UVa's mens lacrosse team always plays a daunting schedule, which is easy to consistently do, considering the strength of their conference opponents. In fact, the 2015 team went winless in the ACC and still was selected to host a first round NCAA game. While the national landscape of the sport includes more and more strong teams from around the country, the ACC still holds the best collection of teams, at least four of whom should be challenging for a final four spot this season. This includes UVa this season, of course, but here's the run down on the rest of the conference:
The Fighting Irish lost in last year's National Championship and were the only ACC team to make it to the 2015 final weekend. Is this the year the Irish break through and win their first championship? It very well could be. They return a star attackmen in Matt Kavanagh, a star middie in Sergio Perkovic, and star defenseman in Matt Landis. Each should compete for best-of awards in their respective positions and should have the Irish looking to return to the title game. They should be considered the favorites to win the conference.
After the Irish, the second-best ACC team is more difficult to predict. While UVa should certainly be considered, for reasons detailed all over Streaking the Lawn this week, I'm going to give a nod to the Hoos' recent nemeses: the Blue Devils. While the Dookies were bounced early from last year's NCAA tournament, they've got the talent and coaching to get right back to the final weekend. Justin Guterding is the returning ACC rookie of the year and should anchor the Devils' attack.
The Orange have a ton of talent to replace in 2016, so I predict they'll finish below the Wahoos and the above teams this season. They return only a single attackman and zero of their midfielders from a team that finished 13-3 overall and 2-2 in the ACC last season. While Coach Desko will always have a team loaded with talent, the unproven rosters makes the Orange's success difficult to predict - they could easily challenge for an ACC title and final weekend spot, or even go winless in the conference. Somewhere in between, however, is the more likely scenario.
UNC had an amazing senior class last year, that led to a particularly strong offense and successful ACC campaign. Joey Sankey 11-year player Jimmy Bitter is gone, so the Heels will lack star power - though there's plenty of talent returning in each position group. It'll be a committee approach to scoring this season, which impacts preseason expectations, but even though I've got the Heels positioned last in the ACC, it doesn't mean they're not a top-10 nationally. Closing the season with Duke, UVA, Cuse, and Notre Dame all in a row will keep a lot of the Heels' potential success unknown until the end of the season.
The conference overall should see all five teams contending for the final weekend, with maybe UNC having the lightest chance of such. Regardless, all five should be considered top 10 teams nationally, which is pretty standard for the ACC. The best conference in the country should be the most difficult part of each member's schedule and the murder's row of talented teams could shake out really in any order. The Irish should be considered the favorite, though.