We are 5 weeks away from the start of another NCAA Basketball season and its time to start taking a brief look at what, and who, to watch for around the country. This is just the first post in a 3 week series where we will head to almost every conference in the country for a sneak peek. We will look at what’s good, what’s not, any major questions that need to be answered, and finally, what I think the teams and players will be doing come March.
First up, the Atlantic Coast Conference. Part 1 here will look at Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Maryland. Tomorrow’s Part 2 will cover the rest – Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
The Good: New coach Steve Donahue is coming off a much-talked about Sweet Sixteen run with Cornell, and will now be tasked with making BC a competitive ACC squad. While it will take some time for Donahue to get the personnel he needs to fit his style of coaching, he does have enough talent to be competitive this season. Joe Trapani (14.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is set to show that he is one of the top small forwards on the East Coast. Trapani has good size, can score inside and out, can finish strong at the basket, and is a good rebounder. Reggie Jackson and Cori Raji also return to add some experience and toughness to the squad. Raji, who reminds of me of Jared Dudley at BC, could put up a few double-double games with his ability to hit the offensive glass.
The Not-So-Good: 2 major factors will make things rough for the Eagles this season: lack of depth and no size. There are only 2 players over 6’6 on the roster (Josh Southern and Courtney Dunn) and neither of them have contributed much while at BC. Also, Donahue’s system, which relies on a strong high post presence and good perimeter shooters, doesn’t exactly fit this group of players. Jackson, who is an excellent passer and rebounder, will need to become more of a perimeter threat to help extend the defense.
The Question Mark: The focus as the season begins is how will the players react under the more-disciplined Donahue as opposed to the player-friendly Al Skinner? Good chance for Trapani to show some leadership skills.
What Will March Bring?: If the players buy into Donahue’s system early in the season, it is possible we could see the Eagles mentioned as a fringe NCAA bubble team. Best guess though is a NIT bid and a possible draft appearance by Trapani.
The Good: 4 of the top 5 scorers from last season return for new coach Brad Brownell and all 4 are candidates for a breakout season. DeMontez Stitt and Andre Young both play point guard in the frenetic Clemson offense, and are each capable scorers/passers. Young is a better defender, though Stitt is capable. Tanner Smith is another capable scorer, though he needs to become a more consistent perimeter threat. Jerai Grant is a decent power forward prospect, though I expect him to increase his production under the more even-tempo style of Coach Brownell. Grant is very efficient when he touches the ball, so look for Brownell to find ways to exploit that. With a less-than-impressive non-conference schedule, this veteran group should be on a roll come ACC play.
The Not-So-Good: The loss of Trevor Booker will be felt on both ends of the floor. Not only capable of scoring in the post or mid-range, but a great rebounder and capable of defending multiple positions. Also, Brownell will need to find a way to get the Clemson squad to be more consistent night in and night out. Defensively, they will be at a disadvantage against bigger teams, so they will need to find ways to use their speed to overcome them.
The Question Mark: Which, if any, of the 4 returning starters will step up and be the team leader? My guess is we see Grant play his way to a borderline all-ACC season and Stitt will be one of the conference’s leading scorers.
What Will March Bring?: A veteran group with no true star and a soft non-conference schedule, yet I can’t see this team making the NCAA tournament. A strong ACC will make it tough for Clemson to break .500 in league play.
The Good: What else is there to say about this group: Key players back from the Defending champs, a Coach who led the US team to a Gold Medal in the World Championships, and some of the top recruits in the country now on campus. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler spent the summer scrimmaging against Team USA, and the experience should be obvious as the come back this fall. Smith is capable of playing wither guard position, though the point guard spot will be squarely in the hands of freshman Kyrie Irving. Singler had a tough time adjusting to playing on the wing last season, though he showed great improvement by March of last season, as well as over the summer. Look for him to show an improved ability to attack the defense as well as a more consistent perimeter shot. Miles and Mason Plumlee will man the frontcourt, and Mason should become one of the more dominant big men in the ACC. Mason has good hands, great footwork, a nice touch around the rim, and an improving mid-range game. And if they didn’t have enough weapons, guards Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins and freshman wing Josh Hairston provide scoring off the bench.
The Not-So-Good: There isn’t much not to like about this team, though there are some issues which could derail the bid for another title. Defensively, neither Plumlee brother is a strong rebounder, and are unproven as post defenders. Along with that, there isn’t much depth at the 4 and 5 positions behind the brothers.
The Question Mark: Will the long summer have an effect on Singler, Smith and Coach K? Combine their summer commitments with the natural letdown coming off a championship and you may have a complacent team. Also, while we know Irving is extremely talented, is the freshman point ready for the rigors of the ACC?
What Will March Bring?: Obviously, Duke has enough talent to repeat as National Champs, but the lack of frontcourt depth will hurt them come NCAA time. A deep NCAA run, but no championship. Smith and Singler are most likely first round picks, as well as Irving and the Plumlee brothers if they choose to declare for the draft.
The Good: Chris Singleton, another ACC player who played with the US Select Team this summer, will be back to improve on a season where he was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. A first-class athlete, with the ability to guard multiple positions, Singleton will be tasked with being the go-to guy on the offensive end as well. While not much of a shooter, especially from the free throw line, Singleton is tough around the rim and finds ways to score. Defensively, he does a great job using long arms to disrupt passing lanes and alter shots. This year could also be a breakout year for 6’11 Xavier Gibson, a very athletic, but raw center, who has the ability to play with his back to the basket or facing up. However, he needs to be much more assertive in the post, on both ends of the floor, and he must get used to playing extended minutes (12 mpg last season.) Point Guard Derwin Kitchen has become one of the most effective point guards in the ACC, with the ability to penetrate the lane and get his teammates the ball in scoring position.
The Not-So-Good: This is not a very good shooting team. Aside from 2 decent shooters in Michael Snaer and Deividas Dulykis, there is not much of a perimeter threat to extend opposing defenses. This leads to the second major problem – this is not a team that scores a lot. They could get away with it last season with the presence of Singleton and Solomon Alabi to keeps their opponents scoring down. The interior defense will need to be shored up by Gibson and Junior College transfer Jon Kreft.
The Question Mark: Depth could be the difference maker towards an NCAA tournament run. The depth question can possibly be answered by 4 newcomers – Kreft, forwards Okaro White and Bernard James, and guard Ian Miller. If these newcomers can step in immediately and perform up to expectations then the Seminoles should be in good shape come ACC season.
What Will March Bring?: Singleton and Gibson have All-ACC seasons, and if the defense and bench hold up, a possible run in the NCAA tournament. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Singleton and Gibson parlay their success into becoming first round picks next June.
The Good: Coach Paul Hewitt has done a good job keeping talent coming to Atlanta, and this year is no different. Iman Shumpert will continue to handle the point guard duties and will look to improve on a decent sophomore season. Shumpert has great size for a point guard, and if necessary can handle playing off the ball. Shumpert is not a great scorer, but he uses his size well to see over the defense and makes good, clean passes. He is also a great on-ball defender and uses his size well to his advantage against smaller guards. Freshman Jason Morris has the athleticism to be a contributor immediately, though his game is far from polished. Hopefully, Glen Rice, Jr. will show some of his father’s scoring prowess this season, as he did impress in limited minutes last season.
The Not-So-Good: The Yellow Jackets lost two of the best frontcourt players in the ACC last season, Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, to the NBA. What’s left is not that impressive. Look for Hewitt to try and push the tempo this season to make up for the lack of frontcourt options.
The Question Mark: Does Shumpert have the ability to step up and be both the playmaker and scorer this team will need? Not yet. While Shumpert is talented, he still has needs to experience the pressure of being “the man.” Also, is there anyone to step up and be the post presence the Jackets need. Redshirt freshman Daniel Miller has the body and the footwork to be an effective post player though it will need to be seen how he handles the rigors of ACC competition. Freshman Nate Hicks has nice size and is a good athlete, though he needs to develop some muscle to be effective on the blocks.
What Will March Bring?: I don’t see this being anything other than a down year for Coach Hewitt. If Shumpert performs beyond expectations, it is possible for them to be in the NCAA discussion, though a winning ACC record may be tough to achieve.
The Good: Sean Mosely is a do-everything guard who will have his chance to shine now that Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes are gone. Mosely can play either guard position, though he isn’t as effective playing without the ball. Look for Gary Williams to use Mosely to facilitate the offense while looking to get to the basket. Jordan Williams may turn out to be one of the best post players in recent Terp history. A huge body with good footwork and a nice shooting touch, Williams should look a little more at ease this season, though he still needs to continue to expand his game. Williams has also brought in stellar freshman class, including 3 guards who have All-ACC potential. Terrell Stoglin is an excellent playmaker with a high basketball IQ. Mychal Parker is a solidly built shooting guard who has the ability to score in a variety of ways.
The Not-So-Good: Maryland will miss the leadership of Vasquez and Milbourne, and Mosely is untested as a go-to player. The perimeter defense also needs work, with lack of speed at the guard the position, and Williams not very aggressive on the interior. Coach Williams’ intensity is well-known, and his team will need to mirror that intensity to make up for defensive deficiencies. Freshmen will be counted on for major minutes and there is almost always a rough patch associated with that scenario.
The Question Mark: Is Jordan Williams ready to assert himself as a dominant big man? If the answer is yes, Williams has the potential to be a game-changer, though he needs to show a mean streak and unleash his power game. Also, how quickly will the freshmen become acclimated to Coach Williams and the college game? If Stoglin proves capable of running the offense, this will allow Mosely to attack from the wings.
What Will March Bring?: I think Jordan Williams decides to take that next step towards becoming the dominant big man he is projected to be. He will still need some additional work to polish up his other skills, such as passing out of the post. Maryland should finish in the Top 5 in the ACC and make another NCAA appearance to add to Coach Williams’ legacy.
Make sure to comeback tomorrow for Part 2 – Is Harrison Barnes as good as advertised? Can Tracy Smith and CJ Leslie turn NC State into winners? Will Virginia be better with Sylven Landesberg gone? A look at these questions and more in Part 2. In the meantime, comments are welcome, feel free to email me – ed (at) nbadraftblog.com, or find me on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog.