We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the college basketball season.
And after one of the longest and most uncertain offseasons in the sport’s history, there’s nothing the fans and media want to do more than look far too deep into preseason awards.
The ACC released its preseason standings and honors Wednesday morning, a collection of 155 ballots from media members across the conference, including yours truly. Let’s take a look at how my ballot compares to the final results.
Preseason All-ACC first team
- Sam Hauser, Virginia
- Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
- Matthew Hurt, Duke
- Kihei Clark, Virginia
- Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech
- Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
- Sam Hauser, Virginia
- Scottie Barnes, Florida State
- Jalen Johnson, Duke
- Aamir Simms, Clemson
- Chris Lykes, Miami
The majority of voters agreed with me that Hauser and Brooks are the top two players in the conference, albeit not necessarily in that order (we’ll talk more on that later). From there, however, it gets a bit more interesting.
I may be biased in favor of Matthew Hurt simply due to the fact that I've spent much of the past month listening to Duke players and coaches constantly talk up the sophomore forward. Furthermore, I made the mistake of listening to Hurt’s preseason hype last year when I also voted him onto my preseason All-ACC first team (trust me, it seemed like a reasonable choice at the time), and Jalen Johnson is probably the safer pick to be the Blue Devils’ alpha this season. Still, I’m going to go with my gut and hope the preseason talk doesn’t burn me twice.
Now to those final two spots. Clark has a solid shot to be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and should be the second most impactful offensive player on a team I project will win the conference (again, more on that later). Alvarado, meanwhile, is another gritty defensive guard and the heart and soul of a Georgia Tech squad that surprised a lot of people last year and could again this upcoming season.
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I considered Louisville’s David Johnson, who ended up making the All-ACC second team along with Clark and Alvarado, for one of those final two spots, but figured the latter two were safer choices compared to what would need to be a huge sophomore leap from Johnson.
Preseason Player of the Year
Sam Hauser, Virginia
Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
Brooks took home 102 of the 155 total votes for Preseason Player of the Year, more than quadruple Hauser, who finished second. But there’s a reason Virginia is once again regarded as a Final Four contender.
Hauser, who had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, will be the centerpiece of what should be a dominant regular season for Virginia and will provide head coach Tony Bennett exactly what he was missing through an up-and-down 2019-20. The former Marquette Golden Eagle is a career 44.5 percent shooter from three on 5.5 attempts per game, and he’s only gotten better since then.
Combine that with Brooks’ stat line being negatively affected by North Carolina’s plethora of new freshmen, and Hauser looks like a solid bet to finish 2020-21 as the ACC Player of the Year.
Preseason Freshman of the Year
Jalen Johnson, Duke
Scottie Barnes, Florida State
Unsurprisingly, this was a two-headed race between Barnes and Johnson, with the former edging the latter 64 votes to 60. Barnes enters the season as the higher-ranked recruit, though there are many reasons to believe Johnson will take home Freshman of the Year honors by season’s end.
Firstly, Leonard Hamilton has never coached an ACC Freshman of the Year during his 28 years in the conference. Meanwhile, seven of the past nine to take home the honor have been Duke products. While this may seem like an unfair argument to use against Barnes, a track record of utilizing freshmen matter when you’re talking about a stat-driven award.
While my All-ACC ballot indicates Hurt will be the leader of this year’s Duke squad, I expect Johnson to be right up there as well. On the other hand, I see senior guard M.J. Walker being the main focus down in Tallahassee.
Preseason order of finish
Note: My picks are italicized, final results are in bold
- Virginia / Virginia
- North Carolina / Duke
- Duke / Florida State
- Florida State / North Carolina
- Georgia Tech / Louisville
- Louisville / Syracuse
- N.C. State / Miami
- Syracuse / N.C. State
- Clemson / Georgia Tech
- Miami / Clemson
- Pittsburgh / Virginia Tech
- Virginia Tech / Notre Dame
- Notre Dame / Pittsburgh
- Boston College / Boston College
- Wake Forest / Wake Forest
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s try and stick with the key takeaways. Firstly, I (along with the majority of the ACC media) see Virginia taking home its fifth conference regular-season title in eight years. Despite having possibly the program's worst offense of the Tony Bennett era last season, the Cavaliers finished just a game out of first place. There’s no reason to think that, with Hauser as well as one of the most talented recruiting classes in program history rejuvenating that offense, they won’t take home the title in 2021.
For me, it then came down to North Carolina or Duke at that No. 2 spot. It was close, but I gave the benefit of the doubt to Roy Williams and his track record in the regular-season (besides last year). The Tar Heels boast perhaps the best frontcourt in the entire country, something that could give a lot of their ACC opponents, including Duke, trouble throughout the season.
The final part of my ballot I’ll discuss is Georgia Tech, with the vast majority of the voters not buying into the Yellow Jackets’ fifth-place ACC finish last year like I am. Nevertheless, head coach Josh Patsner is almost guaranteed to produce one of the conference’s top defenses. And if Alvarado and shooting guard Michael Devoe can stay healthy for a full season together, they’ll be one of the top backcourt duos in the league.