- Matt Cox
- North Carolina
- NC State
- Virginia Tech
- Notre Dame
- Florida St.
- Miami FL
- Wake Forest
- Georgia Tech
- Boston College
All Conference Awards:
Player of the Year: Grayson Allen, Jr., Duke
Coach of the Year: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Newcomer of the Year: Harry Giles, Fr., Duke
Freshman of the Year: Harry Giles, Fr., Duke
Key Returners: Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson, Luke Kennard
Key Losses: Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton, Marshall Plumlee
Key Newcomers: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier
Postseason Prediction: 1 seed
Despite approaching the ripe old age of 70, Coach K is continuing to set the recruiting trails ablaze. Two years ago, after hauling in four of the top-25 incoming freshman (Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow & Grayson Allen), the Devils proceeded to cut down the nets in Indianapolis, defeating one of the toughest final four fields in recent memory.
Fast forward two years later, Krzyzewski finds himself with one of those four blue-chippers still hanging around campus (Grayson Allen), to go along with another elite recruiting class that is somehow better than the '15-'16 group. To fully put in perspective how talented this team will be, here's how the roster currently looks
- Rising junior and national POTY candidate Grayson Allen
- Four of the top-12 incoming freshman (Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden), and five of the top-40 (Javin DeLaurier)
- Four additional ex-McDonald's All-Americans (Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard)
It's worth noting that Allen is the only All-American last year that returns this season. The surplus of riches at Coach K's disposal will make managing both playing time and lineup combinations interesting dynamics to watch as the season progresses. The key question K needs to answer sooner rather than later is who will get the bulk of the minutes at point: Will he trust veteran guards Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard to shoulder most of the ball handling duties?... Or will he hand the keys to one of two freshman, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson, to initiate the offense?
Expect to see a lot of tinkering with this position early in the season, as Coach K and his staff assess multiple options against weaker non-conference opponents. Regardless of who is Duke's "point guard" is next March, they will most certainly not be as ball dominant as the prototypical point guards Coach K has leaned on in years past (see Tyus Jones, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer).
The Blue Devils actually dealt with a similar situation last year, as Derryck Thornton struggled mightily in his freshman year taking ownership of the point guard position. While Frank Jackson feels like the most likely candidate to get the majority of point guard minutes, the offense will likely be run through swingman Jayson Tatum, similar to how Duke ran their half-court action through Brandon Ingram last year. Much like Ingram, Tatum has an excellent mid-range game, using his length and touch to get off an array of shots against undersized wings. Tatum actually played a lot of point during his high school years at Chaminade in St. Louis (Bradley Beal and David Lee are notable Alumni), but has clearly embraced a more alpha scoring role in recent AAU and high school showcase tournaments.
While the perimeter will still be the core strength of the team, it's the improvement inside that will make this Duke team scary good. Early last season, 6'8 rebounding menace Amile Jefferson went down for the year with a foot injury, which was a major reason why Duke had issues keeping opponents off the defensive glass (ranked 330th in the country in defensive rebounding rate). After being granted a medical redshirt, Jefferson now returns for his final year of eligibility, and should get plenty of help on the boards from two incoming freshman, most notably the number 2 player in rivals.com player rankings, Harry Giles.
Giles is a hyper-athletic forward, who should be a dominant rebounder from the first time he sets foot on a college basketball court. Scouts are salivating over his soft hands and touch around the rim, as well as his sound footwork in the paint area. Marques Bolden is the forgotten incoming big for the Devils, who is more of a true center and is an excellent low-block scorer. A similar scouting report was applied a year ago to now rising sophomore Chase Jeter, who was vastly disappointing in his freshman year. However, Jeter's offseason improvement has been well-documented, evidenced by his impressive production at the Adidas Nations showcase this offseason.
The bottom-line is that this may be the most talented team Krzyzewski has had since arriving in Durham almost 30 years ago. It's tough to make any case that another team should be the favorite to win it all this year, and with K figuring out the pieces of this super puzzle, please bet the field at your own risk...
Key Returners: London Perrantes
Key Losses: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill
Key Newcomers: Austin Nichols (Memphis transfer), Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, Ty Jerome
Postseason Prediction: 2-3 seed
Tony Bennett continues to build his case that he is one of the premier coaches in college basketball. Over the last three years, Virginia has been a mainstay in the top-10 of the polls, thanks to a core veteran roster that plays with the precision Bennett preaches on both offense and defense. Now, with the departure of two key cogs from that veteran core, Bennett has promptly restocked the roster with a top-10 recruiting class, who must maintain the success of their predecessors.
The lone remaining member from that veteran core is point guard London Perrantes, who will shoulder as big of an offensive burden as any point guard in the country. Now in his 4th year as a starter, Perrantes has been a rock at the point guard position since day 1 at UVA. However, it wasn't until his junior season last year that he emerged as an elite 3-point marksman. In fact, only 5 players in the country made a higher percentage of their 3s than Perrantes did last year, who rained in 78 of his 160 attempts for a cool 49%. Along with teammate Malcolm Brogdon, Perrantes's outside shooting was a massive reason why the Cavs were able to maintain a top-10 ranked offense per kenpom.com, which provided exceptional floor spacing for the UVA bigs to work in and out of screens on the block.
With Brogdon now gone, Perrantes is hoping to get a significant scoring punch from two newcomers, freshman Kyle Guy and Memphis transfer Austin Nichols. Guy hails from the state of the Indiana, where the jump shot is most certainly king, and where he himself has developed a reputation as one of the best shooters in the 2016 freshman class. He is also much more dynamic than a pure spot-up shooter, and has the driving, passing and shotmaking skills to take some pressure off of Perrantes, especially in late shot-clock situations.
Nichols, on the other hand, may have to carry an even bigger burden defensively then Perrantes will on offense. Interior monsters Anthony Gill and 7-footer Mike Tobey both graduate, leaving Nichols as the only proven low-post presence on this UVA roster. These two anchored a front court that posted a top-20 defensive rebounding rate in each of the past three seasons. Nichols's production on the defensive glass will be critical to the Cavs defensive prowess this year, which was an area he did not excel at during his time in Memphis.
However, Nichols has in-fact proven to be a superior shot-blocker to both Gill and Tobey, which should bring an immediate boost to UVA's interior defense. Even though Virginia ranked 3rd in the ACC in FG% defense for all shots at the rim last year (per hoopmath.com data), their block rate was down significantly compared to the prior year. From the 2015 to 2016 season, UVA's 2-point FG% defense fell from 3rd in the country to 71st in the country, while their block rate fell from 35th to 113th. These declines in shot-blocking may be explained by the stout, straight-up post defense typically played by Gill and Tobey, as well as the departure of Darion Atkins after 2015. Now, with Gill and Tobey both leaving, it will be interesting to see how the rim protection and rebounding fluctuate with Nichols patrolling the paint.
The remaining guards and wings can be characterized as plus-athletes, each of whom provides the bulk of their overall value on the defensive end (Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins and Darius Thompson). Thompson and Shayok are the most likely candidates to fill some of the outside shooting void left by Brogdon, but neither has attempted more than 50 3's in a season. Thompson saw a noticeable improvement in his 3-point shot last season (39% on 41 attempts), while Shayok has hovered around 40% from deep over his last two years.
Despite the massive roles played by Brogdon and Gill last year, Bennett's timely recruiting prowess, along with the addition of Nichols, should keep the 'Hoos right in the mix amongst the nations top-15 teams.
3. North Carolina
Key Returners: Joel Berry, Nate Britt, Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Theo Pinson
Key Losses: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson
Key Newcomers: Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods
Postseason Prediction: 2-3 seed
Roy Williams enters the 2016-2017 season without two critical pieces from a team that is most likely still in shock from last year's title game. Despite a significant regression in Marcus Paige's offensive efficiency last year (most likely injury related), the Tar Heels rode the dominance of Brice Johnson to live up to their lofty #1 overall preseason ranking. While the success bar is most certainly lower entering this year, there is still plenty of roster continuity to keep the Tar Heels in the elite tier of the ACC.
The biggest offseason news for Tar Heel fans was the return of rising junior Justin Jackson, who flirted heavily with leaving for the NBA. The rangy 6'8 Jackson emerged as a go-to offensive option on the wing, doing the bulk of his scoring damage in the mid range area and around the rim. He is an excellent off-ball cutter and is always in control when he attacks off the dribble. However, the glaring weakness in Jackson's game is a microcosm of UNC's major weakness as a team, that is, the ability to make shots outside of 12 feet.
Over his last two seasons, Jackson has proven to be a subpar 3-point shooter, hitting only 30% of his 200 3-point attempts. With Marcus Paige now graduating, starting guard Joel Berry is the only remaining player on this squad proven to be a competent outside shooter. Berry was exceptional a year ago as a sophomore replacing the drop-off in Paige's offensive production, both as a scorer and distributor. He'll no doubt be the primary point guard heading into his junior year, and will be heavily relied upon to make outside shots, just like his predecessor Paige was for much of his career. Berry's backcourt mate senior Nate Britt has shown some marginal improvement over the past two years, but still continues to be a low 30% 3-point shooter, and a low 40% finisher inside the arc. The other notable guard that should get major minutes is incoming top-50 recruit Seventh Woods. Woods will surely turn heads with his open-floor speed and passing, but will likely struggle to knock down outside jumpers consistently.
On the interior, Roy Williams will have a plethora of bodies at his disposal, even with Brice Johnson graduating. Isaiah Hicks will most likely assume Johnson's starting spot at 4, alongside the big body of Kennedy Meeks. Despite Johnson's dominance on the offensive glass last year, both Hicks and Meeks actually posted higher offensive rebounding rates, which were each ranked in the nation's top-100. Throw in highly touted sophomore Luke Maye and top-30 freshman Tony Bradley to the interior mix, and the Tar Heels should maintain their elite level dominance on the offensive glass this year.
Overall, North Carolina should have an eerily similar identity to last year's team, which relied heavily on 2nd shot opportunities, and found ways to get easy buckets in transition. The one area to monitor as the season progresses will be the Tar Heels defensive efficiency metrics, specifically on the defensive glass. Just for context, UNC was the 27th best defensive team in the country last year on points per possession basis, but ranked a pedestrian 182nd in defensive rebounding rate. The fact that 181 D1 teams were better than UNC on the defensive boards is a bit concerning, especially when Brice Johnson will no longer be there to snag what felt like every opponent miss while he was on the floor. While the returning personnel is certainly capable of tightening up this issue, they failed to do so a year ago, even with Johnson in the mix.
Key Returners: Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell, Raymond Spalding, Mangok Mathiang
Key Losses: Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, Chinanu Onuaku
Key Newcomers: VJ King, Tony Hicks (Penn transfer)
Postseason Prediction: 3-4 seed
The lesson learned from last year's Louisville team is that no matter where Rick Pitinos' players come from, they will most certainly be groomed to defend at a high-level. Despite two incoming transfers starting in their first year at Louisville (Damion Jones and Trey Lewis), Pitino managed to keep his ridiculous streak of top-5 defenses alive after the Cardinals finished the 2016 season ranked as the nation's 2nd best defense. This marked the 6th, yes 6th, consecutive year in a row that Louisville has finished the season ranked in the nation's top-5 for defensive efficiency per kenpom.com.
A big reason for the defensive prowess a year ago was the interior wall provided by a few key bigs returning for Pitino this season. The most productive of this returning bunch is rising sophomore Raymond Spalding, who did just about everything right when he was on the floor. Spalding proved to be an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, ranking 2nd on the team in offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, and block rate (Chinanu Onuaku was tops in all 3 categories). However, the most impressive stat on his freshman year resume was a 3.2% steal rate, which ranked best on the team.
The other bigs to watch this year are Mangok Mathiang, Jaylen Johnson and Anas Mahmoud. All have octopus-esque length, making them all legitimate rim protectors in the half-court. Both Manthiang and Mahmoud dealt with injury issues a year ago, and many felt Johnson was underwhelming in his sophomore year, despite playing significant minutes. Pitino will need consistent production from all three to replace the paint dominance that Onuaku provided a year ago.
The Louisville perimeter will once again have a different look than it did the year before. But while the names continue to change, the same style of play will surely persist from the Pitino-coached guards. Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider will spearhead Louisville's backcourt, each of whom started last year, alongside Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. With Lee and Lewis now gone, Snider and Mitchell will need to replenish a major scoring void, and will have to do so in a much different fashion than Lee and Lewis. While the Lee/Lewis duo were able to stretch the defense with extended 3-point range, Mitchell and Snider both strongly prefer to attack the rim and score in the mid-range area. Snider was actually extremely efficient from deep last year, draining 40% of his 99 attempts from long range, but Mitchell was stone cold from beyond the arc, hitting only 25% of his 72 3-point attempts. Pitino's teams are never known for outside shooting, but Snider and Mitchell combined will need to shoot somewhere in the mid-to-low 30% range from deep in order to keep the half-court offensive spacing sufficient. "Slick Rick" also adds a senior transfer, Tony Hicks, who led Penn in scoring with 14 PPG over the past two years. He'll provide some much needed depth to the Cardinals backcourt.
The true X-factor for the Cardinals will most certainly be Deng Adel. Adel, along with highly touted freshman VJ King, are the only true wing players on this roster with the ability to guard multiple positions. Adel recently turned heads with his performance at the adidas Nations event, playing alongside teammate Donovan Mitchell, against many of the top returning college talent. Both Adel and King will need to be top-end defenders at the 3-position to ensure Louisville maintains its elite defensive standards in 2017.
5. NC State
Key Returners: Abdul-Malik Abu, Maverick Rowan, Beejay Anya
Key Losses: Anthony Barber, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin
Key Newcomers: Terry Henderson (West Virginia transfer), Dennis Smith Jr., Omer Yurtseven, Torin Dorn (Charlotte transfer)
Postseason Prediction: 6-8 seed
Despite losing an all-conference, do-everything point guard in Anthony "Cat" Barber, and two other wing/post starters to the transfer wire, Mark Gottfried should be feeling quite optimistic about the Wolfpack's outlook this season. It certainly helps when you bring two potential lottery picks into the mix...
On paper, NC State's roster has an excellent position-by-position fit, with above-average to elite talent at each spot. That high-end, NBA-caliber talent comes in the form of two incoming freshman, Dennis Smith Jr. and Omer Yurtseven. At the moment, Draftexpress.com has both Yurtseven and Smith slotted as lottery picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Son of NBA star Dennis Smith, Smith Jr. is coming off a 9-month recovery period after tearing his ACL in the fall of 2015. Smith is now fully healthy and coming off a strong showing at the adidas Nations showcase, so many feel he should be the perfect replacement this season for Barber. At 6'2, 190 pounds, Smith possesses a rare combination of size and strength, to go along with his lightning-paced handles in the open floor. He should have no trouble getting comfortable in Gottfried's hands-off, "run-and-gun" offensive style, allowing him to thrive at what he does best: push the ball at a breakneck speed, whenever given the opportunity.
While Smith has grabbed most of the preseason hype, NBA scouts are beginning to salivate over his Turkish teammate, freshman Omer Yurtseven. Despite just turning 18, Yurtseven has been uber-productive on the international stage. His per-40 minutes stats playing for the Turkish club Fenerbache were simply dominant last year: 23 PPG, 13 RPG, 3 APG, 1.5 SPG and 3.1 BPG. From watching him in the FIBA U20 Euro championships, Omer appears to be a pure low-block operator, with an excellent feel for using his feet and body effectively to create space. His bread-and-butter move is a simple baby hook, but also creates a variety of angles to score over and around opposing bigs. He's also been scouted as a plus defender, not just in protecting the rim, but also in stepping out to defend ball screens on the perimeter.
Terry Henderson will most likely start alongside Smith in the backcourt, and has not played since the 2013-2014 season when he started for Bob Huggins at West Virginia. In his sophomore year as a Mountaineer, Henderson cashed-in on 38% of his 125 3-pointers, and demonstrated he can be relied upon to take care of the ball (12% TO rate). The third member of the Wolfpack backcourt is rising sophomore, and an ex top-30 ranked freshman recruit, Maverick Rowan. Rowan entered college dubbed as one of the best shooters in his incoming freshman class, possessing a quick-release that's tough for smaller guards to contest. He certainly was not bashful letting it go from deep last year, taking 241 3-pointers as a freshman, but only knocked down a pedestrian 34%. Rowan did convert a solid 77% of his free-throw attempts, which indicates he is more than capable of maturing into a 40% long range shooter at the college level. Incoming Charlotte transfer Torin Dorn should also provide an additional scoring punch off the bench. Dorn is the forgotten piece to the Wolfpack mix, as many forget he lead Charlotte in scoring as a true freshman two years ago.
On the inside, the young Yurtseven will have all the muscle protection he needs with bruisers Abdul Malik-Abu and Beejay Anya patrolling the paint area. Both are animals on the glass, and their big bodies allow them to take on more physical interior matchups, which should help keep Yurtseven out of foul trouble.
The ultimate concern with the Wolfpack this year is how well these individual pieces will mesh together, given many of the critical pieces have not played much together. This is a golden opportunity for Gottfried to silence the critics (who call him "Gottfraud" or "Gottfired") that question his pure X's and O's coaching ability. One sign of Gottfried's recent shortcomings last season was NC State's transition defense, or complete lack thereof. No team in the ACC allowed more transition opportunities than NC State, and the Pack were rarely able to set up half court man-to-man and zone defensive looks. If Marky Mark Gottfried can get this team to play within their abilities and within their respective roles, this could be his best team since the 2012 squad that went to the Sweet 16.
6. Virginia Tech
Key Returners: Zach LeDay, Justin Bibbs, Seth Allen
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Khadim Sy
Postseason Prediction: 7-9 seed
Just to get the way-too-obvious, cliche joke out of the way now, Buzz Williams and his Virginia Tech Hokies should generate plenty of "buzz" this year in the ACC. Despite a 5-8 start in conference play last year, the Hokies rallied off 5 straight wins to close out the regular season, and climbed a whopping 40 spots in kenpom.com's overall rankings to finish in the top-60. With all 5 starters returning this year, that momentum should be rolling into the 2017 campaign.
The calling card for this Hokie team is how relentless they are attacking the rim. In fact, only one other team in all of college basketball took attempted a higher percentage of their shots at the rim and NO other team attempted more free-throws than Va Tech. A primary reason for this is ex-Maryland guard Seth Allen who, despite his turnover-prone habits and poor finishing ability at the rim, nets out to a semi-efficient offensive player because of his ability to get to the charity stripe. Allen converted 77% of his 219 free-throw attempts last year, leading the Hokies in both FT% and FT attempts.
The main weapon for the Hokies that is surely due for a breakout year is lefty forward Zach LeDay. There isn't one thing on the floor LeDay can't do and he consistently impacts the game on both ends of the floor. LeDay also extended his shooting range last year, knocking down an efficient 51% of his 2-point jumpers, and 43% of his 3s during ACC play. His ability to relocate to the short-corner or elbow when Allen and point guard Justin Robinson penetrate gets him a ton of open looks in the half-court.
The other Va Tech weapons can be found on the perimeter in 3-point marksmen Justin Bibbs, as well as redshirt sophomore Ahmed Hill. Bibbs somehow improved on the 42% 3-point clip he posted freshman year to a staggering 45% (76/169) from deep last year. Hill, after sitting out last year with a leg injury, is also a proven long-range shooter, draining 39% of his trey bombs as a freshman. One other name to keep an eye on is ex-JUCO standout Ty Outlaw who, like Hill, was sidelined with an injury for all of last year. After receiving scholarship offers from West Virginia, Oregon, Arkansas and Kansas coming out of JUCO, Outlaw certainly brings a strong pedigree to Va Tech's backcourt. Outlaw was 10th in the nation in scoring at Lee College in Texas, pouring in 22 points a contest.
The key for this team heading into 2017 is how well Allen and Robinson are able to get open shots for the other Hokie weapons, without turning the ball over. Taking care of the basketball was a major issue for both Allen and Robinson, as they both posted TO rates in the low 20% range, which is not ideal for your two primary ball handlers. If you take away their ability to draw fouls, the Hokies were an incredibly average offensive team a year ago, but return all the critical pieces to take a major step forward this season. The microscope will be on Allen and Robinson, as they must mature into more efficient offensive weapons for Buzz Williams.
Key Returners: Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, DaJuan Coleman
Key Losses: Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson, Trevor Cooney
Key Newcomers: Andrew White (Nebraska transfer), John Gillon (Colorado State transfer), Pascal Chukwu (Providence transfer), Tyus Battle, Matthew Moyer
Postseason Prediction: 7-9 seed
After making a magical run to the final four as a 10 seed last year, it's easy to forget that Syracuse finished a mediocre 9th in the ACC standings. A combination of recency bias and groupthink make the Orange a strong candidate to be highly overvalued when the 2017 season begins. Head weasel Jimmy Boeheim will have to rely much more on his frontcourt this season, after the backcourt trio of Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson and Trevor Cooney all depart for greener pastures.
While Malachi Richardson owned most of the spotlight for his tournament heroics, sophomore Tyler Lydon quietly emerged as one of the more versatile forwards in all of college basketball. Lydon looked right at home on the defensive end in the patented Cuse zone, posting an exceptional 7% block rate (ranked 71st in the country), to go along with a solid 2.3% steal rate. On the offensive side of the ball, Lydon demonstrated he can score, and score efficiently, from pretty much everywhere on the floor. His pick-n-pop, 2-man game with the Cuse guards was absolutely deadly, with Lydon raining in a team best 41% of his treys.
Lydon will be working with a brand new set of perimeter players this season, most notably Colorado St. graduate transfer John Gillon. Gillon is coming off an excellent senior season as the primary playmaker for Colorado St., and seems to be a natural fit to run the show this year for the Orange. Another key transfer will be 7'1 center Pascal Chukwu, who comes over from Providence. Chukwu is an absolute giant that should compete for the final starting spot with 5th year senior DaJuan Coleman. Both Chukwu and Coleman will be heavily relied upon to carry the bulk of the rebounding load in the middle of the zone, something that was a major issue for Cuse last year (ranked 337th in the country in defensive rebounding rate). Tyler Roberson is also back in the mix, so expect him to continue feasting on the offensive glass, and wreak havoc defensively on the bottom of the 2-3 zone.
A couple more long and athletic reinforcements arrive in the form of three top-100 freshman, Tyus Battle, Matthew Moyer and Taurean Thompson. Other than Gillon and Lydon, Battle projects as the only other player on the roster capable of consistently knocking down outside shots, after recently showing significant improvements in his outside jumper at the high-school level. Moyer and Thompson are both athletic forwards that should provide additional depth at the 4 and 5 positions.
While the offensive skill for 'Cuse appears to fall short of what Boeheim had at his disposal last year, the size and length at all 5 positions should still be well in-tact. Boeheim also started to mix up his defensive looks throughout the tournament last year, showing a deadly full-court press that tormented both Gonzaga and Virginia in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds. It will be interesting to see if Boeheim begins to show more high-pressure defensive looks this year, which allow his rangy athletes to terrorize opposing ball handlers.
'Cuse recently added Nebraska transfer Andrew White, who will be eligibility immediately. The 6'7 White was exceptionally efficient from everywhere on the floor last year and will provide a major boost to the Orange offense right away.
8. Notre Dame
Key Returners: Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem, Bonzie Colson
Key Losses: Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste
Key Newcomers: Temple Gibbs
Postseason Prediction: 8-10 seed
After being spoiled with the likes of Ben Hansbrough, Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson over the past 7 seasons, Notre Dame will now get a taste of life without an elite playmaker at the point-guard position. Head coach Mike Brey will look to versatile senior wing Steve Vasturia to take on a much larger role, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
On the surface, it's easy to peg Vasturia as a pure stand-still shooter, but he actually possesses a much more dynamic game. Vasturia loves to shot fake and attack the rim, where he took 41% of all his field goal attempts last year, compared to 39% of his shots that came from 3-point range. While Vasturia did regress in his overall shooting efficiency last season, his sophomore year shooting splits of 86/58/41 were quite impressive. Backcourt teammate Rex Pflueger projects as a similar player to Vasturia, but was slightly disappointing in his freshman year after entering Notre Dame as a top-100 recruit. Rising junior Matt Farrell is the most likely candidate to replace Demetrius Jackson at the point guard spot, but certainly won't provide the dynamic playmaking that Jackson did. Farrell will need to assert himself as an offensive threat by making outside shots, an area he struggled in last season (33% from 3).
On the interior, junior Bonzie Colson and senior VJ Beachem will get the vast majority of minutes at the 4 and 5 positions. Standing only 6'5, Colson had an excellent sophomore season, posting a team best 122 O-Rating, much of which was due to an automatic mid-range jumper. He also supplemented his nice shooting touch with strong rebounding and shot-blocking production, giving Brey no choice but to insert him in the starting lineup over the more highly touted recruit Pflueger last year. While Colson tends to operate more in the paint and mid-range area, the rangy 6'8 VJ Beachem tends to play more on the perimeter. Blessed with pogo-stick hops and a silky smooth jumper, Beachem is poised for a breakout season in his senior year. He cashed in 45% of his 198 3-balls last year, and was an efficient mid-range shooter and finisher at the rim.
The major question for the Irish team entering 2017, as it seems to be ever year, lies on the defensive side of the ball. Mike Brey played a ton of zone last season to hide some of the athletic deficiencies and size mismatches at the forward spots. The zone did do a decent job at limiting 3-point opportunities, but opponents still managed to rain in 37% of their 3s against them. Assuming this regresses to the mean this season, controlling the boards will become the focal point of necessary improvements, especially with the departure of center Zach Auguste. With Colson, Beachem, and 6'7 Austin Torres expected to own much of the rebounding responsibilities, there has to be some concern on the defensive glass this season, especially since the Irish ranked 285th in the country in defensive rebounding rate last year.
9. Florida St.
Key Returners: Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon
Key Losses: Malik Beasley, Devon Bookert
Key Newcomers: Jonathan Isaac, Braian Angola-Rodas (JUCO), Trent Forrest, CJ Walker
Postseason Prediction: 10-12 seed
Much like NC State, this year's Florida State team is loaded with an abundance of talent from both returning impact players and incoming freshman. The backcourt is led by Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwyane Bacon, both of which are top-tier prospects with at least a year of college hoops experience under their belt. An ex top-50 recruit, Rathan-Mayes is now entering his 3rd season as the primary point guard and ball-handler for Leonard Hamilton and the 'Noles. After a turnover prone freshman campaign, Rathan-Mayes made only marginal improvements as a "true point guard" in his sophomore year, posting eerily similar assist rates and turnover rates in his first two seasons. It's becoming more clear that his natural position is playing more off-the-ball, but with the departure of steady veteran Devon Bookert, Rathan-Mayes will be relied upon even more this season as a playmaker and distributor.
In his freshman year, Dwayne Bacon was not hesitant whatsoever looking for his scoring opportunities, as he took a whopping 30% of his team shots while on the floor. While Bacon was relatively efficient scoring inside the arc and around the rim, both him and Rathan-Mayes were liabilities as outside shooters. Both shot under 30% from beyond the arc last year, which was especially problematic given they took a combined 256 3-point attempts. In fact, Bookert and Malik Beasley were the only respectable 3-point shooters last year for the 'Noles, and neither will be in the picture for head man Leonard Hamilton this season.
A key newcomer that the masses may not be aware of is incoming JUCO all-american Braian Angola-Rodas. Angola-Rodas did pretty much everything last year for his JUCO team Idaho College, averaging 21 PPG, 7 RPG and 4 APG, to go along with a casual 3 steals per game. He, along with top-15 freshman Jonathan Isaac, four-star guards Trent Forrest and CJ Walker, and three-star forward Mfiondy Kabengele, headline a top-10 recruiting class this year for the 'Noles.
The 6'10 185 pound Isaac is by far the most heralded of the freshman group, who projects as an ultra-versatile 3 or 4. His guard-like skill set has many NBA scouts intrigued with his potential at the next level, but is still one of more raw incoming freshman in the 2017 class. Isaac will need to add significant upper body strength in order to become a consistent finisher at the rim at the D1 level. He will no doubt give Hamilton a ton of lineup flexibility, with the Noles able to play "small" with Isaac at the 4, or big with him at the 3.
The interior depth continues to be a huge strength for this Florida St. squad, with three legitimate bigs expected to be in the mix at the 4 and 5 positions. Senior Jarquez Smith got the bulk of minutes at the 5-spot a year ago, and seems to be the obvious choice for Hamilton to start alongside Isaac. Coming off-the-bench, Hamilton has a pair of "Monstar" bigs, with 7'1 Michael Ojo and 7'4 Chris Koumadje, to go along with 6'8 Phil Cofer.
Though Ojo and Cofer missed time last year with injury issues, it is head-scratching why Florida St. was not better defensively, particularly on the interior. The 'Noles ranked 175th in the country in 2-point FG% defense and 152nd in FG% defense on all shots at the rim. Hamilton needs to figure out a way to improve their rim protection and defensive rotations, or more of the recent mediocracy will continue to be the norm in Tallahassee.
Key Returners: Jaron Blossomgame, Avry Holmes, Donte Grantham
Key Losses: Landry Nnoko, Jordan Roper
Key Newcomers: Marcquise Reed (Robert Morris transfer), Elijah Thomas (Texas A&M transfer in December), Shelton Mitchell (Vanderbilt transfer)
Postseason Prediction: NIT
The fact that Clemson and Pitt are projected to finish 10th and 11th respectively proves just how deep the ACC is this season. One could make a case that either team is good enough to finish in the top-6 of the conference, but a few critical personnel losses for both squads will be tough to replace.
For Clemson, those two pieces are Jordan Roper and Larry Nnoko, who each played critical roles at the point guard and center positions last season. While the Tigers 79th ranked defense a year ago is by no means poor, it was surprisingly the worst defensive team that Brad Brownell has had in his 7 years at Clemson. Breaking down the defensive metrics, it seems much of this decline was a bit of bad luck, as opponents shot significantly better from behind the arc against the Tigers than in years past. Clemson was certainly effective at defending the rim and getting back in transition, two signs of a sound and well-coached defensive team. The 6'11 Nnoko was a massive reason that Clemson blocked more shots at the rim than any other team in the ACC. The likely replacement for Nnoko is senior Sidy Djitte, who possesses Nnoko's size, but was extremely foul prone in limited minutes a year ago.
On the perimeter, Jordan Roper morphed into an effective primary ball handler for the Tigers last year, posting solid assist and turnover rate clips. Avry Holmes played alongside Roper last year at the 2, and should be asked to handle additional ball handling responsibilities this year. The ex-San Francisco transfer came in as highly regarded 3-point shooter after draining 43% and 47% of his trey bombs in his freshman and sophomore years, but only connected on 33% of his 150 3-point attempts last year. Brownell will have an interesting decision with who to start at the point, especially now with the addition of Vanderbilt transfer point guard Shelton Mitchell. During his freshman year at Vandy, Mitchell proved to be a high-risk playmaker, posting an absurd 33% assist rate, to go along with a horrendous 30% TO rate.
The other two key perimeter pieces for the Tigers will be Robert Morris transfer Marcquise Reed and rising sophomore Gabe DeVoe. Given DeVoe's poor sophomore year shooting and taking care of the basketball, Brownell may give the starting nod to Reed, who was Robert Morris's go-to-guy as a freshman two years ago. At Robert Morris, Reed posted impressive shooting splits of 78/51/41, and tormented opposing guards on the defensive end (his 4.1% steal rate ranked 27th best in the country). Reed should bring an immediate improvement to the Tigers perimeter defense, which struggled mightily to force turnovers last season.
While Brownell figures out his rotations with players in new roles, he will need the ACC's most improved player, Jaron Blossomgame, to build upon the leap he made last season. Blossomgame was far and away Clemson's most consistent offensive performer, proving that he can score from all over the floor. His 78/54/44 shooting splits, to go along with the best turnover rate on the team, make him one of the most complete scoring wings in the ACC. He will need to get more efficient scoring help from swing 4-man Donte Grantham, who seemed too content settling for outside jumpers last year. At 6'8 with the ability to penetrate against smaller 4s, Grantham needs to shift his focus to attacking to the rim and getting to the line, especially since he converted 85% of his attempts from the charity stripe last year. There's no reason with Grantham's size and athleticism that he should lead his team in 3-point attempts, despite knocking down a respectable 35% from deep last year.
Key Returners: Jamel Artis, Michael Young, Chris Jones, Sheldon Jeter
Key Losses: James Robinson
Key Newcomers: Justice Kithcart, Crisshawn Clark (JUCO), Corey Manigault
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Kevin Stallings enters his first year at the helm for the Pitt Panthers, inheriting one of the most imbalanced rosters in the ACC that is loaded with inside depth, but lacks proven guard play on the perimeter. With the devastating loss of floor leader and point guard James Robinson, Pitt will be severely undermanned in the backcourt, specifically at the point guard position. There should be a clear 6-7 man rotation that Stallings will utilize, but only 2-3 are true guards. Stallings best lineup may involve starting three forwards, Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter and Michael Young, all of which are coming off excellent junior seasons.
The major question marks for Pitt this year revolve around two unproven guards, sophomore Damon Wilson and top-150 incoming recruit, Justice Kithcart. Kithcart projects as a true point guard, so it would make logical sense for him to step right into starting lineup at the 1. If Stallings does in-fact go with a bigger lineup, Kithcart will likely be competing directly with Wilson for playing time, assuming 6'6 senior wing Chris Jones or 6'7 sophomore Cameron Johnson start at the 3. As a freshman, Johnson was one of Pitt's only consistent outside shooters, but Jones is the incumbent starter on the wing. Expect 3-star freshman Corey Manigault to also get in the mix, which should give Stallings plenty of options on the wing and at the forward positions.
Even though this Pitt roster lacks the talent of Stalling's Vanderbilt team last year, there should be no issues getting this team to buy-in to Stalling's motion-based offense. Before bolting for TCU this offseason, Jamie Dixon was starting to develop an offensive identity at Pitt, which was defined by exceptional off-ball movement and screening and almost no reliance on individual playmaking. Over the last four years, Pitt ranked in the nation's top-20 for % of field goals that were assisted, demonstrating the culture of unselfishness that Dixon emphasized. Stallings should find this sharing culture refreshing, given he had to watch countless selfish episodes of Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones force the action for his Vanderbilt team last year.
12. Miami FL
Key Returners: Ja'Quan Newton, Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
Key Losses: Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Tonye Jekiri
Key Newcomers: Rashad Muhammad (San Jose St. transfer), Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell, Rodney Miller
Postseason Prediction: NIT
If Clemson and Pitt feel disrespected with 3MW's ACC projections, then Jim Larranaga should feel like he's getting slapped in the face. It's tough to imagine the 'Canes finishing 12th in the conference, especially after a sweet 16 run last March. As aforementioned, the middle-tier depth in the ACC this year is just that good, and replacing the three most important players from last year's 'Canes squad will be a major challenge for Larranaga.
The U's success in 2017 will depend heavily on the emergence of three guards will be taking on more prominent roles this season: Ja'Quan Newton, Davon Reed and Bruce Brown. After starting each of the last two seasons, Reed has proven to be an efficient outside shooter, and significantly improved his mid-range game last year. He, along with Newton, will have to carry the bulk of the scoring this season, with Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez both graduating. Newton does his damage almost entirely inside the arc, attempting only 26 3's, compared to 202 2's a year ago. Just over half of all Newton's field goal attempts were 2-point jumpers, making him prone to inefficiency on the offensive end. With most of the outside shooting gutted from this Canes team, it will be tough for Newton to penetrate and create offense with limited floor spacing. Brown is a top-30 incoming freshman recruit, who excels in the open floor with his elite speed and ball handling. However, given Larranaga loves to play at a snail's pace offensively, there is some concern about how well Brown will fit on this Miami team. Brown may also find himself playing a lot more off the ball than he is accustomed to at the high-school and AAU levels.
Larranaga is hoping to find some long-range shooting consistency from rising sophomore Anthony Lawrence and San Jose St. transfer Rashad Muhammad. Both have a decent track record of knocking down 3's efficiently, with Lawrence hitting 43% of his 42 attempts last year and Muhammad hitting 36% of his 152 attempts two seasons ago.
On the inside, the departure of Tonye Jekiri will be a significant loss for the Canes, but 6'8 senior Kamari Murphy should have no problem anchoring the interior defense. An ex-Oklahoma State transfer, Murphy is a proven rim protector and excellent rebounder on the defensive end. He'll play a ton alongside McDonalds All-American Dewan Huell, a hyper-athletic and skilled forward, who decided stay home for his college education and play for the U.
In order for the Canes to crack the top-half of the ACC standings, the heralded freshmen, Brown and Huell, will need to make major steps forward early in the season. If neither are able to make an immediate impact, Miami will struggle mightily to score efficiently in the half-court.
13. Wake Forest
Key Returners: Konstantinos Mitoglou, Bryant Crawford
Key Losses: Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre
Key Newcomers: Keyshawn Woods (Charlotte transfer), Austin Arians (Milwaukee transfer), Brandon Childress
Postseason Prediction: None
The recurring theme for bottom-tier ACC teams this season is the challenge of replenishing the loss of critical pieces. The same story is true for Wake this year, who lose their best guard and best big in Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas.
However, head man Danny Manning had to be pleasantly surprised with emergence of 6'3 200 pound freshman guard Bryant Crawford, who looked to be right at home in Wake's up-tempo offensive pace. Bryant was extremely comfortable as the lead playmaker in the open-floor, where he routinely uses his "running back-esque" speed and size to put pressure on the backpedalling defenders. He also surprised many with his respectable outside jumper, but still has work to do improving his scoring efficiency inside the arc.
Given Bryant's ball dominance offensively, his play is critical for Wake winning the turnover battle, a battle they consistently lost a year ago on both sides of the ball. The Demon Decons gave the ball away plenty last year, ranking 295th in offensive turnover rate, and rarely turned their opponents over, ranking 327th in defensive turnover rate. While Crawford will certainly need to improve his own ball security (24% TO rate last year), increasing minutes for cerebral off-guard Mitchell Wilbekin should help in this area. While the little brother of Florida stand-out Scottie Wilbekin lacks the explosiveness of Bryant, he hardly ever gives the ball away, evidenced by an impressive top-40 TO rate in the country.
While Devin Thomas's elite paint production will be a big void to fill, Manning should still have solid interior depth at his disposal this season. Wake's frontcourt is extremely versatile, with all 3 forwards having the ability to step away from the basket and knock down otuside shots. 6'10 sophomore John Collins displayed an excellent mid-range jumper last season as a freshman, and will likely start at the 4-spot. With Collins playing next to 6'10 rising junior Konstantinos Mitoglou, Wake should have consistently good floor spacing, with Mitoglou having also possessing a nice shooting touch extending beyond the 3-point line. The other interesting piece for Manning is Milwaukee transfer Austin Arians. Arians played the bulk of his minutes at Milwaukee at the 3, but has proven to be an all-around offensive player that can post-up inside, as well as knock down perimeter jumpers.
The one concern that lingers with this group of forwards is on the defensive end, particularly on the glass. Devin Thomas was a one-man cleaning crew on the boards last season, but Wake still ranked 250th in the nation in defensive rebounding rate. Rebounding defensively this season will most certainly need to be a by-committee effort if the Decons have any chance to improve on that mark from last year.
14. Georgia Tech
Key Returners: Josh Heath, Quinton Stephens, Tadric Jackson
Key Losses: Marcus Georges-Hunt, Chris Bolden (transfer), Nick Jacobs, Adam Smith, Charles Mitchell, Travis Jorgenson
Key Newcomers: Justin Moore, Christian Matthews, Josh Okogie
Postseason Prediction: None
Exit Brian Gregory... Enter Josh Pastner...
After the higher-ups at Georgia Tech gave ex-head coach Brian Gregory three seasons too many to right the sinking ship in Atlanta, they finally pulled the trigger this offeason and brought in Memphis lifer Josh Pastner. Just ask any Memphis fan, and they'll tell you from a pure X's and O's perspective, this hire is in no way an upgrade to Gregory. Pastner consistently brought in top-notch talent to Memphis, but never took that talent further than the 2nd round of the big dance. Despite his postseason woes, Pastner should have no problem maintaining his success on the recruiting trail, now working in another large southeast market.
Ga Tech loses their top-4 scorers from a team that finished tied for 11th in the ACC last year, despite ranking inside the top-50 in kenpoms.com overall rankings. Last season, the Yellow Jackets were surprisingly the 35th most efficient offensive team in the country, much of which was due to elite offensive rebounding and ball security. Unfortunately, the key pieces that were responsible for this production will be gone this year, making a significant regression on the offensive side of the ball highly likely. Only two players in the nation grabbed more offensive rebounds when they were on the floor than Charles Mitchell, and Ga Tech's second best rebounder Nick Jacobs also graduated this offseason. On the perimeter, Pastner will also be without the Yellow Jackets top-2 scorers in Marcus Georges-Hunt and Adam Smith, both of whom carried the bulk of the ball handling, playmaking and outside shooting production for the Jackets last year.
Josh Heath will now see a significant increase in his role, but has not proven to be a reliable ball handler or scorer in his past two seasons. While Heath's 26% assist rate is impressive, he posted a poor 25% turnover rate last year, which is concerning given he will have the ball in his hands a majority of the time this season. The 2nd member of the backcourt will be rising junior Tadric Jackson, who also struggled in limited minutes coming off the bench last year. What's perhaps most concerning about Heath and Jackson is their outside shooting ability, as each shot an abysmal sub 30% from beyond the arc last season.
The only returning starter for the Jackets is 6'9 stretch-4 Quinton Stephens, who like his fellow guards, also struggled to knock down outside shots (32% on 97 attempts). Stephens has not proven to be a consistent rebounder either, and will have to pick up the mounds of slack leftover from Mitchell and Jacobs leaving.
This is surely year 1 of a complete rebuilding project for Josh Paster. A glimmer hope may reside in top-150 freshman recruit Josh Okogie, who may very well find himself in the starting lineup when the season begins.
15. Boston College
Key Returners: Garland Owens, Jerome Robinson
Key Losses: Eli Carter, Dennis Clifford
Key Newcomers: Connar Tava (Western Michigan transfer), Maurice Jeffers (Delaware transfer), Ty Graves, Mike Sagay, Nik Popovic
Postseason Prediction: None
The 3MW outlook on the Golden Eagles last year may have somehow been too bullish, given BC went 0 for the schedule in ACC play. BC finished the year with 19 straight losses to conference opponents and graduated their top-2 scorers this offseason, crushing any hope whatsoever of a significant improvement this year. In BC's defense, one of those players was ex-Florida transfer Eli Carter, who was a predictable disaster in the alpha-dog role last season. Carter chucked up 229 3's last year, but only made 28% of them, so the "addition by subtraction" theory may hold some weight here...
To compound the bearish outlook for BC this year, three freshman from last year's team transferred out this offseason, leaving head coach Jim Christian with almost zero young "talent" to build around. He'll have to rely on a patchwork group of returning veterans, as well as a few mid-major transfers.
Sophomore Jerome Robinson is one of two returning starters, coming off of a relatively solid freshman year. When Carter didn't have the ball in his hands (which was basically never), Robinson settled into the lead guard role for BC, ranking 2nd on the team in assist rate. Garland Owens is the 2nd returning starter, but didn't provide much value in any aspect for the Eagles a year ago.
Since Reggie Jackson graduated in 2011, BC has gone 4-12, 7-11, 4-14, 4-14 and 0-18 respectively in ACC conference games. Post Al-Skinner life has been brutal for diehard Golden Eagle fans, assuming there are in-fact diehard BC hoop fans still out there...