- North Carolina
- Notre Dame
- Miami (FL)
- Florida State
- NC State
- Georgia Tech
- Virginia Tech
- Boston College
Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Coach of the Year: Rick Pitino, Louisville
Newcomer of the Year: Brandon Ingram, Duke
G – Marcus Paige, North Carolina, Senior
G – Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia, Senior
G – Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame, Junior
F – Damion Lee, Louisville, Senior
F – Brandon Ingram, Duke, Freshman
G – Cat Barber, NC State, Junior
G – Grayson Allen, Duke, Sophomore
G – Sheldon McClellan, Miami (FL), Senior
F – Justin Jackson, North Carolina, Sophomore
F – Anthony Gill, Virginia, Senior
G – Cody Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest, Senior
G – Trevor Cooney, Syracuse, Senior
G/F – Dwayne Bacon, Florida St., Freshman
F – Jamel Artis, Pitt, Junior
C – Tonye Jekiri, Miami (FL), Senior
1. North Carolina
C – Kennedy Meeks,6’9, Senior
PF – Brice Johnson, 6’9, Senior
SF – Justin Jackson, 6’8, Sophomore
SG – Marcus Paige, 6’1, Senior
PG –.Joel Berry, 6’0, Sophomore
Reserves: Theo Pinson, 6’6, So.; Nate Britt, 6’1, Jr.; Isaiah Hicks, 6’8, Jr.; Kenny Williams, 6’3, Fr.
The Tar Bums Heels find themselves in a weird spot this year as the “experienced veteran squad” role, while the true “blue bloods” of the world continue to snag elite recruits, and deal with major roster turnover. I’m still not sure what to make of the fact that for the last 4 years, it seems most of UNCs incoming talent lingers around Chapel Hill for longer than expected. I’m sure Roy Williams is just as confused as I am, most notably with the head-scratching career that was James “Mystery” McAdoo. But then again, a lot seems to perplex ole Roy, like whether or not to call a TO when Joel James finds himself with the basketball with 6 seconds to play and down 2 in Cameron Indoor (correct answer: signal the letter “T” to the nearest zebra looking creature).
But despite recent postseason disappointments, the Heels now are the clear favorite to win this league. Returning an elite rebounding and scoring frontline, along with perhaps the steadiest point guard in the country should help. The ceiling and floor of this team will be HIGHLY dependent on 2 things:
1) The development of Justin Jackson, who showed flashes of brilliance in his opening year.
2) Finding out how much JP Tokoto really meant to this team
The commonality between these two uncertainties is shooting. UNC felt like a weirdly slow, plodding half court offensive team last year playing Jackson at the 3, and lacked spacing at times. Jackson did not shoot it well in his freshman year, but blindfolded he’s still a better shooter than Tokoto. All Jackson needs to do is become a reasonably efficient 3 point shooter on wide open looks, to ensure Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks get their space to operate in the post.
Tokoto was actually infused into the point guard role at times last year, when they would run offense for Paige, and proved to be an underrated passer and playmaker. He was also far and away their best perimeter defender. Without him taking the burden off of Paige, I have a major hesitancy thinking Paige will stay healthy. This brings me to Nate Britt, who like most D1 guards, spent their summer after freshman year working on switching from a left handed to right handed shooter. Though his experiment actually worked (shooting a respectable 37% from deep and fantastic 88% from the stripe) I would be terrified if I were a UNC fan knowing his usage will skyrocket this year. Incredibly intrigued to see how efficient he is in the early going.
Bottom Line: Given this was a top 15 team consistently for most of last year, and with almost all weapons returning, the floor is a top 10 team and a top 2 seed come March. If Marcus can stay healthy and Jackson can mature into an all ACC player (on both ends), this is a final four team and potential title squad. In other words, this is my pick to win the ACC.
C – Sean Obi, 6’9, Sophomore
PF – Amile Jefferson, 6’9, Senior
SF – Brandon Ingram, 6’8, Freshman
SG – Grayson Allen, 6’4, Sophomore
PG –.Derryck Thornton, 6’1, Freshman
Reserves: Luke Kennard, 6’5, Fr.; Chase Jeter, 6’10, Fr.; Matt Jones, 6’5, Jr.; Marshall Plumlee, 7’0, Sr.
Postseason Prediction: 1 seed
The defending natty title champs will have a much different identity this year than what we are accustomed to seeing over the last 8 years. 2008 was the last time the Devils were actually better on the defensive end than the offensive end, and I’m anticipating a similar story in 2015-2016. It’s almost unsustainable how consistently efficient the Duke guards are from 3, particularly considering all the roster turnover they’ve had over the better part of the last decade. Some credit has to go to their recruiting, but even when guys don’t project as great shooters, the balance and floor spacing produces efficient 3 point shooting teams.
I bring all this up because I’m very skeptical this roster in particular can replicate the elite shooting of recent Blue Devil teams. There is a ton of question marks about the shooting ability of the 2 stud freshmen, Brandon Ingram and Derryck Thornton. Ingram is an elite rim attacker as a 6’8 wing, and Thornton excels at finishing in the mid-range, similar to Tyus Jones last year. However, neither has shown a consistent long-range shot in high school or AAU. A ton will ride on Grayson Allen, who has been dubbed by Jay Williams as “the best shooter he’s ever seen in Cameron”, to make a high clip of his shots, and for Matt Jones to continue to hit his trademark corner spot up.
Outside of shooting, there isn’t much more concern for the fighting Krzyzewskis. The roster pieces fit together fantastically, with the Thornton and Ingram tandem molding in to prototypical pass-first point guard and true wing/slasher roles perfectly. Grayson Allen let the world know who he was in the final 20 minutes of last season, and there’s no reason why he won’t go bananas in a featured role this year. Between those three and Matt Jones on the perimeter, McDonald’s all American Luke Kennard may find himself buried on the bench for most of this year. His shooting ability may be the only thing that can get him on the floor, if the other guards aren’t able to hit outside shots consistently. And with Thornton, Grayson and Ingram expected to receive the bulk of perimeter minutes, this team should get to the line A TON, especially with Ingram attacking the rim in late shot clock situations.
Defensively, K has gotten wiser over the last 5 or so years by drifting away from his beloved full-extension pressure defense that became a staple in the late 00’s. Most of this was due to a complete lack of rim protection during a few years when there was a drought of big recruits coming to play in Durham. The loss of JAHS will no doubt prove to be an addition by subtraction effect on the defensive end, and the incoming transfer Sean Obi and freshman 5 star Chase Jeter will instantly leap frog the Devils into a much better shot blocking team. The depth inside will also go 4 deep, including Amile Jefferson and Army Lt. Marshall Plumlee returning as seniors. The depth and versatility for the interior guys will allow K to mix and match a ton defensively with opposing small-ball or bigger lineups, and allow all 4 guys to be aggressive challenging shots, with foul trouble not being a major concern. None of these 4 provide a great offensive spark, but Jeter probably has the highest offensive ceiling, showing evidence of a great midrange touch, and effective baby jump hook.
The key for this team is their style of play. The Devils will be slightly more limited in their scoring options in the half court from years past, but they have the potential to be scary good in the open court. And given that the perimeter may be the best K has had defensively in years, he should be considering reverting back to his old ways with in-your-face man-to-man pressure, knowing that better rim protection awaits behind the guards. This should result in more turnovers and easy runouts in transition, which will also take pressure off of the unproven half-court offense, as the pecking order of scoring is still very much up in the air. Though Grayson is the household name, Ingram may actually end up having a higher usage, and could very well lead this team in scoring.
Bottom Line: This team falls right in-between UNC and the Cavs as the 2nd best team in the league, and has a ceiling that rivals last year’s title squad, if Grayson, Jeter, Ingram and Thornton all take major steps forward. Expect few to none bad losses, but I would bet against compiling the resume of wins they put together before last year’s tourney.
C – Mike Tobey, 7’0, Senior
PF – Anthony Gill, 6’8, Senior
SF – Marial Shayok, 6’5, Sophomore
SG – Malcolm Brogdon, 6’5, Senior
PG –.London Perrantes, 6’2, Junior
Reserves: Darius Thompson, 6’5, So.; Evan Nolte, 6’8, Sr.; Isaiah Wilkins, 6’7, So.; Devon Hall, 6’5, So.
Postseason Prediction: 2 seed
For those of you who love those lightning-paced shootouts of UVA basketball (sarcasm alert!!!), nothing will change this year, nor will their elite efficiency on both sides of the ball. Mr. Anderson and Darion Atkins depart, which guts them of some playmaking, but also a TON of toughness, rebounding and defensive versatility. But when you return Malcom Brogdon and Anthony Gill, and gamer point guard London-town Perrantes (now in his 3rd year running the show) the drop off will in no way be significant. I also have a minor crush on Marial Shayok, who proved to be an absolute pest defender off the bench, and knocked down a respectable 38% (19/50) of his threes from deep. As the focus shifts even more towards Brogdon, Gill and Perrantes, Shayok just needs to replicate the spot up shooter role that Anderson played last year. Most of you didn’t notice the free fall Anderson saw in his 3 efficiency down the stretch, so this downgrade is less pronounced than you may think.
However, my concern remains with a slight lack of depth, particularly at the guard position, which is crucial when you play the grueling style of defense this team does every damn possession. UVA saw their offensive firepower fall from top 5 to out of the top 25 the final month and a half of the year, but maintained their elite defensive prowess to stay relevant at the top of the mountain (actually finished the year ahead of the ‘Cats for top de in the nation). Realistically, this team is probably a top 25-50 offense, but should still be a top 5 defensive unit. My bearishness on the offensive end is also due to the new shot clock, which may force UVA to research what “fast-break” or “transition” means in the nearest Webster’s dictionary (tangent: is there a competitor dictionary brand out there?). I would love to see a chart of when in shot clock Cavs shot the ball last year, in comparison to the rest of the nation. I would guess a decent amount came within the final 5 seconds they’ll be losing this year, thanks to NCAA’s attempt to NBA-ize college basketball from 35 to 30 second shot clocks.
Bottom-Line: Based on early consensus and group think already developing out there, I feel more down on this team than others, but I in no way expect this team to fall out of the top 25. While I mentioned concerns about their offense, both from a roster turnover and shorter shot clock perspective, their de actually may have less of a burden on it having to defend for 5 less seconds at time, which will matter over the course of an entire season.
4. Notre Dame:
C – Zach Auguste, 6’10, Senior
PF – VJ Beachem, 6’8, Junior
SF – Steve Vasturia, 6’5, Junior
SG – Rex Pflueger, 6’5, Freshman
PG –.Demetrius Jackson, 6’1, Junior
Reserves: Bonzie Colson, 6’5, So.; Austin Torres, 6’7, Jr.; Martinas Geben, 6’9, So.; Matt Ryan, 6’5, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 4 seed
The Ireeeeeesh (shoutout to Andrew Klimek) may actually find themselves underrated coming in to this year, after they should’ve knocked off the Wildkittens in the Elite 8 last year. The loss of Jerian Grant & Pat Connaughton may actually not be as big of a gash as folks think, pending Demetrius Jackson taking the leap he is absolutely capable of. People forget he was a McDonalds All-American, which is rare for Mikey Brey, who has made a living developing second tier recruits in to all league players (see Harangody and Harangody 2.0 (Jack Cooley) and like a million others).
All starters return except for Grant and Pat, so their spacing with 4 out 1 in should remain the same as last year. What was so awesome about this team offensively is that their efficiency was not a result of the 3 point shot, but the threat of the 3 point shot. The elite spacing resulted in EASY buckets at the rim from Grant to Auguste pick n rolls and Grant/Jackson were relentless pushing tempo off of misses on the other end. I truthfully can’t see their shooting percentages taking a hit, as Rex Pleufer comes in as an under the radar shooter/play maker, which in many ways is a clone of Steve Vasturia, who will get the start at the 4 (side note: I LOVE Vasturia). Grant actually shot only 31% from deep a year ago, and D-Jack should get a large majority of those deep balls this year. And even though his efficiency should regress in an increased usage role, it’s hard to see him dropping a full 12% from his 43% 3-point clip last year.
Notre Dame relied on a heavy dose of Grant ball screen to get the offense in rhythm and to get good looks in late shot clock situations. Jackson will need to develop into a willing passer to make plays for others that Grant was so good at. No beneficiary of Grant’s was larger than Zach Auguste, who was served fine dining every game when Auguste’s big would fly out on a high hedge, and the remaining help side D was glued to the other shooters. Jackson’s assist rate wasn’t elite by any means (15%), but he had Grant-like control of the ball, turning it over just 14% of his possessions (same as Grant). I fully expect as the offensive focus shifts to revolve around De-Jack, this assist rate will rise fast.
The one concern I have about this team is rebounding. This squad was ranked below 200 on both the offensive and defensive glass a year ago, but what you don’t realize was that Pat Superman Connaughton hauled in 7.5 boards a game as a 6’5 guard, which is mind blowing. I am by no means a fan of Zach Auguste, but if he continues to embrace his role as glorified beneficiary and continue to crash the boards effectively, I don’t see this rank plummeting to anything laughable. The Irish just need to hover around a 100 level defense, by continuing to defend without fouling and limit the 3 ball (which Brey does consistently).
Bottom Line: I will pay all readers 5 dollars if the Irish fall out of the top 10 in Offense next year, and I fully expect them to remain in the top 5. If they can maintain an above average (102nd a year ago) defensive effort next year, expect this squad to be consistently ranked all year and D-Jack to challenge Marcus Paige for POTY in the league.
5. Miami (FL)
C – Tonye Jekiri, 7’0, Senior
PF – Kamari Murphy, 6’8, R-Junior
SF – Davon Reed, 6’6, Junior
SG – Sheldon McClellan, 6’5, R-Senior
PG –.Angel Rodriguez, 5’11, R-Senior
Reserves: Omar Sherman, 6’8, So.; James Palmer, 6’5, So.; Ja’Quan Newton, 6’1, So.; Anthony Lawrence, 6’7, Fr.; Ivan Cruz Uceda, 6’10, Sr.
Postseason Prediction: 7 seed
I could not be more on the fence about this team, so expect multiple cross-outs and updates released before the final version, but for now I’ll try to remain committed to the following stance. From a roster perspective, the Canes talent is among the league’s best, returning the 2-headed backcourt of Shelden McClellan and Angel Rodriguez. For those that have more normal and reasonable college hoop-life balance, you only see Angel highlights of him taking and hitting clutch shots. His ‘nads are unquestioned, and he shows up in big games, but when you have usage rate of 30% (top 70 of all collegiate players) and shoot 30/37 percent from 3 and 2 respectively, your team’s offensive efficiency will be hindered significantly. In his defense, he did battle injuries late in the year.
As far as Shelden goes, he needs to avoid displaying a DGAF approach to playing basketball. His talent is remarkable, but you wouldn’t know it because he chooses to settle for mid-range, NBA-esque jumpers, instead of attacking the rim relentlessly and getting to the line (where he shoots 83%). He shot 20 less free throws than his 5’10 back court mate Angel Rod, which is hilariously unacceptable. Despite my over-the-top critiques, he still posted a very respectable 118 O rating, as a result of his 83/55/36 splits and a top 150 TO rate.
Ironically, the “2 best players” are the only real issues I have with the roster makeup. Manu Lecomte transferred (which gives me red flags on internal locker room chemistry), but the Canes still return rangy, athletic shooter Davon Reed (46% from deep) and two stud bigs in Tonye Jekiri and incoming Okie State transfer Kamari Murphy. My love for Jekiri may be driven by my selective watching of this squad last year, but my eyeballs told me he has better hands and touch around the rim than the 49% he shot from 2 last year, especially when he shot 73% from the foul line. Oh, and he was a top 25 O-boarder and top 75 D-boarder ANDDD a top 200 shot blocker. Speaking of top 200 shot-blockers, that also accurately labels Kamari Murphy, who played significant minutes for a back to back top 25 Okie State defense in 2013 and 2014.
Bottom Line: I trust Jimmy Lar after a year of developing some chemistry with this transfer-built team, to shift the offense to a more balanced attack that mimics the great Cane team of 2012 (Larkin, Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, etc.). With Kamari Murphy coming in and an additional development year for Jeriki, this team should take a MASSIVE leap defensively, with 2 elite shot blockers playing consistent minutes. Only Angel and Shelden’s heads are going to get in the way of this team reaching its ceiling, which should be a top 5 finish in this league, and a top 25 team nationally.
C – Mangok Mathiang, 6’10, Junior
PF – Jaylen Johnson, 6’9, Sophomore
SF – Damion Lee, 6’6, Senior
SG – Trey Lewis, 6’2, Senior
PG –.Quentin Snider, 6’2, Sophomore
Reserves: Deng Adel, 6’7, Fr.; Donovan Mitchell, 6’2, Fr.; Chinanu Onuaku, 6’10, So.; Raymond Spalding, 6’9, Fr.; Anas Mahmoud, 7’0, So.
Postseason Prediction: 6 seed
Similar to the Cuse, without a marquee dude pacing the sidelines, people would have massive concerns with this team. But the consistent defensive identity will always raise the floor of the Cardinals outlook each season, regardless of who the personnel is. Unfortunately, the personnel will be unrecognizable if you watched this team a year ago.
The blazing speed of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier both depart (one off to the NBA and the other off to the can), and will be replaced by sophomore Quentin Snider and two transfers, Damion Lee (Drexel) and Trey Lewis (Cleveland State). Quentin Snider had moments of replicating the ball screen effectiveness of Rozier and Jones, and is comfortable scoring in the paint, particularly with his floater. He did not shoot it well AT ALL as a freshman, but I project that to improve is his second year, given Pitino’s record long track record with developing small guards. Even if he continues to shoot relatively inefficiently, the bulk of the scoring load should fall on dynamic pro-prospect Damion Lee, who has been a part of multiple disappointing seasons under Bruiser Flint at Drexel. He’s coming off a season ending injury, but was having a breakout year before he was sidelined. He’s a 6’6 relentless slasher that has the James Harden model of efficiency, getting to line and converting AT A HIGH RATE (89% foul shooter on 190 attempts). On top of that, he has deep range, and is a career 40% 3 point shooter at a high-volume, giving me confidence this should not see much regression coming in to Louisville. His rangy, athletic build should also make him an effective cog in the full court zone press, but the real gem for this system is Trey Lewis. He’s exceptionally quick, and played in a similar defensive system at Cleveland State, with full court pressing and switching back in to zone at times. His steal rate isn’t great, but I’d like to think this should increase under Mafioso Rick, working next to Quentin and Damion in the press. He’s also a good shooter from deep, hitting 37% of his attempts a year ago as the featured guard for Cleveland State.
From a defensive perspective, even if the press can’t be as dominant as it has been with the elite guards Pitnio has had the past 5 years, the rim protection this year will be perhaps even better than it was a year ago with Harrell. With all the highlight blocks Montrezlzlzlzl received on ESPN, he was third on his team in block rate, behind the 2 returning bigs, Mangok “Manthang” Mathiang and Onuaku, little brother of the Cuse Onuaku. Both of these dudes posted top-100 block rates playing just under 50% of all minutes, and will be featured even more this year with the departure of Harrell.
Bottom Line: The new look Cards will be a refreshing twist from the abysmal shooting teams we are accustomed to seeing from Pitino’s recent teams, with an influx of Lewis and Lee, both of which are the best shooters he has had since Luke Hancock. The press will now be under a lot less pressure to force turnovers and get easy buckets in transition, so their 64th ranked offense from a year ago should easily climb in to the top 50, and probably well in to the 30s-40s range (I may even be conservative here). If Pitino can continue to show his brilliance on the defensive end and maximize the effort from the transfers, and the 3 top 100 incoming freshman, I trust the shot blocking presence to make this a sure fire top 15 defensive team (top 5 last year). This is a lock top 7 seed tourney team, and I’m predicting a 5-6 seed come selection Sunday, with the same postseason danger as all Ricky teams have going in to the dance.
C – Michael Young, 6’9, Junior
PF – Jamel Artis, 6’7, Junior
SF – Chris Jones, 6’6, Junior
SG – Sterling Smith, 6’4, Senior
PG –.James Robinson, 6’3, Senior
Reserves: Sheldon Jeter, 6’7, Jr.; Ryan Luther, 6’9, So.; Damion Wilson Jr., 6’5, Fr.; Rozelle Nix, 6’11, Jr.; Rafael Maia, 6’9, Sr.
Postseason Prediction: 9 seed
Since this preview is focused on predicting regular season performance, and less about the tourney, I’ll stay away from trashing Pitt’s abysmal postseason resume. Much of this I think is in part to the style of play Jamie Dixon recruits to, which seems to not translate as well in March (balance & toughness over everything [BTOE should be plastered on their warmups]). No I’m not saying having lots of options and playing hard on both ends are “not important” in the tournament, but relative to other factors, these don’t seem to correlate to deeper runs in March.
Pitt looooooves to be overvalued by the numbers almost every year, which is largely a result of their cupcake non-con schedule and their effectiveness in beating trash teams by large margins. Dixon’s intensity doesn’t tolerate letdowns against weaker opponents, so they are relatively less likely to be in close games with inferior squads, thus inflating their PPP numbers, even when adjusting for quality of opponent.
From a roster perspective, they return as much offensive value as almost anyone in the league, including their key studs Jamel Artis, Mike Young, and James Robinson, who I think is the most important player on this team from a playmaking perspective. No one shares the ball better than Pitt does, and with all relevant slashers and playmakers returning, their offensive efficiency should soar even higher than the top 30 clip they posted a year ago. What was baffling about this year was the complete and utter letdown on the defensive end, most noticeably on the boards. Perhaps we underestimated paint bosses like Talib Zanna and DeJuan Blair and overestimated the “style” of Dixons defensive toughness. The bad news is, no real incoming jolt of rebounding or shot blocking is in the forecast, with the slight exception of Rafael Maia from Brown (grad transfer). He posted excellent rebounding clips on both ends, but was an awful shot blocker for a 6’9 dude (1% block rate). Perhaps he can aid the rebounding woes of a year ago, but a lack of rim protection should still persist this year.
Bottom Line: The only optimism I see in this team getting better defensively is an extra year of roster continuity on the defensive end, and perhaps a slight switch in lady luck from opposing shooting. Pitt is one of those schools I love that plays an extended man de that limits the 3 point shot. Statistically, this is a better indicator of true 3 point defense, and Pitt was in the bottom 100 if 3 point percentage defense, despite being in the top 100 of 3 point shots allowed. Assuming a slight regression of opposing shooting should occur, this should at least bring Pitt back toward being an average D1 squad defensively. Couple that with a rock solid offense, and the floor for Panthers appears to be a top 50 team, and 8ish seed come March.
8. Florida State
C – Boris Bojanovsky, 7’3, Senior
PF – Montay Brandon, 6’8, Senior
SF – Dwayne Bacon, 6’6, Freshman
SG – Devin Bookert, 6’3, Senior
PG –.Xavier Rathan-Mayes, 6’4, Sophomore
Reserves: Jarquez Smith, 6’9, Jr.; Phil Coker, 6’8, So.; Malik Beasley, 6’4, Fr.; Terrence Mann, 6’5, Fr.; Michael Ojo, 7’1, Sr.
Postseason Prediction: 10 seed
There are a few squads this season that make the short list titled “Talent Quest for Mediocracy”. It is defined by squads with top 25 talent, that either have bonehead rosters or a King Bonehead coach. I am not quite ready to call Leonard Hamilton a bonehead per say, but this roster makeup has the potential to make the list by year end.
With that said, the combination of top-notch recruits (3 top 100 recruits, including Dwayne “Kevin” Bacon at number 14 overall), laughable size (Ojo and Bojanksy both OVER 7’1) and an emerging stud point guard (Xavier Rathan-Mayes) the Noles could easily be a top 5 ACC contender. Even beyond that, Devin Bookert provides them with some veteran leadership and proven shooting to make space for XRM and Bacon in the half-court. But before this team can make any sort of real leap, both Mayes and Bookert MUSTTTTT quit throwing the ball away. Even when the Noles gave Mayes the keys to the point guard spot last year, Bookert still turned it over a fourth of his possessions (not good), and Mayes just over a fifth. I fully expect Mayes to limit his TO rate, but if Bookert posted that clip in a reduced usage role as a junior, I’m not super confident this will get much better. The ball security of the youngsters will have a major impact for how good this team can be offensively.
Even more inexcusable than the TOs a year ago was the defensive rebounding and rim protection. With an effective height ranked 2nd IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, allowing 219 teams to grab more rebounds on the defensive end is head scratching. Hamilton seemed to lean more on the more versatile and skilled freshman Phil Cofer, as well as Jacquez Smith at the 4 and 5 spots, instead of the jolly giant Michael Ojo. While Bojanksy rebounds and defends the rim as he should, Kiel Turpin did not even crack the top 500 of all collegiate players in rebounding percentage, despite standing 7’0 tall. It will be interesting to see how Hamilton juggles the bigs this year, given that all of the massive dudes foul like crazy. Hamilton will have the choice to go smaller with Cofer and Smith, or go massive fortress with the “Big 3”. Regardless, the bigs must rebound and defend the rim better and the Cofer/Smith duo must be more efficient on the offensive end.
Bottom Line: Despite the talent coming in and even with one more year of Mayes at the point, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this team did NOT have 1 single player in the top 500 of offensive rating last year. Shot selection and perhaps making a few of those shots will need to happen at some point, in addition to the aforementioned defensive fix ups needed. I will declare myself slightly bearish on this team, and project them to hover between the 50-75 range in power rankings throughout the season, as the freshman go through some growing pains. In all honesty, this team appears one year away from being taken seriously in this league.
C – DaJuan Coleman, 6’9, R-Junior
PF – Tyler Roberson, 6’8, Senior
SF – Michael Gbinije, 6’7, Senior
SG – Trevor Cooney, 6’4, Senior
PG –.Kaleb Joseph, 6’3, Sophomore
Reserves: Chinoso Obokoh, 6’9, Jr.; Malachi Richardson, 6’6, Fr.; Tyler Lydon, 6’8, Fr.; Franklin Howard, 6’5, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 10 seed
Both the Orange and the Ville are huge question marks coming in to the year. If you remove the name on the front of the jersey, and put [insert generic coach name] on the sideline, no one would be giving either squad a prayer at a top 5 finish in this league.
The Cuse zone has shown to be one of the more consistent top defenses in the country year over year, driven more by the system than the actual personnel. However, the ceiling of the defensive effort will certainly be lowered with the departure of Rakeem Christmas, leaving some uncertainty to who will own defending the middle of the paint and controlling the defensive boards. The return of DaJuan Coleman to full form (medical redshirt a year ago) should be huge, but I don’t think he’ll have the impact Christmas did. The perimeter is primarily the same, so assessing the defensive change to this year will be most attributable to the interior performance. Cuse does bring in 3 top 100 recruits, but only one of whom will be able to help inside (6’8 forward Tyler Lydon).
On the scoring end, perhaps the most underrated player in this conference a year ago was Chris McCullogh, who dominated most of the NBA summer camp, after he chose to depart early (rightfully so after Jimmy B gave the ole F you to the entire program, most noticeably the current players). He was efficient from inside the arc, and was their most versatile scorer around the rim. Assuming Diagne will be inefficient in his early collegiate games offensively, and knowing Coleman isn’t super skilled either, perimeter scoring will be heavily relied on. The highest-rated of the incoming recruits is Malachi Richardson, who is a 6’6 slasher and from what I can tell in brief “Youtube” analysis (the same type of analysis NBA GMs do on international players), he won’t make a ton of 3s. Therefore the backcourt trio of Michael Gbinije, Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney will determine the offensive fate of this team.
Gbinije (ex-Duke transfer) is a smooth, skilled scorer, but takes many possessions/games off, and cannot be relied upon as a go to scorer in my not so humble opinion. The concern here is that he had the highest usage of any of the 3 guards, with 20% of possessions last year ending with his efforts. Kaleb Joseph feels like the right candidate to be the ”alpha” guard, but if he posts anywhere near his percentages last year (86 O Rating), the Orange could be in big trouble. The eyeball test (slightly less proven than the “youtube” test) tells me he’s a better player than this, so I’ll give him the freshman growing pains excuse.
Finally, Trevor Cooney rounds out the guards, and returns for his senior year after a down shooting year ago, after what was an outstanding year in his sophomore campaign. Anyone who watches or gambles degenerately on college hoops is terrified betting against Cuse most notably for his potential to get Kerosene-hot from deep. He is absolutely a better shooter than his numbers indicate a year ago and began to show some flashes of shot fake drive, and scoring/dishing inside. He’s a heady enough player to make more plays for the Orange than just hitting bombs, so I’m curious to see how much of the ballhandling duties he takes this year (I assume Joseph will handle most). So Trevor, while the diehard Orange fans are baffled by my defense of you, do me a favor and show up this year so I can crow once February rolls around.
Bottom Line: Despite Jimmy B’s presence and a respectable roster returning from a year ago, there are a tonnnnn of question marks for the Orange. I’m going to short this team and project them fall even further than their 59 KenPom rank a year ago, and Mr. Boeheim this year will be missing the Big Dance, not because he cheated, but because he wasn’t good enough. Much more importantly, it will be a shame to see Jim (and Bo the Grinch Ryan) retiring so soon, as the media will have to cope with a void of whine-y, complain-y, excuse-ridden pressers after the game L. No worries, Fran McCaffery showed early signs of picking up the slack last year.
10. NC State
C – Beejay Anya, 6’9, Junior
PF – Abdul-Malik Abu, 6’8, Sophomore
SF – Caleb Martin, 6’7, Sophomore
SG – Terry Henderson, 6’4, R-Junior
PG –.Cat Barber, 6’2, Junior
Reserves: Cody Martin, 6’7, So.; Maverick Rowan, 6’6, Fr.; Lennard Freeman, 6’8, Jr.; Shaun Kirk, 6’7, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: Just outside of the bubble, NIT
Marky Mark Gottfried enjoyed himself a little tourney run last year, which should keep away the hyenas (I’ve been a hyena before) from barking “You can recruit, but can’t coach” for at least 2 more years. He rode an exceptionally talented offensive roster last year, thanks to 2 infused transfers of Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner. With both of the Wolfpack top 2 perimeter scorers departing, a TON will ride on point guard Cat Barber’s emergence. Personally, I think he’s the most gifted guard in this league, and began to mature into an outstanding playmaker down the stretch for the pack. He’s lightning-quick off the dribble, and is beginning to shoot it much more consistently AND get others more involved.
The problem is that the only other offensive value returning are the handful of “semi-bigs” Gottfried played last year, all of whom are incredibly blah. Beejay Anya provides by far the biggest defensive value, especially defending the rim, but has no clue how to not foul and couldn’t even stay on the floor for the half of all possible minutes in his first two full years. Abdul-Malik Abu came on big time against the sleepwalking Nova Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen matchup a year ago, and showed some upside in developing into a solid 3rd or 4th scoring option. Caleb Martin and Cody Martin both had some moments in their freshman campaign as well, and their development will be absolutely crucial if this team wishes to remain in the upper echelon of offensive squads. Finally, Leonard Freeman regressed in his 2nd year, and proved to be overmatched in key defensive matchups in league play last year (see Duke matchup when he was torched by multiple Devils). Freeman, along with the other 3 front-liners are going to have to improve defensively individually if this team wants to avoid a major regression this year.
Bottom Line: This team should slip both offensively and defensively, but this slide can be offset by a breakout Cat Barber season, and an efficient scoring year from Terry Henderson, a legit 2 guard transferring in from West Virginia. The ceiling of this team is realistically knocking on the top 50’s door, but I’d wager (and probably wager incorrectly) that they slip to the 75-80 range, and will be hosting an NIT game on one of their two homecourts in Raleigh.
C – Landry Nnoko, 6’10, Senior
PF – Jaron Blossomgame, 6’7, Junior
SF – Donte Grantham, 6’8, Sophomore
SG – Avry Holmes, 6’2, Junior
PG –.Jordan Roper, 6’0, Senior
Reserves: Josh Smith, 6’8, Sr.; Austin Ajukwa, 6’6, Jr.; Ty Hudson, 6’1, Fr.; Gabe DeVoe, 6’3, So.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
The Orange Tigers fall into a group with Wake Forest and Georgia Tech as underrated mid-tier ACC teams that are overshadowed by the elite top tier of this conference. This team was gutted by the loss of KJ McDaniels a year ago and will also have to find someone else this year to handle a vast majority of ball handling and point defending duties that Rod Hall consumed.
With that said, this team is a safe bet to be in the top 40-50 defensively every year and with Landry Nnoko returning as a primary defensive force inside, I don’t see that trend changing this year. Offensively, the Tiggers literally could not finish from anywhere on the floor (296th in EFG% last year). Particularly, Jordan Roper, who’s generally scouted and views himself as a “shooter”, hit only 31% of his treys, and rising sophomore Donte Grantham was 40-145 from trey land (yuckie). Their best 3 point shooter, Damarcus Harrison, graduates, so it leaves a lot of question marks on who the F will make an outside shot this year. Primary scoring is left to Jaron Blossomgame, who is efficient finishing at the rim, and Nnoko is actually a nice low post scorer. Their spacing will be cramped even more this year if Roper can’t figure out how to knock down open jumpers.
The only hope, and the hope I think Brad Brownwell finds at the end of the tunnel, is Avry Holmes, incoming transfer from San Fran. This kid hit 44% of his threes on about 150 attempts 2 years ago and could provide the first real outside shooting threat this team has had in years.
Bottom Line: If Holmes is able to start right away alongside Blossomgame and Roper and Grantham can hit even a semi-respectable amount of shots, this team could actually create respectable spacing, giving Nnoko room to operate on the low block. The lack of true point guard is a massive question mark, so Holmes and Roper will need to handle the ball well if this team is going to make a leap in to the top 50 or 60 overall and compete for a tourney slot, which I think they are fully capable of.
12. Wake Forest
C – Konstantinos Mitoglou, 6’10, Sophomore
PF – Devin Thomas, 6’9, Senior
SF – Cornelius Hudson, 6’6, Sophomore
SG – Mitchell Wilbekin, 6’2, Sophomore
PG –.Cody Miller-McIntyre, 6’3, Senior
Reserves: Madison Jones, 6’1, Sr.; Greg McClinton, 6’7, So.; Doral Moore, 7’0, Fr.; Bryant Crawford, 6’2, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Maybe it’s because I watched both matchups with Duke last year intently, but this team feels much better than their 124 KP rank, and 13-19 record a year ago under Danning Manning Danny Manny Danny Manning***. Hot take alert: The Deacons will have their best frontcourt since the Timmy Duncan days. They return an absolute beast in Devin Thomas, who is an excellent post defender and rebounder, along with 6’10 Konstaninos Mitoglou, who was one of the more underrated freshman in the league last year. Couple those two with incoming 4-star 7-footer Doral Moore, and only the Tar Bums and Devils will prove to have a deeper frontline in the ACC. Offensively, Mitoglou is incredibly skilled with both hands finishing (110 O rating), but nothing is more perplexing than Devin Thomas’ 92 O Rating a year ago. The bulletproof eye ball test tells me he is more efficient than this clip, and he shot 54% the year before last. His efficiency ceiling is limited though by his blah free throw shooting, which is a shame given how much he gets to the line.
On the perimeter, “Baby Scottie” Mitchell Wilbekin returns to run the point (and some 2) alongside Cody Miller-McIntyre. Like his older bro, Wilbekin is steady and can knock down open shots, which should be plentiful this year with the frontline attention the Deacons will garner. Cody still remains the primary creator, and is fantastic from the midrange, with a sexy floater and respectable passer (top 60 in assist rate last year). However, I’d argue he could be more efficient if he shifted his shot selection more toward getting all the way to the rim and to the line, but late in shot-clock he can still be trusted to score from a variety of spots on the floor.
Bottom Line: If you can’t tell I’m bullish on the Deacs, and I think their roster, barring some slight shooting deficiencies, has the make-up to ascend in to the top 75 in all the land. With great rim protection, senior go-to-guys and emerging young talent, the only real concern I have is with the stylistic identity of this squad. While Cody Mac loves to run (and Dan Man encourages this), the bigs need to be able to run the floor well enough to keep up with a track meet tempo. Thomas is a great athlete and runs the floor well for his size, so only Mitoglou is a real concern keeping up with the pace. But I’d argue my own point (this is fun debating against 2 versions of myself) with the versatility big Mit gives them in the half court. I’m going to project a bubblicious February for Danny Manning’s squad, but I’m pulling for some glory to be restored to the other part of Tobacco Road this year.
13. Georgia Tech
C – Charles Mitchell, 6’8, Senior
PF – Quinton Stephens, 6’9, Junior
SF –.Marcus Georges-Hunt, 6’5, Senior
SG – Adam Smith, 6’1, Senior
PG – Travis Jorgenson, 6’0, R-Sophomore
Reserves: Chris Bolden, 6’3, Sr.; Tadric Jackson, 6’2, So.; Josh Heath, 6’2, Jr.; Nick Jacobs, 6’8, R-Sr.; Sylvester Ogbonda, 6’10, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: NIT
I’m writing this portion of the previews from a beach on Hilton Head, so maybe it’s a mistake I’m writing about 2 squads I’m bullish on back to back, given I’m already in an irrationally happy state of mind. Similar to the Deacons, the Yellow Jackets have a solid outlook coming into 2015-2016. A major core of perimeter scoring returns and most of the interior production does as well, AND this team gets a jolt of offensive scoring injected from Adam Smith (who I am still confused why he can play right away in the same conference after carrying Va Tech in the first half of last year). With all this is mind, if Brian Gregory doesn’t at least sniff a tourney appearance this year he should be drop-kicked out the door. Georgia Tech’s AD must be a secret family member or secret admirer of Gregory, as no coach has better avoided the hot seat coals over the last 3 years than Gregory.
A year ago this team was an OUTSTANDING rebounding group, ranking in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. The loss of Robert Sampson and Demarco Cox will be huge, but manchild Charles Mitchell returns for his senior campaign. Despite being an elite offensive boarding team, the Jackets still ranked 228th in offensive efficiency a year ago. It was their top 30 defense that saved them from being a borderline dumpster fire.
The guards feature 2 starters from a year ago, including Marcus Georges-Hunt and Travis Jorgensen. Hunt is a strong, bulldozing scorer, who posted an efficient 108 O Rating in 25% of possession used (excellent). On the flip side, Travis Jorgensen (who before I verified I was planning to praise), somehow posted a god-awful 84 O-Rating in a supporting cast role (16% usage). When I watched, he appeared to be an excellent ball handler and great passer, but I must’ve been looking down at my computer every time he threw it away, which to be clear was almost A THIRD OF THE TIME (TO rate of 30%). He didn’t shoot much, but when he did he missed, hitting only 30% of his threes and 32% of his 2s. To top it off he shot 14 free throws the entire season. I bring up all these points because I am convinced he is a better player in all 3 categories from when I saw him play AAU in late high school. I just wanted to be fully transparent on how poor he was in his freshman year, given I am convincing you he’ll be much more efficient in his second year.
A primary reason I think he’ll be much more comfortable in year 2 is the godsend transfer of Adam Smith, who will hands-down lead this team in scoring (pending he stays healthy). No one made more big shots in this league a year, outside of maybe Jerian Grant and Tyus, than Smith for the Hokies. Before he got hurt, he was 81-191 from deep (42%) and was TOP 10 in the nation in TO rate. Although he does not create for others at all, he should still take some of the pressure off of Jorgensen in ballhandling, which should lower his TOs. I haven’t even mentioned Chris Bolden, who is a 3 year starter and may not even start this year (who got hurt late in the year). The lack of an efficient and playmaking point guard may be a concern, but this team relies a lot on 1 on 1 shot making and crashing the boards to score anyway, so I do not think a lack of team assists will be a major issue.
Bottom Line: Adam Smith is an absolute stud, and what he brings are exactly what made the Gold Jackets lacked on offense a year ago. Rebounding should regress slightly, but not enough to prevent it from being an asset on both sides of the ball. Perimeter talent and depth is strong with Smith, Georges-Hunt, Bolden, Jorgenson, and finally rising sophomore Tadric Jackson, who may have the highest ceiling of any of the backcourt. Gregory gave Jackson more attention late in the year last year, and if he emerges in to the ESPN 100 talent he should be alongside Smith and the other backcourt depth, this team will win IN SPITE of their coach. After writing all that praise, I am predicting a harsh bubble snub for the Atlanta Yellow Jackets, probably as a result of an ACC tourney letdown, and hopefully a call from the Georgia Tech AD soon after inquiring about my availability to take over this head coaching position.
14. Virginia Tech
C – Satchel Pierce, 7’0, Sophomore
PF – Justin Bibbs, 6’5, Sophomore
SF – Ahmed Hill, 6’5, Sophomore
SG – Seth Allen, 6’2, Junior
PG – Devin Wilson, 6’4, Junior
Reserves: Malik Mueller, 6’3, So.; Jalen Hudson, 6’5, So.; Chris Clarke, 6’6, Fr.; Kerry Blackshear Jr., 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
Was Buzz Williams the only person who didn’t quite understand the move Buzz Williams made to leave Marquette for Virginia Tech? The man must just adore the back against the wall, underdog role, and that is PRECISELY what he got himself in to in Blacksburg. If dealing with bonehead freshman all year wasn’t enough to remove the final 4 hairs left on his head, his only hope in any offensive greatness, Adam Smith, went down with a season ending injury and then bolted town IN CONFERENCE to Georgia Tech.
The only bright point for this team was their 3 point shooting, which ranked in the top 20 for most of last year. Unfortunately, they were too busy throwing the ball away and didn’t get to chuck as much as they wanted. Buzz played a guard heavy lineup, and a ton of zone, similar to his style at Marquette. The guard depth may actually be even better this year, with incoming transfer Seth Allen from Maryland, who should provide much better ball protection that the guards who ran the show last year.
Bottom Line: With the Hokies throwing out 4-5 guards who shot it at better than 38% from deep last year and should produce a few big upsets at home. However, the loss of Smith still guts them of a real conference playmaker, so given how competitive this league is, the bottom 2-3 is safely where they will end up.
15. Boston College
C – Dennis Clifford, 7’1, Senior
PF – Garland Owens, 6’5, Junior
SF – AJ Turner, 6’7, Freshman
SG – Matt Milon, 6’4, Freshman
PG –.Eli Carter, 6’2, Senior
Reserves: Darryl Hicks, 6’2, R-Fr.; Idy Diallo, 6’11, R-Fr.; Sammy Barnes-Thompkins, 6’3, Fr.; Jerome Robinson, 6’5, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: None
Ok, so I just wrote way too much on Georgia Tech, so it just felt right to segue (no one ever writes segue, it’s just spoken out loud, like “nonchalant”, so the spelling bothers me) over to Boston College. I hope this team is spending their summers at Fenway Park and planning on skipping the upcoming season, in hopes of squeaking out a few wins in a less competitive 2017 ACC landscape.
Just a few quick notes, and we’ll go forward. Key returning starters include 7-footer Dennis Clifford and that is literally it. Eli Carter transfers in from Florida, and he may be the front runner to take more shots for his team than anyone in the country. He shot 30% from 3 last year, so expect him to go 150-450 from deep this year, and Clifford will complement him, pouring in maybe 9 a game. Supplement that with a lock-down defense anchored by freshmen, and a couple blah sophomores, this is the lock of the century to hold down the cellar of the ACC
Bottom Line: Chance to be a National Title Contender ……. In 2035.