The ACC has traditionally been one of college basketball’s toughest conferences. With Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame being added to the mix last year, and Louisville this year, the ACC shapes up to be among the most difficult of conferences once again this season. Ten teams could be representing the ACC come tournament time, the most, by-far, for any conference.
Coming off an early exit from last year’s tournament, expectations are high in Durham once again. The Blue Devils will attempt to replace their top two scorers from last season (lottery picks Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) with a recruiting class that was the consensus top in the nation. Duke has four returning rotation players from last year in guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon and in forwards Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee, but legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski will have the difficult task of incorporating four highly touted freshman into the rotation.
Consensus number-one recruit, Jahlil Okafor, was recently named the AP’s preseason Player of the Year, becoming just the third freshman since 2010 to earn such honours. He figures to make an impact immediately, already being compared to the likes of Blake Griffin, but it will likely fall on the shoulders of freshman guards, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, as well as freshman forward, Justice Winslow, to determine the ceiling of this squad.
Not to be outdone by the rival Blue Devils, the Tar Heels have their own preseason AP First Team star in guard Marcus Paige. Unlike Duke, however, UNC has some question marks when it comes to its supporting cast. Roy Williams surely has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to supplementing the scoring of his elite guard, and it looks like it will fall on the shoulders of forwards Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, and guard Justin Jackson. The elite teams in the ACC have depth that will surely challenge the Tar Heels but the star power of Marcus Paige should be enough to keep North Carolina in the hunt for a number-one seed for the majority of the season.
Rick Pitino and the Cardinals are the latest elite school to join the ACC and they bring with them a 6’8 beast in Montrezl Harrell. This forward has been on my radar since watching him take over in the 2012 Big East tournament and the junior is sure to see his draft stock rise playing in the star-studded ACC. He completes the trifecta of ACC stars among the preseason AP First Team honours and could very well end up as the conference POY when it’s all said and done (likewise with Coach Pitino and the COY award).
The loss of Russ Smith will be sorely missed in the backcourt (along with the Russ-diculous phrase), and the pressure will be on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier to go up against some of the best guards in the country night-in and night-out in this conference. Wayne Blackshear should help solidify this backcourt.
The defending ACC regular season AND playoff champions are in tough this year, losing key contributors in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. The Cavaliers do however three of their top five scorers returning from last year in guard Malcolm Brodgon and forwards Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill. Coach Tony Bennett’s defensive style of coaching should be applicable to this group and Brogdon looks poised to make the jump for stardom this season.
The sophomore season for the Orange in the ACC has many question marks. They head into the season as the preseason 23rd ranked team in the nation. Losing Tyler Ennis, CJ Fair, and Jerami Grant, Cuse probably lost the most talent in the nation. Freshman PG Kaleb Joseph will be the key to SU’s success this season, along with contributions from guard Trevor Cooney and forward Rakeem Christmas.
Best of the Rest:
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
10. NC State
First Team All-ACC
G- Jerian Grant, Senior, Notre Dame
G- Marcus Paige, Junior, UNC
G- Malcolm Brodgon, Junior, Virginia
F- Montrezl Harrell, Junior, Louisvile
F- Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, Duke