Last year was one of the more entertaining years in recent memory for the ACC. It all culminated with a heart-stopping run by the Virginia Cavaliers to cut down the nets.
But there’s a lot of change that’s going to take place between the final buzzer in Minneapolis and when the season tips off next fall. A lot of talent is being flushed out of the conference, which could open up the ACC race for next year.
Per usual, a number of ACC players are headed to the draft. But this crop is particularly special. Duke is set to lose its three best players in Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. Virginia will do the same with Ty Jerome, Deandre Hunter and Kyle Guy declaring, albeit Guy leaving the door open for a return to school. UNC may be the team hurting the most from departures. They are preparing for life without Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, Nassir Little and Coby White.
While this hasn’t been an issue for these teams in the past, they also don’t have the benefit of their usual elite level recruiting classes inbound. Only three of 247 Sports’ top 30 players are headed to ACC schools at the moment. For context, the conference has had three guys rank 15th or better every year since 2014. Some of this could change since the recruiting cycle is not over yet. Regardless, there still won’t be as much talent as we saw coming in for the 2018-19 season.
As of now, Louisville is the only ACC team with a top 10 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports. Traditional power UNC currently sits at 50th in the rankings and most of the conference sits sandwiched in between. Only three 5-star recruits are officially coming into the conference. Duke alone brought in four 5-stars last season.
All seven ACC teams that reached the tournament last year could lose their best player. Six of them are locks. The one hanging in the balance at the moment is Louisville with Jordan Nwora leaving the door open to return. Some teams are in better shape than others. As I mentioned, Chris Mack is getting his first full recruiting cycle in with the Cardinals. Other teams are experiencing complete overhaul, like Virginia Tech. The Hokies hired former Wofford head coach Mike Young after Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M. In the process, VT lost three players to graduation and one to the draft. But they also lost a number of key parts who are deciding to transfer. At least four players have already entered their names into the transfer portal, including Kerry Blackshear who may be the most coveted player on the market. All six players that averaged at least 15 minutes per game last season will be gone.
How does this set up Syracuse? Quite favorably. Sure, the Orange is moving on without Tyus Battle, who recently signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation agency, Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu. But Syracuse is bringing a lot more in that it is losing with their Class of 2019. The ACC could be anyone’s conference, which should set up a fun, competitive 2020 season.