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Countdown to Tipoff: Previewing Syracuse, Louisville, and Notre Dame

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The perennially strong ACC programs underachieved last year but are poised to rebound

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The FTRS season preview series continues with a look at three more ACC opponents that were all middle-of-the-pack teams a year ago but could return to contention this season.

Countdown to Tipoff: 8 Days


Syracuse Orange

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Record: 23-14 (8-10 ACC); reached Sweet Sixteen in NCAA Tournament

2017-18 Result(s) vs. Tech: GT won 55-51 in Atlanta

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim (entering 43rd season, 926-368 career record as HC at Syracuse)

Final Four Appearances: 1975, 1987, 1996, 2003 (won national title), 2013, 2016

Key Departures: PF Matthew Moyer

Key Returnees: PG Frank Howard, SG Tyus Battle, SF Marek Dolezaj, PF Oshae Brissett, C Paschal Chukwu

Top Recruits (star ratings from 247Sports): 4* PG/SG Jalen Carey, 3* PF Robert Braswell, 3* SG Buddy Boeheim

Syracuse snuck into the NCAA Tournament field as an 11-seed last season despite a losing record in ACC play, but they made a surprise run to the Sweet Sixteen, taking down 3-seed Michigan State (and ruining countless bracket pool entries) along the way. Every starter from that squad returns, making Jim Boeheim’s squad a likely ACC title contender this season.

The backcourt is the strength of this team. Howard, a rising senior, averaged 14.4 points and 4.7 assists per game last year while running the point, and Battle had a team-high 19.2 points per game. The frontcourt starters are no slouches, though: Brissett nearly averaged a double-double last season at power forward, and Chukwu is a 7-foot-2 defensive stalwart under the rim in the team’s 2-3 zone. Syracuse’s major concerns a year ago were depth and outside shooting; the first issue has been resolved with several new additions, and two of them—Buddy Boeheim (Jim Boeheim’s son) and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes—should provide a boost to perimeter shooting.

Tech’s lone matchup with Syracuse last season was an ugly affair in Atlanta in which both teams shot below 35 percent from the field, and it ended with Tech pulling out a 55-51 victory. The teams will face off on January 12 at the Carrier Dome, and the major challenges for the Jackets will be finding ways to contain Battle and Brissett defensively and getting some outside shooting going against the 2-3 zone.

Louisville Cardinals

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Florida State vs Louisville Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Record: 22-14 (9-9 ACC)

2017-18 Result(s) vs. Tech: UL won 77-54 in Louisville

Head Coach: Chris Mack (entering first season; 215-97 career record as HC at Xavier)

Final Four Appearances: 1959, 1972, 1975, 1980 (won national championship), 1982, 1983, 1986 (won national championship), 2005, 2012, 2013 (won national championship—later vacated)

Key Departures: SF Deng Adel, PF Ray Spalding, PG Quentin Snider, C Anas Mahmoud

Key Returnees: SF V.J. King, PG Darius Perry, PF/C Malik Williams

Top Recruits (star ratings from 247Sports): n/a

After Rick Pitino was ousted just before the 2017-18 season for being involved in one scandal too many, Louisville spent a year under interim coach David Padgett and has now handed the reins to Chris Mack. While Mack is coming off a highly successful nine-year run at Xavier, he faces a tall task in his first season as the Cardinals look to replace four starters, including their top three scoring threats and their best shot blocker.

Despite the losses, Mack inherits a roster loaded with talented players who, for whatever reason, did not see the floor much last season. A pair of former five-star recruits, winger V.J. King and center Malik Williams, should be featured on the offensive end after taking a back seat to the veterans a year ago. Sophomore Darius Perry, a product of Wheeler HS in Georgia, is next in line at point guard, and fellow sophomore Jordan Nwora is set to step in at power forward. Mack focused his recruiting efforts fully on 2019, but he hit the graduate transfer market hard to bolster this year’s roster. As a result, he’ll be able to rely on a trio of graduate transfers for depth at point guard and power forward, and newly-eligible UConn transfer Steven Enoch will give him another option at center.

Louisville is a bit of a wild card; most of their starters are complete unknowns, but there’s so much talent on the roster that if Mack can help the sophomores and juniors develop even a little, the Cardinals will be instant ACC contenders. As for the matchup with Tech, the Jackets can go toe-to-toe with Louisville at the guard spots; the challenges will be guarding King on the wing and containing Williams and Enoch inside, as the Cardinals will have a huge talent advantage at those positions.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Notre Dame Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Record: 21-15 (8-10 ACC)

2017-18 Result(s) vs. Tech: ND won 68-59 in South Bend, GT won 60-53 in Atlanta

Head Coach: Mike Brey (entering 19th season; 502-254 career record as HC at Delaware and Notre Dame)

Final Four Appearances: 1978

Key Departures: PF Bonzie Colson, PG Matt Farrell, PF Martinas Geben

Key Returnees: PG T.J. Gibbs, SG Rex Pflueger, PF John Mooney

Top Recruits (star ratings from 247Sports): 4* PF Nate Laszewski, 4* SG Robby Carmody, 4* SG Prentiss Hubb, 4* SG Dane Goodwin, 3* PF Chris Doherty

Notre Dame was set to be one of the top teams in the ACC a year ago, but a foot injury to superstar Bonzie Colson derailed the season. Colson averaged a double-double when active, but he missed 15 games as a result of the injury, and the Irish couldn’t pick up the slack—particularly with senior point guard Matt Farrell dealing with injuries of his own. They now must move forward without three starters, including Colson and Farrell, who combined to average 36 points per game a year ago.

Mike Brey’s team will be leaning on its veteran backcourt in 2018-19. Point guard T.J. Gibbs averaged 15.3 points per game last year and shot better than 40 percent from the three-point line, and he will be the focal point of the offense. Alongside him will be senior Rex Pflueger, a defensive stalwart at shooting guard, and either D.J. Harvey, Nikola Djogo, or one of the new recruits on the wing. The big questions will be up front, where Notre Dame must replace the production of both Colson and Martinas Geben (11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds per game). John Mooney should step into one frontcourt spot, and the team will need either reserve Elijah Burns, 6-foot-11 UConn transfer Juwan Durham, or 6-foot-10 freshman Nate Laszewski to step up at the other spot. None are proven offensive threats by any stretch—Mooney included—so this could be a vulnerability for the Irish, particularly early on.

As always, Tech will face Notre Dame twice this season, and both games will be opportunities for a fun point guard battle between Gibbs and the tandem of Jose Alvarado and Mike DeVoe. Both teams have major unknowns with respect to scoring on the wing and inside, but Notre Dame’s roster is much more talent-rich at those positions, and that could prove to be the difference.