Dwayne Bacon seems to be heading up Florida State’s small-ball revolution, as the five-star freshman went for 24 points as the Seminoles blew a double-digit deficit but held on to beat in-state rival Florida in Gainesville, 73-71.
Bacon was 9-for-17 from the floor, hitting 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.
That includes the game-winning jumper that came with 4.6 seconds left in the game, when he beat Kasey Hill off the dribble and buried a 15-footer:
This is a nice win for a Florida State team that is flying a bit under the radar at this point in the season. They’ve already knocked off VCU this season, and while the Gators are not exactly the same team that won back-to-back titles 10 years ago, they do now have a road win over a top 25, according to KenPom, on their résumé.
They will have some work to do in league play, but with a four-guard lineup that includes Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Montay Brandon, they are going to be a tough team to matchup with. On the nights their dudes are hitting, they are going to be able to beat some people.
TEN NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Here are the ten best freshmen in the sport.
1. Ben Simmons, LSU: A native of Australia, Simmons has been getting huge national buzz already as a potential Player of the Year candidate this preseason. As one of college basketball’s most versatile players this season, Simmons has a chance to put up regular triple-doubles while leading LSU to a bunch of wins. The 6-foot-10 Simmons can rebound, handle the ball in the open floor and pass with elite vision. If there’s any part of his game that remains a question mark, it’s his perimeter jumper — which has always been workable but inconsistent.
2. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky: Perhaps the most talented freshman of this class, the 6-foot-11 Labissiere has a ton of upside and could dominate stretches on both ends of the floor this season. A native of Haiti, Labissiere can defend the rim and rebound and he’s also a dynamic offensive threat who can score from a number of positions on the floor. When Kentucky’s guards run high ball screens with Labissiere this season, he should have the ability to score rolling to the basket or finding space for his jumper. Handling the strength of older and more experienced opposing big men might be Labissiere’s biggest obstacle this season.
3. Jamal Murray, Kentucky: If Labissiere is Kentucky’s most talented freshman, then Murray could be the most productive this season. The Canadian guard looked like a potential superstar during portions of this summer in the Pan-Am Games, especially when he went for 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime alone against the United States. At 6-foot-5, Murray has great size for a lead guard and his pull-up jumper is deadly. His vision is also solid and he spend the summer playing with and against professionals and top college players in high-stakes international settings. If Murray finds good balance within Kentucky’s deep perimeter attack, he could have a huge year.
4. Brandon Ingram, Duke: Duke was able to keep Ingram from leaving the state of North Carolina and they’re hoping the Kinston native can be their next superstar wing forward. Ingram won’t be nearly as physically developed as players like Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow as freshmen, but he’s got an offensive arsenal that more than makes up for it. At 6-foot-9, Ingram can spray jumpers from nearly anywhere on the floor and he has the mentality of a cold-blooded scorer. With an advanced pull-up game and improving toughness going to the rim, Ingram became a three-level scorer later in his high school career. If his frail body can handle the day-to-day rigors of college basketball, Ingram will have a big year.
5. Jaylen Brown, Cal: It was a surprising commitment when the 6-foot-6 Brown decided to leave Georgia and head out west, but the Golden Bears are happy to put him on the floor immediately. A big and physical wing who can attack the basket or the glass, Brown improved his perimeter jumper and handle as high school went along. A gifted scorer, Brown is a load to handle in the open floor with a full head of steam and he’s the type of player who could have some poster dunks this season thanks to his brute strength at the rim. If the perimeter jumper is consistently going down, Brown is going to be a force.
6. Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Underrated nationally coming into the season after missing the senior all-star games with injury, Ellenson is a new-breed big man who has open-floor skill and an ability to space the floor. The Wisconsin native stayed home to play with his brother Wally at Marquette and now the Golden Eagles have a 6-foot-10 freshman who can handle like a guard and hit 3-pointers to stretch the floor. With Ellenson teaming with junior big man Luke Fischer, Marquette instantly has one of the most intriguing front courts in America entering the season and Ellenson’s skill level makes him a tough cover.
7. Cheick Diallo, Kansas: If the NCAA deems him eligible, Kansas will get a gigantic lift from the high-motor big man. A star during the senior all-star circuit this spring, Diallo rebounds and defends the rim with the best of them and he’s also improving as an offensive player. At his best in transition, the 6-foot-9 Diallo runs the floor like a guard and has the length around the rim to erase shots that many others couldn’t get to. Diallo’s warrior-like mentality should help raise the level of play for the Jayhawks when he’s on the floor. The question is: when will that be?
8. Malik Newman, Mississippi State: Ben Howland is going to put the ball in Newman’s hands right away and the pressure will be on the in-state guard to immediately produce. A natural scorer with deep range on his pull-up jumper, the 6-foot-3 Newman can go on silly scoring runs where he’s pulling up 3-pointers and nailing them in consecutive possessions like Kevin Durant at Rucker Park. Although his efficiency and ability to be a high-level point guard will come into question at times this season, Newman will be one of the best freshman scorers in college basketball.
9. Diamond Stone, Maryland: How happy is Melo Trimble to have a post scorer like Stone entering College Park? The native of Wisconsin is a load to handle on the interior as a post scorer, as he showed moves going over both shoulders in high school. Also a candidate to knock home a 3-pointer when he’s a trailer on a break, Stone can fall in love with his jumper a bit too much, but now he has a ton of talent around him to help him settle into the post. The 6-foot-10 center has good hands, is a productive rebounder and should be a tough cover with Robert Carter also being a post option for the Terps.
10. Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV: Runnin’ Rebels fans are thrilled to keep Zimmerman home and the 6-foot-11 lefty is skilled enough to make an immediate impact. The product of local powerhouse Bishop Gorman is an advanced passer for a big man and he’s also shown an ability to score in a variety of ways. Also a good rebounder and communicator as a back-line defender, Zimmerman’s leadership qualities could be an underrated aspect of him joining the UNLV program. The pressure will be on Zimmerman to help lead UNLV back to the NCAA tournament, but he’s built for the challenge.
FIVE POTENTIAL D’ANGELO RUSSELLS: Here are five guys outside the top ten that could play their way onto an all-american team come the spring
1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: The son of former NBA veteran Rick Brunson, Jalen was tremendous as the starting point guard of the USA U19 World Championship team and went 40 minutes without a turnover in the gold-medal game to help secure MVP honors. The 6-foot-2 lefty has a tremendous basketball IQ and can hit pull-up jumpers from everywhere.
2. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: An impressive scorer who regularly put up 40-point games in high school, Dorsey will be asked to help replace Joseph Young. The 6-foot-4 Dorsey’s ability to hit jumpers and get to the basket should immediately translate to the college level.
3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Now that he’s been cleared by the NCAA, the 6-foot-9 Swanigan can focus on being a bruising force alongside centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. Swanigan is rugged and physical, but he’s also more skilled than he appears.
4. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: One of the most physically-ready freshmen entering college basketball, the 6-foot-6 wing had a tremendous senior season and should be able to help the Seminoles in the scoring column. Bacon’s athleticism is top notch and he should have some highlights this season.
5. Allonzo Trier, Arizona: With freshman Ray Smith Jr. going down to injury, the 6-foot-3 Trier could be asked to play more minutes for the Wildcats. The Nike EYBL’s first four-year player, Trier is experienced in big games at the high school level and should be an immediate contributor.
MARCH HEROES?: Here are five freshman that could play a big role come March.
1. Jalen Adams, UConn: Kevin Ollie has a ton of perimeter options this season, but the speed of the 6-foot-1 Adams will make him a great change-of-pace guard off the bench in the early season.
2. Aaron Holiday, UCLA: The younger brother of former Bruin Jrue Holiday, Aaron is already starting alongside Bryce Alford this preseason and he’s showed positive signs on the defensive end with his activity.
3. Carlton Bragg, Kansas: The 6-foot-9 Bragg is skilled as a shooter and also physically gifted enough to rebound and score in the post. If Cheick Diallo is not cleared to play, Bragg’s role could expand even further.
4. Ryan Cline, Purdue: In desperate need of perimeter shooting, the Boilers kept this 6-foot-5 sharpshooter in the state of Indiana and he should help the spacing around Purdue’s talented big men.
5. Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Likely to start in the middle for Indiana, the 6-foot-10 Bryant brings a lot of energy and tenacity to the interior. The Hoosiers will count on Bryant to rebound and defend the rim early as his offense continues to grow.
15. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Bacon is the reigning McDonald’s All-American dunk champion:
14. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney had one of the best dunks you’ll ever see in grassroots basketball a few years back:
13. Jordan Weethee, VMI: Remember this guy? Easily the best part of the dunk is the reaction of No. 34:
12. Josh Adams, Wyoming: Josh Adams is listed at 6-foot-2. You buy that?
11. Gary Payton II, Oregon State: I feel comfortable calling Payton the best on-ball defender in college basketball, not unlike his dad. But where The Glove threw a lot of these, II catches ’em like Shawn Kemp did:
10. Kerwin Roach, Texas: The video of Roach maxing out the vertical testing machine went viral in September. This is what happens when he actually is able to dunk:
9. Jalen Reynolds, Xavier: Reynolds was on the giving end of what might have been my favorite dunk from the 2015-16 season:
After ranking the top lead guards and off guards, we move to the wing position.
With more teams moving away from the rigid positions that defined the game of basketball for years, the wing has become a more important role. Nowadays versatility is a trait of many of the nation’s best wings, as they can be used to initiate the offense as either a scorer or distributor.
Without further ado, below are our ranking of the top wings in college basketball. Who’s too high on the last? Who isn’t high enough on the list? Who’d we leave out?
Simmons arrived in Baton Rouge amidst much fanfare and with good reason, as his skill set makes him a player many project to be a high lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 Australian will play a “point forward” role for the Tigers, as his ability to initiate offense makes an incredibly difficult matchup for opponents.
2. Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
Speaking of versatility, Valentine’s a senior who can play any of the three perimeter roles within Tom Izzo’s offense. As a junior Valentine averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from three. His ability to fill the stat sheet and lead will be key for a Michigan State team looking to earn a second straight Final Four appearance.
3. Jaylen Brown (California)
Brown’s a power wing who rates as one of the top freshmen in the country. At 6-foot-7 he has the size and athleticism needed to fill multiple roles for the Golden Bears, who boast one of the country’s top perimeter rotations. And with those options there will be occasions in which Brown plays as an undersized four in order to force mismatches on the offensive end.
4. Brandon Ingram (Duke)
While Ingram has plenty of skill, he’s a slender 6-foot-9 wing who trends more towards the perimeter than the aforementioned Brown does. Ingram can score at multiple levels, and while he does need to get stronger his offensive skill set will apply pressure to opponents within Duke’s offense.
5. Taurean Waller-Prince (Baylor)
Last season Waller-Prince emerged as one of the nation’s most improved players, averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest. He took full advantage of increased minutes a season ago, and with fellow senior Rico Gathers Sr., redshirt sophomore Johnathan Motley and junior college transfer Jo Acuil is part of one of the country’s best front court rotations.
The Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year deserves more pub, as he shouldered a lot of the offensive load for the Hawks last season. Bembry, after starting all 34 games on an NCAA tournament team as a freshman, accounted for 17.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game in 2014-15. Bembry led the Hawks in all four of those categories last season, and could very well duplicate that feat in 2015-16.
7. Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Jackson’s in line for a breakout season, and his presence is why there isn’t a great deal of concern when it comes to accounting for the departure of J.P. Tokoto. Jackson started 37 games as a freshman, averaging 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. Also ranking third on the team in assists a season ago, Jackson has the ability to find teammates as well as score.
8. Gary Payton II (Oregon State)
The son of “The Glove,” Payton won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in his first season in Corvallis. How big of an impact did he have in Wayne Tinkle’s first season as head coach? Payton led the Beavers in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks and was second in assists. That kind of versatility isn’t all too common, and with Oregon State’s improved depth he could be even better this year.
9. Troy Williams (Indiana)
Averaging 13.0 points per game as a sophomore, Williams led the Hoosiers in rebounding and steals while shooting 54 percent from the field and 74.2 percent from the foul line. While he isn’t much of a perimeter shooter, Williams can knock down mid-range shots and he finishes above the rim with authority. As a slasher he’s a key player who can open things up for Indiana, which has a host of perimeter shooters to call upon.
10. Kyle Collinsworth (BYU)
Collinsworth is one of the most versatile players in the country, and he’s entrusted with the responsibility of running the show for BYU. Collinsworth is tied for the NCAA record for career triple-doubles (six), all of which came last season, and he averaged 13.8 points, 8.7 and 6.0 assists per game in 2014-15. While the loss of Tyler Haws is important, the return of Collinsworth is one reason why BYU is seen as Gonzaga’s biggest threat in the WCC.
11. Daniel Hamilton (Connecticut): The American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, Hamilton averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. And he’ll have even more chances to initiate things offensively this season.
12. Josh Hart (Villanova): Last season Hart emerged as a valuable option for Villanova, averaging 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. His shooting percentages from the field and from three were nothing to scoff at either, as the Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player shot 51 percent from the field and 46 percent from three.
13. Jake Layman (Maryland): Layman’s skill isn’t to be questioned, as the 6-foot-8 senior averaged 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three. But with Dez Wells gone, can he step forward as an even more assertive force for a team projected as one of the nation’s best?
14. Dillon Brooks (Oregon): For all of the talk about how Wayne Selden Jr. (Kansas) and Jamal Murray (Kentucky) played this summer, Brooks also played well on the international circuit. And after earning Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors, he could be poised for a breakout sophomore campaign.
15. Michael Gbinije (Syracuse): “Silent G” is likely to fill a variety of roles for Jim Boeheim as he has the skills needed to play anywhere from the point to the wing. Last season Gbinije averaged 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
16. Tim Quarterman (LSU): Quarterman joins teammate Simmons on this list, and he’s looking to build on a solid sophomore season in Baton Rouge. The 6-foot-5 Quarterman accounted for 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and a team-high 4.0 assists per game, doing so despite starting just 14 of the 33 games in which he played.
17. Damion Lee (Louisville): The lone grad transfer on our list, Lee averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game at Drexel last season. Given Louisville’s personnel losses, Lee’s abilities as a scorer and defender will be of high importance as the Cardinals look to hold their own in the ACC.
18. Malcolm Hill (Illinois): Hill’s a player who emerged as Illinois’ most efficient offensive option last season, averaging 14.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest as a sophomore. He’s an all-conference caliber player, and Hill could very well earn those honors this season.
19. Dwayne Bacon (Florida State): The 6-foot-6 Bacon is the crown jewel of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and with his athleticism and scoring ability the Oak Hill Academy product should have an immediate impact in Tallahassee.
20. Roosevelt Jones (Butler): Jones’ (12.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.7 apg) return from a broken wrist that sidelined him for the entire 2013-14 season was a big reason why the Bulldogs not only reached the NCAA tournament but nearly eliminated Notre Dame in the round of 32.
Others Considered: Malik Pope (San Diego State), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Isaac Copeland (Georgetown)
We’re labeling this as the nation’s top back courts, but truthfully, it’s the nation’s top perimeters. That’s why you’ll see guys like Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, small forwards that will play the four a lot this season, listed here.
One thing we realized making this list: There are an inordinate number of talented guards in college basketball this season, especially those that will get labeled as lead guards. So many, in fact, that the likes of Miami, Iowa State and Texas A&M didn’t even crack the top 15.
They don’t rebuild in Lexington they reload, and John Calipari has quite the perimeter rotation at his disposal despite losing three of his top four guards from a season ago. The returnee is 5-foot-9 sophomore Tyler Ulis, who has emerged as this team’s leader. But he isn’t the only guard in the group who operates will with the ball in his hands, as both Briscoe and Murray will also have ample opportunities to create offensively. The 6-foot-4 Murray was one of the standouts at the Pan-American Games in Canada this summer, as he went off to lead the hosts past the United States in the semifinals. Matthews and Mulder aren’t slouches either, giving Kentucky additional talent and depth with their presence.
2. Wichita State (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Conner Frankamp, Landry Shamet, Evan Wessel)
Baker and VanVleet are two of the nation’s best at their respective positions and they’re going to appear on multiple preseason (and end of season, for that matter) All-America teams as a result. Wessel gives this group added toughness, and Kanas transfer Conner Frankamp will give Wichita State another capable shooter when he becomes eligible in December. The 6-foot-4 Shamet is a Top 100 recruit who will fight for minutes now and be a key figure for the Shockers in the years to come.
3. Indiana (James Blackmon Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft)
This group is one of the reasons why the Hoosiers will enter the 2015-16 season ranked, with senior point guard Yogi Ferrell leading the way. Ferrell led the Hoosiers in scoring and assists a season ago, and he also led the team in made three-pointers. Blackmon should be better as a sophomore after tailing off somewhat down the stretch last year and the same goes for classmate Johnson, with Zeisloft coming off of a year in which he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc.
4. North Carolina (Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams)
Paige enters his senior season as one of the the best guards in the country, as he’s comfortable as either a scorer or a distributor for the Tar Heels. Jackson, who was a key contributor for North Carolina as a freshman, looks poised for a breakout year as he moves into the starting spot left vacant by J.P. Tokoto, and classmate Pinson is healthy after dealing with injuries last season. Both Berry and Britt are capable contributors but they have to get better as playmakers, thus relieving some of the pressure on Paige. The one thing this group was missing a season ago was another shooter to go with Paige, and if called upon Williams has the ability to be that guy.
Irvin is working his way back to 100 percent after undergoing back surgery in early September, and his return will make Michigan’s perimeter attack one of the deepest and most talented groups in the country. LeVert was projected by some to be an All-America caliber player prior to last season, and Walton and Irvin are also players capable of earning postseason honors. Albrecht will also be a factor, with Abdur-Rahkman, Chatman and Dawkins gaining valuable experience as freshmen due to the injuries that sidelined LeVert and Walton. The “wild card” is Robinson, who sat out last season after averaging 17.1 points per game as a freshman at Division III Williams College in 2013-14.
Lon Kruger’s perimeter rotation won’t lack for experience as reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Hield and Cousins are both seniors and Woodard will be a junior. Walker played 10.6 minutes per game as a junior last season and figures to be in a similar reserve role. As for the freshmen, both James and Odomes are players who will look to earn minutes but ultimately benefit down the line from competing with (and against, in practice) the veteran guards.
Big East Co-Player of the Year Arcidiacono is back for his senior season, with Big East tournament MOP Josh Hart appearing poised to take a significant step forward as a junior. And then there are the freshmen, most notably a lead guard in Brunson who enters college as one of the best at his position. DiVincenzo and Bridges, with the latter having redshirted last season, give Villanova additional skill and athleticism on the wing and Booth gives Wright another point guard to call upon.
8. Duke (Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton Jr.)
Allen, who stepped forward in a big way in the national title game, returns for his sophomore season and Jones gives Duke an experienced wing option who’s a solid defender and capable perimeter shooter. Given the personnel losses the three freshmen will be especially important this year, with Thornton being asked to take over at the point and Ingram being a slender wing who can score from anywhere on the court. As for Kennard, he’s good enough to see time at both guard spots, and given Duke’s numbers he’ll likely have to do just that.
9. Maryland (Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Rasheed Sulaimon, Dion Wiley, Jaylen Brantley)
The Terrapins did lose leader Dez Wells from last season’s NCAA tournament team, but most of the perimeter rotation returns led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble. Trimble’s a handful with the ball in his hands, making sound decisions in ball screen situations and getting to the foul line at a very high rate. Layman, who took a step forward as a junior, has the potential to be even better as a senior with Nickens and Wiley looking to earn more minutes as sophomores. And the newcomers, Brantley and Sulaimon, will also contribute with the latter giving Maryland another quality perimeter shooter (and he’s a good defender too).
10. California (Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird, Stephen Domingo, Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer)
Depth, which was an issue all over the court for the Golden Bears a season ago, won’t be a problem in 2015-16. Wallace, one of the nation’s top point guards, leads the way with a trio of juniors (Bird, Mathews and Singer) also having a wealth of experience. Add in two talented newcomers in Brown, who could see time at the four in smaller lineups, and Georgetown transfer Domingo and head coach Cuonzo Martin has a host of options at his disposal.
11. Virginia (Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, Evan Nolte, Darius Thompson)
The Cavaliers have to account for the departure of Justin Anderson on the perimeter, but it certainly helps to have veterans Brogdon and Perrantes back on campus. Brodgon was a first team All-ACC selection a season ago, and his skill on both ends of the floor merits All-America mention this season. Perrantes is a solid floor general who can do even more from a scoring standpoint. Nolte and Shayok were rotation players last season, and Hall and Thompson (who redshirted after transferring in from Tennessee) will also compete for minutes.
12. Michigan State (Denzel Valentine, Eron Harris, Tum Tum Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens, Alvin Ellis)
This group is led by one of the nation’s most versatile players in Valentine, who can play anywhere from the one to the three depending on match-ups. Forbes should be more consistent in his second season with the program, and Nairn looks poised to step forward as the next in a long line of high-level point guards to play for Izzo. Harris is a transfer from West Virginia who many expect to hit the ground running, and Ellis will also look to solidify his spot in the rotation. As for the freshmen, they’ll look to carve out roles in what is a deep rotation.
Ryan Boatright’s moved on, but UConn’s perimeter rotation is more balanced (and deeper) than it was a season ago. Part of that is due to their additions, with the explosive Adams and experienced Gibbs joining the ranks. As for holdovers, head coach Kevin Ollie has those as well with Calhoun being a senior, Cassell and Purvis (who put together some solid outings down the stretch last season) being juniors and the versatile Hamilton (AAC Rookie of the Year) being a sophomore.
14. Kansas (Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonté Graham, Brannen Greene, LaGerald Vick)
This ranking could prove to be low at season’s end, depending upon (in part) the progress made by Selden. The junior played very well at the World University Games in South Korea this summer, and if he can build on that play the Jayhawks will undoubtedly have one of the top guards in the country. Mason gives them an absolute pitbull at the point, with Graham being another player capable of running the point. And in Green, Mykhailiuk and Vick, Kansas won’t lack for depth on the wings either.
15. Florida State (Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, Terance Mann, Malik Beasley, Benji Bell, Robbie Berwick)
While he’ll once again be one of the top guards in the ACC, Rathan-Mayes will have some much-needed help on the perimeter. Bookert and Brandon give Florida State two experienced seniors, Berwick saw solid minutes as a freshman, and their newcomers arrive on campus amidst much fanfare. Bacon may be the marquee freshman, but Beasley and Mann will also compete for minutes with junior college transfer Bell looking to do the same.
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. 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.
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.”
“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
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.
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:
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.