Virginia won its first-ever national championship in 2019, which undoubtedly caps off a best-case season for the Cavaliers. Not just because of how Virginia’s 2018 season ended, but because the ‘Hoos were picked second in the ACC preseason media poll and they debuted at No. 5 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll.
They didn’t only live up to expectations, but you could argue they managed to exceed them.
The only possible grade for Virginia’s 2019 season is an A+. But you can’t say the same about the rest of the teams in the conference.
Here are Stadium’s postseason grades for every team in the ACC, which take into account the ACC preseason media poll, 2018 recruiting class rankings and conference and NCAA Tournament finishes.
The teams are listed alphabetically below.
The Eagles tied for 11th in the ACC standings, which is where they were picked in the ACC preseason media poll. Boston College finished 14-17 and endured losing streaks of four or five games on three separate occasions.
Wins over Loyola Chicago, Minnesota, DePaul, Florida State and Louisville showed flashes of what the Eagles could be when they were clicking, but they were far too inefficient on offense, and even worse on defense, to keep pace in the ACC.
Junior guard Ky Bowman deserves special mention for his national-best 96.8 percent minutes rate.
The Tigers received one first-place vote in the ACC preseason media poll and they debuted at No. 22 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll. They were picked sixth in the preseason media poll and they were sixth among ACC teams in the preseason AP poll.
So on some level, there were expectations and the potential for Clemson to be among the best teams in a strong ACC — if not the country.
Clemson’s tied-for-eighth finish in the ACC standings wasn’t too far off from preseason predictions, but it was certainly disappointing for the Tigers to miss the NCAA Tournament and only reach the 20-win mark because of a win in a first-round home game in the NIT.
The only NCAA Tournament teams that Clemson beat all season were NC Central, Virginia Tech and Syracuse. With a team that ranked highly nationally in experience and minutes continuity thanks to seniors Marcquise Reed, Elijah Thomas, Shelton Mitchell and David Skara, Clemson’s 2019 season ended in a whimper – one season after the Tigers made the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed.
I don’t think it’s blasphemous to say that Duke at its best was arguably better than any other team in the country at its best. After all, the Blue Devils swept national champion Virginia in the regular season.
That’s a double-edged sword, however. Duke’s season was far from a failure, but it ended a game or two sooner than many college basketball fans expected when the NCAA Tournament started.
The Blue Devils only lost twice all season when they were at full strength – 89-87 to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational and 68-67 to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga finished the season No. 2 on kenpom.com, Michigan State No. 3 and Duke No. 4.
Duke’s shooting – from 3-point range, on 2-point jumpers and at the free throw line – was bad, its bench offered little production, freshman Cam Reddish was inconsistent playing alongside Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, and the team’s offense probably featured Barrett too heavily and Williamson too infrequently during its losses to Gonzaga and Michigan State. Injuries certainly impacted the team in ACC play.
But Duke still won 32 games, positioned itself to finish atop the ACC standings before Williamson’s injury, made the Elite Eight, had the Naismith Men’s Player of the Year in Williamson and became the first team since Kentucky in 2010 to have two freshmen who were named First Team All-Americans.
In the last two months of the season, Florida State was arguably one of the 10 best teams in the country. After a three-game losing streak in mid-January, the Seminoles finished the season 16-3 with wins over Virginia, Virginia Tech (twice), Louisville, Syracuse and Murray State with its only losses coming against North Carolina on the road, Duke on a neutral court and Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida State was picked to finish seventh in the preseason media poll and it finished fourth, largely because of the emergence of sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele, who has since declared for the NBA Draft.
While the Seminoles didn’t make it as far in the NCAA Tournament in 2019 as they did in 2018, a Sweet 16 appearance and loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga is respectable, and the team’s 29 wins were a program record.
The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish 13th in the preseason media poll, and they ended up 10th, so they exceeded expectations of the ACC media base. But they were still just 6-12 in conference play and three games out of ninth place, so what does that really mean?
Georgia Tech was ranked No. 115 on kenpom.com at the end of the season, which was the third-lowest ranking of any ACC team, and the Yellow Jackets played Virginia, North Carolina and Duke just once apiece, so they benefitted from a friendly conference schedule.
Wins over Arkansas, Syracuse, Notre Dame and NC State were the team’s only victories over top-100 opponents, according to kenpom.com, so there weren’t many bright spots in Georgia Tech’s 2019 campaign, which included the program reportedly being charged with multiple Level 1 recruiting violations.
The Yellow Jackets had the 43rd-most efficient defense in the country, but they were greatly weighed down by the nation’s No. 228 offense.
Entering Coach Chris Mack’s first season at Louisville, the Cardinals were picked to finish 11th in the preseason media poll after they lost their top three scorers and four of their top five following the 2018 season. They limped through a difficult non-conference schedule with wins over Michigan State and Seton Hall, and losses against Tennessee, Marquette, Indiana and Kentucky, before starting 7-1 in the ACC.
Louisville handed North Carolina its worst loss in Chapel Hill under Roy Williams, 83-62, and the Cardinals were included in the Bracket Preview Show, when the selection committee named its top 16 teams on Feb. 9. Louisville had been picked to finish in the bottom five of the 15-team ACC and instead, it was on a trajectory to be one of the 16 best teams in the entire country.
After a 16-5 start, Louisville finished 4-9 the rest of the season as the Cardinals fell short in an overtime loss at Florida State and they blew a huge home lead to Duke. Road losses at Syracuse and Boston College, plus a sweep at the hands of Virginia, followed.
The Cardinals climbed up the rankings against the softer portion of their ACC schedule and hit a wall against their tougher closing stretch of conference play, but thanks to the emergence of sophomore Jordan Nwora and a roster pieced together with transfers, Louisville earned a No. 7 seed and had a better overall season than most would have imagined in Year 1 of the Mack era.
Miami’s season was altered for the worse when junior forward Dewan Hernandez was suspended in November and later ruled ineligible after he was implicated in the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.
He was a big reason why the Hurricanes received a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament the year before. Without him, Miami went 14-18 (5-13 ACC) and earned the No. 12 seed in the ACC Tournament after being picked to finish 10th in the preseason media poll.
Diminutive sophomore point guard Chris Lykes took a step forward last season, averaging 16.2 points and 3.2 assists per game, but he and two of the team’s other top-four scorers – Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Zach Johnson – had pedestrian offensive ratings.
The ‘Canes ranked 14th in conference play in defensive efficiency and a four-game losing streak in non-conference play, followed shortly thereafter by a 1-8 start in the ACC doomed Miami’s hopes of returning to the tournament.
The Wolfpack got the No. 8 seed in the ACC Tournament, which is where they were picked in the preseason media poll. However, their 22-11 record through the tourney included 10 Quadrant 4 wins and they were just 3-9 in Quadrant 1, so it was inflated on victories over significantly inferior teams.
A 66-65 overtime loss at home to Virginia, a 79-75 loss at Wisconsin and a 78-73 loss at Florida State were especially glaring missed opportunities for NC State, which was maybe just one good win from making the field of 68.
It had a less-than-ideal beginning and ending, but North Carolina’s season was largely a success as the Tar Heels finished tied atop the ACC standings with Virginia, swept (a Zion Williamson-less) Duke, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and project to have three players drafted in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
An 8-3 start to the season with losses to Texas, Michigan and Kentucky was challenging, especially after the arrival of five-star freshman Nassir Little, and a 17-point loss to No. 5 seed Auburn in the Sweet 16 likely left a bitter taste in Tar Heel fans’ mouths.
But there was a lot of good in between and North Carolina was one of the five-to-seven best teams in 2019.
The Fighting Irish’s 14 wins last season were the program’s fewest since 1998-99, which is shocking considering that Notre Dame was not expected to be that bad.
It was picked to finish ninth in the preseason media poll, and some way-too-early NCAA Tournament projections from last November slotted the Irish between a No. 9 seed and just outside the field of 68.
With a 3-15 conference record, Notre Dame wasn’t even close to making the tournament.
The Fighting Irish’s non-conference performance wasn’t great with a home loss to Radford, then home wins over DePaul and Illinois, followed by close losses to Oklahoma and UCLA, buoyed by a win against Purdue, but the wheels really fell off after that.
Their only wins against ACC opponents last season were against Georgia Tech and Boston College.
It’s weird to write, but Notre Dame was actually a competitive 3-15 team in conference play — if such a team exists — as the Fighting Irish had nine losses that came between two and eight points.
The graduation of Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben certainly hurt, as did the season-ending ACL injury to Rex Pflueger during the Purdue game. But no one expected a 14-19 season from a Mike Brey-coached team, which are usually good for 20-some wins and at least one victory in the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers were picked to finish 15th in the ACC preseason media poll and they tied for last in the conference with Notre Dame. (They actually earned the No. 14 seed in the ACC Tournament based on tiebreakers, so technically, they exceeded their preseason projection by one spot, for however little that’s worth.)
Pittsburgh was never going to be a great team in Year 1 of the Jeff Capel era, but it was at least a slightly competitive power conference college basketball team, which couldn’t be said of the Panthers in 2018.
Two seasons ago, Pitt finished with an 8-24 record, including an 0-18 mark in conference play, with its last win of the season coming on Dec. 22 (!). Last year, Pitt beat Louisville and Florida State as part of a 2-2 start in conference play before the bottom fell out during a 13-game losing streak.
The Panthers saw a massive jump in their ranking on kenpom.com from No. 227 in 2018 to No. 101 in 2019, in large part because Capel enrolled the nation’s No. 32 recruiting class in his first season, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Three of the team’s top four scorers were freshmen, which provides hope for the future.
Besides a road win in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium against a Duke team that lost point guard Tre Jones in the opening minutes and a 10-point road win at Ohio State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Syracuse never really looked like the team that was picked to finish fourth in the ACC and debuted at No. 16 in the AP Top 25 Poll. They finished the season barely inside the top 40 nationally, according to kenpom.com.
The Orange earned the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament and they went 1-7 in regular season and conference tournament play against the five teams that finished above them in the conference standings.
A first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Baylor made for a quiet exit for a program that had recently outperformed its seed in the tournament.
Since the season ended, Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett declared for the NBA Draft, and if both players keep their names in the draft, 2019 will go down as a generally underwhelming season for the Orange.
The Cavaliers completed the ultimate redemption story as they bounced back from being the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament to winning the school’s first national championship one year later.
Virginia finished atop the ACC regular season standings for the fourth time in six seasons (they were tied with North Carolina with a 16-2 conference record) and it earned a No. 1 seed for the fourth time during that same time period. Clearly, the Cavaliers had won at a blistering pace in the regular season and they were the ACC program that was arguably operating at the highest level, but they lacked a Final Four under Tony Bennett, let alone a national title.
Well, you can now throw any outdated takes out the window about how Bennett’s system can’t win in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hokies lived up to expectations, if not slightly exceeding them. They were picked to finish fifth in the ACC preseason media poll and they were No. 15 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll.
They finished fifth in the ACC and No. 16 in the final AP poll.
Virginia Tech survived the loss of senior guard Justin Robinson and the suspension of Chris Clarke as the Hokies went 26-9, culminating in a Sweet 16 loss to Duke. They essentially only lost to top-50 teams – Virginia (twice), Duke, North Carolina, Florida State (twice), Louisville, Clemson and Penn State – with a handful of notable wins over Purdue, Washington and Duke.
The Hokies’ 26 wins were a program record and their Sweet 16 finish was the program’s best since 1967.
Buzz Williams’ last season in Blacksburg was a good one.
The Demon Deacons finished 13th in the ACC, one place ahead of where they were picked in the preseason media poll. They ranked dead last in conference play in defensive efficiency, offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage, and offensive and defensive 2-point percentage, among other advanced statistical categories.
Wake Forest finished 11-20 for the second consecutive year under Danny Manning and for the third time in his five seasons with the school. Six of the team’s 11 wins came against opponents that finished outside of the top 200 on kenpom.com.
Manning enrolled a top-25 recruiting class, headlined by five-star forward Jaylen Hoard, who averaged 13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds but wasn’t an efficient offensive player.