2019-2020 ACC Basketball Preview

Updated on July 29, 2019

Last season saw the ACC clearly divided into two divisions, with NC State and Clemson occupying the space between. The league sent that seven team first division to the NCAA Tournament, where Virginia bounced back from the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history to win the first NCAA Championship in school history as well as the ninth National Title for an ACC team in the last 19 years. The lone offseason coaching change was a complete surprise in multiple ways, with Buzz Williams departing for his home state after taking Virginia Tech to its first Sweet 16 since the Tournament first expanded to 32 teams while Danny Manning held on at Wake Forest for a possible lame duck season on primarily contractual grounds and Boston College kept Jim Christian around because they’re evidently used to being bad at basketball now. The ACC landed 20 of the nation’s top 100 high school recruits, but heavy losses to graduation and the NBA Draft could lead to a relatively down year for much the conference, with the possibility of as few as six teams eventually heading to the NCAA Tournament. Finally, a rule change moving the 3 point line back to the international distance could have a significant impact for all of college basketball; among other things, scoring in the paint will get easier for teams that still shoot well, while the adjustment from high school to college will get even harder.

*This article will be updated for personnel changes through the beginning of the season and will receive additional updates prior to conference play and prior to Tournament play.

Leaky Black is about to step into a much larger role at UNC.
Leaky Black is about to step into a much larger role at UNC.

North Carolina Tar Heels

2018-2019: 29-7, 16-2 in the ACC (tie for 1st); lost to Auburn in the Sweet 16

Preseason Projection: 1st in the ACC; National Title Game

Departures: Coby White (16.1 ppg., 4.1 apg., 35.3% 3pt.), Cameron Johnson (16.9 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 45.7% 3pt.), and Nassir Little (9.8 ppg., 4.6 rpg.) were 1st round picks in the NBA Draft; Luke Maye (14.9 ppg.,10.5 rpg.) and Kenny Williams (8.6 ppg., 3.5 apg.) graduated; Seventh Woods transferred to South Carolina

North Carolina concluded last season with their tenth Sweet 16 appearance in Roy Williams’ s 16 year tenure. Now, after losing five major contributors, the Tar Heels will welcome a recruiting class that includes two 5 star prospects for the second year in a row. However, with holes on his roster that his recruiting class wasn’t going to fill, Williams set off on a new adventure of sorts by visiting the graduate transfer market for the first time, eventually landing two of the most highly regarded players available.

The Tar Heels will be replacing one one and done, shoot first point guard with another with the addition of Cole Anthony, a top 5 recruit and projected top 10 pick in next year’s draft. While Anthony lacks White’s length, he possesses excellent speed and athleticism, can score at all three levels, and may actually be a more assertive driver and defender than his predecessor. Like White, passing and avoiding turnovers will be a work in progress. Even though White posted an assist to turnover ratio of less than two to one, UNC always passes extremely well as a team; they finished 13th in the nation in assist to turnover ratio a year ago, with only Nassir Little posting more turnovers than assists. Also like White, Anthony will have plenty of help taking care of the basketball. Among those will be Leaky Black, who stands to be the most improved of North Carolina’s returning players. An ankle injury essentially cut his freshman year short, but he flashed the skill set and athleticism that made him a top 50 recruit while he was healthy. At a lean and athletic 6-7, Black has the versatility to defend anywhere on the perimeter, while offensively his passing ability makes him a legitimate option as Anthony’s backup and his perimeter jump shot and driving ability should make him a double digit scorer. A second freshman, top 70 recruit Anthony Harris, will see time at point guard as well; in addition to being a skilled perimeter shooter and passer, he plays with energy and aggression at both ends of the floor. The first of Williams’ graduate transfers, Christian Keeling, will have a chance to start at shooting guard. Keeling (18.7 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 38% 3pt.) was a first team All Big South selection as a junior at Charleston Southern, where he led his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. He shoots well from the perimeter, defends, and is an excellent rebounder for his position that will help UNC retain their usual dominance of the boards. 3 and D wing Brandon Robinson should also see a larger role as a senior; he still doesn’t look for his shot often, but when he does he shoots a high percentage (46.3% 3pt.) and he makes good decisions with the basketball.

Junior Garrison Brooks (7.9 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) will again anchor the Tar Heels in the paint. While he doesn’t post huge numbers, he moves his feet well and makes excellent decisions at both ends of the court. Armando Bacot, the second five star recruit, will be the flashier frontcourt player and give the Tar Heels a long and imposing post scorer in the Kennedy Meeks mold, which will be a nice weapon to have with the increased floor spacing. At 6-10, Bacot will also be important to replacing Maye’s rebounding. Brooks may be mobile enough to guard some stretch 4s, so if Williams wants to play with two bigs like he would have four years ago he will be able to do so. With three point percentages likely to decrease and more space around the paint, that becomes a more viable option. Another interesting option to start with Brooks will be graduate transfer Justin Pierce, who will see time at both forward spots but will serve as the team’s only real option as a stretch 4. Pierce is a solid outside shooter, although his percentages fell off as a junior when he was forced to serve as the team’s primary facilitator, something he won’t be asked to do at UNC. At 6-7, 225 pounds, Pierce will be roughly the average size for a stretch 4 in the ACC with most of the conference playing small. He won’t put up huge scoring numbers, but he’ll hit open 3s (41.6% playing off the ball as a sophomore), find the open man (4.1 apg. last season), and attack the boards (8.9 rpg.); he’s a perfect fit for what the Tar Heels do. 6-11 junior Sterling Manley has the potential to provide Williams with another imposing big man, but he has been slowed by knee injuries. When he has played, he has put up outstanding per minute rebounding numbers.

North Carolina’s ability to pass and shoot the basketball will allow them to space the floor as much as any ACC team with the new 3 point line, while post scorer Armando Bacot and multiple drivers will be able to take advantage of it in the paint. Offensive rebounding, which is always a strength (11th in offensive rebounds per game last season), will actually get easier. At the other end of the floor, the team is loaded with tough, defensive minded players both inside and particularly out, and, while leading the nation in rebounding margin for the second straight year is unlikely, it will still be a strength thanks to the carefully chosen newcomers. Freshmen and small conference transfers can be slow to adjust, so there is definitely the possibility of disappointment, but there is a very real possibility that Roy Williams will again be coaching a National Championship contender in March.

Jack White and Javin DeLaurier will provide defensive intensity for the Blue Devils.
Jack White and Javin DeLaurier will provide defensive intensity for the Blue Devils.

Duke Blue Devils

2018-2019: 32-6, 14-4 in the ACC (3rd); lost to Michigan St. in the Elite 8

Preseason Projection: 2nd in the ACC; Elite 8

Departures: Zion Williamson (22.6 ppg., 8.9 rpg., 2.1 spg., 1.8 bpg.), R.J. Barrett (22.6 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 4.3 apg.), and Cam Reddish (13.5 ppg.) were top 10 picks in the NBA Draft; Marques Bolden (5.3 ppg., 4.5 bpg., 1.7 bpg.) also entered the NBA Draft

Mike Krzyzewski had his work cut out for him a year ago with only one player, Marques Bolden, having previously received anything resembling significant playing time. Even with 3 eventual top 10 draft picks, Duke’s Elite 8 finish was an impressive feat of team building. This year’s Blue Devils will again be heavily dependent on freshmen and may be slightly less talented overall, but with four significant contributors returning Krzyzewski at least isn’t looking at another complete rebuild.

As far as experience is concerned, it doesn’t get much better than a point guard that isn’t seeing his first rodeo, and Tre Jones will be looking to build on a solid freshman campaign. Jones proved to be one of the better defensive point guards in the country, and he was an extremely efficient ball handler and distributor, maintaining a better than 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Unfortunately, his job at point guard will get substantially more difficult without the playmaking ability of Barrett and Williamson. Jones did struggle with perimeter shooting to the point that defenses started to abandon him when he was off the ball on the perimeter, but he will undoubtedly be focused on it as he attempts to build his case as a first round pick in next year’s draft. Perimeter shooting was the biggest weakness for last year’s Blue Devils (328th in 3pt.%), but that wasn’t a death blow to the offense due to the ability of Williamson and Barrett to score inside the arc (26th in overall fg%). Without them, the Blue Devils will need to rediscover what is traditionally a major strength for the program. Jones's backup, junior Jordan Goldwire, won’t help with that or any type of scoring, but he does play excellent defense and take care of the basketball. Alex O’Connell will help as the team’s best returning perimeter shooter (37.5% 3pt.), and he should see his role expand as a junior. At 6-6, he’s also a mobile defender that was also to handle playing point guard for short periods last season. A pair of highly regarded, athletic 6-5 wings will also see major playing time at shooting guard and small forward. Wendell Moore, a 5 star recruit, should make an immediate impact at the defensive end, while offensively he can attack the basket as well as find the open man. Cassius Stanley, a top 30 prospect, is an explosive leaper with great mobility that is the more likely of the two to be able to hit a 3 as a freshman. Increased spacing benefits explosive athletes more than anyone, and the Blue Devils added two of them in Moore and Stanley. If Duke is able to shoot the 3 well, they are the players most likely to take advantage and get to the rim off the dribble.

The need for shooting is the reason Matthew Hurt is likely to be the most important of Duke’s freshmen. As a top 10 recruit and one of the best shooters in his class, he should have no problem with the new line. He’s also a threat to score in the paint and a capable passer that will help the Blue Devils remain efficient offensively. Hurt will be a fairly lean freshman and will need to add strength in time, but even at 6-9, 215 pounds he will be one of the larger players at his position with most of the ACC playing smaller lineups. If Hurt doesn’t develop into Duke’s leading scorer, fellow top ten recruit Vernon Carey, a 6-11, 275 pound widebody in the Jahlil Okafor mold, certainly could. There aren’t many college players that will be able to knock him off the block, and the new 3 point line will give him more room to work before guards can collapse on him. Carey has also developed his perimeter jump shot, although it is yet to be seen whether it can extend to the new line. He should be able to replace a significant amount of the rebounding lost with Williamson’s departure, although he doesn’t really offer the athleticism to be an intimidating shot blocker. 6-10 junior Javin DeLaurier does provide that sort of athleticism, and he will again provide energy defensively and on the boards as well as rim protection off the bench. Jack White, a 6-7 senior who will see time at both forward spots, provides more of the same, and he can also help Duke with perimeter shooting if he's able to avoid another major cold stretch. White suffered through a 12 game, 0-26 slump from behind the arc, and ended the season in a six game draught as well, but he managed to shoot 41.5% from 3 the rest of the year. If he shoots well, he’s a huge plus for the Blue Devils. With Hurts’s ball skills and White’s mobility, the two would be able to be paired at the forward spots at times to allow Krzyzewski to completely spread the floor.

While there is reason to believe the Blue Devils can shoot better from the perimeter than they did a year ago, scoring could still be more difficult without Barrett and Williamson. Being able to play from the inside out will help. At the other end of the floor, Duke should still defend the perimeter well and generate steals (16th in 3pt.% defense and 6th in steals a year ago), but their post defense could take a hit. Carey’s lateral movement will be a particular concern with more open space on the floor, and without Williamson and Bolden the Blue Devils won’t have quite as much rim protection as they did a year ago when they led the country in blocked shots. Still, Mike Krzyzewski will again have one of the most talented teams in college basketball, and a little bit of experience should go a long way. Duke, like their long time rivals, should be in the National Championship hunt in March.

Mamadi Diakite will be a contender for defensive player of the year.
Mamadi Diakite will be a contender for defensive player of the year.

Virginia Cavaliers

2018-2019: 35-3, 16-2 in the ACC (tie for 1st); National Champions

Preseason Projection: 3rd in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32

Departures: De’Andre Hunter (15.2 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 43.8% 3pt.), Ty Jerome (13.6 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 5.5 apg., 39.9% 3pt.) were 1st Round NBA draft picks and Kyle Guy (15.4 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 42.6% 3pt.) was taken in the 2nd Round; Jack Salt graduated

Last season, Virginia utilized one of the most suffocating defenses (5th in fg% defense, 4th in 3pt.% defense) as well as one of the most efficient offenses (39th in fg%, 7th in 3pt.%, and 5th in assist to turnover ratio) in college basketball on their way to more than making up for their first round upset two years ago. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers were quick to learn that there are usually roster consequences for winning a National Championship, and Tony Bennett will now be left to defend a title without the 3 players that scored 83.6% of Virginia’s points in the Final Four.

With Jerome and Guy gone, Kihei Clark will be the only player with traditional point guard skills on the roster. Clark was a revelation as a freshman, providing a steady hand to direct the offense and pressuring ball handlers before teams had a chance to get into their offense. Offensively, Clark is more of a functional point guard than a playmaker; while he can hit an open 3 (37.8% 3pt. once his wrist brace was removed) and occasionally slip into the paint, he isn’t going to beat people off the dribble often or create his own shot. Without Jerome, Guy, and Hunter, other players will need to step up to make things happen. Freshman Casey Morsell, a top 50 recruit, may be forced to serve as the backup point guard by default, even though he is definitively a shooting guard. Although he's 6-3 and has limited athletic ability, Morsell can create his own shot and doesn’t look to pass often. While he could struggle when forced to run the offense, he will at least be a solid fit for the Cavaliers defensively. Two more inexperienced wings will compete with Morsell to start with Clark. 6-5 Junior College All American Tomas Woldetensae could be an important player due to his ability to create space and get off his own midrange and perimeter jump shot. Along with Morsell, he may be the best bet to make something happen on his own as the shot clock winds down (and with Virginia, that is a common occurrence) the way that Jerome, Hunter, and Guy did last season. Redshirt freshman Kody Stattmann will be better prepared to contribute after taking a year to add strength; at 6-7, his offensive game could eventually resemble Guy’s at the offensive end.

While the backcourt has become very young, Mamadi Diakite’s decision to return leaves Bennett with a long and athletic veteran frontcourt. Jay Huff could become the most visible member of the team as a high flying, 3 point shooting, post scoring, smooth passing, shot blocking, 7-1 junior center. Unfortunately, he isn’t a perfect fit for Bennett’s defense; his lateral movement is poor and he has difficulty changing direction, so he can get behind people cutting to the basket, although he can partially make up for it with his shot blocking ability. Stamina may be an issue as well, but his offensive capabilities should become very important for a Virginia team attempting to remain efficient at the offensive end. Diakite, the breakthrough player of last year’s NCAA Tournament run, will be particularly important for Huff because of how much ground he is able to cover defensively. After flashing potential throughout his first three seasons, Diakite finally put everything together in the Tournament, averaging 10.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. He’s a fun player to watch score in the post and he should benefit from playing in space, while his shot blocking and out of area rebounding should make him a candidate for the ACC all defensive team as a senior. 6-8 senior Braxton Key will complete the loaded starting frontcourt. Key made an impact on the Championship game with 10 rebounds, but he has much more to offer offensively and will get more opportunities to show his perimeter skills in the wake of last year’s big 3. Bennett will have young frontcourt depth as well. A second 7 footer, redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro, should be ready to contribute in the post after a medical redshirt. He offers a sturdier build and moves his feet better defensively than Huff, and he’s an imposing post scoring threat. Freshman Kadin Shedrick may have the most NBA potential on the team; at 6-11, he’s a mobile shot blocker and effective out of area rebounder with excellent range on his jump shot. However, Shedrick is young for his class, enters college at just 200 pounds, and the defensive responsibilities in Bennett’s pack line defense seem to be more difficult for big men to pick up immediately, so there may be a 1 year delay before he can be effective at the collegiate level.

Tony Bennett has had three or more players with point guard skills for years, but he will now be left with just one, and the newcomers cannot possibly be expected to shoot as well as Guy, Jerome, and Hunter; offensive efficiency is going to drop, (of course, I thought the exact same thing last year after Devon Hall’s graduation and UVA won a National Title, but this is a much bigger change) although with skilled big men and almost everyone able to stretch the floor to some degree the drop may not be precipitous. Defensively, Bennett’s pack line could have occasional lapses early on with so many new faces, but should eventually return to what is now traditional dominance. Another significant Tournament run will be difficult unless a newcomer or two thrive late in the shot clock, but Virginia should again be among the premiere teams in the ACC and provide a tough matchup in March.

Malik Williams could make an all conference team if he can find enough minutes.
Malik Williams could make an all conference team if he can find enough minutes.

Louisville Cardinals

2018-2019: 20-14, 10-8 in the ACC (tie for 6th); lost to Minnesota in the NCAA Round of 64

Preseason Projection: 4th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32

Departures: Christen Cunningham (10.1 ppg., 4.8 apg.) and Khwan Fore graduated; V.J. King entered the NBA Draft

Chris Mack’s first season at Louisville was a relative success, returning the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament after a one year absence despite having limited options in the backcourt. The team now returns what could be the best frontcourt in the nation and welcomes Mack’s first recruiting class at the school which includes five top 100 recruits, although a clear heir apparent at point guard is noticeably missing.

Christen Cunningham was really Louisville’s only complete guard last year, and the team was so dependent on him as their floor general that they could barely afford to take him off the court in close games down the stretch. Replacing him will be Mack’s biggest challenge. Multiple outlets have implied that graduate transfer Lamarr Kimble will take over, but that just isn’t a realistic expectation. Kimble is a 6-0 guard that barely had more assists than turnovers as a junior (2.8 apg. to 2.1 tpg.) and has shot the ball poorly for most of his career (39.7% overall, 29.2% 3pt. last year); to expect that to improve while moving from the A-10 to the ACC doesn’t make sense. By contrast, Cunningham was 8th in the country in assists per game and shot 35.4% from 3 in his last healthy season before transferring from Samford. Darius Perry, a former top 60 recruit, is another option, but he has done little to inspire confidence as a distributor in his first two seasons. He did at least shoot the ball well (37.5% 3pt.) as a sophomore and he excels defensively. The team’s best hope may have been freshman combo guard David Johnson, a top 80 recruit who at least passes well and would be an asset defensively at 6-5. Unfortunately, his development was slowed significantly by an offseason shoulder injury that will last into the season. Johnson doesn’t handle the ball as smoothly as most point guards at this point and wasn’t likely to shoot the new 3 well as a freshman, so there were things he needed to work on. Samuel Williamson, the most highly regarded newcomer as a top 20 recruit, should take over at shooting guard. Williamson has a strong midrange game, although it will be interesting to see if Louisville will be able to space the floor well enough for him to take advantage of it. At an athletic 6-7, he will be a positive addition defensively and on the boards. Josh Nickelberry, a 6-4 top 100 recruit with explosive leaping ability, will be in the perimeter mix as well. Neither is likely to be helpful from the new 3 point line as a freshman. Ryan McMahon (7.2 ppg., 35.3% 3pt.) is still available as a 3 point specialist off the bench, although his contributions in other areas are limited. He may still need to see significant minutes for Louisville to be able to space the floor.

Louisville’s frontcourt is loaded with veterans with NBA potential, and that is the primary source of optimism for significant improvement in Mack’s second year. The surprising return of Jordan Nwora, in particular, serves to boost expectations. Nwora (17.0 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 37.4% 3pt.) emerged as a star as a sophomore, shooting a high percentage of a large volume of 3 point attempts with his quick release while also quickly attacking the rim off of hard closeouts. With long arms at 6-8, he’s also an excellent rebounder. Unfortunately, Nwora doesn’t help move the basketball, and he turned the ball over nearly twice as much as he dished out assists. Senior Dwayne Sutton (10.0 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 34.8% 3pt.) became a star of a different sort last season, consistently making hustle plays at both ends of the court to help the team while also improving as a three point shooter. Centers Malik Williams and Steven Enoch returned after testing the NBA Draft waters as well. Williams began to fulfill the promise that made him a top 20 recruit as a sophomore. While he continues to try to establish his ability to hit 3’s, he proved that he can be an effective post scorer, and, with his unique athleticism at 6-11, he was easily the team’s best per minute rebounder and shot blocker (6.1 rpg. and 1.2 bpg. In 18.2 mpg.). If Mack can find him more minutes, he could emerge as the best post player in the conference. Enoch (9.4 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 35.9% 3pt.) began the season as a starter and provided solid contributions in the post as well. He actually shot better from distance than Williams, but was eventually replaced by his longer and more athletic counterpart. Williams is mobile enough that the pair could play together, allowing Mack to take full advantage of his big 4 up front, although he didn't attempt to do so last season and he will want to find time for his freshmen bigs as well. Aidan Igiehon, a 6-10 top 50 recruit, has long term potential due to his size and strength, but his game is a work in progress, while Jaelyn Withers, the fifth top 100 recruit, has potential as a mobile stretch four and may be the best perimeter shooter among the freshmen. Either could be a redshirt candidate due to the team’s depth.

Even with Cunningham’s efforts, Louisville struggled with offensive efficiency a year ago, finishing 228th in field goal percentage and 193rd in 3 point percentage; without him or an obvious replacement, those numbers could get worse. While the Cardinals have plenty of length and athleticism that could potentially excel with increased spacing (Williamson in particular would excel in space), they may not have enough perimeter shooting to take advantage of it. Fortunately, the offensive rebounding efforts of Williams, Sutton, and Enoch (the Cardinals were 30th in offensive rebounds per game) will help. More importantly, Louisville excelled defensively and on boards in Mack’s first year (30th in fg% defense, 55th in 3pt.% defense, and 65th in rebound margin), and could become elite as they get longer and more athletic on the perimeter. If either Perry or eventually Johnson is able to step up and run the offense efficiently, Louisville has the talent to compete at the top of the ACC and be a major threat in March; if not, they have more than enough talent at every other position for a return to the Tournament and a chance to advance beyond the first round.

Rex Pflueger's return to the court will be a welcome sight for the Irish.
Rex Pflueger's return to the court will be a welcome sight for the Irish.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2018-2019: 14-19, 3-15 in the ACC (tie for 14th)

Preseason Projection: 5th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32

Departures: D.J. Harvey (10.7 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 0.7 apg., 1.5 tpg., 29.9% 3pt.%) transferred to Vanderbilt

What looked to be a rebuilding year with a young (but talented) roster turned into a disappointing tie for last place in the ACC for the Irish following the early season loss of senior Rex Pflueger, who was leading the team in assists, steals, and 3 point shooting percentage at the time. The team now stands to reap the benefits of last year’s adversity, with Pflueger returning on a medical redshirt and last year’s freshmen having received more playing time than they would have otherwise.

Freshmen rarely receive extensive minutes at Notre Dame until they’ve had time to grasp Mike Brey’s offensive system, but that wasn’t an option a year ago and the offense suffered mightily as a result; while the Irish are routinely one of the most efficient offenses in the country, they finished last season 344th in overall field goal percentage and 312th in 3 point percentage (although they still took care of the basketball, finishing 18th in assist to turnover ratio). Without other veterans able to ease the offensive load, TJ Gibbs struggled with his shooting all season (34.7% fg., 31.8% 3pt.), although he did still manage a nearly 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. If the sophomores have learned how and when to get their shots and keep the ball moving, he should at least return to his sophomore form (15.3 ppg., 40.3% 3pt.%) as a senior, and he could even ascend to an all-conference team with his ability to attack the basket and take advantage of the additional floor spacing. Prentiss Hubb was forced into Pflueger’s role as a facilitator following his injury, and, while he managed to take care of the basketball as well (4.0 apg. to 1.9 tpg.), he may have suffered the most from the premature youth movement, shooting just 32.4% overall and 26.2% beyond the arc. Hubb, a top 90 recruit a year ago who needed to add weight and was coming off his own knee injury as a high school senior, should benefit more than anyone from the year of experience as well as improved execution and ball movement. Dane Goodwin, another top 90 recruit with a reputation as a strong outside shooter, rarely looked to score despite playing nearly 25 minutes a game, while a third, Robby Carmody, saw his freshman year end early with a shoulder injury. Both should be ready to do more. If Pflueger (8.1 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 4.3 apg., 1.7 spg., 38.9% 3pt. prior to his injury) is reasonably well recovered from his knee injury, he will simplify things for everyone at both ends of the floor; he’s always been outstanding defensively, he was the team’s second leading rebounder prior to his injury (Notre Dame finished 277th in rebounding margin), and offensively he’s unselfish and a strong passer that is also capable of hitting open 3’s.

The most obvious bright spot for last season’s Irish was 6-9 forward John Mooney (14.1 ppg., 11.2 rpg., 37.4% 3pt.), who emerged as a slightly more agile and active version of North Carolina’s Luke Maye and was named third team All-ACC. In addition to his ability to score inside and out and gather out of area rebounds, he competes defensively and moves his feet well enough to be able to defend most stretch fours. Mooney’s scoring opportunities in the paint, where he enjoys a significant size advantage over most college fours at this point, will increase with more floor spacing provided by the new 3 point line, and he should be in line for first team All-ACC honors as a senior. Although he missed several games with a lingering ankle injury and wasn’t quite the same upon returning, 6-11 junior Juwan Durham ( 3.9 rpg., 2.3 bpg. in 15.3 mpg.) made a huge impact defensively and on the boards when he was on the court. While he doesn’t offer much offensively, his rim protection at center becomes even more important with a more open lane. Finally, Nate Laszewski showed flashes of the shooting stroke that made him the most highly regarded of the freshman a year ago, but with just 200 pounds on a 6-10 frame he provided little help defensively and on the boards. He should make more of an impact as he gets stronger.

Despite their offensive struggles, the Irish managed a thoroughly respectable, and above average for the program, showing at the defensive end (124th in overall fg% defense, 104th in 3pt% defense) even without the services of Pflueger, who has been the team’s best defensive player for most of his career. With his return, the physical maturation of last year’s freshmen, and the possibility of a healthy Durham, Notre Dame could actually be above average defensively and at least be able to compete on the boards. More importantly, offensive efficiency, and shooting percentages in particular, should be ready to skyrocket to the levels of Mike Brey’s better Irish teams (who finished, on average, 42nd in fg.% and 36th in 3pt.% from 2014-2017) with the return of Pflueger and the rising sophomores (all of whom are better shooters than they have shown) as well as the departure of the team’s least efficient offensive player. Freshmen on scholarship will not be taking any shots for this Irish team because it doesn’t have any. The improvement should be night and day for Notre Dame, who could compete at the top of a diluted ACC for the first time in three years and be a threat for multiple wins in March.

Markell Johnson has made big shots; now he'll need to make big shots in big games.
Markell Johnson has made big shots; now he'll need to make big shots in big games.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

2018-2019: 24-12, 9-9 in the ACC (tie for 8th); lost to Lipscombe in the NIT Quarterfinals

Preseason Projection: 6th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32

Departures: Torin Dorn (14.0 ppg., 7.2 rpg.) and Wyatt Walker (4.5 rpg.) graduated

While NC State posted respectable offensive and defensive efficiency numbers that resulted in a final ranking of 36th in the NCAA’s new NET evaluation tool, a 1-8 record versus the ACC’s first division of NCAA Tournament teams relegated them to the NIT last season. With most of their roster returning plus a couple of promising additions, Kevin Keatts will attempt to add a few more big wins and return the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament.

Markell Johnson flashed star potential throughout his junior year, adding a confident and accurate three point shot that he can often get away while closely guarded to his already outstanding ability to pass the basketball, attack off the dribble, and defend. Unfortunately, he was among the players that struggled against the conference’s first division, posting just 10 points and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 23.8% behind the arc in the 8 games he played against those opponents versus 15 points, 4.8 assists, and 48.7% 3pt. shooting in the other 22 games he was healthy for. If he finds his confidence and aggression versus the ACC’s elite, he will make an All-ACC team and make a strong case to be drafted as a senior. His backcourt mate, junior Braxton Beverly, could do more to help Johnson given the opportunity. Beverly (9.4 ppg., 34.7% 3pt.) is an outstanding passer in his own right, but he served primarily as a spot up shooter as a sophomore. While his minutes were limited behind Johnson and Beverly, junior Blake Harris shot well when he chose to do so (42.1% 3pt.) and led the team in steals per minute. 4 star recruit Dereon Seabron will vie for time in the backcourt as well; at 6-6, he has potential as a drive and dish playmaker that could also help at the defensive end, although he doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter at this point and needs to add strength. C.J. Bryce (11.6 ppg., 4.6 rpg.) made a strong ACC debut for the Wolfpack after following Keatts from UNCW, and should be in position take over as the team’s leading scorer as a senior. His efforts on the boards become more important following Dorn’s departure. Utah transfer Devon Daniels (9.3 ppg., 4.4 rpg.) impressed at times as well, although in his desire for more scoring opportunities he often put up questionable shots. His maturation will be particularly important as the Wolfpack strives to become more efficient at the offensive end.

The tendency of Keatt’s Wolfpack to go all out to defend the 3 (they finished 27th in 3pt.% defense but only 198th in overall fg% defense last season) makes redshirt freshman Manny Bates the most important addition to the roster. The defense often leaves big men on an island in the paint, and Bates, who was considered one of the best shot blockers in his class, will give them a significantly better chance to defend that area than Walker did last season. Bates was a top 80 recruit a year ago, but became a medical redshirt due to a shoulder injury; at 6-11, he has managed to bulk up to 221 pounds in the meantime, and he will also be crucial to the Wolfpack’s efforts to compete on the boards. Derek Funderburk (8.8 ppg., 4.2 rpg.) may actually be the starter at center after showing an ability to make good things happen in the paint; he has potential to put up points both inside and on the perimeter, and he has the length and athletic ability to help protect the rim as well. Unfortunately, with just 210 pounds on a 6-10 frame, he can struggle to carve out space, and he is limited as a rebounder. If Bates is ready to play significant minutes, Funderburk would be able to spend time at his natural position as a stretch 4 and give the Wolfpack above average size on occasion. Keatts also brought in 6-8 graduate transfer Pat Andree (12.9 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 41.9% 3pt. at Lehigh) to provide perimeter shooting at power forward. While he’s an excellent catch and shoot scorer, his playing time may ultimately be decided by his ability to defend and rebound. He did lead his team in rebounding a year ago, but will find things much tougher in the paint in the ACC. Athletic 6-7 sophomore Jericole Hellems should see time in the frontcourt as well; he flashed the potential to eventually be a difference maker at both ends of the floor as a freshman, scoring in double digits 6 times. As his shooting improves and he continues to get stronger, he should emerge as a starter by the time he graduates.

With a maturing roster, four point guards available, and improved shooting from the power forward position, NC State should become even more efficient at the offensive end after finishing 89th in field goal percentage, 132nd in 3pt. percentage, and 80th in assist to turnover ratio a year ago. The athletic roster will benefit from increased spacing, and Bates will provide Keatts with the best rim protection he has had, although selling out to defend the 3pt. line will now leave the paint more open to offensive rebounding. NC State was close enough to be disappointed when their name wasn’t called on Selection Sunday a year ago; now, with what can now be considered a veteran roster, Keatts should take the Wolfpack back to the NCAA Tournament, where their talented perimeter will make them a threat for a win or two in March.

Moses Wright should emerge as a consistent threat as a junior.
Moses Wright should emerge as a consistent threat as a junior.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2018-2019: 14-18, 6-12 in the ACC (10th)

Preseason Projection: 7th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32

Departures: Brandon Alston (7.0 ppg., 38.9% 3pt.) and Abdoulaye Gueye (6.6 ppg., 3.7 rpg.) graduated; Curtis Haywood II (5.6 ppg.) transferred to Tulsa

Georgia Tech emerged as an elite defensive team (20th in fg% defense, 12th in 3pt.% defense) in Josh Pastner’s third season with the program, but they were unable to take advantage of it as they continued to struggle mightily at the offensive end of the floor (331st in 3pt.%, 249th in assist to turnover ratio). There will be room for optimism in year four as a roster that was largely made up of freshmen and sophomores develops and matures.

Last season’s offensive struggles were particularly frustrating for point guard Jose Alvarado, who actually seemed to regress as a sophomore without Josh Okogie serving as a true first option. He did show signs of life down the stretch during a five game run in which he averaged 19.8 points on 42.9% 3pt. shooting to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Alvarado is a tough player that should build on that success, particularly if his teammates are more of a threat. Despite the team’s failures, Michael Devoe (9.7 ppg., 39.3% 3pt.) put forth a strong showing and lived up to his top 50 recruiting ranking as a freshman, shooting the ball well from the perimeter from the beginning and forming a strong defensive duo with Alvarado at the top of Georgia Tech’s defense. He will be able to provide Alvarado with more help facilitating the offense as a sophomore, and the pair should form one of the better backcourts in the ACC in their second season working together as starters. Former Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips’ playing time was limited in his first year with the program, but he will see more opportunities as a senior following the departure of Alston and Haywood. While he didn’t shoot well in the team’s struggling offense, he had established himself as a respectable spot up 3 point shooter before transferring.

Post defense was set to potentially become a problem for the Yellow Jackets as well following the graduation of Ben Lammers, but a surprising waiver granting James Banks immediate eligibility as a transfer from Texas changed everything. Banks (10.5 ppg., 7.7 rpg., 2.5 bpg.) was outstanding defending the post and rebounding the basketball at both ends of the floor on his way to making the ACC All-Defensive team. He should provide a more consistent post scoring threat as the paint becomes less crowded and contend for an all-conference team as a senior. Moses Wright didn’t post gaudy numbers by his side, but his length and athleticism at 6-9 made him an important factor in the team’s defensive success all season. He finally seemed to put things together at both ends of the floor to close out the year, averaging 15.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks over the last 5 games. Offense should come more easily to him with increased spacing, although the new line must seem like a cruel joke with regards to his perimeter shooting. Khalid Moore was an important contributor defensely as well, and he should become more assertive offensively as a sophomore. Kristian Sjolund received limited playing time through most of the season, but he showed his potential to put points on the board in a late 4 game stretch in which he averaged 9.8 points on 41.7% 3pt. shooting. Sjolund needed to add more strength to his 6-7 frame to be able to contribute to what the Yellow Jackets do defensively; he should be more helpful at that end as a sophomore. His presence as a perimeter threat would make things significantly easier for Alvarado and Devoe offensively. Jordan Usher, a 6-7, 225 pound former top 100 recruit that actually did sit out last season as a transfer from USC, will provide even more athletic length defensively. With so much frontcourt depth, Moore could see time at guard, making the defense even longer at times.

Player development has been a strength for Georgia Tech under Pastner, but the early departure of Okogie proved too much to overcome offensively for a young team. This has the potential to be a huge year for the program, with multiple players on the verge of significant breakthroughs, particularly at the offensive end. The defense will continue to suffocate opponents as young players mature physically, while rebounding, which was a problem a year ago (282nd in rebounding margin), should improve at both ends of the floor. With so much of the conference ready to take a step back, the Yellow Jackets are in position to take a big step forward; they will have a legitimate chance to reach the NCAA Tournament, and if they do no one will want to face their defense in March.

Devin Vassell should begin to make a name for himself for the Seminoles.
Devin Vassell should begin to make a name for himself for the Seminoles.

Florida State Seminoles

2018-2019: 29-8, 13-5 in the ACC (4th); lost to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16

Preseason Projection: 8th in the ACC; NIT

Departures: Mfiondu Kabengele (13.2 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 1.5 bpg., 36.9% 3pt.) was a 1st Round pick the NBA Draft; Terance Mann (11.4 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 39.0% 3pt.), Phil Cofer (7.4 ppg., 34.9% 3pt.), Christ Koumadje (6.6 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.4 bpg.), David Nichols (6.4 ppg.), and PJ Savoy (5.9 ppg.) graduated

Last year’s Florida State team was the third consecutive that Leonard Hamilton led to at least one victory in the NCAA Tournament. That team was led by a large and accomplished group of seniors; unfortunately, while Hamilton always has lots of depth, even at Florida State losing 6 of the top 8 players is a big deal. The Seminoles welcome another large and promising class, but there are pieces missing that will present significant challenges.

Without Mann and Nichols, Trent Forrest will bear tremendous responsibility leading the Florida State offense. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as far as Forrest (9.3 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 3.7 apg., 1.9 spg.) is concerned; he’s a solid distributor that sees the floor well as a large, 6-4 point guard, he can get to the rim, and he doesn’t try to force things he isn’t good at, specifically shooting from the perimeter. He’s also an outstanding defensive player, although his effort level at both ends of the floor can contribute to limiting his playing time (it won’t be practical to ask him to play much more than the 29.9 minutes per game he played last season). The problem is that there is no obvious backup point guard, and perhaps more importantly there is no clear heir apparent to Mann as a secondary facilitator and playmaker. M.J. Walker (7.5 ppg.), the other likely starter in the backcourt, has shown flashes of the potential that made him a 5 star recruit, but he’s been tremendously inconsistent and hasn’t even shot particularly well. Despite being significantly less heralded, another 6-5 guard, Devin Vassell, actually seemed like a better prospect. When given the opportunity, Vassell was active at both ends of the floor and his per minute production was much higher than Walker’s, and even as a freshman he was a more efficient offensive player (41.9% 3pt., more assists than turnovers). He should assume a larger role as a sophomore. A newly added 5 star prospect, Patrick Williams, will play a significant role in the perimeter rotation as well. He can create his own shot and should be able to shoot the 3 right away, and at 6-6 he adds another quality defender that will help out on the boards. Anthony Polite will again receive minutes as part of the extended rotation, but he didn’t show much as a freshman beyond the nine points he scored against Murray St. in the NCAA Tournament, while junior college transfer Nathanael Jack will attempt to help fill Savoy’s role as a three point specialist.

Balsa Koprivica, an active and mobile 7-1, 260 pound top 50 recruit, will take over in the post. While he might not be quite the defensive presence of Kabengele or Koumadje as a freshman, he does have face up skills that will help the offense. Koprivica is a willing and capable passer out of the post, which definitely could not be said of the departed duo and will be particularly helpful for a team that could struggle to move the basketball. Naheem McLeod, a long and relatively mobile 7-3 center new to basketball, could supply rebounding and shot blocking but, like a young Koumadje, will be a work in progress. A third 7 footer, graduate transfer Dominik Olejniczak, could allow McLeod to redshirt, although he wasn’t tremendously productive in his time at Ole Miss. Raiquan Gray will step in at power forward after starting a handful of games when Cofer was injured. While he isn’t the shooter Cofer was, he provides more ballhandling and passing ability and, at 6-8, 260 pounds, he will be more helpful on the boards. Transfer Malik Osborne, who was reasonably productive as a freshman at Rice (9.0 ppg., 6.5 rpg.), will provide depth behind Gray.

Even with Mann, Nichols, and Kabengele, who was able to create his own shot and score effectively from the center position, Florida State wasn’t exactly efficient offensively last season (183rd in fg%, 238th in 3pt.%, and 230th in assist to turnover ratio); without them, scoring is going to be more of a challenge. As always, the Seminoles will have plenty of length, athleticism, and depth to compete at a high level defensively and on the boards for 40 minutes (29th in fg% defense, 41st in rebounding margin last season), although they won’t have quite as much rim protection without Kabengele and Koumadje. If some combination of Williams, Vassell, Walker, Koprivica, and Gray can step in and help provide a competent offense, there is still the possibility of a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth for the Seminoles; if not, the team should at least manage enough wins for a NIT appearance.

Chris Lykes is going to love playing with extra space.
Chris Lykes is going to love playing with extra space.

Miami Hurricanes

2018-2019: 14-18, 5-13 in the ACC (tie for 11th)

Preseason Projection: 9th in the ACC; NIT

Departures: Anthony Lawrence (12.6 ppg., 6.7 rpg., 3.1 apg., 34.7% 3pt.), Ebuka Izundu (10.9 ppg., 8.3 rpg.), and Zach Johnson (11.8 ppg.) graduated; Anthony Mack decided to transfer

There was reason for optimism at Miami previous to last season, but eligibility issues for Dewan Hernandez and an injury to Deng Gak left the Hurricanes with just seven scholarship players, one of whom wouldn’t have been in the rotation otherwise. With graduation taking three of their top four players, things won’t get significantly easier for Jim Larranaga, although the arrival of a strong recruiting class should at least allow him an adequate rotation.

No one in college basketball should benefit more from the new 3 point line than Chris Lykes. As a lightning quick, undersized point guard with a strong midrange jump shot and a flare for passing in the open floor, Lykes (16.2 ppg., 3.2 apg.) should excel with extra space to create separation and to see around him. It will become even more important for him to make better decisions about taking 3s, but he should be surrounded by players that can help space the floor so that he won't feel a need to force them. Senior Dejan Vasiljevic (11.8 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 36.7% 3pt.) will be one of those players; in addition to his perimeter shooting, he became a tough contributor on the boards as a junior, and that will become even more important this season. Transfer Kameron McGusty, an athletic, 6-5 former top 50 recruit, should help as well; he had a promising freshman year at Oklahoma (10.9 ppg., 35.2% 3pt. in 2017-2017), but was marginalized by Trae Young’s ball dominance as a sophomore. He should at least replace Johnson’s scoring. Harlond Beverly, a 6-4 top 60 recruit, should also be a major contributor. He’s an athletic scorer that can hit the 3, and he could help Lykes as a secondary ballhandler. Another point guard that's quick off the dribble, Isaiah Wong, will serve as Lykes’ backup at point guard. A 6-2 top 80 recruit, Wong was an explosive scorer in high school, although he has a tendency to dribble into trouble like Lykes did as a freshman. Like Lykes, Wong plays hard at both ends of the floor and will have more defensive potential due to his size, although he will need to add strength.

Despite missing the majority of his first two years with a knee injury, Deng Gak will need to take over for Ebuka Izundu in the post. In the eight games he was able to play last season, Gak (4.1 rpg., 1.1 bpg. in 14.6 mpg.) posted per minute rebounding numbers similar to Izundu, and he will be a better shot blocker. Unfortunately, he’s foul prone and was basically starting from scratch offensively. Izundu was also an outstanding offensive rebounder, and that isn’t something Gak brings to the table. Sam Waardenburg was forced into significant minutes by all of the injuries, but he remained passive as a sophomore. Waardenburg (35.2% 3pt.) shoots well and is reasonably mobile at 6-10; if he’s gotten stronger and can become more assertive, he would be a solid stretch 4. The increased spacing could free him to be more aggressive. Graduate transfer Keith Stone was brought in from Florida to help solidify the front line, but he’s coming off of a knee injury of his own. Even if he’s healthy, Stone doesn’t bring much to the table as a rebounder or post scorer and he will have trouble staying in front of small ball 4s, although he will help stretch the floor from either center or power forward (40.5% 3pt.). Rodney Miller, a 7-0 former top 100 recruit, is still around redshirting last season, but conditioning has been a major issue. It would make things significantly easier for Larranaga if Anthony Walker, a 6-9, 210 pound 4 star recruit, is ready to play a significant role right away. If he’s strong enough, he could help out defensively and on the boards, and he is at least farther along than Gak offensively.

With the influx of talented guards and the possibility of a simplified game for Lykes, offensive efficiency should improve for Miami (226th in fg%, 232nd in 3pt%, and 118th in assist to turnover ratio a year ago), who are one of ACC teams likely to be able to take advantage of the new 3 point line. Unfortunately, the team struggled to rebound with Izundu and Lawrence (298th in rebounding margin), and they are going to be in real trouble in that area without them. Also, while Gak will help protect the rim, defending the paint will remain a problem (255th in fg% defense) unless another one of the big men surprises and steps up. Overall, Miami is probably less talented than it was a year ago following the departures of Lawrence, Izundu, and Johnson, but that can be said for the ACC as a whole; while they probably won’t be great, the Hurricanes should be able to do enough things well for a middle of the pack finish in the ACC.

I don't want to see Marek Dolezaj try to guard Vernon Carey.  I kind of do, but I don't.
I don't want to see Marek Dolezaj try to guard Vernon Carey. I kind of do, but I don't.

Syracuse Orange

2018-2019: 20-14, 10-8 in the ACC (tie for 6th); lost to Baylor in NCAA Round of 64

Preseason Projection: 10th in the ACC; NIT

Departures: Tyus Battle (17.2 ppg.) and Oshae Brissett (12.4 ppg., 7.5 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Frank Howard (8.9 ppg., 1.5 spg.) and Paschal Chukwu (5.4 rpg., 1.7 bpg.) graduated

Syracuse was again able to reach the NCAA Tournament last season, but their overall record and first round defeat was somewhat of a disappointment considering the team’s Sweet 16 appearance the year before, the return of almost every major contributor, and the addition of some notable perimeter firepower. Following the season, the graduation of Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu and the expected loss of Tyus Battle to the NBA Draft was compounded by Oshae Brissett’s early entrance, and as a result Jim Boeheim will be left with several major holes to fill and mostly freshmen and sophomores to turn to.

With the departure of Battle and Howard, the heir apparent at point guard will be sophomore Jalen Carey, a top 40 recruit a year ago that struggled mightily as a freshman and eventually fell out of the rotation entirely. Carey proved horribly inefficient offensively with regards to both shooting (39.2% fg., 17.4% 3pt.) and passing (41 turnovers and just 25 assists). His size and athleticism would be perfect for Boeheim’s zone, but those that are reminded of Howard’s freshman year should remember that Howard at least managed a 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio that season. Carey still has potential, but he has a lot further to go. Another option at point guard will be redshirt sophomore Howard Washington, who saw his freshman year cut short with a knee injury and missed last season after suffering a stroke. He has been cleared to play, and while he doesn’t have Carey’s physical gifts he would at least provide a more efficient ballhandler and distributor. Boeheim also added 3 star guard Joseph Girard, a prolific perimeter scorer in high school that handles the ball well but isn’t a great passer. Syracuse didn’t generate much offense through passing a year ago (233rd in assist to turnover ratio), and if that isn’t a priority then Girard could be an option, although at 6-1 with limited athletic ability he doesn’t fit what the team does defensively either. Whoever winds up at point guard will be surrounded by perimeter weapons that will not have trouble with the new 3 point line. Buddy Boeheim’s freshman year got off to a slow start, but once he found his footing he averaged 9.1 points per game, including 9 double digit scoring games, on 41.1% shooting from 3 over the teams last 19 games. He will see substantially more opportunities as a sophomore. Brycen Goodine, a 6-4 top 100 recruit, will see time at shooting guard as well; while he may need to add strength to his frame, he should eventually disrupt passing lanes, provide 3 point shooting, and help facilitate the offense. The biggest addition to last year’s team was Elijah Hughes, a 6-6 former East Carolina transfer that should emerge as the team’s leading scorer. Hughes (13.7 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 36.9% 3pt.) can create his own shot and hit contested threes, both of which will be very necessary considering the point guard situation. Robert Braswell, a four star recruit a year ago, may be ready to contribute as well; he was in major need of adding strength to what was a 6-9, 175 pound frame, but when he’s strong enough he’s a high flyer that will also be dangerous from the new 3 point line.

Marek Dolezaj has emerged as a fan favorite at Syracuse over the past two years. At 6-10, he hustles, passes well, and can hit open 3’s (37.9% 3pt.). Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be able to hold more than 180 pounds on his almost birdlike frame, and he can pushed off the block by big guards. Despite that, Dolezaj has been shoehorned in at center fairly often. Rebounding is a common issue with a zone, and Syracuse struggled with Brissett and Chukwu in the fold (274th in rebounding margin); if that is going to change, someone that can actually hold their position in the paint will need to emerge at center so that Dolezaj can move to his more natural position at forward. 6-10 junior Bourama Sidibi will be one option, although he has Chukwu’s limitations without providing quite as much of a shot blocking threat. 6-11, 4 star Dutch freshman freshman Jesse Edwards may be the best hope; he needs to get stronger, but he already weighs more than Sidibe and has the face up offensive skills of a European big man. If he can learn his defensive responsibilities, he would represent a substantial improvement offensively and possibly on the boards, and his passing out of the post would help take advantage of the new line. Another X factor will be Quincy Guerrier, a 6-7 top 70 forward that could provide another 3 point threat and attack the rim on occasion. Guerrier is of particular interest because of his potential as a rebounder.

Syracuse was not a good offensive basketball team a year ago (280th in fg%, 233rd in 3pt.%), and their youth movement and uncertainty at point guard won’t help. However, they do suddenly have a lot of people that, in theory, can shoot the 3; if some of those players can attack the basket as well, they may be able to take advantage of the new line. Unfortunately, without the offensive rebounding of Chukwu and Brissett second chance opportunities are going to be harder to come by. At the other end of the floor, the new line is bad news for the normally suffocating Syracuse zone (the Orange were 21st in fg% defense last year)-- at least when they’re playing teams that pass and shoot well enough to take advantage of it. Increased spacing will also complicate defensive rebounding out of the zone, which was already an issue. Jim Boeheim is facing a tough challenge with three of his top four players departing and a roster loaded with youth and inexperience, but he does have a lot of potential talent to work with. While an immediate return to the NCAA Tournament seems unlikely, a middle of the pack finish and NIT appearance will be a possibility for the Orange.

Virginia Tech's Isaiah Wilkins could make his picture easier to find than the Virginia's Isaiah Wilkins as a sophomore.
Virginia Tech's Isaiah Wilkins could make his picture easier to find than the Virginia's Isaiah Wilkins as a sophomore.

Virginia Tech Hokies

2018-2019: 26-9, 12-6 in the ACC (5th); lost to Duke in the Sweet 16

Preseason Projection: 11th in the ACC

Departures: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (16.2 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 4.0 apg., 1.9 spg., 37.4% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Justin Robinson (13.5 ppg., 5.0 apg. 41.8% 3pt.), Ahmed Hill (13.1 ppg., 39.1% 3pt.), and Ty Outlaw (8.6 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 45.4% 3pt.) graduated; Kerry Blackshear (14,9 ppg., 7.5 rpg.) transferred to Florida

After finally taking the Hokies to the Sweet 16, Buzz Williams left Virginia Tech to coach in his home state. The program eventually landed on Wofford coach Mike Young as his replacement, and the challenge of holding the program together without a complete rebuild began. The Hokies were in line for significant roster turnover with or without Williams due to graduation and Alexander-Walker’s inevitable entrance into the NBA Draft, and the fact that Young managed to hold on to all but one other player (granted, a significant one in Kerry Blackshear) has to be considered a victory. The resulting roster will be very young, but not without potential.

Wabissa Bede’s decision to return to Virginia Tech for his senior season was a huge step in allowing Virginia Tech to remain competitive through the transition to their new coach. While he is capable of hitting an open 3 (35.4% 3pt.), Bede hasn’t been particularly aggressive offensively over his first three seasons, and he hasn’t needed to be; what he has done is serve as the team’s best perimeter defender while helping the offense run efficiently with a better than 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, both of which will be essential for the suddenly young Hokies. While he may be called upon to score slightly more often, his role should remain consistent under Young. Young managed to land what should eventually be a suitable replacement for Robinson in Jalen Cone, a tough and aggressive top 100 recruit that can score from all over the floor. Cone may actually be faster and more athletic than Robinson, but as an early college entrant that experienced a late growth spurt to reach 6-0 he may be a year away from being able to fully reach that potential. Even if he has some growing pains, he will play a significant role for this Hokies team. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, 6-4 sophomore Jon Kabongo should emerge as a double digit scorer for Young; his opportunities were limited as a freshman, but when given the chance he showed promise as a confident and aggressive player at both ends of the floor. The most pleasant surprise for the Hokies a year ago was Isaiah Wilkins. He added significant weight after arriving on campus, eventually reaching 230 pounds at 6-4, but he carried the weight extremely well and was a bundle of energy when he got on the court. Wilkins (40.7% 3pt.) will see an expanded role as the likely starter at small forward, where he should provide scoring both inside and out as well as an assertive defender with the potential to help on the boards.

After being forced to sit out his freshman year due to eligibility concerns, Landers Nolley should immediately step in as the Hokies’ best player and leading scorer. Nolley was considered one of the better shooters in his class as a top 60 recruit a year ago, and he has gotten significantly stronger since arriving at Virginia Tech. With 230 pounds now on his 6-7 frame, he will need to play the 4 and contribute on the boards for what will be an undersized Virginia Tech team. P.J. Horne will be the most likely candidate to start at center to begin the season after being forced into the post as Blackshear’s backup by size limitations the last two years. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he will be dramatically undersized, but he’s used to it at this point and the Hokies have been able to succeed with him in the role despite the lack of statistical production. The hope will be that John Ojiako, a three star recruit and another early college entrant, will eventually take over. Ojiako is a raw prospect that will offer little at the offensive end, but his long and athletic 6-10, 210 pound frame will offer significantly more rim protection and rebounding potential than Horne. Like Cone, Ojiako is likely to have growing pains, but a thin roster will likely force him into immediate playing time. Young also added 6-8, 205 pound graduate transfer Branden Johnson from Alabama State, but his lack of production in the SWAC indicates that he will offer little more than an emergency center.

Mike Young was an interesting hire for Virginia Tech considering his Wofford teams had not exactly been dominating the Southern Conference, with multiple 3rd and 4th place finishes during the six years prior to last season’s first round victory in the NCAA Tournament. However, what Young has done well is something very similar to Buzz Williams: he has consistently produced one of the most efficient offenses in the country, with efficiency and three point shooting being major emphases (Virginia Tech was 49th in overall fg.%, 8th in 3pt.%, and 25th in assist to turnover ratio, while Wofford was 11th, 2nd, and 16th respectively, and those numbers have been relatively consistent). What Young’s teams have not done well historically is defend, with his last group of Terriers being a drastic exception. Defending the paint and rebounding are going to be a significant problem, but the Hokies’ young core of Cone, Kabongo, Wilkins, and Nolley has the potential to be quite good, and, with a senior point guard serving as a stabilizing force, all four should eventually excel in Young’s offensive system and provide solid perimeter defense. The Hokies will obviously be dealing with a significant size disadvantage in the post, but frankly there are ACC teams with worse problems. While a return to the NCAA Tournament seems highly unlikely and struggling freshmen could just as easily land the team near the bottom of the conference, an NIT appearance is a possibility, and would represent a strong start for the Mike Young era at Virginia Tech.

Xavier Johnson should see more ACC success as a sophomore.
Xavier Johnson should see more ACC success as a sophomore.

Pittsburgh Panthers

2018-2019: 14-19, 3-15 in the ACC (tie for 14th)

Preseason Projection: 12h in the ACC

Departures: Jared Wilson-Frame (12.7 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 39.5% 3pt.) and Sidy Ndir (5.9 ppg.) graduated; Malik Ellison (5.8 ppg., 3.8 rpg.) transferred to Hartford and Khameron Davis transferred to Weber St.

Shockingly, Pitt ended up at the bottom of the ACC once more after firing Kevin Stallings just two years into his tenure (well before he had a chance to actually build a program) and consequently hitting the reset button on the roster once again. Jeff Capel’s first season did see the team compete defensively and produced three promising freshmen, but due to graduation and transfers the team will actually get younger in year two.

Capel’s young backcourt of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens flashed a ton of potential at times and were instrumental in the teams 12-5 start overall and 2-1 start in the ACC (which included wins against Florida State and Louisville) before reality eventually set in during conference play. Johnson (15.5 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 4.5 apg., 35.2% 3pt.) could be one of the top 4 or 5 point guards in the conference as a sophomore after proving himself as both a scorer and distributor and competing fiercely defensively. His turnover rate was far too high (4.0 tpg.), but that should improve with experience more than anything else. McGowens (11.6 ppg.) was an explosive scorer with a penchant for getting to the line at times, and he finished fourth in the ACC with 1.9 steals a game; he should be in line for a breakthrough sophomore year as well. The pair provides relentless pressure defensively and could benefit from the open lanes that result from increased spacing. Ryan Murphy, a junior college transfer that had some success as a perimeter shooter at Charlotte two years ago (40% 3pt.), could help the team stretch the floor. A third rising sophomore, Au’Diese Toney, didn’t have quite as much success shooting the basketball as Johnson and McGowens, but he competes defensively and attacks the glass, leading the team with 5.6 rebounds per game last season. The new 3 point line may be a deterrent to his perimeter shooting, but the increased spacing should afford him more opportunities on the offensive boards (Pitt finished 67th in offensive rpg.) and his overall shooting should improve. At 6-6, 210 pounds, he is likely to see time at both forward spots, but with most of the ACC playing small he should more than hold his own. A pair of 6-6 freshmen, 4-star recruit Gerald Drumgoole and 3 star recruit Justin Champagnie, will need to contribute right away at the forward spots. Both should add to what Pitt does defensively, with Drumgoole more likely to contribute on the boards and from the perimeter as a freshman.

Terrell Brown, a 6-10 junior, will man the middle for the Panthers. Brown (4.5 rpg., 1.8 bpg.) provides solid rim protection and has shown flashes of offensive potential that includes a face up game, but he doesn’t always move his feet well and the team needs more from him on the boards (the Panthers were 200th in rebounding margin). With part time starter Kene Chukwuka recovering from offseason hip surgery that could eventually turn into a medical redshirt, 6-8 Karim Coulibaly, a 3 star recruit, will be forced into action early. He has more long term upside than Brown and Chukwuka, and could contribute more than Brown offensively and on the boards as a freshman.

The occasional glimpses of greatness from their young backcourt wasn’t enough for the Panthers to establish any type of consistency offensively, and the team struggled at that end most of the year (Pitt finished 302nd in overall fg%, 244th behind the arc, and 298th in assist to turnover ratio). Players not named Jared Wilson-Frame shot just 29.4% beyond the arc, and his minutes will be replaced primarily by freshmen. Johnson and McGowens should show more consistency as sophomores, but overall scoring and offensive efficiency are still likely to be a major issue. Conversely, the Panthers did finish 36th in field goal percentage defense and 98th in steals, and Capel is adding length and athleticism that will allow the team to compete at a high level at that end. With an even younger roster, Pitt is likely a year away from being able to compete with the middle of the pack in the ACC; if recent history is any indication, this could be Jeff Capel’s last in Pittsburgh (it won’t be, but that is the sort of patience they showed with Stallings). Still, with several teams in the conference likely to struggle the Panthers should improve on their win total from a year ago. While the realities of recruiting at Pitt versus Duke must have certainly set in for Capel, the team is headed in the right direction.

Brandon Childress fought the good fight as a junior.
Brandon Childress fought the good fight as a junior.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2018-2019: 11-20, 4-14 in the ACC (13th)

Preseason Projection: 13th in the ACC; postseason coaching change

Departures: Jaylen Hoard (13.1 ppg., 7.6 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Torry Johnson (5.9 ppg., 34.1% 3pt.) and Ikenna Smart graduated

Despite the presence of several highly regarded recruits that included a five star prospect, Wake Forest struggled with a young roster and again finished near the bottom of the ACC last season. That five star recruit has since departed, and recruiting took a major hit due to the potential lame duck status of head coach Danny Manning. Manning was able to stick around in part because of a large buyout required in the new contract he was given, perhaps prematurely, following a lone NCAA Tournament appearance three years ago. Still, there is maturing talent on the roster, and Manning could make a case to stick around.

The source of Wake Forest’s struggles last year definitely wasn’t point guard Brandon Childress (14.7 ppg., 3.8 rpg., 4.0 apg., 36.8% 3pt.), who turned in a solid junior season despite being the lone distributor and only consistent offensive threat following the departures of Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, and Mitchell Wilbekin. Despite Childress’s efforts, the Demon Deacons were terrible without them offensively, dropping to 343rd in field goal percentage, 329th in 3 point percentage, and 322nd in assist to turnover ratio. That should improve as the returning perimeter players mature and a key transfer becomes eligible, although none of them are natural facilitators. Jahcobi Neath, a 3 star freshman, will likely be forced into action as the backup point guard, which will likely mean big minutes once again for the Childress after playing 36.4 minutes per game last season. Manning does add one helpful piece to the roster in Andrien White, who put up 15 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game as a junior at Charlotte two years ago. White is also a 37.9% 3 point shooter for his career, and along with Sharone Wright Jr. will help the Deacons space the floor better this season. Wright should see more offensive opportunities as a sophomore after finishing fourth on the team in scoring and shooting 47.6% from beyond the arc over the team’s last 10 games. At forward, Chaundee Brown became increasingly comfortable and aggressive as a sophomore, averaging 8.5 rebounds over the team’s final 6 games and finishing third on the team in scoring. At 6-5, 215 pounds, Brown (11.9 ppg.) could emerge at Wake’s leading scorer and rebounder following Hoard’s departure, although the Deacons will need him to become a more efficient shooter. If Isaiah Mucius is able to get stronger as a sophomore, he could take Hoard’s minutes at the 4 and be the most improved player on the team. A top 60 recruit a year ago, he struggled with just 190 pounds on his 6-8 frame, but has tons of athletic ability and potential. Another lean 6-8 forward, 3 star recruit Ismael Massoud, could vie for front court playing time as well.

7-0 center Olivier Sarr (6.2 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 1.0 rpg.) developed slowly as a sophomore, but should continue to become more competitive as Manning’s current big man project. The increased spacing from the new line and improved perimeter shooting should make things easier for him offensively. The depth behind Sarr will be limited; 6-8, 240 pound junior Sunday Okeke is physically imposing and competitive on the boards, but he’s still raw offensively and incredibly foul prone.

Wake Forest should at least put up a more respectable offensive showing with the addition of White and improving shooting, although a sudden jump to good doesn’t seem likely with the lack of facilitators. Perhaps more disturbing was the team’s defensive effort last season, as the Demon Deacons finished 314th in field goal percentage defense. The maturing sophomores and the addition of White should help, and Wake Forest does have the length and athleticism to compete at that end, but it just hasn’t under Manning. The team did finish a respectable 72nd in rebounding margin, but that was based largely on the efforts of Hoard. While the Demon Deacons have the potential to be better overall than they were a year ago, it’s unlikely they will improve enough to frighten the vultures circling over Danny Manning’s tenure.

Tevin Mack will have a chance at on court redemption at Clemson.
Tevin Mack will have a chance at on court redemption at Clemson.

Clemson Tigers

2018-2019: 20-14, 9-9 in the ACC (tie for 8th); lost to Wichita St. in the 2nd Round of the NIT

Preseason Projection: 14th in the ACC

Departures: Marcquise Reed (19.4 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 3.1 apg., 2.1 spg., 35.6% 3pt.), Elijah Thomas (13.0 ppg., 7.8 rpg., 2.2 bpg.), Shelton Mitchell (11.5 ppg.), and David Skara (7.6 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 36.3% 3pt.) graduated; Javan White transferred to UMKC; transfer Jonathan Baehre will be a likely medical redshirt with a knee injury

Last year’s senior laden Tigers team was unable to return to the NCAA Tournament after their 2018 Sweet 16 appearance, and Brad Brownell and company will now face a necessary rebuilding year. The arrival of a highly regarded graduate transfer will help, but many of those minutes will go to an untested group of 4 star freshmen and sophomores.

Even with their senior guards, Clemson wasn’t an efficient offensive team (151st in fg%, 255th in 3pt%, and 269th in assist to turnover ratio), and finding an effective backcourt pairing will be Brownell’s most difficult task. 6-4 junior Clyde Trapp and 6-5 sophomore John Newman III will get the first shot. Trapp showed flashes of being an effective scorer last year, while Newman was mostly invisible during his time on the floor. Both tallied more turnovers than assists for the year. Even though it’s rare for freshmen guards to have major roles for Brownell, Al-Amir Dawes, a top 100 recruit, and Chase Hunter, a four star recruit, should earn playing time as freshmen and could challenge Trapp and Newman for starting spots. Curran Scott (8.9 ppg., 39.4% 3pt.), a graduate transfer from Tulsa, will provide an experienced perimeter shooter off the bench.

Graduate transfer Tevin Mack was originally a top 50 recruit at Texas and was their best player as a sophomore (14.8 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 39.1% 3pt.) before off court issues cost him his spot on the team. He then spent last year with an offensively challenged Alabama team before transferring. At 6-6, 225 pounds, Mack will see time at both forward spots and should instantly become Clemson’s leading scorer and best player. The lone returning starter will be Aamir Simms, who served as a moderately successful stretch four last season. Simms (8.1 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 33.1% 3pt.) is now up to 6-8, 245 pounds and will see time at both power forward and center; scoring will be easier for the young offense when he serves as a stretch 5, and defending in the post should get him more actively involved on the boards. Trey Jemison, a four star recruit a year ago, should receive plenty of opportunities as a sophomore as the only other big body available. Jemison played very little as a freshman after a knee injury kept him out to start the year, and when he did play he wasn’t very active and didn’t display much beyond a chiseled 7-0, 255 pound frame. He was considered a high motor rebounder coming out of high school; if he returns to that form, he could allow the Tigers to remain competitive on the boards. Another 4 star sophomore, Hunter Tyson, will round out the frontcourt rotation and likely compete with Jemison for a starting spot. Tyson came in with a reputation as a strong outside shooter, but he needed to add weight to his 6-8 frame as a freshman. He should be ready to contribute as a sophomore with 25 extra pounds.

While the potential to spread the floor and drive the ball could simplify things, Brad Brownell rarely produces an efficient offense, and that could be even more of a struggle with such a young backcourt. At the other end of the floor, the absence of Elijah Thomas’s rebounding and rim protection and David Skara’s versatility means that defense and rebounding aren’t likely to be the strengths they normally are either (the Tigers were 28th in fg% defense and 70th in rebounding margin last season). Clemson is likely to struggle, but they won’t be alone in that regard, and there is talent to build on.

Jairus Hamilton hopes Deryck Thornton will want to share.
Jairus Hamilton hopes Deryck Thornton will want to share.

Boston College Eagles

2018-2019: 14-17, 5-13 in the ACC (tie for 11th)

Preseason Projection: 15th in the ACC; postseason coaching change

Departures: Ky Bowman (19.0 ppg., 7.5 rpg., 4.0 apg., 37.4% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Jordan Chatman (13.2 ppg., 34.8% 3pt.) graduated

Jim Christian was kept around in favor of making infrastructure improvements at Boston College despite the fact that the team was able to do no better than reach the first round of the NIT with a backcourt composed of future NBA players and then dropped below .500 for the fourth time in his five year tenure when the first of the pair departed. Now, with the second member of that backcourt headed to the NBA, the team will be hard pressed to avoid a return to the bottom of the ACC.

Christian may have at least been able to avoid a Dennis Clifford level of embarrassment with the addition of graduate transfer Derryck Thornton in June; prior to that, who was going to replace Bowman at point guard remained a largely unanswered question. Thornton was originally a five star recruit as an early entrant at Duke, but he struggled at both Duke and USC in the years since. He has at least been respectable at taking care of the basketball, posting 4.3 assists to 2 turnovers a game last season at USC; unfortunately, he may still have designs on playing in the NBA and seems to believe he will be approaching things the same way as Bowman despite the fact that he isn’t very good at putting the ball in the basket (he shot 38.2% overall and 28.6% from 3 in an efficient, wide open offense a year ago). Still, the Eagles will almost certainly be better with him than without him. Wynston Tabbs should join him in the backcourt after returning from a knee injury that cost him just over half of his freshman year. Tabbs (13.9 ppg.) showed a great deal of promise as a scorer and secondary ball handler in the first half of the year, although he didn’t shoot the 3 particularly well and could be hurt by the new line. Jared Hamilton, who transferred from Georgia Southern to play with his brother, ended up playing significant minutes following the Tabbs injury but provided very little statistically. Chris Herren Jr., a two star recruit a year ago, was forced into action as well, and was understandably unproductive. Both will receive more chances this year.

While the backcourt is a major issue, BC does have talent (as well as size and athleticism) in its frontcourt. 6-11 senior center Nik Popovic (14.5 ppg., 7.2 rpg.) has emerged as a solid low post scorer that can hold his own on the boards; under different circumstances he would benefit from the new 3 point line, but the team likely won’t shoot well enough for him to take advantage of it. At power forward, junior Steffon Mitchell (7.9 rpg., 1.2 bpg.) can’t score much beyond dunks and layups, but at 6-8 he’s active and even dominant at times as a defender and on the boards. 6-8 sophomore Jairus Hamilton, a top 70 recruit a year ago, had a disappointing freshman year, but should benefit from a year in the weight room has the potential to be a major contributor at both ends of the floor. If Thornton can be convinced to act as a facilitator, he might be the biggest beneficiary. The Eagles bring more size off the bench in 6-10 junior Luka Kraljevic, who has the size and athletic ability do more.

BC was only passable offensively with two future NBA guards, and they were just plain bad with one (276th in overall fg%, 303rd in 3pt.%, and 194th in assist to turnover ratio); losing their only two perimeter threats and moving the 3 point line back won’t do them any favors, and in their case the court may actually shrink instead of getting larger as a result. Considering they play with more size than most of the ACC, it would seem like the Eagles would at least be able to crash the boards effectively, but even with the best rebounding guard in the country they were just 259th in rebounding margin. Still, the Eagles did at least defend last year (77th in overall fg.% defense, 54th in 3pt.% defense), and there are players that can do more (Tabbs and Jairus Hamilton); with three potentially bad teams at the bottom of the ACC and at least two more that are seriously flawed, this at least shouldn’t be an 0-20 ACC team. Jim Christian should obviously still be concerned; he’s already been granted two more years than Steve Donahue, and Donahue actually made it to the second round of the NIT. In other news, Boston College could begin construction of its Al Skinner statue any day now.

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