How talented is North Carolina?
| Defending regular-season champion: |
| Defending tournament champion: |
| Top returning scorer: |
Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), 23.0 ppg
| Top returning rebounder: |
Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), 10.4 rpg
season previews & primers
So talented that if for some reason it was announced today that Tyler Hansbrough was going to miss the entire season, it would still be reasonable to project the Tar Heels as the ACC champions given the strength of their backcourt and potential of freshmen Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller. That's a stunning statement, I know, because how many teams could lose their best player (who just so happens to be a National Player of the Year) and still be a Final Four threat?
It's North Carolina.
And with that, here's a look at the ACC:
The good: Roy Williams has all five starters from a team that spent much of last season ranked No. 1, plus a trio of freshmen who were McDonald's All-Americans. By any measuring stick, these Tar Heels are loaded with one of the best point guards (Ty Lawson), shooting guards (Wayne Ellington) and big men (Hansbrough), which is why they are the unanimous preseason top-ranked team.
The bad: I wrote a few weeks ago that injuries were one of the few things that could derail the Tar Heels. Next thing you, Hansbrough was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his leg and sent to the sideline, where Marcus Ginyard was already hanging out and recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. So that's two starters on the mend, and this is no way to start a national title run.
The bottom line: Assuming Hansbrough is healthy, this team should give Williams his second national title. Connecticut is good, as is Louisville, Gonzaga and others. But the Tar Heels have (by a large margin) the nation's best combination of talent and experience, and anything less than a championship will be a disappointment.
The good: Four starters return from a 28-win team that played UNC for the ACC title on the final day of the regular season. That's strong. So while the Blue Devils remain flawed in that there isn't a proven post player on the team, this is still basically the roster that won 28 games, and that's a statistic that shouldn't be discounted -- even by those who are stuck on the fact that Duke was bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament by West Virginia.
The bad: Mike Krzyzewski plans to use Greg Paulus in a reserve role and start Nolan Smith, which is probably the right decision from a talent/athleticism standpoint. But what about chemistry? Because regardless of what Paulus says publicly, it's impossible to imagine him not being bothered by this development, and that could be a problem because an unhappy leader can make for an imperfect season.
The bottom line: Proof that the average fan hates Duke came when I ranked the Blue Devils fourth in the preseason Top 25 (and one). That garnered more e-mail than anything else. But if Miles Plumlee can help get Kyle Singler out of the middle -- and Gerald Henderson turns into the star so many think he can be -- it's difficult to imagine this team not being a serious Final Four threat because, again, this is the same roster (sans DeMarcus Nelson) that kept Duke in the top 10 much of last season, and that's what people should remember more so than the way things ended.
The good: Four starters are back from a 23-win team that made the second round of the NCAA tournament. The best of the bunch is Jack McClinton, a high-scoring combo guard who has managed to go from an unknown recruit to a Siena standout to a 17.7-point-per-game scorer/savior of an ACC program in the matter of one lifetime, which is pretty amazing. And McClinton still has a whole season ahead of him.
|1. North Carolina||NCAA|
|4. Wake Forest||NCAA|
|5. Virginia Tech||NCAA|
|7. Georgia Tech||NIT/CBI|
|9. N.C. State||none|
|10. Florida State||none|
|11. Boston College||none|
The bad: How will Miami handle the pressure of being the team many believe can best push UNC and Duke? Last season the Hurricanes didn't have to worry about expectations. But now that they've made the NCAA tournament anything less will be a disappointment.
The bottom line: A year ago at this time some were openly wondering whether Frank Haith would survive and if VCU's Anthony Grant would be willing to replace him at the end of the season. In hindsight, that's hilarious. Because now not only is Haith's job safe, but another great season will have Miami trying to fend off suitors who would almost certainly be interested in a man coming off back-to-back NCAA tournaments at a place like Miami.
4. Wake Forest
The good: The star-studded recruiting class Skip Prosser secured before his death has enrolled and gives Dino Gaudio one of the league's best rosters. Al-Farouq Aminu is the star of the group, but Tony Woods and Ty Walker should also help immediately.
The bad: The young Demon Deacons -- led by then-freshmen James Johnson and Jeff Teague -- were actually in position to make the NCAA tournament last season before closing with a 1-5 record in their final six ACC games. Translation: They folded under pressure. So the question is whether that was a lasting characteristic or merely a youthful disaster that a little experience (and upgrade in talent) has solved?
The bottom line: On paper this is a nice team. But can all the young guys mesh? And is Gaudio ready to compete for a Sweet 16 in just his second season? Those are reasonable questions. But again, I like the roster and won't be surprised if Wake Forest is a top 15 team at some point this season.
The good: A.D. Vassallo is one of four returning starters from a 21-win team. He averaged 16.9 points and should post similar numbers this season considering he's surrounded by a familiar cast that understands his abilities.
The bad: Deron Washington was equal parts steady and exciting in his four-year career. He averaged double-figures in points his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and though the Hokies are loaded with experience it's naive to think they won't miss Washington on some level.
Duke Fan: Tradition returned to the ACC last season. For only the second time in the past seven seasons, North Carolina and Duke finished one-two in the regular season standings. The teams split their meetings, with the Blue Devils dominating the Tar Heels at Chapel Hill and North Carolina returning the favor at Durham. North Carolina went on to win the ACC tournament title and make a run to the Final Four. Duke, however, lost to Clemson in the ACC semifinals and was upset by West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Expect these two schools to be the class of the ACC again, but don't count out another school making a run come March.
What school might that be? Well there are several other ACC teams primed to make a move toward the top. Read more
The bottom line: Seth Greenberg lobbied hard for an NCAA tournament bid last season, but the reality is that he did not deserve one based on a 1-7 record against the top 50 at CollegeRPI.com. That said, the guess here is that Greenberg will get to relax this Selection Sunday. He won't have to worry about whether he's in, just where he's going and with what seed.
The good: Oliver Purnell is underappreciated nationally, given what he has done. First he won at Radford, then Old Dominion, then Dayton and now he's doing the same at Clemson, and when a guy wins at four different programs in four different leagues that's usually a solid sign that he's good. So it was a huge development when Clemson extended Purnell's contract and increased his salary this offseason, given how LSU was lurking, because it now seems the Tigers have a coach in place who will help them compete for NCAA tournament bids for the foreseeable future.
The bad: That said, nothing will come easy the year after Clemson lost Cliff Hammonds and James Mays. Those seniors were two of the five players who averaged double-digits last season, and losing them means K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker, Terrence Oglesby and Demontez Stitt will each have to raise their games to ensure the Tigers don't slip back into the NIT or CBI.
The bottom line: The Tigers don't have the roster to compete with North Carolina or Duke, but anything else is possible. They could go as high as third if things break well because Rivers, Booker, Oglesby and Stitt are four guys who have experience winning and know how to navigate the ACC.
7. Georgia Tech
The good: Paul Hewitt has enrolled yet another McDonald's All-American, this time in the form of Iman Shumpert. He's a 6-4 guard who will join sophomore Maurice Miller and senior Lewis Clinch to form a nice trio that stacks up well in the ACC.
The bad: The frontcourt is the issue. The Yellow Jackets' leading rebounder, Jeremis Smith, is gone, as is as another talent in Ra'Sean Dickey. Remember, Georgia Tech was out-rebounded by 3.3 boards per game last season. If anybody knows how to correct that with this roster, I'm sure Hewitt would appreciate a phone call.
The bottom line: Despite the questions about the frontcourt, this is a team I could see doing better than anybody expects. Talent wins basketball games, and there is talent on this roster. So while the Yellow Jackets must be projected behind UNC, Duke, Miami, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Clemson, I'm stating right now that I won't be shocked if they're the team that makes these projections look silly.
The good: Greivis Vasquez is back after averaging 17.0 points, 6.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Sure, he turns it over a bit much (4.4 times per game) and doesn't shoot it all that well (just 30.9 percent from 3-point range). But he's still a very good all-around player who can take over games, and he'll be aided by the presence of Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. Also worth noting is that freshman Jin Soo Kim has been cleared to compete. He's a 6-8 forward who can really shoot it, but the degree of his impact remains unclear.
The bad: In different times it seemed like Augustus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans would both be on this roster. But Gilchrist transferred to South Florida and athletic director Debbie Yow raised concerns about Evans' past legal problems, which precipitated his move to Kent State. So yeah, the Maryland campus might be better off without somebody like Evans walking around, but the basketball team could probably use the talent.
The bottom line: The Terrapins have only had a winning ACC record once in the past five seasons, and it's hard to see that improving considering 25 percent of their league games will be played against North Carolina and Duke. That said, Gary Williams proved two seasons ago he's capable of surprises, turning a 2-5 league mark into a 10-6 record by winning eight of his final nine ACC contests. So there's a chance the Terrapins could be better than this, but there's probably still a ceiling given the personnel.
The good: Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner created one of the better tandems in the country two years ago when they combined to average 31.2 points and 14.2 rebounds. Then J.J. Hickson enrolled, screwed up the chemistry and McCauley and Costner's combined numbers sunk to 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds because their minutes dropped drastically when Sidney Lowe tried to force Hickson into the lineup with no regard to how it would affect the rest of the team. Anyway, I say all that to say this: Now Hickson is gone, and that has to be considered a positive because though he was talented he did nothing to make N.C. State a better team in any tangible way.
The bad: I'm on record stating the loss of Hickson might actually help, but it's not like N.C. State replaced the loss of talent with anything comparable. Consequently, the Wolfpack are at a disadvantage in terms of personnel heading into Lowe's third season, and that's not comforting when a large portion of the fan base believes the program should be consistently competing with Duke and North Carolina.
The bottom line: The high expectations of last season disappeared quickly, and an optimist might conclude that Lowe simply works better as the underdog (which he was in his first year). If so, that's good news. Because he'll be an underdog a lot this season.
|G - Ty Lawson, North Carolina|
|G - Tyrese Rice, Boston College|
|G - Jack McClinton, Miami|
|F - Kyle Singler, Duke|
|F - Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina|
|G - Greivis Vasquez, Maryland|
|G - Wayne Ellington, North Carolina|
|G - Gerald Henderson, Duke|
|F - James Johnson, Wake Forest|
|F - Al-Forouq Aminu, Wake Forest|
| Player of the year |
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
| Newcomer of the year |
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
| Breakthrough player |
Nolan Smith, Duke
| Coach on the hot seat |
Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
10. Florida State
The good: Chris Singleton is another in a long line of talented recruits Leonard Hamilton has secured. The 6-9 wing can shoot it and dunk it (as he showed in FSU's first exhibition), and he'll be a nice compliment to senior Toney Douglas, who averaged 15.4 points per game last season.
The bad: Hamilton has had trouble winning in this league with experienced players. Now his team is mostly inexperienced because of the losses of Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann, and that doesn't bode well considering the ACC should be really strong at the top.
The bottom line: Can Hamilton survive seven seasons with no NCAA tournaments? Barring a surprise, we'll find out in March.
11. Boston College
The good: Tyrese Rice scored 21.0 points per game last season and provided one of the more memorable efforts by going for 46 points in a loss to North Carolina. That he's back means it's easy to identify BC's top player, even if the second-best and third-best are a little harder to pinpoint.
The bad: There just isn't a slew of ACC-caliber talent on the roster, particularly in the frontcourt. With Shamari Spears' transfer to Charlotte, no returning player averaged at least five rebounds per game, and though Vermont transfer Joe Trapani has some folks excited, the truth is that he's better equipped to make shots than grab misses.
The bottom line: The Eagles have made the NCAA tournament four of the past five years, but things were bad last season and they could get worse. Outside of Rice, the roster is mostly filled with question marks, meaning nights on which Rice goes bananas will probably be the only nights worth savoring.
The good: Mamadi Diane has gotten better every season in terms of points and rebounding. So it's fair to expect the senior to improve on the 11.8-point and 4.4-board averages he notched last season when he played 28.8 minutes per contest and shot 41.4 percent from 3-point range.
The bad: Sean Singletary is gone after averaging 19.8 points last season. There's nobody on the roster who can replace that kind of output, and it doesn't help that one of the Cavaliers' top recruiting targets (McDonald's All-American Elliot Williams) signed with and will be playing at Duke.
The bottom line: The Cavaliers were 5-11 in the ACC last season, and now they're without their best player and the league is tougher. That's not a good combination, particularly for a man like Dave Leitao, because it's never safe to be rebuilding in the fourth year of a tenure that has produced only one NCAA tournament appearance to date.
|2008-09 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Monday, Oct. 20||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Thursday, Oct. 30||Ranking the best of the non-BCS|
|Tuesday, Oct. 21||Preseason All-America Team||Friday, Oct. 31||No. 6: Big Ten|
|Wednesday, Oct. 22||Player rankings: Points/combos||Monday, Nov. 3||No. 5: Pac-10|
|Thursday, Oct. 23||Player rankings: Wings||Tuesday, Nov. 4||No. 4: Big 12|
|Friday, Oct. 24||Player rankings: Big men||Wednesday, Nov. 5||No. 3: SEC|
|Monday, Oct. 27||Impact Freshmen||Thursday, Nov. 6||No. 2: ACC|
|Tuesday, Oct. 28||Coaches on the hot seat||Friday, Nov. 7||No. 1: Big East|
|Wednesday, Oct. 29||Games to watch||Monday, Nov. 10||Preseason tourney projections|