We’re now a month in on the most bizarre college basketball season ever. It’s hard to makes sense of most things — even outside the sport. At this point, though, we at least have a little bit of a sample, which gives us something to go off. Early in the season, several sophomores around the ACC have taken on larger roles with their respective programs. Let’s jump around the conference and take a look at the impact of guys like Manny Bates, Justin Champagnie, Armando Bacot, Isaiah Wong and Quincy Guerrier.
Quick note: Matthew Hurt and David Johnson
For the purposes of keeping things relatively brief, Duke’s Matthew Hurt and David Johnson of Louisville weren’t included here, despite outstanding starts to their sophomore seasons. However, this decision was purposeful, too: I recently published longer stories on both of those guys, which can be found here (Hurt) and here (Johnson).
(Also: Tyrece Radford has been really good. He deserves more recognition than this, but that’ll have to come later.)
Justin Champagnie, Pitt
One of the more versatile players in the ACC, Justin Champagnie has started his sophomore year grabbing every rebound in sight. During wins over Northwestern and Gardner Webb, the 6-foot-6 Champagnie posted back-to-back 20 point/20 rebound outings. Tim Duncan was last ACC player to hit those benchmarks in consecutive games. That’s decent company.
While on the floor this season, Champagnie has rebound 27.3 percent of available defensive rebounds, a fringe top-50 defensive rebound rate nationally. Pitt has held opponents to a minuscule offensive rebound rate of 15.4 percent with Champagnie on the court, according to Pivot Analysis.
Champagnie’s rebounding and back-line rim protection are central to the Panthers ranking 42nd nationally in adjusted defensive rating. The Panthers are +60 this season with Champagnie on the floor (123 minutes); Pitt has allowed under 0.84 points per possession in those minutes, which is strong.
Along with the rebounding, Champagnie has upped his usage (24.5 percent) and playmaking duties (13.9 percent assist rate) this year.
There’s still more to tap into on the offensive side of the floor, however. Champagnie moves well in space and generates plenty of good looks as a secondary weapon — slipping and moving into space off actions with Xavier Johnson.
For his career, though, Champagnie is just a 26 percent 3-point shooter (39-of-150 3PA). His stroke looks fine; there’s nothing broken. Champagnie is already is intriguing prospect, but a reliable 3-point shot would be a bit of a game-changer for the do-it-all forward. (His twin brother, Julian, who plays at St. John’s, is on the rise as a shooter.)
Another positive early-season indicator: Champagnie is shooting 74.3 percent at the rim — up from 63 percent last year.
According to Synergy Sports, Champagnie is 5-of-10 on post-up field goal attempts this season, too.
Manny Bates, NC State
The primary reason I was bullish on NC State’s defense ahead of the 2020-21 season centered on Manny Bates. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Bates is more than just a good shot blocker; he’s an elite rim protector.
Bates is already repeating himself. During his freshman season, Bates led the country in block rate — rejecting 16 percent of opponent field goal attempts while on the floor. According to KenPom, Bates was the first freshman since 2014 to lead the country in that metric. Well, though five games this season, Bates has a block rate of 17.4 percent.
He’s obviously a massive presence at the rim, but it’s more than just his size that influences shots. Bates is a true back-line rim protector: good timing and quick off his feet. Bates can wait before pouncing on an unsuspecting offensive player.
According to Pivot Analysis, NC State’s defense has allowed just 0.84 points per possession with Bates on the floor (+48 in 100 minutes). Opponents are shooting under 48 percent at the rim (and 25 FG% midrange) with Bates in the game.
Kevin Keatts wants his defense, which switches 1-4, to pressure opponents, force turnovers and run would-be shooters off the 3-point line. So far, so good: the Wolfpack rank inside the top three nationally in defensive turnover rate (30.3 percent) and steal rate (16 percent). Only 28.3 percent of field goal attempts against NC State’s defense have been of the 3-point variety.
Bates works well as an anchor within these concepts, too. With his impact at the rim, Bates can erase mistimed overplays or aggressive closeouts from his teammates.
Only ACC players to get to 100 faster.. Tim Duncan (WF) | Alvin Jones (GT)
— WRAL Kacy Hintz (@WRALKacyHintz) December 20, 2020
(Hey, there’s Tim Duncan, again. Was he good at basketball or something?)
In terms of pick-and-roll defense, Bates is more of a mixed bag, though he has possessions that show glimpses of a strong drop coverage center.
Given his size, mobility and reaction speed, Bates could eventually be the type of pick-and-roll drop center that plays a strong middle-ground game — dissuading both the floater from the ball handler and the back-side lob.
That’s not easy to achieve on every single possession; it essentially asks a player to be in two places a once. Bates struggles with that consistency. On some possessions, his pre-screen positioning is a little off or he stays glued to the screener/dive man, which opens an obvious lane to the rim.
Bates can recover to contest some of those possessions, but that also leaves the rim exposed for offensive rebounds.
Over the offseason, Bates got stronger, and he’s put the added weight to good use. However, in the Saint Louis game, point guard Yuri Collins (6-foot, 185 pounds) was able to displace Bates in the air and finish with a layup.
For a smaller guard like Collins, this is a way to counter a shot-blocker like Bates: power into the defender’s body on finishes. But in the future, Bates should be able to absorb this type of blow while remaining vertical, which will make that shot for more challenging.
On the offensive side of the floor, Bates is at this best in the middle of NC State’s spread pick-and-roll action or finishing down in the dunker spot.
According to Synergy, Bates is a combined 10-of-13 shooting (77 FG%) on cuts and rolls to the basket. Overall, Bates is shooting 72 percent at the rim, with eight dunks.
Bates can also do some of the interior dirty work that’s necessary for NC State’s heavy pick-and-roll attack. He’s hit the offensive glass hard (4.6 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes), while also showing a (small) knack for sealing help defenders when his teammates drive to the basket.
After screening for Shakeel Moore, Bates rolls down into the paint. But when Moore reverses and drives to his dominant left hand, Bates seals Hasahn French, which prevents a full contest of Moore’s layup attempt.
During the loss at Saint Louis, Bates scored a career-best 20 points. NC State and Keatts clearly want to try to establish Bates as a post-up threat.
Bates doesn’t seem to be quite ready as an efficient source of volume post offense. He’s shooting just 33.3 percent on post-up attempts, per Synergy; those possessions can also melt away into turnovers, too. However, he’s shown some improved skills on the block.
Out of NC State’s wedge pick-and-roll set: Bates uses his post-screen screen to establish good positioning against a rotating SLU defense. From there, it’s two dribbles and a nice lefty hook shot.
Again, Bates’ expansion as an offensive player is really encouraging (75 FT%), but he may not be quite ready to be a hub of post offense just yet.
Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse
If you weren’t paying attention to Syracuse late last season, you may have missed a stellar back half of the season from Quincy Guerrier. From January on, Guerrier was pretty damn good: he finished the season with a 5.1 percent block rate and an offensive rebound rate of 10 percent.
With improved perimeter talent around him — Kadary Richmond (who looks awesome) and Alan Griffin — Guerrier has been an offensive force, so far. Guerrier has 126 total points on 68 field goal attempts. After shooting just 3-of-24 on 3-point attempts as a freshman, Guerrier has splashed 7-of-16 3-points attempts (43.8 3P%) this season.
The sample is really small; it’s hard to tell if the jumper is for real. Guerrier attempted only one 3-pointer during wins over Boston College and Northeastern. However, when he has time and space to load up, Guerrier’s stroke looks good.
Playing off the 3-point efficiency, Guerrier knows where he’s at his best: causing havoc around the basket. So far this season, Guerrier is shooting 79.5 percent at the rim — with eight dunks.
The native of Montreal has gotten to the free throw line a bunch this season, too. Guerrier leads Syracuse with six and-one finishes. During the comeback win over Buffalo, Guerrier scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and attempted 12 free throws.
Guerrier continues to function as an industrious offensive rebounder as well: 9.7 offensive rebound rate. According to Synergy, Guerrier has connected on 9-of-11 put-back field goal attempts (81.8 FG%).
With Guerrier on the floor this season, Syracuse has a net rating of +29 points per 100 possessions, according to Pivot Analysis. In those minutes, Syracuse has scored just under 119 points per 100 possessions.
Syracuse with Kadary Richmond and Quincy Guerrier on the floor together: 145 minutes (+87), +34 net rating, 55 eFG%, lots of FTA, per Pivot Analysis https://t.co/rkLiABLFJh
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 22, 2020
Isaiah Wong, Miami
Similar to Guerrier, Isaiah Wong came on strong late during his freshman season, and has continued that effort in Year 2. Over the final 13 games of his rookie year, Wong averaged 14.2 points on excellent shooting: 48/40/93. Now, with Chris Lykes missing time, Wong has further evolved as Miami’s half-court engine.
The 6-foot-3 Wong is averaging 19 points per game on 54.8 percent effective shooting (57.7 TS%)
He's been damn good so far: cool to see Isaiah Wong pick up where he left off last season (55 eFG%, 58 TS%). Good pick-and-roll scorer. 60 2P% so far this season (71 FG% rim), with 25 of his 31 2PM unassisted (81%) https://t.co/5q9s1sr9rB
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 22, 2020
Wong is patient with the basketball; he probes defenses and leverages the threat of his pull-up shooting (41.3 eFG% off dribble) to lure pick-and-roll defenders out of the paint, before darting to the rim.
Wong is shooting 71 percent at the rim, including 69 percent on layups (1.46 points per possession), with the majority of those makes coming unassisted.
When Wong attacks downhill, he can utilize an assortment of tricks to help separate from defenders and create openings for finishes. Wong keeps defenders off balance and generates plenty of usable contact — drawing 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes.
This offensive space-creation package includes a nifty little Euro-step that Wong can unleash from time to time.
As always, his touch around the basket is quality, too. (Quick note: Earl Timberlake is a really intriguing prospect. I loved what he flashed during his debut vs. Jacksonville. This may sound insane, but he moves and bounces around the floor in a fashion that’s vaguely familiar of Zion.)
According to Synergy, Wong has scored 1.24 points per pick-and-roll possession (71.4 eFG%) so far this season, which ranks tops among ACC ball handlers with 20+ possessions, just ahead of Carlik Jones.
At this point, Wong is predominately a scorer, albeit an efficient one at that: low turnover rate, decent free throw attempt volume. However, he’s dished out just 1.7 assists per 40 minutes this season. Assists aren’t exactly an ideal barometer for playmaking, though, especially in Miami’s ball screen-heavy offense.
Wong has shown flashes of vision and passing feel, including corner kick-outs off a live dribble. This will be the next step for him, though. He’s such a dangerous scorer with the ball in his hands. Can Wong use that to help unlock better secondary scoring around him?
Armando Bacot, North Carolina
Most of the positive attention on North Carolina’s frontcourt this season has come courtesy of the two-way play of Day’Ron Sharpe. That’s understandable; Sharpe is really good. However, Armando Bacot (9.2 BPM) has made some really encouraging strides as a sophomore.
Small sample size warnings apply, but including just Tier A opponents (Stanford, Texas, Iowa, UK), here are UNC's on-court/off-court numbers:
— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) December 21, 2020
Bacot continues to hound the offensive glass: 16.3 percent offensive rebound rate (No. 23 nationally). But more than that, Bacot’s finishing around the rim has greatly improved. During his freshman season, Bacot struggled to finish through contact. As a result, he shot under 47 percent from inside the arc.
It’s a different story now, though. The sophomore from Richmond has connected on 73.7 percent of his 2-point attempts, including 74.2 percent at the rim (5 dunks).
After having only eight and-one finishes all of last year, Bacot already has four and-one through the first seven games this season. In general, Bacot has done a nice job creating contact — drawing six fouls per 40 minutes.
Bacot has only two total assists on the season, but one of those two was an absolute gem to Andrew Platek, on an import possession late in the first half against Kentucky.
What a gorgeous outlet pass from Bacot to set Platek up for the transition score pic.twitter.com/2YwEpGoX6Z
— Trevor William Marks (@twmarks_) December 20, 2020