ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

  • Matt Auerbach: Truth is, who else would there be? I think most of the other coaches in the league are on relatively firm footing. Barring any repercussions from exogenous, FBI-related events, I’d assume Manning is the guy with presently the least amount of job security in the league.

TJ Gibbs will be counted on to score and run the show for Notre Dame this season. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: Moving up the league ladder. Mick, you wrote on the next tier – Notre Dame, Louisville and Boston College. You sound higher on the Irish than most. Is that a “we trust in Mike Brey” situation or do you see something in their talent level that others are missing?
  • Mick McDonald: Can it be both? I trust Brey implicitly to take whatever he is given and get the most (and then some) out of it. I also think TJ Gibbs can be the leader on an NCAA Tournament team. Rex Pflueger, John Mooney, a healthy DJ Harvey and a very well-regarded recruiting class seem like enough pieces for Brey to figure it out. I have questions about how the Irish will defend, but I expect them to make the Tournament.
  • Brad Jenkins: At ACC Media Day, Brey talked about having to play his freshmen a lot for a change, but he really likes this group’s potential to mesh. Hopefully Harvey will get all the way back to healthy status by conference play. How do we think Chris Mack will do in year one at Louisville?
  • Matt Auerbach: I’m a huge fan of Mack, as I know Mick is as well. With this roster, though, it would take a real magic act to get to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Mick McDonald: I think Jordan Nwora will have a big year, but I’m not sold on this Louisville roster. Nor am I sold on the Cardinals’ point guards or their ability to make shots. Mack is terrific and he’ll have them at the top of the league sooner than later, but I have them in the NIT.
  • Matt Auerbach: I have no doubt he’ll be a huge success at Louisville, but doing it right out of the gate with this level of talent seems like a lot to ask.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think this year will be about instilling the kind of toughness that his teams had at Xavier. And with next year’s recruiting class already looking great, look out! Boston College has everyone back except for Jerome Robinson (who was great last year), so the Eagles may be as good or slightly better this year. Given the depth of the ACC right now, however, I don’t see them gaining any ground. Am I underselling the Eagles?
  • Mick McDonald: I think it comes down to the frontcourt. Ky Bowman is a stud and Jordan Chatman can make shots, but they need Steffon Mitchell and Nik Popovic to be much more effective. Also, freshman Jairus Hamilton (whom Jim Christian got from the state of North Carolina just like Robinson and Bowman) needs to have an immediate impact. I think they’ll continue to improve but still be on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason.
  • Matt Auerbach: No, I don’t think you are. I really thought BC had a chance to make a run at the NCAA Tournament this year. But with Robinson gone, I think it forces Bowman into the lead dog role and elevates everyone else a level. It’s not Bowman I’m concerned about. Are the rest of the guys ready to step their games up?

Clemson’s Elijah Thomas is one of the ACC’s best two-way big men. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Brad Jenkins: Now on to the middle of the pack – Clemson, NC State and Miami. Who do we like best out of this group?
  • Matt Auerbach: I really like Clemson. The Tigers are experienced and have now tasted success. Marcquise Reed can really play, and Elijah Thomas finally showed the consistency of the guy he was supposed to be when he arrived at Texas A&M. I also see a big jump for Aamir Simms on the horizon. To me, Clemson is a team that people may be overlooking that could wind up figuring out a way into the league’s top five — which is saying a lot in this league.
  • Brad Jenkins: I love Brad Brownell‘s big three — Thomas, Reed and Shelton Mitchell — and I know they’ll defend like crazy. My worry for Clemson is having to play the role of the hunted for a change. Plus, I think they’ll miss Gabe Devoe’s ability to spread the floor, which allowed Reed and Mitchell more room to operate.
  • Mick McDonald: The DeVoe loss is big, no doubt.
  • Matt Auerbach: Agreed, but I’ll say this. Donte Grantham was a huge loss a year ago, and they showed a ton of resiliency to overcome it and finish as strong as they did. This is a mature, tough group of grown men. At times they’ll have guys four or five years older than the opposition, which when the talent is close to equal, makes a huge difference. Brad, you know about that old man strength!
  • Brad Jenkins: Ha Ha! Not as much as I’d like.
  • Mick McDonald: I agree Clemson is the best of this bunch, but I’m so intrigued to see NC State. I’ve loved Kevin Keatts’ style of coaching since his UNC Wilmington days and this team is right up his alley. Tons of switchable wings and guards that can score, plus some new bigs in Wyatt Walker and Derek Funderburk. I can’t wait to see how he mixes and matches this group.
  • Matt Auerbach: And don’t forget his guy, CJ Bryce!
  • Mick McDonald: Bryce and Devon Daniels will both have nice years in his system. They’ve got almost an entirely new team!
  • Brad Jenkins: There is a lot to like with the Wolfpack for sure. Keatts has a lot of program energy going and I think he can fit all those versatile pieces together. But the question for them will be on the defensive end. That high risk – high reward pressure attack got burned a lot in ACC play last year and they finished 109th in KenPom defense.
  • Mick McDonald: Definitely. But I think they were in no-man’s land last year having to play Yurtseven a ton. This year they’ll be smaller and more athletic, and Keatts has said he’d like to press a ton. I’d expect a lot of that.
  • Brad Jenkins: As for Miami, I think they’re a Bubble Team for sure — not enough talent to be comfortably in the field, but Jim Larranaga almost always gets the max out of his team. Any chance the Hurricanes overachieve?
  • Mick McDonald: I think Dewan Hernandez has a chance to be one of the best big men in the league, but I’m just not sold on the rest of the team. Chris Lykes is fun but can be taken advantage of on defense and they don’t have much depth.
  • Matt Auerbach: I’d be surprised. I like Lykes — quite frankly, who wouldn’t? And I’m a fan of Hernandez, but I don’t think they have enough around them to finish in the top half of the league.
  • Mick McDonald: I actually see a reasonable scenario where they finish like 12th or something. They better hope Zach Johnson, the transfer from Florida Gulf Coast, is ready for prime time.
  • Brad Jenkins: The next group – Syracuse, Florida State and Virginia Tech is very intriguing. Lots of veterans and high expectations for each. Matt, you’re on the Orange bandwagon this year. Tell us why.
  • Matt Auerbach: I’ve got Syracuse in my top five — in the nation. Tyus Battle’s return to school was a fairly big surprise, but even as the league’s third-leading scorer a year ago, I don’t even consider him the Orange’s best returnee. I think that distinction belongs to Oshae Brissett, who should be a double-double machine. Marek Dolezaj was terrific down the stretch in the team’s surprising run to the Sweet Sixteen and I’d be surprised if he didn’t build off that. Add in an experienced point guard in Frank Howard and a pair of freshmen guards like Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, and I think this is a team that is supremely undervalued in the national landscape.
  • Mick McDonald: I’m not as high as you, Matt, but I do like Syracuse a lot. Give Jim Boeheim a bunch of guys who have experience playing his zone and are long and athletic and you’re going to get results.
  • Brad Jenkins: But to be a Final Four caliber team they will have to be much better offensively (KenPom #135 last year). Will having more depth available make that possible?
  • Mick McDonald: Between Boeheim, Carey and Elijah Hughes (transfer from East Carolina), they’ll have much more scoring off the bench this year from the absolutely zero they had last year. I’d hope that will let Boeheim rest Howard and Battle for short stretches to keep them fresh.
  • Matt Auerbach: Don’t bring those facts into my 2-3 zone, Brad. I got a feeling on this one!
Brad Jenkins (333 Posts)


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