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

No. 21 Liberty Flames at North Carolina State Wolfpack Betting Preview

Saturday, November 21, 2020, Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, North Carolina, 7:30 p.m. ET

Flames at Wolfpack Betting Preview: Flames (+3.5), Wolfpack (-3.5)

No. 21 Liberty Flames Betting Preview

The No. 21 Flames (8-0) will take a crack at an Atlantic Coast Conference sweep Saturday night when they meet North Carolina State at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

Liberty is off to its best start in program history and already has defeated ACC members Syracuse and Virginia Tech.

“I told somebody I’m afraid that our people will expect us to win every ACC game we ever play now,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “That’s not real realistic, I don’t think. We’ll keep taking them as they come.”

The Flames have been dazzling behind quarterback Malik Willis, who transferred from Auburn and sat out the 2019 season before making highlights this season.

Willis has thrown for 15 touchdowns with just one interception. He also has a team-high 700 rushing yards and scored nine of the team’s 20 rushing touchdowns. 

“Obviously this whole thing is going to be about being able to get Willis off track because nobody has been able to do that,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said.

Willis has been effective even with the Flames without a full stable of receivers because of injuries.

Defeating Virginia Tech, 38-35, on the road two weeks ago on Alex Barbir’s last-second, 51-yard field goal provided another chapter in the storybook season.

“How long that lasts, I don’t know, but we’re going to have great memories from this year from what’s been done to this point,” Freeze said.

Liberty, with three games remaining, holds a 10-game winning streak, one shy of the school record set from Oct. 20, 2007, to Oct. 11, 2008 when it competed at the FCS level.

North Carolina State Wolfpack Betting Preview

The Wolfpack (5-3) snapped a mild two-game losing streak with last week’s 38-22 victory against visiting Florida State.

Bailey Hockman, who was in his second game as the starter at quarterback since returning to that role, had a solid outing for the Wolfpack. He passed for 265 yards with 24 completions in 34 attempts with three touchdowns against a lone interception.

“Anytime your quarterback is playing well, I don’t care what level of football you’re playing, you’ve got a chance to be really good,” Doeren said. “He’s played at a high level for two weeks, so we’re very excited.”

For the season, Hockman is 84 of 132 passing for 545 yards with eight touchdowns. But he also has eight interceptions.

Part of Hockman’s success against Florida State was related to redshirt junior receiver Thayer Thomas’ career-high 11 catches and 135 yards. Thomas also scored twice.

“I feel like this year I’ve had a lot of different opportunities, and I feel like I’ve made the most of every opportunity I’ve been given, regardless of the circumstances,” Thomas said.

Flames at Wolfpack Betting Pick

The Flames will be trying to go 3-0 against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents after posting earlier wins over Syracuse and Virginia Tech with all three games on the road. NC State won the only previous meeting over the Flames, 43-31 back in 2011.

Flames at Wolfpack Betting Pick:

Flames 41, Wolfpack 31

Flames at Wolfpack Best Bet

The Flames have averaged 46 points a game over their last five outings since posting a 28-7 win over North Alabama back on October 3. The Wolfpack have scored 79 points their last two games, though 41 came in a 3-point loss to Miami.

Flames at Wolfpack Best Bet:  67.5

–Field Level Media