Warriner’s ACC Pre-Season Rankings

The ACC is coming off of a banner year, boasting three one seeds and the eventual National Champion Virginia in last season’s tournament. That being said, no major Conference will go through as much turnover as the ACC, as 13 of the its 15 All-League players have left either to graduation or to play in the NBA. However, just because this league has massive turnover doesn’t mean that it won’t be one of the Top-3 leagues in the sport because there is still a boatload or talent within the league. Without any further introduction, it is time to look at how the league standings will shape up. 

1.Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals come into this season as the team that has the most experience, which makes them potentially the favorites to win the league. The Cardinals begin and end with Jordan Nwora who is maybe the favorite to win the league Player of the Year award. Nwora is an effortless scorer, plays the game with a high-IQ and is a matchup nightmare for teams with his 6’7” frame and guard-like skills. While Nwora is certainly a great player, he is not alone as the Cardinals have plenty of other guys that can step up as well. 

Among those is guard Dwayne Sutton a lengthy wing who has shown an ability to guard multiple positions and shoot it from deep. Steven Enoch was a good interior scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker as well for the Cardinals. Malik Williams has the ability to come in and play, at times, better than Enoch down-low while also showing the ability to occasionally step out and shoot it to keep teams honest. Let’s not forget the addition of Samuell Williamson who is a big athletic five-star guard that looks poised to come in and make a huge impact for the Cardinals from Day One. 

The Cardinals are maybe the deepest teams wing and forward wise, but for them to achieve a level of success that many are looking for they will need good guard production. That is where the addition of Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble comes in. A graduate transfer from St. Joes, Kimble has shown himself to be a steady influence at the point. Elsewhere, Darius Perry and Ryan McMahon should be capable producers off the bench, and the freshmen David Johnson, Josh Nickelberry and Aidan Igiehon should get minutes. 

Overall, this team just has the talent and experience that I look for to carry very well in an ACC that can be absolutely brutal at times. To achieve the goal of winning the league and winning the National Championship, I look for everyone to get a little bit better, while I look for Jordan Nwora to be the for the conference POY award.

2.Duke Blue Devils

While Louisville is my pick to win the league, Duke is certainly a team that can win the league as well. They have a lot of talented players and a Hall of Fame coach that can lift them to an ACC title. The Blue Devils will be led by Tre Jones, who is known for his defensive tenacity and ability to get others involved with his passing. With him back, the Blue Devils will have a team leader and a true point guard to help them contend, not only for an ACC title, but for another National Championship as well.

While Jones will get the majority of the credit, the freshmen will need to have big production for Duke to be great. Vernon Carey looks to be the dominant force inside for the Blue Devils, as he has shown the ability to overpower opponents. Matthew Hurt should feed off of Carey as he is more of a stretch-4, but has shown an ability to do guard-like things on the offensive end. Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley will probably both start for the Blue Devils at the guard positions, both players could be one and done level prospects. 

Off the bench, Javin DeLaurier should provide some interior defense and rim-running in limited playing time. Alex O’Connell and Jack White have both shown an ability to stretch the floor and make shots to help provide some scoring off the bench. Don’t overlook Jordan Goldwire, as he’s a solid defender. If he can shoot it from deep, he could become a valuable piece. 

Duke obviously has a great collection of talent but the real key is their ability to get their freshmen to produce at the level of years past. If they can get the improvements in shooting from Tre Jones, while Carey and Hurt show themselves to be a dominant duo inside, the Blue Devils should contend for an ACC and a National title. 

3.North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina will lose five of its top six scorers from last year’s team, yet thanks to a series of recruiting wins and grad transfer pickups, the Tar Heels look to contend for another ACC title. The headline is Cole Anthony, who is a player many expect to be maybe the best freshman in the sport. Anthony is a very athletic guard that can make shots in a hurry, and has shown the ability to be an elite-level passer.

Inside, the Tar Heels will once again look to overpower teams on the block thanks to three dominant bigs inside. Let’s start with the Tar Heels leading returning scorer Garrison Brooks, who is a really good interior defender, rebounder and is a decent scorer. Armondo Bacot is another big with good size, strength, and agility that should help him score easily inside. Don’t forget about Sterling Manley, who missed 18 games last year, but can also score and rebound for the Tar Heels. 

While having an elite lead guard like Cole Anthony, and a good collection of big men, one of the more important things to have as a team is guards to play alongside them. This is where the additions of Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce should come in to help UNC as grad transfers. Rising sophomore guard Leaky Black also looks poised to take his game to another level after playing bench minutes as a freshman. The late addition of Anthony Harris Jr. is one that should provide Coach Roy Williams production off of the bench. 

Expectations at Carolina typically involve a National Championship, and this team certainly has a chance to do that. In order to reach those lofty aspirations, the Tarheels will need Cole Anthony to be one of the five best players in college basketball while also receiving steps forward from Leaky Black and Garrison Brooks. 

After the top three teams, the ACC really begins to drop off as there is a multitude of teams that could contend for that number four spot in the conference. That is where the Florida State Seminoles come in to play. The Seminoles lose their top two scorers from last year’s team, but still have the overall depth that can compete with anyone in this league. 

4.Florida State Seminoles

The two players that should fill the leadership roles for FSU will be junior MJ Walker and senior Trent Forrest. Let’s start by talking about Trent Forrest, who is basically the de-facto point guard for this Seminoles team. He is 6’5” and has shown the ability to score the ball for the Seminoles while being a capable lead ball-handler. Meanwhile, Walker is still in college after being somewhat disappointing his first two seasons. With that being said, he is a physical defender, a good athlete and at times a good shooter. Both players have been up and down in years past, but will be asked to be team leaders this year. 

While those two should be the team leaders, I also would look for improvements from the Seminoles sophomore class. The main headliner is Devin Vassell, who is a long and athletic guard that has the potential to be lights out from behind the arc. Anthony Polite should log minutes on the wing, while Raiquan Gray looks to lock down the starting spot at the 4. Both could take steps forward this season. Wyatt Wilkes is a junior, but he too could step in and play big minutes for the Seminoles.

If you are looking to buy stock in any under the radar freshmen, I would recommend looking at Patrick Williams, who is a long and explosive guard that will receive minutes as a freshman. 

The battle for the starting spot at the pivot should be an interesting race as the Seminoles will look for 7’1” Balsa Koprivica to play right away. The addition of grad transfer Dominik Olejniczak will act as an insurance policy if Koprivica isn’t ready out of the gates. As for the race to be the tallest player on the court, that will go to Naheem McLeod who stands at 7’4”. 

With Florida State, there are a lot of question marks with different players. One of my main concerns is whether or not they have enough offense, to not only compete, but win games. With that being said, the Seminoles will have at least one thing going for them, and that is a number of talented pieces that can play a role this season.

5.Virginia Cavaliers

After winning the National Championship last season, Virginia will probably go through a rebuild as they lose their top-three scorers from last season. We all know what Virginia is going to do as a team: slow it way down and ride their pack-line defense to another NCAA Tournament. But, in order to stay at the top of the conference, they will need many players to step up. 

The likely leader in scoring and rebounding for this Virginia team will be Mamadi Diakite. As a junior, Diakite started 22 games and averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, which isn’t exactly great, but there is more to that. He also blocked 1.7 shots per game, and is a great piece in the pack-line because of his ability to switch.

The other starter from last year’s title game was Kihei Clark. Clark, technically, was the point guard for that team, but played the role of pass the ball to Ty Jerome and let him run the offense. Clark can create offense for others, and he can make shots, but what he does better than anything else is be a pest for other teams lead guards. 

Elsewhere, Virginia will be looking for some other players, like Braxton Key and Jay Huff, to step into more of a role this year. Key is a former Alabama transfer who was a decent piece off the bench in a “play defense and rebound” type of role, but he failed to really breakout scoring-wise. That being said, during his freshman year at Alabama, he averaged 12 points per game while shooting 33 percent from three. If he can get back to that level, it would really help Virginia. Jay Huff was the de-facto eighth man for the Cavaliers last season, he can shoot it really well, especially for a guy that is 7’1”, but he wasn’t really all that good beyond that. 

The guy who will almost certainly start at the two will be Four-Star freshman Casey Morsell. Morsell is a 6’2” guard and the brother of Maryland guard Darryl Morsell. He looks to have an impact scoring-wise out of the gates for Virginia. Elsewhere, look for JuCo transfer Thomas Woldetensae, who is regarded as an excellent shooter, to make an impact offensively for Virginia. One other name that looks to make an impact is 7-foot redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro who missed last season due to a knee injury, but has real upside. 

This team will not be as good as last year‘s team, especially given their offensive limitations. However, they will certainly guard at a high level, which will keep them in games and allow them to be a tournament caliber team while finishing near the top of the ACC.

6.NC State Wolfpack

Year two of the Kevin Keatts era didn’t go exactly as planned as State ended up missing the tournament, but the Wolfpack look to brush it off this year as they return 72% of their minutes played from a 24 win team. Among the returnees is Markell Johnson, who looks to lead the team in both points and assists while doing everything possible to help the Wolfpack win. While Johnson has shown flashes of great ability on the court, he has been inconsistent at times during his career. I look for that to change a little bit this year.

Johnson’s backcourt mate will once again be Braxton Beverly, a really good three-point shooter and a really good ball-handler, which makes him a good Yin to Johnson’s Yang. Elsewhere in the backcourt, Blake Harris will try to make an impact this year for the Wolfpack. He’s a good shooter and a capable passer, but being turnover prone has kept him on the bench.

CJ Bryce and Devon Daniels look to pick up the majority of minutes playing at the 3 and the 4 this year. Bryce is a former UNC Wilmington guard who followed Keatts over and made a big impact for the Wolfpack. He is a really good shooter/ scorer and is likely the go-to guy behind Markell Johnson. Daniels was really good at Utah in 2016-17, but did struggle shooting the ball in the ACC last season. That being said, his length and defensive tenacity makes him a pretty valuable piece to this NC State team.

Jericole Hellems will be another piece to look out for at that small-ball 4 position. He has a larger frame at 6’7” which helps him guard traditional 4’s while possessing the mobility to play the three.

The big question with this team will come from the center spot. The main guy to look for in order to start is DJ Funderburk, who is an excellent playmaker on both ends of the court and plays hard at all times. His largest concern/issue is oftentimes foul trouble. In those instances, look for redshirt freshman Manny Bates to step in and play a big role for the Wolfpack. 

Overall, this is a very talented team with a good roster makeup. However, I liked this team last year heading into the NCAA Tournament, so while you can get excited about this roster, there will be games where this team just doesn’t show up. If they can improve upon that inconsistency issue, then this is a secondary tier ACC team. If not, look for them to once again be floating on the bubble. 

7.Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Trivia time. Do you know who finished last place in the ACC last season? If you guessed either Pittsburgh or Notre Dame you were correct. There were a multitude of reasons for that result, but the main one was the mid season loss of Rex Pflueger to a knee injury. Pflueger is a do-everything guard who can take on the other team’s best players, guard at a high level and possesses a high basketball IQ. 

While Pflueger may have been the most important piece for the Irish, there is no argument that John Mooney is the team’s best player. Mooney averaged 14.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season which led to his All-ACC selection. TJ Gibbs has been a key piece for what feels like year’s, and while he didn’t take a step forward like most expected last season, he is still a solid piece. 

The biggest obstacle for Notre Dame will be the needed progression from their young players. Prentiss Hubb is the guy with the most to prove. He is a decent scorer and a good passer and was good at times, but appeared to hit a wall in ACC play. Dane Goodwin is a decent player that looks to play a role as a sixth man. Look for Nate Laszewski to be a really good piece down-low playing alongside John Mooney and stretching the floor with his three point shooting ability.

This Notre Dame team should be much improved from the one that we saw last year. Look for players like Hubb and Laszewski to take steps forward while another good season from John Mooney and a healthy Rex Pflueger should be enough to carry the Irish to the NCAA Tournament. 

8.Syracuse Orange

After going through the ACC, I have determined that this Syracuse team is where there is a major drop off in the overall talent in the league. The Orange come into this season off of another somewhat disappointing season, which largely had to do with their inability to run good offense. With some new faces coming in that could possibly be fixed, but it is safe to say that this Orange team will have its fair share of question marks. 

The likely leader on the offensive end will be Elijah Hughes who is their leading returning scorer and looks poised to have a big season given all the talent that left the program following last season. Sophomores Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim will be asked to step up and make a bigger impact this season as well. Carey was benched much of last season, but does have the type of profile that should project him into a big role. Boeheim received consistent minutes and struggled at times, but now possesses much needed experience going into this year. 

Look for freshmen guards Brycen Goodine and Joe Girard III to make an impact this year for the Orange in either starting or reserve roles. Both players can play as the starting point, but may not see that role early on. Up front the Orange will look for Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj to slide in and play the five for the Orange, while Jesse Edwards could see minutes in a reserve role. 

The Orange will do what they do, they will 2-3 zone teams which will help keep them in games, but once again the questions are about their offense. Can Elijah Hughes be an All-ACC player? Can Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim take big steps forward offensively? How will the freshman guards fit in? If they can answer those questions in a positive fashion, then this team could potentially reach the peak from last season. But if not, it will be another missed NCAA Tournament for the Orange. 

9.Miami Hurricanes

One of the teams that struggled last season was the Miami Hurricanes who finished 11th in the ACC standings despite a pretty good overall roster. The top player for this team is Chris Lykes who is an outstanding guard. Lykes is only 5’7”, but is a really good scorer and a good finisher in the paint. His overall scoring ability will allow the Hurricanes to be in most games. 

Lykes’ backcourt-mate is Dejan Vasiljevic, who is a really good shooter and can play as a secondary creator. Transfers Kameron McGusty and Keith Stone look to start right away for Miami. Both of those guys have shown flashes of greatness for other programs, but weren’t able to be consistent enough. Elsewhere, freshmen Harlond Beverly, Isaiah Wong, and Anthony Miller look to provide a sense of optimism for the future. 

Overall this Miami team has a really good star player in Chris Lykes, some good other pieces and what looks to be a good freshman trio. I’m not exactly sure that this team is an NCAA Tournament team but they will at least be able to win a decent amount of games in ACC play. 

10.Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

It very well could be a make or break year for Josh Pastner as he continues to miss on recruiting targets and really hasn’t had enough success to date. That being said, thanks to the return of a lot of key pieces, this could be his best team since arriving at Georgia Tech.

The best, and most valuable piece for this Yellow Jackets team is junior guard Jose Alvarado. Alvarado isn’t the most talented player in the sport, but goes all out in order to win, and is a skilled scorer and passer. A lot of Alvarado’s assists last year went into big man James Banks, who is a skilled big man that can score effectively on the interior and can rebound at a high level. Those two should continue to be solid, but the addition of USC transfer Jordan Usher is what has many people excited about this season. Usher is a 6’7” guard that can play as a small-ball four. 

This team will also need other players such as Michael Devoe to step up and play a role this year. Devoe is an extremely skilled guard that showed he can shoot it from deep and also be a secondary ball-handler for this team. Sophomore wing Khalid Moore is another player that could take a step forward and become a good rotation piece. Moses Wright will likely start the season at the 4, and is a decent defender, but doesn’t do a whole lot more than just playing rotation minutes.

This Georgia Tech team certainly has the talent that it needs to win, but a lot will come down to the overall coaching and development of guys like Michael Devoe and Khalid Moore. If those guys can become consistent contributors, this team could contend for an at-large bid. If not, it will be another disappointing season that leaves Josh Pastner’s seat red-hot heading into the 2020-21 season. 

11.Pittsburgh Panthers

The Pittsburgh program hit rock bottom in 2018 when they went 0-18 in ACC play and needed an immediate rebuild which started with the firing of Kevin Stallings. Less than two years later, there is hope going into a Pittsburgh Panthers season debut and that is built around a good coach and an All-ACC level player in Xavier Johnson. Johnson was one of the best freshmen in the ACC last season, averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. His scoring abilities will be critical for this Panthers team, but he will look for some help elsewhere in the lineup. 

A couple of other guards to look for production are Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, who should both play big minutes for Pitt this season. McGowens will likely have the role of secondary scorer for Pitt, a role he is capable of filling, but he did have turnover issues last year. Toney is a bigger guard that can play as a small-ball four for this Pitt team. Terrell Brown will play the role of rim-protecting and rebounding big man for this team. As a player who averages 3.6 blocks per 40 over his career, his continued effectiveness in that role is something Capel should be able to count on. 

Overall, this Panthers team doesn’t have a whole lot of roster depth, as only four players are what I would call starting caliber pieces at a high-major level. However, the sophomore trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGownens, and Au’Diese Toney were all effective as freshmen, and should get better after getting an offseason to learn from last years experiences. Assuming they all get better, Pittsburgh should avoid the bottom of the ACC standings. 

12.Virginia Tech Hokies

Buzz Williams to Texas A&M was a move that many people saw coming, though it still absolutely devastated a Virginia Tech program that was on the rise. Now, they will look for Coach Mike Young to both recruit, and coach this team up in order to keep the program in the NCAA Tournament on a consistent basis. While their roster looks questionable at best for this year, there are some good young players that should get this team back to the NCAA Tournament in the future. 

Yes the Hokies do lose their entire starting lineup, but the return of guard Wabissa Bede, who was an excellent on-ball defender and passer last year will help a little bit. Guards PJ Horne and Isaiah Wilkins played off the bench last year, and while neither were vital to the team’s success, that at least is worth something. Landers Nolley is a former Top-100 recruit who missed his first season due to suspected cheating on his ACT by the NCAA, but his ability to play as a small-ball four will get him minutes from day one. Jalen Cone and John Okiako are the two most notable freshmen for this Hokies team. Both should start this season as it is better to give the younger players more experience. 

The 2019-20 season should not be about making the NCAA Tournament for Virginia Tech. Instead, it should be about preparing for the future. Mike Young has been really good in the actual coaching of players, and if he replicate that success in Blacksburg, there is no reason to think that Virginia Tech won’t be back to where they were during the Buzz Williams era. The key thing that Hokies fans need to remember is to be patient with these younger guys because they will make mistakes early and often. As for their expected finish in the ACC, they will for sure be a bottom five team in the league. The talent and experience just isn’t there for them to have a good season in year one.

13.Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The Danny Manning era continues at Wake Forest despite a pretty terrible record, and the main reason is because of his buyout being $18 million. While the coach is definitely an issue, the overall roster isn’t actually that terrible. While they certainly won’t be close to making the NCAA Tournament, they at should at least avoid a last place finish within the league based on talent alone. 

Brandon Childress will be the team leader for the Demon Deacons. He is a good scorer and acts as the primary play maker as the team’s lead guard. Chaundee Brown will join Childress in the back court and play as an off-ball guard. He is a bigger guard that is a decent shooter and physical enough to collect rebounds for this team.

The player I look for to make the biggest jump is forward Isaiah Mucius who should be able to score efficiently inside and will keep teams honest with his ability to step out and shoot. Sophomore guard Sharone Wright Jr. played off the bench last season, but was definitely a good piece, especially defensively. He should take a step forward. Up front, Olivier Sarr and Sunday Okeke will look to split minutes at the five. 

My first impressions with this Wake Forest team is that it isn’t a complete dumpster fire like I figured it would be coming into this season. That being said, Danny Manning has been pretty bad at coaching this team, so I would not anticipate them being anything more than not terrible. 

14.Clemson Tigers

Things were going great for Clemson about a year ago. The Tigers had made the Sweet 16 and were returning most of the players from that team. The expectations were not only another NCAA Tournament appearance, but there was some thought of the team making a run to get to the Final Four. Instead, here we sit one year later and Clemson is picked second to last in the ACC after having missed NCAA Tournament entirely. That just shows how quickly things can change for a program, and it is certainly not for the better when talking about Brad Brownell and the Clemson Tigers. 

The lone returning starter from last year’s team is Aamir Simms, who is a forward that can score from anywhere on the court and possesses good physical toughness. Tevin Mack is a former Alabama and Texas forward that has hopped around at a rapid pace. He looked good in the World University games, but I still question his ability to bring it to the college level.

Tulsa grad transfer Curran Scott is someone that could be decent for the Tigers this year after averaging 8.9 points for Tulsa while shooting 39% from deep on over 100 attempts. Also, look for the play of guards Al-Amir Dawes and Chase Hunter to lead to some optimism for this Clemson program going forward. 

This Clemson team is one I really don’t like heading into the season, and there are a lot of reasons why. For starters, I don’t think Aamir Simms can step up and be a go-to guy. Tevin Mack has yet to show any sort of consistency at the high-major level and I don’t know if you can trust this back court at all. 

15.Boston College Eagles 

If you are looking for the early favorite to finish last in the league, look no further than Boston College. The Eagles lost their number one player from last years team in Ky Bowman, and while there was a sense of optimism with Wynston Tabbs coming back, last week word came out that Tabbs was going to be out for the entire season with a knee injury, effectively killing all hopes of being competitive.

Looking at this team, Nik Popovic has been really good down-low for Boston College and will be the anchor for this team. Former Duke and USC guard Derryck Thornton will run the point and look to create for others. Elsewhere, Steffon Mitchell and both Jared and Jarius Hamilton will play a role for this team. 

Boston College wasn’t really going to be all that good with Tabbs in the lineup, but they will be downright bad without him. It’s possible that Popovic or Thornton will be really good players, or maybe Steffon Mitchell can improve. We shall wait and see on that. But there shouldn’t be a question on whether or not this will be a good ACC team because the answer, at least from me, is a resounding no.

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