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.
Starting from the bottom, we’ve divided the league up into three tiers. These rankings aren’t set in stone, and some of these teams are so close that it’s splitting hairs to differentiate them. Regardless, let’s just jump. Up first: Clemson.
After winning 25 games and advancing to the 2018 Sweet 16, there were plenty of reasons for preseason optimism with Clemson last season. Unfortunately, the 2018-19 campaign just never quite got online. Despite returning key players, like Marcquise Reed and Elijah Thomas, the Tigers struggled offensively — ranking 106th in adjusted efficiency after three years inside the top 50.
The season ended, disappointingly, in the second round of the NIT with a loss to Wichita State. For the seventh time in nine seasons at Clemson, Brad Brownell’s team failed to make the NCAA Tournament. As the page turns to next season, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
While Reed (1.05 points per possession in isolation) and Thomas (62.7 FG% on post-ups) found success, pretty much everything else cratered. Clemson’s 3-point shooting dropped — both in terms of volume (35.6 percent attempt rate) and efficiency (32.8 3P%). The team’s turnover rate also rose (19.2 percent) Things can and will get tougher next season, too.
It’s not just Reed and Thomas that depart the program; while Shelton Mitchell struggled with his shot in each of the last two seasons (46.7 eFG%), his absence will hurt as well. He at least offered up some veteran playmaking.
Aamir Simms is an intriguing defensive prospect; however, he’s not ready to carry on offense — even with help from grad transfer shooter Curran Scott (84 career 3-pointers). A top-50 recruiting class offers some hope, but it’s unlikely it will provide serious, efficient offensive production next season. It’d be nice if returning guards John Newman and Clyde Trapp could provide a boost, but both players were low-usage and inefficient last season. To expect much seems overly optimistic.
Texas Tech Khavon Moore could be a special talent, but Clemson will have to wait for him to play after a redshirt season.
Texas Tech transfer Khavon Moore is headed to Clemson. Former Top 50 recruit.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) May 16, 2019
Clemson also received a tough blow last month when power forward Jonathan Baehre — a UNC Asheville transfer — tore his ACL in a practice. After sitting out the 2018-19 season, he was expected to help replace Thomas. That’s no longer the case, however.
Clemson's Jonathan Baehre has suffered a torn ACL, per release. No timetable for return.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 21, 2019
It’s a Brownell team so you know the Tigers will compete and defend hard. Once again, though, where will the offense come from?
14. Virginia Tech
Since taking over at Virginia Tech, new coach Mike Young has experienced a few notable victories. Landers Nolley and Wabissa Bede, after entering the transfer portal, elected to remain in Blacksburg. Former Wofford power forward Keve Aluma decided to follow Young and transfer to Virginia Tech, too. On the recruiting front, Young also landed a commitment from 4-star guard Jalen Cone — a fringe top-100 prospect out of North Carolina who reclassified to 2019.
However, after months of uncertainty with Kerry Blackshear Jr., the Hokies now stare down a full rebuild with his decision to transfer to Florida. This super-successful three-year window in the program’s history is officially closed.
And yes, I’m told that Kerry Blackshear Jr., has committed to Florida, per multiple sources. Gators beat out Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) June 27, 2019
Last season, Virginia Tech ranked 11th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 14th in effective shooting (55.6 eFG%), according to KenPom. The players mostly responsible for that production, however, are headed out of the door. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the No. 17 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and Justin Robinson are both NBA-bound.
With Kerry Blackshear’s transfer to Florida, ACC basketball will not return a first- or second-team player for the first time in its history. #Hokies
— David Teel (@DavidTeelatDP) June 27, 2019
While NAW and Robinson were the main engines of Tech’s perimeter offense, they were supported by veteran snipers Ahmed Hill (39.1 3P%) and Ty Outlaw (1.33 points per spot-up possession), both of whom are gone now, too.
#Hokies basketball coach Mike Young says Kerry Blackshear's situation is going to play out on Blackshear's timeline. He's "the captain of that ship."
"Do we want him back? Absolutely."
— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) June 26, 2019
If Blackshear had returned, well, the calculus would’ve changed, quickly. Blackshear was exceptional last season — emerging as an efficient source of post offense (52.1 FG% on post-ups) — with some stretch (21 3-pointers) and a clever offensive initiator.
After averaging 1.6 assists per 40 minutes his first two seasons at Virginia Tech, that number jumped to 3.2 dimes per 40 this season. Blackshear was adept at facilitating as an offensive hub around the elbows or down on the block.
Without Blackshear, it’s unclear where Virginia Tech will now turn to for immediate offense, though it’s clear the 3-pointer will be a big part of that production. In each of the last three seasons, Young’s teams at Wofford — led by Fletcher Magee — posted 3-point attempt rates above 40 percent. This is a good thing, and an aspect VT fans can look forward to when Young has a few more recruiting cycles under his belt.
#Hokies coach Mike Young on importance of 3-point shot: “We’ll shoot until our arms fall off the rest of the summer.”
— David Teel (@DavidTeelatDP) June 26, 2019
13. Boston College
It’s not hard to notice a trend here: similar to Clemson and Virginia Tech, Boston College is also waiving goodbye to several key backcourt performers, which will prove costly.
The 2018-19 season must have been frustrating at times for Ky Bowman. After electing to return for his junior season, the Eagles regressed — winning 14 games and ranking 119th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Without Jerome Robinson, opponents could load up on Bowman — trapping him off of ball screens and pindowns. As a result, Bowman’s effective shooting slumped to under 49 percent, and his NBA stock never received the bump he likely craved.
(Out of the pick-and-roll, his numbers remained mostly flat, though — right at 0.75 points per possession in each of the last two seasons, per Synergy Sports.)
Bowman is gone now; a day after the draft, he agreed to a deal with the Golden State Warriors. What’s next is a bit of a mystery.
After going undrafted, Ky Bowman is signing a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, source confirms. I believe @Schultz_Report had it first. The former Boston College guard averaged 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.4 steals last season.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 21, 2019
Along with Bowman, Boston College will also part ways with veteran marksman Jordan Chatman — one of the better 3-point shooters in program history. Chatman, who hit 202 3-pointers during his time in a BC uniform, posted an effective shooting clip of 56.8 percent on catch-and-shoots last season, per Synergy.
For his career, Chatman connected on a 40.4% clip from the perimeter – the fourth-best 3FG% mark in the BC record book. Bowman made 39% of his 3FG attempts at BC, which ranks seventh all-time in program history. (2/2)#FYCLW #WeAreBC pic.twitter.com/TxCjW877Uj
— Boston College Men's Basketball (@BCMBB) June 25, 2019
After a promising yet injury-plagued freshman season, Wynston Tabbs returns; he should provide some shot-making to Boston College’s offense, which will be needed sans Bowman. Tabbs is a good player (1.12 points per possession in transition), but is he ready to take on a larger role, especially in the half court?
The same question can be posed to Jared Hamilton, a talented combo forward who struggled offensively as a freshman. Hamilton posted a turnover rate north of 26 percent and an effective shooting clip under 47 percent. There’s talent here, though.
Joining Tabbs in the backcourt will be the program’s newest addition: grad transfer Derryck Thornton. A former top-15 prospect, Thornton spent the 2015-16 season at Duke — before transferring to USC. During his time with the Trojans, though, things never quite lined up for Thornton.
He played in 57 games (28 starts), but struggled with his shot (41.4 eFG%) and battled turnovers (3.2 per 40 minutes). In the 2018-19 season, Thornton scored just 0.58 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll (30.3 FG%, 31.5 eFG%), according to Synergy Sports.
Up front, though, Boston College has some serious power. After a strong junior season — 8.8 percent offensive rebound rate, 57 2P% — Nik Popovic returns as one of the ACC’s more productive big men. According to Synergy, Popovic scored 1.07 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll and 0.99 point per post-up possession. Those are solid numbers.
For the third straight season, Steffon Mitchell will line up next to Popovic. In his first two seasons, Mitchell hasn’t proven to be much of a shooter; his 3-point game really fell off a cliff last season, too (1-of-18 3PA). However, he’s a versatile player who can pass (15.5 percent assist rate in ACC play) and defend (3.2 combined block and steals per 40 minutes).
Popovic and Mitchell, along with Tabbs, must lead this team.
12. Wake Forest
Wake Forest parts ways with its most-talented player from last season — freshman Jaylen Hoard, who agreed to a two-way contract with the Portland Trail Blazers — but the Demon Deacons bring back two key perimeter players to try this one more time under Danny Manning.
For the 2019-20 season, things at Wake Forest will start and stop with Brandon Childress and Chaundee Brown. Childress is a streaky shooter who ran cold at times during ACC play last season (33.1 3P%) but, overall, he’s a productive offensive player.
As a junior, his usage rate went up, slightly (21.8 percent), while his offensive rating and true shooting (55.2 TS%) numbers jumped, too. It certainly helps that he got to the line more — 5.4 free throw attempts per 40 minutes (79.6 FT%). That said, he also posted a turnover rate on pick-and-roll possessions just under 22 percent, which is way too high. (Can he knock that down this season? The answer to that looms large.)
On spot-up no-dribble jumpers, though, Childress was sensational: 1.4 points per possession (69.4 eFG%), which ranked fifth in the ACC — behind Ty Jerome, Ty Outlaw, Markell Johnson and Coby White.
Brown, on the other hand, bounced back from an up-and-down freshman year with a respectable sophomore season. The 3-pointer remains a lost art for Brown (33 3P% for his career), but he shot 58 percent at the rim and 84 percent from the free throw line — while posting a sub-15 percent turnover rate.
It’d be nice if Brown — at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds — could use his size and handle to get into the paint and draw contract more frequently. He’s averaged under three free throw attempts per 40 minutes in his career, and so far he’s shown to be more comfortable pulling up for midrange looks. According to Bart Torvik’s data, Brown is a career 38.5 percent shooter on 2-point attempts (182 2PA) away from the rim — with the vast majority of his makes coming unassisted.
After his redshirt season in 2018-19, Charlotte transfer Andrien White should provide spot-up support next to Childress and Brown.
Elsewhere, Wake Forest and Manning need several young players to take the proverbial next step. Oliver Sarr is an intriguing prospect — a 7-footer who can protect the rim (5.4 percent block rate) while also stepping away to hit a jumper. He made strides as a sophomore, but is he ready for another leap? (His defensive awareness in space needs to get way better, too.)
Two other sophomores return with plenty of interest, too — Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright (53 eFG% out of the pick-and-roll).
Both players offer length; Mucius, especially, is a tantalizing prospect due to his length (6-foot-8) and positional versatility. A former top-100 recruit, Mucius posted a 1.4 percent block rate and a 1.0 percent steal rate. That’s nothing to write home about, but if he could nudge one or both of those numbers above two percent, it’d be a significant boon for Wake Forest.
“I got you. Trust me.” @CoachDManning
Happy to have you back coach! We got some work to do so let’s get started 💪🏾 @WakeMBB pic.twitter.com/bymaOmpOve
— Isaiah Mucius™ (@ZekeMucius) March 22, 2019
Syracuse is yet another program that’s in transition. In the 2018-19 season, Syracuse’s bench accounted for less than 27 percent of the team’s minutes, per KenPom. Well, of those man guys in Syracuse’s rotation, most are gone: Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Paschal Chuwku and Frank Howard. That said, some decent talent returns for Jim Boeheim, including his son.
At the top of that list is veteran wing Elijah Hughes. After a redshirt season in 2017-18, Hughes (56.5 TS%) joined the rotation and quickly made an impact. According to Synergy, Hughes scored 202 points on spot-up possessions last season — third most in the ACC: 1.04 points per possession (53 eFG%). Over 78 percent of his 3-pointers were assisted on.
Hughes was one of eight ACC players to finish with a three percent block rate and a two percent steal rate. He was joined on that list by Zion Williamson, and 2-3 zone-bound teammates Chukwu and Marek Dolezaj (an important player next season).
Buddy Boeheim experienced a strong back half to his freshman season. At the start of ACC play, his minutes jumped (16 per games), as did his usage — 19.9 percent — and efficiency (59.9 eFG%). Over 75 percent of his field goal attempts in conference action were of the 3-point variety: 33-of-81 (40.7 3P%).
A strong and deep recruiting class joins the fold; there’s hope that 4-star signees Brycen Goodine and Quincy Guerrier can help replace some of lost production. However, Syracuse fans must also wonder: can Jalen Carey shrug off a tough freshman season (34.1 percent turnover rate) and play up to his lofty prep basketball expectations?
Carey has talent and a good frame for a guard, though it wouldn’t hurt to add some weight. There’s plenty of ability; he just needs more reps handling the ball, which is something he got during a recent basketball excursion to Greece.
Tre Jones will make a lot of ball handlers look bad. Heck, he gave Coby White and Shamorie Ponds fits last season. However, what he did to Carey was downright cruel. For Syracuse, though, this could be something to build on.