The ACC’s 15 Unsung Heroes

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 11th, 2016

Casual ACC fans know the stars. But on any successful basketball team, there is always at least one unheralded player who helps his team by contributing in any number of different ways. Perhaps a scorer who brings energy to a second unit; a defensive stopper who anchors the back line of the defense; or a newcomer claiming a role for the future. Who are those guys in the ACC this season? We’re glad you asked.

  • Boston College: Connar Tava. Tava had a terrific junior year in 2014-15 at Western Michigan when he averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 52.1 percent from the field. After suffering a season-ending foot injury early last year, he redshirted and transferred to Boston College in the offseason..
  • Clemson: Marcquise Reed. When you have a player as talented as potential All-American Jaron Blossomgame, he is going to attract a lot of attention from opposing defenses. The best way to take advantage of that? Surround him with players who can knock down the three-point shot. Reed, a transfer from Robert Morris hit 41.3 percent of his shots from long distance last season.
Matt Jones is the key to Duke's defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Matt Jones is the key to Duke’s defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Duke: Matt Jones. It’s tough to make a case for a Duke player being relatively unknown, but Jones is the best option here. He averaged 10.4 points per game for the Blue Devils last season, but he won’t be asked to score nearly as much this year. Rather, what he will be asked to do is guard the opponents’ best perimeter players, especially during the home stretch of tight games. He is a terrific on-ball defender and versatile enough to adequately defend both guards and wings.

  • Florida State: Phil Cofer. The Seminoles have a loaded backcourt, but the key question at Florida State this season will be what Leonard Hamilton can get out of his frontcourt. While battling injuries and playing in only 11 games, Cofer had an intriguing freshman season. In a good sign for Florida State, the sophomore scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the team’s first exhibition game of the season.
  • Georgia Tech: Justin Moore. Let’s face it, the Yellow Jackets are probably going to have a rough year in Josh Pastner’s debut ACC season, but the long-term key for the new head coach will be to develop his existing talent. Moore, a 6’4” point guard from the San Diego area, will have a chance to shine right out of the gate after expected starting point guard Josh Heath was suspended for the first four games. Tech has a long history of terrific point guards donning the Yellow Jackets’ uniform, and nothing would make Pastner’s first season at the helm in Atlanta a bigger success than Moore becoming the next one.
Tony Hicks could be key to Rick Pitino's backcourt. (Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo)

Tony Hicks could be key to Rick Pitino’s backcourt. (Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo)

  • Louisville: Tony Hicks. Most of the preseason talk about Louisville has focused on the expected improvement from returning players like Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel. However, an important piece to the puzzle is also Hicks, a graduate transfer from Penn who averaged double-figures in all three of his seasons with the Quakers. Rick Pitino loves to play an up-tempo style, so having a guard like Hicks available off the bench will be an important weapon for the Cardinals.
  • Miami: Ebuka Izundu. When Miami marched to the Sweet Sixteen last season, it was the backcourt tandem of Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan who received most of the hype. Center Tonye Jekiri, however, led the defense and will be tougher to replace. The Hurricanes bring in a pair of freshmen in Dewan Huell and Rodney Miller, but Izundu will get the first chance to replace Jekiri and become the new defensive anchor for Jim Larranaga.
  • NC State: Torin Dorn. The return of guards Dennis Smith, Jr. and Terry Henderson from injury was a dominant offseason topic in Raleigh. As Smith (knee) and Henderson (ankle) get acclimated to Mark Gottfried’s system, Dorn will play an important and immediate role. After averaging 12.0 points per game and shooting 50.5 percent from the field at Charlotte in 2014-15, he will now play a key role alongside Smith and Henderson in the backcourt.
  • North Carolina: Isaiah Hicks. OK, this is kind of cheating given Hicks will start and be one of the key contributors for the Tar Heels this season. The senior, whose praises I sung earlier this week, has a great chance of putting together a breakout season that looks like a poor man’s Brice Johnson. By the end of the season, people might be more focused on the development of Hicks than the Tar Heels’ admittedly strong backcourt of Joel Berry III and Justin Jackson.
Is Martinas Geben the next Mike Brey big man to make the leap? (Tom Loy/247 Sports)

Is Martinas Geben the next Mike Brey big man to make the leap? (Tom Loy/247 Sports)

  • Notre Dame: Martinas Geben. Geben has only played in 38 games over his two seasons at Notre Dame, but withZach Auguste now gone, Mike Brey needs another big body in the frontcourt to team up with Bonzie Colson. Brey has a demonstrated history of turning unknowns into productive players — look for Geben to be the next Irish example of that.
  • Pittsburgh: Justice Kithcart. Kithcart is a heralded recruit who Pittsburgh fans hope is their long term solution at point guard. While new head coach Kevin Stallings is expected to experiment with Jamel Artis at the point early in the season, the Panthers would be at their best if Artis can focus on being a scorer. After a season-ending injury to transfer Chrisshawn Clark, Stallings will need to lean on Kithcart even more.
  • Syracuse: John Gillon. Jim Boeheim took a team to the Final Four last year that probably should not have made the NCAA Tournament, He then lost three of his best players but returns a group that has enough talent to get back. The key is Gillon, who the Orange will need to run the offense and become the engine that makes the team go.
  • Virginia: Marial Shayok. Anyone who follows college basketball knows the key for Tony Bennett’s team this season will be finding some scoring to replace the loss of All-American Malcolm Brogdon. McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy may eventually step into that role, but freshmen have typically not been key factors on Bennet’s teams. The player to watch in Charlottesville is Shayok, who was inconsistent last year but shot 43.6 percent from three despite only taking one attempt per game. The Cavaliers will lean on Shayok to replace some of Brogdon’s offense this season.
Virginia needs Marial Shayok to pick up some scoring slack. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Virginia needs Marial Shayok to pick up some scoring slack. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

  • Virginia Tech: Ahmed Hill. Buzz Williams has always been a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” kind of coach, and this Virginia Tech team should embody that notion perfectly. Hill, who is returning from a knee injury that cost him the entirety of last season, is a prototypical Williams player. He’s versatile, can shoot the three (38.6% in 2014-15) and plays as hard as anyone in the ACC.
  • Wake Forest: Austin Arians. Wake is in an odd spot of being a fairly talented team trapped in a historically loaded conference. A key addition to the program this year is Arians, who transferred over fromMilwaukee and will be a key part of Danny Manning’s rotation. He won’t get many of the headlines in Winston-Salem, but he will make plenty of winning plays as the Demon Deacons look to improve in year three of the Manning era.
Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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