Looking Forward: Catching up on the ACC’s offseason

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at the ACC:

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. North Carolina will be a national title favorite, if they’re eligible: The Tar Heels return essentially everyone from last season, meaning that they, along with Maryland, will enter the season as a likely favorite to win the national title. Marcus Paige is back and will be healthy, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry will have a year of experience under their belt and Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are as good of a front line as you’ll find. The biggest question mark has nothing to do with this current team, however: When will the NCAA’s findings into the paper class scandal be announced? If it’s this season, will the NCAA hit them with a postseason ban that could make a No. 1 seed and Final Four favorite ineligible? That weight is never going to stop hanging over the head of this program.

2. Is Duke the new Kentucky?: The Blue Devils are the reigning national champs, but outside of their head coach, nothing about their 2015-16 roster will resemble the team that won the title. Duke’s three best players all bounced to the NBA after one season on campus, leaving the Blue Devils in a position where they were without a point guard. No problem, they just managed to convince a five-star point guard from the Class of 2016 to reclassify, and two weeks later added a top three prospect in Brandon Ingram. That’s the same model that John Calipari has made so successful: Win with freshmen, shuttle them off to the NBA, reload with another crops of newcomers, fill in the holes with five-star spring signees.

3. Will Virginia have any NCAA tournament success?: The Cavs suffered one of the biggest blows of anyone in the league when Justin Anderson opted to enter his name in the NBA Draft. His health issues in the middle of last season more or less torpedoed what could have been a legendary season for the Wahoos. Virginia will also lose senior Darion Atkins, but the back-to-back ACC champs return the majority of their rotation. They’re going to be a top ten team in the preseason. Is this the year they can finally get past the Sweet 16?

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Derryck Thornton, Duke: Duke adds a loaded freshmen class — which also includes Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard and top three prospect Brandon Ingram — but it was getting Thornton, a five-star point guard prospect, that really makes the difference.
  • Damion Lee, Louisville: Like Duke, Louisville is bringing in a ton of talent — freshmen Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Ray Spalding as well as grad transfer Trey Lewis — but it’s Lee, who averaged 21.4 points as a junior at Drexel, that should have the biggest impact.
  • Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Florida State returns Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who had a terrific freshman season, and will team him with Bacon, a five-star wing and one of the best scorers in the Class 0f 2015.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Trevor Lacey and Kyle Washington, N.C. State: Lacey was one of the best one-on-one scorers in college basketball last season, but the junior decided to put his name into the NBA Draft. His departure, and Washington’s decision to transfer, drop the Wolfpack from a preseason top 15-ish team to outside the top 25.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: Hanlan was one of the best guards in the ACC last season, but I guess he got tired of losing at BC. He entered the NBA Draft.
  • J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina: Tokoto was the best defender and arguably the best play maker for the Tar Heels last season, but he decided to enter his name into the NBA Draft instead of returning to school. It shouldn’t hurt the Heels all that much, as they have plenty of depth on the perimeter.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke: Everyone knew Jones was gone after the tournament that he had, but the reason Duke needed to scramble to find a point guard this offseason is that they expected Jones to spend more than one season on campus.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina (Player of the Year)
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. North Carolina: The Tar Heels had their issues last season, but they got hot down the stretch. With everyone back and healthy, UNC is our Preseason No. 1.

2. Virginia: Losing Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins will hurt, but UVA will still play elite defense. Key will be who takes a step forward offensively.

3. Duke: It will be fun to watch how Duke’s youngsters come together. Can Derryck Thornton handle the point? What about their front court depth?

4. Louisville: Rick Pitino reloaded this offseason. Damion Lee’s addition will be key, and don’t be surprised to see freshman Donovan Mitchell excel.

5. Notre Dame: Losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton is a blow, but I fully expect Demetrius Jackson to have an all-american caliber season.

6. Florida State: The ACC’s biggest sleeper. The combination of Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley will be dangerous and fun to watch.

7. Miami: The Canes lost some of their back court depth to transfer. That won’t matter if Angel Rodriguez and Shelden McClellan can be more consistent.

8. N.C. State: The loss of Trevor Lacey was a brutal blow, but with Cat Barber back along with that big front line, the Wolfpack does have some talent.

9. Syracuse: Syracuse loses everyone up front, but with Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije and two sharpshooting freshmen, they’ll be dangerous.

10. Wake Forest: Danny Manning working his magic. Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre return while the Demon Deacons add a solid recruiting class.

11. Pitt: Jamel Artis and Michael Young are a tough pair of forwards. Will Pitt have the supporting cast to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid?

12. Virginia Tech: There’s a talent gap here, but Buzz Williams is starting to get his guys into the program. He proved at Marquette he can win with “his guys”.

13. Clemson: The Tigers will be tough to score on, but it’s hard to see where they will be a threat on the offensive end of the floor.

14. Georgia Tech: Brian Gregory got a stay of execution this spring, although the Yellow Jackets were more competitive than you realize last year.

15. Boston College: Losing Olivier Hanlan puts the Eagles behind the eight-ball this season.