Basketball recruiting services such as Rivals, CBS and ESPN each rank six ACC classes among the nation’s elite, more than any other conference. With the leading seven vote-getters on last season’s all-league teams headed to the NBA, the ACC needs that talent influx.
So as coaches finalize rosters and prepare for July’s evaluation of rising juniors, here’s an early forecast. Last season’s records are in parentheses.
As for those recruiting rankings: ESPN has North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Maryland, Virginia and Wake Forest in its top 25; CBS lists N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia Tech among its top 25, while Rivals has N.C. State, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State in its top 30.
And the top vote-getters from last season: North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall, Virginia's Mike Scott, Maryland's Terrell Stoglin and Duke's Austin Rivers.
But on to next season.
1. NORTH CAROLINA STATE (24-13, 9-7): The last time ACC media picked the Wolfpack to finish first was 1988-89, when Rodney Monroe and Karl Hess baiter Chris Corchiani were sophomores. State, indeed, won the regular season, earning Jim Valvano his only ACC Coach of the Year honor and advancing to the Sweet 16.
The Wolfpack is coming off another Sweet 16 year, and with returnees such as forward C.J. Leslie and guard Lorenzo Brown teaming with a heralded recruiting class, State again is a trendy pick. Leslie, the ACC’s only returnee who last season ranked among the league’s top 10 scorers and rebounders, could well be the preseason player of the year.
But how will freshmen such as Tyler Lewis, Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren mesh with the veterans? And how will the collective roster and second-year coach Mark Gottfried handle expectations?
2. NORTH CAROLINA (32-6, 14-2): I doubt the Tar Heels would have derailed Kentucky last season, but had Marshall not missed the Midwest Regional with a fractured right wrist, I believe they’d have trumped Kansas to reach the Final Four.
Regardless, without Marshall, Barnes, Zeller and Henson, Carolina won’t be as talented in 2012-13. Still, James Michael McAdoo, Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald form a solid foundation.
If freshman Marcus Paige plays credibly at the point, the Tar Heels will remain nationally prominent.
3. DUKE (27-7, 13-3): When last seen, the Blue Devils were enduring their most perplexing defeat in at least 25 years, to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament. Mike Krzyzewski subsequently vowed to make his team tougher, and if that translates to better defending dribble penetration, Duke should challenge as usual for league honors.
The late signing of forward Amile Jefferson adds to an already sizable frontcourt that includes Ryan Kelly, Mason and Marshall Plumlee, and Alex Murphy. How Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon fare on the perimeter will be most telling, especially if, as expected, rising senior Andre Dawkins redshirts for personal reasons.
4. FLORIDA STATE (25-10, 12-4): A fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and first-ever ACC tournament championship in 2012 furthered the Seminoles’ case as the league’s No. 3 program behind North Carolina and Duke.
Led by fearless clutch shooter Michael Snaer, a second-team all-conference guard, Florida State returns four of its top five scorers. Freshmen wings Montay Brandon amd Aaron Thomas could provide complementary offense.
Then there’s Leonard Hamilton’s forte: defense. The Seminoles are the first team to lead the ACC in opponents’ shooting percentage four consecutive years.
5. MIAMI (20-13, 9-7): The Hurricanes return six of the top seven scorers from a team that was probably one ACC victory shy of making the NCAA tournament. Moreover, veterans such as Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott should be accustomed to second-year coach Jim Larranaga.
6. VIRGINIA (22-10, 9-7): Due to transfers, injuries and a suspension, the Cavaliers staggered to the finish in March with only seven scholarship players. They dropped four of their last five games, six of their final nine, including a 71-45 NCAA tournament shellacking from Florida.
Earning consecutive NCAA bids for the first time since 1994 and ’95 will be difficult given the departures of first-team All-ACC forward Mike Scott, guard Sammy Zeglinski and center Assane Sene. Guard Jontel Evans will lead the defense, leaving wings Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogden, and freshman Justin Anderson to compensate for Scott’s loss on offense.