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November 3, 2006

ACC Preview: Bounce-back season likely

Preseason Top 25
All-ACC Team
The College Basketball Wire

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

When it comes to ACC standards, it was considered a down year for the league last season.

Four teams reached the NCAA Tournament and nobody went to the Final Four, the first time that's happened since the 1999-2000 campaign.

There are many indications there won't be a repeat performance this season.

For starters, the league is loaded with experience. Ten teams return at least three starters (N.C. State and Wake Forest don't), with six bringing back at least four.

That group includes some of the nation's best players.

ACC Predictions
1. North Carolina (NCAA)
2. Boston College (NCAA)
3. Georgia Tech (NCAA)
4. Duke (NCAA)
5. Florida State (NCAA)
6. Virginia (NCAA)
7. Maryland (NIT)
8. Clemson (NIT)
9. Virginia Tech (NIT)
10. Wake Forest (NIT)
11. Miami
12. N.C. State
Preseason All-ACC Team

North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough became the first freshman to become a unanimous first-team ACC selection last season.

Virginia's Sean Singletary, who is widely considered one of the nation's top point guards, joined Hansbrough on the All-ACC first team.

A pair of forwards from the second team, Boston College's Jared Dudley and Florida State's Al Thornton are back.

The league also welcomes a large and extremely talented group of newcomers. Four of the nation's top 10 recruiting classes come from ACC schools: North Carolina (No. 1), Duke (No. 5), Georgia Tech (No. 8) and Wake Forest (No. 10).

How will all the new talent affect the ACC? How valuable are all the returning veterans? Find out in our in-depth preview of the league.

Rivals.com 2006-07 ACC Preview
Team on the rise: Georgia Tech. The Jackets are in position to go from one of the league's worst teams to one of its best. They've added a pair of top-10 recruits in point guard Javaris Crittenton and small forward Thaddeus Young. The bad news is both may be headed to the NBA after one season. Crittenton and Young won't have the pressure of coming in and carrying the team. The roster is loaded with veterans and proven players. Three double-digit scorers return, including shooting guard Anthony Morrow (16.0 ppg) and big men Ra'Sean Dickey (13.2 ppg) and Jeremis Smith (11.0 ppg). Last season's sixth man, Lewis Clinch (8.9 ppg), will provide an offensive lift as well.
Team on the decline: N.C. State. The Wolfpack lost a coach (Herb Sendek) who had taken them to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments and replaced him with Sidney Lowe, a coach with no college experience. However, the personnel losses are a bigger issue. Four starters must be replaced and versatile power forward Andrew Brackman - who would have filled one of those spots - recently chose to stop being a two-sport athlete to stick with baseball. Brackman is a 6-10 pitcher who is projected as a high first-round pick in the next major league draft. Even with Brackman, this season had rebuilding year written all over it.
Coach on the rise: Dave Leitao, Virginia. North Carolina's Roy Williams might be the easy choice here. But, can Williams' stock soar any higher? Leitao is putting the pieces in place to emerge as one of the top young coaches in college basketball. A young Cavaliers team won seven ACC games in his first year in Charlottesville, their most since the 2001-02 season. That number should grow with the return of the league's best backcourt - Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds - and the addition of their best recruiting class in years. Freshman Will Harris, Solomon Tat and Jamil Tucker should all contribute immediately.
Coach on the hot seat: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State. No coach's job is on the line, but Hamilton should be concerned. He has raised expectations in Tallahassee with some stellar recruiting classes, but this is his fifth year in Seminole Country and he hasn't landed an NCAA Tournament bid. Hamilton has enough talent to change that this season. Forward Al Thornton, one of the league's top players, and Auburn transfer Toney Douglas - who averaged 16.9 points per game as a freshman in the SEC should lead the way for Hamilton's team.
Best offensive player: Al Thornton, Florida State. North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is certainly tougher to stop on the inside, but nobody in the league has Thornton's combination of size and skill. Few defenders were able to keep the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward out of the lane or off the boards last season. He averaged 16.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field. He put together one of the best games of the season at Duke, scoring a career-high 37 and grabbing 15 boards.
Best 3-point shooter: Anthony Morrow, Georgia Tech. One of the worst sights for opposing coaches around the league is to see Morrow wide open behind the arc. Morrow hit 43 percent of his 3-point attempts (78 of 182) last season, good enough to edge none other than Duke All-American J.J. Redick (42 percent) for tops in the league.
Best defensive player: Jamon Gordon, Virginia Tech. This versatile 6-foot-3 senior guard is one of the ACC's best defenders. He racked up 60 or more steals in each of his first three seasons. He earned his second consecutive selection to the ACC's All-Defensive team last season after averaging 2.1 steals and a career-high 6.0 rebounds per game. Look for Gordon to bother many of the top perimeter players and mess up game plans around the league once again.
Best player you don't know yet: Tyrese Rice, Boston College. This 6-foot-1 sophomore didn't need to start a game last season to show the flashes of a future star. In his fourth college game, Rice scored 22 points in 21 minutes versus Drake. He put up 16 in 22 minutes against UNC and 19 in 23 minutes against Maryland. Blessed with a quick first step and a good shooting stroke, Rice will get to show off both a lot more with veteran point guard Louis Hinnant gone. With little backcourt depth, Rice will play heavy minutes and get a lot more shots - exactly what the rest of the ACC fears.
Deepest bench: North Carolina. Forget about preparing only for Tyler Hansbrough. Dealing with the number of talented bodies at Roy Williams' disposal might be the biggest concern for UNC's opponents. It looks like Williams could use a 12-man rotation. Seven players who played regularly last season return, and a six-man recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation brings many newcomers who could contribute immediately.
Impact newcomer: Toney Douglas, Florida State Al Thornton lost his sidekick when Alexander Johnson left early for the NBA, but he has a new and very capable partner in the backcourt. Douglas, a transfer from Auburn, can handle much of the scoring load and can take over games offensively. Two seasons ago he was the second-leading scorer in the nation among freshmen, averaging 16.9 ppg and 5.3 rebounds per game. He scored 32 points against Florida. Look for Douglas and Thornton to emerge as one of the nation's top tandems.
Freshman sleeper: Will Harris, Virginia There's talk of this versatile 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward cracking the Cavaliers' startling lineup. Armed with a powerful frame and capable of playing a number of positions, Harris is far from your ordinary freshman. A year at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., one of the nation's top prep programs, helped prepare Harris for the jump to college. He averaged 21.0 ppg and 11.0 rpg at Brewster last season.
News and notes: Duke point guard Greg Paulus, who led the ACC with 5.2 assists per game last season, is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said he expects Paulus to be out for "weeks, not months" The 2007 ACC Tournament is being held for the first time at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., from Mar. 8-11. The event has been held previously in North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. North Carolina's Roy Williams needs seven more wins to reach 500 for his career. The ACC has won all seven of the ACC-Big Ten Challenges, and Duke is 7-0 in the event .. Since 1985, the ACC has the most NCAA Tournament wins (219) and the most Final Four appearances (21) of any conference.

Rivals.com Preseason All-ACC Team

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