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ACC Women’s Hoops Primer: Is the ACC the nation’s deepest conference?

Scott Ratcliffe

acc basketball An exciting, high-powered ACC women’s basketball season is about to kick into high gear Thursday, as fans can expect a roller-coaster ride over the next eight weeks leading up to the conference tournament in Greensboro in early March.

Eight ACC teams are currently projected to go dancing — Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Notre Dame, NC State, Duke, Virginia, Florida State and Louisville — which is the highest total among all conferences, according to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme.

Four of those teams are ranked in the top 15 in the country, and there will be numerous huge, heavyweight matchups along the way, while several up-and-coming contenders will be trying to jockey for position in the standings in what should be a memorable year of ACC hoops.

Below, we’ll break down each of the 15 member schools, including names to know and big wins and losses leading up to this weekend’s first packed slate of conference matchups.

Louisville Cardinals

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 1st

Current record: 10-4 (1-0 ACC)

NET ranking: 30

Latest Bracketology projection: 8-seed

Recap: Coming off of their fourth Final Four appearance in program history, big things were expected from the Cardinals heading into the season, as they were ranked seventh in the country. The Cardinals got off to a 3-0 start, but losses to three unranked teams — Gonzaga, South Dakota State and Middle Tennessee — dropped them out of the top 25. Junior guard Hailey Van Lith is second in the ACC (24th in the country) in scoring with 19.8 points per game, as Louisville is in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Van Lith has scored in double figures in every game she’s played this season, with a high of 28 in the opener against Cincinnati to highlight seven 20-point performances. Syracuse grad transfer Chrislyn Carr (11.2 ppg) and graduate guard Morgan Jones (10.1 ppg) have also been key contributors for head coach Jeff Walz.

No. 7 Virginia Tech Hokies

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 2nd

Current record: 11-1 (1-1)

NET ranking: 12

Latest Bracketology projection: 2-seed

Recap: Now in his seventh season in Blacksburg, Tech head coach Kenny Brooks has his Hokies in the national spotlight after back-to-back postseason appearances. The Hokies jumped out to a perfect 10-0 start before finally getting tripped up by Notre Dame on Dec. 18. Senior center Elizabeth Kitley was voted the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, and she’s living up to the hype. Kitley is averaging a double-double, as she ranks fourth in the conference in scoring (19.1 ppg) and leads the rebounding category with 11.6 boards per contest. She’s also blocking a league-best 2.4 shots per game. Aside from Kitley’s impressive numbers, four other Hokies are also averaging double digits — Kayana Traylor (13.0 ppg), Georgia Amoore (12.5 ppg, 6.0 apg), Taylor Soule (11.6 ppg) and Ashley Owosu (10.4 ppg).

No. 6 NC State Wolfpack

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 3rd

Current record: 11-1 (1-0)

NET ranking: 7

Latest Bracketology projection: 3-seed

Recap: The Wolfpack made it all the way to the Elite Eight last season under longtime head coach Wes Moore, and have only dropped one game so far in 2022-23 (at then-fifth-ranked UConn). Junior guard Diamond Johnson leads the team with 13.9 points per game, good for 11th in the ACC.

Senior forwards Jada Boyd (10.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Jakia Brown-Turner (10.5 ppg) have been productive in the frontcourt, along with the team’s leading rebounder, senior center River Baldwin (5.8 rpg). The Wolfpack hopes to make some noise this season, and they’ll have their next opportunity for a quality win tonight against a solid Duke team.

No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 4th

Current record: 10-1 (1-0)

NET ranking: 8

Latest Bracketology projection: 2-seed

Recap: Notre Dame checks in as the highest-ranked team in the conference, already with a pair of top-10 wins under its belt (UConn, Virginia Tech). Maryland, ranked 20th at the time, was the only team to defeat Coach Niele Ivey’s team thus far, in a 74-72 decision in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Sophomore guard Olivia Miles leads the Irish in both scoring (15.3 ppg; seventh in the conference) and assists (7.6 apg, which tops the ACC). Sonia Citron is right behind Miles in the scoring department at eighth in the league with 15.1 points a night. Three other teammates are also averaging double figures — Dara Mabrey (11.5 ppg), Lauren Ebo (11.1) and Maddy Westbeld (10.3). Do the Irish have what it takes to emerge as the top team in the conference?

No. 13 North Carolina Tar Heels

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 5th

Current record: 9-2 (0-0)

NET ranking: 21

Latest Bracketology projection: 3-seed

Recap: Courtney Banghart is in her fourth year as head coach of the Tar Heels, and appears to have one of her best groups yet. UNC is the only ACC school to have not yet played a conference game. Junior guard Deja Kelly leads a quartet of Tar Heels ranked in the top 20 in ACC scoring. Kelly puts up a team-high 15.4 points per game (sixth), while Alyssa Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams are tied for ninth at 14.0 points a night. Eva Hodgson ranks 16th with 13.2 points per contest. Carolina has been bested by a pair of ranked Big Ten opponents (Indiana and Michigan), but is otherwise unbeaten to start the season.

Miami Hurricanes

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 6th

Current record: 7-5 (0-1)

NET ranking: 62

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: After winning six of their first seven games, the Hurricanes have dropped four of their last five. Senior forward Destiny Harden (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and senior guard Haley Cavinder (11.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) lead the charge for Coach Katie Meier, with sophomore guard Ja’Leah Williams providing a lift with 10.6 points per game.

Duke Blue Devils

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 7th

Current record: 11-1 (1-0)

NET ranking: 11

Latest Bracketology projection: 5-seed

Recap: Head coach Kara Lawson has a nice mix of veteran experience and a talented group of newcomers that should keep her team competitive throughout the campaign. Like NC State, Duke’s only blemish on the season was a loss to Connecticut. The Blue Devils have since won six-straight heading into Thursday’s showdown with the Wolfpack in Raleigh. Senior guard Celeste Taylor scores a team-high 11.3 points per game, with senior forward Elizabeth Balogun (9.8 points per game to go with a team-best 5.1 rebounds per game) and junior center Kennedy Brown (9.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg) thriving in the paint.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 8th

Current record: 9-3 (0-1)

NET ranking: 64

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: Head coach Nell Fortner brings a talented squad into her fourth season in Atlanta. Boston College grad-transfer guard Cameron Swartz leads the Jackets in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per contest, with Florida State grad-transfer guard Bianca Jackson not far behind at 12.8 per game. Both rank in the top 20 in the conference in scoring. Tech has dropped three games against unranked opponents (Georgia, South Florida and Boston College), but looks to be a competitor in league action.

Florida State Seminoles

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 9th

Current record: 12-2 (1-0)

NET ranking: 32

Latest Bracketology projection: 8-seed

Recap: Freshman guard Ta’Niya Latson has been a sensation for head coach Brooke Wyckoff, as the talented newcomer leads the league in scoring with an average of 25.0 points per game, while sophomore forward Makayla Timpson ranks 12th with 13.8 points per game and sixth in rebounds with 9.0 per contest. With just two close losses on neutral floors this season — by two points in Cancun against Oklahoma State; by eight against a top-10 UConn squad in Uncasville, Conn. — the Seminoles will look to make some noise in conference play and secure a spot in the Big Dance in March. FSU is the highest-scoring team in the conference at 87.9 points per game.

Syracuse Orange

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 10th

Current record: 10-2 (1-0)

NET ranking: 74

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: Syracuse alum Felisha Legette-Jack was named the Orange’s new head coach in the offseason, replacing 2021-22 acting head coach Vonn Read. Senior guard Dyaisha Fair ranks third among ACC scorers with 19.6 points per game, while junior guard Teisha Hyman checks in at 13th with an average of 13.8. The Orange dropped a pair of November contests against Big Ten competition (Penn State and Purdue), but have won five in a row heading into this week. They’ll try to extend their winning streak tonight at Louisville.

Virginia Cavaliers

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 11th

Current record: 12-1 (1-1)

NET ranking: 25

Latest Bracketology projection: 9-seed

Recap: Head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has turned the program around in a hurry, as UVA got off to its best start since the days of Debbie Ryan, Dawn Staley & Co. in the early 1990s. Junior forward Mir McLean leads the Cavaliers in both scoring (13.0 ppg, tied for 17th in the conference) and rebounding (9.9 rpg, second in the ACC). Her 4.1 offensive boards per game leads the league, and she’s also tied for 10th in steals with 2.0 per contest. The UConn transfer has posted five double-doubles in her last nine games, as the Wahoos lead the league in rebounding with an average of 47.4 per game. Alongside her in the frontcourt is senior forward Camryn Taylor, who averages 12.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Notre Dame grad transfer Sam Brunelle, a Greene County native, has added her shooting touch from the outside, leading the Hoos with 21 3-point makes on the season (1.6 per game, 14th in the ACC). Senior point guard Taylor Valladay is seventh in the conference in assists with 4.0 per game. The Hoos will be tested early in ACC competition, including a rough upcoming three-game stretch against Virginia Tech, NC State and North Carolina in January.

Clemson Tigers

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 12th

Current record: 9-4 (0-1)

NET ranking: 66

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: Now in her fifth year as head coach, Amanda Butler looks to get Clemson back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2018-19 season and just the second time since 2002. Three of the Tigers’ four losses this season have come against ranked foes — No. 1 South Carolina, No. 8 NC State and No. 25 Kansas State. Senior forward Amari Robinson leads the Tigers in scoring (12.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg), while freshman guard Ruby Whitehorn has made an immediate impact, averaging 11.7 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Clemson leads the ACC in steals with 11.3 per game.

Boston College Eagles

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 13th

Current record: 11-4 (1-1)

NET ranking: 88

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: In her fifth year as Eagles head coach, Joanna Bernabei-McNamee will be gunning for a third-straight 20-win season. Junior guard Dontavia Waggoner scores a team-best 13.3 points per game and hauls down a team-high 7.1 rebounds a night to lead the Eagles, who have suffered a pair of bad nonconference losses against Harvard and Stephen F. Austin. Waggoner leads the conference in steals with 3.3 per game. Five other BC players are also averaging 10-plus points per game — Maria Gakdeng (11.8), JoJo Lacey (11.6), T’Yana Todd (11.0), Andrea Daley (10.3) and Taina Mair (10.1).

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 14th

Current record: 9-4 (0-2)

NET ranking: 76

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: The Deacs got off to a rough 3-3 start under first-year coach Megan Gebbia, but have won six of their last seven as they try to fight for a spot in the postseason. Gebbia spent the past nine seasons as head coach at American, where she became the school’s all-time wins leader. Junior guard Jewel Spear leads Wake in scoring with 16.3 points per game (fifth in the ACC). Senior forward Olivia Summiel leads the team in rebounding (7.0 per game) and blocked shots (1.8).

Pitt Panthers

Preseason ACC finish prediction: 15th

Current record: 7-5 (0-1)

NET ranking: 104

Latest Bracketology projection: None

Recap: After beginning the season 5-0, Pitt has lost five of its last seven contests, with four of those coming against unranked opponents. Coach Lance White’s squad is led by junior forward Liatu King, who’s averaging team-highs of 11.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Dayshanette Harris (9.5 ppg), Maliyah Johnson (8.8 ppg) and Amber Brown (8.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg) have all been chipping in for the Panthers, as they attempt to turn their season around in conference play.

This Week’s Schedule

Thursday

  • Notre Dame at Miami, 6 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Virginia Tech at Clemson, 6 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Pitt at Wake Forest, 6 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Georgia Tech at Virginia, 7 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Syracuse at Louisville, 7 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Florida State at North Carolina, 8 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Duke at NC State, 8 p.m. (ACCN)

Sunday

  • Boston College at Notre Dame, Noon (ACCN)
  • Louisville at Duke, Noon (ACCNX)
  • Miami at Pitt, 2 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Florida State at Georgia Tech, 2 p.m. (ACCNX)
  • Wake Forest at Clemson, 2 p.m. (ACCN)
  • North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 4 p.m. (ACCN)
  • NC State at Syracuse, 7 p.m. (ACCNX)

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.