Quinn Cook has played like a first-team all-ACC player through Duke's nonconference schedule. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
Back in October, ACC beat writers and reporters gathered in Charlotte for the conference’s preseason media day. One of the annual traditions is voting on the preseason favorite to win the league and picking preseason all-conference teams. With ACC play about to (finally) begin Saturday, let’s see how my picks look at this point in the year.
Here’s what I predicated in October:
1) N.C. State
4) North Carolina
5) Florida State
9) Virginia Tech
10) Wake Forest
11) Boston College
12) Georgia Tech
Pick I’d most like to have back: Georgia Tech surely won’t be the worst team in the ACC. And that’s probably the team I’ll be the most off on, as far as the difference between my prediction and the actual finishes. The Yellow Jackets returned five starters from an 11-20 team, and I wasn’t impressed. Turns out I didn’t factor in the improvement the group would make over the summer or the impact freshman forward Robert Carter (10.0 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game) would have on the team. Currently, the Yellow Jackets are 10-2 and just one win away from equaling last year’s total.
***I’m not cringing over picking N.C. State to win the league. The Wolfpack have all the talent a team could want with a point guard that can find his teammates and score points himself (Lorenzo Brown), a dominant big man (Richard Howell), impact freshmen (the Wolfpack have two in T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis) and another big man with the ability to be the best player on the floor (C.J. Leslie). The issue with the Wolfpack is, while there's all that talent, it doesn’t always translate into results.
N.C. State stopped competing in a 76-56 loss against Oklahoma State on Nov. 18. And in the two Wolfpack games I’ve covered this year (wins against Cleveland State and UNC Greensboro), there were extended stretches of sloppiness on the offensive end and consistent lapses on defense. Those type of stretches will earn losses against more talented opponents.
But, personally, I think the Wolfpack will pull it together and finish either No. 1 or No. 2 in the conference. Get excited for the Jan. 12 game featuring Duke at N.C. State. I’m thinking it will be the best ACC game of the year.
***No Reggie Johnson, the team’s starting center, for six weeks kills any chance Miami had at making a run for the conference title. When both Johnson and guard Durand Scott in the lineup, the Hurricanes went 5-0 with a home win over No. 13 Michigan State. Without them, Miami is 4-3 with losses to Florida Gulf Coast, No. 4 Arizona and Indiana State.
***Maryland will finish higher than sixth. It’s hard to say exactly how good the Terrapins are (they lost their only notable nonconference game, 72-69 to Kenutcky in the season opener), but I’m confident they’re better than a few of the teams I have ranked ahead of them.
***Florida State has been a huge disappointment thus far. Yes, last year started off in a similar fashion, with losses to Harvard, Princeton and a 20-point embarrassment at Clemson, and the Seminoles rebounded to win the ACC Tournament. But there’s not a lot of reason to assume a repeat of that this year, with a young team and guard Michael Snaer struggling at times to live up to his preseason all-ACC billing.
Speaking of preseason all-conference teams, here was mine:
Michael Snaer, Florida State
C.J. Leslie, NC State
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Preseason player of the year: CJ Leslie
Preseason rookie of the year: Rodney Purvis, N.C. State
In a work, yuck. Mason Plumlee and Lorenzo Brown can stay, I feel good about those picks. You could make a strong argument that Reggie Bullock has been UNC’s best player (with P.J. Hairston coming on strong lately), but there’s no reason to doubt the James Michael McAdoo won’t have an all-ACC caliber season by the time it’s done. Same with C.J. Leslie, although he has struggled with consistency at times this season. I do highly doubt he ends up winning player of the year. And Rodney Purvis hasn’t even been the best freshman on his own team—that honor goes to T.J. Warren, a forward who is averaging 13.5 points per game and making a ridiculous 69.4 percent of his field goal attempts, third-best in the country.
Rather than put out a second set of wrong predictions—because, really, who wants that—I’ll offer a set of power rankings based on how the teams are right now and an all-ACC team that I would turn in if voting ended today. The toughest calls were between team Nos. 3 and 4 and 8 and 9.
Jan. 3 ACC power rankings
1) Duke (13-0) Hard to find serious flaws in the undefeated, No. 1 team in the country that is led by the current front-runner for national player of the year (Mason Plumlee)
2) N.C. State (11-2) After a disaster against Oklahoma State, the Wolfpack nearly upset Michigan on the road and are currently on a seven-game win streak, the program’s longest since 2007-08.
3) Maryland (12-1) Hard to know exactly how good the Terrapins are, but they’ve won 12 in a row and are shooting .503 from the field and rank in the top 10 nationally in assists and rebounds per game.
4) North Carolina (10-3) The Tar Heels picked up a much-needed quality nonconference win against then-No. 20 UNLV last time out.
5) Georgia Tech (10-2) No head-scratching losses, and one of them came in a competitive road game at then-No. 22 (and now No. 14) Illinois. And the Yellow Jackets are primed to get better— both Stacey and Solomon Poole were ruled eligible to play in December. Stacey transferred from Kentucky, and Solomon was the No. 14 player in the class of 2013 before he enrolled early at Georgia Tech in November.
6) Virginia (10-3) There are head-scratching losses—Delaware and Old Dominion, really?—but the Cavaliers are ahead of schedule in the post Mike Scott era. Good test Sunday by hosting UNC.
7) Miami (9-3) How will this team survive without Reggie Johnson for six weeks? If the past few games are any indication, it won’t be pretty.
8) Florida State (8-5) A 78-72 loss to Auburn Wednesday makes it appear like things are getting worse, not better, in Tallahassee.
9) Virginia Tech (9-4) After starting 7-0, the Hokies are 2-4 more recently. Erick Green does rank second in the nation in scoring with an average of 24.4 points per game.
10) Clemson (8-4) The Tigers don’t pass, score or rebound well, ranking 202 or worse nationally in all three categories
11) Boston College (8-5) The good news is that the Eagles are on a five-game winning streak, and sophomore forward Ryan Anderson (15.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, .511 field goal percentage) is pretty darn good.
12) Wake Forest (7-5) Somehow, this team beat Xavier. The Musketeers were in the still in the locker room two hours after the game ended. No, I couldn’t believe they lost, either.
Non-conference All-ACC team
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Alex Len, Maryland
Quinn Cook, Duke
Player of the year: Mason Plumlee
Rookie of the year: T.J. Warren, N.C. State