Interesting article in the ACC Sports Journal about the importance of defense and a brief survey of the best defensive players in ACC history.
I would take it a step further and say that looking at the last three teams from the ACC to win a national title they all had at least one if not more than one top notch defender. Duke had Shane Battier when they won the title in 2001 and despite bringing back five future NBA players never made it past the Sweet Sixteen after he left Durham. Maryland won the title in 2002, as we all know, and sported several fine defenders. Juan Dixon is second only to Maryland's Johnny Rhodes on the all time steals list in ACC history. Then you had Byron Mouton who often took the best offensive wing player on the other team every game. Point guard Steve Blake was no slouch on defense either and was as tenacious a defender as there has been in the ACC in recent memory. Chris Wilcox was an imposing shot blocker even though his numbers are not all that impressive. In 2005 North Carolina won a title with two very good defensive players in Jackie Manuel and David Noel. Raymond Felton was a pretty good defensive point guard as well.
In all it does seem to me that at least in the ACC you need a singularly great defensive player if your team is going to win a national title. I don't currently see any of the league's big boys possessing that kind of player. I think the odds are slim that Wake Forest, North Carolina or Duke will get to the national title game. Last season I would have to say that Virginia Tech's Deron Washington was perhaps the best defender in the league. He guarded players from point guard Sean Singletary to power forward James Gist with equal effectiveness. He may have been a punk but he was an excellent defender.
This season I don't think there are any obvious defensive stars in the league. Toney Douglas gambles and gets a lot of steals but isn't a supreme open court defender. I'd have to go with Trevor Booker at Clemson. He is third in the ACC in rebounding and first in blocked shots, though he often goes for the highlight block that prevents his team from recovering the deflection. As for team defense I think Duke is clearly the best in the ACC even though they lack size and a shot blocker in the post. It isn't a golden age for defense in the ACC.