The 2022-23 men's college basketball season is six days away, and ESPN.com's panel of experts continues to provide everything you need to know about the nation's top conferences before tip. They've squared away the mid-majors, the American, the Pac-12, the Big East, the Big Ten and the SEC. The focus now turns to the ACC.
For the second season in a row, the ACC enters another season without one of its longtime legendary coaches. In 2021, it was Hubert Davis replacing Roy Williams. This time, it's Jon Scheyer replacing Mike Krzyzewski. Scheyer landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and enters his debut season with high expectations, while also looking to lead Duke into a new era.
While the change on the sideline in Durham will garner most of the headlines over the next five months, the league as a whole is hoping for improvement on the court in 2022-23. For the first half of the last campaign, there was concern over the ACC earning as few as three bids to the NCAA tournament. When the dust settled, though, five teams heard their names on Selection Sunday -- with only Duke higher than an 8-seed. A March performance that saw two teams reach the Final Four and another the Elite Eight gives the appearance the league should have perhaps earned more bids. But a deeper top half of the league should be in the ACC's sight this season.
North Carolina, with four starters returning from a team that reached the national title game, enters the season atop the preseason rankings, while Duke is a mainstay in the top 10. A jump from Virginia is expected, while Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame should feel confident about their NCAA hopes.
And after back-to-back offseasons with new coaches at North Carolina and Duke, it's worth wondering: Is Syracuse's Jim Boeheim getting close to following Williams and Krzyzewski into retirement?
Find more preseason analysis here.
ACC 2022-23 superlatives
Player of the Year
Myron Medcalf: Armando Bacot, North Carolina
Jeff Borzello: Armando Bacot, North Carolina
John Gasaway: Armando Bacot, North Carolina
Joe Lunardi: Armando Bacot, North Carolina
Newcomer of the Year
ACC 2022-23 roundtable
What is Jon Scheyer's biggest challenge in Duke's first season without Mike Krzyzewski in 42 years?
Borzello: Figuring out role allocation and chemistry for a team with one key returnee and 11 newcomers -- including the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and multiple potential lottery picks. Proctor has been earning rave reviews in the fall, so when Dariq Whitehead returns from injury, does Scheyer roll with a three-guard lineup? Where does veteran shooter Jacob Grandison fit in? Kyle Filipowski has struggled a bit in the preseason, so does Scheyer go with Mark Mitchell at the 4 until he's more comfortable in the college game? Lively was the No. 1 recruit in the country, but Northwestern transfer Ryan Young might be the team's best low-post scorer. How will the minutes be doled out there? There's certainly enough talent here to make it work, though.
Gasaway: It's rare for a first-year head coach to have this many players who are this talented and who knowingly signed up to play for the new guy. In advance of any game results, we can say the succession plan by itself was a nifty piece of work. But if the Blue Devils fail to live up to expectations early there will be a bit more surprise and concern. Scheyer's biggest challenge is the assumption that he should and will be Coach K Jr. from Day 1.
Lunardi: There was a coach once who went 51-10 in his first two seasons at a big-time school, won his league championship both years, made the NCAA tournament each time and threw in a Final Four appearance for good measure. And it wasn't enough. The coach was Gene Bartow, the school was UCLA and the elephant in the room was John Wooden. One could argue Mike Krzyzewski is an even bigger elephant for Scheyer, who wasn't even born when Coach K took over at Duke. On the flip side, the Blue Devils' coaching transition has been meticulously managed, and Scheyer has been sitting on Krzyzewski's bench for a decade. It's hard to imagine a major drop-off in Durham. Scheyer's biggest challenge? Being Jon Scheyer. That, and winning every game for the rest of his career. Just kidding. Probably.
Medcalf: Although Hubert Davis ended his first season on a high, the North Carolina's 29-point loss in December to Kentucky certainly caused some worry among the fanbase. The four coaches who followed Wooden over a 10-year span endured the same sentiments. It's impossible to know how Scheyer will fare. This is the first time any coach has followed a man widely regarded as the modern GOAT in college basketball coaching. And I think it's his toughest task.
North Carolina is the preseason No. 1. Are we being too optimistic about Hubert Davis' chance to reach the Final Four for a second time in two years?
The highlight-reel plays these starters are bringing back to UNC
Check out some of the best plays from Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, Leaky Black and Armando Bacot as they return this season for North Carolina.
Medcalf: I think the optimism is warranted. Davis said it would take some time to get things rolling at UNC, and once he did, the Tar Heels played a good portion of the national title game with a healthy lead over Kansas. Bacot and other key pieces are back. Pete Nance arrives from Northwestern. And I think North Carolina certainly looks like the most complete squad in America. North Carolina feels like the easy pick to win it all right now, not just a smart choice for a Final Four run.
Borzello: We need to dispel the notion the Tar Heels are "only" ranked No. 1 because of the way they played in the NCAA tournament. This is a team that went 17-4 in its final 21 games, beating the likes of Duke (twice), Virginia Tech (twice), Baylor and UCLA. Their adjusted efficiency margin at BartTorvik.com over that span put them at No. 11 nationally. It's not so unusual for a team to jump up to No. 1 when it brings nearly everyone back, is it? Something clicked with the backcourt of Caleb Love and R.J. Davis late last season. They return along with Bacot and Leaky Black. And Nance is ready to step in for Brady Manek.
Gasaway: I want Borzello as my agent. Persuasive! Let's see, 17-4 ... [checks notes] ... The disastrous nine-point loss at home to Pitt! During Bubble Watch, I get yelled at by readers when a team loses to Pitt, because that's when I write things like, "The Tar Heels will still make the tournament." Well, they did. When even the most skeptical human or laptop ranks you No. 9 (KenPom), you can still absolutely win it all. Also, if Baylor wins the overtime period against UNC in the 2022 round of 32, the Heels are not AP's preseason No. 1. Both can be true.
Lunardi: Yes, both can be true. But there is a long -- and I mean long -- list of teams that dramatically outplay their NCAA tournament seeds, return a mostly intact roster the following year and, almost without fail, see a regression to the mean: Three months of results is always a better indicator of future performance than three weeks. We need only go back one season to the last example. UCLA sprinted from the First Four to the Final Four in 2021, and then to nearly the top of the polls the following November. Those Bruins were good, but not good enough. Were expectations unmet, or unreasonable to begin with? North Carolina sure looks like an exception to the rule. Yet the odds are it will not make the Final Four again. Much more often than not, that's just the way it goes.
Let's talk about the ACC teams who unexpectedly underperformed last season. Who are you hoping will bounce back this season?
Virginia's Kihei Clark gets red hot from downtown vs. Duke
Kihei Clark gets off to a hot start as he cashes out six 3-pointers in the first half against Duke.
Borzello: There's no way a Tony Bennett-coached team misses the NCAA tournament in two straight seasons, is there? Nearly everyone is back from last season's group, including leading scorer Jayden Gardner, veteran stalwart Kihei Clark and potential breakout candidate Reece Beekman. Virginia also brings in a high-level recruiting class featuring four four-star freshmen and Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas to help on the offensive end. This might be Bennett's deepest team in terms of scoring options in a long time. However, the biggest issue with the Cavaliers last season came defensively, the worst unit since 2011. If that can be fixed, this is a clear-cut top-three ACC team.
Gasaway: Is this a trick question? I'm squinting but I can't find a team that: a) underperformed last season and b) is due to bounce back. Though seated comfortably next to Borzello on the Virginia 2023 bandwagon, I don't see the Cavaliers as having underperformed in 2022. In this preview a year ago I wondered whether the Hoos would make the tournament. They did not. Conversely, Florida State did underperform. The Seminoles were No. 20 in the AP preseason poll and ended their 17-14 season with a 39-point loss to Syracuse. Now laptops are bearish on Leonard Hamilton's group.
Lunardi: I'll define "underperforming" for most ACC teams as not making the NCAA tournament. Virginia did not, after an eight-year run that included four No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 seed and the 2019 national championship. The Cavs will be back and there are no UMBC's on the horizon.
Medcalf: Virginia might have underperformed relative to our expectations for Virginia under Tony Bennett. It also says a lot that a 21-win season and 12-8 campaign in the league race is viewed as a miss by some. But Clark & Co. will bring Virginia back into ACC title contention and join Duke as UNC's toughest opponent in the ACC race.
Who or what are we not talking nearly enough about across the ACC?
The best of Terquaivion Smith as he returns to NC State
Check out highlights from NC State's standout guard Terquavion Smith as he decides to return to school for the 2022 season.
Borzello: If I told you that the best NBA prospect in the country returning from last season resided in the ACC, your first thought likely wouldn't be that he came from a bottom-half team in the league. But Terquavion Smith, despite playing for 11-21 (4-16 in the ACC) NC State last season, is a projected lottery pick. He's the highest-ranked player in the latest 2023 ESPN mock draft with college experience by nearly 20 spots. Smith is a truly elite scorer, shooting better than 40% from 3-point range in ACC play. He scored 20-plus points 13 times last season -- five of those in his final six games -- and dropped 30-plus on both Florida State and North Carolina. NC State should be much-improved this season, and Smith should become a household name.
Lunardi: Steve Forbes has very quietly turned Wake Forest into a near-immediate contender. No one goes from six wins to 25 in the ACC in two years (or from three league wins to 13). Losing Alondes Williams will hurt, obviously, and the Demon Deacons are likely a year away from serious NCAA contention, but Wake's program is finally back on track after more than a dozen years in the wilderness.
Medcalf: The retirement rumors around Jim Boeheim continue to swirl. But the rumblings that he's going to play a lot of man to man defense this season, after using his patented 2-3 zone for decades, is the real storyline that could get some attention this season.
Gasaway: Can Syracuse make the tournament? If not, it will mark the first time the Orange have missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 15 years. Joseph Girard III and Jesse Edwards return as starters from a team that looked like it could push for a bid in late February but closed the regular season by losing four straight. If Boeheim's going to get this group into the field of 68, there's room for improvement on D. Syracuse finished No. 12 in league play for points allowed per possession despite bad 3-point shooting by opponents.