With college basketball officially starting off next week, we’ll take a look at how all the teams in the ACC stack up going into the season. The conference is as talented as it has ever been in recent years, and every team should have realistic expectations of fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The championship hopefuls
Louisville is the best team in the ACC. Three starters are returning from last year’s 20-win team and should have a shot to be the best defense in the country with the wing trio of Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton and freshman Samuel Williamson. Chris Mack has hit the ground running with this program and has a chance to win a title in his second year.
Duke lost three of last year’s starters, all of which were drafted in the first 10 picks of the 2019 NBA Draft. Once again, they will have to depend on a young cast of players, particularly big men Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. They still have Tre Jones, who has a real shot at ACC Player of the Year, so it should be business as usual.
This is a talented but young North Carolina team. Its success will start and end with No. 1 pick hopeful, Cole Anthony. His ability to lead this team offensively along with the defense of Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will determine whether or not this program can make a title run in March.
UVA is the defending champion. However, it lost everybody besides Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark, who will have to take huge steps if they are going to be the leaders of one of the best teams in the country. If this team makes a run at the Elite Eight, Tony Bennett should win every coaching award there is.
Solid tournament teams, ACC Cinderellas
N.C. State is an electric team. Markell Johnson and CJ Bryce are electric offensively. However, if they can’t stop anybody on the other end of the floor, they’re going to have a lot of problems.
Florida State should be able to score this year, and it should still be just as talented defensively. The athletic duo of returning guard Trent Forrest and athletic freshman wing Patrick Williams should give the Seminoles a lot of upside this season. They just have to put it all together.
This is John Mooney’s team. The 6-foot-9 forward will lead a team that returns four starters and will be looking to rebound from an embarrassing record last season. Mike Brey has only had two losing seasons in his tenure coaching the Irish and he won’t let this one be his third.
Elijah Hughes is going to have to truly be the star on this Syracuse team. The defense will be good as always, but the program lost four starters. Hughes will probably have to reach 20 points per game if this team wants to win 20 games.
There is no getting around it. Miami was terrible last year. But there is a belief around the country that coach Jim Larranga can bring this team back to the heights it hit the past four years, and that he can get the most out of guards Chris Lykes and Dejan Vasiljevic.
Georgia Tech is a less talented version of Notre Dame. They return four starters and are pretty good defensively. James Banks III is terrific, but he’ll have to add some skills to his offensive game if this team plans to put up even an average offense this season.
So, Xavier Johnson is really good. The Woodbridge, Virginia, native averaged 15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game last year as a freshman for the Panthers. He leads a young team that also returns four starters this season.
Wake Forest is the fourth and final team on this list that returns four starters. That means a lot in ACC basketball, no matter how bad the team was last season. If Brandon Childress can take a step and become one of the better players in the ACC, this team has a shot at the tournament based on experience alone.
The Hokies were in the Sweet 16 last year, one shot away from the Elite Eight. Then everything fell apart, with almost all of the key pieces leaving, including head coach Buzz Williams. New coach Mike Young has a lot of work to do, with a talented but very inexperienced roster this season.
This team should take a step offensively, with Nik Popovic, Wynston Tabbs and the Hamilton brothers all healthy. Losing Ky Bowman hurts, but it shouldn’t be paralyzing. Defensively, this program is in trouble, but if it can clean it up, it should heighten its chances.
Clemson’s defense should be really good. But they lost four starters from a 20-win team last season. If they are going to dig themselves out of the bottom of the conference, junior Aamir Simms has to finally turn potential into production this season.