Duke is the pick, but watch out for Louisville
It was a banner season for the ACC. Three No. 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, the national champion, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, six lottery picks and 10 first-round picks.
Now, the conference is dealing with heavy personnel losses. Duke and North Carolina each lost four starters; Virginia lost its three best players; Florida State lost five of its top seven; Virginia Tech lost all five starters and its head coach. As a whole, the league is bidding farewell to all 10 of the players selected first- and second-team All-ACC.
That doesn’t mean the league is suddenly irrelevant, though.
Duke is reloading with an elite recruiting class and enters the season as the favorite to win its first regular-season title since 2010. The Blue Devils will be chased by a trio of the usual suspects: Louisville, North Carolina, and Virginia. Louisville is deep, balanced and experienced, while Roy Williams brought in reinforcements to keep the Tar Heels in the hunt. Virginia faces a litany of questions, but it’s Tony Bennett and Virginia — they’re going to figure it out.
Despite the multitude of teams reloading, there are at least three national championship contenders in the league.
No more Zion. No more RJ. No more Cam. But the Blue Devils are still the favorites to win the conference thanks to the return of Tre Jones and the arrival of another loaded recruiting class that features two five-star prospects.
When Jordan Nwora decided to return to the Cardinals, it cemented Chris Mack’s team as a legitimate Final Four threat. Louisville has a versatile and talented frontcourt and brings in a long list of impact newcomers.
Roy Williams completely rebuilt this team’s outlook last spring, adding freshman Cole Anthony and two of the best graduate transfers in the country in Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling. They’re a contender once again.
It’s a total rebuild for the national champions. Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key and Kihei Clark are back to lend some experience, but the Cavaliers’ newcomers will need to make an early impact.
5. NC STATE
The Wolfpack collapsed in conference play, but they’ll be back in the mix, returning six of their top seven scorers — led by Markell Johnson and C.J. Bryce.
6. FLORIDA STATE
The Seminoles were one of the best teams in the country over the final two months last season. They’ll be hard-pressed to regain that form this season, but keep an eye on freshman Patrick Williams.
7. NOTRE DAME
Expect a bounce-back season from the Fighting Irish, who return all but one key piece from a year ago. John Mooney is underrated on a national scale, while T.J. Gibbs is a veteran guard.
Jim Larranaga has an intriguing, perimeter-oriented team on his hands. Diminutive guard Chris Lykes is terrific, and they add four-star guards Harlond Beverly and Isaiah Wong.
The Orange lose Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard, and they will need to find offensive punch. Elijah Hughes has the makeup of a go-to-guy, and incoming guard Joe Girard was one of the best scorers in the country.
10. GEORGIA TECH
After showing flashes of competitiveness, Tech should take a step forward. Jose Alvarado and James Banks III form a solid inside-outside duo. Michael Devoe is a knockdown shooter.
Brad Brownell has to replace four starters, and he will rely heavily on newcomers. Tevin Mack and Curran Scott are eligible immediately, and freshman guard Al-Amir Dawes will contribute right away.
12. BOSTON COLLEGE
Ky Bowman left early for the pro ranks, meaning Jim Christian has to replace an ACC star for the second year in a row. Look for Jairus Hamilton to potentially break out this season.
13. WAKE FOREST
This is a key season for Danny Manning’s future in Winston-Salem. Brandon Childress and Chaundee Brown were productive last season, and Charlotte transfer Andrien White brings scoring punch.
The Panthers are 7–47 in the ACC over the last three years. Jeff Capel brings in a quality freshman class and also returns double-figure scorers Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
15. VIRGINIA TECH
It won’t be an easy task for Mike Young in his debut season. All five starters are gone, and the top returning scorer averaged fewer than five points per game.
Player of the Year: Jordan Nwora, Louisville
Best Defensive Player: Tre Jones, Duke
Most Underrated Player: Dwayne Sutton, Louisville
Newcomer of the Year: Cole Anthony, North Carolina
Cole Anthony, Fr., G, North Carolina
Vernon Carey Jr., Fr., C, Duke
Markell Johnson, Sr., G, NC State
Tre Jones, So., G, Duke
Jordan Nwora, Jr., F ,Louisville
Mamadi Diakite, Sr., F, Virginia
Matthew Hurt, Fr., F, Duke
Xavier Johnson, So., G, Pittsburgh
Chris Lykes Jr., G, Miami
John Mooney, Sr., F, Notre Dame
James Banks III, Sr., F/C, Georgia Tech
T.J. Gibbs, Sr., G, Notre Dame
Braxton Key, Sr., G, Virginia
Nik Popovic, Sr., F, Boston College
Pat Williams, Fr., F, Florida State