2018-2019 ACC Basketball Preview
The ACC sent 9 teams to last season’s NCAA Tournament, and the 17 win conference champion became part of the biggest upset in the history of college basketball. Since then, the conference lost 12 players that were early entrants to the NBA Draft and landed 19 of the top 100 recruits in the country, while Louisville landed one of the best coaching candidates available and Pittsburgh somehow embraced Sam Hinkie’s process. The 2018-2019 ACC regular season could be one of the most competitive in years, with the possibility of Virginia and Duke taking a step back and Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Louisville improving to create a closely matched top 8 that will not produce another run away 17 win conference champion, but should produce at least 8 more NCAA Tournament berths in March.
*This article will be updated for personnel changes through the beginning of the season and will receive additional updates prior to conference play and prior to Tournament play.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2017-2018: 26-11, 11-7 (tie for 3rd) in the ACC; lost to Texas A&M in the NCAA Round of 32
Preseason Projection: 1st in the ACC; NCAA Final 4
Departures: Joel Berry (17.1 ppg., 3.5 rpg., 3.2 apg., 34.4% 3pt.) and Theo Pinson (10.3 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 5.1 apg.) graduated
North Carolina followed their 2017 National Championship with a disappointing second round loss in the NCAA Tournament, and Roy Williams must now replace the two primary offensive facilitators from that squad. He does return three starters, and adds UNC’s best recruiting class in years.
Replacing Berry will be Williams’ biggest challenge this season, particularly considering the most likely candidates are going to be freshmen. Coby White, a 6-5 top 25 recruit and the all time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history, should ultimately become the starter. If White does win the position, he will definitely bring a score first mentality; he’s an excellent perimeter shooter and a multi-speed driver that can finish at the basket in a variety of ways. Joel Berry was a score first point guard, so it wouldn’t represent a huge change for White to take over. Although he likely won’t start, Rechon Black, a 6-8 top 50 recruit, could become the team’s primary facilitator and spend much of his time as the defacto point guard. Similar to Pinson, Black is a pass first player with excellent vision as well as a strong rebounder that excels at starting the break. Also like Pinson, Black doesn’t shoot the 3 well at this point, but that won’t be a problem for the Tar Heels. Junior Seventh Woods will get a look at point guard as well, but his offensive skill set simply hasn’t developed. Regardless of who handles the ball, they will receive significant support from senior wings Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. The 6-4 Williams (11.4 ppg., 40.7% 3pt.) is a high end 3 and D wing that took a huge step forward as a junior. The 6-8 Johnson (12.4 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 34.1% 3pt.) struggled slightly with his shot in his first year after transferring from Pittsburgh, but he’s still a career 38.0% shooter from behind the arc for his career. Both Williams and Johnson posted better than 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratios a year ago and will help take care of the basketball, and both are willing contributors on the boards that will help the Tar Heels retain their rebounding edge (the Tar Heels finished 3rd in the country a year ago). Wiry 6-5 junior Brandon Robinson will provide Williams with additional depth as a developing 3 and D wing.
Luke Maye (16.9 ppg., 10.1 rpg., 43.1% 3pt.) was a breakout star for the Tar Heels following his 2017 NCAA Tournament heroics, and should be in the running for national player of the year as a senior. Despite limited athletic ability, he has an innate ability to find or create space for himself as both a shooter and rebounder; combined with a soft and accurate shooting touch and solid vision as a passer, he can capably serve as the focal point of the offense. Maye’s also a smart defensive player that can defend on the perimeter but more than held his own in the post after Williams moved him to center to create more favorable offensive matchups. Joining Maye in the frontcourt will be Roy Williams’ first top 5 recruit since Harrison Barnes. Nassir Little, a 6-7 projected top 5 pick in next year’s draft, should move into the starting lineup as the team’s stretch 4 while spending significant time at small forward. He’s an explosive scorer with an improving perimeter jump shot, and his length and athleticism will allow him to compete defensively on the boards. The Tar Heels will get larger when they go to the bench, with sophomores Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley looking to build on better than expected freshman campaigns. Prior to Maye’s move to center in early January, the pair was averaging a respectable combined 30.8 minutes, 11.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. The 6-9 Brooks was the starter to begin the season, and he stepped in seamlessly to help at the defensive end and on the boards. The 6-11 Manley got lost at times, but his size and athleticism give him more upside. He’s already an imposing rebounder and shotblocker. Both should be better able to score in the post as sophomores after working on post moves in the offseason.
Just how good this North Carolina team is going to be will be largely determined by how efficiently the offense can run with freshmen running the point. While that will be an imposing task, it will be made significantly easier by the ability of returning starters Maye, Johnson, and Williams to stretch the floor. The Tar Heels also excel at passing as a team; they finished 3rd in the country in assist to turnover ratio a year ago, and everyone outside of their true centers had more assists than turnovers. With the addition of two high end scorers in Little and White to Maye and spot up shooters Williams and Johnson, scoring might actually come more easily to North Carolina, who finished last season 123rd in overall fg.% and 116th in 3pt.%. Otherwise, rebounding should again be a major strength, while the increased length on the perimeter should allow the team to better contest 3 point shooters (they were a dismal 322nd in 3pt.% defense a year ago). While Joel Berry was the most important player on the 2017 NCAA Championship team, Roy Williams will theoretically be putting more talent on the floor than he did a year ago; combined with a strong group of seniors, the Tar Heels should be a favorite to win an ACC title and potentially reach the Final Four.
Virginia Tech Hokies
2017-2018: 21-12, 10-8 (7th) in the ACC; lost to Alabama in the NCAA Round of 64
Preseason Projection: 2nd in the ACC; NCAA Elite 8
Departures: Justin Bibbs (13.3 ppg., 39.8% 3pt.) and Devin Wilson (2.8 ppg., 1.9 rpg., 23.5% 3pt% in 16.4 mpg) graduated
As he continues to build a program that finished last in the ACC for the second consecutive time just four years ago, Buzz Williams took last year’s Virginia Tech team to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance following a nine year absence. With all but one major contributor returning to one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country and the addition of two players that were missing last season as well as two highly regarded freshmen, the ceiling will again move higher for the Hokies.
Justin Robinson returns to serve as Virginia Tech’s heart and soul as a senior. He aggressively attacks off the dribble, finds open teammates, shoots clutch 3’s, and relentlessly pursues at the defensive end. Robinson (14.0 ppg., 5.6 apg., 1.2 spg., 39.8% 3pt.%) had an outstanding junior year, leading the team in points, assists, and steals, while also shooting a high percentage beyond the arc. His backup Wabissa Bede, a top 80 recruit a year ago, saw limited opportunities as a freshman, but when he did he took good care of the basketball and shot well from behind the arc. He’s a similar player to Robinson and should be prepared to take over for him next year. Williams added another 4 star point guard in 6-4 Jon Kabongo, but he could be a redshirt candidate thanks to a late growth spurt. Joining Robinson in the backcourt will be sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a 6-5 top 25 recruit a year ago that projects as a first round pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Alexander-Walker (10.7 ppg., 39.2% 3pt.) posted solid numbers as a freshman, but should be prepared to take over as the team’s leading scorer this year. At small forward, 6-5 Ahmed Hill, another long and active wing that is dangerous behind the arc, returns for his senior year. Hill (10.6 ppg., 41.0% 3pt.) is capable of more, particularly at the defensive end. Freshman Landers Nolley, a 6-5 top 60 recruit, fits the same mold, although he enters college with even more of a reputation as a threat from behind the arc.
The key to Virginia Tech’s frontcourt play will again be 6-6 senior Chris Clarke, who was able to play in every game for the Hokies last season after suffering through injuries his first two years at the program. He’s the team’s best rebounder and a strong defender with good hands, and he helps Robinson facilitate the offense. Clarke (8.2 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 3.0 apg., 42.4% 3pt.) has been working on his perimeter shot, and may even become a more potent scoring threat as a senior. The Hokies will also see the return of senior Ty Outlaw from the knee injury that cost him last season; when he last played, Outlaw put on a ridiculous display (he hit 32 3’s at a 64% clip in the 8 games prior to his injury) from 3 point range. He should see time at both forward spots. 6-10 junior Kerry Blackshear (12.5 ppg., 5.9 rpg.) will again start at center; he’s a respectable post scorer that is slowly expanding the range on his jump shot, and he held up reasonably well as a post defender last season. 6-10 sophomore Khadim Sy, who started most of the games but played limited minutes at center two years ago, made some interesting decisions that ultimately hurt the team last year, but he eventually landed back at the school. He’s limited offensively but has more potential as a rebounder and shot blocker than Blackshear, and his return means that the Hokies won’t be forced to play with a 6-5 player at center during the 15 minutes or so that Blackshear is off the floor (P.J. Horne held up well under the circumstances, but it wasn’t a nice thing to ask him to do). That should be a significant boost to Virginia Tech defensively after finishing last season 112th in overall field goal% defense and a disturbing-for-an-ACC-team 259th in rebounding margin.
Virginia Tech finished last season 6th in overall field goal%, 30th behind the arc, and 26th in assist to turnover ratio, and if anything there is reason to believe they will be better in every category (Devin Wilson’s 16.4 minutes per game will go to players that will be much more helpful at the offensive end). The team should also improve at the defensive end and on the boards with another year of physical development for returning players, Wilson’s minutes going to larger players that are more productive rebounders, and the return of Khadim Sy. While it’s still too early in the program’s development to consider Virginia Tech the favorite to win an ACC title, they are the safest bet among last year’s NCAA Tournament teams to be better than they were a year ago. At the very least, this should be the year that Buzz Williams takes the program to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
2017-2018: 31-3, 17-1 (1st) in the ACC; lost to 16 seed UMBC in the NCAA Round of 64
Preseason Projection: 3rd in the ACC; NCAA Sweet 16
Departures: Devon Hall (11.7 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 3.1 apg., 43.2% 3pt.), Isaiah Wilkins (6.0 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 1.4 bpg.), and Nigel Johnson graduated
Last season, Virginia won their third ACC regular season title in five years – and followed that by becoming the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. The challenge of recovering from that humiliation will be taken on by the same group of players, minus two senior leaders and without the addition of any newcomers likely to contribute immediately.
With Hall’s departure, even more pressure to create offense will be placed in the hands of the junior backcourt of Kyle Guy (14.1 ppg., 39.2% 3pt.) and Ty Jerome (10.6 ppg., 3.9 apg., 37.9% 3pt.). There is every reason to believe the pair can do more; both can create off the dribble and find teammates as well as create their own shot, and both are excellent shooters. The pair improved significantly as sophomores, with Guy being named first team All-ACC and Jerome being named to the third team. Their supporting cast will change significantly, however, as there will be no other traditional guards to turn to off the bench. The pair will, however, receive significantly more help from redshirt sophomore De’Andre Hunter, the team’s best NBA prospect and a likely first round pick in next year’s draft. Hunter was heating up at the end of the year, and averaged 12.1 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 60% from 3 over his last 8 games prior to his wrist injury. His long arms and athleticism should make him the team’s best perimeter defender after Hall’s departure, and he could also emerge as the teams leading scorer with his rapidly developing game both inside and outside the arc. The remainder of the perimeter minutes should go to 6-4 redshirt sophomore Marco Anthony and 6-7 redshirt freshman Francesco Badocchi, both of whom are long and athletic and should be excellent fits in Bennett’s pack line defense. Anthony played well in very limited opportunities last season and should at least be able to hit an open 3, while Badocchi will be more of an unknown at that end.
Virginia will also expect more of the scoring load to be filled by 6-9 Mamadi Diakite, who started to emerge as a capable and entertaining post scorer as a sophomore. Diakite’s contributions should also increase both on the boards and in protecting the rim as he continues to add strength. De’Andre Hunter should also see minutes at power forward, allowing Bennett to spread the floor with a more dangerous offensive lineup for stretches. 6-11 senior Jack Salt returns to anchor the defense and help closeout defensive possessions, although his contributions beyond that will remain limited. The most interesting member of the frontcourt rotation could again be 6-11 redshirt sophomore Jay Huff, who was unable to crack the rotation a year ago (evidently for defensive reasons) despite his unique athleticism, shot blocking ability, and perimeter shooting. He should split time with Salt at center, but if he isn’t going to be a part of the rotation as a sophomore he should probably go elsewhere sooner rather than later; he would be a major contributor for most programs. If he is able to contribute, Virginia becomes a much more dangerous team at the offensive end of the floor.
Last year’s Cavaliers were highly efficient (5th in assist to turnover ratio and 41st in 3pt.%) and featured three point guards in the starting lineup with a fourth coming off the bench, while this year’s team will only have one on the floor at times when one of the starting guards sits; offensive efficiency is going to drop. The team also lost its two best defenders (Hall and Wilkins), but those minutes will go to players that are also excellent fits into the defensive scheme, so they should continue to dominate at that end (they were 3rd in fg% defense and 10th in 3pt.% defense a year ago), at least against non-conference competition. However, what will almost certainly effect the team’s defensive dominance in the ACC will be the arrival of a second coach teaching the pack line defense in Chris Mack. UVA should still feature a stronger version with Louisville’s players all being new to the system (and Mack’s team’s haven’t been as successful at that end, in part due to their wish to push the ball more offensively), but with teams now facing the system 2 to 6 times a year instead of 1 to 3 they are eventually going to become more comfortable against it. This is a crucial year for the Virginia program; if they double down on last year’s humiliating loss in the NCAA Tournament, it could shake people’s faith in Bennett’s ability to eventually win in March, which would in turn hurt recruiting. A Sweet 16 appearance seems like a must for UVA to continue to compete at the top of the ACC. They certainly have the talent to do that, but another failure in March remains a very real possibility. Nothing hurts offensive flow more than placing artificial restrictions on the offense, and that is exactly what Bennett does; despite having superior talent, the team was never able to establish any kind of rhythm at that end against UMBC, and the results were historic in the worst possible way. If those restrictions are removed, then UVA could eventually contend for a National Title; if not, the team’s glass ceiling will remain painfully visible.
Duke Blue Devils
2017-2018: 29-8, 13-5 (2nd) in the ACC; lost to Kansas in the Elite 8
Preseason Projection: 4th in the ACC; NCAA Sweet 16
Departures: Grayson Allen (15.5 ppg., 4.6 apg., 1.7 spg., 37.0% 3pt.) graduated; Marvin Bagley III (21.0 ppg., 11.1 rpg., 39.7% 3pt.), Gary Trent Jr. (14.5 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 40.2% 3pt.), Wendell Carter Jr. (13.5 ppg., 9.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg., 41.3% 3pt.), and Trevon Duval (10.3 ppg., 5.6 apg., 1.5 spg.) entered the NBA Draft
Last year’s Duke Blue Devils were the youngest in Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure, with four five-star freshmen starters to go along with a lone senior and more youth coming off the bench. The team was able to meet the expectations that came with the nation’s premiere recruiting class by reaching the Elite 8, but Krzyzewski will be starting from scratch, once again with the advantage of college basketball’s top recruiting class, following the departure of his entire starting lineup.
While Duke’s freshman class includes the top 3 recruits in the country, the most important member of the class could be point guard Tre Jones. Jones is a top 12 recruit nationally and the brother of Tyus Jones, who helped bring Duke a National Title in 2015. He’s a pass first point guard that can create, which will be particularly important considering the talent of his teammates and the possibility that the team won’t stretch the floor as well as Duke normally does (Jones may not help in that area either; he struggled shooting from the shorter high school 3 point line as a senior). The only other traditional point guard on the roster will be sophomore Jordan Goldwire, who may be able to take care of the basketball and defend his position but will provide little offensively off the bench. Jones will be joined in the backcourt by 6-7 R.J. Barrett, the number 1 recruit in college basketball and a potential number 1 pick in next year’s draft. Barrett is physically explosive and can do everything well with the possible exception of shooting from the perimeter. In addition to scoring, he’ll help Jones facilitate the offense and contribute on the boards. Cameron Reddish, the number two recruit and a potential lottery pick, will step in at small forward. Like Barrett, he’s an excellent athlete that will help at the defensive end and he’s an unselfish player that can create and will keep the ball moving. Reddish is really the only one of the 4 elite recruits that has an established ability to shoot from the perimeter, so he’ll be the most likely candidate to lead the team in scoring. He also spent time at point guard for the Team USA U-19 team, so if Jones falter he would provide another option. Due to the limited number of perimeter threats, 6-6 sophomore Alex O’Connell, a top 90 recruit a year ago that averaged just 10.4 minutes a game despite being the first perimeter player off the bench, will suddenly find himself incredibly important to Duke’s offensive success after establishing himself as a dangerous perimeter threat (48.9% 3pt.) as a freshman. O’Connell is a capable athlete in his own right and should be able to help more in every way after adding strength to his wiry frame. Duke welcomes another similar wing in 6-7 top 40 recruit Joey Baker, but he will be a redshirt candidate as an early college entrant.
Zion Williamson, the number three recruit in the class of 2018 and a potential top 5 draft pick, may generate the most excitement among Duke’s newcomers. At a physically explosive 6-6, 275 pounds, Williamson is reminiscent of a young Charles Barkley (assuming you’re old enough to remember that), although Williamson is bigger and isn’t quite that fast. He should excel as a rebounder and post scorer, he’s another willing passer, and he’ll aid in protecting the rim. Again, Williamson doesn’t shoot the 3 at a high percentage to this point (although it is a work in progress), and Duke started 5 players that could shoot from the perimeter a year ago. Marques Bolden will likely move into the starting center position. Bolden doesn’t really have the physical explosiveness or motor to live up to his original top 10 recruiting ranking, but he’s a solid big man that should be able to rebound, block shots, and score in the post as a junior. Even though Krzyzewski simply doesn’t use his bench much at this point, Javin DeLaurier had a breakthrough sophomore year and even started a few games due to the length it gave the front line once the team switched to a zone full time. DeLaurier is another outstanding athlete and established himself as a strong rebounder (4.0 rpg. in just 12.7 minutes) and a capable defender both in the paint and on the perimeter. With all of their size and athleticism, Duke will have a very real chance to lead the nation in rebounding in 2018-2019.
Duke will actually be younger than they were a year ago, when they started four freshman but still had a senior NBA prospect to run the point for extended periods of time. Even though the four freshmen are all willing and capable passers, without an experienced guard turnovers could be an issue, and that will be compounded by the fact that this team may not shoot the 3 particularly well either. Also, after the freshmen began to struggle in his man defensive system midway through last year (they lost 3 of four, including giving up 81 points to St. Johns and 82 to UNC in losses), Krzyzewski switched to the zone he had picked up from Jim Boeheim to take advantage of the team’s length and to allow his starters to play more minutes (it worked: the team went from a strong 34th in overall fg% defense and 38th in 3pt. % defense over their first 24 games to a dominant 17th in overall fg% defense and 29th in 3pt.% defense by the end of the season). Duke doesn’t have the length of Bagley and Carter this year, so a move back to man seems likely, and that could see the return of problems with late game defensive fatigue due to the increasingly short bench, meaning the defense probably won’t be quite as effective as it was a year ago either. Krzyzewski will be facing a new and unique challenge at both ends of the floor (although it’s a remarkably similar challenge to what John Calipari faced a year ago at Kentucky), and it’s hard to project this team as a contender for either an ACC or National Title. On the other hand, while there is reason to doubt what they will accomplish this year, Duke does have the top 3 recruits in this class as well as the top rated point guard, and they’re coached by Mike Krzyzewski, so the best case scenario for the Blue Devils will again be a National Championship.
2017-2018: 23-14, 8-10 (tie for 10th) in the ACC; lost to Duke in the Sweet 16
Preseason Projection: 5h in the ACC; NCAA Elite 8
Departures: Matthew Moyer transferred to Vanderbilt
The Orange were a controversial addition to last year’s NCAA Tournament but responded by winning three games to reach the Sweet 16. Jim Boeheim’s zone was one of the best defenses in the country (at two ACC schools – it was used at Duke as well), while the offense was one of the worst (they finished a remarkable-for-a-NCAA-Tournament-team 318th in overall fg.%, 328th in 3pt.%, and 308th in assist to turnover ratio), which made Syracuse games difficult to watch at times. The defense should again be staunch (they finished 5th in fg% defense, 22nd in 3pt.% defense, and 57th in rebounding margin), while the addition of a pair of talented freshman perimeter players and the surprising return of Tyus Battle provide hope for significant improvement at the offensive end.
After struggling with inconsistency the first two years of his career, Frank Howard (14.4 ppg., 4.7 apg., 1.8 spg.) took over the point guard position by default yet performed admirably with very little help after Geno Thorpe left the program. His numbers weren’t great, but he was the only member of the team to average over 1.5 apg. while also maintaining a positive assist to turnover ratio. Howard’s an excellent passer, a disruptive defender, and he can get to the rim. Although still maddeningly inconsistent with his jump shot, he is improving as a perimeter shooter, which will be much easier with better floor spacing and a little rest. With few other options at point guard, Howard was forced to play an average of 38.4 minutes a game last year; with much needed help arriving, he could emerge as a star as a senior. Freshman combo guard Jalen Carey, a 6-4 top 40 recruit, should take some of the pressure off of Howard. Carey is incredibly fast and can create off the dribble and find open teammates. It’s possible that he could get out of control at times and turn the ball over, but the additional ball movement and improved spacing created by his drives should at least help improve the team’s dismal shooting percentages. Tyus Battle (19.2 ppg.), a 6-6 junior who would have been drafted at some point had he kept his name in, should benefit from the arrival of the freshmen as well. Battle’s shooting fell off last year due to limited ball movement, scoring options, floor spacing, and rest (Battle played a team leading 39 minutes per game); again, all four should improve, and Battle should go from second team All-Conference to first and improve his draft stock as a result. The second potential impact freshman is Buddy Boeheim, the coach’s son, who was only a three star prospect due to limited athleticism but is 6-5 and one of the best perimeter shooters in his class. His length will help him fit into the team’s zone, which he is quite familiar with, and his shooting ability will provide much needed floor spacing for the offense. He should help right away. Point guard Howard Washington struggled in limited opportunities as a freshman, but he could still be a part of the team’s long term plans.
The breakthrough star for last year’s Orange was 6-8 forward Oshae Brissett, who plays with one of the highest motors in college basketball. He’s a dominant defensive rebounder that allows the team to close out possessions quickly, and offensively he attacks the rim as well as anyone in the conference. Perhaps most impressively, he somehow manages to do both without getting into foul trouble (he was the third Syracuse player to average over 38 minutes per game). Brissett (14.9 ppg., 8.8 rpg.) also struggled to hit shots at times, but again that was largely because limited offensive options left him to force bad shots and his legs were tired by the end of games. His shot selection should improve with the arrival of the freshmen, who will allow him to slide to power forward more often as a sophomore. Marek Dolezaj had a strong freshman year as well; he came in with a reputation for scoring, but his contributions were primarily at the defensive end and on the offensive boards despite weighing under 200 pounds at 6-9 last year. With added strength, he should improve in every aspect of his game as a sophomore, including providing more scoring as he did during the ACC and NCAA Tournaments when he averaged a combined 11.2 points per game. The Orange’s stifling defense was anchored by their centers, where Paschal Chukwu (6.8 rpg., 2.5 bpg.) was able to play in every game and provided outstanding rim protection and rebounded well at both ends of the floor. Combined with rising sophomore Bourama Sidibe, Syracuse totaled 10 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game from the center position.
Syracuse should again be one of the premiere defensive teams in the country. Offensively, the addition of more weapons should result in improved shot selection and shooting percentages; while they won’t suddenly become an offensive juggernaut, the Orange should be substantially improved from last year at that end of the floor. An expanded rotation will help the team at both ends as well, as Boeheim was down to using six players by the end of the year. After what could be considered a pair of rebuilding years that somehow included a Sweet 16 appearance, Syracuse should again compete at the top of the ACC and, with their tendency to seriously mess people up at the defensive end in the NCAA Tournament, have the potential to advance even further in March.
2017-2018: 22-14, 9-9 (tie for 8th) in the ACC; lost to Miss. St. in the NIT Quarterfinals
Preseason Projection: 6h in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32
Departures: Deng Adel (15.0 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 35.0% 3pt.) and Ray Spalding (12.3 ppg., 8.7 rpg., 1.5 spg., 1.7 bpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Quentin Snider (11.8 ppg., 4.0 apg., 41.6% 3pt.) and Anas Mahmoud (6.8 ppg., 5.0 rpg., 2.9 bpg.) graduated
Despite a loaded roster, Louisville ended last season in the NIT following the turmoil of a recruiting scandal and Rick Pitino’s subsequent firing. Interim coach Scott Padgett was then replaced by Xavier’s Chris Mack in the offseason. Mack has been among the most successful coaches in the country over the last 9 seasons at Xavier, producing 8 NCAA Tournament appearances, three Sweet 16’s and an Elite 8 during that time; that may not be quite at Rick Pitino’s level, but he also wasn’t coaching at Louisville. Padgett did very little to develop Pitino’s outstanding final recruiting class or to bring in additional players, but there is so much talent remaining from the Pitino era that Mack is still being handed the most promising roster he’s ever had.
Padgett decided to rely heavily on veterans that already knew what they were doing, evidently not trusting his own ability to develop young players (which, upon further review, he was probably right about). One victim of that was Darius Perry, a top 60 recruit a year ago that received just 14.3 minutes per game despite being the what appeared to be the heir apparent at point guard. While he struggled to produce under Padgett, the potential is still there; Perry has at least developed his perimeter jump shot, and the quickness that made him a highly regarded recruit didn’t go away. Mack added graduate transfer Christen Cunningham from Samford to supplement Perry and to possibly start by his side. Cunningham missed most of last season due to illness, but when he was last healthy he posted 11.4 points and an impressive 6.3 assists per game while shooting 35.4% from 3. Playing together, the pair should be able to help generate the sort of offensive efficiency Mack’s teams normally feature (Xavier was 42nd in assist to turnover ratio and 14th in overall fg%; under Padgett, Louisville was 117th and 147th respectively). Ryan McMahon (6.1 ppg., 40.8% 3pt.) would have likely been overmatched as a starter, but he will again help spread the floor off the bench. Graduate transfer Khwan Fore could factor into the perimeter equation as well, although he posted modest overall numbers for a struggling Richmond team in the A-10 a year ago. While he doesn't shoot the 3 particularly well, he is at least reasonably efficient with the basketball and can score. At small forward, V.J. King (8.6 ppg.) was projected as a first round draft pick prior to last season, but he actually regressed in some ways under Padgett; he may be happier than anyone that wasn’t a freshman for the regime change. He should improve substantially and resurface as an NBA prospect under Mack.
Malik Williams was also on the NBA’s radar before Padgett took over, but he ended up playing just 10.6 minutes a game over 32 games as a freshman (he did start early but struggled). Williams has added very necessary weight in the meantime; he was a five star prospect that, at 6-11, should provide shot blocking as well as a strong perimeter jump shot and, like King, should again be able to attract NBA attention under Mack. Fellow freshman Jordan Nwora (43.9% 3pt.), a top 60 recruit a year ago, received just 12 minutes a game in 28 games. When he did get to play, he showed flashes of potential with a smooth perimeter jump shot and a bouncy willingness to contribute on the boards. One newcomer that did make good things happen was 6-5 UNCA transfer Dwayne Sutton; despite playing just 15.2 minutes a game, he was second on the team in both rebounds and steals per minute and third in blocks per minute while also displaying an improved 3pt. stroke. He should see a substantial increase in minutes across multiple positions. 6-11, 250 pound traditional center Steven Enoch, originally a top 80 recruit at UConn, will become eligible after transferring, while 6-8 graduate transfer Akoy Agau, a capable rebounder, returns to Louisville after spending time at Georgetown and SMU, so if Mack needs a larger body than the lean sophomores he will have capable options available.
Chris Mack utilizes a pack line defense similar to the one deployed by Tony Bennett at Virginia, although his version hasn’t been nearly as suffocating (Xavier was just 119th in overall fg% defense and 97th in 3pt.% defense last season). That should eventually improve at Louisville with longer and more athletic players, although it will be interesting to see how quickly those players pick up the system in his first year (Bennett often redshirts players, or at least doesn’t play them very much, until they can learn his system). One thing that Xavier did do was compete on the boards (12th in rebounding margin), and with that length and athleticism Louisville should at least be able to do that as well (it somehow didn’t happen under Padgett; the Cardinals were 215th in rebounding margin despite playing larger than almost everyone). Overall, Mack is adopting a talented roster even by ACC standards, and the Cardinals should be substantially better than they were a year ago even if there are growing pains as players adjust to new offensive and defensive systems. Mack should ultimately be tremendously successful with the program moving forward, particularly after the haze of the Pitino scandals wear off and recruiting recovers, and there remains a very real possibility that his first Louisville team will get its act together and be a tough out by Tournament time.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
2017-2018: 21-12, 11-7 (tie for 3rd) in the ACC; lost to Seton Hall in the NCAA Round of 64
Preseason Projection: 7th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32
Departures: Allerik Freeman (16.1 ppg., 4.2 rpg., 38.5% 3pt.), Lennard Freeman (7.9 ppg., 4.3 rpg.), Sam Hunt (41.8% 3pt.), and Abdul-Malik Abu graduated; Omer Yurtseven (13.5 ppg., 6.7 rpg., 1.8 bpg., 50.0% 3pt.) transferred to Georgetown
Kevin Keatts came aboard an apparently sinking ship (albeit one with quite a bit of returning talent) and returned the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament in his first year as coach. The season was followed by significant roster turnover due to a large senior class, but the overhaul will provide him more players that are ideal fits for his style of play.
NC State is really only returning three productive players from a year ago, but that includes one of the best, and likely most improved, returning backcourts in the ACC. Junior point guard Markell Johnson (8.9 ppg., 7.3 apg., 1.7 spg., 40.9% 3pt.) is a star in the making; he’s the best passer in the ACC, and he’s lighting quick both off the dribble and at the defensive end. He’s also a very capable scorer either hitting an open three or attacking the paint when that’s what the defense gives him, making him a nearly impossible player to defend. He’s joined by another outstanding point guard in Braxton Beverly. While he certainly doesn’t have Johnson’s athleticism, Beverly (9.5 ppg., 3.9 apg., 38.5% 3pt.) is a smart player at both ends of the floor, a strong perimeter shooter, and an excellent passer in his own right (he averaged 6.3 assists per game over an early 9 game period, including time when Johnson was unavailable). With a backcourt including a sophomore and a freshman, the Wolfpack were highly efficient offensively in Keatts first year (56th in overall fg%, 70th in 3pt.%, and 36th in assist to turnover ratio), and that stands to improve with a year of experience for the young duo. Blake Harris, a top 100 recruit that left a crowded backcourt situation at Missouri to join another one, will become eligible in December, so Keatts will be able to keep two point guards on the floor at all times if he wants. The most likely candidate to take over as the third perimeter player will be C.J. Bryce, a 6-5 guard that was a star at UNC Wilmington and followed Keatts to Raleigh. Bryce (17.4 ppg., 5.4 rpg., 3.0 apg., 33.1% 3pt. at UNCW two years ago) is an outstanding scorer with an improving perimeter shot that competes on the boards and helps keep the ball moving. His arrival means that the Wolfpack may very well become one of the best offenses in the country. Another transfer, 6-5 Devon Daniels (9.9 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 40.0% 3pt.) from Utah, will provide yet another perimeter weapon after a particularly promising freshman year in the Pac 12. Keatts may have actually over-recruited with the unnecessary late signing of 6-5 Florida International graduate transfer Eric Lockett (14.3 ppg., 6.5 rpg. 3.1 apg., 1.2 spg.), who isn't a perimeter threat but could help rebound and pressure the ball if he can win minutes.
Keatts made an unheralded yet incredibly important late addition to his roster with the signing of graduate transfer Wyatt Walker (12.9 ppg., 9.7 rpg. two years ago; he missed last season with a leg injury) from Samford. While Walker won’t provide the floor spacing or rim protection of Yurtseven, he’s a solidly built 6-9, 240 pound player that pursues the ball relentlessly on the boards and can score in the post on occasion. His rebounding is particularly important for the Wolfpack because they were in position to be horrible at it as a team. They finished 181st in rebounding margin a year ago, and that was with Yurtseven, Abu, and Freeman, all strong rebounders at some point in their college careers, in the fold; there was reason to doubt the ability of the other frontcourt newcomers to grab rebounds, while Walker may actually be an upgrade to all of the departed players in that one area of the game. He may be backed up by Immanuel Bates, a mobile and athletic 6-9 top 100 recruit with loads of potential as a shot blocker and possible stretch 5 center. However, Bates missed much of senior year of high school with a shoulder injury and will be thin as a freshman, so he could be a redshirt candidate. Torin Dorn returns to his role as an undersized stretch 4. Dorn (13.9 ppg., 6.3 rpg.) is overmatched at times trying to defend much larger players, but he’s a tough player that competes on the boards well enough to make playing out of position workable. At the other end of the floor, his offensive skill and overall productivity more than makes up for what the team sacrifices by choosing to play small even by today’s standards. If Keatts wants to use a more traditional power forward, he will have one with loads of potential available in transfer Derek Funderburk. Originally a top 50 recruit in the class of 2016, the 6-9 Funderburk redshirted as a freshman, then spent a year at junior college following the firing of his chosen coach Thad Matta. He’s a great athlete and another dangerous scorer both inside and out, although he may not offer much more than Dorn on the boards at this point. Funderburk could see time in the post as well, particularly if Bates redshirts.
NC State has the potential to be an outstanding offensive basketball team. Defensively, Keatts likes to pressure the basketball (the Wolfpack were 45th in steals last year), and their ability to do so will only increase this year as they become even more athletic. They also defend the 3pt. line extremely well (18th in 3pt. % defense a year ago), but in exchange leave themselves vulnerable in the paint (296th in overall fg% defense – a frankly amazing dichotomy), a logical trade off considering the way the college game is evolving, but one that does leave them vulnerable to teams that pass well and play with size. While their limited frontcourt and style of play will occasionally put them at risk, the Wolfpack are good and getting better, and Kevin Keatts now seems capable of matching or even surpassing the early NCAA success of his predecessor (Mark Gottfried had 4 NCAA Tournament appearances and 6 Tournament wins in his first 4 years).
Florida State Seminoles
2017-2018: 23-12, 9-9 (tie for 8th) in the ACC; lost to Michigan in the Elite 8
Preseason Projection: 8th in the ACC; NCAA Round of 32
Departures: Braian Angola (12.5 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 3.0 apg., 37.6% 3pt.) graduated; CJ Walker (8.0 ppg., 35.5% 3pt.) transferred to Ohio St. and Ike Obiagu (2.1 bpg.) transferred to Seton Hall
Florida State ended their 2017-2018 season with the deepest NCAA Tournament run of Leonard Hamilton’s career and the programs first Elite 8 appearance since the 1992-1993 season under Pat Kennedy. In doing so, the Seminoles proved that the offensive numbers from the prior season were no fluke, and that the team should continue to succeed at both ends of the floor moving forward.
The emergence of sophomore Trent Forrest keyed much of the Seminole’s late season success. Forrest stuffed the stat sheet down the stretch, averaging 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2 steals per game over the final 10 games. He uses his 6-5 length to his advantage at both ends of the court and, while he isn’t a thread from behind the arc, the offense operates efficiently when he’s running the show. Hamilton added graduate transfer David Nichols from Albany to provide depth, so the Seminole’s eggs won’t all be in one basket at point guard following the departure of CJ Walker. At 6-0, Nichols (14.6 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 3.5 apg., 1.2 spg., 36.5% 3pt.) pressures the ball and competes on the boards as well, and he actually is a threat from beyond the arc. Angola’s departure should mean increased opportunities for M.J. Walker, a 6-5 top 25 prospect a year ago that showed flashes of what he could be as a freshman. Walker (7.0 ppg., 34.5% 3pt.) ended the season in a shooting slump, but he’s an athletic perimeter threat that could lead the team in scoring and establish himself as an NBA prospect as a sophomore. PJ Savoy will again serve as a designated gunner off the bench; with Walker struggling, his role expanded after returning from a knee injury, and he contributed a much needed 9.5 ppg. on 40% shooting from 3 over the team’s last 11 games. Even with all of the players that stepped up for FSU last season, small forward Terance Mann (12.6 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) will be the Seminoles second leading returning scorer as well as the leading returning rebounder after improving in both areas as a junior. Wyatt Wilkes, a 6-8 four star recruit a year ago, could see more opportunities off the bench as a sophomore.
Florida State’s outlook improved significantly when Phil Cofer was granted a medical redshirt for a sixth year of eligibility. Cofer (12.8 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 37.5% 3pt.) had a breakthrough first senior year, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and second leading rebounder as a dangerous 6-8 stretch four while also successfully guarding multiple positions defensively. The Seminoles best lineups featured Cofer along with breakout freshman Mfiondu Kabengele, who should emerge as a star and potentially an NBA prospect as a sophomore. Kabengele (7.2 ppg., 4.6 rpg. in 14.8 mpg.) provides the mobility and perimeter shooting to serve as a stretch 4, but at 6-9, 235 pounds with very long arms, he was by far the best rebounder on the team. He’s big enough to hold his position in the post and he provides solid rim protection as well, and by the end of the year he was serving as the team’s stretch 5 to close out games and give the Seminoles all sorts of versatility at both ends of the floor. He should see a significant bump in playing time and production. Although he won’t finish games, agile 7-4 center Christ Koumadje (6.5 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 1.5 bpg.) was the starting center for much of last season and could be again as a senior; he improved significantly as a junior, particularly on the boards, and will of course continue to provide intimidating rim protection. 6-9 sophomore RaiQuan Gray is another likely candidate for a spot in Hamilton’s rotation after playing sparingly as a 4 star recruit a year ago.
With the emergence and continued development of Trent Forrest and Mfiodu Kabengele, the Seminoles should improve defensively and on the boards after performing well a year ago (they were a solid 53rd in overall fg% defense and 84th in rebounding margin last season). At the offensive end, the increase in efficiency should continue after finishing 63rd in overall fg% and 119th in assist to turnover ratio last season; they’re not Virginia Tech by any means, but they’re now thoroughly respectable after struggling for years. The top 8 teams in the ACC will be extremely competitive, but Florida State will be able to match up with any of them, and they will again have the talent to produce a deep run in March.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2017-2018: 21-15, 8-10 (tie for 10th) in the ACC; lost to Penn St. in the 2nd Round of the NIT
Preseason Projection: 9th in the ACC; NIT
Departures: Bonzie Colson (19.7 ppg., 10.1 rpg., 1.7 spg., 2.2 bpg.), Matt Farrell (16.3 ppg., 5.5 apg., 37.7% 3pt.), and Martinas Geben (11.1 ppg., 8.0 rpg.) graduated
With national player of the year candidate Bonzie Colson missing over half the season due to injury and senior point guard Matt Farrell struggling through multiple injuries of his own, Notre Dame suffered through a tragic season of what could have been a year ago. Both players will now have to be replaced, and head coach Mike Brey will need to develop depth from what is at least a strong recruiting class.
If Brey has anything clearly in place for the year ahead, it’s the heir apparent to Farrell in junior point guard T.J. Gibbs. Gibbs (15.3 ppg., 3.0 apg., 40.3% 3pt.) has already proven to be a capable number one option for the Irish at the offensive end. He averaged 37.4 minutes per game as a sophomore, and played nearly every minute at point guard when Farrell was forced to miss time. Gibbs has become accustomed to being forced to make things happen on his own at times, but he should be surrounded by more spot up options as a junior. He will be joined in the backcourt by 6-6 athletic defensive stopper Rex Pflueger (8.0 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 3.2 apg.) who has struggled to become more assertive at the offensive end but can help Gibbs run the offense with his ability to pass the basketball. If he shoots the ball with more confidence as a senior, then the Irish might be able to retain their normally high level of offensive efficiency. 6-3 combo guard Prentiss Hubb, a top 100 recruit nationally, will need to provide backcourt support for the seniors. While he is considered a smart offensive player with an ability to make shots at multiple levels and help facilitate an offense, it is rare for freshmen to play and be effective in Brey’s offensive system (both Gibbs and D.J. Harvey struggled to help with ball movement during their first year despite their strong offensive potential); however, due to limited options he should receive plenty of opportunities. D.J. Harvey (5.8 ppg., 33.3% 3pt.) had his season cut short as well, but he did prove helpful as a scorer at times as a freshman. At 6-6, he will take over at small forward, and he should be more capable of helping to keep the ball moving as a sophomore with a year in Brey’s offense under his belt. Dane Goodwin, a 6-5 top 80 recruit, is among the best perimeter shooters in his class and provides a skill that should be useful even if he doesn’t fully understand the offense. Robby Carmody, a 6-4 top 90 recruit, will offer more of the same, so Brey should be able to find someone that can at least stretch the floor to fill out his rotation.
The most exciting addition for the Irish will be Juwan Durham, a long and athletic UConn transfer that oozes with potential as a mobile, 6-11 shot-blocking stretch 4. Durham was originally a top 50 recruit but was passive and unproductive in limited opportunities as a freshman before transferring. He has added weight since then and, because he already has a year of experience in the program, will be in significantly better position to be productive immediately than the freshmen. His length and mobility will at least help the Irish close out on shooters, something they have sometimes struggled with in the past (they were 185th in 3pt.% defense a year ago, which is actually above average for them). The addition and success of Durham is particularly important to 6-9 center Matt Mooney. Mooney (5.6 ppg., 3.9 rpg.) proved to be a strong rebounder with a smooth shooting stroke beyond the arc as a sophomore; unfortunately, he’s quite slow and limited athletically, and can really only be successful paired with a power forward that can cover for his defensive shortcomings. That is exactly what Durham should do, and, if Brey has gotten Durham to be aggressive enough to live up to his original billing, then he and Mooney will complement each other perfectly and potentially replace much of the ridiculous production of Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben. The only experienced frontcourt option Brey will have behind Durham and Mooney will be Elijah Burns, who has developed slowly but gave indications a year ago that he may be ready to produce in a larger role as a 6-8 junior. Otherwise, Brey will have another highly regarded freshman shooter in 6-10 top 60 recruit Nate Lascewski. Lascewski enters college noticeably thin and would likely be given a year to get stronger under ideal circumstances, but he could still be productive as a spot up shooter with ideal length at the defensive end.
Again, Brey doesn’t normally play freshmen very much, but he will have little choice than to turn to them for big minutes this year. However, last year’s team had a similar level of backcourt experience and, even with all of the injuries and an extreme lack of perimeter depth, still managed to finish 14th in the country in assist to turnover ratio. Also, if the incoming class can do anything it is shoot the basketball, and the Irish had an off year in that regard last season, finishing 193rd in overall fg% and 130th beyond the arc. If Durham is ready to assert himself, the returning players continue to improve (which they normally do), and one or two of the freshmen are able to contribute right away (and the team has better luck with injuries), then Notre Dame could very well return to the NCAA Tournament where Brey has taken them in 12 of his 18 seasons as coach; however, the top of the ACC will again be loaded, and asking Durham and Mooney to turn into a poor man’s Colson and Geben presents an awfully big if.
2017-2018: 22-10, 11-7 (tie for 3rd) in the ACC; lost to Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Round of 64
Preseason Projection: 10th in the ACC; NIT
Departures: Lonnie Walker (11.5 ppg., 34.6% 3pt.) and Bruce Brown Jr. (11.4 ppg., 7.1 rpg., 4.0 apg., 1.3 spg.) entered the NBA Draft; Ja’Quan Newton (8.8 ppg.) graduated
Jim Larranaga took Miami to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament last season, but the loss of two players to the NBA Draft could find the Hurricanes searching for answers that aren’t yet on the roster.
Chris Lykes (9.6 ppg., 34.5% 3pt.) will take over at point guard, and he’s an interesting work in progress. He’s quick enough to get off a midrange jumpshot anytime he wants it, but at 5-7 he often heads to the basket with little regard for larger defenders that are nearby; the result is predictable, as he gets his shot blocked fairly often. Lykes can also create for his teammates in the open floor, but it becomes more difficult when he has to find passing angles in halfcourt sets. Jim Larranaga will need for him to learn what he can and cannot do in Division I basketball; Justin Bibbins of Utah was of a similar size and athletic ability, and if Lykes could emulate that production then Miami’s outlook would be substantially improved. Larranaga added a solid supplement to Lykes in the backcourt in graduate transfer Zach Johnson (16.1 ppg., 3.0 apg., 39.2% 3pt.), a productive scorer from Florida Gulf Coast with a nice perimeter jumper who can also generate steals. Johnson is only 6-2 himself, so the Hurricanes are going to be vulnerable to perimeter shooting (that was a strength for the team last year, when they were 59th in 3pt.% defense). Dejan Vasiljevic (9.0 ppg., 41.1% 3pt.) is still around as a bomber off the bench; he isn’t really an option to start because he only begrudgingly passes the ball and wouldn’t give Lykes the support he needs. If Miami is going to even approach the offensive efficiency and scoring ability they featured a year ago, the player that would have to step up would be Anthony Lawrence (8.8 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 43.2% 3pt.). He had a respectable all around year as the team’s stretch 4, but he will need to move to small forward and help more with scoring and even facilitating the offense as a senior. He is capable of both, and the opportunities will be there. Miles Wilson (11.8 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 36.2% 3pt.), a promising wing that played well as a freshman at Mt. St. Mary’s two years ago before transferring, will add perimeter depth.
6-11 junior Dewan Huell (11.4 ppg., 6.7 rpg.) returns for an unexpected third year at center, but realistically he hasn’t lived up to his 5 star credentials to this point. He did improve substantially as a sophomore, but he’s hardly a dominant inside presence and he still needs to get stronger. After getting feedback from the NBA, this could be his year. Ebuka Izundu returns to provide depth; at 6-10, he provides energy defensively and on the boards, but his game hasn’t progressed offensively. Another year in the weight room should help Sam Waardenburg (43.8% 3pt.) take over as the team’s stretch 4; at 6-9, he flashed the ability to hit the 3 as a redshirt freshman, but he wasn’t strong enough to be effective in other areas. 7-0 Deng Gak, an athletic top 100 recruit a year ago that does possess some offensive skill, may be ready to compete after a very necessary redshirt year in the weight room.
The early departures are going to hurt Miami at both ends of the floor; offensive efficiency could plummet substantially, while defending the 3 point line will become more of a challenge as well. Brown was also the team’s leading rebounder, so that could become even more of a problem than it already was (the Hurricanes were 169th in rebounding margin). Overall, Miami will still have enough talent to be competitive, but another influx of talent may be necessary to the Hurricanes to return to the NCAA Tournament.
2017-2018: 25-10, 11-7 (tie for 3rd) in the ACC; lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16
Preseason Projection: 11th in the ACC
Departures: Gabe DeVoe (14.7 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 39.6% 3pt.), Donte Grantham (14.2 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 41.9% 3pt.), and Mark Donnal (47.6% 3pt.) graduated
In a season where their coach’s job may have very well been at stake, the Clemson Tigers made a seemingly improbable run to the Sweet 16, granting Brad Brownell a reprieve from the warden. They must now try to approach those same results without two key players and with only one clear replacement.
Brownell will welcome back two thirds of his three guard perimeter from last season in 6-3 seniors Shelton Mitchell (12.2 ppg., 3.6 apg., 36.8% 3pt.) and Marcquise Reed (15.8 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 3.3 apg., 1.7 spg.). Both players are respectable perimeter shooters and solid defensive players, with Reed more likely to generate a steal. Neither is a great distributor (Clemson was 137th in assist to turnover ratio last season). 6-5 Anthony Oliver II (34.6% 3pt.) will be a candidate to replace DeVoe in the starting lineup; in limited opportunities as a freshman, he did show an ability to hit an open 3. 6-8 junior David Skara is long and mobile and seems like he should make good things happen, but he doesn’t. Hunter Tyson, a 6-7 4 star recruit, could be in the mix because of his ability to shoot the basketball, while John Newman III, a 6-4 4 star recruit, would provide more athleticism and aggression at both ends of the floor.
Elijah Thomas (10.7 ppg., 8.1 rpg., 2.3 bpg.) returns for his senior year at center where he excelled a season ago, proving to be an excellent rebounder and shot blocker as well a capable post scorer. Javan White (10.2 ppg., 9.0 rpg. at Oral Roberts), a 6-10 graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining, is a solid rebounder in his own right and a developing inside out scorer. He will take the 12.5 mpg. that Mark Donnal provided and hope to take over at center when Thomas graduates. 6-7 Aamir Simms took over at power forward following Grantham’s injury, and while his overall numbers were modest he did shoot 36.7% from 3 over the last 16 games and averaged 1.6 blocks over the last 9. He should see an increase in scoring opportunities as a sophomore, although he doesn’t have Grantham’s athletic ability or offensive skills. 6-8 fellow sophomore Malik William should eventually provide a contribution similar to Simms.
Clemson finished the season 9-7 following Donte Grantham’s injury, and 5 of those wins were against the bottom 4 teams in the ACC; they were inconsistent, but sometimes great, without him. They will now be playing without Gabe DeVoe as well, and he was tremendously important to Clemson’s success a year ago, particularly during their NCAA Tournament run when he was clearly their best player of the floor (25 ppg., 5 rpg., 3.3 apg., 47.8% 3pt in 3 games). DeVoe was a well rounded guard that had a tremendous senior year and averaged 34.3 minutes per game; while one of two players may be able to replace his perimeter shooting, they won’t do the other things he did to help the offense, and that’s a problem considering the starting backcourt doesn’t really distribute the ball that well. Clemson isn’t going to score the way that it did a year ago, and they weren’t an exceptional offensive team then. They should still defend and rebound (they were 21st in overall fg% defense, 28th in blocks, and 96th in rebounding margin), but that likely won’t be enough for a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Boston College Eagles
2017-2018: 19-16, 7-11 (12th) in the ACC; lost to Western Kentucky in the 1st Round of the NIT
Preseason Projection: 12th in the ACC
Departures: Jerome Robinson (20.7 ppg., 3.6 rpg., 3.3 apg., 40.9% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft
Last year Boston College played postseason basketball for the first time since 2011, but the NIT appearance was a disappointment relative to the preseason expectations created by their dynamic backcourt and the arrival of graduate transfer Deontae Hawkins, whose injury largely derailed the Eagles’ efforts. With both Hawkins and Jerome Robinson now gone, Jim Christian must find a way back to the postseason or risk the fate of his predecessor Steve Donahue.
With Robinson gone, Ky Bowman will be left to do his best Trae Young impression as the center of everything BC does at the offensive end. Bowman (17.6 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 4.7 apg., 1.5 spg., 36.2% 3pt.) was honorable mention All-ACC as a sophomore despite posting incredible numbers much more impressive than those of his backcourt mate Robinson, and he was already averaging a seemingly impossible 38.2 minutes per game; it’s hard to imagine him doing more. He was second on the team in points and rebounds (at 6-1, he’s the best rebounder 6-2 or under in college basketball) and led the team in assists and steals, and he also somehow managed to shoot well without any rest. If BC is going to even maintain their success from a year ago, the improvement necessary to compensate for Robinson’s departure will have to come from someone else. 6-5 senior Jordan Chapman (12.9 ppg., 39.5% 3pt.) will join him in the backcourt, and he can score more (although he was already averaging 36.8 minutes per game), but he is primarily a (very good) spot up shooter and won’t be able to do much to help Bowman facilitate the offense. If Christian needs a third traditional guard, the next man up will likely be 6-3 freshman combo guard Wynston Tabbs, a 3 star recruit that comes in as a relative unknown but might be able to help with scoring. Otherwise, beyond those two being asked to play nearly ironman minutes, Christian’s rotation will likely consist of much larger players.
Steffon Mitchell burst onto the scene as a freshman and was able to provide much of what was lost with the injury to Hawkins. At 6-8, he’s an outstanding athlete that can defend in the post or on the perimeter, and he led the team in rebounding and blocks. Mitchell (6.4 ppg., 8.3 rpg.) was also third on the team in assists and posted a nearly two to one assist to turnover ratio, so he could be the player that helps Bowman facilitate the offense in the way that Theo Pinson was able to for UNC. His perimeter shot is still a work in progress, but there is reason for optimism. Along with Chapman, Mitchell should see the largest increase in scoring in Robinson’s wake. The Eagles add a very similar bookend forward with 6-8 top 60 recruit Jairus Hamilton. Hamilton is physically explosive and farther along as a scorer both inside and out than Mitchell at the same time a year ago, and the Eagles can only hope he can provide a similar effort defensively and on the boards. Once he begins to fill out his frame, 6-7 sophomore Vin Baker Jr., who came in at 177 pounds after a late growth spurt, should provide Christian with an additional skilled forward. In the post, 6-11 junior Nik Popovic (9.9 ppg., 6.2 rpg.) took a major step forward as a sophomore and is still getting better. He’s surprisingly mobile and competes on the boards, while he should become a double digit scorer with his ability to score inside the arc. 6-10 Luka Kraljevic showed similar potential in limited opportunities as a freshman, and with a year in the weight room should be ready to provide more help as a sophomore.
This was a team that was just getting by at the offensive end even when they did have a potential future NBA backcourt (the Eagles finished 158th in overall fg%, 122nd behind the arc, and 142nd in assist to turnover ratio). With no secondary ballhandler to take Robinson’s place, they are probably going to have scoring issues against the better defenses. What Boston College will have will be more length and athleticism than even most ACC teams, and with their only rotation player under 6-5 a fierce competitor on the boards there is no reason the Eagles shouldn’t be able to dominate that aspect of the game (they were 103rd in rebounding margin a year ago). Although it has never been a strength of Jim Christian teams (they were 211th in overall fg% defense and 257th in 3pt.% defense last season), BC could be extremely competitive at the defensive end as well. Unfortunately, those changes would require a change in focus by the coaching staff, and the more likely scenario is another coaching change in the not too distant future in an attempt to get back to (I mention this every year) the success of the good ole’ days under Al Skinner.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2017-2018: 11-20, 4-14 (14th) in the ACC
Preseason Projection: 13th in the ACC
Departures: Bryant Crawford (16.9 ppg., 4.9 apg., 1.5 spg. And 35.8% 3pt.) and Doral Moore (11.1 ppg., 9.4 rpg., 2.0 bpg.) entered the NBA Draft; Keyshawn Woods (11.9 ppg., 37.4% 3pt.) transferred to Ohio St.; Mitchell Wilbekin (8.6 ppg., 42.5% 3pt.) and Terrence Thompson graduated
Wake Forest suffered through a somewhat disappointing fourth year under Danny Manning following the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in six years. The season was followed by a shocking mass exodus of players, and despite the arrival of an excellent recruiting class Danny Manning may be forced into another rebuilding year.
Although Bryant Crawford had problems with turnovers as a junior, possibly due to attempts to impress NBA scouts, his departure in particular leaves the Deacons in a lurch. Brandon Childress (9.1 ppg., 3.6 apg., 37.9% 3pt.) will slide into his place, and while he’s quick and skilled and will be able to lead the offense competently, he doesn’t have Crawford’s size or athleticism. That could ultimately slow things down for an offense that already had issues with efficiency (the Deacons were 215th in overall fg% and 185th in assist to turnover ratio last year). That is compounded by the departure of Woods, which may have been precipitated by the odd decision to move him to the bench in favor of underachieving freshman Chaundee Brown. Brown, a top 40 recruit who did play well at times (during one five game stretch he averaged 14.6 points, per game on 46.2% 3pt. shooting), may slide into the backcourt, although that job may ultimately need to go to one of two 4 star freshman guards to give Childress the support he needs. One of those options will be 6-3 point guard Jamie Lewis, a physically strong driver and solid passer that draws fouls like Crawford did at times. Sharone Wright Jr., a 6-5 (and growing) 4 star combo guard, is the other option; he’s an excellent passer and a solid perimeter shooter. Either would be a solid complement to Childress in the backcourt. Brown could ultimately find himself in a situation similar to Woods, moving to the bench following the addition of a highly regarded recruit.
Even with all of the departures, there will still be reason for excitement at Wake Forest because of the arrival of Manning’s first five star recruit, 6-8 forward Jaylen Hoard. Hoard is a dangerous scorer from all over the floor, although he can disappear at times. If the Deacons are going to have any sort of success, Hoard will need to live up to expectations sooner rather than later and take over as the team’s leading scorer. Even though he still needs to add strength, Hoard may end up spending time as a stretch 4 due to the limitations of Wake Forest’s personnel; with everyone playing smaller, he wouldn’t find himself at a huge disadvantage very often if that does happen. Isaiah Mucius, a 6-8 top 60 recruit, will most likely take over at the other forward spot despite needing to add weight; he’s more physically explosive than Hoard, but doesn’t nearly have his skillset. 6-8 wing Melo Eggleston, a slender and athletic four star recruit a year ago, may be ready to contribute at forward as well. The job of replacing Moore will fall to Olivier Sarr. If Manning has done anything well during his tenure at Wake Forest, it has been developing big men, and Sarr is next in line. Already a more skilled offensive player than Moore, he is slowly adding strength that will allow him to compete more aggressively on the boards. While he is a mobile big man, he lacks the explosive athleticism of Moore and Collins and won’t be able to replace all of the rebounding or shot blocking lost with Moore’s departure. 6-10, 255 pound French big man Christian Lorng, a 4 star prospect, is a work in progress at this point, but he could be next in Manning’s string of successful big man development projects. The Deacons were 138th in rebounding margin a year ago, and, unless Sarr gets help from the freshman forwards, that stands to get worse.
If Jaylen Hoard immediately lives up to expectations, then Wake Forest will at the very least be entertaining to watch in 2017-2018. Unfortunately, the unplanned youth movement will almost certainly lead to offensive inefficiency, and the Deacons haven’t really defended well under Manning either (they finished 186th in overall fg% defense and 317th in 3pt% defense last year, with the former actually representing an improvement). If Hoard then leaves early as expected (he’s a projected top 10 pick), then the Deacons could find themselves in the same place next year. If the team doesn’t improve, particularly at the defensive end, then Manning’s tenure could come to an end sooner rather than later.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2017-2018: 13-19, 6-12 (13th) in the ACC
Preseason Projection: 14th in the ACC
Departures: Josh Okogie (18.2 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 1.8 spg., 38.0% 3pt.) entered the NBA Draft; Ben Lammers (11.7 ppg., 8.1 rpg., 2.4 bpg.) and Tadric Jackson (12.7 ppg., 3.7 rpg.) graduated
After a promising first year under Josh Pastnor, Georgia Tech suffered a setback last season, and the team is likely to do so once more this year after being hit hard by graduation and the early departure of Josh Okogie for the NBA.
Even with the losses, Georgia Tech has talent, particularly on the perimeter. Point guard Jose Alvarado was among the bright spots for the Yellow Jackets prior to an elbow injury that ended his season prematurely. As a sophomore, he will suddenly find himself as the only established major contributor on the squad. Alvarado (12.1 ppg., 3.1 apg., 1.7 spg., 37.0% 3pt.) is a tough and aggressive 6-0 player in the mold of Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson, and he will provide a strong foundation for a suddenly very young Georgia Tech team. He will likely be joined in the backcourt by 6-4 freshman Michael Devoe, a lean and athletic top 50 recruit that is a pass first point guard with a solid shooting stroke that could allow Alvarado to play off the ball at times. Without a go to scorer in Okogie, the extra ball movement will be very necessary for the team to find open shots. 6-3 junior Shembari Phillips, who provided limited production in extended minutes at Tennessee before transferring (6.2 ppg. In 20.9 mpg. 2 years ago), will at least provide an experienced hand in the backcourt. Curtis Haywood II, a 6-5 four star recruit a year ago, was playing extremely well (he put up 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.8 steals while shooting 52.4% behind the arc during a five game stretch) prior to the lower leg injury that eventually ended his season after just 15 games and will likely return to small forward where he was the starter early in the year. Brandon Alston still has one more year of eligibility after transferring from Lehigh; he provides another capable spot up shooter at 6-5.
As important as the loss of Okogie was to the Yellow Jackets, Ben Lammers’ graduation likely leaves the biggest void. When Georgia Tech has won over the past two years, it has won with defense, and the rim protection and rebounding Lammers provided was the key to that success (the Yellow Jackets were a respectable 108th in overall fg% defense and an imposing 11th in blocks last season). He also played big minutes (36 mpg.), and the Yellow Jackets don’t really have a way to replace those contributions. 6-9 senior Abdoulaye Gueye (5.9 ppg., 4.4 rpg., 1.1 bpg.) will take many of the minutes at center, but his game is still a work in progress. He took a large step forward last season and does provide some rim protection, but at just 215 pounds he isn’t able to rebound or hold his position like Lammers. 6-8 Evan Cole took over at power forward late in the season and will return there as a sophomore; he improved as the season progressed and put up 6.3 ppg., 5.3 rpg., and shot 38.5% from behind the arc over the team’s last 8 games. 6-9 Moses Wright has the highest ceiling of the frontcourt candidates; he was the subject of a significant late growth spurt and didn’t have a chance to fill out before his freshman year. He was forced into action anyway due to the team’s lack of depth, and the results were understandably disappointing. Wright developed the skills of a guard prior to he rapid increase in height, and after having time to add weight could become a solid contributor as a skilled and athletic stretch 4. 6-9 small forward Kristian Sjolund, a 4 star recruit, may also get a chance to play as a freshman because of his length and ability to shoot the 3, although his lean frame creates the possibility of a redshirt.
While Georgia Tech lost three major contributors and suddenly finds itself very young, player development has been excellent under head coach Josh Pastnor, and the team has been able to remain competitive even when a rash of injuries decimated the roster. While the defense will take a step back without Lammers and rebounding will become a major challenge (they were just 193rd in the country with him), this team may actually improve at the offensive end with improved point guard play and a solid collection of perimeter shooters (Georgia Tech struggled mightily with offensive efficiency last year due in part to all of the injuries, finishing 283rd in overall fg%, 325th in 3pt.%, and 223rd in assist to turnover ratio). While the Yellow Jackets are likely a year away from being good again, they should still represent the conference well in non-conference play and remain competitive in the ACC.
2017-2018: 8-24, 0-18 (15th) in the ACC; postseason coaching change
Preseason Projection: 15th in the ACC
Departures: Ryan Luther (12.7 ppg., 10.1 rpg., 38.7% 3pt.) transferred to Arizona, Marcus Carr (10.0 ppg., 4.0 apg., 33.3 % 3pt.) transferred to Minnesota, and Parker Stewart (9.1 ppg., 38.6% 3pt.) transferred to UT Martin
After an entirely predictable 0-18 finish in the ACC, head coach Kevin Stallings was fired following the season because not everyone in college learns.
What was a promising roster is now back to square one. Point guard will again be handed over to a freshman, in this case either Xavier Johnson, a 6-3 4 star recruit and a true point guard, or combo guard Trey McGowens, a top 100 recruit. 6-6 transfer Malik Ellison, who came to the school to play for Kevin Stallings and is now essentially stuck unless he wants to sit out yet another year, should take over at shooting guard after posting respectable numbers at St. John’s two years ago (7.4 ppg., 34.1% 3pt.). Because the team lacks size, Ellison will likely play significant minutes at small forward. The Panthers will also have Sidy N’Dir, who struggled at New Mexico State, and 6-4 sophomore Khameron Davis, who produced all of 4 ppg. in 24 mpg. as a freshman, to provide depth. Jared Wilson-Frame (13.0 ppg., 3.5 rpg.), a capable, high motor athlete that led last year’s team in scoring, will start at small forward. He shot horribly from the field (37.5% overall and 32.0% behind the arc) due to the limited number of offensive options the team had a year ago; those options won’t be increasing this year.
6-10 sophomore Terrell Brown was one of the success stories of Stallings’ coaching a year ago, as he went from being forced to play because he’s big to eventually competing on the boards and showing potential as a future inside out scorer. 6-6 Shamiel Stevenson might be the best player on the roster after averaging 8.5 ppg. and 4.4 rpg while shooting 37.5% beyond the arc. He’s a tough and interesting player that plays at a slower pace in the mold of Boris Diaw or Roosevelt Jones at Butler, and like those players he is able make good things happen. Because of the limited number of frontcourt options, Jared Wilson-Frame may need to slide to power forward at times. The only other size available on scholarship will be a collection of young 2 star recruits that aren’t likely to be particularly helpful in the ACC. Pittsburgh will again find itself dramatically undersized and overwhelmed at times in conference play.
Three years ago, Pittsburgh managed to drive off Jamie Dixon despite the fact that he was by far the best coach in the history of the program and took them to the NCAA Tournament almost every year, which somehow wasn’t good enough. The program doubled down on that mistake by firing Kevin Stallings after just two seasons despite the fact that, due to his history of successful player development, he was the perfect coach for their developing young roster. The team was outmanned but still competed last season, staying close to superior teams multiple times down the stretch despite their record and managing defensive numbers (179th in fg% defense and 98th in 3pt.% defense) that weren’t horrible (coincidentally, two teams that did not continue to compete were Jeff Capel’s last two (post-Blake Griffin) Oklahoma teams, both of whom were among the worst defensive teams in the country in every major category). With the return of Ryan Luther and a group of rapidly improving (thanks to Stallings, who they were loyal to) rising sophomores, the team could have been in line for a four to six win season. That will not happen now. While Capel was successful recruiting at Duke, he won’t have a Duke education and the coach of the Olympic team to entice recruits with; if anything, Pittsburgh without Jamie Dixon is a significant step below Oklahoma with regards to reputation, and things didn’t go well for Capel there. It seems impossible that a team that finished 0-18 in the ACC could get worse, but Pittsburgh’s athletic department has evidently decided to give it the old college try.