ACC, Ranking 'Em – Preseason

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No. 1 – DUKE
Listen, I already said all I can say about Duke this year in my pre-season preview, but seriously, when was the last time a defending champ got better the following year? I can see a couple of teams stealing some games this year, bot no one is going to take the ACC crown from this team. The reality is, the players I’m most looking forward to seeing is Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry and a bigger, stronger Ryan Kelly.

No. 2 – VIRGINIA TECH
Yes, the Hokies have five starters returning and that will be enough to get this team back into the NCAA Tournament, but do not discount the loses the Hokies suffered this off-season. Virginia Tech will be without transfer, Allan Chaney. While he’s never played a game for the Hokies, Chaney was going to be the muscle Coach Greenberg desperately needed this season.

More importantly Virginia Tech lost J.T. Thompson. While he didn’t start last season, Thompson may have been one of the most important sixth man off the bench in the ACC.

The Hokies still have plenty of talent, but the loss of size and depth will hurt. Three months ago I would have locked them into the #2 spot in the ACC. While I still have them one spot behind Duke, I’m much less confident they’ll remain there.

No. 3 – NORTH CAROLINA
Obviously everything is all about Harrison Barnes in Chapel Hill. He’ll be as good as advertised.  I’ll predict it now, the freshman will average just under 17 per game, dish out just over three assists, grabbing seven to eight rebounds. Write it down, folks.

The big question for the Tar Heels is the backcourt. Opening day starters will be Larry Drew and Dexter Strickland, but if North Carolina struggles at the guard spots, how long does Roy Williams throw an all-freshman backcourt out there (Kendall Marshall & Reggie Bullock)? Could he really start three freshman this year?

No. 4 – MARYLAND
Of all the teams on this list, only Maryland has played a game, giving us a sneak-peak into what we can expect. So far, so good.

While a ton of “experts” are dropping Maryland down to the middle of the pack, I’m not. Sure I understand the reasoning. The Terps dropped a ton of talent. You don’t lose players like Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes and get better (only Duke can lose three starting seniors and get better). However, it’s not like Gary Williams is sitting at the table with a whole new deck of cards. Maryland has a solid core of returning players that should keep them near the top of the ACC.

Overall, the Terrapins are starting three seniors and a junior. Of course the one underclassman in the paint is Jordan Williams. Go ahead and stick a stud sticker on this kid, because he’s ready to become a star, He should easily find himself on the first-team ‘All-ACC’ by the end of the season.

No. 5- FLORIDA STATE
No player got more raves this off-season than Chris Singleton. He worked out as a member of the U.S. select team (getting to play along side players like Kevin Durant), and he wow’d some scouts in the process. Good for him. Of course Big Duke Balls isn’t quite buying him just yet.

Yes, he’s a defensive stud and I always can appreciate the D, but the kid has never proven to be a shooter. Last year he shoot 41% from the floor and 29% from three. Sure he’s a 6-9 forward, so who says he should be nailing threes all day? I’d argue Singleton does, since he has taken 220 of them in two years.

Of course Singleton isn’t the only one who could use a little help with their stroke. The fact is, the Seminoles are known for the defense, but just imagine how good they could be if they could put up a few more points, especially from guards Delvidas Dulkys (did I even come close to spelling that right?), Derwin Kitchen and Michael Snaer…none managed to hit 40% from downtown last year.

No. 6 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Can NC State really be ready to compete with the other big dogs in this conference? It’s been a long time, but Sidney Lowe certainly has the talent.

It all begins in the middle with Tracy Smith of course. Because of State’s struggles last season, the power forward sort of flew under the radar, but he did average 16/7 last season, shooting 52% from the floor. Also, Scott Wood is no longer a freshman and he’ll provide the touch from outside.  Do you want another worthless stat prediction? He will finish top-five in three-point shooting this year. Write that down too.

Yet, all the talk is about the incoming freshmen. While C.J. Leslie is a lock at the power forward spot (yes he is a one-and-done baring a NBA lockout), does Coach Lowe really roll with three freshmen starters? While you can probably argue that Lorenzo Brown is an upgrade over C.J. Williams, does Lowe bench senior Javier Gonzalez for freshman speedster Ryan Harrow? I would. While Gonzalez will be more stable, the ceiling is much higher with Harrow running the point.

Quick note: Now that Enes Kanter has been ruled ineligible for Kentucky, do you think C.J. Leslie has any regrets about picking the Wolfpack over the Wildcats now? Just thinking out loud.

No. 7 – CLEMSON
Gone is head coach Oliver Purnell and gone is the Clemson full-court press. Most importantly though is the fact that Clemson’s best player from last year, Trevor Booker, is gone as well. It’s only natural that Trevor’s “little” brother is the man who will be asked to fill his shoes.

Devin Booker must control the paint just like Trevor did if new coach Brad Brownell is to have a fun first season in the ACC. The reality is, the Tigers do have playmakers on the outside. Guards Demontez Stit, Tanner Smith and Andre Young are all talented and experienced. Each has flaws to their game, but out of all the new coaches in the ACC, Coach Brownell has the best situation on day one.

No. 7 – BOSTON COLLEGE
Experience. Experience. Experience. Don’t underestimate it. Big Duke Balls certainly appreciates it. Don’t sleep on the Eagles. Boston College has no depth (thanks to off-season transfers), but the Eagles will be starting four seniors and a junior (who started last year).

Boston College also has a pair of kids who could challenge for second-team All-ACC, Joe Trapani and Reggie Jackson. Now I’m not predicting BC will find a way to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but they might surprise some teams this season.

No. 8 – MIAMI HURRICANES
The Hurricanes finished dead last in 2009-2010, but made an impressive run in the ACC Tournament. This got everyone thinking that this team could surprise some people in 2010-2011.

Here’s what we know…Miami has one of the more athletic squads in the conference. They are long, they are athletic and they like to run and play defense. Forward Adrian Thomas may be the best defender not named Chris Singleton.

Of course Miami will live and die by their guards. Malcolm Grant and Durant Scott could be a top-three backfield (behind only Duke and Virginia Tech) if they continue to develop those god-given skills.

No. 10 – GEORGIA TECH
There is no doubt the Yellow Jackets still have some talent on the floor this season. Brian Oliver, Mfon Udofia, Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice Jr. make up a nice, solid core. Yet, no one (including me) is giving much love to Coach Hewitt’s squad. WTF?

The fact is, Georgia Tech lost two huge pieces this off-season, Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal. To overcome the loss, the Yellow Jackets are going small, putting three guards on the floor. However, someone has to play the middle and that responsibility will fall to three freshman (two redshirt and one true). Seven-footer Brad Miller should start. He’s got some defensive skills, but he has a lot to prove on the offensive end. Off the bench, all Tech has is Nate Hicks (6’10) and Kammeon Miller, listed at 6’8.

No. 11 – VIRGINIA
The heart & soul of this team are seniors Mike Scott and Mustapha Farrakhan. They’ll take the most shots. Scott will grab the most boards. Farrakhan will make the most threes. Of course the backbone of Tony Bennett’s system will be the defense. If the Cavs give up 70 in a game, they lose.

Of course the most important player could be freshman K.T. Harrell. He was the top player in Bennett’s solid 2010 recruiting class. He’ll start from day one and he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot. If he has success, the Cavaliers will win a few. If he struggles, so will Virginia.

No. 12 – WAKE FOREST
The Demon Deacons have lost a ton of talent over the past two years, but don’t discount the loss of Tony Wood also. Yeah, it’s not like he’s some future NBA star, but Wake Forest really has nothing to offer in the front court.

While the back field is run by seniors C.J. Harris and Gary Clark, Wake’s eight-man rotation could feature four true freshman. Their new starting center is junior Ty Walker. He’s seven-feet tall, but that’s one foot for every three career points he’s scored. He’s played only 90 minutes in his career…total. At least he can block some shots.