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  • The ACC has sent a league-record nine teams to the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years, and while Duke, UNC and Virginia expect to be among the nation's best teams once again, the league might find itself with a rare amount of depth this year.
By Molly Geary
August 14, 2018

Now that August has set in and we’re just three months away from the start of college basketball’s regular season, it’s time to check in on each of the six major conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC). Every team in the country has questions at this point of the summer, some more pressing than others. So in addition to power ranking each league, we’ll be asking some burning questions about the conference, whether they’re related to specific teams and players or the league as a whole. First up, it’s the ACC.

ACC Summer Power Rankings

1. Duke: Another undoubtedly loaded recruiting class, including three top-five recruits, has the undoubtedly young (see below) Blue Devils on top.

2. Virginia: The Hoos bring back three starters from a team that lost only three games last year, even if that final defeat came at the worst possible time.

3. UNC: Nassir Little is big time. The McDonald’s All-American Game MVP should take some pressure off Luke Maye.

4. Virginia Tech: With four double-digit scorers returning, this could be Buzz Williams’s best team yet in Blacksburg.

5. Florida State: After a surprising Elite Eight run, the Seminoles bring back a solid chunk of their core.

6. Syracuse: After the Orange squeaked into the NCAA tournament and made an unexpected run—sound familiar?—they return all five starters.

7. Clemson: With Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell back, this may be a bit low for the Tigers, but it speaks to the expected depth of the conference.

8. Notre Dame: The Irish must move on from the Bonzie Colson–Matt Farrell era, but this doesn’t need to be a rebuild.

9. Louisville: After luring Chris Mack away from Xavier, the Cardinals will look for a fresh start.

10. Miami: Dewan Huell and Chris Lykes will be counted on immensely for the Hurricanes.

11. Boston College: Half of the Eagles’ dynamic Jerome Robinson–Ky Bowman backcourt is gone, but Bowman is a pretty great player to have back.

12. NC State: Torin Dorn is back, while former UNC-Wilmington standout C.J. Bryce is now eligible after transferring in when Kevin Keatts got the job.

13. Wake Forest: The team outlook isn’t great, but incoming five-star Jaylen Hoard should be fun to watch.

14. Georgia Tech: It’s looking like another tough season in Atlanta after the 13-win Yellow Jackets lost three of their top four scorers.

15. Pittsburgh: Even one ACC win would be more than the Panthers had all of last season.

Burning Questions

How much of a factor will Duke’s inexperience be?

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Blue Devils are bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class. This year’s may be even more impressive than usual, considering it contains the No. 1 (R.J. Barrett), No. 2 (Cam Reddish), No. 4 (Zion Williamson) and No. 13 (Tre Jones) RSCI recruits, not to mention No. 37 Joey Baker. In terms of returning players, however, only three averaged more than 5.0 minutes per game (Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell and Marques Bolden), and no one in that trio averaged more than 12.9 minutes.

With no new transfers, Duke will be short on experience, with DeLaurier and Bolden the lone upperclassmen of the expected rotation. Even when you look at a team like 2015 Duke, which relied heavily on three freshmen, it started senior Quinn Cook and had junior Amile Jefferson on the bench. Inexperience could especially be a concern on the defensive end, an area that often takes Duke’s young teams a while to catch up to. Will DeLaurier, who started five games and showed promising flashes last year, emerge as that steadying, veteran glue guy? Will Bolden? Does Duke even definitely need it? Time will tell, but one thing that’s for sure is that the talent will once again be oozing in Durham.

Who will be UNC’s point guard?

Replacing a senior starting point guard is never easy, especially when that player has Final Four Most Outstanding Player on his résumé and is named Joel Berry. The biggest departure from last year’s Tar Heels, Berry’s exit leaves a hole at the one and no no-brainer choice to replace him. Roy Williams does, however, have options. There’s Seventh Woods, a former four-star recruit who has yet to make a mark, averaging just 1.3 points and 7.4 minutes across his first two seasons in Chapel Hill and missing a large chunk of last season with injury. There’s freshman Coby White, who’s known more for his scoring but is an intriguing option to run the offense. There’s even 6'7" freshman Rechon Black, who played point in high school and could potentially see time there. The battle for the starting job is one to watch, and it’s entirely possible that whoever starts the year there won’t necessarily be the one who finishes.

Will Florida State build off its Elite Eight run?

After finishing eight in the ACC last year, the Seminoles made a surprising run to the Elite Eight on the back of their length and physical play, racking up a combined 17 blocks and steals in a 15-point upset of Gonzaga. Now, FSU brings back four of its top six scorers and all five of its top rebounders, including Phil Cofer and Terance Mann. It’ll also be looking for a sophomore jump from former top-30 recruit M.J. Walker, who averaged 7.0 points as a freshman and showed strong flashes at times in conference play. Will Florida State be more of the team that went 9–9 in the ACC, or the one that used its daunting size and athleticism to go deep into March? If it can find that kind of consistency again, this will be a group to watch.

Can Pittsburgh get an ACC win?

It was a long season for the Panthers last year. They went 0–18 in ACC play and notched just two KenPom top-200 wins (Towson and UC Santa Barbara) all season, resulting in the swift firing of Kevin Stallings. He was replaced by Jeff Capel, Mike Krzyzewski’s longtime assistant at Duke and a former head coach at VCU and Oklahoma. Pitt has since gone through plenty of roster turnover after a number of players graduated or transferred out, but leading scorer Jared Wilson-Frame returns hoping to improve on shooting percentages of 37.5% from the field and 32% from three. Despite the very late start, Capel was able to land a pair of four-stars (including top-100 recruit Trey McGowens, who reclassified to 2018 in April) and three-star Xavier Johnson this spring to mark his first recruiting class. Let the rebuilding commence.

Is Notre Dame the ACC team with the most under-the-radar potential?

It’s easy to look at the Fighting Irish and see that they lost Bonzie Colson (who missed nearly half of his senior season with injury), Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben and assume things are going to be tough—and maybe they will be. But the cupboard is nowhere near bare. For starters, T.J. Gibbs is back after a breakout sophomore year that saw him average 15.3 points while shooting 40.3% from three. Gibbs should be the clear leader and go-to guy on offense now, while Rex Pflueger will provide senior leadership as another returning starter. Sophomore D.J. Harvey, a former top-50 recruit, and junior forward John Mooney should see increased roles, but the way the freshman class performs may be what sets this team’s ceiling. Four-star forward Nate Laszewski is Mike Brey’s highest incoming recruit at No. 61 in the RSCI rankings, while Prentiss Hubb (No. 92), who’s coming off an ACL injury, will be depended on to contribute from the point after Farrell’s departure. If things break right in South Bend, this team could easily outperform preseason expectations.

Can Virginia put its historic upset loss in the rearview mirror?

The Cavaliers entered the 2018 NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and made headlines for entirely the wrong way in becoming the first top seed to fall to a No. 16 seed, that of course being UMBC. While the Retrievers’ win was a tremendous story, the other side of it was an embarrassing, unceremonious exit for a team that entered March with championship aspirations. The good news for UVA is that De’Andre Hunter, who went down with a broken wrist right before the tournament, didn’t even test the NBA draft waters and returned for his sophomore year, where he’s joined by a core that includes Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Mamadi Diakite. Virginia can’t allow its March disaster to seep into next season—and you can bet opposing fans will try everything to ensure it stays fresh in everyone’s memory all season long. The true mental test, however, will be its approach to next year’s tournament.

What’s in store for Louisville in Chris Mack’s first year?

After a tumultuous season off the court, the Cardinals look to finally settle into a new era under Chris Mack. While several familiar faces, including its trio of leading scorers in Deng Adel, Ray Spalding and Quentin Snider, are gone, Mack has a good foundation to work with. V.J. King is back and will look to finally put it all together after two inconsistent seasons, while Jordan Nwora is an intriguing rising sophomore who could benefit from expanded playing time. Mack also secured multiple grad transfers for 2018–19, including Samford’s Christen Cunningham, who dished out 6.3 assists per game two seasons ago, Richmond guard Khwan Fore and former Cardinal-turned-Cardinal-again Akoy Agau, who could bring some much-needed depth to the frontcourt.

Who are the preseason favorites for ACC Player of the Year?

The conversation should probably start with Luke Maye, who had a breakout junior season for North Carolina and will once again be a focal point of the offense, even with Nassir Little’s arrival. Virginia’s Kyle Guy is the other returning member of the All-ACC first team and should be in the mix, as well as other key conference returners like Syracuse’s Tyus Battle, Clemson’s Marcquise Reed, Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson and Boston College’s Ky Bowman. Of course, freshmen will also be key to watch here. The top four recruits in RSCI’s consensus 2018 rankings are all in the ACC: Duke’s Barrett and Reddish (No. 1 and No. 2), UNC’s Little (No. 3) and Duke’s Williamson (No. 4). When it comes to the POY race, expect some separation as the season goes on in terms of teammates Barrett/Reddish/Williamson and Maye/Little; for now, though, it’s a crowded list.

Can the ACC match (or beat) the nine teams it sent dancing last season?

For the second year in a row, the ACC sent nine teams to the NCAA tournament in 2018, as many as it ever has. The league looks like it will once again be deep, and you figure Duke, Virginia, UNC, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Syracuse and Clemson all would be favored right now to go dancing, assuming they stay healthy. The next tier of Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville, Boston College and NC State could also easily produce one or two teams that make the cut, making another nine-bid season for the ACC seem like a realistic preseason goal.

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