Duke, UNC are the headliners, but ACC's supporting cast runs deep

Zion's vertical leaves his Duke teammates in awe (2:24)

Duke freshman Zion Williamson showcases his leaping ability on the vertical test and his teammates can't help but admire. (2:24)

A new season is nearly upon us. The Champions Classic on Nov. 6 will serve as the marquee event to usher in 2018-19.

In terms of talent, the ACC will be led by Duke and North Carolina, but don't discount Virginia making another push for an ACC title.

There are notable new editions, from Duke's top-ranked recruiting class to Chris Mack taking over at Louisville.

Here are five questions for the ACC:

1. Will Duke find chemistry among its five-star freshmen?

Mike Krzyzewski bringing in an elite group of freshmen isn't anything new. Sometimes it works, as it did in 2015, when the Blue Devils won the national championship. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, like in every season since.

With the top three prospects -- R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish -- from the class of 2018 in the fold, as well as five-star point guard Tre Jones, what's in store for the Blue Devils? All four are likely to start from day one, along with either Marques Bolden or Javin DeLaurier. The key will be how Barrett, Williamson and Reddish fit in at the 2-3-4 spots. It's easy to say they'll all play different roles and different positions, but we have to see it work on the floor first. They're talented enough, though.

2. How will Virginia bounce back after losing to UMBC last season?

The last time we saw Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, they were in the midst of becoming the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed, getting blown out by UMBC in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament 74-54. There's no precedent for it, so it's impossible to say how they'll rebound this season.

Of course, Bennett is one of the best coaches in the country, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome formed one of the better backcourts in the ACC last season, and De'Andre Hunter is a potential first-round NBA draft pick after this season. Bennett has won between 29 and 31 games in four of the past five seasons; a loss last March shouldn't hurt Virginia's prospects in 2018-19.

3. How deep is the NCAA tournament field?

At the top, there's Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Beyond those three, there's Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State. Clemson is somewhere in the mix, too.

But the third tier of teams in the league is filled with question marks. NC State is bringing in nine newcomers, led by UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, who played for Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts with the Seahawks. Notre Dame loses Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. Louisville loses four starters and brings in new head coach Chris Mack. The Miami Hurricanes lost Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker IV to the NBA.

Are any of those four teams good enough to make a push into the top six or seven in the league? If one or two teams can step forward, the ACC will make a push for nine tourney bids, but right now, there are a lot of questions.

4. How high is Syracuse's ceiling?

Late in the season, Syracuse looked poised to miss the NCAA tournament for a third time in four years. But the Orange were surprisingly announced on Selection Sunday, and they proceeded to make a run to the Sweet 16 before losing to Duke.

And now everyone is back for Jim Boeheim. But are they the team that won three games in the NCAA tournament or the one that finished below .500 in the ACC and was just 20-13 after the ACC tournament?

Tyus Battle is one of the best players in the conference, and Oshae Brissett is playing himself into NBA draft consideration. Frank Howard established himself as a legitimate point guard. Incoming top-100 freshman Jalen Carey and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes will bring more scoring punch on the perimeter.

5. Can Nassir Little be the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA draft?

The Duke newcomers will get the hype nationally, and the return of Luke Maye will steal most of the preseason headlines for the Tar Heels, but there's a chance the No. 1 pick in June is North Carolina's incoming freshman Nassir Little.

Little won MVP honors at the McDonald's All-America Game and Jordan Brand Classic and has drawn comparisons to Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala. He competes hard at both ends of the floor, and has continued to improve his offensive game as his high school career progressed.

Little might not put up monster numbers as a freshman, but he's all the way up to No. 2 on Jonathan Givony of ESPN's 2019 mock draft, and he will make a case to be No. 1 overall at various points this season. Circle those Little-versus-Barrett/Reddish matchups now.

Five players to watch

1. Luke Maye, North Carolina

Arguably the top returning player, Maye had a massive breakout campaign as a junior, increasing his averages from 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds to 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. The big key will be performing consistently against top competition.

2. De'Andre Hunter, Virginia

Three days before the Cavaliers were set to start the NCAA tournament, word came down that Hunter would miss the entire postseason with a broken wrist. It cost them dearly. He offers something different than anyone else on Virginia's roster due to his versatility, and a fully healthy Hunter is a potential first-round pick.

3. R.J. Barrett, Duke

The No. 1 incoming freshman in the country and the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Barrett staked his claim as the best prospect in his class early in the process and never relinquished it. He plays hard at both ends of the floor and was a winner at the high school level.

4. Zion Williamson, Duke

Everyone knows Zion Williamson. We've seen his YouTube highlights, his dunking exploits, his freakish athleticism. But how good will he be as a freshman in Durham? He'll be at his best playing the 4 or 5 for Duke -- and he'll need to buy into that role.

5. Tyus Battle, Syracuse

There were strong indications Battle would depart Syracuse early for the NBA draft, but he decided to return to the Orange. He'll have more help on the perimeter after playing an average of 39 minutes a game. He hit 25-plus points eight times last season.