ACC Hoops Preview
2004-05 ACC HOOPS PREVIEW
The ACC is by far the best college basketball conference in America. Because the
conference features three of the top four teams in the country, nobody
will be surprised if at least one or two ACC teams are playing in St.
Louis in early April in the Final Four. Last year’s national finalist
Georgia Tech, conference tournament champion Maryland, and conference
regular season silver medallist North Carolina State all have promising
rosters. With the expansion of the conference, the ACC welcomes
newcomers Miami and Virginia Tech, while still featuring the usual
suspects Duke and North Carolina. However it might be that “other” team
on Tobacco Road that takes home the conference gold this year.
The Tigers will definitely lead the ACC in one category—players with
the most syllables in the their names. Between Akin Akingbala and Olu
Babalola, Clemson will give PA announcers on the road fits. The
opposition, however, might have an easier time with the Tigers, a pesky
team that finished eight games below .500 last year. Clemson does have
three players to watch, though. Senior forward Sharrod Ford, junior
guard Shawan Robinson, and sophomore playmaking point guard Vernon
Hamilton were the team’s leaders in most major categories last year.
Head coach Oliver Purnell has also brought in a stellar recruiting class
featuring point guard Troy Mathis. Clemson is extremely young, with
seven players being freshmen or sophomores. At best, the Tigers could
contend for an NIT birth.
Duke Blue Devils
For the first time in about seven years, Duke is not the odds on
favorite to win the conference. The graduation of Chris Duhon, the
premature departure of Luol Deng, and the jump to the NBA by high school
sensation Shaun Livingston, leaves the Blue Devils with an eight-man
rotation this year. Duke does feature one of the premier starting
lineups in the country with junior point guard Sean Dockery, junior
sharpshooter J.J. Redick, senior Daniel Ewing, junior forward Shavlik
Randolph, and the premier big man in the conference, junior Shelden
Williams. However, with the lack of depth, many questions surround this
Duke team. Can Williams stay out of foul trouble? Can Dockery replace
Duhon as the floor general? Can Ewing, a reserve his whole career, step
into the starting lineup and perform? Can Randolph finally live up to
his pre-Duke hype? For Duke to be at the top of the conference, the
answers to all of these questions must be yes.
As always, the Blue Devils welcome another McDonald’s All-American in
point guard DeMarcus Nelson, the all-time leading scorer in California
high school history (3,462 points). He should be able to fill in and
spell Dockery, more of a defensive specialist, if the Blue Devils need a
scoring punch. The other newcomer is forward David McClure, the
Gatorade Connecticut High School Player of the Year. Both freshmen are
expected to contribute important minutes right away. The other reserve
the Blue Devils are counting on is senior Patrick Johnson, a seldom used
reserve in past years that will be the main low post substitute.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding this Duke team, there’s one
thing everybody can count on: with Coach Krzyzewski still running the
show, after turning down an opportunity to coach the Los Angeles Lakers,
this Duke team will fight hard, and be a tough out come tournament time.
Florida State Seminoles
Team leader Tim Pickett is gone, but head coach Leonard Hamilton has
plenty of talent to work with, to try and mold his Seminoles into an
NCAA tournament team. Sophomore Von Wafer takes over as the team’s main
scoring threat, and sophomore center Alexander Johnson had a solid
freshman year that garners promise for this year. If senior forward
Anthony Richardson can finally realize the potential he had when he was
a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, he could put the
Seminoles over the top, and into the NCAA tournament.
The other senior on the team is forward Adam Waleskowski, who led the
team in steals, rebounding, and blocked shots last year, and can score
from beyond the arc as well as taking it to the hoop.
Coach Hamilton did a great job for the second straight year in bringing
in a top rate recruiting class that features guards Isaiah Swann and
Jason Rich. Both should be able to contribute this year. A bubble team
that barely missed out on the NCAA tournament last year, Florida State
has the players necessary to make it to the big dance this year.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
With all the hype in the ACC surrounding the talent of all the point
guards, Jarrett Jack sometimes gets overlooked, getting passed over by
the likes of Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, and John Gilchrist. But the
clutch-shooting junior signal caller leads this team that made it to the
NCAA Finals last season, and has most of its key components returning.
The Ramblin’ Wreck return last season’s surprise, center Luke Schenscher,
leading scorer B.J. Elder, high flying dunk machine Isma’il Muhammad,
and a guard who can shoot the three and penetrate to the basket, Will
Bynum. These five give head coach Paul Hewitt good reason to believe
that his Yellow Jackets will buzz their way deep into the NCAA
The losses of Marvin Lewis and Clarence Moore from last year’s squad
hurt, as Lewis could score from anywhere on the floor, and Moore was a
very serviceable substitute. Depth should not be an issue, though, as
those minutes left behind are ready to be picked up by senior swingman
Anthony McHenry, junior forward Theodis Tarver, and freshman forward Ra’Sean
This is a very experienced team, as the top seven players are all
either juniors or seniors. Returning this much talented experience from
a team that was one game short from winning the national championship
should scare every other team in the country, let alone the conference.
The Terrapins return 10 letter-winners from a team that shocked the
college basketball world last year by running the gauntlet in the ACC
tournament. The Terps knocked off 3rd seeded Wake Forest, 2nd seeded N.C.
State, and top seeded Duke to improbably capture the conference
championship, and to go from a team on the bubble to a 4 seed in the
Now Terrapin Nation is not concerned with making the NCAA tournament for
the 12th year in a row—it is focused on winning the whole thing. And
why not? Expectations are high in College Park, as the most important of
the returnees is reigning ACC tournament MVP, John Gilchrist. The
junior point guard put on a show in the tournament, and in the regular
season led the Terrapins in both points and assists. He plays with
extreme intensity on both sides of the floor, and an All-ACC First Team
bid is well within reach.
Maryland’s starting lineup features four of the five starters from last
year. Last year’s production from lone senior Jamar Smith can be
replaced by sophomore forward Ekene Ibekwe, who is poised for a breakout
season. Junior forward Nik Caner-Medley has improved on the
predictability of his game last year. Junior forward Travis Garrison
provides double-double ability, and junior guard Chris McCray’s hustle
and clutch plays make this a starting five to recon with.
The bench includes three sophomores: defensive stalwart D.J. Strawberry,
sharpshooting 3-point specialist Mike Jones, and large body Hassan
Fofana. The most important part of the bench, though, might be JUCO
transfer Sterling Ledbetter, who, as a true point guard, can spell
Gilchrist for minutes at a time, a luxury the Terrapins did not have
With another year under head coach Gary Williams’ watchful eye and sweat-stained
suits, age and experience no longer a factor, and depth not an issue,
consistent play is the only thing stopping the Terrapins from making The
Leap to college basketball’s forefront.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The color of this college basketball season might be Carolina Blue.
With the polished trio of Raymond Felton, Sean May, and Rashad McCants
returning to Chapel Hill for their junior years, this season is full of
promise for the Tar Heels. Along with the star power of the big three,
the Tar Heels feature ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year Marvin Williams,
and senior leadership. The senior threesome of forward Jawad Williams,
and swingmen David Noel and Jackie Manuel provide the leadership
necessary to guide a team to those difficult March victories. Having
coach Roy Williams at the helm does not hurt, either.
Down in Chapel Hill, people feel that this is the year that the big
three of Felton, May, and McCants take this team to the next level, and
bring the championship hardware back to the Dean Dome. After all, last
year Felton led the ACC in assists per game (7.07), May led the ACC in
rebounds per game (9.8), and McCants led the ACC in points per game (20.0).
However, it is going to take a better defensive effort than last year
if any championship, league or national, is going to be won.
Last year Carolina allowed opponents to shoot almost 45 percent from
the field a game. This area must be improved on a consistent basis for
Carolina to be victorious. The addition of the freshmen Williams and
Quentin Thomas provide added depth, improving a need for the team, as
Thomas gives the Tar Heels a legitimate backup to Felton. If Coach
Williams can preach consistent defense, and the trio of superstars can
take this team on their backs, then at the beginning of April it could
be the Tar Heels cutting down the nets in St. Louis.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack lost two key components from last year’s team that
finished second in the conference: sharp shooting Scooter Sherill, and
the versatile three-point shooter/low post presence Marcus Melvin. They
still return reigning ACC Player of the Year, senior do-it-all-man
Julius Hodge, and a whole slew of other cast members that make this team
one to watch in the ACC.
On board to fill some of the scoring void is Georgetown transfer Tony
Bethel, and returning players Engin Atsur, Ilian Evtimov, and Levi
Watkins. Bethel will handle point guard duties, while the trio of Atsur,
Evtimov, and Watkins can be on the money from three-point land.
No matter what, though, the season will hinge on the play of the
versatile Hodge and his ability to make the rest of his Wolfpack better.
Hodge will be wearing a proverbial bull’s eye on his chest, as he has
driven opposing ACC coaches and players wild with his outstanding play,
and sometimes cocky attitude, for three years. He does not want to leave
N.C. State without some championship hardware, and has the will and
talent to drive his team, behind head coach Herb Sendek, to the top of
Many questions surround this Virginia team, and the prospects of this
season rides on the answers to each of them. Can senior forward/center
Elton Brown stay out of foul trouble? Can senior forward Devin Smith
stay healthy? Can the sophomore tandem of Gary Forbes and J.R. Reynolds
build on their successful freshmen campaigns? Can T.J. Bannister be as
effective a point guard as he was at the end of last year? A “no” answer
to any of these questions could mean the difference between making the
NCAA tournament and making the NIT. The clutch-shooting Todd Billet is
gone, but with four out of five starters from last year’s young bubble
team returning, Virginia has a shot at making the Big Dance.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Move over Tim Duncan. The Mayor of Winston-Salem has just challenged
you for greatest player in school history. That’s how good Chris Paul is.
Paul is the Preseason ACC Player of the Year, and a favorite to win the
ACC and NCAA Player of the Year awards. He leads a Wake Forest team
picked by many to win the national championship—and for good reason.
Coach Skip Prosser welcomes back every key player from his team that
reached the Sweet 16 last season. If Paul can lead his team to the top,
then he will have accomplished something that even the immortal Duncan
could not do.
Paul’s supporting cast includes overlooked and dangerous scoring threat
Justin Gray (All-ACC First Team last year), center Eric Williams,
rebounding machine Jamaal Levy, and veteran forward Vytas Danelius, who
looks to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2003-2004 campaign. The
Deacons can win in any number of ways. Gray, Paul, and senior guard
Taron Downey are each lethal from beyond the three-point arc. Williams,
and sophomore center Kyle Visser can each maintain position down low and
dominate the post. The versatile Levy and Danelius are capable of
double-double numbers in points and rebounds on any night. Wake Forest
hustles well, runs the fast break well, executes in the half-court well,
and defends well.
If this team has a weakness, it is free throw shooting. The Deacons
shot 71 percent from the charity stripe last year, and in those close
ACC battles down the stretch, free throw shooting might be the
difference. If anybody besides Paul and Gray is at the line with the
game on the line, Deacon fans should hold their collective breath.
With two premier players in Paul and Gray, senior leadership, depth,
versatility, and tournament experience, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons
have a great shot at winning their first-ever national championship.
The Hurricanes lost their superstar forward and All-Big East Second
Team member Darius Rice (nephew of NFL great Jerry Rice), and team
assist leader Armondo Surratt transferred, leaving huge holes for first
year head coach Frank Haith to fill. To help ease the pain, Haith will
have the services of guards Guillermo Diaz (All-Big East Rookie Team
last year) and Robert Hite, the team’s top returning scorer (15.2 PPG).
But the missing pieces from last year’s team that finished below .500
combined with the transitions from Big East to ACC and from former head
coach Perry Clark to Haith, could spell a disaster of hurricane-like
proportions for Miami this season.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Like Miami, the Hokies, too, lost their best player from last season,
Bryant Matthews (All-Big East First Team member), to graduation. With
him and his 22.1 points per game out of the mix, it could be a very long
season for head coach Seth Greenberg. Virginia Tech was a pleasant
surprise in the Big East last year, finishing the season unexpectedly
over .500. The switch to the ACC could hurt them badly this year though,
as the competition is up a notch over that in the Big East. The Hokies
gain back the services of senior forward Carlos Dixon, who redshirted
last season because of a broken foot. The combination of Dixon’s ability
to score and freshman point guard Marquie Cooke’s toughness and ability
to run the floor, gives Virginia Tech some hope for the upcoming season.