By Ed Morgans @writered21 on August 20, 2014
After a season in which Virginia surprised many by doing the ACC regular season and tournament double, much attention will be focused on the league this coming season to see if the Cavaliers can repeat. But additional storylines include Louisville's debut in the ACC, the great freshmen classes at Duke and North Carolina, and whether Syracuse has recovered from last year's late collapse. Here are five ACC contenders for 2014-15.
The Orange lost six of their last nine games last season, were drilled by Virginia in a game that decided the ACC regular season crown, and were upset by Dayton in the NCAA tournament. Oh, and Syracuse also started 25-0. Gone are C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis from a team that already struggled massively on offense. But there's no clear pick to replace the 'Cuse in the top five (Notre Dame, maybe?), so the Orange make the cut.
This isn't the best time for Louisville to enter the ACC given graduations and such, but there's never reason to doubt a Rick Pitino-coached team, and the Cardinals can contend in any league they play in. But Duke and North Carolina have seriously reloaded through recruiting, and Virginia is likely a perennial contender under head coach Tony Bennett.
The good news for North Carolina fans is that guard Marcus Paige, an all-ACC pick last season, decided to return. The better news is a top recruiting class that featured three McDonald's All-Americans. There will be no uncertainty this season, and the only real question is how well the freshmen will fit, especially 6-foot-1 point guard Joel Berry.
Despite losing two seniors in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, there's plenty of talent remaining in Charlottesville. Head coach Tony Bennett signed a new contract extension, and the recruiting class is solid. We know Bennett's system works and can win in the ACC, and Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes will form a lethal backcourt duo.
Yes, Duke lost Jabari Parker and other top players from its rotation, so picking them to win the ACC may be a bit ambitious. But as usual, the Blue Devils have reloaded in a big way, bringing in four McDonald's All-Americans who can help all over the court, including 6-foot-11 Whitney Young. Duke will be young and energetic, and maybe a bit confounding early; but by conference play, it should be the program to beat in a close race.
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