The 2021-22 NCAA basketball season begins shortly, and LWOS continues its coverage of the season with its 2021-22 ACC basketball preview. The ACC was in an interesting situation last year. Duke underperformed, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech surprised, and Virginia continued its dominance. This year should be interesting. Duke is facing pressure with loads of new talent, UNC has to adjust to a new coach, and no one knows how Florida State and Virginia will perform. I believe only one team has a chance to win the National Championship, but who knows what will happen?
2021-22 ACC Basketball Preview
15. Boston College Eagles
Crucial Returners: Makai Ashton-Langford, DeMarr Langford Jr., Frederick Scott, James Karnik
Critical Losses: Wynston Tabbs, Jay Heath, CJ Felder, Rich Kelly
Key Newcomers: Brevin Galloway (Charleston), T.J. Bickerstaff (Drexel), Quinten Post (Mississippi State), Gianni Thompson
Boston College will probably not be very good. New AD Patrick Kraft opted for youth as his head coach, choosing former Charleston coach Earl Grant. Grant plays a slower pace similar to Virginia, which should differ from the older Boston College teams under Jim Christian. Galloway, Langford, and Ashton-Langford should form a nice backcourt trio, but after those three, Boston College is going to be an interesting team. For example, Scott and Karnik, BC’s two big men, were exposed by the other bigs of the ACC. Will Grant coach them to their defensive potential? Only time will tell.
A player to look out for is freshman Gianni Thompson, who’s 6’8″ and has a nice shot, possibly giving the Eagles a mismatch at the PF position. He may not work out this year, but he can give Boston College a star player in the future. While the Eagles will definitely not be at the top of the ACC, they could be in the middle of the pack, something they haven’t felt in a while.
14. Pittsburgh Panthers
Crucial Returners: Femi Odukale, Ithiel Horton, Nike Sibande
Critical Losses: Justin Champagnie, Xavier Johnson, Au’Diese Toney
Key Newcomers: Daniel Oladapo (Oakland), Jamarius Burton (Texas Tech), Mouhamadou Gueye (Stony Brook)
Pittsburgh seems to be stuck in mediocrity. The Panthers were 8-3 last season before being hit with various injuries and COVID, ending the season 10-12. Champagnie was an emerging threat in the ACC, and Toney and Johnson provided a nice backup for the Panthers. Then all three left the program, leaving Pitt to wonder what will happen.
This continued cycle of mediocrity will continue this season because Pittsburgh lost three good talents in Champagnie, Johnson, and Toney; furthermore, coach Jeff Capel did very little to add talent to this depleted roster. Oladapo should be a decent transfer for Pitt, giving them nice defense, but the returning players add some value. Horton and Sibande need to find more consistency in order to truly be threats, and Gueye and Burton could be hit or miss for Pittsburgh. Gueye should add more defensive presence as he averaged 3.1 BPG at Stony Brook, and Burton proved to be a serviceable guard on Wichita State’s tournament team. However, this team seems to be in disarray. Using the words of Mike Vukovcan, a reporter from Pittsburgh Sports Now, “Jeff Capel needs to get a better control of his program.”
13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Crucial Returners: Daivien Williamson, Carter Whitt, Isaiah Mucius
Critical Losses: Ian Dubose, Jonah Antonio
Key Newcomers: Alondes Williams (Oklahoma), Dallas Walton (Colorado), Jake LaRavia (Indiana State), Khadim Sy (Ole Miss)
Last year was pretty bad for Wake Forest; the Demon Deacons lost its last eight games. Wake Forest was also atrocious on both sides of the ball, and Steve Forbes is looking to change that awful play. Forbes wants Wake Forest to play like his old East Tennessee State teams, physical and with size. Forbes helped build this thinking by adding Williams, Walton, and Sy, who are all three good defenders. LaRavia is able to bully down low and possibly shoot the three for Forbes. Forbes’ established players are the main question with the Demon Deacons.
Whitt wasn’t good as a point guard last year, meaning that Williamson will have to help him with the ballhandling. It will be interesting to see how Whitt develops because he is talented; however, he is a young guard, meaning he is prone to mistakes. If he isn’t good, Williamson should be a reliable option, similar to how he was great at ETSU for Forbes. Simply put, the Demon Deacons may disappoint in the beginning of the season; however, they should slowly improve as the season progresses. They are young, and come the beginning of the ACC season, the Demon Deacons could be a hard play for teams.
12. Clemson Tigers
Crucial Returners: Al-Amir Dawes, PJ Hall, Nick Honor, Hunter Tyson, Alex Hemenway
Critical Losses: Aamir Simms, Jonathan Baehre, Clyde Trapp
Key Newcomers: David Collins (USF), Naz Bohannon (Youngstown State)
Brad Brownell is always determined to make Clemson a defensive machine, but the offense has always been lacking. Losing Aamir Simms does not help the offense for the Tigers. Hall will need to become the first option for the Tigers, but he was average in the 2020 season. Bohannon could be a Simms like player, but he needs to improve his skillset in order to be dominant for the Tigers. Dawes, Honor, and Collins could form a nice perimeter shooting trio, and Tyson proved to be an option from deep. If he is able to become a viable threat for the Tigers, Clemson could be better than 12th. However, at the moment, Clemson is 12th because no one really knows what this team will be. The Tigers also have been underestimated in previous seasons and have overachieved, which is why they’re ranked above the bottom three teams.
11: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Crucial Returners: Michael Devoe, Bubba Parham, Jordan Usher, Khalid Moore
Critical Losses: Moses Wright, Jose Alvarado
Key Newcomers: Dallan Coleman, Miles Kelly, Deivon Smith (Mississippi State)
Everyone fell in love with Josh Pastner’s team last year. They went from losing to Georgia State and Mercer to winning the ACC tournament and making the NCAA Tournament. However, Georgia Tech lost its two best players in Wright and Alvarado but has Devoe to help score the ball. Parham and Usher are also returning, but they’ve been so inconsistent that no one knows how those two will produce. Coleman and Kelly could instantly produce for the Yellow Jackets as freshmen. Time will tell how those two produce for Georgia Tech. Smith is another enigma for Georgia Tech. He may not have produced at Mississippi State, but he was invited to the USA U19 tryouts, meaning scouts see potential in him. Unfortunately, the Yellow Jackets have no one to replicate Wright’s interior defense, which will hurt them in the future.
Will Georgia Tech be serviceable? Yes. Will they be a fun basketball team to watch? Yes. But they will not crack the upper half of the loaded ACC. It’s too difficult.
10: Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Crucial Returners: Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, Anthony Walker, Harlond Beverly
Critical Losses: Chris Lykes, Elijah Olaniyi, Nysier Brooks, Matt Cross, Earl Timberlake
Key Newcomers: Charlie Moore (DePaul), Jordan Miller (George Mason), Jakai Robinson, Bensley Joseph
There seems to be a tie between the Hurricanes and NC State for 9th place; however, North Carolina State seems more well rounded. Miami is a good team, but there just seems to be a piece missing from coach Jim Larranga’s roster.
Wong could be a First Team All-ACC player, but is the cast around him enough to be formidable in the ACC? Beverly needs to address his jumpshot before he can be a key contributor, but Moore should be able to fill in for Beverly if needed. Moore was pretty good at DePaul and should be a nice replacement for the Hurricanes. Robinson and Joseph should be able to provide some depth for the Hurricanes in case of injuries, which destroyed the U’s season last year. Miller is also a nice wing piece for Larranga, averaging 15 points at George Mason. The center position seems grim as the projected starter is Rodney Miller, but that could possibly change. Anything is possible in college basketball. However, it is expected that the Hurricanes will be in the middle of the ACC, a recent mainstay for them.
9: North Carolina State Wolfpack
Crucial Returners: Cam Hayes, Thomas Allen, Jericole Hellems, Manny Bates, Dereon Seabron
Critical Losses: DJ Funderburk, Devon Daniels, Braxton Beverly
Key Newcomers: Casey Morsell (Virginia), Greg Gantt (Providence), Ernest Ross, Terquavion Smith
Kevin Keatts is an enigma when it comes to college basketball. His teams are very good, but last year was an outlier as Keatts was forced to run a seven-man rotation, which is not optimal for the defense he runs. Hayes will be a key component for the Wolfpack as he has developed his shot while looking like an elite playmaker. Hellems will be another crucial part of this team as he was excellent after Daniels, NC State’s star player was injured. Bates, also known as “the Sultan of Swats,” will be the big man that Keatts needs in his defense. The Wolfpack also has two freshmen with tons of upside in Smith and Ross, possibly giving NC State some elite talent in the future. Ross could especially be lethal as he is 6’9″ and has a nice shot as seen in this video.
NC State has a lot of depth that could be beneficial in the long February/early March portion of the season. However, I think there are teams better than them in the ACC. This ranking really depends on how the players with the most upside perform.
8: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Crucial Returners: Prentiss Hubb, Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, Cormac Ryan, Trey Wertz
Critical Losses: Juwan Durham
Key Newcomers: Paul Atkinson (Yale), Blake Wesley
Mike Brey’s season ended with a disappointing and quite ugly 59-101 loss in the ACC tournament against North Carolina. Now he tries to rejuvenate the Fighting Irish while revamping their defensive scheme under assistant coach Anthony Solomon. According to ND Rivals, Solomon’s defensive scheme propelled Baylor and Texas Tech to national championship appearances. Can the Irish figure out this defense after being historically dreadful on the defensive end? Time will tell, but for now the Irish are gifted offensively. Atkinson should be a menace down low while Brey surrounds him with four amazing shooters. Hubb could be First-Team All-ACC, and Ryan and Goodwin project to be amazing three point shooters. Laszewski and Wertz could also be lethal from three. Maybe Robby Carmody doesn’t get hurt and gives Notre Dame even more shooting depth.
If the defensive scheme works out for the Irish, they could be a top ACC team. However, this change won’t happen instantly, leaving Notre Dame in the middle of the pack.
7: Louisville Cardinals
Crucial Returners: Samuell Williamson, Jae’lyn Withers, Malik Williams, Dre Davis
Critical Losses: Carlik Jones, David Johnson
Key Newcomers: Elbert Ellis (JUCO), Jarrod West (Marshall), Noah Locke (Florida), Matt Cross (Miami FL), Roosevelt Wheeler, Michael James, Sydney Curry (JUCO)
The talent is there for Louisville. Despite losing his two best players, Chris Mack somehow restocked his team with the best JUCO player in Ellis and some amazing talent. So why is Louisville 7th? Simply put, I believe Chris Mack will be the downfall of this team. There were reports of him threatening to revoke scholarships from his players, and footage of him cursing his players became public. To further the Mack issues, he was suspended for six games, leaving this team without its head coach. But one cannot ignore the talent on the hardwood.
Ellis shot 42% from 3 while averaging 18 points in JUCO. If Mack, or whoever the coach is, utilizes him in a pick and roll, he could be lethal. Locke and West should also help provide shooting for the team, something Mack loves to do with his team. Even Cross can shoot the ball for the Cardinals, giving this team flexibility around the wing. Williamson could be poised for a breakout season, but time will only tell depending on how many opportunities he gets. It’d be amazing to see Williamson become a major player in the ACC, but with such a loaded team, will he get those opportunities? On top of those questions, Louisville also has t0 address its glaring issue with the center position. Williams is returning from an injury, but Mack seemed anxious about reintegrating him.
When looking at the remaining six teams, Louisville stacks up with them talent wise. However, the controversy surrounding the Cardinals seems destined to weigh them down. One can hope this doesn’t happen because a boatload of amazing players will miss the NCAA Tournament.
6: Syracuse Orange
Crucial Returners: Buddy Boeheim, Joseph Girard, Jesse Edwards
Critical Losses: Quincy Guerrier, Alan Griffin, Marek Dolezaj, Kadary Richmond
Key Newcomers: Jimmy Boeheim (Cornell), Benny Williams
One last ride for the Boeheim boys. It’s another time for ‘Cuse to be on the bubble, get an 11th seed, and then bust everyone’s brackets by knocking off some #3 seed. Jim Boeheim seems determined to lead his team to another magical season. Buddy Boeheim is coming off of a great tournament and is a crucial part of Syracuse’s good shooting core. Jimmy Boeheim may not be a better shooter than his brother, but he is no slouch, averaging 16 points at Cornell. Adding Cole Swider will help Syracuse space the floor. He was pretty good when Villanova used him as part of the offense. Girard should help with the playmaking duties and is looking to improve his shooting percentages, giving Syracuse even more shooting depth.
Williams should be able to make an impact as a freshman, possessing a wide arsenal of skills. He’s athletic, can shoot, and is able to become a playmaker when needed. He shouldn’t be relied on to be the primary option, but after Buddy is gone, he can take over the load. Edwards expects to be the defensive anchor the Orange need in order to be successful although no one is sure if that is a possibility. Syracuse definitely has talent, but do the Orange have enough of it in order to be successful? Only time will tell.
5: Virginia Cavaliers
Crucial Returners: Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Kadin Shedrick, Kody Stattmann
Critical Losses: Trey Murphy, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, Thomas Woldetensae
Key Newcomers: Jayden Gardner (East Carolina), Armaan Franklin (Indiana), Taine Murray, Igor Milicic Jr.
While Tony Bennett may not always have the most exciting teams to watch, he consistently produces great teams. This year should be no exception for the Cavaliers, but the only problem is Virginia could suffer from an early-season skid. Virginia lost its best three scorers in Huff, Hauser, and Murphy, but it gained two decent players in Gardner and Franklin. Will the production of those two match the previous production? Will Kihei Clark step up into a bigger role? These questions will have to be answered throughout the season.
Gardner is a physical player, something Bennett said was needed. He should be able to pair nicely at a variety of positions, giving this team some sort of identity. The center position looks questionable with Shedrick slated to take over for Huff, but Shedrick is an unproven talent. The wing depth is also lacking. Bennett is forced to rely on Franklin, Murray, Milicic, and Stattman. Franklin does give Bennett a shooter as Franklin shot 42% from 3. Clark and Beekman will be the backcourt for the Cavaliers, and Bennett will rely on them to distribute the ball to the proper players. Clark has experience, and Beekman is slated to a breakout season. Will Virginia guards be able to carry this squad to a good ACC record?
4: Virginia Tech Hokies
Crucial Returners: Nahiem Alleyne, Hunter Cattoor, Keve Aluma, Justyn Mutts
Critical Losses: Tyrece Radford, Jalen Cone, Cartier Diarra, Cordell Pemsl
Key Newcomers: Storm Murphy (Wofford)
As noted in the “Pandemic Profiles: Virginia Tech Basketball Has a Meaningful Season,” Virginia Tech exceeded expectations, earning a bid into the NCAA tournament. Mike Young has a team that could compete for the ACC Championship. It is very unlikely to happen, but anything can happen in college basketball. Losing Diarra and Radford hurts for the Hokies, but three of Virginia Tech’s top four leading scorers returned to school. Murphy seems poised to blossom in Young’s offense. This gives Virginia Tech an outstanding point guard. Surrounding Murphy is talented players such as Cattoor, Alleyne, and Mutts, but the key to success for the Hokies is Aluma. Murphy, Cattoor, and Alleyne all shot over 40% from 3 last season, giving Young a potentially dangerous backcourt.
Losing Radford to Texas A&M definitely hurts the Hokies. With Radford, they could be a legitimate threat to the upper echelon of ACC teams. However, Aluma seems like the best option to replace Radford. He is a fantastic scorer and is able to space the floor, meaning Virginia Tech has an abundance of shooters. Using Aluma in an inside-out style of offense should let him flourish, As long as he’s scoring, Virginia Tech should be able to compete or win in basketball games. It all depends on how Young utilizes his talent.
3: Florida State Seminoles
Crucial Returners: Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, RayQuan Evans, Wyatt Wilkes
Critical Losses: Raiquan Gray, M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Balsa Koprivica
Key Newcomers: Caleb Mills (Houston), Cam’Ron Fletcher (Kentucky), Jalen Warley, Matthew Cleveland, John Butler, Naheem McLeod (JUCO)
Leonard Hamilton always has great teams. Florida State lost incredible talents like Barnes, Gray, and Walker, yet the Seminoles reloaded. The new talent is amazing, and they should help Florida State as soon as possible. Cleveland has been called the best finisher in the freshman class; Warley reportedly has an advanced feel for the game. These traits help Hamilton reload his rotation after it was gutted last year. Mills transferred from Houston and hopes to replicate Walker’s 42% three-point percentage. He is streaky, but he can score in much-needed bunches for the Seminoles. Fletcher oozes potential. Hopefully Hamilton will be able to unlock it, something John Calipari couldn’t do. Polite and Evans look to bring veteran leadership to the team.
Evans is a dependable player for the Seminoles, but expect Polite to break out this season. He will be given the keys to the offense, and with a high basketball IQ, the options are limitless. Florida State also features three centers over seven feet tall. Hamilton should be able to rotate between all three, giving Florida State the option to dominate down low. Osborne compliments these big men by providing the Seminoles with a stretch forward. The rest of the team should be able to attack the paint with Osborne on the court. Florida State has all the tools to compete with North Carolina and Duke for the ACC Championship. While the Seminoles may not be able to compete, they will definitely be a top 25 team.
2: North Carolina Tar Heels
Crucial Returners: Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, RJ Davis, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson
Critical Losses: Garrison Brooks, Walker Kessler, Day’Ron Sharpe
Key Newcomers: Brady Manek (Oklahoma), Dawson Garcia (Marquette), Justin McKoy (Virginia), D’Marco Dunn, Dontrez Styles
This season will be a test for new head coach Hubert Davis. He was an excellent bench coach under Roy Williams, but head coaching is a whole new venture. However, North Carolina has the talent to be good. Love was meh as a freshman guard, but he seems to be surrounded by talent that should help him. Love should be surrounded by Harris, Davis, and Dunn, who all give North Carolina the ability to space the floor. This should help Love have a better sophomore season. While there’s an abundance of guards, this is Armando Bacot’s chance to shine. There’s no Kessler, Brooks, or Sharpe to compete with him, so he’ll be able to dominate down low. When the calendar turned March, Bacot turned into a different man.
New transfers Garcia and Manek should create an instant impact for the Tar Heels. Garcia was excellent at Marquette, and he can only grow under Davis. Manek also has defensive and interior scoring potential. McKoy should be able to backup Black as he’s a hybrid forward. Black seems poised to improve from his 2020-21 campaign as he is versatile on defense and has offensive potential. This roster has so much depth. Davis has absolutely no chance at failing in his first season. However, Love and Bacot are what could take the Tar Heels from top-five ACC team to ACC champions. Those Duke vs UNC games should be can’t miss.
1: Duke Blue Devils
Crucial Returners: Wendell Moore, Jeremy Roach, Mark Williams, Joey Baker
Critical Losses: Matthew Hurt, DJ Steward, Jalen Johnson
Key Newcomers: Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels, Theo John (Marquette), Bates Jones (Davidson), Jaylen Blakes
It’s the Mike Krzyzewski retirement tour, and the expectations on Duke’s shoulders are large. Will Jon Scheyer slowly take over or will Coach K try to fully coach one final run? Banchero is the gem in Duke’s loaded recruiting class, and many analysts have him being an impact player for Duke. He’s 6’11” and has an over 40 inch vertical and isn’t afraid to dominate as seen in this video. He’s improved his shooting but will also be a menace in the paint. He could be more dominant than Zion Williamson, which would be amazing for the Blue Devils. Not having Hurt hurts the Blue Devils as his outside shooting gave the Blue Devils something they usually lack. Moore seems to have improved his jumpshot, but no one truly knows if he can improve upon his 28% three-point percentage.
If he can, then it’s a monumental win for the Blue Devils. Blake and Roach help increase that shooting percentage as well, but Duke is always known for destroying opponents in the paint and through defense. Griffin seemed to be a defender that could guard multiple positions, but a recent knee sprain takes him out for the foreseeable future. Keels will help replace Griffin as he is also a Swiss Army Knife type defender. Baker will also have to fill in for Griffin, leaving Duke incredibly thin at the forward position; however, Duke has such amazing talent that the Blue Devils will be a can’t miss team. Williams and John will be the bullies in the paint for the Blue Devils. Williams found his footing late in the season, so he should be able to grow under the Blue Devils.
Duke will have to succeed with this abundance of talent. Anything less tarnishes Coach K.
ACC Awards Predictions
Player of the Year: Paolo Banchero
Freshman of the Year: Paolo Banchero
Banchero has the size, feel, and skill. He can play every position, something K plans on having him do. Banchero has the skill to drive into traffic, the basketball IQ to read the defense, and the physical tools to either finish or whip a pass to the corner in a second’s time. He is a little more skilled than Zion Williamson, which is a great sign because Williamson dominated in his lone season at Duke. If he can live up to Zion’s level of production, Banchero is an easy choice for Player and Freshman of the Year.
Coach of the Year: Mike Young
If Virginia Tech lives up to its potential, Mike Young will be the ACC Coach of the Year. He overachieved last year, and this year’s talent is better. He will help Aluma become an All-ACC First Team player and will help Storm Murphy become a household name in the ACC. I could see Coach K getting the award if Duke performs well and as a legacy award. However, I feel that Young will be awarded for leading Virginia Tech to a top-four or three ACC finish. Mike Brey could also be a potential candidate for the award if Notre Dame becomes a defensive machine, but the chances of that happening are quite slim.
All-ACC First Team: Buddy Boeheim, Isaiah Wong, Keve Aluma, Paolo Banchero, Armando Bacot
Embed from Getty Images