Coach: Oliver Purnell (seventh season, 117-77)
Where they’re at: The Tigers are no longer the hapless outfits of earlier this decade, but there’s a notable item missing from their (and Purnell’s) recent resume: a victory in the NCAA tournament. Replacing K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby won’t be easy, especially for a team that is 65-17 before Feb. 1 and 26-26 after it in the past four seasons.
Where they’re headed: Whatever Clemson’s fate this season, Trevor Booker will have a lot to do with it. The senior big man is part of a deep and athletic frontcourt sure to maul opponents in the paint. The backcourt is a jumble, and getting the ball up the court is the obvious issue that could force Clemson to take a step back.
4. Maryland (21-14, 7-9)
Coach: Gary Williams (21st season, 418-229)
Where they’re at: There was supposed to be less friction in College Park this season after last year’s NCAA tournament appearance and the return of Greivis Vasquez. Instead, the Terps are a borderline top-25 team that is down a potential starter with Dino Gregory sidelined because of a “violation of team rules.”
Where they’re headed: After last year’s constant zigzagging, Maryland probably would like to see a more consistent, fluid season with no 25-point losses and little doubt about its NCAA tournament hopes. Vasquez can do a lot to avoid those problems, but the Terps will need help inside from freshmen James Padgett and Jordan Williams to make that happen.
5. Georgia Tech (12-19, 2-14)
Coach: Paul Hewitt (10th season, 154-131)
Where they’re at: After three losing seasons in four years, Hewitt reloaded with a recruiting class featuring Derrick Favors. That could help change the tide in Atlanta; the Yellow Jackets haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2005 and only once in Hewitt’s tenure finished with a league record above .500 (2004).
Where they’re headed: Back to the postseason after a two-year hiatus. Between Favors, holdover forward Gani Lawal and rangy guard Iman Shumpert, there’s simply too much talent for the Yellow Jackets not to collect 20 wins and move into March. Whether they can do anything then remains to be seen.
6. Boston College (22-12, 9-7)
Coach: Al Skinner (13th season, 232-149)
Where they’re at: The Eagles add no one from last year’s NCAA tournament team and lose only leading scorer Tyrese Rice. The “only” is relative, of course, since Rice was the fulcrum of the offense the past two seasons. That just means more will be expected of Rakim Sanders, Joe Trapani and Corey Raji.
Where they’re headed: People should know by now not to underestimate Skinner, who usually takes spare parts overlooked by other coaches and creates a 20-win team bound for an at-large NCAA berth. It’ll probably happen again this season.