Will Someone Other Than Duke or North Carolina Win the ACC?

Justin McTeerCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2009

CORAL GABLES, FL - APRIL 01:  John Henson #22 of the West Team dunks over Dexter Strickland #7 of the East Team in the 2009 McDonald's All American Men's High School Basketball Game at BankUnited Center on April 1, 2009 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The ACC has earned a reputation for being a top-heavy basketball conference in recent years.

Over the last 13 seasons, only one team (Maryland) other than the Blue Devils or Tar Heels has won an ACC title.  That's not exactly a shining example of conference parity.

But this ACC season looks to be different, with several teams having a legitimate shot at winning the conference.

Granted, there are plenty of teams that won't compete, but the usual strategy of picking Duke or Carolina to win the ACC title doesn't feel as safe this season.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels will certainly be in the running, but there are several other teams with a real chance of breaking Tobacco Road's reign over the ACC, at least for one season.

So who's got a shot?

You could make a strong case for at least six teams to be on top of the ACC once March rolls around—North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, and Maryland (with Wake Forest getting the honorable mention).

Don't expect any team to run away with the conference title, though.

While each of the teams listed above brings enough to the table to be considered a conference favorite, none of them stand head and shoulders above the competition.  

It wouldn't be a surprise if a team with a 10-6 record finished at the top of the ACC in the upcoming season.  

The Tar Heels have an abundance of talent, especially in the frontcourt, but the loss of Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Tyler Hansbrough to the NBA will definitely be felt as the vast majority of Carolina's scoring is gone.

While freshman John Henson looks to be one of the best incoming recruits in the conference and Ed Davis is a likely All-ACC candidate, the untested and previously third-string point guard Larry Drew II is a big question mark in terms of running the Heels' offense.

The Blue Devils (last year's ACC title winner) lost Gerald Henderson to the NBA and Elliot Williams to Memphis due to family health issues, but Kyle Singler will be an ACC Player of the Year candidate.  

Incoming freshmen Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee add some much needed height to the Blue Devils' lineup while maintaining Coach K's preference for versatile bigs.  

Still, Duke has only two guards on the roster (the possible of addition of Andre Dawkins would be a big help in the backcourt, though) in Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer, and despite their experience and talent, playing 39 minutes a game will certainly affect their durability as the season wears on.

While North Carolina's Henson might be one of the best incoming players in the ACC, Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors is quite possibly the best.  The nation's top-rated big man will be a force in the paint for the Yellow Jackets, especially starting alongside Gani Lawal.

Guard Iman Shumpert highlights the backcourt, giving the Yellow Jackets a talent-laden starting five.

However, Georgia Tech finished 2-14 last season with more talent than several of the teams ahead of them, which makes their 2009-10 season difficult to predict.

Florida State was the surprise of the ACC last year.  The Seminoles lost Toney Douglas, the runner-up for conference Player of the Year, but they bring in Michael Snaer, one of the best guard recruits in the ACC this year.  

Although Snaer isn't a point guard, he'll add a lot to the Seminoles backcourt.  Florida State's frontcourt is still as freakishly big as it was last year, and it's filled with players who experienced a lot of success last season.

If the Seminoles can adequately adjust to Douglas' departure, they'll definitely be one of the top teams in the conference.

Clemson may have lost K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby (making a big dent in their backcourt), but they scored big when Trevor Booker decided to stay.  

Booker will be joined by younger brother Devin and five-star power forward recruit Milton Jennings, giving the Tigers a powerful frontcourt (which seems to be a trend in the conference this year, along with weak backcourts).

Guard Noel Johnson could help alleviate the Tigers' losses in the backcourt, but that's not a given.

Maryland may seem like a strange pick to be a conference favorite, but the Terrapins have something that few teams in the ACC can claim—a proven, talented, and savvy point guard.

Greivis Vasquez is probably the best point guard in the ACC this year, and Eric Hayes in addition to Vasquez gives Maryland one of the most experienced backcourts in the conference.

If the Terrapins incoming big men can give them some offense down low, the Terrapins could make a serious run toward the top of the ACC standings.

It really is anyone's game this year.  While Duke and Carolina will certainly be in the mix for the conference title, they'll have more competition than in recent years.

No matter who wins, the 2009-10 ACC season looks to be one of the most difficult to predict in years, which means it will certainly be entertaining to watch.


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