With the ACC season coming up and with Georgia Tech playing not one but two games this weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the various plotlines of the ACC this year.
So which teams in the ACC this year are contenders and which are pretenders? Time to take a look and use the preseason ACC media balloting to prepare a thumbnail sketch of each of the ACC teams. Numbers in parentheses indicate first place votes.
1. Miami (30): The 'Canes tied Duke last year in the ACC regular season and the smart money has them going all the way - they didn't lose a single player in the offseason. Miami was ranked #7 in the country in the preseason AP poll and didn't lose a game at home last year. Seniors Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson - "Fire and Ice" - will take Miami as far as it can go in the post-season, and then both will probably keep running towards the first or second round of the WNBA Draft. Johnson was named ACC Preseason Player of the Year, and she'll be tested in a non-conference schedule that has Tennessee, Michigan State and Rutgers. The big question is "will Miami keep the program's profile high after Johnson and Williams graduate?"
2. Duke (10): Duke probably had one of the best recruiting classes in the country, topped off by F Amber Henson. This is a team that lost three WNBA draft picks last year, and the reason they're ranked so high is a testimony to the strength of the program - the Blue Devils are ranked #8 in the preseason, right behind Miami. Sophomore G Chelsey Gray got 21 minutes a game last year and averaged 8.7 ppg/3.3 rpg; expect her to carry a heavier load. Results of Junkanoo Jam and January 30th game vs. UConn will determine whether Duke is a title contender.
3. Maryland: The Terps ended up at #11 in the preseason poll, but their shot at a bye in the post-season tournament might end up depending on what takes place off the court. Senior C Lynetta Kizer - preseason all-ACC - was suspended by coach Brenda Frese indefinitely, and there is no word as to when - or if - she'll return to the team. Diadra Tchatchouang returned to France permanently after tearing her left ACL. Coach Brenda Frese states that guard play will determine how far Maryland goes in the conference and the post season - they've defintely got great fronts with ACC Rookie of the Year F Alyssa Thomas returning for a follow-up season.
4. Florida State: Florida State is the fourth of five Top 25 teams in the ACC, but it hasn't been able to move to the top of the conference. There are still a few questions before the Seminoles make their debut. For example, who will be the Florida State point guard, Tay'ler Mingo or Alexa Deluzio? How far can senior C Cierra Bravard carry Florida State into the post-season? Seminoles will miss the 3-point threat that Courtney Ward provided - Ward took 193 shots last season and hit them at a 40 percent clip. Bravard is the only senior on the team.
5. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets never get no respect - all they could collect in the preseason was a smattering of spare votes in the AP Poll. Undoubtedly, voters were dubious on Tech now that G/F Alex Montgomery and F Deja Foster have graduated. But despite that, the squad only has three freshmen on it so the Ramblin' Wreck isn't starting from square one. Sophomore G Tyaunna Marshall - the team's second-leading scorer - put on ten pounds of muscle in the off-season in a program that depends on strength and pressing defense. The key to Tech this year might be in the production of senior PG Metra Walthour and recruit PG Sydney Wallace.
6. North Carolina: The Tar Heels found themselves in the Top 25 in the pre-season, but they'll have to overcome the losses of PG Italee Lucas, F Jessica Breland, and G Cetera DeGraffenreid. The 13-player roster has five freshmen on it who will get a crash course in ACC play. Junior G Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had shoulder surgery and 6-6 junior C Waltiea Rolle is pregnant and won't be seen for half the season. 6-5 C Chay Shegog will be expected to take a more prominent role this season while PG Brittany Roundtree - a top 100 recruit for North Carolina - brings her defensive skills to a team that likes to score.
7. North Carolina State: A 14-17 season didn't provide much in the way of highlights, but a win over #13 ranked North Carolina did. Injuries were a big part of the Wolfpack's finish, so they should be a lot better that they're healed, even though senior F Tia Bell and senior G Emili Tasler are still dealing with knee injuries. Even so, this team has four freshmen and coach Kellie Harper plans on giving them significant playing time. Last year's team lost six of their first seven ACC games and lost six games by six points or less - that won't be the case this year.
8. Virginia: New coach Joanne Boyle's job is to return the Cavaliers to their glory days. The starters return at Virginia but Boyle's problem - which she admits - is not having much knowledge of the ACC. Unfortunately, only nine scholarship players from last year are healthy, so the Cavs look a little thin. Add to that the installation of a new offense - Boyle told the Washington Post that she feels like she's "coaching twelve freshmen" - and don't expect Virginia to make much progress in Year One of the Boyle Era. The biggest adjustment at UVA will be the mental one.
9. Boston College: The graduation of C Carolyn Swords leaves a mighty big hole for the Eagles to fill - she was a lot of BC's offense. Senior F Stefanie Murphy also departed, leaving the team with only one walk-on senior. The Eagles will be tested right away with a visit to Rutgers on November 16th and to Arizona State on the 20th. Coach Sylvia Crawley gets a chance to recreate the team in her own image now, and will emphasize speed and a new defensive scheme.
10. Wake Forest: PG Brooke Thomas will lead the Demon Deacons into the 2011-12 season, having never missed a game at Wake Forest and contributing 113 assists last year to just 74 turnovers. She comes along with three other starters from last year, where Wake Forest finished at 15-17 - but seventh in the ACC. Coach Mike Petersen attributed Wake Forest's woes last year to a lack of focus for part of the season.
11. Clemson: The most interesting "11th in conference" team in the country. There are some interesting things going on there. G/F Natiece Ford was named to the ACC Newcomer Watch list, the team had the #30 recruiting class in the country this year according to Hoopgurlz, and next year's class is ranked higher. However, this was a team that shot less than 40 percent from the field last year and which just ended up graduating its top two scorers and dismissing the first player off the bench last year from the team. Itoro Coleman might be able to turn things around if she can keep her job long enough.
12. Virginia Tech: Ugh. Well, after an 11-19 season last year there's nowhere to go but up. Lsat year the team had nothing in the traditional Four Factors of success (field goal percentage, turnovers, rebounding, and free throw shooting) with a 60.1 percent free throw shooting percentage that made visits to the stripe exercises in terror. No one scored in double figures last year for the Hokies and the team had a 10 game losing streak at one point last year. New coach Dennis Wolff has never coached a women's game before. Senior G Shanel Harrison - who scored 8.8 ppg last year - was booted from the team for a team rules violation.
Cierra Bravard, F, Florida State
Shenise Johnson, G, Miami
Lynetta Kizer, C, Maryland *
Alyssa Thomas, F, Maryland
Riquna Williams, G, Miami
Newcomer Watch List
Amber Henson, F, Duke
Sydney Wallace, G, Georgia Tech
Brittany Roundtree, G, North Carolina
Natiece Ford, G/F, Clemson
* - suspended