My degree is in literature and education, and this is my tenth ACC Basketball Preview in eleven years for the Hubpages family of websites.
The ACC is coming off one of its worst NCAA Tournament performances in the last decade and will be entering a pivotal year. While the conference adds 18 of the top 100 high school recruits in the country only six rank among the top 60 prospects, which represents a significant downturn in recruiting overall. In addition, the conference surprisingly lost more talent than it gained through the transfer portal in what was essentially college basketball's first year of free agency, and those personnel issues were further complicated by the increasing number of players leaving college basketball for non-guaranteed professional opportunities. Conference leadership is also in a state of flux: Roy Williams retired after last season and Mike Krzyzewski will be retiring after this one, while Leonard Hamilton recently turned 73, Jim Larranaga recently turned 72, and Jim Boeheim will turn 77 during the season. If the conference is going to continue to be considered the best in Division I basketball (the SEC made a big statement with its success through the transfer portal), it may need a strong showing in non-conference play and the NCAA Tournament in order to remain competitive in recruiting through the changing of the guard. While there is still plenty of talent left, at this point the ACC appears to be in line for six or at most seven NCAA Tournament berths in March.
Duke Blue Devils
2020-2021: 13-11, 9-9 in the ACC (10th)
Departures: Matthew Hurt (18.3 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 44.4% 3pt.) and DJ Steward (13.0 ppg., 3.9 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Jordan Goldwire (5.8 ppg., 4.0 apg., 2.3 spg.) transferred to Oklahoma, Jaemyn Brakefield transferred to Ole Miss, Henry Coleman transferred to Texas A&M, and Patrick Tape transferred to San Francisco
Major Additions: 6-9 top 5 recruit Paulo Banchero, 6-7 top 15 recruit AJ Griffin, 6-5 top 20 recruit Trevor Keels, 6-9 Marquette transfer Theo John, and 6-2 top 100 recruit Jaylen Blakes
Preseason Projection: 1st in the ACC; Elite Eight
Final Record: 32-7, 16-4 in the ACC (1st); lost to North Carolina in the Final Four
Duke entered last season with a roster that was going to be heavily dependent on freshmen, a common occurrence for teams that are popular among one and done players. Unfortunately, without preseason practice time, scrimmages, and games to help acclimate those young players, particularly the guards, last year was a very bad time to be in that position. The young roster never really caught up, particularly at the defensive end of the court, and Duke missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995 and for the first time since 1983 with a healthy Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils have loaded up once more with the arrival of three top 20 prospects, but the outcome should be very different with a complete offseason.
As much as the Blue Devils struggled overall last season, offensive efficiency was still a strength, as the team finished 49th in the country in field goal percentage and 40th in assist to turnover ratio. That ball control success was largely due to the since departed Jordan Goldwire, but point guard play could actually improve with sophomore Jeremy Roach (8.7 ppg.), a five star recruit a year ago, a likely candidate to be the team’s most improved player with his first complete offseason. After jockeying for playing time with fellow freshman DJ Steward last season, Roach will have every opportunity to display the floor leadership he was touted for coming out of high school. It didn’t help the Blue Devils that 6-6 junior Wendell Moore, another former 5 star prospect, got off to a nightmarish start as a sophomore. He did seem to figure things out down the stretch, however, and he effectively stuffed the stat sheet at both ends of the floor over the team's last 12 games by posting 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting a respectable 49.1% from the field. If Moore can relax and build on those numbers, he could finally find his way to the NBA next year. A third five star recruit, Trevor Keels, may not start as a freshman but will have a major role. Keels is a strong and physical 6-5 guard that can score inside and out; he may turn out to be the best perimeter shooter on the team, and he’s a capable passer that will help keep the ball moving as a secondary facilitator. Joey Baker, a 6-7 former top 40 recruit, returns to provide depth, and theoretically perimeter shooting, on the wings. After shooting poorly last season (31.4% 3pt.), Baker will need a strong junior year to avoid an Alex O’Connell career path. Krzyzewski was able to add top 100 recruit Jaylen Blakes in the spring to serve as backup point guard. Blakes should help replace Goldwire’s competitiveness defensively, although he looks to score more often than Goldwire and likely won’t be as efficient with the basketball as a freshman.
No one seemed to have been hurt more by the lack of an offseason than Mark Williams, a 7-0 five star recruit who was barely able to get on the court until the midseason departure of Jalen Johnson. However, Williams got comfortable and began to assert himself quickly once he was given the opportunity, and with all of the conference's offseason turmoil he will be the most promising young post player remaining in the ACC after averaging 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks over the team’s last six games. He should build on that success as he continues to add weight, and his length, athleticism, and motor should eventually land him in the NBA. The most highly regarded prospect on the team will be Paolo Banchero, a 6-9 power forward considered the number two recruit in the class. Banchero has the potential to do everything well; while he won't be as dangerous of a perimeter shooter as Matthew Hurt as a freshman, he should do more to help offensive efficiency with his passing and he will be a major upgrade on the boards. The third likely member of the starting frontcourt, AJ Griffin, is a top 15 recruit in his own right, making a total of six five star recruits on the roster; that number is more imposing this year because a drop in overall recruiting for the ACC makes it equal to the total for the rest of the conference combined. Griffin's a physically explosive 6-7 player that should make good things happen at both ends of the floor, and he has the potential to quickly become a high draft pick as well. Theo John, a 6-9 transfer that played under Steve Wojciechowski at Marquette (8.0 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 1.5 bpg.), will give the Blue Devils experienced size and additional rim protection off the bench. John’s addition was particularly interesting because it essentially pushed Henry Coleman, a player with a higher ceiling that may be a better player as early as this year, out the door and into the transfer portal.
Defense was the real issue for the Blue Devils a year ago; organization at that end of the floor was so much of a problem that Krzyzewski had to switch to a zone at times to simplify responsibilities for his young roster. Duke finished a hard to imagine 265th in field goal percentage defense and 276th in 3pt. percentage defense, and the move to a zone contributed to a very average performance on the boards (130th in rebounding margin). Goldwire’s departure will hurt defensive ball pressure, but overall this team will be larger and more athletic, and a complete offseason will provide more time to become a cohesive unit. The Blue Devils did manage to finish 34th in blocks per game last season, and the frontcourt additions, along with the continued improvement of Mark Williams, should put them into the top ten nationally this year. With an overwhelming amount of largely unselfish talent, offensive efficiency should again be a strength, although perimeter shooting will be a major unknown heading into the season. This has been announced as Mike Krzyzewski's last season as head coach. Although his young final roster will likely see growing pains, he will have one of the most talented teams in the country with as many as six players that could be in the NBA as early as next year. While Duke isn't going to be the favorite nationally, there will be a very real chance for Krzyzewski to go out on top.
December 10 pre-conference update: With the exception of their hiccup against Ohio State, Duke is fully living up to their potential and will be a legitimate national title contender. The defense has significantly improved and is aggressive and organized in man, although three point shooting is a below average work in progress. Paulo Banchero has fully lived up to his potential and should be a first team all-conference player, while Wendell Moore has taken a star turn and is likely to join him. The young team will likely continue to improve as the season progresses, and should eventually receive larger contributions from AJ Griffin (who is definitely not 6-7) as he continues to recover from preseason knee surgery.
February 28 pre-tournament update: Duke will have a giant target on their backs in the ACC Tournament with so many teams desperate to reach the NCAA Tournament, but regardless of what happens there the Blue Devils should be among the favorites to win a National Championship. Every member of Duke's starting five is currently ranked in the top 35 of ESPN's list of top prospects for this year's draft, so there is plenty of talent, the emergence of AJ Griffin has more than resolved their minor issue beyond the arc (the Blue Devils are now 33rd in 3pt.%), and Mike Krzyzewski is the most successful coach in the history of the sport and is trying to go out on top. A one seed will be unlikely due to the poor non-conference performance of the rest of the ACC, but it would take a shocking upset for the Blue Devils not to be playing during the Tournament's third weekend.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2020-2021: 18-11, 10-6 in the ACC (6th); lost to Wisconsin in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
Departures: Day’Ron Sharpe (9.5 ppg., 7.6 rpg.) was a 1st round pick in the NBA Draft; Sterling Manley graduated and will not return; Walker Kessler (4.4 ppg., 3.2 rpg.) transferred to Auburn, Garrison Brooks (10.2 ppg., 6.9 rpg.) transferred to Mississippi St., Walker Miller transferred to Monmouth, and Andrew Platek transferred to Siena
Major Additions: 6-11 Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia, 6-8 Virginia transfer Justin McCoy, 6-7 top 70 recruit Dontrez Styles, 6-9 Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek, and 6-4 top 70 recruit D’Marco Dunn
Preseason Projection: 2nd in the ACC; Elite 8
Final Record: 29-10, 15-5 in the ACC (tie for 2nd); lost to Kansas in the National Championship Game
Like the Blue Devils, Roy Williams’ final Tar Heels squad was heavily dependent on freshmen, and again it was the worst possible time for that to be true due to the effects of the pandemic. However, Williams was still able to get back to the NCAA Tournament one last time before suffering his first and only first round loss, and he now turns over a talented group of rising sophomores to long time assistant and first time head coach Hubert Davis.
Like Duke and Kentucky, North Carolina’s freshmen guards struggled, but the team’s army of giants was so dominant in the paint that the Tar Heels were still able to manage an at large bid. Guard play shouldn't be a problem this year, as Davis will have a ton of options available on the perimeter and a full offseason to help them prepare. As the five star freshman entrusted with the offense from the beginning of the year, Caleb Love was the player most obviously affected by the canceled preseason. Love (10.5 ppg., 3.6 apg., 31.6% fg., 26.6% 3pt.) struggled mightily shooting the basketball all season until the final six game stretch, where he did manage to shoot a respectable 38.2% from beyond the arc. Even then, he wasn’t shooting well overall and he still had turnover problems at times. Love really came in as a combo guard, so a full offseason will be particularly important for him to develop as a facilitator. He’ll now be the first non-freshman starting point guard for the Tar Heels since Joel Berry in the 2017-2018 season, and that can only be a good thing. If Love isn’t significantly improved, he isn’t the only option at point guard. Fellow sophomore R.J. Davis is quicker and smoother off the dribble and looked better shooting the basketball than Love as a freshman, and he might have been the more highly regarded player if he were four inches taller. Like Love, Davis (8.4 ppg.) came in as a combo guard and will also benefit from a full offseason. Anthony Harris also had his moments after returning from the knee injury that cut his freshman year short. Harris provided the team with energy off the bench and made good decisions with the basketball, although like many others he will be at risk of getting lost in a crowded rotation. Kerwin Walton returns at shooting guard after being the only consistent perimeter threat on the team last season. While he isn’t physically explosive, Walton (10.0 ppg., 43.4% 3pt. after the first six games) is crafty with the basketball and knows how to get his shot off. He should find it easier to get open looks as a sophomore with more weapons around him. Senior small forward Leaky Black still hasn’t regained confidence in his ability to shoot the basketball, and it appears unlikely he will with so many players looking to score around him; however, he was a key to whatever cohesiveness the offense was able to sustain last season, and at 6-7 he’s a difference maker defensively and helpful on the boards. While Love was the player most obviously affected by the lack of an offseason, Puffy Johnson barely received any chances to play. He should be much stronger as a sophomore, and his ability to shoot the basketball at 6-8 should earn him more playing time. Two top 70 recruits will also be in the mix, although minutes could be hard to come by. 6-7 forward Dontrez Styles is the more likely of the pair to earn playing time; with big men now floating to the perimeter offensively, it will become more important for small forwards to help attack the offensive glass from the weak side, and as an aggressive slasher rebounding is a skill that Styles will provide immediately.
The departure of Kessler and Brooks may have been a signal that it was going to be difficult for North Carolina to hold on to big men with NBA aspirations while continuing to deploy an offense that limited opportunities for them to display the perimeter skills the NBA covets. With that being the case, the biggest change under Davis appears to be a move to a more modern offense that includes a stretch four, with three of the four big men on the roster having the ability to hit an open 3. The one player that hasn't to this point, 6-10 Armando Bacot (12.3 ppg., 7.8 rpg.), led the team in scoring and rebounding and tied for the lead in blocks on his way to being named third team All-ACC last season. Bacot’s hands improved significantly around the basket as a sophomore, and his length and motor will be essential for the Tar Heels to maintain any sense of authority in the paint. His minutes will increase after the front court exodus, and he will have an excellent chance to be a first team All-ACC player as a junior. Bacot will be joined in the starting lineup by Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia, a 6-11 stretch five and former five star recruit that was on the Big East All Freshman team last season. While he’s not an explosive athlete, Garcia (13.0 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 35.6% 3pt.) is a good shooter that also has some ability to attack off the dribble and should become a better rebounder as he gets stronger. Although he will start as a stretch four, many of his minutes will come in the post. The addition of 6-9 Oklahoma stretch four Brady Manek (10.2 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 38.3% 3pt.) was a surprise at the time because his shooting ability and lack of presence in the paint make him the opposite of the traditional Carolina big, but it was his signing that essentially announced the team’s new offensive approach and probably helped to eventually land Garcia. The late signing of Garcia probably wasn’t welcome news to Justin McCoy, who left UVA to escape the bench and Tony Bennett’s fickle rotation. He was only the second big man on the roster at the time that he signed, and now the assumption will be that he is on the outside looking in at playing time. McCoy is a skilled 6-8 big man with the type of length and bouncy energy that is perfect for attacking the offensive boards; while he didn’t get the chance to do that at Virginia (the Cavaliers don’t stick around for that), he did lead the team in rebounds per minute. His rebounding and defensive edge should still give him a chance to compete with Manek for minutes. If the Tar Heels are going to continue to be one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country (UNC led college basketball in the category last year), McCoy and Dontrez Styles will need to be a part of it.
It seemed as though the open transfer market would make it less likely for teams to accumulate more talent than they would actually have playing time for, but the Tar Heels were among the few programs that defied those expectations. Thanks in part to a few of his own important additions from the transfer portal, Davis will have plenty of talented players competing for playing time and the personnel necessary to implement a more modern offensive approach. The Tar Heels struggled to shoot the 3 last season (263rd in 3pt.%), but that problem should be more than addressed through an improving group of rising sophomores and the additional spacing provided by stretch fours and at times even a stretch five. The obvious trade off for that adjustment will be compromising their dominance on the offensive boards, although Bacot, McCoy, and Styles should allow them to remain competitive, and it’s not as though the Tar Heels are going to stop sending people to the glass whenever a shot goes up. North Carolina is also routinely among the best teams in college basketball at passing and taking care of the basketball, but they were merely average in that area last season (144th in assist to turnover ratio); that, too, should be effectively addressed with a full offseason for the rising sophomores. Defensively, this team is not going to block shots like it did a year ago (22nd in blocks per game last season), and Sharpe and Kessler are going to be missed in the paint; there will, however, be plenty of competition for playing time and no one will need to play huge minutes, so defensive intensity should be high. Hubert Davis will be stepping into a great situation with the program that he’s never really left, and his team will have every opportunity to contend for an ACC Championship in year one.
December 10 pre-conference update: Despite having coached by Roy Williams’ side for 9 years, Hubert Davis seems to have completely abandoned the traditional North Carolina offensive approach in favor of an NBA style, perimeter oriented attack. North Carolina is shooting the 3 extremely well (they’re 4th in the country in 3pt. fg.%!), but they aren’t crashing the offensive boards at all, and offensive rebounding has gone from a major strength to virtually non-existent (the team is 242nd in offensive rebounds per game, although they are still 30th in rebounding margin). The Tar Heels have so much talent that they should have no problem finishing in the top four of what is an almost shockingly weak ACC and they could manage a win or two in March as well, but the things that made them unique and uniquely consistent (rebounding shows up for every game and perimeter shooting doesn’t) appear to be gone.
Feb. 6 conference midpoint update: It shouldn’t take longer than a half of watching the Tar Heels at full strength to realize Dawson Garcia is the team’s best NBA prospect; he’s a noticeably fluid 6-11 athlete that is smooth with the basketball and can shoot the 3. His absence does play some part in the Tar Heels’ current struggles, including the blowout loss to Duke. That being said, the team is far too talented to be 0-7 against Quad 1 teams (Garcia was involved in most of those games), particularly when that includes an average margin of defeat of 18.6 points. Hubert Davis is an admirable person and is only in his first as a head coach so he does have time to right the ship, but at this point there are several issues that need to be addressed. The abandonment of the offensive boards was mentioned in December, but Davis does seem to have put the team back on course in that regard (the team is now up to 127th nationally in offensive rebounding after ranking 242nd in December). One obvious current issue is the constant complaints about effort while seemingly making very few adjustments, an action that clearly implies that the players are entirely responsible for the team’s failures and that coaching has very little to do with it and won't change anything. Another issue is the player rotation, or lack thereof; the team gets almost no contribution from it’s bench (despite the roster depth mentioned in the original preview), which is what should probably be expected when those players don’t receive many minutes. Even when the Tar Heels are involved in blowouts (in addition to the blowout losses, ten of North Carolina’s victories can easily be referred to as blowouts as well), bench players have received remarkably few opportunities with the exception of the third big man. Davis can’t possibly expect good things from the bench under those circumstances. Kerwin Walton was an excellent player for the Tar Heels last season, but his minutes have been inconsistent at best and when he does play it’s clear that he isn’t playing with much confidence. Otherwise, Dontrez Styles has barely received garbage minutes and Justin McKoy is one of the sadder stories in college basketball. On the other side of that coin, Davis is constantly complaining about effort while the starters may actually be getting tired considering the team’s style of play, and there are essentially no consequences for the starters when there are defensive lapses or poor decisions offensively (and no one learns anything from that). That was all compounded by the decision to give the starters less work in practice, which seems unlikely to actually be beneficial on game day and means that the players that play most of the minutes are spending less time working on the team’s issues. None of that makes any sense. There is a very real possibility that the Tar Heels record against Quad 1 teams will keep them out of the NCAA Tournament; if so, this season and the NIT will have to be considered a learning experience, and Davis will have to hope that enough of the players that didn’t play stick around long enough for the lessons learned to be successfully applied next year.
Feb. 10 roster change update: With Dawson Garcia now gone for the season, North Carolina's ceiling has dropped significantly. While they should still end up with a fairly impressive won loss record with middle of the pack ACC programs suffering major personnel losses, their chances for winning a quad 1 game or two (they have road games against Virginia Tech and Duke) seem far fetched, and UNC fans 12 and under probably shouldn't be allowed to watch the Duke game. Barring something miraculous, Hubert Davis's first year may put him on thin ice with a fan base that has (deservedly) high expectations.
March 5 final update: North Carolina's shocking victory at Duke removes any doubt about whether the Tar Heels will receive an at large berth. Unfortunately, the victory came without any minutes from the bench in the second half, an approach that rarely produces wins and is unlikely to be a recipe for long term success. With the win, that issue seems less likely to change for Hubert Davis, and that might not be a good thing moving forward. As far as this season is concerned, North Carolina shoots the 3 and rebounds well enough to pull an upset in the NCAA Tournament, but foul trouble for Bacot or an off shooting night will result in what will be an expected early exit.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2020-2021: 11-15, 7-11 in the ACC (11th)
Departures: Juwan Durham (10.7 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 1.9 bpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Nikola Djogo (5.0 ppg., 3.0 rpg., 40.9% 3pt.) transferred to Northeastern
Major Additions: 6-10 Yale transfer Paul Atkinson, 6-4 4 star recruit Blake Wesley, and 6-6 4 star recruit J.R. Konieczny
Preseason Projection: 7th in the ACC; NIT
Final Record: 24-11, 15-5 in the ACC (tie for 2nd); lost to Texas Tech in the NCAA Round of 32
Despite having two players named to All-ACC teams, Notre Dame suffered a disappointing follow up to what might have been a return to the NCAA Tournament during the pandemic shortened 2019-2020 season. Still, Mike Brey was able to maintain a seemingly miraculous level of roster continuity relative to the rest of the conference, and that should be a huge advantage for the Irish, particularly early in the year.
Notre Dame’s scoring was remarkably well distributed last season, with six players averaging between 8 and 15 points per game. While five of those players are back, the most important player for the offense will continue to be senior point guard Prentiss Hubb. Despite being a third team all-conference pick, Hubb (14.6 ppg., 5.8 apg., 34.2% 3pt.) is still an inconsistent shooter that can force his own offense at times. Overall, the team’s offense was among the more efficient in the conference last season (71st in fg%, 46th in 3pt.%, and 19th in assist to turnover ratio), but that could still be improved through better ball movement and better decision making from Hubb. There is plenty of perimeter scoring talent around him. 6-6 senior Dane Goodwin (11.8 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 35.2% 3pt.) wasn’t able to improve upon his sophomore numbers with defenses focused on him at times, but he’s still a dangerous scorer that is becoming increasingly helpful on the defensive boards. 6-5 senior Trey Wertz (8.3 ppg., 42.9% 3pt.) received a surprise waiver to become immediately eligible in December, and he emerged as the second most accurate three point shooter on the team. As the only regular rotation player that was new to the offense last season, he may have the most room for improvement. After sitting out a year due to a transfer rule that has since been eliminated, 6-5 junior Cormac Ryan (9.9 ppg., 4.4 rpg., 34.4% 3pt.) proved to be a potentially prolific scorer as well. His willingness to throw around his wiry frame also allows him to be helpful defensively and on the boards. Like Hubb, Wertz and Ryan were both streaky shooters; improved consistency from all three veterans will be necessary for the Irish to improve on last year’s win total. Notre Dame clearly does not recruit players for their defensive prowess, but 6-7 forward Tony Sanders Jr. does have the length and athletic ability to help at that end of the floor. He should be better adapted to the offense as a sophomore, and his defensive potential could earn him playing time at both forward spots for a team that will struggle mightily at that end. Four star freshman Blake Wesley should eventually contribute at both ends of the floor as well, but it would be a surprise for either of the team's freshmen to see major minutes with so many established veterans on the roster and with both in need of physical development.
While the ball is most often in Hubb’s hands, Nate Laszewski clearly emerged as the team’s best player as a junior. Laszewski (13.3 ppg., 7.3 rpg., 58.9% fg., 43.4% 3pt.) was finally able to add enough weight to his 6-10 frame to be effective on the boards, and it seemed to increase his confidence in other aspects of his game as well. His shooting percentages went through the roof, and he led the Irish in 3 point shooting percentage and the ACC in adjusted field goal percentage on his way to being named third team All-ACC. Laszewski looked like a future pro early on before fading under increased defensive pressure down the stretch, but he will have a chance to attract NBA attention as a senior. Any further improvement from him defensively and on the boards would be huge for the Irish. Juwan Durham, the team’s most effective defensive player, will be replaced by the more offensive minded Paul Atkinson (17.6 ppg., 7.3 rpg. at Yale in 2019-2020), a former Ivy League Co-Player of the Year that should provide another boost to offensive efficiency but will not replace Durham’s rim protection. Like Sanders, 6-9 Matt Zona received limited opportunities as a freshman, but his per minute rebounding numbers were the best on the team and he should be better prepared to help in other ways as a sophomore.
Mike Brey’s offense has a tendency to get substantially better as players gain experience in his system, and, with the exception of newcomer Paul Atkinson (who at least has several years of Division I experience), this team will be loaded with it. With a veteran roster led by two All-ACC players, Notre Dame's offensive efficiency should be among the best in college basketball. Unfortunately, Notre Dame was terrible defensively (210th in fg% defense, 308th in 3pt.% defense, and 278th in rebounding margin), and that isn’t likely to improve without Durham’s 1.9 blocks per game to help clean things up in the paint. Still, with much of the league in position to struggle, Notre Dame should be able to climb back into the top half of the conference and potentially challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Feb. 8 conference midpoint update: Blake Wesley has all the makings of an eventual NBA prospect; his athleticism has given the team a needed perimeter defensive stopper, while his ability to break down a defense off the dribble has prevented the offense from completely stalling down the stretch of games as it has at times over the past few years. He’s a huge reason why the Irish are very much in contention for an at large bid in the NCAA Tournament. At the same time, he actually isn’t a particularly efficient offensive player at this point (40.1 overall fg.%, 29.0% 3pt. (worst among rotation players that shoot the 3), and a 1.2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio despite having the ball in his hands often), and his emergence has indirectly kept the ball out of the hands of Nate Laszewski, who was the most efficient shooter in the conference last season. Mike Brey also chose to go with a four guard lineup most of the time (Matt Zona has almost completely disappeared), so when either Laszewski or Atkinson is alone in the post the Irish are extremely vulnerable defensively and struggle to rebound. Still, the offense is efficient overall, most of the conference isn’t very good, and the Irish managed to face Kentucky when the Wildcats hadn’t faced anyone other than true cupcakes in over a month, so the Irish now look like safe bets to garner an at large berth.
2020-2021: 10-17, 4-15 in the ACC (13th)
Departures: Earl Timberlake (9.3 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 1.7 spg.) transferred to Memphis, Chris Lykes (15.5 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 5.5 apg., 2.0 spg., 45.5% 3pt.) transferred to Arkansas, Nysier Brooks (7.4 ppg., 5.8 rpg.) transferred to Ole Miss, and Elijah Olaniyi (10.5 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) transferred back to Stony Brook
Graduate taking an extra year: Kameron McGusty
Major Additions: 6-6 George Mason transfer Jordan Miller, 5-11 DePaul transfer Charlie Moore, 6-4 top 75 recruit Jakai Robinson, 6-1 top 100 recruit Bensley Joseph, and 6-4 4 star recruit Nisine Poplar
Preseason Projection: 8th in the ACC; NIT; possible lame-duck season for Jim Larranaga
Final Record: 26-11, 14-6 in the ACC; lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight
Miami has been decimated by injuries each of the last two seasons and spent much of last year with only six scholarship players available. A change in the team’s training staff will hopefully help, either by developing more durability in players or by treating them less like they’re made of glass. The Hurricanes will enter the season with twelve players looking for playing time, so the team should at least have an opportunity to finish above .500 overall for the first time in three years.
Miami’s outlook improved significantly when Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty withdrew their names from the NBA Draft pool and decided to return to college. Wong (17.1 ppg., 4.8 rpg., 34.7% 3pt.) was a third team All-ACC player as a sophomore, and likely only needs to become slightly more efficient and more productive as a facilitator to be drafted. Both should be easier with more talent around him as a junior. McGusty (13.3 ppg.) is taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility; while he has been consistently adequate offensively throughout his four years of college basketball, he emerged as one of Miami’s best perimeter defenders last season and at 6-5 will see significant time at small forward. The third perimeter starter will likely be one of three veterans. Junior Harlond Beverly (6.7 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 3.3 apg., 1.5 spg.) will be a major boom or bust candidate for this season. At times, he has flashed the ability to be a significant contributor through passing, rebounding, and creating turnovers defensively; if he could do those things consistently, he would be an asset at both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, Beverly lost all confidence in his ability to shoot the basketball as a sophomore and at times struggled with turnovers as well. If he can’t rediscover the confidence he displayed early on, he’ll be a likely transfer portal candidate after the season. If Beverly continues to struggle, Larranaga can choose to emphasize offensive efficiency or defense. While both players can score, DePaul transfer Charlie Moore (14.4 ppg. 4.2 apg., 34.6% 3pt.), who will be with his fourth major college basketball program spread across six years, would provide an experienced and reasonably efficient point guard to take ball handling pressure off of Wang, while 6-6 senior George Mason transfer Jordan Miller (15.8 ppg., 6.1 rpg.) would provide more length defensively in addition to helping the team compete on the boards. Both figure to be important parts of the rotation regardless of who ends up starting. Three highly regarded freshmen will be in the mix on the perimeter as well, and their presence will at the very least guarantee that the Hurricanes won’t run out of quality players if another wave of injuries hits the roster. Jakai Robinson, a top 75 recruit, is the most likely to earn minutes; he’s a tough 6-4 guard that can shoot. Bensley Joseph, a second top 100 recruit, will provide a quicker option at point guard, while 4 star recruit Nisine Poplar will be an athletic 3 and D player in time. Under ideal circumstances, a traditional redshirt could be an option for one or two of the freshmen, who would then be prepared when Wong, McGusty, and Moore depart after the season.
While Wong is an established star, Miami’s most promising prospect may be 6-9 junior Anthony Walker. Athletically Walker is built like, and at times moves as gracefully as, a larger Russell Westbrook, although he doesn’t have the skill or play with the aggression of the NBA star. Walker took huge steps forward offensively as a sophomore, averaging 12.1 points and 6 rebounds per game over the team’s last 14 games while approaching respectability beyond the arc by shooting 33.3% from 3 over the last 13. He may feel free to be more aggressive defensively with more depth after being slightly less productive at that end than he had been as a freshman. If Walker continues to develop, he should land on an all conference team of his own before he leaves the program. Sam Waardenburg started his career as a swing forward, but became significantly more effective in the paint (6.0 rpg., 1.1 bpg. in 2019-20) as a junior before missing last season with a foot injury. At 6-10, his mobility and ability to stretch the floor should make him the best overall option to start in the post, although he will still see time at power forward behind Walker. Deng Gak and Rodney Miller will give Larranaga additional options in the post, but both have their limitations. At 6-11, Gak’s length and mobility allow him to excel defensively and on the boards, but he’s limited offensively and his knees are terrible. Miller (7.2 ppg., 5.5 rpg. In 2019-20), who missed last season with a knee injury of his own, provides more bulk at 7-0 and over 250 pounds, has soft hands around the basket, and is reasonably agile, although he has almost no physical explosion.
Although injuries have been the primary culprit for Miami the last two seasons, it’s easy to think that there’s more going on with the program than that. The barrage of transfers is obviously concerning, and if the story about what happened with Matt Cross is to be believed then it is flat out disturbing. Cross was humiliatingly left sitting on the bench ready to go in for an entire game while in clear view of the primary camera against Florida State while Larranaga used six scholarship players and a walk on. Larranaga later reported there were no disciplinary issues. If that’s true, anyone in their right mind would have transferred after the game. Miami hasn’t had an efficient offense since the 2017-18 season (251st in fg%, 321st in 3pt.%, and 232nd in assist to turnover ratio last year), but, with so many perimeter options including the addition of a veteran point guard and the possibility of starting a skilled offensive player in the post, improvement seems inevitable. Defense has been an issue during that same time frame (237th in fg% defense and 324th in 3pt.% defense last season), but by simply adding healthy bodies the team will be able to play more aggressively and improve at that end of the floor as well. Miami has enough talent for a middle of the pack finish in the ACC; if they still have another year like the last two and the unexpected offseason departures continue in waves, then it may be time to consider moving on from Jim Larranaga.
December 10 pre-conference update: While Anthony Walker was starting to find confidence and realize his potential as a starter at the end of last season, he is now coming off the bench and that confidence is nowhere to be found. That is despite the fact that Miami is starting a stretch four (Waardenburg) that is not a natural post player at center, instead surrounding him with four guards and giving the team no chance to compete in the paint or on the boards (the team is 296th in fg% defense and 311th in rebounding margin despite a poor strength of schedule). Also, despite the fact that the team starts four guards, most of whom have had some success from the perimeter in the past, they can’t shoot the 3 (281st in 3pt. %). Things are not well in Miami, and injuries are not to blame. Jim Larranaga may not have the luxury of a farewell tour like the one Mike Krzyzewski is enjoying at Duke.
Feb. 6 conference midpoint update: Miami was able to completely turn things around from behind the arc thanks to what was essentially a seven game homestand (the Fordham game was technically on a neutral court, but the Rams weren’t going to make them uncomfortable) that lasted over a month. With that home cooking, the Hurricanes went from 307th in 3pt.% to 113th nationally, and they carried the confidence from those wins into a road victory at Duke that will be the key piece to their NCAA Tournament resume before reality began to set in against Florida St. Charlie Moore has been the heart of the turnaround and Kameron McGusty has been a key component as well, and both should land on All-ACC teams. The Hurricanes are woefully undersized, which currently has them ranked 311th in fg% defense and 325th in rebounding margin, and they get no production from their bench, but they have a quick and athletic group of veterans that shoot the 3 (now 80th in 3pt.%), take care of the basketball (27th in assist to turnover ratio), and pressure the ball defensively (39th in steals per game), and that should be enough for them to stay on the right side of the bubble against a large number of even more flawed ACC teams.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2020-2021: 6-16, 3-15 in the ACC (14th)
Departures: Ian DuBose (10.9 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 36.1% 3pt.) and Jonah Antonio (6.4 ppg., 40% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Ismael Massoud (8.3 ppg., 3.4 rpg.) transferred to Kansas State, Ody Oguama (7.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg.) transferred to Cincinnati, Jahcobi Neath transferred to Wisconsin, Jalen Johnson (5.0 ppg.) transferred to Mercer, Emmanuel Okpomo transferred to Temple, and Isaiah Wilkins transferred to Longwood; transfer Damari Monsanto (11.8 ppg., 7.3 rpg., 35.4% 3pt. at ETSU) will miss the season with an achilles injury; Tariq Ingraham has already entered the transfer portal for next season
Major Additions: 6-10 Ole Miss transfer Khadim Sy, 6-5 Oklahoma transfer Alondes Williams, 6-4 4 star recruit Cameron Hildreth, 6-9 Indiana St. transfer Jake LaRavia, 6-6 4 star recruit Lucas Taylor, 7-1 European recruit Matthew Marsh, and 7-0 Colorado transfer Dallas Walton
Preseason Projection: 10th in the ACC; NIT
Final Record: 25-10, 13-7 in the ACC (5th); lost to Texas A&M in the NIT Quarterfinals
Steve Forbes stepped into a nearly impossible situation at Wake Forest last season, as he attempted to integrate his own offensive and defensive systems on the fly to a new program and roster without the benefit of preseason practices, scrimmages, and games. The results were entirely predictable, although he was somehow able to win enough games in the ACC to avoid a last place finish. Now, thanks to moderate success in both the transfer portal and high school recruiting, an offseason that saw the majority of Danny Manning’s former recruits leave the program seems to have left Forbes with a roster that is actually more talented than the one he started with a year ago. He’ll also have the benefit of a full offseason to get his new players at least close to being on the same page, so there is reason for significant optimism for the Demon Deacons heading into year two.
Offensive efficiency was consistently a strength of Forbes’ East Tennessee State teams, but with only ETSU transfer Daivien Williamson fully understanding what Forbes wanted to do that wasn’t going to happen last season (Wake Forest finished 300th in field goal percentage and 272nd in assist to turnover ratio). Still, Williamson (12.9 ppg., 37.2% 3pt.) adjusted extremely well to ACC competition and, perhaps because of that familiarity, he was the most consistent member of the team. He should only get better as a senior. Williamson was joined in the backcourt midseason by early entrant Carter Whitt, who was considered a top 70 recruit before reclassifying. With no preparation and an obvious need for time in a college weight room, Whitt understandably struggled early on, particularly with turnovers. However, he eventually acquitted himself relatively well down the stretch, averaging three assists versus two turnovers per game while shooting 40.6% from 3 over the team’s last eleven games. He should be significantly improved as a sophomore, and the backcourt of Whitt and Williamson should spearhead a dramatic improvement in offensive efficiency. A notable transfer and a pair of four star recruits will give Forbes options off the bench. Oklahoma transfer Alondes Williams (6.7 ppg.) will offer experience and explosive athleticism, although he hasn’t shot the ball well to this point. Cameron Hildreth is a British import that should be ready to score, while 6-6 fellow freshman Lucas Taylor is particularly dangerous behind the arc.
Senior Isaiah Mucius is one of only two productive Danny Manning recruits that decided to stick with Forbes for year two. While he didn’t take a huge step forward last season, he will have a much better understanding of what Forbes wants to do this year. Mucius (10.3 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 34.2% 3pt.), a former top 60 recruit, still has the length and athletic ability to do more, and he should be more consistent as a senior. With a season ending injury to promising transfer Damari Monsanto, fellow transfer Jake LaRavia will see major minutes at forward. LaRavia (12.3 ppg., 6.3 rpg.) is a skilled 6-9 wing that can get into the paint; he will attempt to take a step forward after leveling off as a sophomore at Indiana State. The late addition of Khadim Sy, a former Virginia Tech recruit that started for Ole Miss two years ago before suffering with illness and injury last year (9.0 ppg., 5.5 rpg. in 2019-2020), will give the Deacons a boost in both post defense and interior scoring. At 6-10, Sy is larger and stronger than Ody Oguama and more mobile than Emmanuel Okpomo; he’ll provide some semblance of rim protection that Wake Forest didn’t have a year ago, and he’s much further along offensively than either departed post player. Forbes has other promising options to fill out his frontcourt rotation as well. Colorado transfer Dallas Walton (6.5 ppg., 47.4% 3pt.) is a capable stretch five, although at 7-0 he doesn’t block shots or provide much help on the boards. A second British import, 7-1, 250 pound Matthew Marsh, is a well regarded European post prospect that may be ready to contribute right away.
Steve Forbes was consistently successful in his five years at East Tennessee State, and in addition to offensive efficiency his teams also excelled in rebounding. Most of the personnel changes seemed to be designed to help with both, although Monsanto was expected to provide the biggest improvement in those areas. Still, an improved backcourt, along with two players more comfortable scoring inside, will help with offensive efficiency, while a larger frontline should provide some relief on the boards (the Deacons were 233rd in rebounding margin last season). Defense was the team’s biggest issue last season (305th in fg% defense and 323rd in 3pt.% defense), and that should also improve with a full offseason to get organized in addition to the arrival of a more complete post defender. While it may be too soon to expect Wake Forest to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, year two under Forbes should be very different from year one, and an NIT appearance may not be outside the realm of possibility.
December 10 pre-conference update: While Wake Forest seems to be better than even I thought they would be, the reason they could finish as high as 6th in the ACC is primarily because the conference quite simply isn’t very good this year. Regardless, offensive efficiency has exploded, with Alondes Williams and to a lesser extent Jake LaRavia serving as major facilitators by penetrating into the paint and finding their teammates on the perimeter. Williams in particular has emerged as a potential first team All-ACC player after being relegated to the bench at Oklahoma. The ball moves well and everyone can shoot (the Deacons are 13th in overall fg.% and 68th beyond the arc), including both centers, while defensively both LaRavia and Dallas Walton have gotten noticeably stronger than they were at their previous schools and have been able to use it to their advantage. It is a possibility that Wake Forest will contend for an NCAA Tournament berth this season, but the ACC will enter conference play with so few quality non-conference wins that NET rankings will be low and the conference will likely only be able to send four or five teams at most this year.
Feb. 6 conference midpoint update: Upon further review, Wake Forest is quite simply a very good basketball team. Both Alondes Williams (19.8 ppg., 7.0 rpg., 5.2 apg.) and Jake LaRavia (a true stat sheet stuffer with 15.1 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 3.6 apg., 1.0 bpg., 1.5 spg., 59.1% fg%, and 38.8% 3pt.) should be considered first team All-ACC players at this point with Williams the favorite to win ACC Player of the Year, while the surprise midseason return of Damari Monsanto has given the team energy, perimeter shooting, and rebounding off the bench. The Deacons are now one of only two ACC teams that seem likely to be dangerous in March. Steve Forbes and his perfect transfer targets have completely turned the program around, and the dynamic Wake Forest offense makes the team infinitely watchable during what has turned into the most disappointing ACC season in years.
2020-2021: 18-7, 13-4 in the ACC (1st); lost to Ohio in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
Departures: Trey Murphy (11.3 ppg., 43.3% 3pt.) was a 1st round pick and Jay Huff (13.0 ppg., 7.1 rpg., 2.6 bpg., 38.7% 3pt.) and Sam Hauser (16.0 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 41.7% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Tomas Woldentensae (41.8% 3pt.) will play professionally overseas; Casey Morsell transferred to NC State, Justin McKoy transferred to North Carolina, and Jabri Abdur-Rahim transferred to Georgia
Major Additions: 6-4 Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin, 6-7 East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner, 6-9 European recruit Igor Milicic Jr., and 6-5 top 90 recruit Taine Murray
Preseason Projection: 5th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 64
Final Record: 21-14, 12-8 in the ACC (6th); lost to St. Bonaventure in the NIT Quarterfinals
After winning a National Title in the last pre-pandemic Tournament, Virginia once again suffered a huge 1st round Tournament upset by losing to 13 seed Ohio. On the bright side, following the offseason departure of a huge amount of talent and experience, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers are unlikely to be at risk of a similar upset this season.
Virginia was one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country last season (32nd in fg%, 28th in 3pt.%, and 8th in assist to turnover ratio), but with the departures of Hauser, Huff, and Murphy, the question will be where points are going to come from. Senior Kihei Clark (9.5 ppg., 4.5 apg.) has been a team leader since arriving at the school; he provides outstanding ball pressure, makes good decisions with the basketball, and doesn’t miss opportunities to score when they present themselves. However, his limited size and athleticism can result in turnovers when defenses are allowed to focus on him, and he needs space to hit his jumper consistently. The Cavaliers probably need to be less dependent on Clark to retain offensive efficiency, not more, and less Clark can only mean more Reece Beekman. Beekman was the player most capable of breaking down a defense off the dribble last season, but without a preseason he never became confident enough to look for his own shot. Otherwise, he looked the part of a top 50 recruit, leading the team in steals and posting a better assist to turnover ratio than Clark. With his first full offseason under his belt and fewer established scorers to defer to, he should be a different offensive player as a sophomore. Transfer Armaan Franklin will be the likely third starter in a three guard lineup after having a breakthrough sophomore season at Indiana. Franklin (11.4 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 42.4% 3pt.) shoots well from the perimeter and can also take players off the dribble; he should emerge as one of Virginia’s leading scorers. At 6-4, Franklin has also shown a willingness to compete on the boards, which the team will need following the loss of Huff and Hauser. Taine Murray, a 6-5 top 90 recruit from New Zealand, is one of two freshmen that could see time right away due to the high roster turnover. Murray has already filled out physically and he played against adults in the Australian professional league last season, so his only adjustment will be to the style of play. If he picks things up quickly, he’ll provide another perimeter shooting threat. Kody Stattmann will provide a larger option at small forward after missing almost all of his junior year due to illness. While he doesn’t have Murphy’s physical explosion, he has similar length at 6-7 and uses his feet well to shadow offensive players. Stattmann hasn’t shot well to this point, but he did show potential in that area in high school. Sophomore Carson McCorkle drew comparisons to Kyle Guy coming out of high school and could contribute as a perimeter scorer, but he wasn’t nearly as productive as Guy in high school while playing in a lower division and unlike Guy he wasn’t able to win minutes as a freshman, so those comparisons have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Redshirt sophomore Kadin Shedrick, originally a top 60 recruit, was expecting to take over as the backup center last year, but an illness cost him most of the season. While he still hasn’t added much weight to his 6-11 frame, his per minute rebounding numbers were better than Huff’s when he did play, and combined with his shot blocking ability there is reason to believe he will be a comparable replacement defensively and on the boards. He will not, however, serve as a stretch five. 6-7 East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner will give the Cavaliers at least one established frontcourt player. Gardner (18.3 ppg., 8.3 rpg.) was an outstanding scorer and rebounder in all three of his years in the AAC and was an All-AAC player twice. He should at least be able to replace Hauser’s rebounding, and he has an ability to create his own scoring opportunities in and around the paint that Virginia was missing last season. Unfortunately, Gardener shot just 47.9% from the field at East Carolina with almost no attempts from 3; if that were to fall as a result of the increased size and athleticism of the ACC, he might actually end up hurting offensive efficiency. If the Cavaliers are going to have a big man that can stretch the floor, it will have to be Polish freshman Igor Milicic. Milicic is a mobile, athletic 6-9 prospect with the type of face up skills the NBA covets; he has a ton of potential and, like Murray, he played in a professional league against adults last season. Milicic will be an incredibly important player for Virginia; if he isn’t ready to contribute immediately, the Cavaliers will be transitioning from having five guys on the court at a time that can shoot from the perimeter to three. 7-0, 250 pound junior Francisco Caffaro will give Bennett a larger option in the post, but his reflexes and agility are limited and he hasn’t provided much beyond passable rebounding and positional defense.
The sudden and drastic increase in transfers could hit Virginia harder than anyone. Tony Bennett had become accustomed to allowing players a year to develop and adapt to his offensive and defensive systems before handing them major roles, but that may not be an option anymore. McKoy and Abdur-Rahim, a top 40 recruit a year ago, seemed destined for larger roles, but those minutes will now potentially go to either less talented players or players new to the system. Even with the addition of Franklin and Gardner, there are currently only six players on the roster that would normally be likely parts of the rotation, and even that requires Stattmann and Shedrick to step up after missing most of last season with illnesses. Freshmen and transfers will have to play significant roles out of necessity, and their lack of time in the defensive system will definitely impact what is normally Virginia's calling card. The effectiveness of Bennett’s pack line defense had actually already fallen off last season (73rd in fg% defense and 194th in 3pt.% defense); combine the effect of an inexperienced roster with the loss of two outstanding defensive players in Huff and Murphy, and suddenly Virginia might have a problem stopping people from scoring. Offensive efficiency could also suffer as a result of losing the ability to stretch the floor, although that will at least be partially offset through the expected improvement of Beekman and by having more ways to score in the paint. While there is definitely still talent here, the primary reason to believe that this will still be an NCAA Tournament team is because of the program’s consistent success under Bennett. UVA may still be good, but for the first time in five years, and the second time in nine years, the Cavaliers at the very least seem unlikely to contend for an ACC title.
December 10 pre-conference update: Virginia’s defense is solid but not suffocating much like it was a season ago, although they do have trouble defending the 4 spot (which was also true last season) and in this case they have no real backup for Jayden Gardner (who is not 6-7). The real problem is that Virginia simply cannot score, and it’s unlikely that coaching will be able to fix it this year because the talent simply isn’t there. If Justin McKoy and any of the three unexpected perimeter departures were still around (McKoy probably wishes he still was with Hubert Davis using a short rotation), the team would probably be okay, but as it is this now looks like a good old fashioned rebuilding year for Tony Bennett. There are no NBA prospects (Reece Beekman really doesn’t want to shoot the basketball), and Kihei Clark seems like exactly the sort of player that will take advantage of the extra year, so it’s possible everyone will be back next year, but for now the freshmen need time and next year’s freshmen look incredibly promising.
February 7 conference midpoint update: The Cavaliers managed to win the one game on their schedule that could vault them onto the bubble by winning on the road at Duke, but they still face a major uphill battle due to early losses to Navy and James Madison and the poor nonconference performance of the ACC as a whole. Virginia would probably need to at least win five of their last six (their road games against Virginia Tech and Miami will be particularly important) plus a game or two in the ACC Tournament to have a realistic chance at an NCAA Tournament berth. The team is still limited offensively, although they have figured out ways to score more efficiently. While Reese Beekman is still somewhat resistant to shoot the 3, he does seem to have realized how good he is off the dribble, and that, combined with his passing ability, has given the team a more efficient option when facing a dwindling shot clock. In addition, both Kadin Shedrick and Fracisco Caffaro have begun to maximize their potential, so the team is now able to feed the post for occasional baskets as well. Tony Bennett has led his team to a remarkable turnaround and Virginia has given itself a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament, but their margin for error is very slim.
Virginia Tech Hokies
2020-2021: 15-7, 9-4 in the ACC (3rd); lost to Florida in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
Departures: Cartier Diarra (7.5 ppg.) entered the NBA Draft; Tyrece Radford (12.2 ppg., 5.9 rpg.) transferred to Texas A&M, Jalen Cone (9.2 ppg., 34.9% 3pt.) transferred to Northern Arizona, and Joe Bamisile transferred to George Washington; Wabissa Bede and Cordell Pemsl graduated and will not return
Major Additions: 6-0 Wofford transfer Storm Murphy and 6-10 Clemson transfer Lynn Kidd
Preseason Projection: 6th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 64
Final Record: 23-13, 11-9 in the ACC (7th); lost to Texas in the NCAA Round of 64
Mike Young’s Hokies exceeded expectations once again in his second season, finishing third in the ACC and winning Coach of the Year honors for Young along the way. While the season did end in disappointment with a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament, Virginia Tech appeared to be in position to contend for a conference title before Tyrece Radford's shocking last minute transfer decision significantly impacted their outlook for the upcoming season.
Prior to Radford's departure, there was reason to believe the Hokies would improve, particularly at the offensive end. That was primarily due to the addition of graduate transfer Storm Murphy, who followed Young from Wofford after completing his degree and winning first team All-Southern Conference honors along the way. Murphy (17.8 ppg., 4.3 apg., 40.0% 3pt.) is in some ways the polar opposite of the point guard he will replace, Wabissa Bede, and he’s a more dynamic offensive threat than Jalen Cone. While he will not be the defensive player that Bede was, Murphy emerged as an outstanding shooter during his senior year, and he’s a capable distributor that is obviously already familiar with Young’s offense. Despite the step up in competition, Murphy could actually become more efficient offensively with more scoring talent around him at Virginia Tech, although he will obviously be taking fewer shots. Two outstanding juniors, Nahiem Alleyne (11.1 ppg., 40.8% 3pt.) and Hunter Cattoor (8.5 ppg., 43.3% 3pt.), should join Murphy as part of a three guard lineup. Both are excellent perimeter shooters that improved noticeably as sophomores, while neither will provide anything resembling the impact Radford provided scoring around the paint and attacking the offensive and defensive glass. Radford was a dynamic x-factor that was nearly impossible for opponents to account for, and he received a well deserved honorable mention all-conference spot last season. Darius Maddox, a top 90 recruit a year ago that saw very few minutes behind a crowded backcourt and without the benefit of an offseason, will suddenly become a major part of the rotation. He should provide another capable scorer that will hit open 3’s, although again he won't provide the same dynamic as Radford.
Virginia Tech will still be a factor in the ACC due in large part to a dynamic pair of former transfers. Keve Aluma was expected to provide Virginia Tech with frontcourt stability and make them more competitive in the paint, but no one could have expected him to emerge as a second team All-ACC player in his first year of eligibility after following Young from the Southern Conference. Aluma (15.2 ppg., 7.9 rpg., 1.3 bpg., 35.1% 3pt.) had expanded his range and improved his timing as a shotblocker during his redshirt year, and he made a huge impact at both ends of the floor. Offensively he’s unselfish and can score inside and out, defensively, at 6-9, he has the mobility to defend multiple positions, and he attacks the boards at both ends of the floor. As much attention as Aluma received, Justyn Mutts provided more of the same and also had an outstanding first year in the ACC after transferring from Deleware. Mutts (9.5 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 33.3% 3pt.) is slightly shorter than Aluma at 6-7, but he’s more physically explosive. They are both prototype modern college frontcourt players and experienced seniors, and along with Radford would have given the Hokies what would have easily been the best returning frontcourt in the conference. Radford's departure could see Aluma and Mutts filling different roles for short periods of time, with the possibility that the pair could man the forward spots in larger lineups along with a traditional center. While they have the skill and athleticism to do so, it would mark a significant change from the guard oriented lineups Young was forced to use in his first year at the school. A second potentially impactful roster addition for the Hokies, 6-10 Clemson transfer Lynn Kidd, was originally a top 80 recruit in this year’s high school class before reclassifying to join Clemson last season. As an early entrant with no real offseason, Kidd received almost no opportunities behind a crowded rotation during his one year at Clemson (although he would have received plenty of opportunities had he returned this season) but did manage to put on significant weight, and he should be able to provide a productive traditional post presence off the bench. Even before the addition of Kidd, Young had promising frontcourt depth; 6-9 David N’Guessan showed potential as a post scorer and rebounder as a freshman and really only needed to add weight, while 6-10 junior John Ojiako was a productive rebounder and shotblocker in limited minutes as a freshman before struggling with a knee injury last season. If Young does decide to use larger lineups on occasion, he will have the frontcourt depth to do so.
Virginia Tech is loaded with perimeter shooting including all five starters and their perimeter bench, and they have a dynamic and athletic pair of skilled forwards that can be disruptive at both ends of the floor. The Hokies were well above average offensively last season (110th in fg%, 95th in 3pt.%, and 59th in assist to turnover ratio); while the loss of Radford's scoring ability in and around the paint will hurt, overall that could be offset by the addition of Murphy and improved perimeter shooting. Defensively, they were above average (129th in fg% defense) and should continue to be that way; Bede will be missed, but frontcourt depth will be better and everyone competes. Rebounding may actually be where Radford's departure will be felt the most, as the Hokies were 106th in rebounding margin last season thanks in part to his ability to sneak in for out of area rebounds. The improved frontcourt depth could help offset his loss there as well, although larger lineups would compromise their ability to score. While Tyrece Radford's departure is likely to leave Virginia Tech fans wondering what might have been, Mike Young should still have enough talent to lead the Hokies back to the NCAA Tournament.
December 10 pre-conference update: The Hokies aren’t quite reaching their potential at this point of the season, and the most obvious culprit has been Storm Murphy’s inability to operate against larger and more athletic opponents. In the team’s four games against major conference talent, Murphy has averaged 3 points and 2.3 assists in 30.8 minutes per game while shooting 20.8% overall and 8% from 3, crippling the offense and making it virtually impossible for the team to win. Darius Maddox has played well and 3 star freshman Sean Pedulla, who is only an inch taller than the graduate transfer, has also proven to be both an effective perimeter shooter and more athletic and competitive against larger opponents than the starting point guard, so Mike Young does have other options. Otherwise, David N’Guessan has extended his range beyond the three point arc, so the Hokies are able to keep five capable perimeter shooters on the floor at all times. As much as Mike Young would probably like to remain loyal to Murphy, reality will need to set in for Virginia Tech’s rotation sooner rather than later if they are going to return to the NCAA Tournament.
February 15 late push update: Thanks to a six game win streak and a respectable NET Ranking, the Hokies can still make a case for a NCAA Tournament berth, but their home game against North Carolina and road game against Miami will be crucial because they are still without a win against a quad 1 opponent. Storm Murphy is still a major limiting factor for the team; backup point guard Sean Pedulla actually played more minutes than Murphy in recent wins against Syracuse and Pittsburgh when Murphy was struggling, which is potentially a great sign of progress. For the year, Murphy has averaged 9.0 points and 0.5 steals per 30 minutes with a 1.6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio while shooting 44.8% from the field and 36.8% from 3. Pedulla has bested all of those numbers, averaging 10.2 points and 1.3 steals per 30 minutes with a 1.9 to 1 assist to turnover ratio while shooting 46.8% from the field and a remarkable 57.5% from beyond the arc. In addition, Pedulla has had his best moments since conference play began, while Murphy’s numbers fall to 7.6 point per 30 minutes, 39.0% overall and 32.1% from three when the seven games against teams without major conference talent are removed. Murphy has managed four solid games against ACC teams, but he simply isn’t as athletic as Pedulla and is often completely ineffective. One of the more bizarre trends of the college basketball season has been Virginia Tech’s habit of leaving Murphy to struggle to bring the ball up by himself against pressure, which routinely cost them five or six seconds off the shot clock. The Hokies can still make the Tournament, but they will need their best personnel on the floor to do so.
Florida State Seminoles
2020-2021: 18-7, 11-4 in the ACC (2nd); lost to Michigan in the NCAA Sweet 16
Departures: Scottie Barnes (10.3 ppg., 4.0 rpg., 4.1 apg., 1.5 spg.) was the 4th overall pick, RaiQuan Gray (11.9 ppg., 6.4 rpg.) and Balsa Koprivica (9.1 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 1.4 bpg.) were 2nd round picks, and M.J. Walker (12.2 ppg., 42.3% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Sardaar Calhoun transferred to Texas Tech and Nate Jack transferred to Cleveland St.
Graduates taking an extra year: RayQuan Evans and Tanor Ngom
Major Additions: 6-6 top 25 recruit Matthew Cleveland, 6-4 top 30 recruit Jalen Warley, 6-3 Houston transfer Caleb Mills, 6-6 Kentucky transfer Cam'Ron Fletcher, and 7-1 top 70 recruit John Butler
Preseason Projection: 4th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32
Final Record: 17-14, 10-10 in the ACC (8th)
Florida St. was one of two teams that allowed the ACC to salvage some semblance of respectability in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and Leonard Hamilton was also one of only two ACC coaches that remained as successful recruiting this year as he had been in the past. Hamilton has led the Seminoles to at least two victories in each of the last three Tournaments that were held, and based on winning percentage the team for the Covid shortened 2019-2020 season may have been his best. The Seminoles do lose four of their top five players, but that is nothing new for Hamilton, and there is plenty of replacement talent coming in.
The first priority for rebuilding the Seminoles will have to be deciding who will take over at point guard, a role that Scottie Barnes filled admirably last year. Caleb Mills transferred with a desire to have the ball in his hands more often, but he’s never been much of a facilitator and his potential as an explosive scorer (13.2 ppg., 36.5% 3pt. at Houston in 2019-2020, scoring 17 or more points 14 times) makes his offensive game more closely resemble that of M.J. Walker than Barnes. Jalen Warley, a top 30 recruit, has more potential as a distributor and is noted for his understanding of the game, although he is also a capable scorer that could look for his own offense more often than Barnes. Warley seems like the better bet to keep the offense flowing somewhat efficiently. RayQuan Evans (5.1 ppg., 36.0% 3pt.) returns for an extra year and was technically the team’s starting point guard, but beyond hitting a respectable percentage from 3 he still wasn’t very productive as a senior. The team’s best returning player will be Anthony Polite. Polite (10.1 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 1.4 spg., 43.6% 3pt.) consistently makes good decisions and shot the ball extremely well last season, and at 6-6 he’s a lock down defender at the other end of the floor. He should contend for an All-ACC team and garner NBA attention as a senior. Five star recruit Matthew Cleveland is already a projected first round pick in most mock drafts; he’s a physically explosive, slashing 6-6 scorer that should also contribute immediately defensively and on the boards. Kentucky transfer Cam’Ron Fletcher was a top 75 recruit a year ago that proved to be a work in progress offensively, but he should be significantly better with a full offseason. He’s another tough and athletic 6-6 player that should fit right in to the rotation. The roster is light at power forward, so Cleveland or Fletcher should see time at the 4 in smaller lineups. Wyatt Wilkes (38.1% 3pt.), a 6-8 senior, is still around to serve as a designated shooter off the bench, although he’s never been quick enough to find many open looks.
With the departure of Koprovica and Gray, Malik Osborne is the only skilled big man left on the roster. The 6-9, 225 pound Osborne (5.9 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 36.5% 3pt. in 19 mpg.) has often played out of position at center since arriving at Florida St., but he definitely has the mobility and range to successfully replace Gray at power forward. While he can’t create off the dribble or pass as well as Gray, he is a better shooter. Osborne's minutes and production should increase significantly as a senior, although the desire to keep five offensively skilled players on the court will likely force him to continue to see time in the post down the stretch of games. A second player taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility, Tanor Ngom, should take over in the post. While his minutes were limited by the talent in front of him, Ngom clearly became more comfortable as the season progressed, and by the end of the year he was beginning to display energy and athleticism that are unique for a 7-1 player. 7-3 junior college transfer Naheem McLeod will finally join the Seminoles after originally signing with them after high school; he’ll provide additional rim protection behind Ngom. Hamilton also added 7-1 top 70 recruit John Butler, but at 190 pounds a redshirt year seems likely. Unfortunately, none of the remaining centers can approach Koprovica's offensive skill level in the post.
Thanks largely to outstanding shooting (33rd in fg%, 23rd in 3pt.%), last year’s Seminoles were the most efficient offensive team Leonard Hamilton has ever coached. The loss of Gray and Koprivica will leave the frontcourt significantly less skilled overall this season and Gray’s ability as a supplemental facilitator will particularly be missed, so that efficiency is going to take a hit; however, there is still plenty of perimeter shooting and there are at least multiple options at point guard. Defensively, the Seminoles should excel once more (FSU finished last season 17th in fg% defense, 63rd in rebounding margin, and 11th in blocks) with plenty of depth, size, and athleticism, although they will sacrifice rebounding and rim protection when they move to smaller lineups. Following postseason and offseason success that most of the ACC should be envious of, Florida State should again compete at the top of the conference and be a threat to make a run in March.
November 14 early season revelation update: Upon further review, despite being almost disturbingly thin, John Butler has the face ability, including range to the three point line, to provide FSU with a much needed second skilled big man. While he isn't going to compete on the boards, he does provide rim protection and has enough fluidity to defend stretch fours. His presence raises the ceiling for the Seminoles, allowing Hamilton to keep a skilled big on the floor at all times and creating the possibility of a lineup with Osborne that includes five skilled players and overwhelming length at every position.
January 29 injury update: The loss of Malik Osborne for the season is a huge blow for the Seminoles and significantly lowers their ceiling overall. FSU will have to play with a traditional center for the rest of the season; as great as John Butler already is, he quite simply can't compete in the paint at this point. Naheem McCleod is developing into an excellent player in his own right and Tanor Ngom is finally getting healthy, but the Florida State offense will now be less dynamic down the stretch of games.
Feb. 8 conference midpoint update: The loss of Naheem McLeod to a hand injury and then Anthony Polite to a wrist injury on top of Malik Osborne’s season ending ankle surgery suddenly leaves the Seminoles with a frontcourt that can no longer be considered imposing and without much scoring punch. 6-8 former walk-on Harrison Prieto, who is at least strong enough to hold position in the paint and has a face up game, has suddenly become an important part of the rotation. He’s a great story, but that development isn’t great for the team overall. An NIT appearance will still be on the table, but even a team with as much depth as Florida State can only take so many injuries. FSU will undoubtedly reload before next season, but this one will have to be written off to bad luck.
March 5 final update: With an encouraging late season push, the return of Anthony Polite, and the likely return of Caleb Mills and Matthew Cleveland, it was beginning to look as though the Seminoles would have momentum and adequate depth heading into the ACC Tournament where they could potentially steal a bid. Then the team took yet another injury hit with the loss of Cam'Ron Fletcher to thumb surgery. There is still a nine man rotation potentially available with multiple players that have improved significantly as the season has gone on (specifically RayQuan Evans, Matthew Cleveland, and John Butler), so there is still a chance for a miracle run, but it just keeps getting more difficult for what probably would have been the second best team in the conference. Regardless, Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles have continued to compete admirably, and they should be in outstanding position to bounce back next year.
2020-2021: 18-10, 9-7 in the ACC (8th); lost to Houston in the NCAA Sweet 16
Departures: Alan Griffin (13.3 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 1.6 bpg., 36.1% 3pt.) and Marek Dolezaj (9.8 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 3.3 apg.) entered the NBA Draft; Quincy Guerrier (13.7 ppg., 8.4 rpg.) transferred to Oregon, Kadary Richmond (6.3 ppg., 3.1 apg., 1.6 spg.) transferred to Seton Hall, Robert Braswell transferred to Charlotte, and Woody Newton transferred to Oklahoma State
Graduate taking an extra year: Bourama Sidibe
Major Additions: 6-8 top 25 recruit Benny Williams, 6-9 Villanova transfer Cole Swider, 6-3 Marquette transfer Symir Torrence, and 6-8 Cornell transfer Jimmy Boeheim
Preseason Projection: 9th in the ACC; NIT
Final Record: 16-17, 9-11 in the ACC (9th)
For the third time in the last five NCAA Tournaments, Syracuse closed out their season with a postseason run that seemed shocking relative to their regular season success. The team has been on the bubble in each of those five years. With the departure of three of their top four players, Jim Boeheim’s Orange will again face an uphill battle if they are going to reach the postseason.
Last year’s Orange were particularly effective at passing and taking care of the basketball, finishing 28th in assist to turnover ratio thanks to three players that averaged over three assist per game. Joe Girard (9.8 ppg., 3.5 apg., 33.3% 3pt.), a scoring minded point guard that has shot the ball inconsistently in his first two years, is the only returning member of that group. While Girard is often able to find his own perimeter shot, he doesn't excel at getting into the paint. It briefly looked as though the Syracuse offense was going to be completely turned over to Girard by default and lose the dynamic that Kadary Richmond provided when Richmond entered the draft portal, but the next day the Orange quickly added Symir Torrence, a player with a remarkably similar skillset. Torrence was a top 75 recruit two years ago that received limited opportunities in his two years at Marquette; however, he entered college with a reputation for creating for his teammates off the dribble and for making an impact defensively, and that is exactly what Richmond did for the Orange last year. If Torrence can begin to fill that potential, it will be incredibly important for the Orange’s ability to remain efficient offensively. The offensive dynamic that Torrence could provide will be even more important following the departures of Quincy Guierrier and Alan Griffin. While Buddy Boeheim (17.8 ppg., 38.3% 3pt.) was Syracuse’s leading scorer last season, Guerrier and Griffin were really the team’s best players, and their departure will place significantly more pressure on Boeheim. The 6-6 senior has become an increasingly dynamic scorer in his three years at the school, adding the ability to post up smaller defenders and to attack off of hard closeouts to the perimeter shooting he’s known for. Boeheim is certain to get his points as a senior, but the questions will be if can continue to score as efficiently with less talent around him and if he will find open teammates when defenses focus on him. Griffin and Guerrier will be replaced by top 25 recruit Benny Williams, Villanova transfer Cole Swider, and Buddy’s brother Jimmy. Williams is a great athlete and a strong perimeter shooter that will find the open man, but he’s so thin at this point (under 200 pounds at 6-8) that he’s unlikely to be effective in the paint as a freshman. The 6-9 Swider (5.7 ppg., 40.2% 3pt. at Villanova) has never provided much beyond spot up 3 point shooting in his three years at Villanova. Jimmy Boeheim, a 6-8 forward, has essentially been a less effective version of Buddy in his three years at Cornell (16.7 ppg., 5.6 rpg. In 2019-2020). None of the three will have the impact defensively or on the boards that Griffin and Guerrier provided, and none will be able to score inside the arc as effectively as Guerrier.
Even though there are no new players involved, the biggest change for this team will be at center. Marek Dolezaj was a fascinating player that scored efficiently, helped facilitate the offense, and willingly threw his body around at both ends of the court despite the fact that, at 6-10, he may have cheated to weigh in at over 200 pounds as a senior. He could be pushed around a bit. His replacement will be almost his exact opposite. While he only outweighs Dolezaj by 20 pounds or so, Jesse Edwards is an imposing presence in the paint that has been particularly effective on the boards and has potential as a shotblocker. However, his coordination still hasn’t caught up with his 6-11 frame, and his offensive skills are very much a work in progress. If 6-10 senior Bourama Sidibe (6.0 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 1.4 bpg. in 2019-2020) is fully recovered from his knee injury during his fifth year, he would still present similar offensive limitations, although he has much better timing and explosion as a shotblocker than Edwards. Last year was a bad time to be a freshman, but it was a horrible time to be an early entrant, and with the team’s depth at center Frank Anselem saw almost no playing time. Anselem was a top 80 recruit before reclassifying, and he added significant weight to his 6-10 frame during what was essentially a redshirt year. He has the potential to eventually be better than both Edwards and Sidibe, so even if Sidibe’s knee doesn’t hold up the team will have depth in the post.
Rebounding is always a problem for Syracuse because of their zone (265th last season), and, while a more substantial center will help, the departure of Griffin and particularly Guerrier is going to exacerbate the situation. Defense is consistently a strength (47th in fg% defense, 72nd in 3pt.% defense last season), but their absence, and potentially that of Kadary Richmond, will be felt there as well. The Orange were 34th in steals per game last season, and that particular number is set to fall substantially. Offensively, there is a ton of perimeter shooting talent, but it will be more of a challenge to free those shooters for open looks without interior scorers like Guerrier and Dolezaj, and even if Torrence is able to emulate the creativity Richmond provided off the dribble last season, Dolezaj’s passing from the high post is also going to be missed. At 76 years old with two sons playing their senior years, it wouldn’t be surprising for this to be Jim Boeheim’s last year coaching the Orange. Following an offseason highlighted by damaging departures, things won’t get any easier for Syracuse, but recent history suggests the team could still find ways to win. If not, there will be more familial reasons for the Boeheims to enjoy the season.
Feb. 8 conference midpoint update: Jesse Edwards has improved dramatically as a junior, although his gaudy shot blocking numbers (2.8 bpg.) have been inflated by the fact that none of the other four starters can consistently keep anyone out of the paint. Symir Torrence has indeed provided an offensive facilitator off the dribble and a perimeter defensive stopper similar to Kadary Richmond when given the opportunity, but he just doesn’t get many minutes. The Orange have shot the 3 extremely well (25th in 3pt.%), but so have their opponents. As it stands, Syracuse will have to pull an upset or two to reach the NIT, and both Jim and Buddy Boeheim will have decisions to make after the season.
Feb. 10 post-injury update: The premature end of Jesse Edwards season due to a broken wrist not only signals the end to any miracle comeback scenarios for the Orange, it likely takes the NIT off the table as well. Frank Anselem has played well at the defensive end in limited minutes, but Edwards was a potential All-Conference player and had been providing some post scoring as well. Next season is a giant question mark for Syracuse, so the potential end to this year's occasional fun has to be deflating.
2020-2021: 16-8, 10-6 in the ACC (tie for 5th); lost to Rutgers in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
Departures: Aamir Simms (13.4 ppg., 6.4 rpg., 2.7 apg., 40% 3pt.) and Jonathan Baehre (3.4 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Olivier-Maxence Prosper transferred to Marquette, Clyde Trapp (7.3 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 35.1% 3pt.) transferred to Charlotte, John Newman transferred to Cincinnati, and Lynn Kidd transferred to Virginia Tech
Major Additions: 6-4 South Florida transfer David Collins, 6-6 Youngstown St. transfer Naz Bohannon, and 6-3 4 star recruit Joshua Beadle
Preseason Projection: 12th in the ACC
Final Record: 17-16, 8-12 in the ACC (10th)
While Clemson’s season ended with disappointment in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, last year was the second best regular season showing for the team in the Brad Brownell era. Unfortunately, the offseason got off to a terrible start for Brownell, as the seemingly inevitable loss of his best player (Simms) was compounded by the loss of his best guard (Trapp) and his best prospect (Prosper). A long bench and inconsistent minutes seem to have alienated several players, although that definitely won’t be a problem this season. After significant attrition, the Tigers have been left with substantially less depth and talent.
The most positive story for Clemson last season was probably the success of 5-10 point guard Nick Honor, who flourished as a transfer after his redshirt year. Honor (8.1 ppg., 36.7% 3pt., 1.3 spg.) is a particularly tough and aggressive player that doesn’t possess tremendous athleticism or size. He was actually more efficient offensively at Clemson than he had been at Fordham in the A 10, and he led the team in steals. While he could continue to get more efficient and his minutes will increase, his ceiling likely isn’t much higher than the season he put together last year. Al-Amir Dawes (9.0 ppg., 39.4% 3pt.) should be able to regain his starting job and start next to Honor as a junior. Dawes shot the ball extremely well last year, and his quickness makes him the Clemson player most capable of creating his own shot. The third starting guard could be Alex Hemenway, who was a particularly interesting part of Brownell’s rotation last year. Hemenway is a very good perimeter shooter (38.7% 3pt.), and that seemed to be enough for him to win a starting job down the stretch. Unfortunately, he isn’t quick enough to get a good look for himself very often, and he isn’t strong or athletic enough to make good things happen often in other areas. He played 20 minutes against Rutgers in their First Round NCAA Tournament loss, managing to go 1 for 3 from the field, and that was after scoring 5 points in 24 minutes in a humiliating ACC Tournament loss to a Miami team with six scholarship players. At no point was playing a larger lineup considered, despite the fact that Hunter Tyson, Aamir Simms, Jonathan Baehre, and Olivier-Maxence Prosper all have perimeter skills and were much more likely to make good things happen defensively and on the boards. Boo to that, I guess is what I’m saying. I think I understand why some people left. For anyone that is a big Alex Hemenway fan, don’t worry; Clemson will have to play three guards at all times this year. Unfortunately, none of those guards are really physical enough to compete on the boards and defend tradition small forwards as well as Clyde Trapp, so defense and rebounding are going to take a hit. At 6-4, 220 pounds, South Florida transfer David Collins (12.5 ppg., 37.3% 3pt.) is more likely to start than Hemenway and would be the most capable of filling that role, but he didn’t rebound that well in the AAC. Collins also had an issue with turnovers, but he should benefit from being moved off the ball and will provide scoring. Finally, Chase Hunter didn’t do much beyond playing solid on the ball defense last season, but he could see his playing time return to the 20 minutes or so he played as a freshman. It would help if he could reacquire the confidence he had then.
Even though his minutes didn’t necessarily reflect it, Hunter Tyson took a big step forward as a junior. Tyson (7.5 ppg., 4.2 rpg. in 16.7 mpg., 43.1% 3pt.) began to assert himself on the boards and found confidence in his perimeter shooting stroke, leading the team in both rebounds per minute and three point shooting percentage. The 6-8 senior should get all the minutes he can handle, and he could emerge as the best player on the team. At center, P.J. Hall is the last man standing. With no real offseason to prepare for his freshman year and his minutes limited behind Simms, Hall didn’t receive many opportunities last year, and when he did, he had a tendency to quickly get into foul trouble. However, there were a few occasions where he flashed the potential that made him a top 60 recruit last year; at 6-10, he’s big, tough, agile, and skilled, and if he keeps the fouls under control he should have a great sophomore year with plenty of minutes. A full offseason should help him develop discipline. Unless three star freshman Ian Schieffelin is ready to contribute, the only real frontcourt depth will come from Youngstown St. transfer Naz Bohannan, who should fill a role similar to that of Aamir Simms. At 6-6, he’ll be somewhat undersized, but he’s a veteran that, like Simms, will compete on the offensive and defensive boards, score in the post, and find the open man, and he has the mobility and strength to guard multiple positions. Unlike Simms, however, Bohannan (16.5 ppg., 8.2 rpg., 3.2 apg. in the Horizon League) won’t be blocking shots or hitting threes.
Despite their overall success, Clemson didn’t really excel statistically at either end of the court last season beyond a respectable field goal percentage defense (85th). This season, defense and rebounding are certain to take a hit without the length and athleticism of Trapp, Simms, Baehre, and Prosper. Offensively, Brownell’s system rarely generates many assists, so the ability of Simms and Trapp to create for themselves and others will be missed. Offensive efficiency could become an issue. With the relative ease of transferring under the NCAA’s new rules, inconsistent minutes, questionable decisions about starters, and the existence of doghouses aren’t going to fly outside of a few elite programs, and Clemson basketball isn’t one of those. Brad Brownell hasn’t failed to take Clemson to a postseason that was actually held for five years, but it will be difficult to keep that streak alive in 2022.
Feb. 6 conference midpoint update: PJ Hall has taken a huge step forward as expected despite dealing with a foot injury and David Collins has been shockingly effective on the boards, but the loss of Hunter Tyson to a broken clavicle is still a game changer offensively and on the boards for the Tigers. Naz Bohannon has been as advertised off the bench and will help keep the ball moving for the starting five, but, again, he can’t shoot the 3 and he doesn’t have Tyson’s length or athleticism. On the bright side, Chase Hunter has suddenly emerged as an offensive threat and the Tigers have shot the lights out from beyond the arc this season and are currently 17th in the nation in 3pt.%, so the team should have some momentum going into next season, but staying above .500 and qualifying for a post season tournament now seems unlikely.
Boston College Eagles
2020-2021: 4-16, 2-11 in the ACC (15th)
Departures: Steffon Mitchell (9.1 ppg., 7.3 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Jay Heath (14.5 ppg., 35.0% 3pt.) transferred to Arizona State, CJ Felder (9.7 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 2.2 bpg.) transferred to Florida, Wynston Tabbs (13.3 ppg., 39.7% 3pt.) transferred to East Carolina, Rich Kelly (11.0 ppg., 37.2% 3pt.) transferred to UMass, and Kamari Williams transferred to Miami (Ohio); Luka Kraljevic also entered the transfer portal
Graduates taking an extra year: James Karnik and Fred Scott
Major Additions: 6-2 College of Charleston transfer Brevin Galloway, 4 star recruit Gianni Thompson, 6-9 Drexel transfer T.J. Bickerstaff, 7-0 Mississippi St. transfer Quinten Post, and 6-1 junior college transfer Jaeden Zackery
Preseason Projection: 15th in the ACC
Final Record: 13-20, 6-14 in the ACC (tie for 11th)
After allowing Jim Christian to remain as head coach for at least one year longer than they should have, Boston College finally made a coaching change in mid February. The in-season firing wasn’t the result of any violations that occurred under Christian, but instead reflects the new reality that any coaching change can now result in an entire roster entering the transfer portal and must therefore be done as quickly as possible. Still, last year marked the ninth time the program has finished with a losing record in the eleven years since the firing of Al Skinner, a move that appears more ridiculous with every passing season (just as a reminder, Skinner took the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in seven of his last ten years as coach). The program will now be taken over by former College of Charleston coach Earl Grant, who despite the proactive in-season coaching change will be facing an almost complete rebuild.
Boston College does still feature a former top 40 recruit in senior Makai Ashton-Langford. While Ashton-Langford (9.6 ppg., 3.2 apg., 1.7 spg.) continued to struggle shooting the basketball last season, his assist to turnover ratio did improve and he became a threat to create turnovers defensively. The rest of the backcourt minutes will need to come from two transfers. Brevin Galloway followed Grant from Charleston, where he had proven himself as a capable scorer even against major conference competition after scoring 15 points against North Carolina in last season’s opener. Galloway (15.0 ppg., 41.9% 3pt.) was also an all conference defensive player as a junior when he averaged 2.2 steals per game. He might have emerged as the Eagles best player, but he will still be recovering from an ACL tear that ended his season in December and may not completely be himself this year. Jaeden Zackery, a third team Junior College All-American, will also be in the mix. While he shot and defended well and was reasonably efficient as a juco point guard, junior college basketball is a step below small conference Division I play and Zackery wasn’t considered one of the top prospects, so it’s even less certain what he will be able to provide an ACC team. Makai’s brother Demarr Langford, himself a top 90 recruit last season, struggled with offensive efficiency as a freshman. At 6-5, Langford (6.7 ppg., 4.2 rpg.) will be the likely starter at small forward; he should benefit from his first complete offseason. There isn’t much athleticism remaining on the Boston College roster, so the progress of the Langford brothers will suddenly become much more important. 6-9 Drexel transfer T.J. Bickerstaff could see time at both forward spots. Bickerstaff (10.2 ppg., 5.2 rpg.) improved significantly as a sophomore, but he hasn’t extended his range to the 3 point line and will need to continue to add weight if he’s going to compete in the paint in the ACC.
Two graduates that were transfers a year ago are taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility and will be the likely starters in the frontcourt. James Karnik (6.8 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) is a well conditioned 6-9 veteran that will compete on the boards, but he doesn’t have the length or athletic ability to be an efficient post scorer in the ACC. Fred Scott (7.6 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 40.0% 3pt.) is limited athletically as well, but he is a 6-8 veteran that can effectively stretch the floor. He should see more opportunities to shoot the basketball this season. Gianni Thompson, a four star recruit, has more upside than the seniors as a more athletic stretch four, but he will need to add weight to what was a 6-8, 205 pound frame to compete in the paint in the ACC. 7-0 transfer Quinten Post saw limited opportunities at Mississippi State, but he posted respectable per minute rebounding and shot blocking numbers in the SEC and could eventually challenge Karnik for a starting sport.
Earl Grant produced diminishing returns at the College of Charleston over the last two seasons (although Galloway’s injury clearly had an impact last season), and he will now be taking over a team that is as close to starting from scratch as a major conference program can be. Even the two successful teams Grant produced at Charleston failed to excel statistically at either end of the floor, and this one will face a talent deficit in ACC play. The current Eagles roster may not have a single player that would be able to earn a spot in Notre Dame’s rotation this season, and the consistent mediocrity of the program since Skinner's firing makes quick improvement through recruiting unlikely. The short term future of the Boston College men’s basketball program doesn’t exactly seem bright. At best, this year’s Eagles may have enough talent to be competitive against what should be a relatively light non-conference schedule, but it will take hot shooting versus cold opponents to manage any wins in the ACC.
Feb. 6 conference midpoint update: Boston College has been shockingly competitive in the ACC despite clearly having the least talent, and that bodes well for the rebuilding efforts of Earl Grant. There is a very real chance that every major contributor other than James Karnik will be back and two four star recruits are on the way, so the program should see improvement in year two.
2020-2021: 13-7, 8-5 in the ACC (7th )
Departures: David Johnson (12.6 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 3.2 apg., 38.6% 3pt.) was a 2nd round pick and Carlik Jones (16.8 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 4.5 apg.) entered the NBA Draft; Quinn Slazinski (6.2 ppg., 3.6 rpg.) transferred to Iona, Josh Nickelberry transferred to LaSalle, and Aidan Igiehon transferred to Grand Canyon; Charles Minlend graduated and will not return
Graduate taking an extra year: Malik Williams
Major Additions: 5-11 Marshall transfer Jarrod West, 6-3 Florida transfer Noah Locke, 6-7 Miami transfer Matt Cross, 6-1 Western Carolina transfer Mason Faulkner, 6-3 top rated junior college transfer Elbert Ellis, 6-8 top 10 junior college transfer Sydney Curry, and 6-10 top 70 recruit Roosevelt Wheeler
Preseason Projection: 3rd in the ACC; Sweet Sixteen
Final Record: 13-19, 6-14 in the ACC (tie for 11th)
Louisville ended last season in a heartbreaking position that may never exist again, waiting on a call that never came as the first alternate for a Covid-threatened NCAA Tournament. That alternate status also kept the Cardinals from competing in the NIT, which has been a building block for successful teams in the past. Like most of the ACC, Louisville experienced significant roster turnover in the offseason, including the loss of a backcourt with professional potential; however, even after the loss of top 80 recruit Mike James to a preseason injury, Chris Mack is one of the few ACC coaches that may have been able to assemble a team with more depth and talent than it had last season.
Small conference transfers can be very hit and miss, but Mack hit big with Carlik Jones at point guard a year ago, and he will need to find similar success with Marshall transfer Jarrod West this season. There is definitely reason for optimism; while West is two inches shorter than Jones at 5-11, he comes from a tougher conference, posted similar shooting numbers, and maintained a gaudy 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio (better than Jones at Radford). West (12.5 ppg., 6.0 apg., 2.5 spg., 40.8% 3pt.) will also provide more ball pressure than Jones after finishing 11th in college basketball in steals a year ago. He won’t have to be an All-ACC player like Jones for the Cardinals to be successful, but he does need to make good decisions, hit open shots, and compete defensively, and those things shouldn’t be a problem. West will be backed up and sometimes joined by two time former All-Southern Conference player Mason Faulkner (16.9 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 4.8 apg., 35.5% 3pt. at Western Carolina), who isn't quite the defensive presence or perimeter shooter that West is but will compete on the boards at 6-1. Two highly regarded 6-3 newcomers will compete for Johnson’s spot in the backcourt. Noah Locke is a former top 70 recruit that shot the ball well for Florida last season (10.6 ppg., 40.4% 3pt.), although he hasn’t provided much beyond that to this point. Elbert Ellis was a two time junior college All-American and is considered one of two best JUCO recruits entering Division I. Like Locke, he can shoot, but it may be the other aspects of their games that determines who starts. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see 6-7 transfer Matt Cross receive minutes at any position from 2 to 4; while he didn’t touch the ball much at Miami (6.9 ppg., 3.5 rpg., 40% 3pt.), when he did he was an outstanding shooter and he flashed the ability to pass and rebound effectively as well. Perimeter shooting was a major weakness for Louisville last season (the Cardinals finished 297th in 3pt.%), but Mack appears to have addressed it successfully with the additions of West, Locke, Ellis, and Cross. 6-5 sophomore D'Andre Davis was a starter for much of last season, but with the team’s increased depth he will need to show improvement at the offensive end to avoid losing minutes.
The health of fifth year senior Malik Williams will be a major variable for determining how high Louisville’s ceiling can be. When healthy, the former five star recruit is a mobile, skilled 6-11 stretch five that rebounds his position well and would provide significantly more rim protection than anyone the Cardinals had available last year. Unfortunately, his availability will be a big if after two occurences of the same foot injury cost him all but three games last season. On the other hand, a player that Mack did have available, Jae’Lyn Withers, was outstanding playing out of position at center as a redshirt freshman. Despite being somewhat undersized at 6-8, 230 pounds, Withers (10.1 ppg., 7.7 rpg., 38.1% 3pt.) more than held his own on the boards and provided enough of a deterrent on the back end for Mack’s pack line defense to remain the team’s strength. Withers is an ideal stretch four that shot well when given the opportunity, and even if Williams isn't healthy other roster additions should allow him to play primarily at his natural position. He could emerge as the team’s best player as a sophomore. A second former five star recruit, Samuel Williamson, still hasn’t figured things out offensively beyond scoring in the paint and rarely makes good things happen at the defensive end. However, he did become comfortable asserting himself on the boards as a sophomore, averaging 10.9 rebounds over the teams last seven games. If that confidence spreads to other parts of his game, he could have a breakthrough junior year. JJ Traynor flashed tantalizing potential as a true freshman last season; he has great length and athleticism, shot the ball well when given the opportunity, and actually led the team in blocked shots. If Williamson doesn’t develop further, Traynor could be in line for more minutes as he continues to add weight to what was a very lean 6-8 frame. If not this year, he will be a very good college basketball player at some point. 6-8, 260 pound junior college transfer Sydney Curry gives Mack a different option and some insurance at center; he's a mobile and well conditioned bully in the paint, and bulk was definitely something the roster had been missing. Roosevelt Wheeler, a 6-10 top 70 recruit, missed his senior year of high school with an achilles injury; while he should be healthy, he may need more time to develop. If he can contribute, he’s a traditional center that rebounds and blocks shots.
Even if Malik Williams’ feet don’t hold up and one or two of the newcomers aren’t ready right away, Chris Mack will have more options available than he is likely to use, so the Cardinals should still have plenty of talent to put on the floor. Between their poor shooting and the fact that David Johnson (3.2 topg.) never completely got past his turnover problems, Louisville struggled with offensive efficiency last season, but Johnson has since departed and the team added several established perimeter shooters. This team won with defense and rebounding (118th in fg% defense, 27th in 3pt.% defense, 46th in rebounding margin), and that may actually improve as well with a larger frontcourt and with what was a young roster continuing to develop physically. While there will be a lot of new pieces to integrate, Louisville shouldn’t have to worry about the bubble this year, and if the roster is healthy the Cardinals should manage multiple wins in March.
December 11 pre-conference update: Louisville has defended and rebounded well (40th in fg% defense and 68th in rebounding margin) and shown some of their offensive potential at times, but for the most part the team has simply shot the basketball horribly (293rd in fg%, 297th in 3pt. fg%). Jae’Lyn Withers and literally all of the guards aren’t making shots that they have in the past. Over-recruiting is likely a major factor, particularly for the guards; players are receiving inconsistent minutes, which both makes it difficult for them to get into the flow of the game and makes them put additional pressure on themselves when they do get on the court. Malik Williams has been a bright spot and should land on an all-conference team (he may be wearing some orthotics that are helping prevent injury), but if this team is going to fulfill their potential and be a threat in March the rotation likely needs to be pared down sooner rather than later.
Feb. 6 conference midpoint update: The offseason dynamics of what happened with Chris Mack at Louisville are bizarre to say the least, but what has happened to the Cardinals on the court has been interesting in its own right. If anything, Mack was too successful recruiting and it seemed to created insecurity and chemistry problems (the team captain is currently suspended and may be done with the program, and things could actually get worse by the end of the year). The (remaining) coaching staff still hasn’t decided on a consistent rotation, and the program should see a mass migration after the season. This season’s transfers will be stuck unless they want to sit through a traditional redshirt year, but Jae’Lyn Withers, Samuell Williamson, and the bizarrely and ridiculously ignored JJ Traynor should be prime candidates to look for a fresh start elsewhere, while Jarrod West, Mason Faulkner, and (theoretically) Malik Williams have all exhausted their eligibility and top 50 recruit Kamari Lands seems likely to decommit. This is going to be a completely different program next season; hopefully, one of the top priorities in the hiring process will be to find someone that will calm things down. If they end up with Will Wade, you’ll know everyone in the Louisville athletic department is crazy.
2020-2021: 10-12, 6-10 in the ACC (12th)
Departures: Justin Champagnie (18.0 ppg., 11.1 rpg., 1.3 bpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Xavier Johnson (14.2 ppg., 3.4 rpg., 5.7 apg.) transferred to Indiana, Au’Diese Toney (14.4 ppg., 5.9 rpg.) transferred to Arkansas, Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (5.2 ppg., 3.9 rpg.) transferred to St. Bonaventure, Terrell Brown transferred to San Diego, and Gerald Drumgoole transferred to Albany; Nike Sibande (6.9 ppg., 43.6% 3pt.) will miss the season with a knee injury
Major Additions: 6-4 Texas Tech transfer Jamarius Burton, 6-9 Stony Brook transfer Mouhamadou Gueye, 6-7 3 star recruit Nate Santos, 6-7 Oakland transfer Daniel Oladapo (12.9 ppg., 8.8 rpg.)
Preseason Projection: 14th in the ACC; Possible lame-duck season for Jeff Capel
Final Record: 11-21, 6-14 in the ACC (tie for 11th)
As has become the pattern under Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh began last season seeming to have turned things around with an 8-2 start that included a 4-1 mark in the ACC before Lucy (Peanuts, anyone?) somehow managed to take control of the second half. Not only did the team finish 2-10 over their last 12 games, but two key players, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney, actually jumped ship before the season was completely over. The Panther’s then lost their best player to the NBA Draft, and, after failing to land any high profile recruiting targets, Capel was left to patch together a roster as best he could through the transfer portal. The loss of starting guard a week before the season was set to begin only served to further diminish modest expectations.
The departures of Johnson and Toney left freshman Femi Odukale and transfer Nike Sibande to man the ship in the backcourt over the last five games, and the pair managed to acquit themselves relatively well. Odukale, a 6-5 point guard, put up 13.6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while hitting 5 of 8 from 3 over those five games. He should only get better as a rising sophomore following his first full offseason. Sibande, on the other hand, was lost for the season due to an early November knee injury, leaving Capel to scramble further to organize his team. Fortunately, Capel’s most promising offseason addition might be Jamarius Burton, who frankly was a very good basketball player at Wichita St. (10.3 ppg., 3.5 rpg. 3.4 apg., 38.1% 3pt. in 2019-2020) before joining the mass exodus away from a mercurial Gregg Marshall and getting buried in the crowded depth chart at Texas Tech. At 6-4, 205 pounds, Burton is a strong and athletic guard that can make good things happen at both ends of the floor, and he has proven that he can be efficient offensively in the right situation. If he can regain the confidence he had with the Shockers, the Panthers might still have a competitive starting backcourt. College basketball’s worst case of an early entrant being hurt by the lack of a preseason may have been William Jeffress, who was still considered a top 75 recruit last season after reclassifying. Jeffress wasn’t old enough to vote in last year’s election but ended up playing significant minutes for the Panthers anyway, and the results were less than encouraging. Considering how bad his shooting percentages ended up being (22.8% overall and 15.0% 3pt.) and his overall potential, he should easily be Pitt’s most improved player; the differences should be night and day with a full offseason and a year to add strength to what was a 6-7, 205 pound frame. Without Sibande, he will be given every opportunity to get comfortable because their just aren't many options left. While junior Ithiel Horton (8.9 ppg., 38.1% 3pt.) isn’t a tremendous athlete, he would continue to provide experience and a consistent perimeter threat if he is able to return following a suspension for an offcourt incident. If Horton is unable to return or Jeffress continues to struggle, 6-7 3 star recruit Nate Santos would see time as a willing shooter on the wing.
John Hugley, another early entrant, had a rough freshman year as well, although his biggest problems were off the court. On the court, Hugley is a high motor space eater in the paint at 6-9, 240 pounds; he was still considered a top 50 prospect after reclassifying, and he was second only to Champagnie in per minute rebounding last season (4.3 rpg. in 14.9 rpg.). Pittsburgh had an outstanding year rebounding the basketball (35th in rebounding margin) because of Champagnie’s dominance; Hugley will be the player most responsible for picking up the slack, and he should be more effective as a post scorer as a sophomore. Stony Brook transfer Mouhamadou Gueye (9.7 ppg., 7.1 rpg., 3.1 bpg., 34.5% 3pt.) will actually be taking over for Champagnie as the team’s stretch four, and that particular change will be noticeable. At 6-9, 210 pounds, Gueye’s 7.1 rebounds per game from last season probably won’t hold up in the ACC, although he was the America East Defensive Player of the Year last season and his off the ball shotblocking will provide rim protection that Hugley doesn’t. The pair should at least compliment one another well. Noah Collier, a 6-8 4 star recruit last year, is another player that could benefit significantly from a full offseason and time in the weight room. If he’s ready, Collier could help replace some of the rebounding and post scoring lost with Champagnie’s departure. Finally, transfer Daniel Oladapo (12.9 ppg., 8.8 rpg.) posted gaudy rebounding numbers at Oakland, but that stat was heavily padded because he played in the Horizon League for the fastest paced offense in the country and his team shot the ball very poorly last season (more misses equals more rebounding opportunities). Without a three point shot, it’s doubtful he’ll provide much at either end of the floor in the ACC.
While there haven’t been any NCAA violations for Pittsburgh under Jeff Capel, things seem to be falling apart in much the same way as they did at Oklahoma. Champagnie’s loss will hurt on the boards, while Odukale doesn’t seem to be quite the facilitator that Johnson was and Champagnie was more capable of creating his own shot than anyone on the current roster, so offensive efficiency is also likely to take a hit. Champagnie was Capel’s biggest triumph, and at times he was so obviously an NBA player playing against kids that his departure seemed like a foregone conclusion. Otherwise, Capel has managed to alienate his best players, specifically Johnson, Toney, and Trey McGowens. The return of John Hugley from suspension and the addition of a pair of competitive transfers should allow the team to remain competitive, but, as should have been expected before Capel was hired, recruiting hasn’t remained consistent, and after losing Sibande it seems unlikely that the Panthers will be able to match the 6 ACC wins they have managed in each of the last two years. Recruiting failures, untimely departures, and particularly late season collapses would be obvious red flags for any program, and without some type of major positive development Jeff Capel is likely running out of chances at Pittsburgh.
Feb. 8 conference midpoint update: Jeff Capel has recently received words of encouragement from his Athletic Director, but it would be shocking if he were able to stick around for another season. Pitt is actually getting worse in year four and recruiting has completely dried up (they have signed no one for next season), so it would be hard to rationalize letting things get worse. Due to the added dynamics of the transfer portal, including the potential to lose any current talent and the importance of adding new personnel, a change would need to happen quickly after the season ends if not before.
March 5 final update: The decision to move on from Jeff Capel evidently includes an additional complication. Despite the disappointing end to his tenure at Oklahoma, Pittsburgh had to offer Capel a generous contract to sign him four years ago. It will take $15 million for the program to buy out his contract, so that may not happen for another year despite the fact that the immediate future appears far from bright.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2020-2021: 17-9, 11-6 in the ACC (4th); lost to Loyola-Chicago in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament
Departures: Moses Wright (17.4 ppg., 8.0 rpg., 1.5 spg., 1.6 bpg., 41.4% 3pt.) and Jose Alvarado (15.2 ppg., 3.5 rpg., 4.1 apg., 2.8 spg., 39% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft
Graduates taking an extra year: Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham
Major Additions: 6-1 Mississippi State transfer Deivon Smith, 6-6 top 50 recruit Dallan Coleman, 6-5 top 90 recruit Miles Kelly, and 6-6 4 star recruit Jalon Moore
Preseason Projection: 13th in the ACC
Final Record: 12-20, 5-15 in the ACC (14th)
Last season was Georgia Tech’s best under Josh Pastner, and it included the program’s first ACC Tournament Championship since 1993 before ending in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the team now loses two All-ACC players to the NBA, and that includes the reigning ACC Player of the Year (Wright) and Defensive Player of the Year (Alvarado).
In addition to his defensive accomplishments, Jose Alvarado was tremendously efficient offensively as a senior, helping lead the Yellow Jackets to what was easily their best offensive performance under Pastner (Georgia Tech finished 27th in overall field goal percentage and 17th in assist to turnover ratio, both of which have been problem areas in the past). Those numbers seem likely to fall back to earth without Alvarado and Wright. Bubba Parham will eventually return for a fifth year of eligibility and has at least avoided turnovers, but for the most part he has been little more than a passable reserve since transferring from VMI and he could miss half the season due to a late October knee injury. Junior Kyle Sturdivant was reasonably productive in limited minutes after transferring from USC and may have a higher ceiling than Parham, but he’s played exclusively off the ball. Neither player has Alvarado’s quickness or tenacity, and neither can pressure the ball or run the offensively as effectively. Mississippi St. transfer Deivon Smith, a former top 70 recruit, has the potential to eventually do both, but he’s a work in progress shooting the basketball and may be a year or two away from being the player Alvarado was at the offensive end as a senior. The Yellow Jackets do have plenty of talent on the wings, led by what should be their best player in senior Michael Devoe. Devoe (15.0 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 40% 3pt.) is an excellent scorer and was himself an All-ACC honorable mention; there may be an attempt to put the ball in his hands, but he clearly has a scorer’s mentality and can have turnover problems when left to facilitate the offense. Three highly regarded freshmen, Dallan Coleman, Miles Kelly, and Jalon Moore, will round out the perimeter rotation. Coleman, a 6-6 top 50 recruit, is an outstanding perimeter shooter with a well developed all around game; he could emerge as the team’s second best player and second leading scorer. Kelly, a 6-5 four star recruit, will provide another long range weapon, although his need to add strength may limit what he can do as a freshman. Moore, a 6-6 4 star recruit, could help offensively as well, but more importantly he’s a high motor athlete that should be helpful defending both on the perimeter and in the post. He could see time as a stretch 4 in smaller lineups.
Jordan Usher will also be taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility. At 6-7, Usher (11.6 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 1.6 spg.) is a small forward masquerading as a stretch four that struggles with the stretch part and doesn’t really rebound well enough for the position. Still, he is a great athlete that began to assert himself defensively and by attacking the rim offensively last season. The Yellow Jackets will need him to be more competitive on the boards with less talent in the post. Senior Khalid Moore served as the team’s primary frontcourt reserve by default last season; while he uses his length and athleticism effectively at the defensive end, he still seems lost on offense and has rarely shown flashed of what made him a well regarded point guard prospect coming out of high school. If he can’t progress, he may lose his playing time to one of the freshmen. Georgia Tech’s biggest problem is the hole in the middle created by Wright; rim protection has been a key to Georgia Tech’s defense during Pastnor’s tenure thanks to Ben Lammers, James Banks, and Moses Wright, and neither Saba Gigiberia or Rodney Howard has shown much to be optimistic about to this point. That being said, player development has been excellent under Pastner, and both players would have benefited from a full offseason. Gigiberia was a top 80 recruit coming out of high school, and at 7-1 he has long arms and perimeter skills including the ability to stretch the floor. He obviously has potential, but defense and rebounding will be the issues. Howard is a solid athlete at 6-10, but he really hasn’t done much beyond blocking the occasional shot in the playing time he’s been given at both Georgia and Georgia Tech. Jordan Meka, a 6-8 sophomore that saw his freshman year end after one game due to back surgery, will be in the mix as well; while he won’t provide much offensively, he’s the best rebounder and shotblocker of the group, and those are really the skills the Yellow Jackets need the most from the position. Despite being just 6-7, 200 pounds, Moore was essentially the team’s backup center for much of last season (Wright averaged 35.3 minutes per game); hopefully, that won’t be necessary this year.
Josh Pastner has assembled plenty of talent on the wings and Georgia Tech will be competitive 2 through 4, but Alvarado and Wright keyed the Yellow Jackets’ attack at both ends of the floor, and there is no clear replacement for Wright in the post. Alvarado’s abilities to create for himself and others off the dribble and to hit big shots and Wright’s skill as a low post scorer will be missed, so offensive efficiency is going to take a hit. The bigger issue will be at the defensive end; before last season, defense had been Georgia Tech’s strength under Pastner, but they were actually terrible last year, finishing 278th in field goal percentage defense, 315th in 3pt. percentage defense, and 294th in rebounding margin, and that was with the conference Defensive Player of the Year and a strong effort from Wright playing out of position. Unless there is a very pleasant surprise at center, things could actually get ugly for the Yellow Jackets, and last season’s ACC Tournament victory might seem very far away by the end of the year.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
2020-2021: 14-11, 9-8 in the ACC (9th); lost to Colorado St. in the NIT quarterfinals
Departures: Devon Daniels (16.5 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 3.3 apg., 1.7 spg., 34.5% 3pt.) graduated and will not return; DJ Funderburk (12.6 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Shakeel Moore (6.8 ppg., 1.4 spg. in 18.5 mpg.) transferred to Mississippi St., Braxton Beverly (7.0 ppg., 40% 3pt.) transferred to Eastern Kentucky, and Nick Farrar transferred to Charleston; Manny Bates (Manny Bates (9.8 ppg., 5.9 rpg., 2.7 bpg.) will miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury suffered in the first minute of the first game
Major Additions: 6-9 top 60 recruit Ernest Ross, 6-3 Virginia transfer Casey Morsell, 6-3 top 90 recruit Terquavion Smith, and 6-8 Providence transfer Greg Gantt (4.0 ppg., 3.1 rpg.), 5-11 4 star recruit Breon Pass
Preseason Projection: 11th in the ACC
Final Record: 11-21, 4-16 in the ACC (15th)
With the exception of his first year at the school when the roster was primarily composed of the remnants of Mark Gottfried’s last team, Kevin Keatts’ Wolfpack has consistently teetered on the edge of NCAA Tournament contention, including their second NIT appearance in as many tournaments last year. The departure of several key players, most notably the surprise transfer of developing potential star Shakeel Moore and Devon Daniels’ decision not to return, combined with Manny Bates’ season ending injury and a lack of obvious incoming stars, could find the team struggling to tread water this season.
While Moore did show significant potential, the player most likely to have a breakthrough sophomore campaign was always going to be Cam Hayes. Hayes (7.8 ppg., 3.1 apg., 1.3 spg., 36.4% 3pt.) was a top 50 recruit a year ago and had a promising and productive freshman year at both ends of the floor without the benefit of a full preseason; with more preparation and more consistent playing time following the departures of Moore and Braxton Beverly, it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to make an All-ACC team in his second year. Hayes is likely to be joined in the backcourt by either Virginia transfer Casey Morsell or freshman Terquavion Smith. Morsell was originally a top 50 recruit two years ago, but never became comfortable in Virginia’s slow paced offense and shot the ball poorly (39.6% fg. and 26.3% 3pt.); he could benefit tremendously from a move to NC State’s more uptempo approach. Smith, a top 90 recruit, is a confident, capable, and efficient scorer that should be ready to make an impact right away. Senior Thomas Allen (7.4 ppg., 1.3 spg., 37.9% 3pt.) will again offer an experienced perimeter threat off the bench, although he could lose playing time in a crowded backcourt. Four star combo guard Breon Pass could provide some of the same sort of speed and aggression as the departed Moore, but it won’t have quite the same impact as still having Moore around.
Jericole Hellems (12.9 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 38.3% 3pt.) took a big step forward last season, particularly with regards to shooting the ball more efficiently, and will be expected to do so again as a senior. Unfortunately, at 205 pounds Hellems isn’t really big enough to be an ideal stretch four and can struggle to rebound his position and keep larger players out of the paint. Despite coming in as a point guard prospect, 6-7 sophomore Dereon Seabron is likely to again see most of his minutes at forward as well because of his height and the crowded backcourt. He performed well defensively and on the boards as a redshirt freshman despite the need to add weight (he’s even leaner than Hellems at 180 pounds), and he has the skills to do more on offense. Unfortunately, the lack of bulk from the team’s primary forwards will be compounded by the loss of Bates. The Wolfpack defense was heavily dependent on Bates’ shot blocking ability (they were 51st in blocks), and the center position now seems likely to be manned by sophomore projects Ebenezer Dowuona, who at least matches Bates’ height at 6-11, and Jaylon Gibson (6-9). Realistically, both players are further along defensively than they are offensively and Bates was still a limited offensive threat, so the change at least shouldn’t significantly impact style of play. Although 6-9 top 60 recruit Ernest Ross is the team’s most highly regarded freshman, he’s currently limited offensively as well and will need to add weight, so he may essentially be DJ Funderburk without the scoring as a freshman. Greg Gantt, a 6-8 former top 70 recruit at Providence, has suddenly become a very important player for the Wolfpack. Gantt was considered a small forward coming out of high school and didn’t play particularly well at Providence, but he has potential as a stretch four. Now, at 220 pounds, he actually outweighs Ross and the backup center Gibson, and NC State will need him to help provide some semblance of resistance in the paint and contribute on the boards.
NC State ran a fairly efficient offense last season (42nd in fg%, 69th in 3pt.%), although more prep time for their freshmen guards definitely would have helped with turnovers (160th in assist to turnover ratio). An improving Hayes should help, but without DJ Funderburk the Wolfpack won’t really have a post scoring threat this year and shooting percentages could drop. The real problem for the Wolfpack has been defense and rebounding (254th in fg% defense, 215th in 3pt% defense, 227th in rebounding), and the departure of Moore and Funderburke and the injury to Bates certainly won’t help. Kevin Keatts likes to pressure the basketball (NC State was 36th in steals), but without perimeter length that doesn’t really work against the better ACC teams, and the team isn’t built to defend in the half court. NC State was one of the ACC teams hit hardest by a turbulent offseason, and without Moore, Daniels, Funderburk, and now Bates, even a return to the NIT could prove challenging for what will now be a very young Wolfpack.
Feb. 13 Update: The ACC really isn’t very very good past the top 7 teams, so the possibility of winning a total of 4 or 5 ACC games should be incredibly disheartening to Wolfpack fans. The loss of Manny Bates does have something to do with it, but not nearly to the point that their degree of failure isn’t disturbing. The team is 287th in overall field goal percentage despite having perhaps the most effective driving scorer in the country in potential All-ACC forward Dereon Seabron and several quality perimeter shooters, which mostly speaks to a lack of organization, and they are 335th in field goal percentage defense, which is not acceptable under any circumstances. Kevin Keatts will probably get to stick around for another year with the Bates injury as a built in excuse, but he will definitely be on the hot seat next season.
Preseason All-ACC Teams
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team|
Jeremy Roach, Duke
Reece Beekman, Virginia
Jarrod West, Louisville
Michael Devoe, Georgia Tech
Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse
Anthony Polite, FSU
Paulo Banchero, Duke
Matthew Cleveland, FSU
Anthony Walker, Miami
Jae'Lyn Withers, Louisville
Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech
Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame
Dawson Garcia, North Carolina
Armando Bacot, North Carolina
Mark Williams, Duke
Current All-ACC Teams
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team|
Blake Wesley, Notre Dame
Dereon Seabron, NC State
Reese Beekman, UVA
Alondes Williams, WFU
Kameron McGusty, Miami
Michael Devoe, GTU
Wendell Moore, Duke
Jake LaRavia, WFU
Dane Goodwin, Notre Dame
Paolo Banchero, Duke
Justyn Mutts, VTU
Jayden Garner, UVA
Armando Bacot, UNC
Mark Williams, Duke
Keve Aluma, VTU