The ACC has long been considered the best basketball conference in America, but with a lot of there top players in the paint graduating or moving on to the NBA, they’ll be looking for some new players to step up and star in the upcoming season. Thankfully, there’s some intriguing talent within the conference, so here are three returning players to watch this upcoming season.
#3. D.J Funderburk, NC State
A major contributor for the Wolfpack for two seasons, Funderburk looks primed for a big season with an ACC team on the rise in NC State. While he didn’t post massive numbers, Funderburk was quietly efficient, saving his best for the Wolfpack’s biggest wins. He dropped 21 points on Duke in their 22-point blowout of the Blue Devils and a double-double in a critical victory over Clemson. A 61% shooter from the field, Funderburk will look to help NC State challenge some of the traditional powers in the ACC in 2020-21.
#2. Malik Williams, Louisville
Williams is a highly intriguing player heading into next year, as he has not been a go-to player in Louisville’s offense during his three years with the Cardinals, playing under twenty minutes per game every season, averaging just 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. However, the Cardinals are losing primary scoring option Jordan Nwora, and Williams may have a chance to get some more minutes on the court and impact a few big games for Louisville. Despite limited opportunities, Williams posted two double-doubles in ACC play, against Pittsburgh (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Syracuse (14 points, 13 boards). He played a combined 43 minutes in those two games, so it’s exciting to consider Williams’ potential when given more than a part-time playing role in Louisville’s lineup.
#1. Juwan Durham, Notre Dame
I’m really high on Durham, both because of what he flashed in minimal playing time with the Irish, but also because of how critical the man in the paint is for Notre Dame’s offense. The Irish graduate one of the best big men in the country in John Mooney, and they’ll be looking for the 6’11 Durham to fill that massive hole in the offense. Durham didn’t have many opportunities to put up numbers last year, averaging just 7.8 points per game, but with Dane Goodwin, Prentiss Hubb, and Nate Laszewski chucking up threes at ungodly clips, expect Durham to get plenty of wear and tear in the paint, bringing down rebounds and putting in second-chance points. The Irish climbed from the cellar of the ACC back to a seventh seed in the cancelled ACC Tournament, so if the Irish hope to continue their conference climb, they’ll need Durham to be a key factor in that rise.