Five things to know this offseason
1. Three coaches shockingly depart: No one saw the departures at Boston College, Clemson and Wake Forest coming in the weeks or months earlier. The decision to force out Al Skinner, the winningest coach in BC history, left the staff stunned and contributed to an Eagles dispersal draft as players like Brady Heslip (Baylor), Evan Ravenel (Ohio State), Kevin Noreen (West Virginia) and Rakim Sanders (Fairfield) found new homes. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman clearly wasn't happy with the direction of the Demon Deacons, even though Dino Gaudio was a heck of a recruiter and won an NCAA tournament game in March. Clemson fully intended for Oliver Purnell to be the head coach for the foreseeable future and was just as miffed by his decision on the night of the national title game to head to bottom-dwelling DePaul of the Big East. The potential good news for all three schools is that they replaced the trio with well-respected head coaches: Steve Donahue (Cornell to BC), Jeff Bzdelik (Colorado to Wake) and Brad Brownell (Wright State to Clemson).
Jay Bilas' ACC predictions
1. Duke: It could be argued that the Blue Devils won a championship last season without a truly "great" team (but it won't say that on the banner or the trophy). This time, even after losing three senior starters from a 35-5 team, Duke will be more talented and could be an even stronger and better team. But the experience, the embraced roles and the chemistry of last season's squad will be almost impossible to duplicate. Duke returns two All-American vets in Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, and adds a point guard that will make a huge difference in Kyrie Irving. Mike Krzyzewski has managed without a true point for a while now, but he will hand Irving the ball from the first day and he should deliver. Duke has personnel on top of personnel at every spot. The only questions are whether Krzyzewski gets high-level leadership and whether Miles and Mason Plumlee develop into star-caliber players. If they do, this team is athletic, deep, explosive and prepared for a run to a repeat. The drama in the ACC will be for second place.
2. North Carolina: Enough about last season. It was inexplicable, and nobody really knows exactly how the Tar Heels were on the tracks when the train hit their season. They were sixth in the ACC in offensive production and dead last in the ACC in defensive stinginess. This group will be totally different. With Harrison Barnes, Roy Williams has a true star who will increase UNC's competitiveness right away. The Heels will be thin up front, but John Henson and Tyler Zeller should mature into outstanding players, and Williams will have good backcourt depth. Larry Drew II has taken a lot of heat, but was third in the ACC in assists last season. If he can cut down on turnovers and continue to improve his shot, Drew can have a really good year. Trust me -- there will be no NIT this season. If they don't fight their opponents harder this year, they will have to fight Williams.
3. Virginia Tech: The 2011 Hokies will get into the NCAA tournament, and will do so in a walk. Fortunately, we will not have to listen to the semiannual whining about the Committee or psychiatric examinations or the talking heads or the other lame excuses trotted out by Seth Greenberg. Last season's NIT trip was simple to figure out. Virginia Tech won 23 regular-season games, but 20 of those wins were against non-NCAA tournament teams. The Hokies played a pathetic schedule by anyone's standards, and had wins against only Georgia Tech, Clemson and Wake Forest to show for it. If you thought the Hokies were among the 34 best teams, fine. But the schedule kept Tech out of the Dance. This season, Greenberg returns his entire starting unit and 99 percent of his scoring. One thing Virginia Tech did really well was get to the foul line. The Hokies got to the free throw line more than any other ACC team (428 FTA in ACC play, 63 more than Duke), but they cannot afford to finish last in the ACC in assists again this season. Malcolm Delaney attacked the basket as effectively as anyone in the country, and should be right there for ACC Player of the Year. He is a big-time college player. Figure in the talent and experience of Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson, and you have a surefire NCAA team -- one capable of finishing second in the league.
4. NC State: This is the season Sidney Lowe has been building toward. The Wolfpack has some horses, and the league is not as strong as it has been. If there is a move to be made by NC State, this is the year to do it. Three starters are back and Tracy Smith is the key guy. Last season, he averaged 16.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and led the ACC in field goal percentage at 52 percent. Javier Gonzalez returns to run the point, shooter Scott Wood will stretch the floor and hotshot newcomers C.J. Leslie and Ryan Harrow will be immediate impact players. NC State couldn't shoot last season, hitting only 40 percent from the floor in ACC games. Scoring should be an easier task this go-round.
5. Maryland: Gary Williams did a remarkable coaching job last season, leading Maryland to 24 wins and the ACC's regular-season co-title. But the Terrapins lost as much as any team in the league. Gone are ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, which will leave a huge void. Jordan Williams, who averaged 10 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman, is poised to have a great season. Sean Mosley, Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie will have to raise their production, and newcomers Ashton Pankey, Mychal Parker, Terrell Stoglin and Icelandic swingman Haukur Palsson will have to contribute early. I know this team will play hard and defend, but someone will have to score, which was not a problem last season.
6. Florida State: The Seminoles were a very good defensive team last season, leading the ACC in scoring defense, leading the nation in field goal percentage defense, and sporting some very long and aggressive shot-blockers that allowed the perimeter to get out and pressure and gamble. The two key returnees are Chris Singleton and Michael Snaer. Singleton has a pro-level game and will be an All-ACC first-team selection this season. Snaer had a very good freshman year and has the ability to lead this team in scoring. Derwin Kitchen should run the point and Deividas Dulkys will be the top 3-point threat. A difference-maker could be developing big man Xavier Gibson, who was coming on last season and has the potential to be very good. For Florida State to be good, the Seminoles need to take much better care of the ball. FSU cannot afford to again lead the league in turnovers in ACC play.
7. Miami: The Hurricanes fooled us with their gaudy record and weak nonconference wins last year, but got beat up in ACC play. Miami had a hard time rebounding and guarding the perimeter, and couldn't force turnovers. There is some talent returning in Durand Scott (one of the best freshmen in the country last season), and Frank Haith will have some decent size across the front line. Julian Gamble played well down the stretch and DeQuan Jones put together three really good games in the ACC tournament to show flashes of the potential he brought out of high school. Freshman guard Rion Brown should play right away. In a "down year" in the ACC, Miami could surprise.
8. Boston College: Former Cornell coach Steve Donahue inherits a team that underperformed last season after years of performing far beyond expectations. Boston College will not be a great team, but it will certainly be a good and competitive one. With six of its top nine scorers back, there is talent to work with. And with Joe Trapani, Reggie Jackson, and Corey Raji, the Eagles will have scoring capability. There is a new system and a new coach, but BC should be competitive.
9. Wake Forest: New coach Jeff Bzdelik inherits an NCAA team, but the Demon Deacons did lose star performer Al-Farouq Aminu, speedy Ish Smith, bruising big man Chas McFarland and defender L.D. Williams. Sophomores C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart and junior Tony Woods will have to play at a much higher level and gain much more consistency and greater efficiency. The Deacons have an uphill climb this season. Bzdelik will enjoy a highly rated recruiting haul from Dino Gaudio, but everything will be new for Wake Forest this season, and it will be an adjustment.
10. Virginia: Tony Bennett brings back Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski and Mustapha Farrakhan, but the Cavaliers may not yet have the horses to rise up in the ACC standings. Virginia was a tougher out last season, but not tough enough to rack up more than five ACC wins. The Cavs simply could not score, and if not for their free throw efficiency, averaging 60 points would have been an issue -- and that was before leading scorer Sylven Landesberg left school. Add in the fact that Virginia was not a good defensive team or rebounding team, and you have a lot to overcome. Bennett will have six freshmen to add to the fold, but this is another building year.
11. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets went from really strong to suspect in the frontcourt. They will be small and guard-oriented, with the only big man of significance being incoming freshman Nate Hicks. After a 7-9 ACC record put Georgia Tech on the bubble, the Jackets fought to the ACC tournament championship game before losing to Duke. Gone are top scorers and rebounders Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, but back are some capable guards in Iman Shumpert, Mfon Udofia, Glen Rice, Jr., and Brian Oliver. As good as those guards have the potential to be, the Jackets certainly were loose with the ball last season. Only Florida State turned the ball over more in ACC games, and Tech cannot afford to be as inefficient this season and hope to win games.
12. Clemson: The Tigers return three starters and some talented younger players in Milton Jennings, Andre Young and Noel Johnson. With Demontez Stitt, new coach Brad Brownell inherits a good penetrator that averaged over 12 points per game in ACC play. Jerai Grant is bouncy and talented and Tanner Smith started every game, but Clemson's identity is an unknown, especially since Trevor Booker was such a force for the Tigers. There are no truly bad teams in the ACC this season -- but someone had to be picked last.
10 key players around the league
Kyle Singler, Sr., F, Duke: Singler has become one of the tougher matchups in college basketball, especially when he plays the 4 over the 3. He has figured out how to score at a high level and stay on the court consistently. His toughness has improved and he's become a leader, if not a vocal one. Singler starts the season as the ACC preseason Player of the Year and is a candidate for the national honor. If he has a monster season, the Blue Devils have a real shot at repeating.
Nolan Smith, Sr., G, Duke: Not sure there is a better late-shot-clock shooter than Smith. He has a real understanding of time and score and has worked wonders for Duke the past two seasons. His leadership has shined over the past year and he'll take on even more of a central role without Jon Scheyer. He'll need to mentor Seth Curry and Kyrie Irving in the loaded Blue Devils backcourt, but that shouldn't be an issue.
Kyrie Irving, Fr., G, Duke: Irving enters the season as a candidate for national player of the year and a possible top pick in the June NBA draft in 2011. Irving gives the Blue Devils a legit starting point guard who can take pressure off Smith bringing up the ball to jump-start the offense. Duke hasn't had a hyped point guard like this since Jay Williams. Irving helped lead the USA to a gold medal in the U-18 championships in San Antonio earlier this summer.
Chris Singleton, Jr., F, Florida State: He had a breakout summer without playing on a national stage, creating a buzz for himself on the USA select team that competed against the national team and was seen by NBA and college scouts. Singleton has proved to be an effective scorer and seems to be relishing his new role as FSU's leader in the absence of the departed Solomon Alabi. He is the team's top defender and should end up being Florida State's top scorer as he has proved he can score facing or driving to the basket.
Jordan Williams, So., F, Maryland: Williams put up 21 points and 17 boards in an NCAA tournament first-round win over Houston. That should have signaled to the rest of the ACC what is to come this season. He nearly averaged a double-double last season and has a shot at being one of the best big men in the ACC. If he delivers, the Terps will be in position to compete for another NCAA tournament berth.
Durand Scott, So., G, Miami: Scott was a first-team all-rookie performer and scored in double figures in eight of the Hurricanes' last nine games. He should be the team's leading scorer and one of the top guards in the ACC. Scott will get tested plenty when Miami plays Memphis early and then Ole Miss with its highly touted guard Chris Warren. West Virginia also makes an appearance in Miami, which gives the Canes a chance to make an early-season statement.
Harrison Barnes, Fr., F, North Carolina: Barnes comes to Chapel Hill at the perfect time. He's a mature young man who seems to handle himself quite well in the spotlight. He'll need to be the featured player for the Tar Heels, as well as the team's spokesperson. UNC was desperate for a presence like Barnes. His talent also matches his persona. If he can be a big-time scorer for the Heels, the star power that is the norm in Chapel Hill will have returned after a one-year hiatus.
John Henson, So., F, North Carolina: Henson was just too thin to be a major factor last season. It took him time to fully develop into a major contributor in college basketball. Unfortunately, because he could make things look so easy in high school, it appeared there would be a smooth transition. He's never going to be a brute, but Henson has learned how to control his body on the court and work the angles to be effective. If he continues to be productive, he should form quite a tandem with Barnes.
C.J. Leslie, Fr., F, NC State: Leslie's decision to attend NC State was a major recruiting coup for Sidney Lowe. It helped lend credibility to the direction in which he was taking the program, and a belief that the rebuilding is nearly complete. Leslie has to deliver on his talent, though. Expectations are high for him as an individual, but even more so for him as the missing piece to help push the Wolfpack toward an NCAA bid.
Malcolm Delaney, Sr., G, Virginia Tech: Tech coach Seth Greenberg tends to have a high-volume scorer and Delaney is the latest for him in Blacksburg. Delaney, who has a shot at being the ACC Player of the Year, averaged 20 points a game last season and was usually taking 10-plus shots a game. Expect those numbers to be very similar this season as the Hokies look for him to be a major player in every outing.
10 freshmen we can't wait to see
Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke: He will be handed the ball from Day 1 as the Blue Devils' floor leader. Irving is a facilitator and distributor that makes the most challenging play look easy, his teammates look good and the most tenacious defender look meek. He will bring the Cameron Crazies, and the nation, out of their seats. Duke needed a superstar point guard, and it landed the best one in the class.
Harrison Barnes, SF, UNC: The No. 1-ranked player in the 2010 class will be a stud for the Tar Heels. He is everything you want as a coach because he is an exceptional player with a high skill level and high basketball IQ. Versatility is what makes him stand out: He can lead or finish the break, break pressure, make shots from everywhere and defend.
Ian Miller, SG, Florida State: He is a winner that sets the tone for his team by bringing a high level of intensity each time he takes the floor. Miller is a fantastic defender and is able to control the ball handler and dictate tempo. Offensively, his strength lies in beating defenders off the bounce, and he thrives in the transition game, scoring or distributing the assist. Miller plays an energized brand of basketball that will excite the fans in Tallahassee.
Jason Morris, SF, Georgia Tech: He is an absolutely incredible athlete that plays above the rim as few others are capable of doing. The Yellow Jackets faithful will love the way he finishes the fast break, and when Georgia Tech puts on its pressure defense, you can be sure Morris will be making things happen.
Mychal Parker, SG, Maryland: Parker is always thinking about scoring and he does it well in a variety of ways. He likes to attack the rim and will dunk over defenders if need be. He can rebound and start the break, hit pull-up mid-range jumpers and even knock down spot-up 3-pointers. Parker competes and has the skills to be a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor.
Rion Brown, SG, Miami: Brown has incredible athleticism and leaping ability, which makes him very tough to guard or block out as he races in on the shot for second-chance points. He has a knack for creating his own offense off the dribble and using his leaping ability, as well as his quick first step to get to the rim. As his 3-point jumper becomes more consistent, he will become more a perimeter threat for the Hurricanes.
C.J. Leslie, PF, NC State: There may not be a more electrifying freshman this year in the ACC. Leslie attacks off the bounce and puts bigger power forwards back on their heels. Defensively, he will go after and alter or block shots. He has great upside and when his skill catches up to his athletic ability, he could be a special player.
K.T. Harrell, SG, Virginia: He is a high-energy, athletic guard that is a tough defender. Harrell attacks the rim in transition as well as in the half court with great speed and quickness. He also finishes through contact with acrobatic plays and can knock down open 3s. Harrell will emerge as a go-to guy for the Cavaliers.
Jarell Eddie, SF, Virginia Tech: He is a hungry, aggressive scorer that plays in attack mode at all times. Eddie is a strong, physical player who can get to the rim or knock down open 3s. On the glass, he puts forth great effort to rebound in and out of his area.
J.T. Terrell, SG, Wake Forest: He can put points on the board as well as anybody in the country. His frame is terrific, with extraordinarily long arms and high-level athleticism. Terrell has outstanding range on his jump shot and he gets great lift on it. He is also dangerous in pick-and-roll action because he is always a threat behind the screen.
A look around the league
Boston College: Reggie Jackson made some bold statements last spring after Al Skinner was forced out and Steve Donahue replaced him. Jackson said he still thought the Eagles could make a deep run in the NCAAs. He is a confident player, but the Eagles will be incredibly thin after the departures of Evan Ravenel and Rakim Sanders, let alone a recruiting class that never showed due to the coaching change. Jackson will be counted on as a major scorer with the need for Joe Trapani to find his consistent stroke in his final season. Trapani might be able to flourish in a more wide-open offense under Donahue, but that won't mask the lack of depth and productivity from the bench. The keys will be how healthy Corey Raji (shoulder injury) is, and whether Biko Paris can be a productive point. The previous staff wasn't sold on Paris as a No. 1, but he must be more of a contributor this season. The Eagles also have to get something out of Josh Southern, who is one of the lone true big men on the roster. Donahue took Cornell from the depths of the Ivy to the top. This will be even more of a challenge.
Clemson: Oliver Purnell's departure wasn't expected, but one that was (Trevor Booker's, through graduation) will really hurt the Tigers. First-year coach Brad Brownell has to rely heavily on Trevor's brother Devin, Milton Jennings and Catalin Baciu, none of which have had a chance to be consistent yet. Clemson won't press as much as Purnell's teams did, and the onus is on Brownell to maintain the spirited orange atmosphere that filled Littlejohn the past few seasons, especially when the blue bloods came to town. Even if Purnell had stayed, he needed to see help for point guard Demontez Stitt and a rising class of Noel Johnson, Booker and Jennings that needs to start maturing -- now. The key to this team may well be Johnson. He was supposed to go to USC, but ended up at Clemson after Tim Floyd's resignation and struggled to find himself last season. If Clemson is a player in the ACC, it might be because Johnson has figured out how to be productive.
Duke: The defending national champs start the season as the preseason No. 1. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving all had sensational summers, mostly through USA Basketball, keeping the good karma that Coach K has going with the organization. The departure of Brian Zoubek, though, means the Blue Devils will be even more up-tempo this season. Taking out Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Jon Scheyer and replacing them with more Plumlees (Miles and Mason), Irving and Liberty transfer Seth Curry and the Blue Devils should run even more. They will have multiple players who can create their own shot, and if Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston develop quickly, the rotation up front will be deeper than a year ago. Tyler Thornton and Andre Dawkins also give the Blue Devils depth. Dawkins has the ability to be a game-changer off the bench with his spot shooting ability. And the Plumlee brothers can cause plenty of matchup problems with their ability to score on the offensive backboard as well as facing the basket.
Florida State: The Seminoles have lost a key player in each of the past two seasons in Toney Douglas and Solomon Alabi. But don't expect a setback, which shows that this program is maintaining, not declining. Michael Snaer started the final 10 games last season and should flourish in a more featured role. Derwin Kitchen is in his third season as a starter at the point and seems comfortable with what Leonard Hamilton needs from him. The depth has improved with the addition of newcomers Ian Miller, Bernard James and Okaro White to go along with the sharp-shooting Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys. The key to this team will be whether Xavier Gibson can take over Alabi's role in the post. Florida State didn't shy away in scheduling with games against Florida and Ohio State and in the Diamond Head Classic, which includes Baylor, Butler and Mississippi St.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets lost their star frontcourt of Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, but all is not lost in Atlanta. Paul Hewitt and the Tech PR crew are pumping this group as having the most experienced perimeter since the 2004 Final Four team, which had only one player taller than 6-8. The problem is that there is no Luke Schenscher, who served a valuable role on that Final Four team. The key will be whether Iman Shumpert is able to play at a consistent level and whether Moe Miller, Glen Rice, Jr., and Brian Oliver can raise their level of play to offset the departures of Lawal and Favors. They don't play the same positions, but will be counted on to be even more productive than a season ago. Georgia Tech has dealt with high expectations, but this club won't have to deal with that kind of target. That might be a positive thing.
Maryland: Gary Williams did one of his best coaching jobs with the Terrapins the past two seasons. He tied for the ACC title with Duke last season and helped nurture the development of an ACC Player of the Year in Greivis Vasquez. But the Terps lost Vasquez and backcourt teammate Eric Hayes. Williams has to assimilate six newcomers to a roster of relative unknowns nationally. Sean Mosley is the top returning scorer and whether he can increase his ACC average of 8.3 points a game is an unknown, but it has to improve with more shots. The stud of the returnees is Jordan Williams. Seniors who know their roles like Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory will be key. Look for them to be counted on more than freshmen Mychal Parker and Pe'Shon Howard because they'll understand what Williams demands. Gregory's offensive game was a big surprise over the summer. The sleeper on this squad could be 6-10 JC transfer Berend Weijs, who blocked 119 shots last season at Harcum (Pa.) College. If Weijs can stay on the court and be a defensive deflector next to Williams, the Terps will be a tough out.
Miami: The Hurricanes went on a solid run in the ACC tournament, knocking off Wake Forest and Virginia Tech before losing by three to Duke in the semis. Forward Dwayne Collins was a second-round draft pick and the team's leading scorer, but was hurt and didn't play in the last four games. So now Miami turns to a promising group of newcomers that includes Reggie Johnson, DeQuan Jones, Durand Scott and Julian Gamble. Johnson gave a tease of what could come when he was perfect from the field against Wake Forest and scored 22 points. Getting Adrian Thomas back for a sixth season is also great news for the Canes as it gives them a mature mentor inside. If Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant can be consistent, the U will have plenty of size, quickness and defensive ability to move up into the top half of the ACC.
North Carolina: How will the Tar Heels respond after losing 17 games last season? How much did the August trip to the Bahamas do for their confidence? Will Harrison Barnes become another great UNC freshman who transcends to take UNC to another level? Has Larry Drew II improved to the point that this is no longer an issue for North Carolina? How much will Barnes and Reggie Bullock offset any perimeter woes after a year after Carolina struggled to fill Wayne Ellington's role? Will Tyler Zeller be healthy for a whole season and have a major impact? Can John Henson duplicate his play in the NIT and become a consistent scorer throughout the season? If Justin Knox gets a waiver to play immediately, will he be a major addition? How much can Kendall Marshall help the depth at the point? The Tar Heels have as many questions as anyone, but if most are answered positively, the talent is in place for UNC to forget about last season's disappointment in the ACC.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack brought in the most celebrated recruiting class in some time with C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow. The talent has been upgraded and the Wolfpack now finally have depth. It can't be denied that Sidney Lowe is on the hot seat, but new athletic director Debbie Yow should give one of the more beloved alumni time to develop this roster. There is a chance for this team and program to return to its rightful place as a pest for Duke and North Carolina in the top four of the ACC. The keys will be for the freshmen to live up to their potential, and for returnees Tracy Smith and Javier Gonzalez to share the spotlight. They should welcome the upgrade in talent because it means the Pack have a shot at losing only five ACC games, not winning only five as they did a year ago. The Wolfpack have only 10 scholarship players, but are two-deep at every position. No excuses now. This team should be Big Dance-bound.
Virginia: Tony Bennett is in complete rebuilding mode, and that means the Cavaliers may have the look of Washington State soon. His blueprint has worked in the past, but there has to be patience. Sylven Landesberg is gone but he was out before last season ended. The Cavs added six scholarship freshmen, and that means Bennett has to get them to understand his attention to detail on the defensive end. If Bennett gets his wish, this set of six newcomers will be much like his program-changing class at Wazzu. The key to saving this team offensively will be returning senior forward Mike Scott. He should lead this team in scoring and rebounding. One of the more interesting newcomers will be Billy Baron, son of Rhode Island coach Jim Baron. Billy was supposed to go to URI but decided to break from his father and go off on his own and play at UVa.
Virginia Tech: Seth Greenberg has had an argument about being snubbed by the selection committee in recent years, but he can also point to games the Hokies shouldn't have lost late (like getting blown out at Boston College last season). Tech won 10 games last season in the ACC, but they weren't the right 10, and the Hokies missed the cut again. The bubble shouldn't be an issue in Blacksburg this season. Virginia Tech should be an NCAA team, in large part because of the return of Malcolm Delaney and the team's top 11 scorers from last season. J.T. Thompson had his first healthy offseason, Dorenzo Hudson will likely have a breakout season next to Delaney, and the Hokies expect to be another pesky defensive team. They were expecting Florida transfer Allan Chaney to have a major impact, but he collapsed in April and it was determined he had a viral inflammation of his heart. Greenberg doesn't expect Chaney to be cleared to play this season. Losing him hurts the depth up front, but the Hokies have enough returning to be a factor in March.
Wake Forest: Recruiting hasn't been an issue at Wake, no matter the head coach. This program has always had talent. Dino Guadio's surprise firing led to the hiring of Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik. Don't expect Bzdelik to run any form of the hybrid Princeton offense. He adjusts to his personnel, and the current Demon Deacons roster isn't best suited to that style. Losing Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith were two major hits for the Deacs. But the return of surprise freshmen from a year ago -- C.J. Harris at the point and Ari Stewart at forward -- means Wake has two proven scorers within the ACC. The addition of point guard Tony Chennault should take pressure off Harris in the backcourt. The hope is that freshman guard J.T. Terrell is similar to Jeff Teague as a scoring combo guard. The big question is will the once-hyped big men who came in with Aminu -- Ty Walker and Tony Woods -- finally blossom into productive post players? If they do, then Wake has a dynamic that many others in the league will not. Playing at Xavier and Richmond, hosting Gonzaga, playing Tennessee and then either UCLA or Villanova in New York provide more than enough challenges for a team that will be unpredictable early.-- Andy Katz
Best case/Worst case
Nonconference games to watch
Virginia Tech at Kansas State, Nov. 16: This game will be one of the best on ESPN's 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon. The Hokies and Wildcats will play at a fevered pace and with plenty of physical play in what should make for a fun Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan.
Miami at Memphis, Nov. 16: The Hurricanes have a shot to go from the bottom of the ACC to the top five with a youthful, talented lot. But to do that, they must make their mark early in the season. How Durand Scott handles Memphis' talented perimeter will be quite a test.
Maryland vs. Pitt (in NYC), Nov. 18: Pitt is the pick in the Big East, while Maryland will be hoping to prove at MSG that it has found replacements for its backcourt of Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes.
Florida at Florida State, Nov. 28: This annual rivalry will take on even more meaning this season as the Gators roll into Tallahassee as an SEC favorite for the first time in three seasons. This could be a seminal moment for FSU as it tries to establish its brand early against the experienced Gators.
North Carolina at Illinois, Nov. 30: The Heels and Illini have played a number of times in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and provided plenty of entertainment. Illinois is one of the rising teams in the Big Ten -- check out Doug Gottlieb's prediction -- while UNC plays this game after its Puerto Rico trip and before Kentucky, which is quite a challenge.
Michigan State at Duke, Dec. 1: This is the marquee game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Both teams were in the Final Four last season and both are in a small collection of teams that can get back there. It would help the hype if Kalin Lucas is 100 percent healthy to go up against Duke's tandem of Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith.
Purdue at Virginia Tech, Dec. 1: The Hokies get one of the co-Big Ten favorites in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which says a lot about what the league thinks of Virginia Tech's chances in the ACC. This will be a major barometer game for the Hokies in their quest to be taken seriously as a contender this season.
Duke vs. Butler (in East Rutherford, N.J.), Dec. 4: It will be Championship Saturday in college football, but a rematch of a true title game is what college basketball fans will be focused on. Gordon Hayward staying around would have made this even more special, but Butler won't be fading away any time soon. This will be another challenge for the Devils.
Kentucky at North Carolina, Dec. 4: This has always been a marquee game with loads of NBA-level talent. But the Tar Heels have a lot to prove this time around. Watching Harrison Barnes against Kentucky's slew of talent should be worth the 40-minute investment.
Georgia at Georgia Tech, Dec. 7: Georgia beat Georgia Tech last season, but the Yellow Jackets were still the more recognized club nationally. Tech won a game in the NCAA tourney, while UGA finished 5-11 in the SEC. But the expectations are flipped this season. The Bulldogs are national sleepers, and most folks are sleeping on the Jackets.
Arizona at NC State, Dec. 19: NC State has one of its most challenging schedules under Sidney Lowe, and this game caps quite a stretch. Zona should be one of the top three teams in the Pac-10, and the Pack also play at Wisconsin on Dec. 1, at Syracuse on Dec. 4 and have a possible game with Georgetown in the Charleston Classic.-- Andy Katz
New Faces, New Places
Boston College: After a historic run in the Ivy at Cornell, Steve Donahue says he's ready for the steep challenge he faces in the ACC. Andy Katz
Clemson: Oliver Purnell raised the level of play at Clemson, but never quite took the next step before bolting. Can his replacement, Brad Brownell, do the trick? Andy Katz
Wake Forest: Of all the coaching moves this offseason, few came with more raised eyebrows than Wake's decision to fire Dino Gaudio and hire the well-traveled Jeff Bzdelik. Was it the right call? We'll soon find out. Dana O'Neil
For a list of Division I coaching changes and our New Faces, New Places profiles, click here.
2009-10 ACC standings
|ACC record||Overall record|
* NCAA tournament berth