College Basketball Conference Previews: Atlantic Coast Conference

Coach K is expecting big things from his 7-foot freshman center Jahlil Okafor.
Coach K is expecting big things from his 7-foot freshman center Jahlil Okafor.

As we near in on the 2014-15 NCAA basketball season, Maddux Sports will be previewing the top-five teams from the 12 major conferences.

We begin by looking at the ACC, whose top-five teams are all at 40/1 odds or better to win the NCAA title according to college basketball oddsmakers at Bovada. All futures betting odds come courtesy of Bovada.

Duke (2013-14: 26-9; 13-3 ACC)
Odds to win NCAA Championship: 9/1

Duke brings in one of the best recruits in the nation, 7’0” center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is expected to be a one-and-done talent on a team stocked with returning players. The Blue Devils were weak defensively when most needed last year, and the team is hoping to return to its dominant ways on that end of the court.

Coach Mike Kryzewski will change things up with a dominant big man and Tyus Jones will be a stud at point guard. Two-year starter Quinn Cook will be the other guard in Coach K’s backcourt. Strong guard rotations are something that have worked well for the Blue Devils in the past, and augmented around the best post player in the nation, Duke should be able to come out on top in the ACC this season.

UNC (24-10; 13-5 ACC)
Odds to win NCAA Championship: 12/1

The North Carolina Tar Heels were bounced in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season last year, but stability should help the team gain better chemistry (last year the loss of P.J. Hairston crippled the Tar Heels). Marcus Paige is back and he was the engine behind last season’s 12-game winning streak. Paige may not be counted on as heavily for buckets this year, but he’s a steady guard to guide an offense and co-MVP of the McDonald’s game Justin Jackson should add a strong scoring punch, alongside Theo Pinson who is a knockdown shooter.

The Tar Heels lost James Michael McAdoo to the NBA, but the rest of its frontcourt returns this season. Kennedy Meeks is one to keep an eye on as he lost 50 pounds last year and this summer. He’s a strong rebounder and averaged 15 boards per-40 last year. He also had 15 points, 13 boards against Iowa State in the tournament.

Louisville (31-6; 13-5)
Odds to win NCAA Championship: 25/1

The Louisville Cardinals are going to have an adjustment after losing Russ Smith and Luke Hancock. Coach Rick Pitino likes the “upside and size” of his team and said his main concern is the tough schedule Louisville will have this year. The return of Montrezl Harrell will keep this team at the top of the ACC, and Pitino said that the team would not be as good without Harrell, had he declared for the NBA draft.

Mangok Mathiang and Akoy Agau should both have increased roles this year. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will be expected to fill the void left by Smith, but it’s going to be hard to replace the intangibles Smith brought. Pitino simply said, “Terry Rozier is going to have a breakout year.”

Virginia (30-7; 16-2)
Odds to win NCAA Championship: 40/1

Virginia won the ACC last season and it was the first time since 1976 the school had done so, and the Cavaliers earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Sweet 16. Seven of last year’s nine rotation players are back in the fold, so the Cavaliers could improve further on last season’s successes. Unfortunately, both the losses of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell will both prove difficult to replace.

Malcolm Brogdon averaged 14.8 points per game in conference play and guard London Perrantes keeps his turnovers down as well as any in the NCAA (just 1.25 per-40). Justin Anderson will mostly determine the fate of this team and he could be the best defender in the ACC. Last year’s freshman of the year Isaiah Wilkins is the stepson of Dominique Wilkins and he’s going to carve out a nice career for himself.

Syracuse (28-6; 14-4)
Odds to win NCAA Championship: 40/1

C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis are all departed. Ennis had a great freshman year and declared for the draft, so the Syracuse Orange are going to need freshmen Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough to step up fairly quickly. Coach Jim Boeheim concurred, saying “The play of the freshman will be crucial. We think they can step in and play right away.” Michael Gbinje will help man the 1-spot, too,  as he backed up Ennis last season.

The team will be determined by Joseph’s adjustment to the NCAA though. He has a chance to fully replace Ennis this year, which is no small task considering that Ennis played 35 minutes per game last year for the Orange. Tyler Roberson has to take steps forward with an increased role in front of him.

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