Although several ACC squads had disappointing final results, Duke emerged as the national champ to reaffirm that the conference’s best is always a title contender.
When the season started, we expected Duke to emerge as a national championship contender if the Big Three – Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith – could lead the Blue Devils night in and night out without wearing down.
In November, that seemed like a tall order because the Blue Devils just didn’t have much depth behind those perimeter players. But Scheyer, Singler and Smith fulfilled their potential by carrying Duke to its fourth national championship under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
In the past, Duke has earned its reputation as one of the most hated teams in the country because the national media dwell on every game – much like the media painfully did this season with North Carolina as the Tar Heels crumbled without Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. But for some reason, there was no hype surrounding this Blue Devils squad. Somehow, Coach K’s team flew under the radar while Kansas, Kentucky and the entire Big East captured the majority of the national coverage.
In the end, Duke proved that its regular-season success wasn’t only the product of a down year in the ACC. The Blue Devils weren’t just the conference’s best team; they were the nation’s best team. Duke had to take down Cinderella – aka Butler – to claim that title. And in the process, the Blue Devils and Bulldogs delivered one of the most thrilling national title games of the past decade.
Few people seriously expected North Carolina to repeat as national champions. But they almost did – if you count the NIT winner as a national champion. After an utterly disastrous regular season that saw the Tar Heels fall apart because of injuries and inexperience, North Carolina pulled things together in the NIT to make a run to the championship game, which the Tar Heels lost to Dayton.
With North Carolina falling from the ACC’s elite, Maryland moved up the conference’s caste system. Fiery guard Greivis Vasquez sparked the Terrapins to a share of the regular-season title. Unfortunately, Maryland peaked about two weeks too early when the Terrapins won a thriller against the Blue Devils in College Park in early March. After that, Maryland failed to win two consecutive games, ending in a second-round defeat to No. 5-seed Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.
Four other teams joined Duke and Maryland in the NCAA Tournament: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Like Maryland, none of them won more than one game in the tournament.
Outside Duke, the conference lacked a second legitimate powerhouse. If that’s your definition of a down year, then yes, the ACC was down. But the bottom of the conference proved to be better than the cellar dwellers of nearly every other conference, as demonstrated by unlikely ACC Tournament runs by Miami and North Carolina State.
Here’s a recap of the 2009-10 season for ACC teams.
Final 2009-10 Standings
|Duke Blue Devils||35-5||13-3|
|Virginia Tech Hokies||25-9||10-6|
|Florida State Seminoles||22-10||10-6|
|Wake Forest Demon Deacons||20-11||9-7|
|Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets||23-13||7-9|
|Boston College Eagles||15-16||6-10|
|North Carolina Tar Heels||20-17||5-11|
|North Carolina State Wolfpack||20-16||5-11|
The ACC Tournament was a harbinger of the NCAA Tournament, with five major upsets in 11 games. But at the end of the tournament, Duke was cutting down the nets.
The Blue Devils won their second-consecutive conference title and ninth since 1999 by beating No. 7-seed Georgia Tech 65-61. Duke’s difficult run against seemingly overmatched opponents – No. 9-seed Virginia, No. 12-seed Miami and the Yellow Jackets – prepared the Blue Devils for a hard-fought run to the national title in the NCAA Tournament. Georgia Tech sealed its bid to the NCAA Tournament with an impressive run that included an upset of No. 2-seed Maryland.
No. 11-seed North Carolina State and No. 12-seed Miami provided the biggest upsets of the conference tournament. The Wolfpack opened the tournament by nipping No. 6-seed Clemson 59-57 and then beating No. 3-seed Florida State 58-52. The Hurricanes overcame a bad ACC regular season by upsetting No. 5-seed Wake Forest and No. 4-seed Virginia Tech. Duke was the only team seeded No. 6 or better to win even a single conference tournament game.
Hoopville’s All-ACC Awards
Player of the Year: Jon Scheyer, Duke
Rookie of the Year: Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
Defensive Player of the Year: Solomon Alabi, Florida State
Coach of the Year: Gary Williams, Maryland
Jon Scheyer, Duke
Greivis Vasquez, Maryland
Kyle Singler, Duke
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
Sylven Landesberg, Virginia
Nolan Smith, Duke
Tracy Smith, North Carolina State
Trevor Booker, Clemson
Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech
Joe Trapani, Boston College
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
Jeff Allen, Virginia Tech
Ed Davis, North Carolina
Solomon Alabi, Florida State
8 Things We Saw Coming
1. Duke won a share of the regular season championship and then dominated the conference tournament.
2. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Maryland joined the Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament.
3. But none of those four advanced far in the tournament.
4. Virginia struggled under new coach Tony Bennett, who put the brakes on the Cavaliers’ pace to one of the slowest tempos in the conference.
5. Miami dropped toward the bottom of the conference with an influx of young talent, such as Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant.
6. Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez went head-to-head with Duke’s best player, Jon Scheyer, for the conference’s Player of the Year award.
7. Virginia Tech established one of the best backcourts in the country with Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson – and the juniors look ready to dominate next season if Delaney backs out of the NBA Draft.
8. Florida State’s defensive prowess was remarkably better than the team’s offensive prowess, and it was just enough to carry the Seminoles to an NCAA Tournament bid.
8 Things We Thought We’d See
1. North Carolina was supposed to compete for second place in the conference, but instead finished tied for second worst.
2. The Tar Heels seemed ready to compete with seniors like Marcus Ginyard in the lineup. But Ginyard couldn’t stay healthy for a second consecutive season, and injuries helped derail the Tar Heels’ season.
3. We expected Duke’s highly-touted freshman recruit Mason Plumlee to be a factor. He ended up with 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per game.
4. Likewise, Clemson’s Milton Jennings saw even less time, averaging 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.2 minutes per game.
5. Wake Forest is usually an offensive juggernaut. But the Demon Deacons struggled on offense despite the presence of a veteran point guard, Ishmael Smith, and talented post players like Al-Farouq Aminu, Chas McFarland and Tony Woods.
6. Georgia Tech point guard Iman Shumpert focused on playing under more control. But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t significantly cut down on their turnovers, committing 16.4 turnovers per game this season compared to 16.8 last season.
7. Usually tough and consistent Boston College remained tough but was anything but consistent, losing five ACC games by double digits.
8. The ACC is traditionally a showcase for electric offense. But only three teams finished in the top 40 in offensive efficiency.
8 Things We Didn’t See Coming
1. Once again, North Carolina stunk. Yes, expectations were too high. Yes, injuries always hurt. But this team looked lost and occasionally apathetic, which utterly baffled coach Roy Williams.
2. Wake Forest exceeded expectations on defense, which had been the team’s bugaboo for several years.
3. Despite the strong defense and a return to the NCAA Tournament, the Demon Deacons axed Dino Gaudio because of his lack of post-season success.
4. Clemson and Boston College also had to find new coaches after Oliver Purnell shockingly bolted for DePaul and the Eagles parted ways with Al Skinner.
5. On the court, the midseason maturation of Duke’s Brian Zoubek was the unlikely catalyst for the Blue Devils’ ascension from contender to champion.
6. Virginia Tech once again proved that you cannot discount a Seth Greenberg-coached team, which finished third in the conference.
7. Quite a few ACC teams – namely, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech – channeled their inner Big 10 spirit and devoted far more energy to defense than offense.
8. Maryland jumped from the middle of the pack to near the top of the ACC thanks to another dominating season from Vasquez and just enough support from the rest of the team to consistently beat down ACC foes.
Teams of the Rise
We should just leave the Hokies in this category each season, unless Greenberg take another job.
Virginia Tech finished third in the ACC this season and just missed the NCAA Tournament because of a weak non-conference schedule and lack of quality wins. If Greenberg lines up more worthy non-conference foes, the Hokies will build a stronger résumé for the 2011 tournament. They certainly will have the lineup to do so.
The Hokies lose only Lewis Witcher to graduation. A veteran lineup anchored by Delaney – assuming he doesn’t stay in the NBA Draft – Hudson, Jeff Allen, J.T. Thompson and Terrell Bell could become the favorite to challenge Duke for next season’s conference championship.
The Seminoles remain here as long as Alabi decides to return to school instead of entering the NBA Draft. If he comes back to Tallahassee, the Seminoles will remain one of the best defensive teams in the country. And they have to get better on offense, right?
Florida State was just abysmal offensively for much of the season, committing nearly 17 turnovers per game. The Seminoles struggled as a team to hit shots when they didn’t turn it over. From three-point range, Florida State shot only 33.5 percent, and from the free throw line, the Seminoles were only 64.4 percent.
Thanks to a run to the NIT championship game, the Tar Heels salvaged a disastrous season and inspired hope for next season.
In particular, Larry Drew II finally looked capable of running the Tar Heels’ offense, which should be more powerful next season. Freshmen Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland must become better long-range shooters. If they don’t, incoming freshmen Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall will challenge them for playing time. One reason the Tar Heels struggled this season is teams didn’t need to respect their outside shooting. That shouldn’t be true next season, which will open the lane for Ed Davis (if he returns, as he declared for the NBA Draft), Tyler Zeller, the Wear twins and John Henson.
With so much talent on this roster, it’s hard to imagine that North Carolina won’t be on the rise from a 10th-place finish.
Teams on the Decline
The Terrapins took advantage of their window of opportunity. With the implosion in Chapel Hill, there was a gaping void after Duke at the top of the standings, and Maryland stepped up to fill it.
But with the graduation of Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, the Terrapins will lose three players who averaged at least 30 minutes per game and accounted for 54.7 percent of the team’s scoring and 67.3 percent of the team’s assists.
Coach Gary Williams has been reluctant to trust his bench in recent seasons. He won’t have a choice next season when those bench players become starters.
Coach Tony Bennett will get a fresh start after his first season with the Cavaliers because seven players who began the season are leaving the program.
Although Bennett has an opportunity to shape this team as he desires, it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers improving significantly without Sylven Landesberg, who averaged 17.3 points per game for a team that struggled to score. He accounted for more than one-quarter of the team’s points.
Besides Landesberg, Bennett will need to replace the production of Calvin Baker, Jerome Meyinsse, Soloman Tat, Jeff Jones and Tristan Spurlock.
The Demon Deacons shocked everyone by firing Dino Gaudio and replacing him with Jeff Bzdelik. Yes, Gaudio had failed to win an NCAA Tournament game despite having three NBA first-round draft picks pass through Winston-Salem, assuming Aminu goes early in this year’s draft.
But Gaudio was attracting great high school players and winning many of the in-state recruiting battles. His teams peaked too early in the season twice. But at least they found a way to the top.
Bzdelik prefers a slower pace than Wake Forest is accustomed to playing. And the Demon Deacons will need to find a new point guard to learn that offense because Ishmael Smith is graduating. He’s taking several key teammates with him, as Chas McFarland, David Weaver and L.D. Willams have also finished their playing careers as Demon Deacons, while Aminu is bolting the team for NBA money.
Despite some talented young players, this team figures to go through at least one season of growing pains under a new coach.
Entering this season, many experts figured that Duke and North Carolina would contend for the conference title, but they were likely a year away from challenging for a national championship. Duke proved the experts wrong by taking the national title this year. And they might be the front-runner to do it again next season.
The Blue Devils return Singler and Smith, in addition to talented young big men like Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Sharpshooter Seth Curry will be eligible after transferring from Liberty, and Andre Dawkins will step into the point guard role. If he struggles, Krzyzewski can turn to freshman Kyrie Irving, who is an electric recruit out of New Jersey. The Blue Devils also are adding Joshua Hairston and Tyler Thornton to a solid recruiting class.
Besides Duke, Virginia Tech and Florida State should build on their success from this past season to fill out the conference’s elite. Wake Forest and North Carolina will have plenty of talent on their roster to possibly join those three, but both teams have plenty of issues to overcome.
In Raleigh, coach Sidney Lowe must elevate the Wolfpack to the top half of the conference or he almost certainly will be looking for a new job after next season. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt might also be on the hot seat if the Yellow Jackets significantly regress – a likely scenario with the losses of Favors and Lawal to the NBA.
If you want a very early sleeper pick to reach the NCAA Tournament, assuming its only 65 teams and not 96, look south to Miami. Coach Frank Haith has reloaded that roster with talented young guards who figure to make their mark next season.
And if the NCAA Tournament expands to 96 teams, look for the ACC to place every single team in the tournament unless expansion includes a rule that teams must have at least a .400 winning percentage in your conference – or something like that.