2020-21 ACC Basketball Preview

LWOS’ coverage of the NCAA continues with the ACC basketball preview. The ACC is one of the best conferences in basketball every year. This year will be no different. While the conference may be razor-thin at the bottom, the top four are fantastic. The ACC has four teams that can easily win a National Championship this season and not many conferences can say that.

ACC Basketball Preview 2020-21

15. Boston College Eagles

Key Returners: Wynston Tabbs, CJ Felder, Jay Heath, Steffon Mitchell

Key Losses: Jairus Hamilton, Derryck Thornton, Nik Popovic, Chris Herren Jr.

Key Newcomers: Demarr Langford, Justin Vander Baan, Rich Kelly (Quinnipiac), Makai Ashton-Langford (Providence)

Unfortunately, there is not much to say about the Boston College Eagles. Head Coach Jim Christian will almost certainly be spending his last season with the Eagles. While they do have a decent core of players, the production has not been there in recent years. They lose three of their best players from last season and keep the role players that now must step into a top role. Langford has a chance to be a special ACC player, but he is going to be frustrated early and often on Chestnut Hill.

14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Key Returners: Jahcobi Neath, Isaiah Mucius, Ismael Massoud

Key Losses: Brandon Childress, Chaundee Brown, Olivier Sarr

Key Newcomers: Jalen Johnson (Tennessee), Jonah Antonio (UNLV), Quadry Adams, Emmanuel Okpomo

Wake Forest turned to Steve Forbes from East Tennessee State University to start a new regime in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons struggled under the tutelage of Danny Manning and Forbes is tasked with resurrecting a once-great program. The cupboard was left extremely bare, but Forbes locked up Jalen Johnson from Tennessee who should help. Losing their three best players, two to transfer, is demoralizing, but Forbes is the right man for the job. Deacon fans, look ahead, and do not worry about this season.

13. Virginia Tech Hokies

Key Returners: Wabissa Bede, Jalen Cone, Tyrece Radford, Nahiem Alleyne

Key Losses: Isaiah Wilkins, Landers Nolley, PJ Horne

Key Newcomers: Joe Bamisile, Darius Maddox, Cartier Diarra (Kansas State), Cordell Pemsl (Iowa), Justyn Mutts (Delaware)

Virginia Tech is also in the midst of a rebuild. The Hokies handed the reigns to Mike Young last season. Young had some success and his team played hard, but he is trying to build a foundation and talent base. Unfortunately, he lost Nolley, his clear-cut best player from last season. However, the Hokies got Diarra who will be an immediate impact transfer and will cause nightmares for opposing guards with Bede. What this team lacks in talent, they make up for with heart.

12. Pittsburgh Panthers

Key Returners: Xavier Johnson, Au’diese Toney, Justin Champagnie

Key Losses: Trey McGowens

Key Newcomers: John Hugley, William Jeffress, Femi Odukale, Max Amadasun, Noah Collier

The Panthers were a disappointment last year. They had far too much talent to be relatively uncompetitive in the ACC. This season, they need to pick it up. Johnson and Champagnie can play for any team in this conference. Jeff Capel is known as a great recruiter and that shows this season with five freshmen coming to campus. Losing McGowens is huge, but Panther fans will be hoping for addition by subtraction. Sometimes it felt like there were not enough basketballs to go around last year. Regardless, the success of the Panthers will depend on how good their freshmen class can be.

11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Key Returners: Prentiss Hubb, Juwan Durham, Nikola Djogo, Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin

Key Losses: Rex Pflueger, Temple Gibbs, John Mooney

Key Newcomers: Elijah Taylor, Tony Sanders

Fighting Irish fans are entering year three of a rebuild. In other words, the last two seasons have not been easy, but progress has been made. This year seems to be a little different. For instance, there is no John Mooney to lean on. Losing Gibbs is tough for the backcourt, as well. Hubb will be depended on in a major way. Quite honestly, the only reason Notre Dame is ranked this high is because of Mike Brey. This can be a long year in South Bend, but there is promise for the following year. Hang tight!

10. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Key Returners: Devon Daniels, Manny Bates, Braxton Beverly, DJ Funderburk, Jericole Hellems

Key Losses: Markell Johnson, CJ Bryce

Key Newcomers: Thomas Allen (Nebraska), Cam Hayes, Shakeel Moore, Nick Farrar

Kevin Keatts is all that needs to be said. He said it himself, he’s a winner. The Wolfpack return most of their team from last year, but lose their two best players in Johnson and Bryce. Adding Allen as a transfer is massive for this team. Keatts also secured the 25th ranked recruiting class this year which means the future is bright in Raleigh. Look for the Wolfpack to win some games they shouldn’t this year and then take the next step next season. Daniels has a chance to be an all-conference player.

9. Syracuse Orange

Key Returners: Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard, Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe

Key Losses: Elijah Hughes

Key Newcomers: Kadary Richmond, Woody Newton

The Orange had a difficult season last year. In addition, this season will test the patience of Orange fans again. Boeheim could have a huge season and he will likely need to for this team to go dancing. Girard makes up the rest of a solid backcourt and Dolezaj adds a ton of toughness and experience. The issue is losing Hughes. Countless times last season, the ball was in Hughes’ hands to make a play. This season, there is no obvious option to fill that role. It will be interesting to see this offense function. On paper, the defense does not look great either so the offense will have to get going. Threes will be flying!

8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Key Returners: Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, Jordan Usher, Moses Wright

Key Losses: James Banks 

Key Newcomers: Kyle Sturdivant (USC), Rodney Howard (Georgia), Saba Gigiberia, Jordan Meka, Tristan Maxwell

The Yellow Jackets have one of the best backcourts in the ACC. Alvarado and Devoe are together again. Their talent plus their experience is dangerous and can lead this team plenty far enough. Adding Sturdivant and Howard from transfers will help add depth to this thin roster. The issue this year will be the frontcourt after the departure of Banks. Losing one of the best rim protectors in the nation is always difficult, but more so when there is no clear replacement. Freshmen will need to come up big in Atlanta, but this has the makings of a tournament team. Josh Pastner is another coach that is on the hot seat so this is an important season for the Yellow Jackets.

7. Clemson Tigers

Key Returners: Aamir Simms, John Newman III, Clyde Trapp, Al-Amir Dawes

Key Losses: Tevin Mack

Key Newcomers: PJ Hall, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Lynn Kidd

The Tigers are an intriguing team this year. Simms returning is huge and now they add two solid frontcourt freshmen in Hall and Prosper. Guard play is going to be the difference with this team so let’s see how good Dawes and Newman can be. The pieces are there to at least contend for a tournament berth, but they may be a backcourt piece or two away from threatening the top four in the conference. Regardless, Brad Brownell put together one of the best recruiting classes in Clemson history. He should use this season to remove himself from the coaching hot seat.

6. Louisville Cardinals

Key Returners: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams, Carlik Jones

Key Losses: Jordan Nwora, Steven Enoch, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon

Key Newcomers: D’Andre Davis, JJ Traynor

The Cardinals lost a lot with Nwora departing to the NBA and others graduating. Chris Mack does not have a recruiting class to write home about, but he has some returning sophomores that may take a big step forward with increased opportunities. Johnson and Williamson were good in moments last season, but this year they need to become stars. Jones and Williams will provide consistency. Anything that comes from freshmen will be a bonus. While it is unlikely Louisville contends for a conference title, they are definitely going to win plenty of games.

5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Key Returners: Chris Lykes, Harlond Beverly, Kameron McGusty, Sam Waardenburg, Rodney Miller, Isaiah Wong

Key Losses: Dejan Vasilijevic

Key Newcomers: Earl Timberlake, Matt Cross, Nysier Brooks (Cincinnati), Elijah Olaniyi (Stony Brook)

The Hurricanes take the cake for being the buzz team of the ACC. With the return of Lykes and McGusty, Jim Larranaga has his best players back. He also adds Brooks and Olaniyi as transfers who will make immediate impacts. Realistically, Miami has been depleted for two seasons but now returns nearly everyone and adds some good players. The Hurricanes should step back into the ACC spotlight and try to contend for a conference title. While they still seem to be a piece or two short, they are significantly better from last year.

4. Florida State Seminoles

Key Returners: Raiquan Gray, Anthony Polite, Balsa Koprivica, Malik Osborne, MJ Walker

Key Losses: Trent Forrest, Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell

Key Newcomers: Scottie Barnes

The Seminoles are loaded. There are few teams that can lose their three best players and still be in contention for a title. The losses of Forrest, Vassell, and Williams will hurt, but Barnes is one heck of a replacement. Barnes is the most underrated recruit in college basketball. He is going to wreak havoc in the ACC with his high motor and skillset. If the Seminoles can shoot it, they will be very tough to beat. As always, Leonard Hamilton is going to play 10 to 13 guys so several players will have the opportunity to step up.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Returners: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black

Key Losses: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson

Key Newcomers: Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, RJ Davis, Puff Johnson, Kerwin Walton

North Carolina is one of the teams that is being significantly underrated this season. Yes, they were terrible last season. However, they add the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation and keep two of their four best players from last season. Brooks and Bacot formed one of the best frontcourts last season and now Roy Williams adds Sharpe and Kessler to that mix. Love will be one of the best point guards in the country and the other freshmen are just gravy on top. The question for this team will be who gets the minutes. Obviously, there is a ton of talent but how that talent is assembled on the court and in big moments is important. Regardless, there is no reason the Tar Heels should not be right back in the mix this season.

2. Virginia Cavaliers

Key Returners: Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, Casey Morsell, Kody Stattmann, Tomas Woldetensae

Key Losses: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key

Key Newcomers: Sam Hauser (Marquette), Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Reece Beekman, Carson McCorkle

The Cavaliers are a projected top-five team from anyone that covers college basketball. Admittedly, I am more skeptical than most about this team, but in Tony Bennett we trust. Undoubtedly, Hauser will be the best transfer in the nation and will be in contention for Player of the Year. Returning Clark and Huff is also key. However, the loss of Diakite is bigger than it seems. This Cavaliers defense is going to be just a touch worse than usual. The offense can definitely make up for it, but someone needs to help Hauser. If Clark or Morsell or any of the freshmen can make an impact offensively, the Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the nation. If not, then the Cavaliers will lose more than expected. Bennett is a wizard so expect them to contend.

1. Duke Blue Devils

Key Returners: Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire, Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore

Key Losses: Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley, Vernon Carey Jr.

Key Newcomers: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, Jaemyn Brakefield, Mark Williams, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape (Columbia)

The Blue Devils reloaded and replenished as they do every season. Undoubtedly, losing the ACC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year is rough, to say the least. However, this recruiting class can be very special. Johnson and Roach are the popular names to watch for this group. Roach looks to continue the success of Jones and Johnson will try to be the next star from Durham to be a high lottery pick. In addition, Steward, Brakefield, and Williams can all play major roles and help this Blue Devil team deep into March. With the return of Hurt and Moore, Duke has a nice mix of experience and talent. Expectations are quite high in Durham and this team has major 2015 Duke vibes.

ACC Awards Predictions

Player of the Year: Sam Hauser

I tried to be different here but it is tough. Duke and North Carolina have so many options that they all will minimize the chances of winning this award. Hauser seems to have the best chance and has the talent to back it up.

Rookie of the Year: Scottie Barnes

As I mentioned, Barnes is fantastic, but he also has the best chance to have the ball in his hands constantly. Duke and North Carolina each have six freshmen that will cannibalize each other’s chances at this award.

Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett

You can pick any of the top four coaches here. Bennett has been the most consistent in recent history so I am taking the easy way out here. A coach outside the top four that can earn some consideration is Brad Brownell.

All-ACC First Team: Sam Hauser, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Johnson, Aamir Simms, Jose Alvarado

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