This article is part of our Conference Preview series.
Thanks to elite recruiting and big name brands, this intro rarely changes. The ACC is in reload mode annually, with eight of the top 10 leading scores no longer in the conference. It's not quite as bad on the glass, with half of the top 10 rebounds returning. You'd think the constant turnover would lead to new breakout names, but that's rarely the case. Moreso, this is a league to be aggressive in targeting freshmen for new production, with eight top 30 recruits joining the conference.
Overall: Garrison Brooks, F, North Carolina
Brooks is the conference's leading returning scorer, and second leading rebounder, averaging 16.8 ppg and 8.5 rpg a year ago. After missing one contest with an ankle injury, he returned to post 24.2 ppg over his final six contests, trying to will the Heels into postseason action. You can argue the Heels deep frontcourt, which includes budding sophomore Armando Bacot and freshmen Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, could limit Brooks' minutes, especially early against lesser competition. The flip argument is defenses won't be able to double Brooks in the post, at all. Brooks probably isn't a National POY candidate, but he's a virtual lock for first-team All-ACC, and the odds-on favorite for league POY.
Scoring: Michael Devoe, G, Georgia Tech
Devoe took a huge step forward as a sophomore last year, averaging 16.0 ppg after just 9.7 ppg as a freshman. He did so by bolstering his shooting percentage eight point to 48 percent, and unlike other options in this conference that are one-trick ponies in the scoring column, Devoe mixed in 3.9 boards, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals. There may not be much room for statistical growth, but Devoe looks like a stable option at worst, having more 20+ point outings (nine) than single-digit games (five) in 2019-20.
Rebounding Steffon Mitchell, F, Boston College
There may not be much balance to Mitchell, but you know he'll carry you on the glass. He's averaged at least 7.9 boards in each of his first three seasons on Chestnut Hill, and there's no reason to expect less as a senior given his minutes. Mitchell averaged 32.5 mpg, a number he topped 18 times in his final 22 games. He doesn't score much, reaching 10+ points just 10 times all of last year, but three of those came in the Eagles' last four games, so maybe there's hope. He's also a capable passer, who despite a 3.1 assist average, had seven games with 5+ dimes.
Assists: Kihei Clark, G, Virginia
Clark averaged 5.9 assists on a team that ranked dead last in the ACC in scoring at just 57.0 ppg. He mixed in 10.8 ppg in his own right, a number that could slip a bit with better scoring around him. But that better scoring should help Clark continue to distribute at a high level. The options immediately below may offer more balance, but Clark remains the favorite to lead the conference in facilitation.
Center: Jay Huff, C Virginia
Is this the year Huff puts it all together? Or better yet, is this the year Tony Bennett allows Huff to flourish consistently? Huff certainly took a step forward as a junior, but still have seven games with less than 20 minutes, be it due to fouls or coach's decision. It makes him volatile on a nightly/weekly basis, but there aren't many centers with as much upside as Huff, who had four double-doubles, one coming in a 15-point, 10-block outing against Duke. With Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key moving on, there's ample rebounds available for Huff, and it would be a major disappointment if he didn't substantially better his 8.5 ppg and 6.2 rpg from last season.
Also considered: Manny Bates, North Carolina State
Freshman: Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
Per usual, there's no shortage of incoming talent, both in the league and in Durham. Johnson leads the way and is poised to play a vital role on the wing, similar to that of Jabari Parker, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum previously. His game is that of a slasher, not so much a shooter, so scoring could be a tad inconsistent. But Johnson is a skilled passer and his length can lead to defensive numbers as well.
Manny Bates, C, North Carolina State
Bates is likely to have center eligibility, and he's single-handedly capable of carrying your team in blocks. That's the floor here, and there could be a huge ceiling if he can stay on the court. He averaged 5.1 points and 4.0 boards (to go with 2.9 blocks) in just 18.4 minutes as a true freshman while shooting 65.3 percent. While he's not likely going to be a 30-minute guy, a few additional minutes, paired with maturity and opportunity with the 'Pack replacing their top three scorers, and there's breakout potential.
Matthew Hurt, F, Duke
It's often easy to overlook non-freshmen at Duke, as you assume they weren't good enough to leave after one year, and are merely role players moving forward. While that could be true, Hurt is a former five-star, top-ten recruit who struggled last year because of a lack of muscle. Assuming he's matured physically and is no longer a defensive liability -- big assumptions -- there's potential for Hurt to take a huge step forward as a sophomore. He could even play some center under that scenario, allowing the Blue Devils to space teams out and be impossible to guard on the perimeter. Hurt is a top-notch shooter that just needs more minutes in order to come into meaningful scoring and rebounding numbers.
Tyrece Radford, G, Virginia Tech
Radford averaged a team-high 6.2 rebounds as a freshman, a great number from the guard position. Even if he doesn't improve on that, or his 10.2 ppg, there's appeal in ACC-only formats. With more scoring opportunities available, however, there's reason to expect growth, all while knowing the 60.4 percent field-goal percentage likely isn't repeatable. He's not a 3-point shooter, which may actually work in his favor as he scores in a variety of ways and won't be prone to long slumps.
Nate Laszewski, F, Notre Dame
Laszewski profiles somewhat similarly to Hurt above in the he's a skilled shooter who has struggled with a lack of size. What's different for Laszewski is we know he'll be thrust into major minutes with John Mooney no longer in South Bend. He flashed last season, reaching double-digits 13 times, eight of which came in conference. He posted one double-double last season and seems like the favorite to lead the Irish in rebounding. He's not going to be the double-double machine Mooney was, but a poor man's version would still offer appear in most formats.
Sam Hauser, F, Virginia
Hauser isn't going to come cheaply, as he's widely being named first team all conference and garnering Player of the Year attention. He averaged 14.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 2.4 apg, and will immediately slot as the lead option for a team that lost two of its top three scorers from a year ago. No reason to overthink here -- Hauser is amongst the league's best bets.
Cartier Diarra, G, Virginia Tech
Diarra averaged 13.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.8 steals last year for Kansas State. The assists figure to be a challenge to replicate with Wabissa Bede (5.5 apg) likely to remain the Hokies' floor general, but it seems reasonable to expect Diarra to absorb a large portion of the scoring onus vacated by Landers Nolley's (15.5 ppg) transfer out.
Nick Honor, G, Clemson
Honor averaged 15.3 points in his one season at Fordham, adding 3.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds. That was done largely out of necessity, as the Rams are a bottom feeder in a second-tier conference. His 5-foot-10 frame may not be ideal given this vast step up in class. Fordham has lost players to Power 5 programs previously, and they found success, namely Eric Paschall at Villanova. Clemson certainly needs a scoring jolt. I just don't think Honor is ready for huge production in his first ACC season.
Carlik Jones, G, Louisville
Jones comes to Louisville after averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Those numbers are obviously terrific, but not likely replicable in the ACC. The plus side is that Jones should have ample opportunity to produce, with the Cards needing to replace Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton. They've got an emerging star in David Johnson that can take some pressure off of Jones too. He didn't get much Power 5 exposure, but put up 17.5 points and 7.0 assists against Northwestern and Mississippi State. I'd temper expectations some, as we just don't regularly see transfers move up this high in competition and immediately shine, but Jones has the talent and opportunity to do just that.
- Garrison Brooks, F, North Carolina
- Sam Hauser, F, Virginia
- David Johnson, G, Louisville
- Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
- Michael Devoe, G, Georgia Tech
- Xavier Johnson, G, Pitt
- Jay Huff, C, Virginia
- Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
- Jose Alvarado, G, Georgia Tech
- Caleb Love, G, North Carolina
*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2020-21 player rankings.
Projected Team Standings
- North Carolina
- Florida State
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech
- North Carolina State
- Notre Dame
- Boston College
- Wake Forest
Team notes: There are pretty clear tiers here, with lines being drawn after Duke and Miami. Virginia's experience wins out atop the conference, while North Carolina bounces back after a miserable 2019-20 behind a deep front court. I question Florida State's ability to successfully replace Devin Vassell, Trent Forrest and Patrick Williams. Miami is ascending and should challenge for a tournament bid, while Virginia Tech is likely a year away. I like the talent better than the team results have indicated at both Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Wake Forest is a disaster.
For deeper or Big Ten-only leagues, we'll include projected team rotations here. Asterisks denote any player whose status is uncertain for the upcoming season (i.e. awaiting a waiver ruling). Think we left anyone out? Let us know in the comments.
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