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Projecting The 2016-17 ACC Basketball Season (Part One)

So, let’s start by admitting that we can only get a rough idea of the 2016-17 ACC at the moment.

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Dec 2, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski talks with guard Grayson Allen (3) and guard Matt Jones (13) and guard Luke Kennard (5) during a break in their game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Dec 2, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski talks with guard Grayson Allen (3) and guard Matt Jones (13) and guard Luke Kennard (5) during a break in their game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead to the next basketball season is always one of the joys of the offseason.

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Eyes usually turn to the future soon after your team is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Major media outlets nourish that desire to look forward – ESPN always publishes a projected Top 25 on the day after the national championship game. Joe Lunardi already has his first 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket up. Ken Pomeroy tweeted out his 2017 preseason top 10.

Of course, it’s far too early to make that kind of prediction. The spring months are filled with developing stories – players leaving early for the NBA, the final recruiting targets making up their minds, the flood of "graduate" transfers looking for a landing place.

The new NCAA rules regarding the NBA draft have made the future particularly cloudy this spring – players can now enter the pre-draft process without penalty and don’t have to withdraw from NBA consideration until May 25. By the way, that’s a week after the end of the NCAA’s spring signing period for prep prospects (May 18).

Even by the first of June, we still won’t have a total picture – there will still likely be some grad transfers still out there shopping their wares. Every summer somebody is injured badly enough to put their coming season in doubt. A year ago, I was working on previews for the Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook in August and there were still a few roster issues that had not been settled that late in the summer.

So, let’s start by admitting that we can only get a rough idea of the 2016-17 ACC at the moment. There is a lot to be decided. Will Jaron Blossomgame remain in the draft or return to Clemson? Will Duke land Marques Bolden? What’s going to happen with Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson? Will Mark Gottfried land any of the grad transfers that he is pursuing?

The answer to those – and similar – questions will have a huge impact on next year’s ACC picture.

At the same time, we can be pretty sure about a few teams. Duke is going to be very good – a very likely preseason ACC favorite (with or without Bolden). Boston College is going to be at the bottom of the preseason predictions, no matter how many grad transfers land in Chestnut Hill.

What follows is a rough – VERY rough – preview of the ACC as I see it unfolding. I’ve included a roster breakdown of every team, trying to track players leaving and players arriving. I can’t claim that it is 100 percent accurate or up to date, but I’ve checked with several schools to try and make it as accurate as possible.

Allow me to break down the ACC. The teams are ranked in order of their strength (as I see it) at the moment:

DUKE

  • Finished eligibility: C Marshall Plumlee (8.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
  • Transfers out: G Derryck Thornton (7.1 ppg, 2.6 apg)
  • Early NBA entry: Brandon Ingram (17.3 ppg, 6.8 apg)
  • Returning: F Amile Jefferson (11.4 ppg, 10. 3 rpg) , G Matt Jones (10.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg), G Grayson Allen (21.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.6 apg), C Sean Obi (0.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg), G Luke Kennard (11.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg), C Chase Jeter (1.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg), C Antonio Vrakovic (0.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
  • Transfers in: none
  • Recruits: F Harry Giles (5-star), F Jayson Tatum (5-star), G Frank Jackson (5-star), F Javin DeLaurier-Montgomery (4-star), G Jack White (NR), F Justin Robinson (redshirt)

Comments: The addition of a top-rated recruiting class to a strong core of players from last year’s 25-win team makes Duke a prohibitive favorite in the ACC. Allen is just the third 20-point scorer to return to Duke in Coach K’s tenure – and the first two (Jason Williams after 2001 and J.J. Redick after 2005) won national player of the year honors upon their return. Allen Jefferson and Jones were all key players on the 2015 national championship team. Add Giles and Tatum – the No. 1 and No. 3 prospects in the country, according to ESPN – and you are looking at one of Coach K’s most loaded teams. Throw in Luke Kennard and freshman Frank Jackson and the depth on the wing is embarrassing. Duke does need another post player. That could come from either either strong off-season development from Jeter, a better-than-advertised contribution by freshman Javin DeLaurier-Montgomery or by signing Bolden.

Biggest concern: Giles’ health. The star freshman has had two major knee injuries in three years. He came back from the first to regain his No. 1 prep ranking. He appears to be on track to recover from the second and play full speed next year. But a setback – or another injury – would be a big blow to Duke’s hopes.

LOUISVILLE

  • Finished eligibility: G Damion Lee (15.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg), G Trey Lewis (11.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
  • Transfers out: none
  • Early NBA entry:: C Chinanu Onuaku (9.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg) -- might return
  • Returning: G Donovan Mitchell (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg), G Quentin Snider (9.4 ppg, 3.5 apg), F Jaylen Johnson (5.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg), F Deng Adel (4.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg), C Mangok Mathiang (2.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg), F Anas Mahmoud (3.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg), C Matz Stockman (2.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
  • Transfers in: G Tony Hicks (6-2, averaged 14.9 ppg and 13.2 ppg in two seasons at Penn)
  • Recruits: G Ryan McMahon (redshirt), F V.J. King (5-star)

Comments: Don’t be fooled by the loss of last year’s top two scorers (top three if Onauku stays in the draft). Rick Pitino’s squad is loaded with young talent. Maybe be the best of these is rising soph Adel, limited last year by injury. But I also love guard Mitchell and incoming frosh King. The loss of Onuaku will hurt if he goes, but keep in mind that Louisville gets Mathiang back from injury and two years ago, they were almost the same player. Add the potential of Mahmoud, plus Stockman (not great but serviceable) and the Cards will be fine in the middle.

Biggest concern: Additional NCAA penalties. Louisville self-imposed a one-year postseason ban and recruiting restrictions in response to "Strippergate", but will that be enough to satisfy the NCAA? Pitino is almost certainly facing a suspension (based on the Larry Brown, Jim Boeheim precedent), but will the NCAA extend the postseason ban?

NORTH CAROLINA

  • Finished eligibility: G Marcus Paige (12.6 ppg, 3.8 apg), F Brice Johnson (17.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg), C Joel James (2.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
  • Transfers out: none
  • NBA early entry: F Justin Jackson (12.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) --might return; C Kennedy Meeks (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) -- might return
  • Returning: G Joel Berry (12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg), F Theo Pinson (4.5 ppg, 2.9 apg), F Isaiah Hicks (8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), G Nate Britt (5.4 ppg), G Kenny Williams (0.8 ppg), F Luke Maye (1.2 ppg)
  • Transfers in: none
  • Recruits: F Tony Bradley (5-star), G Brandon Robinson (4-star), G Seventh Woods (4-star)

Comments: Assuming Roy Williams retains his almost magical ability to retain NBA-ready talent, the Tar Heels should only take a small step back from last year’s top 5 powerhouse. Hicks is lined up to replace Johnson at PF. Berry’s emergence as a consistent point guard and Pinson’s late-season development as a defensive/playmaking force assure UNC of a strong backcourt. If Meeks and Jackson return – as UNC expects – the frontcourt will be fine, especially with Bradley, a versatile 6-10 freshman who can play inside or out.

Biggest concern: UNC was the worst 3-point shooting team in the ACC and lost its most prolific 3-point shooter. Berry is the only returning player who bettered the team average of 32.7 percent. Can a newcomer make up the gap or will somebody (Jackson? Britt?) improve in the offseason?

VIRGINIA

  • Finished eligibility: G Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg), G Anthony Gill (13.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), C Mike Tobey (7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), F Evan Nolte (1.9 ppg, 0.8 rpg)
  • Transfers out: none
  • NBA early entry: none
  • Returning: G London Perrantes (11.0 ppg, 4.4 apg), G Marial Shayok (4.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg), F Isaiah Wilkins (4.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg), G Devon Hall (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg), G Darius Thompson (4.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg), C Jack Salt (1.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg), F Jarred Reuter (1.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg)
  • Transfers in: C Austin Nichols (6-11, averaged 13.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg at Memphis)
  • Recruits: F Mamadi Diakite (redshirt freshman), G Kyle Guy (5-star), G Ty Jerome (4-star), C Jay Huff (4-star), F DeAndre Hunter (4-star)

Comments: The loss of Brogdon and Gill should certainly hurt. But the loss of Justin Anderson and Darius Atkins was supposed to hurt last year and the Cavs reached the Elite Eight. Tony Bennett still retains a strong core, including the best returning point guard in the ACC (Perrantes). Shayok will be a bigger part of the offense this season. Memphis transfer Nichols should provide consistent inside scoring. Redshirt Diakite is a rebounder/shot blocker. Guy is an impact freshman, who should help on the scoring side. You know the defense will be there.

Biggest concerns: Offense. Unlike Louisville, which lost its top two scorers and has plenty of options, Virginia struggled at times at the offensive end last season – even with Brogdon and Gill. Perrates and Shayok have to step up their offensive games, while newcomers Nichols and Guy have to have an immediate impact.

FLORIDA STATE

  • Finished eligibility: G Devon Bookert (9.5 ppg, 2.8 apg), F Montay Brandon 3.2 ppg, 3.1 apg), C Boris Bojanovsky (6.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
  • Transfers out: G Robbie Berwick (2.4 pph in 2015)
  • Early NBA entry:: G Malik Beasley (15.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), G Xavier Rathan-Mayes (11.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) -- might return
  • Returning: F Dwayne Bacon (15.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), C Michael Ojo (2.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg in 2015, medical hardship), G Terrance Mann (5.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg), C Jean Marc Koumadjie (1.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg), F Benji Bell (3.8 ppg), F Phil Cofer (6.9 ppgh, 4.5 rpg in 2015), F Jarquez Smith (5.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
  • Transfers in: G Braian Angola-Rodas (6-6, first team juco A-A at Northern Idaho)
  • Recruits: F Jonathan Issac (5-star), G Trent Forrest (4-star), F C.J. Walker (4-star), F Mfiondu Kabengele (NR)

Comments: FSU underachieved (compared to its talent) last season and loses some talented players. But as good as Rathon-Mayes was, he never fit at point guard. And there were times when Beasley and Bacon – two very similar players – clashed. The injury loss of Ojo and Cofer robbed the team of two physical post players. Both are back this season. Isaac is a great talent who looks like a better fit with Bacon. Few teams have as many good athletes as the ‘Noles. The real question is whether or not Leonard Hamilton can re-install the defense that was so good from 2008-12 (when FSU was the most consistent defensive team in the ACC).

Biggest concerns: Point guard. FSU has struggled with turnovers for years. Rathan-Mayes didn’t really work out as a playmaker. Walker will get a shot at the role. So will Bell, who is not a true point, but QB’d his team to a juco national title two years ago.

VIRGINIA TECH

  • Finished eligibility: F Shane Henry (1.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
  • Transfer out: G Jalen Hudson (8.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg), F Satchel Pierce (1.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
  • Early NBA entry:: none
  • Returning: G Seth Allen (14.7 ppg, 2.3 apg), F Zach LeDay (15.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), G Chris Clarke (8.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), C Kerry Blackshear (6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Justin Robinson (7.3 ppg, 2.8 apg), G Ahmed Hill (8.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg in 2015), G Devin Wilson (2.1 ppg, 2.1 apg), C Johnny Hamilton (1.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
  • Transfer in: None
  • Recruits: F Ty Outlaw (redshirt juco transfer), C Khadim Sy (3-star)

Comments: VPI started slow, but roared to the finish (six straight ACC wins) with a young, evolving team. The Hokies had a unique knack of getting to the foul line – the best rate in the ACC. Transfer stars Allen and LeDay are back, but more importantly emerging stars Robinson (one of the best true points in the ACC) and Clarke should be around all year – no coincidence that their emergence late coincided with VPI’s winning streak. Getting Ahmed Hill, who missed last year with an injury, back more than makes up for the unexpected loss of Hudson. He was the team’s best all-around player as a freshman in 2015.

Biggest concern: Post play. Neither Henry nor Pierce was much of a player, but both got minutes because the Hokies were so thin in the post. Sy, the only recruit, started at center for Oak Hill’s national championship prep team. He’s not a great player, but if he can rebound and play defense, he can help Blackshear and LeDay down low.

PITTSBURGH

  • Finished eligibility: G James Robinson (10.2 ppg, 5.0 apg), C Rafael Maia (2.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Sterling Smith (4.5 ppg, 40.0 3PT), F Alonzo Nelson Ododa (1.3 ppg)
  • Transfer out: none
  • NBA early entry: none
  • Returning: F Michael Young (15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), F James Artis (14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg), F Sheldon Jeter (8.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Cameron Johnson (4.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg), C Ryan Luther (5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg), F Chris Jones (6.1 ppg)
  • Transfers in: G Jonathan Milligan (6-2, averaged 11 ppg at Kilgore JC; redshirted in 2016)
  • Recruits: Justice Kithcart (4-star), F Corey Manigault (3-star), G Crisshawn Clark (NR)

Comments: The Panthers lost a coach and a point guard, but return as veteran a core as there is in the ACC – especially rising senior forwards Young and Artis. Is there a better pair of forwards in the ACC? Johnson was erratic, but had his moments as a wing guard. Luther was a late bloomer, but late in the season, he was a better post player than all the fifth-year guys Jamie Dixon brought in. The big loss was PG Robinson – who finished his career with the best assist/turnover ratio in ACC history. The Panthers think they have a replacement in Milligan, a juco star who redshirted last season. Kithcart is also a well-regarded candidate at the point.

Biggest concerns: The new coach. Kevin Stallings did a fine long-term job at Vanderbilt, but he was kind of cheered out of town – very much like former NC State head coach Herb Sendek. Stallings wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms in Pittsburgh. He’s got to win over the players he inherited and then the city. He’s a quality coach, but not the most outgoing guy in the world. Will Pitt warm up to him?

MIAMI

  • Finished eligibility: G Sheldon McClellan (16.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg), G Angel Rodriguez (12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg), C Tonye Jekiri (7.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg), F Ivan Criz Uceda (5.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
  • Transfer out: G James Palmer (3.4 ppg., 1.1 rpg)
  • NBA early entry: none
  • Returning: G Ja’Quan Newton (10.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G Anthony Lawrence (4.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg), G Davon Reed (11.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Kamari Murphy (5.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
  • Transfers in: Rashad Muhammad (6-6, averaged 13.9 ppg at San Jose State)
  • Recruits: C Ebuka Uzundu (redshirt), F Dewan Huell (4-star), G Bruce Brown (4-star), C Rodney Miller (4-star), G Dejan Vasiljevic (NR)

Comments: Miami won the ACC in 2013 and reached the Sweet 16. But the next two Miami teams missed the tournament. Jim Larranaga has to re-build again after the getting to the Sweet 16 this spring, but he has a little more talent on hand than three years ago. Newton and Reed are quality ACC wings, Murphy is a solid frontcourt player and Lawrence has a lot of potential. This is Larranaga’s top-rated recruiting class – Brown and Huell just miss the top 25. The Miami coach is still working the transfer market strong and is likely to add at least one fifth-year guy.

Biggest concerns: Defending the middle. Jekiri was an invaluable asset down low for the ‘Canes. Uceda wasn’t a great defender, but he added size. Now the only post player with any experience is Murphy and he’s 6-7. Uzundu is a rail-thin 6-10 kid who better be good fast … either he or modestly rated Rodney Miller. Or an unknown fifth-year big body.

I think all eight of these teams project as NCAA Tournament teams. Don’t hold me to the order I listed – I’ll revisit my projections this summer. Suffice it to say that UNC would drop a lot if Meeks and Jackson stay in the draft. Miami might climb a bit if Larranaga finds a grad student to defend and rebound in the middle. Syracuse, Notre Dame or N.C. State could crack the ACC’s first division under the right circumstances. We’ll look at the league less impressive rosters tomorrow.