Projecting the ACC’s Breakout Juniors

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2017

Every preseason we take a hard look at the rosters around the ACC and wonder which returning players will make the leap from role player to key contributor. Lately we have watched many of those returnees come from relative obscurity to full stardom in just one season: players like Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, 2015-16), Matt Farrell (Notre Dame, 2016-17), and John Collins (Wake Forest 2016-17). In most instances, few outside of the specific program expected such a drastic improvement. For example, raise your hand if you had Collins pegged as one of the ACC’s top three players last October. Thought so. Still, sometimes we can project significant leaps in production by looking at advanced statistics for players who are poised to see an increase in minutes and/or usage this season. For instance, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson surprised many observers by becoming a First Team All-ACC member as a junior. But if you closely examine his sophomore campaign statistics — 122.0 Offensive Rating, 58.7 percent true shooting percentage — it’s easy to see why his contributions shot up with a corresponding increase in playing time. In the first of this two-part series, here’s our list of potential breakout juniors in the ACC this season. The breakout sophomores will publish tomorrow.

Junior Jumps

1) Terance Mann – Florida State – 25.0 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 120.1 ORtg, 61.1% 2FG.

Florida State’s Terance Mann is a prime candidate to have a breakout junior season.
(Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports)

With the departures of Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes from the Seminoles’ roster, there are going to be a lot of available possessions for the remaining players this season. We would advise head coach Leonard Hamilton to give as many of those touches to Mann as he can handle. In addition to the 2016-17 statistics listed above, the versatile wing also excels on the boards (8.6% offensive rebound rate) and at getting to the foul line (45.0% FT rate).

2) Marcquise Reed – Clemson –  21.5 MPG, 10.0 PPG, 115.3 ORtg, 40.2% 3FG.

Without Blossomgame around, expect Reed to become the Tigers’ leading scorer this year. He’s always been an effective shooter from deep — as a freshman at Robert Morris he shot 41.2 percent from behind the arc. Reed also knows how to draw fouls (44.7% FT rate) and cashes in when he gets there (90.6% FT).

3) Elijah Thomas – Clemson – 16.9 MPG, 7.5 PPG, 108.4 ORtg, 58.2% 2FG.

Elijah Thomas is poised to have a monster year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Thomas joined the Tigers last December and the transfer from Texas A&M improved, especially defensively, as the season went on. He finished among the top 10 in ACC play in defensive rebounding (22.4%), block rate (6.2%) and steals rate (2.6%). As a junior, Thomas should rank among the best two-way post players in the league.

Sleeper: Rex Pflueger – Notre Dame – 21.4 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 112.5 ORtg, 39.7% 3FG.

Even though Pflueger has already spent two years in South Bend as a role player, head coach Mike Brey has a long history of developing upperclassmen into stars (see: Colson and Farrell). Given the graduations of starters V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, Pflueger should be in position to become the Irish’s primary wing sniper.

Others to Watch: Ray Spalding – Louisville; Ebuka Izundu – Miami

Spalding is considered a potential NBA prospect because of his length and athleticism, which is reflected in last year’s 5.0 percent block rate and 20.8 percent defensive rebounding rate. But he needs to improve his high turnover rate (22.2%) and subpar 54.5 percent free throw shooting. Similarly, Izundu has a high turnover rate (20.9%) but also shows good upside with a 6.7 percent block rate and 13.7 percent offensive rebounding rate.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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