The ACC is home to the reigning champions, and it looks like the conference will have a handful of programs vying for the ultimate prize yet again in 2020. With four teams in the AP top 11 and a notable drop off afterward, this ACC is set up to have an elite upper crust with a sizable distance between it and the middle class.
Here is how I see the ACC breaking down as we’re only days away from the start of the season:
National Competitors: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia
Per usual, Duke and North Carolina are projected as players in the national championship race. Tre Jones should take a step forward for the Blue Devils, and a star-studded freshman class is expected to fill in the gaps following departures from Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. For the Tar Heels, a collection of newcomers, headlined by Cole Anthony, will be tasked with replacing Coby White, Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and more, though some familiar faces will provide experience for the group.
Virginia, the national champs from a year ago, won’t have Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter nor Ty Jerome in its uniform this winter, but Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key and some other important pieces from the title run are back. With Tony Bennett’s coaching ability, you can expect steps forward from the returning players and a team that plays supremely sound basketball.
The Cardinals are expected to return to national prominence after spending a few seasons in the relative background as Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton and Steven Enoch are all back, plus big additions in Lamarr Kimble, a transfer from St. Joseph’s, and freshman Samuell Williamson. It appears Chris Mack has Louisville positioned once again as one of the premier squads in college basketball.
NCAA Tournament Hopefuls: Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
In the middle of the league sits a host of teams that will have believe they have a chance to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. They won’t all be included, but you can expect that with the typical amount of bids this ACC sees each season, a good number of this group will be dancing come March.
NC State and Florida State find themselves at the front of the pack. The Seminoles lost a good deal of talent to the NBA in the offseason, but some much-needed reinforcements via recruiting and transfers have been brought in, with five-star Patrick Williams projected as a the team’s top freshman. The Wolfpack bring back Markell Johnson, who was already one of the ACC’s best guards a season ago. Much of the team’s scoring is otherwise returning, too, placing postseason expectations on head coach Kevin Keatts.
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Notre Dame and Miami are both coming off disappointing years, but each team survived the offseason relatively unscathed, returning most of their talent as they will push for a reemergence in the Field of 68. Chris Lykes of the Hurricanes and John Mooney of the Irish are the biggest names coming back, but with so many other pieces still on these rosters and two proven coaches manning their sidelines, you can expect a lot more from both programs this year.
Syracuse are only returning one player who averaged better than 7.0 points per game last campaign, and another season riding the bubble is expected from the Orange. There are capable players on the roster, including Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim, but it’s difficult to see Syracuse as anything close to a tournament lock heading into the year. Pittsburgh joins the Orange as a team hoping it can claw its way into the Big Dance, but the climb appears uphill. The Panthers should take a step forward from where they have been the last few years, and if it all comes together perfectly, a bid to the NCAA Tournament is possible, but I wouldn’t count on it. An NIT showing and 20 wins would be huge for Pitt to build for the future.
The Fodder: Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Georgia Tech would be in the hunt for a tournament berth, but the Yellow Jackets have been banned from the postseason for the 2019-20 season, rendering them as a member of the league’s fodder. The team should be better than it has been in the past, though still, likely to finish in the bottom half of the ACC, with James Banks III and Jose Alvarado returning and former VMI player Bubba Parham and his 21.4 points per contest transferring in. We know it won’t end in a Selection Sunday shout out, though.
A massive exodus from Blacksburg has left Virginia Tech desolate heading into the 2019-20 campaign. Its head coach, Buzz Williams, left for Texas A&M, and it will have to replace nearly the entire squad that went to the Sweet 16 a season ago. New head honcho Mike Young has some serious work cut out for him in Year 1.
Boston College and Wake Forest will probably continue to spin the wheel in the basement, a place the two programs have become accustomed to as of late. Even though the Demon Deacons look like they should take a step forward this year, they have looked like that before and instead tripping over themselves further down the tunnel of despair. For the Eagles, losing its most-important player will be tough to recover from yet again, and a season-ending injury to Wynston Tabbs before the season’s tip off will make it that much more difficult. Escaping the bottom five of the ACC will be tough for BC.
Clemson is fresh off another disappointing campaign and are ready to let its fans down again, though this time, the Tigers might not even be as competitive as before. A couple of transfers – Tevin Mack from Alabama and Curran Scott from Tulsa – and the addition of four-star guard Al-Amir Dawes will help cushion the loss of five contributors from last year, but two torn ACLs from Clyde Trapp and Jonathan Baehre before the season even starts means the rotation gets that much thinner. It will be another campaign spent in the gutter for the Tigers, banning a miracle.