To conclude our preview of ACC Basketball teams, my final piece will focus on my predictions for the conference this season.
If you missed any of our individual team previews, feel free to check them out:
We’ve looked at each team on an individual level, so now it’s time to predict how that will play out during the 2014-15 season. Here are my choices for the ACC champion, All-ACC teams, and various individual awards.
Conference Champion: North Carolina
With all the potential distractions and turmoil surrounding the North Carolina athletic department right now, I think this will be a season where Roy Williams builds an us-against-the-world mentality with his team that keeps his players focused.
This appears to be a Tar Heel team with talent, depth and experience and playmakers that should fit well with the style Roy Williams likes to play.
Marcus Paige is a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks could both be All-ACC caliber frontcourt players, and Justin Jackson will likely be one of the best freshmen in the league.
Paige may not be the best pro prospect in the ACC, but he proved numerous times last season that he’s capable of putting the Tar Heels on his back and carrying them to a victory. As the players around him have had more time to develop, it should make an already strong squad even that much more dangerous.
Predicted Final Standings
Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, UNC
As I’ve mentioned any time I talk about North Carolina, Marcus Paige is an elite talent who’s proven he knows how to take over a game.
Last season, even when teams knew he was the primary option for the Tar Heels, especially in the 2nd half of a close game, Paige would still figure out ways to get open and create scoring opportunities for himself.
He’s capable of dominating a game with the ball in his hands or playing as the off-guard, which makes him extremely difficult to gameplan against.
Jahlil Okafor could very well end up winning this award, but I’ll take Paige because he has the experience and knows what it takes to succeed in this league.
Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
It hasn’t taken long to see that Jahlil Okafor is going to be a special talent for the Blue Devils. He showed how dominant he can be during Duke’s scrimmage at Countdown 2 Craziness, and Coach K is telling anyone who will listen that Jahlil is going to be a great player and Duke will rely heavily on him this season.
You rarely see a player with his combination of size and skill, particularly at such a young age. His presence will make Duke an entirely different team this year and he’ll be a mismatch for nearly every team the Blue Devils face this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Thomas, Florida State
Leonard Hamilton always seems to be grooming a talented wing player who’s fantastic on both ends of the floor and Aaron Thomas is his latest weapon.
As a sophomore, Thomas was sixth in the ACC in steals last season at 1.6 per game and I expect him to increase that number this year, especially considering FSU’s defense should be more improved as a whole.
Thomas has great length and athleticism at 6’5” and Leonard Hamilton is one of the more brilliant defensive coaches in the country.
Coach of the Year: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
It’s hard to envision Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Tony Bennett or Rick Pitino winning the Coach of the Year award because they’ve already had such great success and everyone expects them to be good again this year. They’ve all become victims of their own success.
However, after last season’s struggles, I think Leonard Hamilton will get the Seminoles back near the top of the ACC standings and have FSU in position to get back to the NCAA Tournament. And because his squad lacks the star power to match the other top teams in the league, he’ll get credit for bringing his team together as a cohesive unit that gets the most of its talent.
All-ACC First Team
Malcolm Brogdon, Guard, Virginia, Jr., 6’5”, 217 lbs.
Marcus Paige, Guard, North Carolina, Jr., 6’1”, 175 lbs.
Aaron Thomas, Guard, Florida State, Jr., 6’5”, 195 lbs.
Montrezl Harrell, Forward, Louisville, Jr., 6’8”, 235 lbs.
Jahlil Okafor, Center, Duke, Fr., 6’11”, 270 lbs.
What do you think about my predictions? Where am I wrong? Feel free to yell at me in the comments or on Twitter at @davidmaldridge.