ACC/Big Ten Challenge Best Bets: Look For a ‘B1G’ Tuesday

The college basketball schedule has been littered with captivating matchups out of the gate to begin the season.  While we have lost many games due to the ongoing pandemic, Tuesday night’s slate should be the best college basketball slate of the young season and that’s because the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge officially tips off with a delicious menu of non-conference college basketball goodness.

As we knock on wood to ensure as many of these games as possible can still proceed (we already lost Louisville-Wisconsin and Michigan-NC State), let’s hone in on the Best Bets of the evening in three of the biggest matchups of the week.

#16 North Carolina at #3 Iowa 

Spread: Iowa -3
Total: O/U 155.5
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

The Iowa Hawkeyes couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season.  

Iowa is ranked 3rd in the country, their highest ranking since 2016, and a perfect 3-0 to start the season winning by an average of 33 points per game.  Wooden Award favorite Luka Garza has been utterly ridiculous out of the gates as he is averaging 34 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 76% from the floor and 62.5% (!!) from three-point range.  Have we mentioned the man is nearly 7-feet tall?!

Garza is not a one-man army for Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes either.  Iowa’s trio of Joe Wieskamp, Patrick McCaffery, and Jack Nunge has given the Hawks additional firepower and senior Jordan Bohannon gives Iowa a steady hand at point guard to run the show.     

The Hawkeyes, however, have certainly been feeding off the minnows in college basketball’s ocean of teams.  The likes of NC Central, Southern, and Western Illinois aren’t exactly Final Four sleepers in the making.  Tonight’s contest will be their first true test of the season when the much-improved North Carolina Tar Heels make the rare road trip to Iowa City.

The Heels are off to a 3-1 start to the season, their most recent outing being their lone loss of the season in the Maui Invitational Final to #13 Texas.  The fate of tonight could rest on the ankle of senior center Garrison Brooks, as no one else on the Carolina roster is equipped to handle Garza.  The preseason ACC player of the year has not been cleared to play as of Monday evening, and will likely be a game-time decision for Roy Williams’ bunch.

North Carolina would certainly prefer to have their senior leader on the floor, but if they do not improve upon their grisly shooting numbers of 45.2% from the floor (220th overall by KenPom) and 27.1% from three-point range (237th overall by KenPom), Brooks presence may not mean a whole lot when matching up against the 3rd most efficient offense in the country.  

Fortunately for the Heels, Iowa isn’t exactly known for their defensive prowess.  While they have glowing statistics in every defensive category to start the 2020 season, they will almost surely regress to the mean when they are playing better competition.  A season ago, the Hawkeyes checked in as the 171st most efficient defense in the country and allowed their opponents to shoot nearly 50% from the floor.  North Carolina should have their opportunities to improve their shooting tonight.  

Ultimately this will be one of the more entertaining non-conference games of the season. If Garrison Brooks were 100-percent healthy I would feel a little more comfortable backing the Heels on the road, but Garza is going to be too much to handle. I like the Hawkeyes to cover the 3-point spread if Brooks plays, and I like it even more if he doesn’t.

Prediction: Iowa 80, North Carolina 72
Best Bet: Iowa -3

#6 Illinois at #10 Duke 

Spread: Duke -4
Total: O/U 147.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

The last time these two schools met came back in 2007 when Duke would beat Illinois by the score of 79-66.  To say a few things have changed in the 13 years since would be a slight understatement.  

The one constant in those 13 years would be Duke’s basketball program continually being one of the best in the country, but there are quite a few questions about this season’s Blue Devils, the largest being how they will fare in an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

The results thus far have been mixed.  Duke does enter tonight’s game with a 2-1 record but did lose in their lone test of the early 2020 campaign when they fell 75-69 to now #4 Michigan State.  In their most recent action, the Blue Devils never trailed in a 76-54 victory over Atlantic Sun member Bellarmine as Matthew Hurt chipped in 24 points and went 6-for-8 from distance. 

The competition will see a dramatic boost this evening when 6th ranked Illinois comes to town.  The Illini were last in action six days ago when they would fall to #2 Baylor 82-69 in the Jimmy V Classic.  The Bears’ combination of outside shooting and smothering defense was too much to overcome for Brad Underwood’s team in the second half after the Illini went into the halftime break trailing by just a point.

The Illini are paced by their dynamic duo of Ayo Dosunmu (23.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg) and Kofi Cockburn (13.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and feature the 11th best three-point shooting team in the country.  The Illini are not only snipers from outside, they are also a terror on the glass and boast the 2nd best offensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom’s analytic ratings.  That could ultimately be the difference in tonight’s game.  

In Duke’s loss to Michigan State, the Blue Devils struggled against the Spartans’ physicality.  Duke was outrebounded and shot a paltry 32% from the floor.  Without the screaming student body to propel them, the team had a hard time ending the Spartans surge in the second half and the teams’ inexperience began to appear.  While Duke has played another game since the same issues that haunted them in their loss to Michigan State may haunt them once more tonight.

It’s hard to envision Duke being 0-2 on their home floor against a pair of Top 10 opponents, but the 2020 season will be full of surprises with this being the most chaotic season in history.  The young Blue Devils will gel soon enough, but tonight the experienced Illini will use the same blueprint their conference foes used against them last week to land a big road victory.

Prediction: Illinois 79, Duke 74
Best Bet: Illinois +4 (Would also sprinkle some on Illinois ML)

Syracuse at #21 Rutgers 

Spread: Rutgers -3.5
Total: O/U 140.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN2

While this matchup doesn’t feature a blue blood program like North Carolina or Duke, this could be one of the better games of the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge when it’s all said and done.

Syracuse enters tonight’s contest with a perfect 3-0 record on the season, their latest victory being a 35-point drubbing of MAAC member Rider.  Jim Boeheim’s Orange entered the season with expectations that they would be a three-point chucking machine, and they’ve been every bit as advertised.  In their 87-52 win over Rider, ‘Cuse shot 15-of-30 from distance, by far their best showing to date in the young season.

The Orange have been led in large part by the frontcourt tandem of Alan Griffin (16.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), and Quincy Guerrier (16.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg).  The team did get back shooting specialist, and coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim for their victory over Rider, but he will be missing in action this evening as he is quarantining after being deemed that he was close in contact with a walk-on player that tested positive for COVID-19.  Freshman Kadary Richmond will fill in as Boeheim sits, and while he’s not the shooter that Boeheim is, he has shown to be a very capable defender and feels like a natural fit in Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. 

Meanwhile, Rutgers was on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991 when last season abruptly ended, and several questions swirled over the team entering this season in regards to whether or not they’d be able to replicate last season’s success all over again.

So far, so good for the Scarlet Knights.  Rutgers was one of the stronger home teams in the country a season ago and they’re a perfect 3-0 at the RAC to kick off the new campaign.  The Scarlet Knights have been led by their trio of guards with Ron Harper Jr. (21.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Jacob Young (15.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), and Montez Mathis (15.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) all picking up where they left off last season.   

Where there could be some concern, however, comes with the fact Rutgers has not played in 10 days.  Additionally, while their guard play is among the strongest in the Big Ten, they’re not an outside shooting team whatsoever.  A season ago, Rutgers had the 295th ranked three-point shooting team in the country, this season that’s up to 202nd, but the Scarlet Knight’s first three opponents have been softer than a new roll of Charmin.  They still can’t shoot from outside.

Rutgers is also a woeful team at the free-throw line, shooting it 55% from the charity stripe to begin the season after fielding the 333rd rated free-throw shooting team a season ago.  

Where Rutgers earns their milk money comes on the defensive end of the floor and by attacking the paint.  Rutgers boasted the 6th most efficient defense in college basketball a season ago per KenPom and currently sits at 12th overall after the first few weeks of action.  They will force the Orange into a lot of contested shots and they will attack the Cuse zone on the glass.  

This game just screams like a hard-fought defensive battle with a lot of shots clanging off the rim.  I don’t have a strong feel for a side in this matchup but I love the under and look for a game in which each opponent struggles to hit 70 points. 

Prediction: Rutgers 68, Syracuse 65
Best Bet: UNDER 140.5

Champions Classic Best Bets: Ride the Dukies and Rock Chalk to Victory

Arguably the best preseason college basketball event returns this evening, albeit in a slightly different setting than we’re accustomed to seeing thanks to the pandemic, when the Champions Classic tips off with a pair of matchups between Michigan State and Duke, and Kansas and Kentucky.

Typically, we’ve seen this showcase be the informal start of the new college basketball season with these four bluebloods meeting on a neutral court to test out their early preseason rankings.  This season, only Kansas and Kentucky will be playing on a neutral floor in Indianapolis with Michigan State meeting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium with no fans or media in attendance.  That will make tonight’s matchups all the more interesting.

Speaking of those matchups, let’s dive right into tonight’s action and kick off the month of December with a pair of Best Bets for tonight’s Champions Classic. 

(8) Michigan State at (6) Duke

Game to be played without fans in attendance

Spread: Duke -3.5
Total: O/U 149.5
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

In the first matchup of the evening, 8th ranked Michigan State (2-0) travels to a Cameron Indoor Stadium to meet 6th ranked Duke (1-0).

The Spartans are coming off of an impressive 80-70 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate, as they at one point in the second half would lead by 22 points thanks to a 26-0 run that closed out the first half and spilled into the second half.  

The Spartans defense would lock down the Fighting Irish, keeping them scoreless for over nine minutes of game action.  They looked noticeably sharper in their second game of the season, following their season-opening victory over Eastern Michigan.

The same could not be said for the new-look Blue Devils in their season-opening tune-up against Coppin State.  While Duke did open the season with a 10-point victory, they were favored by 39.5-points and seemed to struggle on the defensive end of the floor, particularly in defending the perimeter where Coppin State would hit 10 three-point shots on the night. 

After leading by 17 at the break, the Devils would be outscored in the second half 43-36.  Not exactly what you’d like to see against a team that went 11-20 playing out of the MEAC a season ago.

Considering the very unorthodox offseason college basketball has experienced, however, a rusty start out of the gates in the season opener is not the worst thing in the world, nor was it a shock to see.  It goes without saying though that Duke will need to play significantly better this evening to avoid a rare home loss.

That unorthodox offseason will spill into the regular season, however, and we get our first real taste of that this evening when this game is played without any fans or media in attendance.  In a non-pandemic setting, this game would be on a neutral floor with two rowdy fan bases trading cheers and jeers, and if Michigan State ever came to Cameron Indoor for a basketball game, the energy from the crowd would be at a different level.

We’re not going to get that tonight, and we will see for the first time this season how well Duke can adjust to not having a boisterous crowd behind them to fuel their momentum. 

Fortunately for Duke, Coach K will once again have a loaded stable of freshmen to lean on not only tonight but throughout the season.  Five-star recruit Jalen Johnson appears to be the best of the bunch and may begin to emerge as the leader of the team, and DJ Steward could become the best sixth man in the country (24 points, 9 boards against Coppin State).  Sophomores Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt are the elder statesmen of the starting five and will be counted on tonight to help the young freshmen in the scoring column.

Michigan State, on the other hand, boasts a very experienced group and looks to resume their standing as a Top 10 defensive unit, and their recent matchup against Notre Dame reiterated this even further. 

The Spartans starting five is equal parts talented and experienced.  Three juniors and one senior make up Izzo’s starting unit, with Marquette transfer Joey Hauser already off to a fast start with a pair of double-doubles to start his Michigan State career.  Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry give the Spartans a pair of dynamic scoring threats, and sophomore Rocket Watts looks to be the next great Tom Izzo point guard in the making.

This will be a phenomenal matchup and one where we will certainly miss the atmosphere from the Cameron Crazies.  Michigan State will once again be a strong contender in the Big Ten, but I believe Duke bounces back tonight and plays with a much sharper focus.  We’ve seen how teams start slow out of the gates across every sport making its return from the pandemic and I think Duke is not much different. 

Oddsmakers have this line sitting anywhere between 3 and 3.5 points tonight and I think that prediction is dead on.  I’m taking the Dukies to cover narrowly and to pass their first true test of the season.  I also like the over a lot tonight as well.

Prediction: Duke 78, Michigan State 74
Best Bet: Duke -3.5; OVER 149.5

(7) Kansas vs. (20) Kentucky

Game to be played at neutral court (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN)

Spread: Kansas -4.5
Total: O/U 143.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

There probably isn’t a tougher team to play to open the season, especially a season with the dark clouds of a pandemic hanging above it, than #1 Gonzaga, but that’s exactly the fate that Kansas endured when they suffered a 102-90 loss at the hands of the top-ranked team in the country on Thanksgiving Day.

Kansas did rebound nicely the following day with a 94-72 blowout victory over St. Joseph’s with sophomore Christian Braun chipping in a 30-point, eight-rebound day for Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

Now the Jayhawks prepare for a date with 20th ranked Kentucky, coming off of their first loss of the season when they fell 76-64 to a dangerous Richmond team full of experience.

This isn’t a different script than we are accustomed to seeing from Kentucky, however.  Once again, John Calipari has a roster stacked to the brim with freshmen talent, and once again that young team is going through some early growing pains in the beginning stages of the season.  Remember, this is a Kentucky team that lost by 3 at home to Evansville early last season, so it does take a bit of time for Calipari’s teams to get their footing and for their young talent to gel as a cohesive unit.

That steep learning curve the young ‘Cats are on presently is not likely to remedy itself tonight.  Against the Spiders, Cal’s ‘Cats didn’t make a single three-point shot (0 for 10) and are back to struggling at the free-throw line, shooting just 62% from the charity stripe to begin the year.

While Kentucky does boast one of the best freshmen in college basketball, and a possible #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft in BJ Boston (17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), the Wildcats roster is still extremely young and trying to figure out who they are right now.

Kansas, on the other hand, already has a better idea of the type of team they can be thanks in large part to that brutal season opener.  Gonzaga is every bit as good as advertised and Kansas, to their credit, played very hard and erased an early double-digit deficit before simply tiring out down the stretch.  Kentucky is not Gonzaga, and Kansas should reap the benefits of a young team still growing on the fly.

Look for the Jayhawks to win, and to win a little comfortably tonight.  They defend better, they shoot better and are just overall the better team at this point in the season.

Don’t fret too much about Kentucky if they do lose tonight, however, as they will be their usual dangerous self as the season goes on.

Prediction: Kansas 81, Kentucky 70
Best Bet: Kansas -4.5

ACC College Basketball 2020-21 Preview

The ACC was well on their way to having one of the most disappointing showings in conference history before the COVID-19 put an end to the college basketball season in the middle of March.

Despite the surprisingly down season from the conference, Duke was still sitting in the top-10, Florida State was emerging as a real threat to make a deep run in the tournament, Louisville was a dangerous team, and Virginia was playing some of its best basketball of the season.

The 2020/21 campaign should have the ACC returning more to the form we’re accustomed to seeing from the basketball power conference, though the league does not have a truly imposing team for all of the country to fear either.

Instead, the ACC is a very balanced conference this season that will have its familiar names at the top of the standings, but when it comes to the rest of the pecking order the conference has the potential to be very competitive and very exciting.

Here’s how the ACC shakes out for the upcoming season.

The Contenders

#4 Virginia Cavaliers (+215 to Win ACC)

Before the 2019/20 college basketball season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers were quietly playing their best basketball of the season.  They were on an eight-game winning streak and heading into the ACC Tournament before they would defend their title in March.

That of course never got the chance to happen, but Tony Bennett’s team is in perfect position this season to pick up where they left off in March and to be a very serious contender in cutting the nets down all over again. 

The Hoos are widely considered to be the favorite to win the ACC this season, both from pundits and oddsmakers alike and for good reason.  Tony Bennett has compiled quite the group for the 2020/21 campaign. 

A strong returning core became that much better when Bennett added Marquette grad transfer, Sam Hauser, to the team.  Hauser is the ideal stretch four and will dramatically improve the Virginia offense.  Once again the veteran Kihei Clark will run the point, and he is amongst the most efficient point guards in all of college basketball.

Bennett also has a solid incoming recruiting class, headlined by four-star recruit Jabril Abdur-Rahim.  If that name sounds somewhat familiar, it’s probably because he is the son of former NBA star Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Top to bottom, there is not a more complete team in the ACC than Virginia.  If there is a 1 seed to come out of the ACC this season, it will likely be Bennett’s Cavs that land it.

#9 Duke Blue Devils (+225 to Win ACC)

No one in the ACC has reaped the benefits of the one-and-done era more than Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils.  We’ve seen some of the most highly-decorated recruiting classes in college basketball come through Durham, North Carolina, but the 2020/21 iteration of Duke basketball will look differently than we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

Before Duke haters rejoice that Coach K doesn’t have a future #1 overall draft pick on his roster, it should be known that he does have a team riddled with five-star talent once again. 

Freshman guards Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward will fill the holes from Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley departing to the NBA, while the front-court will be aided by the additions of five-star forwards Jalen Johnson and Jaemyn Brakefield. 

Duke saw center Vernon Carey depart for the NBA Draft, but also added four-star center Mark Williams and grad transfer Patrick Tape (Columbia) to help fill that void.  In addition to that, the Blue Devils also get Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore back, so this is going to be a very deep team with no spectacular star that stands out. 

If there’s a potential x-factor to the upcoming season for Duke, however, it’s the fact that this season will be played with no fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  If there’s a school in college basketball that has an imposing home-court advantage, it’s Duke.  Does taking that away level the playing field now with other schools who have notoriously struggled playing in that hostile environment?  We’re about to find out.  

#21 Florida State Seminoles (+300 to Win ACC)

Thanks to the sudden stoppage of the 2019/20 season, the Florida State Seminoles are your reigning ACC champions.  Florida State will need to replace the losses of Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams, both of whom were lottery picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

Leonard Hamilton has quietly built quite the program in Tallahassee, however, and Florida State may just very well be a basketball school now the way their football program has struggled immensely over the last several seasons.

Hamilton’s program is now in the position to draw in top recruits and did just that when Scottie Barnes signed on to play at Florida State.  The 6’9” five-star prospect became the highest-rated recruit to ever play at Florida State and is a likely high draft pick in the making for the 2021 NBA Draft.  He was also tabbed as the preseason Freshman of the Year in the ACC by coaches and media alike. 

If Barnes plays to his potential, the ‘Noles could soar once more.  Florida State returns three starters including guards M.J. Walker and Anthony Polite.  Sophomore Balsa Koprivica also returns to the team after showing a lot of promise in his freshman season that was cut short with a back injury. 

The Dangerous Sleepers

#16 North Carolina Tar Heels (+650 to Win ACC)

If there was anyone in college basketball not terribly sad to see the season suddenly get canceled days before the bracket was to be announced, it was probably Roy Williams. 

North Carolina began the season ranked in the Top 10, with prized recruit Cole Anthony added to a roster that was expected to take another run at an ACC championship.  Instead, the Tar Heels would be mired by injury and have a disastrous 14-19 season while finishing in a three-way tie for last place in the conference with Pitt and Wake Forest.

Now UNC returns reloaded with the 2nd best-recruiting class in the country and the preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year in Garrison Brooks.  Media members seem to buy into the Tar Heels to bounce back as they’re ranked higher than Florida State in the preseason Top 25 poll.  If the loaded freshman class gels better than it did a year ago, North Carolina could be a potentially dangerous team come March.

Miami Hurricanes (+2000 to Win ACC)

After back-to-back losing seasons in South Beach, Jim Larranaga has quietly assembled a roster of talent that’s capable of giving the contenders in the conference a scare at the top of the standings and to send the Canes back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.

Miami boasts one of the best backcourts in the entire country with seniors Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty.  The Canes depth is where the backcourt gets really fun though as sophomores Isaiah Wong and Harland Beverly, along with standout recruit Earl Timberlake (no relation to Justin) round out Larranaga’s stable of talented guards.

The frontcourt also received a jolt of talent when Cincinnati transfer Nysier Brooks agreed to join the team, giving the Canes one of the best interior defenders in the country.  Brooks should help alleviate the loss of Sam Waardenburg, Miami’s leading rebounder from a year ago, who will miss the season with a foot injury.  

If the Canes can avoid any additional losses to their front-court, and Brooks can step in for Waardenburg, Miami has the potential to be a second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament when it’s all said and done.

Middle of the Pack

Louisville Cardinals (+1200 to Win ACC)

Louisville is a team with futures odds that have not quite adjusted to the actual state of the team.  Oddsmakers have Chris Mack’s group at 12/1 to win the ACC, but we would consider that to be much too high at the moment.

The Cardinals were already going to face a significant challenge in replacing the talent they were losing, as Mack losing his team’s 4 top scorers from a year ago including the services of Jordan Nwora, who departed for the NBA Draft.

Chris Mack’s answer to fill those voids was to hit the transfer portal, as Charles Mineland (San Francisco) and Carlik Jones (Radford) both made their way over to Louisville in the offseason and to rely on their most experienced returning player, Malik Williams, to be the team anchor. 

Unfortunately for Mack, Mineland already suffered a knee injury and will not be available for at least six weeks and Williams will miss at least 12 weeks with a broken bone in his foot.  He will likely be lost for the season entirely.

That puts the load on the aforementioned Carlik Jones and sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson.  Williamson has freakish potential and could be a high draft pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but Louisville is dangerously thin everywhere else on the roster. 

Chris Mack is a great coach, but he will need an extra level of wizardry to get Louisville to the top of the conference standings once again.    

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+3200 to Win ACC)

While North Carolina was the biggest surprise from the ACC a season ago for all the wrong reasons, Georgia Tech was the conference’s biggest surprise for all the right ones.

Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets were tabbed to finish 12th in the ACC a season ago by coaches and media alike, and Georgia Tech wound up overachieving en route to finishing 5th in the conference.  Had the season not been canceled, there’s a very good chance Pastner would have at least had his team in the NIT – a great achievement considering where the program was when he took over four years ago.

Now as Pastner enters his fifth season he hopes the experienced backcourt of Jose Alvarado (14.4 ppg) and Mike DeVoe (16.0 ppg, 42.7% 3PM) can get the Jackets back in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid. 

If there’s a glaring issue with the Yellow Jackets roster this season it’s the lack of a dependable rim protector, as James Banks graduated from the school.  Banks was an imposing presence down low for the Yellow Jackets and his rebounding and rim protection will be missed this year.  Pastner hopes that 7-footer freshman Saba Gigiberia can fill this void, but it’s a pretty big ask of the youngster.

With that said, Georgia Tech will give a lot of teams fits with their high-scoring backcourt and at least on a game-by-game basis should merit strong consideration in betting on them against the spread.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+4000 to Win ACC)

While Duke and North Carolina get the fortunate break of reloading with five-star talent whenever they see fit, Mike Brey and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have to go the old school route of building a team by recruiting talent that’s looking to stay with the team for at least three years, and ideally for four.

After a 14-win season in 2018, Mike Brey’s Irish finished with a very respectable 20-12 record including an opening-round victory in the ACC Tournament.

That would place this year’s version of the Fighting Irish right around year three of Mike Brey’s plan to get Notre Dame back into the NCAA Tournament, meaning the pressure to take that next step falls on the shoulders of juniors Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin.  The Irish guard tandem will be joined by Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan, giving the Irish a trio of scoring threats from the perimeter.

In the Notre Dame frontcourt, Juwan Durham will give the Irish one of the best rim protectors in the conference, and junior Nate Laszewski will be asked to fill the void left by John Mooney’s departure.  Beyond that, however, Notre Dame has a lot of questions defensively, and that figures to be the biggest issue they will deal with throughout the season.

If Notre Dame can tighten up the defense and their junior class continues to improve, the Irish could be in the bubble conversation, but they look more likely to be a higher scoring team that will have a hard time hanging with the bigger, more athletic teams in the conference.

Syracuse Orange (+5000 to Win ACC)

Jim Boeheim appears to already be 1-0 on the year after beating COVID-19, so that’s a good start to the season for the famed Syracuse coach.

On the actual basketball court, however, Syracuse may face a little more difficulty. 

Syracuse will be a fun team to watch play at least, as Boeheim has two guards that will be encouraged to launch it from three-point range in Joe Girard and Jim’s son Buddy Boeheim.  Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe also return to Cuse’s starting lineup, with their biggest responsibilities being to play the suffocating trademark 2-3 zone defense on ACC opponents.

Boeheim’s group, however, will be among the youngest in the conference as he will add seven freshmen in total to the team.  How good this Orange team can be will largely come down to how quickly those freshmen can pick up Boeheim’s 2-3 defense. 

NC State Wolf Pack (+8000 to Win ACC)

History tells us that one of the teams in the “middle of the pack” of the ACC will eventually emerge as an NCAA Tournament team.  This season that team could very well be that of Kevin Keatts NC State Wolf Pack.

While Keatts loses the services of dynamic guard Markell Johnson, he fields a team with a lot of experience including his trio of seniors in Devon Daniels, D.J. Funderburk, and Braxton Beverly.  NC State added four-star freshman Cameron Hayes as well as Nebraska transfer Thomas Allen as a means to replace Johnson, but this is a team that has more depth than most of the schools in the ACC and will play a high-tempo brand of basketball that could be very difficult to go against.

If the Pack can successfully find a new point guard to run the offense, this is a very dangerous team lurking in the middle of the conference.

Clemson Tigers (+20000 to Win ACC)

Clemson, believe it or not, actually plays basketball too!  And coach Brad Brownell may have the Tigers’ best recruiting class yet.  Well, in basketball anyway.

Brownell landed a trio of four-star recruits including guard P.J. Hall, forward Olivier Maxence-Prosper, and center Lynn Kidd.  Perhaps the best news of all came when forward Aamir Simms (13.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) returned to the team after lukewarm interest in the NBA Draft.

Couple all of that with the exciting growth of sophomores Al-Amir Dawes (9.0 ppg) and John Newman III (9.5 ppg) and the Tigers could be a potentially dangerous opponent throughout league play.

It’s unlikely that Clemson has the talent to contend for the ACC crown, but a few upset wins could place the Tigers in the thick of the race for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Long Shots

Virginia Tech Hokies (+10000 to Win ACC)

Mike Young’s first season at Virginia Tech after a very successful coaching career at Wofford got off to mixed reviews.  Young inherited a roster that lost a lot of talent from Buzz Williams’ last season with the Hokies and got the Hokies off to a 14-5 start to the season.

Virginia Tech would then go on to finish the year 2-11, and Young’s standout frosh Landers Nolley would transfer to Memphis shortly after the season ended.

That puts the Hokies in a precarious position for the 2020/21 year, and Virginia Tech is expected to finish at the bottom of the conference as a result. 

However, if there are positives to take into the new season for the Hokies it’s that the team returns his top three players in three-pointers made from a season ago, and Young was able to add grad transfers Cartier Diarra (Kansas State) and Cordell Pemsl (Iowa) into the mix.

Best case scenario for the season would be overachieving on the part of this young roster and a run at a possible NIT bid.  In all likelihood though, the Hokies will struggle to hit .500 and be one of the first teams eliminated in the ACC Tournament.

Pittsburgh Panthers (+10000 to Win ACC)

Jeff Capel has Pitt heading in the right direction, but the Panthers are still several pieces away from being a contender in the conference again.

Pitt does return a trio of talented players that showed flashes of playing really good basketball a season ago with Xavier Johnson (11.7 ppg), Justin Champagnie (12.7 ppg), and Au’Diese Toney (9.5 ppg).  Capel was hoping to also have the services of Miami (Ohio) transfer Nike Sibande, but he will not be immediately eligible to play after having his request denied by the NCAA.

If the trio of experienced players can outperform what they did a season ago, Pitt has the potential to at the least be a difficult team to face.  But the Panthers are likely in for another long season as they try to undo the horror that was the Kevin Stallings era.

Boston College Eagles (+30000 to Win ACC)

There’s really nothing to write home about here with Boston College, as in my opinion, they are your likely bet to finish dead last in the conference.

This is likely to be the last season of the Jim Christian coaching experience.  The Eagles will at least have a fun backcourt to pay attention to with Wynston Tabbs returning from injury to join Providence transfer Makai Ashton-Langford, but beyond that, this is a team that will struggle to win double-digit games this season.  They may be a fun team to fade against the spread, however.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (+50000 to Win ACC)

Wake Forest is going to be a team to reckon with, but probably not until the 2022 season at the earliest.  Danny Manning has been fired and the school made a phenomenal hire when they hired Steve Forbes from East Tennessee State.

Forbes will get the Deacs to play hard and win a few games they probably shouldn’t, but this team can’t be expected to do a whole lot this season, as they don’t return a single player that averaged more than eight points per game.

ACC Projected Order of Finish

  1. Virginia
  2. Duke
  3. Florida State
  4. North Carolina
  5. Miami
  6. Louisville
  7. NC State
  8. Georgia Tech
  9. Syracuse
  10. Clemson
  11. Notre Dame
  12. Virginia Tech
  13. Pittsburgh
  14. Wake Forest
  15. Boston College