ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 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 2 of that conversation. Part 1 can be found here.

Justin Robinson returns to lead Virginia Tech after being a Second Team All-ACC selection in 2017-18. (AP Photo)

  • Brad Jenkins: Let’s discuss Florida State. I was a little surprised at ACC Media Day to hear Leonard Hamilton and his players talk about coming up short last year — as if the Elite Eight wasn’t good enough. That impressed me (if they really believe it). How good can the Seminoles be this season?
  • Mick McDonald: I think they are being overrated somewhat thanks to the NCAA Tournament run. They’ll be solid — Leonard Hamilton teams usually are. They’ve got good depth and guys like Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer (when he returns) who are proven ACC players, and a guy in MJ Walker who could be in for a breakout year. But I see them much more as a solid sixth-eighth place team versus one that can compete for the league title.
  • Matt Auerbach: Which is essentially what they were a year ago. But we tend to remember how teams finished and apply our expectations based upon that. I think Florida State will be good, in fact better than a year ago, but that puts the Seminoles at around 11-7 in the league.
  • Brad Jenkins: Florida State does have a pretty decent ACC schedule, as the Seminoles will play the bottom four teams on the road, which could help them place higher than expected. Buzz Williams did a good job last year of hiding Virginia Tech’s size disadvantage by going to a pack-line defensive philosophy. Can the Hokies get away with that again? It feels like this is the year that Buzz has been building for.
  • Mick McDonald: Count me all-in on Buzz. I think you can make an argument the Hokies have the best backcourt in the league with Justin Robinson and Nickeil-Alexander Walker. Chris Clarke is a poor man’s Jae Crowder from Williams’ awesome Marquette teams, and they have a few other guys who shoot the lights out. I have them fourth in the ACC and a borderline top-10 team nationally. If Kerry Blackshear can stay out of foul trouble, this team can beat anyone. (Editor’s note: This conversation took place before Wednesday’s announcement that Clarke had been suspended indefinitely from the Hokies’ squad.)
  • Matt Auerbach: Agreed. I love Robinson and that’s a great comp for Clarke. Ty Outlaw can also really shoot it. Blackshear is the X-factor here. When he plays well, this team will be nearly impossible to deal with in Blacksburg and will be able to compete with anyone on the road.

  • Mick McDonald: The defense will be the question. I think Buzz will be able to coach them up enough to make it work.

De’Andre Hunter is a strong candidate for ACC and national honors this season. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: Man, this league is loaded. And we haven’t even gotten to the consensus top three squads. Speaking of which — Mick, tell us why Braxton Key’s immediate eligibility ruling is so huge for Virginia. By the way, Ken Pomeroy said it will be enough to move Virginia up to #2 nationally (from #4) in his preseason ratings.
  • Mick McDonald: It’s just massive news for Tony Bennett. Key is so athletic and should be able to play either the three or four positions on defense. That allows the Cavaliers to play a little smaller with De’Andre Hunter at the four at times. We’ll see what Key can do offensively but imagining anyone trying to score against a squad that utilizes Key, Hunter and either Jack Salt or Mamadi Diakite on the floor sounds like a nightmare.
  • Matt Auerbach: Bad news for you, Mick. I love this Virginia team, but it took me until seeing them win the ACC Tournament live a year ago to completely buy in. We know what happened next. This year, I’m all in from the start. I think Hunter is a borderline top 15 player nationally, and with Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy spreading the floor, they’ll be pretty dynamic offensively. And we know what they’ll do on the other end.
  • Brad Jenkins: Duke may have the three highest future NBA Draft picks on their team, but aren’t Hunter, Guy and Jerome the best trio of collegiate players in the ACC in 2018-19?
  • Mick McDonald: Interesting! They might be, Brad.
  • Matt Auerbach: I’d maybe make the argument that it is Luke Maye, Nassir Little and Cam Johnson at Carolina, but a reasonable case can clearly be made for the Virginia trio.
  • Brad Jenkins: How important is it for Tony Bennett to find some perimeter depth and who will step up to provide that?
  • Mick McDonald: It’s hugely important. Marco Anthony needs to be the answer. He looked solid in his few times getting some run last year but rarely got off the bench. If he can develop into a shooter Bennett trusts, that would really open things up.
  • Brad Jenkins: As for Duke, Mike Krzyzewski has another young team with a lot of questions in Durham. But is the makeup of this squad, i.e., having a true point guard in Tre Jones, going to make the difference?
  • Matt Auerbach: It certainly could be and it’s what they were always missing a year ago. It’s tough for me to evaluate Duke because, while I understand how talented this team is on paper, I need to see how that talent translates practically and if its chemistry will be there.
  • Mick McDonald: They clearly have more talent than anyone in the league, and I am praying we get to see some fun lineups with Zion Williamson at the five and Alex O’Connell with the other freshmen. Good luck to any team trying to guard that group.
  • Matt Auerbach: This team brings back NOTHING — there is not a single known commodity on the squad other than its head coach — which isn’t nothing, but he’s not putting the ball in the hoop.
  • Mick McDonald: But can they play defense? Can they rebound? Can RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish and Williamson get along? Lots of questions for the Blue Devils to answer.
  • Brad Jenkins: I watched both of their exhibitions (against weak competition) and they do seem to play with more collective energy than some recent Duke teams. I think that’s because Barrett and Williamson are just wired to compete on every possession. It will take time for this group to gel, but I see them being much better defensively and pure monsters in transition. Still, I think they will have some struggles in the half-court – shot selection and outside shooting are still major concerns.
  • Mick McDonald: No question about this team in transition. Godspeed to any team that lets Duke get out in the open court.
  • Matt Auerbach: I do think that O’Connell, whom Mick mentioned, will make a significant jump given a larger role. He should be their shot-maker.

North Carolina’s senior Luke Maye is the ACC Media’s choice as the league’s Preseaon Player of the Year. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Brad Jenkins: Now, on to my pick to win the league – North Carolina. Actually, I have the Tar Heels and Cavaliers tying for first place in the ACC, but the Heels gaining the tiebreaker edge by virtue of winning the only match-up between the two in Chapel Hill. Matt, tell us why I’m right or wrong.
  • Matt Auerbach: Well, I ranked them preseason #1 in the country, so you’re right! With Virginia second for good measure, so we’re on the same page here.
  • Mick McDonald: I had Duke/Virginia/UNC #4-#6 in my preseason RTC Top 16, and I think they’re so close I have no issue with anyone putting any one above the others. North Carolina feels like it’s not getting enough love nationally even though the Heels are #8 or whatever in the AP poll.
  • Brad Jenkins: We all know that Roy Williams would prefer to play two post guys, so I expect the sophomore bigs to get plenty of opportunity to prove themselves during the pre-conference season. How do you think the lineup will shake out heading into ACC play?
  • Matt Auerbach: Luke Maye is a production machine and a healthy Johnson will provide a completely different player in his second year in Chapel Hill. Nassir Little has a chance to be special, but unlike the Duke freshmen, he can fit a role and does not have to be asked to carry the load. Coby White has the ability to be a viable replacement for the graduated Joel Berry and the three bigs — Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman — all showed signs of improvement a year ago. If any of that trip pops in year two, I think this is the team to beat nationally.
  • Mick McDonald: Little has to start — this guy is the best recruit Roy Williams has had since the NCAA cloud lifted. I can’t see him coming off the bench. They can rotate the sophomore bigs in (I like Brooks and Manley, not as high on Huffman), but I think they’ll play plenty with Maye at the five.
  • Brad Jenkins: I can see Little playing the Danny Green role off the bench if needed and still getting 28 minutes and producing great stats. That program just seems to cultivate unselfishness like maybe no other. How much will they miss Theo Pinson though? Dude was the glue last year.
  • Matt Auerbach: Guys like that are tough to replace, and there is no denying how integral he was to that team. But, I think they’ll figure it out — as you said, this is truly a program where the next man up fills the void.
  • Brad Jenkins: When picking conference standings, I’m always surprised that no one ever mentions unbalanced schedules. As for separating the top three in the ACC this year it’s worth reviewing. Duke and Virginia each play five ACC road games against the preseason top seven. North Carolina only plays one. No other league team plays fewer than three. To me, even if the top three are equal, the Heels have a much easier path to the regular season title than Duke and Virginia. With that in mind I’ll pick North Carolina for the regular season and Virginia to win the ACC Tourney in Charlotte. What say you guys?
  • Mick McDonald: Unbalances schedules are why “Conference Championships” are basically irrelevant and why you always need to look deeper than just a team’s record at the end of the regular season. That said, I’ll still take Duke to win the league. I’m going to buy all the talent in Durham and Coach K figuring it out.
  • Matt Auerbach: I think North Carolina has the best team, and given the scheduling advantage I’ll pick the Tar Heels to win the league. I’ll also echo your pick of Virginia to win the ACC Tournament, as they tend to wear teams down in a tournament setting.
  • Brad Jenkins: Finally, the ACC media picked Maye, Battle, Barrett, Guy and Bowman to their preseason All-ACC first team. Who would you take off and who would you replace them with?
  • Matt Auerbach: As we discussed previously, I’d definitely replace Guy with his teammate Hunter.
  • Mick McDonald: Agree with Hunter over Guy. I’d also take Justin Robinson over Battle. So, I would take Robinson/Bowman/Barrett/Hunter/Maye on my first team.
  • Matt Auerbach: I’d personally have Brissett somewhere — probably over Battle, but that argument doesn’t work based on what we saw a year ago. Robinson is certainly a worthy option too.
  • Brad Jenkins: Brissett is a good sleeper pick. There’s always at least one player like that. I also had Hunter over Guy. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for the conversation. Can’t wait for the games to begin — it should be another tremendous year for many ACC teams.
  • Mick McDonald: Looking forward to another great season talking ACC hoops with you guys!
  • Matt Auerbach: This was a great way to start—now let’s get it going!
Brad Jenkins (333 Posts)


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