A Way Too Early ACC Basketball Preview

USA TODAY Sports

The 2012-2013 basketball season is in the books for all ACC teams—both present and soon-to-be. For the second consecutive season, a senior-laden team from the Sunshine State won the conference championship, and for the third consecutive season no current ACC team made it beyond the Elite 8. This after the ACC was the home of two straight national champs in 2009 (North Carolina) and 2010 (Duke). While next season is still seven months away, in today’s world what happened yesterday is old news and what happened a week ago is nearly forgotten. So, it’s never too early to look forward to the upcoming season and talk about what dreams may come.

The 2013-2014 season promises to be a historic one for the Atlantic Coast Conference. The latest round of conference expansion centers on the ACC next year as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and—after watching their former league fall apart—Notre Dame all join the tradition on Tobacco Road and help form what looks to be the most formidable conference in the country. Additionally, Maryland will spend one final year as a member of this exclusive basketball country club, giving the ACC fifteen teams.

The exact schedules are still to be determined, but what we do know is that each team will play four teams twice (home and home) and the other ten teams once. This means that an already unbalanced regular season could become even more lopsided for certain teams, making actual conference predictions practically worthless until the schedule is known. Complicating matters even more are uncertainties about who’s leaving—the NBA early entry withdrawal deadline is not until April 16th—and who’s coming; specifically, is Andrew Wiggins going to spend his one year in college in the ACC and if so, will he be wearing garnet and gold or powder blue?

Therefore, what this preview aims to do is place teams into three separate categories: getting stronger, getting weaker, and holding steady. With schedules unknown, this determination is based mostly off of talent—lost, returning, and gained—and teams are listed within each category in alphabetical order. "RSCI Top 100" refers to the number of recruits who are ranked in the top 100 of the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. This index, while typically the most accurate way to judge a team’s overall talent level, has not had it’s final update for the 2013 class, so these numbers are subject to change. Finally, an asterisk by any number means that a to-be-announced change is still foreseeable.

Getting Stronger:

Boston College: 16-17 (7-11); KenPom: 91; Starters lost: 0; Recruits: 2; RSCI Top 100: 0

In his second season in Chestnut Hill, coach Steve Donahue improved the Eagles record from 9-22 to 16-17. No surprise considering two years ago he was basically starting from scratch. His third season should be even better as BC brings back all five starters, including the ACC Freshman of the Year, guard Olivier Hanlan. The recruiting class has no real star power, but Darryl Hicks is an athletic SG from Kentucky who can do exactly what Donahue likes his guards to do: knock down threes. A .500 record in ACC play is definitely possible for the boys from Boston.

Florida State: 18-16 (9-9); KenPom: 124; Starters lost: 1; Recruits: 2*; RCSI Top 100: 2*

After winning the 2012 ACC Championship, Leonard Hamilton believed his young team could reload despite losing 6 seniors. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries and some slower than expected development left the Noles in the middle of the pack and caused them to miss out on the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2008. But the one good thing about freshman is that they become sophomores. While the one starter lost is a big one—lock down defender, Michael "Moneyball" Snaer—Florida State will benefit from the return of seniors Okaro White, Terrance Shannon, and Ian Miller, not to mention all the experience gained by the newcomers last season. Additionally, the recruiting class brings in a top 30 combo-guard in Xavier Rathan-Mayes and long, shot blocking athlete in Jarquez Smith. Oh and there is still the possibility of some guy named Andrew Wiggins. Even without the number one player in the country this team has the look of an NCAA Tourney team. With him and they become one of the top contenders for the league crown.

Georgia Tech: 16-15 (6-12); KenPom: 94; Starters lost: 1; Recruits: 2; RCSI Top 100: 0

Similar to Boston College, Georgia Tech showed solid improvement under second year coach Brian Gregory, going from 11-20 to just above .500. The Yellow Jackets started 0-5 in conference play, but won 6 of their final 13 games, with 5 of the losses coming by 3 or fewer points, or in OT. As he prepares for his third year, Gregory must replace senior PG Mfon Udofia, as well as a former top 150 recruit, sophomore forward Julian Royal. While both players were athletic and capable of making plays, particularly Udofia, neither player seems irreplaceable. Solomon Poole, a four star PG recruit who signed in November but actually started college a semester early, basically got a jump start on his experience in limited play last season. Additionally, Quinton Stephens is an athletic, long forward who should soften the blow of losing Royal. Combine that with expected improvements from freshman like Robert Carter and Marcus Georges-Hunt—two guys who were key contributors on last year’s team—and Georgia Tech looks poised to step up into the middle of the ACC pack next season, despite the overall league being better.

Maryland: 25-13 (8-10); KenPom: 53; Starters lost: 1*; Recruits: 2; RCSI Top 100: 1

Maryland was probably good enough to play in the NCAA Tourney this past season, but a woefully bad out of conference schedule and few last second losses (two at the hands of FSU) dropped them down to the NIT—where the Terrapins made it to the semi-finals. As long as they do a better job of scheduling, Maryland looks poised to make the Big Dance in their final year as a member of the ACC. As of now, Maryland loses 1 starter (up and down PG Pe’Shon Howard is transferring), although center Alex Len is expected to leave and become a potential lottery pick. Other than that, the Terrapins only lose two seniors off the bench who did contribute, but neither is a major loss. On the recruiting trail, consensus top 50 recruit Roddy Peters is a big, athletic point guard who is likely an upgrade over Howard. Howard was talented but terribly inconsistent and inefficient on offense. Charles Mitchell and Shaquile Cleare, two talented freshmen from this past season, should improve and help ease the loss of Len. While neither are the pro prospect Len is, if they can be consistent they may combine to be at least his equal in terms of college production.

North Carolina: 25-11 (12-6); KenPom: 30; Starters lost: 1*; Recruits: 3*; RCSI Top 100: 3*

The Tar Heels are one of the teams where a lot of movement could still happen. They started slowly in 2012/13, but really gained momentum after Roy Williams went to a small lineup and inserted P.J. Hairston into the starting line-up. If Hairston, James Michael McAdoo, and Reggie Bullock all return for another year in Chapel Hill, the Heels could be excellent. If two of the three return, they could be very good. If more than that leave…well we may have to re-evaluate. But as of now it looks like all three may come back, which would mean the only real loss would be senior Dexter Strickland. Adding to an already solid core is a terrific recruiting class headlined by a freakish athlete at PF in Isaiah Hicks. Additionally, if Marcus Paige cannot make the leap in his sophomore year that most are hoping for, Nate Britt is a top 60 PG who can make an impact in year one. And oh yeah, they are still in contention for Andrew Wiggins. If UNC lands him, they would be a legit Final Four threat.

Virginia: 23-12 (11-7); KenPom: 34; Starter lost: 1; Recruits: 2; RCSI Top 100: 1

Like Maryland, Virginia was good enough for the NCAA Tournament, but an abysmal OOC schedule did them in. And like Maryland, if they rectify the schedule they should be dancing next season. The Cavaliers lose defensive stalwart and senior leader Jontel Evans at PG, and that is certainly a big loss. However, they bring in two solid recruits at the position, one of whom (Devon Hall) is currently just inside the RCSI top 100. But the real heart and soul of their team looks to be seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Harris could be the pre-season ACC player of the year. Also, rising sophomore Evan Nolte had a solid freshman season and is a sharpshooter from outside. The folks up in Charlottesville are looking for him to form a deadly one-two punch with Harris.

Holding Steady:

Duke: 30-6 (14-4); KenPom: 7; Starters lost: 2; Recruits: 3; RSCI Top 100: 3

It’s difficult to hold steady when you lose three guys like Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly off an Elite 8 team who lost to the eventual national champs. That’s not only some serious talent, but also key senior leadership. But if anyone can do it then Coach K can…and it doesn’t hurt that he is bringing in some superstar talent. Jabari Parker was the consensus number 1 recruit before Andrew Wiggins moved up to the 2013 class, and long range sniper Matt Jones and athletic Semi Ojeleye are also top 30 recruits. On top of that terrific threesome, Rodney Hood—a standout freshman wing at Mississippi State who sat out last year after transferring—becomes eligible and could be an instant impact player. If big men Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee (yes, another Plumlee) progress more than expected this summer, Duke could easily win the conference.

Notre Dame: 25-10 (11-7); KenPom: 35; Starters lost: 1; Recruits: 4; RSCI Top 100: 2

Preparing for their first year in the ACC, the Fighting Irish lose only one starter off an NCAA Tournament team. However, that one loss is a big one in double-double machine Jack Cooley. That loss is compounded by the graduation of reserve big man Scott Martin; a guy who went down in January with injury and Notre Dame was never quite the same without him. But the cupboard isn’t completely bare for Mike Brey. Jerian Grant looks to lead the team in his senior year and Erik Atkins is a 41% three-point shooter, and he too has a wealth of experience. But the biggest impact could be felt from true freshman Demetrius Jackson. Jackson is a flat out stud at the PG position and I think he’s even better than his consensus ranking of #26. If reserve big men Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight—a rising 5th year senior—can fill the void left by Cooley, ND should be back in the Dance again.

Wake Forest: 13-18 (6-12); KenPom: 132; Starters lost: 1; Recruits: 2; RSCI Top 100: 0

With Travis McKie and a whole bunch of talented freshmen turning into sophomores, the Demon Deacons should hold steady, or maybe even be slightly better, despite the loss of their most efficient offensive player, senior PG C.J. Harris. Unfortunately for Wake, holding steady still does not mean they will be all that good. Like last year, the Deacons should be a tough out at home, but in a clearly improved ACC, where will the road wins come from? The two man recruiting class is highlighted by 6’6 slasher Greg McClinton. Also of note, reserve guard Chase Fischer is transferring.

Getting Weaker:

Clemson: 13-18 (5-13); KenPom: 114; Starters lost: 2; RSCI Top 100: 0

Clemson finished the year losing 10 out of their last 11 games and now they lose former star recruits Devin Booker and Milton Jennings to graduation. That’s not good. There is some talent on the roster, namely rising junior K.J. McDaniels, but not enough for Brad Brownell’s club to be all that competitive in the ACC. Making matters worse, both recruits are three-star SGs, meaning neither will do much to soften the blow of their two big men. While Brownell seems like a solid X and O coach, his recruiting has definitely not been at an ACC level. Tiger fans weren’t disappointed to see Oliver Purnell go, but this is definitely starting to look like a case of "be careful what you wish for."

Miami: 29-7 (15-3); KenPom: 14; Starters lost: 4*; Recruits: 4*; RSCI Top 100: 0

Like FSU two years ago, Miami used a senior-laden team to surprise everyone and win the ACC Championship. And like FSU, Miami’s reign atop the conference should only last one season. Unlike FSU, they could fall much further than a 6th place finish. As of now, Miami loses essentially everyone of note off their Sweet 16 team other than Shane Larkin and Rion Brown. However, Larkin could still turn pro. If that were to happen, Miami might well battle Virginia Tech for last in the league. If Larkin returns then some kind of postseason, while unlikely, would not be completely out of the equation. SGs Devon Reed and Deandre Burnett lead a recruiting class that is decent but lacks true top end talent.

North Carolina State: 24-11 (11-7); KenPom: 38; Starters lost: 4; Recruits: 3; RSCI Top 100: 3

Like Miami, the Wolfpack lose practically everyone off an NCAA Tourney team. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are off to the NBA, Scott Wood and the often underrated Richard Howell graduate, and 5 star freshman Rodney Purvis transferred to UConn. However, the Wolfpack won’t be quite as devoid of talent as the Hurricanes thanks to another top 25 recruiting class from head coach Mark Gottfried. Anthony "Cat" Barber is a consensus top 10 player at PG and BeeJay Anya is a load at center. That duo should combine with forward T.J. Warren to give the boys in Raleigh some highlight plays. But highlights don’t win games and similar to this year NC State will have a dearth of depth and defense.


Pittsburgh: 24-9 (12-6); KenPom: 11; Starters lost: 2; Recruits: 2; RSCI Top 100: 1

Had star freshman big man Steven Adams returned for his sophomore year—like he said he was a few weeks ago—Pitt would be in the "holding steady" category. But as good of a coach as Jaime Dixon is, losing Adams, standout senior PG Tray Woodall, and 6th man Dante Taylor makes finishing in the top 15 in the country again a bit out of reach. However, Pitt always has talent so a spot in the Big Dance is not out of the question at all. Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna, and J.J. Moore form a trio of senior leaders and consensus top 75 PF Mike Young will contribute immediately. The Panthers probably won’t seriously contend for the ACC Title, but a top half finish is certainly possible in their first year.

Syracuse: 30-10 (11-7); KenPom: 8; Starters lost: 3; Recruits: 5; RSCI Top 100: 2

The final team making their inaugural run through the ACC, Syracuse actually finished below Pitt in the Big East standings last season. However, the return of PF James Southerland ignited a postseason run and the Orange made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to Michigan. The bad news is, Syracuse loses Southerland and Brandon Triche to graduation, as well as PG Michael Carter-Williams (a TOUGH matchup at 6’6) to the NBA Draft. Like Pitt, that simply is too much to lose and not suffer at least a small step back. However, Syracuse brings in a deep and talented recruiting class headlined by star PG Tyler Ennis (AAU teammate of fellow Candians Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Andrew Wiggins). If he is able to make an easy transition the big time college basketball, Syracuse returns enough underneath to make sure they don’t slip too far. Plus, as long as the rumors of Jim Boeheim potentially hanging up the whistle are false, the Orange will have one of the best coaches in the game—and his patented 2-3 zone—to cause a lot of problems for ACC teams who aren’t use to seeing that kind of defense.

Virginia Tech: 13-19 (4-14); KenPom: 166; Starters lost: 2; Recruits: 4; RSCI Top 100: 0

James Johnson’s Hokies started 7-0 in his first year as head coach, taking over for the fired Seth Greenburg. Then VT proceeded to lose 19 of their last 25 games and that was WITH conference POY Erick Green. Now, the Hokies lose Green to graduation, sophomore starter Robert Brown to transfer, and don’t bring in anyone above the "decent" level in their four-man recruiting class. Yikes. With the ACC getting even tougher, finishing higher than 15th in the league will take some good fortune and higher than 14th might be a minor miracle.

So there’s your rundown of all FIFTEEN members of next year’s ACC. What do y’all think? Can FSU finish in the top 6th without Andrew Wiggins? Will a team from Tobacco Road finally take back the ACC Crown, or will a newcomer win the league in their first try? And is it possible for the ACC to get 8 or even 9 teams in the NCAA Tourney?

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