With three underclassmen leaving UNC early – Marshall, Barnes and Henson, none of whom reached a Final 4 in their career – on the heels of Duke losing two starters to the NBA, it’s becoming clear next year might be the first one in awhile Duke or North Carolina doesn’t at least share the ACC title. Maryland and Duke shared the regular season crown in 2010; UNC and Virginia did in 2007. You have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last time someone else won it outright (Wake Forest, led by Josh Howard and Eric Williams).
Here’s a very early look at what the 2012-2013 ACC might look like:
Maryland (17-15, 6-10)
* lost 2nd leading scorer, but 4 starters back
* Two Top 75 recruits in post players Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell
* Got three likely NBA players in 7-footer Alex Len, guard Terrell Stoglin and wing Nick Faust
Ceiling: Len blows up to 20-10, Leslie leaves NCSU, McAdoo leaves UNC and Heels don’t get AO – 23 wins, get top 3 seed in March.
NC State (24-13, 9-7, Sweet 16)
* As of now, 4 starters return (happen to be their 4 leading scorers)
* Arguably the best recruiting class in the nation (3 McDonald’s All-Americans)
* If CJ Leslie returns and UNC doesn’t get Oriakhi, the Wolfpack should go in as the favorites
Ceiling: Leslie stays, Gottfried massage egos and manages minutes, Wolfpack win 25 games and ACC crown, Top 2 seed in March.
Duke (27-7, 13-3, 1st round)
* Lose three of their top six players (Rivers, Plumlees)
* Recruiting class, so far, is very thin
* They do have three redshirt players jumping into the mix – Alex Murphy, Michael Gbinije and Marshall Plumlee, all Top 80 recruits in 2011
* With Curry and Dawkins the starting backcourt, and Kelly starting at PF, they’ll have the same problems as last year: 1) no low post scoring, 2) nobody other than Rivers who can create their own shot. If Murphy or Gbinije can’t, it’ll be an interesting season in Durham.
Ceiling: Plumlee can score inside, Murphy is the next Singler, Gbinije is a stud, 22 wins, Top 4 seed in March.
Florida State (25-10, 12-4, 2nd round)
* Incurring heavy losses – starting backcourt, 2nd leading scorer, three biggest interior bodies (Gibson, James, Kreft)
* Leading scorer Michael Snaer is back, as is top reserve Ian Miller (10.3 ppg)
* Probably will be pegged 5th in the conference, a game or two back of Duke
* Will be young in the backcourt, maybe starting two freshman alongside Snaer
Ceiling: Snaer blossoms into a 1st round pick, Terrance Shannon returns from injury and averages 13-9 – 20 wins, Top 6 seed in March.
* The bad news: Four starters gone
* The good news: SF Reggie Bullock and PF James Michael McAdoo could be better next year than Barnes/Henson were in 2011-2012
* Marshall’s the irreplaceable loss. I’d assume Strickland will start over Stillman White. [UPDATE: A reader says Stillman White is going on a Mormon Mission next year.]
* Shooting guard competition figures to be heated:
Watts, Hairston (the favorite), and McDonald.
* Alex Oriakhi’s decision could shape the conference (and possibly, national landscape). With the UConn transfer – who had a better junior year than senior one (when the team was dysfunctional), UNC is tops in the ACC and probably opens the season in the Top 5. Without him? UNC probably might try going small with three guards around Bullock and McDonald.
Ceiling: Strickland handles PG duties, Bullock shoots better than Barnes, McAdoo averages 18-10, Oriakhi joins Heels – 25 wins, ACC title, No. 2 ranking, No. 1 seed in March.