ACC basketball’s talent drain continues at a record pace. With the expected news that Duke’s Austin Rivers and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and John Henson are entering the NBA draft, the conference next season will return no first-team, all-league players for the third time in four years.
It’s a sign of the times and, absent conceding most top prospects to programs such Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio State, unavoidable.
It’s also unheard of. In the previous 20 seasons, from 1989 to 2008, no All-ACC first-teamers returned only once.
That was the 2002 first team of Maryland’s Juan Dixon and North Carolina State’s Anthony Grundy, both seniors, and Duke juniors Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Jason Williams, each of whom turned pro. Moreover, except for Virginia’s Travis Watson, the entire second team exited.
Not coincidentally, the following season, 2002-03, was among the ACC’ s worst. Only four teams made the NCAA tournament – Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest and N.C. State – and none advanced beyond the regional semifinals, leaving the league with a substandard 5-4 tournament record.
Similarly, the ACC was 6-5 in the NCAAs this season after last year’s entire all-conference first team – Duke’s Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, Boston College’s Reggie Jackson, Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney and Maryland’s Jordan Williams – departed.
The one occasion the ACC arguably thrived despite losing its top five players: After the 2009 exit of North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, Duke’s Gerald Henderson, Florida State’s Toney Douglas and Miami’s Jack McClinton, six league teams made the NCAA, with the Blue Devils winning their fourth national championship.
But other than Duke, the ACC’s performance lacked depth. None of its five other NCAA teams advanced more than one round.
With 2012 first-teamers Henson, Barnes, Rivers, Virginia’s Mike Scott and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller departing, plus second-teamer Kendall Marshall of UNC, is the ACC staring at another down year in 2013?
The NBA decisions of Duke’s Mason Plumlee, N.C. State’sC.J. Leslie and North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo will help answer the question. But even on the off chance all three remain, the balance of power might shift next season.
With three incoming McDonald’s All-Americans and at least three starters back from a Sweet 16 squad, N.C. State could well become the ACC’s preseason favorite. Florida State and Maryland also should have top-three aspirations.
But don’t hold your breath for an upper tier without Duke and North Carolina. The last time both perennials finished below third in the regular season? That would be never.
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