ACC Primer (Cont.)
2. Duke: The Blue Devils will be good. How good will depend on Mason Plumlee's and Ryan Kelly's productivity in the frontcourt and, more importantly, whether Duke has improved defensively in the backcourt. The Lehigh loss in the NCAAs was the final piece of evidence in a case that had been building up from January on: Duke simply couldn't consistently contain guards off the dribble. Some combo of Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook at the point will have to help there. That said, losing Kelly to a foot injury was also a blow. His ability to stretch the floor allows Duke to cause significant problems on the offensive end.
3. Florida State: Snaer and Okoro White are back and the Seminoles should once again be a strong defensive team with some opportunistic scoring, but replacing Bernard James, Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft in the frontcourt will be difficult. FSU has some size with 7-foot-plus internationals Michael Ojo (7-8 wingspan!) and Boris Bojanovsky, but can the Seminoles replace the defense and rebounding of James? And will the loss of Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys on the perimeter prove more damaging than expected?
4. North Carolina: If the Tar Heels won the league, it wouldn't be a complete shock. If they finished fifth, it wouldn't either. That's what happens when you have one promising frontcourt player (James Michael McAdoo), a slew of capable wings and a small freshman point guard who will have to play a lot of minutes. Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland should be productive scorers and Marcus Paige, the point guard, comes with a lot of promise, but McAdoo can't do it alone in the frontcourt. Enter freshman Joel James, for starters, and we'll see what happens.
5. Miami: Good point guard? Check, with Durand Scott. Good size? Check, with Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji. Good coach? Check, with Jim Larranaga. Sleeper ACC threat? Check. The Hurricanes have a lot of promise in Year 2 of the Larranaga regime. They should be a better rebounding team at both ends than they were last season and also could get to the line more, which would help fuel an offense that does everything OK but nothing particularly well, except protect the ball. The Canes were 26th in the nation last season with a 17.4 percent turnover rate, a staple of Larranaga basketball.
6. Maryland: There is a lot of hope in College Park that this will be the season in which the Terps move back toward the top of the ACC. If big man Alex Len shows improvement, that would be a big step in the right direction. So would the NCAA declaring former Xavier standout Dez Wells eligible after he was expelled from that school and enrolled at Maryland. Last season, no one besides Terrell Stoglin was even a decent offensive player, but was that because Stoglin dominated the ball to a ridiculous degree? Mark Turgeon-led teams normally thrive with better offensive balance, so Stoglin's early departure could end up being addition by subtraction by the time the season's over.
7. Clemson: For a team that didn't score very consistently, losing guards Andre Young and Tanner Smith -- the two most efficient scorers on the roster -- may be a lot to overcome. There is still quality size with Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, but only one player on the returning roster even attempted 50 threes last season. Will the Tigers have enough shooting to finish any higher than this?
8. Virginia: Unlike Terrell Stoglin, Mike Scott was not a polarizing player as he dominated the ball for the Cavaliers last season. He was just really good and really hard to stop most nights. While Tony Bennett brings back a lot of the supporting cast and some of the young players, particularly Joe Harris, look very promising, Scott is a really big loss and will be hard to replace for a team that already struggled to score points. Look at all of the national categories in which Scott was ranked last season (stats courtesy of KenPom.com):
9. Georgia Tech: The dismissal of leading scorer Glen Rice Jr. last spring set back the Yellow Jackets' recovery plan. Their offense, bad all season, turned putrid after Rice was booted, culminating in the ghastly 54-36 loss to Miami in the ACC tournament, a game in which Tech scored a brutal 0.55 points per possession. Brian Gregory has a good young roster developing, though, that could become something with another season of experience. They're still lacking perimeter shooters, but a solid junior class will be helped by the arrival of heralded freshman forward Robert Carter.
10. Boston College: The Eagles were an incredibly poor offensive team last season. They also had a rotation where six of their top seven guys in terms of possession usage were freshmen. I'm guessing there's a significant correlation there. With a year's experience under their belts and more talent in the freshmen class, the Eagles should be better in what's a weaker league than last season top to bottom. Losing Matt Humphrey to transfer (to West Virginia) shouldn't be an enormous setback. He was a high-volume, low-percentage shooter last season on a roster with other credible options for his position. I witnessed Steve Donahue's slow build at Cornell fairly closely. If BC fans are patient, they should have a very credible team in another season or two.
11. Wake Forest: With Travis McKie and C.J. Harris back, there are at least a couple of experienced ACC-caliber players to lead a massive freshman class that's expected to shepherd in a renaissance in Winston-Salem. If Codi Miller-McIntyre is as good as advertised, the transfer of Tony Chennault won't be that big an issue. Even with bigger reps for some of the incoming freshmen, this feels a lot like Boston College 2011. There's just a learning curve a team with this many first-years needs to go through. They should be better, but it may not show up significantly in their league record. Ten of the Deacons' 13 ACC losses last season (counting the league tournament) came by double digits. They have a lot of ground to make up.
12. Virginia Tech: Sometimes, you need to take a step or two back to move forward, and Hokies faithful must hope that's the case as new coach James Johnson shepherds in a new era in Blacksburg with a really shorthanded roster. Gone is Seth Greenberg, who was unchallenged in his ability to make a 21-10 record not worthy of an NCAA bid. This team won't be anywhere near the consistent OK-ness that Greenberg's Hokies served up annually, but perhaps the new approach will ultimately lead to bigger things down the road. Year 1 is for establishing the new personality of the program and winning over fans. Erick Green doesn't have a lot of help.