ACC basketball preseason rankings: 2015-16 preview
The ACC produced the national champion last season in Duke, and there's a better than good chance the league is going to turn out three more title contenders this season.
North Carolina is the cream of the crop, and the Tar Heels are going to be a migraine-level headache for every opponent this season. Virginia continues to be stocked with talent and will frustrate teams with its defense, and Duke is, you know, Duke. Mike Krzyzewski lost a lot of talent, but he also replaced his NBA Draft picks with more talent, and the Blue Devils are again a top 10 team.
The league takes a step back beyond that top trio, but the rest of the ACC is pretty even, and there is going to a full winter of battles ahead of ACC fans. Keep an eye on Florida State and Miami (Fla.), two teams with a lot of talent and a chip on their shoulders. Both of those ballclubs are going to score their share of wins, and they have the attitude needed to pull off some upsets.
When the dust settles, however, it will be the play of UNC's Marcus Paige that could be the difference maker in the league. Paige needs to take the next step and avoid the injury problems that have plagued him in the past, but if he reaches his full potential, this could be a banner year for the Tar Heels.
ACC Basketball Preseason Rankings
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels will be in the hunt for an NCAA title. Roy Williams welcomes back his top four scorers from last season and features six McDonald's All-Americans. Guard Marcus Paige is in the conversation as the best guard in the country, and he's itching to prove he can take his game to another level this season. Forwards Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson have the skills to take over, and big man Kennedy Meeks has taken some strides. Williams has a leader in Paige, plenty of depth and multiple talented bigs in the paint. Anything less than a trip to the Final Four will be a disappointment for this hungry, experienced group.
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2. Virginia Cavaliers
Tony Bennett continues to work wonders for the Cavaliers, and Virginia still can lean on Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes to push this team far. Mike Tobey is a great piece inside, and the Cavs' defense is always special. The question mark is the lack of a consistent No. 2 scorer to help take pressure off Brogdon. Forward Marial Shayok has the skills to be that guy, but whether he comes through remains to be seen. That said, UVA is going to be a tough team in the ACC and a tough out in the Big Dance.
3. Duke Blue Devils
The defending national champs lost a lot after last season, but c'mon. This is Duke. Coach K's boys never fall off too much. Yes, Duke lost its top five scorers from last season, and will miss the sheer talent of Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, but those guys are the past. Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton will be the latest crop of Duke players to hate (if that's your thing), and with Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen looking to take the next step, Mike Krzyzewski has the tools to get back to the Final Four.
4. Louisville Cardinals
So, anything interesting going on in Louisville? It remains to be seen how the off-the-court issues impact the Cardinals this season, but from a pure talent standpoint, Louisville figures to be competitive as always. The issue is roster losses have left Rick Pitino's team weaker than it has been in a while, and this doesn't figure to be a team that will battle for an ACC crown. Damion Lee is a nice pickup after transferring from Drexel, and Trey Lewis put up some fine numbers at Cleveland State. But those guys also have never played a game in the ACC, and Louisville is going to miss Montrezl Harrell in the paint. Pitino has size, but it's a long way from being quality at this point. And, of course, the question all season will be how many players will get hooked into the messy scandal that is the black cloud surrounding the program.
5. Florida State Seminoles
Grab the popcorn and watch the chemistry experiment that's about to go down in Tallahassee. A ton of talent returns in Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Montay Brandon and Devin Bookert, and that group brings a lot of skills to the floor. But something is going to have to give with three talented freshmen coming on, including big man Dwayne Bacon. If the kids can blend with the vets, the Seminoles will have the tools to pull off some upsets and get back to the NCAA Tournament. If the chemistry isn't right, things could be downright explosive at FSU.
6. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Yeah, losing Trevor Lacey is going to hurt Mark Gottfried's squad, but there still is some talent on the roster. Cat Barber showed a lot of promise, and Beejay Anya—a kid who has dropped some LBs in an effort to improve his quickness—is ready to make a bigger impact. Transfer Terry Henderson and freshman Maverick Rowan will be key to filling the void left by Lacey, but this is as good a group of guards as you'll find outside of North Carolina and Duke in the ACC.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish captured the nation last season, and Jerian Grant was a special player. So was Pat Connaughton. But neither Jerian nor Pat are walking through the door for Mike Brey, and it's time to shine for Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste this year. Jackson showed plenty of promise, and if Auguste can continue to develop like he did during the NCAA Tournament last season, the Fighting Irish will still be plenty competitive. Forward V.J. Beachem and guard Steve Vasturia are better than solid, but neither are the takeover scorers Grant was last season. Another trip the NCAA Tournament is likely, but it will be a tougher hill to climb this season.
8. Miami Hurricanes
If Miami were in a different league, this team could challenge for a conference crown. In the ACC, however, the Hurricanes are a step below the elite. Sheldon McLellan, Tonye Jekiri and Angel Rodriguez are quality scorers who can hurt teams inside and out, and the 'Canes will be hungry to prove they belong. The other piece of good news is the team's league schedule lines up pretty favorably—Miami has to take on Virginia, Duke and North Carolina just once this year. The talent is there, and if the 'Canes can improve on the boards, an NCAA Tourney bid should be expected.
9. Syracuse Orange
The Orange are a bit of a mess going into the season, but they have the talent to smooth things out by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. Head coach Jim Boeheim will sit out the first nine games of the ACC season thanks to a suspension, but a solid, experienced backcourt of Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije and Kaleb Joseph should provide a rudder for 'Cuse. There is some talent coming onboard in the form of four four-star freshmen, but this still is an Orange roster that is a step below what it has been in the past. Look for the Orange to spend the season on the bubble.
10. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pitt took a step back last season, and the Panthers are going to be hungry to bounce back this season. With Mike Young and Jamel Artis returning up front, Jamie Dixon has a pair of experienced guys to lean on in the paint. Both have to improve defensively, and just finding consistency will be critical. Point guard James Robinson is experienced, as well, and he needs to step up his game this season. Simply finding an edge on defense and taking that part of the game seriously will do wonders for Pitt.
11. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Brian Gregory is on the hot seat. That's the bad news. The good news is the Yellow Jackets lost a baker's dozen of games last season by seven points or less in the ACC, and the addition of three transfers should provide an instant injection of talent. Marcus Georges-Hunt is a solid scorer from the perimeter, and he will be helped by Nick Jacobs, Adam Smith and James White—all guys with college experience who will see a lot of minutes early on. Smith is a fantastic outside shooter, and he's going to stretch the defense to open some lanes for his teammates.
12. Clemson Tigers
Brad Brownell is in Year Six with the Tigers, and he has little to show for it. The problem is he likely won't show much this season. Jaron Blossomgame is solid at forward and averaged a tick below 14 points a game last season, but he can't do it alone. Point guard Avry Holmes and center Landry Christ Nnoko are nice pieces, but they don't' have the same juice as some of the other players in the ACC. Brownell could be facing a make-or-break year, and there are a lot of cracks in his program.
13. Boston College Eagles
Eagles fans will definitely need a program with eight newcomers on the roster, and Jim Christian's leading returning scorer, Dennis Clifford, averaged just 6.9 points a game last year. Clifford is a quality center, but it will be the play of guards Eli Carter and Darryl Hicks who will be the keys to success or failure this year. A lack of talent from top to bottom is in an issue, especially in a league as tough as the ACC. Hang in there, Eagles fans. It's going to be a tough year.
14. Virginia Tech Hokies
The exodus of players since Buzz Williams' arrival from Marquette has left Virginia Tech with a lot of unanswered questions, but he's building a roster that fits his needs. The problem is it's also a program in transition, which will make this a tough season for Hokies fans. Justin Bibbs and Seth Allen are nice pieces, but there isn't a lot of help behind them.
15. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Head coach Danny Manning has a vision, but it will take time for that vision to become reality. Top 100 recruits Doral Moore and Bryant Crawford will help, and point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre is the kind of player who can hurt teams inside and out. Forwards Devin Thomas and Konstantinos Mitoglou will certainly help on the boards and provide a challenge for opponents in the paint, but unless the Demon Deacons take long strides defensively, this is going to be another frustrating season as Manning sets the foundation of his program.
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