After traveling to Charlotte for the 2021 ACC Media Tipoff, I got a chance to speak with several players and coaches from around the league and submitted my vote for the men’s preseason All-ACC teams, Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. However, I took the liberty of putting together a complete awards ballot that would typically be completed at the end of the season. Let’s take a look at where NC State’s men’s basketball roster fits in.
Player of the Year: Paolo Banchero
In Banchero, Duke gets its best player since one Zion Williamson walked through its doors. It’s fitting that, in Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final year, he nabbed one of his most talented classes today. Banchero has arguably the most gifted skill set in not just the ACC, but the entire country as well.
All eyes will be on Banchero to showcase his innate explosiveness, perimeter and post games, and his defensive ability in his first year. With a very talented Duke roster around him, there’s a significant chance that Banchero walks away with the Player of the Year award. Historical precedent favors Banchero here as well. Three of the last four Player of the Year award winners came from Duke and three of the last seven were Duke freshmen. No other school has had repeat winners in that time frame.
Defensive Player of the Year: Manny Bates
When I talked to Bates at the ACC Media Tipoff, he told me he was eyeing the Defensive Player of the Year award in particular, fresh off earning his first nod to the ACC’s All-Defensive Team. Bates has a great chance to lead the league in blocked shots per game after averaging 3.9 per 40 minutes last season.
Freshman of the Year: Paolo Banchero
If Banchero wins Player of the Year, he’s going to win Freshman of the Year. There’s no doubt about it. ‘Nuff said.
Most Improved Player: Caleb Love
If Love makes the steps toward his ceiling that made him a top-15 recruit last year, there’s zero doubt he will be the Most Improved Player. Love had a rough going last season. After originally being projected as a 2021 NBA Draft lottery candidate, Love returned to UNC-Chapel Hill for a second season after posting just 10.5 points, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting a miserable 31.6% from the floor and 26.6% from deep.
However, Love has the perfect opportunity around him to develop into a legitimate star. Several other players around Love are returning for head coach Hubert Davis’s first season. The Tar Heels also brought in the perfect complementary stretch big in transfer Brady Manek, someone who shot 37.5% from distance.
Sixth Man of the Year: RJ Davis
On the other side of UNC’s guard equation is RJ Davis, someone who arguably outplayed the higher-ranked guard in Love last season. Assuming Love, Kerwin Walton and Leaky Black get the nod at positions one through three, Davis will be relegated to the bench. Davis was a little inconsistent at times, especially with his shooting, but he burst onto the scene several times, such as when he posted 33 combined points in the two opening games of the ACC Tournament or when he won ACC Freshman of the Week in January.
Coach of the Year: Mike Krzyzewski
I won’t spend much time explaining this, but if Duke has the best record in the ACC, something the pedigree of its roster suggests, Coach K should undoubtedly walk away with this award. It would be extremely poetic for Krzyzewski to finish his last season on top. Expect UNC’s Davis, Louisville’s Chris Mack and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton to be in the thick of the race.
First team: F Buddy Boeheim, F Paolo Banchero, F Keve Aluma, G Michael Devoe, F Armando Bacot
If Banchero wins Player of the Year, it will mean an All-ACC First Team appearance. Alongside Banchero, I added some of the better veterans in the conference. Buddy Boeheim had legit professional optics after an amazing postseason run that saw him average 25 points per game while shooting a hilariously good 53.8% from the floor and 48.1% from 3 on 10.4 attempts from that range.
Aluma has shown huge strides every year since joining Virginia Tech and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue this year. The forward averaged 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season. Bacot will still be a part of a crowded frontcourt, but he fits better with Dawson Garcia and Manek far better than Day’Ron Sharpe. Meanwhile, Devoe averaged 15 points per game last season while shooting 40% from deep despite being the third option behind last year’s ACC Player of the Year in Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado.
Second team: C Mark Williams, C/F Dawson Garcia, G/F Isaiah Wong, G Kihei Clark, G Caleb Love
Clark regressed a little last season, but this Virginia team is his to lose. He averaged 4.5 assists last season and should see an even bigger role now that Jay Huff, Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III have all departed. If Love makes a jump, he’ll easily earn a slot on one of the top two teams. Wong was my pick for the ACC’s Most Improved Player last season after he jumped from averaging 7.7 points to 17.1 points per game. If Wong improves his efficiency he’ll be a contender for the first team.
Garcia and Williams should make All-ACC teams by playing their roles perfectly. Both players had legitimate NBA prospects last season, with Garcia showing out at the G League Elite Combine. Garcia averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds last season. Williams really came into his own at the end of the year. In the last six games of the season, Williams held averages of 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.
Third team: F Jericole Hellems, F/C Nate Laszewski, G Prentiss Hubb, G Anthony Polite, F Samuell Williamson
For each of these players, it’s about opportunity. Hellems, Laszewski, Polite and Williamson have significant chances to lead their respective teams in scoring. Meanwhile, Hubb is one of the more complete point guards in the league with averages of 14.6 points and 5.8 assists per game last season.
Defensive team: G Jarrod West, F/C Manny Bates, C Bourama Sidibe, G Caleb Love, C Mark Williams
Like Defensive Player of the Year, the Defensive Team is all about who can put up the most eye-popping stats. West averaged 2.5 steals per game last season at Marshall and while those numbers won’t carry over directly, he is likely to be near the top of the conference in that regard. Meanwhile, Bates, Sidibe and Williams are likely to lead the conference in blocked shots. Per 40, each of those players have averaged two or more per game in the last two seasons.
All-Freshman team: F Paolo Banchero, G Trevor Keels, F Matthew Cleveland, F Benny Williams, G Jalen Warley
If A.J. Griffin was starting the season healthy, he would earn a nod to this team. Instead, fellow five-star defensive specialist Keels makes the team with a bigger role right away. Cleveland and Warley will have a chance to lead a Florida State team that lost last year’s bench star Scottie Barnes. Williams has a real chance to take on a huge scoring load for Syracuse after the Orange lost both forwards Alan Griffin and Quincy Guerrier over the offseason.