It’s the first week of June, and you know what that means: it’s time to talk college basketball! I say that in half-jest, but with the deadline to remain in the NBA Draft in the past, and the transfer market near completion, it’s worth taking a look at how the league’s teams stack up.
We have a better idea of the rosters now; for instance, Tyus Battle is back; Jerome Robinson is headed pro. (The NBA Draft is two weeks away.)
So in reverse order, here’s an early look at all 15 ACC teams — placed into semi-arbitrary tiers. In Part 1 of this exercise, we will look at team 9-15.
Chilling in the ACC Basketball Basement
Few leagues, if any, in college basketball are as unforgiving as the ACC. The constant travel and pressure that comes with 18 games in 10 weeks is a grind. That’s the life. As a result, some teams will absolutely struggle.
No. 15 Georgia Tech
In each of the last two seasons, Georgia Tech has had all kinds of issues scoring the basketball. Last year, the Yellow Jackets ranked No. 197 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency: 103.6 points per 100 possessions. It was worse the year prior.
When Georgia Tech has won under Josh Pastner, it’s been because of the team’s plus-defense. However, with Josh Okogie (2.9 steals per 100 possessions) and Ben Lammers (8.6 percent career block rate) headed pro, Tech is without its top two defenders — who also doubled as the team’s best options offensively, too.
Along with Tadric Jackson, Georgia Tech will be without three of its top four scorers from the 2017-18 season, and its three most heavily-used players. (Gulp)
Rising sophomore point guard Jose Alvarado is a good player — 65.5 percent effective shooting, scored 1.3 points per possession on spot-up attempts, per Synergy Sports. It seems unlikely that he will be able to carry an offense, though.
Freshman Michael Devoe, a 6-foot-4 guard and top-5o prospect, will help Georgia Tech, but that’s nowhere near enough for a team that will have even more issues scoring, and is set to take a step back defensively.
No. 14 Wake Forest
In Winston-Salem, it’s the inverse of Georgia Tech but just as middling: Wake Forest can score, but the Demon Deacons have no shot at stopping their opponents. In four seasons under Danny Manning, Wake Forest has yet to finish inside the top 125 nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
The high water-mark of Manning’s tenure came in 2017. Blessed with John Collins, the Deacs won 19 games — behind the nation’s No. 7 offense — and made the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in the last decade. They were promptly eliminated during First Four play, after Kansas State scored 1.3 points per possession and 55 points in the second half.
There are some that will argue that the losses of Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods and Doral Moore are manageable. The logic here: If you lose good players from an underwhelming team, is it really that bad?
right, I guess my thing is: if you’re already 11-20, is it that big of a deal that you lose players from your bad team? Like, I basically just think they’re going to be lower-half of the ACC, not “worst team in the ACC” which is some of what I’ve seen people say about them.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) May 30, 2018
Well, um, yes: it’s really not good. Wake Forest won just 11 games last season; it would’ve been a lot worse if you sub Crawford, Moore and Woods out for replacement-level players.
Moore was a monster at the rim: 1.66 points per possession (81 FG%) on non-post-ups around the basket — No. 2 in the nation, per Synergy. His efficiency, and shot blocking on defense (9.1 percent block rate), will be missed. The loss of Crawford and Woods robs Wake Forest of its best pick-and-roll creator (the backbone of Manning’s offense) and top three-point shooter.
Basically, this team is poised to take a step back offensively; combined with a program that’s never proven capable of guarding, that’s a huge problem.
A good recruiting class arrives, but unless Jaylen Hoard is the next Kawhi Leonard, it’s going to be a bear to ask this team to stop anyone, again.
No. 13 Pittsburgh
There’s no doubt Jeff Capel and his staff have done a nice job consolidating talent in only a few months on the job. They’ve managed to hang onto a handful of players that considered transferring out, like leading scorer Jared Wilson-Frame (13 points), Kene Chukwuka, Khameron Davis, Terrell Brown and Shamiel Stevenson.
On top of that, Capel has added a quartet of new players to the program: New Mexico State grad transfer Sidy N’Dir, and three incoming freshman, including two 4-star prospects — Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney.
That’s a quick turnaround for Capel, who looks to be building something at Pitt. In less than three months, this program has come a long way from Kevin Stallings trying to break a clipboard on his knee in Brooklyn.
However, after a disastrous 2017-18 season — winless in the ACC with an offense that ranked 278th nationally in efficiency — this program still has a ways to go. The ACC basketball learning curve will prove cruel, initially, to a program on the rise.
Hopeful but with some concerns
The endless cycle of college basketball, mixed with each program’s limited roster space, makes the sport truly unique. It can also lend itself to fluctuation — good years and bad years.
Each ACC basketball season is its own separate chapter, and (drawing this metaphor out further) some of those passages are more enjoyable to read than others.
No. 12 Boston College
This is a program that hasn’t gone to the NCAA Tournament since 2009 — the longest absence of any ACC team, currently. Unfortunately for Jim Christian and Boston College, a program on the right track, it feels like the Eagles will be on the outside looking in again.
After winning just 16 total games in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons (combined 2-34 in the ACC), Boston College is in the midst of a mini-revival (or something like that). In his fourth season with BC, Christian helped guide the Eagles to 19 wins, including seven in the ACC. Boston College also ranked 52nd nationally in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
The return of Ky Bowman is significant; he will enter his junior season as the ACC’s top pick-and-roll scorer. In 2017-18, Bowman used 217 pick-and-roll possessions (the most in the ACC), per Synergy: 38 percent shooting. With Jordan Chatman — 1.16 points per possession on spot-ups — spacing the floor, and Nik Popovic and Steffon Mitchell (10 percent offensive rebound rate) diving and slipping, Bowman could quarterback a powerful offense in Chestnut Hill.
However, the departure of Jerome Robinson — the ACC’s top attacking guard last season — is a significant hit. If he had decided to return, this team is winning 20-plus games and dancing come March; however, Robinson has a spot in the NBA, and he made a wise business decision. Without J-Rob, this looks more like an NIT team — unless Bowman takes massive leap or the defensive improves, drastically.
No. 11 Notre Dame
When it comes to coaches in college basketball, there’s no one I admire more than Mike Brey. He’s the best. Notre Dame is a proud program — and this team knows how to score the ball — but this feels more like a rebuild year.
Temple Gibbs looks like a star; he certainly played like one at times during his sophomore season. According to Synergy, Gibbs scored 1.18 points per possession on spot-ups last season — No. 1 in the ACC (minimum of 100 possessions). The 228 points Gibbs scored on spot-ups (57.3 eFG%) was tops in the ACC, too.
Stretch big John Mooney — 1.25 points per possession on spot-ups (66 eFG%) — can help space the floor, which is key for Brey’s four-out motion offense. D.J. Harvey will be back from a knee injury that cost him a big chunk of his rookie season. The 6-foot-6 Harvey struggled with his shot (39 FG%), but he can put up points in a more featured a role.
However, Notre Dame is tasked with replacing two of the best players in recent program history: Matt Farrell — 16.3 points, 5.5 assists, 0.91 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll — and Bonzie Colson — 19.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.17 points per possession on post-ups (62 FG%). (Some of those juicy spot-ups Gibbs got are the direct result of defensive attention assigned to either Colson or Farrell. Those will likely be tougher to come by in 2018-19.)
Dating back to the 2001-02 season, Notre Dame has only once finished outside the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency, per KenPom. This program prides itself on efficiency, player development and joy (what a novel concept). If things stay in place, Notre Dame looks like an Elite Eight team — in 2020.
Frozen Yogurt: Good, but not ice cream
First off: these are NCAA Tournament teams, but it wouldn’t surprise to see them uncertain of their seed come Selection Sunday. Both teams also feature coaches in their first or second season of ACC basketball.
(Also, for greater context with the title of this section, go watch The Good Place on NBC. It’s very, very good.)
No. 10 Louisville
Welcome to ACC basketball, Chris Mack! This offseason, Louisville decided to part ways with interim coach David Padgett, who helped the program navigate tricky waters after the ousting of Rick Pitino. Mack was one of the best hires in college hoops in 2018, if not the best.
It will take some time for Mack to get his players into the system, but there’s still a lot to like with this nucleus of talent.
On the wing, V.J. King, a former 5-star recruit, has size and talent, but he’s yet to play efficient ball in college. As a sophomore, King scored under 0.82 points per possession on spot-ups, according to Synergy, and posted an offensive rating under 94 points per 100 possessions. If Mack and his staff can work some magic here, King could be a breakout player next season.
Alongside King: the unheralded Dwayne Sutton. A bulldog of a competitor, I’ve been a fan of Sutton since I saw him play back in 2016 at UNC-Asheville. Sutton is a good flex player, too: he can guard and rebound (20 percent defensive rebound rate), which makes him a key small-ball piece.
Up front, two rising sophomores offers gobs of potential: Malik Williams and Jordan Nwora (61 percent true shooting). As a freshman, Williams was efficient at the rim: 16-of-23 (69.6 FG%), 1.44 points per possession on non-post-up attempts, per Synergy. In terms of efficiency, this ranks 11th in the ACC (minimum 20 possessions).
No. 9 NC State
It’s been a busy offseason for the Wolfpack, that’s for sure. NC State lost key players to transfer — Omer Yurtseven and Lavar Batts — and added other via the transfer market, including grad transfers Wyatt Walker (Samford) and Eric Locket (FIU).
The loss of Yurtseven, who heads to Georgetown, is a blow, especially as it coincides with the departure of other veteran post players Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu. Walker, who shot 60 percent on post-ups in the 2016-17 season, will hopefully replace some of Yurtseven’s offense.
NC State also added Kentucky transfer Sacha Killeya-Jones, another former 5-star recruit. SKJ, however, won’t be a part of the active rotation until the 2019-2020 season.
This will be an athletic bunch next season — one that should be suited to play the pressure-packed, switchy scheme of Kevin Keatts. NC State ranked 52nd nationally in steal rate in 2018 (10.2 percent) — expect that to jump.
In the backcourt, NC State has a trio of guards that can apply pressure and handle the rock: Markell Johnson, Braxton Beverly (1.11 points per possession on spot-ups) and Missouri transfer Blake Harris. Keatts loves to spread the floor on offense and create via the pick-and-roll; this is where Johnson excels.
According to Synergy, NC State scored 1.07 points per possession when Johnson was a passer to a finisher out of the pick-and-roll — No. 19 in the nation amongst players with at least 200 possessions.
Tying this whole thing together, though: Torin Dorn, the team’s lynchpin. After going through the pre-draft process, Dorn decided to return, which means a great deal for the Pack. Dorn’s ability to vacillate between both forward spots unlocks critical small-ball combinations for NC State.
A productive midrange player, Dorn’s at his best when attacking the basket or working along the baseline. According to Synergy, Dorn shot 61.6 percent (1.28 points per possession) on non-post-up attempts around the rim.
(Stay tuned for Part 2 — see where your favorite ACC basketball team or its rival lands!)