ACC preview: Duke tops in a loaded, new-look league

Lindy's Sports, special to The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Expansion diluted ACC basketball in 2004, but the most recent wave has strengthened it to the point where Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski predicts it will be "the best conference in the history of the game."
Krzyzewski sees 10 ACC teams reaching the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and while that's a few more bids than we'd project, he could be right.
One thing's certain: The ACC hasn't repeated its folly of 2004, when expansion was done to improve football - didn't work - and the result on basketball was bloating.
No bloating this time around, not with the arrival of 2013 Final Four team Syracuse and two other powers from the Big East: Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
The ACC will say hello to three schools while bidding adieu to Maryland, which leaves after this season for the Big Ten. The Terps will be replaced by 2013 national champion Louisville, so cry not for ACC basketball next year.
Or this year.
The three new ACC members will see Duke in all its fury, boasting nationally elite players at four positions: point guard Quinn Cook, shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon, small forward Rodney Hood and power forward Jabari Parker. North Carolina also could be a beast, depending on the P.J. Hairston saga.
But don't dismiss Syracuse as a viable threat to win the conference. The Orange have a legitimate ACC Player of the Year candidate in C.J. Fair as well as Jim Boeheim's zone, which is widely known but not easily figured out, especially by a league getting its first intimate look at it.
Boeheim, by the way, sounds rejuvenated by the conference shakeup.
"I think that will be good for me, because it's such a tremendous challenge to change leagues and to go down there," Boeheim said. "(I'm) tired of the same old thing every year. It will be a different thing, but I think a tremendous opportunity for us."

1. Duke
Good News: Big-time forwards Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker join best backcourt in ACC.
Bad News: Graduated Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly averaged nearly 50 ppg.
Our Call: Duke is always (A) very good or (B) great under Coach K -- this team looks (B).

2. UNC
Good News: James Michael McAdoo put off the NBA yet again.
Bad News: Top scorer P.J. Hairston spent summer being investigated by cops and NCAA.
Our Call: Final Four or absolute bust -- all depends on Hairston's issues.

3. Syracuse
Good News: Syracuse's nasty zone will be too much for most of the ACC in Year 1.
Bad News: Three of the top four scorers, including PG Michael Carter-Williams, are gone.
Our Call: C.J. Fair, plus some nice returning pieces, plus some nice recruits, plus Boeheim? Works.

4. Virginia
Good News: Biggest, deepest, most talented roster of Tony Bennett's UVa tenure.
Bad News: Whoever starts at point guard will be doing it for the first time.
Our Call: Breakthrough season was a matter of time under Bennett -- and it's time.

5. Notre Dame
Good News: Loads of experience, including not one, but two of top playmakers in ACC.
Bad News: First Luke Harangody leaves, now Jack Cooley. Have Irish run out of great bigs?
Our Call: Backcourt of Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson bears fruit in March.

6. Pittsburgh
Good News: High-scoring Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane gives Pitt needed offense.
Bad News: Panthers lost their best point guard (Tray Woodall) and big (Steven Adams).
Our Call: Pitt is always tough, and tough will go a long way in a league not ready for it.

7. Boston College
Good News: All five starters return from a vastly improved, well-coached team.
Bad News: Brutal schedule faces this notably un-athletic (by ACC standards) bunch.
Our Call: Another year of improvement means a spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

8. Maryland
Good News: After mulling following Alex Len to the pros, Dez Wells decided to stay.
Bad News: Still ... Terps lost an NBA lottery pick, Len, from an NIT team.
Our Call: Another year on the NCAA Tournament bubble for Terps.

9. Georgia Tech
Good News: Eight of the top 10 players are back, including the top four scorers.
Bad News: Enormous question at point guard, with no good answer apparent.
Our Call: Jackets should be better than last year, but not good enough to get an NCAA bid.

10. Florida State
Good News: Okaro White is one of four starters returning for Seminoles.
Bad News: Stud recruit Andrew Wiggins, whose dad played at FSU, isn't walking through that door.
Our Call: Last season's dud was a surprise; this season's dud won't be.

11. Wake Forest
Good News: Seven of the top nine scorers return, including Travis McKie and Devin Thomas.
Bad News: Deacons fans were fed up with coach Jeff Bzdelik last season, so this could get ugly.
Our Call: Another year of small gains for Deacons, another year of large boos for Bzdelik.

12. North Carolina State
Good News: T.J. Warren is back, and the in-fighting of a year ago should be history.
Bad News: But those in-fighters were really talented - and they're really gone.
Our Call: Wolfpack won't win as much as a year ago, but fans will like them much more.

13. Miami
Good News: Last season the Canes reached the Sweet 16.
Bad News: That was last season.
Our Call: Penthouse to basement in one year? Could happen to Canes.

14. Clemson
Good News: Brad Brownell's teams are always among the best in defense, ball control.
Bad News: But they can't score. Cannot score. Not at all.
Our Call: Bad team last season will be worse this year. But they can defend.

15. Virginia Tech
Good News: More shots for everyone, now that Erick Green is gone.
Bad News: Green was ACC Player of Year. Nothing good about him leaving, dummy!
Our Call: Downward slide continues, but this is James Johnson's first full year to recruit.

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