ACC Primer: Can rising NC State live up to its preseason hype?
A strong year from Reggie Johnson could push Miami into upper ranks of the ACC
This is the first season where ACC teams will play 18 games, up from the usual 16
NC State looks good on paper, but Pack needs to prove they can live up to hype
In preparation for the 2012-13 college hoops season, SI.com breaks down the best of the best in each of the six major conferences. Andy Glockner serves up his picks for Player of the Year, breakout candidate and more for the ACC.
Snaer has gotten better and better as a scorer over the course of his three seasons in Tallahassee, busting out last season as a junior. He is a high-efficiency, high-frequency shooter with 40 percent accuracy from behind the arc on a team that sometimes (well, OK, usually) struggled for consistent offense. The Seminoles' mix will be different this season, with some questions looming in the frontcourt, but the departures of lower-efficiency shooters like Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys may mean more shots for more capable shooters, and Snaer should be first in line to gobble some of those up. Snaer also is an all-ACC defensive team member, and that side of the ball never rests under Leonard Hamilton. He also has the longest college athlete bio ever posted on the Internet.
If he can stay healthy, the 290-or-so-pound Johnson could be a big (literally) reason why the Canes make a push into the top three of the league. Johnson slipped a bit both in offensive effectiveness and rebounding dominance last season after missing the first part of the year due to injury. Now he has embraced water and gotten in better shape. He also, according to coach Jim Larranaga, has added a lefty jump hook to his arsenal and, apparently, three-point range on his jumper. The Sporting News wrote that Johnson made 59 threes in a 5-minute drill in practice earlier this month. Larranaga will probably be fine with Johnson camping out in the lane and averaging a strong double-double.
If the Blue Devils are going to challenge NC State (and whomever else) for the league title, they will need their freshman point guard to deliver on his significant billing. Quinn Cook might take a step up, but a backcourt of Cook, Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry is not good enough for the Devils to be a national title contender. Duke is very thin in the backcourt with Andre Dawkins redshirting this season, so Sulaimon's offensive game will be welcome ... and if he can actually stop anyone on the perimeter, even better.
The front half of the Wolfpack's schedule is loaded with home games against the top half of the league, so they will need to take advantage of these opportunities. Trips to Duke, North Carolina and Florida State are all in the final nine games of the season. This is game three of the regular-season slate, and the Pack will likely have been untested in the league before this one (at BC, home to Georgia Tech). If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man, and this is a good place to start, at home, against the team picked as the most likely threat to stop you, and a program that has co-dominated your state and the national landscape for a quarter-century.
That's the new number of league games this season, up from 16. The extra games create two more opportunities for home-and-homes, but some scheduling strength imbalances remain, so buyer beware when comparing profiles come March.
Things have to start working, and working quickly, in Winston-Salem. Bzdelik was able to land a huge and well-regarded freshmen class, and how that class develops this season and positions itself for next year could determine whether Bzdelik survives to see them grow into upperclassmen. With a 21-42 record in two seasons, he needs to start winning games and showing promise. Right now.
There may be significant separation between the top five or six teams in the league and the rest. Wherever that split occurs may be the cutoff for NCAA bids. The top five projected teams look like a safe bet to make the tournament. If Maryland becomes good, or Clemson or Virginia surprise, there could be room for a sixth ACC team in the field of 68, but that almost certainly is the cap.
1. North Carolina State: It's all on the table for the Wolfpack, who were picked to win the league in the preseason media poll and should be a top-5 team in many national polls entering the season. Coach Mark Gottfried has done a fantastic job in quickly building the roster with an impressive freshman class, led by Rodney Purvis, to boost a group of returnees featuring C.J. Leslie, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, and Lorenzo Brown. Will the Pack be able to handle the frontrunner role? NC State was 1-8 against the RPI top-50 last season before its run to the Sweet 16, so even with a loaded roster, the Pack will need to establish itself as more consistently capable of handling quality teams before people fully buy in.