ACC Hoops Notebook: Tobacco Road Under Construction; Clemson on the Rise

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It’s hard to believe, but college basketball season is done in the ACC. Despite four teams in the Sweet 16, the Atlantic Coast Conference was shut out of the Final Four, which means it is time to turn our eyes to next year and examine just how different the conference might look.

HOOS ON TOP?: It will be interesting to see how preseason prognosticators view Virginia heading into the 2018-19 season.

The Cavaliers should return third-team All-American Kyle Guy and ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter, along with starting point guard Ty Jerome and a three-year starter at center in Jack Salt.

Normally, after dominating the regular season the way Virginia did, going 32-2 and winning the ACC by four games, that much talent coming back would make a team preseason ACC favorites and almost certainly Top 5 in the nation.

But UVa, coming off a devastating and historic loss to 16-seed UMBC, might not get the benefit of the doubt. Duke is bringing in the nation’s top three recruits, which could be enough to make the Blue Devils the ACC and NCAA favorites.

But what exactly should we expect from Virginia? It would certainly be asking a lot to expect the kind of dominance we saw this season, but with Hunter healthy and forward Mamadi Diakite continuing to develop, could the Cavaliers be better suited for NCAA Tournament success?

As the rest of the team tightened up while an injured Hunter sat out of the loss to UMBC, it became easier to remember he had been the one to take and make several big shots on the road in ACC play, particularly at Duke and Louisville.

One terrible game probably shouldn’t effect where voters put UVa next fall, but given the Cavs opened this season unranked, it just might.

TOBACCO ROAD CHANGES: It will also be quite interesting to see what the landscape on Tobacco road looks like next season.

Duke could once again be the preseason No. 1, but with a much different looking roster. The Grayson Allen era is finally over. Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter will soon be lottery picks with Gary Trent Jr. potentially joining them in the NBA Draft’s first round.

But with RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson — the nation’s top three recruits — joining the Blue Devils, not to mention another 5-star point guard in Tre Jones, it will once again be Final Four or bust in Durham.

Expectations down the road at North Carolina will be tempered by inexperience. As Duke has embraced one-and-done talent in recent years, the Tar Heels have relied on veterans for their recent success.

But Theo Pinson, Joel Berry and Cam Johnson are out of eligibility. Joining Luke Maye, who should be back for his senior season and will be joined by 5-star signees Nassir Little and Coby White.

But could NC State upset the Tobacco Road hierarchy in 2019? Kevin Keatts did a surprisingly great job in his first season with the Wolfpack, scoring victories against UNC and Duke, and actually earning a higher seed than the Heels in the ACC Tournament.

The Pack will have to replace leading scorer Allerik Freeman and Omer Yurtseven, but return a nice core group of Braxton Beverly, Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson with four 4-star recruits coming in.

CLEMSON MOMENTUM: A few years ago when Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich announced plans to renovate Littlejohn Coliseum, most of the questions he got from Tigers boosters were about how that might affect parking for football games.

Hopefully Clemson fans won’t forget they have a basketball team in a shiny new arena by the time November rolls around. Clemson, now coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, missed out on in-state product Zion Williamson and lose Gabe Devoe and Donte Grantham to graduation.

But with Shelton Mitchell, Elijah Thomas and Marcquise Reed back the Tigers should once again be thinking about the NCAA Tournament when next season begins.

Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen.