Conference Breakdown: ACC

Louisville competes versus ACC competition for the first time this season, and already the Cardinals are creating talent separation from most of their new colleagues.

Scout Signing Day Central

Best Class

Recruiting mastery is old hat for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, but even he must be thrilled by the Cardinals’ fall class.

Three top-40 prospects are headed to campus for the 2015-16 season. No. 18 Deng Adel is a versatile combo forward who should excel on both ends of the court.

ACC Rankings
1. Louisville
2. Duke
3. Syracuse
4. Florida State
5. Virginia Tech
6. Wake Forest
7. Notre Dame
8. Boston College
9. Clemson
10. Pittsburgh
11. Georgia Tech
12. Miami
13. North Carolina
14. Virginia
15. N.C. State

He’ll need to get stronger and may not scintillate as a freshman while he sculpts his body, but by his sophomore year he should be a mainstay for U of L.

No. 20 Donovan Mitchell emerged this past summer as one of our favorite players to watch, and his rapid improvement from a year ago generated a sense of disbelief among scouts and college coaches. A bullying wing, Mitchell should challenge for big minutes out of the gate and will bring a tough, aggressive style to the court.

Though not as well publicized as some of the country’s other blue-chip big men, power forward Raymond Spalding could blossom after a couple years of development. He’ll need time to become stronger, but he’s impressively skilled and mobile with long arms.

Louisville, which presently holds the country’s No. 3 class, likely will drop slightly as more of the top 10 prospects fall from the board. That said, ACC schools don’t feature as prominently with those remaining elites and thus the Cardinals appear to have a strong shot to maintain their place atop the conference.

Other Winners

Not surprisingly, Duke also reeled in a top-ranked class. The Blue Devils claim a pledge from the highest rated recruit from any league program, No. 9 Chase Jeter (pictured above), and they also won out for No. 22 Luke Kennard.

Jeter visited campus last winter and appeared to be a near lock for the Devils, and though the commitment took longer than expected to materialize Duke ultimately got its man. Jeter has improved markedly and boasts one of the best jump hooks of anyone in the Class of 2015. He’s also an outstanding rebounder.

A sharpshooting lefty, Kennard is a prolific scorer who also possesses commendable balance thanks to advanced ball skills.

Syracuse resides just behind Duke at No. 3. The Orange snared athletic and confident wing forward Malachi Richardson, the No. 28 ranked senior. Richardson closed his travel season strongly and projects as an early contributor. No. 68 Moustapha Diagne is a classical Big East center, complete with a burly frame, no-nonsense attitude and physical style. He projects as a defensive stalwart for Jim Boeheim.

No. 70 Franklin Howard returned from knee surgery this past summer and made up for lost time. He’s a highly versatile wing scorer who, as he continues to get stronger on his knee, could prove to have been underrated. No. 77 Tyler Lydon is an agile power forward who can face the rim in the halfcourt game and runs the floor well.

Seeing Louisville, Duke and Syracuse at the top of the conference rankings won’t create much buzz, given the sustained excellence of those programs, but how about Florida State and Virginia Tech at Nos. 4 and 5?

The Seminoles at times have recruited very well during the Leonard Hamilton era, but recently they’d suffered through some tough misses (including Andrew Wiggins in the spring of 2013) and relative down cycles.

Well, consider that reversed. The Noles landed No. 19 Dwayne Bacon, No. 60 Malik Beasley and No. 97 Terrance Mann along with Jean Marc Christ Koumadje. Interestingly, Bacon, Beasley and Mann all slot into the wing positions, as the Noles clearly needed to address talent and depth in those areas.

Koumadje, meanwhile, is a developing 7-3 center who will have an opportunity to cultivate his game over the next four years.

Top ACC Prospects
Top Prospect:Chase Jeter, Duke
Best Scorer:Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Best Passer:Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech
Best Shot Blocker:Chase Jeter, Duke
Best Post Player: Chase Jeter, Duke
Best Athlete: Malik Beasley, Florida State
Best Rebounder: Chase Jeter, Duke
Best Shooter:Luke Kennard, Duke

That brings us to Virginia Tech, where Buzz Williams has treated fans to a wild ride in his first year at the helm — and the season hasn’t even begun. The Hokies scored with No. 71 Chris Clarke, No. 86 Justin Robinson and No. 93 Kerry Blackshear.

Clarke is an athletic, junkyard dog of a combo forward who committed to Tennessee but backed off a week later and chose Tech. Robinson is a traditional point guard who will run the show, while Blackshear is a nationally underappreciated post scorer who impressed during the summer.

Who will help most as a freshman?

Louisville enjoys a great deal of talent and, potential NBA attrition aside, projects to return another strong club for 2015-16.

Nevertheless, Donovan Mitchell might carve his way into a prominent role early. Truth is, the ACC may not feature a starring freshman next year, as the league has not signed anyone in the top five and even Chase Jeter may need one full year to develop before he’s ready to produce at a big league level.

Mitchell, at least, is physically ready for the college game. He’s also a tough guy who played his way into prominence without a great deal of coddling, and thus the Cardinals’ coaching staff won’t need to break as many bad habits as is customary for your average prep phenom. Don’t be surprised if he creates an early impression.

How they stacked up

The ACC is further strengthening at the top, as obviously the additions of Louisville and Syracuse are paying off handsomely to the league's talent bottom line. With Florida State having a resurgence and Virginia Tech having a big year as well, that also will bolster the conference's middle tier.

On the other hand, there's a clear divide between the haves and have nots in 2015 recruiting. Unless they make additions for the spring, those programs with smaller, less talented classes will enter the 2016 cycle facing a great deal of pressure.

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