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Teel: Draft decisions finalized, ACC basketball rosters look well-stocked for next season

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Justyn Mutts of Virginia Tech dunks in the Hokies' win at Georgia Tech.

For the first time in four years, a first-team All-ACC basketball player is returning to school. Also for the first time since 2018, the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year is running it back.

And what happened in that 2018-19 season? Virginia, North Carolina and Duke earned three of the four No. 1 NCAA tournament seeds, five ACC teams reached the regional semifinals, and the Cavaliers won the national championship.

Moreover, those headline returnees — first-teamers Kyle Guy (UVA ) and Luke Maye (UNC) and sixth man De’Andre Hunter (UVA) — were vital to their teams’ success.

None of which is to forecast similar ACC domination in 2022-23. But as Wednesday’s deadline for college players to withdraw from NBA draft consideration arrived, several top-shelf veterans passed on the professional ranks, decisions that bode well for a league that sputtered during this last regular season before thriving in the NCAA tournament.

Sure, there were 11th-hour departures, chief among them Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia, N.C. State’s Dereon Seabron, Duke’s Trevor Keels and Florida State’s John Butler. But they were countered by Miami’s Isaiah Wong, Virginia Tech’s Justyn Mutts, N.C. State’s Terquavion Smith and Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski revealing their returns.

Combine that crew with earlier decisions to remain in college by North Carolina’s Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Leaky Black, Virginia’s Jayden Gardner and Kihei Clark, Notre Dame’s Dane Goodwin, Wake Forest’s Daivien Williamson, and Florida State’s Matthew Cleveland and you have quite the experienced core.

Part of this is players taking advantage of the bonus season the NCAA granted athletes impacted by the pandemic. Another part is the lure of name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation.

Regardless of motivation, the ACC wins. Bacot, a Richmond native and Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA East Regional, was the leading vote-getter in last season’s all-conference balloting. Cleveland was Sixth Man of the Year, while Gardner, Goodwin and Wong made third-team All-ACC.

According to Fox Sports, Virginia, North Carolina and Boston College rank Nos. 1, 3 and 5 among power conference programs for next season in percentage of returning minutes played. The Cavaliers, who welcome back their top six scorers, lap the field at 87.8%, while the Tar Heels (73.3%) will be the preseason ACC favorite and a consensus top-five national projection.

Experience won’t necessarily leapfrog BC into the upper half of the ACC, but with four of their top five scorers returning, led by Makai Ashton-Langford, perhaps the Eagles can dodge the unsightly non-conference defeats that can drag down an entire league’s computer rankings. Last season, for example, they lost to sub-.500 outfits Utah, Albany and Rhode Island, the latter twice in five days.

The same holds for Pitt, where top scorer and rebounder John Hugley and No. 2 scorer Jamarius Burton are back. Avoiding setbacks such as those last November to The Citadel, West Virginia and Minnesota — the Mountaineers and Gophers finished last in the Big 12 and Big Ten, respectively — would do wonders for the ACC’s reputation and rankings.

Duke did more than its part last season, Mike Krzyzewski’s last as coach, defeating Kentucky and Gonzaga and reaching the Final Four. The Blue Devils’ top five scorers, most notably All-ACC forwards Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams, declared early for the draft, but fret not for rookie coach Jon Scheyer.

With guard Tyrese Proctor’s reclassification Thursday from the 2023 recruiting class to 2022, the Blue Devils have five five-star prospects arriving next season to team with veteran Jeremy Roach and transfers Kale Catchings (Harvard) and Ryan Young (Northwestern).

More roster churn undoubtedly looms before the season’s start, but ACC teams to date have added promising transfers such as Nijel Pack (Kansas State to Miami), Ben Vander Plas (Ohio to UVA), Jao Ituka (Marist to Wake Forest), Jarkel Joiner (Ole Miss to N.C. State) and Norchad Omier (Arkansas State to Miami).

Other notables include Grant Basile (Wright State to Virginia Tech), Tyree Appleby (Florida to Wake Forest), DJ Burns (Winthrop to N.C. State), Brevin Galloway (Boston College to Clemson), Darin Green (UCF to Florida State), Marcus Hammond (Niagara to Notre Dame), Nelly Cummings (Colgate to Pitt) and John Camden (Memphis to Virginia Tech).

Last season, 19 of the 48 ACC players who averaged at least 10 points per game were transfers, including Gardner, LaRavia, Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma, North Carolina’s Brady Manek and conference Player of the Year Alondes Williams from Wake. Don’t be surprised if transfers are similarly influential next season.

Indeed, the likes of Vander Plas, Basile, Joiner, Appleby, Burns, Hammond and Cummings already have scored more than 1,000 points in their college careers.

“If you can have older guys with experience,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “there’s no substitute for that.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel


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