No. 18: Don’t Sleep On The ACC
Much of the pre-season talk about the ACC centers around two major questions: Can North Carolina win it all and can Duke bounce back from an un-Duke-like season that culminated in a first round loss to VCU in the NCAAs?
The answer to both those questions is “yes,” but what’s more important for us as we approach the start of this season is how the league as a whole will fare come Selection Sunday. The Pac-10 and Big East has received much of the pre-season love from experts and prognosticators (and deservedly so), meaning that the ACC (minus Dickie V) has received far less pre-season pub than in previous years. That’s unfortunate, because while the ACC might not have the two or three dominant teams it is used to having, it does feature a bunch of teams that could surprise in March.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils are the class of the ACC (again), and North Carolina is the chic pick right now to win it all. Right behind those two, though, is a deep middle tier of teams, led by Sidney Lowe’s North Carolina State team. Perhaps no other 20-16, 5-11 team in recent memory has been so beloved the next pre-season as has the Wolfpack this season, but we have to admit that we are sipping (not gulping, but sipping) a little NC State Kool-Aid as well. The Wolfpack made a surprise run to the ACC tourney title game last season (almost destroying our final bracket in the process), and then made a nice run to the NIT quarters. They return everyone but point guard Engin Atsur (a loss, but not a season-killer) and have the momentum and the coach to make a steady rise up the polls as the season goes on.
Clemson (remember their 17-0 start last season?) also looks like a tourney-caliber team, as does Virginia, who returns stud Sean Singletary and a good enough supporting cast to compete with the ACC big boys. Maryland is young and dangerous, and should be able to come together in time for a late run in February. The wild cards in the conference are Florida State and Boston College. Both lost all-conference players (Al Thornton, Jared Dudley, Sean Williams), but both have a lot still left in the cupboard. Who gets the nod? We like the Seminoles to snag the league’s seventh and final bid (and FINALLY make it to the dance after years on the bubble), thanks to a Toney Douglas-led backcourt and a rookie frontcourt of 6’10” Julian Vaughn and 7’1” Solomon Alabi.
Thus, our Bold Prediction No. 18 is the ACC will surprise some people this season, and at the end of the day could have as many Sweet 16 teams (three) as any other conference in the country. We’ll seed the seven teams as follows: North Carolina (1 seed), Duke (3 seed), North Carolina State (4 seed), Clemson (6 seed), Virginia (8 seed), Maryland (10 seed), Florida State (12 seed).