- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Zion Williamson, Fr., Duke
Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett, Virginia
Newcomer of the Year: Zion Williamson, Fr., Duke
Freshman of the Year: Zion Williamson, Fr., Duke
1. The Slow Cooker
What’s the best way to make people forget about being the only 1-seed to ever fall to a 16? Simple, just turn in one of the best college basketball seasons in recent memory. The Hoos are currently ranked as the 2nd-best team ever in the KenPom era (dating back to 2002), standing slightly behind the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats. Though Tony Bennett’s squad couldn’t quite take down the Dukies, his Cavaliers pack-lined their way to a 16-2 ACC record and are currently projected as the top overall seed in the Big Dance. We here at 3MW liken Virginia’s style of play to a slow cooker - the Hoos slowly but surely cook their opponents over the course of a game, turning 2 point leads into 30 point victories in just 40 minutes. And if it already isn’t known around the CBB landscape - Tony Bennett is the best college basketball coach in America.
2. Some Dude Named “Zion”
With the way ESPN likes to cover college basketball, you would think the Duke Blue Devils didn’t lose a game all season. With arguably the best recruiting class in history, Coach K was able to ride his athletic stallions to a 23-2 (11-1) start, looking extremely dominant and extremely scary at times. But as soon as Zion Williamson went down with a blown-out shoe, Duke’s trajectory sharply changed. The Devils were smoked at Cameron by a very good UNC squad, lost on the road to a Justin Robinson-less Va Tech team, and BARELY snuck by arguably the worst ACC program in Wake Forest at home. Zion is probably the best player in the country and there is nobody even comparable to him from a physical perspective outside of LeBron James, but come on Duke… Are you really unable to consistently win ball games with only four 5-star recruits (Barrett, Reddish, Jones, and… Bolden) and three 4-star recruits (O’Connell, DeLaurier, Baker)?
3. Chris Mack is Brilliant
If Tony Bennett didn’t exist, the Coach of the Year award would have been emphatically handed to Chris Mack, who came over from Xavier in the offseason to take over for David Padgett. Mack inherited a roster that lost arguably its four most important players from 2017-18, and yet his Cardinals finished 10-8 in the brutal ACC and exceeded all preseason expectations. Louisville currently sits 19th in KenPom, up from a preseason ranking of 63, one of the most impressive jumps in the country. Mack has talent on this roster, but he deserves a ton of credit for his development of Jordan Nwora this season and ability to win ball games despite starting a transfer from Samford and a transfer from Richmond in the backcourt. Louisville appears to have itself a long-time solution at the head coaching position only a year removed from the Rick Pitino debacle.
4. No Luck for the Irish
Where Louisville flew past any and all expectations, Notre Dame uncharacteristically fell to the basement of the ACC, finishing tied with Pitt for dead last in the conference. Mike Brey brought in his best recruiting class ever this offseason, but quickly lost one of its cornerstones in Robby Carmody to injury. Following the Carmody injury, senior leader Rex Pflueger went down for the year, and guys like Juwan Durham, Nikola Djogo, and DJ Harvey battled ailments of their own. Brey will be the first one to tell you that his team was just not that good this season, describing Virginia as being in a whole different class in his post-game presser following a beatdown by the Hoos. But with a wealth of talent returning next season, we should see Notre Dame contending for a top five finish in the ACC in 2019-20.
The Tournament is held in Charlotte. North Carolina. The top 4 seeds receive double-byes while teams seeded 10-15 will have to win five games in five days to be crowned conference tournament champion.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
Zion is due back for Duke on Thursday. If he plays and is fully healthy, Duke has to be considered the favorite to take home the trophy. Virginia is the best overall and most experienced team, but Duke has the most talent. Look for the Hoos to waltz to the tournament championship game as they get to avoid Duke and UNC with their placement in the bracket. The third major contender is, of course, North Carolina, one of the hottest squads in the country coming in after winning 14 of their last 15 games. UNC has a perfect mixture of youth, experience, guards, and bigs. It would not shock me to see the Heels take home the hardware and earn a 1-seed in the Dance.
If Duke, UNC, or Virginia wins the Tourney, they will almost certainly be a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke and UVA may even already be locked into a 1-seed no matter the outcome. UNC likely receives a 2 if they fall to Duke.
Dark Horse Team
Florida State is 12-1 over its last 13 games after starting an abysmal 1-4 in ACC play. The Noles are one of the biggest and most athletic teams in the conference, and their defense gives them the ability to beat anyone on any given night. Virginia is a tough matchup for FSU, but Leonard Hamilton has historically played Tony Bennett close over his career.
Virginia Tech will be without Justin Robinson for the entirety of the Tourney, and while they’ve performed well without him, that is going to catch up with them. Lacking a PG leader in a postseason setting is a big disadvantage even when your starting center is playing like an NBA All-Star.
Outside of Va Tech and FSU, I like Louisville, Syracuse, or NC State to make a run. The Wolfpack need to beat Clemson in the first round of the tourney (and vice versa) to secure a spot in the Big Dance and Keatts and Co. nearly upset UVA during the regular season. Syracuse has already beaten Duke and has the defensive prowess to make a run. Louisville is the second-best coached team in the league.
(12) Miami FL over (13) Wake Forest
(15) Notre Dame over (10) Georgia Tech
(11) Boston College over (14) Pittsburgh
(8) NC State over (9) Clemson
(5) Virginia Tech over (12) Miami FL
(7) Louisville over (15) Notre Dame
(6) Syracuse over (11) Boston College
(1) Virginia over (8) NC State
(4) Florida State over (5) Virginia Tech
(2) North Carolina over (7) Louisville
(3) Duke over (6) Syracuse
(1) Virginia over (4) Florida State
(3) Duke over (2) North Carolina
(1) Virginia over (3) Duke
Duke gets revenge in its third matchup against UNC and the Hoos get revenge in their third matchup with Duke. NC State makes the Big Dance giving the ACC 8 Tourney teams and Clemson falls short on the Bubble. All is right with the world.