Photo courtesy of Mitch White/Florida State athletics
Last season was rough for the ACC as it was only expected to produce four NCAA Tournament teams.
However, this is often overlooked considering the lack of a dominant presence in college basketball as a whole. There was as small a difference between a top team and a mediocre team as any particular year in recent history. Next season, the ACC will return to its rightful place as the best conference in college basketball.
At the Top
Everything starts with the top of the pack. While it is doubtful that the conference replicates the three No. 1 seeds it produced in 2019, Virginia has emerged as a heavy contender for the national championship. With returners in Kihei Clark and Jay Huff, a transfer who is a very efficient three-point shooter in Sam Hauser, and a top 15 recruiting class, the Cavaliers have one of head coach Tony Bennett’s deepest teams.
Virginia was arguably the hottest team in the conference when last season came to an abrupt ending. The Cavaliers had won 11 of 12 games to close the regular season. That included three victories over top-10 teams.
Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, and potentially Louisville are all expected to be top-15 teams.
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Duke, as always, brings an elite recruiting class, but will also be led by returners in Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore, and Jordan Goldwire. Florida State loses a lot, but brings in potential ACC Player of the Year, Scottie Barnes.
With more health and experience, North Carolina should rise back towards the top. Louisville loses Jordan Nwora, but transfers Charles Minland and Carlik Jones leave the Cardinals in perfectly capable hands.
The second-tier teams are what will truly make the conference elite, however.
The middle of the conference will produce tournament-caliber teams too. Miami, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech each have plenty of experience to propel them to the top 25 throughout the season. Another star player has returned in Aamir Simms, who should certainly make Clemson relevant.
It should also be noted that NC State and Notre Dame were 20-win teams last season. Georgia Tech’s 11 ACC wins was its most since the 1995-96 season. Bobby Cremins coached the Yellow Jackets to the regular-season title that season.
Virginia Tech is very intriguing with the backcourt with Cartier Diarra and Tyrece Radford. In fact, a case could be made for any ACC team to be tournament-bound with the exception of Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have a ton of questions.
Since 2001, teams from the ACC have claimed eight of 19 national championships. Two others were won by programs that have since joined the ACC. After an underwhelming year, the ACC is primed to retain to its usual reputation with plenty of talent, experience, and depth.