Irish favored to repeat in ACC

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

So long Maryland, hello Louisville. The idea of the ACC without the Terps is still bizarre. Then again, the league has changed so much, maybe nothing is really weird anymore. One thing that won't change: Duke versus North Carolina is still a great rivalry, and both teams will be in the hunt for the ACC title. But so will two of the ACC newbies, Notre Dame and Louisville.

ACC predicted order of finish

1. Notre Dame (37-1 in 2013-14): The Irish had no problem adjusting to -- taking over, in fact -- the ACC, winning the regular-season and tournament titles in their debut year in the league. Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa are gone, but Jewell Loyd (18.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG) returns to a lead a squad that might go through some growing pains but should still be a national championship contender. It will be interesting to watch the development of freshman Brianna Turner.

2. North Carolina (27-10): She was there ... and then gone, like a shooting star. Diamond DeShields' one season as a Tar Heel was very impressive (18.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG), but she has transferred to Tennessee. However, coach Sylvia Hatchell is back after missing last season while battling leukemia, and the Tar Heels still have a lot of talent. Look for big years from guard Allisha Gray and post players Xylina McDaniel and Stephanie Mavunga. This is still a really good team.

3. Duke (28-7): Senior center Elizabeth Williams (13.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG) will have to carry a big load, as Duke's losses to graduation and a transfer took away a lot of experience, especially at guard. Will Ka'lia Johnson be the Blue Devils' long-term answer at point guard this season? Will their offense -- which, of course, is always the biggest question -- be able to hold up against their toughest foes? How big an impact can the freshman class, including redshirt Rebecca Greenwell, have this season?

4. Louisville (33-5): Welcome to the ACC, Cardinals. After their one year keeping UConn company in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville comes into a new league with continued high expectations. Yes, the Cardinals lost one of their best and most exciting players in program history, Shoni Schimmel, to graduation. But her sister, Jude, returns, as do fellow experienced seniors Sara Hammond and Bria Smith. Some new faces will need to step forward for the Cardinals, though.

5. Florida State (21-12): The Seminoles made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament behind forward Natasha Howard, who moved on to the WNBA. But they also got a lot of experience for their newcomers last year. That should pay off for this season, as Florida State looks to make its 10th NCAA tourney appearance under coach Sue Semrau. Starters returning are guards Brittany Brown and Morgan Jones and forward Ivey Slaughter. Look for impact from some of the freshmen, including forward Shakayla Thomas.

6. Syracuse (23-10): Now in their second year in the ACC, the Orange know their way around the league and return junior starting guards Brittney Sykes (16.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and Brianna Butler (14.5 PPG). Syracuse got its first NCAA tournament victory last season, beating Chattanooga. But Sykes suffered an ACL injury in that game and didn't play in the second-round loss to Kentucky. Even without her, though, the Orange pushed the Wildcats before falling 64-59. She expects to play this season.

7. Georgia Tech (20-12): Guard Tyaunna Marshall is gone, which leaves a hole to fill for the Yellow Jackets, who lost in the NCAA tournament first round at LSU last season. They have three starters back, led by sophomore guard Kaela Davis (18.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG). She will need to work on cutting down turnovers (103 last season) and adjust to becoming the primary threat without defenses keying on Marshall.

8. Miami (16-15): The Hurricanes scrapped to an 8-8 conference record last year, showing they were figuring things out by the regular season's end. Then they went to the WNIT. Leading scorer Adrienne Motley (11.1 PPG) is back, as are fellow starters Keyona Hayes and Suriya McGuire. There are seven newcomers, so coach Katie Meier will be doing a lot of teaching this season.

9. NC State (25-8): Coach Wes Moore was a big success in his first season with the Wolfpack; no one was expecting NC State to go 11-5 in the ACC. Last year's senior class had a lot to do with that, but standouts such as Kody Burke and Markeisha Gatling have moved on. So now Moore starts what he calls a new journey. Len'Nique Brown-Hoskin and Krysal Barrett return as starters, and so does Miah Spencer, a top player mostly off the bench last year as a freshman.

10. Wake Forest (15-16): The good news for the Demon Deacons starts with Dearica Hamby, who led the ACC in scoring (22.0 PPG) and rebounding (11.0 RPG) last year. The 6-foot-4 forward really had a breakout season as a junior and will be the centerpiece player again in her final season. Wake will miss Chelsea Douglas, but the Deacs bring back three other starters in alum Jen Hoover's third season directing Wake.

11. Virginia (14-17): This is coach Joanne Boyle's fourth season in Charlottesville; the Cavaliers are looking for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010. Last season produced the first losing record in Boyle's 12-year coaching career at Richmond/Cal/Virginia. She was particularly unhappy with Virginia's defense and is now borrowing the scheme of UVa men's coach Tony Bennett. Center Sarah Imovbioh (12.3 PPG) and guard Faith Randolph (11.8 PPG) are the team's top returning scorers.

12. Boston College (12-19): Coach Erik Johnson starts his third season in charge of the Eagles, whose last NCAA tournament appearance was 2006. Three starters return, led by sophomore guard Kelly Hughes (11.2 PPG). The Eagles had a pretty bleak second half of the season last year, losing 14 of their last 16 games. BC's main threat was the 3-pointer; the Eagles made 240 from behind the arc last year. This isn't a tall team, and BC will need to find some kind of more potent inside attack to move up in the ACC standings.

13. Virginia Tech (14-16): The Hokies' highlight of last season was an upset of North Carolina on the road, part of a three-game winning streak near the end of February. You have to look for the bright spots if you're coach Dennis Wolff, and that was definitely one of them. Like Boston College, though, Virginia Tech hasn't been in the NCAA tournament since 2006, and that's not likely to happen this season, either. Leading scorer Uju Ugoka (18.4 PPG) is gone, but Vanessa Panousis (12.4 PPG), a sophomore guard from Australia, is back.

14. Clemson (13-19): Audra Smith is trying to rebuild at Clemson, while her former Virginia teammate Dawn Staley has the No. 2 team in the country at South Carolina. It would be interesting to see that rivalry actually blossom in the Palmetto State, but it's going to take a while for the Tigers -- they averaged just 59.0 points last season. Leading scorer Nikki Dixon (13.7 PPG) is back for her senior season.

15. Pittsburgh (11-20): The Panthers won three games in their ACC debut season in 2014, which was a step up from going winless in their last season in the Big East. Leading score Brianna Kiesel (16.4 PPG) returns for her final year. But it's probably going to be another challenging season for coach Suzie McConnell-Serio in her second year at the Pitt helm.