Predicting the 2014-15 ACC College Basketball Standings
The ACC has four teams that could be ranked in the AP Top 10 when the season begins, but what exactly does the conference figure to look like from top to bottom?
The 2013-14 season wasn't a banner year for what was supposed to be the most impressive conference in the country. It was the first time since 2006 and just the third time since 1979 that a team from the ACC failed to advance to the Elite Eight.
Hoping to make up for a lost season, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia will all be in the mix for a run to the Final Four, and there are a few other teams behind them with more than reasonable aspirations of at least making it to the 2015 NCAA tournament.
In ranking the ACC teams from No. 1 through No. 15, we looked at outgoing seniors, incoming freshmen, D-I transfers, JUCO transfers, redshirts, projected starting fives and conference schedules. For better or worse, no stone was left unturned.
We look forward to your completely civilized disagreements.
15. Boston College Eagles
Leading scorer Olivier Hanlan is back, but the next two guys on the list (Joe Rahon and Ryan Anderson) have transferred away. Unless Darryl Hicks is the greatest redshirt freshman of all time, the Eagles may struggle to win a single ACC game.
14. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The Yellow Jackets were already a pretty below average team in the ACC last season, and they're losing five of the six best scorers from that team. They do get a pair of potentially impactful transfers in Robert Sampson and Demarco Cox, but Marcus Georges-Hunt is the only sure thing on the roster.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies
The good news is they should be marginally better than last season thanks to ESPN 100 recruits Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs. The bad news is they've got a lot of improving to do before they even sniff the NCAA tournament again.
12. Clemson Tigers
Clemson was a pleasant surprise last season, and Brad Brownell was rewarded for it. But what exactly do the Tigers plan on doing without K.J. McDaniels—the player who led the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots? Even with his 17.1 PPG, they were already one of the lowest scoring teams in the country.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
I like the Danny Manning hire, but Wake Forest is losing too much. With Coron Williams and Travis McKie graduating and Arnaud-William Adala Moto deciding to transfer, the Demon Deacons need to replace three players who started at least 10 games last season.
Watch out for this team in 2015-16, though. If Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre stay for four years, Wake Forest is going to be loaded with quality players who were freshmen or sophomores this past season.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2013-14 Record: 15-17 (6-12 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Garrick Sherman, Eric Atkins, Tom Knight
Key Incoming Players: Bonzie Colson Jr.
Projected Starting Five: Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson, Pat Connaughton, Austin Burgett, Zach Auguste
Notre Dame's first year in the ACC was pretty rough. Things fell apart in a hurry after Grant was ruled academically ineligible in late December. The Irish lost 13 of their final 18 games.
But they were right there in most of those games. They were smacked around twice by Virginia, but they had a win over Duke and came pretty close to beating North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
They aren't adding much of anything via transfers or recruits, but having Grant back in the mix could be the difference between another disappointing season and flirting with a tournament bid.
However, replacing Sherman and Atkins will be a challenge and a half. Jackson was their top recruit last season, and he played admirably as a freshman. But he'll need to cut down on turnovers while simultaneously becoming a more assertive scorer in order to minimize the drop from Atkins' production.
Sherman was unquestionably Notre Dame's top interior player, and his graduation leaves this team with some serious question marks in the paint. The Irish have a few options between Auguste, Burgett and Colson—they could also occasionally go with Steve Vasturia as a stretch forward—but not one of them has proven much of anything thus far.
In the end, though, this team only goes as far as Grant can take them. There will be games where he single-handedly snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, but it would be a bit unrealistic to expect him to carry Notre Dame to 20 wins.
9. Florida State Seminoles
2013-14 Record: 22-14 (9-9 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Ian Miller, Okaro White, Robert Gilchrist
Key Incoming Players: Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Phil Cofer, Dayshawn Watkins, Kiel Turpin
Projected Starting Five: Devon Bookert, Aaron Thomas, Montay Brandon, Jarquez Smith, Boris Bojanovsky
Losing Miller and White could be a pretty big problem. White was arguably the Seminoles' best post player while Miller was one of their best three-point shooters.
However, Leonard Hamilton's team should do just fine without them.
Rathan-Mayes was Florida State's top recruit for the 2013-14 season, but the highly rated shooting guard was ruled academically ineligible. Assuming he's allowed to play this year, he'll battle for a starting job. Even if he loses, Bookert and Thomas are plenty capable of handling the load in the backcourt.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles will have an ample amount of length and depth in the frontcourt.
Turpin (7'0") missed last season with a leg injury, but was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Michael Ojo (7'1") plays sparingly, but effectively. And Bojanovsky (7'3") has blossomed into a big man worthy of a starting job.
The Seminoles have been .500 or better in ACC play in six consecutive seasons. Considering the four teams they play twice this season (Clemson, Miami, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech) are all ranked outside the top six on this list, Florida State might be able to stretch that streak to seven years.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers
2013-14 Record: 26-10 (11-7 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna
Key Incoming Players: Sheldon Jeter, Tyrone Haughton, Shaquille Doorson
Projected Starting Five: James Robinson, Cameron Wright, Jeter, Jamel Artis, Michael Young
No team in the country bounced back and forth between being underrated and overrated quite like Pittsburgh did last season. Much like Louisville, the Panthers spent the first three months of the season blowing out bad teams and narrowly losing to good ones—leading to very conflicted RPI and BPI rankings.
They made the tournament, destroyed Colorado and hung fairly well with Florida before closing the books on the senior years of Patterson and Zanna.
This team will look pretty different without its two leading scorers and rebounders.
Artis, Young and Josh Newkirk did quite well last season as freshmen, but there's a fine line between being a role player and being expected to be one of the primary pieces of the offense. We'll see how well they make that shift as sophomores.
Perhaps the most important thing to watch is how well Robinson adjusts to life without Patterson. Robinson was the starting point guard and averaged better than four assists per game, but Patterson was the primary ball-handler. Robinson was only used on 15.0 percent of possessions last year, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
Long story short, just about everyone will need to pick up the slack caused by Pittsburgh's departing players. And if Durand Johnson is unable to recover from the nasty knee injury that prematurely ended his 2013-14 season, that's even more weight falling upon the shoulders of an incredibly young roster.
7. Miami Hurricanes
2013-14 Record: 17-16 (7-11 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Rion Brown, Garrius Adams, Donnavan Kirk, Erik Swoope, James Kelly
Key Incoming Players: Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Ja'Quan Newton, Ivan Cruz Uceda, James Palmer, Deandre Burnett, Omar Sherman
Projected Starting Five: Rodriguez, Manu Lecomte, Newton, Cruz Uceda, Tonye Jekiri
Miami takes the cake for most turnover from last season. The Hurricanes are losing five seniors and one transfer, but should get considerably better in the process.
Jim Larranaga has a pair of incoming guards from the Big 12 in Rodriguez (Kansas State) and McClellan (Texas) who should significantly bolster the offense. Rodriguez, in particular, will give this team a true point guard presence that it desperately lacked in 2013-14. The team leader in assists (Adams) had just 95 dimes, but Rodriguez had 173 two years ago for the Wildcats.
Additionally, Cruz Uceda might end up being the most pivotal JUCO transfer in the entire country. Miami is loaded with players who can play in the backcourt, but Cruz Uceda will either make or break this team in the paint.
The Hurricanes do have Jekiri and Sherman to share duties at center, but unless something changes in the next few months, Cruz Uceda is really the only option at power forward. If he flops at the D-I level, Miami is going to get destroyed on the glass on a regular basis by having to consistently play a four-guard lineup.
But I have faith in Cruz Uceda and in the Hurricanes in general. They won't be anywhere near as good as they were two seasons ago, but they should bounce back nicely from a disappointing 2013-14 campaign to finish just inside the top half of the ACC standings.
6. North Carolina State Wolfpack
2013-14 Record: 22-14 (9-9 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: T.J. Warren, Jordan Vandenberg, Tyler Lewis
Key Incoming Players: Trevor Lacey, Malik-Abdul Abu, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin
Projected Starting Five: Anthony "Cat" Barber, Lacey, Ralston Turner, Abu, Lennard Freeman
For a second straight season, the Wolfpack are losing critical members of their offensive attack.
For the fourth straight season, they'll make the NCAA tournament.
Warren was named the ACC Player of the Year. Replacing him won't be difficult. It will be impossible.
But unlike last season, this should be a well-rounded team. Even with Lewis transferring to Butler, the backcourt of Barber, Lacey and Turner with Desmond Lee coming off the bench could be the best in the conference.
The frontcourt is where things could get a bit messy. The Wolfpack have six options at forward/center, but not one of them is an upperclassman.
Freeman, Kyle Washington and Beejay Anya got a fair amount of playing time last year as freshmen, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue that any proved themselves worthy of a full-time job. Abu and the Martin brothers are all ESPN 100 recruits, but there's no telling when they'll be ready, willing and able to start.
I expect to see Mark Gottfried go with a 10-man rotation this season, and I expect it to do quite well. North Carolina State doesn't have the type of quality depth that Duke or North Carolina does, but the Wolfpack do have a plethora of above-average options.
And if I've learned anything from way too many years of playing fantasy sports, it's that a stars and scrubs strategy can be very hit-or-miss, but filling out your roster with B+ players is a good way to guarantee yourself a spot in the postseason.
5. Syracuse Orange
2013-14 Record: 28-6 (14-4 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant, Baye-Moussa Keita
Key Incoming Players: Chris McCullough, Kaleb Joseph
Projected Starting Five: Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije, McCullough, Rakeem Christmas
From 25-0 to a projected fifth-place finish in the ACC. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Syracuse will still be strong. The Orange lost a lot of important players this offseason, but the individual pieces have never mattered anywhere near as much as how well they fit into Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone.
Still, they have considerably more questions than answers.
If Joseph comes in and takes the world by storm at point guard like Ennis did last season, who's to say Syracuse wouldn't win the ACC? However, that's a pretty big "If."
Regardless of how well Joseph plays at the point, replacing Fair's consistent production in the paint might be even more important to Syracuse's cause. Whether it's McCullough as a freshman or Tyler Roberson as a sophomore, the starting power forward will have some pretty big shoes to fill.
Will DaJuan Coleman even be able to play next season? For a second straight year, his season was cut short by a leg injury resulting in surgery. No one seems to know if or how effectively he'll be able to play in five months.
Arguably the biggest variable of all is which version of Cooney shows up this season. Cooney shot 42.9 percent from three-point range over Syracuse's first undefeated 25 games, but just 22.2 percent from downtown as the team lost six of its last nine.
Only a fool would question Boeheim's ability to get the most out of his players. I'm just not sure that this team's most would translate to a top-four finish.
4. Virginia Cavaliers
2013-14 Record: 30-7 (16-2 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell
Key Incoming Players: Devon Hall
Projected Starting Five: London Perrantes, Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey
In Harris, the Cavaliers are losing one of the best three-point shooters in program history. Mitchell was the best rebounder on the roster in each of the past two seasons.
But Tony Bennett's club should remain in great hands for at least another two years.
As a sophomore, Brogdon was one of the most valuable players in the conference last season. He and North Carolina's Marcus Paige are the only returning players who made first or second team All-ACC in 2013-14.
Joining Brogdon in the backcourt was an even younger Perrantes. Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis got all of the attention, but Perrantes was truly one of the best freshmen in the country, starting at point guard for a 30-win team and owning a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season.
If the frontcourt was as strong as the guards, Virginia would easily be projected to win the ACC for a second straight year.
However, Gill and Tobey may be relatively hopeless in the paint against the remaining three teams on this list.
Neither averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season, and they seemed to take turns disappearing from one game to the next. Sharing a full-time job was one thing, but having both in the starting lineup could be an adventure.
3. Louisville Cardinals
2013-14 Record: 31-6 (15-3 in American conference)
Key Players Leaving: Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephen Van Treese, Tim Henderson, Kevin Ware
Key Incoming Players: Shaqquan Aaron, Quentin Snider, Chinanu Onuaku, Anas Osama Mahmoud
Projected Starting Five: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Aaron, Montrezl Harrell, Mangok Mathiang
When Harrell surprised us by deciding to stay in school for another year, it elevated Louisville from "will compete" to "could win" in the ACC hierarchy.
But rather than waxing poetic about how great Harrell is, our time would be better spent mulling over the rest of the Cardinals' roster.
Smith was unquestionably one of the most valuable players in the country over the past two seasons. His 18.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game will be sorely missed. But at least it opens the door for us to see what Rozier can do.
(If you think Wayne Blackshear is going to start ahead of Rozier, here's an excerpt from Rick Pitino's comments about Blackshear from the end of March: "The only player I've had in the past four years that hasn't had substantial improvement is Wayne Blackshear." Ouch.)
With Smith gone, not only does Rozier get more playing time, but Jones will really need to elevate his on-court leadership. The JUCO transfer got out to a hot start last season, but faded in the middle months. Louisville can't afford to have those types of lapses from its starting point guard this year.
Who will emerge as Harrell's running mate in the paint? Mathiang is the obvious choice from the list of returning players, but Pitino is also bringing in four freshmen standing 6'9" or taller. It's the type of situation that will inevitably work itself out before the start of conference play, but it should be fun to watch Louisville's interior game find its legs in November and December.
The real X-factor on this team will be Pitino's aversion to freshmen. Save for Chane Behanan in 2011-12, Pitino hasn't been too keen on giving minutes to freshmen. Peyton Siva only averaged 11.3 minutes per game in his first season at Louisville. Smith was only given 5.6 minutes on average.
Will Aaron or Snider be given a chance to shine, or will they be buried on the depth chart like those who came before them?
It might not matter if Harrell is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds per game, but I'll be interested to watch Blackshear and Aaron battle for the starting small forward job.
2. Duke Blue Devils
2013-14 Record: 26-9 (13-5 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins
Key Incoming Players: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen
Projected Starting Five: Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Winslow, Amile Jefferson, Okafor
Mike Krzyzewski has the top recruit in the country in Okafor and arguably the best 2014 recruiting class. Even without Parker and Hood, they'll open the season ranked in the top five in the nation.
But putting them at No. 1 in the ACC would be placing more faith in freshmen than I'm willing to give.
Chalk that up to the 23 losses that Kentucky has suffered in the past two seasons.
Don't get me wrong, Duke is clearly a threat to win the ACC and even the national championship. Okafor gives this team the true center that it lacked last season. The fact that he already has a connection with Jones only figures to help both players evolve in a hurry. And Winslow might be the most under-appreciated incoming freshman in the country.
North Carolina just seems to be the safer pick to win the conference.
If Duke does win the conference, it will be because the good version of Sulaimon shows up again. After averaging 11.6 points per game as a freshman, it seemed like Sulaimon was poised for a huge sophomore season. Instead, he had a sophomore slump and didn't really get going until midway through the year.
If the Sulaimon who scored in double figures in 14 of Duke's last 19 games comes back for a junior year, look out for the Blue Devils. If November/December 2013 Sulaimon makes an extended appearance, though, Duke could once again be looking at a third-place finish in the ACC.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
2013-14 Record: 24-10 (13-5 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: James Michael McAdoo, Leslie McDonald
Key Incoming Players: Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Joel Berry
Projected Starting Five: Marcus Paige, Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks
The first two months of last season didn't exactly go according to plan.
Sure, the Tar Heels had noteworthy wins over Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State. But losses to UAB and Belmont? What was that about?
They had the talent to be one of the best teams in the country, but the P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald suspensions just created an undue amount of off-the-court distractions.
(For the sake of North Carolina fans, here's hoping the Rashad McCants news doesn't have a similar long-lasting effect.)
I would argue the team that won 12 consecutive games in ACC play is a better representation of the talent on the roster than the one that lost seven games before the end of January.
From that roster, the Tar Heels are losing an inconsistent power forward and a shooting guard who shot 31.2 percent from three-point range, but they're gaining three of the top 20 freshmen in the country.
Seems like a pretty good trade.
In addition to the players listed above, they'll also have Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks, Jackson Simmons, Desmond Hubert and Joel James coming off the bench.
Most importantly, though, Paige is back for another year. North Carolina's version of Shabazz Napier is a strong preseason candidate for Player of the Year. And we're not talking ACC Player of the Year. We're talking Naismith Awards.
Here's a scary thought for non-UNC ACC fans: No one in that projected starting five will even be a senior in 2014-15.
The Tar Heels haven't been great over the past two seasons, but they might have a mini-dynasty on their hands.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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