ACC Burning Questions, Part 3: NC State, Notre Dame & Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 28th, 2019

N.C. State Burning Question: Will the Wolfpack’s frontcourt be good enough?

Senior point guard Markell Johnson hopes to lead N.C. State back to the NCAA Tournament. (PackInsider)

For Kevin Keatts to lead the Wolfpack back to the NCAA Tournament in his third season in Raleigh, he must find a way to develop a better interior group — especially defensively — to complement his potent backcourt. Last year, NC State allowed its ACC opponents to make 51.6 percent of their two-point tries (13th in the ACC) and ranked ninth in the league in defensive rebounding. And, oh yeah, the Wolfpack lost their two best defensive rebounders (Torin Dorn and Wyatt Walker). Further mucking things up is the status of NC State’s best returning big man, DJ Funderburk who is serving an indefinite suspension. Even with Funderburk available, Keatts would have to rely on newcomers to help man the post. Redshirt freshman Manny Bates should bring rim protection, but his offense is a question mark. Lehigh graduate transfer Pat Andree is known for his outside shooting touch (41.9% 3FG last year) but entering the ACC will be a big step up in competition for him.

There is a plethora of talent and experience available on the Wolfpack’s perimeter. Leading the way will be senior point guard Markell Johnson (12.6 PPG, 4.2 APG, 42.2% 3FG) and his returning running mate, junior Braxton Beverly (9.4 PPG, 2.5 APG). On the wing, expect a pair of former transfers to show improvement in their second go-around in Raleigh. C.J. Bryce (11.6 PPG) and Devon Daniels (9.3 PPG) are the prototypical players to fit Keatts’ style. They both can shoot from distance, attack off the dribble, and harass opposing ball-handlers. Blake Harris recently decided to transfer out of the program, but that still leaves plenty of outside firepower. However, for NC State to return to the Big Dance, the guards will need help from their bigger buddies.

Notre Dame Burning Question: Will the Irish make some shots this year?

John Mooney had a breakout junior year for Notre Dame in 2018-19. (Rick Kimball/ISD)

In Mike Brey’s first 18 seasons in South Bend, he never had an offense finish worse than 57th in KenPom’s final season efficiency ratings. Then came the disastrous 2018-19 campaign, which saw Notre Dame end up with as the nation’s 105th-ranked offense. A season-long team shooting slump was the culprit – the Irish shot a frigid 31.5 percent from three-point range and converted just 45.4 percent of their two-point attempts. The marksmanship improvement needs to start with the returning backcourt of TJ Gibbs (13.4 PPG, 31.8% 3FG) and Prentiss Hubb (8.1 PPG, 26.2% 3FG). Brey may want to give more shots to promising sophomore wing Dane Goodwin (6.4 PPG, 34.3% 3FG), who should be improved in his second year in the program. More help on the perimeter will come from two guys returning from injury – senior Rex Pflueger and freshman Robby Carmody were opening night starters a year ago before getting hurt and eventually redshirting.

As often happens with Notre Dame bigs during the Brey regime, John Mooney (14.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG) had a breakout junior season and earned a spot on the preseason All-ACC first team. He’ll be joined up front by defensive specialist Juwan Durham (5.7 PPG, 2.3 BPG), along with Nate Laczewski (6.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG), who flashed some offensive potential as a rookie. With so many returning pieces and Brey’s track record, many expect Notre Dame to make the leap from ACC bottom-dweller to NCAA contender. To do so, the Irish will need a major leap in accuracy from the group that couldn’t shoot straight a year ago.

Miami Burning Question: Will the Hurricanes’ defense bounce back?

Chris Lykes has established himself as one of the top point guards in the ACC. (JC Ridley/Miami Athletics)

Jim Larranaga’s defenses at Miami have historically been the backbone of some very successful squads. Last year, however, the Hurricanes struggled mightily on that end of the floor, finishing 14th in the ACC in defensive efficiency and opponents’ shooting (53.3% eFG). Part of the reason for such a decline was a personnel numbers problem – Miami played most of the season with only seven scholarship guys available. Depth up front could still be an issue for the Hurricanes. Junior center Rodney Miller is expected to make an impact after taking a redshirt year for developmental reasons, but the other main options in the post – Deng Gak and graduate transfer Keith Stone (Florida) are recovering from serious knee injuries that shortened their seasons a year ago. Larranaga is counting on junior Sam Waardenburg to help space the floor from his stretch-four spot on offense, while also showing some needed defensive improvement.

The Miami backcourt is in good hands with the return of Chris Lykes (16.2 PPG, 3.2 APG), and Dejan Vasiljevic (11.8 PPG, 36.7% 3FG). The veteran duo kept the Hurricanes competitive in league play late last year — Miami won five of its last 11 games against ACC competition after a 1-8 start in conference play. They will have more help on the perimeter this year with the addition of transfer Kameron McGusty, who averaged 9.4 points per game in his two years at Oklahoma. Depth on the wing will be provided by four-star freshmen Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly. The plan is for Miami to rely on its deeper pool of guards, (and hopefully maintaining better health) to make the defense stingy once again, sending the Canes back to the NCAA Tourney after a one-year hiatus.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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