ACC Preview Revisited – Part ThreePosted by Chris Kehoe on January 3rd, 2014
As we continue to revisit our ‘ACC Mega-Preview’, here is the third part of our recap with the bottom five projected teams profiled below. Keep in mind that the teams are ranked here based on the RTC preseason ACC rankings. The analysis of each determines whether each team was ranked too high or low at the start of the season.
11). Florida State Seminoles (9-3)
- Signature wins: #10 VCU, #22 UMass
- Signature losses: #14 Michigan, #15 Florida
- Reasons for optimism: Florida State has tangled with a very difficult schedule thus far and responded well above its preseason perception. Thanks to their talented trio of Ian Miller, Aaron Thomas and Okaro White, Florida State has outdone expectations through a return to their days of defensive dominance under defensive whiz and head coach Leonard Hamilton. The emergence of massive center Boris Bojanovsky as a formidable interior presence has helped anchor the frontline, and by playing hard-nosed basketball against a very competitive early slate of opponents before conference play begins, FSU has set itself up well to overachieve and claw its way into the crowded ACC picture.
- Reasons for pessimism: It will be tough for Florida State to keep up its scorching shooting percentages through conference play, and the rhythm it has built may break down over the wear and tear of consistently equivalent and superior teams in the ACC. While the Seminoles rank highly in field goal percentage, they don’t have a long-range threat on the roster who can consistently knock down threes when they are zoned. If one of their big three gets into foul trouble, which has happened to White already this season (he is averaging 3.2 personal fouls per contest), they will struggle to replace a player of his offensive importance.
- Forecast: Florida State has a bright season ahead, likely beating some solid opponents and losing a few very close games to stronger foes. Without star recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes and missing out on the Andrew Wiggins sweepstake, most folks thought Hamilton’s team would struggle to keep its head above water this season. It has proved many people wrong with its tenacious defensive principles intact and a solid well-rounded scoring attack. Florida State has firmly leapfrogged several teams projected in front of it and can be expected to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid by continuing on this trajectory.
12). Miami Hurricanes (8-5)
- Signature wins: Arizona State
- Signature losses: George Washington
- Reasons for optimism: Not much was expected of this Miami team after losing almost all of its squad from an historic 2012-13 season. Losing the likes of ACC POY Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, and Durand Scott would weigh on any team, but Jim Larranaga’s group has looked more formidable than expected. Behind the strong play of Rion Brown, Garrius Adams and Donnavan Kirk, Miami won’t set the world on fire this season but has a good team that could upset some more talented squads in conference play. They are certainly athletic, physical, and well-coached and will not back down from any challenge.
- Reasons for pessimism: On paper Miami certainly doesn’t have an abundance of star power, nor does it have much experience due to the mass exodus from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. The Hurricanes are also a bit offensively challenged, which will cause them to grind games out in conference play in order to suit the strengths of their personnel. Miami also plays with the third-slowest tempo in all of Division 1 basketball, which certainly won’t win them any favors among casual fans or recruits who prefer an up-tempo, high-flying caliber of basketball.
- Forecast: Miami looks likely to finish around about where they were projected — somewhere in the bottom third of the ACC. This may not be their year but with the excellent coaching Larranaga provides, the team will not be down for long. Florida produces a rich plethora of basketball talent that can be utilized to the Hurricanes’ advantage.
13). Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-3)
- Signature wins: Richmond, USC
- Signature losses: #2 Kansas, Tennessee, Xavier
- Reasons for optimism: Wake Forest has taken three tough losses versus some very good teams, which is nothing to be ashamed of. They also are one of the best rebounding teams in the country (11th nationally in rebounds per game), courtesy of sophomore forward Devin Thomas and his 9.3 RPG, more than a couple of which are coming on the offensive glass. Wake has also enjoyed a stellar season up to this point from another terrific sophomore, Codi Miller-McIntyre, an elite scorer pouring in 17.0 PPG. Miller-McIntyre has struggled shooting it from deep but has gotten to the free thrown line at an exorbitant rate, averaging over six free throw attempts per contest. But the real bread and butter of this Demon Deacons team is their defense, currently rated 40th in the nation in KenPom’s advanced metrics.
- Reasons for pessimism: Wake Forest hasn’t had much success in their basketball program for a few years now which has led to a rabid portion of its fan base calling for head coach Jeff Bzdelik’s head. It also will be interesting to watch the mindset and body language of Travis McKie, a player who has gotten used to losing while carrying the team single-handedly. The Demon Deacons’ schedule won’t do it any favors either, having only played one true road game, a convincing loss at Xavier. Starting out their ACC slate on the road at Virginia and Pittsburgh and at home versus UNC will surely prove a formidable test for this squad.
- Forecast: Wake Forest looks to be largely improved and hopes to shake its streak of losing seasons. While they seem to have made strides from last season, largely in the form of their potent sophomore class, it’s unclear whether the Deacs have enough to crack the top half of the conference, which will result in pressure on Bzdelik once again. But with their youthful core they may be well on the way to making some noise again in the ACC sooner than we thought.
14). Clemson Tigers (9-3)
- Signature wins: None
- Signature losses: UMass, Arkansas
- Reasons for optimism: Behind the typically stellar play of junior forward K.J. McDaniels, Clemson has notched a successful start to their season in tallying nine wins against a largely forgettable non-conference schedule. Known for their defensive prowess under coach Brad Brownell, they have outdone themselves this season and taken it to new heights. Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics rank Clemson fifth in overall defense, and they rate first nationally in defending the three and effective field goal percentage defense. They also rank in the top 10 in two-point percentage, block percentage, and free throws attempted/field goals attempted. Needless to say, they are functioning at a very elite level when it comes to the defensive part of the game.
- Reasons for pessimism: Outside of McDaniels and Rod Hall, the Tigers largely struggle to score, which may have something to do with the pace forced by their pertinent defense. Their very weak scheduling also won’t do them any favors when they have to tangle with ACC heavyweights, especially on the road where they have not won a game yet this season. Their shooting could be better, as they struggle to shoot the three, coming in at 32.2 percent as a unit.
- Forecast: Clemson’s defensive statistics will likely regress a good bit when it begins to play superior opponents on a nightly basis in the ACC, although they still will be one of the better defensive teams in the conference. Their defense and grind-it-out pace will surely benefit them at home and throw off a few teams in conference play, but to expect them to make it out of the bottom third of the league this year may be overly optimistic.
15). Virginia Tech Hokies (8-5)
- Signature wins: West Virginia, Miami (FL)
- Signature losses: #1 Michigan State, VCU, Seton Hall
- Reasons for optimism: Not much, if anything at all, was expected from this young and inexperienced Hokies team sporting a freshman captain, but they have already proved themselves capable of beating a fellow ACC foe by beating Miami in a December overtime victory. Jarell Eddie has likewise proven himself a capable leader and scorer for this team, and frankly, a record three games above .500 is a feat in and of itself. Shooting 42.5 percent from three, the Hokies are one of the top perimeter shooting teams in the nation as 35.2 percent of their points come from behind the arc.
- Reasons for pessimism: Unfortunately whenever Virginia Tech has faced an elite opponent, they have crumbled by big margins, losing by 19 to Michigan State and 30 to VCU. They have a pretty good defense but simply aren’t good enough there to make up for all their offensive deficiencies. The Hokies’ lack of experience will play a large role in their progression as soon as ACC play opens.
- Forecast: Virginia Tech likely will finish around its projected slot as its inexperience and offensive ineptitude will weigh on them. How they respond to ruts and adversity will be a good indicator of how far they can go in the future. They have a good young nucleus and coach James Johnson seems to be very dedicated to the program and their improvement.