Duke is always among the biggest stories in college basketball— both when the Blue Devils are great and less than great. Some years it's Zion's dunks creating viral clips, other years it's Grayson's meltdowns. Either way, for one reason or another, it's nearly impossible to get through a year without Duke playing a major role in the telling of it. And this season will obviously be no exception because it's Mike Krzyzewski's final season on the sideline. And because the Blue Devils are expected to finish first in the ACC. And because they'll be led by a freshman named Paolo Banchero who projects as the likely No. 1 pick of the 2022 NBA Draft.
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Hubert Davis' first season at North Carolina after replacing Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Roy Williams will also be a big story in the ACC — as will Virginia trying to stay good despite returning very little, Mike Brey trying to return Notre Dame to the field of 68 for the first time since 2017, and Louisville trying to bounce-back after missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament (and enduring another scandal). But the dominant story will be Coach K's farewell season inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Blue Devils will once again enjoy a true homecourt advantage that should help lift them to the 13th ACC regular-season title of Krzyzewski's incredible career.
CBS Sports ACC Preseason Player of the Year
Paolo Banchero, Duke
When I first met Paolo Banchero, back in July 2019, he was getting ready to start his junior year of high school. We were at a USA Basketball event in Colorado. And I remember sitting next to a coach with a preseason top-10 team who told me, while watching Banchero go through drills, that the 16 year-old could start for him "right now." Since that day, all Banchero has done is get taller, stronger and more skilled to the point where most believe he'll be a First Team All-American before becoming the first pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
CBS Sports ACC Preseason Coach of the Year
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
It's difficult to reach a consensus on a preseason Coach of the Year — or postseason Coach of the Year, for that matter — because nobody seems capable of agreeing on what criteria matters most. That said, I'm unsurprised Mike Krzyzewski was our leading vote-getter considering he's the man who has built what is, on paper, the best roster highlighted by the person who is perceived to be the best player. Incredibly, Coach K has only won five ACC Coach of the Year awards in his 41 years at Duke. But if he guides the Blue Devils to a conference title this season, he probably will secure a sixth.
CBS Sports ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year
Paolo Banchero, Duke
When a freshman is the Player of the Year, he must also be the Freshman of the Year. Nothing else would make sense. So Paolo Banchero is collecting two preseason trophies here. He was actually a unanimous selection for both awards among our panel of voters, which highlights just how confident we are that the 6-foot-10 forward is about to have a monster season that should give Mike Krzyzewski a chance to leave the sport on a high note.
CBS Sports Predicted Order of Finish
The consensus order as voted by our experts with how they voted below
|The Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1995 and failed to finish in the top seven of the ACC standings for the first time ever under Mike Krzyzewski. They were playing better late when their season was abruptly ended by a positive COVID-19 case within the program. But it was still a terrible campaign relative to Duke's super-high standards. The reason almost nobody is expecting similar struggles this season is because three of the top five scorers from that team are back and being joined by three five-star prospects -- namely Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels. So Duke has a nice blend of experienced pieces and top-shelf NBA talent, which is why the Blue Devils really should be capable of competing for what would be the sixth national championship of Krzyzewski's career. |
|The Tar Heels are in Year One of the post-Roy Williams era -- and the good news for his successor, Hubert Davis, is that Williams left the program in nice shape. UNC returns Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton and Leaky Black. That's a veteran group that combined to average 45 points per game last season. They'll be paired with Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia and Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek, both of whom averaged double-figures last season. What that means is that North Carolina has four players who have already averaged double-figures in points at the high-major level. They're the core that should allow Davis to keep the Tar Heels nationally relevant without dipping at all. |
|The Seminoles lost four of their top five scorers from last season-- among them top-five pick Scottie Barnes, whose NBA career is off to a nice start. Regardless, Florida State should extend its streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to five thanks in part to the return of rotation players Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne and Wyatt Wilkes, but mostly because of the big-time additions Leonard Hamilton and his staff annually make. Caleb Mills comes to FSU from Houston, where he averaged 13.2 points per game as a freshman while shooting 36.5% from 3-point range. He's one of two high-major transfers joining the program with the other being former Kentucky reserve Cam'Ron Fletcher. They'll bolster a roster that is also adding two heralded freshmen -- namely Jalen Warley and Matthew Cleveland, the latter of whom is a consensus five-star wing. So Florida State clearly has the pieces to compete for a top-four finish in the ACC for the fourth consecutive season.|
|The Cavaliers have won at least a share of five of the past eight ACC regular-season titles and finished in the top four of the league standings in nine of the previous 10 years. So you can reasonably argue that no coach in the country deserves the benefit of the doubt more than Tony Bennett -- and the fact that we voted Virginia fourth in the ACC despite the Cavaliers returning just two players who averaged at least 8.6 minutes per game last season suggests he's getting it. It's worth noting that Virginia is actually eighth in KenPom's preseason ACC ratings, and ninth in BartTorvik's, after losing six of its top eight scorers -- among them double-digit scorers Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Trey Murphy III. So the Cavaliers will need to out-perform the computers to remain near the top of the league standings. And a lot of that will fall on the shoulders of Kihei Clark, who is the only player on the roster who has started more than 20 games for the Cavaliers. Armaan Franklin and Jayden Gardner are a pair of transfers (from Indiana and East Carolina, respectively) expected to make an immediate impact. |
|On a recent episode of the Eye On College Basketball Podcast, Matt Norlander and I discussed which teams unranked in the preseason AP Top 25 poll we could envision cracking the top 10 at some point. My best guess was Virginia Tech, which is returning five of the top six scorers from a team that made the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The star is Keve Aluma, a 6-9 forward who averaged a team-high 15.2 points, a team-high 7.0 rebounds and a team-high 1.3 blocks per game last season. Among the notable newcomers is Storm Murphy, a transfer who averaged 17.8 points per game at Wofford last season while shooting 40.0 from beyond the arc on 7.3 attempts per contest. |
|The Cardinals battled COVID-19 issues last season so much that they twice had at least 18-day breaks between games. The byproduct was that they only played a total of 20 games, which tied Boston College for the lowest in the league. In other words, it was an uneven season filled with interruptions that ended with a double-digit loss to Duke that pushed Louisville to the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and led to Chris Mack making multiple staff changes. So the Cardinals are very much in need of a bounce-back season -- and the expectation here is that they'll have one despite losing their top two scorers (Carlik Jones and David Johnson). Like so many other programs, Louisville will be reliant on incoming transfers -- namely Jarrod West, Noah Locke, Matt Cross and El Ellis, the latter of whom was ranked as the No. 1 JUCO prospect in the country. |
|Mike Brey led the Irish to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in an eight-year span from 2010 to 2017. He made the Elite Eight twice. But Notre Dame hasn't been back to the Field of 68 since (or even finished with a winning record in ACC games). It's been a rough stretch. But there's reason to believe Brey will turn things around this season considering he's bringing back five of his top six scorers from a team that beat Florida State, Duke and Kentucky last season. Prentiss Hubb, Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin are a veteran core that combined to average 39.7 points and 15.2 rebounds per game last season. If the Irish are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, that trio will be the main reason. |
|The Orange made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament and were initially expected to return at least five of the top six scorers. It didn't turn out that way, though. Instead, Quincy Guerrier and Kadary Richmond both transferred, and Alan Griffin entered the 2021 NBA Draft despite the fact he was never likely to be selected. So now Syracuse is only bringing back two of its top six scorers -- most notably Buddy Boeheim, a CBS Sports Second-Team Preseason All-American who averaged 23.0 points in the Orange's final 10 games last season. He's a special player who should give Syracuse a legitimate chance to make the NCAA Tournament again despite the significant losses. |
|Josh Pastner coached the Yellow Jackets to their first ACC Tournament title since 1993 last season and had a chance to advance in the NCAA Tournament if not for Moses Wright, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, testing positive for COVID-19 just before Georgia Tech played Loyola Chicago in the Round of 64. It was an unfortunate turn of events. But there's no denying the season was an otherwise incredible success considering the Yellow Jackets made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. Can Georgia Tech make it back this season? Sure, in theory. But it might be difficult with both Wright and Jose Alvarado no longer in the program. That leaves Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher as the only players on the roster who averaged more than 6.7 points per game last season. |
|The Wolfpack probably would've made the 2020 NCAA Tournament if there'd been a 2020 NCAA Tournament. But there wasn't one. So NC State hasn't played in the Big Dance since 2018 -- and breaking that streak this season seems closer to unlikely than likely, evidence being that Jerry Palm doesn't have the Wolfpack in his latest projected bracket. Some of that is because Devon Daniels and D.J. Funderburk -- the leading scorer and third-leading scorer on last season's team -- are both gone. Virginia transfer Casey Morsell is a nice addition who should help offset the losses. And the return of Manny Bates, an elite shot-blocker, is nice. But NC State still projects as a team that should only finish around .500 in the ACC. |
|Aamor Simms led Clemson in points per game (13.4), rebounds per game (6.4), assists per game (2.7) and blocks per game (0.7) last season. He did a lot of things well. And the truth is that there's no one player on the Tigers' current roster who is capable of filling his shoes, which is among the reasons Clemson is expected to slide down the standings a bit. A backcourt of Al-Amir Dawes, Nick Honor and USF transfer David Collins comprise a solid core; all three averaged at least 8.1 points per game last season. But they're probably not enough to lead the Tigers to a second straight NCAA Tournament. |
|The Hurricanes haven't been back to the NCAA Tournament since making it three straight times from 2016 through 2018 -- and last season was especially bad. Miami was overwhelmed with injuries and never whole. Chris Lykes, the team's second-leading scorer, only played two games. Earl Timberlake, the team's top recruit, only played seven. The result was a 4-15 record in the ACC -- and then Lykes and Timberlake both transferred along with Elijah Olaniya, Nysier Brooks and Matt Cross. That means five of the top eight scorers from last season's team are no longer in the program. And Miami likely didn't enroll enough impactul newcomers to its core of Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty to avoid finishing 10th or worse in the ACC for what would be the fourth consecutive season. |
|Steve Forbes was the only new coach at a Power 5 program last season, which means he's the only Power 5 coach who had to start a rebuild in the middle of a global pandemic and while official visits weren't even allowed. It wasn't ideal. It made anything close to a quick turnaround impossible and anything more than a 14th-place finish unlikely. But Wake Forest should be better this season thanks to the return of Daivien Williamson and arrival of Indiana State transfer Jake Laravia. Both averaged double-figures in points last season. The Demon Deacons might not finish much higher in the standings, but, for what it's worth, they're ranked 104th at KenPom this preseason after finishing 175th last season. |
|Justin Champagnie, Au'Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson combined to average 46.8 points per game last season for a Pitt team that started 8-2 but lost 10 of its final 12 games. Each of them had at least two years of eligibility remaining but none of them remained with the Panthers, leaving Jeff Capel with a roster that probably isn't talented enough to finish much better than Pitt finished last season. The addition of Texas Tech transfer Jamarius Burton should provide a boost.. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game two seasons ago at Wichita State. But Capel's fourth season with the Panthers isn't expected to look much different than the first three, each of which resulted in 12th-or-worse finishes in the ACC. |
|The Eagles haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2009 or finished better than 7-11 in the ACC since 2011. This is a hard job. And though it's possible first-year coach Earl Grant will get things respectable someday, there's literally no reason to think it'll happen quickly. Makai Ashton-Langford is the best returning player after averaging 9.6 points per game last season. And Brevin Galloway is an interesting addition who came with Grant from Charleston. But, barring a big surprise, the losses should far outnumber the wins in Chestnut Hill this season. |
Most Overrated Team
If you compare our predicted order of finish to what's projected at KenPom and BartTorvik, the most overrated team is Virginia. We have the Cavaliers fourth in the ACC while KenPom has them eighth and BartTorvik has them ninth. We're simply trusting Tony Bennett to work his magic per usual. But all the computers see is a team that returns very little of relevance.
Most Underrated Team
Our voting that placed Notre Dame at seventh in the ACC flies in the face of what the computers are projecting. KenPom has the Irish third. BartTorvik has them fifth. So Notre Dame looks like the team most likely to exceed our expectations.