ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 8th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the Seminoles have enough left to overcome the departures of last year’s leading triumvirate?

Few teams nationally will have to cope with the task of replacing as much lost production as Florida State. With the early defections of freshman phenom Jonathan Isaac (picked sixth by Orlando), sophomore Dwayne Bacon (second round, now with Charlotte) and junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G-League), Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton bid adieu to the three players most responsible for last year’s 26-win campaign (second most in school history) and second place ACC finish. By the numbers, the group accounted for an astounding 47 percent of Florida State’s points, 38 percent of its rebounds, 52 percent of the assists and 41 percent of the steals. Daunting as it is to replace all of that output, the statistics that best elucidate the value of the big three come from their exorbitant usage rates. A resounding 48 percent of Florida State’s shot attempts (including 57 percent of those hoisted beyond the arc) emanated from the hands of Isaac, Bacon and Rathan-Mayes.

The player most likely to yield a major uptick in production is 6’4” junior sharpshooter PJ Savoy. (Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for the glass half-full crowd is that Hamilton returns six players who averaged double-figure minutes a season ago. Junior Terrance Mann is the most notable and accomplished of the returnees, having started all but one game as a sophomore. The versatile 6’6” wing trailed only the aforementioned three in scoring, tallying an efficient eight points per game while ranking 89th nationally in effective field goal percentage. Sophomore southpaw CJ Walker, who averaged a touch under five points per game while handling reserve point guard duties, will be handed the keys to the offense. Walker proved skillful and capable of providing an explosive spark off the bench a year ago, but he’ll need to combine that scoring punch with an adroitness in setting the table for his teammates this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 8th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Notre Dame always has a returning player make a big leap in production — who will it be this year?

In this one-and-done era of college basketball, Notre Dame has flourished by following Mike Brey’s general plan to “get old and stay old.” To win that way at the highest level requires strong player development within the program — something at which Brey and his staff have certainly excelled over the years. Usually Notre Dame’s players make steady progress over the course of their careers — much like with senior All-America candidate Bonzie Colson — but often that development results in a breakout season for a player who has only made moderate contributions up to that point (see: Matt Ferrell last season). Who are the prime candidates for a breakout season for this year’s Irish?

Rex Pflueger could be poised for a breakout year in his junior season at Notre Dame.
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame must replace a pair of multi-year starters on the wing in V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, so there are considerable minutes available at those positions — as a result, expect junior Rex Pflueger and sophomore T.J. Gibbs to become newly important pieces of Brey’s revamped lineup. Each player averaged 4.7 PPG off the bench last year and should be ready to handle the heavy minutes that Brey likes to give to his key guys. Pflueger has shown a good stroke from deep — 39.7 percent on threes last season — in addition to being a good defender. Gibbs proved a capable ball-handler (2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio) as a freshman last season, so pairing him with Farrell in the backcourt should keep the Irish among the national leaders in ball security (Notre Dame’s 14.0 percent turnover rate ranked second in the country last season). Another possible jump in production could come from senior center Martinas Geben — Brey likes the dirty work that the Lithuanian provides but wants him to be more confident and assertive with his offensive game. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Louisville get past the FBI investigation to focus on basketball?

You’ve all read about it ad nauseum. Rick Pitino is out. Tom Jurich is out. Is there more to come? That question figures to hang over the Louisville basketball program all season.Former player and current interim head coach David Padgett takes over, and although we don’t yet know much about his coaching style, his practices are reportedly more laid back than his predecessor. That’s not exactly saying much. The good news for the first-time head coach is that Louisville’s roster has the talent of a Final Four contender. The team will be led by senior point guard Quentin Snider, a perfect floor general — with improved assist and turnover rates for three years running — for an inexperienced coach. Padgett will count on him to get the ball to two of the best breakout candidates in college basketball — sophomore V.J. King and junior Deng Adel. King, a former McDonald’s All-American, didn’t receive consistent minutes last year while playing behind NBA First Round pick Donovan Mitchell, but he showed flashes of brilliance in a 24-point outburst at Virginia and shot a stellar 42 percent from three-point range. Don’t be surprised if he makes a Mitchell-like leap to stardom in his second season.

David Padgett talks with former coach Denny Crum during a Red-White scrimmage at the KFC YUM! Center. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Adel meanwhile is a smooth wing and terrific defender with the skill set in place to become an all-ACC performer. He will need to improve his jump shot to optimize his offensive attack, but his mechanics are good and it seems as if shot selection is his primary hindrance from success. In the frontcourt, senior Anas Mahmoud anchors the defense. He averaged over two blocks per game last year (12.6% block rate) in becoming one of the best rim protectors in the ACC. He also improved significantly on the offensive end (62.4% eFG) but he could stand to improve his 46 percent shooting at the free throw line. The rangy Ray Spalding is also a defensive nightmare, with a long wingspan and an ability to guard multiple positions. He will be asked to replace Jaylen Johnson, one of the nation’s best offensive rebounders last year. Padgett’s bench features sophomore sharpshooter Ryan McMahon and UNC-Asheville transfer Dwayne Sutton, both of whom should be able to provide instant offense off the bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Are the Hokies tall enough?

In some ways Virginia Tech was something of a surprise last season, but success in Blacksburg was always a matter of when, not if, for a head coaching talent like Buzz Williams. This year’s squad sounds hungry for even greater success — hoping to make school history by making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — but the Hokies’ roster, to put it bluntly, is vertically challenged. After Khadim Sy withdrew from school during the offseason, only one player in the primary rotation will be over 6’6″, and that player, sophomore Kerry Blackshear, is coming off a medical redshirt season. Blackshear is a capable offensive rebounder (10.2%), but he will need to take a much bigger role in the post than he did two years ago. The only other clear post players on the team are Division II transfer Nick Fullard (who averaged less than five points a game at Belmont Abbey) and consensus three-star recruit PJ Horne (who stands only 6’6″). Williams will need Fullard and Horne to play significant productive minutes per game this season or his team will just have to play really small. That’s a ton to ask from two men playing their first season of Division I basketball, and in the ACC, no less. Alternatively, look for Williams to play to his strengths and try several all-guard lineups to force various mismatches.

Chris Clarke’s health will have a lot to do with Virginia Tech’s success this season. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

In much better news, junior wing Chris Clarke looks to be Virginia Tech’s most important player this season. Although he stands only 6’6″, he was last year’s best defensive rebounder at 22.6 percent (108th nationally). But he’s coming off a torn ACL, so it is as of yet unclear if he will be ready for the heavy minutes that Williams will almost definitely need him to play. In addition to rebounding, Clarke did a good job scoring efficiently last season, and he should be considered a major breakout candidate in the ACC this season if fully healthy. The Hokies’ other returning guards look excellent too. Justin Robinson averaged double-figures last season while former starters Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs both also proved efficient offensive players (admittedly on limited possessions). Add top-50 recruit Nickell Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede (consensus four-star prospect) to the mix and there’s a lot of young talent in the wings. Alexander-Walker especially should be able to help this team right away.

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ACC Burning Questions: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 6th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: With plans for the future scrapped, where does Syracuse go from here?

For most of the last decade, it was widely assumed, presumed, and stated as fact that longtime Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins would eventually slide into the chair occupied by program architect Jim Boeheim. After a self-imposed postseason ban in 2015 and the embarrassing circumstances surrounding it, speculation was that the 2017-18 season would be Boeheim’s last in central New York, and the transition plan would at long last become reality. This offseason, however, Hopkins took the reins of a severely underperforming program at Washington, leaving the 72-year old head coach (42 at his alma mater) at the helm of the program he built from nothing to a national powerhouse for the foreseeable future. How much does Boeheim have left in the tank? Notwithstanding the sheer length of his tenure, the persistent spates of controversy that has enveloped the Syracuse program within the last decade — the Bernie Fine saga, vacated wins, and Boeheim’s nine-game ACC suspension in 2016 — would be enough to strip the vibrancy away from much younger men.

Jim Boeheim, the grizzled vet, is still going strong. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Yet, here we are, and even with very low expectations entering the 2017-18 campaign, would it really come as a surprise to anyone if Boeheim found the fountain of youth and proved all of his doubters wrong once again? To accomplish that feat, Syracuse will rely heavily on sophomore guard Tyus Battle. Battle started slowly as a rookie, but he became discernibly more comfortable down the stretch last season, finishing with double figures in his final seven contests. The only returnee among the top six scorers, he’ll necessarily be the focal point of the Orange’s offense this year. Meanwhile, junior guard Frank Howard is the only other returnee of note. Howard has the requisite size and athleticism to act as a disruptive force at the top of Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone, but he has yet to show the consistency necessary for Boeheim to entrust him with point guard responsibilities. If he can’t corral his physical tools in a positive way, he will be pushed for playing time by graduate transfer Geno Thorpe, who averaged 15.0 points per game at South Florida last season, and four-star freshman Howard Washington, who played one of his high school seasons on the flank of Ben Simmons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Meet the ACC’s Newly Eligible Transfers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 3rd, 2017

With all the player turnover these days in college basketball, coaches can no longer rely solely on just the freshmen they recruited to fill their open roster spots. Correspondingly, ACC coaches hit the transfer market every offseason to plug the holes resulting from various spring defections. In order to get familiar with the transfers entering the ACC this season, the table below shows all the non-freshmen newcomers to the league broken into four groupings (graduate transfers; traditional transfers; JuCo transfers; sitting out this year). Players within each category are ordered according to the anticipated impact that they will have for their teams this season.

Over the past few seasons a number of ACC schools have taken advantage of the NCAA rule that allows graduate transfers to play immediately at their new schools. But for the most part, only a few such transfers have made a major impact. This year’s crop of incoming graduate transfers may be the deepest we have seen in the ACC, however, with all 10 projected as rotation players and at least half as immediate starters. Last year, Jim Boeheim got great perimeter play from graduate transfers Andrew White and John Gillon — his team expects similar production from Geno Thorpe, a rangy guard from South Florida who should be well-suited for the Syracuse system. Boston College picked up a much needed frontcourt player in Deontae Hawkins, a key cog on a good Illinois State team last year.

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ACC Burning Questions: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 3rd, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the FBI probe of Miami impact the Hurricanes on the court this year?

On September 26, the FBI burst into the college basketball world when it arrested four assistant coaches from major programs on charges of bribery. The agency also implicated several other schools and coaches in a pay-for-play scheme that involved representatives of shoe companies and/or corresponding agents. Soon after the FBI’s announcement, we learned that Miami was one of the schools under heightened scrutiny, and more recently head coach Jim Larranaga acknowledged that he was “Coach #3” in the FBI’s released statement. Larranaga – who has maintained a reputation of unimpeachable integrity throughout his 33-year career on the bench — has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. On paper, Miami looks like an ACC title contender this year. But will the FBI cloud hanging over them squander that potential?

 

Star guard Bruce Brown may take on more ball handling duties as a sophomore for Miami.
(UM Athletics)

The Hurricanes may have the best five-man perimeter group in the ACC this season, starting with the returning backcourt duo of senior Ja’Quan Newton and sophomore Bruce Brown. Newton has always been an explosive scorer, but he struggled somewhat as Miami’s primary ball-handler last season. He productivity (13.5 PPG, 3.4 APG) was mitigated by inefficient offense (95.5 ORat) and carelessness with the ball (23.0% TO rate). Perhaps Larranaga will empower Brown (a preseason pick for 2nd team all-ACC) to handle more of the play-making duties after an impressive rookie campaign. In a trial run last February — while Newton was out of the lineup serving a three-game suspension — Brown guided the Hurricanes to three wins, including a rare road triumph at Virginia. Departed leading scorer Devon Reed leaves big shoes to fill at the small forward position, but incoming five-star freshman Lonnie Walker should be up to the challenge, provided that he completely recovers from offseason knee surgery. Depth in the backcourt will come from sophomore sharp-shooter Dejan Vasiljevec and freshman point guard Chris Lykes. Larranaga has compared the diminutive Lykes to former ACC star Spud Webb (1986 NBA Slam Dunk Champion) for his ability to push the pace offensively.

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ACC Burning Questions: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on November 2nd, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Danny Manning avoid a speed bump as the team relies more on its backcourt?

Wake Forest caught a lot of people off guard last season. Sure, head coach Danny Manning was a popular rising star in both the media and blogosphere, but most experts felt like the Demon Deacons were still a year or two away from a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, super sophomore John Collins morphed into arguably the most productive player in the ACC (earning himself a spot in the NBA First Round over the summer), and Wake Forest eked itself into the First Four of the Big Dance. In year four of the Manning era, he faces a bigger challenge. In addition to losing the all-ACC First Teamer Collins, Wake also lost starting power forward Dinos Mitoglou to the European pros.

Bryant Crawford has big shoes to fill with John Collins gone. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

That means this year’s team will rely heavily on its backcourt — especially juniors Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods — for success. Seven-foot junior Doral Moore will be joined by graduate transfer Terrance Thompson in the frontcourt, but neither has the talent of Collins. Moore was a turnover machine last year (26.9% TO rate), and while Collins made a massive leap in usage and efficiency between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was a much more efficient player to begin with. The Deacs’ general lack of depth in the frontcourt, along with the arrival of consensus top-50 wing Chaundee Brown, means there are likely to be a lot of three- and maybe even four-guard lineups in Winston-Salem this season.

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Projecting the ACC’s Breakout Sophomores

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 2nd, 2017

Every preseason we take a hard look at the rosters around the ACC and wonder which returning players will make the leap from role player to key contributor. Lately we have watched many of those returnees come from relative obscurity to full stardom in just one season: players like Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, 2015-16), Matt Farrell (Notre Dame, 2016-17), and John Collins (Wake Forest 2016-17). In most instances, few outside of the specific program expected such a drastic improvement. For example, raise your hand if you had Collins pegged as one of the ACC’s top three players last October. Thought so. Still, sometimes we can project significant leaps in production by looking at advanced statistics for players who are poised to see an increase in minutes and/or usage this season. For instance, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson surprised many observers by becoming a First Team All-ACC member as a junior. But if you closely examine his sophomore campaign statistics — 122.0 Offensive Rating, 58.7 percent true shooting percentage — it’s easy to see why his contributions shot up with a corresponding increase in playing time. In the second of this two-part series, here’s our list of potential breakout sophomores in the ACC this season.

Sophomore Surges

1) V.J. King – Louisville: 13.5 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 111.3 ORtg, 55.0% true shooting.

V.J. King posted impressive shooting numbers as a rookie which should lead to a major leap in production as a sophomore at Louisville. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

One of many Cardinals with professional-level potential, King posted promising shooting numbers last season from three-point range (42.1%) and at the charity stripe (82.1%). His minutes should double this year and his usage rate (19.6%) figures to increase as well — all meaning that we may be looking at a 14-plus point per game scorer this season in Louisville.

2) Kyle Guy – Virginia: 18.6 MPG, 7.5 PPG, 114.8 ORtg, 49.5% 3FG.

The word is that Guy will perform without his signature man-bun this season, but don’t expect him to slow down without it. Given multiple losses from the Cavaliers’ perimeter attack, Guy should be head coach Tony Bennett’s top guard this year. Guy posted two extremely impressive statistics for a freshman guard — 49.5 percent three-point shooting, and a turnover rate of only 10.6 percent.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 1st, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How Will Virginia Fill the Big Shoes of London Perrantes?

Over his four seasons in Charlottesville, London Perrantes was a massive part of Virginia‘s 112 wins and four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Since taking the reins of the offense as a freshman, the 6’2″ point guard was a calm and steadying influence during a four-year career that resulted in a pair of ACC championships. There will be a changing of the guard this season as head coach Tony Bennett needs to now rely upon pair of sophomores who showed flashes of brilliance last season. The first of those players is sophomore guard Ty Jerome, who recorded a 60.5 percent effective field goal percentage last year and took over the game at Villanova down the stretch before the Cavaliers lost on a last-second tip-in. Jerome injured his foot over the summer and missed Virginia’s preseason scrimmage as a result, but he is expected to be ready to go for the regular season opener against UNC-Greensboro next week. If Jerome misses any time, look for Rutgers graduate transfer Nigel Johnson to step into the starting point guard role. With a quick first step and a proven ability to find open looks, Johnson could be a key spark plug to provide offense when needed.

Sans man-bun, can sophomore Kyle Guy become the scorer Virginia needs? (USA TODAY Sports)

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