With the college basketball season coming to a close, it's time for the ridiculously early top 25 rankings for next season. Now I want to point out, half the transfers are not settled, some major recruits are undecided, and the coaching carousel is still spinning. While I get why writers and various publications release their articles, it is still way too early to know exactly what next season will bring.
Having said all that, by examining those articles and predictions, there is one thing that is clear: The ACC is absolutely loaded for next season. I'm talking it has the chance to be as special as some of those Big East seasons around 2008-2011. There are multiple teams already being thrown out as top 25 caliber teams and here is a quick recap.
-- Virginia returns just about everyone assuming Justin Anderson does not go to the draft. So essentially, the two time defending ACC champions will return an experienced backcourt with London Perrentes, Malcolm Brogdon, and Justin Anderson. CBS has them as the early favorite to be ranked number one in the country. We all know their defensive play seems to hold them back in the tournament, but for Pitt and the rest of the ACC, they can be a lot to handle in a regular season meeting.
-- North Carolina is also getting a lot of love at the top of the rankings. as NBC Sports are calling them the preseason number one team in the country. The Tar Heels are bringing nearly everybody back, I mean 12 of 13 scholarship players are completely in the fold right now and some of their most important players like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige have already affirmed they are returning. North Carolina is wildly inconsistent, as Pitt nearly hung 89 points on them last year, but they have the talent and the experience to garner such a ranking.
-- North Carolina State is drawing top 25 love after a pretty average regular season, but it was highlighted by some big wins though. The Wolfpack dismantled Pitt twice in the regular season and advanced to the Sweet 16 by knocking off No. 1 seed, Villanova on the way. It's the times when they play like they did in those big wins that have people projecting a big year. Trevor Lacey and Anthony "Cat" Barber are back, along with about five solid post players they can rotate.
-- Duke just won it all, but they appear to be losing four starters. No worries for them, they are still considered a top 25 team by many, as they have four of their role players back. Coach K is gaining a talented transfer named Sean Obi and they welcome two new five-star recruits into the mix. Grayson Allen lit up the championship game, and Matt Jones had a big Elite 8 showing. Based off those individual performances on the big stage, many expect Duke to be in the thick of things again despite losing so much.
-- Even Notre Dame is drawing some lofty rankings, some of which surprises me a little. It seemed their Elite 8 run was fueled by Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but still the bigger news outlets like them to be ranked again. Three starters back is a good start, and with that the Irish should be tough, but maybe not quite as tough as last year. Pitt currently holds a two game winning streak on Mike Brey's club.
-- Miami missed out on the NCAA Tournament despite them beating Pitt late in the year in a big game for both sides. The Hurricanes then went to the NIT and made a run to the championship game before losing. That run, coupled with most of their talent returning has them drawing some top 25 consideration by some places. USA Today likes the Canes as the 23rd ranked team in the country.
-- Some places have Louisville left out entirely, while NBC ranks them 15. It just shows you that these rankings are hardly a science, but it also shows you some think enough of Rick Pitino to put them in the rankings. They lose Rozier and Harrell, but Pitino always recruits well and they have plenty of talent in place. Pitt lost to the Cards both times in 2015.
-- Syracuse is another team either ranked, or skipped entirely but they have all three guards back and they welcome four 4-star recruits into the fold. Some may have forgotten about the Orange entirely because of their postseason ban, but with that type of roster, they should be in the mix for a tournament bid next season.
-- Florida State has also gotten some preseason hype as they have Xavier Rathan-Mayes returning to lead the team, and they welcome in a top recruiting class highlighted by five-star, Dwayne Bacon.
So having said all that, there are nine teams out of fifteen in the league that have gotten a preseason ranking one way or another by a national news outlet. In case you didn't notice, Pitt is not one of them, and I can hardly blame anyone for leaving the Panthers out of the mix with the way they finished the year. Even ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi left Pitt out of his "first" projected bracket for next season. Again, nothing wrong with that on his end.
Obviously Pitt will be up against it next season with a very deep and talented league, but like many of the teams being mentioned for the top 25, Pitt will also be better. Pitt returns four starters and they welcome Durand Johnson back into the mix along with four-star guard, Damon Wilson. All things considered, Pitt should be an improved team as well with all the guys that are returning.
The ACC of 2016 may mimic some of those good Big East seasons that saw close to ten teams make the field of 68. I do think Pitt will be one of those teams to go dancing next year from the ACC despite their lack of appreciation from the national writers as of now. Truth be told, they weren't all that far away from making it this year and the roster is certainly going to be better next season with perhaps a few more additions on the way. Any way it shakes out, the ACC should be highly entertaining in 2016.