Atlantic Coast Conference
In my opinion, North Carolina was the best team in the country last season. But the NCAA Tournament is not designed so that the best team wins - it's designed for the enjoyment of the fans, and UNC ended up going home a bit early. Still, it's not like UNC is the type of program that has to wait years between national title chances (like Memphis, for example). So, will the Tar Heels be back as a title contender next season? That's going to depend on a few things. UNC's roster was a bit odd last season in the makeup of its classes. Because Roy Williams is able to bring in so many good players at a time, he can't fit them all on his roster, and he basically took a year off of bringing in new kids. Last year's team was made up almost exclusively of juniors and sophomores. The only senior or freshman that got over 6 minutes per game of playing time was Quentin Thomas, a senior that averaged about 16 minutes per game. With another top ranked recruiting class coming in, the only thing keeping Carolina from being a national title contender again is NBA defections. Honestly, at least four different UNC players are considering going pro, but there is a real possibility that all of them will stay. For the sake of this preview, I'm going to guess that Hansbrough finally leaves but everybody else stays. That means another season of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green and more. In other words, they'll definitely be national title contenders again.
So what about the Dukies? DeMarcus Nelson graduates, and Taylor King is transfering out, but everybody else is expected to return. Duke also solves one weakness in recruit Elliot Williams (Rivals: 16, Scout: 4 SG), who is a very quick attacking guard who can create his own shot at will. Duke probably has the best set of three point shooters in the nation, but they really need an elite creator to open up more shots. So, one problem solved. And Duke's pressure defense will again be great. But their achilles heel last season was no secret: size. And I don't see any solution on the horizon. The recruiting class lacks any serious size, and there is no extra size waiting on the bench. The one possibility that I see is Brian Zoubek. The 7'1" Zoubek was very highly touted when he came out of high school, and seems to be the ideal solution to Duke's problems. But for whatever reason, Coach K just is not big on the guy. As a sophomore he got only 11 minutes per game, and even less against the better opponents. It's possible that Zoubek will have a renaissance during the off-season and make the All-ACC team next year, but if not I just don't see how Duke is much better than they were this past year. They'll still be a great team that will spend time in the Top Ten, but I don't see them as a serious national championship contender.
What about the third best team in the conference, Clemson? They lose two starters to graduation, but neither loss is devastating. I think Trevor Booker showed flashes of being an unstoppable inside force late last season, and the emergence of rising-sophomore Terrance Oglesby provides a nice complement. The Tigers also bring in three national ranked recruits - another Top 25 recruiting class for Oliver Purnell. I don't see them in the same stratosphere as Carolina, but the Tigers should be near the top of the conference yet again. One team that everybody will be hyping as an elite team is Wake Forest. They graduate nobody from their roster, and nobody is expected to turn pro either. In other words, they're already looking like a probably Tournament team before we even get to the recruiting class - and that's where the real upside is. The Top 5 recruiting class features two of the 25 best high school players in the country: 6'11" Tony Woods, and Al-Farouq Aminu. I haven't seen Aminu play, but those who have say that he's the real deal and could lead this team as a freshman. Wake will be very, very good next year.
Two other teams that should look to be improved are Virginia Tech and Miami. Hokies fans worried that some of their recruits would bail after last year's tragedies, but their freshman class turned out just fine. Four of them got 18 minutes or more of playing time per game. With only one starter graduating, and a nice recruit in 6'8" Victor Davila, I don't see why Tech won't be better next year. Miami loses slightly more to graduation, but they're still going to have most of their points back from last year. Jack McClinton has really started to establish himself as a below-the-radar star in the ACC (if there is such a thing). If he can continue to improve in his final season with the Canes, Miami will be dancing once again.
This past year was a rebuilding season for Maryland, and a number of their young players stood out as potential stars in the future. The team will be improved next season if they can convince Greivis Vasquez to stick around for another year. The reports I've seen suggest that he will most likely return, which will be welcome news for Terps fans. Gary Williams doesn't have his greatest recruiting class by any measure, but it's decent and should help make the team deeper. A team that disappointed last season was NC State, and it unfortunately looks like star freshman J.J. Hickson is going pro as well. Gavin Grant will graduate as well, meaning that Sidney Lowe is going to have a pretty young team next year. It's a very mediocre draft class (when you compare it to their ACC competition, at least), so I don't see why State will be any better next year than they were this year.
One last team to look at is Boston College. The Eagles don't lose much to graduation, and would be primed for a return to the Tournament if Tyrese Rice sticks around. The problem is, there's at least a 50% chance that he won't. If Al Skinner can convince his star scorer to stick around for his senior season, he'll really have a pretty good team to work with. If not, then they might be near the basement yet again. Here's how I see the full conference playing out:
1. North Carolina - Hard to pick against them.
2. Wake Forest - I haven't seen any of this recruiting class first hand, but if they're half as good as the hype then Wake is going to be an elite team next year.
3. Duke - They may not have any size, but they didn't have any size this past year either and were still a pretty darn good team.
4. Clemson - Another solid team.
5. Virginia Tech - We'll see if those young guys improve in year two.
6. Maryland - A very inexperienced team with a lot of upside potential.
7. Miami - The Canes faded a bit down the stretch. We'll see how they respond early next season.
8. Boston College - Next season will be incredibly dependent on the draft status of Tyrese Rice.
9. North Carolina State - I just don't see why they're going to be any better than they were last season.
10. Virginia - It might take a while for somebody to step up and fill the void left by Sean Singletary.
11. Georgia Tech - Lose their only two double-digit scorers to graduation.
12. Florida State - Could be a very long year unless Toney Douglas makes the leap and becomes one of the top players in the ACC.