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, but this year feels particularly strong. As many as twelve teams have legit NCAAT aspirations right now, and the ACC is realistically looking at double-digit bids come Selection Sunday. So how do we rack and stack those 15 teams? Our writers voted, and those 15 teams stratified into four distinct tiers. Read on to see the countdown to #1:
Tier 4: Not this year
#15 - Pittsburgh
Nowhere to go but up from 0-18, of course, but color us skeptical that new coach Jeff Capel is going to overachieve too much this year. This team is best described as "cobbled together," with only two respectable pieces back from last year's team in wing Jared Wilson-Frame and forward Shamiel Stevenson. The rest of the roster is made up of two unimpressive transfers, three promising freshmen who unfortunately don't project to be immediate high-impact, and the rest a bunch of ho-hum former Kevin Stallings recruits who probably belong at mid-majors. Capel has inherited a long-term rebuild, and we'd bet heavily he struggles mightily in year 1. And remember, Capel is best known as a top recruiter, but a poor X's-and-O's guy. Time will tell if this is an area where he's improved, but we're wary.
#14 - Georgia Tech
Josh Pastner's honeymoon period is over, with what looks like a team full of role players to work with this year. PG Jose Alvarado is about the only piece we like, and even he's coming off an injury-shortened (elbow fracture) freshman campaign. He'll team with two seniors in scoring guard Brandon Alston and hustle-forward Abdoulaye Gueye to try and elevate the otherwise painfully young roster featuring four sophomores and three true freshman among their 10 players. The freshmen are promising, all four stars, with combo guard Mike DeVoe and wing Khalid Moore both having potential to be immediate contributors. Maybe in a season or two, Pastner can have this team dangerous. But there's just not enough mature firepower here for this team to win more than a few ACC games this year.
#13 - Wake Forest
They lost 53 ppg from last year's team and are in full-on reset mode. Guards Brandon Childress (yes, that Childress) and Chaundee Brown highlight the few returners (9 and 8 ppg, respectively, last year), while they're joined by 7 newcomers. Two grad transfers are arriving, though the only good one is Northern Arizona's Torry Johnson (14 ppg). Mostly, this year is about the freshmen, as coach Manning went and got himself a blue chip haul. The freshman class is headlined by five star forward Jaylen Hoard, a lock to start from Day 1 (deserved or not), while the four star trio of PG Jamie Lewis, F Isaiah Mucius, and C Christian Lorng all have chances to crack the main rotation. Even with the fresh talent infusion, Wake Forest has never played with much of an identity under Manning, and this year should be another disappointing one in Winston-Salem.
Tier 3: Legit NCAA Tournament Aspirations
#12 - Miami
They've got a good front court with all-ACC-worthy Dewan Hernandez (née Huell) at the 5 and an underrated Anthony Lawrence as the small ball 4. Their backcourt is facing a lot of turnover with the the NBA losses of Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker and the graduation of JaQuan Newton. Returners PG Chris Lykes and sharpshooter Dejan Vasiljevic are joined by transfers Zach Johnson (17 ppg, 3 apg at FGCU) and Anthony Mack (Wyoming), and guard play could be an issue. Lawrence could be forced to move to the 3, which risks Miami being less dynamic on offense. Most concerning, however, is that Miami never seemed to form a defensive identity last year, finishing 10th in the ACC, and they could similarly struggle this year.
#11 - Louisville
The Chris Mack era begins without four of last year's top players, the only proven returner being 5-star wing VJ King. A pair of grad transfers will likely man the guard spots, and while we're high on Christen Cunningham (Samford), we think Kwhan Fore (Richmond) may struggle in a jump to the ACC. The front court is young but promising with Malik Williams at center and small 4 Jordan Nwora, with two transfers backing them up. This team feels like an 8-10, NIT kind of squad, though good health and a couple of upsets (2x vs UNC and UVA as opportunities) could get them in off the bubble.
#10 - Boston College
BC took a respectable step in the right direction by making the NIT last year and winning 7 ACC games. They lose all-ACC Jerome Robinson but bring back absolutely everyone else from that team, giving room for some optimism. PG Ky Bowman played basically every minute of every ACC game last year and brings 18 ppg and almost 5 apg back with him, though turnovers have been an issue. SG Jordan Chatman is also a proven scorer (13 ppg). And in the post there's a respectable rotation of competent big men. The X-Factors will be two new additions, the Hamilton brothers. Elder brother Jared is transferring from Georgia Southern (comes eligible in December), and younger bro Jairus was a Top 100 recruit with a natural scoring pedigree. They'll be given every opportunity to earn playing time and shots on the wing, and if they're ready, watch out. Winning 8 or 9 ACC games isn't a crazy proposition for this team, as they could follow Clemson's model from last year and be the league's surprise NCAAT particpant at year's end.
#9 - North Carolina State
NC State is still in rebuilding mode in year 2 of the Keatts era, with only three players returning from last year's team, though it's a productive 3 players. Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson, and Torin Dorn combined for about 33 points and 13 assists last year and figure as locks to start. Aside them, however, are a confusing mix of six transfers and three freshmen. The safer bets to play meaningful roles are the two grad transfers, scoring guard Eric Lockett (17 ppg at FIU) and big man Wyatt Walker (13 ppg, 9 rpg at Samford), alongside traditional transfers Devon Daniels (Utah) and CJ Bryce (played for Keatts at UNC-W). Thanks to a good ACC schedule (getting to beat up 2x apiece on bottom-feeders Pitt and Wake), State has a realistic shot to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year and score a couple of eye-opening upsets.
#8 - Notre Dame
Notre Dame is transitioning from the Matt Farrell / Bonzie Colson era to the Temple Gibbs / DJ Harvey era. Frankly, Gibbs and Harvey are two incredible pieces to build around, the former a junior guard who broke out last year when injuries to Farrell thrust him into the spotlight, the latter a high ceiling sophomore wing who should thrive with increased opportunities. The question marks come everywhere else on the roster. The trio of Rex Pflueger, Nikola Djogo, and John Mooney are a pretty typical bunch of steady Mike Brey players, lower rated recruits but high IQ and work ethic players. Six newcomers join the roster, with Top 100 freshmen Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski, along with UConn transfer big man Juwan Durham, the most likely to crack the rotation. Notre Dame is a team that will out-execute some opponents this year, but simply be out-talented on other nights.
Tier 2: Top 25 Worthy
#7 - Florida State
The 'Noles lack sure-fire NBA 1st round names this year, but instead boast a well-rounded roster of veteran players. FSU's quality depth at the 2-4 rivals the best in the league with the proven quartet of MJ Walker, Terance Mann, Trent Forrest, and Phil Cofer. The first question mark, as it has been for years now, is point guard, where Albany transfer David Nichols hopefully becomes the answer. The second question mark will be defense, as last year's squad was too experienced, too athletic to have ended up with the #13 defense in the ACC; that's about coaching and want-to, and we'll be watching closely to see if FSU can play complete ball on both ends of the floor. They're an NCAAT team regardless, but they could be near elite if things click.
#6 - Clemson
Last year's breakout program is back with very realistic expectations to repeat the performance. Seniors Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed form a dangerous 1-2 punch in the backcourt and will run an efficient inside-outside game with Elijah Thomas who is the best big man in the ACC that no one is talking about. Thomas scores, rebounds, and rim protects, and along with capable forwards David Skara and Aamir Simms, Clemson will field a well rounded starting five. They'll need some backups to emerge, however, to truly elevate their potential, as former 4-star Anthony Oliver has struggled to break through, and their crop of freshmen looking more like long-term assets than immediate contributors. A soft ACC schedule (getting GT and Pitt twice each, and UNC and UVA at home for their upset shots) will propel Clemson back into the postseason this year.
#5 - Syracuse
The Orange were the ACC's thinnest team last year, regularly going only 6 or 7 deep, en route to an average record but ultimately a Sweet 16 run. Franklin Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett are a great 1-2-3 going downhill, but need to improve their below-average shooting (Brissett's 33% from 3 last year's team best). The trio, who played 40 mpg apiece last year, gets help in the arrival of Top 50 Jalen Carey and ECU transfer Elijah Hughes, and also hope Howard Washington takes a step forward. But ultimately their defense is going to carry them. They had the #5 defense nationally last year, with size and athleticism covering the zone's perimeter, and prototype shot blocker Paschal Chukwu manning the middle. WIth the improved depth, shooting is the only thing holding this 'Cuse squad from definitely giving Boeheim one last great run.
#4 - Virginia Tech
This is VT's year (by VT Basketball standards, that is). On paper this is the best team in program history, led by one of the ACC's best point guards in Justin Robinson. He's got a veteran roster surrounding him, with three fellow seniors (wing Ahmed Hill, sharpshooter Ty Outlaw, and combo forward Chris Clarke) all surrounding the underrated junior center Kerry Blackshear. Along with sophomore wing Nickeil-Alexander Walker, this VT squad can score from anywhere on the floor. Their ceiling will come down to how well the rebound and defend, two things they've never been able to do consistently under Buzz, not with his small, spread lineup. But the talent and experience is there to win a lot of games in both the regular and postseason before most of that talent moves on next summer.
Tier 1: Final Four Aspirations
#3 - North Carolina
We're very high on freshmen Nassir Little and Coby White who have the potential to be high impact starters at the 3 and 1, respectively. The key to top programs winning with blue chip 1-and-dones has been to integrate them with veterans, and UNC has that with the senior trio of stretch-big Luke Maye, combo forward Cam Johnson, and shooting guard Kenny Williams. UNC needs some of its role players to step up, though, as the class of 2016 and '17 recruits have failed to make a big impact to date.
#2 - Duke
Their freshmen foursome of Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett, and Zion Williamson is really scary, to me at least. Possibly the best offensive collection they've had since their last title run. They've got a few potentially trustworthy returning reserves too, in junior center Marques Bolden, junior forward Javin Delaurier, and sophomore shooter Alex O'Connell, forming a potent top 7. In what could be K's last ride (yes, really), he's got the horses to go out with a title.
#1 - Virginia
This is an incredible starting 5, and has a very real claim to arguably the best starting lineup in the ACC, if not the nation, this year. A 5th year and a 4th year in the front court and three 3rd years manning the guard spots, most of them former blue chip recruits and future NBA players, this is the lineup Tony Bennett largely envisioned in 2015 when Diakite, Jerome, Guy, and Hunter all pledged. With the nation's scariest defense and a massive chip on their shoulder, Virginia will be out for blood this year, but will need a bench full of question marks to do their part.
|||Seattle Hoo||Kendall||Karl Hess||Robert||StLouHoo||MaizeAndBlue|
|#2||North Carolina||Virginia||Duke||Duke||North Carolina||Virginia|
|#3||Duke||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina||Virginia||Duke|
|#4||Clemson||Virginia Tech||Syracuse||Virginia Tech||Syracuse||Syracuse|
|#5||Virginia Tech||Syracuse||Virginia Tech||Clemson||Virginia Tech||Clemson|
|#6||Notre Dame||Clemson||Clemson||Syracuse||Florida State||Virginia Tech|
|#7||Syracuse||Florida State||Florida State||Boston College||Clemson||Florida State|
|#8||Louisville||NC State||NC State||Notre Dame||NC State||NC State|
|#9||Florida State||Notre Dame||Boston College||Florida State||Notre Dame||Boston College|
|#10||Boston College||Miami||Notre Dame||Miami||Louisville||Notre Dame|
|#11||Miami||Boston College||Miami||NC State||Boston College||Louisville|
|#13||Georgia Tech||Wake Forest||Wake Forest||Pittsburgh||Wake Forest||Wake Forest|
|#14||Wake Forest||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Wake Forest||Georgia Tech||Pittsburgh|
|#15||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Georgia Tech||Pittsburgh||Georgia Tech|