Stock Watch ACC: North Carolina on the rise, Miami poised for tough season
Over the next few weeks, One and One will highlight two teams from each conference -- one riding a positive trajectory heading into the 2013-’14 season (Stock up) and one headed for a decline (Stock down). The unpredictability of college basketball could force a reassessment of these projections at some point over the next few months, but whether our analysis is prescient or misguided, watching the following teams perform in the upcoming season should be fascinating.
Stock up: North Carolina
In one respect, the 2012-13 Tar Heels were not unlike the North Carolina team that succeeded the 2008-09 national championship squad.
Similar to the way that team had to replace Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough, last season’s group -- which watched Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall depart after reaching the Elite Eight in the 2012 NCAA tournament -- was expected to regress. And by North Carolina’s recent standards, it did: UNC finished 25-11 and secured an eight-seed in the tournament. But the Tar Heels did salvage a third-place finish in the ACC and edge Villanova in a hard-fought, Round of 64 matchup, and as the focus turns to 2013-14, most are expecting North Carolina to reenter the league championship conversation.
Unlike last year, a textbook transition year for Roy Williams, the Tar Heels enter the season without having to piece together a mostly new starting lineup. Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige should improve with a year of experience under his belt, and could develop into the type of facilitator Roy Williams needs to play his preferred up-tempo style. Junior James Michael McAdoo offers NBA potential, but has largely fallen short of expectations so far, despite the improvements he made over the course of last season. North Carolina also welcomes in a solid freshman class featuring three players -- power forward Isaiah Hicks, center Kennedy Meeks and point guard Nate Britt -- that should contribute in some capacity. Given North Carolina’s need to find a second big man to work alongside McAdoo, Hicks and Meeks could be especially important.
This group is deeper, more talented and more experienced than last season. If Williams can find a low post combination he’s comfortable with (sophomore Brice Johnson is the early favorite to start alongside McAdoo), and the Tar Heels manage to overcome their lack of proven wing players -- which could be even more problematic if junior P.J. Hairston is forced to miss a big chunk of games due to his legal troubles over the summer -- they should be one of the top contenders in an improved ACC.
Stock down: Miami
One of the biggest differences between blueblood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas and emerging ones like Miami is their ability to reload year after year. We are about to get another reminder why the Hurricanes, following a standout 2012-13 season, are not a blueblood program.
After riding a senior-heavy lineup to ACC regular season and conference tournament championships, Miami is almost certain to take a huge step back in 2013-14. This development was easy to predict before last season began; according to Kenpom.com, Miami’s players averaged 2.39 years of experience, the ninth-highest mark in the country. Most of that experience graduated, including five of Miami’s top scorers (Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble), but the Hurricanes’ biggest loss came by way of the NBA draft, where point guard Shane Larkin was rewarded with a first-round selection after a stellar sophomore season.
Roster turnover is more prevalent than ever before in today’s one-and-done era, but the massive rebuilding effort Miami faces -- replacing its entire starting lineup and most of its minutes and scoring output -- is almost unheard of. Coach Jim Larranaga seemingly found a replacement for Larkin this offseason, when former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez opted to transfer to the Hurricanes, but Larranaga announced last week that Rodriguez would sit out the season rather than applying for a waiver to play right away. Without Rodriguez, freshmen Deandre Burnett and Manu Lecomte are likely to serve as centerpieces for a by-committee point guard effort. Seven-foot sophomore Tonye Jekiri and DePaul transfer Donnavan Kirk should anchor a revamped frontcourt, while versatile guards Rion Brown and Garrius Adams can provide a perimeter scoring punch.
Finishing with a .500 record in conference play would be a big accomplishment. After having its roster gutted, regression for Miami is less an expectation than a guarantee. If it can knock off a few of the ACC’s upper-echelon teams while making strides with a reconfigured rotation -- or somehow sneak into the NCAA tournament -- the 2013-14 season would go down as a huge success.
The good news for Larranaga is that Miami doesn’t bring the burden of annual expectations that comes with coaching at other high-profile programs. This season is about development and incremental progress, about building toward what should be a much-improved team in 2014-15, when transfers Sheldon McClellan and Rodriguez will enter the fold.