As the calendar changes to October, that round, orange ball and hardwood courts usher in one of the greatest times to be a college sports fan. Sports Radio America looks at this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) contenders.
North Carolina followed their 2017 National Championship with a down year, losing in a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Roy Williams must replace his two, primary, offensive factors from last year’s team. UNC never rebuilds, only retools. And with three, returning starters, they’re looking at their best recruiting class in years.
Replacing Joel Berry will be UNC’s biggest challenge coming into the season. Williams will rely mostly on the incoming freshman. Coby White, a 6’5” top 25 recruit and the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history, appears to be the likely favorite to win the starting spot. White will definitely bring a score-first mentality to the paint and light up the scoreboard. He’s an excellent perimeter shooter who can drive to the rim and finish 4-out 1-in offense opportunities. Joel Berry was also a score-first point guard, so it won’t represent a huge change for White to take over.
Last season, Virginia won their third ACC regular season title in five years. March Madness was truly insane for the Cavaliers. They followed through on their regular season, becoming the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Now, they come into the season looking to recover from that humiliation. Minus two senior leaders, the same group of players return. This is without the addition of any key recruits likely to immediately contribute.
With Devon Hall’s departure, more pressure from the offense will be placed on the shoulders of the junior backcourt of Kyle Guy (14.1 ppg., 39.2% 3pt.) and Ty Jerome (10.6 ppg., 3.9 apg. 37.9% 3pt.). This duo has shown you can trust in the big games. The pair improved as sophomores, with Guy being named First Team All-ACC and Jerome being named to the third team. The rest of the team is where questions remain. Both Guy and Jerome can create off the dribble and find teammates as well as create their own shots and both men are excellent shooters.
Turning to the Duke Blue Devils, Coach Mike Krzyzewski has one the youngest squads of his tenure. It appears four, five-star freshmen will start to accompany a lone senior with additional young talent coming off the bench. Having great success is nothing new when Coach K has a young team, as the nation’s premiere recruiting class reached the Elite 8. Krzyzewski has the advantage of college basketball’s top recruiting class, despite the departure of his entire starting lineup.
Duke’s freshman class includes the top three recruits in the country. Running the team is point guard Tre Jones. He’s a top 10 recruit nationally and the brother of former Duke Blue Devils great Tyus Jones, who brought a National Title to Chapel Hill in 2015. Jones is a pass-first point guard who can create offense whenever needed. However, it will be particularly important for Jones to pass the ball. He’s not the greatest scorer, so it will be up to him to get the ball to other talented players in their sweets spots.