The ACC is a brave new world of sorts with NC State being selected to win the regular season for the first time in over 30 years.
In the comparison between basketball and football, the state of things in the former is far more vulnerable to volatility than the latter. Much of that has to do with roster size and turnover. There is also an element of incoming freshman being far more capable of improving a team drastically. Unless it is a situation like UNC from 2007 to 2009, basketball teams go through a fair amount of roster change. Those that have the least amount of change usually fair better and enjoy the benefit of being picked to win their conference or make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
NC State is such a team having suffered some losses but mostly keeping the core of players who led the Wolfpack to the Sweet Sixteen intact. Duke is in a similar boat. Yes, they lost Austin Rivers and a Plumlee but two Plumlees remain as do some important pieces to the puzzle. In both cases, the incoming freshmen will likely fill gaps and mark overall improvement in the team.Then there is UNC which is in the midst of massive roster upheaval with four starters leaving and a group of role players who all must find a place in the mix.
According to the ACC media's preseason poll, those three teams constitute the top three. Chances are that will be the case though it is possible any one of them could win the regular season or finish third. In that respect we are walking headlong into a possible 2007 or 1995 scenario with 3-4 teams at the top all tied. Since the league schedule has been expanded to 18, the additional pair of games increases the likelihood to some extent. The question is whether the three Triangle-based schools are on a tier by themselves or is there a team than can crash the party?
Florida State, picked fourth by the media, is an obvious choice to make a run at the top three. The Seminoles are traditionally very strong on defense and have arguably the best shooting guard in the ACC in senior Michael Snaer. FSU also boasts plenty of size, although there are questions as to how much offensive production the Seminole frontcourt can produce now that Bernard James has moved on. Miami is another team returning a solid core of players with Shane Larkin and Durand Scott in the backcourt and Kenndy Kadji and Reggie Johnson upfront. If these four players live up to their potential, Miami is a very dangerous team, their exhibition loss notwithstanding.
If there is one dark horse that could make some noise it is Maryland. Despite losing leading scorer Terrell Stoglin(addition by subtraction?) and Sean Mosley. Maryland still has solid players with a previously unexpected addition. Former Xavier player Dez Wells who left the Musketeers following some legal trouble(of which he was cleared apparently) was given a waiver by the NCAA to play this season. Normally a player transferring would need to wait, but after an appeal, the NCAA saw fit to grant Wells a waiver. Well averaged nearly 10 ppg as a freshman at Xavier hitting 37% of his threes. His decision to attend Maryland and the subsequent clearance from the NCAA gave the Terps an unexpected boost. Is it enough to move Maryland up? Possibly but probably not into the top three.
After Maryland the league really becomes a mixed bag. Virginia and Clemson are both well coached but suffered key losses from last season. For the Cavaliers it was Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski. At Clemson Andre Young and Tanner Smith both graduated. Filling those gaps will prove challenging. Georgia Tech is not suffering from a coaching perspective and returns multiple players from last season. However beyond Mfon Udofia, there is uncertainty about which players can carry the offensive load.
The bottom three in the league suffer from a myriad of issues. Virginia Tech has a new coach having fired Seth Greenberg. The Hokies return Erick Green who will be forced to carry his team more times than not. Wake Forest and Boston College both return plenty of players but in the case of the Demon Deacons, coaching is a question and for Boston College the team is still really young.
Overall, the league is being viewed as weak as its ever been. That does not mean there isn't parity and I would expect any team in the top nine playing against another top nine team will be in for a tough contest. Most of the teams in the ACC are dealing with growing pains or roster turnover. NC State, Duke and Miami are probably the most stable but even then you are talking about players acclimating to new roles or the broader role of being favored to win the conference. All of these factors will make for some very interesting nights January through March.
1. NC State
3. North Carolina
4. Florida State
9. Virginia Tech
10. Georgia Tech
11. Wake Forest
12. Boston College
ACC Player of the Year: Lorenzo Brown, NC State.
C.J. Leslie is a popular choice but NCSU's hopes rest with Brown who can score and facilitate the offense. If he goes for 15-16 points and 5-6 apg then he will the league's best player.
Rookie of the Year: Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
With Seth Curry dealing with an injury, Sulaimon will have his chances to score, more so than Rodney Purvis at NC State.