The ACC is loaded with talent this year. They have one of the few unbeatens left in the country, a projected lottery pick, and depth that college basketball needs to succeed. With Syracuse and Duke being two of the biggest contenders, there is a chance that the final four sees two teams coming out of this conference (depending on how the regions pan out). Jabari Parker leads the possible NBA draft class from the ACC, but we could see another four players come off the board in the first round alone. What team looks to go deep in the tournament this year? Who are the biggest surprises and disappointments?
Biggest Contender: Syracuse
At this point in the season, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. They have signature wins against Baylor, Villanova, and the overtime thriller against Duke. They have found leadership in freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who is the rock that holds the Orange together. C.J. Fair is a great scoring option, and Ennis has the talent to find him at any point in the game. That dominant 2-3 zone adds just another area opposing teams need to prepare for and overcome. Jim Boeheim is a top-5 coach in college basketball, and continues to bring in a revolving door of talent. Syracuse is poised to make a run come March, especially with Boeheim at the helm.
Biggest Surprise: Virginia
There have been a few bumps along the way, but this Virginia team can flat out play. They have wins at Notre Dame and at Pittsburgh, and the Cavaliers gave Duke a good game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Their #20 ranking isn’t necessarily much of a surprise from being the preseason #24, but it’s their run in conference play that has opened some eyes. At 8-1 thus far, Virginia is second in the ACC, trailing only undefeated Syracuse in the standings. Malcolm Brogdon leads the team in points and is second in rebounds and assists. They are a balanced team with experience that can do some damage.
Biggest Disappointment: North Carolina
North Carolina has had a rough stretch this season. They have some bad losses scattered through the conference and non-conference schedules. With players like Marcus Paige and James McAdoo, the Tar Heels were deserving of their number 12 preseason ranking. Paige and McAdoo are near the top of their respective positions, so what has hurt them? Part of the problem is their schedule; the ACC is a rough stretch. The upside of this season is that they still sit at 15-7 on the year. If they can just go 5-4 through the remainder of their schedule, North Carolina should still get an NCAA tournament birth. It wouldn’t hurt to make a decent run in their conference tournament. The problem is they still have two games against Duke and one against Pitt. There isn’t much room for error here.
Honorable Mention: Duke
They may be in third place in the ACC, but Duke could be the best team in the conference. Of their five losses, three have come from top-5 teams at the time. Jabari Parker is should be a top-3 pick in the 2014 draft, and has a chance to go number one overall. Rodney Hood helps bolster Duke’s front-court and should be a first round pick. The Blue Devils have a legitimate chance to run the table for the rest of the regular season with only one ranked opponent left on their schedule. Who is that team? Syracuse. Cameron Indoor Stadium should be rocking on February 22nd.