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2011-12 ACC Preview

November 4, 2011 Columns No Comments

Entering last season, Duke was the clear favorite to win the national title. The Blue Devils’ Tobacco Road rivals figured to be No. 2 in the conference as North Carolina had some proven talent. But the Tar Heels would need to rely on a bunch of freshmen to reach their potential and they didn’t seem to be a serious threat to the Blue Devils’ veteran lineup that added a couple of great freshmen.

By the end of the season, we learned that North Carolina’s youngsters were more than ready to rise to the challenge, and the Tar Heels upstaged Duke in conference play to win the ACC title. Duke earned the higher seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but North Carolina advanced further.

If history repeats itself this season, the title-hungry Tar Heels will be left mired in disappointment while a young Duke squad exceeds expectations in conference and NCAA Tournament action. The Blue Devils must replace the production of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving, partially with the services of Austin Rivers, who might be the top incoming freshman. Much like North Carolina last season, we don’t know how good this Duke team will be. But with coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm, there’s little doubt that Duke will be one of the toughest outs in the conference and a legitimate contender to capture this season’s conference title.

Although North Carolina and Duke have programs built around rock-solid coaches, only two other ACC programs have coaches who have led their teams longer than two seasons: Virginia Tech and Florida State. Seth Greenberg and Leonard Hamilton, respectively, will look to keep their teams in the top half of the conference.

Meanwhile, the newbies at Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami and North Carolina State look to build on some strong returning talent. The Hurricanes’ Jim Larranaga has possibly the best situation with what could be the best returning backcourt in the conference to pair with one of the conference’s biggest human beings in Reggie Johnson. The massive center is recovering from a foot injury that will likely keep him out until the new year. But when he gets back to game speed, Miami has a chance to compete with Duke and North Carolina at the top of the ACC standings.

And this might be the year to get it done in Miami as the university is still sorting out punishments for the malfeasance orchestrated by former booster Nevin Shapiro. His reach included the men’s basketball program, and Larranaga might not have a full complement of scholarships for much longer.

If things go south near South Beach for Larranaga, Maryland’s new coach, Mark Turgeon, might have the best situation. The Terrapins have one of the premier programs in the ACC — and in the entire country. Located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Maryland resides in fertile recruiting grounds, and Turgeon is already working hard to establish a pipeline of talent from local squads to College Park.

At the other end of the standings, Boston College will likely struggle in Year 2 of the Steve Donahue era. The Eagles lost more than any other team in the conference, with Reggie Jackson’s graduation marking the biggest loss. He emerged as a bona fide superstar in the ACC. The Eagles will be competing with Wake Forest to avoid the cellar.

Of course, we’d be remiss to end this conference preview without mentioning a continuing story line that has dominated headlines this off-season: conference realignment. Amid the musical chairs of conference affiliation, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be joining the ACC sometime in the next two to three years. Before it’s all said and done, Connecticut might be following the Huskies’ top Big East rivals into the ACC. As of right now, an ACC that included the Orange, Panthers and Huskies would claim eight of the past 11 national champs.

Let’s get to the outlook for 2011-12.

Predicted order of finish:

  1. North Carolina
  2. Duke
  3. Miami
  4. Clemson
  5. Florida State
  6. Virginia
  7. Virginia Tech
  8. North Carolina State
  9. Georgia Tech
  10. Maryland
  11. Wake Forest
  12. Boston College

Player of the Year: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina

1st Team All-ACC:
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Terrell Stoglin, Maryland
Mike Scott, Virginia
John Henson, North Carolina
Durand Scott, Miami

2nd Team All-ACC:
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Glen Rice Jr, Georgia Tech
C.J. Leslie, NC State

3rd Team All-ACC:
Milton Jennings, Clemson
Reggie Johnson, Miami
Richard Howell, NC State
Sammy Zeglinski, Virginia
Austin Rivers, Duke

Freshman of the Year: Austin Rivers, Duke

All-Freshman Team:
Austin Rivers, Duke
Ryan Anderson, Boston College
Quinn Cook, Duke
P.J. Hairston, North Carolina
Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech

Defensive Player of the Year: John Henson, North Carolina

All-Defensive Team:
John Henson, North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Bernard James, Florida State
Richard Howell, NC State
Reggie Johnson, Miami

Coach of the Year: Jim Larranaga, Miami


Coaching changes:

Georgia Tech: Replaced Paul Hewitt with Brian Gregory
Maryland: Replaced Gary Williams with Mark Turgeon
Miami: Replaced Frank Haith with Jim Larranaga
NC State: Replaced Sidney Lowe with Mark Gottfried

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