College Basketball Insider

College Basketball Previews: NC State favored by others, but not us, in ACC

Mark Gottfried and State were picked to win the ACC by coaches and league media, but we'll wait and see. (US Presswire)

The ACC is a conference that, thanks to realignment, stretches from Boston to Miami. That's more than 1,500 miles. But all the focus this season will be in the Research Triangle, where North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke will battle at the top of the league (barring a surprise season from Florida State or Miami). It's the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack and the Blue Devils. It's Roy Williams, Mark Gottfried and Mike Krzyzewski. It's James Michael McAdoo, Lorenzo Brown and Mason Plumlee. And it should be a blast to monitor from a distance … and especially up close. Here's the CBSSports.com ACC preview ...

  • Last year's regular-season winner: North Carolina

  • Last year's tournament winner: Florida State

  • Conference tournament: March 14-16 (Greensboro Coliseum)

Five best non-conference games:

1. No. 8 Duke vs. 3 Kentucky in Atlanta (Nov. 13)
2. No. 11 North Carolina at No. 1 Indiana (Nov. 27)
3. No. 6 North Carolina State at No. 5 Michigan (Nov. 27)
4. No. 4 Ohio State at 8 Duke (Nov. 28)
5. No. 18 UNLV at No. 11 North Carolina (Dec. 29)

What I like: North Carolina State's potential

Why: North Carolina State's fans -- at least the ones with Twitter accounts -- are among the most passionate I've encountered, and they don't mind telling a writer when they think he's dumb or biased. Or even dumb and biased. They can be a sensitive and aggressive bunch. But their craziness is mostly rooted in the fact that they really, really care about this stuff, and that's why it's nice to see them get this season with all this hope. NC State could actually be better than UNC and Duke, win the ACC and advance to the Final Four just two years after a wide-ranging coaching search led the school to hire Mark Gottfried. It's a remarkable turn of events, one of the best stories in college basketball.

Who's that? It's UNC's next face of the program, James Michael McAdoo. (US Presswire)

What I don't like: Duke's point guard situation

Why: Quinn Cook is back and still the only true point guard on Duke's roster, which is a concern even though the 6-foot-1 sophomore had, by all accounts, a nice offseason. Word out of Durham is that Cook is refocused, recharged and ready to run the Blue Devils' offense. But what if he's not? What if he's just the same guy who averaged 4.4 points and 1.9 assists in 11.7 minutes per game last season? Can Duke compete for an ACC title under those circumstances? Maybe. But probably not.

Player of the Year will be: James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina). McAdoo was and still is a lottery pick who just happened to be buried behind a pair of top-20 picks last season. But now John Henson and Tyler Zeller are in the NBA. So the frontcourt at the Dean Smith Center is McAdoo's to dominate, and I suspect he will. When the Tar Heels win another ACC regular-season title, this 6-foot-9 sophomore will be the reason. Then he'll likely enter the 2013 NBA draft and be selected somewhere in the top 10, perhaps in the top five, maybe first depending on how this season unfolds.

The next best five:

Michael Snaer (Florida State)
C.J. Leslie (North Carolina State)
Mason Plumlee (Duke)
Lorenzo Brown (North Carolina State)
Alex Len (Maryland)

And the five after that:

Reggie Bullock (North Carolina)
Reggie Johnson (Miami)
Richard Howell (North Carolina State)
Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke)
Seth Curry (Duke)

Best freshman: Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke). Whether Sulaimon will start early or ever remains undetermined with Seth Curry on the roster. But Mike Krzyzewski isn't stupid. He's brilliant. (And really accomplished.) Which is why he'll find major minutes for Sulaimon, one way or another. The 6-foot-3 freshman should be able to score on other wings and keep other wings from scoring. That's a nice combination to bring to a roster.

BEST GUESS ON FIRST TO WORST
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
NC State is actually the pick by most, and that's fine. There's nothing crazy about that. But I like the Tar Heels by the slimmest of margins because I simply trust them more than I trust the Wolfpack -- a team that, for all its postseason success, only did enough last regular season to earn an 11 seed in the Field of 68. Yes, I'm concerned that UNC lost so much and will rely on a freshman point guard in Marcus Paige. But there's still plenty of talent in Chapel Hill -- enough to hang another banner.
2. North Carolina State Wolfpack
My colleague Jeff Goodman recently visited Raleigh, watched NC State practice and fell in love with Lorenzo Brown and the Wolfpack in general. That's a good sign for NC State because, for all his deficiencies, Goodman is actually a pretty good judge of talent. If he likes your team, you've probably got a good team. And that's the nicest thing I'll write about Goodman this entire season.
3. Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils have major questions -- among them whether Quinn Cook can be a top-tier point guard, whether Alex Murphy can make an immediate impact and whether Mason Plumlee can prove he's one of the nation's best bigs. But Mike Krzyzewski is still Mike Krzyzewski, and Mike Krzyzewski has finished at least tied for second in the ACC in 14 of the past 16 seasons. So I suspect he'll figure out a way to keep the Blue Devils relevant, and I won't be surprised if he makes this preseason ranking look low in the postseason.
4. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles are led by Michael Snaer -- a CBSSports.com second-team Preseason All-American who has improved his shot, made multiple game-winners and built a reputation as one of the nation's best perimeter defenders. But the other four players who started for Florida State in last season's Round of 32 game against Cincinnati -- Deividas Dulkys, Luke Loucks, Xavier Gibson and Bernard James -- are no longer in the program. Can FSU overcome all that and challenge UNC, NC State and Duke at the top of the ACC? Perhaps. But I wouldn't bet on it.
5. Miami Hurricanes
I'm not sure if folks in Miami get excited about Hurricane basketball. But if they do, now would be a good time to do it because six of the top eight players from last season's team that won nine ACC games are back. The star is Reggie Johnson -- a 6-foot-10 senior who missed the first nine games last season and never really got back to normal. But now he should be back to normal. The second year under Jim Larranaga figures to be an interesting one.
6. Maryland Terrapins
Let the record show I suspect that Maryland will actually be better without Terrell Stoglin even though he's the little guard who led the ACC in scoring last season. Alex Len's ceiling is really high. He could have a breakthrough season. And watch out if Xavier transfer Dez Wells gets cleared to compete at Maryland this season. But that seems unlikely at this point.
7. Virginia Cavaliers
How do you replace somebody who did as much for one team as Mike Scott did for the Cavaliers last season? You don't. So Virginia will slide a little (or maybe a lot) this season even though Joe Harris is a nice piece in the program.
8. Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are good enough up front with Devin Booker and Milton Jennings -- two experienced bigs who each averaged double-digit points last season. But what about the backcourt? Andre Young and Tanner Smith are both gone. They were the Tigers' top two guards and scorers last season. Replacing that duo will prove difficult.
9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Recruiting is going well enough that it's reasonable to think Brian Gregory will get Georgia Tech turned around; I love Solomon Poole, the Class of 2013 point guard already committed to the Yellow Jackets. But the future is the future and the present is the present, and what's presently on campus is probably too inexperienced and/or not good enough to crack the top half of the ACC.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies
The days of Seth Greenberg leading the Hokies to the NIT -- he did it five times in nine seasons at Virginia Tech -- were placed in the past when the school fired him after last season. That's the good news. The bad news is that new coach James Johnson didn't inherit much in the way of players. So the Hokies aren't going to be on the bubble of anything this season … and probably not next season, either.
11. Boston College Eagles
Steve Donahue led Cornell to three straight NCAA tournaments before taking the Boston College job. Now the question is whether he'll ever get back into the Field of 68. My prediction: Yes, if he's given time to build and coach an experienced roster. Either way, it won't happen this season because Donahue's roster of mostly sophomores isn't ready to win.
12. Wake Forest Demon Decons
Jeff Bzdelik has spent the past five seasons coaching at Colorado and Wake Forest, and he has compiled a 15-65 conference record in those five years. Man, that's hard to do. If that winning percentage doesn't get much better this season -- and it almost certainly won't -- then it's probably going to be time for Wake Forest to find a new coach.

Previously in previews:

No. 6 -- Pac-12
No. 7 -- Atlantic-10
No. 8 -- Mountain West
No. 9 -- Missouri Valley
No. 10 -- Conference USA
No. 11 -- West Coast
No. 12 -- Western Athletic
No. 13 -- Colonial
No. 14 -- Horizon League
No. 15 -- The Ivy League
No. 16 -- Summit League
No. 17 -- MAC
No. 18 -- Atlantic Sun
No. 19 -- Sun Belt
No. 20 -- MAAC
No. 21 -- Patriot League
No. 22 -- Ohio Valley
No. 23 -- Big West
No. 24 -- SoCon
No. 25 -- NEC
No. 26 -- Big South
No. 27 -- Southland
No. 28 -- Big Sky
No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Great West
No. 32 -- SWAC

For more college basketball news, commentary and discourse, follow @EyeonCBB and @GaryParrishCBS on Twitter. And be sure to like us on Facebook.

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