ESPN Press Room Photo
On Wednesday, ACC basketball analysts Carlos Boozer, Luke Hancock, Dalen Cuff, and Kelsey Riggs answered questions regarding the conference this upcoming season.
They broke down the teams from top to bottom and discussed their overall feelings on the ACC. Here are several storylines that we took away from this meeting:
Which Teams Can Potentially be Sleepers in the ACC This Year?
It is clear who the top tier teams will be in the conference but the middle of the pack leaves more to be debated.
Georgia Tech was the most common answer among the four analysts.
“I think they can find a way to be a tournament team if healthy,” Cuff insisted.
The Jackets have fantastic pieces in their backcourt in Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe. The x-factor is of course, Moses Wright. Depth is certainly a concern though.
Hancock added that head coach Jeff Capel has his Pittsburgh team at a point where “it’s put up or shut up time.” The Panthers have now have an experienced roster with plenty of pieces.
In fact, Hancock even thinks that Xavier Johnson is a potential all-conference point guard. It is just a matter of whether Pitt can finally put things together and produce a winning product on the court.
Boozer is intrigued by the Miami offense That’s especially true of guard Chris Lykes. The loss of Sam Waardenburg will be critical but they have plenty of scorers to compensate.
Other programs mentioned as surprise picks were Syracuse and Clemson.
Will the ACC be Deeper and Produce More NCAA Tournament Teams?
There are only four ACC teams ranked in the preseason AP Poll this year. After multiple key injuries, Louisville was not included in the top 25. Hancock however, was quite optimistic.
“They can be that fifth team if they can just get healthy,” he said.
None of them believe that the ACC will produce more than six or seven tournament teams, but Cuff likes the depth of conference.
“There are better teams in the back end,” he said.
Boston College, especially, came up as a program that was picked low in the ACC poll but could do some damage.
This season is also unique in that there are very few out-of-conference games. Because “there are less data points,” these handful of match-ups will be extremely important.
The analysts were not afraid to admit that the Big Ten looks like a better conference on paper. That makes the ACC/Big Ten challenge even more critical.
How Will the Absence of Fans Impact the Season?
Boozer believes that the pumped-in crowd noise will help but they all agree that it will not be the same. Cuff argues there is nothing like the experience of making an inbounds pass at Cameron Indoor Stadium and having screaming fans practically touching you.
“It is going to be a weird year not having fans in an environment like that,” Hancock added.
While the ACC is usually among the top conferences in the country in home team winning percentage, that effect will drastically decrease this coming season.
Is Virginia Considered a Blue Blood at This Point?
In a conference with multiple blue bloods, Virginia has finished within the top two of the conference in five of the last six seasons. However, the Cavaliers have not had as much sustained success and professional production as some of the other top programs in the country. Boozer thinks they are progressing to that point though.
“They are not in the Mount Rushmore of college basketball but are definitely one of the very best in the ACC,” he says.
Boozer cites the vast improvement in Virginia’s resources and brand over the years during Tony Bennett’s tenure.
“Defense travels,” Hancock adds.
The Hoos were ranked 311th in the nation in three-point shooting last year. Still, they finished the year 15-5 in conference play.
How Will Transfers Sam Hauser and Carlik Jones Fit Into the Scope of the Conference?
The transfer portal is more significant than ever. Teams around the ACC did plenty to capitalize. The analysts had especially great things to say about Virginia’s Sam Hauser, a transfer from Marquette.
“If you look nationally, he may be the most impactful transfer or newcomer,” Cuff said.
Hauser has a great all-around game and will contribute particularly to Virginia’s improved perimeter shooting. He has benefited from a year to acclimate to Bennett’s system and will be in full sync with the responsibilities of the pack-line defense.
Additionally, with the injuries of Malik Williams and Charles Minlend, Radford transfer Carlik Jones will be a major piece for Louisville. Hancock says he has been “blown away” with the comparisons he has heard. That includes to former Wake Forest standout and NBA superstar guard Chris Paul.
“I fully expect him to step in and make David Johnson’s life easier,” Hancock said.
With less ball-handling responsibilities, Johnson can focus more the off-ball aspect of the game where he thrives.