Last season was a little different for college basketball, and the ACC women’s hoops was no exception. From less travel and more conference play to a changing of the guard at Notre Dame and the continued dominance of ACC champs NC State, the 2020-2021 season was one for the books.
But that’s all behind us now. It’s time to look forward. Let’s dive into how ACC women’s basketball stacks up for next season.
ACC Women’s Basketball Preview 2021-22
The Favorites: Louisville, North Carolina State
Head coach: Jeff Walz (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 26-4 (14-2 in ACC)
Conference finish: 1st
Dana Evans rightfully declared for the WNBA Draft, and all of the sudden, things were looking down for Louisville women’s basketball after a great season in the ACC.
Then, just as quickly as things were looking a little rocky and dreary, the sun came out and it was all bright again thanks to a couple of transfers who could help lead Louisville back to the Final Four.
Emily Engstler from Syracuse and Chelsie Hall from Vanderbilt both bring scoring and playmaking in bunches to the squad looking to emulate its 2021 success.
North Carolina State
Head coach: Wes Moore (8th season)
2020-21 record: 22-3 (12-2 in ACC)
Conference finish: 2nd
Elissa Cunane is a bonafide stud, and there is simply no way of getting around that fact. When you have a top WNBA talent like the 6-foot-5 Cunane to run an offense through, everything else simply falls into place.
Add in returning players like Jakia Brown-Turner, Jada Boyd, and Raina Perez, and you have a recipe for success that is going to cook its way to the top of the ACC standings for the third year in a row.
The Contenders: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Florida State
Head coach: Nell Fortner (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 17-9 (12-6 in ACC)
Conference finish: 3rd
Nell Fortner is a coach with the talent to instantly make any team better. Before she arrived on the scene at Georgia Tech, the school’s women’s basketball team did not have a winning ACC record for five seasons straight. Fortner has a winning record in both of her seasons up until this point, including a Sweet 16 last March.
Talk about making a difference.
With seniors Kierra Fletcher and Lorela Cujab deciding to come back for a fifth year, Georgia Tech is returning all five starters in a season where many teams are having a high player turnover.
Head coach: Kenny Brooks (6th season)
2020-21 record: 15-10 (8-8 in ACC)
Conference finish: 7th
Aisha Sheppard – who was third in the ACC women’s basketball in scoring last season with 17.7 points per game – made the decision to use that extra eligibility thanks to the pandemic to return for another go around with the Hokies. That made a bit of a difference to their outlook on the season.
Sheppard’s return makes it easy for coach Kenny Brooks, who now has all five starters coming back and his top scoring guard looking to make another leap in her career. All-ACC center Elizabeth Kitley should have a massive impact on the floor once again.
Head coach: Niele Ivey (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 10-10 (8-7 in ACC)
Conference finish: 6th
Niele Ivey did not have an easy go of it in her first season as the head coach for the Fighting Irish. She replaced legendary coach Muffet McGraw and was then instantly hit by a COVID-19 shortened preseason.
Really, a 10-10 record is pretty astounding when you think about the circumstances surrounding it. Niele Ivey has also gone on the record saying that last March Madness was the only one she ever wants to experience from the outside looking in, so if that attitude transfers over to the rest of the team, Notre Dame could be in for a bounce back season for the ages.
Head coach: Sue Semrau (24th season)
2020-21 record: 10-9 (9-7 in ACC)
Conference finish: 5th
Continuity plays a big role in the NCAA, but it’s often overlooked because people are naturally drawn to young talent and the next big thing.
Florida State has that continuity in spades, returning all five starters and basically every key player it had last year. Give the Seminoles another offseason to mesh even more, and you are looking at a team that uses superior teamsmanship to make a dark horse run for the ACC title.
On top of that, long-time bench boss Sue Semrau is back after taking a hiatus to care for a family member, and she always has a trick or two up her sleeve.
Stuck in Purgatory: SYracuse, North Carolina, Miami, Duke, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Clemson
Head coach: Vonn Read (1st season, acting head coach)
2020-21 record: 15-9 (9-7 in ACC)
Conference finish: 4th
Turnover is always a bit of a big deal in college basketball, but Syracuse has had it in spades this past offseason.
Quentin Hillsman – who was the head coach for the Orange – resigned amidst an investigation into his conduct within the organization. That alone will be a bit of a hit to deal with, but then you take a look at the Syracuse transfer portal and realize they might be in for a tough year.
They have 10 players in the transfer portal, meaning that you are going to see a wildly different Syracuse team this year than you did the last.
Head coach: Courtney Banghart (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 13-11 (8-9 in ACC)
Conference finish: 8th
Losing Janelle Bailey is a major hit for Tar Heels, and how they will adequately fill the gaping hole in the middle that she left behind is hard to see.
However, UNC is a team that constantly seems to be at the very least in the middle of the ACC pack, so it is hard for me to see it dropping too far down the rankings as the season progresses. With four recruits who just played in the Jordan Brand Classic, UNC looks like it’s in good hands for the future.
Head coach: Katie Meier (17th season)
2020-21 record: 11-11 (8-10 in ACC)
Conference finish: 9th
Another season, another middle of the pack finish looks to be in store for Miami.
Since losing Beatrice Mompremier to the WNBA Draft a couple of seasons ago, Miami has seemed to be on the cusp of making some noise in the ACC, but its talent level has just not quite been high enough to push into that top tier of teams.
Forward Destiny Harden may look to make another leap in the coming season, and that would be a massive boon to a Miami team that has lacked that go-to talent in the past season.
Head coach: Kara Lawson (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 3-1 (0-1 in ACC)
Conference finish: 14th
After a very COVID-shortened season that saw them playing (and losing) only one game in the ACC, the Blue Devils are coming back with a vengeance in a way that only those top-tier schools can.
Duke had a busy offseason, to say the least. It had 12 scholarship players at the start of August and somehow added another top-50 recruit after that.
That recruit is Shayeann Day-Wilson, a 5-foot-5 Canadian guard hailing from Toronto. She brings even more national team pedigree to Duke, as she was a major contributor for a Canada U19 team that came fifth at the U19 World Cup.
It’s time for Duke to regain some of that fear that is commonly associated with the name.
Head coach: Jen Hoover (11th season)
2020-21 record: 12-13 (8-10 in ACC)
Conference finish: 10th
Jewel Spear is a player to keep an eye on for the underwhelming Demon Deacons this upcoming season.
Spear recently finished representing Team USA at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup. She was one of the first nine players selected to the roster, and that shows some serious commitment from Team USA to its belief in her potential star power.
Look for Spear to take a huge leap in her sophomore season but not for that individual talent to necessarily correlate to team success.
Head coach: Lance White (4th season)
2020-21 record: 5-14 (3-12 in ACC)
Conference finish: 12th
Another team with a fair amount of continuity but not enough talent to put it to full use, Pitt returns most of its roster from last season … when the Panthers went 3-12 in the ACC, good for 12th place.
They did add recruit Maliyah Johnson, who was a high-level prospect and is someone who could make an immediate impact on the winning culture at Pitt. She won two state championships in Ohio and was primed to win a third before COVID-19 shut down the season.
There is only up for this Pitt team.
Head coach: Amanda Butler (4th season)
2020-21 record: 12-14 (5-12 in ACC)
Conference finish: 11th
Clemson has a fair amount of continuity this upcoming season, which is a bright spot for a team that has struggled under the pressure of playing in the ACC.
The Tigers return six scholarship players from last season’s team, which got to the Sweet 16 of the WNIT. They also added five freshmen and three transfers to the mix, giving them a team that mixes youth and experience, but probably does not have enough firepower to make any real noise in their conference.
The Basement: Boston College, Virginia
Head coach: Joanna Bernabei-McNamee (4th season)
2020-21 record: 7-12 (2-11 in ACC)
Conference finish: 13th
Boston College had its first 20-win season in nearly a decade in 2019-20, but it followed that up with a 2-11 mark in conference play in 2020-21.
Sometimes low expectations are the best, aren’t they?
Akunna Konkwo, who has missed most of her two seasons so far with injuries, is looking healthy and ready to go. She was the 18th-ranked center in her class coming out of high school, so the talent is definitely there. However, in her limited minutes and games last season, she averaged only 4.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.
Let’s hope a healthy offseason helps her get back on track.
Head coach: Tina Thompson (4th season)
2020-21 record: 0-5 (0-2 in ACC)
Conference finish: 15th
Tina Thompson has been an absolute delight as a coach since ending her illustrious WNBA career, and maybe that is the nicest thing we can say about the Cavaliers for this upcoming season.
She even managed to get James Posey, who you may remember as a player on the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics during the Wade and Shaq and Boston Big 3 championship runs, to join her coaching staff as an assistant coach.
If only Virginia’s coaching staff could suit up instead of its players; Meg Jefferson and Amandine Toi are the only returning players who scored more than 10 points a game in their shortened season last year.
2021-22 ACC Women’s Basketball Players to Watch
Elissa Cunane – Center – Senior – North Carolina State
A walking double-double and arguably the best player in the ACC and even the NCAA at large, Cunane is going to find herself at the top of every preseason All-American list as one of the top WNBA prospects in her class.
Elizabeth Kitley – Center – Junior – Virginia Tech
At a towering 6-foot-6, Kitley put up 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season. She also had a double-double in half of the games last season, and those numbers should only continue to improve as Kenny Brooks continues to work on the skill set of Kitley.
Maddy Westbeld – Forward – Sophomore – Notre Dame
The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year flashed true star potential in last year’s COVID-shortened season, and she looks primed to take another leap into the upper echelon of NCAA players this upcoming season. At 6-foot-3, she looks like a double-double machine that will haunt the nightmares of opposing ACC bigs for years to come.
2021-22 Men’s & Women’s College Basketball Conference Previews
Learn more about the upcoming 2021-22 men’s and women’s college basketball seasons with Nothing But Nylon’s extensive conference previews, with a new conference covered every week before the campaign tips off in November.