Monday, April 15, 2013

2013-14 Preview: ACC

Atlantic Coast Conference

While we tend to think of the ACC as a static group of teams, the reality is that the league has been steadily growing for decades. Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College all came over from the Big East in the middle of the last decade, Florida State joined in the early 90s and Georgia Tech came over from the Metro Conference in the late-1970s. At the same time, the league has rarely lost teams. Prior to this year, the ACC had only lost one team ever: South Carolina, more than 40 years ago. They are continuing to grow this summer, gaining Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. A year from now the membership will change again, with Louisville coming in and with Maryland off to the Big Ten. But with these big programs coming in, we will hopefully get past the idea in the media that the ACC only consists of Duke and North Carolina. For the past few decades, the conference is "strong" if Duke and North Carolina are good, even if the rest of the league stinks, while the conference is "down" if either Duke or North Carolina is down, even if the rest of the league is awesome. But with perennial powers like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame coming in, the ACC might start getting viewed in a much more balanced fashion.

Despite what I said in that last paragraph, I'd like to start with Duke. Heading into the NCAA Tournament I felt that they and Louisville were the two best teams in the country, and as I said in my NCAA Tournament preview, I felt that whoever won the Duke/Louisville Elite 8 game was likely to win the National Title. The reason Duke was a bit further back in the computer ratings was because their defense just wasn't nearly as good when Ryan Kelly was out. In my opinion, Kelly was their best interior defender, and the stats were staggering regarding just how much better the defense was with Kelly in the lineup (despite the media obsession with Kelly's offense, the reality is that Duke had the #1 offense in the ACC while Kelly was out injured). That said, Kelly and Mason Plumlee both graduate, which opens a massive hole in Duke's front line. Seth Curry also graduates, though Duke has a ton of perimeter options.

For some reason, Rasheed Sulaimon is getting a little bit of NBA Draft hype. I think he'll make the smart move and come back for another season, though. Assuming that he comes back, Duke should be very strong in the backcourt, even with the graduation of Curry. Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton will be back, as will Andre Dawkins, who averaged. 6.9 ppg and shot 40% behind the arc in three seasons at Duke before taking off the 2012-13 season. They also add Matt Jones (Scout: 3 SG, Rivals: 36). The front court is a bigger question mark. Duke will have a ton of talent, but it will be talent unproven in the ACC. Rodney Hood, the transfer from Mississippi State, is probably the most proven NCAA front court player (although he's more of a wing player than a true big man). Amile Jefferson was, I thought, a very good player for Duke in limited action as a true freshman. Josh Hairston, who is more of a real big man than either Jefferson or Hood, will play big minutes next season as well. And Duke has a pair of blue chippers coming in next season: Jabari Parker (Scout: 2 PF, Rivals: 4) and Semi Ojeleye (Scout: 7 SF, Rivals: 31). Marshall Plumlee is an option, too.

Miami was the regular season ACC champion. Next season will be a rebuilding year for them, however. Durant Scott, Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney-Jones, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson all graduate, and Shane Larkin may go into the NBA Draft. Larkin is only a borderline first round prospect, but players often don't want to stick around for total rebuilding jobs, so there's a good chance that he'll be gone. Their top returners are swing forward Rion Brown and 7-footer Tonye Jekiri, and they will hope to get back Garrius Adams for a fifth year after he missed all of 2012-13. Jim Larranaga will be building around a very deep 2013 recruiting class, highlighted by Davon Reed (Scout: 26 SG, Rivals: 104) and Deandre Burnett (Scout: 28 SG, Rivals: 109).

North Carolina was actually somewhat underrated this past season. They were playing their best basketball late in the season, and were probably one of the 25 best teams in the nation over the final month. The two keys to North Carolina's late-season push were the development of true freshman point guard Marcus Paige, as well as the turnover of the offense from the vastly overrated James Michael-McAdoo to the vastly underrated Reggie Bullock. Their only loss to graduation is Dexter Strickland, So with Bullock, McAdoo and Hairston all saying that they were coming back for next season, I originally had UNC as the preseason ACC favorite. But just a few minutes ago the news broke that Bullock is leaving, which is brutal. So while I still expect UNC to be very good next season, they are no longer my pick to win the ACC. One other 2012-13 true freshman who looked really good in limited minutes was 6'9" Brice Johnson. North Carolina's 2013 recruiting class features Isaiah Hicks (Scout: 8 PF, Rivals: 16), Kennedy Meeks (Scout: 5 C, Rivals: 57) and Nate Britt (Scout: 21 PG, Rivals: 90). Roy Williams has been less than impressive at getting his teams to live up to expectations in recent seasons, and he'll need to get the most of a team that is still going to be highly rated, even after the loss of Bullock.

Another team that should be awfully good next season is Virginia. The Cavaliers had some terrible losses this past season, but they also had some really nice wins and had bad luck in close games (3-8 in games decided by six points or less). Depending on which computer rating you prefer, Virginia finished the season (after a poor postseason) down around 35-40th in the nation. But next season? They lose only point guard Jontel Evans and overrated swing forward Paul Jesperson, and get several key additions. First, they get back Malcolm Brogdon, who averaged 6.5 ppg and 2.8 rpg for Virginia in 2011-12 but missed this past season with injury. They also add 6'8" Anthony Gill, who averaged 7.6 ppg and 4.5 rpg for South Carolina in 2011-12. Their recruiting class is also solid: Devon Hall (Scout: 22 PG, Rivals: 122) and London Perrantes (Scout: 23 PG). Their top returners are obviously Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. A good young player that I like is 6'8" Evan Nolte, who was only a true freshman this past season. A key for next season will be finding a point guard to take over for Jontel Evans. Teven Jones is a possibility there.

NC State, on the other hand, is a team likely to take a significant step backwards. Richard Howell and Scott Wood graduate, Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie are both off to the NBA, and Rodney Purvis is leaving via transfer. TJ Warren is a good returner, but the only other returner from the regular rotation is point guard Tyler Lewis, who was a true freshman in 2012-13. They do add 6'5" Ralston Turner, who averaged 10.6 ppg over two seasons at LSU, but after that they're basically looking at whatever 2013 recruits they can sign. Mark Gottlieb has so far signed Anthony Barber (Scout: 4 PG, Rivals: 27), Beejay Anya (Scout: 7 C, Rivals: 58) and Kyle Washington (Scout: 12 C, Rivals: 93).

Maryland loses Alex Len to the NBA Draft, but the rest of their starting lineup returns. They lose only James Padgett and Logan Aronhalt off the bench. And as good as Len was at times, he also disappeared for large portions of games. Dez Wells was Maryland's primary playmaker and scorer, and he will be back. The Terps also return Pe'Shon Howard, Nick Faust and Seth Allen from their starting lineup. Jake Layman and Shaquille Cleare are two good young big men that came off the bench this past season, and they also add 6'9" Evan Smotrycz, the transfer from Michigan. Their top 2013 recruit is Roddy Peters (Scout: 8 PG, Rivals: 48).

At this point I want to talk about the new ACC teams. Pittsburgh is another one of those teams (like Georgetown) that gets unfairly smeared as a team that "can't win in the NCAA Tournament." The computers don't love Pitt because they have an irrational love for Jamie Dixon, but because Pitt was second in the Big East in efficiency margin (+0.12 PPP, compared to +0.11 PPP for Georgetown and +0.08 PPP for Marquette). Pitt got a tough blow with star big man Steven Adams going pro, though. Their other key loss is point guard Tray Woodall, as well as Dante Taylor off the bench. A key for next season is going to be whether James Robinson, a true freshman in 2012-13, can provide similar point guard play to Tray Woodall. At the other positions, Pitt should be fine. Their key returners are Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna and JJ Moore, all of whom will be seniors next season. Their top recruits are Mike Young (Scout: 21 PF, Rivals: 102) and Josh Newkirk (Scout: 20 PG, Rivals: 129).

Syracuse will suffer fairly heavy losses. Brandon Triche and James Southerland are graduating while Michael Carter-Williams is off to the NBA. CJ Fair is also considering the NBA Draft, but he's unlikely to be a first round pick so I think he'll be back. They're still going to have a ton of front court athleticism and length, such as Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant. They also add 6'7" Michael Gbinije, the former Duke recruit. The concern is in the backcourt, where the only returner from the regular rotation will be Trevor Cooney. A lot of pressure will fall on 2013 recruit Tyler Ennis (Scout: 5 SG, Rivals: 22), who will need to take over the point. The other key perimeter recruit is 6'6" BJ Johnson (Scout: 20 SF, Rivals: 136).

If there's a sleeper team for next season, it's Boston College. They finished below .500 for the season, but were really not that bad of a team. They finished right around 100th in both Sagarin and Pomeroy, and were awfully young. Their top seven minute earners were all freshmen or sophomores, led by Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan. They also add 6'7" Alex Dragicevich, who averaged 6.6 ppg for Notre Dame in 2011-12. Their most important player next season might be Joe Rahon, who handled the point reasonably well as a true freshman this past season.

In the end, here's how I see the ACC playing out:

1. Duke - Jabari Parker needs to live up to expectations for Duke to stay in the Top Ten. Losing Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee means that they lose their two best rebounders and interior defenders. That said, Duke's backcourt should be really good once again.
2. Virginia - The Cavaliers obviously will need to play more consistently if they're going to earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they're very likely to be one of the 25 best teams in the nation.
3. North Carolina - I had UNC as my preseason ACC favorite, but with the loss of Reggie Bullock they tumble two spots to third. They're still a borderline Top 25 team, but Bullock was just really, really good. And now they're back to depending on the overrated James Michael-McAdoo.
4  Pittsburgh - If Steven Adams hadn't left I would have given serious consideration to rating Pitt as a preseason Top Ten team. He's going to be really good in a year or two (although he probably would have been better off taking one more year in college to get more seasoned). But without Adams, the Panthers are likely going to be closer to a 5-7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Notre Dame - The Irish suffer significant losses, but I can't drop them below here. They have Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins for another season, and I really like Pat Connaughton and Cameron Biedscheid as prospects for the future. Also keep an eye on star 2013 recruit Demetrius Jackson (Scout: 6 PG, Rivals: 38).
6. Syracuse - The Orange offense could be really ugly next season, but I can't drop them below here. Their defense is going to be awfully good yet again
7. Maryland - I think the loss of Alex Len is overrated. At his best he was one of the most dominant big men in the nation, but I watched him disappear for entire games. The Terps should be improved next season. I only have them 7th because the ACC is going to be awfully deep next season. They should be a Tournament team.
8. Boston College - This is my sleeper team in the ACC for next season. They should be a bubble team.
9. Georgia Tech - Only Mfon Udofia graduates, so Georgia Tech is a team that should be improved next season. As good as the ACC is going to be, though, it's going to be an uphill path to the NCAA Tournament.
10. Florida State - The Seminoles had a total rebuilding season in 2012-13, and their defense should be significantly improved with another year of seasoning. But without Michael Snaer, offense is a real concern.
11. Miami (Fl) - Total rebuilding season for Jim Larranaga. Even if Shane Larkin comes back, I don't see how they can get back to the NCAA Tournament in what's going to be an awfully deep ACC.
12. NC State - It's a total rebuilding season for Mark Gottfried. The one bright spot is going to be TJ Warren, though if he's as good as I think he's going to be then he'll probably leave early for the 2014 NBA Draft.
13. Wake Forest - I'm aware that I'm basically the captain of the Jeff Bzdelik fan club at this point. Wake Forest fans hate him, and I get angry tweets from them every time I say anything nice about him. I don't even think he's a particularly great coach, but the criticism of him really isn't fair. Every attack on him is against his career record with Wake Forest, after his first two years were about cleaning up a program in crisis. This past year his team got significantly better, and he did it with an awfully young team that should only be better in 2013-14 and even better than that in 2014-15. The ACC is going to be awfully good next season, which is why Wake Forest will still likely finish near the bottom of the league. But they should be a Top 100 team and will have a good shot at getting back to the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
14. Clemson - With as strong as the ACC is going to be next season, I don't see a reason why Clemson will be contending for anything but trying to avoid the conference basement.
15. Virginia Tech - There was no player in the nation more underrated than Erick Green this past season. He was far and away the best player in the ACC, and got robbed from postseason awards by the typical bias against players with bad teammates. For a player to put up his kind of efficiency stats while taking a full 33% of his team's shots while on the floor when every team was focusing its entire defense on stopping him, was astonishing. The bad news for Virginia Tech is that Erick Green is gone, and now they're just stuck with his crappy teammates.


Brian said...

Very glad you see the potential in Virginia next season. So many "experts" are forgetting Gill and Brogdon. Unconfirmed reports from players was the Gill was the best player on the team last year during practice - we will have to wait and see on that.

Anonymous said...

I think your assessment and predictions make a lot of sense at this point of the offseason, but I have one gripe. I think Wake Forest will finish ahead of NC State, Miami, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. Wake finished 6-12 in the league this past season, but they were four or five possessions away from a .500 record in the ACC (lost at VT by 1, at BC by 3, vs Duke by 5; led against VT and BC with less than a minute to play, led versus Duke with less than four minutes to play) They should reside in the same category as BC: a very young team in 2013 that could sneak into the 2014 NCAA tournament with a few lucky breaks.

Anonymous said...

I think BC is more then a sleeper, NCSU could surprise you - GT will surprise you, Maryland will offend you and Wake will be in the upper half - leaving UNC Syracuse and Miami to crumble. Clemson VT and FSU bottom feed