The ACC continued to be college basketball’s premier conference last season. The conference dominated the rest of division 1, finishing the regular season with five teams in the top 25.
One of the ACC’s biggest selling points last season was the freshman talent. Duke brought in the best freshman class in college basketball history, with three of their five starters being drafted in the top 15 of the NBA Draft. North Carolina had its own list of talented rookies, boasting two top 15 picks as well.
Zion Williamson took the world by storm in his freshman year, leading Duke to a ACC Tournament championship, slamming home a whole lot of dunks on the way. However, it was his teammate RJ Barrett who led the Blue Devils in scoring at the end of the year, proving to NBA scouts that Barrett was as legit as his counterpart.
Virginia stole the show in the NCAA Tournament. After narrowly escaping a back-to-back 16 over 1 upset bid by Gardner-Webb, the Cavaliers stormed to the elite eight, and then were aided by the college hoops gods all the way to the top of the ladder in Minneapolis.
There were also some surprises in the ACC this year. Virginia Tech made a name for itself in the ACC, securing a five seed in the conference tournament and making it to the sweet 16 in March Madness. Florida State also played really good basketball last year, locking down a double-bye in the conference tournament and beating Virginia to make it to the finals in Charlotte.
There were some letdowns in the league as well. Syracuse, despite coming up with some big wins, never quite took advantage of its exceptional athleticism last season. Similarly, Louisville had opportunities to make noise, but failed to hold onto late leads against Virginia or Duke, and fell to an eight seed in the field and lost in the first round.
This year, the ACC still has a good freshman class, however, it will be experience that will be the highlight of the league. Whether it’s Jordan Nwora for Louisville, Tre Jones for Duke, or Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, the league has more returners than normal, which will make for an even more dynamic season in 2020.
Final Standings Projection
North Carolina – The Tar Heels have a capable lead guard in Cole Anthony this season, and Roy Williams has thrived in the past with elite floor generals. Anthony will most likely be UNC’s top scorer, but look for Garrison Brooks to fill in a similar role to that of Luke Maye last year.
Duke – Coach K knows how to recruit. He also knows Duke’s weak spot last year was beyond the arc. So he added two of the best shooter in the freshman class in Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt. Pair them with arguably the best passer in college basketball in Tre Jones? The Blue Devils will be dangerous when hot.
Louisville – the Cardinals lost only one player last season. They add Fresh Kimble and Samuell Williamson. But these newcomers or added year of experience will not be the main reason Louisville wins games this year. Jordan Nwora is back for another year, and is one of the most versatile players the Cardinals have had in awhile. If Chris Mack manages his lineups right this year, Louisville will be an immediate contender, and even a dark horse for a one seed in March Madness.
Virginia – Tony Bennett and company are coming off of the biggest turnaround championship in the sports history. However, they lose their top three scorers from last seasons miracle team. However, Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark will provide experience and offense, and Bennett has a solid recruiting class coming in. Also, any team coached by Bennett will play his style of basketball, and that style has been pretty successful in the past.
Florida State – The Seminoles have yet another athletic lineup, but this year, their starting lineup has all played at least one season in college basketball. Leonard Hamilton always does a good job with his talent in the postseason, but whether or not he can maintain success throughout the year is the big question surrounding FSU’s success. It should be easier than most seasons for Hamilton, as Florida State has the easiest ACC slate in the league.
North Carolina State – The Wolfpack have always played up to their ability in non conference action. But the past few years, they’ve struggled against the ACC. The Wolfpack return DJ Funderburk and Braxton Beverly, but more importantly, Markell Johnson is back and healthy. With those three, Kevin Keats has no lack of talent on his roster
Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish are as clean a program as one can think of. They play solid defense, they pass well, and take high percentage shots. Rex Pflueger is back and healthy. John Mooney will look to step into a bigger role. TJ Gibbs is a possible all league team contender. Mike Brey knows how to win. That’s a formula for a sleeper in the country’s best conference.
Georgia Tech – the Yellow Jackets have a legit backcourt in Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe. Their problem last season was inability to shoot the ball. From anywhere. However, Devoe, Moses Wright, and USC transfer Jordan Usher all showed promise from the field. Adding a year under their belts should not hurt.
Syracuse – Jim Boeheim has seemed to fall below expectations his past few years. He’s had the talent, just not the outcome. The Orange also lost Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Frank Howard. Jalen Carey and Eli Hughes lead the offense for the Orange. After storming into the ACC in 2014 with a 14-4 league record, ‘Cuse has failed to win more than 11 conference games. The Orange will remain and middle of the pack team.
Pittsburgh – Pitt has fallen to the bottom of the league in the last two seasons. They won’t be a contender this year, but Xavier Johnson puts them on the map.Trey McGowans is Johnson’s partner in the backcourt, which may prove to be a problem for some of the top tier teams.
Miami – Ever since the Hurricanes failed to create success with Lonnie Walker, Jim Larranaga has not been in the top half of the league. Chris Lykes seems to be the only bright spot in the starting lineup, although freshman Harlond Beverly may surprise some.
Wake Forest – Brandon Childress is joined by Charlotte transfer Andrien White this year for both their senior seasons. The two combined for 29 points per game over their careers. Danny Manning needs to put games into his guards hands, and the Demon Deacons could win a few big games.
Boston College – BC struck out on its chance to make noise last season with Ky Bowman and Jordan Chapman still around. Now, it is in the hands of Nik Popovic and Wynston Tabbs. Derryck Thornton also is added to the starting lineup after graduating from USC and transferring to the other coast, and the former Duke guard brings some more ACC experience to the table.
Clemson – the Tigers only plan to start two players with any rotational experience at the college level, Amir Simms bring the only one who gained it at Clemson. Brad Brownell has to deal with a rebuilding year and get the student body ready for football season.
Virginia Tech – after taking the league by storm, Buzz Williams left. Justin Robinson and Nikeil Alexander-Walker went to the draft, and Kerry Blackshear transferred to Florida. Virginia Tech plans to start one player who scored a point at the college level last year in PJ Horne, who averaged 3.3 ppg. Tech’s highest rated recruit was ranked 101st by 247.
Player of the Year – Jordan Nwora (Lou)
Freshman of the Year – Cole Anthony (UNC)
Coach of the Year – Chris Mack (Lou)
Projected All ACC First Team
Tre Jones, Duke
Cole Anthony, UNC
Markell Johnson, NC State
Jordan Nwora, Louisville
Mamadi Diakite, Virginia
Projected All ACC Second Team
Matthew Hurt, Duke
TJ Gibbs, Notre Dame
Xavier Johnson, Pittsburgh
Elijah Hughes, Syracuse
Nik Popovic, Boston College
Projected All ACC Freshman Team
Cole Anthony, UNC
Matthew Hurt, Duke
Vernon Carey, Duke
Samuell Williamson, Louisville
Kadin Shedrick, Virginia
Photo credit: Louisville Athletics