An inside look at my ACC preseason women's basketball ballot

Duke checked in at No. 7 in the ACC preseason media poll.
Duke checked in at No. 7 in the ACC preseason media poll.

Nothing truly says it’s basketball season like the announcement of preseason awards. And for some reason, the ACC’s official preseason awards count my input just as much as reigning WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray and four-time AP Coach of the Year Muffet McGraw.

Wednesday evening, the ACC released its annual preseason poll, with Duke checking in at No. 7, forecasting a three-place improvement over last year. The Blue Devils will be led by point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, the reigning conference co-Freshman of the Year, as they attempt to make good on their highest preseason ranking since 2019.

As a seasoned aficionado of the ACC and a veteran member of the Blue Ribbon Panel, I was once again honored to vote on these awards. So let’s see how my ballot compared to the official results.

Preseason All-ACC Team

Poll results: 

  1. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
  2. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville
  3. Olivia Miles, Notre Dame
  4. Deja Kelly, North Carolina
  5. Diamond Johnson, N.C. State
  6. Jakia Brown-Turner, N.C. State
  7. Jewel Spear, Wake Forest
  8. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  9. Morgan Jones, Louisville
  10. Taylor Soule, Virginia Tech

My ballot:

  1. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
  2. Olivia Miles, Notre Dame
  3. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  4. Deja Kelly, North Carolina
  5. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville
  6. Diamond Johnson, N.C. State
  7. Morgan Jones, Louisville
  8. Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech
  9. Alyssa Ustby, North Carolina
  10. Jewel Spear, Wake Forest

The top spot here was a no-brainer: Kitley was the deserving 2021-22 ACC Player of the Year, and then had a 42-point opening round in the NCAA tournament. I didn’t struggle with most of the names behind her, either; of the 15 names on my All-ACC ballot from last spring, six graduated to the WNBA, and eight of the other nine were on my preseason ballot last week. The only two names on my preseason ballot that aren’t holdovers from March are Owusu, a transfer from Maryland, and Spear, who I expect will take another leap forward this year.

I had a tough time leaving off Notre Dame combo guard Dara Mabrey, but ultimately, Spear’s supernova potential won me over.

I’m honestly a little surprised that Day-Wilson did not make the official team after receiving the coaches’ Freshman of the Year award last spring. I had her and fellow Blue Devil guard Celeste Taylor in a tier just below the final few names I mentioned above.

Newcomer Watch List

Poll results:

  1. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  2. Saniya Rivers, N.C. State
  3. Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse
  4. Ta’Niya Latson, Florida State
  5. (tie) Haley Cavinder, Miami
  6. (tie) Ruby Whitehorn, Clemson

My ballot:

  1. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  2. Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse
  3. Saniya Rivers, N.C. State
  4. Ruby Whitehorn, Clemson
  5. KK Bransford, Notre Dame

The transfer portal has funneled many mid-major conferences’ top talent to the Power Five, and the ACC this year took full advantage. Owusu was a top-five point guard in the country at Maryland before a foot injury hobbled her game last spring. Fair was a two-time Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year semifinalist at Buffalo and put up 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in the NCAA tournament against Tennessee last year. Rivers played sparingly for South Carolina as a true freshman in 2021-22 but had been ranked a top-three recruit in the class by ESPN, ASGR, Prep Girls and Prospects Nation.

While Duke’s Taya Corosdale and Miami’s Haley Cavinder figure to be quality players this year, I wanted to feature a couple of players from what is an outstanding freshman class across the country. Whitehorn and Bransford were both ranked within the top 20 of the class by several different scouts, and both are in line for significant roles: Whitehorn might start for the Tigers, who are in need of a scoring spark plug on the wing, and Bransford figures to be the first Fighting Irish guard off the bench, a role that last year earned Sonia Citron the Blue Ribbon Panel Freshman of the Year award. Ta’Niya Latson was ranked higher by ESPN than either of those two, but I left her off because other outlets weren’t as bullish on her prospects. 

Blue Devil freshman wing Ashlon Jackson was also highly regarded (she ranked one spot behind Whitehorn in ESPN’s recruiting rankings), but Duke’s wing rotation looks to be a lot more competitive than either Clemson's or Notre Dame’s.

Predicted Order of Finish

My picks are in bold, poll results are italicized.

  1. Virginia Tech/Louisville
  2. Notre Dame/Virginia Tech
  3. North Carolina/N.C. State
  4. Louisville/Notre Dame
  5. Duke/North Carolina
  6. Miami/Miami
  7. N.C. State/Duke
  8. Georgia Tech/Georgia Tech
  9. Syracuse/Florida State
  10. Florida State/Syracuse
  11. Virginia/Virginia
  12. Clemson/Clemson
  13. Wake Forest/Boston College
  14. Pittsburgh/Wake Forest
  15. Boston College/Pittsburgh

The Hokies are led by the ACC’s best center, one of its two best point guards, one of its top three two-guards, a three-time All-ACC forward, a pair of lethal shooters, plus a quality bench and arguably the conference’s best tactician at head coach. I don’t see any way that isn’t the best team in the ACC—at least on paper.

So imagine my surprise at not only seeing Louisville atop the preseason poll, but with a majority of first-place votes! The Cardinals had a nice summer, adding a quintet of quality recruits and a couple of good transfers, including two-time All-ACC First Team big wing Morgan Jones. Except they lost their best player, their best shooter and their starting point guard, and I’m skeptical that their additions can fill those shoes so easily. The size of the preseason voting panel is always larger than it is at the end of the season, so I can imagine that Louisville being a name brand helped earn it some votes.

The stories for the Fighting Irish, Tar Heels and Hurricanes are similar to each other: return most of last year’s tournament team, add highly ranked recruits and for Notre Dame and Miami, throw in a couple of notable transfers who fit needed roles.

On the flip side, I’m once again higher on Duke than the consensus. And that didn’t work out too well for me last year. But hope springs eternal, and I’m quite bullish on the team’s ability to field lineups this year that can gel with clear identities. Quality trios of freshmen and transfers alike should let head coach Kara Lawson and company really adapt this team on the fly. The Blue Devils’ ceiling is quite high to me. 


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