CHARLOTTE — Zion Williamson, DeAndre Hunter and Cam Johnson are all gone.
In fact, each of the 10 players named to the All-ACC first or second team last season – by way of graduation, transferring or leaving early – are no longer playing in the conference. And from the third All-ACC team, only Louisville’s Jordan Nwora and Notre Dame’s John Mooney are back on the court. The ACC is arguably the top conference in college basketball, but its thin on returning talent this season.
This massive turnover of top talent has led some to believe that there isn’t a runaway favorite in the ACC this year, and that the gap with the conference’s traditional blue bloods and bottom tier isn’t as wide. Duke’s Mike Kryzewski, one of the oldest coaches in the game, seems to agree.
“This year, I think it’s wide open,” Kryzewski said Tuesday at the ACC’s Operation Basketball. “I think the league will be more balanced, and as a result there will be some great basketball throughout. There aren’t the veteran teams that we had last year, so I think staying healthy and how — like for us how our young guys develop will be two keys for us.
“We don’t have the players of Zion and RJ to make up for the slippage in a game, but we have more veteran leadership and key players this season. And (Tre Jones) will have to step up and make more decisions than he had to last year.”
Second-year Louisville head coach Chris Mack seemed to agree that the league might be a little different without some of the star players from a year ago, but his Cardinals won’t be taking any team for granted.
“Even though there may not be some household names like there was a year ago… You have to prepare your team to be at its best on every single night, and if they’re not, whether you’re home or away, whether you’re playing the last place team or the first place team, it’s going to be a challenge,” Mack said. “Every team has a player or two that will be capable of playing at the next level. So, on a given night, a guy can go for 30 and single-handily put a team on his back. So, we don’t ever feel like there’s a ‘gimme in this league.”
Boozer joins ACCN
Jay Bilas and Jay Williams won’t be the only former Duke basketball players on ESPN’s family of networks. The ACC announced Tuesday that Carlos Boozer has joined the ACC Network as a men’s basketball analyst for the upcoming season. Boozer, a two-time NBA All-Star, will contribute to the network’s studio coverage.
Boozer, 37, helped Duke win a national championship on 2001. The next season, he was an All-American, an All-ACC selection and the ACC tournament MVP. He holds the Duke career record for highest field goal percentage (.631), making 554-of-878 shots from the field, which also ranks third on the ACC’s all-time list.
Weird season ahead for Georgia Tech
This season, the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets have little to play for on the men’s basketball court. Last month, Josh Pastner’s team was hit with sanctions that include a total post-season ban for this season – meaning they can’t even compete in the ACC tournament – and probation for four years.
The sanctions stem from recruiting violations committed by former assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie and an ex-friend of Pastner’s, Ron Bell. The NCAA said that LaBarrie gave $300 to a recruit for a visit to an Atlanta strip club and that Bell provided two players with $2,424 in clothes, transportation and more. The program was also fined $5,000 and had scholarships taken away.
For the current players, the sanctions leave them with little to play for this season. While Georgia Tech is appealing, they’re just focused on winning as many games as they can.
“Speaking on the sanctions and things of that nature, we’ll just let the administration handle that,” senior forward James Banks III said. “Our job as a player, my job is not to coach, my job is not to worry about the postseason, my job is to go out there every day and produce at a high level so we can win games, and my philosophy is winning cures all.”
Georgia Tech is the third ACC school within the past six years that has been hit with a postseason ban by the NCAA, joining 2015 Syracuse and 2016 Louisville. N.C. State was recently served a notice of allegations too. Consider ACC commissioner John Swofford as being somewhat concerned with that trend.
“It’s an institutional issue in each instance, obviously, first and foremost. But, yes, I’m concerned about it, always have been concerned about it anytime we have one of those situations within our league,” Swofford said. “I think you want to eliminate those. Zero is the right number of those. We’re a larger league now and the larger you are, the more of everything that happens. But it’s something that I think you have to keep at the forefront of the discussion collectively and be in a position that if our institutions have something that they feel collectively we can do as a league that minimizes the potential for NCAA violations at any of our schools, we need to do it.”
UMBC loss still drives at least one Virginia player
One would think that winning a national championship would wash away all memories of the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, but for Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite, he still thinks about his team’s 20-point loss to the 16th-seeded UMBC Terriers in 2018.
“I think everything started when we lost against UMBC, and I’m carrying that and hopefully all the other guys are still carrying it. I’m carrying that underneath my skin, and it drives me every time,” Diakite said. I’ve been having it since two years ago, so I’m just carrying that through this year.”
A 6-foot-9 junior, Diakite is one of the two returning starters from the Cavaliers that won it all last year, beating Texas Tech in overtime. Diakte hit the buzzer-beating shot that sent the ‘Hoos Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime.
UNC without three players to start season
Roy Williams said Tuesday that three of his players – freshmen guards Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis, and junior forward Sterling Manley – are each battling knee injuries and won’t be available to start the season. Williams did not give a timetable for their returns. Manley averaged 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per-game last season.
Boeheim with mixed-feelings on 20-game ACC slate
Here’s what the longtime Syracuse head coach had to say about the ACC increasing its conference slate from 18 to 20 games:
“It makes you focus and make sure you’re ready. We try to get ready anyway… But the 20 games every — that’s what it is. It’s more or less than proven over time that, when you talk to people that are experts in what you need to do to get in the NCAA Tournament, that the more conference games you play doesn’t really help your league get in more teams because you have more losses, but we’ll see how it all plays out. It’s a challenging schedule, and we have to be ready right away.”