By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE QUESTIONS ENTERING THE ACC
1. WILL NC STATE LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?
The Wolfpack will have to deal with something they haven’t faced in an awful long time — expectations. After a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last year as an 11 seed, Mark Gottfried has his team in place to compete for a conference title in just his second season in Raleigh. Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie should both be first team All-ACC selections and Scott Wood and Richard Howell are two underrated veterans that know what it takes to win. NC State will need to replace the production of key reserve Deshawn Painter, who transferred to Old Dominion — the best candidates to fill that void are red shirt big man Jordan Vandenberg and sophomore bruiser Thomas de Thaey. Gottfried also adds three quality freshmen in Tyler Lewis, T.J. Warren, and Rodney Purvis, who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA. There’s good reason for the optimism surrounding this team but it’s yet to be determined if this group can perform at a high level when it’s expected each and every time they take the floor.
2. WHY DOESN’T MIAMI GET MORE RESPECT?
I really have no idea. The Hurricanes return the majority of pieces from last year’s team that was terrific at times during the second half of the season when they were finally healthy. Burly big man Reggie Johnson is finally close to 100% and should form potentially the best power forward-center combo in the ACC with Kenny Kadji. Sophomore floor general Shane Larkin looks primed for a breakout season and Durand Scott is one of the better off guards in the conference. If Jim Larranaga catches a break and avoids any major injuries, Miami is more than capable of challenging for the ACC title. Seriously.
3. WHAT WILL DUKE LOOK LIKE WITHOUT AUSTIN RIVERS?
Probably more balanced. Rivers, who was taken 10th overall in June’s NBA Draft was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer last season and a dynamic talent. Without him, Duke will lean more on veteran guard Seth Curry as well as freshman Rasheed Sulaimon to anchor their perimeter while both Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton vie to be this team’s starting point guard. Red shirt forward Alex Murphy should be ready for instant minutes and Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee are two seasoned front court performers who’ve been through several ACC battles. A big question for this team is how they’re going to replace the scoring off the bench that they got last season from Andre Dawkins, who will red shirt during the upcoming year. Dawkins was regularly counted on to provide a jolt with his offense, something that was critical as the Blue Devils won a key game late in the year on the road at Florida State. Duke was 12-1 in games last season when Dawkins scored in double figures.
4. CAN MARCUS PAIGE RUN THE SHOW FOR NORTH CAROLINA?
Without question. The lefty is a perfect fit for Roy Williams’ transition offense and should be more than capable of having a major impact in his first season of college basketball. North Carolina will also get both Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland back from injury and also return key perimeter pieces in P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, who really came into his own down the stretch of last season. If James Michael McAdoo can have a “Thomas Robinson” type of season as many expect and the Tarheels can find a serviceable big man to play the five spot, business should continue as usual in Chapel Hill.
5. WHO IS THE SLEEPER?
Dare we say Florida State but, Florida State. I know, how can the Seminoles be a sleeper when they won the ACC Tournament last year and beat North Carolina and Duke two times a piece along the way? It’s real simple, no one talks about this team and that’s hard to believe, especially since Leonard Hamilton has clearly made the Seminoles the consensus third best program in the conference. Florida State returns Michael Snaer, Ian Miller, and Okaro White from last year’s team and will also get power forward Terrance Shannon back from a shoulder injury. The real wild card for this team is the Seminoles’ freshmen perimeter, which Hamilton loves. Point guard Devon Bookert could be this team’s starter from day at the most important position on the floor and Montay Brandon and Aaron Thomas are two talented scorers that can play multiple positions. Florida State might not be as good defensively as they’ve been the past few seasons but they should be more fluid on the other end of the floor.
ACC PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
1. NC STATE
THE SKINNY: Mark Gottfried returns four starters from last year’s squad that reached the Sweet 16.
2. NORTH CAROLINA
THE SKINNY: Freshman point guard Marcus Paige could be another Damon Stoudamire.
THE SKINNY: The Hurricanes could win the conference if they stay healthy.
THE SKINNY: Blue Devils will be more balanced post Austin Rivers.
5. FLORIDA STATE
THE SKINNY: Leonard Hamilton absolutely loves his freshman class.
THE SKINNY: Mark Turgeon should have better chemistry during his second season in College Park.
THE SKINNY: The Mike Scott era is officially over in Charlottesville.
8. GEORGIA TECH
THE SKINNY: The Yellow Jackets bring back five starters and add a stud in freshman power forward Robert Carter.
THE SKINNY: Backcourt inexperience is a major concern for the Tigers.
10. VIRGINIA TECH
THE SKINNY: James Johnson will have to do more with less.
11. WAKE FOREST
THE SKINNY: Jeff Bzdelik needs instant contributions from first-year PG Codi Miller-McIntyre.
12. BOSTON COLLEGE
THE SKINNY: The rebuilding process continues for Steve Donahue.
ACC PRESEASON FIRST TEAM
Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Seth Curry, Duke
C.J. Leslie, NC State
James Michael McAdoo, UNC
Reggie Johnson, Miami
ACC PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Michael Snaer, Florida State
TEN THAT HAVE WAITED AND WILL MAKE A MAJOR IMPACT
1. Kiel Turpin, Florida State (red shirt)
2. Terrance Shannon, Florida State (injury)
3. Robert Gilchrist, Florida State (JUCO)
4. Aaron Thomas, Florida State (prep school)
5. Alex Murphy, Duke (red shirt)
6. Marshall Plumlee, Duke (red shirt)
7. Jordan Vandenberg, NC State (red shirt)
8. Julian Gamble, Miami (injury)
9. Bishop Daniels, Miami (red shirt)
10. Pe’Shon Howard, Maryland (injury)
TEN BREAKOUT PLAYERS
1. James Michael McAdoo, UNC
2. P.J. Hairston, UNC
3. Okaro White, Florida State
4. Shane Larkin, Miami
5. Rion Brown, Miami
6. Nick Faust, Maryland
7. Alex Len, Maryland
8. Akil Mitchell, Virginia
9. Jarell Eddie, Virginia Tech
10. Milton Jennings, Clemson
TEN IMPACT FRESHMEN
1. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
2. Amile Jefferson, Duke
3. Marcus Paige, UNC
4. Rodney Purvis, NC State
5. T.J. Warren, NC State
6. Tyler Lewis, NC State
7. Shaquille Cleare, Maryland
8. Robert Carter, Georgia Tech
9. Montay Brandon, Florida State
10. Aaron Thomas, Florida State
FIVE UNDER-THE-RADAR FRESHMEN
1. Mike Tobey, Virginia
2. Jake Layman, Maryland
3. Charles Mitchell, Maryland
4. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
5. Tonye Jekiri, Miami
Do you think NC State will live up to the hype? Let us know in the comments below…