Fifteen teams battling for one trophy. Top ranked recruits and All-ACC worthy players on most every team. This is college basketball’s best, deepest league yet again, even though this year feels a step behind some years in terms of top-level quality. There may only be 8 or so teams receiving bids come Selection Sunday, and no one jumps out as an obvious Final Four front-runner, though I’m sure someone will get hot at some point. So how do we rack and stack those 15 teams? Our writers voted, and those 15 teams stratified into four distinct tiers. Click on the team name to jump to a more in-depth breakdown of each squad. Read on to see the countdown to #1:
Tier 5: Not this year
#15 – Virginia Tech
That Sweet 16 run? Ancient history. The entire team is gone except for backup PG Wabissa Bede and 6th man forward Isaiah Wilkins. Mike Young was a very good coach at Wofford, but he’s got a very raw roster with which to work right now. A pair of four star freshmen in PG Jalen Cone and forward Landers Nolley will give Hokie fans a glimpse of the future, but the rest of the newcomers (three other freshmen plus one grad transfer big man) lack any obvious pop. It’s going to be a long season in Blacksburg.
#14 – Boston College
The Eagles were a bad team last year and lost their entire backcourt this offseason. Big man Nic Popovic is highly underrated, but he’s going to get lost on this team that will have few weapons around him to elevate him. Former Duke and USC point guard Derryck Thornton will provide defense and facilitation, but unless the Hamilton brothers or one of their anonymous 3-star freshmen breakout, they’ll be overmatched by much of the league. Jim Christian couldn’t make the NCAA Tournament when he had a backcourt or Jerome Robinson, Ky Bowman, and Jordan Chatman; doubtful he’ll win much with this bunch either.
Tier 4: NIT Quality
#13 – Wake Forest
The Deacons have struggled to back-to-back 4-14 league finishes, so if you aren’t paying attention, we’ll forgive you. But while they lost 5 star one-and-done Jaylen Hoard to the NBA, they quietly return basically everyone else of note. Senior PG Brandon Childress is the unquestioned leader of this team, and he gets a new backcourt running mate in UNC-Charlotte transfer Andrien White. Along with returning wings Isaiah Mucius and Chaundee Brown, the Deacons have no excuse for Danny Manning, entering his sixth year at Wake, to return them to at least competitive status. But this is a team that lost to the likes of Georgia Southern and Houston Bapstist in recent years, so maybe just making the NIT is a respectable goal.
#12 – Georgia Tech
So, in this case, NIT Quality is a bit of a misnomer, because due to NCAA sanctions the Jackets aren’t eligibile for the postseason. Josh Pastner, who just a couple years ago was voted ACC Coach of the Year, has a young but intriguing roster to work with. Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, and James Banks are all competent returners, and USC transfer Jordan Usher (eligible after the first semester ends) should add a versatile punch at the forward spot. But depth has been and will continue to be a big question mark with little in the way of proven options behind the starters. The conservative bet on this team was a trip back to the NIT, with Bubble upside, but the sanctions put a cap on their energy level down the stretch.
#11 – Pittsburgh
The long, tedious climb back to respectability for the Panthers continues in Year 2 of the Jeff Capel era, and this year he’ll have a few more of his hand-picked pieces in place. He’s got a quietly impressive rising sophomore trio in Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, and Au’Diese Toney, and adds five newcomers to establish the core of his future team. There’s likely still some growing pains to come this season, but don’t be surprised if they continue to improve and knock off their fair share of league foes. An NIT berth will be an excellent next step for this young program.
#10 – Clemson
A ton of turnover hits the Tigers with every starter but Aamir Simms having graduated. A trio of transfers (traditional sit-out big man Jonathan Baehre, grad transfer wings Curran Scott and Tevin Mack) will likely step straight into the starting lineup. They’ll likely lean on a quartet of freshman guards and wings to round out the rotation. But Clemson struggles to get over the hump even with roster stability, only making the NIT last year; it’s hard to work up a lot of excitement for Brad Brownell’s crew when he’s got four starters to replace with mostly new faces.
Tier 3: NCAAT Bubble Worthy
#9 – Miami
Jim Larranaga has only four returning players to work with, though Chris Lykes, Dejan Vasiljevic, and Sam Waardenburg all played starters’ minutes. Kam McGusty comes in from Oklahoma, and some four star freshmen guards will round out the attack. But the Canes played abysmal defense last year, 14th in the ACC per Pomeroy, and it’s hard to bet that it will be entirely fixed in one offseason. The talent is certainly there, a ton of former four star guards to deploy, but the last few years this program has just failed to click. It might talent its way to an NCAAT berth, but it’s going to be very inconsistent along the way.
Tier 2: Top 25 Potential
#8 – Syracuse
The Orange lose four starters and most all of their stars, returning only wing Elijah Hughes from its lead lineup. But they are deep this year, returning a number of role players, hopefully getting Howard Washington back at 100%, and adding a diverse freshman class. This team is light on star power, but has a number of solid options both up top and in the post. The Orange even get the benefit of a summer trip to Europe giving them a leg up on chemistry. Boeheim will get this squad to the Big Dance, but whether they’re ranked material is to be determined.
#7 – Notre Dame
Injuries have affected the Irish the last two years, and they tumbled to the bottom of the ACC as a result. This year they get the benefit of heavy continuity however; only wing DJ Harvey is gone, everyone else is back, including the return to form of forward Nate Pfleuger. They’ll need to figure out their defensive issues, but led by the excellent inside-out duo of John Mooney and Temple Gibbs, if they can stay healthy and sophomores Laszewski and Hubb take a step forward, this team could make genuine noise.
T-#5 – North Carolina State
State was maddening last year in Kevin Keatts’ second year, scoring just 24 points in one loss, giving up 113 in another. The Pack lose forward Torin Dorn but bring back the rest of their main rotation, including star guard Markell Johnson. Tons of potential, but Keatts needs to get this team to turn a mental corner, to learn how to be consistent game-to-game and revel in the ACC grind. His UNC-W teams had that winner’s mentality in the CAA, but it’s an open question if the Pack put it all together this year. They could go on a tear, or they could crash into the NIT again. Putting them on the bubble at the moment feels appropriate.
T-#5 – Florida State
It sometimes feel like Leonard Hamilton has a self-sustaining pipeline of big athletic wings and forwards, but this year there’s a large amount of turnover to account for with six rotation players gone. Trent Forrest and MJ Walker will take the reins as the veteran guards, but a large group of returning role players, transfers, and freshmen will compete to round out the rest of the lineup. Star rookie Patrick Williams is getting a lot of preseason love as the next great scoring wing in Tallahassee, but defense could be an issue with so many new pieces to integrate.
Tier 1: ACC Front-Runners
#4 – North Carolina
Talent won’t be a problem, but experience will. They return only one of their top 6 from last year (big man Garrison Brooks), and will be leaning on grad transfers (Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce) and 5-star freshmen (Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot) to provide punch. Roy’s best teams of the last decade featured incumbent veterans with established chemistry, and the turnover could manifest as inconsistency. Keep an eye on sophomore wing Rechon “Leaky” Black to potentially breakout as he’s now healthy and out of Cam Johnson’s shadow.
#3 – Virginia
The Hoos return a quality quartet of Kihei Clark, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, and Jay Huff, along with coach Tony Bennett, which means Virginia will be dangerous. But college basketball today is a guard-driven game, and this roster feels one guard short of getting over the hump to another ACC crown. On top of that, the Hoos’ Pack Line leans heavily on experience in the system to be lethal, and UVA will be asking three newcomers to play major roles, potentially reducing its effectiveness while it gets up to speed. Still a dangerous team, but maybe one taking a step back this year.
#2 – Louisville
The Cards are the media darlings this year, as they return ACC PoY candidate Jordan Nwora and a host of contributors, plus add some elite freshmen. Chris Mack also gets the benefit of the doubt as a proven winner in the Big East at Xavier. They had trouble closing out games last year, so they’ll need to prove early they can handle the spotlight. But for now they’re the lone ACC team that can boast talent, experience, and depth all combined.
#1 – Duke
The coup wasn’t the stud freshman class, which is great though the overall talent level comes up short of some of the recent recruiting hauls, as this class lacks surefire elite guards or wings. Instead the coup was the return of PG Tre Jones, their first incumbent PG since Quinn Cook. The front court has a nice mix of veterans (Javin Delaurier and Jack White) and high-upside freshman (Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt), but the 2- and 3-spots will need some sorting out before they can truly take the leap to contender.
Preseason Power Rankings
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