Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012-13 Preview: ACC

Atlantic Coast Conference

It was jarring seeing so many poor teams in the ACC this past season. Over the past 20 years, no conference has consistently been stronger at the bottom of the league than the ACC. There were many years where there were simply no easy games in the ACC. But Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech this past season? Those were easy opponents. It's not an issue that will resolve itself in one season, but as you can see in the chart above, the bottom of the ACC was awfully young this past season. The league should be improved next season.

The class of the ACC this past season was North Carolina. Tar Heel fans will swear for the next 50 years that they would have won the National Title this year if Kendall Marshall hadn't broken his wrist. UNC was decimated by injuries all season: Dexter Strickland missed half the season, Leslie McDonald missed the whole season, and John Henson also missed some time. Tyler Zeller is the only graduation, but Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall are all going pro. James Michael McAdoo is back for another season, and I think that PJ Hairston will be back as well. Reggie Bullock is the other top returner. Stillman White might have earned some playing time next year as well. Roy Williams, of course, has another recruiting class full of blue chippers: Marcus Paige (Scout: 3 PG, Rivals: 41), Brice Johnson (Scout: 11 PF, Rivals: 49), Joel James (Scout: 18 C, Rivals: 61) and JP Tokoto (Scout: 20 SF, Rivals: 68). Paige and Strickland should form an excellent backcourt, but the front court is going to be a major question mark heading into next season.

This was not a banner year for Duke. The Blue Devils were not nearly as good as their won-loss record would suggest. The loss to Lehigh was a big upset, but it wasn't anywhere near the upset that Norfolk State over Missouri was. Duke finished the season rated 20th in Pomeroy and 18th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Things are looking up for next year, though. Miles Plumlee graduates and Austin Rivers is going pro, while Mason Plumlee is very much on the fence for the NBA Draft. But I felt that Austin Rivers was overrated - he scored a lot of points, but it was because he took a ton of shots. He didn't make his teammates better, and too often attacked the rim with his head down. If Mason Plumlee comes back, Duke should be improved next season. In the backcourt, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton will all be back, along with Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon (Scout: 2 SG, Rivals: 32). In the front court, Ryan Kelly, Josh Hairston and Michael Gbinije all return. Even if Mason Plumlee goes pro there will be yet another Plumlee to take his place: Marshall Plumlee.

Florida State was the third best team in the ACC, but they are decimated by graduations: Bernard James, Xavier Gibson, Deividas Dulkys, Luke Loucks, Jon Kreft and Jeff Peterson. Michael Snaer, Ian Miller and Okaro White will be the core of next year's team. Shooting guard Terry Whisnant and small forward Antwan Space are two good prospects, as are Montay Brandon (Scout: 11 SF, Rivals: 59) and Aaron Thomas (Scout: 13 SG). The most jarring thing about next year's team is the loss of the bigs: James, Gibson and Kreft. Florida State's complete domination of the paint on defense has been the core of their success for half a decade now, while their offense has been inconsistent at best. If their defense drops a level, is Michael Snaer really going to pick up the slack? I doubt it.

NC State struggled badly early this past season, but finished strong. They won four straight games before a very tight two-point loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament, followed by one of the all-time greatest Selection Sunday videos of them finding out that they earned an at-large bid. The Wolfpack then beat San Diego State and Georgetown to make the Sweet 16. CJ Williams and Alex Johnson graduate, but the bigger question is CJ Leslie and whether he'll go pro. If he comes back then NC State could very well be even better. Lorenzo Brown is a good point guard, and Richard Howell is a really good front court player when he can stay out of foul trouble. Scott Wood's outside shooting will be back, as will 6'9" DeShawn Painter. Power forward Tyler Harris should see increased playing time. Mark Gottfried has landed three 2012 blue chippers: Rodney Purvis (Scout: 6 SG, Rivals: 6), TJ Warren (Scout: 5 SF, Rivals: 23) and Tyler Lewis (Scout: 6 PG, Rivals: 55).

The biggest surprise in the ACC this past season might have been Virginia. Tony Bennett is one of the best coaches in the nation, but nobody thought they had the talent to compete near the top of the ACC. Mike Scott was tremendous, though. In my opinion, he was the best player in the entire ACC. But Scott graduates, as does Sammy Zeglinski. Without Scott, Virginia's offensive talent is a question mark. You can only win so many games, no matter how good your defense is, if you can't score. Joe Harris is the one proven scorer returning. Shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon and power forward Darion Atkins are two good prospects, and Bennett has put together a deep 2012 recruiting class led by Justin Anderson (Scout: 12 SF, Rivals: 35), Mike Tobey (Scout: 23 C, Rivals: 109) and Evan Nolte (Scout: 18 PF, Rivals: 120). The top-to-bottom talent will be increased from last season, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Virginia will be better.

Clemson will be rebuilding next season. A very deep 2011 recruiting class will be the core for the future, but Andre Young and Tanner Smith are two huge losses. A more likely team to improve next season is the University of Miami. Malcolm Grant and DeQuan Jones both graduate, but everybody else will be back. Durand Scott will be one of the best players in the ACC next season, and Reggie Johnson has one year of eligibility left as well. Kenny Kadji is a defensive force, and Trey McKinney Jones is another key returner. I also like Shane Larkin as a point guard of the future.

A dark horse in the ACC for next season is Virginia Tech. They lose Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila graduate, but Erick Green and Jarell Eddie (their two best players) will be back. And Seth Greenberg had a very production freshman class, led by Dorian Finney-Smith and Robert Brown. Their biggest need is rebounding, and Cadarian Raines is another player who should help in that respect with added playing time. If JT Thompson can ever get healthy then he'll be a big contributor in the paint as well. Montrezl Harrell (Scout: 14 PF, Rivals: 86) is their top 2012 recruit.

Don't sleep on a Maryland team that will be boosted by a huge 2012 recruiting class, led by Shaquille Cleare (Scout: 12 C, Rivals: 44) and Charles Mitchell (Scout: 27 C, Rivals: 76). Terrell Stoglin improved dramatically over the past season, and with another leap like that could be the ACC Player of the Year next season. James Padgett and Ashton Pankey give Maryland a pair of good interior players and rebounders. But there was a gigantic gap between Maryland in the top few spots in the conference, so don't expect Mark Turgeon to complete for an ACC title quite yet.

1. Duke - The loss of Austin Rivers is overrated. The Duke backcourt should be improved next season. The only real concern is front court depth if Mason Plumlee goes pro. Marshall Plumlee was a big time recruit, though, and Ryan Kelly is a very good player. And don't sleep on Michael Gbinije.
2. North Carolina - I don't think any team other than Duke or UNC has a good chance of winning the ACC (tell me where you've heard that before). The loss of Zeller, Henson and Barnes devastates their front court, though. And we have seen over the past two seasons just how important Kendall Marshall is to UNC's offense... and now he's gone for good.
3. Virginia - In no way do I have a lot of confidence in putting Virginia here. Any of the next three or four teams could work their way up to third place. But this pick is me having a lot of faith in Tony Bennett to find some offense from his young players to go with what will surely be an elite defense.
4. Miami - The Hurricanes were better this past season than most people realized, and they should be even better next season. Durand Scott could be first team All-ACC player next season, and Kenny Kadji is a force in the paint (as is Reggie Johnson... in more ways than one).
5. NC State - If CJ Leslie comes back then I could end up moving NC State as high as third place. I need more than one good season to buy into Mark Gottfried, but he does have NCAA Tournament talent coming back next season.
6. Virginia Tech - It didn't feel like an NCAA Tournament bubble without Virginia Tech on it. I think they'll be back there next season with improved play from rising-sophomores like Dorian Finney-Smith.
7. Maryland - I know that others will have Maryland rated higher, but Terrell Stoglin and James Padgett are the only real proven ACC players on this team. Maybe the highly-rated recruiting class will pan out, and maybe it won't. There are too many uncertainties.
8. Clemson - It's going to be a little bit of a rebuilding season. Andre Young and Tanner Smith were arguably their two best players last season, and both are gone. Brad Brownell had a good, deep 2011 recruiting class, but it takes time for players like that to develop.
9. Florida State - The Seminoles are totally devastated by graduations. It's going to be weird watching this team without the overwhelming length and athleticism in the paint.
10. Georgia Tech - Brian Gregory is upgrading the talent level, which was needed desperately. Kammeon Holsey and Daniel Miller were the only Georgia Tech players that were any good last season other than Glen Rice, Jr, who was booted off the team.
11. Boston College - The good news is: everybody comes back. The bad news is: these guys were awful last season. Four of their top five minute earners were freshmen, though, so these players might develop into something decent in a couple of years.
12. Wake Forest - I do think that Wake Forest has finally hit bottom. Jeff Bzdelik has been cleaning up his roster and getting rid of the knuckleheads. Bzdelik's 2012 recruiting class is very deep, so it does seem like things are finally getting better in Winston-Salem.


DMoore said...

Many people are predicting NC State to win the ACC next year. If CJ Leslie returns, I think that's very possible. Even with the return of Leslie they will be thin up front, but with the departure of Kendall Marshall Lorenzo Brown should be the best point guard in the ACC. Adding more McD AAs than UNC & Duke combined (so far) is huge for the future of their program.

I do agree that Duke should be better, but they may still struggle with their perimeter defense.

A few random information updates. I doubt an of these are major enough to change any of the predictions, but FYI.

Stilman White won't play for Carolina next year. He's going on a 2 year Mormon mission.

DeShawn Painter is transferring from NC State.

Jeff said...

You know, I had heard multiple times that Stillman White was going on a mormon mission, and for some reason it slipped my mind when I was doing this preview. Though he obviously wasn't going to be an important player anyway.

And NC State is going to be the classic over-valued team heading into next season. I'm happy to be off that bandwagon.

DMoore said...

OK, why do you believe that State will be overvalued next year (assuming the return of Leslie)? They were strong the last month of the season, not just the NCAAs (when one good/bad game can entirely change the predictions for the next year). I do have serious concerns about their depth up front, but their backcourt looks to be very strong.

Jeff said...

NC State's backcourt depth will only be good if those two recruits turn into immediate major producers. They only return two backcourt players.

CJ Williams is a major loss on offense. Other than CJ Leslie, the only returner who had an eFG% over 50% is Scott Wood, who does nothing but stand in the corner and shoot threes.

Throw in the fact that anytime Richard Howell gets in foul trouble (which is often) the team struggles to rebound and that they don't have any elite defenders, and I struggle to see what they're supposed to be good at.

Yes, NC State played well at the end of the year, but they weren't doing it against top teams (other than Georgetown) and they weren't doing it with expectations. I don't want to put too much weight on one hot streak.

And NC State is the type of team to be overvalued for two reasons. First, they're very athletic and they have a couple of guys who look like future NBA players. But also, they have a coach who is well connected in the media and who it seems every announcer and analyst loves on a personal level. So they'll be eager to promote his team if they look good.

Ricky Tuck said...

I love it every time that I see somebody putting FSU in the middle of the pack in the ACC. You mention that we won't have height, but yet we have 3 players coming in next year who are 6'10", 7'2" and 7'3". Seems like height to me. Couple that with the return of Terrance Shannon, who missed all of last season, and I think we'll be better than mediocre in our post game. And while nobody could reasonably argue with you that FSU's offensive inconsistencies have been a crutch for them over the years, when was the last time they have had two shooters of Snaer and Miller's level at the same time? Nobody would dare leave either of them open for a perimeter shot. They have before, but ask Duke and Va Tech how that strategy worked out.

Jeff said...

You took the "they have no height" phrase too literally. The point I was making was that the past two years their tremendous defense has been anchored by three really good defensive bigs, and all three are gone. I know FSU has two 7-footers that they recruited, but do you have any idea how rare it is for 7-footers to contribute much of anything as freshmen? The taller players are, the slower they develop.

FSU's offense could very well be better next year than it was this past season (though I think you're underestimating how important Bernard James was to FSU's offensive efficiency), but without that Top 3 defense they're going to need a huge offensive improvement to match last season's success.

I had a chance to sit in the front row right behind the basket to watch Florida State play in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and I have simply never seen a college basketball team with that type of interior defensive presence. I was in awe of that, and Seminoles fans will be mistaken to discount the impact of not having that next season.

Ricky Tuck said...

I can't disagree with your point about freshmen post players who are of the taller variety, but with our expected advanced peremiter scoring ability, we will mostly need a defensive presence from the new additions. Look back at Soloman Alabi's early years on campus. He was averaging in mid-single digits for the longest time, but he made our team better with his ability to effect seemingly every shot within 15 feet of the basket. Leonard Hamilton is a defensive coach and I highly doubt that he would even be bringing these guys onto our squad if he didn't feel that they could contribute to the team defensively. And again, don't forget about Shannon, who's a disruptive force defensively, and Okaro White, although quite thin, held his own when put in the PF slot last season. What I worry the most about is the lost experience. Bernard James was very valuable to our offensive efficiency last season, but was also a huge liability from the charity stripe too. I'm pretty sure his FT% was in the 50's. I know we'll be a much different team than last season, but I still like our prospects of having a successful year. We've played the top tier ACC teams (UNC and Duke) closely for years now, and I don't expect that to change. I'd say we should expect no worse than 4th in the conference. Duke is beatable, UNC is beatable, NC State is beatable, Virginia Tech will have to win consistently for at least one season for me to respect them the way their talent deserves to be appreciated, and Miami is always a tight game due to our rivalry, though it's more traditionally a football rivalry.