A Look at Five ACC Early Season Surprises

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2018

As things around the college basketball world slow down heading into the holidays, Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at a few early-season surprises from around the ACC.

  • NC State. Given all the new faces in Raleigh this year, many had reservations on whether Kevin Keatts could meld a new group into a winner. It’s still early but the answer is a resounding yes. The Wolfpack have already notched solid wins over Vanderbilt and Penn State on neutral courts in addition to knocking off a top-10 Auburn team at PNC Arena. NC State’s offense ranks 13th nationally (per KenPom) play at a very high pace (12th nationally) and have 10 players who see at least 13 minutes of action per game. If you aren’t well-conditioned before you take the court against the Wolfpack, you’re in big trouble. Keatts also has a pair of stars who need to start getting more attention beyond the Research Triangle. Point guard Markell Johnson owns a 73.9 percent effective field goal rate (third nationally) and a robust 138.2 Offensive Rating (11th nationally). He’s also cut his turnover rate nearly in half this season. Senior Torin Dorn is flourishing as a small-ball four, currently providing a 26.2 PER, 119.3 Offensive Rating and an 83.2 Defensive Rating, while shooting 45.8% from long-distance.
Kevin Keatts Isn’t Messing Around (USA Today Images)
  • Clemson. Syracuse has been a surprise disappointment as well through the first month of the season, but at least the Orange have a win at Ohio State to hang their hats on. Brad Brownell’s club, on the other hand, has not beaten a single team inside KenPom’s top 120. By losing to Creighton and Mississippi State on neutral courts as well as Nebraska at home, the Tigers have missed out on their only chances to pick up quality wins in the non-conference schedule. Their normally stout defense is rated just 50th in the country, per KenPom, and leading scorer Marcquise Reed has missed three games (including the Mississippi State game) with a sprained knee. Clemson is hopeful to have Reed back for the start of ACC play, and Brownell will certainly need him with the Tigers first three ACC games at Duke, at Syracuse and hosting Virginia. Yikes.
  • Ty Jerome, Virginia. Kyle Guy was the All-American last year and DeAndre Hunter gets considerable deserving NBA hype, but Jerome is the heart of this Virginia team. The addition of Kihei Clark has allowed Jerome to play off the ball more often this season, giving him freedom to become an all-around impactful player (126.1 ORtg, 57.5% eFg, 27.0 PER). He is still terrific at setting up his teammates (29.1 Ast%) as well as remaining a lock-down defender (81.9 DRtg), but Virginia will only go as far as Jerome takes them.
  • Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State. Leonard Hamilton’s teams always seem to have a few seven-footers on the roster, but rarely are those monsters of the middle the primary focus of the offense. That aspect has changed this year with the all-around improvement of Mfiondu Kabengele. The sophomore big man (27.3 PER) has the highest usage rate (30.1%) on the team and has upped both his Offensive Rating (122.1 from 112.3 last season) and Defensive Rating (97.0 to 95.9 last year). He’s also making a very strong 77 percent of his free throws, a key statistic for a big man who lives around the rim. If Florida State wants to compete for an ACC title this season, they’ll need Kabengele to continue to flourish on the offensive end of the floor.
  • Kenny Williams, North Carolina. It has been a very disappointing start for a player who enjoyed a terrific junior campaign but whose numbers have dramatically dipped across the board — from efficiency (59.8% to 44.3 eFG%) to turnovers (10.3% to 17.8% TO rate) to his long-distance shooting (40.2% to 24.4%). Williams has also been lauded as the Tar Heels’ best defender, but among regulars this season, only freshman Coby White has a lower Defensive Rating on the team. Roy Williams always leans on his veterans, so you can bet Williams will be given every chance to work out of this early season slump. North Carolina will need the junior version of Williams if the Heels want to get back to the Final Four.
Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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