ACC Burning Questions, Part 3: Clemson, Miami & NC State

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) looks at the middle of the conference, with Clemson, Miami and NC State

Clemson Burning Question: After last year’s surprisingly successful season, can the Tigers repeat that performance?

Clemson returns one the nation’s top backcourts with seniors Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed. (

Last season was a breakout year for Brad Brownell’s program in many ways: a school-record 25 wins; a program-most 11 ACC victories; a top 20 finish in the AP poll; and, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen that included a resounding victory over fellow power conference upstart Auburn. With a veteran squad returning this season, Clemson is poised to build upon that success and perhaps even improve it. Last year the Tigers were consistently solid on both ends of the floor, using a three-guard lineup to shred opponents from the perimeter combined with a stifling defense (KenPom’s seventh-best nationally). Another key for the Tigers’ unprecedented success was that they finally learned how to win close games in league play. After a gut wrenching 2-9 performance in contests decided by fewer than seven points two years ago, the Tigers went 4-3 in such games last season.

Leading the charge this year will be one of the nation’s top backcourts, featuring two fifth-year seniors — Marcquise Reed (Second Team All-ACC, 15.8 PPG) and Shelton Mitchell (12.2 PPG, 3.6 APG). Also returning for his final campaign is Elijah Thomas (10.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG), one of the best two-way big men in the league. We agree with fellow RTC-ACC writer Mick McDonald, who lists the Tigers’ 6’7″ sophomore Aamir Simms among his top breakout candidates in the ACC this year. A key for Brownell will be replacing the production of departed guard Gabe DeVoe — a dangerous three-point bomber, DeVoe helped spread the court, allowing Reed and Mitchell excellent driving angles. But even if Clemson’s offense slips a bit, its defense should be good enough to keep the Tigers in the upper half of the ACC with another trip to the Big Dance.

Miami Burning Question: Will the Hurricanes’ guard play be good enough?

Jim Larranaga must replace a lot of perimeter scoring from last year’s Hurricanes squad.
(Getty Images)

Jim Larranaga’s offenses at Miami have historically been led from the perimeter. Using a steady dose of high-ball screens, Hurricanes’ guards usually dominate Miami’s scoring output. That was certainly the case as well last year when five of Larranaga’s top six scorers were perimeter players. Unfortunately for Miami, three of those guards — Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker and Ja’Quan Newton — are no longer on the roster. The projected starters to replace that trio are diminutive point guard Chris Lykes (9.6 PPG, 2.3 APG), Dejan Vasiljevic (9.0 PPG, 41.1% 3FG) and graduate transfer Zach Johnson (16.1 PPG at Florida Gulf Coast). While that projects to be a solid group, there is little depth behind them.

The strength of this Miami team should actually be up front for a change. Junior Dewan Hernandez (who previously used Huell as his last name) flirted with turning pro after a solid sophomore season (11.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG), and he will be joined in the frontcourt by versatile senior Anthony Lawrence (8.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG). That duo is backed by a host of talented big men, so it’s entirely possible that Larranaga could play a taller lineup by swinging Lawrence to the perimeter. Another issue for Miami this season could be perimeter defense — look for ACC guards to exploit the 5’7″ Lykes and rather unathletic Vasiljevic. Larranaga usually gets the max out of his teams, so expect Miami to hover around .500 in the ACC and find its way into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year.

N.C. State Burning Question: Can Kevin Keatts get all his new pieces to fit together?

N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts welcomes eight newcomers to his playing roster for the 2018-19 season. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

With just three players returning from last year’s NC State squad, the Wolfpack roster needed a major makeover heading into Kevin Keatts’ second season. As a result, eight new players — including several transfers that we detailed here — will be suiting up in Raleigh this season. The three remaining holdovers played significant roles on last season’s squad, helping NC State to a better than expected 21-12 record and an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Senior Torin Dorn (13.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG) is a versatile forward, while Markell Johnson (8.9 PPG, 7.3 APG) and Braxton Beverly (9.5 PPG, 3.9 APG) give Keatts two experienced point guards.

Among the newcomers, expect the biggest impact to come from a pair of 6’5″ wings who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules. C.J. Bryce played two years under Keatts at UNC Wilmington, so he is very familiar with his coach’s system. Former Utah guard Devon Daniels should also fit perfectly into Keatts’ position-less style of play. Since the Wolfpack lost all of their interior players from a year ago, Keatts brought in a pair of immediately eligible transfers to man the post — Wyatt Walker (Samford) and DJ Funderburk (NW Florida JC). Keatts is confident that he can put all the pieces together, calling on his experience as a prep school coach that revamped his roster annually at Hargrave Military Academy (VA). We trust that he will make it work well enough to guide the Wolfpack back to the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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