For quality, quantity and variety, there may not be a better point guard conference than the ACC. You want shooters? There's Virginia's Sean Singletary, Boston College's Tyrese Rice and Miami's Jack McClinton. You want slashers? There's North Carolina's Ty Lawson, Florida State's Toney Douglas and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez. You want passers? There's Duke's Greg Paulus, Clemson's Cliff Hammonds and Wake Forest's Ishmael Smith.
There are two potential Final Four teams on Tobacco Road -- and that's not counting Duke. The most intriguing team in the state resides in Raleigh. North Carolina State captured imaginations in the ACC tournament last season, when it advanced to the title game as a No. 10 seed. But it also proved the effectiveness of Coach Sidney Lowe's offense, a gorgeous mix of backdoor passes, crisp cuts and pinpoint shooting. Lowe added McDonald's all-American J.J. Hickson to a front court that already included Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner.
The names Shamari Spears, Javier Gonzales and Hank Thorns might not mean much to you now. By the end of the season, they will. Those three players are taking over three of the most pivotal positions in the conference. At Boston College, Spears replaces Jared Dudley, the ACC player of the year. Gonzales, the best high school player in Miami last year, will run the talent show at N.C. State, taking over for Engin Atsur. Freshman Thorns, only 5 feet 8, will run the point at Virginia Tech, which finished third last season on the strength of its departed back court, Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell.
After seven ACC teams made the NCAA tournament last season, just three begin the year in the top 25. North Carolina is No. 1, but after the Tar Heels, there's only No. 13 Duke and No. 21 N.C. State. The lack of preseason respect may stem from recent national disappointments. Only one ACC team (North Carolina) made the round of 16 last season, and none have made the Final Four for two years. The last time two seasons passed without an ACC representative in the Final Four was 1980. If no ACC team makes the Final Four this year, it would be the first time since 1961 that three years have elapsed without an ACC school in the Final Four.
The Hot Seat
No ACC school fired its coach in the offseason, which may not be surprising given that more than half the league made the NCAA tournament. It seems likely no coaches will face the firing squad after this season, either, considering the favorable climate at nearly every school. If any coach should worry, it's Florida State's Leonard Hamilton, who couldn't make the NCAA tournament in four seasons with Al Thornton on the roster.
The NCAA is cracking down on cursing this year, so coaches supposedly will be hit with technical fouls for uttering expletives on the sideline. The ban will give some ACC coaches an entirely new sideline vernacular. Repeat after us, Maryland's Gary Williams, Virginia's Dave Leitao and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski: "Sugar." "Fudge." "Darn." See, that's not so hard now, is it?