Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the ACC, RTC Correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to several ACC experts in Maryland basketball legend and ESPN analyst, Len Elmore, Duke basketball legend and CBS analyst, Mike Gminski, and the ACC reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, Bret Strelow. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)
*Make sure to start with Part I of the ACC Preview, published on Tuesday.
RTC: Hot seat talk in the preseason is often a bit overblown, but who are coaches in the league that are certainly under pressure to win now?
Elmore: When you look at Wake Forest with Jeff Bzdelik, that is going to be an issue right there. I think this is going to be a make-or-break year for him. Part of the fan base wants Bzdelik gone, another part wants athletic director Ron Wellman gone, and some others want both gone. Unfortunately, Jeff Bzdelik is definitely on the hot seat. I say unfortunately because Bzdelik is a solid teacher, he does well imparting the fundamentals, and has done a good job with some of the offseason stuff with some players over the last few seasons. I think when you look at Mark Gottfried at NC State, he is also a guy who has something to prove. He had some tremendous talent last season and the team just fizzled out. Beyond Bzdelik and Gottfried, you look at James Johnson at Virginia Tech and he just started, so he is going to be given a bit of a long leash. Brad Brownell does a great job with his guys at Clemson, but he has to get some players in there. Miami is going to be down this year with all its departures from last season, but no one can argue with Jim Larranaga and what he has been able to do with that program. I think when it comes down to it and you are looking at two guys who are going to feel some discomfort, they are going to be Jeff Bzdelik and Mark Gottfried.
Gminski: I would think Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest is squarely on the hot seat. He has been there since the start of last season and that pressure continues to mount. Other than Bzdelik, I am not sure if anyone can be considered to be on a hot seat. James Johnson is only in his second season at Virginia Tech, so he will get more time. Brad Brownell might be facing a little pressure down at Clemson, but I would not consider him to be on a hot seat. I think other than Bzdelik, every other coach in the conference seems to be in pretty solid shape.
Strelow: I think it always starts with Jeff Bzdelik and Wake Forest. The fan base there is very unhappy with both Bzdelik and athletic director Ron Wellman. The team did show signs of life at different points last season with home upsets over Virginia, NC State, and Miami. Last season, veterans C.J. Harris and Travis McKie led the way for them. Freshmen Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas also showed they were capable of playing at a high level. Harris is gone this season, but the other three are back and it feels like this is the first team made up of all guys that Bzdelik recruited. If things do not go well this season, the pressure is only going to intensify for Bzdelik and Wellman. Things could get ugly there if the team does not get off to a good start.
Brad Brownell at Clemson is another guy that I think could be feeling a bit of heat. I think everyone respects him as an in-game coach and a stand-up guy, but it is in recruiting where he has struggled a little bit. When you look at Clemson’s roster, it is not stocked with a ton of talent. In some order, Clemson and Virginia Tech will probably be picked to finish last and second-to-last in the league. I think patience might be growing thin at Clemson, but at the same time I am not sure if it has been knifing at them or not. I do not know how rabid the basketball fan base is there to get too worked up over the struggles. Brownell and Clemson certainly have an uphill climb this season. The cupboard is a little bare there right now.
RTC: Who will be the top three teams at the end of the season and why?
Elmore: I am going to go with Duke and Syracuse as the top two. I am hesitant to say North Carolina because of all the offseason problems, but if it can overcome those, it will definitely be in there. If North Carolina cannot overcome its issues, I am going to say either Virginia or Maryland could be in there. If you remember Virginia is returning a whole bunch of talent – most notably Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Maryland has a bunch of guys who can play and it is a scrappy team that can end up winning some games it is not supposed to win.