November 9, 2020 

Everything you need to know about 2020-21 ACC women’s basketball

N.C. State, Louisville and Syracuse lead the way

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Elissa Cunane, Janelle Bailey and Malu Tshitenge are among some of the top post players returning in the ACC this season. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

It’s still 2020, we’re still dealing with a pandemic and much is still uncertain about the upcoming women’s college basketball season. But as long as there will be a season, one thing is clear. The ACC will – as per usual – be one of the toughest and most competitive conferences in the sport.

N.C. State returns four starters, including Player of the Year candidate Elissa Cunane, from a team that won the conference tournament crown a year ago. At Louisville, reigning ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans is back and Jeff Walz brought in a pair of top 20 recruits to solidify the Cardinals’ depth.

Three fixtures along sidelines in the conference stepped away this offseason. The legendary Muffet McGraw retired, making way for protégé Niele Ivey at Notre Dame. Joanne P. McCallie resigned after 13 seasons at Duke, allowing the Blue Devils to make a splashy hire in Kara Lawson. And Sue Semrau is taking the season off to be with her family during a difficult time, handing the reins off to former Seminole Brooke Wyckoff for the year.

And don’t forget about Syracuse. The Orange return four starters, brought in one of the most impressive recruiting classes in the nation and are getting back arguably the most talented passer in the country in Tiana Mangakahia, who is in the clear after sitting out last season to battle breast cancer. The Orange have the talent to contend.

The season tips off Nov. 25 and ACC play begins on Dec. 10.

Let’s take a closer look at each team.

Boston College

  • 2019-20 record: 20-12 (11-7 ACC)

  • Head coach: Joanna Bernabei-McNamee (3rd season)

  • Key losses: Emma Guy, Georgia Pineau

  • Top returners: Taylor Soule (Junior, Forward); Makayla Dickens (Junior, Guard); Marnelle Garraud (Junior, Guard)

  • Crucial newcomers: JoJo Lacey (Freshman, Wing)

  • The buzz: After a bumpy start last season that included losses to Holy Cross and Charlotte, the Eagles finished strong and suddenly became the cliché team nobody wanted to see in the ACC tournament. After eliminating Clemson and Duke, Bernabei-McNamee’s squad found themselves in the conference semifinals. They gave eventual champ N.C. State a scare, but ultimately lost. Before the pandemic canceled everything, Boston College was right on the bubble to make its first NCAA tournament since 2006. The Eagles will miss do-it-all forward Emma Guy, but All-ACC Second Team selection Taylor Soule returns, as does stout defender Marnelle Garraud and sharpshooter Makayla Dickens. Folks might not have the Eagles pegged to compete for the ACC title, but they’ll be tough to beat again.

  • Stat blast: No two returning teammates in the ACC combined for more assists last year than Garraud and Dickens. They dished out 240 assists as sophomores, the third highest total of any two ACC teammates last season.

  • They said it: “After this last year we got the momentum, we got the swing of that and we did what we said we were going to do. That increased that trust factor. Now they don’t have to use their imagination to envision because they saw it happen. They didn’t have envision what we ourselves were saying, they got to see we are going to be successful at this level.” – Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, to the Boston Herald

  • One extra note: Until the last week in October, Boston College was the only team in the ACC this season that did not have a transfer leave or come in this offseason. However, Milan Bolden-Morris has entered the transfer portal, according to a source close to the situation. She is no longer listed on BC’s roster. A junior last season, she played in 25 games last year and sank 26 three-pointers.

Clemson

  • 2019-20 record: 8-23 (3-15, ACC)

  • Head coach: Amanda Butler (3rd season)

  • Key losses: Kobi Thornton

  • Top returners: Amari Robinson (Sophomore, Forward); Kendall Spray (RS Senior, Guard); Destiny Thomas (Senior, Guard)

  • Crucial newcomers: Delicia Washington (RS Senior, Guard); Gabby Elliott (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: With eight upperclassmen, this Clemson roster has plenty of experience. Problem is, its full of a lot of the same players the Tigers had last year and they seldom meshed together to create a winning formula. And last year’s top player, Kobi Thornton, went off to the pros. Still, there’s room for improvement. An All-ACC Freshman selection a year ago, Amari Robinson is back for her sophomore campaign. Amanda Butler brought in top 40 recruit Gabby Elliott, and Delicia Washington – who played for Butler at Florida – is now eligible after sitting out a season. If Robinson, Elliott and Washington play up to their potentials, the Tigers could surprise some teams.

  • Stat blast: Kendall Spray hit at least one three-pointer in 26 games last season. She set a program single-game record by knocking down eight against Notre Dame last season, and set the program single-season record by draining a total of 80 shots from behind the arc in 2019-20.

  • They said it: “I would say the one thing with us is that we don’t have a scout team. We can’t bring in regular students into practice with us, so it’s important to go really hard on each other in practice and just keep up with the competitive aspect of it.” – Mikayla Hayes to NCAA.com

  • One extra note: Clemson and South Carolina have faced each other each season in women’s basketball since 1976, but they will not play this season, according to the non-conference schedule the Gamecocks released on Nov. 5. The Gamecocks are playing one ACC opponent, taking on N.C. State on Dec. 3.

Duke

  • 2019-20 record: 18-12 (12-6 ACC)

  • Head coach: Kara Lawson (1st season)

  • Key losses: Haley Gorecki, Leaonna Odom, Kyra Lambert (transfer)

  • Top returners: Mikayla Boykin (Senior, Guard); Onome Akinbode-James (Junior, Forward); Jade Williams (Senior, Center)

  • Crucial newcomers: Sara Anastasieska (Grad, Guard); Vanessa de Jesus (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: The Blue Devils finished the regular season strong last year, winning 11 of their final 14 games, before being upset in the ACC tournament by Boston College. It seemed like Duke had a strong enough resume to make the NCAA tournament, but we’ll never know because of the coronavirus. All-ACC talents Haley Gorecki and Leaonna Odom went off to the pros, and Kyra Lambert and Azana Baines left via the transfer portal. Then, in July, longtime head coach Joanne P. McCallie unexpectedly resigned, citing uncertainty around her contract, which had one year remaining on it. But Duke’s brass acted swiftly. Less than two weeks later, they hired Kara Lawson — a Pat Summitt understudy, a WNBA champ, an Olympic gold medalist, a former broadcaster and a Boston Celtics’ assistant. She has surrounded herself with a veteran coaching staff, including Tia Jackson and Beth Cunningham, and seems to be giving the keys to the offense to Mikayla Boykin; a fourth-year Blue Devil who seems to finally be 110% healthy. Top 40 recruit Vanessa de Jesus, Cal transfer Sara Anastasieska and a veteran-laden group of returners should help, but the floor and ceiling of this team is unknown. Whatever their potential is, Lawson’s presence should raise it.

  • Stat blast: Miela Goodchild became the quickest Blue Devil to sink 100 three-pointers, doing so in just 45 games. A junior this season, she has a career shooting percentage of 39.5% from behind the arc.

  • They said it: “We want to try and take care of the ball offensively. And then defensively, we want to be able to challenge without fouling and not give away free points. And the rest of this stuff, we’re going to see. I’m not being coy. Sure, we’ll play some man. I’m sure we’ll play some zone. I don’t know percentages of what we’ll do yet. We’ll wait and see.” – Kara Lawson

  • One extra note: While de Jesus – the first Asian-American player to suit up for the Blue Devils – was a McCallie recruit and Anastasieska transferred in before she resigned, Lawson did add one player to the roster this preseason, bringing on junior guard Jiselle Havas as a walk-on. Havas previously played at Lafayette in the Patriot League.

  • Read more: What Duke hiring Kara Lawson means, and what we can expect from her debut season

Florida State

  • 2019-20 record: 24-8 (11-7 ACC)

  • Head coach: Brooke Wyckoff (1st season) *interim

  • Key losses: Kiah Gillespie, Nicki Ekhomu, Nausia Woolfolk

  • Top returners: Morgan Jones (Junior, Guard); Valencia Myers (Junior, Forward); River Baldwin (Sophomore, Center)

  • Crucial newcomers: Tiana England (RS Senior, Guard); Bianca Jackson (RS Junior, Guard)

  • The buzz: The Seminoles came close to winning their first-ever ACC tournament title last season, but fell a few points short of beating N.C. State. Departing in the offseason were each of their top three scorers, and no returning player averaged double-digit points per-game a year ago. More adversity was thrown FSU’s way in September when longtime head coach Sue Semrau announced she was taking the year off to be with her mother, who is recovering from ovarian cancer. FSU graduate Brooke Wyckoff takes the reins this year on an interim basis. Ultimately, FSU’s success might hinge on how much they can get out of two transfers, Tiana England and Bianca Jackson. England led St. John’s in assists in each of her three seasons there, and Jackson was an All-SEC Freshman Team selection a few seasons ago at South Carolina.

  • Stat blast: As a freshman, River Baldwin led FSU in blocked shots with 31. That mark was third-best among all ACC freshmen.

  • They said it: “This year, every position is open, kind-of. Everyone’s fighting for a different position. Everyone is excited. We’re taking on the challenge and we’re ready to step up and fill those shoes.” – Bianca Jackson to Seminoles.com

  • One extra note: Florida State also brought in transfers Sara Bejedi (Arizona State) and Erin Howard (Auburn) over the off-season, though it’s not exactly clear if they are eligible to play this season.

Georgia Tech

  • 2019-20 record: 20-11 (10-8)

  • Head coach: Nell Fortner (2nd season)

  • Key losses: Francesca Pan, Jasmine Carson (transfer), Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, Anne Francoise Diouf (transfer)

  • Top returners: Kierra Fletcher (Senior, Guard); Lorela Cubaj (Senior, Forward); Nerea Hermosa (Sophomore, Center)

  • Crucial newcomers: Aixa Wone Aranaz (Sophomore, Forward); Anaya Boyd (Freshman, Guard); Eylia Love (Freshman, Guard); Avyonce Carter (Freshman, Wing); Loyal McQueen (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: Georgia Tech was limited in scholarships in Nell Fortner’s first season on the job, but that didn’t matter. The Yellow Jackets exceeded expectations under her and posted their first 10-win season in conference play since 2011-12. While a few veteran losses might sting, Fortner went out and captured one of the best recruiting classes in the country, grabbing four players ranked inside ESPN’s top 70 in Anaya Boyd, Eylia Love, Avyonce Carter and Loyal McQueen. The Yellow Jackets also added Aixa Wone Aranaz, a transfer from Ohio State and a former fixture on the junior Spanish national team. Five players return for Fortner’s side, including Lorela Cubaj and Kierra Fletcher, both of whom were top four on the team in points, rebounds, assists and minutes played last season. Replacing Francesca Pan’s production, versatility and leadership will be very difficult, but Fortner seems to have the talent and depth to make up for her production. Posting a winning record in conference play is absolutely possible this season for the Yellow Jackets, and there’s potential for them to accomplish much more.

  • Stat blast: In terms of points allowed, Georgia Tech had the fifth-best defense in the country and the top defense in the ACC, allowing just 52.5 points per-game. The Yellow Jackets also had the best turnover margin in the conference with a +3.53 mark.

  • They said it: “All the freshman can challenge for (starting spots). There’s no doubt about it. They’re all very versatile. They all can play anywhere from the one to the four. Love has tremendous versatility because she’s about 6-foot-1 and has great length to go along with that. So, she can play a stretch four, anywhere on the perimeter. That versatility is tough. Loyal McQueen can play the point, she can slide over to the two. Very quick. She has the potential to be a phenomenal defender also. A.C. Carter, right here from Atlanta, has the ability to play multiple positions also and has a very sweet shot.” – Nell Fortner

  • One extra note: Georgia Tech will carry just 11 players on its roster this year as junior guard Kondalia Montgomery and redshirt freshman forward Ronni Nwora opted out of playing in 2020-21. On the injury front, as of Oct. 29, Anaya Boyd — Georgia Tech’s top incoming recruit — hadn’t been practicing due to what Fortner described as a “knee issue.”

  • Read more: Georgia Tech’s Jasmine Carson, Daijah Jefferson enter the transfer portal

Louisville

  • 2019-20 record: 28-4 (16-2 ACC)

  • Head coach: Jeff Walz (14th season)

  • Key losses: Kylee Shook, Jazmine Jones, Bionca Dunham

  • Top returners: Dana Evans (Senior, Guard); Elizabeth Balogun (Junior, Wing); Elizabeth Dixon (Junior, Forward)

  • Crucial newcomers: Hailey Van Lith (Freshman, Guard); Olivia Cochran (Freshman, Forward); Ahlana Smith (RS Junior, Guard)

  • The buzz: In Louisville’s six seasons in the ACC, they have never finished worst than fourth in the standings. This year should be no different as Jeff Walz’s side — armed with reigning ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans — are again expected to contend for the conference crown. Indeed, replacing WNBA players Kylee Shook and Jazmine Jones will be difficult, but the Cardinals reloaded on the recruiting trail. Hailey Van Lith and Oliva Cochrane are a pair of five-star, top 20 prospects who could play big minutes right away. Walz will also lean on newcomer Ahlana Smith, a former UCLA player who was a NJCAA All-American last season at the junior college level. Former ACC Freshman of the Year Elizabeth Balogun will be a crucial contributor to the Cardinals as well. The question seems to be in the front court, where there is a lack of depth in the post and void left by Shook, last year’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year. If Cochrane is as good as advertised and if Elizabeth Dixon continues to improve, it won’t be an issue. The Cardinals should be a top 10 team all season long.

  • Stat blast: Dana Evans led the ACC in three-point shooting percentage last year, knocking down outside shots at 43.1% clip. No one else in the conference shot above 37.1%. Evans was 12th in the nation in three’s made with 90. She also had the ACC’s best free throw mark, knocking down 89% of her charity stripe shots.

  • They said it: “(Cochran’s) strength, her ability to finish around the basket with contact — even though she’s 6-foot-2, she’s by far the best back-to-the-basket post player that we’ve had here as a freshman in my 14 years.” – Jeff Walz

  • One extra note: Van Lith and Cochran should already have some built-in chemistry together as the freshmen played together on the 2019 Team USA 3-on-3 World Cup Team. The team went 7-0 and won gold at the FIBA tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Cochran scored 41 points in the games, which was fourth-best among all players. The team was coached by Kara Lawson.

  • Read more: Louisville’s Jeff Walz will be flexible with scheduling, lineups

Miami

  • 2019-20 record: 15-15 (7-11 ACC)

  • Head coach: Katie Meier (16th season)

  • Key losses: Beatrice Mompremier

  • Top returners: Mykea Gray (Senior, Guard); Destiny Harden (RS Junior, Forward), Kelsey Marshall (Senior, Guard)

  • Crucial newcomers: Nyayongah Gony (Freshman, Forward)

  • The buzz: With Beatrice Mompremier returning for her senior season last year, many expected Miami to compete for the ACC title. She got hurt, the Hurricanes played inconsistently all season and fell far short of reaching their full potential. Miami had appeared in the post season for 10 straight seasons under Meier, beginning in the 2009-10 season, but what they’ve never done under her watch — or any other coach’s direction since 1992 — is make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Miami’s culture is good and the Hurricanes have been consistently competitive in the ACC, but they always seem to come up short in March. Can this be the year all of that changes? Miami returns four seniors, brought in a top 60 recruit and Destiny Harden seems primed for a breakout campaign. Said Meier: “This has to be a year when close games have to break our way. We have no excuse for that. We have to rely on our upperclassmen who have been there before.”

  • Stat blast: Mykea Gray is the only returning player in the conference from last season’s All-ACC Defensive Team. She led the ACC in steals with 64, averaging about 2.2 per-game.

  • They said it: “(Nyayongah Gony) doesn’t even look like a freshman. She’s ready to work. She’s always asking questions. She’s just a good basketball player. She’s surprised me since she’s been here.” – Destiny Harden

  • One extra note: When Tia Jackson left Meier’s staff to join Kara Lawson at Duke, Meier filled the spot with another native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland in Kelley Gibson. Jackson graduated from Mardela High School in 1990, and Gibson graduated from Easton High School – just 36 miles up Route 50 – in 1995 after winning a pair of state championships. Gibson played at Maryland and then professionally with the Houston Comets before working as an assistant coach at USC, Maine, UMBC, Syracuse and Rutgers. She will recruit the northeast for Miami.

N.C. State

  • 2019-20 record: 28-4 (14-4 ACC)

  • Head coach: Wes Moore (8th season)

  • Key losses: Aislinn Konig

  • Top returners: Elissa Cunane (Junior, Center); Kai Crutchfield (Senior, Guard); Jakia Brown-Turner (Sophomore, Wing); Kayla Jones (Senior, Forward)

  • Crucial newcomers: Raina Perez (Grad, Guard); Genesis Bryant (Freshman, Guard); Dontavia Waggoner (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: After winning their first ACC tournament title since 1991 last season, many are expecting the Wolfpack to repeat as champs of the conference this year. There’s a few reasons why, but the chief factor is the return of Elissa Cunane, the smiling 6’5 double-double machine. A member of the AP’s All-American Third Team a season ago, Cunane enters this year as a legitimate Player of the Year candidate. Joining her are three other returning starters in Kai Crutchfield, Jakia Brown-Turner and Kayla Jones. The position that’s up for grabs is point guard, left vacant by the ACC Tournament’s MVP, Aislinn Konig. It is assumed that Raina Perez — the former Big West Player of the Year — is in the lead to land the starting nod, but sophomore Kendal Moore will get a crack at it too, as will top 100 recruit Genesis Bryant. Ultimately, this team can go as far as Cunane takes them, and if she’s noticeably better than she was a year ago, the ceiling for the Wolfpack could be as high as reaching the Final Four for just the second time in school history.

  • Stat blast: Elissa Cunane was the only player in the ACC to grab more than 300 rebounds last season, finishing with 308, an average of 9.6 boards per-game. In addition to total rebounds, she ranked top 30 nationally in four other categories: double-doubles (14), defensive rebounds per game (6.9), field-goal percentage (.547) and free throws made (159), which was a single-season program record for N.C. State.

  • They said it: “Kendal can really shoot the ball well. What I’ve got to do a better job of and what we’ve got to help her do is be a quarterback. She’s used to playing in a situation where she had to score 30 every night. Now in this situation, we want our point guard to be a quarterback and get everybody involved.” – Wes Moore to All in the Game

  • One extra note: A top 40 recruit in the class of 2020, five-star forward Elle Sutphin will play this season for the Wolfpack. She re-classed to 2019 and enrolled in N.C. State last year, but redshirted as a true freshman. She was at one time ranked as the No. 1 player in the state of North Carolina by ESPN. At 6-foot-3, she could back-up Cunane at center.

  • Read more: N.C. State’s Wes Moore finds ways to stay on recruiting trail during coronavirus

North Carolina

  • 2019-20 record: 16-14 (7-11 ACC)

  • Head coach: Courtney Banghart (2nd season)

  • Key losses: Taylor Koenen, Shayla Bennett, Madinah Muhammad

  • Top returners: Janelle Bailey (Senior, Forward); Malu Tshitenge (Sophomore, Forward)

  • Crucial newcomers: Petra Holešínská (Grad, Guard); Stephanie Watts (Grad, Guard); Deja Kelly (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: UNC lost three starters this offseason, but second-year head coach Courtney Banghart doesn’t seem to be too shook up about it. She’s excited about the Tar Heels’ newcomers and optimistic about their depth. The backcourt will be brand-new as top 10 recruit Deja Kelly seems likely to start at point guard, and she’ll be surrounded by grad transfers Petra Holešínská and Stephanie Watts — who starred at UNC from 2015 through 2019 before spending a season at USC — on the wings. Holešínská shot 41% from three-point range last season for Illinois, while Watts shot 37.1% from there in her last healthy season in 2018-19. Returners are a pair of All-ACC selections in the paint in senior Janelle Bailey and sophomore Malu Tshitenge. UNC also brought in two other top 100 recruits in Anya Poole and Alexandra Zelaya, have Michigan transfer Ariel Young eligible, and get redshirt junior forward Jaelynn Murray back from injury. The Tar Heels lost their final eight games of the season last year and flamed out in the first round of the ACC tournament. The depth seems too great for that to happen this season. And this is a roster built in Banghart’s vision. UNC has the talent to compete at the top of the conference.

  • Stat blast: As a freshman, Malu Tshitenge led the ACC in offensive rebounds with 124, or 4.1 per-game. No other player in the league had more than 97. The niece of NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo also led the Tar Heels in field goal percentage with a 58.2% mark, which was second-best in the ACC.

  • They said it: “Janelle is super competitive. And we all know that. Sometimes her ability to manage that has gotten her in trouble, but it sure beats being – I call them circles, because they have no edges. She’s got some edges, right? And so, what’s going to be really critical as she continues to grow as a player in person is that her edges aren’t disruptive to her others. But yet, there’s not a coach in the country who doesn’t want a kid with some edges, right?” – Courtney Banghart

  • One extra note: UNC hasn’t announced a non-conference slate yet, but they’re expected to host Radford, Charlotte and S.C. State, among other regional teams. The Tar Heels will open ACC play at Wake Forest on Dec. 10.

  • Read more: Built by Banghart: UNC bolstered by newfound depth

Notre Dame

  • 2019-20 record: 13-18 (8-10 ACC)

  • Head coach: Niele Ivey (1st season)

  • Key losses: Marta Sniezek

  • Top returners: Sam Brunelle (Sophomore, Forward); Destinee Walker (Grad, Guard); Anaya Peoples (Sophomore, Guard); Katlyn Gilbert (Junior, Guard); Mikayla Vaughn (Senior, Center)

  • Crucial newcomers: Dara Mabrey (Junior, Guard); Maddy Westbeld (Freshman, Forward)

  • The buzz: After an unceremonious ACC tournament loss to Pitt, Muffet McGraw shocked the college basketball world when she decided to retire in late April. Notre Dame tapped her successor quickly. In Niele Ivey’s first year on the job, she has a roster loaded with talent. The question is, can she tap into their potentials and mesh them together for a winning recipe? Sam Brunelle, Anaya Peoples and Katlyn Gilbert are all a year older an expected to be better. Veterans Destinee Walker and Mikayla Vaughn are back too, giving the Irish five returning players who saw at least 26 minutes of action per-game last season. But then you throw in Dara Mabrey, a sharpshooting transfer from Virginia Tech. And then you throw in McGraw’s last recruiting haul: four top 100 prospects from the 2020 class in Madeline Westbeld, Allison Campbell, Natalija Marshall and Alasia Hayes. This Irish squad is deep and much too talented to have a sub-.500 record again in ACC play. It’s more likely that they’ll be contending at the top again instead of meddling in the middle.

  • Stat blast: Sam Brunelle led all ACC freshmen in minutes played last season, seeing the floor for 33.9 minutes per-game. An All-ACC Freshman Team selection last year, she was second for the Irish in scoring with 13.9 points per-game and was the team’s best three-point shooter, sinking 58 beyond-the-arc shots at a 31.5 percent clip.

  • They said it: “(Dara Mabrey is) going to bring so much experience and leadership. And I also think she’s one of the best three-point shooters in the country… I’m very excited about that. I want to play very fast. I want to shoot a lot of threes, so she’s definitely going to fulfill that role for me. She brings the intangibles. She’s tough. She brings in swag… She’s very vocal and she understands and knows the value of her voice and does a really good job of bringing the team together.” – Niele Ivey

  • One extra note: Junior forward Danielle Cosgrove will not play for the Irish this season. In a statement from the program in October, the 6-foot-4 product of Holbrook, New Jersey said she was “taking a leave of absence” from the team until the second semester to focus on her mental health. Cosgrove averaged 13 minutes per-game across 31 contests last season for the Irish.

  • On a scheduling note, Notre Dame will not play former Big East rival UConn this season. Unless they meet in the postseason, it’ll be the first time since 1994-95 that the Irish and Huskies didn’t face each other.

  • Read more: Waiver approved: Dara Mabrey is immediately eligible for Notre Dame

Pitt

  • 2019-20 record: 5-26 (1-17 ACC)

  • Head coach: Lance White (3rd season)

  • Key losses: Aysia Bugg, Cara Judkins, Jahsyni Knight (transfer)

  • Top returners: Dayshanette Harris (Sophomore, Guard); Amber Brown (Sophomore, Forward); Rita Igbokwe (Sophomore, Center); Gabbie Green (Senior, Guard)

  • Crucial newcomers: Jayla Everett (Junior, Guard); Destiny Strother (Sophomore, Guard); Tracey Hueston (Freshman, Forward); Taisha Exanor (Freshman, Forward)

  • The buzz: Pitt ended last season with a foundation-building performance in the ACC tournament, pulling off an upset against Notre Dame (yes, Notre Dame wasn’t very good last season, but still) and putting forth a strong effort in a loss to Georgia Tech. Lance White’s squad returns All-ACC Freshman selection Dayshanette Harris, leading rebounder Amber Brown, top shot blocker Rita Igbokwe and veteran sharpshooter Gabbie Green. Where Pitt really made strides was in the transfer market, bringing in Marquette’s Destiny Strother and New Mexico’s Jayla Everett, both of whom are immediately eligible. Everett is expected to play a big role. The St. Louis native was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2019 at New Mexico and averaged 13.2 points and 3.6 assists per-game there. Pitt also landed a top 100 recruit in Tracey Hueston, and White is particularly high on Canadian freshman Taisha Exanor. If Pitt’s young core continues to improve, if the newcomers mesh in quickly and if the Panthers can build off the momentum from the end of last season, then Pitt could be playing for something meaningful in March.

  • Stat blast: Amber Brown and Rita Igbokwe were the only two freshmen teammates in the ACC to each grab more than 200 rebounds. Brown grabbed 238 and averaged 7.7 boards per-game, while the 6-foot-4 Igbokwe corralled 210 boards, averaging 6.8 per-game. Igbokwe also blocked 60 shots, which was third-best among all ACC players.

  • They said it: “Taisha, the kid from Canada, has probably been the one who’s really – I think – got a chance to help us right away. She really has done a phenomenal job and she’s long and athletic and can shoot the ball pretty well. And so, she’s really come in with a great spark for us, and I’m excited to kind of see how she keeps progressing.” – Lance White

  • One extra note: Pitt has six players on its roster who aren’t from the U.S. Two are from Canada, two are from Greece, one is from Brazil and one is from the Netherlands. Third year Greek guard Ismini Prapa could be due for a bigger role this season after playing a crucial part in Pitt’s win over Notre Dame. Prapa came off the bench to score a career-high 12 points, going 4-of-4 from beyond the arc.

Syracuse

  • 2019-20 record: 16-15 (9-9 ACC)

  • Head coach: Quentin Hillsman (15th season)

  • Key losses: Gabrielle Cooper

  • Top returners: Tiana Mangakahia (RS Senior, Guard); Kiara Lewis (RS Senior, Guard); Emily Engstler (Junior, Wing); Digna Strautmane (Senior, Forward)

  • Crucial newcomers: Kamilla Cardoso (Freshman, Center); Priscilla Williams (Freshman, Guard); Faith Blackstone (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: With Tiana Mangakahia back healthy, the Orange look like not only contenders for the ACC crown, but a team that could make a deep NCAA tournament run. In addition to Kiara Lewis and Mangakahia joining forces in the backcourt, starters Emily Engstler, Digna Strautmane and Amaya Finklea-Guity also return, as does reliable contributor Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi. On top of all that, Quentin Hillsman brought in one of his best recruiting classes, featuring a pair of top 10 talents in 6’7 Kamilla Cardoso and dynamic guard Priscilla Williams. The Orange aren’t short on depth, talent, height or play-making. Powered by possibly the best back-court in the conference, they should be taken seriously as contenders.

  • Stat blast: Tiana Mangakahia is Syracuse’s all-time leader in assists with 591. In the 2019 ACC tournament, she broke the tournament’s single game assists record by dishing out 13 in a win over Miami. Mangakahia had the best assist rate in the country in 2017-18 and 2018-19, posting a 52.2% mark as a junior and a 61% clip as a sophomore. The stats back it up; she is one of the most elite passers the college game has ever seen.

  • They said it: “(Cardoso has) really picked up on what we’re doing, and that’s been the most important thing… Her athleticism – we knew that. We knew she could be a dominant force in the middle of our zone – she is that. But you can’t really determine how good they’re going to be in just picking up and grasping information, to actually applying it to action. And she’s got a really good job of doing that.” Quentin Hillsman

  • One extra note: The Orange had one player leave in the offseason via transfer, as Alisha Lewis transferred to UCF. Tabbed as the 35th best player in the 2019 class by ESPN, she appeared in just seven games for Syracuse last season. A former Delaware state Player of the Year, Lewis will sit out this season.

  • Read more: Official: Tiana Mangakahia will play for Syracuse this season

Virginia

  • 2019-20 record: 13-17 (8-10 ACC)

  • Head coach: Tina Thompson (3rd season)

  • Key losses: Jocelyn Willoughby, Dominique Toussaint, Shemera Williams (transfer), Kylie Kornegay-Lucas (transfer)

  • Top returners: Carole Miller (Sophomore, Guard); Amadine Toi (RS Sophomore, Guard)

  • Crucial newcomers: Emily Maupin (Grad, Forward); Aaliyah Pitts (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: This could be a rough season for Tina Thompson and the Virginia Cavaliers. This offseason — either by way of graduation or transfers — the ‘Hoos lost five of their top seven scorers from last year. It seemed like rising sophomores Shemera Williams and Kylie Kornegay-Lucas could’ve helped fill the hole from Jocelyn Willoughby’s departure, but each decided to transfer. Williams has landed at Thompson’s old stomping grounds, USC. Due to a lack of depth, freshmen Zaria Johnson and Aaliyah Pitts may have to play crucial minutes. And Virginia might have to lean heavily on Emily Maupin, a graduate transfer from Liberty who was once upon a time an All-CAA selection at Elon. Virginia needs its young core to build chemistry and find an identity early.

  • Stat blast: In 2018-19, Maupin led Elon in scoring, rebounding and blocks with 11.7 points, 6.1 board and 0.6 blocks per-game. She never played for Liberty, redshirting in the lone season she was there.

  • They said it: “Aaliyah (Pitts), at her size, possesses the ability to shoot the ball at a high level. That size also gives her the opportunity to be effective in the paint as well as away from the basket. Her versatility is a skill set we welcome.” – Tina Thompson to the Daily Progress

  • One extra note: Virginia also picked up another transfer this offseason in FSU’s London Clarkson, but she has to sit the season out due to transfer rules. Also, the Cavaliers will host James Madison on Dec. 3.

  • Read more: Shemera Williams, Kylie Kornegay-Lucas to transfer from Virginia

Virginia Tech

  • 2019-20 record: 21-9 (11-7 ACC)

  • Head coach: Kenny Brooks (5th season)

  • Key losses: Taja Cole, Lydia Rivers, Dara Mabrey (transfer), Trinity Baptiste (transfer)

  • Top returners: Elizabeth Kitley (Sophomore, Center); Aisha Sheppard (Senior, Guard);

  • Crucial newcomers: Da’Ja Green (Grad, Guard); Shamarla King (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: Perhaps no team in the ACC was hit as hard by outgoing transfers than Virginia Tech, which won a program-best 11 conference games last season. The Hokies lost two key players in to the transfer portal in Dara Mabrey and Trinity Baptiste. Graduated and gone is Taja Cole, who led the conference in assists last season. Still, Kenny Brooks was able to restock. The Hokies brought in Wofford grad transfer Da’Ja Green, an All-SoCon selection who led that league in assists. Also in Blacksburg is former top 100 recruit D’asia Gregg —who spent a season at Georgia Tech before excelling in the JUCO ranks last year — USC transfer Asiah Jones and incoming top 100 recruit Shamarla King. Virginia Tech will still lean on its top two scorers from last season in Aisha Sheppard and Elizabeth Kitley. Sheppard averaged 14.8 points per-game and shot 37.1 percent from three-point range last season en route to making the All-ACC Second Team. Kitley was second in the ACC in blocks and averaged 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per-game on her way to being named ACC Rookie of the Year. If Kitley and Sheppard continue to make strides in their games and if the newcomers mesh well, the Hokies could be an NCAA tournament team.

  • Stat blast: In ACC games last season, Elizabeth Kitley shot 57.3% from the floor, setting a program record for the Hokies. Her overall field goal percentage of 56.2% was third best in the conference, with only Boston College’s Emma Guy and UNC’s Malu Tshitenge posting better marks.

  • They said it: “I compare (Kitley) a lot to (N.C. State’s Elissa Cunane); they’re best friends, they grew up together… She defers a lot. She doesn’t think she’s as good as she is. And once she figures out how good she really is, it’s going to be crazy. It really is. She’s that good. She’s a smart kid. She loves to read scouts… I think she’s going to be one of the better players to ever play at Virginia Tech.” – Kenny Brooks to All in the Game

  • One extra note: While the Hokies lost one transfer to an in-conference opponent with Dara Mabrey going to Notre Dame, they gained another with Azana Baines coming in from Duke. However, she will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.

  • Read more: Despite transfers, the sky is not falling at Virginia Tech

Wake Forest

  • 2019-20 record: 16-16 (7-11 ACC)

  • Head coach: Jen Hoover (9th season)

  • Key losses: Alex Sharp, Ona Udoh

  • Top returners: Ivana Raca (Senior, Forward); Gina Conti (Senior, Guard); Christina Morra (Junior, Forward)

  • Crucial newcomers: Jewel Spear (Freshman, Guard)

  • The buzz: Last season — and especially in the ACC tournament — Gina Conti and Ivana Raca proved that they can play with the best in the conference. The question is, can Wake Forest put the right pieces around them to create a team that isn’t just competitive, but one that wins? The Demon Deacons seemed to figure out a formula for success late last season, making a run into the conference tournament quarterfinals. Coming off making the All-ACC Tournament Team and a summer where she trained with the Serbian senior national team, Raca is poised for her best season yet at Wake. Conti remains one of the toughest, smartest and craftiest point guards in the ACC, and a host of other contributors return, including Christina Morra, Kaia Harrison and Alexandria Scruggs. Top 100 recruit Jewel Spear should provide a boost too. If Jen Hoover’s squad can carry some of their momentum from late last season into this one, this could be the year Wake Forest takes a leap, and makes the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988.

  • Stat blast: Ivana Raca scored 20 or more points seven times last season against ACC opponents. She is just one of two Demon Deacons in the last 20 years to record a 25-point, 10-rebound game in the ACC tournament (27 and 13, vs. UNC). The other is Dearica Hamby, who just claimed her second straight WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award.

  • They said it: “Ivana has really put a ton of work in this off-season. She’s a worker anyway and finished the season on such a high last year. She wanted to be a more consistent three-point shooter, and I would say in practice so far, she’s definitely that. She’s also become a better passer and is starting to see a little bit more on the floor… She continues to kind of wow us with her ability and versatility.” – Jen Hoover

  • One extra note: The Demon Deacons will begin their season in Fort Myers, Florida, where they are set to feature in a multi-team event, the Gulf Coast Showcase. Wake Forest will play Nov. 27 through Nov. 29, facing Arkansas, Davidson and Missouri State in order.

Written by Mitchell Northam

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