Cat Barber

AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

Cat Barber, NC State front court handle No. 15 Miami

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NC State junior Cat Barber has been one of the nation’s best point guards, and Saturday afternoon he added another piece of evidence to that argument by scoring 30 points in the Wolfpack’s 85-69 win over No. 15 Miami.

With the 30 points Barber reached that mark for the third time in the last four games, shooting 10-for-18 from the field and 10-for-10 from the foul line to go along with four assists against the Hurricanes. Given the importance of Barber to NC State he’s on the receiving end of a lot of attention from opposing defenses, but against Miami that didn’t matter as the junior was able to get to his preferred spots off the dribble throughout the game.

However it wasn’t perimeter play that cost Miami, as the Hurricanes received solid performances from its perimeter rotation including Sheldon McClellan (18 points) and Angel Rodriguez (15 points, six assists) What ultimately cost the Hurricanes was the fact that their front court was outworked by NC State throughout the day.

Kamari Murphy and Tonye Jekiri combined for ten points and nine rebounds, and Ivan Cruz Uceda went scoreless in his ten minutes off the bench. By comparison the NC State tandem of Abdul-Malik Abu and Caleb Martin combined for 32 points and 14 boards, with BeeJay Anya contributing seven rebounds. NC State limited Miami to 39.7 percent shooting and closed out many of those possessions with a rebound, grabbing 88.6 percent of the Hurricanes’ missed shots.

Add in a 34-20 edge in points in the paint, and NC State won the game by controlling the action within the most valuable piece of real estate on the court.

Given NC State’s lack of depth their margin for error is small, and it forces Barber to play major minutes while also being asked to both score and distribute the basketball. But there’s still talent at Mark Gottfried’s disposal, and when they’re clicking NC State is capable of taking advantage. Miami, which needs more from its big men moving forward, found that out the hard way.

No. 5 UNC beats rival NC State 67-55 for 5-0 ACC start

Associated Press
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks attacked the rim, scored through contact and kept throwing himself on the floor for loose balls.

“It was just total effort,” coach Roy Williams said.

The fifth-ranked Tar Heels needed every bit of it against rival North Carolina State, too.

Meeks scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime to help UNC beat N.C. State 67-55 on Saturday, extending the program’s best conference start in 15 years.

While UNC’s best scorers – and the team as a whole – struggled to find a flow, the 6-foot-10 Meeks provided the push as the Tar Heels (16-2, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) gradually pulled away from a halftime tie.

It was Meeks’ second game back after missing seven with a knee injury. He returned last weekend at Syracuse, then returned to the starting lineup Saturday.

“I had the whole week off, I went as hard as I could those last few days of practice,” Meeks said. “I really got after it, got back in the lineup. It’s all a confidence thing for me, so I got back in the second half and really tried to play as big as I could.”

He made 8 of 10 shots after halftime and blocked two shots while repeatedly diving on the floor.

“I asked him, `Did you really dive those three times or did somebody trip you?”‘ Williams joked afterward.

Abdul-Malik Abu had 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Wolfpack, who controlled tempo and attacked the glass early to build momentum and keep UNC off stride.

But with the teams tied at halftime, the Tar Heels pushed ahead with a 16-4 second-half run that featured Meeks scoring over long-armed BeeJay Anya inside – the kind of shots Anya erased in last year’s 58-46 win here by the Wolfpack.

N.C. State (10-8, 0-5) has its worst start in ACC play since going 0-8 in 1996-97.

“We’re not going to pout and mope,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “They’re not going to do that and we’re not going to let them. I’ve said this many times: `You watch this game today, I think you have a hard time walking away from here saying `N.C. State’s a really bad team.’ … But we’re a team that has to get over the hump.”

TIP-INS

N.C. State: Maverick Rowan and Cody Martin, who started over twin brother Caleb, both scored 10 points. … N.C. State shot 40 percent. … The Wolfpack had 18 turnovers. … Anya had three blocks after swatting six here last year.

UNC: Joel Berry II had 14 points, including two 3s during the 16-4 run. … UNC came in as one of the nation’s best-shooting teams at 50 percent, but finished a season-low 37.9 percent. … UNC went 5 of 20 from 3-point range. … The Tar Heels scored 17 points off turnovers.

CONTAINING CAT

ACC-leading scorer Anthony “Cat” Barber (22.5 points) had a rough day with a season-low nine points. The Wolfpack point guard didn’t score after halftime, finishing with more turnovers (5) than field goals (4) or free throws (1) in 35 minutes.

UNC’S BALANCE

The Tar Heels’ top three scorers – Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson – combined for 15 points on 6-for-24 shooting. But UNC and USC were the only teams with six scorers currently averaging in double figures through Thursday’s games, according to STATS. That balanced showed Saturday.

“The difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is we’re dynamic and flexible enough offensively to not sink in a game like that when our best players are struggling,” Paige said.

UP NEXT

N.C. State travels to No. 20 Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

UNC hosts Wake Forest on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 16 Louisville beats NC State 77-72 to go to 2-0 in ACC

Associated Press
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Quentin Snider scored a career-high 21 points to help No. 16 Louisville beat North Carolina State 77-72 on Thursday night.

Freshman Ray Spalding had 12 points off the bench for the Cardinals (13-2, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference). They shot 51 percent and used a 9-0 run in the second half to build a double-digit lead before having to hang on against a frantic comeback by the Wolfpack.

The Cardinals led by 16 with 3:38 left only to see the Wolfpack (10-5, 0-2) crawl to 75-72 on Anthony “Cat” Barber’s three-point play with 16.8 seconds left.

But Damion Lee hit two free throws with 3.5 seconds left to seal it, holding on in a finish that was much tighter than expected.

Barber scored 20 points to lead N.C. State. The Wolfpack fell to 0-2 in the ACC for the first time under fifth-year coach Mark Gottfried.

N.C. State appeared headed to a blowout loss when Snider hit two free throws to make it 71-55 with 3:38 left, but the Wolfpack eventually got two 3-pointers from Caleb Martin followed by another off a turnover from Maverick Rowan that closed the gap to 71-67 with 40.4 seconds left.

Barber got the Wolfpack even closer with his three-point play and had a chance to tie when Lee missed two free throws.

But Barber collided with defender Chinanu Onuaku on a drive in the paint – the referees said Onuaku went straight up – and the ball went out of bounds. The call was originally for N.C. State with 7.5 seconds left, but referees reversed it after a replay and said it went off N.C. State.

Lee was fouled on the inbounds and hit the clinching free throws, finishing with 13 points on the night.

TIP-INS

Louisville: Onuaku had 12 points and 14 rebounds. … The Cardinals beat the Wolfpack in last year’s NCAA Sweet 16. … Louisville made 7 of 13 3-pointers.

N.C. State: Rowan scored 17 points, and Abdul-Malik Abu had 15 points and 12 rebounds. … The Wolfpack shot 36 percent. … N.C. State held a “blackout” with the home team wearing black uniforms.

UP NEXT

Louisville travels to Clemson on Sunday.

N.C. State travels to Wake Forest on Sunday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

WEEKLY AWARDS: Wes Washpun leads UNI, and Ohio State’s big game

(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa

For the second time this season, the Panthers have landed a win over a top five team. In November, they beat then-No. 1 North Carolina. On Saturday, they knocked off No. 5 Iowa State. No one in all of college basketball has two wins that are as good as those two wins, and given that the Panthers don’t have any horrid losses on their résumé, this win more or less locks up an at-large bid as long as UNI does the things they’re supposed to do in Missouri Valley play.

The star of the show this weekend was Washpun, who finished with 28 points, 11 assists and seven boards. The scouting report on Iowa State at this point is pretty easy to figure out: they are not great defensively and struggle to contain penetration. Washpun exposed them, and while he was helped by the fact that UNI went 13-for-22 from beyond the arc, it doesn’t change how dominant he was on Saturday.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: It’s been two games since North Carolina lost Kennedy Meeks to a knee injury and Johnson is doing his best to make sure that the Tar Heels don’t miss him. In wins over Tulane and No. 22 UCLA, Johnson averaged 26.0 points and 9.5 boards while shooting 22-for-29 from the floor.
  • Kahlil Felder, Oakland: Felder had 38 points, nine assists and six boards as the Grizzlies knocked off Washington in Seattle on Saturday. He’s now averaging 25.9 points and 8.9 assists on the season.
  • Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: The good news: Sabonis played his best game as a collegian in a win over Tennessee on Saturday, finishing with 36 points and 16 boards. The bad news: The Zags needed every one of those points and rebounds in a close win over Tennessee.
  • Cat Barber, N.C. State: The 33 points, seven boards and four assists that Barber had in a win over Missouri on Saturday was his second-best game of the week. He also had 26 points, six boards, five assists and the game-winning, buzzer-beating jumper to beat High Point.
  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas: The 12 points and seven assists that Taylor had in a win over Appalachian State was nice and all, but it was the 26-point, six-assist homecoming performance in which he hid a game-winning floater to beat Stanford in Palo Alto that got Taylor on this list.
  • BENCH: London Perrantes (Virginia), Roosevelt Jones (Butler), Troy Williams (Indiana), Ryan Anderson (Arizona), Stefan Moody (Ole Miss)
Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State was dead in the water this season. They had already lost at home to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. They lost in overtime against Memphis. They fell at UConn by 20 points in a game that wasn’t even that competitive. They’re young, they lack leadership at the point guard spot, they don’t have a go-to scorer or a low-post presence, they don’t defend. Through the season’s first 10 games, Ohio State was 5-5 and, more than anything, proving to the world just how much better D’Angelo Russell made the players around him.

And then on Saturday, at the Barclays Center, Ohio State came out and whipped up on No. 4 Kentucky. They led by 16 points in the second half. Kentucky made a run when Jamal Murray caught fire, but the Buckeyes were able to hold them off, in the process landing the kind of marquee win that can be the difference between the NIT and the right side of the bubble.

Will Thad Matta’s crew be able to get a bid?

It’s way too early to make any kind of declarations like that, but the bottom line is that a young, inexperienced team get themselves a shot of confidence that they desperately needed.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Utah: Utah made a statement on Saturday in New York, as they knocked off No. 7 Duke despite the fact that they spent much of the second half playing without Jakob Poeltl, who was in foul trouble all game long. The Utes have been a bit inconsistent this season — that loss at Wichita State doesn’t look great today — but if this wins shows us anything, it’s that this group is capable of being pretty good.
  • Virginia: The ‘Hoos knocked off No. 12 Villanova in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon in yet another sterling, late-game performance from London Perrantes. This team is not as good defensively as they have been in recent years, but are they actually the most dangerous offensive in college basketball? They may be.
  • Butler: Purdue entered the weekend undefeated, looking like the nation’s best defensive team and a real Big Ten contender, and the Bulldogs beat them in impressive fashion at the Crossroads Classic despite getting an 0-for-12 shooting performance from leading scorer Kellen Dunham.
  • Monmouth: The latest Monmouth victims? Georgetown and Rutgers, who joined UCLA, USC and Notre Dame.
  • Texas A&M: The Aggies beat the brakes off of No. 16 Baylor on Saturday. The final score was 80-61, but at one point, Billy Kennedy’s club was up 62-35. It was a mismatch. A&M might actually be the best team in the SEC as of today. Think about that.
  • Indiana: The most important ten minutes of Indiana’s season came on Saturday as the Hoosiers erased a 16-point deficit against Notre Dame. Indiana beat the Irish with their defense, which is not something that has been said before this season.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 19 Louisville at No. 4 Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 10 Xavier at Wake Forest, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 5 Iowa State at No. 23 Cincinnati, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • Vanderbilt at No. 9 Purdue, Tue. 8:00 p.m.
  • Cal at No. 8 Virginia, Tue. 9:00 p.m.

Ranking the best lead guards in college basketball

Kris Dunn (AP)
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We kick off our position-by-position rankings with the lead guards.

What is a lead guard, you ask? 

It’s a loose definition, I know, but it’s the guy that we think is going to be the team’s primary ball-handler and/or playmaker. True point guards, combo-guards, shooting guards that operate best with the ball in their hands. They all count.

Definitive, right?

Anyway, here are our rankings.

What did we get wrong?:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Kris Dunn, Providence

Dunn was an easy pick here just as he was an easy pick for No. 1 in our top 100 players countdown. As a sophomore last season, Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.7 steals. With LaDontae Henton graduating during the offseason and Ed Cooley’s preference to play uptempo basketball, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those stats on the uptick this year. Dunn does, however, have two major flaws in his game: he turns the ball over too much and he needs to become a more consistent and confident jump-shooter. He’s been putting in the work to improve, but we have to wait and see if it manifests in production on the court.

2. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

We had Paige pegged as the Preseason National Player of the Year last season, and that turned out to be wrong. It wasn’t necessarily because Paige wasn’t good enough. The 6-foot-3 senior spent much of last season battling foot and ankle injuries and was forced into a situation where he had to primarily play as a point guard. Well, Paige is healthy now, and with Joel Berry expected to take over the point guard role for the Tar Heels, Paige should be freed up to be in more of an attacking role.

3. Melo Trimble, Maryland

Trimble’s numbers as a freshman were impressive: 16.2 points, 3.0 assists, 41.2% 3PT, 86.3% FT. As good as those numbers were, perhaps Trimble’s true value came in his late-game demeanor. He was, for lack of a better term, one of the most clutch players in the sport, a major reason that the Terps were able to win so many close games. Losing Dez Wells is going to hurt, but with more talent around him this season, Trimble should be asked to do less offensively as a sophomore. But he’ll still have the ball in his hands late in games, which is why Maryland is a considered a favorite to win the national title.

4. Jamal Murray, Kentucky

At this point, it’s hard to imagine Murray living up to the hype he has entering the season. Anything short of Steph Curry or Jimmer Fredette will almost feel like a disappointment. That’s not to say Murray can’t play. He can. He’s the odds-on favorite to lead Kentucky in scoring and will likely be the primary handler in ball-screen actions. The key for Murray: efficiency and consistency. He has a habit of being a bit of a streaky shooter.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top off-guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)
5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)

5. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

If this list was my own, and not a collaboration with the rest of the CBT team, Jackson would be higher. I think he’s going to have a huge year, good enough to be a second- or third-team all-american. Mike Brey loves to force-feed his lead guards, putting them in ball-screen after ball-screen and allowing them to carry the load offensively, as a scorer and a creator. Jackson has the talent to follow in those footsteps. He may not be as good as Jerian Grant, but he’s got lottery pick written all over him.

6. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

Fred Van Vleet is a senior. He reached the Final Four as a freshman, he led Wichita State to a 35-0 record and a No. 1 seed as a sophomore and, as a junior, he helped get the Shockers to the Sweet 16 by beating Kansas in the NCAA tournament. He’s a winner in every sense of the word, and it doesn’t hurt that he averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 assists.

7. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Ferrell is the engine that makes Indiana’s high-octane offense go. As a junior, Yogi’s numbers were quite impressive: 16.9 points, 4.9 assists, 1.9 turnovers and 41.2 percent shooting from three. But the reason that the Hoosiers lost 14 games last season was that they were ranked 214th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. That wasn’t all on Yogi, but he didn’t exactly solve the issue of Indiana’s sieve-like perimeter defense. I will say this: You may not find a more entertaining point guard to watch this season.

8. Monte Morris, Iowa State

Morris is a junior. He’s also the two-time national leader in assist-to-turnover ratio. Starting at the point on a team that has ranked 16th and 17th nationally in pace the last two years, Morris has a grand total of 66 turnovers. For comparison’s sake, Kris Dunn had 138 turnovers last year alone. The biggest question with Morris, like Iowa State as a whole, is how well he will adjust to Steve Prohm’s offense. Worth noting: Prohm turned Isaiah Canaan into an all-american and an early second round pick while helping Cameron Payne develop into a lottery pick.

9. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Murray is the guy that is likely going to put up the impressive numbers for Kentucky this season, but don’t let that blind you to just how good Ulis is. He’s everything that a coach looks for in a point guard: he’s a tough defender, he’s a leader, he’s unselfish, he protects the ball, he creates for his teammates, he can shoot it.

10. Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Newman is a tough guy to rank. On the one hand, the kid is one of the more talented scorers in the country, a combo-guard that can get hot and hit threes from deep. He’s a good bet to lead the entire SEC in scoring. But he’s also on a team that isn’t going to have that many other weapons, meaning that there are going to be times where a bad shot from Newman is a good shot for the Bulldogs. In other words, he’ll be a high-usage, high-scoring, low-efficiency player. How much do you value those offensive ratings?

  • 11. Tyrone Wallace, Cal: Wallace is a guy that I think should be getting more attention nationally. His shooting issues are a red flag, but he’s going to be the lead guard for what should be a Pac-12 contender embracing the small-ball revolution.
  • 12. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: Consistency and efficiency. He went for 30-plus three times last season, but he scored in the single digits eight times, shot 28.1 percent from three and averaged 3.4 turnovers. Hopefully, the influx in talent in Tallahassee means he won’t have to do so much.
  • 13. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Arguably the most underrated player in the Big East. His decision to return to school instead of declare for the NBA Draft is the reason Georgetown is a Big East contender.
  • 14. Nic Moore, SMU: Moore’s three postseasons at SMU: snubbed as a sophomore, goaltended as a junior and banned as a senior. It’s a shame, because he’s really, really good.
  • 15. Frank Mason, Kansas: Mason turned into the heart and soul of last year’s Kansas team. He’s tough, he sets a tone defensively and he makes some big shots. The most popular man in Lawrence not named Bill Self.
  • 16. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: How good is Brunson? He may end up moving the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono off the ball this season.
  • 17. Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Taylor never really seemed to get into a rhythm after injuring his wrist last November, but he should be a perfect fit at the point for new head coach Shaka Smart.
  • 18. Cat Barber, N.C. State: The former five-star recruit should finally round into form as a junior. He’s had some big moments helping the Wolfpack reach back-to-back Sweet 16s.
  • 19. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig took over for the injured Traevon Jackson midway through last season, keeping his starting spot even when Jackson returned to health. He’ll have a lot on his plate this year as the Badgers replace five of their top seven from last season.
  • 20. Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs was impressive last season despite Seton Hall’s late season collapse. He’s a stop-gap for UConn at the lead guard spot as they wait for Jalen Adams to be ready to run the shot.

Others considered: Shaq Harrison (Tulsa) Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), London Perrantes (Virginia), Maodo Lo (Columbia), Bryce Alford (UCLA), Jalan West (Northwestern State)

ACC Preview: Are you riding with UNC, UVA or Duke?

Marcus Paige (Getty Images)
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the ACC.

The ACC is going to be really, really tough this year. There are three title contenders at the top of the conference, a half-dozen more programs that can make a run to the tournament and two or three really dangerous programs that will finish in the bottom-third of the conference.

Let’s get to it.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Marcus Paige is healthy which makes UNC is a title contender: Entering the season with a mountain of hype, Marcus Paige spent the majority of the year trying to work his way through ankle and foot injuries that led to offseason arthroscopic surgery. He’s healthy now, meaning he’s no longer limping while walking to class or spending his practice time on a stationary bike, and that’s huge for the Tar Heels. Throw in that sophomores Joel Berry, a point guard that should be able to move Paige off the ball, and Justin Jackson, a talented wing scorer, should rightfully be expected to take a step forward and that UNC’s massive front line returns intact, and Roy Williams has all the pieces to make a run at a national title.

2. Duke should contend despite losing four starters : Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor are all in the NBA. Quinn Cook graduated after what felt like a seven-year career. Only four players with game experience return, but the Blue Devils will be just fine. That’s what happens when you bring in a recruiting class that includes potential top five pick Brandon Ingram and fellow five-star recruits Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton. Coach K will have a ton of talent on the wings, meaning that you should expect the Blue Devils to play uptempo basketball that features Ingram, a small forward by trade, at the four quite often. While the development of guys like Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Sean Obi will be key, Duke’s success this season will likely be determined by two things: Thornton’s adjustment to playing point guard at the highest level a year early and whether or not Marshall Plumlee can have a senior season on par with Brian Zoubek’s in 2010.

3. You can’t count Tony Bennett out at this point: There are some legitimate reasons to be concerned about Virginia this season. They weren’t the same team after Justin Anderson’s injury last season, and Anderson went to the NBA. They’re built around their defense, and not only do they lose Anderson, but they lose Darion Atkins, who was one of the best defensive big men in the country. Those are concerns, but with their back court of London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon intact, depth up front and Bennett’s Pack-Line defense still running things, the ‘Hoos will be just fine. And if Marial Shayok and Isaiah Wilkins develop, they’ll have a real shot at winning their third straight ACC regular season title.

4. The name Demetrius Jackson: Notre Dame has some serious pieces to replace this season, as Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton have both graduated. But luckily for Mike Brey, he still has Demetrius Jackson in the fold. Jackson, a 5-foot-11 point guard that played off the ball last season, should thrive in Brey’s pick-and-roll heavy offense. Brey is going to make sure that the ball is in his hands and he’s going to allow Jackson to make decisions, because that’s the way that Brey likes to coach. With Zach Auguste back and promising youngsters like Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson back — not to mention newcomers Rex Pfleuger and Matt Ryan — Jackson will have plenty of space to operate. I think he becomes a lottery pick this season.

5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)
5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)

5. The second-tier in the ACC is a mess, but in a good way: There’s a clear-cut top three in the conference this season: North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, in some order. But after that, there are about six teams that can all finish somewhere between fourth and ninth in the league standings: Notre Dame, Florida State, N.C. State, Syracuse, Miami, Pitt, Louisville. I’d even argue that Wake Forest has a chance to make some noise in league play, assuming that point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre can get healthy. Where in past seasons, the middle of the conference has been on the weaker end of the spectrum, the ACC looks like they could get eight or nine teams into the NCAA tournament this season.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “UVA and UNC are neck and neck. UVA loses key parts [in Anderson and Atkins], but they run such a good system and get some key guys back. They’re so well-coached. Carolina is starting live up to their talent. From a personnel standpoint, they’re really experienced and more of a quintessential Carolina: big wings that can shoot, a slew of big men that can control the paint.”
  • Sleeper:
    • “I’d say Miami or FSU. If people don’t give them credit, maybe Louisville with the unknowns.”
    • “Miami or FSU. With Miami, everybody is back from a team that won 25 games and no one is talking about them like that. For FSU, they’ll be really good if the young guys turn out to be as good as they’re supposed to be.”
  • Best player: “Malcolm Brogdon has to be right there from an accomplishment standpoint. He’s an MF’er, man. In every way.”
  • Most underrated player:
    • “Most probably wouldn’t think he’s underrated, but I’m going to say Grayson Allen. He’s really good, obviously. They make their run because of them I don’t know if he’s looked upon as a guy like that.
    • “Miami’s Sheldon McClellan. Look at his percentages and then tell me he is just an honorable mention all-league player on a team that went 10-8 in the league.”

PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marcus Paige, North Carolina

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it, too. Paige was considered by many to be the Preseason National Player of the Year entering the 2014-15 season, and he followed that up by seeing his scoring numbers drop from 17.1 points as a sophomore to 14.5 points as a junior. Part of that was due to the fact that the Tar Heels were better and more balanced, meaning that Paige didn’t need to carry the load as much as he had in previous years. They also lacked a true point guard, as neither Joel Berry nor Nate Britt truly embraced the role, forcing Paige to play the position. But more than anything, it was his health that led to his limited production. Those nagging injuries are gone now, meaning we’re going to see the real Marcus Paige this season.

THE REST OF THE ACC FIRST TEAM:

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Brogdon is one of those dudes that does everything well. He can create off the bounce, he can shoot threes, and he’s one of Tony Bennett’s best defenders. He’s the prototype off-guard for Virginia.
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram is the best pro prospect in the ACC, and he’s not that far behind Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere when it comes to being the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. He’s also put on 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at Duke. His biggest issue now: assertiveness. Will he be willing to take over games?
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: XRM is the most underrated player in the conference. He needs to get more consistent and efficient — he averaged 3.4 turnovers and shot 28.1 percent from three — but that should be helped with the addition of FSU’s recruiting class. He went for 30-plus three times last season, including when he scored 30 in 4:35 against Miami. Seriously.
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: I’m not sure what else I can say here. I think Jackson is going to have a huge season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, North Carolina
  • Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
  • Grayson Allen, Duke
  • Cat Barber, N.C. State
  • Shelden McClellan, Miami
AP Photo
AP Photo

BREAKOUT STAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

Demetrius Jackson would have been the pick here, but seeing as we’ve already written plenty on him, we’re going to go with Allen. A former McDonald’s All-American dunk contest champion, Allen exploded into the national consciousness with a terrific performance in the Final Four last season. With more playing time available this season, and with Duke expected to play a system that fits Allen’s skill-set much better this season, don’t be surprised to see him develop into an all-ACC caliber player.

RELATED: Grayson Allen’s recruitment to Duke started with a duct-taped shoe

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Roy Williams, North Carolina

Roy Williams is not on the hot seat, not unless the NCAA comes heavy-handed when they hand out their punishments. But Williams is under more pressure than his brethren at other blue blood programs because this may be the last time for a while that he truly has a national title contender on his hands. UNC’s recruiting has been hurt by the potential sanctions that could be handed down. They’re expected to miss out on all of the elite talents coming out of their state for the second straight recruiting class, meaning he doesn’t exactly have replacements in line for the talent that could leave Chapel Hill after this season. Ole Roy is 65 years old. He doesn’t have too many years left, does he?

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Duke has a real chance to repeat, but North Carolina and Virginia are both more likely to cut down the nets in Houston.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : League play is going to be awesome, and those Duke-North Carolina games will be as testy as ever, but how about this two-night stretch in the Triangle: Maryland at North Carolina followed by Indiana at Duke. That will be fun.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • 11/17, Duke vs. Kentucky
  • 12/1, Maryland at North Carolina
  • 12/2, Indiana at Duke
  • 12/19, Villanova at Virginia
  • 12/22, Cal at Virginia

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @accsports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. North Carolina: UNC will win the ACC if Paige is healthy, Berry takes over the point guard role and Jackson develops into a consistent scorer and deep threat.
2. Virginia: The ‘Hoos will win the league if Marial Shayok can replace Anderson’s production and if Isaiah Wilkins can provide quality bench production behind Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill.
3. Duke: Duke will win the conference if Thornton proves to be ready to handle the rigors of the point in the ACC, Plumlee develops into a dominant shot-blocker and rebounder, and if Ingram can find be a dominant force on both ends of the floor.
4. Notre Dame: You already know how we feel about Jackson, but the key to the season for the Irish is going to end up being how well they can replace Connaughton. He was a sharpshooter that could hold his own defensively and on the glass in the paint despite being a natural two-guard. Those aren’t easy to find.
5. Florida State: The Seminoles are the most intriguing team in the conference. Rathan-Mayes is the name everyone will know, but they also add a trio of talented freshmen wings — led by five-star scorer Dwayne Bacon — to go along with the likes of Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert. Leonard Hamilton also has plenty of size on his roster, including three players listed at 7-foot-1 or taller. If FSU misses out on the NCAA tournament this season, it won’t be because they lacked the pieces on their roster.
6. Miami: The Hurricanes are a bit thin in the front court, but they have quite a bit of talent in the back court. Sheldon McClellan is underrated nationally and sophomore Ja’Quan Newton should be primed for a big season. The key will be Angel Rodriguez. He’s a top 15 point guard nationally when he’s playing well, but he’s wildly inconsistent.
7. N.C. State: The Wolfpack have developed a reputation of being a team that underwhelms during the regular season before turning things on during the NCAA tournament. I could see them finished fourth in the league and I can see them finishing tenth, but I think that with a roster anchored by Cat Barber and Abdul Malik-Abu, Mark Gottfried should be able to get this group to the tournament.
8. Louisville: I love their freshman class — Donovan Mitchell is going to be a star — but with the scandal swirling around the program and the lack of an entrenched, veteran presence on the roster, Rick Pitino could be in for a long year. I’m not convinced grad transfers Damion Lee (Drexel) and Trey Lewis (Cleveland State) can lead them to glory.
9. Pitt: Forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis are good and Chris Jones could be in line for a breakout season, but what on this roster is going to scare opposing coaches? The Panthers could end up being an NCAA tournament team, but I’m not sure their ceiling is much more than that.
10. Syracuse: Fresh off of a postseason ban, the Orange look like a team with a shot of getting to the Big Dance this season. Michael Gbinije could end up being a first-team all-ACC player, but there are too many other question marks to feel confident with this group. Is Trevor Cooney ever going to be consistent shooting the ball? Can Kaleb Joseph handle the point guard spot this year? Are the bigs any good? Can Tyler Lydon or Malachi Richardson have an immediate impact?
11. Clemson: The Tigers are evidence of why it’s so difficult to coach at a place like Clemson. They return quite a bit of talent from a team that went 8-10 in the league last season, but given the quality of the programs ahead of them, it’s hard to see Brad Brownell’s club climbing significantly in the standings.
12. Wake Forest: Danny Manning has landed a couple of quality recruiting classes in a row and sophomore Konstantinos Mitoglou looks like he has a really bright future, but Codi Miller-McIntyre’s foot injury really put a damper on this team’s expectations heading into the season.
13. Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams has brought in some quality young pieces and will replace the departed Adam Smith with Maryland transfer Seth Allen. I think the Hokies are still a year away from really competing, but they’re what I like to call an upside-team. The future is bright.
14. Georgia Tech: Brian Gregory was lucky to hang onto his job after last season, and there wasn’t a major roster overhaul that would leave me to believe the Yellow Jackets will make a jump in the standings. Adding Adam Smith from Virginia Tech will help, however.
15. Boston College: Losing Olivier Hanlan to the NBA means that things are probably going to get worse before they get better for BC head coach Jim Christian.