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College Basketball Conference Previews: ACC

There's been so much realignment in the past year that it's genuinely difficult to keep track of everything, and even I couldn't name every Conference USA member without thinking for a minute. But the important thing to remember is that the ACC is the only established league that got noticeably better.

The additions of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are significant.

They'll make this league even tougher than usual.

(And it's usually tough.)

Here's a preview of the Atlantic Coast Conference:

Coach's take

"How many teams do you have in the top 25 to start the season? Four or five? And three of those (Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse) might be good enough to win a championship. … Tough league, man. Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame change things. They'll all be good. And Virginia is good, too. Somebody good is going to finish in the bottom half."

Projected order of finish

Duke

There are only a handful of programs that could lose their leading scorer (Seth Curry), second-leading scorer (Mason Plumlee) and third-leading scorer (Ryan Kelly), and still be picked to win a league like this league. But Duke is one of those programs. So how did the Blue Devils do it? By enrolling McDonald's All-American Jabari Parker and McDonald's All-American Rodney Hood. Parker came via Chicago's Simeon High. Hood came via Mississippi State. They project as the Blue Devils' top two players. They'll likely be joined in the starting lineup by Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, then lead Duke to its fifth 30-win season in the past six years.

North Carolina

The season can't get here soon enough for North Carolina, can it? All the good that Roy Williams has done on the recruiting trail -- UNC currently has three top-30 prospects from the Class of 2014 committed -- has been overshadowed by P.J. Hairston's offseason troubles, which included an arrest for marijuana possession, a questionable rental car situation and, possibly, a connection to a handgun found outside of his vehicle at a license checkpoint in July. Williams has already announced that Hairston will miss some "games" for his transgressions, though the exact amount remains unclear. Either way, barring additional problems, Hairston will eventually be a part of UNC's starting lineup, at which point he'll team with James Michael McAdoo, Marcus Paige, Leslie McDonald and Brice Johnson to help the Tar Heels challenge -- who else? -- Duke for ACC supremacy.

Syracuse

Yes, Syracuse fans, I realize I left C.J. Fair off the All-ACC team below, and I know you think that's silly bordering on stupid. And I know it could look really stupid in March if Fair becomes the ACC Player of the Year, which is possible. But here's my rationale: I needed one ball-handler on my team, another guard, two forwards and somebody who is a true power forward or center in the middle. That means I was basically stuck picking between Parker, Hood and Fair for two spots, and I went with Parker and Hood over Fair. I hope you understand. I'll make it up to you down the road, perhaps with a column about how much I love Tyler Ennis or something.

Notre Dame

Jack Cooley exhausted his eligibility, so, for the first time in a long time, the Irish do not have Luke Harangody or anybody who kinda looks like Luke Harangody. So weird. But Mike Brey does enter the ACC with four returning starters from a 25-win team; that alone suggests this won't be too difficult of a transition. Jerian Grant is a 6-foot-5 guard who can play either backcourt position. He averaged 13.3 points and 5.5 assists per game last season. He's the designated ball-handler on my preseason All-ACC team, and the main reason why Notre Dame will be in the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season.

Virginia

The top five scorers return from a Virginia team that won 11 games in the ACC last season, which is why Tony Bennett's fifth season in Charlottesville will likely be his best. Senior guard Joe Harris and senior forward Akil Mitchell are a terrific one-two duo. They combined to average 29.4 points and 12.9 rebounds last season, which means they're basically the equivalent of one Michael Beasley at Kansas State, and I mean that as a compliment. Seriously, this is a good team, a borderline Top 25 team, and, with the way Bennett is recruiting, there's no reason to think the Cavaliers will slip much (or at all) even when Harris and Mitchell graduate.

Maryland

With four four-star prospects at four different positions already committed from the Class of 2014, the future is promising at Maryland. But what about the present? Honestly, it's less promising thanks, in part, to Alex Len turning pro early. But this could and should still be Mark Turgeon's best Maryland team to date, and making the NCAA tournament is and should be the goal. The guess here is that the Terrapins will do it thanks largely to the play of Dez Wells … and then be even better next season … and the next season … and the next season …

Pittsburgh

It's difficult to blame Steven Adams for leaving Pittsburgh after one very mediocre season in school, especially considering he was a lottery pick selected by Oklahoma City. But the Panthers sure could've used him. The 7-footer's early departure means Pitt is without a future pro in the middle, and three of its top five scorers from last season, most notably Tray Woodall. Still, Jamie Dixon remains the coach, and he's really good. So while I'm not completely sold on the roster, I'm still betting the Panthers won't fall out of the top half of this league, although making a 10th NCAA tournament in 11 years is far from a given.

Boston College

The Eagles lost four more league games than they won last season, and they're located in a market (Boston) that doesn't care much about college basketball. So if they were off your radar, hey, that makes sense. But what you missed, assuming you missed it, was a team that won seven ACC games despite an unusually young roster for a program like Boston College. The top six scorers were all either freshmen or sophomores, and every one of them -- including double-digit scorers Olivier Hanlan, Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon -- are back. So the Eagles would really be in nice shape if not for the additions of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Those three schools are the only reasons BC isn't projected for a top-five finish.

Florida State

Every single time I tweet about Andrew Wiggins at least one Florida State fan replies in pain while thinking about what could've been if the son of two former FSU athletes would've enrolled at his parents' alma mater. That development -- i.e., Wiggins passing on FSU in favor of Kansas -- is comparable, on some level, to Peyton Manning passing on his parents' alma mater (Ole Miss) to enroll at Tennessee. But cheer up, Florida State fans, because I have some good news. No, I don't think your Seminoles will return to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in sixth seasons after missing the Field of 68 last season; there's just not enough on the roster to do that a year after losing Michael Snaer. My good news is that you won't have to suffer through four years of Wiggins at Kansas like Ole Miss fans had to suffer through four years of Manning at Tennessee. The consensus top recruit in the country will almost certainly never be a sophomore. So this pain is a short-term pain.

Wake Forest

I applauded athletic director Ron Wellman when he hired Jeff Bzdelik -- not necessarily because I thought it would work, but because I respected the you-know-whats it took to hire a basketball coach who'd just lost nearly four times as many Big 12 games as he'd won in three seasons at Colorado. You got to have a conviction about somebody to hire a somebody with that resume. So I respected Wellman's conviction. Of course, at this point, in hindsight, Wellman's belief in Bzdelik seems misguided, and now a significant portion of the fan base wants both men fired. Will their seats cool after another projected rough season in the ACC? I doubt it. And can you believe this is the same program that made six NCAA tournaments between 2002 and 2010?

North Carolina State

N.C. State will be fine again soon because Mark Gottfried has shown throughout his long career at the Division I level that he's capable of consistently enrolling high-level recruits. But this is undeniably a transition season from one core to another because five of the top six scorers from last season's team that some picked to win the ACC are gone, and three of those players -- C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Rodney Purvis -- left without exhausting their eligibility. So, yeah, T.J. Warren is talented, and he's going to score a lot of points. But there's just not enough around the 6-foot-8 sophomore to keep the Wolfpack from finishing down here somewhere.

Georgia Tech

I think I might have Georgia Tech too low in these projections considering the Yellow Jackets return four starters -- also known as their top four scorers -- from a team that finished tied for ninth with Wake Forest in the ACC last season. A core of Marcus Georges-Hunt, Robert Carter, Kammeon Holsey and Daniel Miller isn't great. But it's pretty darn solid, and if sophomore Solomon Poole plays to the potential he seemed to have in high school, and Tennessee transfer Trae Golden gets a waiver to play immediately … ahh, man … I'm already regretting this. I know I probably screwed this up.

Miami

The great thing about Shane Larkin emerging as an elite point guard last season was how it allowed the Hurricanes to go 15-3 in the ACC, win the league's regular-season title and make the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history. But the bad thing about all of this -- and it's not really a bad thing; it's just an unfortunate byproduct for the short-term prospects of the program -- is that it propelled Larkin to the NBA a year earlier than any reasonable person could've expected. So now all six of the players who led the Hurricanes in minutes and points last season are no longer a part of the program. Miami's leading returning scorer? That's senior guard Rion Brown. He averaged 6.4 points last season.

Clemson

Brad Brownell is a terrific basketball coach -- proof being what he did at UNC-Wilmington and Wright State. But it's extremely difficult -- and nearly impossible -- to win at the high-major level without consistently enrolling high-major recruits, and that's the simple explanation for why Clemson is just 13-21 in the ACC over the past two years, and not projected to improve on the record this season. Brownell hasn't signed a single four-star or five-star prospect in either of his past two classes. That's a problem in a league like this league, especially for a program that's now without two of the three players (Devin Booker and Milton Jennings) who averaged double-figures in points for the Tigers last season.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies went 4-14 in the ACC last season and finished dead-last in the 12-school league while being led by do-everything guard Erick Green -- who led the team, the ACC and the nation in scoring by getting 25.0 points per game. Now Green is gone. And the ACC is tougher thanks to the additions of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt. So how are the Hokies supposed to climb out of the so-called cellar? Truth is, I don't think they can. So Virginia Tech fans will likely spend March yearning for the days of being just on the wrong side of the bubble with Seth Greenberg. Because as disappointing as some of those NIT appearances must've felt, they were obviously better than losing three times as many ACC games as you win.

Our Preseason All-ACC Team

G: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
G: Joe Harris, Virginia
F: Jabari Parker, Duke
F: Rodney Hood, Duke
F: James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina

Our Preseason ACC Player of the Year

Jabari Parker, Duke

Parker isn't "the best high school player since LeBron James," which is why most everybody agrees that his Sports Illustrated cover from last year was rooted in fiction. But that doesn't mean the 6-foot-8 forward isn't a super-talented prospect who should be Duke's top player this season. Because he is. And he should be.

Our ACC Newcomer of the Year

Jabari Parker, Duke

Parker is freshman, by the way. So if the ACC Player of the Year is a freshman then he must also be the ACC Newcomer of the Year, right? (Let's not make this too complicated.)

Our Preseason ACC Coach of the Year

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

Coach K has won four national championships, made 11 Final Fours, won 12 ACC regular-season titles, 13 ACC tournament titles, two Olympic gold medals and recorded more victories at the Division I level than any men's basketball coach in history. Beyond that, his Blue Devils are a consensus preseason top-10 team and most everybody's pick to win the ACC. So I'm not sure how or why I'd select anybody other than Krzyzewski for this honor.

Three Numbers to Know

1:That's the number of times in the past 10 seasons that neither Duke nor North Carolina finished in at least a tie atop the ACC's final regular-season standings. The lone season was last season, when Miami was alone in first after all of the regular-season games were played.

6: That's the number of ACC players that will be selected in next June's NBA Draft, according to DraftExpress.com. The players are: Jabari Parker (7th), James Michael McAdoo (15th), T.J. Warren (21st), P.J. Hairston (22nd), Rasheed Sulaimon (27th) and Jerami Grant (29th).

987: That's the number of times a Wake Forest fan has either tweeted or emailed me about firing their athletic director and/or basketball coach.

ACC
Finish

Gary Parrish

Jeff Borzello

Matt Norlander

Doug Gottlieb

Jerry
Palm

Jon Rothstein
1.
DUKE

DUKE

DUKE

DUKE

DUKE

DUKE
2.
UNC

CUSE

ND

UNC

CUSE

CUSE
3.
CUSE

ND

CUSE

CUSE

UNC

UNC
4.
ND

UNC

UNC

ND

UVA

ND
5.
UVA

UVA

UVA

UVA

ND

UVA
6.
MD

MD

MD

MD

PITT

MD
7.
PITT

BC

PITT

PITT

MD

BC
8.
BC

PITT

MIAMI

BC

BC

PITT
9.
FSU

GATECH

GATECH

FSU

GATECH

GATECH
10.
WAKE

FSU

NCST

WAKE

FSU

FSU
11.
NCST

NCST

BC

NCST

NCST

NCST
12.
GATECH

WAKE

FSU

GATECH

WAKE

MIAMI
13.
MIAMI

MIAMI

CLEM

MIAMI

MIAMI

WAKE
14.
CLEM

CLEM

VATECH

CLEM

CLEM

CLEM
15.
VATECH

VATECH

WAKE

VATECH

VATECH

VATECH
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