CHARLOTTE — The Atlantic Coast Conference is going to look a bit different this season. Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw may have said it best at the ACC’s Women’s Basketball Tip-Off.
“I think this is the first year since we’ve been in the ACC that the league is wide-open,” the longtime Irish head coach said.
Indeed. Gone from the conference is Notre Dame’s powerful starting five, two-time Player of the Year Asia Durr and first-team selections Paris Kea, Kiara Leslie and Emese Hof. With Syracuse’s Tiana Mangakahia sidelined this season with a cancer diagnosis, just three of 10 ACC first team selections from last season return this year.
High Post Hoops was at the ACC media days earlier this month and chatted with coaches and players from around the league. We also scoured the internet to bring you this giant notebook, with tidbits on every team heading into the 2019-20 season.
Louisville gets a boost from the Yellow Jackets
The Cardinals lost three of their five starters from a year ago – one of which was superstar Asia Durr – but they reloaded in the off-season. Jeff Walz picked up two transfers from Georgia Tech in Elizabeth Balogun and Elizabeth Dixon, both of whom landed on the All-ACC Freshmen team last season. Walz also added the services of five-star recruit Nyah Green from Allen, Texas. She picked the Cardinals over offers from LSU, Baylor, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Coaches around the ACC – and the conference’s Blue Ribbon Panel – thought that was enough to make Louisville the preseason favorite to win the ACC’s crown. Finishing behind the Cardinals on both polls was N.C. State and Florida State, in second and third, respectively.
Despite the turnover for the Cardinals, Walz was high on his team coming into the season, before it was announced that Balogun and Dixon were eligible to play.
“Even before that, I felt that we were a team that could be a top 20 team and hopefully continue to grow,” Walz said. “But with those two, it’s two players that have had success in the ACC and they understand the league and they know what they’re getting into.”
Returning Cardinals’ guard Jazmine Jones added: “We’re grateful that they’re eligible to play this year. They’re both great people. We’re just hoping that they can come in and learn from Coach Walz and the veteran players on the team and just make an impact right away… They were real good last year.”
Virginia Tech rides with Mabrey
Expect Dara Mabrey to play both guard positions for Virginia Tech as a sophomore. Hokies’ head coach Kenny Brooks said that Mabrey had the best performance of all of his players during their offseason European tour, which included stops in Venice, Florence, Paris and Rome. Brooks said this season that he plans to move Mabrey around “like a slot receiver” to get her good looks in catch-and-shoot situations and mismatches on drives to the rim.
A year ago, Mabrey was an All-ACC Freshman selection and led the conference in three-point shooting percentage with a 46.2 percent mark. Her 80 made three-pointers were a Virginia Tech record. Entering his fourth season as head coach, Brooks has guided the Hokies to three straight seasons of at least 20 wins and three straight WNIT appearances.
The Hokies will also get a boost from Taja Cole, the only ACC guard named to the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award. Cole transferred into Virginia Tech from Georgia, where she averaged 11 points per-game and led the SEC in assists with 202.
Virginia Tech will have to win games this year without the services of Kendyl Brooks, who will miss the season due to hip surgery. She is currently fourth all-time at Virginia Tech in three-pointers made with 160.
Gillespie leads Florida State
Florida State returns every player from last year’s team, which was the eighth youngest team in the country and went 24-9 and appeared in the NCAA tournament. The Seminoles will be led by the versatile Kiah Gillespie, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season with 16.2 points and 9.3 boards per-game last season. A key addition to the Seminoles this year will be a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in River Baldwin and Sammie Puisis.
Gillespie said this of Sue Semrau’s practices: “I try to keep her on the sidelines. No whistles, no nothing. If I don’t hear her, that means we’re having a great practice.”
At Miami, Mompremier one of the ‘best players in the country’
Returning for the Hurricanes this season is Beatrice Mompremier, an early favorite to win the ACC’s Player of the Year Award. Coaches and the ACC’s Blue Ribbon Panel selected her as the preseason player of the year, and for good reason. A season ago, she led the ACC in double-doubles with 25 and averaged 16.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per-game. She was a finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award last season after leading Miami to a 25-9 mark, and could’ve left school early for the WNBA Draft. The 6-foot-4 forward is back for her senior campaign and the Hurricanes will go as far as she can take them.
“I think there should be a ton of pressure on us this year. I love it,” said head coach Katie Meier, who is entering her 15th season in Coral Gables. “Beatrice is legit. One of the best players in the country, if not the best. I believe that. She proves it everyday in practice. I think she’s the most competitive big girl in the nation. She’s going to fight for any inch, any yard, just whatever she can get on the basketball court, she’s going to fight for. And I love that about her.”