Get to the Point: ACC Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on June 10th, 2011

Throughout the summer RTC contributors Zach Hayes and Brian Otskey will discuss the hot topics – or whatever comes to mind – around each major conference in college basketball. The debut edition focuses on the ACC, which has seen plenty of coaching turnover and one program emerge as a potential powerhouse next season.  For the entire summer series focusing on each of the six power conferences, click here

Zach: We’d be remiss if our ACC edition of Get to the Point didn’t begin with North Carolina.

Maybe it’s just me searching for hype and excitement during the doldrums of summer, but there’s absolutely no reason why next year’s Tar Heels outfit can’t rival or even surpass the UNC squad of two seasons ago, not only in terms of win-loss record and winning a title next April, but also how they took teams to the woodshed when they’re able to impose their style of play. Kendall Marshall may not be equipped with a jet pack like Ty Lawson, but he’s more than comfortable pushing in Roy Williams’ preferred secondary break and finding Harrison Barnes on the wing or drawing the defense and dumping in to John Henson for an easy finish. Much like 2009, this Heels squad has the firepower and the talent level to drop 100 points on more than one occasion, to go on 20-2 spurts before the under-16 timeout, to leave your jaw on the floor in amazement at this well-oiled machine.

What’s really scary for the rest of the ACC and college basketball? Kendall Marshall told Andy Katz the other day that there’s going to be an even more concerted effort to lock down defensively. He realizes no team other than maybe Kentucky can match UNC point-for-point next season when they’re firing on all cylinders, so the only facet that can derail Carolina is substandard defense. And this is coming from a team that finished sixth in defensive efficiency last season! There’s first round talent across the board. There’s an assembly line of knockdown shooters on the wings. There’s a budding star in McAdoo to come off the bench. And a Hall-of-Fame coach is directing this dream roster from the bench. Plus, with Duke losing two indispensable seniors and the #1 pick in June and the rest of the ACC mired in a down cycle, it’s shaping up to be a perfect storm for Carolina. Undefeated? No. That’s not happening. 2-3 losses, a #1 seed and a national title? Realistic goals in Chapel Hill, in my opinion.

Carolina’s Barnes spurned the NBA for a title shot


Brian: There isn’t any doubt in my mind that Carolina is the team to beat next season not just in the ACC but nationally as well. Roy Williams has all the pieces in place to win his third title on Tobacco Road. Top quality point guards take you far in this game and Kendall Marshall should be able to carry this team deep into the postseason. With a trip to the Elite Eight already under his belt, Marshall may be regarded as the best point man in the college game by the end of his sophomore season. His court vision and ability to run the break makes him an indispensable asset for UNC. Marshall has a terrific basketball IQ and should even improve with additional experience. As great as Marshall is, I think the key to North Carolina winning a national championship is Harrison Barnes. If he can play at the level he exhibited towards the end of last season, his somewhat surprising decision to return to Chapel Hill this spring could very well result in a celebration on Bourbon Street for the Tar Heel faithful next April. Barnes is the proverbial matchup nightmare possessing height and the talent to fill it up from deep. I can’t really think of any team in the ACC that can match up with this stud sophomore.

North Carolina won’t go undefeated as you said but a 15-1 or 14-2 mark in ACC play is entirely possible and will probably be expected by some Carolina fans. With Barnes back, this is the year to get the job done and win a title for the third time in seven seasons.

I actually think Duke can make a run at their bitter rivals, but the Blue Devils will be extremely young next year. They welcome stud recruit Austin Rivers among others but they’ll need UNC to falter a bit in order to win the conference. Coach K will have his team in the top ten but I just can’t see them overtaking the Tar Heels.

Zach: I think you make an astute point that Barnes is the key. We more or less know what Henson (post defender, rebounder, developing offensive game), Zeller (finesse, gifted, reliable scorer), Marshall (best pure point in the country) and even Strickland (perimeter defender) bring to the table, but any player like Barnes that relies heavily on his jump shot can be a bit of an enigma. Still, there’s no reason to believe the shooting slump that plagued Barnes in the first half of his freshman campaign will rear its ugly head again (it’s fairly normal for incoming freshmen to miss shots) and the talented sophomore certainly contributes in other areas. I’d say we’re both in agreement that Carolina has the tools to be an absolutely dominant regular season team and the national conversation in 2011-12 will start with the Heels. As we saw with Ohio State, a team who nobody called “great” but thoroughly handled their competition from the Florida game through the Big Ten Tournament, one lackluster performance against a quality opponent in March can end your season in a heartbeat.

I hesitate to ever use this term when talking about a powerhouse program that constantly reloads like Duke, but relative to annual expectations in Durham, I foresee a bit of a bridge year for the Blue Devils. I don’t want to overstate any perceived downfall: they’ll hover around the top 10-15 from November to March and finish second in the ACC, there’s very little doubt in my mind about that. The China trip is unquestionably a positive. Austin Rivers is an absolute scoring monster, but he’s more of a natural 2-guard and will probably be asked to orchestrate the offense and lead the team in scoring, a capable task for a seasoned All-American senior like Nolan Smith, but can a freshman with all the weight in the world on his shoulders handle such a task? 2012-13 is when I really see Duke returning as a national title threat, even if Rivers bolts: Quinn Cook will have more experience at the point, Curry and Dawkins are seniors, Mason Plumlee will have had another year of developing an offensive repertoire under his belt, Ryan Kelly is still around as a versatile scoring threat and, given their new murderers row of recruiters with Capel in the fold, there’s a realistic shot they’ll lure both Shabazz Muhammed and Rodney Purvis to Durham.

We all know UNC and Duke will be 1-2 in every preseason poll, but I’d like to hear who you think will finish third. It could be a situation where 10-6 or 9-7 is good enough to garner that spot.

Brian: I actually think Barnes is prone to another slump. Maybe not to the extent as last year, but any time a player relies on the jumper as much as he does, the possibility is always there.

I see Duke in the top ten all year. While there certainly are questions about youth, this team is still stocked with talent and Coach K always gets his teams to perform. Questions at the point will persist all year, but I’m betting they will be able to figure something out. I really like Quinn Cook and Rivers, as you said, is a scoring machine. With the ACC still in a down cycle, Duke can win as many as 12 or 13 games in the league.

Third place is an interesting question, similar to last year. It’s pretty wide open but I’ll go out on a bit of a limb and say Miami. The Hurricanes have three very good players in Malcolm Grant, Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson. If Johnson is able to stay on the court in longer spots, he could become a dominant inside presence. Jim Larranaga gives Miami a fresh start and when you combine that with returning talent, Miami could surprise in the ACC. Virginia is another team I could see as a sleeper but I think they’re a year or so away. With Mike Scott returning, Tony Bennett can make a move up the conference ladder. I know you and I agree when people say he is a really good coach and will have that program back where it should be.

Durand Scott is one of the top returning guards in the ACC

Zach: Miami could certainly pose a real threat. That’s an NCAA Tournament team if they tighten up defensively. I anticipate Larranaga will have them committed on that end more so than his predecessor. Reggie Johnson has ACC first team written all over him if he can stay on the floor and Grant/Scott constitutes a formidable guard duo.

I’ll lean Florida State for the 3rd spot slightly over the Canes. FSU has always been one of the more intriguing programs in the country to me. Leonard Hamilton is somewhat of a recruiting master, stockpiling heralded prospects and assembling teams with talent levels that would suggest greater heights than yearly first round tournament flameouts. But those teams have rarely meshed into cohesive units and you never totally know what to expect from the Noles on a nightly basis. They’ll lose to Auburn then beat Duke a few weeks later. They’re unpredictable on a nightly basis. Yet they’ve won at least 19 games in six of the last seven seasons and Hamilton always gets his team to play at an elite level on the defensive end. In that way, they’re sort of predictable in a broader sense. They’ll certainly miss Kitchen running the show and Chris Singleton, who in my judgment was the single best one-on-one defender in the game last year. Okaro White is a player to keep an eye on. Michael Snaer has the ability to become a big time scoring threat with Bernard James handling the dirty work inside.

The biggest storyline of the offseason had to be Gary Williams stepping down and Mark Turgeon hired away from Texas A&M. Turgeon isn’t quite Sean Miller, who smartly remained at Arizona with a passionate fan base and a league he can potentially dominate for years to come, but he’s a brilliant basketball mind who will treat the Maryland job with the daily commitment it deserves. Nabbing Dalonte Hill from Kansas State, he who recruited Michael Beasley and others to Manhattan, was a brilliant coup. Make no mistake about it, it’s going to take 3-4 years until the Terps are back as a threat atop the ACC. That roster is barren. And it’s looking like quite the same story at both Wake Forest, Boston College and even Georgia Tech, depending on how you feel about the Brian Gregory hire.


Brian: I agree, Florida State is a program that always seems solid but can never get over the hump. I’ve never been a Leonard Hamilton fan but I must admit he recruits well. His teams always play great defense but the offense, especially last year, can be a complete train wreck. I see the Seminoles finishing in the fourth to sixth range with the potential to grab the third spot. Unpredictable as usual.

I was shocked when Gary Williams resigned. I figured he would walk away at some point in the next five years, but never did I think it would be this soon. A big part of the decision may have been Jordan Williams leaving. He was the big piece they needed to compete for a middle finish next year. Turgeon will be a really good hire in the long run but it’s going to be a rough couple of years by Maryland standards. You’re absolutely right on Hill. Now at Maryland, he may be able to lock up the DC high school and AAU scene.

I hate to use such strong language and I have nothing personal against Brian Gregory, but I think he’s an awful hire for Georgia Tech. He’s been nothing but mediocre in his time at Dayton and the fans there seemed happy when he left. He is from the Izzo tree but I’ve seen nothing to indicate he’s a top notch coach. I hope I’m wrong because I do like the guy but I just don’t see it. He’s not the dynamic replacement I felt they needed for the mediocre Paul Hewitt.

Zach: Jordan Williams was certainly the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was probably in the back of Gary’s mind once last season ended, though. The day-to-day rigors of that job, especially given the max effort Gary puts in and his age, made it much less shocking for me. It’s going to be a long road back to competing with UNC and Duke on an annual basis, but they have the coach, the fan support, the arena and the fertile recruiting grounds to eventually climb back up that hill.

I have to agree on Gregory. The folks at Tech were a bit hamstrung financially because of Hewitt’s buyout, but Gregory is just flat overrated to me. The last two seasons folks expected Dayton to contend for an NCAA bid and they haven’t finished higher than 7th in the A-10 (in fairness, they did win the NIT). His overall conference record there is a solid but not “dynamic” 70-58. With Iman Shumpert leaving early, Tech can join BC, Wake, Maryland, NC State and Virginia in a major rebuilding process. Virginia Tech also lost most of their production but has three top-100 guys coming in to ease the pain. Not too long ago the ACC was the premiere conference in America top to bottom. But these trends go in cycles.

I think we both have UNC, Duke, Miami and FSU as NCAA teams. Who else from this conference can nab a bid? Clemson lost Stitt, their heart and soul, and Grant inside. But I feel like I trust Brad Brownell enough where I’d put Clemson in a hypothetical Bracketology at this point with Andre Young, Tanner Smith, Milton Jennings and Devin Booker as his core. The ACC will get a minimum of five teams one would presume. Just a matter of pegging that 5th squad.

Brian: I truly believe Brownell is one of the most underrated coaches in the entire country. He owns a career .658 winning percentage in nine seasons at UNC-Wilmington, Wright State and now Clemson. He has failed to win 20 games only twice in those nine seasons and even won 19 in one of those years he didn’t get to 20. His slower pace and commitment to defense will serve Clemson well for years to come in the ACC and I think he will get that program to the NCAA Tournament with some consistency. The Tigers lose their top two scorers but return serviceable guards Andre Young and Tanner Smith along with Booker inside. If Milton Jennings can become the player he was hyped up to be (he made a nice jump in productivity this past season), Clemson has the pieces to win enough games in order to get into the field of 68. This team won’t score in bunches but Brownell’s system will help them win 65-60 type slug fests.
Clemson would be my fifth team from this conference and I do think the ACC can get a sixth. Virginia can be that team and I think Tony Bennett’s club will surprise a lot of folks. The only other teams I could see contending for the NCAA’s are Virginia Tech and NC State. Chances are neither will make it  and the Hokies are very young. I’m probably in the minority, but I really like the Mark Gottfried hire at NC State. He’s going to be able to recruit well, even up against Duke and UNC, and I think he’s a pretty good bench coach.

The ACC looks to have two great teams, a few in the middle of the pack and a host of average to bad teams next year. Unfortunately, a big story could be how bad the bottom of the league is. Boston College is looking awful and I don’t think there will be much improvement at either Wake Forest or Georgia Tech. Maryland will likely finish above those teams, but I can’t see the Terrapins making any kind of move even towards the middle of the pack. ACC basketball has always been terrific but this latest downward trend seems longer and deeper than usual. This conference has a lot of new faces on the sidelines and they’ll have to make an impact relatively soon, starting on the recruiting trail. In a conference with two blue-blood programs on top year after year, all of these new coaches have to mark their territory so to speak. Has the conference been usurped by the Big East and, at times, the Big 12? I don’t think so but we’ll know the answer over the next three to five years.

A long rebuild is ahead for Turgeon and Maryland

Zach: Gottfried should be able to recruit, but I just can’t get that vision out my head of a flabbergasted and totally befuddled Gottfried during the 2005 NCAA Tournament watching this unknown Cinderella Milwaukee team annihilate his Alabama squad.

The coaching turnover is absolutely going to result in a longer downtrend than the ACC has had to endure in recent memory. Those two are directly related in that the ACC blue-blood programs have gone through periods of such incredible success that expectations are inevitably raised. And when coaches like Sidney Lowe or Dino Gaudio or Dave Leitao don’t meet those sky-high expectations, they lose their jobs, the recruits go elsewhere and a total rebuild is ushered in. One has to think that Turgeon, Bennett and maybe even Gottfried will get their feet wet soon enough and those programs will be back to top-25 caliber. It just might take longer than usual. I read a fantastic book by John Feinstein last summer where he was granted unprecedented access to all of the ACC programs during the 1996-97 season where UNC made the Final Four, Wake had Duncan in his senior year, Duke was a #2 seed, Clemson was talented under Rick Barnes, Maryland flirted with the top 10 and even bottom-feeder Georgia Tech had Matt Harpring. Clearly, it was the premiere conference in the land by far. The Big East has now taken that mantle and ran with it.

Brian: I’m sure you’ll never forget that. One of the great cinderella stories that seems to be more commonplace now. That team put one of the final cracks in the door that was ultimately smashed open by George Mason a year later.
The coaching continuity at Duke especially, but also UNC, puts those programs in a great position to begin with, then you add in the gravy of being historical power house programs. Roy Williams has been in Chapel Hill for eight seasons now and didn’t miss a beat coming over from Kansas. Believe it or not, Leonard Hamilton is now the second-longest tenured coach in the ACC after the resignation of Gary Williams. Obviously Coach Hamilton has not had as easy of a time establishing his program among the best in the nation.

The old saying “a rising tide lifts all ships” has been true in the form of expectations, but that hasn’t held true when looking at the results on the court. Every coaching change brings in a rebuilding cycle with rare exceptions. That’s the rut the ACC is stuck in right now and I agree it is going to take longer than usual for the conference to move back into the nation’s elite from top to bottom. This conference will be back on top someday but that day may not come for at least another five years.

zhayes9 (301 Posts)

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4 responses to “Get to the Point: ACC Edition”

  1. James C. says:

    Good stuff.

    Don’t sleep on State next year. Lorenzo Brown is a 5-star talent who’ll be running the point now that Harrow has moved on to Kentucky (a bit of addition-by-subtraction) and Gottfried will be transitioning the State offense to the UCLA High Post that he was reared in under Jim Harrick. I can’t think of another team in the league that runs it, so there will likely be a honeymoon period of a few unexpected wins resulting from teams facing an offense they’re not accustomed to defending.

    We should be a better conditioned team (Lowe put VERY little emphasis on mandatory workouts–Tracy Smith, for example, dropped 25 pounds between when the season ended and his workouts with pro scouts), which means guys like Richard Howell, Scott Wood and DeShawn Painter should all be stronger and less apt to fade down the stretch. Go back and look at some of the box scores from last season and you’ll notice a trend: State would build substantial leads at times early only to fade down the stretch. I hope and expect that trend to cease.

    Are we a lock for the NCAAs? No, I wouldn’t say that…but there’s certainly enough talent on the roster now to get us there. State could benefit from the same rejuvenating boost you believe Miami will.

  2. James C. says:

    ^ I meant to say “the same rejuvenating boost from a coaching change”

  3. BOtskey says:


    As I said in the discussion, I do think NC State can contend for a bid. They’ll need a bunch of players to improve a lot but it can be done. Wood is a sneaky good shooter and I think he’ll blossom as a junior. You didn’t even mention your best returning scorer, C.J. Leslie. He’s obviously very talented and hopefully can focus more on being a better teammate this season. If he does, NC State can finish in the top 5 of the conference.

    The program is set up nicely for the future. The team is pretty young across the board and two stud recruits (Torian Graham and Tyler Lewis) are coming in the fall of 2012. Gottfried is going to recruit well and I wouldn’t be shocked if NC State lays a solid claim to the #3 spot in the league in 2012-13.

  4. WakeFan says:

    The ACC will be better. Maybe not next year, but soon. Over the past 3 years 8 programs have made coaching changes, and all but 2 were undisputed upgrades (I am not big on Gregory either (though, sadly, he might still be an upgrade), and, while I think Gaudio was a bad coach who inherited a good situation amidst tragic and emotional circumstances, the jury is still out on whether Bzdelik is any better).

    As this article makes pretty clear, the ACC has the best, most consistent two teams in the whole damn country, but after that, there’s not much. I look for Brownell, Bennett, and Larranaga to really strengthen the middle of the pack and push mediocre coaches like Seth Greenburg and Leonard Hamilton to their proper place (aka: towards the back of the conference, which will eventually require their AD’s to make a move). Turgeon I think will push Maryland towards the cream of the crop so that they are a consistent national contender (if A&M can be a consistent national contender under him then Maryland sure can be). In 5 years, after Hamilton, Greenburg, Bzdelik, and Gregory have more than likely been replaced this conference will be in a much stronger position.

    It will be hard to battle the Big East for dominance though given their built in advantage of having 5 more teams.

    (note: no discussion about Gottfried because I don’t really know how that’s going to work out. His performance at Alabama was very inconsistent. I think it’s one of those situations where the staff will make a big difference. His initial staff looks pretty good, but they won’t necessarily stay for very long. At the end of the day, I think it’s telling when someone spent as much time away from basketball as he did. Clearly athletic directors looked at his body of work and didn’t think it was good enough. Yow was desperate because she’s a shitty athletic director. Pretty much no doubt he’s better than Lowe though.)

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