While the 2014-15 NCAA men’s basketball season has finally come to a close, it is already time to look to next year. Many players have already declared for the draft and recruitment has begun. Thus, naturally, it is time for a way too early ranking of next year’s ACC basketball season! First, let’s look at last year’s standings when the dust finally settled in March.
2014-15 Final ACC standings (team, conference record, overall including NCAA tournament):
- Virginia, 16-2, 30-4
- Duke, 15-3, 35-4
- Notre Dame, 14-4, 32-6
- Louisville, 12-6, 27-9
- North Carolina, 11-7, 26-12
- Miami, 10-8, 25-13
- NC State, 10-8, 22-14
- Syracuse, 9-9, 18-13
- Pittsburgh, 8-10, 19-15
- Clemson, 8-10, 16-15
- Florida State, 8-10, 17-16
- Wake Forest, 5-13, 13-19
- Boston College, 4-14, 13-19
- Georgia Tech, 3-15, 12-19
- Virginia Tech, 2-16, 11-22
In the conference tournament, North Carolina beat Louisville and then Virginia on consecutive nights to reach the ACC Championship game, where they lost to Notre Dame. Notre Dame beat Duke in a close game to reach the Championship. Last season was a perfect example of the overall strength of the ACC and featured some great ACC basketball play. The ACC was represented by 6 schools in the tournament (Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville, North Carolina, and NC State), and 5 of them made it to the Sweet 16 (all except Virginia). Louisville, Notre Dame, and Duke advanced to the Elite Eight, where Notre Dame nearly upset Kentucky (losing 68-66), Louisville was upset by an underrated Michigan State team (losing 76-70), and Duke put a beat down on Gonzaga (winning 66-52).
With Duke winning it all, the performance of these teams once again proved and established the ACC as the best college basketball conference in the country. Although both the Big ten and Big 12 sent more teams (7) to the tournament, the ACC fared much better overall. The big 12 was especially bad in the tournament as Kansas, Iowa State, and Baylor all suffered early exits (Iowa State and Baylor were upset in their first games).
With all that said, here are my early ACC power rankings:
1. North Carolina
The team returns 4 out of 5 starters from a year ago, including leading scorer Marcus Paige and leading rebounder Brice Johnson. Also returning for his sophomore season is Justin Jackson, who improved greatly at the end of the year and hit some clutch shots in the ACC tournament. Unless something drastic happens and either Paige or Johnson change their decisions on the draft, this is team to beat next year.
2. Notre Dame
The Irish are losing their best player in Jerian Grant, but they have 3 promising incoming freshman in Rex Pflueger, Elijah Burns, and sharp shooting Matt Ryan. These additions, combined with improvements from returning players Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia should be enough for the Irish to make some noise in the ACC, and possibly even repeat as Champions.
With Tyus Jones turning pro, many thought the Blue Devils may find it hard to challenge for the ACC title, however, Jones’s replacement has already been found in Derryck Thornton, who committed to Duke Tuesday. Thornton, a 5-star recruit ranked 11th overall by ESPN, will suit up next to fellow 5 star recruit Chase Jeter, who will take Jahlil Okafor’s place at Duke, and help man the middle for coach K. Duke will be a very young and talented team for the second straight year and should Brandon Ingram sign with the Devils next season, Duke will certainly be given a bump in the rankings.
Despite the sudden and unexpected loss of Justin Anderson, the Cavalier’s best player last season, Virginia still returns senior guard Malcolm Brogdon and senior forward Anthony Gill, who will make Virginia the one of the best defensive teams in the country yet again next year. This is still a veteran team with a great coach in Tony Bennett, who knows how to put together a great season.
5. NC State
The Wolf Pack are also losing their top player in Trevor Lacy, however Mark Gottfried still has “Cat” Barber and a seasoned, veteran team. I understand this is a high placement for a NC state team that was probably the most unpredictable in the nation last season, but they were able to piece together amazing wins against teams like Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville while somehow losing to Boston College, Clemson, and Wofford. I believe the Pack will take another step forward and be more consistent this year with practically everyone returning with the exception of Lacy.
Miami returns almost the exact same team as a year ago, one that made it all the way to the NIT finals after being snubbed by the NCAA tournament committee. Miami, under the leadership of head coach Jim Larrañaga, will look to improve on last season’s progress in 2016.
It is never smart to bet against Rick Pitino, but it will be extremely hard for his squad to overcome the losses of both Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell. Louisville, like NC State, was a very talented, yet inconsistent team last season and with Rozier and Harrell turning pro, it will be much harder to compete seriously for ACC supremacy once again.
8. Florida State
FSU had a very disappointing season last year, missing both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. However, next year’s squad should be much improved thanks to a great recruiting class of incoming freshman including, 5-star recruit Dwayne Bacon, who will compliment the return of 3 starters who missed time due to injury last season.
This is probably a much lower ranking than what could have been for a Syracuse program that has long been one of the best in the country. With the self imposed postseason ban and the harsh sanctions placed on the school for rules violations, Syracuse will not seriously challenge any of the top teams in the conference next year. However, the team will still welcome in 4 incoming freshman who all were selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic All-American game.
Pitt had a down year last season, failing to reach the NCAA tournament. The swarming defensive mindset was missing last year from Jamie Dixon’s team and it will be something that he will look to improve on next year.
11. Boston College
BC had their fair share of upsets last year including wins over NC State and Harvard. However, they were inconsistent particularly on the defensive end, and struggled to close out games. The team grew down the stretch closing the season on a 4 game win streak before losing to North Carolina in the ACC tournament.
12. Wake Forest
Of all the teams in bottom half of the ACC, this is the team I believe can make a big jump. I am a believer in under-rated coach Danny Manning and the addition of multiple 4-star incoming freshman, such as Doral Moore of Montverde Academy (FL), will certainly make this team more competitive this year. Look for this team to be on the rise.
Clemson was better than their record suggested last year, however that still did not earn them a bid to either the NCAA or NIT tournaments. The Tigers return multiple starters from a year ago, but so far still do not have any freshman commits to add talent to their roster next season.
14. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets record last season could have been much better than it was had they been able to finish close games. Instead, they lacked consistency and veteran leadership which eventually cost them in the ACC. GT will look to improve next season, but the road won’t get any easier.
15. Virginia Tech
The Hokies were predictably bad last season in Buzz Williams’s first year on the job at VT. However they made noticeable strides as the year went on and even won a game in the ACC tournament before bowing out. There is optimism here, but just not quite enough talent yet to climb up the rankings.
I look forward to a great season of ACC basketball and it will be interesting to see how the teams move up and down as the season moves along. As always, feel free to comment below and make your case for why your team should be higher up (or lower?).