ACC Big Men Have Bright Futures: Will Their Teams Follow?Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 22nd, 2014
It is often bandied about that guards win games (along with defense) because they have the ball in their hands most often and thus affect the action more than other positions. While this is certainly a valid viewpoint, interior post players can often mean the difference between a championship team or a bubble team. The popular mindset is that big men take longer to develop in the college ranks because of the learning curve required to manage their combination of power, size and dexterity. Most post players come to the Division I ranks with a limited post game but raw with athleticism and length, prized characteristics that NBA GMs in every professional franchise covet.
The ACC this season is rich in young frontcourt talent that is likely to stay for more than a year in the collegiate ranks. North Carolina is a great example of the conference’s youthful exuberance in the post, sporting a terrific breadth of versatility in that regard. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the tip of the iceberg, both terrific rebounders with vastly different approaches. At 290 pounds, Meeks is a strong and sturdy freshman who isn’t a terrific leaper but uses his body and angles to score and rebound the offensive glass very well. He also possesses one of the nation’s best outlet passes, a perfect conduit for guards Nate Britt and Marcus Paige to start Roy Williams’ break. Johnson, on the other hand, is a long beanpole of a forward who has had a breakout sophomore year for the Tar Heels, ranking fourth in ACC field goal percentage at 54.5%. UNC’s frontcourt depth doesn’t completely end there, though, as the Heels also have 6’10”, 280-pound sophommore Joel James, who is a load in the paint but hasn’t found consistent playing time this season. Freshman Isaiah Hicks too has a bright future ahead of him at UNC; the McDonald’s All-American recorded seven blocks and pulled down an insane 30 rebounds in his state’s high school championship game last year. But the ACC’s young frontcourt brigade of talent doesn’t end in Chapel Hill.
Quite possibly the most talented underclassmen forward in the ACC resides in North Carolina, but his actual location is on Wake Forest’s Winston-Salem campus. Sophomore Devin Thomas is second in the ACC in rebounds per game at 8.0 RPG, trailing only Duke superstar freshman Jabari Parker. Thomas is also fifth in the conference in field goal percentage at 54.3%, hitting on an extremely high and efficient clip. Fellow sophomore Mike Tobey at Virginia has improved by leaps and bounds for head coach Tony Bennett, playing in the perfect offensive system to suit his talents. Florida State’s Boris Bojanovsky is third in the ACC in blocks per game at an even 2.0 BPG. The 7’3” sophomore is a menace in the paint defensively, reminiscent of the Seminoles’ Bernard James from a few years ago. Newcomer Notre Dame sophomore Zach Auguste can stretch the floor with his perimeter skills, making him a match-up nightmare for opposing defenders. Speaking of ACC newcomers, Pittsburgh has a McDonald’s All-American of its very own in the freshman class, New Jersey native and power forward Michael Young. It doesn’t get much better for Young then learning under the tutelage of Jamie Dixon and seasoned big man Talib Zanna. Syracuse sophomore DaJuan Coleman also has a bright future if he can find a way to stay healthy and break through the incredible frontcourt depth at Jim Boeheim’s disposal. Outside of Coleman, Boeheim has brought in what has become another in a long line of long and lanky freshman forwards in Tyler Roberson, a highly touted recruited out of Roselle Catholic in New Jersey.
A big man is relied upon to protect the rim and alter opponent’s shots if they make it into the lane past their defenders. The ACC has its fair share of sophomore shot-blockers outside of Bojanovsky in Miami’s Tonye Jeriki, Clemson’s Landry Nnoko, and Virginia Tech’s Joey van Zegeren, all ranked among the top 12 of the conference’s block percentage. Duke also happens to lay claim to two of the biggest energy-producing big men in the conference in redshirt sophomore and legacy child Marshall Plumlee and Philadelphia native and sophomore, Amile Jefferson.
What all these names and variance in big man skill sets across the conference equate to is that the ACC is going to have a lot of bruising battles in upcoming seasons. For those of who enjoy seeing the ball go inside before it comes back out, perhaps this means that the league won’t be as dependent on ball-dominant guards anymore. Given that the middle tier of the ACC has not been very good for a while now, perhaps this infusion of talent in the frontcourts across the league will pair up with the standard talent at the guard positions to move some of those teams off the bubble line and into the realm of championship contenders.