It was a banner year for the ACC in terms of representation at the NBA Draft. The conference had ten players in the first round, including six of the top 11 picks and three of the top four (with Duke’s Zion Williamson going first overall).
That kind of talent drain generally means there will be some drop-off in terms of returning talent and, top-to-bottom, the ACC looks a bit weaker—even though Louisville, Duke and North Carolina all have a good shot at reaching the Final Four in 2020. With that in mind, here’s a “way-too-early” look at how the ACC stacks up for the 2019-20 season…
Chris Mack made a huge impact in his first season as the Cards head coach, and next season looks even better with the return of frontcourt starters Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton and Steven Enoch who combined for nearly 37 ppg. St. Joseph’s graduate transfer Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble will bring experience at the point, while freshman sensation Samuel Williamson will add scoring punch from the wing. On paper, this is the most explosive lineup in the ACC.
The post-Zion era begins with another reloading of talent in Durham. Reliable point guard Tre Jones returns with a new set of fresh faces led by McDonald’s All-Americans Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore. There is still some uncertainty about the lack of perimeter scoring, but Coach K is hoping Hurt and freshman Cassius Stanley can keep defenses honest.
The one name that will drive the Tar Heels’ success this year is do-everything freshman guard Cole Anthony. He alone can make up for the loss of four starters from last year’s squad. Well, throw in freshman big man Armando Bacot and grad transfer wings Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce and the Heels should be alright. Expect forward Leaky Black to have a breakout year.
The defending national champions lost as much as any team in the conference in terms of overall talent, but they do return point guard Kihei Clark and forwards Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key. They might not need freshman guard Casey Morsell and juco transfer wing Tomas Woldetensae to turn into Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome overnight, but sooner rather than later.
5. Florida State
The Seminoles need to replace some key cogs, but they return some very proficient guards in Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker and Devin Vassell, who is also primed for a breakout. As usual, Leonard Hamilton’s frontcourt is stocked with 7-footers, the most intriguing of which may be Ole Miss grad transfer Dominik Olejniczak.
6. NC State
The return of dynamic lead guard Markell Johnson along with three other starters makes it tough to pick the Pack any lower. They’ll miss the versatility of forward Torin Dorn, but they might gain a little more perimeter fire power with the addition of grad transfer Pat Andree. Also, D.J. Funderburk could become a major force for the NC State frontcourt.
7. Notre Dame
The Irish should experience a complete turnaround from last season’s dismal showing as senior wing Rex Pflueger returns from injury for one last campaign along with leading scorers T.J. Gibbs and John Mooney. Point guard Prentiss Hubb should take a step forward, as should sophomore big man Nate Laszrewski.
The Hurricanes return one of the fastest playmakers in 5’7” Chris Lykes, but it will be the supporting cast that makes or breaks this team’s chances at an NCAA bid. Oklahoma transfer Kam McGusty can add some scoring pop, and Florida grad transfer Keith Stone will add muscle down low, but the biggest surprise may be the emergence of freshman guard Harlond Beverly.
Jeff Capel did more than a respectable job last season with so little in the cupboard, and while he still doesn’t have a full stable of horses, he does return the starting backcourt of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowans that was responsible for 27 ppg last season. Well-travelled transfer Ryan Murphy adds experience at the wing, but the frontcourt needs more from forward Terrell Brown.
Just like most other ACC teams, the Orange lost a good bit of talent. However, they do have two things going for them: the return of scoring guard Elijah Hughes and the ever-imposing Jim Boeheim defense.
11. Georgia Tech
Though the Yellow Jackets were a bottom-tier ACC team, they do return almost their entire starting lineup—one that has become a defensive terror to opposing teams. If they can just find a little more scoring from USC transfer Jordan Usher, they could be a dark horse for an NCAA bid.
12. Boston College
The Eagles have some returning talent in guard Wynston Tabbs and forward Nik Popovic, and Jarius Hamilton could have a breakout sophomore campaign, but the eyes are on USC grad transfer Derryck Thornton, who is looking to prove himself in the ACC once again after starting his career at Duke four years ago.
13. Wake Forest
Danny Manning may be on the hot seat if leading scorers Brandon Childress and Chaundee Brown can’t get this team off the ground.
The Tigers haven’t had good karma lately and it doesn’t look any better since their best offensive weapons are returning forward Aamir Simms and Alabama grad transfer Tevin Mack.
15. Virginia Tech
New coach Mike Young inherited what is most comparable to an expansion team. Hokie fans may want to hibernate this winter.