Regionally, I’m a Big Ten fan. Reasonably, I should be a fan of the power conferences. In actuality, all 32 conferences hold a special place in my heart. Every year brings new challengers for the crown, new flashy teams, new dark horses, new big name freshmen, and an entirely new narrative in college basketball. I try to pay attention to everything that I can, and new things catch my eye every year. One of the biggest things that caught my eye this year is that the ACC is stacked. There is so much potential and talent in this conference that it cannot go un-discussed. On that note, here is a list of every team who could potentially win the ACC regular season title (in no particular order).
Florida State (15-1, 3-0)
Atop the conference is the team we all saw coming, Florida State. Wait, you guys didn’t see this coming? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Of course, I’ve already pointed out what I like so much about this Florida State team, but now I hear the “experts” on ESPN calling this team a final four contender. I love how a team that gets picked to finish tenth in their own conference in the pre-season rankings is all of a sudden a final four team. Of course, like I said, college basketball is a whole new season with a whole new narrative every year. With its fast pace, you can see that narrative changes rather quickly.
FSU has had some impressive wins this season already, over Minnesota, George Washington, and Florida in the non-conference. Of course, they are off to a 3-0 start in the ACC behind two wins against ranked teams in Virginia and Virginia Tech. A good start for the young, flashy team from Tallahassee, but we’ll see just how good they are in the coming weeks. Their schedule is a gauntlet in that time: hosting #8 Duke, at #14 North Carolina, hosting #23 Notre Dame, and at home against #9 Louisville. Two words: holy smokes. This week, we’ll be treated to what is (most likely) a top ten match-up between FSU and a Duke team which is at full strength. That one should be a great game, and a good defining game for the murky waters of the ACC.
Notre Dame (14-2) (3-0)
Tied atop the conference is the other team we all saw coming, Notre Dame. How is it that this team is always unranked to start the year, yet they always work their way into the rankings rather quickly? Get this, Notre Dame got six votes in the pre-season AP top-25 poll. Six. You know how many votes they have now? 250, and soon to be more, good for 23rd in the nation. It’s time that we take Notre Dame seriously, people. They’re the only team in college basketball that can say they’ve been to back-to-back Elite 8s. Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, and the rest of the “blue-bloods” can’t say that. Mike Brey never gets enough credit, and I’m sick of it.
Notre Dame might have two of the best losses in the country, and yes, come March, “good losses” are actually a thing. They’ve only lost against Villanova and Purdue. Both ranked opponents and they were both on a neutral site court. Everyone wrote this team off after the departures of Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, but the veterans on the roster have stepped up their game big time. Bonzie Colson, Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, and Matt Farrell are all averaging over 14 points per game. It’s a starting lineup that can compete with just about everyone in the conference. I’ve seen this Notre Dame team play for years under Mike Brey, and I can tell you that they aren’t afraid of going anywhere or playing anyone. This team is a favorite to win the ACC.
Duke (14-2, 2-1)
Well, much has been made about Duke this year. I’ve already talked about them being possibly the most talented team in the country. They’ll have a chance to show their talent off now that they're back at full strength. That’s right, after just a one game suspension, Grayson Allen, the chronic tripper, is back. Harry Giles, the number one ranked freshman in the country, is healthy and recorded a double-double in his first game of meaningful minutes.
The challenge for this Duke team is the fact that Mike Krzyzewski is going to be out for four weeks while he recovers from back surgery. Can this team’s talent be enough to carry them in Krzyzewski’s absence? That remains to be seen, but I doubt that this team will flaunter too much. They have a veteran-led squad, and if Grayson stays out of the newspapers, the leaders on the team should be able to help the freshman class develop, grow, and continue the success of Duke basketball.
North Carolina (14-3, 2-1)
The national runner-up from last year is back, and despite losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson to the NBA, they look poised for another run at the title. The trio of Joel Berry, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson might be one of the best in the country. Justin Jackson is hands down my favorite player in the nation right now. In my opinion, he’s a slightly more athletic Tayshaun Prince. He’s a forward with guard skills and can shoot the three on any given night. He’s leading the team in minutes and averaging over 17 points per game. The Tar Heels already have quality wins over Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Davidson, and Clemson. They have been there before, and could be there again with a definite chance to contend for the ACC crown.
Virginia (12-3, 2-2)
Okay, yes I like this team too, but they have not had a good start to ACC play. The loss to Florida State I can shake off, but the Pittsburgh loss that they suffered on Wednesday night still baffles me. It’s not like Pittsburgh is a bad team, I like Pittsburgh a lot this year. But they gave up 88 points to them in an overtime loss. Sure, it was in Pittsburgh, but Tony Bennett’s defense usually travels well. I was surprised, to say the least, as defense is the calling card for Virginia. I still stand by my statement of this being the most talented squad that Bennett has ever had, and I think that they still have a great shot to rebound from this and be atop the ACC.
Louisville (13-3, 1-2)
Speaking of best squads a coach has ever had, I present Louisville. Okay, maybe it’s not the best squad Pitino has ever had in Louisville, but it’s the best one he’s had in a while in my opinion. I’ve been saying for years that Louisville is overrated, but this year I find myself thinking that they are a threat. Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider make up a great backcourt for this team, but it’s not about the stars here. Pitino has himself a deep team where about eight different guys could be “the guy” on any given night. That has the makings of a scary team if they can string together some wins. They already have some great wins against Wichita State, Purdue, Kentucky, and Indiana. Needless to say, welcome to the clustered list, Louisville.
Pittsburgh (12-4, 1-2)
Let’s talk dynamic duos in college basketball. I always throw out two names for a team and I say these guys are great together. Forget everything I’ve ever said about two guys on a given team, I’m serious about this one. Michael Young and Jamel Artis: these guys could probably beat a few teams on their own. If the NBA doesn’t come calling, these guys could play pickup basketball for cash and make a decent living. Young and Artis are averaging 22.3 and 21.5 points per game respectively. That’s over half of the team’s 81 points they’re averaging on the season, good for 34th in the nation. The duo scored 43 points on Virginia on Wednesday night, which just may have factored into the Cavaliers' loss. Now I’m out of nice things to say about them because they just lost to Syracuse.
Syracuse (10-6, 2-2)
Okay, to be clear, I left this team for absolute dead after their rather pathetic non-conference. They didn’t beat anyone, their best win was North Florida, which they won by six. They lost to South Carolina, Wisconsin, UCONN, Georgetown, St. John’s, and Boston College. Probably only two of those six will actually play meaningful basketball come March, so I totally wrote of the Cuse. But, in classic Jim Boeheim fashion, when people start to write him off, he becomes a number ten seed and goes to the Final Four. Oh wait, that was last year. Anyway, for as tough as this conference is, I think it’s a long shot for them to win it. But hey, I’ve doubted Jim Boeheim and the zone defense one too many times, so consider this is my ode to him.
Clemson (11-4, 1-2)
Two words: Jaron Blossomgame. This team lives and dies by Blossomgame. The good news for Clemson: Blossomgame doesn’t normally have off days. The star forward averages 18.1 points per game and six rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor. The team had an okay non-conference performance, but nothing too noteworthy. Their two conference losses have been to North Carolina and Notre Dame, but they were close. Clemson has the potential to break through in this conference, but they need some more players to emerge and they’ll need Blossomgame to be other-worldly if they want to reach the top. Regardless, a decent showing in this gauntlet of a conference should warrant them a tournament bid.
Miami (11-3, 1-1)
Much like Notre Dame, this is a team that constantly gets no respect year after year, and then people forget that they are actually good. There’s always someone leaving to make people totally write off the Canes, and then they remember Jim Larranaga. This man led George Mason to the final four back in 2006. George Mason. Larranaga should be treated as no less than a legend, and I will not stand for this underrated treatment of he and his team. Honestly, this team didn’t do much in the non-conference, but Larranaga’s squads always play tough and there is some talent left on this team. Some good fortune and key plays from their stars could lead to a high finish in the conference.
NC State (12-4, 1-2)
Sure, NC State can be here, because, why not? This is mostly an honorable mention due to the play of Dennis Smith Jr. This dynamic freshman guard is one of the best players in the conference, and he averages just under 20 points per game. This team will go as far as Smith can take them, but after a 51-point loss to North Carolina on Sunday, it’ll be an uphill battle.
Virginia Tech (12-3, 1-2)
Well sure, since we’re just inviting everybody, you can come along too, Hokies. Hey, remember that one time that Virginia Tech was ranked? Yeah, me neither. All joking aside, their number 21 ranking has come and gone rather quickly after losing big to NC State and Florida State this week. This team doesn’t have much going for them except a home win over Duke. But was that a result of Duke being depleted or just a sign of things to come for the Hokies? I’m thinking the first option. Virginia Tech’s non-conference was good, but weak; their best win was at Michigan. I like the progress Buzz Williams is making with this program, but they may still be a year away.
That makes 12, ladies and gentlemen. 12 teams who I think could win the ACC. I realize that some of these are longshots. Realistically, this is more likely a list of possible NCAA tournament teams. But in a crazy ACC world, a ton of teams could end up on top.
Now it’s time for a dis-honorable mention to the three teams I left off: Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Wake Forest. Yes, I left you off intentionally. No, I don’t feel bad about it.
Who do you think will win the ACC? Let us know in the comments!