North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.
Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.
With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.
North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.
No. 7 North Carolina beats Clemson 80-69 in ACC opener
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina’s offensive efficiency and depth have become such a reliable strength that the No. 7 Tar Heels can handle a quiet night from one of their top players and keep right on scoring.
Marcus Paige scored 18 points to help UNC beat Clemson 80-69 on Wednesday night in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener, extending the Tigers’ long run of futility in Chapel Hill.
Joel Berry II added 16 points for the Tar Heels (12-2, 1-0 ACC), who led 37-30 at halftime and by 16 in the second half before turning away the Tigers’ last best push.
North Carolina improved to 58-0 all-time against Clemson (7-6, 0-1) at home, an NCAA record for most consecutive home wins against one opponent. And this marked the 26th time in 28 meetings that the Tar Heels extended that streak with a double-digit margin of victory.
The preseason ACC favorite Tar Heels shot 50 percent and put five players in double figures. And that came despite leading scorer Brice Johnson struggling and battling foul trouble.
“I think it’s getting the shot we all want,” said sophomore Theo Pinson, who had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting. “And everybody has confidence in each other, that we can knock down shots. Everybody’s putting in work off the court that everybody (outside) doesn’t see.”
UNC entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com statistics. The Tar Heels have now shot at least 50 percent in 10 of their 14 games, and coach Roy Williams sees room for growth.
“I think we have some good parts,” Williams said. “We haven’t shot the ball well. … When we start shooting the ball and still get the offensive rebounds, we can be really good offensively.”
The Tar Heels got huge lifts from Pinson and Isaiah Hicks. Hicks finished with 14 points and six rebounds while seeing time as the big man in a small lineup, while Pinson made all three of his 3-point tries to go with six rebounds of his own.
Clemson got consecutive 3-pointers from Gabe DeVoe to cut the deficit to 63-57 with 7:17 left, but the Tar Heels responded with six straight scoring possessions that included Pinson’s 3 and Hicks’ tough shot in the lane over Sidy Djitte.
“There’s just so many of them coming at you that it’s hard to stop them,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “There’s so many weapons. There’s going to be two or three playing well most nights because there’s six or seven of them that can get 18 points.”
Clemson: The Tigers shot 40 percent for the game, though they hovered around 50 percent for much of the second half. … Jordan Roper scored 13. … Clemson made 20 of 26 free throws.
UNC: Johnson finished with three points on 1-for-8 shooting. … Junior forward Kennedy Meeks missed his fifth straight game due to a bone bruise in his left knee. It’s unclear exactly when he will return. … UNC took a 38-29 rebounding advantage and scored 19 points off turnovers.
Jaron Blossomgame scored 15 points to lead the Tigers, while Avry Holmes and DeVoe combined to knock down five 3s. Clemson had five players in double figures.
Paige said UNC’s perfect record against Clemson in Chapel Hill came up before the game – between the players, anyway.
“Me and Brice and some of the older guys know about it,” he said. “We were telling the younger guys like, `Yo, it’s can’t be us. … We’re not coming back in the locker room being the only ones that have given up a game to Clemson here.”
Allen picked up right where the Final Four left off, scoring 54 points as Duke opened up the 2015-16 season with wins in back-to-back games against Siena and Bryant. Allen added eight assists and eight boards in the two wins, turning the ball over just three times and posting shooting splits of 51.6/41.7/94.4.
There’s absolutely not way that Allen can keep up this pace — those are J.J. Redick numbers, and Allen isn’t J.J. — but that should give you an idea of just how impressive he was in the two wins. He’s not the quickest dude in the world, but he’s strong, his strides are absurdly long and he can explode to the rim off of one foot. You saw the two dunks he had against Siena. That’s his game. He’s attacking the rim, and given the new emphasis on freedom of movement and the like, Allen is going to spend a lot of time at the free throw line. If he keeps hitting them, he’s going to have some impressive numbers.
THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn was awesome in the opener against a good Harvard squad. He put up 32 points, six boards, five assists, eight steals and two blocks. He was totally dominant on both ends of the floor.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Playing without A.J. Hammons in the first two games of his college career, Swanigan posted a pair of double-doubles as Purdue impressed in two blowout wins, averaging 12.5 points, 12.0 boards and 2.0 assists.
Joel Berry and Nate Britt, North Carolina: Through two games, UNC’s point guard pair is averaging 30.5 points and 7.0 assists with eight combined turnovers. More importantly, they’ve also shot 12-for-20 from three.
Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The build-up to the game was all about 7-foot-6 freshman Tacko Fall of UCF, but Gibbs was the star once things tipped off, going for 35 points, five assists and five boards in the win.
Kyle Kuzma, Utah: As a freshman, Kuzma scored 103 points, grabbed 55 boards and played 252 minutes all season long. In his first game as a sophomore, Kuzma went for 23 points and 12 boards in 25 minutes.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Western Illinois
This was, by far, the biggest upset during the season’s opening weekend: Western Illinois knocking off then-No. 17 Wisconsin in the Kohl Center. We know Wisconsin is in rebuilding mode this season, but Western Illinois is not supposed to be good. They’re supposed to be bad, even by Summit League standards. They’re supposed to finish at the bottom of that conference.
And they went into Madison and knocked off a team that came within a handful of possessions of winning a national title seven months ago. It used to be that no one could win in the Kohl Center. Now Western Illinois is doing it?
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
We’re going to recognize all the mid-major programs that went on the road and knocked off a power conference foe this weekend.
William & Mary: The Tribe went to Raleigh and beat N.C. State by 17 points on the season’s opening night. That win should look good come March. Bill & Mary are among the favorites in the CAA.
Chattanooga: The Mocs went down Georgia looking for a game to steal. And they got it, beating a Bulldog team that will likely end up in the NCAA tournament in double-overtime. The Mocs are the favorites in the SoCon.
Monmouth: Monmouth flew across the country to play UCLA and USC. They get the Trojans next week, but for now they’re 1-0, having gone into Pauley Pavilion and knocked off the Bruins in OT.
Belmont: I hesitate to call this an upset — a young Marquette was favored, but this veteran Belmont team is really good. Ethan Hadds led the way with 24 points in a thrilling, 83-80 win.
North Florida: The Ospreys put up 93 on a banged-up Illinois team in their opener in Springfield, Illinois.
Alabama State: You really have to love seeing a SWAC team pick up a win over a high-major opponent. They play so many road games in November and December to fund the athletic department. The Hornets knocked off Virginia Tech on Saturday night.
Radford: Radford went into DC and knocked off Georgetown in double-overtime on Saturday afternoon thanks to this game-winning three.
Sacramento State: For the third time since 2009, Sacramento State won a buy game, going into Tempe and leaving 1-0.
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.