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MRI Basketball Preview - The ACC

November 16, 2010  |  By Benjamin Miraski

Duke Blue Devils, Mike Krzyzewski, Miles Plumlee, college basketball, ACC

The ACC is going to start right where it left off last season. Duke will take the lead and never look back.

It is simply a return to form for the Blue Devils who had two players skip the NCAA draft rather than leave early. That is why Coach K teams do — give up individual glory for the name on the front of the jersey.

After surviving one of the more thrilling title games in recent memory, Duke should once again be favored to win it all. Not only will they be more mature, but they will have a new, faster offense that should keep them from the type of play that allowed Butler to hang with them throughout the championship.

The ACC has a number of challengers this season, most notably Florida State. The Seminoles might not be the trendy pick to upset Duke (cough Virginia Tech cough) but they have the best balance and depth of any of the contenders in the ACC.

Credit that to having to rotate almost everyone through the lineup at some point last season. Plus they lose only two starters from last season, but one of them is Solomon Alabi, which will reduce the size of the interior defense.

And then there is Virginia Tech, who could be looking at a 30 win season. The question here will be bench depth. The starters will have the Hokies in games, but can their reserves keep the score close when Dorenzo Hudson and crew need a breather?

The conference is deep enough to get six teams into the NCAA tournament this year, and possibly a seventh if some of the younger squads progress faster than expected.

But there will be one constant.

Everyone will be shooting for Duke.

CHAMPION

Favorite: Who else? Duke. The Blue Devils have the nucleus of their championship team back and should be even more dangerous in a new up-tempo offense this season. Kyle Singler (more on him in a second) and Mason Plumlee both passed up the draft and the last time two key guys for a team did that was for a certain Florida team that just wiped the floor throughout the NCAA tournament. Duke might not be that much of a favorite this year, and the team’s only obstacle may be staying focused until March.

Darkhorse: Virginia Tech. The Hokies return all five starters from a team that won 25 games last season and was still left out of the NCAA tournament. A tie for third in the ACC apparently doesn’t mean much these days. They have improved the schedule (so they should be tested prior to conference season) and they are feeling a bit snubbed a few times over which should set them up nicely to have that fire they need to get to the top. It will only take a few stumbles for Virginia Tech to take this league. Who thought that we would ever be saying that when they came into the ACC as just a football school?

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Joe Trapani, Boston College - Leading scorer for the Eagles last season. Can shoot inside and out. At 6-foot, 8-inches tall, you wouldn’t expect him to be knocking down the three, but he shot 35 percent from beyond the arc. Boston College might not be a contender this season, but Trapani should be among the top 10 players in the league.

Harrison Barnes, North Carolina - The nation’s No. 1 recruit will be expected to step right in and lead on a North Carolina team that is looking for a leader. Over the summer, Barnes proved that the skills he displayed in high school will translate big time on the next level. The question will be how Barnes holds up during the rough ACC season. It takes an uncommon athlete to put up the same numbers during the conference season as a freshman did in the non-conference schedule. Barnes should be that athlete and should lead the Tar Heels back to the NCAA tournament.

Pe’Shon Howard / Terrell Stoglin, Maryland - The combo of freshman guards could rank among some of the best recruits that Gary Williams has ever attracted to Maryland, and that is saying a lot. Howard has already hit the game winner for the Terps this season in a game against College of Charleston and had 14 off the bench in 24 minutes during that game. Stoglin will be fighting for minutes against a veteran lineup but had 15 and five assists in 18 miunutes against Seattle, including a stellar 9-for-9 at the free throw line. That could make him a interesting substitute in late-game situations for Maryland.

Kyle Singler, Duke - Begins the season as the likely player of the year in the ACC if he can continue the improvement he has shown his first three seasons and dominate like he did in the NCAA tournament. The scary thought is that he might have peaked during last year’s title run and everything from here on out will be downhill. Even if he takes a small step back, the Blue Devils have a monster wing player, who can do everything for the team. With Duke’s new uptempo offense this year, Singler could be seeing more shots and be even more of a force.

Durand Scott, Miami - In case you missed it, Scott went from being on no one’s radar to being the star player of the ACC tournament last season. His coach attributes the uptick in performance to Scott’s becoming more comfortable in his role as a leader on the team, which was on display Monday night during the Hurricanes’ game against Memphis. Scott scored 20 points and along with great inside play from Reggie Johnson almost tripped up the Tigers. Without any of the upperclassmen from last season, Scott will need to continue that type leadership for a still young Miami team. He will keep them from the cellar this season, and should be among the most explosive guards in a conference packed with star backcourts.

TOURNAMENT TEAMS

In expected order of finish:
Duke, Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina State

Just out:
Georgia Tech

POSTGAME SHOW

Clemson coach Brad Brownell has replaced two head coaches who have at some point gone on to coach at DePaul (Jerry Wainwright at UNC-Wilmington and now Oliver Purnell). My guess is that if Purnell doesn’t work out, there is little chance that Brownell will be receiving a call from the Blue Demons. Then again, it is DePaul. The next coach of your Blue Demons…

   

Posted November 16, 2010 12:00 PM