Every year the ACC starts the season with lots of question marks. From late June, here's what we see, for what it's worth this early:
Will PJ Hairston be eligible? If the NCAA investigation turns up anything, given their other NCAA issues, UNC will be in a predicament. On the one hand, the NCAA could simply rule that his career is over. On the other, they could simply suspend him for say 10 games. And on the mythical third hand, they could do nothing.
It would be hard for UNC to do nothing given the ongoing mess. Keep any eye on this one.
Can Miami do it with transfers? Having lost their top six players, Miami was in a bind, they were way behind and they were looking to make a steal (sorry).Â They hit the transfer market massively, including grabbing up several D-II kids and a couple of football players will play as well.
Clearly, Jim Larranaga is not interested in starting over. Can he make it work?
How will Maryland's last tour of the ACC go? We expect they'll win their share of games; we're more interested in how they'll be received.Â You can just about imagine the trip to Duke, but what about the other places in the conference? Maryland has always craved respect in the ACC and been pretty vocal about not getting what they felt they deserved. They're not likely to be very happy this year either. But there's going to be a weird vibe around Maryland's farewell tour: they'll get increasingly angry about the level of derision they're in for even as they want the respect they'll never get.
How will Virginia play with a fully healthy and very athletic team? Tony Bennett has done some amazing things despite limited talent at first and bad luck with injuries since. Assuming that the 'Hoos stay healthy, Bennett has a surprisingly athletic team. We don't expect him to give up the pack-line defense, but will he loosen the offensive reins? He has a team capable of running with just about anyone. Will he let them? Just an interesting side track: it'd be fun to see his team play Kentucky, if only to see how the Wildcats approach his defense.
Jeff Bzdelik has spent his time at Wake thus far getting rid of boneheads and gradually getting some useful talent together.Â Are they far enough along to turn around the fan base? It's still strange to consider the anger Wake fans are feeling. Understandable but strange. Wake showed some real promise at times last year. Can they show real improvement this time around?
Although Mark Gottfried has established himself as a recruiter already, ACC fans are not necessarily sold on his coaching ability. With another thin team, and a young one to boot, can Gottfried pull a big year out of his guys? Its not make-or-break for him, but a big year would make State fans really happy.
Can Clemson compete? Don't get us wrong, they can compete as a defensive team with anyone. Their offense was horrible this past season though. We would never underestimate Brad Brownell, but it's tough to gain traction in this league. A healthy Jaron Blossomgame should help, but how much? Will they have an offense worthy of respect?
Down in Atlanta, Brian Gregory has been recruiting very well and keeping his recruits so far, unlike Paul Hewitt, who lost a lot of talent to the NBA after a season or two. Will Gregory find a point guard? Is his program ready to take on the big boys?
After a breakthrough season the year before, last season saw Florida State fall back to mediocrity and without their trademark defense. Can FSU get back to what made them so tough, namely defense and intensity? Will one of their big men turn out to be reliable?
In Blacksburg, James Johnson took a very thin team and made them competitive if not successful. Now he has to do it without his very best player, Erick Green,Â who finished last spring. What does Tech have to offer now?
Finally, as for the newcomers: many of us will have some basic, probably stereotypical ideas about Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame: Syracuse zones everyone and recruits well, Pitt takes underrated players and succeeds although not usually in the NCAA tournament, while Notre Dame usually has some smart players who manage to compete at a Top 25 level.
Generally speaking, though, most of us don't follow these schools closely enough to know what to expect. So the general question is: how will they adapt? What should we expect? Of the coaches, the only one who is really familiar with the ACC is Mike Brey, who was a long-time assistant at Duke before moving on to Delaware and Notre Dame, finding significant success at both.
We're pretty sure that, whatever else you can say about expansion, the standing ACC schools will relish the chance to introduce the newcomers to the ACC traditions.