A preview of my ACC Women’s Preseason Basketball Ballot

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Nothing really says it’s basketball season like the pre-season awards announcement. And for some reason, the official ACC preseason awards rely as much on my contribution as they do on reigning WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray and four-time AP Coach of the Year Muffet McGraw. .

On Wednesday night, the ACC released its annual preseason poll, with Duke ranking 7th, forecasting a three-spot improvement from last year. The Blue Devils will be led by reigning conference co-freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson as they attempt to maintain their best preseason standings since 2019.

As a seasoned ACC enthusiast and veteran member of the Blue Ribbon Panel, I was once again honored to vote for these awards. So let’s see how my ballot compares to the official results.

Preseason All-ACC Team

Survey results:

  1. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
  2. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville
  3. Olivia Miles, Notre Dame
  4. Deja Kelly, North Carolina
  5. Diamond Johnson, State of North Carolina
  6. Jakia Brown-Turner, North Carolina State
  7. Jewel Spear, Wake Forest
  8. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  9. Morgan Jones, Louisville
  10. Taylor Soule, Virginia Tech

My ballot:

  1. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
  2. Olivia Miles, Notre Dame
  3. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  4. Deja Kelly, North Carolina
  5. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville
  6. Diamond Johnson, State of North Carolina
  7. Morgan Jones, Louisville
  8. Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech
  9. Alyssa Ustby, North Carolina
  10. Jewel Spear, Wake Forest

First place here was a no-brainer: Kitley was the 2021-22 ACC Player of the Year and then had a 42-point first round in the NCAA Tournament. I also didn’t struggle with most of the names behind it; of the 15 names on my All-ACC newsletter last spring, six moved on to the WNBA, and eight of the remaining nine were on my preseason newsletter last week. The only two names on my preseason report card that aren’t remnants of March are Owusu, a transfer from Maryland, and Spear, who I think will make another leap forward this year.

I had a hard time letting go of Notre Dame’s combo guard Dara Mabrey, but eventually, Spear’s supernova potential won me over.

I’m honestly a little surprised Day-Wilson didn’t make the official team after receiving the Coaches Rookie of the Year award last spring. I had him with fellow Blue Devil guard Celeste Taylor in a tier just below the last names I mentioned above.

Newcomer Watchlist

Survey results:

  1. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  2. Saniya Rivers, State of North Carolina
  3. Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse
  4. Ta’Niya Latson, State of Florida
  5. (tie) Haley Cavender, Miami
  6. (tie) Ruby Whitehorn, Clemson

My ballot:

  1. Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech
  2. Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse
  3. Saniya Rivers, State of North Carolina
  4. Ruby Whitehorn, Clemson
  5. KK Bransford, Notre Dame

The transfer portal funneled top talent from many mid-level conferences into the Power Five, and the ACC took full advantage of that this year. Owusu was one of the top five point guards in the nation at Maryland before a foot injury hampered her play last spring. Fair was a two-time semifinalist for Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year at Buffalo and had 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in the NCAA Tournament against Tennessee last year. Rivers played sparingly for South Carolina as a true rookie in 2021-22, but had been ranked among the top three rookies in the class by ESPN, ASGR, Prep Girls and Prospects Nation.

While Duke’s Taya Corosdale and Miami’s Haley Cavinder appear to be quality players this year, I wanted to showcase a few players from what is an outstanding freshman class across the country. Whitehorn and Bransford have both been ranked in the top 20 in the class by several different scouts, and both are in the running for big roles: Whitehorn could start for the Tigers, who need a spark plug on the wing, and Bransford figures to be the first fighting Irish guard to come off the bench, a role that won Sonia Citron the Blue Ribbon Panel Freshman of the Year award last year. Ta’Niya Latson was rated higher by ESPN than either of those two, but I left her out because other outlets weren’t as optimistic about her prospects.

Blue Devil’s freshman wing Ashlon Jackson was also highly regarded (she ranked one spot behind Whitehorn in ESPN’s recruiting rankings), but Duke’s wing rotation appears to be much more competitive than that of Clemson or Notre Dame.

Expected order of arrival

My picks are in bold, the poll results are in italics.

  1. Virginia Tech/Louisville
  2. our Lady/Virginia Tech
  3. North Carolina/NC status
  4. Louisville/Our Lady
  5. duke/North Carolina
  6. Miami/Miami
  7. NC status/Duke
  8. Georgia Technology/Georgia Tech
  9. Syracuse/State of Florida
  10. state of florida/Syracuse
  11. Virginia/Virginia
  12. Clemson/Clemson
  13. WakeForest/Boston College
  14. Pittsburgh/Wake Forest
  15. Boston College/Pittsburgh

The Hokies are led by the ACC’s best center, one of its top two point guards, one of its top three two guards, a three-time All-ACC forward, a pair of deadly shooters, plus a quality bench and arguably the conference’s best tactician to head coach. I don’t see how it’s not the best team in the ACC, at least on paper.

So imagine my surprise to not only see Louisville at the top of the preseason poll, but with a majority of votes for first place! The Cardinals had a great summer, adding a quintet of quality rookies and some good transfers, including two-time All-ACC first-team big forward Morgan Jones. Except they’ve lost their best player, best shooter, and starting point guard, and I’m skeptical their additions can fill those shoes so easily. The size of the preseason voting panel is always bigger than it is at the end of the season, so I can imagine Louisville being a household name helped win votes.

The stories for the Fighting Irish, Tar Heels and Hurricanes are similar: fire most of last year’s tournament squad, add high-ranking rookies and for Notre Dame and Miami, add some notable transfers that fit the roles required.

On the other hand, I am once again more on Duke than the consensus. And that didn’t work too well for me last year. But hope is eternal, and I’m pretty optimistic about the team’s ability to field rosters this year that can gel with clear identities. Quality trios of freshmen and transfers should allow head coach Kara Lawson and company to really tailor this team on the fly. The Blue Devils cap is pretty high for me.

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