It can be argued the only sure bets to reach the NCAA Tournament over the last few seasons are rivals Duke and North Carolina. Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia are all ranked in the AP top-25, and many would say only four of those five are locks for the tourney.
Looking past these schools, it is certainly feasible to think not another school gets included this season.
There are several reasons for that. The top schools could beat up the lower schools and keep them out. The lower schools are only one injury away from completely falling off the map, and the selection committee could be harsher on the conference simply because of the ACC basketball takeover.
Duke is a clear choice to win the conference and possibly the national championship. Jabari Parker is a stud freshman and was once ranked No. 1 in his high school class. Even though Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky forward Julius Randle are ranked higher on most incoming freshmen list, Parker is a player who can take over games. He is a supposed to be a genius on offense and the rest of Duke’s starting five of Amile Johnson, Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon (11.6 PPG) and Quinn Cook (11.7 PPG) can match up with any team in the country.
Syracuse is also uber-talented with C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG) leading the way at forward. He is supported with a big-line of DuJaun Coleman — returning from injury — and Rakeem Christmas. The Orange’s biggest concern — rebounding — is the same as always because of its zone defense. Syracuse seems to always overcome this and with the scoring coming from everywhere it should be enough to keep them in the top-10 all season.
North Carolina is in an odd situation. If anyone had said James Michael McAdoo would stay at least until his junior year, everyone would have thought something went wrong. Something did. McAdoo (14.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) has not lived up to the hype, and this season he will need to be a leader if UNC has any shot of winning the ACC. Point guard Marcus Paige (4.6 APG) is not the prototypical Roy Williams speedster PG, but he will be in charge of guiding the offense. Last season’s leading scorer P.J. Hairston (14.6 PPG) and Leslie McDonald are still suspended for eligibility issues, so even more emphasis will be placed on getting scoring from McAdoo and Paige. If these two players return early UNC will have time to gel before conference play, but with a harsh early-season schedule highlighted with games against Kentucky, Michigan State and likely Louisville, it could be a tough mountain to climb for the Tar Heels.
Notre Dame is in its first season in the ACC and could make an impact quick because of its experience. Three of the team’s projected starters are seniors with Jerian Grant, Tom Knight and Eric Atkins. This kind of leadership is invaluable to any team, and especially to one joining a new conference with new road stops. Grant (13.3 PPG, 5.5 APG) became a star with his breakout junior year, and he will be needed in close late-game situations that could make or break the Irish’s tourney hopes.
Virginia is the final AP top-25 ranked in the ACC but is not a lock in any sense to reach the tournament. Senior star Joe Harris (16.3 PPG) wants to cap his college career with an NCAA Tournament bid, and with more power-teams to deal with, not losing “sure-win-games” will be crucial to Virginia. Last season, UVA lost to Delaware and George Mason early. Virginia’s defense has been ranked high the last two seasons in the ACC and will need to be there again when the committee fills the 65-team field.
The ACC has had a tough enough time receiving bids into the NCAA tournament over the past few seasons. With even more teams beating up on the bottom of the league one or two extra bids may be all the conference gets — and deserves.