College Basketball 2014-15: ACC Predictions and Awards

Can Jahlil Okafor help Duke end its brief title drought?

The ACC is bigger than ever and arguably better than ever.

 

At the same time, the conference rarely has been so unpredictable.

 

The arrival of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame was one of the top storylines in the conference last season, especially as Syracuse started the season with 25 consecutive wins, 12 in the league.

 

The Orange, though, couldn’t claim the ultimate prizes. Instead, Virginia became the leader of the league in every sense of the word. The Cavaliers won an outright regular season title, claimed the ACC tournament title and advanced the furthest of any league team in the NCAA Tournament when they reached the Sweet 16.

 

Virginia’s emergence last season was just more evidence that Duke and North Carolina don’t have quite the stranglehold on the ACC they once did. Duke hasn’t won the ACC tourney since 2011. North Carolina hasn’t won it since 2008.

 

Could the pendulum swing back to Tobacco Road in 2014-15? Athlon has projected Duke and Carolina to finish Nos. 1-2 in the ACC thanks to the arrival of potential All-America center Jahlil Okafor in Durham and an experienced roster in Chapel Hill.

 

But the battle for in a 15-team ACC is a gauntlet. Maryland is out and Louisville is in for 2014-15 with the Cardinals joining Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from the Big East.

 

If Duke and North Carolina are going to reassert their dominance in the league this season, rarely has the path been so difficult.

 

Previews of every ACC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.

 

ACC 2014-15 Preseason Picks

 

1. Duke (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four

The nation’s top recruiting class brings four freshmen who can make big impacts right away. Add in a solid mix of veterans and the Blue Devils are the clear favorite.

 

2. North Carolina (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight

Rising star Marcus Paige and a strong nucleus will combine with another talented freshman class to give Roy Williams a deep rotation.

 

3. Louisville (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

Montrezl Harrell is a proven big man and Rick Pitino reloads with yet another strong recruiting crop.

 

4. Virginia (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

The bulk of the rotation from a 30-win team is back, including leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon. 

 

5. Syracuse (team preview)

NCAA projection: NCAA round of 32

No team in the conference may have lost more talent, but the Orange will still be a factor.

 

6. Pittsburgh (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

Jamie Dixon must replace his leading scorer and rebounder, but don’t expect Pitt slide much. 

 

7. Florida State (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

Two double-digit scorers must be replaced, but Leonard Hamilton will have more depth and experience, and plenty of size to work with.

 

8. NC State (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

The Wolfpack will be young, but transfer Trevor Lacey (Alabama) will help make up for the loss of T.J. Warren. 

 

9. Notre Dame (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

The return of Jerian Grant gives the Irish one of the ACC’s top guards, but there are still glaring holes in the frontcourt.

 

10. Miami

Postseason projection: NIT

Transfer Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) will be a nice addition, but the lack of a supporting cast may leave the Canes in rebuilding mode.

 

11. Clemson (team preview)

Postseason projection: NIT

Tigers were one or two wins away from NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, but losing K.J. McDaniels to the NBA will make everything tougher. 

 

12. Wake Forest

After taking Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament, Danny Manning takes on the hefty task of rebuilding the Deacs.

 

13. Georgia Tech

This is likely make-or-break season for coach Brian Gregory, who has yet to have a winning ACC season in his three years in Atlanta.

 

14. Virginia Tech

The Hokies may have pulled off the best hire of the offseason by convincing Buzz Williams to leave Marquette.

 

15. Boston College

New coach Jim Christian takes over a program that won just eight games last season. 

 

2014 ACC Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Early in the season, North Carolina would go as Marcus Paige did. By the end of the season, Paige went form a streaky player to one of the most consistent in the league. With a stabilized cast around him, Paige could have an All-America kind of season.

 

Best Defensive Player: Aaron Thomas, Florida State

Florida State generally has solid defensive teams under Leonard Hamilton, and the guard Thomas will spearhead that effort again. Thomas finished last season with 14.5 points per game and 57 total steals.

 

Most Underrated Player: Trevor Lacey, NC State

NC State has lost its share of transfers in recent years. The Wolfpack gets one back in Lacey from Alabama. He’ll make up half of a solid scoring tandem with point guard Cat Barber.

 

Newcomer of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Okafor’s reputation as a rare talent precedes him at Duke. The Blue Devils haven’t had a dominant big man for several seasons, and now they’ll have one of the top post prospects to come along in years. He'll be a Player of the Year contender and possible No. 1 overall draft pick.

 

Top Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (full ACC coach rankings)

 

First-Team All-ACC

G Marcus Paige, North Carolina

G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College

G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke

 

Second-Team All-ACC

G Angel Rodriguez, Miami

G Aaron Thomas, Florida State

G Trevor Lacey, NC State

G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

G/F Justin Jackson, North Carolina 

 

Third-Team All-ACC

G Quinn Cook, Duke

G Tyus Jones, Duke

G Terry Rozier, Louisville

G Chris Jones, Louisville

G/F Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame 

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