G Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
A.D. Vassallo is gone, which means Delaney will have to shoulder even more of the load in Blacksburg if the Hokies are to reach the NCAA tournament.
G Greivis Vasquez, Maryland
After dabbling with the prospect of turning pro, Vasquez came back to College Park to be one of the nation’s top guards.
F Kyle Singler, Duke
The Blue Devils thrived in the past featuring perimeter-oriented big men. Singler’s all-around skill set might be the conference’s best.
F Trevor Booker, Clemson
Booker’s presence in the paint ensures the Tigers will be a viable postseason team despite massive backcourt losses from last year.
F Ed Davis, North Carolina
The sophomore toiled in the shadow of Tyler Hansbrough and others last year. No more. In a frontcourt filled with pro prospects, he might be in for the best season of them all.
FOUR KEY NEWCOMERS
Tony Bennett, Virginia
The Cavaliers replaced Dave Leitao with former Washington State coach Tony Bennett, the latest attempt to return Virginia to national relevance. It’ll take some time, especially as the Cavaliers adjust to a more methodical, defense-oriented approach. But a run much like Herb Sendek’s at N.C. State is a possibility for the long term.
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
Anyone who steps onto campus with Dwight Howard comparisons must be taken seriously. Paired with veteran Gani Lawal, Favors provides the Yellow Jackets a significant inside presence capable of snapping the program out of its recent funk. By the end of the season, he’ll be one of the ACC’s top players.
Malcolm Grant, Miami
Caught in a numbers game at Villanova, Grant took his outside shooting to Coral Gables. There are plenty of opportunities in the backcourt with Jack McClinton out of the picture. Coincidentally, McClinton also thrived after transferring to thrive at Miami.
John Henson, North Carolina
Although he was the jewel of Roy Williams’ recruiting bounty, Henson didn’t slide into the starting lineup when the Tar Heels coasted to a pair of blowouts victories his week. Still, Henson’s rebounding and shot blocking will help. If his perimeter skills translate well to the college game, Carolina might be the favorite to win the conference.
RATING THE ACC
1. Duke (30-7, 11-5 last season)
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (30th season, 760-215)
Where they’re at: The Blue Devils haven’t made the Final Four in the past five years. That’s hardly a concern at most programs, but it’s Duke’s longest drought since Coach K’s first five seasons (1981-85). There’s still excellence in Durham, but it isn’t the unabashed superiority of the past.
Where they’re headed: Into at least the second weekend of the postseason. The presence of Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler gives the Blue Devils probably the best combo in the conference. But with only three guards likely to play regularly - Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Andre Dawkins - Duke will need to win from the inside out. If anyone can manage that, it’s Krzyzewski.
2. North Carolina (34-4, 13-3)
Coach: Roy Williams (seventh season, 178-37)
Where they’re at: In reloading mode. What’s Ole Roy to do after losing the nucleus of a national title team? Stock up on big men. Unlike after the 2005 championship, when the cupboard was nearly bare, the Tar Heels return Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson and potential lottery pick Ed Davis.
Where they’re headed: There is no talk of an unbeaten season or an obvious national player of the year and perhaps not an NCAA tournament crown. But there is promise with the arrivals of John Henson and Dexter Strickland. If Larry Drew II is a capable point guard, this could be a top-five team.
3. Clemson (23-9, 9-7)
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.
7. Florida State (25-10, 10-6)
Coach: Leonard Hamilton (eighth season, 131-96)
Where they’re at: Like so many other teams in the conference, the Seminoles are trying to make do without a crucial perimeter player. The loss of Toney Douglas will shift attention inward, where Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton must find ways to remain effective.
Where they’re headed: Florida State is a wild card. The Seminoles aren’t likely to fall off a cliff, but matching last season’s 25 victories will be difficult. The linchpin of the season might be freshman Michael Snaer.
8. Wake Forest (24-7, 11-5)
Coach: Dino Gaudio (third season, 41-20)
Where they’re at: If this were 25 years ago, James Johnson and Jeff Teague probably would have stayed in school and the Demon Deacons would be picked to reach the Final Four. Instead, both left for the NBA, and it will take some time for last year’s early-season darlings to come close to replicating last winter’s success.
Where they’re headed: Wake was fortunate Al-Farouq Aminu opted to stick around for another season. He could be enough of an anchor for the Demon Deacons to climb out of their midpack projections and be a top-25 team.
9. Virginia Tech (19-15, 7-9)
Coach: Seth Greenberg (seventh season, 107-85)
Where they’re at: In search of scoring options behind Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. There are few players who will be missed as much in the conference as A.D. Vassallo, who was third in the league in field goals attempted with 516. The Hokies’ returnees other than Allen and Delaney combined for 484.
Where they’re headed: Back to basics. Greenberg wants to see his team embrace defense more than a season ago, when the Hokies were decidedly more porous than in the recent past. Virginia Tech will probably need to play ugly to win, and Greenberg is among the best in the sport at getting his players to accept that approach.
10. Virginia (10-18, 4-12)
Coach: Tony Bennett (first season)
Where they’re at: Another reboot in Charlottesville. Washington State import Bennett is the fourth coach in the past 13 seasons. He inherits one potent scorer (Sylven Landesberg), plenty of complementary pieces and a lot of eagerness for a fresh start after the Cavaliers’ worst season since 1967.
Where they’re headed: It could be an interesting ride for Virginia and the ACC as Bennett implements his “non-negotiables” - notably, a strong commitment to defense. The Cavaliers get the same favorable league schedule as three years ago (when they shared the regular-season title), so that should help.
11. Miami (19-13, 7-9)
Coach: Frank Haith (sixth season, 88-73)
Where they’re at: Trying to figure out how to replace Jack McClinton. The sharpshooter was the Hurricanes’ answer to nearly every problem the past few years, and finding a capable option to take crucial shots won’t be easy. One possibility is transfer Malcolm Grant, a pure scorer who sat out last year after a season at Villanova.
Where they’re headed: It could be a bit bumpy this year. Forward Dwayne Collins is the nearest thing to a certainty for Miami. The Hurricanes will poach a few surprises at home, but they’ll struggle to rise into the top half of the league.
12. N.C. State (16-14, 6-10)
Coach: Sidney Lowe (fourth season, 52-46)
Where they’re at: In quite a bit of a mess. The Wolfpack were a headache for mediocre teams visiting Raleigh last season, but they’ve lost the top three scorers from yet another disjointed team.
Where they’re headed: With three finishes of 10th or worse in as many seasons, Lowe is the ACC coach sure to receive the most scrutiny. There are just too many question marks to project much success for the Wolfpack.