lowe said he was going to get a call from good friend and former NBA mentor Flip Saunders about an assistant job with the Washington Wizards. Lowe took the call and stayed put. While the Wolfpack have had a few NBA players come through during Lowe's tenure, the winning hasn't been consistent. Making a change now would have meant another rebuilding phase. Keeping Lowe allows for more consistency; whether that translates into more wins, we'll have to see.

10 Key Players

1. Chris Singleton, So., Florida State: He had star potential as a freshman, averaging 8.1 points a game. But Singleton has improved his game and is driving to the hole more easily. If he can be a stud for the Seminoles, they have a shot at getting back to the NCAAs.

2. Trevor Booker, Sr., Clemson: Booker is hardly an unknown; he's the go-to player for the Tigers. But he's going to have to carry even more of a load. Booker was a beast for Team USA at the World University Games this summer, but he has to deliver like that every night this season if Clemson is going to return to the NCAA tournament.

3. Evan Ravenel, So., Boston College: One of the reasons the Eagles didn't add a single player to their roster was because of the faith they had in Ravenel. He didn't play much last season, but the staff is confident he can develop into a solid contributor if he commits himself to Al Skinner's system. It'll need him to be, since the weakness was frontcourt depth a year ago.

4. Malcolm Grant, So., Miami: UM coach Frank Haith said the Villanova transfer has been a huge hit since arriving on campus. Grant stayed in South Florida throughout the summer to help ease into the leadership position at the 1. Teammates have raved about his ability to run a team. He's expected to replace the more scoring-oriented Jack McClinton at the point.

Tracy Smith

AP Photo/The News & Observer/Ethan Hyman

On an NC State team bereft of much scoring punch, can Tracy Smith take it up a notch?

5. Tristan Spurlock, Fr., Virginia: Tony Bennett had to lock in on the previously committed Spurlock. Bennett did wonders with shooters during his tenure at Washington State. If Spurlock can knock down perimeter shots for the Cavaliers and offer up help to Sylven Landesberg, UVa should rapidly improve under Bennett.

6. Tracy Smith, Sr., NC State: The Wolfpack need someone -- anyone -- to stand up and become a go-to player for a squad that has lost its way. This 6-foot-8 forward could be that person in lieu of the departure of Brandon Costner. Smith had his moments last season, averaging 10 ppg on 54 percent shooting. But the Detroit native needs to be the focus for the Pack to snap out of their fog.

7. Ed Davis, So., North Carolina: Davis was a stud during the Final Four, and that alone could have catapulted him into the NBA draft lottery. But Davis knew better. He understood he was hardly polished. So he returned to school and worked over the summer on becoming a much more effective post scorer. He should flourish inside for the Tar Heels, not just as a shot-blocker, but a high-flyer who can flush and score facing the basket.

8. Miles Plumlee, So., Duke: Plumlee was an afterthought last season. But if he can become much more effective scoring in the low post opposite Kyle Singler, the Blue Devils will be even tougher to defend down low. Miles' highly touted brother, Mason, is joining the Devils to give them even more height and depth up front. How much the Plumlee brothers develop could go quite a way toward how successful Duke is inside.

9. Sean Mosley, So., Maryland: The Terps desperately need another scorer to emerge to offset all the attention teams pay to Greivis Vasquez. Mosley had a modest freshman season (5.3 ppg, 23.8 percent on 3s), but if he can turn it up a notch, the Terps have a real shot to contend in the ACC.

10. Ishmael Smith, Sr., Wake Forest: Smith has waited his turn to take over at the point; he played the secondary role to Jeff Teague the past two seasons. Wake coach Dino Gaudio says Smith can handle the chore. He'll have to shoot better than 24 percent and score more than 6.2 points a game, though. Smith has to make himself a factor every time he touches the ball. That's what Teague did for Wake last season.

10 Freshmen We Can't Wait To See

1. Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech: He dominates the game in the paint as a shot-blocker, rebounder and scorer. Favors might make the biggest impact of any freshman in the league because of his skills and Tech's need for him to produce.

2. John Henson, PF, North Carolina: Without question, Henson is the incoming ACC freshman with the most potential. His versatility and skills are incredible for his size (6-10). He'll play as much as his painfully thin body will allow.

3. Ryan Kelly, PF, Duke: Kelly has a skill set that separates him from others at his position. He's the best face-up freshman forward coming into the league. He gives Duke another weapon and will stretch defenses with his deep shooting range.

Mike Snaer

AJ Mast/Icon SMI

Toney Douglas is now a member of the New York Knicks, but FSU fans still have plenty to be excited with in Michael Snaer (above).

4. Michael Snaer, SG, Florida State: This kid is a major talent who competes and has the ability to score from different spots on the floor. Snaer's a bit streaky as a long-range shooter. Still, he gives Leonard Hamilton a freshman capable of having big scoring nights.

5. Milton Jennings, SF, Clemson: Jennings is a mismatch for opponents. He has the jumper and the range to stay behind the line, and he has the size (6-9) and the length to score inside. But he needs to hit the weight room to reach his potential.

6. Scott Wood, SG, NC State: At 6-7, Wood is a tremendous long-range shooter and has the size to see over defenders. He has a great IQ for the game, but to maximize his impact, he needs to commit himself to improving defensively.

7. Ari Stewart, SF, Wake Forest: He has incredible athletic ability and quickness. Stewart is dangerous on the break in the open floor and flashes a rapidly improving perimeter jumper. He needs to improve his feel for the game. He kind of reminds me of Jason Richardson.

8. Durand Scott, SG, Miami: Is an attacking guard who gets to the rim on a consistent basis. The New York product scores primarily off the dribble and pull-up jumper, and Scott must improve his outside shooting. Frank Haith will love his defensive versatility.

9. Jontel Evans, PG, Virginia: Evans is a strong, stocky scoring point guard. New coach Tony Bennett is going to need this competitive player to step in right away at a key position.

10. Erick Green, PG, Virginia Tech: Green can play both guard spots and loves to run. He has elite quickness and speed and excels in the open floor. His acrobatic finishes at the rim are a sight to see.

10 Nonconference Games We Can't Wait To See

1. North Carolina at Kentucky, Dec. 5: The Tar Heels smashed the Wildcats last season, but this is a new era for both clubs. And the revamped Tar Heels have to go into Rupp, where John Calipari and his elite athletes await.

2. Michigan State at North Carolina, Dec. 1: A rematch of the national title game, the headliner of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge should give us an early indication of where the defending champs are this season. We know the Spartans will be contenders from start to finish, but the Heels could prove their worth early with a home win of this stature.

Cowboys stadium

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The Dallas Cowboys' new palace will host a dandy in December: North Carolina vs. Texas.

3. North Carolina vs. Texas, Dec. 19 (Arlington, Texas): Jerry Jones gets to debut his new stadium for basketball purposes in an advance screening for the 2014 Final Four. These two teams will likely be in the top 10 for most of the season.

4. Duke at Georgetown, Date TBA: The Blue Devils have the inside game to compete with Georgetown's Greg Monroe. This series has produced quality games, and this one should continue the trend.

5. South Carolina at Boston College, Dec. 30: The Eagles recently picked up this quality nonconference game, as the Gamecocks should be in the chase for an NCAA berth. BC will get a chance to see a point guard in Devan Downey who might remind them of one they just saw depart, Tyrese Rice.

6. Maryland vs. Villanova, Dec. 6 (Washington D.C.): The highlight matchup of the BB&T Classic will be Greivis Vasquez versus Scottie Reynolds at the point. But both teams will want to push the ball and get after each other defensively. The Terps are a trendy pick for a top-four ACC finish, while the Wildcats should be the Big East favorite.

7. Georgia Tech vs. Dayton, Nov. 19 (Puerto Rico Tip-Off): The Yellow Jackets could very well turn it around and become a top-25 team and an NCAA entrant. Dayton is the favorite in the A-10. This is one of the best first-round matchups of any of the Thanksgiving week tournaments.

Possible tantalizing matchups:
8. Boston College vs. Purdue, Nov. 23 (Paradise Jam semifinals): If this occurs, the Eagles will get a big-time game early in the season to check their chances at a conference title run. The Boilermakers return nearly everyone from last season's Sweet 16 team.

9. Duke vs. Connecticut, Nov. 27 (NIT Season Tip-Off finals): The Huskies don't have the inside game to match the Blue Devils, but the perimeter of Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker can certainly test Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith at Madison Square Garden.

10. North Carolina vs. Cal, Nov. 20 (Coaches vs. Cancer final): The Tar Heels have to get past Ohio State, and Cal would need to beat Syracuse. But if the two meet for a championship at Madison Square Garden, it would be the perfect test for the Tar Heels. UNC guards Larry Drew II and Dexter Strickland will need to learn how to go against elite backcourts, and the Cal tandem of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher is one of the best.

2009-10 Team Capsules

ACC
BCBoston College
Last season's NCAA tournament team was led by a collection of younger players, with Tyrese Rice the lone senior. The Eagles have only one senior on this squad (Tyler Roche). So there's a real sense at the Heights that the Eagles can be contenders for the ACC title in 2010 and 2011. A lot will depend on finding a difference-making 3-point threat. Rice was hard to guard because of his deep range, but Skinner says Biko Paris can deliver a similar dagger.

ClemsonClemson
The pickup of Noel Johnson was a must to provide perimeter pop. But the bigger question is: Who will be the lead guard? Demontez Stitt has to assume the role with K.C. Rivers gone. But he'll be pushed by sophomore Andre Young and newcomer Donte Hill, too. The competition in the pre-practice sessions in the early fall should determine the rotation.

DukeDuke
Jon Scheyer has spent the summer assuming his role as the point guard. He excelled in the position toward the latter part of the season, and he'll get plenty of reps early on to settle into the position in the fall. Also, Kyle Singler will be able to play his more natural face-the-basket forward position. He should be a tougher matchup coming from the elbow than he was in the post.

FSUFlorida State
The question for the fall will be how quickly Derwin Kitchen becomes a reliable scoring guard for the Seminoles. Toney Douglas did a little bit of everything, with FSU relying on him for every big bucket. Kitchen has to assume that role, which won't be easy.

GTGeorgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets finally have depth at every position, a big-time stud coming in with Derrick Favors, a player who returned instead of spurning the team for the NBA draft in Gani Lawal, a returning point guard in Iman Shumpert and the confidence that they played their best basketball at the end of the season. The vibe in Atlanta is that Georgia Tech is ready for a surge.

MarylandMaryland
Gary Williams loves this squad. He returns eight of his top nine players and can't wait for Maryland to be a contender next season. The return of Greivis Vasquez gives him a star player, a potential league player of the year and a go-to guy who understands his every correction. Making the NCAAs last season helped Williams quiet most critics, but contending for the league title this season could seriously shut them up. No one is better suited to coach the Terps than Williams, and he's out to prove to everyone once again that questioning his coaching is just plain silly.

MiamiMiami
The easy thing to do is assume the Hurricanes will dip into disappointment territory with the departure of Jack McClinton. That would be falling into a trendy trap. Coach Frank Haith said his starting five should be better than a year ago. He's banking on Nova transfer Malcolm Grant at the point, highly touted wing Durand Scott on the perimeter and Dwayne Collins up front after his flirtation with the NBA draft. If DeQuan Jones can live up to his hype and Adrian Thomas continues to develop, the new-look Canes could be the surprise team in the ACC.

UNCNorth Carolina
The Tar Heels lost the guts of their team with the departure of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. But the return of Marcus Ginyard, who is back after sitting out with an injured shin for most of last season, gives them a key bridge from a veteran lineup to a host of young and talented fresh faces. Ginyard's defense on the perimeter and leadership in the locker room will be key in developing roles and a rotation in the early preseason practices.

NC StateNC State
The Wolfpack is all about Sidney Lowe now. The players are his, so the rebuilding is now officially his project. But the team took a hit when high-profile newcomer Lorenzo Brown was shipped off to Hargrave Military Academy instead of the NCSU campus. Brown was the No. 9 shooting guard in the 2009 ESPNU 100. Sophomore C.J. Williams has been the summer stud. He averaged only 3.7 points a game last season, but he's expected to produce much more after his play this summer.

VirginiaVirginia
The early practices in the spring proved to the UVa players that Tony Bennett doesn't plan on walking up the court. He'll take quality shots whenever they can come in the offense, whether that be early or late in the shot clock. Bennett had a smooth transition to Virginia this spring. Let's see if it translates for him when the real practice begins later in the fall.

VTVirginia Tech
The Hokies have three of the top rising juniors in the ACC in guard Malcolm Delaney and forwards Jeff Allen and J.T. Thompson. Losing A.D. Vassallo is a blow because he made big shots, notably 3s. But coach Seth Greenberg is banking on the aforementioned trio to keep the Hokies relevant. Tech is relishing its under-the-radar role of being a team that isn't expected to contend. The Hokies fully expect to be in the mix.

Wake ForestWake Forest
The Demon Deacons lost two big-time scorers in Jeff Teague and James Johnson. But they still bring back not only Al-Farouq Aminu, but the two other pieces of that recruiting class that haven't reached their potential: Ty Walker and Tony Woods. Those two have the hype, but now need to put the production down in games. Walker was extremely confident over the summer that he and his classmate can deliver. If Walker and Woods can provide a scoring pop with Chas McFarland and David Weaver, the Demon Deacons will be tough to defend in the post.

2008-09 ACC Standings

ACC record Overall record
North Carolina* 13-3 34-4
Duke* 11-5 30-7
Wake Forest* 11-5 24-7
Florida State* 10-6 25-10
Clemson* 9-7 23-9
Boston College* 9-7 22-12
Maryland* 7-9 21-14
Miami^ 7-9 19-13
Virginia Tech^ 7-9 19-15
NC State 6-10 16-14
Virginia 4-12 10-18
Georgia Tech 2-14 12-19
*NCAA tournament
^NIT berth

For all the ACC news and notes, check out the conference page.

ACC Predictions

By Jay Bilas
ESPN

It's never too early for predictions. Jay Bilas offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the ACC:

1. North Carolina: The Tar Heels will still be the most talented team in the ACC, just a younger version. UNC will continue to run and score, but the keys will be point guard play and how long it takes the younger kids to get veteran-tough. The big guys, led by Ed Davis and Deon Thompson, will be the best in the country. I would not be at all surprised to see Carolina win the league again.

2. Duke: This will be a different Duke team. It will be much bigger and more interior-oriented, and Mike Krzyzewski will be playing two low-post bigs together for the first time in a long while. Having hotshot frosh Andre Dawkins in the mix will be really important. He brings some explosive athleticism to a big team.

3. Maryland: The Terps had a very good season, but will be better with some bulk and talent inside. Greivis Vasquez is one of the best guards in the country, but his emotional play seems to get more press than his skills. Vasquez is a complete player whom I believe is underrated. Add James Padgett and Jordan Williams to returnees Dino Gregory and Jerome Burney, and Maryland is not playing shorthanded in the paint this year. And no team will outwork this bunch. The Terps should be back to Garyland's expected standards this season.

4. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have very good talent, led by Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods. I think the keys are point-guard play and defense. Wake Forest will put Ishmael Smith at the point, and with his speed and quickness, he should be effective. He needs to be stable and make solid decisions, and he needs to key a better defensive effort. I think Wake can be really good, but only as good as it defends (and blocking a shot is not always a sign of great defense).

5. Miami: The pieces in Coral Gables are really talented and promising, but the question is how they will fit together and who will emerge as a leader. Dwayne Collins is one of my favorite players, and he works his tail off and should have a great year. DaQuan Jones has the explosiveness to be among the best players in the league, and he needs to make a significant leap this season. The Canes need to make up for Jack McClinton by committee. With James Dews, Malcolm Grant and frosh Durant Scott, they are in good hands.

6. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have the chance to make the biggest jump of any team in the ACC. Iman Shumpert is ready to be a backcourt star, and with Gani Lawal and super frosh Derrick Favors, Paul Hewitt has the horses for the first time in a few years. Favors is the real deal. He is smooth, talented and really productive. I think he will be the ACC Rookie of the Year, and could be a first team All-American by season's end.

7. Clemson: The Tigers have athletes and good size, but guard play will make the difference for Oliver Purnell. Trevor Booker is an All-ACC player, and newcomer Milton Jennings will be a difference-maker. Guard play and free-throw shooting will be the difference between Clemson having a great year or just a good one.

8. Florida State: The FSU leadership was smart to give Leonard Hamilton some real time to get things going. Now instead of being in a continual mode of starting over, the Seminoles can really take a step forward. Solomon Alabi is getting all the press and it is well-deserved, but watch out for Chris Singleton. When he puts it together, he will be an All-ACC player. And freshman Michael Snaer is the real thing. When he figures it out, he will be a difference-maker in Tallahassee. This is a very young but really talented team, and they have had some success to build on.

9. Virginia Tech: I think expectations should be pretty darn high in Blacksburg, because this team has a chance. Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen can both score, and there are good pieces to go around them. I really like the Hokies' potential. One thing they need to figure out is what they want their identity to be. Ask yourself: What is Virginia Tech's identity? Who are the Hokies? Before the first practice, the players had better have a good answer. Otherwise they'll just be pulling an upset here and there.

10. Boston College: A transition year for Al Skinner; replacing scoring machine Tyrese Rice will not be easy. But it won't faze Skinner, and BC will not slip far. Remember, the Eagles have four starters coming back, and Rakim Sanders has a chance to be special. It always seems Skinner does more with less and exceeds expectations. Don't expect any less in 2010.

11. NC State: The Wolfpack are close, but the only way they get over the hump is with better guard play. Sidney Lowe's teams have had solid big men, but always seem to fall short in backcourt battles. Being healthy will help, but now the Pack needs some players to step forward and take over the scoring load.

12. Virginia: A new coach and a new system, but Virginia will get back to the future to recapture a traditional staple of half-court defense and conservative offense under Tony Bennett. Sylven Landesberg is a star, and Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott can play with anyone. Virginia will be in more games this year; they just have to learn how to win them.

What One Coach Is Saying

"This is the first time North Carolina hasn't had a speed guard under Roy Williams. Raymond Felton and then Ty Lawson really had Williams' break going. How much Larry Drew can get the Carolina secondary break going will be the biggest question going forward in the ACC."

Final Shots

• North Carolina was the overwhelming No. 1 entering the 2008-09 season. What about this year? Here are Andy Katz's Top 25 and Dick Vitale's Top 40

• Will UNC and Duke compete for No. 1 seeds? Will the ACC get more than the seven NCAA bids it received last season? Bracketology

• What early-season events are ACC teams taking part in? We have a list of the tournaments that will be scattered around the first two months of the college basketball calendar. Schedule

• How will Tony Bennett do in his first season at UVa? For profiles of Bennett and the 29 other new hires in Division I, check out our New Faces, New Places series.

Early-season tournament preview (Part I)

Early-season tournament preview (Part II)