ACC Preview 2017-18

-Jim Root 

Note: Predicted conference standings may not line up exactly with our Top 40 rankings; this is because Top 40 were ranked via consensus voting, while individual conference ranks are up to the specific writer. 



Player of the Year: Bonzie Colson, Sr., F/C, Notre Dame
Coach of the Year: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Newcomer of the Year: Marvin Bagley, Fr., F, Duke
Freshman of the Year: Marvin Bagley, Fr., F, Duke


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1. Duke

See full preview here: #1 in our Top-40 countdown

2. Louisville

See full preview here: #10 in our Top-40 countdown

3. North Carolina

See full preview here: #15 in our Top-40 countdown

4. Miami (FL)

See full preview here: #14 in our Top-40 countdown

5. Virginia

See full preview here: #31 in our Top-40 countdown

6. Notre Dame

See full preview here: #21 in our Top-40 countdown

7. Virginia Tech

See full preview here: #25 in our Top-40 countdown

8. NC State

Key Returners: Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, Abdul-Malik Abu, Omer Yurtseven, Ted Kapita
Key Losses: Dennis Smith Jr., Terry Henderson, Beejay Anya
Key Newcomers: Al Freeman, Lavar Batts, Sam Hunt, Braxton Beverly


Outlook: It’s hard to say which team had more of a coaching upgrade this offseason: NC State going from Mark Gottfried to Kevin Keatts, or LSU going from the cadaver known as Johnny Jones to Will Wade? As a Mizzou fan who desperately wanted Keatts to take over in Columbia, I’ll give the slightest edge to NC State – his predecessor was certainly a great recruiter, but the team’s execution, discipline, and shot selection always left a lot to be desired. Last year’s talented roster going 4-14 in the league was a travesty, and although the Wolfpack loses a stud in Dennis Smith Jr. plus other rotation players, there’s enough talent here to show some improvement in the standings.

Perhaps the most important part of Keatts’s offseason was adding more pieces to play his preferred style – a plethora of guards and wings, spacing the floor around a pick-and-roll on offense (37.1% of the time, third-most in the country), and exhibiting constant pressure on the defensive end. To that end, retaining Gottfried’s best recruit (Lavar Batts) and adding another skilled scoring guard (Braxton Beverly) while also adding grad transfers Al Freeman (Baylor) and Sam Hunt (NC A&T) should give the roster a nice infusion of perimeter skill. They’ll join Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn in the rotation, and Dorn in particular is a crucial element for this year’s Wolfpack team.

Keatts loves to play four guards, and that strategy requires at least one big guard who can rebound and neutralize an opposing big. Dorn is a sturdy 6’5, 210 pounds, and he grabbed basically the same share of defensive rebounds as center Omer Yurtseven last season (16.5% vs 16.9%), making the redshirt junior the perfect candidate to fill the CJ Bryce/Chris Flemmings role (at least until Bryce is eligible next year after following his coach to the ACC). With plenty of smaller guards and slashers, the former Charlotte transfer’s development will be paramount to the Wolfpack’s attack.

Another part of what made UNC-Wilmington’s attack so dangerous was the presence of Devontae Cacok, the NCAA leader in field goal percentage and a monster roll man who dunked everything. His athleticism and hands allowed him to take advantage of space in the lane, and Keatts will have several options to fill that spot in Raleigh. Yurtseven is a nice pro prospect and a skilled big man, but he’s more of a traditional back-to-the-basket player and may be a poor scheme fit under the new regime. On the other hand, Abdul-Malik Abu is a devastating vertical athlete, and if he gets comfortable barreling down the lane and finishing lob passes, he could thrive. Ted Kapita will also see some time as the lone big man (or at the four if Keatts decides to play big), and like Abu, he seems to be a more natural fit for Keatts’s system than Yurtseven.

Editor's note: Kapita is no longer on the squad. More minutes with Yurtseven as a conventional 5-man seem likely. 

Defensively, Keatts wants to pressure like crazy. He’s made it clear this summer that he wants his players to be in peak physical condition (prompting them to refer to summer workouts as “track practice”), and with that conditioning, the Wolfpack should be ready to execute Keatts’s various pressure schemes. Last year’s NC State squad played a conservative (read: soft) style, never forcing turnovers, and a more engaged defensive attack will be a welcome change of pace, both figuratively and literally.

Bottom Line: Changes abound in Raleigh, but I fully expect Keatts to have an immediate impact on the Wolfpack’s success. Whether that means a bid to the Big Dance is dicey, though it will help that the conference won’t be quite as insanely deep and tough as last year. The roster has skill and athleticism, and if the players buy into the Keatts system from Day 1, NC State’s return to prominence may happen sooner rather than later.

9. Wake Forest

Key Returners: Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, Brandon Childress, Mitchell Wilbekin
Key Losses: John Collins, Austin Arians, Dinos Mitoglou
Key Newcomers:  Chaundee Brown, Melo Eggleston, Terrence Thompson


Outlook: Had everyone returned, Wake Forest would be looking at a top 20ish ranking this season. Alas, John Collins aced out of Danny Manning’s School of Big Men and went pro, Dinos Mitoglou plodded back to Greece, and Austin Arians graduated, leaving Wake with a gaping roster hole in the frontcourt.

Collins was a major reason for Wake finally climbing back into the tournament for the first time since 2010. As a devastating one-on-one scorer, intimidating shot-blocker, and monster on the glass, he made the Deacons better (read: actually decent) on both ends of the court:

Without him drawing major defensive attention in the paint, hyper-efficient guards Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods may not see as many open perimeter shots and driving lanes. Can anyone fill that void inside and become Manning’s latest successful big man student?

Doral Moore is the most likely to emerge, but he was extremely raw last year (turned it over constantly, fouled at an insane rate) and must take gigantic strides to be anywhere near the presence that Collins was. He’s an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker when on the court, but he’s as polished as a neglected dress shoe – expecting him to be a one-on-one threat is probably unrealistic. Beyond Moore, the team had essentially no experience until they were able to add Marshall grad transfer Terrence Thompson late in the offseason. Sam Japhet-Mathias, Donovan Mitchell, and Rich Washington barely saw the court last year in their rookie campaigns, and freshmen Olivier Sarr and Sunday Okeke are raw. Thompson will likely start, and he was effective in Marshall's high-tempo system, but he's merely a stopgap this year.   

Manning’s best answer may be to play four guards, especially with Brandon Childress and Mitchell Wilbekin returning to provide more shooting and playmaking on the perimeter.  True freshman Chaundee Brown is the gem of the class, and his size (6’5, 210) is an element that the current roster doesn’t really have – his mature frame could allow him to play some minutes as an undersized four in those small lineups. He’s a physical guard that uses his frame to get to the rim and compete on the glass, exactly what Wake needs from that spot. Fellow freshman Melo Eggleston is skinnier but taller (6’8, 190), but he could also use his vertical bounce to help the Deacs on the glass and his athleticism to attack mismatches on the perimeter.

Wake’s fatal flaw last year, though, was their perimeter defense. The guards simply could not stay in front of opposing drivers, forcing help and opening up shooters all over the floor. Collins could only erase so many mistakes, and if the perimeter defense continues to be a sieve, Moore will constantly be camped on the bench with foul trouble. Childress and Crawford, in particular, have the athleticism to be far better in this regard, and any progress would be a great boost to Wake’s terrible defense (ranked 176th in KenPom’s adjusted D).

Bottom Line: Like many other ACC teams, Wake has an extremely promising backcourt but a completely unproven group of forwards. Will that be enough? Danny Manning has proven to be a big man whisperer, so it would not be stunning to see Eggleston or Moore experience a breakout this year. On the other hand, the Demon Deacons didn’t guard anyone last year, so figuring out a way to not get cut to ribbons on the defensive end will be crucial. The days of simply outscoring opponents may be gone without the singular talent of Collins roaming the paint.  

10. Georgia Tech

Key Returners: Ben Lammers, Josh Okogie, Tadric Jackson, Justin Moore
Key Losses: Quinton Stephens, Josh Heath, Corey Heyward
Key Newcomers: Brandon Alston, Jose Alvarado, Curtis Haywood II


Outlook: After a season of massive overachievement, the Yellow Jackets look to take another step, this time into the NCAA Tournament. In perhaps Jon Rothstein’s worst call of all time, he said GT would win zero (0) ACC games and that Josh Pastner had the least talented Power 5 roster ever assembled. Instead, Josh and the Jackets finished 8-10 in the league, finally giving the Ramblin’ Wreck fans something to cheer about with a 7-2 finish at home in ACC play.

For those that can do math, you know that means they went 1-8 on the road, and you probably also know that 1-8 is bad! Despite playing several juniors and seniors, Georgia Tech was a very inexperienced team (310th in Minutes Continuity, a measure of how much turnover a team’s roster had). Arguably the team’s three best players return this season, and with that comes something completely foreign to last year’s squad: relatively optimistic expectations.

Unfortunately, I remain a little bearish on the Yellow Jackets jumping into the conference’s top half. The chief reason is GT’s offensive strategy – they ranked second in the country in percentage of points scored from two-point range while also losing their best (only) respectable outside shooter. The complete lack of shooting and floor spacing puts a cap on their offensive ceiling, and for a team that finished 259th in KenPom’s rankings on that end, that’s a major cause for alarm. Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson both flashed potential as shooters, but neither was a consistent enough threat to alter how defenses guarded them.

Pastner will give Curtis Haywood and Jose Alvarado, two incoming freshmen, every chance to show they belong right away. Neither has a true “knockdown shooter” reputation, but they’ll fit in well with the team’s physical, attacking identity on both ends of the court. Alvarado will push Justin Moore for a starting job at point guard right off the bat, as Moore’s criminally poor shooting (3/10 from deep all season, 53% from the FT line) were major culprits in the team’s overall lack of three-point production.  

Quite simply, the Jackets won with defense. They used their length and athleticism to constantly bother shooters, and the emergence of Ben Lammers as a rim-protecting savant made their interior D one of the country’s best. Lammers also had significant development on the offensive end, but his ability to block shots without fouling made him truly invaluable. He was the overwhelming choice for Defensive Player of the Year, and he will be in the running for that award on a national level this season.  

Bottom Line: Pastner has GT moving in the right direction extremely quickly after taking over for Brian Gregory, but he’ll need a major offensive lift from several newcomers to continue to outstrip prognostications this season. Okogie will be an ACC star some day, but until he refines his shot, he will fall a tier below the Bruce Browns and Grayson Allens of the league. Despite what should be another excellent defense in Atlanta, I see the Jackets staying comfortably in the ACC’s bottom half.  

11. Florida St. 

Key Returners: Terance Mann, Trent Forrest, Braian Angola-Rodas, CJ Walker
Key Losses: Jonathan Isaac, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Jarquez Smith
Key Newcomers: MJ Walker, Ikechukwu Obiagu, RaiQuan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, Anthony Polite


Outlook: Florida State’s 2016-17 season was one of extremes – for the first 20 games, FSU was basically unbeatable, ripping off an 18-2 start with wins over Minnesota, Florida, @Virginia, Duke, and Louisville. Leonard Hamilton’s was one of the tallest, most athletic teams in the country behind its big three of Jonathan Isaac, Xaver-Rathan Mayes, and Dwayne Bacon; however, they finished just 8-7 and didn’t make it out of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend. All three stars left early for the NBA, meaning Hamilton will need several other high-potential players to improve quickly to rediscover last year’s early success.

Hamilton has never been a favorite of mine – his teams rely more on athleticism and size than strong principles defensively, and the offense can have a “my turn, your turn” feel to it. His admittedly great recruiting magnifies these flaws – his collection of talent over his tenure belies the fact that he’s made only five tournaments in 15 years. If the NBA-level athletes had played with more discipline on both ends of the floor, that track record would be much better.

This year’s team will be no different. The ‘Noles have a plethora of 6’4-6’6 wings who will exhibit their coach’s tenets of perimeter pressure, knowing that when they get beat off the bounce (and they will), shot-blocking fiends like 7’4 Christ Koumadje and 7’0 Ikechukwu Obiagu will be in the paint to clean things up. Hamilton heavily favors a man-to-man approach (~90% of the time the past four years), and he’s also taken advantage of his deep stable of athletes by extending the defense full-court – FSU pressed more than all but 14 other teams last year. That extension of the defense surprisingly didn’t lead to a ton of turnovers, but it did delay teams getting into their offenses. Once in the half-court, it just becomes so hard to find a good shot against the Seminoles’ length that opponents are often working against the shot clock as well.

Offensively, they’ll again have a plethora of options, albeit not as proven. MJ Walker is the jewel of an excellent recruiting class, a versatile scorer who can shoot or use his strength to get to the basket. PJ Savoy and Braian Angola-Rodas will light it up from deep (Savoy in particular is ready to fire the second he has his shoes laced up), while Terance Mann and Trent Forrest are slasher-types who will frequently get to the free throw line. All of those guys fit into the “6’4-6’6” group I mentioned, and all will have chances to have the ball in their hands. CJ Walker will be the nominal point guard, though he will not be relied on to distribute as much with so many other threats around him.

Like many other FSU teams, the ’17-18 squad will have plenty of depth to hurl at opponents – last year’s squad saw the bench play 40% of the team’s minutes, and this year will be no different. They’ll go two and even three deep at many positions, meaning the full-court defensive pressure will continue, and FSU can wear opponents out inside with bodies like Phil Cofer, Raiquan Gray, and Wyatt Wilkes to go along with their twin towers.

Bottom Line: Unless Walker is a stud right away (possible), this FSU team will lack the star power of Isaac and company. XRM and Bacon both amped up their efficiency last year, so finding the right combination to replace them among the team’s many options will be one of Hamilton’s prime challenges. For a coach who relies so much on the natural talent of his players, expect a dropoff for the Seminoles this year, though the presence of so many athletes could mean the regression will be slight.

12. Syracuse

Key Returners: Tyus Battle, Frank Howard
Key Losses: Taurean Thompson, Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, Andrew White, John Gillon, DaJuan Coleman
Key Newcomers: Geno Thorpe, O’Shea Brissett, Howard Washington, Bourama Sidibe


Outlook: Quick razz of Syracuse’s curmudgeon coach: despite some bold preseason claims, Jim Boeheim’s “best team we’ve had in a long time” failed to make the 2017 NCAA Tournament after playing a soft schedule and no-showing its conference road tilts (2-7 with losses at Pitt and BC). Due to scholarship restrictions, the Orange face a similar challenge this year as a young team with little depth that will rely on a grad transfer to trigger the offense. Why should this year turn out any better?

Well, to be clear, it probably will not. The ACC is still a tough league with plenty of quality teams, and if Boeheim’s boys don’t figure out how to better execute the 2-3 zone, they’ll find themselves in the NIT (or worse) once again.

On the bright side, despite the youth, Boeheim has the athletes to execute his preferred defensive style. Pascal Chukwu should be healthy after missing nearly all of the last season, and his absurd length (he’s 7’2”) in the middle of the zone will take away rim opportunities almost entirely (provided he can stay out of foul trouble). The major issue on the frontline, though, is the departure of Taurean Thompson, who had star potential. Thompson's weak rebounding contributed to Syracuse's brutal stats as a team (335th in defensive rebound rate), but there just aren't many other options to replace him. 

This isn’t necessarily a death knell – in 2012, Syracuse was 341st in defensive rebounding rate, but managed to go 34-3, 17-1 in the ACC, en route to a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. How? They were great at everything else. That team owned the paint behind Fab Melo’s elite shot-blocking – hence the focus on Chukwu this year. They also forced turnovers like crazy, so USF transfer Geno Thorpe, returners Tyus Battle and Frank Howard, and freshmen Howard Washington and O’Shae Brissett will have to make plays with their length and quickness to “steal” possessions. Howard in particular was a terror last season when ‘Cuse was forced to press late in games, but he also had a permanent reservation in Boeheim’s doghouse for his shot selection and decision-making.   

Forcing turnovers will allow Syracuse to get out in transition, always a strength of Orange squads. Thorpe and Washington are both quality facilitators in the open floor, and although Thorpe will look to score, both guys will get their teammates involved. Washington is a natural passer, and I expect to see a lot of lineups with both Washington and Thorpe on the floor at the same time.

A final wild card is redshirt freshman Matthew Moyer. A top 100 recruit last season, he decided to redshirt after suffering a foot injury during preseason practice. It may have been a blessing in disguise, as he was able to add strength to his lanky frame, and his athleticism should be perfect in one of the baseline wing spots of the 2-3. Now fully healthy, he gives Boeheim a versatile option to enable different lineup options. Thompson's transfer may mean Moyer will be asked to do a lot right away this season.   

Bottom Line: The Orange face some personnel losses and have only nine scholarship players, but there’s enough talent here for Boeheim to orchestrate a decent season. He’ll need to teach the zone quickly, though, because learning how to play it effectively takes time. Syracuse will once again be one of the most athletic teams in the league, but it will take some tinkering to push this team into the NCAA Tournament picture.

13. Clemson

Key Returners: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Elijah Thomas
Key Losses: Jaron Blossomgame, Avry Holmes, Sidy Djitte
Key Newcomers: David Skara, Mark Donnal, Aamir Simms


Outlook: One of the most surprising non-moves of the offseason coaching carousel was the retention of Brad Brownell. Perhaps the football team winning a national title distracted both Tiger fans and administrators alike, but Clemson faithful may wander over from the football stadium now that Deshaun Watson is no longer around. Ok, that’s not entirely fair – attendance wasn’t that bad, Littlejohn averaged 70% capacity last year – but the focus on football seems like a large reason why Brownell remains the coach. His tenure continues despite six straight seasons without making the NCAA Tournament and what feels like perpetual mediocrity on the court.  

Brownell’s offenses traditionally take care of the ball, usually with a committee of ball-handlers who share the load. This ball security is also crucial for the Tigers’ defense, as it prevents opponents from getting easy transition opportunities and forces them to score against a set half-court defense. With the return of point guard Shelton Mitchell and fellow guards Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, that should continue this year. After transferring from Vanderbilt, Mitchell really solidified himself as the team’s primary creator, although any of the three will use the variety of ball-screens and dribble handoffs that occur within Brownell’s system. Brownell needs to consider playing some three-guard lineups – look how the Tigers fared when Mitchell, Reed, and DeVoe all played together:

Some of the two guard lineups above also included the departed Avry Holmes, but there’s no disputing that the Mitchell/Reed/DeVoe triumvirate blitzed opponents over a respectable sample size. They’ll struggle with depth behind those three, though, unless one of freshman AJ Oliver or Clyde Trapp is ready to play right away.

Last year’s offense also involved many one-on-one post-ups for the departed Jaron Blossomgame, who used his strength and skill to bully defenders and finish with a variety of hook shots and drop step moves. Donte Grantham may not have the same NBA potential, but he can also be a matchup nightmare with his size and shooting ability. David Skara is another option at the 3/4 spots, a Valpo transfer who has shown he can hit the occasional three. Finally, freshmen Aamir Simms and Malik William offer high-upside options of both player types – Simms is a strong interior presence who can overpower opponents already, while William is a face-up type who can stretch the floor.

Defensively, Brownell’s principles, along with getting back in transition, emphasize not fouling and taking away interior opportunities – whenever possible, the Tigers want to take away easy points. That means a lot of former Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas in the middle, the roster’s best shot-blocker and an intimidating interior presence. He was the only player on the roster with a negative point differential last year, but he didn’t have the advantage of padding his stats against non-conference competition (midseason transfer available in mid-December). Thomas is oozing with potential, but if Brownell would prefer more consistency, Michigan grad transfer Mark Donnal can provide it – he won’t be the same kind of paint intimidator, though.

Bottom Line: The Tigers failed to make the Big Dance during the illustrious four-year career of Jaron Blossomgame, the program’s fifth-leading scorer and eighth-leading rebounder in history. In the wake of his departure, can the returning core make Clemson into a bit of a “Ewing Theory” candidate? The starting five is talented, and the two transfers provide some nice depth and winning experience, so it is not impossible. If not, though, Brownell may be updating his LinkedIn profile come April 2018.   

14. Boston College

Key Returners: Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, Jordan Chatman, Nik Popovic
Key Losses: Connor Tava, AJ Turner, Mo Jeffers, Garland Owens
Key Newcomers:  Deontae Hawkins, Luka Kraljevic, Vin Baker Jr., Avery Wilson, Steffon Mitchell


Outlook: The bright side: Boston College should be better than Pitt, which would be the first time BC has been better than anyone in the ACC since 2014-15. The downside: Jim Christian’s squad may still be worse than 13 other conference foes. So even though 14th place isn’t the absolute cellar (hooray!), the Eagles’ lack of depth and impact newcomers likely portends another long season in Chestnut Hill.

Christian made an interesting change last year in speeding his offense up; the Eagles were 46th in tempo last year after finishing 253rd and 225th in the two years prior. He felt comfortable doing this because he had two capable ball-handlers in Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman, both of whom return this season to lead the squad. Those two pushed in transition at every opportunity, and while Bowman with turnovers in his first year, that is a great avenue for BC to get easy points. Bowman also brings perhaps the best hair in the country, inspiring fans to wear red, curly wigs to imitate his ruby locks.

Both Robinson and Bowman can shoot it from deep, along with wing Jordan Chatman, which fits Christian’s desire to emphasize ball movement and three-point shooting. The bigs don’t offer a whole lot in the way of floor spacing, though, which cramps the driving lanes that should theoretically result from Christian’s system. Avery Wilson could surprise some in the same vein as Bowman last year, an under-recruited guard from Georgia.

Defensively, there’s some glaring issues as well. BC will extend their athletic guards to take away the three-point line and disrupt ball movement, but the problem is that they can get cooked by adept penetrators and the team’s rim protection could use a call to ADT. Nik Popovic is big but ground-bound, and the roster in general lacks size. Johncarlos Reyes showed some shot-blocking potential in his redshirt freshman season, but he could barely stay on the court due to fouls and a lack of strength/footspeed. Luka Kraljevic is the other center candidate, and although he’s probably the most skilled of the team’s 6’10/6’11 trio, he also may struggle with the speed of the college game (despite playing for Slovenia at the U-16, U-18, and U-20 levels).

The addition/loss/re-addition of Deontae Hawkins as a grad transfer from Illinois State is absolutely massive. The team's lack of athleticism and shooting in the frontcourt was glaring, and Hawkins immediately becomes the team's best and most versatile forward. He can shoot and guard four positions, and although he's not a top line shot-blocker, he'll help in that aspect.

Vin Baker Jr. was a late commitment, the son of Bucks/Sonics NBA legend (yeah, that’s right, I said legend!!!), and Baker has one of those “high school guard who grew 7 inches” backstories that often leads to a breakout. If he proves to be comfortable in his new lanky frame, Baker could give some minutes right away at the four and provide BC with some sorely needed inside/out scoring.

Bottom Line: The starting backcourt is talented with some real developmental upside, and Hawkins is a major addition, but everything beyond that is a blinding neon question mark. For a team that has only won two ACC games in the the past two seasons combined, not finishing last would be tangible progress, but Christian just does not seem to be consistently bringing in the type of talent needed to climb into mid-tier contention.

15. Pittsburgh

Key Returners: Ryan Luther
Key Losses: Jamel Artis, Michael Young, Cam Johnson, Sheldon Jeter, Chris Jones
Key Newcomers: Jared Wilson-Frame, Marcus Carr, Parker Stewart, Peace Ilegomah, Terrell Brown, Shamiel Stevenson


Outlook: Uhhhhh…oh boy. This is not going to be pretty, folks. After Pitt tumbled to a tie for 13th in the ACC last season, Kevin Stallings essentially turned the power off and back on in a complete reset of the Panther roster. Some of that was due to transfers, but the fact remains that this will be one of the least experienced teams in the entire country, and possibly the least talented in the conference.

Stallings teams are known for their efficient offenses and crisp ball movement; traditionally, they also feature a lot of shooting, but it remains to be seen if this roster has enough perimeter threats to earn opponents’ respect. Luckily, Parker Stewart is one of the best shooters in the 2017 class, and he has a great afro to boot. Fellow freshman Marcus Carr will initiate the ball movement, a pure point guard who is likely to start from day 1. The only returning guard, redshirt senior Jonathan Milligan, was unimpressive for a 4-14 ACC team last year – if the newcomers are competent and/or promising, he’ll continue to to be a bit player off the bench.

The team’s most talented player will be Jared Wilson-Frame, the second-ranked JUCO recruit in the entire country. He was an extremely versatile wing for Northwest Florida State, a JUCO powerhouse and Final Four participant. His college experience, albeit not at the D1 level, will make him a valuable asset for Pitt, and he’ll need to be a leader (along with returning senior Ryan Luther) for the green Panther roster.

Defensively, Stallings likes to mix it up, and he actually ran quite a bit of zone last season. It didn’t work, though – they gave up more than 1 point per possession in zone, good for the 19th percentile in the country. This year’s team’s youth all but guarantees they will struggle defensively, but mixing things up may be the best option to at least give offenses different looks. Carr should be solid at the point of attack, but the interior defense will once again be all freshmen. Peace Ilegomah and Terrell Brown have complementary skills – Ilegomah is the sturdy shot-blocker, an asset defensively, while Brown is a skilled big who has shooting range. He won’t bring the same shot-blocking that Ilegomah will, but his size would be an asset on the interior of a zone.

Bottom Line: The youngsters have some talent, but they’re not elite recruits; it’s just not realistic to expect them to be competitive with ACC teams right from Day 1. Stallings has a complete rebuild job on his hands, and the question of whether he’s more concerned about Panther basketball or his son’s catching career for the Pirates must at least be joked about (that’s what I’m here for!). Expect the Panthers to take a barrage of L’s in the ACC – 18 isn’t outside the realm of possibility.