Ed. Note: Today we continue our ACC season preview. We have broken the previews into three sections, sorting the teams into three categories: wallflowers, bubble boys, and locks. On Monday, we looked at the wallflowers–teams we do not expect to go dancing this summer. The bubble boys will haunt ESPN Bracketologists dreams this season, while you can pencil the locks into your bracket now. In this post, we will preview the locks, in reverse order.
4. Florida State
2011 record: 25-10, 12-4 Coach: Leonard Hamilton, 11th season
G Michael Snaer (14 ppg, 1.9 apg)
F Okaro White, Jr. (4.4 rpg)
The Seminoles do not project to be quite as good as last season’s team that won the ACC Tournament, but they should certainly qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Michael Snaer should be one the league’s best two-way players and he will likely play in the NBA in the future. It’s rare to find a collegiate player that defends as well as Snaer, who also has the ability to shoot 40 percent on three-pointers, as Snaer did last season.
Florida State will go through some growing pains with the loss of Bernard James, the team’s best interior player who led the team in rebounds last season. However, coach Leonard Hamilton expects veterans Okaro White and Terrance Shannon to step into the void, along with a group of three 7-footers without any collegiate experience. It will take some time to break in the youngsters this season, but Snaer should be able to keep the Seminoles afloat while Hamilton hammers home his defensive principles. The beauty of Hamilton’s program is that it is somewhat resistant to major fluctuations because, year in, year out, the Seminoles play terrific, physical defense.
3. North Carolina
2011 record: 32-6, 14-2 Coach: Roy Williams, 9th season
G Reggie Bullock, Jr. (8.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
G Dexter Strickland, Sr. (2.2 apg)
Sure, the Tar Heels lost more than 70 percent of their offense with the departure of first round picks Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes. That’s not what should concern Roy Williams. Sophomore P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo are more than capable of being go-to scorers on a big time team and freshman Marcus Paige is a point guard Williams can trust in his offense.
No, Williams should be concerned about his team’s defense, even if that side of the ball always seems like an afterthought for Roy. Under Williams, North Carolina has been consistently very good, but they’ve been excellent when the defense complements the always potent offense. Since Williams either doesn’t scheme well defensively or doesn’t give defense enough practice time, the Tar Heels are good defensively only when they have gifted, defensive-minded players. Last season, ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson and Tyler Zeller made up for a lot of mistakes by North Carolina’s perimeter players. This season, the Tar Heels don’t appear to have an enforcer in the paint. A soft interior defense, combined with the lack of a true offensive leader, will cost North Carolina a couple places in the ACC standings this season. I expect the Tar Heels will lose a few games they shouldn’t this season because of porous defense, especially on the road in the ACC, when their shooters will be a bit less comfortable.
2. North Carolina State
2011 record: 24-13, 9-7 Coach: Mark Gottfried, 2nd season
F C.J. Leslie, Jr. (14.7 ppg)
C Richard Howell, Sr. (9.2 rpg)
G Lorenzo Brown, Jr. (6.3 apg)
At No. 6 in the preseason AP Poll, North Carolina State is the ACC’s highest-ranked team and it’s not hard to see why. When C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown spurned the NBA draft to return for the their junior seasons, the Wolfpack cemented their status as one of the league’s most intriguing teams. In addition to their returning stars, North Carolina State added one of the league’s most highly regarded recruiting classes.
Rodney Purvis is a supreme slasher who should form a devastating backcourt with Brown, while forward T.J. Warren is a rugged post player and rebounder who will complement Leslie and Richard Howell quite well in the frontcourt. Tyler Lewis, who played his senior season at Oak Hill, should be one of the ACC’s best backup point guards, as well. The Wolfpack have a great mix of experience and talented youth and will compete for an ACC title and a top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
2011 record: 27-7, 13-3 Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, forever
G Seth Curry, Sr. (13.2 ppg, 2.4 apg)
C Mason Plumlee, Sr. (9.2 rpg)
It’s pretty simple, really. When Coach K has a team with this much talent and experience–the Blue Devils return three senior starters– good things tend to happen in Durham. The major concern seems to be that sophomore Quinn Cook is the only “true” point guard on the roster. Cook, however, struggled through a knee injury during his freshman campaign and he is fully healthy this season. As someone who saw a healthy Cook play in high school, let me tell you, he will be a completely different player.
Even if Cook disappoints, it’s won’t be as catastrophic as most analysts seem to think. If having to play Seth Curry at point guard is your team’s biggest concern, you’re in pretty good shape. While not ideal, Curry has shown that he is comfortable and competent being the team’s leading ball-handler. As a bonus, playing Curry at point guard allows freshman Rasheed Sulaimon to get more playing time, which is not a bad thing based on reports coming out of Durham.
The roster admittedly lacks depth, but since when did Coach K rely heavily on his bench?
Tom King is a staff writer for DevilsInDurham.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TP_King