ACC off-season report: Power Rankings, burning questions
- Duke may have to replace all five of its starters from the end of last season, but the Blue Devils still look like the early favorites in the ACC.
ACC off-season Power Rankings
The Blue Devils lose all five of their end-of-season starters, which would be a crippling blow to almost any other team. But Grayson Allen is back for his senior year, and Duke welcomes in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, including five-stars Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter and Gary Trent.
Losing both Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson to the NBA draft hurts, but the Cardinals still have plenty of talent on board for 2017–18. Quentin Snider and Deng Adel return, and Ray Spalding and V.J. King could be breakout candidates.
Justin Jackson’s departure was expected, but losing Tony Bradley after one season was a significant blow to UNC’s frontcourt, which graduated Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. All eyes will be on Joel Berry II to lead the offense.
The strong returning backcourt duo of Ja'Quan Newton and Bruce Brown will be joined by incoming five-star guard Lonnie Walker and four-star guard Chris Lykes. With Kamari Murphy gone, rising sophomore Dewan Huell will need to step up down low.
Bonzie Colson returning for his senior year was huge for the Fighting Irish, as he and point guard Matt Farrell form a strong offensive tandem. Top-50 guard D.J. Harvey is Notre Dame’s lone incoming freshman.
The Hokies returned to the NCAA tournament at least but now need to replace top scorers Zach LeDay and Seth Allen. Two incoming four-star guards will help, but having a healthy Kerry Blackshear and Chris Clarke in the frontcourt could be key.
The Cavaliers lost three to transfers, including Marial Shayock, and enter life without London Perrantes. Rising senior Devon Hall and sophomore Kyle Guy will need to step up offensively, but, as usual, Virginia’s strength should be in its defense.
After being the surprise of the ACC in 2016–17, the Yellow Jackets return their top three scorers. Georgia Tech will once again be led by rising sophomore Josh Okogie and senior Ben Lammers, the latter of who is coming off a breakout season.
John Collins is off to the NBA, but rising junior Bryant Crawford is one of the league’s top returning players. Top-40 guard Chaundee Brown enters the fold, while guard Keyshawn Woods and big man Dinos Mitoglou are back.
The Orange will lean on the rising sophomore guard/forward duo of Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson, who are both coming off strong rookie
The Seminoles’ roster took a significant hit with the NBA draft departures of Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, but top-50 recruits M.J. Walker and Ike Obiagu hope to soften the blow. Junior Terance Mann is Florida State’s best returning player.
The Wolfpack will need to move on from a dismal 2016–17 season without their top three scorers. The best returning piece new coach Kevin Keatts inherits is senior Abdul-Malik Abu, while 7-footer Omer Yurtseven passed on the draft to return for his sophomore season.
After a disappointing season, the Tigers face further challenges now that Jaron Blossomgame has graduated. Guards Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed should anchor the offense.
The Eagles have won a total of six ACC regular-season games over the last three seasons. They’ll look to build around a pair of key returnees in junior Jerome Robinson, the conference’s top returning scorer, and sophomore Ky Bowman, plus grad transfer Deontae Hawkins.
The cupboard is quite barren in terms of proven talent for Pitt, which loses its top five scorers (all starters) from a team that went 4–14 in league play. Senior Ryan Luther (5.7 ppg) is the top returning scorer and only returning Panther who averaged more than 10 minutes per game.
Burning questions in the ACC
Can the Eagles get out of the ACC basement?
Boston College has finished last in the conference for two straight seasons, including its infamous 0–18 ACC mark in 2015–16, but the Eagles have reason for optimism heading into next season. Landing 6’8” Illinois State grad transfer Deontae Hawkins was huge, especially in the wake of A.J. Turner’s transfer to Northwestern. Hawkins gives Boston College a proven option down low, even if going from the Missouri Valley Conference to the ACC is a big step. The backcourt duo of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman should only get better, and rising 6’11” sophomore Nik Popovic is in line for a larger role. The production of Hawkins and Popovic may ultimately decide the Eagles’ ceiling in a deep league.
Can the Tigers do enough to get Brad Brownell off the hot seat?
After a disappointing 17–16 year, Clemson AD Dan Radakovich announced in March that the Tigers’ seven-year coach would return but not without a stern statement about how he expects Brownell to “to make changes in the program to better position us for success.” Clemson last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2011, and its disappointing 2016–17 squandered the senior year of Jaron Blossomgame. Now, the Tigers will have to try to turn things around without both him and Avry Holmes. Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed are back, and Gabe DeVoe will look to make a leap in his senior year with Blossomgame gone. The Tigers also add Michigan grad transfer Mark Donnal, who saw his role decrease last season but has proven to be an effective role player.
Will the freshman class live up to the hype?
The Blue Devils are no strangers to high expectations, but last season is a perfect example of how, especially in the one-and-done era, everything doesn’t always come together as expected. A number of factors, including injuries and varied underperformance, contributed to Duke’s tumultuous 2016–17 season. Mike Krzyzewski’s team gets a fresh start this year with six freshmen on their way in, including five-star recruits Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent. Of course, Grayson Allen will be back (and a preseason player of the year candidate), and the way he responds after a turbulent junior season will be key. Marques Bolden is also returning and will hope to emerge after never finding his footing as a freshman. But the Blue Devils’ level of success lies largely with the freshmen—how well they perform, how quickly they adjust to the college level and how they gel both together and with returning players like Allen. On paper, Duke is once again extremely scary—now it must go out and prove it.
Do the Seminoles have enough to reload after major NBA departures?
The late surprise commitment of four-star guard M.J. Walker was a big boost to the Seminoles’ prospects this season considering all that they lost (Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes). Walker and fellow top-50 recruit Ike Obiagu headline a five-man class that also includes four-star small forward Anthony Polite. Florida State will need its freshman class to contribute early and often to compete in the ACC, as junior guard Terance Mann is the lone returning player who averaged more than 20 minutes per game. Mannwill be a steadying hand for the new-look Seminoles, but a lot depends on the production of the likes of Walker and Obiagu and how quickly they adjust.
Can the Yellow Jackets improve enough on offense to seriously contend?
Josh Pastner’s first year in Atlanta was a relatively big success, with a team expected to finish in the cellar of the ACC nearly nabbing an NCAA tournament bid. The Yellow Jackets return a solid core, but they’ll need to be more efficient on offense to win more consistently in 2017–18. Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers helped anchor a defense that finished sixth in the nation in adjusted efficiency, but Georgia Tech’s poor shooting—from both inside and outside the paint—held it back. The good news is that Lammers, who led the team in shooting with a 51.6% field-goal percentage, returns. Okogie shot 38.4% on 73 attempted threes and is the team’s best-returning perimeter option, but grad transfer Brandon Alston and three-star recruit Curtis Haywood II could help bring some stability there.
How much will the Cardinals miss Donovan Mitchell?
The departure of leading scorer Donovan Mitchell will be easier for the Cardinals to absorb if a player like Ray Spalding or VJ King breaks out and becomes a leading contributor. Quentin Snider and Deng Adel are entrenched as reliable options, but with Mitchell, Jaylen Johnson and Mangok Mathiang all gone, Louisville must fill multiple holes. A top recruiting class fronted by Brian Bowen and Malik Williams will help. A former McDonald’s All-American, King saw just 13.5 minutes per game in his freshman year but made 16 of 38 three-pointers. Statistically, Spalding didn’t make a large freshman to sophomore leap, but the 6’10” power forward figures to see more opportunities as a junior given Johnson’s departure.
Who will make up for the loss of Kamari Murphy down low?
Statistically, Murphy wasn’t a large contributor on offense, but he was a major presence in the interior and was the Hurricanes’ best rebounder. Despite playing fewer minutes, promising rising sophomore Dewan Huell posted an almost identical offensive rebounding rate as Murphy (per kenpom.com), and with an improved defensive rebounding rate, Huell could be the solution in the frontcourt. The question is whether he is ready to make the jump to a substantial role after averaging 17.4 minutes per game last season. Junior Anthony Lawrence is also a candidate to help shore up the boards, while junior Ebuka Izundu is another player with great potential if he can sustain it in an expanded role. But if Huell in particular can take the next step and have a breakout year, this Miami team will look mighty dangerous.
Do the Wolfpack have enough depth?
New coach Kevin Keatts is tasked with rebuilding the Wolfpack, and 2017–18 stands to be a transitional year in Raleigh. Dennis Smith Jr., Terry Henderson and Maverick Rowan are all gone (the NCAA recently denied Henderson a sixth year of eligibility), but returning players include senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, junior guard Torin Dorn and 7-foot sophomore center Omer Yurtseven. Baylor grad transfer Al Freeman, who averaged 9.4 points and shot 38.9% from three last season, also comes on board, plus North Carolina A&T grad transfer Sam Hunt.
Keatts has already made moves for the future, including bringing in four-star freshman Lavar Batts and transfer C.J. Bryce, the latter of whom starred for Keatts at UNC-Wilmington. Bryce must sit out the 2017–18 season, but with two years of eligibility remaining and two NCAA tournament appearances under his belt, he figures to be a key piece for the Wolfpack down the road. For now though, NC State must hope it has enough with its current roster to make some noise.
Can the Tar Heels win the ACC with a shaky frontcourt?
The reigning champions will look a lot different next year, mainly in that they will be a lot smaller and will need to rely on a different primary way to win. UNC posted the country’s No. 1 offensive rebounding percentage in 2016–17, per kenpom.com, but loses the vast majority of the players—Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley—that helped it dominate the boards. There will still be plenty of talent, such as senior Joel Berry II and incoming five-star freshman Jalek Felton, but most of it is concentrated in the backcourt.
NCAA tournament hero and 6’8” forward Luke Maye figures to have a larger role in 2017–18, and the Tar Heels will need him to emerge as a consistent, reliable option, but he’s not a traditional big man. North Carolina got a boost with a late April commit by four-star 6’10” power forward Garrison Brooks, but there’s still plenty of concern surrounding the Tar Heels up front.
Will Rex Pflueger or Temple Gibbs break out?
The Fighting Irish have a pair of former four-star recruits in rising junior Rex Pflueger and sophomore Temple Gibbs, who each averaged 4.7 points in 2016–17. With the graduation of VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame needs others to step up on offense alongside Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. Pflueger shot 44.4% from the floor and 39.7% from three last season and figures to have the best odds of producing a breakout year with increased playing time. The 6’3” Gibbs isn’t as good of a shooter but takes a greater percentage of his shots inside the paint as compared to Pflueger. Incoming wing D.J. Harvey is also an option to contribute on offense.
Where will the production come from?
Thanks to a slew of exhausted eligibilities and transfers, Pitt has undergone a massive roster overhaul heading into 2017–18. Its two main returning players, Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan, combined to average 7.7 points in 27.7 minutes per game. The Panthers are wide open next season in terms of who will take the reigns in just about every area. Several new faces are on their way in, including four-star guard Marcus Carr, but St. John’s transfer Malik Ellison will have to sit the season out. This is a rebuilding year for Pitt, which will hope to just stay competitive in as many games as possible.
Is Tyus Battle set for a star turn?
A former four-star, top-40 recruit who was a one-time Michigan commit and eventually chose the Orange over schools that included Duke and Louisville, Battle had a solid freshman season. He averaged 11.3 points on 43.3% shooting and added 1.7 assists, but he was overshadowed in the offense by the likes of Andrew White and Tyler Lydon. Both of those players are now gone, as is John Gillon, who was Syracuse’s fourth double-digit scorer. That leaves the offensive load on the shoulders of Battle and fellow sophomore Taurean Thompson. The Orange also added South Florida grad Geno Thorpe, who averaged 15.1 points per game last season and gives them needed backcourt depth. But keep an eye on Battle, who could be set for a big year as Syracuse hopes to exceed expectations and get back to the NCAA tournament.
How good will the Cavaliers’ young players be?
There’s a lot of young talent on the Wahoos roster, and the way those players develop will shape the season. The key players to watch include rising sophomores Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, who played every game for Virginia last season, but there’s also DeAndre Hunter and Jay Huff, former four-star prospects who redshirted as freshmen and will now look to make a splash in 2017–18. Those four constituted the No. 12 recruiting class in 2016, and now they’ll finally all be on the court together. The Cavaliers are hoping the 6’3” Guy, who shot 49.5% from three last season, is a star in the making, and if he can find more consistency he may very well be. Beyond the underclassmen, Virginia added Rutgers grad transfer Nigel Johnson, who along with seniors Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins should provide the veteran presence lost by the departure of London Perrantes.
Can the Hokies keep their momentum going?
In his third season in Blacksburg, Buzz Williams brought Virginia Tech back to the promised land; the Hokies made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007. The stay was short—they lost to Wisconsin in the first round in an 8/9 game—but the Hokies have tangible success to build on. Yes, leading scorers Zach LeDay and Seth Allen have departed, but both were actually coming off the bench. Even though the two still had plenty of playing time, their role as reserves gave starting experience to the likes of point guard Justin Robinson and big man Khadim Sy. Robinson will continue to run the show as a junior after leading the team in assist rate, and Virginia Tech will hopefully bring back a healthy Chris Clarke, who tore his ACL in February. The Hokies will also presumably get back the 6’10” Kerry Blackshear Jr., who averaged 6.2 points as a freshman but missed the entire 2016–17 season due to injury.
Can the Demon Deacons avoid a step back after losing John Collins?
John Collins’s decision to stay in the NBA draft was a blow to Wake Forest’s 2017–18 ceiling, and while it doesn’t mean the Demon Deacons can’t contend, it does present some challenges. Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods, both rising juniors, are poised to take on even larger offensive roles, but Wake will need some help in the frontcourt to make up for the Collins-sized hole. Dinos Mitoglou is back for his senior year, but significant growth from someone like 7’1” center Doral Moore would be a massive boost. The backcourt stands to get even better with top-40 recruit Chaundee Brown coming in. Brown was a marquee signing for Danny Manning, and the dynamic scorer figures to be a key piece for the Deacons in 2017–18.