With the NBA Draft done and over, and rosters now mostly set for the 2019-20 season, let’s bring back the the ACC Basketball power rankings — offseason edition. Football may be right around the corner, but basketball season isn’t too far off, either. It will likely be difficult for the league to replicate the success of last season — Zion-mania, Virginia winning the national title, 10 first round picks; however, the ACC is still loaded for a strong year of hoops.
5. Notre Dame
For someone like Mike Brey — who values coaching experienced rosters — last season couldn’t have been much fun. On the heels of the 2017-18 season being derailed because of injuries, last year’s Notre Dame squad was young (318th nationally in weighted experience, per KenPom) and didn’t win much (14-19, 3-15 ACC).
Plenty of underclassmen return with a deep sophomore class; however, this season will be different as Notre Dame looks to be led by several seniors, too: John Mooney, TJ Gibbs and Juwan Durham. Notre Dame returns 89 percent of its minutes played from a season ago, which ranks 14th nationally and the most of any ACC team. (DJ Harvey, who transferred to Vanderbilt, is the only notable absence.)
After a torrid start — 14.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game on 53/43/80 shooting over the first 19 games — John Mooney cooled off some as the calendar flipped to February. He still put together a strong junior season — averaging a double-double (54 TS%) and ranking fourth nationally in defensive rebound rate (30.3 percent). According to Synergy Sports, he scored 1.11 points per possession (54.7 eFG%) on pick-and-pops, a top-five number in the ACC.
Mooney returns as an efficient hub of offense; he can score from multiple levels (31 dunks, 34 3-pointers), which stresses opposing defenses, and post-up against less bulky match-ups.
As a sophomore, TJ Gibbs emerged as one of the better attacking guards in the ACC: 1.18 points per spot-up possession, No. 1 in the ACC (minimum of 100 possessions). However, he’s limited in terms of shot creation. After taking just 53 off-dribble jumpers in the half court during the 2017-18 season (34 FG%, 41.5 eFG%), that number nearly doubled to 102 attempts (28.4 FG%, 37.3 eFG%) last season. Obviously, it hurt to loose pick-and-roll engine Matt Farrell.
Can Gibbs find better balance, vacillating between ace spot-up shooter and secondary playmaker? This is where Prentiss Hubb comes into play.
Hubb’s freshman campaign was a tough one. There was an eight-game stretch (from early December to early January) when Hubb shot just 13.1 percent from the field and under nine percent on 3-pointers. He finished with an effective shooting rate under 40 percent, and his most memorable moment may have been Zion Williamson doing mean things to him.
then he goes and does this, though pic.twitter.com/e3dOLnAI8j
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 29, 2019
It’s really hard to be a freshman point guard in the ACC.
However, he stayed solid and kept competing. At some point in the season, Brey had to understand he was laying the ground work for 2019 and beyond — reps matter. Hubb has to be one of the top candidates in the ACC to improve from last season to the next.
Injuries limited Juwan Durham to just 27 games last season, but the 6-foot-11 forward provides some much need bounce to Notre Dame’s frontcourt. The UConn transfer finished last season with 20 dunks, shot 84.3 percent at the rim and blocked an insane 6.1 shots per 40 minutes.
Also in the frontcourt mix: sophomore big Nate Laszewski, who provides more stretch (44 3-pointers) to Notre Dame’s offense. According to Synergy Sports, Laszewski posted an effective shooting rate of 57.7 percent on pick-and-pops (just 13 FGA).
After an ACL tear, veteran leader Rex Pflueger returns for his fifth season of college hoops (110 career games, 57 starts) and ready to provide two-way activity as a 3-and-D wing (3.4 percent steal rate) with some passing chops.
Dane Goodwin (34.3 3P%), who made nine starts a year ago, plays aggressively and can do some positive stuff, too.
4. Florida State
It will pain FSU to see Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann exit for the NBA; those two was super productive over the last two seasons, which have overlapped with some of the best basketball in program history: 52 wins, including a 5-2 record in the NCAA Tournament.
After playing in 106 career games and three NCAA Tournaments (next to multiple NBA Draft picks), Forrest is more of a known commodity. But Vassell is quickly becoming a legit NBA prospect in his own right.
Forrest is a jack of all trades who has basically seen everything during his time at FSU. He’s a bruising, physical presence at the point guard position — to go along with being one of the more intelligent playmakers in the country.
At 6-foot-4 with speed and zero aversion to contact (5.5 FTA per 40 minutes for his career), Forrest is a downhill monster in transition — looking to run off steals or rebounds. According to Synergy, Forrest scored 1.11 points per possession (56.9 FG%) in transition last season.
With a career assist rate of 22.8 percent, Forrest dished out 5.6 assists per 40 minutes during his sophomore and junior seasons. Half-court offense can bring out some of his deficiencies, especially with his jumper yet to get online (16 FG% on pull-up jump shots last season). Forrest can be prone to turnovers as well (20.1 percent career turnover rate).
Defensively, Forrest can really make an impact — sliding across multiple positions with disruptive efforts. Last season, Forrest bagged 69 steals, which ranked second in the ACC — behind only Zion Williamson (70); for his career, Forrest has averaged 2.6 steals per 40 minutes, which is a big number.
If you love ACC Basketball and/or are an NBA Draft junkie, Vassell is likely on your radar. As a rookie, Vassell shot 41.9 percent on 3-point attempts: 26-of-62 (7 3PA per 40 minutes). In ACC action, that number jumped to 44.4 percent on looks from downtown (7.6 3PA per 40 minutes). Pair that shooting efficiency with his frame (6-foot-6), and you have the outline of an intriguing 3-and-D prospect.
All 26 of Vassell’s 3-pointers were assisted last season; he gets the job done off the catch from deep — spotting up on the weak side and showing some relocation skills as well.
According to Synergy, Vassell scored 1.4 points per possession (70.2 eFG%) on no-dribble jumpers from spot-up possessions. That ranked No. 5 in the ACC (minimum 40 possessions), behind only Ty Jerome, Ty Outlaw, Markell Johnson and Coby White.
According to Bart Torvik’s site, he was the only ACC player — among those that played in at least 20 percent of their team’s minutes — to shoot 40 percent on 3-pointers, and have a 2.5 percent block rate and a 2.5 percent steal rate.
In the half court, Florida State likes to run a lot of 1-5 high pick-and-roll; the Seminoles will look for the big man diving to the hoop — perhaps with a lob — or for the weak-side spot-up shooter when the defense rotates.
This is where Vassell should feast next season. Forrest assisted on nine of Vassell’s 26 3-pointers last season, the most of the team, per Synergy. That number will jump next year.
The topic of pick-and-roll offense raises a bit of an issue with Florida State, though. In the 2018-19 season, FSU roll men scored 1.19 points per possession — with Kabengele and Christ Koumadje leading the way and diving to the hoop.
Both bigs scored over 1.25 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll. Koumadje (78) and Kabengele (41) also finished first and fourth in the ACC, respectively, in terms of dunks. Can someone on the roster fill that gravitational void in the middle of the floor?
Returning big man Raiquan Gray (3 dunks) is built differently than those dudes (3 total possessions used via a slip or roll to the basket). He doesn’t play above the rim — preferring to space out to the 3-point arc.
Florida State has landed Ole Miss grad transfer Dominik Olejniczak, he told @Stadium.
7-0, 260, C
Stats: 5.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Scout’s take: “Big and strong. Good rebounder and tough kid, but struggles against length.”
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) May 5, 2019
On the wing, M.J. Walker returns for his junior season. Walker offers some spacing to FSU’s offense (85 career 3-pointers), though he’s not the most efficient player: 0.87 points per spot-up possession. And he turns the ball over too much for a player that offers little in terms of playmaking — 23.5 percent turnover rate last season. (94 assists in over 1,500 career minutes)
He tends to rely too heavily on the midrange, and Walker shot just 30.4 percent (36.2 eFG%) on off-dribble jumper last season. When he’s hot, though, his range shooting is a real bellwether for the Seminoles.
Of course, 5-star wing Patrick Williams will factor prominently into the mix, too.
Over the last half-dozen years, Duke has routinely turned over huge chunks of its roster on an annual basis. The 2019-20 season feels a little more dramatic, though, as Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett leave a crater-sized hole in Duke’s rotation. Of course, Cam Reddish, another lottery talent, is gone, too; so is veteran center Marques Bolden.
No Zion is the difference, though. That once-in-a-lifetime experience is over. What’s on the other side isn’t as exciting (honestly, what could be?); however, there’s still a pretty darn good basketball team returning to Durham.
A top-five recruiting class arrives without a true headliner, though there are several future first round picks in this mix. Wendell Moore is certainly a name to watch; the 3-point shooting of Matthew Hurt will be a welcomed addition to Duke’s frontcourt as well. Vernon Carey Jr. will snag gobs of rebounds and use lots of possessions in the middle for Duke, too.
In terms of returning talent, there are some interesting pieces back for Duke. Alex O’Connell posted an effective shooting clip above 56 percent on half-court catch-and-shoots last season. After testing the NBA Draft waters, Javin DeLaurier returns for his senior season. DeLaurier is limited offensively, but he plays his role — 28 dunks, 78.9 FG% at the rim — and provides rim protection on the other end of the floor: 7.9 percent block rate.
Before his jumper fell off a cliff in the middle of the season (21.3 3P% in ACC play), Jack White looked like a solid 3-and-D prospect. He still managed to finish the season with good stocks (five percent block rate) and rebound numbers (16.8 percent defensive rebound rate). White can struggle in space guarding opposing wings, but he’s pretty good at timing his jumps and making plays around the basket.
If his shot comes back online, then he’s is a seriously valuable asset for Duke. Defensively, he offers some nice versatility at 6-foot-7.
All of this, though, is preamble before mentioning the most important name: Tre Jones, back for his sophomore season.
As I wrote about back in April, Jones has the potential for a special year at Duke — similar to what De’Andre Hunter did at Virginia in 2019. Jones is a candidate to be the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He had the opportunity to leave for the 2019 draft, but with injuries, and concerns with his shot, which were exaggerated in the NCAA Tournament, Jones (26.2 3P%) decided to return.
Without Williamson and Barrett to split touches, Jones is the obvious initiator for Duke’s offense. With the ball in his hands more, opponents won’t be able to sag off of Jones as much. Even if Jones can’t nail down a pull-up jumper in the offseason, it’ll be more of a challenge for defenses to play off him with the ball in his hands.
Plus, go back to his time before Duke: Jones was a special offensive player as a lead dog — capable of raising the floor of whatever offense he was orchestrating through savvy decision-making.
As a freshman, Jones posted an assist rate of 23.9 percent (6.2 assists per 40 minutes) and a turnover rate under 15 percent. If Jones adds a 3-pointer and some pull-up craft to his arsenal this summer, look out next season. However, even without that, Jones can score at the rim (57 FG%) and he has a nice floater game to work with, too.
No conversation with Jones is complete, though, without a mention of his defense. Jones is an absolute pest on the basketball — capable of sitting in a stance and sliding with an opposing ball handler, like a young Chris Paul. He averaged 2.2 steals per 40 minutes (3.0 percent steal rate), which Duke used to trigger its efficient transition offense. (He’s an excellent hit-ahead passer.)
Once again, Jones will be tasked with leading Duke’s defense attack from up top — now without Zion to erase any mistakes. Regardless, that’s a good starting point.
Note: I must say — I started to waver in my rankings when I saw Mike Gribanov kick this out earlier in the week on Twitter. Gribanov is one of the better basketball minds you’ll find, especially when it comes to the draft and college hoops. He based this early top 10 on his own model, which factors in AAU stats. Those numbers have Duke and Virginia higher than I would’ve predicted, and are lower on UNC and Louisville than I would’ve expected.
Here is my first draft of an NCAA top 10 teams
1. Michigan St
6. Florida/Texas Tech
— mike gribanov (@mikegrib8) July 3, 2019
Obviously, there’s lot of basketball to play between now and then, and countless variables to consider. The margins are so thin on so many levels. Once again, a handful of ACC teams could land in the Final Four. For now, though, I’m sticking with my own order. That said, Duke and UVA fans, feel free to roast me come next winter.
2. North Carolina
Much like Duke and UVA, North Carolina is set to turnover a huge portion of its roster and scoring production from a season ago. Veteran agenda-setters Luke Maye and Kenny Williams are gone; UNC also said goodbye to Coby White, Cameron Johnson and Nassir Little, three top-25 draft picks. As usual, the future is still bright in Chapel Hill, though.
White will immediately pass the baton on offense to Cole Anthony, who could evolve to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Anthony will be tasked with running North Carolina’s primary break and secondary actions, along with setting up their half-court motion attack.
After his Nike EYBL performances, and work on the prep all-star game circuit, which culminated with a strong outing at the Nike Hoops Summit (25 points, three 3-pointers), it appears as though Anthony is more than up to the task.
He’s joined in North Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class by another 5-star recruit: big man Armano Bacot, who will feature prominently into the frontcourt rotation with Garrison Brooks (15 percent defensive rebound rate), an excellent defender, Sterling Manley (hopefully healthy) and Justin Pierce.
Final ACC On-Court/Of-Court Differentials:
Johnson: +24.5 (+20.6 eff. margin with, -3.9 eff. margin w/o)
— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) March 11, 2019
Along with Pierce, UNC added another grad transfer this offseason — Christian Keeling — who adds scoring, range shooting and secondary playmaking. Keeling looks like a good option to pair next to Anthony in the backcourt.
Leaky Black returns as one of the more undervalued prospects in the ACC, too. As a freshman, Black was buried on the depth chart in UNC’s crowded rotation, outshined by fellow rookies Coby White and Nassir Little and sidelined with an ankle injury.
Black still managed to record 2.4 steals per 40 minutes, and he has some playmaking craft as well: 4.6 assists per 40 minutes. Even with Anthony dominating the rock, don’t be surprised to see Black handle some as well.
The sample size is too small to buy into his shot (49 total FGA); however, that could change quickly. For whatever it’s worth, he shot well from every level of the floor.
In more of a limited role last season (11.9 minutes per game), Brandon Robinson made a major jump. While he didn’t take a crazy volume of attempts — just 1.4 3PA per game — Robinson shot efficiently from deep all season (46 3p%, 63 eFG%). His low-usage spot-up game fits nicely with Anthony, too.
With a star-studded recruiting class en route, the official hype train for Louisville Basketball left the station when All-ACC wing Jordan Nwora — after receiving an invite to the draft combine — elected to return to school for his junior season. That news broke a day after veteran center Steven Enoch, a far less likely draft hopeful, decided to come back for the 2019-20 season, too.
It was confirmed: Chris Mack would return every key frontcourt player from his debut season at Louisville.
After an efficient but limited freshman year, Nwora delivered on all of his breakout potential as a sophomore. Nwora was one of 10 ACC players to finish with a usage rate of 25 percent and a true shooting rate of 55 percent.
While Nwora likes to get out and run in transition, his bread and butter is his half-court spot-up shooting and off-ball movement: 69 of his 77 3-pointers as a sophomore were assisted. According to Synergy, Nwora posted an effective shooting rate of 64.1 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts this season — good for sixth in the ACC.
Nwora scored 1.1 points per possession coming off screens (53 eFG%) and 1.02 points per spot-up possession (54 eFG%). He isn’t a twitchy or explosive athlete, but Nwora can use his gravity and shot fakes to create lanes to the rim (29 dunks, 63.4 FG%) and attack the occasional closeout.
Defensively, Nwora is mostly fine, but his stocks numbers are low — 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks per 40 minutes in his career, and he has his issues defending in space. There’s work to be done here, and also with his own shot-creation game on offense.
Once again, Nwora will team up with one of my favorite players in the ACC: do-it-all wing Dwayne Sutton. A wonderfully versatile player, Sutton is a competitive and intelligent basketball player; and more times than not, he’s in the right place at the right time, making the correct decision.
Offensively, Sutton is a solid spot-up player (0.99 points per possession) who can help space the floor (34.8 3P%), attack closeouts and connect possessions (11.5 percent assist rate).
One of the big things Sutton brings to the table is something that Kevin Keatts used to bring up with regard to NC State’s Torin Dorn — his ability to defend bigger players and rebound.
This is a perfect Dwayne Sutton possession from the ACC Tournament: helps the ball switch sides of the floor, finds an open shooter and takes off for the front of the rim just after the ball leaves Nwora’s hands. Watch him track this thing in the air.
With Enoch (3.5 percent block rate) and Malik Williams (6.9 percent block rate) at center, Louisville has two players that offer an impactful blend of shot-blocking and offensive floor spacing. Williams got up over 2.5 3-point attempts per game.
Enoch, who likes to post on the low block as well, and Williams both scored over 1.1 points per possession on pick-and-pops, too, according to Synergy.
Samuel Williamson, a 5-star small forward, and the chiseled Aidan Igiehon — both top-55 prospects in the 2019 class — add to Louisville’s serious depth along its front line.
Point guard play will be a major bellwether for the Cardinals this season, though. The roster has serious power up front, including several future pros; however, it’s a roster of finishers or secondary creators. The 2018-19 Cardinals were reliant upon grad transfer point guard Christen Cunningham to generate a lot of its offense.
Cunningham played over 31 minutes per game and dished out 6.2 assists per 40 minutes (30.1 percent assist rate, No. 75 nationally). According to Synergy, Louisville scored 1.02 points per possession (56.4 eFG%) on pick-and-roll possessions when Cunningham either used the possession or passed the ball to someone who did (375 possessions), a top-10 number nationally among players with at least 300 possessions.