ACC Basketball Preview: Who Will Challenge The Big Three?

By Jerry Ratcliffe

On the eve of conference play for most of its teams, the basketball rich ACC finds itself housing one-third of the AP’s top 18 ranked squads.

With Virginia establishing itself among the ACC’s elite programs over the past several years, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of blue bloods Duke and North Carolina _ pun intended _ the league looks to be another three-horse race once again. While Notre Dame ran with the big dogs for a couple of seasons, the Irish have fallen off dramatically, at least in the early season.

What other teams might give the top three a fight?

There are plenty. With Duke ranked No. 1 in the land in the AP poll, Virginia ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll, there are some other really good basketball teams in the ACC. Florida State is ranked ninth, Virginia Tech 10th, North Carolina 15th, and N.C. State 18th by the AP.

We’ll find out about the Seminoles in a hurry as they travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia on Saturday in the only battle between top 25 teams in the league.

Duke, of course, is loaded with the best freshman class maybe in the history of the game. Virginia is for real with a three-headed scoring monster in Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter. Some believe this just might be Tony Bennett’s best team at UVa.

Florida State is off to a great start with its only loss to Villanova and looks like a definite Sweet Sixteen team if not more behind the emergence of Mfiondu Kabengele. He’s got plenty of support in point guard Trent Forrest, Terance Mann and M.J. Walker.

Buzz Williams appears to have his best team at Tech. They Hokies boast a lot of balance, led by Justin Robinson. The fact that Nickeil Alexander-Walker has come on strong as the team’s leading scorer, gives Tech a dangerous backcourt to deal with.

N.C. State is off to its best start (13-1) since the days of David Thompson. Coach Kevin Keatts program, as usual, is loaded with good guards who can all shoot.

Here is a little preview of what the ACC’s 15 teams have done so far to give you an idea of what the league looks like heading into the first big weekend of conference play, and who the top scorers are thus far:


Best wins: Wisconsin, 53-46; at Maryland, 76-71; VCU, 57-49. No losses. Next up: Florida State, Saturday in Charlottesville. Top scorers: Kyle Guy 15.4, De’Andre Hunter 14.5, Ty Jerome 14.2.

DUKE (11-1)

Best wins: Kentucky, 118-84; Auburn, 78-72; Texas Tech, 69-58. Only loss: Gonzaga, 87-89. Up next: at home vs. Clemson on Saturday. Top scorers: R.J. Barrett 23.8, Zion Williams 19.8, Cam Reddish 13.5.


Best wins: Gonzaga, 103-90; Wofford, 78-67; UCLA, 94-78. Worst loss: Texas, 89-92. Other losses: Michigan 67-84; Kentucky, 72-80. Up Next: at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Top Scorers: Cameron Johnson 16.4, Luke May 14.2, Coby White 13.8.


Best wins: LSU, 79-76; Purdue, 73-72; UConn, 79-71; Winthrop, 87-76. Worst loss: at Wisconsin, 75-79. Up Next: at Virginia on Saturday. Top Scorers: Terrance Mann 13.1, Mfiondu Kabengele 11.8, Trent Forrest 10.7.


Best Wins: Purdue, 89-83; Washington, 73-61; Notre Dame, 81-66. Worst loss: Penn State, 62-63. Up Next: Boston College on Saturday. Top Scorers: Nickeil Alexander-Walker 18.3, Justin Robinson 13.4, Ahmad Hill 13.2, Kerry Blackshear 13.0.

NC STATE (13-1)

Best Wins: Miami, 87-82; Penn State, 89-78; Auburn, 78-71. Worst loss: Wisconsin, 75-79. Next Up: vs. North Carolina, Jan. 8. Top Scorers: Torin Dorn 15.1, Markell Johnson 11.8, C.J. Bryce 11.3.

CLEMSON (10-3)

Best Wins: Georgia, 64-49; Akron, 78-72. Worst losses: Creighton, 82-87; Nebraska, 66-68; Mississippi State, 71-82. Up Next: at Duke on Saturday. Top Scorers: Marquise Reed 20.1, Shelton Mitchell 14.3, Elijah Thomas 13.2.


Best Wins: St. Louis, 75-73; North Alabama, 71-66. Worst Losses: Iowa, 68-69; West Virginia, 59-69; Niagara, 70-71. Up Next: North Carolina on Saturday. Top Scorers: Xavier Johnson 16.3, Jared Wilson-Frame 12.2, Trey McGowens 12.1.


Best Wins: Minnesota, 68-56; DePaul, 65-62. Worst Loss: IUPUI, 69-76; Hartford, 78-79 OT; Providence, 95-100. Up Next: at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Top Scorers: Ky Bowman 20.9, Wyston Tabbs 14.6, Nik Popovic 13.7.


Best Wins: Michigan State, 82-78; Seton Hall, 70-65. Worst Losses: Marquette, 74-77; Tennessee, 81-92; Indiana, 67-68; Kentucky, 58-71. Up Next: Miami on Sunday. Top Scorers: Jordan Nwora 17.8, Christen Cunningham 9.6.


Best Wins: Ohio State, 72-62; Georgetown, 72-71. Worst Losses: UConn, 76-83; Oregon, 65-80; Old Dominion, 62-68; Buffalo, 54-71. Up Next: at Notre Dame on Saturday. Top Scorers: Tyus Battle 17.5, Elijah Hughes 14.9, Oshae Brissett 13.6.

MIAMI (8-5)

Best Wins: Campbell, 73-62; Fresno State, 78-76. Worst Losses: Rutgers, 54-57; Yale, 73-77; Penn, 75-89. Up Next: at Louisville on Sunday. Top Scorers: Chris Lykes 15.8, Anthony Lawrence 13.0, Zach Johnson 12.3, D.J. Vailjevic 12.3.


Best Wins: Arkansas, 69-65. Worst Losses: Gardner-Webb, 69-74; Georgia, 59-70; Tennessee, 53-66; Northwestern, 61-67; St. Johns, 73-76. Up Next: Wake Forest on Saturday. Top Scorers: Jose Alvarado 13.2, Brandon Alston 10.2.


Best Wins: Davidson, 67-63; Valparaiso, 69-63; Western Carolina, 71-64. Worst Losses: Houston Baptist, 91-93; Richmond, 74-84; Gardner-Webb, 69-73; Tennessee, 64-83. Next Up: at Georgia Tech on Saturday. Top Scorers: Brandon Childress 16.4, Jaylen Hoard 15.2, Chaundee Brown 11.5.


Best Wins: Illinois, 76-74; Purdue, 88-80. Worst Losses: Radford, 60-63; Oklahoma 80-85; UCLA, 62-65; Virginia Tech, 66-81. Up Next: Syracuse on Saturday. Top Scorers: T.J. Gibbs, 14.5, John Mooney 12.6, D.J. Harvey 11.7.


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