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The Official, Definitive (and Insightful) Blue vs. Blue ACC Preaseason Rankings

Howdy, fans of Duke, Carolina, and basketball in general!

A few months after Duke took home the NC Trophy, mostly because we had nothing better to do, we published several posts ranking each ACC team in terms of personnel losses, returning players, and recruiting classes. Since I barely remember writing it, we’re thinking it would behoove us to repost it and behoove you to reread it. Basically, it’s behoovement galore. And , since we never sealed the deal by making any official overall rankings, we thought we’d do that too. ‘Tis the season after all.

This year the ACC will have no argument to make for being the toughest league top-to bottom in the country ( though this has been in question for several years now, to be fair). There are , as i see it, basically 4 teams that are top 25 locks for the duration of the season, 5 that will be fighting to worm their way in, and 3 really, REALLY bad teams.

First, we’ll break down the players that each squad lost to graduation, the NBA or transfer, then we’ll look at who’s coming back, then sum up the incoming player situation. Finally, we’ll round it off with our predictions for the year.

Who Was Lost

There was seemingly very little in the way of early entry movement from the conference to the NBA this year, with only 6 players taking the plunge. But, combined with the loss of several outstanding upperclassmen, the top level talent will definitely take a hit, with 6 of the top 10 and 8 of the top 15 All-ACC players departing from a league that was pretty mediocre all around. Two teams in particular (UNC and UVA) also lost important players to transfers. Here’s how it shakes out, starting with the teams that took the biggest hits and working our way down (or up depending on your perspective)

1. Wake Forest - The Deacs will take a serious hit this year, losing 4 of their starting 5, including their best player in Aminu, their point guard in Smith, their best defender in L.D. Williams and their leading thug in Chas (don’t call me chaz) McFarland. Oh, and their coach. That’s 45 points, 28 rebounds and 10 assists per game. Good luck, tye-dye nation.

2. Maryland - With Vazquez, Hayes and Milbourne leaving, the Terps lose their floor leader and ACC POY, their top 3 scorers, their top assist man, and their best 3 point shooter. That’s 43 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists per game gone.

3. North Carolina - The Heels lose their top 2 scorers and rebounders in Thompson and Davis and their two best defenders in Ginyard and Davis. The biggest blow, however, was the loss of the Wear twins who, while not major statistical contributors, would have provided critical front court depth to a team that, like GTech, returns only 2 players over 6-6. The Tar Heels also lose Will Graves who averaged 10 points, 4 rebs. and 2 blunts per game ( or bpg. i think he led the team in this statistic)

4. GTech - The Jackets are essentially a close 4th (if such a thing is possible) here as they lose their top 2 scorers and rebounders in Lawal and Favors , their 4th leading scorer and 3rd leading rebounder in senior Zach Peacock and 5th year seniors D’Andre Bell (6 ppg 3 rpg). They return only one player over 6-6.

5. Duke - It’s easy to forget with all of the talent remaining on the roster, but the Devils will lose an ACC player of the year runner -up , their top big man and rebounder, and their best defender and glue guy. For virtually any other team, these would be potentially crippling losses.

6. Virginia - The hapless Cavaliers could least afford major personnel losses, but that’s exactly what happened. They lost their best player and leading scorer Landesberg to the draft,while transfers claimed their starting SG (Jeff Jones 7ppg 1rpg) and most prmising young player (Tristan Spurlock).

7. Clemson -  The Tigers really only lose one player of significance in Trevor Booker, but they may as well have lost two or three for all this guy contributed. Their leader in minutes, points, rebounds, he was also second on the team in assists and blocks. David Potter (7 ppg, 2 rbs) also departs along with Oliver Purnell who leaves for browner pastures at Depaul.

8. Miami - The Canes’ lose their top scorer and rebounder in Dwayne Collins who departs after a fine ACC career and their second leading scorer in James Dews (11.5 ppg). Adrian Thomas (7 ppg 3 rpg) also departs.

9. Florida Sate - All-ACC defender and leading scorer Solomon Alabi went early to the League and after 15 years of fouling the crap out of everyone in the ACC, big man Ryan Reid (7 ppg 4 rpg) finally exits.

10. NC State - The Pack lose their second leading scorer in the versatile Dennis Horner and the speedy Farnold Degand (5 ppg 3 rpg 3 apg). Guard Julius Mays and freshman Josh Davis were lost to transfers.

11. BC - F Tyler Roche (7 ppg 2 rpg) and Coach Al Skinner.

12. Va. Tech - The Hokies lose no one of significance.

In terms of the big picture, what’s truly significant here is that 9 of the 12 teams are losing their leading scorers and 5 of those are losing their top 2 scorers. In addition, 5 of the 12 teams are losing their leading rebounders and 3 of those are losing their top 2 rebounders. It’s hard to know without doing more stat-geeking than I am willing to do whether or not this represents a significant increase from past years, but it seems to me to be an unusual number of holes for ACC teams to fill.

Who’s Returning

 So 25 of the 60 starting players in the ACC have departed along with the 2009-2010 season.This leaves a bunch of opportunities for players who have been coming off the bench to step up and contribute in a more prominent role. For those starters that remain, it opens up opportunities to step into stronger leadership roles. In this intallment I’ll look at who has the strongest returning cores.

 1.Duke - Not much argument here. Duke brings back a pair of preseason ACC POY candidates in Smith and Singler, two solid and athletic bigs in the brothers Plumlee, a sharpshooter in Andre Dawkins, and a very technically sound 3 in Ryan Kelly. Returning two seniors of the caliber of Smith and Singler is a mighty rare thing these days and the Devils should cherish it.

2. Va. Tech - The Hokies return every single starter from a team that finished a surprising 10-6 in conference. Included in that group will be ACC scoring leader and POY contender Malcolm Delaney (who wisely pulled his name out of the draft),  3rd team All - ACC player Dorenzo Hudson ( 15 ppg) and talented big man Jeff Allen ( 12 ppg 7.5 rpg). The athletic J.T. Thompson and Terrell Bell were both strong contributors defensively and on the boards. All five returning starters are seniors, a VERY rare thing indeed.

3.North Carolina - Tyler Zeller and John Henson return to comprise one of the better starting frontcourts in the ACC, though Zeller’s durablility is a question. . If Larry Drew 2 returns an improved decision maker, the Tar Heels will have quite a solid returning group. It’s rounded out by Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald.

4.Florida State -  While the names Luke Loucks, Deividas Dulkys, Jordan DeMercy and Derwin Kitchen don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing ACC fans, they combine to form a very experienced core group for the Seminoles, augmenting the talents of All-ACC Defender Chris Singleton and All- ACC Freshman Michael Snaer. Xavier Gibson also returns to bolster the frontcourt. With the exception of Snaer, all of the aforementioned players will be either Seniors or Juniors.

5. NC State - Senior Tracy Smith will be in the running for ACC POY, so the Wolfpack are doubtless ecstatic that he did not remain in the draft. Improved and experienced senior Javier Gonazalez returns to run the point. Scott Wood returns after a freshman year bombing away effectively from behind the arc, and rising sophomore Richard Howell provides a bruising presence in the post.

6. Boston College - Honestly, I wanted to put them higher on this list since they return everyone of note including 4 starters all of whom averaged over 11 points per game. But if you have 4 starters that return from a team that stunk, how much love can you expect? Joe Trapani, Corey Raji and Rakim Sanders are all extremely capable players who can score, rebound and defend and will be seniors. Reggie Jackson is poised for a break out year after being the only ACC player last year to average at least 12 ppg 5 rpg and 4 apg. New coach Steve Donahue certainly doesn’t find the cupboard bare. No wonder Skinner got canned ( that and playing the most boring brand of basketball outside of the Big East).

7. Maryland - The Terps return ACC Rookie of the Year runner up in the Sean May-esque Jordan Williams and Junior Sean Mosely who averaged 10ppg 5 rpg and 3 apg. Seniors Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Dino Gregory round out the returnees and were all contributors off the bench last year.

8. Clemson -  When he was healthy, Demontez Stitt was a highly effective player for the Tigers and was Clemson’s second leading scorer. He and third leading scorer Andre Young will comprise one of the better backcourts in the ACC next year. Senior Jerai Grant and Sophomore Devin Booker return to the frontcourt.

9. Miami -  In his final 8 games freshman Durand Scott averaged 16 points per game and is poised along with Malcolm Grant ( 9.6 ppg 3.5 apg) to be one of the top 3 or 4 backcourts in the league. The imposing ( and surprisingly nimble) big man Reggie Johnson and wingman Dequan Jones also return.

10. UVa - The Cavs return talented Senior Mike Scott at forward ( 12 ppg 7rpg) and fan favorite Sammy Zeglinski ( 9ppg 4rpg 2.5apg) at the point. Jerome Meyinsse and Mustapha Farakhan round out the contributing returnees.

11. Gtech - Junior Iman Shumpert ( 10 ppg 3.6 rpg 4 apg) returns at SG along with experienced senior PG Maurice Miller. Sophomore sharpshooter Brian Oliver and and the athletic Glen Rice, Jr. will also contribute.

12. Wake -  C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart are really the only returning players of note. Harris was an All-ACC freshman and Stewart is a legit threat from the perimeter. Other than that…

The New Faces

 There’s always a fair amount of speculative buzz around each year’s incoming crop of Freshman, but 2010-2011 might be the most anticipated season in terms of immediate impact freshman in a number of years. Ranking the classes would be a fairly pointless endeavor for me as my knowledge doesn’t extend beyond the triangle, but Paul Biancardi over at ESPN.com has a pretty good breakdown

It’s pretty clear that the biggest impact will be felt on Tobacco road, as the three schools in the Triangle bring in three mega-stud players in Kryie Irving ( Duke), Harrison Barnes(UNC), and C.J. Leslie( NC State). With Irving being the best skills player, Barnes being the most complete player, and Leslie being the best athlete amongst incoming frosh, the fans of all three schools are feeling pretty stoked. All three players are pretty much mortal locks to start for their respective teams.

Though he enters as a sophomore, Duke’s Seth Curry will easily be the biggest impact new face that isn’t a freshman, though in terms of sheer importance to his team, Alabama-to- UNC transfer Justin Knox may prove the most critical, as he provides the only real frontcourt depth for the Heels.

Both UVA and Wake Forest had pretty stellar recruiting hauls and those guys are definitely going to get a trial by fire, as the personnel losses at both of those schools will grant a lot of playing time to the freshman. Though next year is likely to be pretty brutal for both squads, look for that to pay serious dividends in the next 2-3 years.

As mentioned in the ESPN article, the loss of Oliver Purnell also resulted in the Tigers losing top recruit and possible Trevor Booker replacement Marcus Thornton, who has since signed with UGA.

And In Conclusion

 1.Duke : After literally tens of seconds of careful study we have decided, in a shocker, that Duke is probably the best team in the ACC. We are likely the first people to climb out on this tenuous limb, so just remember, you heard it here first. Let’s see how the Devils and their fans handle the gremlins of high expectations after last year’s surprise run.

2. Virginia Tech : As noted above, the Hokies return 5 senior starters including an All ACC first teamer. They add no real impact freshman, and managed to actually add a couple of real teams to their early season schedule ( K.State, Miss. State) in addition to their perennial tomato cans of colleges no one has heard of (Longwood and USC Upstate)

3. North Carolina : Well, here we are again. They’ve got enough talent in their frontcourt for SI to rate them 3rd in the country ( but no depth, and i mean NO depth) and mad talent in their incoming class with Barnes et al. So where does that leave us? Roy did less with more last year than any coach in modern memory. UNC fans better hope he turns that trend around. There are lots of question marks in the backcourt, too, especially since Will Graves smoked himself off of the team. I could honestly see this team finishing as low as 5 in conference or as high as 2. We’ll split the diff.

4. NC State : If Barnes and Irving are 1A and !B for incoming frosh, then Leslie could legitimately be 1C. This kid is the real deal, and jumps in to a lineup with experience and talent in the frontcourt ( Tracey Smith) and solid backcourt leadership ( Javier Gonzalez). The Pack also adds PG Ryan Harrow, who, if not for Irving, would be getting a lot more attention.This is Sidney’s year to really make things happen or he might be job hunting soon.

5. Florida State : As is always the case with the Noles, one wonders who is actually going to score the ball, but with Defensive POY Chris Singleton and a solid returning backcourt, this defensive-minded squad may not have to score a lot to win, especially in what looks to be a down year for the conference. Hamilton brings in a pretty solid recruiting class as well.

6.Maryland : The Terps lost a lot of talent, but Gary doesn’t find the cupboard completely bare, and he is pretty good at squeezing the most out of the talent he’s got. Jordan Williams, Sean Mosely and crew will be helped by a 6 man recruiting class including highly thought of SG Mychal Parker.

7. Miami: We think Miami makes a jump up this year, primarily based on the play of Durand Scott who was nearly unguardable at times late last year. Unlike former Cane Jack McClinton, Scott also distributes the ball well and will push for first team all- ACC honors this year. His backcourt mate Malcolm Grant ain’t too shabby either. Combine them with an athletic frontcourt and you’ve got the potential for a real surprise team.

8. BC : The Eagles return essentially everyone from a team that Al Skinner had simply lost, which is good since they are adding not a single recruit to the roster. Steve Donahue proved his mettle at Cornell, and might actually get these guys to do a little damage in the league this year, but we won’t hold our collective breath.

9. Clemson : A real solid backcourt returns to complement a frontcourt with HUGE shoes to fill. Throw in a new head coach and an unheralded recruiting class of one and you have this year’s Tigers.

10. G Tech : Honestly, you could take these last 3 teams and draw names out of a hat for the last 3 spots. We’ll put GT here because of a slight edge in athleticism and experience, plus Iman Shumpert is probably the best player on any of these 3 final teams.

11. UVA : The Hoos bring in an outstanding recruiting class and get the edge over Wake b/c they return a couple of key starters and aren’t bringing in a new head coach.

12. Wake: Phenomenal recruiting class coming in for the Deacs. They’ll all get LOTS of PT.