Official practice sessions for the 2009-10 college basketball season will commence in less than 10 days. Excitement throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference is palpable so it is time to preview the ACC. The Duke Blue Devils will win the ACC in 2009-10. Wait, wait a second…before all the Carolina fans howl with indignation, insist the Tar Heels will still rule the roost in the ACC, and label the author as a complete Duke Homer; remember that Duke won the ACC last season. That's right, the ACC Champion is the team which wins the tournament, not the team which finishes the regular season with the best record. Carolina fans, worldwide, consistently choose to ignore this small fact.
But, for the record, this article is my prediction on how the teams will be aligned at the end of the regular season. What? Howl the Carolina faithful once again, you are switching between apples and oranges, discussing last year’s ACC Tournament one paragraph, this year’s regular season the next, that's inconsistent, you can't do that. But of course I can, this is the Internet and it is my article, so I make the rules.
Anyway, on to the predictions: when March 11, 2010, arrives: Duke, Carolina, Maryland, and Clemson will have earned a first round bye at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. What's that sound? More indignant howling, but this time it is coming from Atlanta. Sorry, Yellow Jackets faithful, but Paul Hewitt will find a way to lose despite the formidable talent he has recruited to play in Atlanta. He has consistently accomplished less with more in the past so why should this season be any different?
However, the two teams best positioned to crash the first round bye party in Greensboro are Florida State and Georgia Tech.
This is how the standings will look at the end of the regular season:
2. North Carolina
5. Florida State
6. Georgia Tech
7. Wake Forest
8. Boston College
9. Virginia Tech
12. N.C. State
Here are some thoughts on the league’s projected top six teams in 2009-10:
Duke – Coach Krzyzewski will be sending a lot of experience onto the court this season and that experience coupled with some young talent will give the Blue Devils the edge. Kyle Singler (70), Jon Scheyer (68), Lance Thomas (62), Nolan Smith (22), and Brian Zoubek (21) are all upper classmen with a combined 243 starts. Experienced teams find a way to win in the college game. The transfer of Elliot Williams due to an illness in the family is unfortunate, but highly rated freshmen Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and Andre Dawkins along with returning sophomores Miles Plumlee and Olek Czyz provide Coach K with depth to augment experience. The last time Coach Krzyzewski was able to place this much talent and experience onto the court was when J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams were seniors.
North Carolina – despite losing Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, and Bobby Frasor from last year’s National Championship team, the Tar Heels will still be a talented and dangerous team. Their frontcourt will be extremely tough with Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Travis Wear. Marcus Ginyard, Dexter Strickland, and Leslie McDonald will hold their own at the shooting guard position. However, Coach Roy Williams is missing the dominant point guard that has fueled his team in recent years. It isn’t a fatal flaw, but it is enough of a flaw to keep the Tar Heels out of the top spot.
Maryland - Greivis Vasquez is a legitimate preseason candidate for ACC Player-of-the-Year and Coach Gary Williams, who consistently accomplishes more with less, has an experienced supporting cast surrounding his star. Seniors Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne are both double digit scorers, while freshmen James Padgett and Jordan Williams will provide the Terps size in the paint. The freshmen will have a learning curve at the beginning of the season, but Coach Williams will have the Terps hitting on all eight cylinders by the time ACC action commences in January. Vasquez and Hayes are arguable the best backcourt duo in the league.
Clemson – Trevor Booker suffered a minor foot injury over the summer and that is troubling, but I still like the Tigers to finish fourth to secure the last bye. Coach Oliver Purnell is building a solid program at Clemson and the best recruiting class in Clemson basketball history will provide Coach Purnell the pieces to execute his high tempo full court press defense. McDonald’s All-American power forward Milton Jennings is the most high profile recruit in the Purnell era, with shooting guard Noel Johnson and forward Devon Booker also being Top 75 recruits. Junior Demontez Stitt is a steady player at the critical point guard position, but he will be challenged for the starting role by sophomore Andre Young. Having two quality point guards on their roster is definitely an advantage for the Tigers.
Florida State – the Seminoles are young and their youth will probably keep them out of the league’s top four, however, Coach Leonard Hamilton does have talent, size and depth on his roster. Some projected starting line-ups indicate the Seminoles could start one junior, three sophomores and a freshman. Sophomores Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton are solid frontcourt players, while freshman guard Michael Snaer is highly rated and expected to break into the starting line-up. Derwin Kitchen, Ryan Reid and Xavier Gibson all contribute to FSU’s depth. The Seminoles will definitely miss Toney Douglas, but they will still be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC.
Georgia Tech - the buzz in Atlanta is all about incoming freshman Derrick Favors. Georgia Tech has great expectations for the McDonald’s All-American and #1 rated player in the nation. Add in 3rd Team All-ACC player, Gani Lawal, ACC All-Freshman Team player Iman Shumpert, and senior Zach Peabody, and the Ramblin’ Wreck are loaded with talent. The question is can Paul Hewitt mesh the young talent into a cohesive team? The outlook isn’t positive based on previous performance in Atlanta. Georgia Tech has underachieved over past five seasons and went 0-8 on the road in the ACC last year. Add in the loss of seniors Lewis Clinch and Alade Aminu and this season looks to be a steep uphill battle for the Yellow Jackets.
Wake Forest, Boston College, and Virginia Tech make up the rest of the ACC’s muddy middle, while Virginia, Miami, and N.C. State are projected to reside in the cellar. It’ll be a long season (actually basketball season always seems to fly by) with many hotly contested games, but in the end this season should play out similar to many past seasons over the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference with Duke and North Carolina fighting it out for the top spot in the standings and another year of bragging rights. Figuratively speaking, my money is on the Blue Devils.