ACC Basketball Confidential Roundtable: Season Preview
As we have done with football, the Confidential plans to get some or all of the Confidential contributors together weekly during the season to provide a summary of their school, the ACC, and other topics of note. This week is the preview session:
Q1: What are your expectations for your team this season–best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and reasonable expectations?
John (North Carolina): I have huge expectations for my team this season. With the collection of talent that North Carolina has, there’s no reason to think that a return to the Final Four isn’t possible. With 6 McDonald’s All-Americans, 5 Mr. Basketballs (including Joel Berry, a three-time winner in the State of Florida) and a two-time National Championship Hall of Fame coach, the Tar Heels may finally be poised to live up to the lofty expectations set upon them.
Best Case Scenario- Marcus Paige continues his run as ‘Mr. Clutch’ and is the nation’s best point guard once again. Forward Brice Johnson thrives under his increased minutes, and someone on the team finally learns to shoot a three-point shot. With high-scoring, and the fast-tempo that is consistent with a signature North Carolina team, the Tar Heels win the third National Championship of the Roy Williams era. Also, Duke flames out in the first round of the tournament again, this time, losing to local rival NC Central. There are riots in the streets of Durham, NC (but no one is hurt).
Worst Case Scenario- The NCAA decides that the information in the Wainstein Report is bad enough for them to take away the Tar Heels’ 2005 National Championship, a first for the governing body. Bogged down by sanctions, scholarship reductions and the early retirement of Coach Roy Williams, North Carolina limps to a 20-loss season where Marcus Paige regresses, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks tear their ACL and no one figures out how to hit a three-point shot. Duke wins their fifth National Championship, passing the Tar Heels non-vacated number of championship seasons and Justin Jackson leaves early for the NBA. There are riots in the streets of Chapel Hill, NC (multiple injuries are reported).
Reasonable Expectations- It seems reasonable enough that with the talent Roy Williams has this year, that the Tar Heels 1) Contend for the ACC Regular Season Title 2) Advance to the Semi-Finals of the ACC Tournament and 3) Qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. But those expectations are almost too reasonable. North Carolina has a great shot at both the ACC Regular Season and Tournament titles, and has the skill to make it to college basketball’s final weekend. But will they? The Tar Heels have underperformed the last few years, struggling under the weight of the academic scandal, the PJ Hairston saga and their own inability to hit free throws. Time will tell.
Len K (Louisville): The Cards brought in a 6 men class so they will be young this season. The class was loaded with much needed size and came with a top 5 ranking but only two have shown to be a factor as of now. Two are 7′ foreigners who will need time to develop their game and physically. One arrived in school in August so he is behind while another is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. The good news is that two who should make an early impact are the Cards top rated PG and C. We know who the starting 5 will be and these two freshman will be the first to off the bench. Best case they compete for the conference championship. Worst case they finish mid-pack in the ACC. There’s 20+ wins on the schedule so a top 5 ACC finish is perfectly reasonable. We will learn a lot more about the Cards on Friday, 11/14, when they open the season in Puerto Rico against Minnesota. Yup, Rick vs Richard in a battle of the Pitino’s to start the season.
Best Case: FSU shocks the world and wins the ACC, after all this is the best team FSU has had since it won the ACC Tournament. Then gets to the Tourney, and then finishes in the Final 4. Am I dreaming? Probably, but this is a best case scenario… if you want a more reasonable best case scenario I would say this team is capable of winning the ACC, not likely, but not inconceivable. In that scenario FSU could be good enough to get to the Sweet 16.
Worst Case: FSU goes to a third straight NIT tournament, and doesn’t even get to host a game. I will admit odds are far better this scenario happens than FSU being a Final 4 squad.
Reasonable: I think FSU getting to the Semis of the ACC tourney is not out of the question, and then gets to the Sweet 16. I just have a good feeling about this year’s team.
Mike (NC State):
Best case: Senior Ralston Turner fills the scoring void left by TJ Warren, a slimmed-down BJ Anya dominates in the paint, and Chris Corchiani Jr. lives up to his genes. The Pack finishes in the top 5 of the conference and makes a deep NCAA run, perhaps Elite Eight.Worst case: Turner can’t fill those big shoes and Anya suffers a relapse. Corchiani proves to be just another walk-on benchwarmer. State struggles and misses the Big Dance.Realistically, the Pack should have the guns to finish in the upper half of the conference barring major injury trouble. Scoring will likely be an issue early on as the team figures out their roles After TJ, but if Cat Barber continues to improve everybody should get chances. The Wolfpack should make the NCAA tournament field without a play-in, though two wins may be the limit once they arrive.
Anthony (Syracuse): Some of Jim Boeheim’s best runs in the Big Dance have been with teams with very low expectations. This 2014-2015 team may not have NIT expectations, but nobody is talking about the ‘Cuse right now. The upside for Syracuse is always a Final Four run. This can happen if the freshmen are as advertised and the sophomores take the next step… and if Trevor Cooney/Rakeem Christmas become consistent. The downside for Syracuse is the aforementioned NIT. That is less likely than a Final Four run, but far from impossible. If the sophomores do not develop, and Cooney/Christmas continue to be “no shows” too often, it is not clear that the freshmen will be able to carry the load. The reasonable expectations are that Syracuse will do well in November/December… but then come back to reality as the ACC schedule hits. One would expect a Big Dance seeding in the #5/#6 range.
Q2: Who do you think the top 3 and bottom 3 teams in the ACC will be at season’s end?
John (UNC): I expect the top three of the ACC to be North Carolina, Duke and Louisville in no particular order. Virginia has a good team, but I’m not sure I see them maintaining the same level of momentum without mainstays Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Other teams like Syracuse, NC State and Pittsburgh will be good, but I don’t think there will be any surprise winners like Miami in 2013. The bottom three teams are actually harder to predict. Will new coach Buzz Williams make an immediate impact on Virginia Tech, leading the Hokies out of the basement? Or will they be stuck there with Boston College, an almost lock for the cellar? I’m betting on quick improvement in Blacksburg, and regression in Atlanta and Clemson. My bottom three- Boston College, Georgia Tech, Clemson.
Len K (Louisville): How can you not put Duke and North Carolina atop the ACC? The battle will be for #3. The top candidates here are Virginia, Louisville and Syracuse. Louisville plays NC, Pitt and Miami twice while also getting Duke at home. With all the young talent on the Cards roster I will put Virginia at #3 for now. My bottom 3 would be Wake, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Manning will do will at Wake but it will take some time.
Brian (FSU):Duke, 2) UL, 3) UNC (I am sorry; I think UNC is overrated). 13) Wake, 14) BC, 15) GT
Mike (NC State): I like Duke to win the conference with UNC coming in a close second. Louisville, my #1 in the preseason poll, should be third at season’s end. As for the bottom 3, let’s say Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech.
Anthony (Syracuse): As much as I would like to add Syracuse to the top three, Duke is just too loaded. North Carolina has the next most talent. And Louisville’s Rick Pitino will have the Cardinals ready for the ACC. It is possible that the Cards will develop slow and come on late, in which case Virginia’s system is more likely to put them in that spot than Syracuse or the rest of the field. The bottom three are likely to be the usual suspects–Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Clemson.
Q3: What ACC coach enters 2014 on the hot seat?
John (UNC): Brian Gregory has been the coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for four years now, and has not led his team past a 9th place finish in conference. Even though the fans in Atlanta are not known for their basketball fandom, Gregory’s predecessor, Paul Hewitt, led the team to 6 postseason appearances in 11 years and was much more successful in his early tenure, bringing players like Chris Bosh and Thaddeus Young to town. Four years is usually enough to tell the direction of a program. If Gregory can’t show visible progress, his time will be done in the increasingly competitive ACC.
Len K (Louisville): Being new to the ACC I wont put any coach on the hot seat this early but the situation in Chapel Hill will be worth monitoring. His performance on the sidelines certainly hasn’t warranted a removal but will a change be forced by the NCAA?
Brian (FSU): Mike Brey of ND.
Mike (NC State): Brian Gregory has to be feeling posterior-area warmth after three straight losing seasons at Georgia Tech. If a fourth follows, and I think it might, the Jackets will soon be looking elsewhere.
Anthony (Syracuse): It has to be Brian Gregory, who joins Tom Crean of Indiana in being a coach from the Tom Izzo coaching tree that is in trouble right now. Which reminds me… take a look at the Rick Pitino coaching tree over at ESPN. Pretty impressive. Of course, Pitino is part of the Boeheim coaching tree.