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NoleGameday

2019/20 FSU Basketball Season Preview – Looking at the ACC

Welcome back to Week 3 of NoleGameday’s 2019/20 season preview for the Florida State Men’s Basketball program.

Week 1 covered the newcomers.

Week 2 focused on the returning players.

This week we take a look around the ACC, giving a quick insight to each team, and how Florida State will fit in with the rest of the conference. The order the teams are listed is the finishing order of the 2018/19 season.

Virginia

Last Season: 35-3 (16-2) National Champions

Key Departures: DeAndre Hunter, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome

Key Returners: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark

Key Arrivals: Casey Morsell, Kadin Shedrick, Tomas Woldetensae

Losing the kind of production that Virginia is losing would severely cripple most teams, but most teams aren’t Virginia. After becoming the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed in 2018, the Cavaliers bounced back to win the national title in 2019. Their mover-blocker offense creates looks by being patient and waiting for the defense to lose patience, while their pack-line defense dares teams to shoot over them, or expose Virginia’s bigs that play a heavy hedge defense (a pick-and-roll defense where the big jumps above the screen to force the ball handler above the play, or to reverse his direction).

Virginia will not be nearly as efficient offensively this year as they were last year. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome were fantastic playing off of each other as ball-handlers and tough shot-makers; they were arguably the best in the country at making contested shots. Hunter was as great of a two-way player as a coach could ask for, and Coach Tony Bennett utilized him perfectly.

Diakite is one of the best shot blockers in the country, and led the conference in block rate. Virginia still runs an old school, twin posts system, that lets Diakite play power forward when he’d be a center almost anywhere else. Key will take over the point guard duties, and while he’ll certainly be a solid player, he’s no Ty Jerome. Casey Marsell has the biggest shoes in all of college basketball to fill, trying to replace Kyle Guy. He’s a natural scorer, and is about the same size as Guy, but is a much better defender than Guy. Coach Bennett often had to try and hide Guy as a defender, he won’t have to with Marsell. A lot of their other newcomers have sharpshooting reputations, and that is going to give a lot of benches some trouble.

Prediction: There is zero chance Virginia is as efficient offensively, but the defense might actually be better, somehow. Despite the major losses, Coach Bennett has built a powerhouse and while they won’t repeat as national champions, they’re going to be a major threat in the ACC. Top 3 ACC Finish.

North Carolina

Last Season: 29-7 (16-2) Lost in Sweet 16

Key Departures: Coby White, Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, Nassir Little

Key Returners: Garrison Brooks, Leaky Black, Sterling Manley

Key Arrivals: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, Anthony Harris

I feel like I’m the only one who isn’t sold on this Tar Heel team. I’ve seen many Final 4 projections and I don’t buy it. Cole Anthony is as good of a freshman as there is in the country, but after him, I’m seeing a lot of just alright. UNC’s returning players combine to average just 19.7 PPG, on a team that put up a blistering 85.8 PPG. Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) and Justin Pierce (William & Mary) were both great scorers, but against much worse competition.

Keeling has proven he can put up numbers against anybody, scoring 21 against Florida State two seasons ago, and 25 and 18 (twice) against Clemson, Florida, and Marquette last season. Pierce, on the other hand, has a lot to prove. Despite being a 14.9 PPG scorer last year, he only scored 3 against Virginia and 8 against Marshall, the only teams the average fan would’ve heard of on Williams & Mary’s schedule. Going back another season, in which he averaged 14.7 PPG, Pierce scored 12 against Marshall, 4 against Ohio State, and 7 against TCU. He’s their projected 6th-man, which means Coach Roy Williams may have to rely a lot on his starters, but he also wants to push the tempo and get Anthony out in transition.

What Williams does have though is a great frontcourt. Between Manley, Bacot, and Brooks, this may be the best frontcourt since Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks left. While the frontcourt looks great, it just doesn’t quite fit what Williams wants to do.

Prediction: I’m going to make a bold prediction by saying UNC doesn’t end up as one of the top 4 seeds in the ACC. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but until I see them play some games, I think they’re in the second tier of ACC teams fighting for the last double-bye in the ACC Tournament. 4th-6th ACC Finish.

Duke

Last season: 32-6 (14-4) Lost in Elite 8

Key Departures: Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden

Key Returners: Tre Jones, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier

Key Arrivals: Wendell Moore, Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley

This is arguably the deepest team Coach K has had since the one-and-done era started at Duke. They have 8 solid-to-great players, and Coach K will want to get these guys running. This team may not have the superstar drawing power last year’s squad had with Zion, Barrett, and Reddish, but they’re going to be much better shooting the ball (not saying much). None of the big recruits are necessarily sharpshooters, but they will make you pay from deep if you leave them open, something their Big 3 wasn’t consistently doing last season.

That being said, if they can’t win with Zion and Barrett, what’s to say they’ll win it all this season? Coach K is still one of the greatest coaches in the country, as evidenced by his drawing up of an amazing play call to beat Florida State (sigh), so anything is possible. The one criticism of Coach K’s offense has been it’s been more letting the guys play instead of designed sets, like how he used to. Although Tre Jones is one of the more overrated players in the country, he’s still a great, pesky defender and should have an improved 3-point shot this season.

Prediction: This is a top-3 ACC team, and my frontrunner for regular-season conference champion, barring injury. Just like last year, the talent and pace of play will win this team a lot of games. The frontcourt isn’t quite Marvin Bagley/Wendell Carter good, but it’s still very good. Top 3 ACC finish

Virginia Tech

Last season: 26-9 (12-6) Lost in Sweet 16

Key Departures: Literally Everybody

Key Returners: Isaiah Wilkins, Wabissa Bede

Key Arrivals: Landers Nolley II, Branden Johnson, Jalen Cone, Hunter Cattoor, Tyrece Radford

Talk about an exodus. Buzz Williams leaves for Texas A&M, and everybody else decided to get out of Blacksburg as well. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson, and Ahmed Hill are in the NBA, and Kerry Blackshear is a graduate transfer at Florida. Now new coach Mike Young, formerly the coach at Wofford, has to integrate 8 players that weren’t playing in VT’s uniforms last season, and none of them are near as talented as their previous options.

Bede did a solid job filling in for Justin Robinson while Robinson was out with injury, but him being the Hokies’ best player is a horrifying thought. This roster is BAD. VT fans should be expecting a long rebuild, which is devastating considering the talent they’ve had the past few seasons.

Prediction: If Virginia Tech isn’t the worst team in the ACC, they’ll be bottom 3. Mike Young ran a great program at Wofford, but he can’t live off his system of finding low-rated recruits that can shoot. 14th-15th ACC Finish.

Syracuse

Last Season: 20-14 (10-8) Lost in Round of 64

Key Departures: Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Frank Howard, Paschal Chukwu

Key Returners: Elijah Hughes, Marek Dolezaj, Buddy Boeheim

Key Arrivals: Quincy Guerrier, Brycen Goodine, Joseph Girard III

Jim Boeheim says Syracuse might run more man-to-man this year, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Their 2-3 zone is what wins them a lot of games, unless a team gets hot from behind the arc (like Florida State did last year). Losing Tyus Battle is a huge blow, but Elijah Hughes was a good player for them last year, and I’d expect him to carry more of an offensive load.

Some teams have their 2-3 figured out, but it requires players consistently making high IQ decisions. Trent Forrest had his best passing game of the season last year against Syracuse, with 10 assists and just 2 turnovers. The Orange’s zone traps in the corners, so some teams just avoid the corners as much as they can, whereas other teams use the trapping and get the ball out quickly to get Cuse caught out of position. They are also susceptible to weakside lob passes down low, something Florida State has excelled at in the past.

Prediction: As long as Jim Boeheim is coach, you can never count Syracuse out. They’ll find a way into the tournament as a 10 or 11 seed like they always do. 6th-8th place ACC Finish. 

Louisville

Last season: 20-14 (10-8) Lost in Round of 64

Key Departures: Christen Cunningham, VJ King

Key Returners: Jordan Nwora, Stephen Enoch, Malik Williams, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon

Key Arrivals: LaMarr Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Aidan Igeihon

Chris Mack exceeded expectations last season in his first season coaching the Cardinals, but blew a lot of late-game leads. As the roster is now incredibly talented, he needs to take the next step as a coach and make better adjustments. His team’s inability to close even goes back to his days at Xavier. However, he always puts together a great gameplan, and again, this roster is loaded.

Even if Jordan Nwora had decided to stay in the NBA Draft, this roster would’ve been good enough for a top-6 ACC finish. Now that he’s back? Nwora is a special college player. I’m not sure how great of a pro he’ll be, but at this level, he’s as good as they get. Nwora averaged 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last year, and is predicted to be First Team All-Conference this season.

They also return Enoch, an incredible shot blocker, and McMahon, the best 37% 3-point shooter I’ve ever seen. Every time he plays Florida State, it feels like he’s a 50% shooter.

Prediction: Nwora’s decision to come back instantly made this team a conference title contender, but I don’t think the coaching is good enough to actually win the conference. Top 3 ACC Finish. 

NC State

Last Season: 24-12 (9-9) Lost in NIT Quarterfinals

Key Departures: Torin Dorn, Wyatt Walker

Key Returners: Markell Johnson, Braxton Beverly, Devon Daniels, DJ Funderburk, CJ Bryce

Key Arrivals: Pat Andree

I’ve seen some people place this as a top-4 team, and I don’t quite buy it. The Wolfpack are returning 7 of their top 9 scorers from last year, but last year’s team wasn’t that good anyway. Markell Johnson is the most underrated player in the conference next to Notre Dame’s John Mooney, and he’s going to see his production increase to probably 16 or 17 points per game, and the addition of graduate transfer Pat Andree will be a great scoring boost off the bench.

Funderburk (besides being an amazing name), is finally set to start. He gave FSU troubles last season, but wasn’t starting because of senior graduate transfer Wyatt Walker. He’s another underrated player, but he’s not going to be a huge difference-maker to improve this team from 8th to 4th in the ACC.

Prediction: This team will definitely improve, just not to the level everyone thinks they will. 5th-7th ACC Finish

Clemson

Last Season: 20-14 (9-9) Lost in NIT Second Round

Key Departures: Marcquise Reed, Elijah Thomas, Shelton Mitchell, David Skara

Key Returners: Aamir Simms, John Newman III

Key Arrivals: Al-Amir Dawes, Curran Scott, Tevin Mack, Alex Hemenway

Another team that lost a ton of production, Clemson is in for a rough season and Coach Brad Brownell might’ve already been on the hot seat before this season. If he doesn’t find a way to get this team to .500, this might be his last season at Clemson. Sadly, it’s not looking great. Even the players that are still on the team, two of them have suffered a torn ACL this offseason, including likely starter Clyde Trapp.

Tevin Mack, transfer from Alabama, will likely be their leading scorer, but he only scored 9.0 PPG last season. Everyone on the roster with college experience combines to score 43.4 PPG, take out the two players with ACL injuries and that knocks it down to 30 PPG, and only three freshmen are on the roster.

Prediction: Unless this team is going to lock everybody down defensively, this is going to be a struggling team. With bottom feeders Notre Dame and Pittsburgh improving, Clemson is in for a bottom 4 finish. 12th-14th ACC Finish

Georgia Tech

Last Season: 14-18 (6-12) Missed Postseason

Key Departures: Curtis Haywood, Brandon Alston

Key Returners: Jose Alvarado, James Banks III, Michael Devoe,  Moses Wright

Key Arrivals: Bubba Parham, Jordan Usher

Even before Georgia Tech got hit with a 2020 postseason ban, they likely weren’t going to make the postseason anyway. They’ll be a tough out like they’ve been in seasons as past, as Alvarado and Banks are a solid duo, but they won’t make any noise. Josh Pastner’s teams have always been very good defensively, as they run a weird form of a 1-3-1 trapping scheme. They were ranked 20th in the country in Field Goal % allowed that season, and also finished top 15 in total blocks.

The offense has been where they’ve lacked most. They finished 318th in total points scored (there’re 353 Division 1 teams), and were the lowest-ranked power conference team (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, PAC 12, SEC). They were also 333rd in 3-point %, 200th in FG%, and 239th in FT%. The addition of 20 PPG scorer Bubba Parham, formerly of Virginia Military Institute, will help, but not enough to make a huge improvement.

Prediction: The Yellow Jackets didn’t really gain or lose anything to make that much of a difference, so they can probably expect a similar finish. 10th-12th ACC Finish

Boston College

Last Season: 14-17 (5-13) Missed Postseason

Key Departures: Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman, JohnCarlos Reyes

Key Returners: Nik Popovic, Jairus Hamilton, Steffon Mitchell, Jared Hamilton

Key Arrivals: Jay Heath, Derryck Thornton, Calvin Felder

Had Wynston Tabbs not had season-ending knee surgery this month, this could’ve been a team that maybe stole a game here and there, but not anymore. This is a team that’ll be lucky to win 5 conference games at this point. Popovic and Mitchell are solid, but unspectacular bigs, and have no one to create for them. There’s no Ky Bowman or Jerome Robinson on this roster that strikes fear into opponents.

Thornton will be an alright addition, but I just don’t see this team making any noise at all. Their games against Virginia Tech should be fun just for how sloppy the play will be.

Prediction: I really can’t decide if I think Boston College or Virginia Tech will finish last. It’s a toss-up. 14th-15th ACC Finish.

Miami

Last Season: 14-18 (5-13)

Key Departures: Anthony Lawrence, Zach Johnson, Ebuka Izundu, Anthony Mack

Key Returners: Chris Lykes, Dejan Vasiljevic, Sam Waardenburg, Deng Gak

Key Arrivals: Kameron McGusty, Keith Stone, Isaiah Wong, Harlond Beverly, Anthony Walker

Last year was a fluke for the Hurricanes. Dewan Hernandez being ruled ineligible, Miles Wilson being dismissed from the team, two players redshirting, and Deng Gak getting injured 8 games into the season left them with only 7 available players. It is extremely unlikely to win games with 7 available players, especially when they’re not the levels of talent Duke gets. This year should be much better for Miami.

I’m not very high on Keith Stone, and wasn’t while he was at Florida, but his addition to the team is going to pay dividends. Lykes’ minuscule size makes him a tough guard as he can pull up from 30 as well as knife through defenses to get to the rim. But his size also lets him get picked on while he’s on defense, so expect Miami to play a lot of 2-3 while he’s on the floor against bigger opponents (FSU). Jim Larranaga’s Miami teams always put up good fights, and should start to return to form this season.

Prediction: A lot of people are sleeping on this Miami team. If they get a couple of bounces the right way, they could make some noise in the ACC or even NCAA tournament. But for now, they’re in the third tier of ACC teams. 7th-9th ACC Finish. 

Wake Forest

Last Season: 11-20 (4-14) Missed Postseason

Key Departures: Jaylen Hoard

Key Returners: Brandon Childress, Chaundee Brown, Isaian Mucius, Olivier Sarr

Key Arrivals: Andrien White, Ismael Massoud

Wake Forest may have lost their best player in Hoard… but this isn’t a bad roster. Childress and Brown each scored in the double figures last year, and should see an uptick in production. White was also a 15 PPG scorer at Charlotte two seasons ago. Wake Forest is going to upset somebody this season if Danny Manning can improve his coaching. They were a bounce away from upsetting Duke last season, but they’re a real threat to do it this season.

This team’s big issue last season was 3-point shooting, hitting just 30.8% of their 3’s a year ago. Bringing in White should help with that. He’s a career 37.9% 3-point shooter, and has two seasons of 39.9% or better. They also weren’t generating a lot of steals, finishing 327th in total steals.

Prediction: They return a ton of players from last season, but they weren’t good last season. They should be slightly improved, but won’t set the world on fire. 11th-13th ACC Finish.

Pittsburgh

Last Season: 14-19 (3-15) Missed Postseason

Key Departures: Jared Wilson-Frame, Malik Ellison

Key Returners: Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, Au’Diese Toney, Terrell Brown

Key Arrivals: Justin Champagnie, Eric Hamilton

Pittsburgh is Florida State’s first game of the season this year, and I’ll be honest, I’m worried. Pitt has given FSU problems even going back 4 seasons. Especially with it being a road game, this is a tough first game. The unknown of having a conference opponent be the first game will make for an interesting game. The Panthers were a tough and feisty team last year, and FSU’s game against them was a sloppy foul-fest. The hiring of Jeff Capel was going to be a quick rebuild, considering his success recruiting as an assistant at Duke. This season will be the first step towards being a contender in the ACC.

Johnson and McGowens combined for 27.1 PPG last season, and the addition of underrated Champagnie will be a nice fit into this team. I don’t see much of a chance they’ll be as bad as they were a season ago. They’re going to continue their feistiness and Xavier Johnson will continue giving buckets to everybody.

Prediction: Pitt will be aided by a lot more teams being a lot worse than they were last year. They won’t be in the cellar, but they’ll be just out of it. 10th-12th ACC Finish.

Notre Dame

Last Season: 14-19 (3-15) Missed Postseason

Key Departures: DJ Harvey

Key Returners: John Mooney, TJ Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb, Rex Pflueger, Dane Goodwin, Juwan Durham, Robby Carmody

Key Arrivals: None

Normally a team that doesn’t add anyone of note while finishing dead last in the conference would expect to stay dead last in the conference. Notre Dame isn’t a normal case though. Mike Brey is one of the better coaches in the conference, and this team was hit by the injury bug hard a season ago. Rex Pflueger returning from an ACL tear will improve the quality of play in unspeakable ways. His impact on the floor offensively and defensively is huge for the Irish, and pairing him with Mooney will provide a great duo.

Hubb should be much better considering as a freshman, there were games he was forced to play all 40 minutes, and he wasn’t a good enough player to do that. Gibbs is a solid scorer, and should be more efficient this season.

Prediction: Staying healthy will be the key for Notre Dame to be successful. If they do stay healthy, they should at least contend for one of the final NCAA Tournament spots. 8th-10th ACC Finish

Final Thoughts

2019/20 is going to be a down season for the ACC in general, and only 6 teams seem to be actually good teams. The rest are relying on hope and a little luck to be a better team, and no one really made that much of an improvement to take a huge leap up the standings. Notre Dame is the one exception, but even they have a long list of players with an injury history. There is no team that has the powerhouse feel that Duke and Virginia had last year, the crazy offense UNC had, or the steady play Virginia Tech had. Florida State should feel good about their conference chances this season.

ACC Standings Prediction

All barring injury, of course, this is how I feel the ACC will play out. Naturally, when one team turns out to be much better or worse than expected, I can’t wait to be shown this for the rest of my life.

  1. Duke
  2. Virginia
  3. Louisville
  4. Florida State
  5. North Carolina
  6. NC State
  7. Syracuse
  8. Miami
  9. Notre Dame
  10. Pittsburgh
  11. Georgia Tech
  12. Wake Forest
  13. Clemson
  14. Virginia Tech
  15. Boston College

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