The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3) kick off their third season in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday evening in a battle of last year's two ACC champions. The tournament champion Irish head to Charlottesville to take on the regular season champion Virginia Cavaliers (11-1). Notre Dame was shaky in the non-conference portion of their schedule, dropping three games that looked like they would be in the win column but they couldn't close out.
The OFD Hoops staff thought that with conference season set to be underway on Saturday, we would preview the ACC with some predictions about what to expect from each of the 15 ACC members, which teams we think will be NCAA Tournament bound, and which players we should be keeping our eyes on throughout the season.
2) Virginia Cavaliers (1)
3) Duke Blue Devils (1)
5) Miami Hurricanes
6) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
10)North Carolina State Wolfpack
Plenty of love for North Carolina, who earned two first place votes, one second, and one third despite two early losses against a brutally difficult non-conference schedule. The Tar Heels have great balance inside and outside with a great mix of veterans and young talent. Many have them as favorites to be national champions. Duke and Virginia got plenty of love as well, with all three of these teams vying for the top three spots. The only impostor was my vote for Louisville to finish 3rd over Virginia.
Notre Dame earned an aggregated 6th-place ranking, with no one putting them lower than a 7th-place finish. Despite the shaky losses, there is still a lot of faith that, given Mike Brey's track record, the Irish will still be a tournament team come Selection Sunday.
The voting for the second tier was a complete mess, with FSU ranging from 6th to 10th, Wake Forest from 8th to 13th, NC State 9th to 12th, and Pitt 7th to 10th. One thing we all agreed upon: it's going to be rough for Eagles fans this year. Not sure Jim Christian has what it takes to lead BC out of the ACC basement.
Projected NCAA Tournament Bids
UNC, Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame (all unanimous), Pitt (2 votes out of 4), FSU (1), Syracuse (1)
The ACC has gotten 6 teams in the tournament in the two seasons since Notre Dame has joined the conference, but three of our voters think that the conference will top that mark this season. All of us were unanimous with the first six teams (although we're biting our nails on the Irish - one bracketologist has them as a "Last Four In" right now). I gave an additional bid to Florida State, who I think has the talent to really come together and make a run.
One voter selected Pitt to get the 7th bid, and the last voter selected both Pitt and Syracuse to get in as 7th and 8th bids for the league. Pitt has a strong record so far but against a garbage non-conference schedule. Syracuse has really struggled under Mike Hopkins but will likely improve once Boeheim returns to the bench. JoeSchu is the only voter that thinks only 6 for the ACC once again.
1st Team: Malcolm Brogdon (unanimous), Grayson Allen, Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Damion Lee
2nd Team: Demetrius Jackson (unanimous), Anthony Gill, Anthony Barber, Michael Gbinije, Devin Thomas
Honorable mention: Sheldon McClellan, Michael Young, Kennedy Meeks, Jamel Artis, Zach Auguste, Brandon Ingram
Plenty of disagreement here, as only Malcolm Brogdon was unanimously selected to the first team. Allen and Johnson were close, with three first-team votes and one second. Paige had two and two. Lee barely edged out Notre Dame's Jackson, as the former only got three votes, but two of them were for the first team. Jackson had votes from all four of us, but only one was for the first team.
Some really terrific players down the ballot, including possible defender of the year Anthony Gill, likely the conference's leading scorer Cat Barber, Syracuse's do-everything Gbinije, and a perhaps surprisingly decent Wake Forest's best player in Thomas. And that doesn't even include Pitt's fantastic duo of Young and Artis, our own Zach Auguste, freshman of the year Brandon Ingram, North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks, and upstart Miami's most complete player in McClellan, all of whom earned votes from our voters. No shortage of great players in the conference this year, but not nearly as many obvious choices.
Most Improved Player
Grayson Allen (2 votes)
Honorable mention: Anthony Barber (1 vote), Devin Thomas (1 vote)
Half of the votes here for Allen, who most expected to take a major step forward as the focal point of Duke's offense after their departures from last year's national championship team. He has had some big performances early on, but struggled a couple times against difficult opponents. I'm a little skeptical that he can keep it up all ACC season as opponents key in on him, but he should accumulate the stats no matter what.
I gave a vote to Wake Forest's Thomas, who continues to improve every year and whose team I think will surprise this year. Maybe not tournament good, but still pretty good in Danny Manning's second season. The last vote went to Barber, which makes perfect sense given his scoring explosion so far this year. Let's see if he can keep it up against the ACC schedule.
Freshman of the Year
Brandon Ingram (unanimous)
Honorable mention: Malik Beasley, Dwayne Bacon
Unlike last year (or most years), this is a very light year for freshmen in the ACC. Ingram was unanimous, but only received one vote between the four of us for 2nd team all-ACC. Ingram certainly has the hype coming in and has been spectacular most of the early portion of the season.
We have to mention the Seminoles' duo of Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon, as the former five-star recruits have been excellent early on and look like they might be leading FSU to a surprisingly good year. Both are in the conference's top ten in per-game scoring.
Player of the Year
Malcolm Brogdon (3 votes)
Honorable mention: Marcus Paige (1 vote), Anthony Barber, Damion Lee
JoeSchu gave a vote to former ACC player of the year Marcus Paige, but the Tar Heels' balance might make it difficult to make enough of a dent in the major statistical categories (he is only at 15 ppg in his 8 games). Instead, the rest of us gave it to Malcolm Brogdon, who has plenty of hype, leads a great team, has increased his scoring, and always has a great assist-to-turnover rate.
We also have to mention Cat Barber, who far and away leads the conference in scoring, and there is plenty of precedent for the ACC POY to go to a great player on a non-contender (Erick Green, T.J. Warren, Jared Dudley). Damion Lee is also off to a great start for Louisville, and if they hang around as contenders, he might be getting a lion's share of the credit and some hardware to match.