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ACC Roundup: Time To Hoop!

A first look around the conference

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse
Feb 21, 2022; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim (left) and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner have a conversation before a game at the Carrier Dome.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball season is just around the corner now so we’re slowly getting back to ACC Roundup.

There are a few themes that we’ll be following, generally speaking. Obviously the new staffs at Duke and UNC. The teams have been a duopoly for decades now. Can that continue?

What about Virginia? How will the Cavaliers bounce back after the various difficulties since the spectacular 2019 season?

Then there are the looming retirements at Miami, FSU and Syracuse. Jim Larranaga, Leonard Hamilton and Jim Boeheim all seem incredibly youthful but all three are, of course, in their ‘70s and time is undefeated.

We’re also curious about the development of Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College. All three programs have a chance at real improvement. All three are also very well coached and fun to watch.

Then there’s Notre Dame. We thought that Mike Brey’s formula, which relied on marinating players for a year or two before they stepped into the rotation, might be in mortal danger with the transfer rule and the chaos of the pandemic. He has risen above it all though and had a dynamite team last season and a hugely experienced team this time around. In his media appearances, he has been loose, funny and utterly unpretentious. About our only concern is his beard: in or out, dude.

Then there’s Josh Pastner’s status at Georgia Tech: is he on the hot seat? It’s hard to see how he couldn’t be. He did a great job developing Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright, but he’s been at Tech for six years now, going on seven, and his record is 94-96. He made the NIT once, won the ACC Tournament once and, subsequently, made the NCAA once.

There are many admirable things about Pastner. He’s relentlessly upbeat. He takes his faith seriously and is observant. He keeps a book of Jewish prayers and meditations with him and tries hard to do the right thing, which is not necessarily common in his profession, let alone the rest of the world. He’s extraordinarily intelligent, having finished his undergrad work at Arizona in 2 12 years. The man took 33 credit hours in one semester. You try it.

If he had glittering talent, things might be more interesting, but he doesn’t. He says that “the team is the star,” and maybe he’s right, but talent is the bottom line and he doesn’t appear to have much. He also has a new AD who may look at Tech’s advantages - it’s in a major city in a region that has produced tremendous talent over the last several decades. As a thought experiment, imagine a young John Thompson taking over that program. Imagine Bruce Pearl. Shoot, imagine Mike Krzyzewski in Atlanta.

You’d be a fool to bring this up as a coach, but you could make the argument that, rather than Maryland, as Lefty Driesell once boasted, Georgia Tech could the the UCLA of the East.

Then ask yourself the inevitable question: who would be the right guy there now?

The truth is that Georgia Tech is a sleeping giant. If not Pastner, someone is going to wake it up, and hopefully soon.

There’s a certain amount of tension at Pitt too, where Jeff Capel has not won much, has seen some unfortunate transfers and now has to face questions about his players behavior. Dior Johnson, who has been charged with aggravated and simple assault, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and strangulation, follows Ithiel Horton and John Hugley, who were both previously arrested although on less serious charges (Horton has since transferred). Capel clearly doesn't want to talk about this, sharply limiting his public comments. But he can’t just ignore it.

Things did not go well at NC State last season and there was some grumbling. Part of the struggle was injury-related and Kevin Keatts gets credit for the development of Dereon Seabron. But he needs a solid year to calm things down in Raleigh.

We’re also keeping an eye on Louisville, where Kenny Payne inherits a mess. He hired Nolan Smith in the off-season of course and the two of them should become dynamic recruiters at the ‘Ville - eventually. Didn’t really happen this year, but that’s not a surprise. Give them some time to get things going. Louisville is a true basketball school and will be back.

Finally, Clemson. The Tigers are often an afterthought and with another injury to sensational big man, this time a subluxed patella. That could kneecap Clemson’s entire season (a sincere apology to the medically literate).

We hate that for Clemson. The Tigers have their best coach ever, in terms of a guy who can get his players to play within his system and to maximize their potential. Hall is a great example of this.

But he’s had some tough breaks in Tiger Town and, as always, recruiting against the ACC’s traditional powers is tough for Clemson.

They’d be making a big mistake to let him go. They made a strong-ass offer to Will Wade, and would have dumped Brownell then, but Wade chose to destroy LSU’s program instead. Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Brownell’s Clemson program is always tough to beat. Expecting a Top 25 program there is probably asking too much. Think of it this way: For Duke Football, winning consistently is an accomplishment.

Brownell has only had one losing season at Clemson and that was in 2012-13. He’s had a winning season every other year and some periodic brilliance. For Clemson, that’s pretty good.