ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 2nd, 2018

To wrap up our ACC team previews, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) brings us home by reviewing league favorites Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Burning Question: How will Duke’s talented freshmen gel on the court?

The Duke Freshmen Are Ready to Roll (USA Today Images)

Duke has the most talented roster in the country, but as we know, talent alone doesn’t always mean championships. After losing almost his entire roster from last year’s Elite Eight squad, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with four of the very best prospects in the country. The question is how those pieces will fit together. While Zion Williamson (who is basically a cross between Justin Bieber and LeBron James on YouTube) is the Blue Devils’ biggest star, R.J. Barrett is the best player on the team. He dominated for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year and is likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The smooth lefty likes to have the ball in his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with expected starting point guard Tre Jones.

Will fellow freshman Cam Reddish accept not being the lead banana on a team with plentiful options? Will anyone outside of sophomore Alex O’Connell (48.9% 3FG) make any three-pointers? Will juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier be able to stay out of Krzyzewski’s doghouse to support the talented freshmen? Whether you believe that Duke will figure it all out and win the national title or if you have concerns about egos overtaking the team en route to an early exit in March, Duke is without question the most fascinating team in college basketball this season.

North Carolina Burning Question: What lineup does Roy Williams want to use?

Luke Maye Returns for His Senior Year With a Loaded Team Behind Him (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams is not afraid to say that he prefers his freshmen to not start at the beginning of the season. North Carolina also hasn’t brought in a recruit the likes of Nassir Little in a long time. Little, the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, is very likely a one-and-done player who may not start for the Tar Heels if Williams wants to go big. We know what to expect from potential All-American Luke Maye, after he eviscerated ACC defenses (23.8 PER; 116.4 ORtg) all of last season. If Williams wants Maye in a bigger lineup, you could see Little come off the bench and one of three sophomore big men (Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman) start at center. If he decides on that route, here’s a vote for Manley. He posted a 24.8 PER in limited action last season and was a wrecking ball on the glass, gathering 23.8 percent of the defensive rebounds and 14.4 percent of offensive boards. Seniors Kenny Williams (40.2% 3FG) and Cameron Johnson (123.4 ORtg) are locked in on the wings. Dynamo freshman Coby White looks ready to take over for Joel Berry at point guard. But how Roy Williams decides to divvy up his minutes in a loaded frontcourt will make for plenty of debate on Tar Heels message boards and #CBBTwitter.

Virginia Burning Question: Can Tony Bennett finally break through in March?

The Cavaliers have been asked about nothing else since March. In Charlottesville, “U-M-B-C” has officially become one of those four-letter words you cannot say in public. The good news for Virginia is that this year’s team could be just as dominant as last year’s group — at least until that fateful night in Charlotte. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy are both back to form one of the best backcourts in the country. The underrated Jerome shot 37.9 percent from long-range and is one of the best closers in the game (90.5%) at the charity stripe. De’Andre Hunter (118.4 ORtg) also looks poised to take the leap to potential NBA lottery pick. The frontcourt has scoring questions, but Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite and newly eligible Alabama transfer Braxton Key will all be monsters on the defensive end. Key’s versatility in particular will give Tony Bennett an array of potential lineup options. Will Bennett’s group lean into the despair of last March and use it as motivation? Or will it lurk in the back of their minds like a recurring nightmare and cause panic at the first sign of trouble? If the answer is the former, there are few teams in the country that will be able to stop the Cavaliers from turning that nightmare into the opening scene of a dream season.

Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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