Duke has the CBS Sports preseason Player of the Year (Grayson Allen), the CBS Sports preseason ACC Freshman of the Year (Jayson Tatum) and the CBS Sports preseason Coach of the Year in Mike Krzyzewski, and a nod of confidence in the Hall of Famer's ability to meld this group of future NBA Draft lottery picks into a title contender in 2017.

It's intellectually disingenuous to make an argument for anyone else as the ACC preseason favorite. That, and the spotlight that comes with being Duke, will make Durham the center of the national college basketball conversation regarding the ACC.

Don't get so blinded by the star power you miss the real intrigue in the ACC. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia will have 20-plus wins and enter the NCAA Tournament with Final Four expectations.

Louisville could be added to that list, depending on how all of Rick Pitino's versatile and rangy roster pieces fit together in ACC play, along with Syracuse, starting over in the backcourt after the loss of two senior starters.

But after that group sit seven teams ranked No. 51 or better in KenPom's preseason rankings and certainly expect to finish the season in the field of 68. The ACC may be the best basketball conference in the land, but won't get 12 teams in the tournament. Unlike the top of the conference, the pecking order in that middle group is incredibly fluid and can (and will) change week-to-week once conference play begins.

The ACC will get national attention because of Duke and North Carolina, but that spotlight will shine the brightest when those contenders are tested by Louisville's length, Florida State's pace and NBA talent, NC State's electric freshman point guard Dennis Smith and many more challenges.

Duke's Grayson Allen has garnered many preseason accolades. USATSI

ACC Preseason Player of the Year

Grayson Allen, Duke

Statistically, there isn't a better returning ACC player. Last season, Allen averaged 21.6 points and ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in scoring (2nd), minutes played (3rd), 3-point percentage (41.7 percent, 4th), free throw percentage (83.7 percent, 5th), steals (1.31 per game, 8th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.76, 10th). While Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles make the transition to college, Allen will be the seasoned veteran on the best team with the ball in his hands to start the season. Mike Krzyzewski believes Allen still can take steps forward on both ends of the court and it's likely he'll be as challenged as anyone on the roster to improve his game in hopes of winning his second national championship in three years.

ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year

Jayson Tatum, Duke

A foot injury during Duke's pro day has stunted the start of Tatum's season, but thankfully it is not expected to be major. At 6-8, Tatum can score from all over the floor and has created as much buzz (if not more) than fellow freshman Harry Giles, thanks to a productive summer and fall with the program. Tatum will be in the mix for All-ACC and All-American honors as one of the most impressive wing players in the country, making him an easy pick for Freshman of the Year in the ACC.

ACC Preseason Coach of the Year

Mike Krzyzewsk, Duke

Did you know Coach K has three national championships, eight ACC tournament titles and zero ACC Coach of the Year awards since 2000-01? He has been named ACC Coach of the Year five times, most recently in 2000, and rarely gets mentioned as a contender for the award despite seasonal success. This time, Krzyzewski gets the nod for work done on the recruiting trail and the expectation he'll find a way to get the most out of this team.

Preseason All-ACC team

G: Dennis Smith Jr. | NC State | Freshman

G: Grayson Allen | Duke | Junior

F: Jaron Blossomgame | Clemson | Senior

F: Jayson Tatum | Duke | Freshman

F: Austin Nichols | Virginia | Junior

Predicted order of finish




Duke hopes Amile Jefferson stays healthy this season. USATSI

Scouting reports

(Teams listed in consensus predicted order of finish)

1. Duke Blue Devils

Strength: Talent, coaching, being Duke in 2017

Not only did Mike Krzyzewski do it again in the offseason, securing a recruiting class with future NBA lottery picks, but he gets Allen back along with the Final Four experience of Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson. It's a special group and rare collection of talent, even by Coach K's standards.

Weakness: A lack of proven ball-handlers

Duke is not afraid to install a positionless approach, but even on a positionless team you need to have a couple of players who can take the ball from end-to-end under pressure and help generate offense. Freshman Frank Jackson and Allen are the top options and very capable ones, but the depth at that position could be an issue in the event of injury or foul trouble.

X-factor: Harry Giles' health

The status of Giles' left knee, in particular, is going to be the most closely watched story in Durham. Giles is not only a player with phenomenal talent and the potential for instant impact, but he's also a likely lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Concern for player, team and the spotlight of a top-5 preseason ranking collide this fall. Giles had his knee scoped earlier this month in a procedure Krzyzewski said would "help him be 100 percent going forward." Normal recovery time for the procedure is six weeks, but the team would not set a date on his return.

Projected regular-season win total: 27

Everything in consideration for Duke's win total comes with a "yeah, but..." clause attached. Duke only plays Louisville and Virginia once! Yeah, but both are on the road. Duke might have most proven talent and the most incoming talent in the country! Yeah, but Giles and Jayson Tatum are starting their seasons working their way back from injuries -- with Giles' availability a far greater concern and uncertainty than Tatum's foot sprain. In adding up the wins and losses, I'm guessing Kansas takes the non-con win later this month and Duke goes 16-2 in conference play.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels

Strength: Returning experience

When the national runner-up and reigning ACC champion brings six of its top eight players back, there's an assumption success will continue. Theo Pinson's health is a concern and there's a step forward assumed for Joel Berry II after watching the Florida prospect hit a second gear in the postseason, but there's too much talent on the roster to expect any kind of major step back in 2017.

Weakness: Outside shooting

Easy. They were just bad. The struggles outside weren't as detrimental to the team's success thanks to Brice Johnson's stellar offensive play inside. Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks (when healthy) made the Tar Heels an inside-out team. How much was Johnson worth in that? Will Tony Bradley have an impact immediately? Some better outside shooting could help open things up, but where does it come from? Justin Jackson's got the best-looking shot of the bunch but 3-pointers dropped only 29.2 percent of the time last year for the now-junior from Tomball, Texas.

X-factor: Joel Berry

Carolina needs Hicks and Meeks to be consistently strong and out of foul trouble to be great. As noted, UNC could use better outside shooting (32.7 percent from 3-point range in 2015-16). For North Carolina to return to the Final Four, it's going to require the best from Joel Berry II. Berry's aggressiveness getting to the rim made him a force in the ACC Tournament (where he was named MVP) and key piece to the NCAA Tournament run. Now the focus of opposing coaching staffs, Berry has to figure out how to make the same impact with new personnel.

Projected regular-season win total: 22

One of Duke's losses, I'm projecting, will come to the Tar Heels, who start the season with their own set of uncertainties thanks to Pinson's health status. While an influx of young talent gives North Carolina the opportunity to outrun and outlast many opponents, success against the best ACC teams will be determined by three-year and four-year players using experience gained in two straight NCAA Tournament runs to create better execution in tight games. Three games will determine this win total: at Clemson (Jan. 3), at Miami (Jan. 28) and at NC State (Feb. 15). All three roadies are in spots where UNC has fallen unexpectedly or spectacularly before. Win them all and the win total is slower to 25, lose them all its probably closer to 20.

3. Virginia Cavaliers

Strength: Consistency under Tony Bennett

Virginia is 45-9 the past three seasons in ACC play, with senior guard London Perrantes in the lineup for most of that stretch. Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson and Isaiah Wilkins have been brought along bit by bit and now the loss of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, while significant, does not cripple the Wahoos. Even Austin Nichols, the high-impact transfer from Memphis, has been with the team while sitting out and in the lineup for Virginia's European trip in August.

Weakness: Experience

Perrantes is the only senior on this roster and only fourth-year player. Early reports from Charlottesville suggest that the younger players, though talented, will require some time before Tony Bennett's Pack-line defense is second nature. My bet is that Virginia is a team that progresses and could peak in March.

X-factor: Austin Nichols

His familiarity with Tony Bennett and the Wahoos roster is not a question mark heading into the season. Nichols, Memphis' best player two years ago and AAC Player of the Year, sat out last season but practiced with the team and already has been productive in competition with the 2016-17 group during a European tour in August.

Projected regular-season win total: 21

Virginia has a 25-win team and 20-win schedule. Duke and North Carolina end up in a couple showcase events every year based on name brand alone, but Virginia apparently sought out the fight when putting together the 2016-17 nonconference schedule, the ACC's toughest. Villanova, West Virginia and Ohio State are all top-20, top-25 caliber teams, with the more manageable contests coming against Iowa and Cal. If I were an oddsmaker I'd only make Virginia an underdog in four games (vs. Duke, at North Carolina, at Villanova, at Louisville), but figure a schedule this tough has a few more losses for a team replacing three senior starters.

4. Louisville Cardinals

Strength: Depth

I made a list of Louisville players I'm excited to watch. It's eight names long. Donovan Mitchell looked great in wins against Wake Forest and North Carolina, forwards Jaylen Johnson and Raymond Spalding were great on the boards as reserves, Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mamoud were limited by injuries last year and I'm still waiting for Deng Adel to explode as an All-ACC talent. I have no idea how Rick Pitino puts all these pieces together into a rotation, but there's enough size, versatility and athleticism to think Louisville will win a bunch of games this year.

Weakness: ACC experience

For all that exciting depth, only Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang have significant ACC experience. The schedule, as Pitino has noted, is brutal. Where the Cards are in January is going to be key to determining the March ceiling.

X-factor: Making the pieces fit

You can nearly fill out the rosters for a full intrasquad scrimmage with Louisville players in position to make an impact. Mitchell, Snider, Adel, Spalding, Mathiang, Johnson, Mamoud and V.J. King are capable options with varying levels of experience. However, none of those players were primary contributors to the rotation in conference play last season (only Snider averaged more than 20 minutes per game in ACC games). There's talent, size and athleticism everywhere and great coaching, which is enough to know Louisville will be good. How it all fits will determine if the Cards are great.

Projected regular-season win total: 20

Louisville has a few schedule advantages, like Kentucky, Virginia and Indiana all visiting the Yum! Center. But, as you may remember from Pitino's "Pass the Pepto" statement, Louisville has a lot of disadvantages.

"Our schedule as planned is one of the toughest any team could encounter," Pitino said in September. "The league travel is a bit unfair with a 9 p.m. home game on Thursday [Jan. 19 vs. Clemson], followed by a 2 p.m. game at Florida State on Saturday [Jan. 21]. There's also a road game on Saturday afternoon [Feb. 4] at Boston College, then next up traveling to Virginia on Monday [Feb. 6]."

But Pitino wasn't done.

"That's not mentioning our league opening game at home against Virginia [Dec. 28] sandwiched between Kentucky [Dec. 21] and Indiana [Dec. 31], all followed with a game at Notre Dame [Jan. 4]. But that's the ACC. The Battle 4 Atlantis [Nov. 23 vs. Old Dominion], Purdue [Nov. 30] and at Grand Canyon [Dec. 3] -- pass the Pepto Bismol." Louisville has depth and size for days, great coaching and a brutal schedule. The Cards will be much better than their record come tournament time, even if it endures indigestion along the way.

5. Miami Hurricanes

Strength: Continuity

Ja'Quan Newton, Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy make for a solid core for a team that has won 25-plus games in three of the past four years. Throw in a top-15 freshman class led by big man Dewan Huell and 6-5 combo guard Bruce Brown and you've got a well-coached Miami team ready to poised to make another run in the NCAA Tournament.

Weakness: Experience inside

Other than Kamari Murphy and Anthony Lawrence, the top options for Jim Larranaga inside requires younger players to learn on the job, particularly in ACC play.

X-factor: Hurricanes freshman class

With the 6-10 Huell and guard Bruce Brown leading the way, Miami is bringing in a top-15 class to join Reed, Newton, Murphy and the rest of the Hurricanes returning from last season's Sweet 16 squad. Huell, a Miami native, could be in the starting lineup from the start and Brown should be in the mix to see plenty of action early. A good sign for Brown is a recent comparison by Larranaga to former All-ACC Hurricane Durand Scott.

Projected regular-season win total: 19

Miami is talented and could get off to a hot start thanks to its friendly nonconference schedule. It's possible, if not likely, that Miami enters the Carrier Dome on Jan. 4 as an undefeated team with Stanford and NC State (at home) being the toughest tests before Jan. 1. The real challenge to the Canes' tournament chances will be maintaining consistency -- an issue for Miami at times -- during a five-game stretch that includes Virginia, Duke and road games at Virginia Tech and Florida State to close the regular season.

6. NC State Wolfpack

Strength: Dennis Smith Jr.

I could be blinded by my Tobacco Road roots and current residence but I think that DSJ could be one of the most electrifying guards in the country. His early enrollment into the program, getting to know the staff and surroundings while recovering from a knee injury could key one of the most anticipated Wolfpack debuts since Julius Hodge.

Weakness: Brand new team, again

Mark Gottfried seems to start from scratch most seasons. Terry Henderson gets a take-two on his NC State debut after busting up his ankle seven minutes into last season's opener and former Charlotte 49er Torin Dorn is eligible after sitting out last season. While these guys haven't been in regular-season games, they've at least been playing together for some time. If the Pack get off to a hot start, it'll be the first in a while (at least since 2013) under Gottfried.

X-factor: Coaching

The outlook wasn't great in late March. The Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) decided to transfer, star point guard Cat Barber was set on going pro and Malik-Abdul Abu and Beejay Anya were going through pro evaluations. Fans were on edge, but Gottfried and his staff knew the core of the 2017 team was already on campus, just limited to street clothes on game nights. Smith, Dorn and Henderson have been together for a while, and they'll get a unique talent in Omer Yurtseven once he's cleared. The pieces are there for the Wolfpack to take a step up in the ACC, become a threat to the conference title contenders and be fighting for favorable tournament seeds in early March, not a "Last 4 In" spot

Projected regular-season win total: 19

With Omer Yurtseven's availability established, we've got far less questions regarding the personnel for the start of the season and in knowing he can practice with the team there's no downgrading expectations for ACC play. NC State has five ACC games that look like solid wins and five games that appear to be likely losses (at Duke, at UNC, at Louisville among the group). That leaves six toss-up games against the likes of Clemson, Miami, Florida State and Syracuse that will determine where the Pack sit in the conference standings.

Syracuse's Tyler Lydon is poised to have a solid season. USATSI

7. Syracuse Orange

Strength: Coaching

Anyone doubting Syracuse after that run last season? Jim Boeheim catches a lot of heat from Syracuse fans and rivals for various reasons, but navigating the many twists and turns of 2015-16 and reaching the Final Four seems like something only a Hall of Fame coach could pull off.

Weakness: Backcourt depth

The loss of Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson rids Syracuse of its point guard, 3-point specialist and most talented wing. Kaleb Joseph transferred away as well, leaving the Orange with a big question mark at guard. Grad transfer Andrew White should alleviate many of those concerns after an All-Big Ten season at Nebraska, along with Colorado State transfer John Gillon and top recruit Tyus Battle.

X-factor: Impact of transfers

White made 41 percent of this 3-point attempts for the Huskers last season, and could be one of Syracuse's top scorers. After starting his career at Kansas, White broke out as an impact player at Nebraska and chose the Orange over the NBA and, a reported 55 other schools. Boeheim also has Jon Gillon (fifth-year guard from Colorado State) and Pachal Chukwu (7-2 center from Providence who sat out last season) joining the fold.

Projected regular-season win total: 21

Syracuse, like Virginia, is using transfers to bolster its offense. White could shoot the lights out in any ACC game this year and his arrival is probably the biggest reason to like the Orange as a 20-win team. The reasons are 1) White, 2) Boeheim, 3) The schedule. The Orange get Boston College twice, Georgia Tech twice and the only regular-season game against Virginia will be played in the Carrier Dome.

8. Florida State Seminoles

Strength: Depth, pace and talent

Dwayne Bacon could have gone in the NBA Draft with running mate Malik Beasley, but returns to bolster the most talented lineup Leonard Hamilton has had in years. Five-star 6-9 forward Jonathan Isaac is one of the top-rated recruits in program history and he might get to play a little of everything, thanks to this roster's depth and versatility. Expect the Seminoles to be up-tempo, attacking often and dancing in March.

Weakness: Defending the 3-pointer

Florida State doesn't have many weaknesses. There was a five-game skid in February last season that kind of derailed the season, but nothing from that is identifiable as an impact for this season. One thing that stands out from Florida State's statistical profile was a No. 256 ranking in defending 3-pointers (opponents connected on 36.2 percent of attempts). Recapturing the defensive dominance (our X-factor) encompasses this as part of the final piece to making the Seminoles a tournament team again.

X-factor: Improving defensively

From 2009-12, Hamilton's Seminoles ranked in the top-10 nationally (per KenPom) in defensive efficiency. With Bacon, Beasley and Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the lineup, Florida State enjoyed its most potent offensive team in nearly a decade but failed to make the postseason. Hamilton wants to see this very talented 2017 group, which welcomes back Bacon and adds five-star Jonathan Isaac, get back to playing some of that tough defense to make the jump.

Projected regular-season win total: 21

Florida State will win 10 games in ACC play. Mark it down and make sure to send it to @FreezingColdTakes in case I'm wrong. If the Seminoles lose to Florida and/or Minnesota then my math on the total is off and we're looking at a 19-win season, but 10 wins in league play is what Hamilton should expect from this roster. Sophomore Bacon could have gone to the NBA after last season, freshman Isaac could be in the pros next year and senior Rathan-Mayes is going to be the "He's Still In The League?!" performer every opposing ACC fan will hate.

9. Virginia Tech Hokies

Strength: A dynamic, versatile roster

Buzz Williams has a great chance to make 2017 his breakthrough in Blacksburg. It's a motley crew of a group, including an array of transfers and some promising young talent forced into early action during the past two seasons. With Seth Allen running the show, Zach LeDay stuffing the stat sheet and Ahmed Hill and Chris Clarke back in the lineup from injury the Hokies are one of the most intriguing teams to track in the conference.

Weakness: Still falling short against the best

Virginia Tech took some big steps forward last season, including a huge win against Virginia in Cassell Coliseum, but this is still a group that went 7-12 in games against KenPom top-75 teams last season. The ACC might have 12 top-75 teams this season, so there's no easy path to the tournament for anyone.

X-factor: Seth Allen

With so many gifted players in the rotation, Williams may have the same kind of "make the pieces fit" issues mentioned earlier for Louisville. But with faith in Williams' ability to get this group to peak in year three the spotlight pivots to senior guard Allen. His transfer from Maryland, sitting out the 2014-15 season, gave the Hokies a proven scorer to build around once Buzz arrived in Blacksburg. Fast forward one year, and it's do-everything forward LeDay (15.5 points, 7.9 rebounds per game), from USF, whose star is shining brightest. There's another gear for Allen as a floor leader, and if he hits it Virginia Tech can be a top-25 team.

Projected regular-season win total: 17

Someone good (and probably ranked) will lose at Cassell Coliseum this year in ACC play, just ask Virginia. Unfortunately, both of this year's games against the Wahoos fall in a three-game stretch with a road trip to Miami scheduled in between. That's the beginning of a February that will require Virginia Tech to be healthy (or healthier than it has been) to finish strong and make that NCAA Tournament appearance many around Blacksburg are expecting.

10. Clemson Tigers

Strength: All-ACC talent

How many times do we get to say that about Clemson going into a season? Jaron Blossomgame is a proven All-ACC player and potential All-American candidate, Donte Grantham is expected to take another step forward and they're joined by former Texas A&M big man Elijah Thomas (eligible after the fall semester) and former NEC Rookie of the Year Marcquise Reed, who transferred from Robert Morris.

Weakness: Depth

Clemson leaned heavily on its starters for production last season and even with the transfer additions it doesn't seem like the situation will be much different in 2017. Players like Avry Holmes and Gabe DeVoe could prove to be valuable pieces in bigger roles but this is still looking like a six-to-seven man rotation for Brad Brownell.

X-factor: A return to defensive dominance

Brownell has carved out a nice place for himself in the fabric of ACC basketball. When the Tigers are playing at a high level defensively, they can be one of the toughest outs in the conference. Last season Clemson was as strong on offense as it had been in a few years but took a step back defensively. With Blossomgame, Grantham and a good chunk of the core back they should be able to keep it up. A return to defensive dominance seems like the final step to getting this team back to the NCAA tournament.

Projected regular-season win total: 19

Scanning Clemson's schedule and projecting outcomes means factoring in the re-opening of Littlejohn Coliseum. Bon Secours Arena provided a perfectly fine temporary environment, but it was always somewhat of an inconvenience to the home team and certainly not the house of many horrors for the longest-running ACC foes. The non-conference schedule sets Clemson up to be undefeated going into a home game against North Carolina in Littlejohn and the Tigers get to put the final touches on their tournament resume with three straight home games to close the regular season.

11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Strength: Coaching

Mike Brey trusts his system and the culture has generated back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Each season brings the opportunity for a new set of upperclassmen to emerge, and this year it's V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson. Each has gotten a taste of major conference success as rotation players, and now it's time to follow in the footsteps of Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste when given the opportunity to lead.

Weakness: Drop off in star power from previous teams

Beachem has an NBA future, for sure, but this roster doesn't have an offensive headliner like Jerian Grant or Jackson. There's plenty of time for that player to emerge, but Brey's offensive system will be as important as ever without a proven player who can create his own shot.

X-factor: Maintaining offensive efficiency, effectiveness

The trademark of Brey's back-to-back Elite Eight teams has been efficient, free-flowing offense. The system is going to stay the same and its going to continue to rely on veterans for execution but should the expectations be adjusted after the departure of Jackson and Auguste? The 2017 Irish have three players who all, at times, have been in that star role for stretches of games in Beachem, Bonzie Colson and Steve Vasturia. It's a true "trust the process" season for Brey and the Irish after another year of losing NBA talent.

Projected regular-season win total: 17

I expect Notre Dame to take a step back this season, but since even a second round NCAA Tournament exit would be considered a step back it's not saying much. Brey's "get old, stay old" culture will be put to the test during a crucial road stretch of three winnable games in six days starting Miami (Jan. 12), Virginia Tech (Jan. 14) and Florida State (Jan. 18). Win all three and it could kickstart a strong early season push from the Irish.

12. Pitt Panthers

Strength: Strong front court play

Jamel Artis and Michael Young anchor a Pitt team that should be great on the boards and find success in the lane on offense. Kevin Stallings has a chance to put his own stamp on a team that preferred to play slow a year ago, but any style of play will welcome active forwards with a penchant for grabbing rebounds.

Weakness: Still haven't had that big-time impact in conference play

The Panthers have been in the ACC for three seasons and have a middle-of-the-pack record of 28-26 without winning more than 11 games or less than 8. It's easy to get swallowed up in the 15-team ACC, particularly with so many of the country's best teams in the standings, but there's got to be some breakthrough before Pitt's considered a top-level team in the conference, much less a dark horse to watch coming into the season.

X-factor: Replacing James Robinson

Pittsburgh not only said goodbye to longtime coach Jamie Dixon, off to TCU to coach at his alma mater, after the 2016 season but also one of the best guards to come through the Panthers' program. Robinson started all four years, is one of only three players in school history to total 1,000 points, 600 assists, 400 rebounds and 150 steals in a career, twice led the ACC in assists and his 3.45:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is good enough to make Robinson the NCAA record holder.

It's not just all individual accomplishments -- with Robinson in the lineup Pitt had a .667 winning percentage and reached the NCAA Tournament three times. Young, Artis and the rest of the returning core is capable of getting Pitt back to the tournament, but it's been a while since the point guard has been a question mark heading into the season thanks to the steadiness of Robinson over the years.

Projected regular-season win total: 15

January is going to be rough for the Panthers. Pitt has nine games against top-40 KenPom teams between Jan. 4 and Feb. 4, including road trips to Louisville, NC State, North Carolina and Duke. The question, which will be answered during that stretch, is whether there's a top-40 team in Oakland this year. These coaching transition seasons can either coalesce into something magical or end in clunky fashion. It's up to Stallings, Young, Artis and the rest of the Panthers program to determine which way 2017 goes for Pitt.

13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Strength: Improved shooting

Wake Forest will play up-tempo, just like last year, but expect a big jump in the shooting numbers. Danny Manning says that this is the best shooting team he's had since his arrival in 2014 and that the Deacs have had "six or seven" guys who can knock down an outside shot. The availability of Charlotte transfer Keyshawn Woods is among the reasons to expect an improvement from some pretty dreadful offensive numbers in 2016 and open things up for Bryant Crawford as he continues to develop on the offensive end.

Weakness: Still a little short on talent and experience when compared to many ACC teams

Manning's done a good job on the recruiting trail but there's still going to be a talent gap in conference play on most nights when the Demon Deacons take the floor. The issue for Wake in 2016 was that the winnable games against good teams ended as losses because of a troubling inability to win close games (1-9 in games decided by 10 points or less in ACC play).

X-factor: Execution in close games

Wake Forest was 1-8 in conference play last season in games decided by less than 10 points, with too many good performances ending in losses because of bad breaks, mental mistakes or a simple inability to get shots to call at critical moments. If Manning's program, now fully-stocked with ACC-caliber talent, is going to take the next step this team has got to play better in the high-leverage moments of conference play.

Projected regular-season win total: 14

Ultimately, the win totals between Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech will come down the head-to-head battles between these teams -- unless one of the trio ducks expectations, of course. I give the Deacons the best chance to finish at the top of the group, thanks to continuity and the continued development of game-changing guard Bryant Crawford.

14. Boston College Eagles

Strength: Hungry core returning

Jerome Robinson (our X-factor for the Eagles) is joined by A.J. Turner, Garland Owens and Ervins Meznieks as players that have been through the fire and returned for more. The growth for each one during the offseason is key to improvement, but knowing that Jim Christian has buy-in from these guys eases the transition after the loss of Eli Carter, Dennis Clifford and others.

Weakness: Still fighting an uphill battle for ACC contention, particularly on offense.

There's just not enough proven scorers on this roster to think that the Eagles are going to jump from a winless conference record to winning close to half its games in league play. The 2016-17 season can be a step up, but real success will be measured by tournament contention and this team is probably still a year away from that.

X-factor: Jerome Robinson

Robinson is a scoring guard and, with a full of health, could be in the running for an All-ACC team at the end of the year. The Raleigh, N.C. (Broughton High School) product was thrown into the fire early as a freshman and responded well until injuries started to impact his availability during the Eagles' winless ACC campaign. A big step forward for Robinson is a big step forward for Jim Christian's program, still relying on youth and transfers to cobble together a competitive ACC roster.

Projected regular-season win total: 12

The Eagles snapped their winless streak in ACC football play at NC State and I expect they'll not only win one ACC game in basketball but at least three. Finding those three wins is tough on a conference schedule that has Wake and Georgia Tech only once and both on the road. North Carolina, NC State and Virginia all visit Chestnut Hill this year, so let's say one of those teams goes down in an epic performance from sophomore guard Robinson to pair with one GT-or-Wake win and one mid-level ACC upset.

15. Georgia Tech Yellow Jacksets

Strength: A rejuvenated Josh Pastner

There's got to be some value to getting a chance to start over after eight years in Memphis. There, especially in the seven seasons as head coach, he was tasked with maintaining success that had peaked with a Final Four appearance under John Calipari. If the change in scenery brings good results for Pastner, then Georgia Tech's investment in the former Conference USA Coach of the Year will pay off.

Weakness: Mass exodus of production

But that investment may take a couple years to pay off. Brian Gregory's 2016 Georgia Tech team was loaded with experience, much of it accumulated on the transfer market. Senior forward Quinton Stephens and reserve guards Tadric Jackson and Josh Heath are the only remaining pieces from the primary rotation last season, leaving plenty of opportunities for a rebuilt roster.

X-factor: Josh Pastner

Brian Gregory built Georgia Tech's roster so it was set to peak in 2016. Four-year go-to guard Marcus Georges-Hunt was joined by a work force of players arriving through transfer (Charles Mitchell, Adam Smith among the group) all set to finish their eligibility in the 2016 postseason. After the Yellow Jackets' season ended in the NIT quarterfinals instead of the NCAA Tournament, Georgia Tech made a change. Josh Pastner welcomes back a few pieces from that 21-win team a year ago but for the most part it's a clean slate for everyone, Pastner included, in Atlanta.

Projected regular-season win total: 12 I don't see the Yellow Jackets going winless in ACC play with Josh Pastner on the sideline, but those ACC wins will tough to stack in great supply with this year's roster. The fun for a Georgia Tech fan will be seeing how the team looks against Penn State, Tennessee, VCU and Georgia -- all top-100 KenPom teams -- in a one month stretch before Christmas.