2015-16 ACC Conference Basketball Preview

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It’s August, which calls for the annual college basketball conference previews. We’re focusing on the ACC in this particular piece.

2015-16 ACC Conference Basketball Preview

  1. Duke Blue Devils

The only team in the NCAA Tournament to end their season with a win, the Duke Blue Devils have the same expectations this year. The cast is going to look much different, though, as Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow are all gone from the starting lineup this year. Coach Mike Krzyzewski put together another great recruiting class, and we will certainly see another freshman-heavy team from Duke this year. Center Chase Jeter, small forward Brandon Ingram, and point guard Derryck Thornton are all five-star recruits that will replace Okafor, Winslow, and Jones in the starting lineup. Four-star shooting guard Luke Kennard seems to be the forgotten recruit in this year’s class, but he could be the ‘X-Factor’ when he (probably) comes off the bench. Duke is returning some veterans, too. They have championship experience, and will help with another postseason run. Senior forward Amile Jefferson (6.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG), junior guard Matt Jones (6.0 PPG, .38 3PT%), and sophomore guard Grayson Allen (4.4 PPG) will return from the championship run looking for another One Shining Moment.

 

  1. Virginia Cavaliers

Tony Bennett’s squad has had two successful seasons in a row, and will look to be competitive once again this year. They did lose two important pieces in Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins, so it will be ‘next man up’ for the Cavaliers. Returning for their senior seasons are guard Malcolm Brogden (14.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG), forward Anthony Gill (11.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG) and forward Mike Tobey (6.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG). All three players will bring leadership to an already mature team, and their defensive prowess. Bennett is one of the best teachers of defense in the country. The Cavaliers were ranked first in points per game defensively in the country last year, and that will be a big part of their success this year. Brogden is an All-ACC type of player, and he will have to help out in every way he can. London Perrantes (6.4 PPG, 4.6 APG), a junior, will need to improve a bit on both ends of the court, but he is a reliable, intelligent point guard. Virginia also has four-star center Jarred Reuter coming in, and if he can pick up on defensive schemes quickly, he could see plenty of minutes.

 

  1. North Carolina Tar Heels

Early, it seems to be a three-way race for the first spot in the conference, and North Carolina is the third horse on the track. The Tar Heels have the most talent returning to their team, as they only lost J.P. Tokoto to the draft. Coach Roy Williams could decide to go as many as ten deep in his rotation, with little drop off between each player. Returners include senior guard Marcus Paige (14.1 PPG, 4.5 APG), senior forward Brice Johnson (12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG), and sophomore forward Justin Jackson (10.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG). Those three will play the biggest roles in Chapel Hill this season, but they aren’t alone. As he gets in better and better shape, junior center Kennedy Meeks (11.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) will play a big role again this year. Junior and sophomore guards Nate Britt (5.5 PPG, 1.5 APG) and Joel Berry II (4.2 PPG, 1.5 APG) will contribute again with Paige in the backcourt. Forwards Isaiah Hicks (6.6 PPG) and Theo Pinson (3.0 RPG) will come off the bench as well. Four-star recruits Kenny Williams — a guard — and Luke Maye — a forward — will not contribute too much this year, but they will gain a ton of experience. Improving outside shooting and focus will be key, but it is obvious the Tar Heels have the talent to make a Final Four run.

 

  1. Louisville Cardinals

Rick Pitino’s team will have some turnover this year, as they lost big chunk of their team — Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier, and Wayne Blackshear all averaged over 10 points per game. Throw in starter Chris Jones late-season dismissal, and the Cardinals are going to look very different this year. Big men Chinanu Onuaku (sophomore) (4.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG) and Mangok Mathiang (junior) (4.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG) both have natural size and while their defense is already utilized, their offensive abilities could become bigger focal points next year. Sophomore guard Quentin Snider (4.1 PPG) showed improvement last year, especially after Jones’ dismissal. He has breakout potential this season. Four-star forwards Deng Adel and Raymond Spalding will have a chance to prove themselves early, as will four-star guard Donovan Mitchell. The most important addition over the summer is guard Damion Lee, a graduate transfer from Drexel. Lee will be able to offer consistent scoring, and should play a big role for the Cardinals. He will certainly start next to Snider, forming the reliable backcourt that Pitino loves to have on his team.

 

  1. Miami Hurricanes

The Miami Hurricanes had a bounce back season in 2015, and they are looking to take another step next season. They are returning two very key players in backcourt teammates Sheldon McClellan (14.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG) and Angel Rodriguez (11.9 PPG, 3.9 APG).  The seniors have learned to play off each other really well, and should be able to help this team take another step. Each player can penetrate seemingly any defense. Another helpful senior will be center Tonye Jekiri (8.6 PPG, 9.9 RPG). Jekiri can rebound and defend with the best of them, and should allow the perimeter players to be more aggressive. Junior guard Davon Reed (8.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG) might be the third wheel to McClellan and Rodriguez, but he improved a lot last year. Sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton (4.0 PPG, 1.4 APG) will see some more minutes this year, and has room to improve. Anthony Lawrence Jr. is a four-star wing that could see time on the court this year to add some youth to the group. Coach Jim Larranaga has done well with veteran groups in the past, and he has another chance for a successful season with one this year.

 

  1. Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles went 17-16 last year, but also gained a ton of experience in the process. They only lose Aaron Thomas from last year’s squad, and return plenty of talent. Sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (14.9 PPG, 4.3 APG) is famous for scoring 30 points in the final 4:38 against Miami last year, but he is not a one-moment wonder. He will be the main scoring option for Florida State this season. Senior guards Montay Brandon (11.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Devon Bookert (10.1 PPG, 2.6 APG) have plenty of experience under their belts. Both players should see a lot of minutes this year despite a guard-heavy roster. Junior forward Jarquez Smith (6.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and sophomore forward Phil Cofer (6.9 PPG, .40 3PT%) are not premium scorers by any means, but they play their role and play defense to compliment their teammates scoring. Five-star guard/forward Dwayne Bacon is going to find his minutes, but he’s going to do all the little things for this team as well. Malik Beasley and Terrance Mann are two more four-star guards that will have to fight to find the court this season.

 

  1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Fighting Irish had a year to remember last season, as it ended in a narrow defeat to Kentucky in the Elite Eight. They are losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton; both players were the most important pieces to the team. Zach Auguste (12.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) is the only contributing senior on this year’s team, and he is a gazelle on the basketball court. His ability to run the floor allows Mike Brey to play fast, and he will want to do that again this year. Junior point guard Demetrius Jackson (12.4 PPG, 3.1 APG) is more than ready to take over Grant’s spot in the lineup. He should be fine handling the ball. Junior guard Steve Vasturia (10.1 PPG, .41 3PT%) can shoot the ball well, and is a smart player. Sophomore forward Bonzie Colson (5.6 PPG) showed progress last year, too. Junior forward V.J. Beachem (5.9 PPG, .41 3PT%) is a do-it-all type of player, and does the little stuff for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is a relatively big team, but four-star guard Rex Pflueger should help add some depth to the position.

 

  1. Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh had a so-so year last season, but they should be better this year. They are losing contributing guard Cameron Wright to graduation, but the Panthers have young talent ready to prove themselves. Junior forwards Jamel Artis (13.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Michael Young (13.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) are players that are equally effective at scoring and rebounding the ball, skills that coach Jamie Dixon loves. Both Artis and Young should be just fine this year. Senior guard James Robinson (8.9 PPG, 5.1 APG) is a solid player, and will lead the team this year. He is a do-it-all type of player, but really excels in distribution. Junior guard Chris Jones (8.5 PPG) did a good job last year, and should see more opportunities this year with Wright’s departure. Damon Wilson Jr. is a four-star point guard coming to this Panthers this year, and he could definitely see minutes this season. Pittsburgh has some experience under their belt, and their best players are back. That’s usually a good recipe to follow.

 

  1. Syracuse Orange

Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange had a rocky, rocky season last year, but the new year offers hope for the young team. While the Orange will miss big man Rakeem Christmas and forward Chris McCullough, they do return seniors Trevor Cooney (13.4 PPG, 1.8 SPG) and Michael Gbinje (12.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.6 APG). Both players have seen the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows the last couple of years, and will lead the team accordingly. Cooney’s shooting ability will be a main focus in the offense, and they will need him to convert on his open looks. Sophomore point guard Kaleb Joseph (5.9 PPG, 3.8 APG) should continue to improve this season, as will junior forward Tyler Roberson (8.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG). Boeheim has a good crop of freshman coming in, headlined by four-star guard Malachi Richardson. Richardson could come in and play right away. Four-star forward Tyler Lydon and guard Franklin Howard are also coming in. The Orange are a young team, but they have athleticism. If they can pick up Boeheim’s 2-3 zone early, this team could surprise people.

 

  1. North Carolina State Wolfpack

The Wolfpack are losing their two star players from last season in Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner, which means they will absolutely need younger guys to step up. Junior point guard Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber (12.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.7 APG) won’t let the team falter without a fight, and he will need to do more than ever this year. Barber, a quick scorer, has the talent to carry the team to some wins, but he’ll need his teammates, too. Sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu (6.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG) is a candidate to be Barber’s sidekick, but he has a lot of learning yet to do. Another is junior center BeeJay Anya (4.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG). Anya is a big dude, and can really contribute in his own way on both ends. The real sidekick option will be four-star wing Maverick Rowan. Rowan just recently committed and reclassified to the 2015 class to play ball this season. He has natural scoring ability, and should step in to contribute right away.

 

  1. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The best news for Danny Manning’s team this season? They are not losing any major contributors from last year’s team. Senior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (14.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.3 APG) showed a lot of promise last year and should put together another quality season. Senior forward Devin Thomas (12.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG) will help with the leadership duties and with the production. Manning has a trio of young sophomores ready to breakthrough; point guard Mitchell Wilbekin (7.2 PPG, 1.6 APG), forward Cornelius Hudson (7.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG), and forward Konstantinos Mitoglou (9.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG) all have a ton of promise, and will take positive steps this year. Four-star point guard Bryant Crawford could be the main ball handler in the backcourt this season, but that is yet to be seen. The real get for Manning was four-star, seven foot center Doral Moore, who gives the Demon Deacons a big body to help with their interior defense.

 

  1. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Rebuilding Georgia Tech did not have a great season in Brian Gregory’s fourth season, but they have a veteran squad coming into this season. They lost center Demarco Cox, but return two key seniors in forwards Marcus Georges-Hunt (13.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Charles Mitchell (9.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Both players have something to prove in their final season, and they have a cast to help them. Sophomore guard Tadric Jackson (5.4 PPG) has the skills to make a leap in the right direction this year, and he will get plenty of playing time to do it. Junior forward Quinton Stephens (6.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG) will assist Georges-Hunt and Mitchell on the frontline. Sylvester Ogbonda, a three-star center, was the only recruit Gregory was able to reel in, but his size will be used early by the Yellow Jackets.

 

  1. Virginia Tech Hokies

Buzz Williams’ team may have finished last in the conference last year, but the young team took some strides in the struggle. They did lose seniors Joey van Zegeren and Adam Smith to transfer, but the Hokies have young players ready to step up. Sophomore Justin Bibb (11.4 PPG, .41 3PT%) is an athletic guard that competed with the United States’ U19 FIBA team this summer, where the Americans won gold. A quality experience, Bibb’s production this year could really skyrocket. Sophomore guards Ahmed Hill (8.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Jalen Hudson (6.9 PPG) will also contribute to the backcourt, and both showed signs of promise last year. Junior guard Devin Wilson (6.5 PPG, 4.2 APG) is a quality distributor with good size. Seven-foot center Satchel Pierce (2.4 RPG) can only get better in the upcoming year, and should see a lot of minutes. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear Jr. are both four-star forwards that will help with the frontcourt load.

 

  1. Clemson Tigers

The Clemson Tigers had a mediocre season last year, and they could be in for another rough go around. They lost guards Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison, and both were good scorers and leaders. Senior center Landry Nnoko (7.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and guard Jordan Roper (6.5 PPG) are quality players that show potential to lead. Junior forward Jaron Blossomgame (13.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG) can score the ball and collect rebounds; he’s the Tigers best all around player. Sophomore forward Donte Grantham (8.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is a good compliment to Blossomgame, and should get better. Four-star point guard Ty Hudson should be able to step in this year and contribute at some point this year. The Tigers could surprise people this year if the right people step up. They’re just not good enough to seriously contend.

 

  1. Boston College Eagles

The loss of junior guard Oliver Hanlan was a big blow to the Eagles program, as he entered the NBA Draft this spring. They’re also losing senior guards Dimitri Batton, Patrick Heckmann, and Andrew Brown. The best returner will be senior center Dennis Clifford (6.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG), and he will need to be even better this year to give the Eagles a chance. Junior forward Garland Owens (3.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG) has potential to be a quality player next year, and coach Jim Christian will need him to be improved. Four-star small forward A.J. Turner should see big minutes in his freshman year, but he won’t be able to tip the scales much in Boston College’s favor. The young team will have a rocky season, yes, but they will need to use it to get better for the future.