The ACC doesn’t officially enter 'college basketball mothership' mode until Louisville joins the fray in 2014, but it’s still getting close. Duke, North Carolina, and Syracuse are next year’s conference favorites, and they are followed by several teams who are a clear notch below. If someone comes out of that 2nd tier to win the conference, you have to like the odds of it being Virginia. They were 11-7 last year (though they did have the easiest SOS in the conference), and the only players they lost were senior Jontel Evans (remember the guy all the defenses guarded from 10 feet away?) and a couple of transfers that only Virginia fans could name.
The Hoos had five players average more than 5.0 points a game, and they all return.
In Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell they have a one-two punch as good as any in the conference. Harris was 1st Team All-Conference, and Mitchell averaged 13.1 points, 8.9 boards, and was one of five high volume (used >24% of team’s possessions) players in the ACC with an offensive rating north of 108 (Mitchell’s was 111.0).
With Harris and Mitchell we know what we’re going to get. They’re going to be solid. Really, really solid. Harris might win ACC Player of the Year. But if the Cavaliers want to make the leap, they’ll need another player to join the party. Mike Tobey could be the guy – and he’s had a very solid off season – but I’m putting my money on 6-6 sophomore Justin Anderson.
With Harris (stress fracture in foot) and Mitchell (broken bone in hand) limited in summer work, Anderson will get a chance to star in scrimmages while the vets heal. He’s already drawing rave reviews from the strength and conditioning coach.
Key Players Series: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Anderson is building on a strong finish to last season, where he started the final 14 games of the season. In their three post-season games he averaged 19.0 points (off an efficient 10.0 shots per game), 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 3.0 blocks.
If Anderson is a solid player, then the Hoos will be back in the NCAA tournament. If he can play the way he did down the stretch then they could surprise a lot of folks and find themselves battling for the (mythical) ACC regular season title.