Freshman shows ACC is not what it used to be
It’s been a strange few years for the flow of basketball talent to the Atlantic Coast Conference, for years a raging torrent that has slowed down to a very strange trickle over the past two seasons. The faucet may not be open yet either.
Duke forward Paolo Banchero on Tuesday became the first freshman to be named preseason player of the year in the 32 years the ACC chose one.
That says a lot about Banchero, a potential No.1 pick in the NBA Draft. It says more about ACC.
For years, even ACC’s best freshmen have faced waves of older talent ahead of them. No one in the One Era or before – not Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett, not Harrison Barnes or Kyrie Irving, not Grant Hill or Kenny Anderson – has been named the league’s top player before playing a college game.
Even Ralph Sampson would have struggled to beat Mike Gminski or Jeff Lamp in the fall of 1979 if the ACC had voted then. This was still true in 2010, when Barnes was a first team All-American AP, but didn’t even make the All-ACC first team during the preseason.
To understand, Banchero’s selection follows North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks who received these honors a year ago, a very good player who would never be mistaken for a superstar – and who has even not honorably mentioned All-ACC at the end of the season.
In the end, Moses Wright came out of nowhere to be named ACC Player of the Year. Wright’s development does justice to his hard work in four years at Georgia Tech, but it’s also a comment on the lack of raw talent elsewhere in the ACC.
Banchero, likewise, stands out in part because of the lack of superstar peers around him. Come back to fall 2018, when the ACC last had its classic mix of new and old.
Luke Maye was the preseason player of the year and Virginia fired veterans like Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy – who would lead the Cavaliers to a national title – even though freshmen Duke Williamson and Barrett would steal the show on their way to an ACC title.
It was, in hindsight, the glory days. The ACC had a record six lottery picks in the NBA Draft that year and 10 players taken in the first round, tying its own first-round record from two years earlier. In the two draft since, the ACC have had a total of seven players taken in the first round, and although Banchero is a candidate for the first overall pick, there cannot be more than two or three ACC players behind. him in the first round. .
Meanwhile, some of the best NBA-related talent can be found in Gonzaga or Memphis or play overseas or in the G League Ignite program, while the ACC has become a place where transfers from places like Radford and Wofford can become instant stars.
Part of this is cyclical, of course. This is Duke’s best incoming class since this group of 2019 and Jon Scheyer has more to come next year, while Hubert Davis has a solid first class coming to UNC next fall and Leonard Hamilton continues to recruit elite talent at Florida State. But there is also no doubt that as the landscape of college basketball has changed, the ACC has seen its overall level of talent decline.
This also extends to veteran players. Virginia has relied more on transfers lately and Louisville and others still do. They may have been Notre Dame’s best team for a few years, with six seniors, but none of them is yet a star like Bonzie Colson or Demetrius Jackson or Jerian Grant or Pat Connoughton were. At least not yet: Prentiss Hubb, an all ACC pick of the preseason second team, could make it happen.
There are still some great players in the ACC, whether they are older like Buddy Boeheim and Armando Bacot or younger like Isaiah Wong and Caleb Love or criminally underrated like Michael Devoe. There just aren’t enough of them, and they lack the kind of stellar power traditionally associated with ACC.
Only three freshmen have finished the season as the ACC Player of the Year, all in the past seven years, let alone starting it that way. Only four sophomores were voted preseason player of the year, and they’re all known by now: Anderson, Elton Brand, Tyler Hansbrough, Barnes. It’s not just a hangover from Zion; it is an unprecedented change.
A league that had consistently supplied NBA first-round talent – both of the unique and seasoned variety – for decades, and especially the past decade, has just run out, at least for now.
It’s good for Banchero, not so good for ACC.