The start of the 2011-2012 is NOT right around the corner. In fact, it’s probably irresponsible to do a “power rankings” on the first day of June. You know what though, I’ve never said I was the responsible type. Let’s get ‘er done.
No 1. NORTH CAROLINA
The Tar Heels are not just the number one team in the ACC, they are the clear number one team in the land. They return everybody that matters, including potential All-American Harrison Barnes. You could argue that the Tar Heels have not only the best small forward (Barnes) in the conference, but also the top point guard (Marshall), best center (Zeller) and best power forward (Henson). While I wouldn’t label Strickland the top SG, he’s still pretty effective.
If you’re looking for any kind of weakness, maybe we could talk about frontcourt depth, but let’s be honest, incoming freshman James McAdoo will probably be better than Justin Knox. Anything short of a national championship will be a disappointment for this team.
No. 2 DUKE
The Blue Devils are stunningly deep next season, to the point where I have no idea how Coach K is going to handle it. Hell, their incoming freshman class (Cook, Rivers, Gbinije, Murphy and Marshall Plumlee) could all start and still finish second in the ACC. Assuming Austin Rivers is as good as advertised, then Duke is looking like a solid 2-seed (potential one) in the NCAA Tournament.
However, if they’re looking to remain the top dogs of the ACC over UNC, then the Plumlee brothers (I’m talking about Miles and Mason) need to step up their games. They are the keys to any late push into March.
No. 3 MIAMI
This is where things get hazy. The ACC is clearly North Carolina/Duke and then everyone else. The popular third pick will be the Seminoles, but I’m going to shake things up and put the Hurricanes up to three. I really think Jim Larranaga is going to improve this veteran team.
The fact is, I love their “Big Three” of Malcolm Grant, Durant Scott and big man Reggie Johnson. I’m especially excited to see Johnson in the middle. I think the 300-pound center will play like an All-ACC player next season.
No. 4 FLORIDA STATE
The Seminoles lost their two top players in Singleton and Kitchen. Don’t discount how important the pair were. In fact, I would argue Kitchen was the bigger loss, because he’s going to be the toughest to replace.
Ian Miller will take over the point guard role, even though his natural skill set is scoring. If he can run the offense and keep the turnovers to a minimum, then I’d probably stick them back up to the three spot in the ACC. I just suspect he’s going to be sizzle some days and fizzle others.
In the end though, Hamilton’s team has always been about the defense and that won’t change. Okaro White, Bernard James and Xavier Gibson will again make life difficult in the paint for just about everybody.
No. 5 CLEMSON
You have to hand it to Coach Brownell, he has a strategy…although I’m not sure what it is. With the addition of five new freshman (all should be coming off the bench in 2011-2012), the Tigers might have the most athletic team in the ACC. However, Clemson will probably be the worst shooting team in league as well.
Three things need to happen for Clemson to head back to the NCAA Tournament. First, Andre Young needs to stop jacking up threes and be a Kendal Marshall-type facilitator. Second, Devin Booker needs to become a finisher inside like his brother and third, Milton Jennings needs to show us why he was a McDonald’s All-American.
No. 6 NORTH CAROLINA STATE
How far can a team go with no true point guard? That’s the first question new coach Mark Gottfried has to answer. Barring some late recruit coming in to save the day (Alex Johnson is not that savior), Lorenzo Brown should slide over to run the show. My guess is they’ll then throw in senior C.J. Williams into the SG spot.
However, if it was me, I’d love to see the Wolfpack go large. Move Scott Wood to SG, let CJ Leslie move to SF where he wants to be (assuming there will be no gay people) and start DeShawn Painter at the power forward spot along side Richard Howell. Forget speed and quickness, just slow it down and overpower teams.
No. 7 VIRGINIA
Head coach Tony Bennett caught a huge break when senior forward, Mike Scott, was granted a medical redshirt. He’s a top-10 player in the ACC if he’s healthy. Sammy Zeglinski should take over the point, while K.T. Harrell continues to develop into a solid guard along side him.
For now, I’d pencil in Assane Sene at the center spot. At seven-feet, he’s mean defender, capable of making life tough around the rim. However, don’t forget about James Johnson. The 6’9 forward sat out all of 2010-2011, but he’s back and ready to rumble. He’s more athletic than Sene, capable of stepping out and hitting big shots.
No. 8 VIRGINIA TECH
The Hokies caught not one, but two breaks this off-season when two important players were granted medical redshirts. Both Dorenzo Hudson and J.T. Thompson will be back for a second senior season. Of course the one positive to come out of Hudson’s injury last season was the play of Erik Green. Between he and Hudson, the Hokies backfield will be fun to watch.
For now, J.T. Thompson is my starter at SF, but he’s always been most effective coming off the bench. Keep your eye on Dorian Finney-Smith. The 6’7 freshman is by far the best recruit Seth Greenburg has ever brought to Virginia Tech. I’d be shocked if he’s not starting day one at either the three or four spot. He’s just that talented.
In the end, success will depend on what happens inside. If Allen Chaney can come back and play at the level he was expected to play at, he will certainly make up for the absence of Jeff Allen. If he can’t come back, then life will be a lot tougher when your only big men are Victoria Davila, Cadarian Raines and freshman C.J. Barksdale.
No. 9 GEORGIA TECH
Both Paul Hewitt and Iman Shumpert are gone, but that doesn’t mean the team is any worse off. I think Brian Gregory is a major upgrade at the head coaching position and with Shumpert headed to the pros, this allows Mfon Udofia to take over the point. The fact is, he’s a more natural point guard, who will make his teammates better.
In the end, the Yellow Jackets need someone to make some shots. Both Glen Rice Jr. and Brian Olivier came to college with reputations as shooters. Yet, after solid freshman campaigns, both were truly awful last year…especially from deep. Both shot 30-percent from three. If their shots don’t go down, it’s going to be a long year for the homeless Yellow Jackets.
No. 10 MARYLAND
The Terrapins lose four of their top five players, including Jordan Williams inside. That’s a lot to overcome for new coach Mark Turgeon, especially after Gary Williams’ entire 2011 recruitment class jumped ship (update: Nick Faust is back on board).
The team now belongs to its guards, particularly sophomores Terrell Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard. Both really played well down the stretch as freshman. Inside, there isn’t really anyone who can do what Jordan Williams did. For now, look for a committee of Haukur Palsson, Berend Weijs, James Padgett and Ashton Pankey to try. If you’re looking for maybe one to step up and be a man inside, I’d put my money on Pankey. He only played one game last year because of injury, but I love his athleticism.
No. 11 WAKE FOREST
So Wake fired Dino Gregory for this? It’s going to be another tough year for the Demon Deacons. Last year’s freshman-led team took a lot of bumps and they’re going to take some more this year. The fact is, they’ll be starting four sophomores (along with junior C.J. Harris) and the only person worth playing off the bench is Ari Stwart, assuming Chennault starts as a third guard.
No. 12 BOSTON COLLEGE
The BC Eagles lose eight players to graduation, plus Reggie Jackson who left early for the NBA. 2011-2012 won’t be a rebuilding year, it’s going to be an expansion year. Coach Steve Donahue potentially could start four freshman, unless sophomores (PG) Gabriel Moton and (SG) Danny Rubin can hold off freshman (PG) Jordan Daniels and (SG) Lonnie Jackson. Either way, the only upperclassmen on this entire team is Dallas Elmore and he’s never started, never played more than 15 minutes per game and he’s never scored more than 3.9 ppg.