Conference Report Card: ACCPosted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2011
Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.
The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-led resurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.
1. North Carolina (29-8, 14-2): The Tar Heels managed to salvage what started looking dangerously like last season and turn it into a regular season ACC title and an Elite Eight appearance. UNC fans probably watched in agony as Kentucky proceeded to lay bricks against Connecticut in the Final Four (Kentucky shot 12 for 22 from 3-point range against UNC and needed a late-game surge to get to 9 for 27 against Connecticut), but I still think this was a very successful season. Remember, Kendall Marshall is only a freshman (and only started half the year). They probably finished the season around where they were pegged before it started (top ten), but the expectations dropped dramatically after the first couple of weeks. GRADE: A
Losing: Justin Knox (and Daniel Bolick and Van Hatchell)
Returning: Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and Justin Watts
Incoming: James McAdoo, PJ Hairston, and Desmond Hubert
With Harrison Barnes returning to school, UNC has a legitimate shot to be the preseason number one next year (depending on how many of Kentucky’s players return next year). Knox gave Roy Williams valuable minutes this year, but James McAdoo will definitely be a step up talent-wise at the power forward position (he and Hairston are McDonalds’ All-Americans). Once again, UNC will be very deep everywhere except the point guard position. That should not matter though assuming Kendall Marshall keeps improving.
2. Duke (32-5, 13-3): I waffled a bit with Duke’s grade here, but let’s be real: This team won the ACC Tournament and got a number one seed in the Big Dance. If that is not a successful season, I am not sure what is. Especially considering the fact that Kyrie Irving injured his toe eight games into the season and did not return until the NCAA Tournament, Mike Krzyzewski did a very good job making up for the loss of one of the most talented players in the country. It helped that Nolan Smith had a player of the year type season, too. The only reason to even consider giving Duke a lower grade is the fact that they bowed out in the Sweet Sixteen (and by bowed out, I mean ran into a buzzsaw named Derrick Williams). Duke fans also had their moment of pain after watching Arizona shoot 9-15 from three (and turn every Duke miss into a fast break) when the Wildcats went a smooth 4-21 from three against Connecticut.** Kyle Singler was probably Duke’s biggest disappointment (mainly because of the lofty expectations people had coming in). GRADE: A
**I want to put some theories to rest about this game: (1) Duke shouldn’t have played Kyrie Irving. That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Irving was Duke’s best player by a country mile. Were there chemistry problems moving Nolan Smith back off the ball to his natural position? Absolutely. Did those chemistry problems cause Duke to perform worse than without Irving against Michigan or Arizona? Not at all. Against Michigan, Duke had a healthy lead in the second half before going into what Bill Simmons calls the “clogged toilet offense” too early. The Blue Devils stopped being aggressive and had some hideous offensive possessions that really let the Wolverines back in it. As for Arizona, they would have beaten any team in the country if they played the way they did against Duke. Yes, Duke had suspect foot speed (a point Jeff Goodman made after the game), but Saint John’s was the only team all season able to take advantage of it. Arizona just played out of its mind. Derrick Williams had a truly phenomenal first half performance to keep them in the game (seriously, if he had only had the six points he had against UConn, they would have been down 25 at the half), and then they blitzed Duke in the second half with an athletic dribble-drive attack that found the holes behind Duke’s aggressive man defense. Arizona was very successful at turning long rebounds into fast breaks (and highlight dunks), which sparked their 19-2 run that gave them a seven-point lead in the second half. The Wildcats also made every open three Duke gave them. By the under-eight timeout, Duke looked beat, even though the game was still in reach. I am not sure why Mike Krzyzewski did not call a timeout somewhere in Arizona’s big run, but at that point, the crowd and momentum had totally reversed the game, and Duke could not buy a stop. So I do not want to hear about Irving losing that game for Duke: he scored 28 points efficiently. Nolan Smith had been slumping most of March even before Irving came back into the lineup, probably because he was forced to carry the team for the entire season. If Kryzyewski hadn’t played Irving, the game would have only been uglier.
Losing: Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Kyrie Irving
Returning: Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and Josh Hairston
Incoming: Austin Rivers, Marshall Plumlee, Michael Gbinije, and Quinn Cook
Duke has a terrific class coming in next year. Rivers, Plumlee and Cook are all McDonald’s All-Americans. Gbinije will help make up for losing Singler on the wing (with Hairston’s help), and Cook will probably split the point guard spot with Tyler Thornton, though by the end of the season, I expect Cook to be seeing most of the minutes. Cook is a very good facilitator, which will be crucial for taking advantage of the offensive weapons on the Duke. Rivers will definitely be an instant impact player though he is probably another one and done. Basically, even though Duke is losing three very talented players, it will still be a top ten team, and maybe top five by the end of the season.
3. Florida State (23-11, 11-5): Like I said in the recap, Florida State probably exceeded expectations by making the Sweet Sixteen (and was shot away from making the Elite Eight, twice). Once again, Leonard Hamilton’s squad made its money with one of the best defenses in the country. Unfortunately, the Seminoles’ offense was almost as ugly as their defense was effective, and it showed down the stretch against VCU. Pivotal moments in the season were the win over Duke, Chris Singleton’s injury (and subsequent return), and the NCAA Tournament run (especially the win over Notre Dame). Coming into the season I thought they would miss Solomon Alabi more, but even without the seven-footer, FSU was the third best shot blocking defense in the country. GRADE: A-**
**If you can’t tell, I am marking somewhat related, but long digressions with the asterisks. Here I want to draw your attention to Butler’s game earlier in the season against Florida State. The Bulldogs shot an abysmal 38% from the floor, which I attribute almost totally to the Seminoles’ defense. But Butler still won (largely thanks to Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard’s solid play). Florida State only had three blocks. Anyone who thinks that UConn’s defense is solely responsible for Butler’s horrific 18.8% shooting in the championship game is over-simplifying things. UConn is very good at forcing opponents to take tough twos and threes, like Florida State. It also had more length and athleticism than Butler. However, Florida State had more length and athleticism than UConn (just with a nonexistent offense and without Kemba Walker). If Butler had been held to 38%, I would credit the Husky defense, but less than 20% is a statistical outlier. Butler just couldn’t get shots to go down, and neither Matt Howard nor Shelvin Mack were able to take the game over. I am in no way saying Connecticut did not deserve to win, but giving all the credit to its defense is not fair, either.
Losing: Chris Singleton, Derwin Kitchen, and Andrew Rutledge
Returning: Deividas Dulkys, Michael Snaer, Bernard James, and Okaru White
Incoming: Antwan Space, Aaron Thomas, and Terry Whisnant
I think Florida State is going to struggle next year to replace Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton. The way the Seminoles played without Singleton bodes well on that front, but they will need someone to take over and run the offense. Whisnant will give them a sharpshooter, Thomas a penetrator, and Space a little bit of everything else. Personally, I think Space will really excel in Hamilton’s system, but I still think the Seminoles will take a small step back as they try to integrate the new players.
4. Clemson (22-12, 9-7): Clemson gets an A- for making the tournament, and it should be noted that Brad Brownell managed to win a game–albeit in the First Four–in the Big Dance, something Oliver Purnell never accomplished. Truthfully, I did not expect Clemson to make any noise at all this season. After they lost Trevor Booker to graduation, I thought that would be it, but Brad Brownell did a terrific job guiding this team, which was led by seniors Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant. One sort of strange thing about Clemson’s season is it did not have many highs or lows as the Tigers were very consistent. When it counted they beat the other ACC bubblers Boston College and Virginia Tech to get their ticket to the Big Dance (Clemson went 3-0 against the two teams this year). After beating UAB in the First Four, Clemson lost to West Virginia in the “second round.” GRADE: A-
Losing: Demontez Stitt, Jerai Grant, and Zavier Anderson
Returning: Milton Jennings, Andre Young, Tanner Smith, and Devin Booker
Incoming: Bernard Sullivan, Devin Coleman, KJ McDaniels, and Daniel Sapp
I think Clemson has another very good shot to get back to the NCAA Tournament next season. Assuming Devin Booker continues to develop into more of an offensive threat and Andre Young can run the offense, I think they have a strong case to finish in the top half of the ACC. One key player to keep an eye on is Milton Jennings. Jennings was fairly unspectacular this season, but he is a terrific rebounder. If he can get a little more offensive polish, things are looking very good for Clemson moving forward.
5. Boston College (21-13, 9-7): Truthfully, I expected Boston College to be totally irrelevant this season. Steve Donahue did a very good job getting his team on the same page (especially offensively). Low points on the season definitely include losing to Yale and Harvard at home (especially Yale), while sweeping Maryland and Virginia Tech are probably the high points. Reggie Jackson had a great year although he disappeared at times. The seniors Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, Biko Paris, and Josh Southern really set the tone for this team that exceeded most people’s expectations. GRADE: B
Losing: Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, Biko Paris, Josh Southern, John Cahill, and Cortney Dunn
Potentially Losing: Reggie Jackson (testing the waters)
Returning: Gabriel Moton and Danny Rubin
Incoming: Ryan Anderson, Kyle Caudill, Jordan Daniels, Lonnie Jackson, Dennis Clifford, and Eddie Odio
Boston College is in for a rebuilding year next year especially if Reggie Jackson stays in the draft. Steve Donahue loses pretty much everyone. Moton and Rubin gave him valuable minutes as freshmen, but both have a long way to go. Rubin needs to add more to his offensive game besides the three, and Moton should probably take less threes. The Eagles have a very deep incoming class, but I am not sure it is “instant impact” material. With Jackson, I think this team could finish somewhere just below the middle of the conference, but without him I think it will finish close to the bottom.
6. Virginia (16-15, 7-9): How does a team that barely reaches .500 on the season, and doesn’t quite get to .500 in conference play get a “B”? It’s all about expectations and–in this case–injuries. Virginia was expected to be one of the worst teams in the ACC this year. After losing its best player, pretty much everyone (including myself) wrote off the Cavaliers to start the season. Getting blown out by Stanford and Washington only fed the fire, but when Virginia got back to the East Coast, it took care of Minnesota and Virginia Tech–both on the road. That is when I started taking the Cavaliers a little more seriously even noting that they might be more deserving of an NCAA bid than their in-state rivals. Unfortunately, that was about the time Mike Scott went down with an injury that put him out the rest of the season. Up until that point, Scott had been a beast on the glass. A senior, Scott applied for a medical hardship waiver to return next season. GRADE: B
Losing: Mustapha Farrakhan and Will Sherrill
Returning: Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski, Joe Harris, KT Harrell, Jontel Evans, and Assane Sene
Incoming: Malcolm Brogdon, Paul Jesperson, and Darion Atkins
I think things are really starting to look up for Virginia. As Tony Bennett gets his feet under him, he is starting to pull in some very good recruits (both Brogdon and Jesperson are ranked in the ESPNU100). Especially with Scott back, I think this team can make some noise. I am hesitant to put them back in the top half of the conference without seeing them play, but I think the Cavaliers will absorb losing Farrakhan and have a better season next year.
7. Maryland (19-14, 7-9): Maryland should have made the NCAA Tournament this year. Frankly, it definitely should have made the NIT. Statistically (and we are not talking about wins and losses), Maryland had a more successful season than at-larges Penn State, Temple, Michigan State, Georgetown, Saint John’s, Richmond, Missouri, Xavier, Old Dominion, Texas A&M, USC, UCLA, Georgia, and Tennessee. Oh and I forgot, Butler and VCU. Obviously, that is not totally true because all of those teams earned their ticket to the Big Dance (and many of them were successful) with quality wins and few losses. Unfortunately the Terps never could quite grasp that marquee win. This is partially because of a suspect backcourt and Jordan Williams’ inability to make free throws consistently. GRADE: C
Losing: Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie, and Dino Gregory
Potentially Losing: Jordan Williams (hasn’t hired an agent)
Returning: Sean Mosely, Terrell Stoglin, and Pe’Shon Howard
Incoming: Nick Faust, Sterling Gibbs, and Martin Breunig
I think Maryland’s fate hinges on Jordan Williams’ decision. If he stays, the Terps should be very much in the running for that third place spot in the conference (assuming Duke and North Carolina do not collapse), if not the favorites for it. Nick Faust is the most interesting of Gary Williams’ incoming recruits, as he is a 6’6″ athletic wing that can score. He will definitely see plenty of playing time in my opinion. Stoglin and Howard showed flashes of brilliance (Stoglin especially) in their freshman campaigns. The guy I think will be the X-factor is Sean Mosely, whom everyone thought would have a much better season this year. If Mosely can provide a legitimate scoring option on the perimeter with Stoglin to spread the floor for Williams, this is a very solid team.
8. Virginia Tech (22-12, 9-7): Yes, the Hokies had injuries and lots of them, but I refuse to give this team anything above a C until they make the Big Dance. And then when you do not make the Dance, whining is only allowed if you make at least the Final Four of the NIT. Virginia Tech threw away a probable at-large bid by losing its last two regular season games (to Boston College and Clemson). I was a little surprised they did not get a nod after winning a couple of games in the ACC Tournament (Georgia Tech and Florida State), but the Hokies played themselves into a position where they could be left out. Their biggest win of the season came at home against Duke, but in the end it was not enough. Red flags started going up early, when a loss at home to Virginia put the Hokies at .500 on the year. GRADE: C-
Losing: Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen, Dorenzo Hudson (who is eligible for a medical hardship waiver, but I haven’t seen any information on whether or not he applied for one), and Terrell Bell
Returning: Erick Green and Victor Davila
Incoming: Dorian Finney-Smith, Robert Brown, CJ Barksdale, and Marquis Rankin.
Virginia Tech loses a whole lot this year, but it sports probably the second or third best recruiting class in the ACC (depending on how highly you rank depth). Finney-Smith is a highly-regarded small forward with a nose for the ball, Brown is a solid two guard, and Barksdale is a promising power forward although he will probably take some time to develop). Erick Green is going to be the key for this team though, as he played a critical role moving Delaney off the ball. I think the Hokies have a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament next year, but this year was definitely a missed opportunity.
9. Miami (21-15, 6-10): Miami deserves better than a C-, but losing Frank Haith (and subsequently not even trying to land Frank Martin) brings the season down. The Hurricanes were incredibly unlucky this season, losing five games by less than 20 points combined and then lost to North Carolina by two in the ACC Tournament. The only double-digit conference losses came to Duke (by 10 and 11 points). Basically, Miami is a very young team with a lot of talent in sophomores Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson. GRADE: C-
Losing: Adrian Thomas
Potentially Losing: Reggie Johnson (though he hasn’t hired an agent, this is in the running for the worst early entry decision in recent memory)
Returning: Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant, Garrius Adams, Rion Brown, and Julian Gamble
The big question for Miami is how they handle the transition to Jim Larranaga and perhaps more importantly missing out on the chance to land Frank Martin. Still Larranaga has the ability and pedigree to turn this into a respectable program even if nobody will burden him with the expectations they would have had if Martin was in Coral Gables. If Reggie Johnson comes to his senses and returns, he will have to play more minutes (read: avoid foul trouble) because without Thomas, Miami will be much smaller. With Johnson having the potential to be a dominant big man in the ACC and Scott and Grant providing perimeter scoring Miami is definitely one of the more interesting teams to watch going forward.
10. Georgia Tech (13-18, 5-11): After yet another disappointing season Paul Hewitt was finally let go. The Yellow Jackets showed promise at points during the season, most notably beating North Carolina by 20 and then Virginia Tech by 15 in January. Other than that, the season was incredibly disappointing: take your pick between being blown out by Kennesaw State and Northwestern, or losing to Siena and Charlotte for the low point. GRADE: D
Losing: Maurice Miller and Lance Storrs
Potentially Losing: Iman Shumpert
Returning: Glen Rice, Mfon Udofia, Brian Oliver, Daniel Miller, and Jason Morris
Incoming: Julian Royal and Bobby Sparks
Paul Hewitt had to go, but that does not mean Georgia Tech upgraded significantly with Brian Gregory. The reason I think Hewitt had to leave is because the fan base expected him to. If the university had stuck by Hewitt, it would have alienated an often volatile fan base (probably with major attendance implications). Unfortunately, there was not a ton of money left over to get a big name coach, so the Yellow Jackets settled on Dayton’s Brian Gregory. Gregory is a good coach (a former assistant of Tom Izzo), but his style is not pretty. Dayton fans seemed happy to see him go (though fans are not impartial), but I think Gregory’s “best case” scenario mirrors Herb Sendek. Though he does not run the Princeton offense, Gregory’s teams at Dayton struggled offensively. The key to his success (and any coach at Georgia Tech for that matter) is whether he can recruit local talent. Georgia is a hotbed for basketball talent, and if Gregory can keep most of that talent in Atlanta, Georgia Tech will be successful. That success may top out around the Sweet 16, but that would be a big step up from where Hewitt has taken them.
11. NC State (15-16, 5-11): The Wolfpack had a very disappointing season. They had one of the more talented teams in the ACC, but could only manage five conference wins (and two of those were against Wake Forest). Yes, it was as very young team (minus Tracy Smith, Scott Wood, and Javier Gonzalez), but that does not excuse their performance. You cannot help but think about the “what if” questions regarding Tracy Smith’s untimely injury early in the season. I am not sure State would have been much better, but that is definitely the formative time for young teams and a dominant, experienced post presence would have helped them dramatically. The best win of the season came early on against George Mason. The rest of the season showcased very few horrendous losses, but no real good wins (other than Clemson at home). The Wolfpack capped off their season with a loss in the first round of the ACC Tournament to Maryland. GRADE: D-
Losing: Tracy Smith, Ryan Harrow, and Javier Gonzalez
Returning: Scott Wood, CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell, and CJ Williams
Like Paul Hewitt, Sidney Lowe had to go. It was a painful dismissal for Wolfpack nation, as Lowe is (and should be) a beloved member of the community. Then came the fiasco that masqueraded as the NC State coaching search. While Debbie Yow, NC State’s athletic director, did not openly fly around the country to get turned down by high profile candidates like Mike Alden at Missouri, it felt like State was rejected often. Most notably, Memphis’ Josh Pastner, VCU’s Shaka Smart, and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall spurned the Wolfpack in spite of generous ($2M+ a year) offers from Raleigh. NC State finally settled on Mark Gottfried, who was formerly the coach of Alabama. Unfortunately, the hire was sort of overshadowed in the NC State’s press conference by Yow accusing Gary Williams (she was formerly the AD at Maryland, and notoriously did not get along with Williams) of “trying to sabotage” the coaching search. Williams has denied the rumors, but it definitely took away from the hiring of Gottfried. My guess is that Gottfried would just like some time to get to know his team and start rebuilding the program. Gottfried had a good deal of success with the Crimson Tide but became distanced with the fan base during his last couple of seasons. There is also the unspoken story behind both Gottfried’s and his star player’s departure in 2009 (Ronald Steele). Steele had come back from major knee surgeries, but only played less than a month before decided to leave the team in late January. Gottfried did not last much longer. Despite lots of internet research, I couldn’t find anything concrete on what happened. I suggest checking out Thee Sports Blog’s interview with the Alabama Basketball Blog for an interesting take on the hire. Harrow has already decided to leave NC State, but with Brown and Leslie Gottfried has a fairly good team to work with next season. I think the year after next is a better shot to make the Big Dance, as that class will be juniors and he will have a solid class of his own to add to the mix. One interesting thing from the interview is that Gottfried likes to run his offense out of the high post (something Tracy Smith would have been very good at doing), so he might be a year late.
12. Wake Forest (8-24, 1-15): Wake had an absolutely horrendous season. There is no other way to put it. I put them in my “rebuilding” class in the Conference Primer, but I had no idea just how much rebuilding they had ahead of them (frankly, they may have torn down some of what they should have built upon). Jeff Bzdelik has a lot of work to do this year, and my guess is he will not have a ton of time before fans start to expect a significant improvement. Wake’s lone conference win this year came in a five-point victory over an injured Virginia team at home. I am not sure I can point out a low point, but finishing the season on an 11-game losing streak probably works as good as anything else (though going 2-2 against the Big South probably wasn’t really a high point of non-conference play). In the losing streak, Wake only had one game that finished in the single digits as a final deficit (a one-point loss to Miami at home) and the average margin of defeat was over 23 points. GRADE: F
Losing: Gary Clark
Returning: JT Terrell, Travis McKie, Ari Stewart, CJ Harris, Carson Desrosiers, and Ty Waller
Incoming: Chase Fischer, Daniel Green, and Anthony Fields
The good news about Wake’s future is they were the 327th most experienced team season with an average experience of one year according to Ken Pomeroy. This is a very young team. Other than Gary Clark, the team is almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores. I think Jeff Bzdelik will have a chance to develop last year’s freshmen class until they graduate, but he definitely needs to show marked improvement over last year, which should not be hard. If you are looking for a team that will improve dramatically, I would not look much further than Miami and Wake Forest. I think both of these teams underperformed last year, and a year of experience will win them a lot more games (“a lot” is still very relative for Wake, but they should have a much more respectable tally by the end of next year).
Looking into the Crystal Ball
The ACC will not have many dramatic changes next year. North Carolina and Duke will be leaps and bounds above the rest of the conference talent-wise (though Duke may be young enough to be dealt some upsets), but I think the conference as a whole should improve on this year’s four bids to the NCAA Tournament. I think Miami will be rising substantially, Florida State will probably fall the most though a tough defense will keep them in the top half. Virginia Tech is a little bit of a wildcard, but their talented recruiting class should at least have them in the conversation for a NCAA bid. Truthfully, much of the conference’s success comes down to the success of its new coaches: Brad Brownell, Jeff Bzdelik, Steve Donahue, Mark Gottfried, Brian Gregory, and Jim Larranaga as all of them have less than two years of experience in the conference. It should also be noted that the conference has gone from a plurality of minority coaches to just Leonard Hamilton (Skinner, Hewitt, Purnell, Lowe. and Haith all left). I think that recent trend is nothing to be alarmed at, but I hope we see some movement back the other way as jobs keep changing. It should be a fun season once again, as the bottom of the conference moves up (I expect improvements out of all of the bottom tier) to challenge the middle. Once again, the ACC may not have great third team, but I think the conference will be one of the best from top to bottom next season.