Despite all of Mike Krzyzewski's success, here's a surprising fact: Duke hasn't won an outright regular-season ACC title since 2006. Most of the key players from this year's Blue Devils team were around 6 years old when that happened. Can that group of elite freshmen help bring a trophy back to Durham?
Duke will enter this season as the conference favorite, but North Carolina and Virginia are likely top-eight teams -- and Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State are all getting top-15 or top-20 attention. With so many contenders near the top of the league, don't expect any team to repeat Virginia's four-game lead in the final conference standings.
While the Blue Devils are a couple of upperclassmen away from being in contention for preseason No. 1 nationally, their freshman class is among the best ever assembled and is enough for them to sit atop the preseason ACC rankings. In fact, Duke is the first team to land 1-2-3 in the same recruiting class: RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish. And that's not all: Frosh guard Tre Jones, younger brother of former Duke standout and now NBAer Tyus Jones, was a five-star point guard. Here are the questions for the Blue Devils: Who will step forward as the leader of this team? And will the pieces fit together quicker -- and more effectively -- than in recent years?
The last time we saw Virginia, it was losing by 20 to UMBC in the NCAA tournament en route to becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. Considering the Cavaliers were one of the favorites to cut down the nets in April, it was the stunner of all stunners. Tony Bennett has the pieces back to have a top-10 team once again, though. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome return in the backcourt, and De'Andre Hunter is healthy after missing the NCAA tournament in March. Someone will still have to step up in the frontcourt, but this week's news that Alabama transfer Braxton Key is immediately eligible is a huge boost for Bennett's group.
Once Roy Williams moved to a smaller lineup after Cameron Johnson returned from injury last season, the Tar Heels were much more versatile and difficult to guard. Expect to see that even more this season, as Carolina has plenty of options -- but lack a proven big guy. Luke Maye can make the case that he's the nation's best returning player, while Kenny Williams and Johnson also are back. The keys will be how quickly Coby White can step in and run the point in place of Joel Berry and how much of an impact elite recruit Nassir Little makes from day one.
Maybe Jim Boeheim can get the Orange to wake up before March this season. For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse was on the cusp of missing the NCAA tournament -- and for the second time in three seasons, the Orange snuck in and made noise. It wasn't a Final Four run, but Syracuse won three games to reach the Sweet 16 before losing to Duke. All-American candidate Tyus Battle returns, as do Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard. They'll need help, and newcomers Jalen Carey and Elijah Hughes will be counted on to provide scoring.
The Hokies reached the NCAA tournament the past two seasons but were bounced in the first round both times. Expect them to go at least a step or two further this season. Buzz Williams returns four of five starters, as well as sixth man Chris Clarke, one of the more underrated all-around players in the league. Justin Robinson is an all-conference point guard leading the way, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker could be poised for a breakout season. This team has all the ingredients to be a second-weekend team come March.
The Seminoles looked somewhat listless down the stretch last season, but they got into the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed -- and proceeded to make a run to the Elite Eight before falling by four to Michigan. Once again, Leonard Hamilton has a deep, imposing team. Terance Mann, Phil Cofer and Trent Forrest are key cogs in the lineup, and former five-star recruit M.J. Walker could be someone who steps forward as a scorer. Albany transfer David Nichols will make an impact. If one of the bigs takes a leap forward, sixth in the league will be too low.
Kevin Keatts has gotten things going in Raleigh far quicker than expected, as the Wolfpack beat the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Clemson last season and reached the NCAA tournament. Only three players return, but six transfers are entering the program, along with a trio of top-100-caliber prospects. Torin Dorn is a matchup problem, and Markell Johnson racks up assists. The most notable transfer is C.J. Bryce, who put up big scoring numbers at UNC-Wilmington under Keatts. There's a lot of talent here.
Brad Brownell is now completely off the hot seat after leading the Tigers to 25 wins and a Sweet 16 appearance last season, and he is hoping to make it to back-to-back NCAA tournaments. When Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell decided to return instead of entering the NBA draft, that hope became far more realistic. With those two -- along with big man Elijah Thomas -- back in the fold, Clemson has one of the best trios in the ACC. How Brownell surrounds those three -- David Skara, Aamir Simms, Javan White are all options -- will be intriguing to watch.
It's impossible to count out Mike Brey, but the Fighting Irish stumbled last season without Bonzie Colson. And now Colson, Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben are all gone. Fortunately, Brey brought in a highly touted recruiting class, as well as UConn transfer Juwan Durham. TJ Gibbs and Rex Pflueger return in the backcourt, and former ESPN 100 prospect D.J. Harvey should take a step forward as a sophomore. Brey always seems to find a way to piece things together, and now he has a deeper, albeit younger, group than usual.
Brighter days are ahead for Louisville under Chris Mack, as the Cardinals begin a new era after Rick Pitino. There are only three seniors on this year's roster, and all three are incoming graduate transfers. Expect several talented sophomores to have a chance to break out this season, namely Malik Williams and Darius Perry, while V.J. King also has shown flashes. As Mack and the Cardinals push for an NCAA tournament berth this season, there's plenty of optimism in the program: Louisville already has a top-five recruiting class for 2019.
11. Miami Hurricanes
After a 10-0 start to last season, the Hurricanes were inconsistent the rest of the way, going 12-10 after the hot start and bowing out in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown both left early for the NBA, and Ja'Quan Newton also is gone. The development of Dewan Huell will be key, as he has the ability to be an all-conference player. Chris Lykes is an exciting, aggressive point guard, and Jim Larranaga brought in Florida Gulf Coast grad transfer Zach Johnson for some veteran scoring punch.
Had star Jerome Robinson returned to Chestnut Hill instead of leaving for the NBA draft -- he was selected in the lottery, so it was a good decision -- we could be talking about the Eagles as a borderline top-25 team. Instead, Jim Christian will still hope to build on last season's NIT appearance. Ky Bowman is an all-conference-level player and will have to shoulder even more off the load without Robinson. Steffon Mitchell and Nik Popovic will anchor the frontcourt, and a name to watch will be ESPN 100 freshman Jairus Hamilton.
It hasn't quite yet come together for Danny Manning in Winston-Salem, as he has sandwiched one First Four appearance between three seasons with a combined 11-43 ACC record. The Demon Deacons are expected to finish toward the bottom of the league once again after their top three scorers left the program last spring. On the plus side, there's an assortment of intriguing newcomers, including five-star Jaylen Hoard and top-100-caliber prospect Isaiah Mucius. Manning signed a contract extension last season, so he shouldn't be in trouble, but Wake needs to show signs of progress.
It was a season to forget for Georgia Tech. There were some off-court issues, and the Yellow Jackets struggled on the court, losing to Grambling State, Wofford and Wright State in the nonconference slate and slogging through a 1-11 stretch in league play. There's plenty of youth on this season's roster, but not much proven talent. Jose Alvarado is a tough point guard, while Tennessee transfer Shembari Phillips and ESPN 100 freshman Michael Devoe should be counted on to contribute immediately. Josh Pastner is still rebuilding, though.
As bad as this season could be for the Panthers, it could have been much worse in Jeff Capel's first year at the helm. Kevin Stallings was fired after going 0-18 in ACC play last season, and it looked like nearly the entire roster would depart. But Capel convinced several players to stick around, then he went out and landed a couple of graduate transfers and late signees. Pittsburgh still is expected to finish in the cellar, but Capel has the Panthers looking to upgrade the talent within the program in hopes of rebuilding quicker than expected.