Projecting the ACC’s Breakout Juniors

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 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 first of this two-part series, here’s our list of potential breakout juniors in the ACC this season. The breakout sophomores will publish tomorrow.

Junior Jumps

1) Terance Mann – Florida State – 25.0 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 120.1 ORtg, 61.1% 2FG.

Florida State’s Terance Mann is a prime candidate to have a breakout junior season.
(Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports)

With the departures of Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes from the Seminoles’ roster, there are going to be a lot of available possessions for the remaining players this season. We would advise head coach Leonard Hamilton to give as many of those touches to Mann as he can handle. In addition to the 2016-17 statistics listed above, the versatile wing also excels on the boards (8.6% offensive rebound rate) and at getting to the foul line (45.0% FT rate). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 31st, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Georgia Tech build off of the momentum of the surprising success of Josh Pastner’s initial campaign in Atlanta?

It is not commonplace for an ACC team to consider an NIT appearance a radical overachievement, but given where we sat just one year ago today, a 21-16 overall record featuring eight ACC scalps and a trip to the NIT championship game made Georgia Tech the conference’s most pleasant surprise last year. With the stench of the disappointment of the five-year tenure of Brian Gregory still wafting about and a roster that on paper seemed bereft of ACC talent, Josh Pastner came to Atlanta facing a challenging rebuild. He entered the ACC after seven up-and-down seasons at Memphis with little expected in the maiden voyage, but his six-year contract upon arrival was indicative of Georgia Tech’s commitment to patience in the process.

Josh Okogie led the upstart Yellow Jackets to a surprisingly stellar season last year. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

After winning eight of its 12 games against the 304th-rated non-conference slate, the Yellow Jackets stunned the college basketball universe by opening league play with a 12-point drubbing of eventual National Champion North Carolina. Home wins over Florida State and Notre Dame soon followed, acting as a prelude to a postseason run in the NIT and allowing folks in Atlanta to reconsider just how patient they need to be with their new head coach. Versatile wing Josh Okogie was in many ways a microcosm of Pastner’s entire squad — an under-recruited three-star prospect who finished his freshman season with the third-most points in school history (behind only Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury). The long and athletic Okogie turned his first-year success into a roster spot on last summer’s USA U-19 squad, but the word is out on the sophomore — the key question now is whether he can make the necessary adjustment as the focal point of every opponent’s defensive game plan. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Clemson Tigers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Does Brad Brownell need to reach the NCAA Tournament this season to keep his job?

It’s rare for ACC coaches to survive a stretch of five consecutive years not making the NCAA Tournament, but in a move that surprised many observers, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell was asked to return for another season after missing the Big Dance for the sixth year in a row. This looks like it will be another hot-seat kind of year for the beleaguered coach as he tries to finally get his Tigers over the hump.

Brad Brownell returns for his eighth season at Clemson despite not making the NCAA Tournament for the last six years. (AP Photo)

Star Jaron Blossomgame has departed, but there is a strong veteran nucleus intact. Leading the way is a trio of former transfers who are now in their third year with the program. Two of those players make up one of the most underrated backcourts in the league — point guard Shelton Mitchell and wing Marcquise Reed. Mitchell began his career at Vanderbilt and was slightly hampered by a knee injury going into his redshirt sophomore year; still, he led the team in assists (103) and was the Tigers’ second leading scorer at 10.8 points per game. His running mate Reed was a conference Rookie of the Year at Robert Morris before making the jump to  the ACC. Some wondered how he would handle the higher level of competition, but the sweet-shooting guard proved he belonged with a 115.3 offensive rating and a solid scoring average (10.0 PPG) off the bench. Both Mitchell (45.3% 3FG) and Reed (40.2% 3FG) are capable shooters from deep. The third impact transfer from a year ago, 6’9″ Elijah Thomas, figures to be the Tigers’ best big man this season. After joining the team last December, he became a key defensive cog in Brownell’s system, where he was was a good shot-blocker (7.5% block rate) and demonstrated active hands (2.5% steal rate) on the front line. Yet another transfer, 6’8″ junior David Skara, joins the Tigers after a redshirt year. Skara had a fairly significant role as a sophomore in a good mid-major program, Valparaiso, in averaging 6.5 PPG. Read the rest of this entry »

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Several Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2017

We attended ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte this week (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here). In addition to hearing from coaches and players from all 15 league schools, ACC commissioner John Swofford delivered his annual state of the league address. In this post we present some of the primary takeaways and interesting quotes we observed and heard over the course of the day. At the bottom of the post we also present the preseason award results as voted on by participating media.

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S PROBLEMS

Wednesday in Charlotte, ACC Commissioner John Swofford discussed the conference’s role in addressing the current issues facing college basketball. (USA Today Images)

Swofford spent much of his 45-minute forum on Wednesday discussing the current state of college basketball in light of the recent FBI probe into the sport. The longtime commissioner has always been cautious and guarded with his words in public venues, and accordingly — instead of offering headline grabbing suggestions to fix the college game — he opted to take the position of gathering more information before taking a stance. Swofford correspondingly announced that the league is forming a five-member task force to be headed by former Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage. The goal of the group will be to make recommendations to the recently formed NCAA commission, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, that is tasked with finding solutions to the myriad problems exposed by the federal investigation.

When asked for his personal opinion on two low-hanging fruits regarding immediate change, Swofford indicated that he would like to see the one-and-done rule disappear and would be interested in exploring something similar to the college baseball model that forces a decision on professional or collegiate tracks coming out of high school. Both proposals would do little to fix the problems facing college basketball right now — if the top 15 high school seniors went straight to the NBA, then the players ranked #16 through #30 would then become the prime targets for rogue shoe company representatives and agents. So, what’s the difference? As for considering the college baseball model, why don’t we instead worry about creating something that works specifically for college basketball? From the monumental amounts of money involved to the way the entire recruiting structure works, there’s very little in common between those two sports.

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Despite Roiling Offseason, Louisville Basketball Will Be Just Fine

Posted by Chris Hatfield on October 26th, 2017

In some respects, the dust has settled. The terminations of Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich have been made. And now Louisville Basketball moves forward in a new world. The program won’t get the “death penalty.” Putting the basketballs away for an entire season (or more) just isn’t going to happen. Forget the fact that the NCAA continues to lose moral high ground (just get some good lawyers then watch morals go out the door), and remember that it hasn’t been used for over 30 years. It ain’t happening now. Eventually, the beat will drum on, maybe sooner then some think.

The Coaches of Louisville Past and Present Commiserate (USA Today Images)

Is there a precedent for what’s occurred within the program over the last two years? Well. A precedent for strippers in dorms, Wells Fargo transfers to pay for those strippers, a National Championship banner likely being stripped, the head man claiming to have zero knowledge of anything, and the cherry on top – a pay-for-play scheme? No, there’s not much precedent for that. It’s easy to forget, but wanna know a secret? Louisville still has a pretty good team this season.

KenPom ranks the Cardinals as the 16th best team in the Country and fourth in the ACC. Valid questions will be asked about interim head coach David Padgett. How much of his style will be implemented? How much even can be? How will he react to actual game pressure? Can he even manage a game? Yet, the team’s’ talent speaks volumes. The frontcourt, led by the length of Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding, was rated the ninth-best in the country by Rob Dauster at NBC Sports. VJ King and Deng Adel on the wings may be one of the most underrated one-two scoring punches in the country. Even without the services of Brian Bowen, there is still a lot of talent on the roster. It’s doubtful that the NCAA will move fast enough to affect the Cards this season, and the university has expressed little interest in self-imposing again (why would it?). Expect Louisville to be a factor in ACC play as well as when March rolls around.

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ACC Burning Questions: NC State Wolfpack

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 26th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Kevin Keatts compete in his first season in Raleigh?

Former head coach Mark Gottfried managed to get NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons in Raleigh, but life on the bubble proved very stressful. After logging back-to-back losing seasons the next two years, Gottfried was fired following last season. His replacement, the highly impressive Kevin Keatts, will begin his fourth year as a head coach. After three seasons as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, Keatts wasted no time in turning around a UNC-Wilmington program that had experienced six straight losing seasons. The Seahawks won 18 games in his first season on the bench en route to a share of the CAA regular season championship in 2014-15, and followed that up with two more conference championships and corresponding trips to the NCAA Tournament. UNC-Wilmington came away from those experiences with an 0-2 record, but not without putting serious scares into ACC powers Duke and Virginia.

Can Kevin Keatts compete in season one in Raleigh? (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Turning the Wolfpack around won’t be easy, as NC State loses its top three scorers from last season. Still, the cupboard for Keatts is hardly bare. The returning core is led by 6’8″ senior Abdul-Malik Abu, who averaged 12.0 points and seven rebounds per game last season. The athletic big man improved his effective field goal percentage (52.9%) for the third straight season and should benefit from the guards attacking the rim in Keatts’ system. Sophomore Markell Johnson will take over point guard duties from lottery pick Dennis Smith, Jr., but he will be pushed by incoming recruit Lavarr Batts, Jr. (who originally committed to VCU but ended up in Raleigh after Will Wade took the LSU job). Keatts will ask a lot of both players, especially on the defensive end in becoming a nuisance for opposing point guards. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 24th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Pittsburgh avoid the ACC basement?

After suffering an inordinate number of player defections last spring, Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings is now left with only two players who scored in a game last year — and that pair combined to produce a grand total of only 179 points all season. The Panthers finished the year with a 15-16 record, the first losing mark for the program in nearly two decades (1999-2000). It’s difficult to be overly optimistic about this squad either, a group that will almost certainly be picked near the bottom of the league. For some measure of hope, Stallings can look to the achievement of Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech just one season ago. Pastner’s first team in Atlanta likewise featured no returning starters and an unheralded crop of newcomers, but somehow, he turned that bunch into a surprising bubble team by the end of the year. Those Yellow Jackets featured a former role player who became an all-ACC caliber center (Ben Lammers) and a rookie (Josh Ogogie) who well surpassed his high school ranking. For Pitt to pull off that kind of season in Stallings’ second year at the helm, it will need to find similar production from several unexpected sources.

Pittsburgh needs Ryan Luther to make a big leap in production as a senior (Pittsburghsportsnow.com)

Of the Panthers’ two returning scholarship players, only one has the potential for a breakout senior year. Forward Ryan Luther has battled through some injuries —  he missed 12 ACC games last year with a stress fracture — but he has also shown a number of spurts of good play. The 6’9″ Pennsylvania native has contributed nine career double-figure scoring games and has proven to be a capable rebounder and defender — with greater usage, he could easily double last year’s season averages of 5.7 PPG and 3.9 RPG. The other holdover from last year, guard Jonathan Milligan, has not yet proven that he can play at this level — he went a ghastly 29 percent from the field in 27 games last season. Stallings also added another experienced player via the graduate transfer route in small forward Monty Boykins (Lafayette), who missed all of last year with an injury. But don’t expect the newcomer to add much — in 2015-16, Boykins posted just a 91.3 offensive rating for a terrible (6-24) low major team. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Boston College Eagles

Posted by Matt Patton on October 20th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Boston College cobble together a winning season?

We’re nearing put up or shut up time for Boston College head coach Jim Christian. Last year’s Eagles lacked both talent and experience, a deadly combination. They stifled any possible early momentum with an atrocious loss at home to Nicholls State right out of the gate, but a 4-1 December stretch that included wins over Auburn, Providence and Syracuse built hope for a breakthrough after the new year. Alas, the whole team hit a freshman wall in ACC play, finishing the year on a 15-game losing streak.

Ky Bowman needs to make a sophomore leap for Boston College to sniff .500. (Photo: Keith Carroll / BC Heights)

What’s the upside? First, nearly all of Boston College’s talent is back. Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman were Christian’s best players last season, and it wasn’t really close. Nik Popovic is an intriguing player who could make a big leap during his sophomore season (admittedly, his best games last year were against poor competition), and throw in Illinois State graduate transfer Deontae Hawkins along with four consensus three-star freshmen. That’s a much better team — at least on paper — than what the Eagles brought to bear last season. They should be one of the better perimeter shooting teams in the ACC, and more experienced teammates should relieve some of the pressure from Robinson, possibly further boosting his efficiency. Despite shooting very well from the floor last season, Boston College’s poor offensive efficiency was because of a high number of turnovers, poor rebounding and an inability to get to the charity stripe. The last two pieces are related and unlikely to improve dramatically if the team ends up spreading the floor as much as anticipated. Minimizing turnovers should be a very high priority this season (along with loads of practice in team rebounding).

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ACC Offseason Storylines: Roster Changes Impacting the ACC Race

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 19th, 2017

We are now a little over three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April. Here’s Part Three of our three-part series (Part One is here; Part Two is here).

Late Roster Changes

Marvin Bagley is a Game Changer in the ACC (ESPN.com)

As is usually the case, several ACC programs have experienced significant roster shakeups this offseason, with most of the departures coming from players who decided to begin their professional careers. As a matter of fact, the ACC set a new record in June with 10 players — all underclassmen — selected in the First Round of the 2017 NBA Draft. Two more early entries were selected in the Second Round. All in all, the league lost a total of 16 non-seniors to the professional ranks, including three undrafted players — Xavier Rathan-Mayes from Florida State, N.C. State’s Ted Kapita, and Jaylen Johnson from Louisville — as well as Wake Forest forward Dinos Mitoglou, who bailed on Danny Manning’s frontcourt in late July to play professionally in his home country of Greece. Three other significant ACC players decided to transfer over the summer — Taurean Thompson from Syracuse; Khadim Sy from Virginia Tech; and Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson, who executed the unusual intra-conference transfer, to North Carolina.

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ACC Offseason Storylines: UNC Escapes Punishment in Academic Scandal

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 18th, 2017

We are now a little over three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April. Here’s Part Two of our three-part series (Part One is here).

NCAA Taps Out in Case vs. North Carolina

After years of speculation, it appears that all these Championship Banners (+1) will remain aloft in the Dean Smith Center. (OrangeCatArt)

After years of delays from myriad stall tactics, lawyer threats and public posturing, North Carolina received the NCAA’s final report last Friday concerning the school’s decades-long academic scandal. At the heart of the case was the NCAA’s original contention that athletes received special access to bogus classes, an impermissible benefit. The university countered with the argument that the NCAA was in violation of its own bylaws by delving into the academic side of things. In the end, despite clear evidence that North Carolina athletes received disproportionate benefit in staying eligible through the ‘paper class’ coursework, the NCAA took the safest route and backed off, stating:

“The panel noted that its ability to determine whether academic fraud occurred at UNC was limited by the NCAA principle relying on individual member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred on their own campuses. North Carolina said the work was assigned.”

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