Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

2021–22 ACC Men’s Basketball Preview

After an underwhelming start to non-conference play, the ACC’s regular season is set to kick off on Friday. While many fans considered last season to be a down year for the conference, the ACC still sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, though none held a seed higher than No. 4. The conference as a whole faces a transitional period and risks losing its claim as the premier basketball organization should it produce another disappointing showing. 

Tier 1—National Contender: Duke (7–1)

Entering Mike Krzyzewski’s final season as head coach, No. 1 Duke is in a class of its own relative to its ACC competitors. Thus far, Duke is responsible for the ACC’s only two victories over top-20 opponents, with impressive early wins against No. 9 Kentucky and No. 3 Gonzaga. The Blue Devils’ loaded roster is led by star freshman Paolo Banchero and junior Wendell Moore Jr. The pair of forwards enter conference play averaging over 17 points per game each. It’s been over 30 years since the conference has failed to produce a No. 1 seed in the tournament in consecutive years, and Duke has the best shot at continuing this trend. 

Tier 2—Tournament Likelies: North Carolina (5–2), Virginia Tech (6–2), Florida State (5–2)

As North Carolina enters its first year without longtime head coach Roy Williams, many view the blue-blood program as Duke’s biggest competition in an otherwise weak conference. The Tar Heels overcame some early-season defensive struggles in their 21-point victory over a highly touted Michigan team on Thursday night, holding the Wolverines to just 51 points. 

Virginia Tech returns three of its five starters from last year in Keve Aluma, Justyn Mutts, and Nahiem Alleyne. The Hokies’ experienced roster has performed well so far, and expectations of a top-four conference finish have already begun to mount. 

Florida State was another team with somewhat lofty expectations heading into the new season. The Seminoles are off to a slow start, though, with a pair of big losses to Purdue and Florida, as well as a too-close-for-comfort, one-point victory over Boston University. Florida State’s roster is nonetheless chock-full of talent, and the large volume of roster turnover from last season is likely to blame for the early issues.

Tier 3—Bubble Teams: Louisville (5–2), Notre Dame (3–4), Virginia (6–3), Syracuse (4–3), Clemson (5–4), NC State (6–1), Georgia Tech (5–2), Wake Forest (7–1) 

It’s crowded in the middle of the ACC, as not much separates teams five through 12. Notre Dame has the most experienced squad in the conference but went just 3–3 in non-conference play. The Syracuse defense has allowed an average of 87 points in regulation over its last three outings, but it’s hard to count out the Orange given its ability to get hot from behind the arc. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers have not looked good on offense, and Virginia lacks its typical defensive dominance for which it’s come to be known.

Any one of these groups could punch a ticket to the big dance come March, and only time will tell who emerges. It’s hard to imagine many of these teams surviving a 20-game conference schedule without several losses, though Louisville seems best suited to pull out ahead. Cardinals head coach Chris Mack’s revamped roster includes Florida transfer and sharpshooter Noah Locke, who already leads the team in scoring, and top JUCO transfer El Ellis. 

Tier 4—Never Say Never: Boston College (7–3), Miami (6–3), Pittsburgh (2–5)

Boston College has already surpassed last season’s win total. So far, the Eagles have looked more cohesive as a team and no longer lack any semblance of an identity. Just as first-year head coach Earl Grant promised, the end product is far from pretty, and the program still has a long way to go before it is truly competitive in the conference, but BC has taken steps forward.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, looks downright terrible to start the season, with double-digit losses to low-major programs like UMBC and The Citadel. Miami, too, doesn’t pose much of a threat to the upper-echelon of the conference. 

Featured Ifmage by Aditya Rao / Heights Staff

December 4, 2021
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