With Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh each joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, joining the likes of Duke and North Carolina, a lot of pundits are rightfully saying that the league is the best in the nation this season.
After all, the Big East has generally been the deepest league in the country, while the ACC featured some of the top individual programs year in and year out. Naturally, when you combine the two you’re bound to get one of the most stacked leagues in recent memory. The obvious question then becomes, just how many of the 15 ACC teams can get into the NCAA Tournament?
There are a few schools that, barring one of the biggest letdowns in college basketball history, are absolute locks. Duke and Syracuse both enter the season ranked in the top 10, and North Carolina is just outside in the first Coaches Poll of the year. Those three schools are pretty much a certainty, with Duke and Syracuse in particular serious contenders to make a run at the National Championship. Also starting the year in the top 25 are Notre Dame and Virginia, two more schools with strong returning players, and each team should absolutely get into the Big Dance when March rolls around.
After those five schools is where things get a little murkier. Pittsburgh is generally good for better than 20 wins and a berth in the tournament every season, but the Panthers should have some real concerns about who will actually score this season. They’ll no doubt be strong on defense and be able to grind opponents down, and assuming they can find a little scoring punch they should be pretty close to a lock as well. Maryland is another team that starts the year hovering a little bit above the bubble, having won 25 games a year ago but still missing out on an NCAA berth, settling instead for the NIT.
Maryland has some strong returning talent this season, led by Dez Wells and Nick Faust, and is likely to be the seventh team from the ACC to find themselves dancing next spring. After that, however, you start to get into a group of schools that could very easily go either way. Boston College, led by Olivier Hanlan, went just 16-17 last season but there’s optimism surrounding the program as the season nears. Hanlan is one of the top players in the league, and forward Ryan Anderson averaged 14.9 points and 8.0 rebounds last season. If the ACC gets eight teams, there’s a strong chance Boston College will be one of them.
Other contenders are North Carolina State and Miami, though both lost a ton from last season and if they aren’t able to fill those voids they’ll struggle to stay in the top half of the ACC, let alone contend for a berth in the Big Dance.
At the end of the day, the most realistic projection for the ACC is seven teams, including Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Maryland. If Boston College can put together a .500 record in the league, they could very well be the eighth.