The ACC is going to look very, VERY different next season.
Not only will the league's only two Sweet 16 teams suffer massive graduation losses, three new teams will arrive from the Big East to turn the ACC into a 15-team conference.
Projecting the league is going to be harder than ever - although we didn't do that good a job with this year's 12-team league. Both the writers and coaches picked N.C. State as the preseason favorite and the Pack finished tied for fourth. Our preseason player of the year barely made the third All-ACC team and our preseason rookie didn't make the all-freshman team. Heck, the writers and the coaches agreed on the preseason All-ACC team and together we got one right - Duke's Mason Plumlee.
So what do we know?
And, remember, those votes were taken in late October, when we had a pretty good idea what the various teams would look like. ACC rosters are going to undergo a lot of turmoil in the next couple of months.
For an example of how hard it is to project the ACC next season, take a look at North Carolina.
No team in the ACC - and maybe no team in all of college basketball - has a wider range of possibilities at this moment than the Tar Heels.
There's one scenario in which the Tar Heels will start the year as one of the nation's top teams - a legitimate national championship contender. There is another plausible scenario where UNC is going to have to struggle to make the NCAA field.
The optimistic scenario would happen if:
(1) Prep star Andrew Wiggins, a 6-8 small forward rated the No. 1 prospect in the class, chooses UNC over Kentucky, Kansas and Florida State.
(2) All three of UNC's possible NBA candidates elect to come back to school.
The nightmare scenario is the exact opposite:
(1) Wiggins rejects the Heels.
(2) James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston all turn pro.
Most likely, UNC's 2013-14 team will fall somewhere between the two extremes. But it's impossible to evaluate North Carolina's situation until we know what Wiggins, McAdoo, Bullock and Hairston will do.
Ignoring that quartet for the moment, Roy Williams can count on rapidly maturing point guard Marcus Paige and three top 100 recruits, including two McDonald's All-Americans -- forward Isaiah Hicks and massive center Kennedy Meeks. The third UNC recruit, guard Nate Britt, might have made it too, except he was injured most of last season.
Hicks and Meeks appear to be more long-term studs than immediate game-changers. Hicks is an explosive athlete with a nice skill set, but he needs to add strength and weight to become an outstanding ACC power forward. Meeks is overweight and out of shape. He has a nice game, but until he loses 20-30 pounds, he'll struggle to play in Roy's system.
Williams will also have fifth-year senior wing guard Leslie McDonald (a career 35 percent field goal shooter), junior Desmond Hubert and a bunch of rising sophomores who made little impact last season (J.P. Tokoto, Joel James, Brice Johnson).
In itself, that doesn't look like enough to shape into an ACC contender - especially in a league expected to be bolstered by the likes of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt. But add a talent such as Wiggins and suddenly UNC has a major weapon. Or add two or three of the McAdoo-Bullock-Hairston trio to the mix and the Heels look quite formidable.
It's going to be an interesting month in Chapel Hill. Most national draft experts expect McAdoo to turn pro - he's dropped from top 10 a year ago to projected middle/late first round this year â¦ another season at UNC and he might be out of the first round entirely. Opinion is split on Bullock and Hairston. Most recruiting experts project UNC third in the Wiggins race, but who knows?
And who knows how strong the three newcomers will be?
Actually, it appears that the ACC is catching all three newcomers on the downturn.
The best of the trio is certainly Syracuse, but how much of the 2013 Final Four team will be around to play in the ACC next year?
Forget for a moment the idea that Jim Boeheim will retire rather than make the transition to the ACC. Despite some of his snarky comments about playing the ACC Tournament in bucolic Greensboro, those close to him have little doubt that Boeheim is excited about the prospect of coaching in the ACC. And don't discount the whispers that he hopes to outlast Duke's Mike Krzyzewski to become the winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 history (he'll need to coach two seasons longer than K to do that).
No, Boeheim is likely to be on the bench next season. The problem with Syracuse is going to be the roster.
The Orange lose two senior starters to graduation - James Sutherland (the team's best long-range shooter) and versatile Brandon Triche. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is expected to turn pro. And junior forward C.J. Fair, the team's top scorer, is another potential NBA refugee.
That's the kind of attrition that is going to doom 2013 heavyweights Miami and N.C. State to irrelevance next season. But Syracuse is not Miami and it's not N.C. State. Boeheim's program operates much more like Krzyzewski's juggernaut at Duke and Roy Williams powerhouse at UNC. Those programs routinely lose massive amounts of talent, yet recover quickly to compete at the highest level.
Even with the expected losses, Boeheim will have plenty of talent on hand - such as big men Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman, forward Jerami Grant, Duke transfer Michael Gbinoje and a five-man recruiting class headed by point guard Tyler Ennis and forward Tyler Robinson.
Although that might not be quite enough to make Syracuse the 2013-14 preseason favorite (that could change if Fair and Carter-Williams return), it is certainly enough to make the Orange contenders.
The outlook isn't quite as bright at Notre Dame and Pitt.
Mike Brey loses two starters to graduation - center Jack Cooley and big guard Scott Martin. The key will be whether junior forward Jerian Grant, the team's top player, elects to return for his senior season. The Irish also lose a number of quality backup big men, including 6-10 Garrick Sherman and 6-10 Tom Knight.
On paper, this does not look like as good a team as the one that finished 25-10 and lost to Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Pitt also appears to have lost ground after finishing 24-9 last season. Guard Tray Woodall, who led the Panthers in scoring and assists in each of the last two seasons, graduates. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that 7-foot freshman Steve Adams, who first announced that he was returning for his sophomore season, changed his mind and opted for the draft. Pitt also loses Dante Taylor, the team's top frontcourt sub, and swingman Trey Ziegler.
Dixon does have a core of three rising senior starters in Lamar Patterson, J.J. Moore and Talib Zanna. Guard James Robinson had a promising freshman season off the bench. Mike Young is a power forward recruit with a good reputation.
But the Panthers will miss Adams in the middle.
So what does that leave?
To me, it appears that rebuilding Duke will open the year as the ACC favorite - unless everything goes right in the offseason for UNC. The Tar Heels and the Syracuse Orange also look like contenders. However, I think the strongest contenders could be two ACC holdovers that appear to be on the rise:
It's too bad the Terps are headed to the Big Ten after next season because Mark Turgeon has this program on the right track.
It would be a shock if 7-footer Alex Len returned for his junior season, but even with the big man headed for the NBA, the team that beat Duke in the ACC Tournament and reached the NIT semifinals will return relatively intact. The only senior losses were forward James Padgett and guard Logan Aronhalt.
Most of the key young players are expected back - wings Dez Wells and Nick Faust, big men Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare, forward Jake Layman and explosive shooting guard Seth Allen. Veteran point guard Pe'Shon Howard is back, but the rising senior is likely to give way to talented recruit Roddy Peters. And Turgeon will also add the talents of 6-9 Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz - a big man with bulk and a nice shooting touch, who averaged almost eight points and five rebounds for a good Michigan team in 2012.
Maryland has size, talent and growing experience. A lot will depend on how much of an upgrade Roddy Peters is over the erratic Howard at the point.
But going into their last ACC season, the Terps look very much like contenders.
There were times this season when the Cavaliers looked like ACC contenders.
Then they would take their act on the road and it was a different story.
Coach Tony Bennett returns the core of the young, injury-plagued team that tied N.C. State for fourth in the ACC last season - starting with rising seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, two all-star quality players. Bennett got significant contributions from the likes of freshmen Justin Anderson, Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey. The Cavs will add a veteran guard in South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill (seven points and 39 percent 3-point shooting as a freshman for a bad SC team).
Bennett had to battle injuries all season - the worst was the preseason loss of 6-5 guard Malcolm Brogdon - projected to be a scoring point. His play will be vital as Bennett tries to replace his one significant graduation loss, point guard Jontel Evans.
Still, the biggest problem for the Cavs next season is to prove that they can play as smart and as tough on the road as they do at home. If they do that, Bennett will have a contender.
Two of last year's ACC contenders are headed for a big fall:
If anything is clear, it's that Miami missed its window of opportunity.
Well, missed might not be the right word - the Hurricanes did win the ACC, finished in the top 10 and reached the Sweet 16. Still, the disappointing loss to Marquette in the East regional semifinals only highlights that this team could have done so much more.
Now it's over.
Miami is not going to be a contender next season - not in any shape or form. The Hurricanes lose five of their top six players - at least. Although brilliant guard Shane Larkin said he's returning, there are a lot of skeptics out there who expect him to bolt.
Even if Larkin does return, he could find himself in a position much like VPI's Erick Green was in this past season - the lone star on a subpar team. Who else is back? Rion Brown? Eric Swoope? Garrius Adams? There is nothing exciting on the recruiting horizon - Jim Larranaga has a couple of solid prospects coming in, but no real impact players.
It's going to be a while before Miami is an ACC contender again. Next year's team will be lucky to qualify for the NIT - if Larkin returns.
Another missed opportunity - the Wolfpack won't be as talented and as experienced as they were last season.
Like Miami, the Pack loses four starters - actually four and a half, since freshman Rodney Purvis started more than half the team's games. A lot of talent is walking out the door - senior big man Richard Howell was the team's best player last season, just ahead of junior Lorenzo Brown, who is bolting for the NBA. Scott Wood had limitations, but was the ACC's best 3-point shooter. C.J. Leslie was a major talent, even if his lack of focus and maturity had to drive Mark Gottfried to distraction.
At least, unlike Miami, Gottfried has some major talent walking in the door. Point guard Anthony "Cat" Barber is a stud. DeMatha product Beejay Anya (6-8, 255) and slender (6-9, 200) Kyle Washington will bolster the depleted frontcourt. And Gottfried is still working on landing a juco guard (Desmond Lee?) and maybe grabbing Tulane transfer Josh Davis, a 6-8 Raleigh native who started his collegiate career at N.C. State before transferring to the Green Wave. Davis, who averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds for a bad Tulane team last season, would be a major pick up.
State needs frontcourt help since the only proven players returning are T.J. Warren, a parttime starter at small forward (who tied Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon as the No. 2 vote-getter on the All-ACC freshman team) and backup point guard Tyler Lewis. Throw in 6-6 transfer Ralston Turner, who averaged nine points and three rebounds for a bad LSU team in 2012 and that's the sum total of State's experience.
It's hard to see that group coalescing into a contending team.
I'm not sure how far these two fall - Miami heads straight for the bottom if Larkin does go pro â¦ if he returns, he gives the 'Canes a chance to finish in the middle of the Pack. But I like three more rising programs - none will challenge for the ACC title, but if everything goes right, any of the three could make a run at the NCAA Tournament:
Brian Gregory is putting together a lineup that is almost good enough to designate as an ACC contender - he just needs to find one missing piece.
Nobody in the ACC will have a better collection of veteran big men that Tech's trio of center Daniel Miller and forwards Robert Carter and Kammeon Holsey. Rising sophs Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden have great size and skill on the wing, backed up by veterans Brandon Reed and Jason Morris.
All Gregory needs to bring it together is a point guard.
This past season, senior Mfon Udofia did his best to run the show. Udofia was not a bad player, but he was no point guard and the lack of floor leadership hurt the Jackets badly.
Gregory brought in Soloman Poole, a highly-regarded point guard recruit from Jacksonville, Fla, but he only arrived after graduating from high school in December and never found his footing. Corey Heyward, the son of NFL legend Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, missed all season with a knee injury. He's a candidate, but even before the injury, he was rated a modest prospect. There's also incoming recruit Travis Jorgenson, a three-star prospect from Missouri.
If Gregory had a Cat Barber or even a Nate Britt coming it, the Jackets might be a smart dark-horse pick next season. But unless Poole or Heyward or Jorgenson exceeds expectations by a wide margin, Georgia Tech looks like a middle-of-the pack team.
The Eagles have made slow but steady progress since coach Steve Donahue started to rebuild with an almost all-freshman team in 2011-12. And everybody from the freshman/sophomore team that finished 7-11 in the ACC last season will be back next year except backup big man Andrew Van Nest.
The potential of Donahue's rising sophomore backcourt of Olivier Hanlan (the ACC rookie of the year) and Joe Rahon was on display at the ACC Tournament, especially in Hanlan's 41-point explosion against Georgia Tech. And rising junior Ryan Anderson is an all-league talent at forward.
Still, BC's chance of making a big jump next year probably depends on the condition of Dennis Clifford's knees. As a freshman in 2011-12, the 7-footer was one of the most promising young players in the ACC. Last summer, he was the star of BC's summer tour to Spain. But sore knees turned him into a minimal contributor in 2012-13.
Donahue admits that Clifford may never overcome his problem. If not, then expect just modest improvement from the Eagles. BC's best newcomer will be 6-7 Alex Dragicevich, a junior transfer from Notre Dame (where he averaged 6.6 points in 21 minutes a game as a soph). BC has at least two recruits coming and maybe two or three more, but nobody on Donahue's list is projected as an impact player.
This looks like a middle-of-the-road ACC team next year - unless Clifford makes a significant recovery.
It's hard to project Florida State better next year than last season's 9-9 NIT team . The Seminoles lose just one player â¦ unfortunately, senior Michael Snaer was the team's best player.
There is one possible salvation for Leonard Hamilton's team - if Andrew Wiggins, the son of two FSU grads, decides to follow his parents to Tallahassee, the 'Noles would suddenly look a lot more impressive.
Hamilton does have a lot of good athletes -big men such as Kiel Turpin and Michael Ojo - and guards Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon. He has a trio of veterans: forward Okaro White, center Terrence Shannon and guard Ian Miller.
What he doesn't have is a consistent scorer. And unless the FSU defense regains the excellence it had before last season, that's going to be a fatal flaw.
Wiggins would solve that problem. Recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a Canadian wing who comes from the same prep school that produced Wiggins, could help too.
THE ALSO RANS
Nothing is going to help Clemson, Virginia Tech or Wake Forest.
The ACC's three worst teams in 2012-13 (well, Wake did tie Georgia Tech for ninth) all lost their best player.
Wake Forest probably has the best chance to escape the cellar, despite the graduation of C.J. Harris. Embattled coach Jeff Bzdelik does return veteran forward Travis McKie and his seven-man freshman class included at least a couple of promising ACC players - most notably big man Devin Thomas.
Virginia Tech will have to endure life without Erick Green. If the Hokies could finish dead last in the league with the ACC player of the year, where will they finish without him?
Clemson still has some players and will benefit from the return of Devin Coleman and Jaron Blossomgame, but there's nobody in the pipeline to replace center Devin Booker. And even the erratic Milton Jennings will be missed.
All three schools are adding players of the two and three star variety. Those recruiting classes will probably include some future ACC standouts, but none are likely to be impact guys next year.
The hard truth is that Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech will almost certainly be battling Miami at the bottom of the ACC next season.
One of them will become the first team in ACC history to finish 15th in the standings.
At least that's the view from April â¦ it may look completely different next fall.