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Behind my ACC preseason men's basketball ballot

Tre Jones will unquestionably be Duke's leader this season, but can he do enough to win ACC Player of the Year?
Tre Jones will unquestionably be Duke's leader this season, but can he do enough to win ACC Player of the Year?

Basketball games that actually count are less than a month away. 

But before we get ahead of ourselves discussing real, dissectable game action, let’s take a step back and revel in all the preseason hype. 

Thursday afternoon, the ACC released its preseason honors. Though nobody’s obituary reads “preseason All-ACC selection,” don’t dismiss this as meaningless media fodder. Rather, embrace that there are actual items to discuss for the upcoming ACC season.  

One of the ballots that counted toward the ACC preseason selections was from yours truly. Let’s look at how my ballot compared to the results and go over some key takeaways. (The actual selections are bolded and mine are italicized). 


Preseason All-ACC first team

Jordan Nwora, Louisville/Jordan Nwora, Louisville

Tre Jones, Duke/Tre Jones, Duke

Cole Anthony, North Carolina/Cole Anthony, North Carolina

John Mooney, Notre Dame/John Mooney, Notre Dame

Mamadi Diakite, Virginia/Mamadi Diakite, Virginia

Preseason Player of the Year

Jordan Nwora, Louisville/Jordan Nwora, Louisville

Preseason Freshman of the Year

Cole Anthony, North Carolina/Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Preseason order of finish

1. Duke/North Carolina

2. North Carolina/Duke

3. Louisville/Virginia

4. Virginia/Louisville

5. Florida State/Florida State

6. North Carolina State/North Carolina State

7. Notre Dame/Syracuse

8. Syracuse/Notre Dame

9. Miami/Miami

10. Pittsburgh/Virginia Tech

11. Clemson/Pittsburgh

12. Georgia Tech/Clemson

13. Boston College/Georgia Tech

14. Virginia Tech/Wake Forest

15. Wake Forest/Boston College

Chalk it up

Call me boring with my All-ACC team picks, but the five that were chosen just seem to be glaringly obvious. Jordan Nwora, Cole Anthony and Tre Jones were all absolute no-brainers (more on them later) and John Mooney and Mamadi Diakite aren’t far behind. 

Playing on a Notre Dame team that won just three games in the ACC last year, Mooney was the Fighting Irish’s lone bright spot. The senior forward was one of two players in the conference to average a double-double last season, even proving to have an effective stroke from outside. The Fighting Irish are a good bet to finish in the top half of the ACC, making the 2018-19 All-ACC third-teamer a prime candidate to make the first team. 

As for Diakite, somebody from Virginia is bound to make the first team and the 6-foot-9 forward is the best returner from last year’s national championship team. Diakite enjoyed a nice breakout in the NCAA tournament, putting up 10.5 points per game and 2.7 blocks per game and sinking a second-half buzzer-beater to keep the Cavaliers alive in the Elite Eight. 


Nwora vs. Jones

The trio of Nwora, Anthony and Jones dominated the Preseason ACC Player of the Year conversation, securing 104 of 110 votes. Nwora is the safe pick. He scored 17.0 points per game in 2018-19, the highest mark of any ACC returners and Louisville is sure to compete for a conference title. 

The narrative for Jones to become Player of the Year is there: freed from playing a reduced role behind superstar classmates Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, the Duke point guard steps into a higher-usage role while being the best passer and perimeter defender in the ACC. My biggest holdup with Jones earning Player of the Year is that he will need to score more at more efficient splits, a near impossible task. 

I, along with the majority of voters, decided that betting on the uncertainty of Jones was not worth straying from the certain stardom of Nwora.

All in on Anthony

No ACC freshman may ever reach the level of hype as Zion, but I expect Anthony and North Carolina to take the conference by storm. The other media members agree with me, with Anthony securing 89 of 110 Preseason ACC Freshman of the Year votes. 

Anthony has everything you could want in a prospect. He has the pedigree, as his father, Greg Anthony, played for 11 seasons in the NBA after a legendary career at UNLV. He has the accolades, earning MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and the 2018 Nike EYBL. And most importantly, he has the fame, with more than 500,000 Instagram followers. He’s even friends with J. Cole.

The freshman guard will be asked to do a lot for the Tar Heels, but I think he’s up to the task. He’s been all-everything for his whole life, why should it stop now?

Fantastic four

There’s a clear-cut top four in the ACC—Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia. I struggled to distinguish between these four. Ultimately, I think the Blue Devils are the best of the bunch, but Duke has not finished as the regular season ACC champion in a decade, a trend I don't expect to change this winter.  

That brings us between distinguishing between the Cardinals, Tar Heels and Cavaliers. I’m buying into Anthony and North Carolina’s starting lineup is loaded with talent, so I ultimately chose the Tar Heels to finish on top. Though Louisville may be better on paper than Virginia, I trust Tony Bennett to coach just about any squad to 30-plus wins.

Good riddance, Virginia Tech relevance?

Head coach Buzz Williams departed for Texas A&M, standout freshman guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker left for the NBA and bruising big Kerry Blackshear Jr. transferred to Florida. All of this leaves a Hokies team that finished fifth in the ACC a year ago at the 14th spot in the projected order of finish. I have Virginia Tech finishing 10th, as I can’t wrap my head around such a precipitous drop, though its roster may be the weakest in the conference.

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