ACC Burning Questions, Part IV: Syracuse, Florida State & Louisville

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 30th, 2019

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Elijah Hughes and the Orange make enough shots to spend a March off of the bubble?

It’s No Coincidence the Orange Man Resembles a Bubble (USA Today Images)

For a school with pedigree and a track record of sustained basketball excellence, the last half-decade has been somewhat of a slog for Syracuse. Almost perennially the power school at the heart of the bubble conversation, the Orange have lost 13 or more games in each of the last five campaigns. And with four starters gone from a 20-14 squad, Jim Boeheim‘s roster would suggest another March where his disposition is wrought with anxiety.

To avoid that fate, Syracuse will need to make more shots from all over the court. The Orange rated 229th nationally in effective field goal percentage a season ago, and were objectively poor from beyond the arc (229th), in two-point range (213th) and from the charity stripe (260th). The loss of its most accomplished scorer and offensive initiator, Tyus Battle, isn’t a great start on improving that ineptitude, but perhaps a more featured role for Elijah Hughes would pay dividends. Hughes led the team with 87 threes a year ago, and was the most efficient scorer the Orange had by a comfortable margin. However, he often times deferrred to Battle, Oshae Brissett and even Frank Howard, relegated to a catch-and-shoot man. This year, Hughes will undeniably be the alpha dog, and how he handles that elevation will likely tell the story of Syracuse’s season.

Florida State Burning Question: Is this the new normal at Florida State?

Leonard Hamilton Broods Himself to Sweet Sixteens and Elite Eights (USA Today Images)

Football school Florida State is coming off one of the most successful seasons in the history of its basketball program, winning 29 games that included a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. However, the Seminoles are bidding adieu to six major contributors, most notably Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann, both NBA Draft picks. Thus, a trip back to the bottom tier of the ACC must be in the cards, right? Not so fast.

Perhaps no preseason ranking that Ken Pomeroy’s algorithm spit out was more eye popping than Florida State checking in at #14. Conventional wisdom, given the team’s production losses, would have predicted more of a rebuild — but Pomeroy’s preseason calculus accounts for sustained success in its predictive modeling, and the truth is, Leonard Hamilton’s charges have been among the sport’s elite over the last three years — winning 78 games.

Hamilton will rely heavily on a new crop of long, athletic swingmen and bigs, but no one will be more critical to the team’s success than senior point guard Trent Forrest. The team leader in assists the last two seasons, and one of the nation’s preeminent point of attack defenders, Forrest is a bulldog trigger man that will apply pressure on both ends. Perhaps his biggest task in his final campaign in Tallahassee is to extract the latent talent of his backcourt mate M.J. Walker. Walker, a McDonald’s All-American in 2017, has shown signs but has yet to live up to his capabilities. If he does, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Florida State once again finds itself in the upper echelon of the ACC and posing a viable threat at reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville Burning Question: Is the hype overdone?

Can Chris Mack’s Team Handle All the Hype? (USA Today Images)

Heading into his initial season stewarding the Louisville program, Chris Mack faced little outside pressure. Expectations were as low as they could be for a program with the cache of Louisville, but after the mess that Rick Pitino had left on his way out, and the seemingly barren roster afterward, Mack was going to be afforded a reasonable grace period.

Mack raised the bar quickly, though, as he led a very ordinary roster to the NCAA Tournament, finishing 23rd in KenPom after starting the year forty slots north of that. Now, with many of those same players, all of whom have improved dramatically under Mack, and a highly touted crop of newcomers on board, the Cardinals find themselves rated third in KenPom’s initial rankings — suddenly becoming an extremely popular pick to not only win the ACC, but to cut down the nets in Atlanta.

The player at the fulcrum of these heightened expectations is Jordan Nwora, who flirted with the notion of entering the NBA before returning to campus for his junior season. The versatile scorer, who combines a feathery outside touch with an ability to explode to the rim, was the league’s most improved player a season ago, and is garnering a ton of preseason accolades. If Nwora can be the player that most everyone imagines he will undoubtedly be one of the nation’s top stars. His supporting cast is also in place, specifically in returnees Malik Williams and Dwayne Sutton, and newcomers Lamarr Kimble (St. Joseph’s transfer) and five-star swingman Samuell Williamson. In short order, this team has justifiably elevated its expectations back to a level commensurate with program history.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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