I'm excited to see: the ACC

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
10:00
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Before we talk about the upcoming season, let's first glance back to 2010-11.

Back when the Big East Conference lived up to that "Beast" nickname. Back when a record 11 of 16 league teams received NCAA tournament bids.

Half of the Big East finished ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll that season.

Connecticut, which finished just .500 in the league and ninth in the standings, did not lose a game outside of conference play the entire season en route to capturing the 2011 national championship.

Think about that a minute: from ninth-best in the Big East to national champions.

I'm excited to see whether the ACC has that kind of depth this season.

It could.

The league could have three teams ranked in the preseason top 10 and at least four in the top 15. (Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia.) That last happened 10 seasons ago when Wake Forest, Duke, Carolina and Maryland achieved the feat in the 2004-05 campaign.

Having four potential heavyweights at the top of the standings is fun in and of itself -- especially with Louisville making for a new rival as it replaces a Maryland program that had become stagnant.

But just having four contenders is not why the league should be so competitive this season. The strength comes in the teams that should be fighting in the middle tier:

Syracuse: I don't expect Kaleb Joseph to simply step in and do what Tyler Ennis did at point guard last season. But if he can at least stabilize the position, coach Jim Boeheim will have enough talent around him. Fellow freshman Chris McCullough could make an immediate impact at power forward, and Tyler Roberson is ready for an expanded role with C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant gone.

Pittsburgh: It's time the ACC got used to what the Big East knew: Coach Jamie Dixon always finds a way to have the Panthers in the mix. Cameron Wright and James Robinson form an experienced backcourt, and, if forward Durand Johnson comes back strong from his knee injury, Pitt will again prove to be a tough out.

Notre Dame: Guard Jerian Grant led the team in scoring and assists before being sidelined after just 12 games because of academic issues. Grant's return gives the Irish instant credibility. Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson will help make them one of the best 3-point-shooting teams in the league.

NC State: Could have one of the better backcourts in the league with sophomore Anthony Barber and Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey. There's no way to replace T.J. Warren, but coach Mark Gottfried signed a solid class with three top-100 recruits led by power forward Abdul-Malik Abu.

Miami: It might seem odd to expect the Canes to make a leap with just three players and 15 percent of their scoring returning from last season. But transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) will help them get better in a hurry, not to mention redshirt freshman guard Deandre Burnett, a four-star recruit who was sidelined with a wrist injury last year.

Florida State: The Seminoles could be the sleeper of the league. They return six of their top nine players from last season, including leading scorer Aaron Thomas. Coach Leonard Hamilton's teams are always tough defensively, and, with a trio of 7-foot rim protectors, they'll be tough to score on again.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons return their leading scorer (Codi Miller-McIntyre) and leading rebounder (Devin Thomas). Now, if first-year coach Danny Manning can just get them to win on the road, where they have been just 2-32 against league opponents the past four seasons, he'll have them turned in the right direction.

Even Clemson, which lost K.J. McDaniels to the NBA but returned almost everyone else of note, could pull off a few surprises.

North Carolina and Duke have carried the mantle for the ACC for far too many years. This season there will be plenty more teams that can shoulder the load.

C.L. Brown | email

College Basketball
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