ACC Season Preview
Will Marcus Paige lead North Carolina to an ACC Title and a trip to Houston. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today)

ACC Season Preview

The ACC has the reigning National Champion and the AP number one team in the country. Will the conference exceed expectations and how many bids will it get in the big dance?

John Mitchell

The ACC should once again be one of the top conferences in the country. The ACC is also home to last year’s National Champion in the Duke Blue Devils and this year's AP number one team in the country in the North Carolina Tar Heels. So the league won’t lack star power.

The depth in the league should also be fantastic. The ACC, from top to bottom, should be vastly improved from a year ago. Teams like Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech will not be pushovers, especially on the road.

This should be a fantastic season in the ACC. The league could see seven to eight bids in this year’s NCAA tournament. Below is a predicted order of finish and some comments about each team.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels- As mentioned above, they are the preseason number one team in the NCAA Tournament. It is not your typical UNC recruiting class as they will not have any impact freshman, but they have the best returning players in the country. North Carolina returns nine of their top 10 scorers from a year ago. Marcus Paige is a pre-season All-American candidate. Justin Jackson showed flashes of greatness and will only get better in his sophomore year. Kennedy Meeks has continued to get himself in better shape and should be even better during his junior campaign. North Carolina is loaded, and unless they have any unfortunate injuries, they should be looked at as a top contender to get to the Final Four in Houston.

2. Virginia Cavaliers- Tony Bennett and company have been one of the most consistent programs in the country the past few years. The Cavaliers have won the ACC Regular Season title the past two seasons and have earned a one and two seed in the NCAA tournament over that time. The beat should go on for Virginia this upcoming year. They do lose Justin Anderson, who was a leader for this team, but Virginia is no stranger to playing without Anderson as he was hurt for a good amount of last season. Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes make up one of the best backcourts in the county, and Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill will anchor the interior. It will be curious to see how Virginia handles the new 30-second shot clock, but make no mistake about it—Virginia will contend for the ACC and a trip to the Final Four again this season.

3. Duke Blue Devils-The reigning National Champions have many concerns. Who will be the primary scorer? Who will be the backup point guard? Will they be athletic enough on the interior to compete? Make no mistake about it, Duke will be a vastly different team this year. They lost three first round picks in Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, while losing a great leader in Quinn Cook. Grayson Allen showed glimpses of greatness last year when he got his opportunity, particularly in the National Championship game. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are veterans who will control the block for Duke. The Blue Devils also bring in highly touted freshman Brandon Ingram, who was voted the pre-season freshman of the year. Derryck Thornton, who graduated early from high school, will control the point guard position fo Duke. It should be interesting to see how Duke meshes, especially early on in the season. Duke could easily finish as low as fifth in the ACC, but it's a safe bet that Coach K will figure it out early and this Duke team should be solid come February.

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish- A lot of people like Miami and it's understandable, but Notre Dame brings back some great pieces that won the ACC tournament last year and played Kentucky to the final minutes in the Elite Eight. Demetrius Jackson is an elite player and Zach Auguste is a fantastic returning post man. Expect Bonzie Colson to really step up this year, on top of the returns of Irish sharp-shooter Steve Vasturia and role player V.J. Beachem. It’s no secret that Notre Dame probably lost its best two players in Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Mike Brey is a very talented coach and could lead his Notre Dame team as high as third in the ACC.

5.Miami Hurricanes- Many experts have Miami finishing as high as third in the ACC and it's totally possible, but this writer is not as high on the Hurricanes. Yes, they return their top four scorers and showed how good they could be when they dominated Duke in Cameron last year. But lets not forget that Miami returns their top scorers off a team that only went to the NIT. Miami will most likely go to the NCAA tournament this year but this team still needs to learn how to win consistently.

6.Florida State Seminoles- No team in the ACC returns more starters than Florida State, who brings back 89.7 percent of them. They bring back one of, if not, the best scorers in the conference in Xavier Rathan-Mayes. They also get back Aaron Thomas who missed all but six games last year due to injury, but was a highly touted recruit and should make Florida State one of the top backcourts in the ACC. Florida State also brings in a five-star freshman in Dwayne Bacon. The Seminoles should make the NCAA tournament and should compete for a top four seed in the ACC.

7. NC State Wolfpack- Anthony "Cat" Barber is one of the best point guards in the country. The Wolfpack has reached the Sweet 16 twice in the past four seasons and could make another run at it this year. Trevor Lacy going pro was a disappointment for NC State. NC State has one of the best interiors in the ACC in Abdul-Malik Abi and BeeJay Anya. The Wolfpack can be very good and a lot will depend on their supporting cast.

8. Syracuse Orange- The Orange bring back the bulk of their team from last year including Michael Gbinije, Tyler Roberson, Kaleb Joseph and three-point specialist Trevor Cooney. Syracuse should be dramatically better on offense this year but did lose its best defender in Rakeem Christmas. Head coach Jim Boeheim will be suspended for the first nine games in the ACC, so time will tell what impact that has on Syracuse. Syracuse seems like a prime candidate for the team that is squarely on the bubble come selection Sunday.

9. Pittsburgh PanthersMichael Young and Jamel Artis will lead the Panthers this year. Jaime Dixon’s team has been down the past couple years but they are always a candidate to re-emerge. If Pittsburgh can stay healthy and the Panthers role players can contribute, than they could return to the NCAA tournament.

10. Louisville Cardinals- It may come to a shock to many people reading this wondering how in the world Louisville is the tenth best team in its own conference. The truth is, this writer is very down on Louisville this year for a variety of reasons. First of all, the controversy surrounding the program should weigh in the minds of the coaching staff and players throughout the year. The Cardinals did bring in two very good fifth-year seniors in Damion Lee and Trey Lewis who should lead the team in scoring this year. But Louisville did lose most of its production from a year ago and there seems to be too many obstacles in their way this year. Do not be surprised if this is Rick Pitino’s last season in Louisville.

11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons- The loss of Codi-Miller-McIntyre is really unfortunate for the Demon Deacons. He was their leading scorer last year and should miss most of non-conference play. Besides Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest brings back a great interior player in Devin Thomas as well as solid guard in Mitchell Wilbekin. If Wake Forest can remain healthy throughout conference play it would not be a surprise if they finish as high as ninth in the conference. If Wake Forest can learn to win on the road then they could be a real player come March.

12. Virginia Tech Hokies- The Hokies will have a terrific backcourt this year. Justin Bibbs really emerged as a great player for Buzz Williams last year and Seth Allen, who is a transfer from Maryland, will be a great scorer. The backcourt alone will make the Hokies dangerous and they should really improve under Buzz Williams' second year at the helm.

13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- Georgia Tech was a lot closer to being competitive last year than people realize. They were the most snake-bitten team in the ACC losing 13 conference games by an average of 3.6 points a game. Marcus Georges-Hunt is a terrific guard and Charles Mitchell is a real threat on the interior. If Georgia Tech can learn to win close games they could really surprise this year.

14. Clemson Tigers- The Tigers at 14th shows the depth of the conference. Jaron Blossomgame is a real good all-around player for Clemson and they also bring back a great scoring duo in Donte Grantham and Jordan Roper.

15. Boston College Eagles- It is going to be a very long year for the Eagles. Boston College lost just about every contributor outside of their big man Dennis Clifford. They do bring in a solid recruit in Eli Carter but this will be a long year for the Eagles in a very tough ACC.