If there seems to be a void atop the ACC, it’s only because, well, most teams in the league are facing significant voids from last season.
Ten players from the ACC were picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, including five of the top 10. Virginia is the defending national champion but has to replace the trio of Kyle Guy, DeAndre Hunter and Ty Jerome, Duke reloads with another crop of one-and-dones — though we won’t see anything close to the Circus of Zion — and North Carolina has to replace its top five scorers.
The league will have stars and will have great teams — it’s just unclear as to who and which ones most of them are right now.
Here’s the preseason All-ACC ballot I submitted Tuesday:
Predicted order of finish:
3. North Carolina
5. Florida State
6. N.C. State
7. Notre Dame
10. Georgia Tech
12. Boston College
14. Wake Forest
15. Virginia Tech
My take: Louisville joins the hierarchy at the top, at least for this season.
But Duke, which is afforded the luxury of returning its point guard, is the most-talented team in the league again. Vernon Carey Jr. seems like the next star one-and-done, while the Blue Devils have enough complimentary parts to form what might be a complete team rather than the assembled cast of mercenaries it’s had in years past.
I was impressed with Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, Louisville’s new point guard, when he played Wake Forest last year in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. He’s probably the key to the Cardinals’ season, a graduate transfer tasked with leading what’s probably the best frontcourt in the league, with Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch and Malik Williams.
North Carolina and Virginia have to replace a ton of production, but they’re programs that reload rather than rebuild. Florida State also has a bunch to replace, but its replacements have already been on the roster.
It’s a doughy middle, just like football, which I guess can happen with 14- and 15-team leagues. Notre Dame doesn’t have a single newcomer on its roster, but the Irish can surge back into the top half of the league with the healthy return of Rex Pflueger.
Georgia Tech has quietly built some talent base, but who knows how that team reacts with news that its season has a definite ending already? Boston College went 14-17 last season and lost Ky Bowman.
Wake Forest is probably more talented than at least three of the teams I’ve picked in front of them — if things come together, the Deacons might even play their way out of the first day of the ACC Tournament.
Welcome to the ACC, Mike Young. It’s nothing personal — the Hokies land in the cellar for preseason predictions because their top returning scorer, Mount Tabor product Isaiah Wilkins, averaged 4.7 points per game last season.
Jordan Nwora, Louisville
Tre Jones, Duke
Cole Anthony, UNC
John Mooney, ND
Markell Johnson, N.C. State
My take: See below for Nwora.
Jones might wind up with the third- or fourth-best scoring average on his team, but his value will be measured in on-ball defense and how he manages a crop of talented freshmen.
A similar responsibility will be placed on Anthony, North Carolina’s freshman point guard.
Mooney was edged out by Nwora for the league’s most-improved player award last season (30-27) and had 13 double-doubles.
Johnson is the third point guard on my ballot — not a coincidence — and as he goes, the Wolfpack goes.
Player of the year: Jordan Nwora, Louisville
My take: This could wind up going to Jones or Anthony, though there’s not as much point-guard bias when it comes to player of the year awards as there is for quarterbacks.
Sorry, it’s still football season.
Nwora is one of the most-impressive players I saw last season. He’s a pro, the leader of one of the league’s best teams, a versatile scorer who — scary thought — could take another step forward in his second season under Chris Mack.
Nwora is the logical choice here.
Freshman of the year: Cole Anthony, UNC
My take: It won’t be fair to Anthony that he’ll be compared to Coby White all season long, but he might be good enough for that to dissipate by December.
This is more of a pick based on Roy Williams’ track record with point guards, though, and how seamless it appears for extremely talented point guards to enter his program and become immediate stars running his offense.
Anthony is next in line.