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October 25, 2013

CavsCorner ACC Power Rankings

College hoops season is less than two weeks away and it's time to start thinking about a revamped ACC. Throughout the 2013-2014 season, CavsCorner will be releasing power rankings to take a look at the entire ACC.

Keep in mind these rankings aren't a predicted order a finish (outside of the this initial post) but rather a snapshot of the league and which teams are trending up and down.

There are a number of interesting storylines that the conference will be facing now that it has expanded to 15 teams, three of which enter this year to make it arguably the best league in all of college basketball.

1. Duke Blue Devils

Coach K's bunch was picked to finish first by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA) last week, and that is where we'll start. Usually if a team is ranked at the top of the conference in the preseason, they'll be expected to rely on returning, proven commodities. That is not the case with this Duke squad, however. Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and Seth Curry are all gone, leaving the Dukies to replace three starters from the 2012-2013 squad. The Blue Devils do return most of their backcourt, including point guards Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton and shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who could really make a leap this season. Duke will welcome two notable newcomers, transfer Rodney Hood and ballyhooed freshman Jabari Parker, both of whom are expected to be a big part of what this team will accomplish this season. Both Hood and Parker were named to the pre-season All-ACC First Team last week.

Next Up: Duke opens the season on November 8 against Davidson before facing Kansas in the Champions Classic in Chicago on November 12.

2. Syracuse Orange

Coach Jim Boeheim openly said that he didn't want his program to move from the Big East to the ACC but here we are. The Orange were voted 2nd in the ACC preseason poll, and will play their first ever conference basketball game on January 4, when they host reigning conference champion Miami, though the Canes will be a shadow of their former selves. The Orange will be led by preseason ACC Player of the Year C.J. Fair, who averaged 14.5 points and seven rebounds per game a season ago. One newcomer to keep an eye on will be freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, a former UVa target who has a chance to come in and contribute right away on one of the better teams in the league. If the ACC teams struggle initially to figure out Boeheim's famous 2-3 zone, then Syracuse could end up with the No. 1 seed in Greensboro come March.

Next Up: The Orange should start 4-0 with home games against Cornell, Fordham, Colgate, and St. Francis (NY).

3. Virginia Cavaliers

This Cavalier team has higher expectations than any in the Tony Bennett era. Guard Joe Harris, who was a first-team All-ACC selection last year, missed out on preseason ACC Player of the Year by a single vote at ACC Media Day. The Wahoos bring back Harris and everyone else from last season except for graduating guard Jontel Evans, and a pair of transfers, Paul Jesperson and Taylor Barnette. The Cavaliers add South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill in the frontcourt and a pair of freshman guards in London Perrantes and Devon Hall. UVa was picked to finish fourth in the ACC preseason poll, where Bennett and Virginia have finished in each of the last two seasons. If sophomores Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson can improve on their performances from their rookie campaigns, and UVa can get solid production from the point guard position, then this team could be poised for a run in the NCAA Tournament this season. That's why they start here at No. 3.

Next Up: The Cavaliers open the season against JMU on November 8 before hosting Top 25 foe Virginia Commonwealth on November 12.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels

It has been a long offseason for North Carolina coach Roy Williams and he has to be ready for the season to get going. Star guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald both had legal troubles over the summer, with Hairston's getting him in some hot water with both local law enforcement and potentially the NCAA. Williams has announced that Hairston will be suspended for "multiple" games but the exact length of the punishment has yet to be announced. It's expected that he will play a majority of the games, barring any further complications, though. Carolina is expecting a lot from James Michael McAdoo, who still has some work to do on his game if he is going to develop into the consistent playmaker and the lottery pick that many envisioned he would become. Point guard Marcus Paige made some real strides last year, and when Hairston returns that pair could form one of the best backcourts in the country. Also, keep an eye on the post where Joel James and freshman Kennedy Meeks could hold a real key to this season in Chapel Hill.

Next Up: The Tar Heels open the season at home against Oakland on November 8 then face Holy Cross and Belmont before playing Richmond on a neutral court on November 23.

5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Another newcomer to the league, the Irish were voted fifth in the preseason poll last week. Mike Brey has a history of coaching that consistently finished in the top half of the loaded Big East and they're hoping the success they saw in what was labeled the best basketball league in the country will translate well to their new conference. Senior guard Jerian Grant, who averaged 13.3 points and 5.5 assists per game last year, was named to the preseason All-ACC First Team by ACSMA and figures to be the lynchpin for Brey's squad. The Irish did lose forward Jack Cooley who was a big part of Notre Dame's success last season, averaging 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in 2012-2013. Notre Dame has been notorious for having solid regular seasons but falling flat in the NCAA Tournament in the last few seasons, and hopefully for fans of the Irish, they can turn over a new leaf when it comes to postseason success now that they've embarked on life after the Big East.

Next Up: Notre Dame opens the season with Miami (Ohio) on November 8 and then host Stetson two days later.

6. Maryland Terrapins

Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins are looking to go out with a bang in their final Atlantic Coast Conference season. The media tabbed Maryland as the 7th-best team in the conference but in a deep, 15-team league, that should still put them in a position to make the NCAA Tournament this season. The Terps did lose Alex Len, who left early to head to the NBA. Len had a ton of potential and showed flashes of real ability, but was never as consistent as Maryland fans probably would have liked. Still, the Ukrainian center will be missed, particularly on the defensive end. Maryland does welcome transfer Evan Smotrycz, who was a solid player in his two seasons at Michigan. The Terps have some real talent in the backcourt, with Nick Faust, Seth Allen, and Dez Wells, and will be relying on them to provide consistent play, particularly at the point guard spot.

Next Up: Maryland will play UConn in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on November 8 at 6:30pm on ESPN2.

7. Pittsburgh Panthers

The media voted Pittsburgh to finish sixth in its maiden voyage in the ACC. Like with Notre Dame, Jamie Dixon coached teams have a reputation for excellent regular-season play, with almost nothing to show for it in March. They will miss departing guard Tray Woodall this year, after he led the team in scoring a season ago. New Zealand native and center Steven Adams also has moved on to the NBA, after showing flashes of brilliance for the Panthers last season. This year, Dixon will rely on senior guard Lamar Patterson, who was second on the team in points per game as a junior. Point guard James Robinson, who was a big UVa target as a recruit, had a decent freshman season and his improvement will be key for Pitt's chances to make a run in the league this season.

Next Up: The Panthers open up with Savannah State on November 8.

8. Boston College Eagles

Steve Donahue has led Boston College teams that have shown steady improvement since he came to Chestnut Hill from Cornell. Two years ago, BC played with a team that was almost entirely made up of freshman. Now, those freshmen are juniors, and the Eagles have a decent shot at sneaking onto the bubble this season. Sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan, though, is the star of the group after a huge game to open the ACC Tournament last season, going for 41 points in a blowout win over Georgia Tech. The Canadian native is one of the league's best players and no team can afford to let him get into a flow. The rest of Boston College's talent nucleus is back, including Ryan Anderson, Dennis Clifford, and Eddie Odio. BC will probably still have its struggles from time to time but the Eagles are definitely a candidate to sneak up and steal upsets a few teams this season.

Next Up: BC opens up the campaign on the road against Providence on November 8.

9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Another young team, Brian Gregory and the Jackets, like Boston College, showed improvement as the year went on last season. Tech had what was likely the upset of the year in the conference, upending Miami, who was undefeated in the conference and No. 2 in the nation at the time, on the road no less. Gregory's first recruiting class is full of talent and those players will be the core of this team for the next few years. Rising sophomores Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter Jr. led the team in scoring last year in their first collegiate seasons and if they can continue to improve, the Jackets will be a tough out for anyone in the league this season. Georgia Tech also welcomes transfer point guard Trae Golden from Tennessee, who was just granted a waiver to play this season.

Next Up: The Yellow Jackets open with Presbyterian and Delaware State at home before traveling to rival Georgia on November 15.

10. North Carolina State Wolfpack

After failing to meet really high, perhaps unfairly high, expectations a season ago, most are expecting far less from the Wolfpack in the third season under Mark Gottfried. This year's team won't be recognizable to many ACC fans, with most of the Pack's key players gone from the program. Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie left school early to enter the NBA draft. Richard Howell and Scott Wood, both of whom killed UVa over the years, have graduated. Rodney Purvis transferred to Connecticut. So, what's left for Gottfried to work with? The good news is that T.J. Warren is back after a solid freshman season. Point guard Tyler Lewis also returns and could see a bigger role this season. Gottfried brought in another solid recruiting class, featuring Beejay Anya and Anthony "Big Cat" Barber. There is definitely talent on this team but most of it is young and inexperienced. The Wolfpack could struggle this year but look for them to be back in the mix in 2014 and beyond.

Next Up: NC State opens with Appalachian State on November 8 before traveling to face Cincinnati on November 12.

11. Miami Hurricanes

What a difference a year makes. The defending league champions have very little chance to repeat that performance this season consider all that was lost from that squad. Although Jim Larranega is one of the nation's best coaches, the lion's share of the talent they rode to a regular season and tournament title is gone. Shane Larkin departed early to the NBA, and Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, Julian Gamble, and Trey McKinney-Jones all graduated. That leaves guard Rion Brown and forwards Tony Jekiri and Erik Swoope as the only players who played in a significant number of games last season that are coming back this year. Long story short, this will be a much different Miami team, probably with much different results. Still, nobody expected Larranega to lead The U to a league title last year, so there's no reason to think he can't overachieve with this team as well.

Next Up: Miami opens the 2013-14 season with St. Francis (NY) on November 8.

12. Florida State Seminoles

Michael Snaer will not be hitting any more buzzer beaters for the Seminoles this season, much to the chagrin of many. His eligibility has run out after what seemed like a decade. Forward Terrence Shannon is also gone after transferring to VCU. Still, Leonard Hamilton has a decent amount of talent to work with this season. Unfortunately, though, the Noles will have to play without star recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who was ruled academically ineligible for this season by the NCAA. Hamilton also missed on Andrew Wiggins, who was once considered a FSU lean, and would've changed the projections for this season's team considerably. The Seminoles return Okaro White, who was second to Snaer in scoring a year ago. Young guards Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon showed flashes last season, as did two young big men, Michael Ojo and 7-foot-3 Boris Bojanovsky. If Rathan-Mayes comes back to school next year, then the Seminoles could make a run in to the top half of the standings, but this season looks like a year where improvement from game to game should be about all the FSU fans should really hope for. The key could be the play (and health) of senior guard Ian Miller.

Next Up: FSU opens the season against Jacksonville University on November 8.

13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

If Wake Forest finishes 13th in the ACC this season, then coach Jeff Bzdelik will almost certainly be on his way out of Winston-Salem. The former Air Force coach came in trying to build on the moderate success that Dino Gaudio enjoyed but instead, the program has seemingly taken a sizeable step backwards. The Demon Deacons lose their leading scorer from last season, C.J. Harris, but do have a decent amount of young talent on the team. Guards Codi Miller-McIntyre and Madison Jones showed some promise in their freshmen seasons, and with Harris' departure, will be expected to score more. Travis McKie returns for his senior season, and will try to build on the 13.5 points and 7 rebounds per game he averaged a year ago. Truth be told, with a better coach this team could be pretty good. Sadly for Deacons fans, that isn't the case.

Next Up: Wake Forest opens the season against Colgate on November 8.

14. Clemson Tigers

A Clemson team that wasn't very good last year has gotten worse after some of their best players graduated in the offseason. Devin Booker and Milton Jennings are gone, and coach Brad Brownell will need to hope that some of his young players step up and improve, and do so in a hurry. Guards Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper showed some promise last year and the Tigers will rely on their ability to score more this season. K.J. McDaniels was a decent player in 2012-2013, but like with the two guards, he will need to step up and be more of a go-to-guy this season. Frankly, Brownell's team is probably going to struggle mightily this season, as they grow and get more experience against some really tough ACC competition. It's never good when even the most devout hoops fan can't name one or two of your team's players. It's going to take a lot for the Tigers to change that.

Next Up: Clemson opens its season on November 8 at home against Stetson.

15. Virginia Tech Hokies

The Hokies were predicted to finish 15th in the league this season, becoming the first team in any ACC sport to be picked to finish 15th in the conference. And that's largely because, as the sports cliche goes, Erick Green isn't walking through that door for James Johnson, who will struggle to find two players to replaces the production of Green. The Hokies lose the ACC's leading scorer, a player who put the team on his back last year time and time again. Although he didn't get the Hokies a ton of wins in league play, his ability to score in bunches kept them in games that they otherwise wouldn't have been in. Johnson named freshman Ben Emelgolu a team captain a few weeks ago, and the folks in Blacksburg expect big things from the newcomer at guard. Senior Jarrell Eddie will probably lead the Hokies in scoring this season, after putting up 12.3 points per game as a junior. This season will be an ugly one for Virginia Tech in a league that gives young teams very few nights off. But if Johnson can find ways to retool without Green to lean on, and find some playmakers, it's possible that he could build something for the future in Blacksburg.

Next Up: Virginia Tech opens the season against USC Upstate on November 9 before traveling to West Virginia on November 12.

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