The three teams who have usually emerged at the top of the standings for ACC men’s basketball – North Carolina, Virginia, and Duke – seem primed to do so again.
However, there could be a massive logjam behind them among ACC teams. Last year’s other standout teams such as Miami, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Syracuse all have lost a lot, leaving some schools such as Virginia Tech and Pitt with a chance to climb the standings.
Here’s how I would rank the ACC teams from 1-15 and why they will fall this way.
All-American shooting guard Grayson Allen (21.6 points per game) is back and he is joined by the nation’s top recruiting class. Duke’s national title hopes rest on a revamped frontcourt featuring redshirt senior Amile Jefferson and impact freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Marques Bolden. The latest odds to win the NCAA tournament show them as the favorite to win it all, so why not the ACC too.
After falling short in the national title game, the Tar Heels should have enough to make a run at another deep March run. Justin Jackson and fellow junior Joel Berry II are the top scoring options back. Senior forward Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks must step up though freshman center Tony Bradley should help.
No coach does more with less in the ACC than Tony Bennett. Even though he lost last year’s ACC Player of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon, he still has a strong core left led by senior point guard London Perrantes. The arrival of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols (13.3 ppg) should leave the Cavaliers primed for another conference title run.
4) Florida State
The Seminoles have been down as of late, but could see a rise thanks to the return of sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon (15.8 ppg). He leads a strong group which includes junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes and sophomore guard Terrance Mann, but Florida State must re-discover its defensive identity.
The Cardinals look as if they will avoid serious sanctions and are looking for improvement following a 23-8 season. That may be tough to come by given its losses. Junior guard Quintin Snider leads a young squad short on experience and long on talent.
6) Virginia Tech
The Hokies went 10-8 in ACC play last season and return senior forward Zach LeDay (15.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg). However, Virginia Tech struggled last season against the top half of the ACC standing. Senior guard Seth Allen and sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. need to improve for that to change.
Former Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings takes over for the Panthers after Jamie Dixon bolted to TCU. Stallings does have some talent as the top two scorers return in Michael Young (15.7 ppg) and Jamel Artis (14.4 ppg). Seniors Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones should also have increased roles.
The Tigers actually went 10-8 in ACC play last season and return first-team all-conference forward Jaron Blossomgame (18.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg). However, how far Clemson goes will be determined by the play of the supporting cast. The likes of forward Donte Grantham and guard Avry Holmes must step up.
9) Notre Dame
After two straight trips to an NCAA Regional final, the Fighting Irish have a bit of a rebuild after the loss of its top two scorers. Senior forward V.J. Beachem must continue to show the form he had in last year’s NCAA Tournament while senior guard Steve Vasturia must provide more offensive punch.
Some veteran standouts are gone from a 27-8 season that ended in the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes may drop a bit after finishing tied for second in league play. Seniors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy will try to make sure the drop isn’t too far and should get help from freshman forward Dewan Huell.
After a middling regular season, the Orange went on a Final Four run. However, the team lost a lot due to graduation and the backcourt is a big question mark. A promising frontcourt led by sophomore Tyler Lydon, senior Tyler Roberson, and 7-2 Providence transfer Paschal Chukwu must carry the Orange this season.
12) N.C. State
The Wolfpack gets a big talent influx with a Top 5 recruiting class headlined by guard Dennis Smith Jr. and center Omer Yurtseven. Abdul-Malik Abu (12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is a strong frontcourt option while wing Torin Dorn is a celebrated transfer from Charlotte.
13) Wake Forest
After winning only two league games last season, the Demon Deacons could get a few more as sophomore guard Bryant Crawford (13.8 ppg) leads a young squad. Junior forward Dinos Mitoglou (9.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg) leads a frontcourt with some good size.
14) Georgia Tech
Former Memphis coach Josh Pastner steps into a rebuilding situation as the top four scorers are gone from a 21-15 Yellow Jackets squad. Senior forward Quinton Stephens (5.0 ppg) is the top returning scorer, so look for plenty of growing pains.
15) Boston College
After an winless 0-18 showing in ACC play last season, the Eagles should win a couple of games this time behind sophomore guard Jerome Robinson (11.7 ppg), and a trio of graduate transfers led by forward Connar Tava.