Duke Basketball: Where Blue Devils' Projected Starters Rank vs. ACC Competition
The ACC keeps loading up year after year, and Duke basketball occasionally showed the fatigue of running through the minefield last season. Early conference woes and a quick exit from the NCAA tournament brand 2013-14 as a disappointing campaign in Durham.
With the nation's top recruiting class in tow, coach Mike Krzyzewski is trying to assemble a team strong enough to accomplish both a dominant ACC run and a lengthy winning streak in March. It appears he's got more than enough pieces in place to do both, but with all this talent comes a dilemma: Who gets the call to pace the Blue Devils out to a hot start every night?
The potential is there for Duke to have one of the nation's most potent lineups, but how does one likely starting five stack up against those throughout the ACC?
Much like we did for Kentucky vs. the SEC a few weeks ago, we're going to project the optimal starting lineup for the Blue Devils, along with every other team in the ACC. Then, we're going to rank each Duke starter among a group of his peers and determine which school will boast the best five.
It sounds simple. It's not. But, it can be easily replicated with alterations to any school's starting lineup, so feel free to suggest alterations in the comments.
PG Tyus Jones: 3rd
Minnesota native Tyus Jones comes to Duke with a reputation for astute decision-making and efficiency. These are two traits that are not always connected with incumbent point guard Quinn Cook.
With the multitude of offensive weapons that will surround Jones, he doesn't need to be a 15-points-per-game scorer, but he can very easily contend for the ACC assist crown during his freshman season.
The one issue that can derail Jones' rookie campaign will crop up if ACC point guards prove capable of exploiting either Jones' lack of size or occasional overly aggressiveness on defense. Even then, Duke may still be best served with Cook off the bench, playing the role of high-scoring sixth man.
1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Few players in college basketball carried a team's offense the way Paige did last season. Improvement from others around him may dent Paige's scoring numbers, but he should still be considered a preseason All-American favorite.
2. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
Few outside of Chestnut Hill would have blamed Hanlan if he had bolted BC just like teammates Ryan Anderson (transferred to Arizona) and Joe Rahon (Saint Mary's). The Canadian finished third in the ACC at 18.5 PPG with those two around. Without them, he may average 25.
3. Tyus Jones, Duke
4. Chris Jones, Louisville
Offensively, Jones was a hot mess in his debut season as a Cardinal, shooting only 40.7 percent on two-pointers. On defense, though, there are few more disruptive forces in the ACC. Jones led the American with 2.2 steals per game, a figure that would have also topped the ACC.
5. London Perrantes, Virginia
Last season, the ball was as secure as Fort Knox bullion in Perrantes' hands. He turned the ball over an absurdly low 40 times in 1,105 minutes over 37 games. He's not a shoot-first guard, but he did also sink 43.7 percent from the arc. Freshmen aren't supposed to be that stable.
6. Rod Hall, Clemson
Speaking of stable, Hall only averaged two giveaways per game himself. His 18.3 turnover percentage, per Sports-Reference.com was only fractionally higher than Perrantes', underscoring how much of a distributor Perrantes was. Without K.J. McDaniels running alongside, Hall will need to help pick up some scoring slack.
7. Codi Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest
Miller-McIntyre became much more assertive as a sophomore, leading the Demon Deacons in scoring while taking great care of the rock. (His 13.4 turnover percentage laughs at both Hall's and Perrantes'.) With four of Wake's next five scorers gone and a new coach in town, though, CMM may find himself forcing the action a bit. His .488 true shooting percentage suggests that would be a bad idea.
8. Angel Rodriguez, Miami
Rodriguez has experience quarterbacking a team through the often-rugged Big 12 and in the NCAA tournament. The Canes aren't a tremendously experienced bunch this season, so all of that knowledge will be highly beneficial.
9. Anthony "Cat" Barber, NC State
Barber may be the quickest point guard in the entire ACC, which may be the origin of his nickname. It's either that or he likes to curl up and sleep next to a heater. He no longer has Tyler Lewis to fight for minutes, but he also no longer has T.J. Warren to pass to.
10. James Robinson, Pitt
Robinson doesn't doom his offense with mistakes—on the contrary, his 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked fifth in the nation, according to StatSheet.com. However, this season may not look so rosy without Lamar Patterson to run the offense through. Remember, it was actually Patterson, not Robinson, who led the Panthers in assists.
11. Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse
Joseph will work his tail off, as Syracuse.com's Chris Carlson detailed in a May profile. He'll have to, because, much like with Tyler Ennis last season, Orange coach Jim Boeheim has no contingency plan. Joseph is much more athletic than Ennis, but he doesn't have the proven veteran support around him that his predecessor enjoyed.
12. Devin Wilson, Virginia Tech
Only three of the Hokies' top nine scorers return, so Wilson will have to get used to new surroundings quickly if he's to equal last season's 4.8 assists per game—tops among ACC returnees.
13. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
Jackson clearly wasn't ready for a starting role last season after Jerian Grant's departure. He shot only 38.1 percent from the floor in his 15 starts, a shaky run for a former McDonald's All-American. Perhaps a switch back to his old No. 11—previously worn by departed big man Garrick Sherman—will help Jackson's fortunes.
14. Devon Bookert, Florida State
Bookert will have to fight to keep a starting role over junior college transfer Dayshawn Watkins, who's much more of a classic drive-and-dish playmaker. Bookert's shot—43.1 percent from three last season—will certainly keep him in the rotation.
15. Tadric Jackson, Georgia Tech
There's not much to inspire hope in the Tech backcourt aside from Jackson. He's a top-75 prospect, according to ESPN, but he's considered more of a scoring threat at the college level. The Yellow Jackets would be better off with him at shooting guard, but who would man the point?
SG Rasheed Sulaimon: 2nd
A 9.9 PPG scoring average isn't usually something to generate major excitement, but considering where Rasheed Sulaimon started out last season, it's a major victory.
A sophomore season that started out with promise—33 points combined against Davidson and Kansas—went off the rails in a hurry. Sulaimon averaged only 3.4 PPG over his next seven, including games against those noted powers Florida Atlantic, UNC Asheville and Gardner-Webb.
In conference play, Sulaimon rallied to average 10.9 PPG and shoot 44.4 percent from long range, pulling out big games against the likes of Virginia and Syracuse.
If he was the primary option, Sulaimon could be good for 18 per game, but he never will be as long as talents such as Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor who run alongside him. Still, Duke needs him to always be a threat, ideally cutting out the 1-of-8 and 1-of-7 types of games.
With Andre Dawkins gone, Sulaimon inherits the sniper's mantle as Duke's most dangerous shooting threat—at least until freshman Grayson Allen finds a groove.
1. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Lest anyone think that Brogdon had a solid season by feasting on nonconference cupcakes, consider this: In pre-ACC play, Brogdon showed some signs of injury rust by averaging 10.7 PPG and shooting 37.5 percent from the floor. In ACC games, those numbers rose to 14.8 and 44.6. Brogdon will need to keep scoring with former All-ACC guard Joe Harris gone.
2. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Before Grant withdrew from Notre Dame, he was off to a spectacular start. He posted a double-double against Iowa and came close to three others. Without Eric Atkins alongside him in the backcourt and Garrick Sherman drawing attention in the post, can Grant do it again for a full year?
4. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier made the most of his 18.9 MPG as a freshman. Now he has to shoulder a big part of the load that Russ Smith carried to a Final Four and a national title. No pressure.
5. Trevor Lacey, NC State
Lacey was an able sidekick to Trevor Releford at Alabama, and now he'll be at the front of a crowded queue for shots at NC State. He shot a solid 37.3 percent from deep as a sophomore, and the Wolfpack will welcome those contributions wholeheartedly.
6. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
With Leslie McDonald gone, Marcus Paige needs another helper to provide perimeter shooting. Jackson's very well-qualified, and at 6'7", he won't force coach Roy Williams to work around the small backcourt he'd have if he started Paige at the 2.
7. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Seminole fans had to wait a year while Rathan-Mayes got his academic house in order. This year, he should give FSU an explosive scorer to complement—and eventually replace—wing Aaron Thomas.
8. Josh Newkirk, Pitt
Speed is one of those things you can't coach, and Newkirk's got as much as anyone in the ACC. Look for Newkirk to establish himself as the Panthers' top three-point threat and possibly pace the team in scoring.
9. Deandre Burnett, Miami
Burnett averaged 37 PPG as a high school senior, but that was two years and one wrist surgery ago. If he's got his stroke back, he could push for All-ACC honors, and the Hurricanes could make a return to the NCAA tournament.
10. Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
In the Kentucky version of this piece, Michael Frazier was ranked as the SEC's top shooting guard. Like Frazier, Cooney makes his name as a three-point gunner. Unlike Frazier, Cooney's shot went into the toilet late last season. Cooney made only 14 of 63 triples over his final nine games, a 22.2 percent success rate.
11. Lonnie Jackson, Boston College
Jackson's always been a solid three-point threat, but like so many of his teammates, he's struggled on defense during his career.
12. Adam Smith, Virginia Tech
Tech's transfer exodus could result in Smith being pressed into starting duty. The UNC Wilmington transfer was shooting well before nagging leg injuries began costing him games. He shot 28 percent from the floor after November's end. He could lose this spot to freshman Justin Bibbs.
13. Damarcus Harrison, Clemson
Harrison found a groove near the end of 2013-14, shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc over his final 12 games en route to an 11.6 PPG average over the same span. With no K.J. McDaniels to carry the load, Harrison's one of the Tigers who must sustain his best work over an entire season.
14. Miles Overton, Wake Forest
It's either Overton's inconsistent shooting (to be fair, his minutes were highly sporadic last season) or the often sloppy ball-handling of Madison Jones. This ranking won't change either way.
15. Chris Bolden, Georgia Tech
Bolden has played 24 MPG over his first two seasons and shot 36.2 percent from two-point range. Clearly, Tech hasn't had any solid options in the backcourt.
SF Justise Winslow: 2nd
It sounds odd to suggest that Coach Krzyzewski would turn three-fifths of his starting positions over to freshmen—and with nary a senior in sight, to boot. Still, when you sign three of the top 15 or so prospects in America, there should be some level of confidence that the newbies can succeed right away.
Justise Winslow isn't expected to be a top scoring threat straight away, but surrounded by the likes of Sulaimon, Cook and Okafor, he shouldn't have to be. Winslow plays a balanced all-around game that will see him rip 8-10 rebounds one night and dish five assists the next. When he needs to score, he has three-point range and highlight-reel athleticism.
Winslow may not be the best of Duke's freshmen, but he's likely to become the most popular, thanks to his versatility and explosiveness. Don't be surprised if he draws more All-ACC support than Tyus Jones.
1. Aaron Thomas, Florida State
Thomas has always been capable of getting to the cup, but he greatly improved his shooting last season (37.1 percent from deep). If he sustains that again, he's an All-ACC player who draws some of the same kind of analyst love that Michael Snaer used to get.
2. Justise Winslow, Duke
3. J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina
Tar Heel fans are praying that an offseason of shooting tutelage under longtime NBA gunner Hubert Davis turns Tokoto into a steady three-point threat. He's got all the other skills to be a dominant ACC player, including being one of the league's top two or three defensive players.
4. Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame
Connaughton posted an ACC-best 125.6 offensive rating, according to Sports-Reference.com. What must improve is his lackluster 33.1 percent career three-point percentage in conference play. Whether his conference games are played in the Big East or ACC, Connaughton has tended to feast on the nonconference cupcakes.
5. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson's in the conversation for the ACC's best pure athlete. Now he has to prove that he's got the skills that can eventually pay some bills. He made only 30 of 102 three-pointers last season, so coach Tony Bennett should either have him hoisting 1,000 shots per day in the offseason or taking remedial classes such as "Shot Selection 101."
6. Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech
Georges-Hunt has a weak supporting cast, so he could see 15-18 shots per game. If you want to place a sneaky wager on a surprise ACC scoring champion, this might be your guy.
7. Ralston Turner, NC State
While it's unlikely that Turner will get to hoist 207 threes again this season, he'll welcome the addition of Trevor Lacey. After all, Turner made nearly half of the Wolfpack's threes last year and was the only player to sink them at better than a 28 percent clip. He needs help in the worst way.
8. Cameron Wright, Pitt
Wright's a better defensive pest than offensive player, although he can be a dangerous mid-range scorer. He can also finish at the rim, but 69.1 percent of his close-range baskets were assisted, according to Hoop-Math.com. That means he's not creating for himself as much as he could. Panther coach Jamie Dixon has other options here, including sophomore Jamel Artis and JUCO transfer Sheldon Jeter.
9. Ahmed Hill, Virginia Tech
This is the part where Buzz Williams repays Hill for following him from Marquette. Hill could lead the Hokies in scoring if he proves any kind of a capable three-point shooter.
10. Sheldon McClellan, Miami
McClellan was never the most efficient scorer at Texas, but he's shown he can get buckets in a major conference. The Hurricanes don't have too many other guys who can say that.
11. Donte Grantham, Clemson
Clemson hopes that Grantham can be a poor man's Winslow, making defensive stops and cleaning the glass while he bolsters his offensive game. Of course, the Tigers may not have time for that latter part, as they need all the scoring they can get.
12. Wayne Blackshear, Louisville
Blackshear's another one of those guys whose McDonald's All-American credentials must be looked up to be believed, since nothing on his stat sheet validates such billing. One encouraging sign is his 39.5 percent from long range last season, but Blackshear was only 6-of-20 against Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati and SMU. You know, the teams in the American that weren't dog awful.
13. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
Gbinije posted eight points at Cameron Indoor Stadium and another eight in the Orange's NCAA loss to Dayton. Beyond that, Gbinije's versatility has been his main calling card. He could find himself a sixth man for just that reason.
14. Patrick Heckmann, Boston College
Heckmann's numbers took a dip in his junior season, but it was not from a lack of effort. It was more like an overabundance of effort, since he ballooned to 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes. He's a solid shooter when he's on the floor long enough to find a rhythm. Heckmann was one of the heroes in BC's titanic upset win at Syracuse.
15. Aaron Rountree, Wake Forest
Rountree's a solid defender and has his moments on the glass, but last year, he struggled to find his way around the offensive end with a GPS and a flashlight.
PF Amile Jefferson: 2nd
Amile Jefferson is still a reedy fellow, listed at 210 pounds last season and surely attacking a plate of pasta as you read this. On last season's "Krispy Kreme" Duke team—you know, one with not much in the middle—this was a problem.
With heralded freshman Jahlil Okafor drawing low-post attention, however, Jefferson will never see a double-team and should see a slight uptick in his already impressive rebounding figures, thanks to the big rookie occasionally playing tip drill with him.
Jefferson and Miami's Tonye Jekiri are the only returning ACC players to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, according to Sports-Reference. Jefferson sank 64.4 percent of his shots from the floor. And he did that without a true center lined up next to him. What can he do with all eyes on Okafor?
1. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell should start the season on every analyst's All-American first or second team. The only thing that may hold him back is constantly slogging to the free-throw line, where he certainly puts the "foul" in foul shooting (47.7 percent for his career).
2. Amile Jefferson, Duke
3. Brice Johnson, North Carolina
On a per-40 basis, Johnson is a dynamo, averaging 21.0 points and 12.4 rebounds over his first two seasons. If he can just cut down the 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes, perhaps his actual numbers will pull more into sync with the prorated ones. He's plenty talented enough to make it all happen.
4. Chris McCullough, Syracuse
On a Syracuse team that will need scoring wherever it can find it, McCullough will have every chance to dominate from day one. If all goes well, Orange fans won't miss Grant nearly as much. If not, Cuse Nation may find itself pining for the glory days of Craig Forth.
5. Anthony Gill, Virginia
Gill was a revelation off the Virginia bench after a so-so freshman year at South Carolina. He won't be the pack-line defender or rebounder whom Akil Mitchell was, but few honestly could be. As a scorer, though, Gill should come second on the Cavaliers' list to Malcolm Brogdon.
6. Michael Young, Pitt
The 6'8", 245-pound Young has one of the tougher mandates in the ACC: replace the interior production of Panther favorite Talib Zanna. Young had only six more baskets than fouls last season, and only once in his final 13 games did he score in double figures or pull more than five rebounds. He's got the body and the skills, but can he put it together when he's the primary focus of the defense?
7. Abdul-Malik Abu, NC State
Abu is slightly more versatile than sophomore Lennard Freeman, but he'll need to get familiar with State's offense quickly to maximize that advantage. Actually, the rest of the team will need to get familiar with a new attack, too, as the "throw it to T.J. Warren and get the hell out of the way" offense is now obsolete.
8. Joey Van Zegeren, Virginia Tech
Van Zegeren finished third in the ACC in both offensive rebounding percentage and block percentage last season. He ended with a flourish, putting up 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds a night over his final 10 games. He put up 10.3 and 6.4—with 1.9 blocks per game to boot—when he played 25-plus minutes.
9. Ivan Cruz Uceda, Miami
Uceda will give the Hurricanes the kind of shooting they're unlikely to get from Sheldon McClellan or Davon Reed on the wing. Or, the Spaniard could struggle to beat out Niagara transfer Joe Thomas for this spot.
10. Robert Sampson, Georgia Tech
Another transfer, Sampson is a more traditional post player, despite his 210-pound frame. He averaged 9.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks last season at East Carolina. He did make 24 of 54 from deep (44.4 percent) as a sophomore in 2012-13.
11. Darius Leonard, Wake Forest
Leonard's numbers at Campbell weren't sexy (10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds last season), but he is a veteran hand who shot 38 percent from beyond the arc last year. Wake needs all the shooting it can get.
12. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Blossomgame's actually able to work out this summer after having his first two offseasons cut short by the same broken leg. He needs all the time he can get to tighten up his shooting from everywhere (45.2 true shooting percentage).
13. Martin Geben, Notre Dame
Geben's more traditionally built for a power forward role than Pat Connaughton or fellow freshman Bonzie Colson, but he'll occasionally cede minutes to both. When Geben is on the court, he should find his share of rebounds and easy baskets.
14. Jarquez Smith, Florida State
Smith received limited minutes as a freshman, and he didn't do a whole lot with them, except block a surprising amount of shots. His 7.4 block percentage would have ranked seventh in the ACC.
15. Idrissa Diallo, Boston College
Diallo's well-built, athletic and can provide the Eagles with a rim protector they desperately need. Offensively...did we mention he's athletic?
C Jahlil Okafor: 1st
Okafor's commitment to Duke heralded the arrival of what could be the Blue Devils' best true low-post big man since Carlos Boozer. He's already dominated domestic (29 points, nine rebounds at the Jordan Brand Classic; co-MVP honors at the McDonald's All-American game) and international (10.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG in 14 MPG at the 2013 FIBA U-19 World Championships) competition.
The Chicago product's throwback game has been compared to Tim Duncan enough times that the casual fan would be forgiven for assuming Okafor's a finesse-based 230-pounder. He's actually 6'11" and 270 pounds, for those who've forgotten. Okafor is already built the way UNC's Kennedy Meeks aspires to be.
While there are some solid defensive big men in the ACC, none will be nearly the offensive factor that Okafor should be in his first—okay, let's be honest and say only—season of college ball. As long as he's in shape to play 25-30 minutes a night and can stay out of foul trouble, there won't be a more dangerous big man in the ACC.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
The Tar Heel big man is reportedly down to about 270 pounds from a peak of 320.
Meeks' stamina, like Okafor's, is a major story. If he can rev the motor for more than last year's 16.3 MPG, he's an All-American candidate.
3. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
Christmas has never been a major offensive force, but he was the ACC's fiercest rim protector last season, leading the league with an 11.3 block percentage. His block rate and all of his rebounding percentages actually went up in ACC play, for those inclined to complain that the numbers are inflated against the Cuse's usual nonconference cupcakes.
4. Landry Nnoko, Clemson
Nnoko showed tremendous improvement as a sophomore, upping his field-goal percentage by 20 points and trimming his fouls and turnovers per 40 minutes. Now, he needs to prove he can consistently score against all comers. Five of his 10 double-figure scoring games came after Valentine's Day, against opponents like Duke, Illinois and SMU.
5. Mike Tobey, Virginia
Tobey continues to bulk up, but now he no longer has Akil Mitchell to help protect him on the glass. If the junior gets pushed around in the paint, the Cavaliers have little chance of equaling last season's fifth-place finish on Ken Pomeroy's national defensive rebounding chart (subscription required). That will equate to a lot of extra possessions and points for UVa's opponents.
6. Devin Thomas, Wake Forest
Now, we know Thomas can crash the glass. He's ranked sixth and fourth in the ACC in rebounds per game in his first two seasons. Given that he doesn't have any proven support around him, he could seize the title this year.
7. Mangok Mathiang, Louisville
The rest of our chart is populated by big men who can rebound and/or block shots, but there's very little scoring ability to be found. Mathiang had as many fouls as defensive rebounds during his freshman year, and he also blocked as many shots as he made.
8. Tonye Jekiri, Miami
Jekiri is still green offensively, but he's improving on the glass every day. He averaged 6.1 RPG in conference play, including nine per game over his last five. Staying out of foul trouble will be essential, as Jekiri's the only true center the Hurricanes have.
9. BeeJay Anya, NC State
Here's yet another ACC post player who needs a SWAT team to drag him away from the buffet. Anya, like Meeks, has done some very good conditioning work this offseason, dropping nearly 60 pounds from the 337 he reportedly carried when he arrived in Raleigh. If he plays even 20 MPG, Anya can lead the ACC in blocks and card the occasional double-double.
10. Boris Bojanovsky, Florida State
Bojanovsky is a dangerous shot-blocker, but he'll rotate very liberally with Michael Ojo and sixth-year senior Kiel Turpin. To seize the bulk of the playing time, the 7'3" Bojanovsky should be averaging a lot more than 7.8 rebounds per 40 minutes.
11. Zach Auguste, Notre Dame
Auguste has been a potent rebounder in his short bursts of playing time over his first two seasons. As a junior, he'll carry a large burden as he tries to replace the departed Garrick Sherman.
12. Demarco Cox, Georgia Tech
Cox can be a strong rebounder and solid defensive presence if he can stay on the court. Conditioning was a problem for him at Ole Miss, but he did play a career-best 16.6 MPG last season. Of course, Ramblin' Wreck fans can't expect miracles, either. Cox's stats for his final game at Ole Miss: 22 minutes, two points and three rebounds against Georgia in the SEC tournament.
13. Satchel Pierce, Virginia Tech
Pierce is another big man who needs to keep himself in shape, and he's got the tools to succeed if he does. He's a solid shot-blocker and rebounder whose offensive footwork may be a detriment early on. He followed Buzz Williams from Marquette, so it should be reasonable to expect that he'll be receptive to Williams' coaching at VT.
14. Derrick Randall, Pitt
Randall's per-40 numbers were stellar last season: 9.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. The problem is that he's never been able to hold a steady role at either Rutgers or Pitt. An offseason DWI charge could lead to some missed games and potentially losing the chance at this starting role.
15. Dennis Clifford, Boston College
Clifford showed some potential as a freshman, but nagging knee injuries slowed him down as a sophomore and completely shut him down last year. There aren't a whole lot of other options for new coach Jim Christian, unless he slots in the always hustling Eddie Odio at the 4 and plays Diallo in the pivot.
Just for Fun: Team-by-Team Totals
Team-by-team totals of the preceding rankings:
1. Duke 10
2. North Carolina 15
3. Virginia 21
4. Louisville 28
5. NC State 37
6. Syracuse 41
T7. Notre Dame 44
T7. Miami 44
T9. Florida State 46
T9. Clemson 46
T9. Pitt 46
12. Wake Forest 53
13. Virginia Tech 54
14. Boston College 57
15. Georgia Tech 58
The standings neatly reflect this writer's conception of the 2014-15 ACC race, with a group of four haves at the top, a tier of four have-nots at the bottom and a glob of seven teams in the middle that should all be threats to reach the NCAA tournament—or, with a few bad breaks, end up in the CBI.
It's unlikely that the ACC will equal the old Big East by sending 11 teams to the tournament, since some members of that middle class will be cannibalized, whether by conference heavies, upsets by the minnows or their own weak-sauce nonconference tendencies. Still, the potential is there for this to be the nation's most compelling basketball league, if not its most talented.
There really can't be much argument that Duke and North Carolina are the conference's two most talented teams, but Virginia and Louisville will remain in the race with strong coaching and franchise-caliber leaders on the court.
Look for those four teams to set the conference's agenda, but watch that middle group to see high-stakes, scratch-and-claw basketball at its finest come February, when every win and loss will carry tremendous weight in the tournament-bubble conversation.
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