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College Basketball Preview 2015-2016: Previewing the ACC

Marcus Paige
Atlantic Coast Conference
Power Rankings

1. North Carolina Tar Heels- 26-12 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 4 X-Factor: C Kennedy Meeks
Roy Williams has all the pieces in place in Chapel Hill to bring the school their first national title since 2009. Four starters return to a Sweet 16 team a year ago, including the unquestioned leader of the team, senior Marcus Paige. Although not an elite scorer, Paige's unselfish play and knack for hitting big shots have been critical to the Tar Heels over the years. He will once more be looked at often in important situations. Sophomore Justin Jackson is in line for a breakout campaign, after a big NCAA Tournament last season. Always known as a slasher, Jackson showed he had an improved jump shot and grew in confidence last season. Jackson should get even more opportunities with wing player J.P. Tokoto taking his talents to the NBA early. Up front, North Carolina should have an imposing group of big men, highlighted by junior Kennedy Meeks. Overweight when he arrived at Chapel Hill a few seasons ago, Meeks has slimmed down significantly and become a much more mobile and efficient center. Now, Williams is hoping he can take the next step and transform into the truly dominant center he can be. Senior Brice Johnson will also play a key role, a veteran who has proven he can rebound and defend. Other than Tokoto, North Carolina loses no pieces to a team that was flaming hot towards the end of last season. With plenty of experience, depth and pure talent, this team should be a Final Four lock.
National Rank: 1

2. Virginia Cavaliers- 30-4 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 3 X-Factor: G/F Malcolm Brogdon
Tony Bennett's Virginia program continues to impress, earning a high seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and winning 30 games. Even so, the team advanced to just the third round of the tournament and slumped towards the end of the year. They would have quite a claim to be the top team in the ACC this season if not for the loss of wing Justin Anderson. Anderson averaged 12.2 points per game last season and was the team's best scorer when healthy. That should push ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to even increased usage. Brogdon is a deadeye shooter and offers good size, but isn't explosive and lacks the killer mentality. If he can prove worthy of being the clear top option on this team, he could have a special year. Junior guard London Perrantes is a special player. He doesn't fill the stat sheet very impressively, but he has a great feel for the game and he is an excellent passer. Depth and experience is no problem up front, where Anthony Gill, Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey all return. This Cavs team is no longer an underdog; they have proven they are a serious threat inside the ACC. Now, they just have to go out and prove they can make a deep run in March.
National Rank: 4

3. Duke Blue Devils- 35-4 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 1 X-Factor: G Derryck Thornton
While UNC will be making a run at the national title this season, the reigning champs currently reside just 11 miles away. The Blue Devils used a crazy talented crop of freshmen to win the national title a season ago, and while they suffer severe losses, they should be in the mix again this year. Senior forward Amile Jefferson and sophomore guard Grayson Allen highlight the returners from last year. Jefferson is a productive, if rather underwhelming big, while Allen has flashed star potential, showcased by his big National Championship performance against Wisconsin. Those two will obviously play an important role on the team, but the newcomers are the intriguing bunch. Coach K once more hit the recruiting trail hard, and not surprisingly got himself a fresh group of blue chip recruits. Forward Brandon Ingram is an impressive athlete that can play volleyball on the glass, who will be joined by center Chase Jeter up front. Freshman point guard Derryck Thornton will play a huge role, taking over the reigns of the team from fantastic guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones. Rice transfer Sean Obi is a big-bodied forward who has real potential. Expect growing pains for the Blue Devils to begin the year, but there should be no denying this team still has Championship potential, if they can grow up quick.
National Rank: 7

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish- 32-6 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 3 X-Factor: G Demetrius Jackson
The Irish came in within a few minutes of taking down Kentucky and reaching a Final Four last season, and they should once more be a serious threat in '15-'16. Junior guard Demetrius Jackson takes over the reigns of the offense after a dynamite sophomore campaign. Jackson is a legit star; there were times last season when he was the best player on the court, even against tough opponents and on a great team. Jackson must continue working on his shot and his decision-making but he proved he could lead the team last season. Senior center Zach Auguste returns as ND's primary man on the low block, with support from sophomore Bonzie Colson. Auguste had some big moments a year ago and dominated a Kentucky frontcourt full of NBA players in the Elite 8 last season, while Colson is a hard-worker and great rebounder despite his undersized 6'5" frame. Junior Steve Vasturia is the Irish's third returning starter, a guy who has grown from just a spot-up shooter to a dynamic weapon on the wing. ND won't be quite as good this season, but the core of Jackson/Auguste/Vasturia could still guide them to a second consecutive Elite Eight and perhaps more.
National Rank: 16

5. Florida State Seminoles- 17-16 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 4 X-Factor: C Michael Ojo
Leonard Hamilton has built a program in Tallahassee, but that program had lost some it's shine the past few years. They haven't made a tournament since 2012, and finished off a an average 17-16 a year ago. But, they have all the ingredients for a breakthrough season, led by four returning starters, and a great recruiting haul. Sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes is a special player. Rathan-Mayes proved he could score in bunches throughout last season, scoring 30 points three different times. He will once more be looked at as the first option offensively. Senior deadeye Devon Bookert is back with him in the backcourt, while the frontcourt has plenty of experience. 7'1" Michael Ojo, 7'3" Boris Bojanovsky and more should be counted on quite a bit this year. Ojo continues to work on his offensive game, but the raw tools are there for him to a have a big year. Guard Dwayne Bacon is the gem of this year's recruiting cycle for FSU; the five-star playmaker can do it all and should play big minutes.
National Rank: 25

6. Syracuse Orange- 18-13 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 4 X-Factor: G/F Trevor Cooney
It was a very uncharacteristic year for the Orange last season, as the 'Cuse stumbled to a 18-13 mark that was capped off by self-imposed NCAA sanctions restricting them from postseason play (they might not have played anyways). The good news is four starters return to Jim Boeheim's squad, including a number of impact guards. Senior Trevor Cooney is going to be asked to be the team's top option after an inconsistent junior year that still saw him average 13.4 points per game. Sophomore Kaleb Joseph and former Duke transfer Michael Gbinije will compete for point guard honors, both bringing plenty to the table. The questions are in the frontcourt, where Syracuse will lean heavily on forward Tyler Roberson and oft-injured center DaJuan Coleman. With plenty of talent returning, Boeheim should at the absolute least, be able to guide Syracuse back to the NCAA Tournament.
National Rank: Unranked

7. NC State Wolfpack- 22-14 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 3 X-Factor: G/F Terry Henderson
The Wolfpack had an impressive run to the Sweet 16 last season and if not for a rough offseason, could have been a preseason Top 10 team. The Wolfpack saw Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner both leave and then saw solid forward Kyle Washington transfer. Even so, NC State should be in store for their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance behind Anthony "Cat" Barber, a junior guard who has proven he can lead the team. Barber will be supported by the return of gigantic forward BeeJay Anya (weighs in at 295 pounds) along with junior Leonard Freeman. Expect big things from West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson, a sharpshooting wing who the Wolfpack will look to often.
National Rank: Unranked

8. Louisville Cardinals- 27-9 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 2 X-Factor: G Damion Lee
Louisville put together a strong 2014-2015, finishing off with 27 wins and a fourth place finish in the ACC. Though, the team suffered a number of departures, most notably dominant forward Montrezl Harrell and explosive guard Terry Rozier, who both will be spending time in the NBA. That doesn't bode well for a team that only averaged 69 points per game a year ago. Rick Pitino will look to forward/center Mangok Mathiang to have a much bigger year, after showing flashes last season. Pitino will also be leaning heavily on the services of Drexel transfer Damion Lee, who averaged 21.4 points per game with the Dragons. Lee and sophomore Quentin Snider, a proven passer, will give the Cards a very serviceable backcourt. Youth could be a problem on this team; other than Mathiang the Cardinals have zero scholarship players with more than a year of experience in the program. Even so, Pitino is a proven winner, and the cupboard is far from dry. This team should be an NCAA Tournament team, but beyond that is a question.
National Rank: Unranked

9. Miami Hurricanes- 25-13 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 4 X-Factor: F Kamari Murphy
After living on the bubble throughout all of the '14-'15 campaign, the Hurricanes hope they prove they deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament this year, after reaching the NIT Final and winning 25 games last season. Senior guard Angel Rodriguez is extremely streaky but is as exciting a player as they come. He will lead an offense that has their moments, especially when burly center Tonye Jekiri is playing well on the low block. Jekiri, who averaged nearly 10 rebounds a game last season, will be helped in the frontcourt by Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, who will play an interesting role. Murphy isn't a dynamic offensive player, but he can score and he has excellent versatility, as he can play everywhere in the frontcourt. Also returning is the team's leading scorer from a season ago, guard Sheldon McClellan, who should form a lethal backcourt mix with Rodriguez. Even with a ton of offensive firepower back and plenty of experience, the tough ACC could make Miami a bubble team once more this year.
National Rank: Unranked

10. Pittsburgh Panthers- 19-15 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 3 X-Factor: F Jamel Artis
There is a sense of urgency around Pitt's basketball program nowadays. The Panthers haven't gone past the Round of 32 since 2009 and missed the NCAA Tournament all together last season, and the road doesn't look significantly easier this year. Junior forward Michael Young is the team's most reliable offensive weapon, a versatile scorer who averaged 13.4 points per game a year ago. Joining him up front will be fellow junior Jamel Artis. Artis has all the potential to be an absolutely dominant big man, and he showed plenty of it last year, leading the team in scoring. Senior guard James Robinson will most likely be looked at as the Panthers top option in the backcourt, with the departure of Cameron Wright. There isn't a shortage of talent in Pittsburgh and there is reason to believe they could surprise inside the conference. But, a deep run in the Tournament or anything close to that is just unrealistic at this point.
National Rank: Unranked

11. Virginia Tech Hokies- 11-22 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 2 X-Factor: PG Seth Allen
Entering year two of his rebuild in Blacksburg, Buzz Williams has made some real progress. After a successful stint at Marquette, Williams made an unexpected jump to the ACC, where he knew a youthful Hokies team would need a lot of time. That resulted in a 11-win 2014-2015, but there is reason to believe this team will be much more competitive this year. First off, guards Justin Bibbs and Devin Wilson return to the equation, both with another year under their belt and plenty of confidence. Plus, explosive sophomore Ahmed Hill could have a breakout season at guard after averaging 8.7 points per game last season. Though, the most important thing for the Hokies this season is the addition of transfers Seth Allen and Tyrone Outlaw. Allen, a former stud at Maryland, sat out last season but is a proven scorer and floor leader. Outlaw, meanwhile, averaged nearly 22 points a game in the JUCO ranks and should bring plenty of explosiveness. Virginia Tech is still too young and not deep enough to be a serious contender, but some big wins and perhaps a postseason berth would be an extremely successful year for Williams and the program.
National Rank: Unranked

12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons- 13-19 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 4 X-Factor: G Mitch Wilbekin
Danny Manning will also be entering the second year of what will most likely be a long rebuild in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Though, the former Kansas great has plenty of experience back and enough talent to improve on last season's 13 wins. Senior Codi Miller-McIntrye is quick off the dribble and a scoring machine. Though, inconsistency and mistakes have plagued the guard throughout his career. Also returning is senior forward Devin Thomas, a gritty interior weapon, sophomore forward Greg McClinton and sophomore guard Mitchell Wilbekin. Wilbekin has the talent to be a dangerous scorer and is already a proven three-point sniper, while McClinton must become more aggressive. The Demon Deacons are bound to take strides this year,but much like VT, there are too many deficiencies for them to be a serious threat.
National Rank: Unranked

13. Clemson Tigers- 16-15 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 3 X-Factor: C Landry Nnoko
The Tigers were a solid, if rather underwhelming team a season ago. They played hard defense, were solid at the fundamentals and worked hard. But, a stagnant offense and bad non-conference losses sunk them to a 16-15 mark and pressure on sixth-year head coach Brad Brownell, who hasn't led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament since his first year. Brownell will lean heavily on junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who has proven to be a reliable playmaker to this point. Fellow forward Donte Grantham is a high motor player with plenty of upside, while center Landry Nnoko should continue to grow into a more all-around player. Though, depth and shooting are real concerns and until the Tigers find that, they will be a middle of the pack ACC team at best.
National Rank: Unranked

14. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- 12-19 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 2 X-Factor: F Charles Mitchell
Brian Gregory's seat in Atlanta is getting hotter and hotter by the passing day. The Yellow Jackets have stumbled under his leadership, and have yet to make any real progress during his tenure (they haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2010). Gregory will once more have an uphill battle on his hands this season, even with a decent amount of talent back. Forward Charles Mitchell returns as the team's top weapon in the frontcourt, though he too often got in foul trouble last season and was prone to mistakes. Virginia Tech transfer Adam Smith is a three-point sharpshooter but he was inconsistent at times, and sophomore Travis Jorgenson had a rocky first season with GT. Gregory better hope Smith explodes for huge numbers or some other contributors step up. If nobody does, the Yellow Jackets could be staring down a last place finish in the ACC.
National Rank: Unranked

15. Boston College Eagles- 13-19 in 2014-2015 Returning Starters: 1 X-Factor: F Garland Owens
Forgive BC fans for not knowing their team's roster that well entering 2015-2016. Nine players overall are gone from last year's team, including the team's unquestioned star, forward Oliver Hanlan. The cupboard isn't completely bare for second-year man Jim Christian, but this season will be a complete uphill battle in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. BC should lean heavily on forward Garland Owens, as he is one of the few recognizable faces on the team. The wing isn't a go-to scorer but he is an adept defender and rebounder. Senior center Dennis Clifford should also play a huge role, as the seven-footer returns to give the Eagles a big, shot-blocking piece in the middle of their defense. The addition of former Rutgers and Florida transfer Eli Carter gives BC some experience in their backcourt. The complete roster turnover likely won't come with great results for Christian, but there is hope the team could surprise and finish off over .500.
National Rank: Unranked

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