Last season the ACC had 5 of the Elite 8. The conference dominated the tournament, even though UNC lost in the title game. This year the ACC looks to be just as dominant. Duke is the near unanimous preseason number 1 team, while UNC and Virginia join them in the top 10. KenPom has 5 ACC teams in the top-12. There really isn’t a good year in the ACC to have a down year, but this really isn’t it. For my rankings, I’m using the ACC media predictions done during the ACC Media Days.
Duke returns the favorite for the National Player of the Year Grayson Allen. Then they add the #1 recruit, Harry Giles, and #4 recruit, Jayson Tatum. Oh and don’t forget the #13 recruit Frank Jackson to back up Allen at point guard. Or the #19 recruit Marques Bolden at center. And the return of Amile Jefferson. Did I mention Coach K yet? This Blue Devils team is loaded with talent and it is easy to see why they are the favorites this year. This year we play at Duke, which is unfortunate because Tech fans won’t get a chance to see these players, but also because Tech might lose by 50.
2. North Carolina
Unlike Duke, the Tar Heels look to be led by upperclassmen. They lost Brice Johnson, but returners Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks should make UNC one of the best offenses in the country and a contender for yet another title. GT opens the ACC season at McCamish on New Year’s Eve against the Tar Heels. They follow that up with games against Duke and Louisville. Yeesh.
Yes Virginia lost Malcolm Brogdon, and yes they are still going to be great this year. London Perrantes is a great player and they bring in former Josh Pastner Memphis star Austin Nichols to compliment an upperclassmen heavy roster. Expect coach Tony Bennett to have this defense rocking again. We play in Charlottesville so expect the Jacket’s anemic offense to struggle to hit 40 points.
Louisville is the first team on this list that does not have a returning star and they are still ranked borderline top-10. That is a testament to both Rick Pitino and the talent on this squad. Look for sophomores Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel to be leaders on the wing while they have so many talented big men it’s tough to tell who will step up. If there is one thing to watch out for it’s their lack of point guards behind starter Quentin Snider. We get Louisville at home, though it follows our matchups against UNC and Duke. It is going to be tough for our young team to handle this press.
This is an incredibly long and balanced team. Like the Cardinals, they do not have a national star, but seniors Andrew White and Tyler Roberson, along with transfer John Gillon and sophomore Tyler Lodon should all provide great productivity. Freshman Tyus Battle (#26 recruit) should provide some more firepower. And Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is always going to keep this defense strong. We play a home and home with the Orange, both near the end of the season.
6. NC State
This is a ranking I do not agree with. Every year people talk about how talented the Wolfpack team is and every year Mark Gottfried’s teams disappoint. Last season Cat Barber absolutely carried the team and they only won 5 ACC games. Now Barber is gone. Yes, they got the #5 recruit Dennis Smith Jr and intriguing Turkish prospect Omer Yurtseven. Yes they have some returning talent in Abdul-Malik Abu, Maverick Rowan, and Terry Henderson. But I have no faith in Gottfried to turn that talent into a top notch ACC team. We have a home and home with the Wolfpack. Away early in the season then at home near the end.
7. Notre Dame
Notre Dame also lost their stars in Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. However, unlike Gottfried, Mike Brey has proven he can replace his talent and keep up the success on the floor. Once again look for the Irish to have an explosive offense and leaky defense. V.J. Beachem is in for a breakout season and it should be fun to watch one of the most unique players in the ACC, 6’5 center (yes center) Bonzie Colson Jr. The Jackets welcome the Fighting Irish to McCamish in late January and return to South Bend in late February.
8. Florida State
Last season FSU was hyped up because they had a freshman star in Dwayne Bacon, but they were unable to put much around him and the Seminoles ended last season tied for 11th with GT. Now they return Bacon, as well as Xavier Rathan-Mayes and add freshman Jonathan Isaac (#9 recruit). After that, it is a mystery on who will provide the production, especially out of the frontcourt. Like Gottfried, Leonard Hamilton has struggled to put teams on the floor that match their talent. I think they finish lower than this. The Jackets will welcome the Seminoles to Atlanta this year in late January.
Miami lost top scorers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan from last year. Expect point guard Ja’Quan Newton to pick up the slack with help from senior guard Devon Reed and freshman Bruce Brown (#38 recruit). I’m not too sold on the combination of talent and experience, but Jim Larranaga is one of the best coaches in the country and should have this team ready to play. We head down to Coral Gables in mid-February to take on the Hurricanes.
10. Virginia Tech
Now we get to the “sleeper” that everybody has been talking about. They return everybody from last year’s team who made the NIT after going 10-8 in the ACC. Coach Buzz Williams is highly regarded and a lot of people expect them to take a big step this year. They will be led by senior forward Zach LeDay, senior guard Seth Allen, and junior guard Justin Bibbs. An area of concern is their front court behind Zach LeDay. This year we take on the Hokies in Blacksburg after a disappointing home loss last season.
The Tigers return one of the best players in the country, F Jaron Blossomgame. Unfortunately for them, they do not return much around him. Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes are decent players, but are not going to provide enough support. Brad Brownell has his job on the line this year and needs Blossomgame to carry them to the tournament. In a desparation move, Brownell brought in three transfers, a la Brian Gregory. None of them look like difference makers. This team will go as far as Blossomgame can carry them. We face Clemson at home in our first winnable conference game, then we head up to South Carolina in the heart of the ACC schedule.
Jamie Dixon led Pitt to some of their best years ever, but it seemed over the last several years that their level had slipped and fans were going restless. So Dixon is now at TCU and to replace him the Panthers got.....Kevin Stallings? The guy who followed that exact same path at Vanderbilt? It was a puzzling hire to be sure, but Panthers fans are hoping a change of scenery is all that is needed. Stallings is in for a tough position his first year. Their two best players, Jamel Artis and Mike Young, are both great, but they don’t have a reliable point guard. So they are experimenting with 6’7 Artis at the point. They are chock full of experienced wings so getting Artis at the point will open up the floor to the most talent and experience. I expect this team to be better than this ranking. Pitt is coming to town for Senior Night at the very end of February.
13. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons were bad last year despite having some talent. Now they lost Devin Thomas and Cody Miller-McIntyre and are relying on underclassmen to make most of the plays. Sophomore guard Bryant Crawford and sophomore big man John Collins will lead this new look Wake team, but I don’t know if they have the experience to significantly improve their standing after finishing 2-16 last year. Maybe Danny Manning wasn’t ready for the big time. Our game this season is up in Winston-Salem in the middle of the season. One of the few ACC games that our fans might have hope of winning.
14. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets clock in at second to last in the ACC and closer to last place than to Wake Forest. I cannot argue with this ranking given the lack of talent on this squad. I might even argue that we should be lower, but I can see why the media picked the last place team.
15. Boston College
Last season, the Eagles did not win a conference game. Then they lost their best player in Eli Carter. They have improved their depth and will hopefully be more careful about taking team trips to Chipotle this year. I expect them to snag a game or two this year, but still be one of the two bottom teams. Point guard Jerome Robinson and wings Connor Tava and A.J. Turner should lead this team. Thankfully, the Jackets get BC at home in what could be the deciding game for which team gets to take the last spot to the ACC Tournament.
This is going to be a long season for the Yellow Jackets in the toughest conference in the country. I would be shocked if they won more than a game or two.