ACC basketball takes its turn in the realignment blender in 2013-14, adding three of the best teams from the fissioning Big East. That much new talent, added to the usual Tobacco Road behemoths, puts the league back in its familiar position of contending for the title of the country's best conference.
North Carolina knows a thing or two about excelling on a national stage, and this year's Tar Heels are out to prove that last March's No. 8 seed was an aberration. Agile PF James Michael McAdoo is the best—but far from the only—example of the top-drawer athletes who will have UNC back in the race for the top of the ACC standings.
Herein, a closer look at Roy Williams' squad, along with previews of all 14 other teams in the revamped conference (presented in order of projected finish). You'll also find picks for some of the postseason award winners (including Player of the Year), along with a prediction for the winner of the ACC tournament.
Top Newcomers: G Adam Smith
Key Losses: G Erick Green, G Robert Brown
Outlook: This was a last-place team even with Green scoring more points than any player in the country. Now that he's graduated, Jarell Eddie and the rest of the meager returning talent will be among the worst teams in any major conference.
Top Newcomers: F Donnavan Kirk, G Manu LeComte, G DeAndre Burnett
Key Losses: G Shane Larkin, C Kenny Kadji, F Reggie Johnson, G Durand Scott
Outlook: The mass exodus of last year's starting lineup leaves the erstwhile ACC champs in a deep hole.
Swingman Rion Brown is a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat, but he'll need lots of help from the unproven likes of DePaul transfer Kirk and freshmen LeComte and Burnett.
Top Newcomers: G Patrick Rooks, G Austin Ajukwa
Key Losses: F Devin Booker, F Milton Jennings
Outlook: Despite the severe graduation losses inside, K.J. McDaniels (an astounding shot-blocker at 6'6") will keep the Tigers' defense from falling apart.
However, rescuing what was already a weak offense—especially given the lack of a viable point guard—will be beyond him, as will making Clemson relevant in the ACC.
Top Newcomers: G Coron Williams, F Greg McClinton
Key Losses: G C.J. Harris
Outlook: Harris' graduation leaves the offense firmly in the hands of senior forward Travis McKie. He won't be nearly enough to make the Demon Deacons winners, even with help from sophomore rebounding whiz Devin Thomas.
Top Newcomers: F Jarquez Smith
Key Losses: G Michael Snaer, F Terrance Shannon
Outlook: Snaer's graduation leaves a giant hole in the offense. Athletic Okaro White will have to serve as a go-to scorer in addition to a defensive stopper, and he won't get much scoring help from the guards.
On the other hand, the Seminoles' experience will help them come a lot closer to Leonard Hamilton's high defensive standards this year.
Top Newcomers: F BeeJay Anya, G Anthony Barber, G Ralston Turner
Key Losses: F C.J. Leslie, F Richard Howell, G Lorenzo Brown, G Rodney Purvis
Outlook: At least excessive expectations won't be a problem in Raleigh this season. The offense still has some weapons left in sophomores Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren (though the latter desperately needs to improve his foul shooting).
Freshman Anya will help as a shot-blocker, but classmate Barber (at 6'2") will struggle with some of the conference's bigger guards.
Top Newcomers: F Evan Smotrycz, G Roddy Peters
Key Losses: C Alex Len, G Pe'Shon Howard, G Logan Aronhalt
Outlook: Len and Howard (gone to the NBA and USC, respectively) will be tough to replace, but there are still some noteworthy weapons here.
Shaquille Cleare has shown potential as an earth-mover type inside, while Dez Wells provides respectable scoring punch. If freshman Peters can fill the need for a real point guard, this offense will surprise some people.
Top Newcomers: G Trae Golden
Key Losses: G Brandon Reed, G Mfon Udofia
Outlook: Golden, a Tennessee transfer, adds a proven point guard to a roster that sorely needed one.
The senior has a battle-tested team around him, given that sophomores Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter Jr. carried the team as freshmen. If any of the youngsters makes a big jump in production, the Yellow Jackets could be a sleeper to watch.
Top Newcomers: F Michael Young
Key Losses: C Steven Adams, G Tray Woodall
Outlook: The Panthers return quality players, even if the quantity is lacking. Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson are a potent pair of forwards, while sophomore James Robinson appears ready to replace the graduated Woodall at the point.
The talent level drops off noticeably after that trio, though, which will limit how far this team can go in a deep conference.
Top Newcomers: F Alex Dragicevich
Key Losses: F Andrew Van Nest
Outlook: The entire starting lineup returns from a young team that came within one point each of upsetting Duke and Miami in Chestnut Hill.
With sturdy Ryan Anderson inside and an army of three-point shooters outside (now including Notre Dame transfer Dragicevich), expect these Eagles to complete a few eye-opening upsets in 2013-14.
Top Newcomers: F Anthony Gill
Key Losses: G Jontel Evans
Outlook: Evans, the roster's only true point guard, will be sorely missed now that he's graduated.
However, marksman Joe Harris will keep the offense respectable, and the defense (including physical forward Akil Mitchell) will be overpowering.
Top Newcomers: G Demetrius Jackson, F V.J. Beachem
Key Losses: F Jack Cooley
Outlook: Cooley's graduation exacerbates the imbalance on what was already a perimeter-heavy team.
Still, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins give the Irish a Final Four-caliber backcourt, and that's enough firepower to go a long way even with a pedestrian group of big men.
Top Newcomers: F Isaiah Hicks, F Kennedy Meeks
Key Losses: G Dexter Strickland, G Reggie Bullock
Outlook: With a turbulent offseason behind them, the Tar Heels could be anywhere from good to great in 2013-14.
James Michael McAdoo (with his superstar potential and solid productivity) will have the most to say about which end of that spectrum his team occupies, but playmaker Marcus Paige and much-criticized wing P.J. Hairston will also play crucial roles.
Top Newcomers: F Jabari Parker, F Rodney Hood, G Matt Jones
Key Losses: F Mason Plumlee, F Ryan Kelly, G Seth Curry
Outlook: Parker, the nation's No. 2 recruit, will go a long way toward replacing star big man Plumlee (even though the freshman SF will be out of position in the post).
This year's Blue Devils will be small but devastatingly quick, with sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon leading Coach K's typical arsenal of three-point threats. PG Quinn Cook, meanwhile, is an underrated talent on both ends of the floor.
Top Newcomers: G Tyler Ennis, F Michael Gbinije
Key Losses: G Michael Carter-Williams, G Brandon Triche
Outlook: Duke transfer Gbinije will probably slide over to the 2-guard spot in a rebuilt backcourt, where freshman Ennis will handle the point guard duties instead of superstar Carter-Williams (now with the 76ers).
Fortunately for the youngster, the Orange front line is one of the nation's best and deepest, led by top scorer C.J. Fair and shot-blocking Rakeem Christmas.
The Orange aren't quite as talented as Duke in the starting lineup, but their impenetrable 2-3 zone will give them a huge edge against ACC foes who aren't yet used to facing it.
Jabari Parker is precisely the kind of coachable, multi-talented forward that Coach K loves to turn into a superstar.
The Chicago product is well along that road already, and his similarity in build and skill set to former Blue Devil Shane Battier bodes well for his college performance.
The best perimeter defender in the 2013 freshman class, Parker is also the best of many explosive scorers on Duke's roster. He should have no trouble securing this honor, even with Syracuse's Tyler Ennis likely to turn in an impressive year of his own.
Entering the ACC in a year that figures to see deep postseason runs from both Duke and North Carolina is a daunting prospect for any team.
Syracuse, though, brings its usual not-so-secret weapon: Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone, the most consistent defensive system in the country.
NCAA tournament play has shown time and again that teams who aren't familiar with the zone (hello, Indiana Hoosiers!) frequently fall apart against a good Syracuse squad.
This year's Orange are better than good—especially on D—and Boeheim will edge out fellow Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski for his first Coach of the Year award in his new conference (and fifth such award overall).
No, C.J. Fair doesn't have anywhere near the potential of Duke freshman Jabari Parker. However, where Parker will be sharing the spotlight with a host of other offensive weapons, Fair is the main man at Syracuse by a wide margin.
The 6'8" senior is an improving outside shooter who uses his length to great effect inside.
He's one of the nation's most impressive dunkers—just ask Otto Porter Jr., the victim of a Fair throwdown in last year's Big East tourney—and he's also the best all-around weapon in the mighty Syracuse zone.
Although Syracuse is likely to edge out Duke in the standings, the Blue Devils actually hold a head-to-head advantage over the Orange. The hardest thing for a zone to guard is an offense where all five players can shoot, and that's what Duke will feature this season.
Duke is also a team that (thanks to Coach K) routinely features some of the best ball movement of any offense in the country.
In short, a likely ACC final between Syracuse and Duke will be to the Blue Devils' benefit for more reasons than just their pseudo home-court edge in Greensboro.