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Countdown to Hurricanes Hoops: ACC College Basketball Preview and Predictions.

In 2011-12 the ACC sent 5 teams dancing, and Miami easily could have been the sixth. How will the league fare this season?

Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

In preparation for the 2012-13 season, we continue our preview today with a full breakdown of the ACC. While the traditional powers promise to make the usual noise, a few upstarts are poised for big seasons of their own. Last season FSU became the first team not named Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament since 2004. Could this year be the first time since 2003 the regular season championship is won outright by someone else?

Predicted Order of Finish:

#1 NC State

Overview: The Wolfpack have the ACC's best all-around best guard in Lorenzo Brown, as well as the best low post player in the conference, Calvin Leslie. Add to the mix bruising low post banger Richard Howell, and lights out shooter Scott Wood and you have a mix of veteran players any team in the country would be envious of. If true freshman slasher Rodney Purvis (think young/poor man's Dwayne Wade) acclimates to college ball quickly, you are looking at the best starting five in the land.

Weakness: Depth. True freshman PG Jay Lewis and fellow freshman F T.J. Warren are highly touted and nice options to have off the bench, but are still untested. Hard to find many other flaws with this squad.

Schedule Highlights: Back to back road contests at Michigan (11/27) & UConn (12/4) should be interesting. In the new expanded ACC schedule they get Duke, UNC, and FSU twice, but Miami just once. Somehow we think they can handle it.

Final Analysis: This team sort of reminds me of last year's Kentucky squad (well, minus anyone quite as good as Anthony Davis). They are loaded with future NBA talent despite not being very deep. If they stay healthy, I expect NC State to make a Final Four run this season.

#2 Miami

Overview: The Hurricanes endured a string of bad breaks last year would have made you think they killed a ladybug while breaking a black cat's mirror, and they still won 20 games and nearly made the big dance. The team is loaded with talented seniors. Big Reggie Johnson is healthy and that's bad news for the rest of the conference. Kenny Kadji was a revelation last year as a 6'11 inside-outside threat. Durand Scott does a little bit of everything well, and PG Shane Larkin is one of the quickest players in the country. Did we mention how good wings Rion Brown and Trey McKinney-Jones are? Oh yeah sixth year senior Julian Gamble is back up front and high flying redshirt freshman G Bishop Daniels makes his debut. This is a deep and dangerous squad.

Weakness: Intangibles. Hard to find a hole on this roster, yet they have are senior laden team with no trips to the NCAA Tournament. Also home attendance has been a problem. Both things should change this year.

Schedule Highlights: The 'Canes get 2 shots at North Carolina and Duke. Miami will also have 2 contests with arch rival and defending ACC Tournament champs FSU, but just one game at league favorite NC State. Outside of the ACC the schedule is highlighted by a home contest against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten challenge on 11/28 and a trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic 12/22-25 where they will play Hawaii and could play Arizona, San Diego State, or Ole Miss.

Final Analysis: Jim Larranaga knows a little something about making a special run. UM has a group deep and talented enough for him to unleash his scramble defense and play fast. Miami is poised to make a lot of noise, and perhaps recreate some of the magic of a certain Larranaga coached team generated in 2006.

#3 Duke

Overview: Last season, Duke relied far too heavily on freshman G Austin Rivers, now in the NBA. This year I expect a more balanced club, featuring high percentage opportunities down low for Mason Plumlee, open jumpers for knock down shooters Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry, and an increase in transition buckets due to the athleticism of freshmen Rasheed Sulaiman and Amile Jefferson. Add to the mix the Kyle Singler-esque game of Alex Murphy and you could have something special down the line. Coach K will need to find the right mix of scorers yet not completely compromise the other end of the floor, for this team to exceed expectation. Quinn Cook taking the reigns at PG and improving dramatically over last year's performance would also help.

Weakness: Defense. How exactly does a team finish in the bottom half statistically of near all ACC defensive categories and still almost win the conference? This is not a formula for consistent success and will need to improve this season.

Schedule Highlights:Coach K will get an early indication of how good the Devils are when they head to Rupp 11/13 to take on defending National Champion Kentucky. 11/28 they get a shot at revenge against Ohio State, who defeated them in last year's ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The heavyweight battles with UNC will be on 2/13 (away) and 3/9 (home).

Final Analysis: There is a ton of scoring and talent on this team. But does it have the right chemistry? And can they defend? My guess here is that the offense has a little more variety, the defense gets a little bit better, but the inside play is just not quite good enough to win the conference. This is still a unit with the firepower to outgun opponents all the way to a Sweet 16. There's very little chance a debacle like the one against Lehigh in the first round of last year's Tourney, happens again.

#4 North Carolina

Overview: No one is going to feel sorry for UNC, but few teams can absorb the turnover to the roster the Heels will have to endure. Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall all took their games to the NBA. New stars will need to emerge. UNC is expecting huge things from talented F James Michael McAdoo. He will have help from versatile swing men PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock. Veterans guards Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland will also get more chances to shine. In the end, however, this team will probably go as far as precocious and talented freshman PG Marcus Paige can take him. Additionally Brice Johnson will get immediate PT in hopes of replacing Henson as a defensive presence and secondary option inside.

Weakness: Consistency. McAdoo is expected to make a huge jump in production this year. And Hairston should certainly improve his shooting. But will that be enough? The luxuries of Zeller's steady presence down low, Marshall's world class decision making, and Henson's defensive prowess, would seem to be too much to duplicate immediately. Their will be flashes of greatness, but not the consistently of the past few years.

Schedule Highlights:The Zeller family will be watching closely when the Heels head to Indiana (11/27). A trip to Austin (12/19) should also be fun to watch. The two match-ups against the Wolpack (1/26 & 2/23) will surely impact the ACC standings. Oh yeah, as mentioned earlier they play those guys from Raleigh 2/13 and 3/9.

Final Analysis: If a few players develop quicker then anticipated, UNC could still win the conference. We love Bullock's potential, and McAdoo appears primed to be a break out performer. Still it will take a little while to replace the guys who have moved on, and there are more question marks on this Heels team then in years past. They will still make the tourney and by season's end could be a very dangerous out.

#5 Florida State

Overview: The last time Coach Leonard Hamilton built a team around a superstar senior guard, Toney Douglas led a young team, and FSU went 25-10. This year the team is built around Michael Snaer, who like Douglas is a clutch scorer and top defender. Snaer and his running mate PG Ian Miller will need to carry the load, as the front court will be a little green. The Seminoles will hope that veteran forwards Okaro White and Terrance Shannon play well while young guys like wing Montay Brandon and big man Kiel Turpin develop. Keep an eye on freshman guard Devon Bookert as well.

Weakness: Scoring. Snaer and Miller are good enough to carry the load on most nights, but like any Hamilton coached team there will be games where the Seminoles just can't score. It's a small price to pay for being one of the best defensive teams in the country year in year out. Nonetheless a third scorer will need to emerge for FSU to repeat last season's success.

Schedule Highlights: Minnesota (11/27) & Florida (12/5) at home, highlight the out of conference schedule. The Seminoles get Miami, UNC, and NC State twice, but Duke just once.

Final Analysis: The formula is clear. Play suffocating defense, let the guards carry the scoring load, and hope the team peaks around early March. Hamilton is a master and getting the most our of his teams and developing young players. Repeating the success of last year's dream season is a tall order, but I'd be shocked if this team misses the tournament.

#6 Maryland

Overview: Last season the Terps went as Terrell Stoglin went. Most nights that meant far too many low percentage shots were hoisted and solid inside players failed to get consistent touches. Stoglin is gone, and even though he led the ACC in scoring, this may be addition by subtraction. Talented seven footer Alex Len showed tremendous potential albeit with out consistency in 2011-12. This year he will be joined down low by a bulldozer with quick feet named Shaquille Cleare. Underrated power forward James Padgett should also be watched. The team will need Pe'Shon Howard to provide a steady hand at the point, and Nick Faust to score consistently on the perimeter, to balance out their ultra-talented big men.

Weakness: Balance. The big guys will be hard to stop, but can Faust and Howard keep teams from sinking down low to neutralize Len, Cleare, and Padgett? A big key will be if freshman forward Jake Layman can come in make some open threes.

Schedule Highlights: Well if you want to start the season out with a bang, go ahead and travel to Kentucky (11/9) for your opener. The rest of the out of conference schedule is a bit nondescript, but the ACC schedule as usual will be a big test.

Final Analysis:I really really like the big guys. The guards, not so much. If Faust makes a big leap, they could conceivably eclipse this spot. I see the Terps as a last 4 in/last 4 out team.

#7 Virginia

Overview: The Hoos started out quick last season, but injuries took a toll and they ran out of gas as the season concluded. Nonetheless they made the tourney and had a pretty good year. No team in the ACC, however, will have a harder time replacing any individual player then UVA will with Mike Scott. Scott's graduation leaves Virginia with a committee of go-to players. The leading contenders to pick up the slack will be Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon, Both are more then capable. Steady PG Jontel Evans does not get the accolades but is a big time leader. Freshman C Mike Tobey will need to provide some inside punch. The defense, as always, will be stifling under Coach Tony Bennett.

Weakness: Scoring. This is a team that played in the 50s and 60s when they HAD Scott bailing them out. Harris and Brogdon should produce more, and freshman F Evan Nolte can shoot, but this team will still be offensively challenged.

Schedule Highlights: The game against Wisconsin (11/28) should produce a clinic in how to play half court defense. Tennessee on 12/5 should be an interesting contest as well. From there it is a bunch of stiffs and off to the ACC.

Final Analysis: Virginia is so good defensively, and competes so hard, there's always a chance they will overachieve. But the loss of Scott will be the difference. Nolte and Tobey will develop, but UVA still looks like a bubble team.

#8 Wake Forest

Overview: In Travis McKie and C.J. Harris, Wake Forest has two of the premier scorers in the conference. One would think these two alone would be enough to do better then the 4-12 mark the Demon Deacs produced last year in conference play. Freshman PG Codi Miller-McIntyre should provide some help. The big problem is the front court is largely untested. Of the combination of Devin Thomas, Tyler Cavanaugh, Daniel Green, and Andre Washington, someone will need to step up.

Weakness: Inside scoring. We know McKie and Harris can bring it. Chase Fischer can also score from deep. But who will provide inside punch?

Schedule Highlights: A trip to UConn (11/16) and a home game against Nebraska (11/27) provide early tests. Seton Hall (12/8) and Xavier (1/2) round out a very competitive out of conference schedule.

Final Analysis: This is a top heavy roster. McKie and Harris have to be at their very best each and every time out. The addition of Miller-McIntyre should mean a few more wins, but this is still an NIT team.

#9 Georgia Tech

Overview: This is a team that could surprise some folks in the ACC if a few things go right. Daniel Miller needs to continue his solid play down low. Mfon Udofia needs to make good decisions with the ball and shoot more consistently. Between new comers SG Stacy Poole Jr. (a transfer from Kentucky) and true freshman big man Robert Carter, someone needs to add some scoring punch.

Weakness: Scoring. The Yellow Jackets were next to last in points per game in ACC play last year. Poole and Carter could be the answers. But both will need some time to adjust to the conference.

Schedule Highlights: A relatively weak OOC schedule. Games Vs Georgia (12/4) and at Illinois (12/28) are the toughest before they hit ACC play.

Final Analysis: GT is adding some very nice pieces, and should be an improved team. They still have a long way to go before competing in the upper echelon of the conference, but could pull a few upsets along the way.

#10 Virginia Tech

Overview: Guard Erick Green is a very talented player, who should have a very good running mate in SF Jarrell Eddie. Beyond those two the roster is filled with question marks. There appears to be no semblance of an inside game. Cadarian Raines and/or CJ Barksdale are the most likely candidates to attempt to fill that role. New Head Coach James Johnson wants to press and run more. This could lay the ground work for future success, but this year's team doesn't seem deep or talented enough for it to succeed right away.

Weakness: 3rd Scorer. Green is an amazing talent. Eddie proved he can shoot as good and any SF in the conference, and should score in bunches this year. But in the ultra competitive ACC, very few teams can sustain success with out a third scorer.

Schedule Highlights:The out of conference schedule features trip to West Virginia (12/8) and BYU (12/29), as well as home games against Rhode Island (12/12) and Iowa (12/27).

Final Analysis: Erick Green may be good enough to win a few games by himself, but this team is at least a year away from really competing in the ACC.

#11 Boston College

Overview: BC was a very young team last year and it showed. As a resullt their top 6 players are now sophomores. Unfortunately it won't take a jinx for this team to remain near the bottom of the ACC. C Dennis Clifford showed some signs of being awkwardly effective as a freshman. Ryan Anderson, Jordan Daniels, and Patrick Heckmann all have ability to score. But all also shot low percentages in 2011-12. Anderson looks to be the best of the bunch, and could end up being one of the better scorers in the conference.

Weakness: Athleticism. By ACC standards this is not a very fast or explosive team.

Schedule Highlights: Home slates against Baylor (11/15), and Auburn (11/21) should be interesting.

Final Analysis: BC is another team that is clearly a year or two away from seriously threatening the top teams. Anderson and Clifford are good players that should give Eagles' fans hope for the future.

#12 Clemson

Overview: Clemson made a nice run to get to 8-8 in conference by season's end. The problem is, almost none of the key components to that squad return. Devin Booker is a talented big man, but doesn't bring it every game. Milton Jennings and K.J McDaniels flashed sparks of promise. It could be a very very long season in Death Valley.

Weakness: Guard play. Last year Tanner Smith and Andre Young did everything they could to carry the team. Both are now gone. Rod Hall and T.J. Sapp will take their place. Neither has shown enough to appear capable of providing that kind of production.

Schedule Highlights: At Gonzaga (11/22), Purdue at home (11/28), and at South Carolina (12/2) is an early 3 game stretch that could make or break this team's confidence.

Final Analysis: It IS going to be a very very long season in Death Valley.

Award Predictions:

All-ACC First Team

G Lorenzo Brown, North Carolina State
G Michael Snaer, Florida State
F Travis McKie, Wake Forest
F C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
C Reggie Johnson, Miami

All-ACC Second Team

G Erick Green, Virginia Tech
G Durand Scott, Miami or CJ Harris, Wake Forest
G Ian Miller, Florida State
F James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
F Kenny Kadji, Miami

All-ACC Third Team

G Seth Curry, Duke
G Shane Larkin, Miami
F Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
F Richard Howell, North Carolina State
C Mason Plumlee, Duke

All-ACC Freshmen

G Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina
G Rodney Purvis, North Carolina State
F Brice Johnson, North Carolina or Amile Jefferson, Duke
C Shaquille Cleare, Maryland

Projected ACC Awards

ACC Players of the Year- Calvin Leslie, North Carolina State
ACC Defensive Player of the Year- Michael Snaer, Florida State
ACC Freshmen of the Year- Rodney Purvis, North Carolina State
ACC Coach of the Year- Jim Larranaga, Miami

Thanks to all who took a look. Please feel free to leave plenty of feedback.