2020 will certainly not be a year glossed over in the history books. Riding the coattails of the COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020 provided us the first March Madness cancellation in the event’s illustrious 81-year career. Along with it, conference tournaments fell to the wayside. However, we can find solace in being 10-days away from the tip of the 2020-2021 college basketball season! As in year’s past, the Nation’s premier basketball conference looks to provide excitement and storylines with several National Championship contenders. Let’s get you caught up to speed on what to expect in the season ahead.
The Top Five (1st Place Media Votes)
- Virginia (97)
The reigning (not defending) National Champs are fresh off one of the worst offensive outputs under Tony Bennett. UVA will always hang its hat on the defensive side of the ball, but when your team averages 57 PPG, as they did in 2019-2020, you won’t be in many games. Luckily, UVA held opponents to an average of 52 PPG last season and quietly logged a 23-7 record. Two of the main defensive contributors from that team, Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, have graduated. However, UVA returns 3 of their top 5 scorers in Clark, Huff and Woldetensae, who also happen to be 3 of the top 5 in defensive efficiency from last year’s team. Add to that two top 50 recruits in Reece Beekman and Jabri Abdur-Rahim and pair it with Marquette transfer Sam Hauser (15 PPG, 7 RBG and 44% from 3) and Tony Bennett has Charlottesville buzzing with hopes of not only another ACC Championship, but a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Quick! Without searching, name 2 Duke players on this year’s roster! I couldn’t do it either, but when you lose players like Vernon Carey Jr, Cassius Stanley and Tre Jones it’s easy to fumble over names. Don’t fret, though, because Mike Krzyzewski is bringing in 6 of the top 50 players to help Wendell Moore and company. Most notably SF Jalen Johnson – a 6’8” 5-star out of Glendale, Wisconsin. Other key returners Wendell Moore, Joey Baker and Jordan Goldwire will help have the Blue Devils contending Nationally but let’s be honest – can we ever count out Duke?
3. Florida State
Leonard Hamilton returns 8 players from last year’s ridiculously deep roster that led them to the ACC Regular Season Title and #1 seed in the ACC Championship. Despite the ACC Championship trophy being handed to them (literally), the outcome would have most-likely been the same had the tournament been played. We know the FSU story by now: freakishly long, freakishly fast and great from beyond the arc. The Nole’s will have their work cut out, though, with key losses in leading scorers Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell. Help should come from the #6 overall recruit in Scottie Barnes and his immediate contribution along with returning depth will be key to FSU’s success in a loaded ACC.
4. North Carolina
UNC fans will be quick to forget last season and rightfully so. The 14-19 (6-14) record was the worst in Roy Williams tenure at Chapel Hill. Second only to the 2009-2010 season when a 16-15 record kept a Roy Williams-led team out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The good news is that following that 2009-2010 season the Tarheels won the ACC Regular Season Championship and earned a berth to the Elite 8. Williams returns Pre-Season ACC Player of the year Garrison Brooks and a slew of talent led by Armando Bacot and Leaky Black. It’s very possible that UNC fans will experience déjà vu of the ‘09-’10 season, but with a Championship result in the end.
Sophomore guard David Johnson returns for Chris Mack and the Cards. A shoulder injury stalled his appearance last season but once he did appear he emerged as a threat in the ACC, averaging 9 PPG, 4.5 assists and just shy of 50% from the field. The leading vote-getter for Second-Team All-ACC this year will need to carry the load early as a knee injury to fellow guard Charles Minlend and a foot injury to Senior Malik Williams will have them sidelined for 6 and 12-week, respectively. I anticipate a slow start for the Cards, but Chris Mack will weather the storm and, once healthy, the Cards should push for the ACC title and more.
Best of the Rest
Predicted to finish 8th by ACC Media, NC State in my dark horse this year. I love Kevin Keatts and what he’s doing in Raleigh. Sharp-shooter Braxton Beverly returns with Redshirt Senior D.J. Funderburk (how fun is that to say!?) and Devon Daniels, both of whom averaged 13 PPG last year. Nebraska guard transfer Thomas Allen will provide a much needed spark and I anticipate Keatts will have the Wolfpack in the NCAA tournament.
My Player to Watch
At the expense of sounding redundant, I’m going with Devon Daniels at NC State as my #1. He averaged 12.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG and shot 47% from the field – all great numbers. The departure of Markell Johnson and C.J. Bryce, however, has left points to be made up and the addition of Thomas Allen at PG could free Daniels up to fill that void. I expect him to finish the season averaging more than 15 PPG.