When coronavirus canceled this year’s March Madness, it sealed the deal on an unremarkable 2019-2020 season for ACC basketball.
Fresh off a historic 2018-2019 season that put the ACC at the center of the college basketball world, preseason expectations were high for the conference. That year, the ACC was home to the top three teams in the nation.
Teams up and down the conference were loaded with NBA talent, and these players dominated both the regular season and the March Madness tournament. Virginia came through in the title game, defeating Texas Tech in the finals and securing the ACC’s fifth championship in 10 years.
While it would have been nearly impossible to replicate the success the conference had in that season, there were still many people that expected that the ACC would be in the upper echelon of college basketball in 2019.
Instead, the conference fell well short of these expectations. Only three teams were in the top 25, and while there was certainly a shot that the conference could defend the national title, the ACC was not the basketball powerhouse it had established itself as in recent years.
With the 2020-2021 season set to begin this week, it’s a good time to look at a few ACC teams looking to replicate the conference’s success from two seasons ago.
After sending the best freshman class in recent memory to the NBA, the Blue Devils had a relatively quiet year by their standards in 2019. Recently, Duke has been powered by an All-American talent that the team is centered around (e.g. Tatum, Irving, Williamson), but this year Coach Mike Krzyzewski is going to have to win without a definite star on the team.
That’s not to say that this team doesn’t have its fair share of studs, however. Forwards Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore will be returning for their sophomore seasons and should be the team’s primary scorers. They will also be joined by 6-foot-9-inches freshman forward Jalen Johnson, who finished the year as the No. 12 player in ESPN’s rankings for the top 100 players in the class of 2020.
The makeup of this team is different than we’ve seen in previous seasons, but Coach K and the well-rounded Blue Devils should make great use of their depth and experience, and are poised to make a deep run in March.
Technically speaking, the Cavaliers are the reigning NCAA champions and are looking to defend that title. Virginia comes into the season as the favorite to win the ACC, and the Cavaliers are currently ranked fourth in the nation’s preseason rankings. This is a team that is defined by its defense, having ranked in the top six in defensive efficiency over the last four years, and first in the nation during a truncated season a year ago.
As you might have guessed, the problem for Tony Bennett’s team is the offense. Shockingly, this team ranked a dismal 322nd in offensive efficiency, making the fact that this team was still a solid squad quite impressive.
If the Cavaliers want to remain champions of the college basketball world, a legitimate scoring threat is going to have to emerge. Look out for Marquette transfer Sam Hauser, who shoots a career 44.5% from three, to try and fill the role of a consistent primary scorer that the Cavaliers desperately need.
If any team is thankful the season ended when it did, it’s UNC. The Tar Heels finished dead last in the conference, churning out an abysmal 6-14 record, good enough for their worst finish since 2002.
However, UNC looks poised to bounce back this year. Based on high school player rankings, Coach Roy Williams’s freshman class is the best he’s ever had. Freshman Caleb Love, an NBA-bound point guard, is set to take over after Cole Anthony went pro.
While the team has no shortage of stars, most of them are natural centers and do not have the skill set to play in the backcourt. If Love can step up and provide stability at the guard position, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but that remains to be seen. He will be crucial for the Tarheels as they look to make a run at an ACC title.
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