The final conference in Def Pen Sports’ preview series is the ACC, widely considered the nation’s best college basketball conference for a few years running. Three of the past five national champions have come from the ACC in Virginia, UNC, and Duke. This year, another contender has emerged in the Louisville Cardinals, who appear to be returning to their Pitino-era form under new head coach Chris Mack.
While the conference’s depth is somewhat lacking this season compared to years past, it should be very strong at the top – Duke, Louisville, and UNC could all be top-five squads – and there are six teams that could conceivably spend much of the year ranked in the top 25. Let’s look at how things may play out within the ACC this season.
Projected All-ACC First Team
- Cole Anthony (UNC)
- Tre Jones (Duke)
- Jordan Nwora (Louisville)
- John Mooney (Notre Dame)
- Vernon Carey (Duke)
Our projected first-team features two Duke players in Tre Jones and Vernon Carey, which falls in line with our projection that the Blue Devils will be the top team in the ACC. Cole Anthony is the league’s most talented freshman and may very well end up going number one in next year’s draft, making him a very strong bet to make the team. Jordan Nwora is a near-lock after being named a pre-season All-American, and John Mooney averaged a double-double last year for Notre Dame and should once again put up huge numbers. Two others who could reasonably take a spot on the first team are NC State point guard Markell Johnson and Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite.
Projected Player of the Year
At this point in the process, the only player who could top Nwora for ACC Player of the Year is super freshman Cole Anthony, but even then, the award seems like it’s the Louisville star’s to lose. Ranked as our best player in the conference, the 2018-19 Most Improved Player in the ACC put up north of 17 points and 7.5 rebounds last year on a .508/.374/.765 (2P%/3P%/FT%) slash line. With Louisville expected to be a top-10 team in the nation this year, Nwora will be in the national spotlight often and will be the best player for a championship contender.
— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) October 22, 2019
Projected ACC Standings
- NC State
- Florida State
- Notre Dame
- Georgia Tech
- Wake Forest
- Boston College
- Virginia Tech
The top three teams in the ACC are fairly clear, but how you rank them is up for debate. We’ve settled on Duke at the top because they have the most talented roster as well as one of their more cohesive units since they began recruiting one-and-done players. Louisville has a talented returning cast – including Jordan Nwora – to go with one of the best incoming classes in the country. UNC will be led by superstar Cole Anthony and has a relatively strong supporting cast led by five-star Armando Bacot, veteran big man Garrison Brooks, and talented graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce.
The next tier of teams consists of the reigning national champion Virginia, NC State, and Florida State. Virginia’s ranking throughout the preseason has been very polarizing; they don’t have the talent of a top-25 team, but Tony Bennett’s style of play is one that notoriously leads to wins, and he has the personnel to carry it out effectively. NC State is looking to make a leap in year three under head coach Kevin Keatts, and Florida State is as deep as ever, a common theme under longtime coach Leonard Hamilton. All three of these teams could be ranked in the top 25 for a good portion of the year.
Other teams that will be competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament are Notre Dame, Miami, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. Mike Brey’s squad had an uncharacteristically down year in 2019, finishing dead last in the ACC; however, they return nearly their entire team as well as starting forward Rex Pfleuger, who got injured at the beginning of the season. Miami and Pittsburgh are led by talented guards Chris Lykes and Xavier Johnson respectively, each of whom is capable of taking a team to the tournament with a capable supporting cast. Syracuse is your typical 2010s Jim Boeheim team: lacking talent and offensive firepower but good enough to win games through zone defense.
The rest of the league likely won’t compete for a spot in the tournament. Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Boston College are wholly uninspiring under their current head coaches, while Clemson and Virginia Tech are both in the midst of a rebuilding phase due to either a coaching change or a plethora of graduating seniors.