ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 1st, 2019

Duke Burning Question: Who replaces Zion Williamson?

Coach K Has Less Talent This Season But Always Finds a Way (USA Today Images)

Just kidding. No single person can replace what Williamson gave the Blue Devils last season (40.8 PER and 70.8% eFG), which represents one of the best seasons in the history of college basketball.

Actual Duke Burning Question: How will Mike Krzyzewski make all the new pieces fit?

Tre Jones is back to continue to be one of the most pesky on-ball defenders in the country. His pass-first mentality (24.0% assist rate) and ability to take care of the ball (13.2% turnover rate) were an ideal fit with stars like Williamson and RJ Barrett filling lanes. Without the benefit of their transcendent services, however, Duke will need more than just passing and defense from the sophomore. If defenses resort to giving him more space — remember, Jones shot just 26.2 percent from three-point range last season — he needs to knock down open shots at a higher clip for this team to reach its potential.

Duke’s freshman class, as usual, is one of the best in the country. Big man Vernon Carey is an old-school, below the rim player who will be tested against smaller lineups (and may even force Krzyzewski into a zone). Stretch-four Matthew Hurt will provide much needed outside shooting, while athletic wings Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley round out the class. Krzyzewski will also make bigger asks of his returning players. The Blue Devils will rely on Javin DeLaurier (88.8 Defensive Rating) to guard more athletic big men; Alex O’Connell will be asked to add bulk to his 37.5 percent three-point shooting; and Jack White (27.8% 3FG) hopes to regain his stroke. It’s tough to see how these pieces will work together to make Duke an elite squad, but the Hall of Fame coach will no doubt find a way for the puzzle pieces to fit together.

North Carolina Burning Question: Is Cole Anthony college basketball’s next superstar?

Last year, it was Williamson who took the college basketball world by storm. Two seasons ago, it was Oklahoma point guard Trae Young. Here is a bet that North Carolina point guard Cole Anthony becomes the next can’t-miss, Twitter-trending, talking-head magnet of the game this year. We know how much talented point guards can thrive in a Roy Williams offense — it’s also reasonable to suggest that he has never had a talent at that spot quite like Anthony.

While the Tar Heels will rely heavily on the precocious Anthony, there is an underrated amount of talent in Chapel Hill surrounding him. Returning big man Garrison Brooks (57.4% eFG) will join forces with talented freshman Armando Bacot to give Williams the 1-2 punch he loves in the post. They’ll look for more from Brandon Robinson (62.9% eFG on just 12.0 percent usage rate) as he takes over at the wing for Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Look for talented 6’7” sophomore Leaky Black to play some point guard when Anthony moves off the ball (and he will), and Charleston Southern transfer Christian Keeling (38.0% 3FG last season) to knock down open shots when the opportunities present themselves.

This is a solid team with good depth and a Hall of Fame coach. But it’s the freshman point guard who will be making headlines in Chapel Hill.

Virginia Burning Question: Who will make baskets for Tony Bennett’s defending National Championship team?

Tony Bennett Broke Through Last Year — Can He Continue the Run? (USA Today Images)

The Cavaliers scored 2,714 points in their National Championship season, and a total of 1,667 of those were scored by Kyle Guy, DeAndre Hunter or Ty Jerome (61.4 percent of the Cavaliers’ offense). After relying so heavily on that backcourt for scoring, Tony Bennett will have to rely more heavily on his frontcourt this season.

Mamadi Diakite is an elite interior defender (10.2% block rate), but the Cavaliers will need more from their big man on the offensive end of the floor. He was an efficient player last year (56.1% eFG), but he’ll now be a go-to option. The versatile Braxton Key will also take on a much larger offensive role. He struggled shooting the ball at times last year, finishing at just 43 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from long-range, but his versatility will allow Bennett to play both small and big lineups, depending on match-ups. Kihei Clark is also back to run the offense and harass opposing point guards, but he’ll need to improve his 34.1 percent three-point shooting and Bennett is hopeful two newcomers (JuCo transfer Tomas Woldetensae and freshman Casey Morsell) will be able to make open jumpers too.

The biggest wild card for this team is 7’1” junior Jay Huff. Huff had trouble staying on the court last season thanks to foul trouble and some defensive issues, but his offensive upside is intriguing. He is a devastating pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop option, capable of stroking it from long-range (45.2% 3FG) and providing elite rim protection (10.6% block rate). Can Bennett unleash Huff as his secret weapon to keep the Cavaliers on top of the ACC? Only time will tell.

Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *