Ready for some predictions about the upcoming ACC men's basketball season? We assembled four basketball experts and asked them three questions. They've got answers.
1. Can a team lose to a No. 16 seed by 20 one year and successfully defend its ACC title the next?
Jeff Borzello: Well, I had to scrap this entire answer early Monday afternoon when Virginia announced that Alabama transfer Braxton Key received an NCAA waiver to play immediately this season for the Cavaliers. Key gives Tony Bennett another option on the offensive end to go with the returning perimeter trio of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and potential first-rounder De'Andre Hunter. The biggest question for Virginia was how Bennett pieced together the rest of his lineup around those three -- especially in the frontcourt. Key, at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, can play as a versatile power forward for the Cavaliers, making it a little easier for Bennett to figure out the rest of his rotation. This puts Virginia squarely in the mix with Duke and North Carolina for an ACC title. The Blue Devils obviously have all their freshmen, while North Carolina is flying somewhat under the radar heading into the season. When they go small with Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye, there won't be many teams that can guard them. I'll still go with Duke, but this three-way battle is awfully interesting.
John Gasaway: The easy answer here is Virginia can absolutely defend its ACC title as long as UMBC stays safely tucked away in the America East. So, sure, the Cavaliers really are the favorites. Just look at recent non-UMBC history. Over the past five seasons, the Hoos have won 73 ACC games. That's 10 more than both Duke and North Carolina can claim over that span. Bennett may still be figuring out the NCAA tournament, but he has demonstrated beyond a doubt that he's got the ACC's number. With a healthy Hunter, returnees such as Guy and Jerome and new addition Key, Virginia is the team to beat.
Myron Medcalf: Definitely. Virginia's regular-season prowess is not the issue. The Cavaliers return a legit first-round prospect with Hunter. Jerome is a pro, too. And Guy could secure a first-team All-America squad nod this season. Add Alabama transfer Key and it's easy to envision another league title for Bennett's squad.
Jordan Schultz: Absolutely. Even with the graduation of Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall, Virginia is too disciplined defensively to fall off the ACC's mountaintop. And thanks to transfer Braxton Key -- ruled eligible to play Monday -- the Cavaliers boast another threat alongside Hunter. Before battling an injury last season, Key earned All-SEC Freshman honors when he averaged 12 points and nearly six rebounds. The ACC may be as deep as ever, but it will also have to deal with a Hoos defense that ranked second in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, per KenPom. Also, thanks to junior guards Jerome (10.6 points per game) and Guy (14.1 PPG on 39.2 percent 3s), Virginia also possesses enough firepower on the perimeter. As embarrassing and unprecedented as the UMBC loss was, the disciplined Bennett has moved on, and so too will his players.
2. Which will Duke do more successfully, compete at college basketball in 2018-19 or dominate the top of the 2019 NBA draft?
Borzello: Both? It's a cop-out answer, but Duke is likely to be ranked in the top five nationally all season -- and also have three players drafted in the top five or seven picks come June. I think they have some question marks in terms of competing for a national championship, but I also think the Blue Devils have some question marks in terms of NBA potential. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish form an absolutely dynamic trio, but how they coexist will be interesting. All three like to have the ball in their hands, and all three love to attack the basket. Tre Jones will take the reins at the point guard spot, and he will have to keep things organized. Mike Krzyzewski seems to be aware of the potential schematic issues on the offensive end, as he has said multiple times he plans on playing five-out, giving his studs the space to go at their defenders and finish at the rim. Shooting is another issue, but I think Duke will push the ball a lot more and hope to score in transition with all its athletes. I feel more confident saying the Blue Devils are a lock to compete for a national title than they are a lock to get three top-five picks.
Gasaway: Here's the thing: Short of a national title, I don't think you can do college basketball better than Duke is about to do the 2019 NBA draft. Recruiting rankings out of high school have been highly predictive of eventual draft order over the past few seasons, and, well, look at the Blue Devil freshmen. Barrett is No. 1 in the ESPN 100, Williamson is No. 2 and Reddish is No. 3. That doesn't mean they'll be drafted in that order, of course, but they're not likely to be in the green room for too long either. If Coach K had a veteran or three coming back this season, Duke would be the easy pick to win it all. As it is, though, the safe assumption is this group will be remembered more for its draft order than for its 2018-19 season in Durham. We'll see.
Medcalf: I flew to Durham a week ago and watched Duke's practice. After watching that session, I think this team could do both. The Blue Devils present this unique blend of 6-6, 6-7 athletes who will be difficult to contain for any opposing squad. Williamson, Reddish and Barrett all can handle the ball, so they're capable of spreading the floor in the five-out motion offense Krzyzewski intends to use. They're serious contenders in the ACC. That's not the team you want to see in the postseason. And they're all potential top-five picks.
Schultz: Duke will be as tough an out as anyone this year, but I will go with the latter, because the Blue Devils have a trio of freshmen who are all guaranteed lottery locks. Williamson is a dunking cheat code whose shot-blocking prowess and defensive versatility could earn him a place inside the top three of June's draft. Reddish is probably a little further away, but his upside as a three-level scorer with elite finishing ability is precisely what NBA teams search for. Plus, Reddish has an impressive 7-1 wingspan, which will certainly help his defensive upside. Then, we have Barrett, the real jewel of this class. A left-hander with a pro handle and dynamic scoring ability, Barrett is an intriguing prospect who can impact the game in any number of ways, including his passing aptitude and rare comfort level playing both on and off the ball. Duke is going to win a ton of games -- we all know that. Even with Krzyzewski at the helm, we also can expect some growing pains for a team as young and inexperienced as this in a league consumed by high-level NBA talent.
3. Name the ACC team or player no one is talking about and why that's about to change.
Borzello: I think there are two teams: Syracuse and NC State. Syracuse can be a legitimate Final Four contender, in my opinion. Tyus Battle is an All-American, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett are proven ACC contributors -- and now they have some more scoring help in newcomers Elijah Hughes and Jalen Carey. Assuming they consistently defend in the 2-3 zone once again, more depth and more scoring punch should remove the Orange from the bubble. NC State was a massive surprise last season in Kevin Keatts' first year at the helm, and I think they can be better this year. Torin Dorn is underrated, while Markell Johnson was one of the top assist men nationally. Keatts also brings in a long list of transfers, including C.J. Bryce, who was Keatts' go-to guy when he was at UNC Wilmington. There could be some growing pains while the transfers and returnees mesh, but the Wolfpack should be a top-25 team for most of the season.
Gasaway: I will not rest until Clemson's Marcquise Reed gets the evaluative love he deserves. He actually suffered through the worst 3-point shooting of his career last season and he still looked great. When Reed bounces back from beyond the arc in 2018-19, which is likely, a lot of people will be talking about this polished senior and his high-scoring ways. Brad Brownell's 6-foot-3 combo guard plays D, dishes assists and is automatic at the line. Reed is teed up to exceed expectations
Medcalf: I think Clemson is the squad that deserves more hype. The Tigers return Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas, the anchors of a squad that beat Auburn by 31 points in the NCAA tournament. Brownell's squad should have another top-10 defense, too. Clemson has a real shot at the ACC title.
Schultz: How about both? NC State has as assortment of talent -- think Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson, as well as sophomore point guards Braxton Beverly (currently injured) and Missouri transfer Blake Harris -- and will be buoyed by UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce. At 6-5, Bryce has the physical tools to immediately excel as a combo man for Kevin Keatts. Bryce, a redshirt junior, earned first-team All-CAA honors as a sophomore after averaging over 17 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3 assists. He is a sound ball handler who can play pick-and-roll, as well as isolate on the wing. The Wolfpack have a legitimate opportunity to win 25-plus games this year, including a top-three finish in the ACC, and Bryce has the opportunity to be the impetus of all of it.