FSU Basketball Season Preview: ACC Primer

Welcome to Week 4 of the 2020-2021 Florida State Basketball Season Preview Series. If you missed any of the previous weeks, you can catch up by clicking the links below.

Week 1: Returning Players

Week 2: The New Bloods

Week 3: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Question Marks

Now, let’s start with week 4, a look around the ACC. We’ll briefly go over each team in the ACC and what my expectations are for each team, going in alphabetical order.

Last season was a historically bad year for the conference, with only four teams being legitimate NCAA Tournament locks, and the rest of the conference just… there. Usual powerhouse North Carolina was abysmal, and the middle of the conference was just much weaker than in years past and an absolute warzone; the teams that finished 5-9 in the conference last season all had conference records between 11-9 and 9-11. I don’t expect much to change on that front. I see 4-5 tournament locks with 4-5 more bubble teams and a lot of really bad teams as well.

Since every team plays every team, the biggest thing to note from each team is who they play twice. I’ll touch on that while also going over roster changes on each team.

Let’s get into it.

Boston College Eagles

Last Season: 13-19 (7-13) 11th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Derryck Thornton, Jared Hamilton, Jairus Hamilton, Nik Popovic

Key Returners: Steffon Mitchell, Wynston Tabbs, Jay Heath

Key Arrivals: Makai Ashton-Langford (Providence), Demarr Langford, Rich Kelly (Quinnipiac), James Karnik (Lehigh), Frederick Scott (Rider)

Double Opponents: Syracuse, NC State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami

A team that already didn’t have much lost one of their best players in Nik Popovic, a steady and reliable big man, to graduation. Steffon Mitchell is a good player that does anything and everything, I just wish his talents were put to better use. Getting Tabbs back after he sat out last season with injury is huge, and gives them a much needed scoring punch. This team looks completely different from a season ago with 5 incoming transfers and 2 true freshmen, all of whom are expected to contribute somewhat.

Most of their transfers came from inferior places, and it’s not like they produced much there. Karnik, who is expected to start at the 5, averaged 12 and 7 at Lehigh. Their projected starting point guard Ashton-Langford averaged 3 points and 2 assists for Providence the last time he played. I don’t see this team being very good unless they maximize their potential.

Prediction: This team’s ceiling is still in the bottom half of the conference. There are a ton of moving parts they have to integrate in an offseason where there isn’t a lot of time to integrate. If Tabbs, Heath, and Mitchell can combine for 35 points per game, and some of these transfers contribute, there’s a path to them taking some teams by surprise, but it’s Boston College. Bottom 5 ACC Finish

Clemson Tigers

Last Season: 16-15 (9-11) 9th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Tevin Mack, Curran Scott

Key Returners: Al-Amir Dawes, Aamir Simms, John Newman III, Clyde Trapp

Key Arrivals: Nick Honor (Furman), PJ Hall, Olivier-Maxence Prosper

Double Opponents: Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse

There’s a world where Clemson makes the tournament this season, I actually like this team a lot. Dawes and Simms were productive a season ago, and now they combine that with a lethal mid-major scorer in Nick Honor, add a talented freshman in Hall, and get these guys running. The 3-point shooting still isn’t phenomenal, but if they get hot in a game, they’ll be really hard to beat.

Tevin Mack gave them great minutes last season, and his loss is a big one, but they’re going to be able to replace it fairly easily. This is also one of the deepest teams Brad Brownell has ever had at Clemson, with 9 guys all deserving steady rotational minutes. I think they’re going to get killed on the glass though, they have two projected rotation guys that are 6’10”, but only one guy on the entire roster averaged more than 4 rebounds in their last season of college basketball.

Prediction: If this team can find a way to gang rebound and avoid suffering from easy putbacks and second-chance points, while being more consistent from 3, they have a chance to dance in March. They’ll likely settle on the bubble, biting their fingernails, wondering whether they’ll make it in or not. 5th-10th ACC Finish

Duke Blue Devils

Last Season: 25-6 (15-5) 4th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey, Cassius Stanley, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Alex O’Connell

Key Returners: Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore, Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire

Key Arrivals: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, Mark Williams, Patrick Tape (Columbia), Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman

Double Opponents: Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Louisville, North Carolina, Georgia Tech

Out go three former five-stars, in come four more to fill their place, as well as one of the best transfers in the country in Patrick Tape. While none of their five-stars are the usual top-10 pick variety Duke pulls in year after year, this team is just as deep as any team they’ve had in the past. It’s a great mix of guys who can do a little bit of everything. Roach is a great floor general, Johnson and Moore will run the wings and be great slashers, Hurt and Steward will be able to space the floor, while Williams and Tape will be able to rim run as well as anyone.

The big question is how this team gels together. They aren’t going to get a lot of time to work out rotations, and it may take well into conference play before Coach K figures out his rotation. There’s also no go-to guy on this team. If anyone, it’s Johnson, but he’s much more effective around the rim than anything. If Duke needs a bucket, there’s no for sure guy they can reliably go to, at least on paper.

Duke’s schedule is also semi-brutal. Playing UNC and Louisville twice, while having to travel to Florida State is nothing to scoff at. And no team in the country is hurt more by COVID restrictions than Duke, as they will have no fans for the season.

Prediction: There is too much talent in Durham to be too negative on them and Coach K is too good of a coach to not get this team figured out. They’ll probably drop a couple of games they’re not supposed to, but they’ll also pull out some tough games just because of how talented they are. Top 4 ACC Finish

Florida State Seminoles

Last Season: 26-5 (16-4) ACC Champion

Key Departures: Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, Dominik Olejniczak

Key Returners: MJ Walker, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, RaiQuan Gray, RayQuan Evans

Key Arrivals: Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun (JUCO), Tanor Ngom (Ryerson College)

Double Opponents: Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College

We’ve already talked a ton about Florida State this preseason. They’re going to be really athletic, really great defensively, and will do whatever it takes to get these superior athletes out in transition. There will be some kinks to work out while integrating a new point guard in Scottie Barnes, but defensively, this will be one of the best two teams in the conference.

The length on this team is just insanity. Their shortest scholarship player is most team’s small forward, and the starting lineup will look something like 6’9″, 6’5″, 6’7″, 6’8″, 6’9″/7’2″. Have fun, every other ACC team.

There’s also an argument that no team is happier after seeing their schedule than Florida State. BC and VT will both be bad. Miami, Clemson, and GT will all be meddling. UNC is a tough opponent, but they get both Duke and Virginia at home, where they haven’t lost in almost two years.

Prediction: They lose a lot, but also have a lot of experience coming back. As long as they can find a third scorer alongside MJ Walker and Scottie Barnes, this is a dangerous team. Top 4 ACC Finish 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Last Season: 17-14 (11-9) 5th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: James Banks

Key Returners: Jose Alvarado, Moses Wright, Michael Devoe, Jordan Usher, Bubba Parham

Key Arrivals: Kyle Sturdivant (USC), Rodney Howard (Georgia)

Double Opponents: Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia, Wake Forest

This team finished 5th in the ACC last season.

Let me repeat. GEORGIA TECH finished 5th in the ACC last season. Let that sink in. They probably would’ve been better than 11-9 last season had they been healthy too. Josh Pastner leads a sneaky good GT team that doesn’t lose much from last season. Like last season, they’ll be an incredibly stout defensive team with shaky offensive performances.

Losing James Banks is huge, but getting back feisty scorers in Alvarado and Devoe, while also getting back Wright to anchor their tricky 1-3-1 zone. If they could’ve gotten any help coming in, whether it be a transfer or impact freshman, they’d have a chance to show out again. They just… didn’t. It’s largely the same team. Sturdivant comes in from USC and Rodney Howard comes in Georgia, but those two combined for just 3.3 PPG in their last season of play. If this team gets hit by the injury bug again, it could be a long season in Atlanta.

Especially after looking at the schedule. Virginia, Duke, and FSU twice is looking at 1-5 in those six games at best, and 3-9 overall in those double opponent games would be considered solid. That’s tough to recover from.

Prediction: This team could surprise a lot of people again if they stay healthy. It’s not a very deep team and they’re very limited offensively, but the scraps they create on the defensive side will cause a lot of close games. 7th-11th place ACC finish

Louisville Cardinals

Last Season: 24-7 (15-5) 3rd Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch, Ryan McMahon, Lamarr Kimble

Key Returners: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams

Key Arrivals: Carlik Jones (Radford), Charles Minlend (San Francisco), D’Andre Davis, JJ Traynor, Jae’Lyn Withers

Double Opponents: Pittsburgh, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Duke, Syracuse, Virginia

I wasn’t high on this Louisville team to begin with. I think Chris Mack is an excellent game planner, but comes up short when he needs to make decisions in-game. His offenses against Florida State this past season were basically just isolations, and you can’t expect to win games like that. They already lose a lot of production from last season, as Nwora, Enoch, McMahon, Sutton, and Kimble were 68% of their scoring a season ago.

Part of the group that was expected to step up in their absence was David Johnson, who had some big games including 19 points in a win at Duke, but he’s going to have to shoulder a lot of the load. It was just announced this week that returning big man Malik Williams is out at least 12 weeks with a foot injury, and graduate transfer Charles Minlend, who averaged 14 points and 4 rebound for San Francisco, is out 6 weeks with a knee injury. By the time conference play is in full swing, these guys will just be getting healthy, and I don’t know if that will be enough time for this team to recover in the standings.

Prediction: There is always one team that gets more hype than they deserve, and to me, it’s Louisville this season. Not saying they’ll be bad, I just don’t see this being a top-25 team like many are predicting. 5th-8th ACC finish

Miami Hurricanes

Last Season: 15-16 (7-13) 10th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Dejan Vasiljevic, Keith Stone

Key Returners: Chris Lykes, Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, Rodney Miller, Harlond Beverly, Sam Waardenburg

Key Arrivals: Earl Timberlake, Nysier Brooks (Cincinnati), Matt Cross

Double Opponents: Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, Boston College, Notre Dame, Florida State

If Miami can find the injury luck they’ve lacked the last four seasons, they have a chance to be a good team. Lykes is as talented of a scorer as there is in the ACC, McGusty was a steady contributor last season, and Brooks transferring in from Cincinnati means Miller doesn’t get as many minutes. They’re still not that deep, as only 7 guys look to be solid players. If they get hit with the injury bug again, they’ll be towards the bottom half of the conference again.

Vasiljevic was an incredible player that spaced the floor as well as anyone, so losing him is huge. He opened up a lot for that offense because players couldn’t help off of him and opened up driving lanes. If Wong or Beverly can shoot better than they did a season ago, it’ll go a long way towards opening up the offense. Brooks will be an instant starter for this Hurricanes team, as he averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds the last time he played at Cincinnati. Now he’s had a year tp sit out and learn the system, he should give them good minutes.

Prediction: No team has bigger boom or bust potential than Miami. They could be 5th and it wouldn’t surprise me, but they could also be 11th and it wouldn’t surprise me. They likely settle somewhere in the middle. 6th-1oth ACC Finish

North Carolina Tar Heels

Last Season: 14-19 (6-14) 15th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce

Key Returners: Armando Bacot, Anthony Harris, Garrison Brooks, Leaky Black

Key Arrivals: Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, Puff Johnson, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton

Double Opponents: Duke, NC State, Syracuse, Miami, Clemson, Florida State

Last Place. North Carolina finished last place in a historically weak ACC.

A lot of it was due to injuries. Cole Anthony played too much hero ball when he was healthy, Anthony Harris tore his ACL a few games into the season, and Pierce and Keeling just never found their footing. Luckily, this team looks nothing like last season.

In turn, Roy Williams brought in the number two recruiting class in the country, including three of the top 18 players. Love is a natural scorer, that if he gets his playmaking handled can be an elite talent right away, Sharpe is an absolute bowling ball in the post that swallows rebounds, Kessler is a fantastic low post scorer that can stretch the defense out a little bit, Johnson is an elite deep shooter, Davis is a blur with the basketball that will get by anybody and everybody, and Walton is a high-level 3-and-D prospect. I think one of these guys will end up pushing Black out of the rotation.

This UNC team is deep enough to combat injuries, has four frontcourt guys that will give a lot of teams nightmares, and two great scorers at the point guard position that allow Roy Williams to attack relentlessly on the offensive end. The big question for them is defensively, they don’t have many stoppers.

Prediction: Don’t expect UNC to stay in the cellar of the ACC for very long. They’ve rebounded from a shallow, top heavy roster to a deep, exceptionally talented roster. This should be one of the best teams in the conference. Top 4 ACC Finish

NC State Wolfpack

Last Season: 20-12 (10-10) 6th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Markell Johnson, CJ Bryce

Key Returners: DJ Funderburk, Devon Daniels, Braxton Beverly, Jericole Hellems

Key Arrivals: Cam Hayes, Thomas Allen (Nebraska), Shakeel Moore, Dereon Seabron

Double Opponents: North Carolina, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Virginia, Syracuse

Markell Johnson was the engine that made this team run last season. When he played well, NC State did well. When he was out or slacked, NC State usually suffered. Now, he’s moved on. Daniels and Funderburk are talented players to help carry the torch, while Cam Hayes now steps in as the PG to supplant Johnson. Hayes couldn’t be a more diverse point guard though. He’s a facilitator first, which helps when you’ve got great shooters like Beverly on this roster.

There are two huge weaknesses in this team though. First, any starting lineup that features Braxton Beverly will not win a lot of games. He’s a great shooter, but as a 6’0″ shooting guard that can’t really handle or guard anyone, he’s going to get abused on defense. The second thing is inexperience. There are only five rotational guys on this roster that played college basketball last season. Five. Seven players of the projected rotation did not play a single minute of college basketball in 2019/2020. In a shortened offseason and a shortened non-conference slate, there is not a ton of time to gain experience, and it’ll cost them a lot of games this season.

Prediction: Inexperience is going to cost them too many games early to be competitive. 10th-13th place ACC finish

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Last Season: 20-12 (10-10) 8th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: John Mooney, TJ Gibbs, Rex Flueger

Key Returners: Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski, Juwan Durham

Key Arrivals: Cormac Ryan (Stanford), Elijah Taylor, Matt Zona

Double Opponents: Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami

This team will go as far as Prentiss Hubb takes it. Which is scary if you’re a Notre Dame fan. Notre Dame finished 8th in a bad ACC with an All-ACC player in John Mooney. Now he’s gone, as well as TJ Gibbs who gave them a lot of great minutes. While Hubb is a great scorer, none of these freshmen look like they’ll play significant minutes right away.

Mike Brey is a good coach, and he’ll be able to scrap out a win here or there. But this team is just talentless. There’s about 4 and a half good basketball players here.

Prediction: There’s just not enough talent for this team to see a path to a lot of wins. Brey usually doesn’t like playing freshmen, but I don’t know if he’ll have much of a choice given his options. 10th-13th place ACC finish

Pittsburgh Panthers

Last Season: 16-17 (6-14) 14th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Trey McGowens, Ryan Murphy, Eric Hamilton

Key Returners: Xavier Johnson, Justin Champagnie, Au’Diese Toney

Key Arrivals: Ithiel Horton (Delaware), John Hugley, William Jeffress, Femi Odukale

Double Opponents: Louisville, Duke, Syracuse, Clemson, Wake Forest, NC State

Basically, the Panthers traded Trey McGowens for Ithiel Horton, and while McGowens was a little bit bigger and little bit better of a ball handler, Horton is a much better natural shooter and will open the floor up for Johnson to run the show. Champagnie really improved his game as the season progressed last season, and him taking that next step this season should help this team a lot.

I just don’t have a ton of faith in this team. They’ll play scrappy, but playing scrappy doesn’t always get you wins. Jeff Capel is entering year number 3 in Pittsburgh, and there has to be a little bit of pressure to show some improvements, otherwise, he may have an extremely warm seat.

Prediction: They’ll win a couple of games that they’re not supposed to. They’ll also not win a ton of games. 10th-13th place ACC finish

Syracuse Orange

Last Season: 18-14 (10-10) 7th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Elijah Hughes

Key Returners: Joseph Girard, Buddy Boeheim, Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe

Key Arrivals: Kadary Richmond, Alan Griffin (Illinois), John Bol Ajak

Double Opponents: Boston College, North Carolina, Clemson, Pittsburgh, NC State, Louisville

Syracuse has hit this point of being a middle of the road ACC team and it’s kind of disappointing to see. A lot of the coaches have figured out how to attack their infamous 2-3 zone, and now offensively they won’t have Elijah Hughes to bail out a lot of their late clock situations. That could actually work in their favor since they’ll be able to run more offensive sets and be less predictable.

Girard had some big games for them, and Buddy Boeheim has his moments, but the frontcourt is still… slightly pathetic. The numbers look alright, but that’s only because they play basically the entire game. The Orange still aren’t that deep, and they have like 2 and a half really solid players then a lot of meh.

Prediction: They’ll win a couple of games they’re not supposed to because a team gets cold on jump shots, but other than that it’ll be another meddling season in upper New York. 7th to 11th ACC Finish

Virginia Cavaliers

Last Season: 23-7 (15-5) 2nd Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key

Key Returners: Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, Tomas Woldetensae, Casey Morsell

Key Arrivals: Sam Hauser (Marquette), Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Reece Beekman

Double Opponents: Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State

Out goes Diakite, who was a perfect twin post, dual threat for Tony Bennett, who was one of the most feared shot blockers in the country. In his place comes Sam Hauser, an absolute sniper offensively who is going to open up a lot on this mover-blocker offense. Clark returns as the wizard of this offense, and his speed and ability to take anybody and everybody off of the dribble is impressive and keeps defenses honest. If Woldetensae picks up where he left off to end the season, and Huff can be respectable in the post. This team should absolutely be the best in the conference.

There’s also no better schedule in the ACC. They avoid playing FSU, Duke, and UNC twice, and most of the teams they do play twice are expected to finish in the bottom half of the conference. They do have a brutal stretch in the middle of February where they go Louisville, @ Georgia Tech, UNC, @ Florida State, @ Duke. They may not lose a conference game until this stretch, and we’ll find out just how good they are in this stretch.

Prediction: Inserting Hauser into this offense, who was wildly efficient (46/40/92 shooting split) is going to make a lot of teams nervous. They also get to beat up on a ton of bad teams. They’re the favorite to win the conference for a reason. Top 3 ACC Finish

Virginia Tech Hokies

Last Season: 16-16 (7-13) 12th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Landers Nolley, Isaiah Wilkins, PJ Horne

Key Returners: Jalen Cone, Tyrece Radford, Wabissa Bede, Naheim Alleyne, Hunter Cattoor

Key Arrivals: Cartier Diarra (Kansas State), Keve Aluma (Wofford), Justyn Mutts (Delaware), Cordell Pemsl (Iowa)

Double Opponents: Virginia, Miami, Louisville, Florida State, Wake Forest, Notre Dame

The Hokies have had some believers. I am not one of them.

They lose the highest usage rate player in the ACC as Nolley transfers to Memphis, and replace him with Diarra, who was a solid scorer at Kansas State. There are a ton of transfers on this team, but only Diarra, Aluma, and Mutts will make the bigger impacts. This team still has very little size; only one player 6’10” or taller and he’s not expected to be in the rotation, and their starting “power forward” is 6’4″. They’re going to get killed on the glass again, but will make up for it by sniping from 3.

Prediction: They’ll get hot from deep and win a couple games here and there. Cone will have a game where he takes a game over by himself. But I still don’t see this being a good team. Bottom 5 ACC Finish

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Last Season: 13-18 (6-14) 13th Place ACC Finish

Key Departures: Chaundee Brown, Brandon Childress, Olivier Sarr

Key Returners: Isaiah Mucius, Jahcobi Massoud, Ody Oguama

Key Arrivals: Jalen Johnson (Tennessee), Daivien Williamson (ETSU), Isaiah Wilkins (Virginia Tech), Ian Dubose (Houston Baptist), Jonah Antonio (UNLV)

Double Opponents: Virginia, Duke, Virginia Tech, NC State, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech

Wake Forest is bad. There’s no other way to say it.

They lost their three best players from a 13-18 team a season ago, and replaced them with transfers that significantly underwhelmed at their last destination. Williamson was with new head coach Steve Forbes at ETSU last season, so there is some familiarity, but there’s just little to no hope. The projected starting lineup averaged 30.7 PPG combined last season, and 10 of those were Williamson in the Southern Conference.

There is also no size on this roster. None of the projected rotational players are taller than 6’9″, and only one player is 6’9″. This team is going to get bullied, pushed around, and wiped aside all season long. But at least they beat Duke in 2OT last season?

Prediction: Bad. Very, very bad. Bottom 3 ACC Finish. 

2020-2021 ACC Prediction

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

Next week, the last week of our five-week season preview, we’ll go through the scheduled game by game, and predict whether it’s a win or a loss. We’ll also have the NBA Draft next week, so look for an article early next week based on what I’ve been hearing for Florida State’s draft prospects.

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