What do you do for an encore when your conference has the defending National Champions as well as what should have been the NIT Champs (minus one horrendous call) ?
Well to start you come back with a powerful UNC team that returns nearly everyone from last year's Sweet 16 group and is poised for even bigger and better.
Aforementioned defending champion Duke reloads bolstered by the #2 recruiting class in the country.
Veteran two time defending regular season champs Virginia brings back most of its' core as well as its' trademark pack line defense.
2012-13 Champs Miami have by far their best and most experienced squad since the team that cut down the nets in Greensboro.
FSU adds a top 10 class to the most explosive player in the conference (Xavier Rathan-Mayes).
And we haven't even mentioned Rick Pitino's Louisville group, the team Jim Boeheim has built in Syracuse, nor the defending tournament champion Notre Dame.
This is the deepest and best basketball conference in America, hands down.
All of which makes prognosticating the season to come a difficult chore.
Nonetheless my ACC regular season predicted order of finish is below.
Why I have them here - This is a very deep, talented, and big team. 6'9 PF Brice Johnson (12.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has really filled out since coming to Chapel Hill as a 190 pound freshman. His elite touch around the basket and athleticism should lead to an even higher scoring average this season. He is joined up front by talented space eating C Kennedy Meeks and high flying sophomore wing Theo Pinson (who should fill the J.P. Tokoto role). Both players can defend but Pinson is a slight question mark after missing a lot of time last season with injury. The back court is led by senior All-American candidate PG Marcus Paige (14,1 ppg 4.4 apg) who should be even better this season now that he is fully healthy. 6'8 G/F Justin Jackson show a lot of promise as a true freshman last season, and could be the team's best scorer when all is said and done. They also boast a deep bench, with players like Nate Britt, Joel James, Joel Berry II, 6'8 freshman Luke Maye, and solid post presence Isiah Hicks (a former top 20 recruit), all of whom who could start for 95% of the teams in the country. Roy Williams has plenty of options, and this group can really pound you in the paint. Plus there is something very symmetric about a huge UNC season following a NC for Duke.
Keys to the season - Get consistent shooting out of Jackson. He really shot the ball well coming down the stretch, and the Tar Heels will need more of that to win the conference. Outside shooting may be their Achilles Heel (no pun intended).
Best case scenario - Jackson lights it up and so does Paige. That, combined with their ridiculous inside strength, leads to a return to glory. The NCAA academic scandal stays in the rear view mirror until several sets of nets are cut down.
Worst case scenario - They don't get enough outside shooting, struggle from the line, and can't out muscle everyone in the conference. They finish top 5 in the ACC but are relegated to a middle seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Player on the rise - Justin Jackson. He's big, has an easy stroke, moves well with out the ball, and can put it on the deck. 16+ ppg in 2015-16 for the sophomore from Texas would not shock me.
#2 Miami Hurricanes
Why I have them here - Experience, talent, and a whole lot of L. Miami has finished better than the ACC media predicted for them in the preseason, every single year since Jim Larranaga took over. On Wednesday they were picked 5th. Something tells me they are going to exceed expectations again. For starters they may have the best starting 5 in the country. Yes, I said it, and believe it. Everyone knows Sheldon McClellan (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, ACC best for a G 48.4% FG%) can ball. What's scary is he got much more aggressive and confident toward the end of the season. Look for that to carry over. Wing Davon Reed is the best player in the conference no one talks about. His statistics last season were modest (other than shooting a ridiculous 45.7% from three) but that was due in part to missing the start of the season with injury. The 6'6 Reed can handle, shoot, finish, and especially defend. Together Reed and McClellan give UM a wing tandem comparable to UVA's Malcolm Brogdon & Justin Anderson combination. And look how well that worked for the Hoos the past few seasons. The 'Canes also return the conference's leader in rebounding last year, 7'0 Tonye Jekiri, and PG Angel Rodriguez who had an up and down first year in Coral Gables but clearly has the talent and leadership to man the point. Add to the mix Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy who is relishing his junkyard dog role, and you have a scary starting unit. The bench will be led by sharpshooter James Palmer, tough as nails G Ja'Quan Newton, Stretch 4 Ivan Cruz Uceda, and a pair of freshmen in Ebuka Izundu (7'2 wingspan) and swiss army knife Anthony "Amp" Lawrence Jr. All 10 scholarship players should contribute.
Keys to the season - Reed and McClellan need to be the alphas. Rodriguez can occasionally take over but this team is better when he distributes first. They need to stay healthy as well. This is a deep team but every component will be needed to finish this high.
Best case scenario - Murphy gives them the ingredient they were missing last season, Jekiri and McClellan play like NBA 1st rounders, Rodriguez racks up the assists and not the bricks, and Coach L leads the Hurricanes to their second conference title.
Worst case scenario - They Jekyl and Hyde it up again and sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
Player on the rise - Davon Reed. This kid has the talent to average 12ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, and be first team all conference defensively.
Why I have them here - It's just so much to ask for a team to win that big again with so many freshmen leading the way. The kids will have to do it again this year for Coach K to cut down the nets yet again. They do have some solid returning core players, like PF Amile Jefferson (6.1 ppg 5.8 rpg), quickly improving SG Grayson Allen, big man Marshall Plumlee, and steady G Matt Jones. But the team will still need monster performances from incoming studs like super skilled 6'9 Brandon Ingram (best of the bunch), new PG Derryck Thornton, 6'10 big Chase Jeter, and wing Luke Kennard. Ingram should be ridiculous from get, but Thornton has some huge shoes to fill for the departed Tyus Jones. Also who fills the toughness/clutch void of Justise Winslow? This group is good, but last year's trio (we haven't even mentioned Jahlil Okafor's departure) was special.
Keys to the season - Finding the same chemistry and defensive intensity that led them to the 2015 NCAA Championship.
Best case scenario - Ingram plays like an All-American from the onset, Allen turns into a spectacular shooter, and Thornton runs the club smoothly. Duke wins the ACC and goes back to the Final Four, and we all laugh at me for picking them this low.
Worst case scenario - The young players play like young players. Duke out talents the opposition to a solid season but not one for the ages.
Player on the rise - Grayson Allen. Not just a catch and shoot player. Very underrated as an athlete, and showed lots of toughness in the NC game Vs Wisconsin as well.
Why I have them here - Malcolm Brogdon (14ppg, 2.4 apg, 3.9 rpg) is arguably the best returning player in the conference. He is joined in the back court by classic pass first PG London Perrantes (4.6 apg), who won't shoot much but has a penchant for making big shots in crunch time. PF Anthony Gill is a bruising scorer down low and an all conference type defender to boot, and Mike Tobey is arguably one of the more underrated pivots in the country. They will miss Anderson a ton, but 6'8 Evan Nolte and 6'5 Marial Shayok are both capable players. Shayok in particular could really pick up some of the scoring slack following Anderson's departure to the NBA. Look for expanded roles for bench players like 6'11 bruiser Jack Salt, and 6'7 wing Isiah Wilkins. The Hoos have a very good first 7/8, but may not be as deep as previous seasons. A few things are for certain though. One, Brogdon is a beast. And two, they will play sensational defense night in and night out.
Keys to the season - Find enough scoring. This is always the main concern for Tony Bennett's squad. Minus Anderson it will be magnified.
Best case scenario - Shayok really steps up, and Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, and Perrantes do their things. For the 3rd straight season UVA wins the ACC regular season.
Worst case scenario - They win their share of games, but have nights where the offense resembles something pre shot clock. Virginia takes a slight step backward after two stellar years.
Player on the rise - Marial Shayok. He may start, he may come off the bench, but he will definitely score a lot more.
Why I have them here - PG Demetrius Jackson (12.4 ppg 3.1 apg) is ready to be the team's star, and Zach Auguste (12.9 ppg 6.5 rpg) is one of the best returning players in the ACC down low. But you don't just replace players like Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton with no drop off at all. Sharpshooter Steve Vasturia can pick up some of the slack, and wings Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem can also both score. Newcomers Elijah Burns and Matt Ryan and holdover Martinas Geben should also make them deeper down low. But how good will this team's defense be? And is Jackson good enough to do all the things Grant did (including as a leader)? They should be still be very good, but repeating as ACC Tourney champs may be a tall order considering what they lost.
Keys to the season - Jackson explodes as a player and Vasturia is a good as Connaughton was. They have huge shoes to fill this year, but the Irish's remaining stars are pretty good in their own right. They need to show that from day 1.
Best case scenario - ND remains a juggernaut offensively and shoots their way to the top of the conference.
Worst case scenario - They miss Grant more than they know and finish somewhere toward the middle of the ACC.
Player on the rise - Steve Vasturia. The junior from Medford N.J. averaged 10.1 ppg last year and shot 41% from deep. He should increase the ppg by 3-4 and continue to shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc given his very pretty stroke.
Why I have them here - Xavier Rathan-Mayes (14.9 ppg) is sick. Two times last season he went for 35, and who can forget what he did in a narrow loss at Miami (30 points in 4 minutes)? How good will he be now that he has had a summer to improve? FSU also returns solid, versatile, underrated wing Montay Brandon, sweet shooting PG Devon Bookert, 6'9 wing Jarquez Smith, and a deep front court featuring 6'8 Phil Cofer, 7'3 Boris Bojanovsky (who can really score at times), and 7'1 Michael Ojo (plays well in spurts). But what's really got the folks excited in Tallahassee (besides Dalvin Cook) is an incoming freshman class ranked #8 in the country by 247 Sports. McDonald's All-American Dwayne Bacon and Georgia product Malik Beasley are pair of very strong wings. Bacon is particular is a pure scorer who should drastically improve the Seminoles offense. JUCO transfer Benji Bell should help the back court scoring, and 6'6 F Terrance Mann adds to the already sick depth. They also have a 7'4 project in JM Christ Koumadje in this very intriguing class. The big questions are, #1 are their enough shots to keep everyone happy and #2 will they play Coach Leonard Hamilton's trademark stifling D to form with this many new players?
Keys to the season - Find the right chemistry between holdovers XRM, Brandon, and Booker and newcomers Bacon, Mann, and Bell among others.
Best case scenario - Rathan- Mayes and Bacon are unstoppable and the D brings back memories of the ACCT Champs of 2012. Florida State not only surprises the ACC but the country with their immense talent. They can win the conference if all breaks right.
Worst case scenario - The young guys struggle on D, and the O can't find its' identity. XRM plays well but turns the ball over too much. They finish middle of the pack in the conference.
Player on the rise - Xavier Rathan-Mayes. Who else? He can average 20 points a game if he gets enough shots, and he's also a very smart passer. If he continues to develop as a PG, XRM has a spot in the NBA Lottery in his future.
Why I have them here - They are going to miss Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones (dismissed during season last year), and Terry Rozier a ton. Their losses mean this team will have a whole new identity in 2015-16. Drexel transfer Damion Lee can light it up though, and 6'10 Mangok Mathiang has the physical presence if not yet the skill set, to make up some for Harrell's departure. Sophomore Quentin Snyder did some nice things at the point last year when Jones was kicked, and they also have nice pieces in graduate transfer SG Trey Lewis and bigs Chianu Onuaku and Anas Mahmoud. Freshmen like G Donovan Mitchell (great shooter) and big man Raymond Spalding are also promising players. A drop off seems imminent for Rick Pitino's team, but they won't fall off the map completely. They also have to deal with the distraction of a pending investigation into a recruiting/prostitution scandal.
Keys to the season - The D will always be there. Can Lee fill it up consistently? They need to find solid #2 and #3 options as well.
Best case scenario - Lee plays like a star, and Onuaku, Snyder, and Mathiang develop into top flight players. The Cardinals finish top 3 in the ACC and make another spirited run in the NCAAs.
Worst case scenario - The scandal implodes the season, Pitino resigns (it could happen), and the miss the tourney.
Player on the rise - Mangok Mathiang. He should be one of the better shot blockers in the conference with increased minutes. His offensive game will rely a lot on offensive rebounds, but he could be a double digit scorer nonetheless.
Why I have them here - Anthony "Cat" Barber could be the best PG in the conference. He can score, pass, and really defends on the ball well. He will really miss back court running mate Trevor Lacey though, as well as wing Ralston Turner. Making up for the production of Turner and Lacey will a major challenge for the Pack this season. Abdul-Malik Abu can help things along if he gets more touches. The 6'8 Abu can score on the block and knock down 15 footers. 6'9 C BeeJay Anya is the team's best shot blocker, but he too has some talent down low. West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson will likely start opposite Barber at G. He'll be counted on to knock down open shots, and do a little of everything, similar to what Lacey did. The problem is he is not quite as good at anything as Lacey was. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin are wings with a lot of potential. If they, and/or F Lennard Freeman step up their respective games, it would also help Mark Gottfried's unit quite a bit.
Keys to the season - Abu, Anya, and Henderson score night in and night out, and NC State plays better defense than we are used to seeing.
Best case scenario - Led by the sensational Barber, the Pack run past the opposition and into the upper third of the ACC and make a run in the NCAAs.
Worst case scenario - The D is mediocre and they can't score enough. They fall to the lower half of the conference.
Player on the rise - .Abdul-Mailk Abu. This guy needs more minutes, more touches, and more shots.
Why I have them here - PF Tyler Roberson (7.3 rpg) is the most underrated player in the conference. And Michael Gbinje is versatile and experienced on the wing. Kaleb Joesph should be better at the point in year 2, and Malachi Richardson is a talented incoming freshman wing. But they will still rely on SG Trevor Conney too much, and he will shoot them out of as many games as he shoots them in. And while Chinoso Obokoh and DaJuan Coleman are promising interior players, they can not replace Rakeem Christmas. Two more freshmen in G Franklin Howard, and PF Tyler Lydon will also see minutes. This team will still play its' airtight zone D, but finding consistent scoring will also still be a problem.
Keys to the season - Scoring. This team struggled to score last season with Christmas. They need one of their newcomers to fill it up.
Best case scenario - Cooney shoots well, and Joseph becomes more of a playmaker. Richardson provides a spark and Coleman stays healthy. The Orange play their way into the upper third of the ACC.
Worst case scenario - They simply can't score and the young players struggle on D. NCAA issues and questions about Jim Boeheim's impending retirement provide distractions. Syracuse finds themselves in the NIT or worse.
Player on the rise - Tyler Roberson. The 6'8 F plays like a poor man's Dennis Rodman on the glass.
Why I have them here - SF Jamel Artis (13.6 ppg), PG James Robinson (5.1 apg), and F Michael Young (13.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are three talented veterans. Coppin State graduate transfer Sterling Smith should provide a nice compliment to the big three, and another graduate transfer Rafael Maia from Brown should start at the pivot. Freshman Damon Wilson, a combo guard from Georgia could also compete for minutes/shots. F Sheldon Jeter and 6'5 shooter Chris Jones also add depth. They will miss departed G Cam Wright though. This is clearly a team with a solid group of players, but with the exception of Young and on some nights Artis, they aren't spectacular. They lacked the firepower last year to win against the big boys or enough on the road. That could be the case again this year.
Keys to the season - Artis is even better than last year, and Young continues his high level of play. Smith and/or Wilson help Jones enough on the perimeter.
Best case scenario - Artis and Young are the best F combination in the conference and the Panthers play to a top 5 ACC finish and berth in the big dance.
Worst case scenario - About the same as last year, they are good but not good enough.
Player on the rise - Jamel Artis. At 6'7 220 he is sort of a tweener. However he has very nice touch on the perimeter and isn't afraid to get dirty down low. He could be in for an even bigger 2015-16.
Why I have them here - Head Coach Danny Manning can count on production from senior G Codi Miller-McIntyre (14.5 ppg) and senior PF Devin Thomas (8.8 rpg) as well as talented stretch 4 Konstantinos Mitoglou (52 3's made). He'll need more from big man Andre Washington and SG Mitchell Wilbekin to round things out. Versatile Greg McClinton adds depth, and incoming freshman Bryant Crawford could see minutes at the point. This team will still likely go as far as Miller-McIntyre and Thomas take them.
Keys to the season - The two senior stars ball out and lead this team. Mitoglou and Wilbekin shoot the ball more consistently.
Best case scenario - Wake surprises and plays to the top half of the ACC behind the spirited play if Thomas and Miller-McIntyre and Manning coaxes more out of the supporting cast.
Worst case scenario - The top players put up numbers but do not get enough support. The Demon Deacs continue to try to figure out how to get out of the lower rungs of the conference.
Player on the rise - Konstantinos Mitoglou. The 6'10 sophomore from Greece loves to shoot the ball from deep. He also hits the offensive glass hard. Can he improve the rest of his game?
#12 Clemson Tigers
Why I have them here - 6'7 220 pound Jaron Blossomgame (13.1 ppg 8.2 rpg) is a stud down low. Landry Nnoko is one of the best shot blockers in the ACC as well. And Donte Gratham showed some signs of promise as a freshman wing last year. SG Jordan Roper has nights where he can fill it, but they will miss PG Rod Hall. San Francisco transfer Avry Holmes and true freshman Ty Hudson will compete for the starting point. But this is a team that will be offensively challenged regardless of who starts at the point.
Keys to the season - Find scoring. Besides Hall they also lost SG Demarcus Harrison. Gratham could be the key.
Best case scenario - They play stifling D and Grantham, Holmes, and Roper take turns getting hot. Clemson finishes top 8 in the conference and is on the bubble Selection Sunday.
Worst case scenario - They hold serve with the bottom feeders and get blown out by the big boys. There is no postseason in Death Valley.
Player on the rise - Donte Gratham. Look for the sophomore to significantly increase on last season's 8.8 ppg and 4.6 rpg. He also plays very good D.
Why I have them here - Adam Smith, who transferred from VT, is a top notch shooter. Marcus Georges-Hunt (13.6 ppg) returns as the team's best player on the wing. Charles Mitchell and Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs are capable down low, and graduate transfer James White could also see minutes at the 4. But they need serious improvement from C Ben Lammers, and something out of the PG trio of Travis Jorgensen, Josh Heath, and Corey Heyward. Even with Smith in the mix, they will struggle to score, and turn the ball over much too much to be anywhere near the top half of the conference.
Keys to the season - They need a PG in the worst way. They also need to win a few more close games to make a move in the standings.
Best case scenario - Smith and Georges-Hunt are a solid 1-2 scoring threat. One of the PG's separates himself and plays well. GT closes out a few more games and finishes top 8 in the ACC.
Worst case scenario - They can't score enough and continue to struggle at the point. The close games they lost last year turn into blow outs.
Player on the rise - Marcus Georges-Hunt. The senior to be's production is nothing new, but he has improved all facets of his game the past few seasons.
Why I have them here - I love Buzz Williams as a coach and he will get his kids to play hard. Sophomore G Justin Bibbs (11.4 ppg) and 6'5 wing Ahmed Hill are promising players. Another 6'5 G, Jalen Hudson showed promise by season's end, and should also be improved. PG Devin Wilson takes care of the ball, and Satchel Pierce has his moments as a 7 foot big. Freshmen Chris Clark and Justin Robinson are highly touted prospects who improve the talent level in Blacksburg. Overall though, they are still a few athletes away and they are particularly vulnerable inside.
Keys to the season - Shoot the ball well and use their perimeter players to outgun opponents. Hudson, Bibbs, and Hill need to be really good. Pierce needs to be improved.
Best case scenario - Williams keeps them playing hard and they beat the lower echelon teams and upset a few of the top ones.
Worst case scenario - They get pounded down low every night and remain bottom feeders.
Player on the rise - Jalen Hudson. He showed his skills when scored 32 points against Wake Forest in the ACC Tourney. Williams calls this kid the team's most talented player
Why I have them here - Well they still have 7 footer Dennis Clifford, and when healthy he's okay. Rutgers transfer Eli Carter should help on the perimeter. They have 5 freshmen coming in, including PG Jerome Robinson and PF Johncarlos Reyes who could both start right away. Let me remind you, this was a team that was terrible with Olivier Hanlan. Garland Owens will be counted on to score.
Keys to the season - Owens elevates his game significantly and Clifford plays well. They find some good players for the future among the freshman class.
Best case scenario - Anything other than last place.
Worst case scenario - Last place yet again.
Player on the rise - Garland Owens. Because I have to pick someone on this roster.
SOTU ALL-ACC Preseason Teams:
Tonye Jekiri - Miami
Malcolm Brodon - UVA
Brice Johnson - UNC
Xavier Rathan-Mayes - FSU
Cat Barber - NC State
Sheldon McClellan - Miami
Justin Jackson - UNC
Grayson Allen - Duke
Damion Lee - Louisville
Demetrius Jackson - Notre Dame
Zach Auguste - Notre Dame
Jamel Artis - Pittsburgh
Anthony Gill - UVA
Brandon Ingram - Duke
Tyler Roberson - Syracuse
SOTU Preseason ALL-ACC Freshman Team
Brandon Ingram - Duke
Malachi Richardson - Syracuse
Dwayne Bacon - FSU
Luke Kennard - Duke
Derryck Thornton - Duke
Player of the Year:
Malcolm Brogdon UVA
Freshman of the Year:
Brandon Ingram Duke
Coach of the Year:
Jim Larranaga Miami
All Overrated Team:
Angel Rodriguez - Miami
Marcus Paige - UNC
Zach Auguste - Notre Dame
Trevor Cooney - Syracuse
Kennedy Meeks - UNC
All Underrated Team:
Tyler Roberson - Syracuse
Davon Reed - Miami
Jamel Artis - Pittsburgh
Montay Brandon - FSU
Mike Tobey - UVA
ACC Teams in the 2015-16 NCAA Tourney (8):
UNC, Miami, Duke, Virginia, FSU, Louisville, NC State, Notre Dame
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