ACC basketball has been, without a doubt, the most collectively talented conference in men’s basketball. However, last season’s numbers made the king of college basketball conferences look less than a Power 5.
Before the NCAA tournament was canceled, only one team was under consideration for an at-large bid – NC State. Most other teams in the conference tallied a record below .500.
The usual top dogs of the ACC – Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and Florida State – were unsurprisingly trailblazing through the conference. But one was missing; UNC was among those winning less than half of their games. And that was uncharacteristic considering Roy Williams’ legendary method and coaching history.
It’s safe to say ACC basketball was unrecognizable for the 2019-20 season, with a few teams needing a specific remedy going into the 2020-21 season. But is one year enough to concoct a recipe for success? With all of this considered, here are the biggest factors within the ACC this season.
Mike Young is Changing the Dynamic in Blacksburg
Mike Young, head coach of Virginia Tech, seems to be redesigning his team going into his second year. For the first time as head coach, he can recruit his own players, and in doing so, he is using experience to breed excellence.
The team when he arrived in Blacksburg was full of true or redshirt freshman. They served as Tech’s leading scorers, and though talented, led without much experience.
As Young now has control over recruiting, he’s decided to add experience to the roster with four Division I transfers, all of which collectively have played 292 college games and 138 career starts. On top of returning players, these gains add versatility to Young’s squad and give him the option to play multiple guys at different positions.
Louisville’s Off-Season Steal
— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) December 2, 2020
Inside the transfer portal during the offseason, Carlik Jones was one of the most sought after athletes. He was snagged out of the Big South Conference, where he averaged 20 points per game and 40 percent from three during his last season at Radford.
Jones’ jump from a mid-major to the best Power 5 conference in the nation could go both ways. There are times when transfers from mid-major schools fall flat to the intense competition. The level of competition within ACC basketball certainly makes that a possibility.
However, Jones’ performance at Radford and the fact he was ranked top 100 in offensive efficiency while carrying Radford’s team on his back shows he is well equipped to lead this young Louisville team.
Georgia Tech’s Back on Offense
It’s no secret Georgia Tech is one of the underdogs in the ACC, but this season, they have a chance to be a contender in the conference tournament.
Last season, they were more than efficient defensively, ranking in the Top 20 on the defensive end. In contrast, Georgia Tech’s offensive rating didn’t even place in the top 100. This year, however, there are some promising factors to their roster.
The Yellow Jackets have four returning starters on their squad this season, with three of them being seniors. That means they know each other and their playing styles very well. This allows them to build off of last season’s mistakes and move forward as a talented and experienced team.
Coach K Takes a Different Approach
Aside from the star-studded recruiting class for Duke’s 2020-21 roster, there was a missing spot at center that needed to be filled. Many Duke fans were surprised Vernon Cary declared for the draft after the tournament’s cancellation, and Coach K seemed to be in a bit of a scramble himself.
He made the rare decision to recruit a grad transfer, Patrick Tape, out of Columbia. Usually, what we see from this Duke team is a one–five recruiting class, with a true position player already at each position on the roster. This year, the only true center is seen in new recruit Mark Wiliams, who isn’t a top-10 center as per usual.
For the first time in a while, Duke’s roster can be stamped with a huge question mark. Despite the recruiting class’s strength, players like Matthew Hurt and team leader Jordan Goldwire don’t have fans as confident as usual. It will be interesting to see what Coach K does with this uncharacteristic group of guys.
Virginia Looks For an Efficient Offense Again
After having the second-ranked offense in their 2018-19 run in the national tournament, Virginia downgraded a lot. They downgraded so much that they might as well have become a mid-major program.
Virginia was ranked 234 in offensive efficiency for the 2019-2020 season, mostly because they lost players who were efficient behind the arc, like Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. They were, however, a very strong team defensively.
Going into this season, Virginia can rely on the experience of multiple returning players, as well as their new additions. Out of Marquette, Sam Hauser brings a strong offensive touch, including a lethal three-point shot. They can also look forward to their top 100 incoming recruits and the redshirts coming off the bench this season.
As one of the most prominent and successful teams in the ACC, Virginia has strong bones going into this season. This should definitely help the Cavaliers’ record.
NC State’s Top Four Class
For the first time in a while, NC State has a top-five recruiting class in the ACC. After the loss of Josh Hall to the NBA draft, a highly qualified class of freshman was much needed.
The most highly anticipated and potentially most impactful freshman is four-star guard Cam Hayes. He’ll be led by DJ Funderburk, State’s big man, and Manny Bates, both of whom provide a strong backcourt for the Wolf Pack.
— NC State Men's Bball (@PackMensBball) November 30, 2020
Despite the loss of seniors Markell Johnson and C.J. Bryce, State can remain hopeful with what they have while being confident in their ability to contend for an at-large bid.
Which Below .500 Team Is Coming Back the Strongest This Season?
UNC’s fluke last season was one of the worst and unexpected in the NCAA. As this season provides a clean slate, they have the best shot of improving tremendously and returning to the top.
Unfortunate injuries, seemingly to their whole starting squad, plagued UNC’s program during the 2019-20 season. However, because of this, their bench was forced to gain experience they otherwise wouldn’t have if their starting five stayed healthy.
This allows their bench to carry tremendous depth this season. Pair that with the healthy returning players and the # 2 recruiting class, and you could call last season’s fluke a blessing in disguise going into this season.
Thanks for checking out our ACC basketball preview! If you’re interested in reading our Big 12 preview, you can do so here!