As much as the idea of Syracuse not being in the Big East kind of churns my stomach, the upside that at least there will be a team in the conference capable of challenging UNC and Duke once in a while. I know they've traditionally been the best 2 teams, but things have just been ridiculous lately and might be topping (bottoming) out this year because nearly ever team has been killed by graduations and can't reload like those two nancies, so Duke and UNC are Final Four contenders at the same time you can't definitively point to any other ACC squad and say "that's a tournament team."
So I guess there's that.
1. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS. For most teams losing a guy like Leslie McDonald for the season to a knee injury would be a big blow, but not this year's Heels. That is basically the only loss they suffered from their roster. Harrison Barnes, last year's #2 recruit and potential top 3 pick in the NBA draft last year, decided to return for another year of seasoning and, after a rough start to his career, began to flourish at the end, scoring 18+ points in 9 of the team's last 10 games. Tyler Zeller is still there and his offensive game is really turning into a thing of beauty, and the defense of John Henson will be there as well to block more shots than jesus. They also have their point guard back in Kendall Marshall, who is already turning into one of the best PGs in UNC History (although nobody will ever be better than Ed Cota). In case you want more, they also bring in a couple of new studs in F James McAdoo (#8 by Rivals) and P.J. Hairston (#13 and called the best shooter in this class), and have a bunch of other former top recruit types from the last couple of years who I haven't even mentioned. Yes, they're loaded. There's a reason why they're 3-1 to win the whole thing (sucker bet).
2. DUKE BLUE DEVILS. Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith is a huge amount of production and talent to lose, but you know the drill - unfortunately for every one who doesn't worship Satan, they just replace talent with talent are look to once again be one of the best teams in the nation. That isn't to say they won't have some weaknesses, however, because I refuse to believe that no matter how many Plumlees you have (and Duke is now up to 3) those aren't the type of bigs who are going to take you to a National Championship. Not counting, of course, the one they won 2 years ago, but that was really all Brian Zoubek. The three most interesting story lines to me are whether or not Seth Curry can be a team player and not end up a massive chuck monster like his brother, whether or not Austin Rivers (#1 freshman in the country) can integrate himself into a real (and good) team when his whole high school career has been him having to score 40 to carry a lackluster supporting cast, and just how gay is Duke, anyway?
3. MIAMI HURRICANES. The Canes are one of the few teams that were not hit hard by graduations/defections and return a couple of dynamic guards in Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant along with double-double machine Reggie Johnson who pretty much destroyed Duke last year since those pansies can't handle big, strong post players. And I'm sure you remember Scott and Grant, seeing as how they combined for 36 points against the Gophers two seasons ago in Florida completing the teams 3-game collapse after faltering in Anaheim and completely buzzkilling all the good feelings after they beat Butler. Yeah, I hate Miami.
4. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS. Mike Scott and his 16 and 10 averages are back after red-shirting last year due to an injury, and I like their plan of going with Scott and spreading a bunch of shooters out on the floor. And no, it's not just because Virginia shot 10-13 from three last year to kill the Gophers, they legitimately have some good shooters (Joe Harris, K.T. Harrell, and Sammy Zeglinski can all shoot it and both incoming freshmen can hit from outside) and Mike Scott is a legitimate beast. Overall Virginia was 19th in the country in 3-pt percentage and 23rd in % of points coming from behind the line, and that was with Scott only around for 10 games. I don't know. Maybe it is my memories of that game coloring my opinion, but I see the Cavs as a dangerous team this year.
5. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES. FSU is likely a near guarantee for an NCAA bid because their defense is always so good it's unlikely they'll completely implode, but you can't quite trust them because they are never offensively a good team and this year they don't have a real PG. They didn't last year either and things worked out, but last year they had Chris Singleton (most of the year) and Derwin Kitchen, both of whom could actually score once in a while and both of whom are gone. You know the defense will be there and you know they'll probably beat either UNC or Duke in Tallahassee, but it will be up to the offense whether this is a good team or a very good team. They're bringing in three top 150 recruits, all of whom are supposedly offensive players, so if any of them can get going right away that'll be a big boost. Remember the name Antwan Space. Just do it.
6. CLEMSON TIGERS. Not unlike the Seminoles, Clemson was hit hard by graduation, losing Demontez Stitt (leading scorer and assist man) and Jerai Grant (second leading scorer and leading rebounder) but they are such a solid defensive squad under Brad Brownell that they'll still be in the hunt for an NCAA bid, although at this point in the ACC most of these teams could finish anywhere from 5th to 10th. Still, the Tigers will have some talent including Devin Booker, the younger brother of former Clemson All-ACC performer Trevor. He hasn't quite made the same splash that Trevor did in his first two years, but the potential is probably there I'd assume. And speaking of potential, they actually have a McDonald's All-American on their roster in Milton Jennings. He managed 4 double-doubles last season, which makes Trevor Mbakwe laugh, but he could end up being the x-factor for Clemson. Whatever that means. I don't know, I'm just typing, man.
7. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES. The Hokies have a couple huge holes to fill, losing both Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen who basically did everything for them. Fortunately, the have plenty of options to fill those holes, including two other returning double-digit scorers and a nice big recruiting class that includes some likely future stars - PF C.J. Barksdale, SG Robert Brown, and SF Dorian Finney-Smith are all top 100 on Rivals list with Finney-Smith topping the list at #31. So yeah, there are some big losses for the Hokies, but they might end up better in the long run. They had some serious choke jobs the last couple of years, and Delaney was a big part - mainly because he wanted the ball and everybody knew he was getting the ball. Perhaps a little balance could work in V-Tech's favor? Whatever it takes so we don't have to listen to Seth Greenberg whine about the selection committee again. My least favorite spring ritual.
8. NC STATE WOLFPACK. Losing Tracy Smith is tough, but losing both your point guards - including emerging star Ryan Harrow (who transferred to Kentucky after the coaching change from Lowe to Gottfried) is going to be tougher. State still has one of the most exciting players in the conference in PF C.J. Leslie, who was the #14 recruit in the nation his freshman year and averaged 11 & 7, along with a couple of other nice players in SG Lorenzo Brown (#37 last year) and dead-eye shooter Scott Wood so they'll be middle of the road with some chances to surprise people. If Brown can handle the point - or incoming CS-Bakersfield transfer guy can - they could finish significantly higher than this. I really love me some C.J. Leslie.
9. GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS. Do you think Glen Rice Jr. might have to look at a picture or two of Sarah Palin when Tech travels to Cameron or the Dean Dome or really anywhere? Hopefully for them he'll be able to block it out, because he's going to be the main offensive weapon on this team and has the talent and situation to potentially blossom into an All-ACC type of player, particularly with Iman Shumpert leaving for the NBA and Brian Oliver transferring to Seton Hall. Maybe the best news for Tech, however, is that Paul Hewitt is finally gone because even though he was a hell of a recruiter the guy was routinely out coached and over matched. Brian Gregory turned the garbage dumpster of Dayton into something reasonably mediocre and Tech is a much better program so he'll likely have them turned around sooner rather than later.
10. MARYLAND TERRAPINS. Yet another team that got hit hard by graduation, not only did Maryland lose a ton off last year's team but when Gary Williams decided to quit coaching an a pretty inopportune time like some kind of sweaty rhinoceros he didn't do the team any favors because most of the recruits he'd signed, and there were some good ones, jumped ship. They did manage to hold on to Nick Faust, a hometown kid who is a very good player (#48 rivals) and will make this team's strength - the back court - even stronger. The biggest questions will be on the interior. With the beast that was Jordan Williams and his double-double average off to the NBA and no notable additions with size, they'll have to turn to unproven upperclassmen to play in the paint. That always works well.
11. WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS. Wake might have been the worst major conference team in 300 years last season, so they can only get better. You'd think. Unfortunately lack of talent continues to meet up with knuckleheadism, with former top 100 recruit J.T. Terrell leaving the team after getting arrested for a DWI and fellow top 100 recruit Melvin Tabb currently suspended indefinitely for some ambiguous reason. The one big bright spot is SF Travis McKie who led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season. And this is where I'd write a sentence to tie all of that together, but every time I tried to watch a Wake game last year they were losing by 25 in the first half so I didn't really pay all that much attention.
12. BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES. I don't know that I've ever seen something this dramatic, and it's hard to believe in this conference this year, but the Eagles come into this season with 92% of last year's scoring gone. 92%, yo. That means I got a 92% chance of embarrassing myself. I'll roll up on some shorty and be like "whats' up, yo" and she'll be like, "you don't know 20 ways to make me call you big poppa" because I don't, yo. I just typed that from memory so it might not be dead on but it's definitely close. Anyway, BC has 9 freshmen this year and I've never heard of any of them and they aren't on any lists so let's be honest, the quote was a much better use of our time.