ACC Burning Questions, Part 1: Boston College, Pittsburgh & Wake Forest

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 22nd, 2019

Boston College Burning Question: Will the second consecutive early departure sabotage another campaign before it even begins?

Is All Lost at Boston College? (USA Today Images)

Despite what has amounted to a lost decade of hoops in Chestnut Hill, Jim Christian’s charges had a slight glimmer of hope when the 2017-18 season came to a close. Seven league wins, the most since 2013, and an NIT appearance, the first postseason of any kind since the same year, had Boston College excited for a breakthrough last season. However, when half of one of the league’s preeminent backcourts vaulted to the NBA (Jerome Robinson) and the other (Ky Bowman) opted to eschew his final year of eligibility a year later, the Eagles seem destined for yet another year of irrelevance, cemented at the bottom of the ACC standings.

To add injury to insult, the player most equipped to fill the dynamic shoes of Bowman, rising sophomore Wynston Tabbs, will miss the entire year after September knee surgery. Much will therefore fall on the shoulders of former five-star recruit Derryck Thornton, now at his third collegiate stop, and senior Nik Popovic, the team’s leading returning scorer and second-leading rebounder. Expectations are bleak, as Boston College is the only ACC school outside of the KenPom preseason top 100, and if that plays itself out on the floor, it seems unlikely that Christian will be back to steward the Eagles for a seventh season.

Pittsburgh Burning Question: Will Jeff Capel’s progress continue?

Jeff Capel Wonders Where His Love Is (USA Today Images)

Jeff Capel embarked on a seemingly impossible task when he took the Pittsburgh post in the spring of 2018 — to abandon the top lieutenant role at Duke in favor of a suddenly moribund program, swirling in not only apathy but littered with uncertainty. And while year one ended with a 14-19 record including just three league wins, a deeper dive paints a picture of exceeded expectations and reasons to be excited for what the future holds.

A trio of fearless freshman guards — all adept at pressuring the rim — return for their sophomore seasons looking to mature into more complete and efficient playmakers. Xavier Johnson was the best of the bunch, averaging a team-high 15.5 points per game, while owning the 30th-highest usage rate in the country. Classmates Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney will need to have improved their perimeter shooting to take full advantage of Johnson’s ability to draw defensive attention. If that happens, and the Panthers en masse see a significant uptick from beyond the arc (221st nationally), then Capel’s team seems primed to be the team from the bottom half of the league standings that has the potential to most frequently be competitive with the upper echelon.

Wake Forest Burning Question: Is this the last opportunity for Danny Manning to get it right?

Dead Manning Walking in Winston-Salem? (USA Today Images)

It is hard to believe that the school of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul hasn’t had a single winning conference record this decade, and has yet to finish higher than 10th in the ACC standings in the five years Danny Manning has captained the ship. It would appear to be now or never for the former Kansas All-American, who has assembled some decent talent during his time in Winston-Salem, but has very little to show for it outside of a First Four appearance in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The problem for Wake Forest, however, is that this may be the least talented roster Manning has had, as the Demon Deacons’ best player from a season ago, Jaylen Hoard, departed for the NBA after his rookie season.

Brandon Childress, son of Randolph, another Wake legend, is back for his senior year, and will be Manning’s most relied-upon player, just as he was a year ago. As a junior, Childress played more than 90 percent of the team’s minutes, while leading the team in scoring, assists and three-point field goals made. In fact, Childress was the only semi-reliable threat from deep, as the perimeter shooting proved to be a major albatross, with Wake checking in at 328th nationally from beyond the arc, connecting on fewer than 31 percent of its attempts. The inability to make shots, and the difficulty in stopping opponents from doing the same (294th in opponent’s effective field goal percentage) was a recipe that produced a second consecutive 11-20, 4-14 result. A third would make it hard to envision Manning return to the Wake Forest sidelines in 2020-21.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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