The college basketball world should once again be ruled by the ACC. Opinions vary greatly on the team most likely to cut down the nets when all is said and done with March Madness, but some questions remain about the team most likely to celebrate at the Greensboro Coliseum at the end of the ACC Conference Tournament.
The tournament returns to Greensboro for the first time since 2015 and the ACC just might be as competitive as ever. The odds from DraftKings Sportsbook suggest exactly that, as Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia range from +225 to +400 and Florida State is lurking at +850. Even teams like Syracuse, NC State, and Virginia Tech have reasonable odds, though it would take some heroics in Greensboro for that to happen.
It will take some time to get really deep into conference play, but the ACC teams generally play a few measuring stick games in the non-conference, so we’ll get a pretty good look at what we have to work with before these teams take turns beating each other in January, February, and March en route to the NCAA Tournament.
Duke is the +225 favorite for Mike Krzyzewski. Interestingly, there is a mild difference of opinion with Duke, as noted college hoops expert Ken Pomeroy has Duke ranked fourth nationally and Bart Torvik, a name you should very much know and familiarize yourself with, has Duke ranked 10th. Both gentlemen have Louisville rated above them, with Torvik placing the Cardinals fourth and KenPom third.
A phenomenal coaching job by former Xavier head coach Chris Mack put Louisville very much in the national conversation last season while cleaning up the fallout of the Rick Pitino scandal. The Cardinals are +250 per DraftKings and return five of their top six from last season and a top-15 recruiting class. Louisville was a first-round NCAA Tournament casualty last season, so motivation is hardly an issue for National Player of the Year candidate Jordan Nwora and his teammates.
Louisville would have to fend off a Duke team that, again, has brought in one of the nation’s best freshmen classes. Tre Jones will be the veteran leader for this group at both ends of the floor and we’ve certainly seen Duke make big runs as a young team before. This group doesn’t seem to have as much fanfare as the group headlined by Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett last season.
Doesn’t it seem like Roy Williams’s team is always an afterthought? The Tar Heels have some huge shoes to fill from last year’s bunch, as 80% of the offense is gone, but Cole Anthony could be the Freshman Player of the Year and Armando Bacot Jr. could also lay claim to that title. North Carolina’s upside is among the highest in the country and they are +250 to Louisville’s +375, even though it seems like there is more media support for the Cardinals.
Will there be a National Championship hangover for Virginia? After years of outstanding regular seasons and NCAA Tournament disappointments, Tony Bennett’s team got over the hump last season. The ACC may be the most affected conference by the rule changes to push back the three-point line this season, with Virginia being one of those teams at both ends of the floor. UVA shot a lot of threes last season, but the pack line defense also forced a lot of threes. With huge losses of DeAndre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome, this might be the toughest coaching job yet for Bennett because UVA won’t have as much margin for error with the lack of offense. At +400, it’s a tough sell.
Speaking of teams impacted by the three-point line, Syracuse and Virginia Tech, who are +2000 and +2800, respectively, will have to push their defenses out further. How will that impact their proficiency on that end of the floor?
No disrespect to Florida State, who is always an athletic bunch, but NC State may be the most intriguing team outside of the Big Four. The Wolfpack should have some terrific guard play this season, anchored by CJ Bryce and Devon Daniels. Braxton Beverly is also a very reliable player. Oh, yeah, and then there’s Markell Johnson, who shot 42% from three-point range last season. This is the third year for head coach Kevin Keatts and it’s time to see NC State step up to the plate and best the big boys more often than they have the last several years.
As far as long shots go, Notre Dame is the only one that should be on your radar at +5000. The Fighting Irish return four starters and will be one of the most experienced teams in the conference. Mike Brey, unlike Mark Gottfried and now Keatts at NC State, has been able to step up and play with the upper echelon teams with regularity.
The ACC is a deep and talented conference and will likely have seven or eight teams in the Big Dance, but only four can realistically win the conference, even with all of the question marks.