The North Carolina Tar Heels are the class of the ACC in 2011, but the Miami Hurricanes could be the biggest surprise in the conference, perhaps even nipping the young Duke Blue Devils for second place.
We are now less than a month away from the start of the 2011-12 NCAA Basketball season, so this is a good time for us to begin some conference previews, beginning with the ACC.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are currently the prohibitive favorites on the ACC future odds at -165, and deservedly so as they should be competing for the National Championship this year. However, those assuming that North Caronia and Duke will finish first and second, as those schools seemingly always do in whatever order in this conference, could be in for a rude awakening with the Miami Hurricanes potentially splitting those two powerhouses.
Here is our full ACC Preview to help you prepare for your NCAA Basketball picks this upcoming season, including the current odds to win the ACC regular season title from 5 Dimes.
1 – North Carolina (-165): The Tar Heels are in a league of their own as far as the ACC goes this season, as demonstrated by their odds-on favoritism. This is a team favored by many to win the national title, and why not as the Tar Heels return all five starters from a team that made it all the way to the Elite Eight last season. The fact that Harrison Barnes decided to return for another year is key, as he could have potentially been the top pick in the NBA Draft. Barnes rejoins Tyler Zeller and John Henson to form probably the best frontcourt in the country, and the Heels may have the best pure passer in the nation running the point in Kendall Marshall. Are there any questions?
2 – Miami (+1600): If you are looking for a longshot candidate to upset North Carolina for the conference title, the Hurricanes look to offer the best value as they look to build on their run to the NIT quarterfinals last season. The Canes lost a lot of close games while going 6-10 in ACC play in 2010, but they return seven of their top eight scorers including four starters, and perhaps new Coach Jim Larranaga can actually get Miami to finish off games this year, as the Canes were on the cusp of upsetting some of the powerhouses in the conference last year before some late collapses. This is an experienced team that will probably benefit from the close losses this year though, and they have the required great point guard to help right the ship in Malcolm Grant, who is as good a scorer as he is a passer.
3 – Duke (+275): The Blue Devils are usually excellent at reloading to replace departed players, and that may ultimately be the case this season also, but we see a real possibility of Duke getting off to a slow start after losing its three best players including NBA number one draft pick Kyrie Irving. In fact, the Blue Devils are not returning a single player that averaged double-digits in scoring last year, which is almost unheard of in Durham. The bets player on the team will be a blue-chip recruit, freshman guard Austin Rivers. He has all the skills to run the point, but the main concern is whether or not he can handle the pressure at such an early stage. The Blue Devils are young but deep in the backcourt, but their Achilles Heel could be a lack of toughness in the frontcourt. Yes, Duke will be a great shooting team once again, as even their big centers and forwards are good mid-range shooters, but the Blue Devils could potentially be pushed around by physical teams, and they offer no value at this cheap price.
4 – Florida State (+700): The Seminoles have been the third best team in the ACC the last couple of years, and the good news is that they are returning six of their eight leading players in terms of minutes played from a club that reached the Sweet 16 last season. The bad news is that the two players not returning were the team’s two leading scorers, and this team was at times offensively challenged last year, winning by playing some of the best defense in the country. That suffocating defense is still there, but Florida State needs someone to step up as the go-to guy when they need to hit a shot late in the game.
5 – North Carolina State (+2000): The Wolfpack are intriguing at these long odds, as we feel they will be much improved this season, especially with power forward C.J. Leslie returning when he could have opted to enter the NBA Draft. Leslie is a great talent, and he is just one of seven of the top 10 scorers returning for the Wolfpack from last season including three starters, although the team will have a new cruise director in new Head Coach Mark Gottfried. This is a team that may have been underperforming under Sidney Lowe, so the coaching change can be seen as a positive, and this club is certainly experienced enough to do some damage by pulling off some upsets.
6 – Virginia (+1600): The Cavaliers have gone through some lean times in recent years, but they seem to be improving under Coach Tony Bennett and they will get a boost with Mike Scott returning this season. Scott averaged 15.9 points per game two years ago before taking a medical redshirt in 2010 and he is a walking double-double when fully healthy. Thus, Virginia will score more points and will be a better rebounding team this year, but the Cavs need to stay healthy as they are quite thin on the bench. Therefore Scott should be prepared to play a lot of minutes even following his year off.
7 – Clemson (+1600): The Tigers made the NCAA Tournament last year in their first season under Coach Brad Brownell, but they were a controversial selection that did themselves no favors with an early exit. Clemson now loses its two leading scorers, although the Tigers do return four players that averaged at least seven points per game in 2010. However, we do not think that will be enough to prevent regression in this upcoming year, especially with an inconsistent backcourt led by a new starting point guard in Andre Young, who takes over for the departed Demontez Stitt.
8 – Virginia Tech (+1100): We think the Hokies will fall back more this season than any other ACC team, as they are returning only two starters and lost both of their starting forwards including Malcolm Delaney, a multi-faceted player that did everything for Virginia Tech. We just do not see where the scoring will come from in the frontcourt this year, so returning point guard Erick Green may have to carry the scoring load himself, which is not an ideal situation. Now Green is capable, as he did average 11.6 points last season, but he is at his best when acting as a distributor rather than a scorer.
9 – Maryland (+2700): It is a brand new era in Maryland in more ways than one, as besides the retirement of long-time coach Gary Williams, the Terrapins also lost four of their top five scorers from last season and return only two starters. Among those gone is center Jordan Williams, who averaged a double-double last season. Maryland is definitely in a rebuilding stage, and although the Terps have hired a fine new coach in Mark Turgeon, do not expect him to work any miracles from the get-go. The best returning Terp is point guard Terrell Stoglin, who had a very nice season as a freshman last year. This team is raw as a whole, but it should get better late in the year and may be competitive next season.
And just some quick blurbs on the bottom three teams:
10 – Wake Forest (+6500): The good news is that Wake Forest is returning four starters from last season, three of which were true freshman, The bad news is that the Demon Deacons won just one ACC game and still seem a ways away.
11 – Georgia Tech (+3300): Coach Paul Hewitt is gone after his worst season with the Yellowjackets, as is their best player Iman Shumpert. This is a team severely lacking in depth, and chances are good that a freshman Julian Royal will see a lot of playing time.
12 – Boston College (+6500): This team returns no (as in zero) starters and has brought in seven freshman to battle for playing time. Need we go on?