Duke returns two-thirds of its powerful Triple S combination from last year, with guard Nolan Smith and versatile forward Kyle Singler. Point guard Jon Scheyer was one of the best in the country and is gone now, but sharpshooting sophomore Andre Dawkins is ready to take his place. What will ultimately swing Duke's season is whether they can get rebounding up front. We know Duke is going to turn out quality backcourts, well-coached-teams and 25-28 wins as a matter of course. What made them a champion last year was that Brian Zoubek consistently hit the glass and became the muscle end of the team. Coach K needs the Plumlee brothers, Mason & Miles, to do the same if this team is going to end its season in Houston.
North Carolina fell hard last year because the backcourt play was terrible. The burden for fixing that falls on returning point guard Larry Drew. It's impossible to imagine a Roy Williams-coached team playing that poorly for two straight years, so even though they lose quite a bit up front, I'm assuming Carolina returns to contention, doing so on the backs of 6'7" freshman Harrison Barnes, the latest of the one-and-done brigade.
The top challenger to Duke won't be in Chapel Hill though, but in Blacksburg, but where Seth Greenberg is putting together a team that could enable Virginia Tech to sweep the football and basketball titles for this academic year. The backcourt is explosive, with Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson, along with Jeff Allen & Terrelle Bell up front. The Hokies should have their motivational fires stoked from being robbed of an NCAA bid last year after going 10-6 in the ACC.
On the level of dark-horse teams, we can run through Florida State, N.C. State and Boston College. BC is particularly intriguing with two quality front-court players in Cory Raja and Joe Trepan. In the backcourt is Reggie Jackson, the only player with that name who will ever be cheered in Boston. New coach Steve Donahue, fresh off a Sweet 16 run with Cornell, has the chance to be the next Boston Irish folk hero.
Call in the contractors at Wake Forest, Maryland, Miami, Georgia Tech and Clemson because there's a lot of rebuilding to do. Maryland lost ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vazquez. Georgia Tech lost its entire frontcourt, anchored by Derrick Favors and Ganai Lawal. The reconstruction is no less severe in Winston-Salem, Coral Gables and Clemson. That leaves only Virginia, whom we'd also is rebuilding, but after closing the season by losing 10 of 11, they're also licking their wounds.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.