2014-15 ACC basketball preview: Blue Devils ready for championship run
By TED GIOIA
College Contributor Network
This could be one of the best years ACC basketball has ever seen. With Louisville now an official member, this league has at least four or five legitimate Final Four contenders. Duke and North Carolina lead the way, both returning a ton of talent joined by great recruiting classes, while Louisville and Virginia aren't far behind. There's a lot to be said about Duke's new center Jhalil Okafor, and the Cards' Montrezl Harrell will compete with him as one of the nation's best big men.
It may be taboo to make a comparison to the "old Big East", but that's exactly what this league reminds me of. Star power at the top with depth throughout. Behind the top four, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh are all vying to get their names in the conversation. I guess it isn't too far from the "old Big East" after all. The Fighting Irish will have standout guard Jerian Grant back after he missed last season with an academic violation.
Many are considering the ACC to be the best conference in college basketball this season, and I would have to agree considering they have four teams in the AP preseason top 10. It's the depth, however, that will prove to be the determining factor of how good this conference really is. If the Florida States of the league can come into their own, this could be a conference that sends nine teams to the tournament.
Team to Beat: Duke
Come conference play, Duke should be rolling. Coack K's squad boasts nine McDonald's All-Americans, four of which come from this year's top-ranked recruiting class.
Returning for Duke in the backcourt are veterans Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon. They will be joined by the class of 2014's top-ranked point guard, Tyus Jones. In the frontcourt, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee combine with the nation's top recruit in Okafor.
Some experts are already predicting Okafor will win the Wooden Award. With that, the Blue Devils almost rival Kentucky for the most talent across the board this season. We'll see if they can hold off the rest of the powerful ACC.
Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
In my opinion, Marcus Paige is the best player in the entire country. While Paige certainly possesses all the traits of a true point guard, he sets himself apart with a remarkable ability to score points when needed.
In terms of offense, Paige carried the inexperienced Tar Heels through a roller coaster of a season, averaging over 17 points and four assists last season. After a rocky start, UNC rattled off 12-straight wins on the back of Paige before eventually losing to a tough Iowa State team in the Round of 32.
This season, UNC returns a ton of talent as well as a stellar recruiting class. We'll see what Paige can do with his new toys.
Rookie of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
This one's easy. Every year there seems to be one freshman that stands high above the rest, and this year it's Okafor. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound center has scouts raving about his lethal combination of size and athleticism. Using his great feet and strong hands, Okafor will be able to thrive from day one.
He's also the only freshman to be named to the AP Preseason All-American team. Coach K has already publicly announced that he thinks Okafor will be one and done. ACC opponents will have their hands full keeping this rook off the score sheet.
Coach of the Year: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
After losing CJ Fair, Tyler Ennis, and Jerami Grant, a lot of people have counted Boeheim's Orange out this season. Last year saw Ennis and Grant blossom out of nowhere and Syracuse had themselves another Final Four caliber team.
What a lot of people don't know is that Boeheim has brought in two promising rookies that will look to fill their shoes. Point guard Kaleb Joseph and forward Chris McCullough will join a talented sophomore class, as well as veterans Trevor Cooney, Rakeem Christmas, and Michael Gbinije.
With a tough non-conference schedule featuring Villanova, Michigan, and Saint Johns, Boeheim will have this young team ready to surprise people in the ACC.
Breakout Players to Watch:
J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina
Tokoto is hands down one of the best athletes in college basketball. He's a nightmare at the rim and one of the best defenders in the ACC. With another year under his belt he should emerge as a key cog in UNC's Final Four run.
Terry Rozier, Louisville
After taking a backseat to Russ Smith last season, Rozier will be a main feature of the Cardinals' backcourt this year. He's a good shooter and explosive off the dribble. As long as he learns to feed Harrell down low, he should be an emerging star this season.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami
After transferring to Miami from Kansas State, the true point guard has waited his year and is ready to hit the court. Rodriguez had an impressive sophomore season at K-State, averaging over 11 points and five assists per game. He is the floor general that Miami will need to compete in the ACC this year.
1. North Carolina
6. Notre Dame
8. N.C. State
9. Florida State
11. Georgia Tech
13. Boston College
14. Virginia Tech
Preseason All-ACC Team
G - Marcus Paige, North Carolina
G - Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
G - Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
F - Jahlil Okafor, Duke
F - Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Ted Gioia is a junior at Syracuse University with majors in Finance as well Television, Radio, and FIlm. Born in North Buffalo, he is an avid Bills and Sabres fan. You can follow him on Twitter @Ted_Gioia