This season ushers in a new era for the Atlantic Coast Conference. With the arrival of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, the league is elevated in stature and takes on a Big East feel in terms of size and differing styles. Those vying for the title will include three Naismith Hall of Fame coaches (Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams), some established veteran winners unafraid to challenge entrenched power (Mike Brey, Jim Larranaga, Jamie Dixon, Leonard Hamilton and Mark Gottfried) and coaches who are building programs to be in a position to challenge in the future (Tony Bennett, Mark Turgeon, Brian Gregory, Brad Brownell, Steve Donahue, Jeff Bzdelik and James Johnson).
From uptempo fast breaks to smash-mouth possession-oriented play, the ACC will have something for everyone, and teams had better be able to adapt from game to game. It will be a fun ride.
Last season was a good one for the ACC, but not one of its vintage years. For a league that has known NCAA championships and Final Fours as the benchmark of greatness, having only four teams in the NCAA tournament, its champion beaten in the Sweet 16 and one of its standard bearers blitzed in the second half of an Elite Eight game, the ACC didn't feel like the nation's best conference.
In fact, it wasn't the best conference in the country for a single day last season. The ACC was painfully young and inexperienced, and the top teams were able to take advantage. Plus, North Carolina, one of the most consistent winners in college basketball history, had an up-and-down season. The Tar Heels relied solely upon its perimeter for the first time since Roy Williams first put a whistle around his neck. The ACC was not the best in 2013. It was merely good.
That could change this season in a big way. The best of the broken-up Big East is now in the ACC, and the league trades Maryland to the Big Ten and takes in Louisville next season. It could very well be the nation's best, deepest and most powerful basketball conference in 2014 and beyond, but with a few notable question marks. Here is how I expect things to shake out, with teams ranked in order and by tier.
Mike Krzyzewski has four NCAA titles and 11 Final Fours under his belt at Duke. Last season looked like another notch, but 2013 was a mixed bag for Krzyzewski. He really liked his team and their chances, but injuries kept him from seeing exactly what they could have been. Seth Curry was hobbled all season and unable to practice, and Ryan Kelly broke his foot and was never the same. In the end, Duke was an excellent offensive team, but not a great defensive unit without Kelly. This season Duke will be different -- and more dynamic -- on both ends. Gone are Curry, Kelly and Mason Plumlee and in come some athletic and explosive wings.