ACC Preview Part 3: National Elite (1-4)

ACC Preview Part 3: National Elite (1-4)
Oct 09, 2006, 03:48 am
For the most part, this doesn’t appear to be a typical ACC season in terms of experience or competitiveness. There are only four likely NCAA Tournament teams, with a large group likely fighting it out for the one or two remaining dance tickets. But at the top, the ACC remains the elite college basketball force it always has been. Duke and North Carolina have been playing out their regional turf wars on a national stage for what seems like eternity, and that isn’t going to change in 06-07. The NCAA’s two premier programs should finish atop the conference and the national polls yet again. Boston College was a hit in its first ACC run, and represents the opposite of everything Tobacco Road. Instead of glamour recruits, magazine covers and media exposé’s to keep everybody occupied, Al Skinner just targets the right under-the-radar players, develops them, and wins games at an elite level. But the Eagles will face stiff competition for third place from Paul Hewitt’s Yellow Jackets, who will feature two of the nation’s truly elite basketball prospects and a solid core of returnees who now have a better idea of what it will take to succeed in the ACC.

ACC Preview, Part One (10-12)

ACC Preview, Part Two (5-9)

North Carolina

05-06 Record: 23-8 (12-4)
Coach: Roy Williams (75-23 in 3 years at North Carolina; 493-124 overall)
Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round (def Murray State 69-65, def by George Mason 65-60)

2006 Season Review:

Roy Williams got his elusive championship, but his detractors wouldn’t give up that easily. “Anybody could have led that team to a title,” they quipped. Another classic line was the “let’s see him to do it with his own players” excuse. Yours truly made the idiotic decision to rank last year’s Heels near the bottom of the ACC based on a line of reasoning centered around stupid quote A. This question goes out to all the doubters: Are you satisfied? Despite virtually no experience returning and so much lost early-entry talent that Felton, McCants, Williams and May could have been divided between two middle of the pack ACC teams and both squads would have projected as Final Four contenders at the beginning of the year, Williams found a way to win. He used a former walk-on at shooting guard, and a junior with no playing experience at the power forward. There was a true freshman playing the role of go-to guy, and three other newcomers playing vital roles. The end of the season must have been a nice treat, as the North Carolina crashed the going out party of four Blue Devil seniors that had caused Tar Heel nation so much grief in recent seasons. Tyler Hansbrough outplayed Shelden Williams that night, ripping the “premier ACC big man” torch out of the senior’s hand before it could be passed on in a respectable manner.

Yeah, Roy Williams isn’t being asked too many questions this preseason. His success in getting his youngsters in shape, molding them into a team unit on both ends of the floor, and just pushing the pedal to the metal made the various national Coach of the Year honors a mere formality. The second round loss against George Mason was disappointing, but it shouldn’t take away anything from what Williams accomplished. In the process of solidifying his status as an elite coach in the annals of college hoops, he let loose the ACC’s next mega-star and landed one of the greatest recruiting classes since folks started caring about things like recruiting classes. The only thing sweeter than last year’s remarkable turn of events would be another opportunity to cut down the nets as the last team left standing in 2007.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)
Players on scholarship: 13

Key Losses:
*F David Noel, sr (12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.5 apg in 33.7 mpg)
PF Byron Sanders, sr (2.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg in 12.2 mpg)

Returnees: (8)

6’3 PG Quentin Thomas, jr (2.3 ppg, 2.8 apg in 12.0 mpg)
*6’3 CG Bobby Frasor, so (6.4 ppg, 4.4 apg in 27.5 mpg)**
6’5 SG Marcus Ginyard, so (6.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg in 19.1 mpg)
*5’11 SG Wes Miller, sr walk-on (7.2 ppg, 1.1 spg, 44.1 3fg% in 22.9 mpg)
6’5 G/F Danny Green, so (7.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg in 15.3 mpg)
*6’8 SF Reyshawn Terry, sr (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg in 24.2 mpg)**
*6’9 PF Tyler Hansbrough, so (18.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg in 30.4 mpg)**
6’7 PF Mike Copeland, so (2.9 mpg in 16 games)

Starters: 4
Rotation Players: 7
Redshirts: 0
Sophomores: 5
Juniors: 1
Seniors: 2
05-06 Starts: 121 (2nd in ACC)
Career Starts: 74 (10th in ACC)
Scoring: 80.2%
Rebounding: 76.2%

Newcomers: (4)
5’11 PG Ty Lawson, Clinton MD via Oak Hill (VA) Academy ( 5-star, 5th nationally)**
6’4 SG Wayne Ellington, Wynnewood, PA ( 5-star, 7th nationally)**
6’6 SF William Graves, Greensboro, NC ( 4-star, 79th nationally)
6’9 PF Brandan Wright, Nashville TN ( 5-star, 3rd nationally)
6’9 C Alex Stepheson, Los Angeles CA ( 4-star, 55th nationally)
6’8 C Deon Thompson, Torrance, CA ( 4-star, 36th nationally)
ACC Recruiting Class rank: 1st

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to win the NIT Tip-Off, where the top competition will come from Winthrop, Gonzaga, and Tennessee. Other notables with a chance to make some noise are Baylor, Rice, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Fordham. Then there is the high-profile matchup against Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a return date in Chapel Hill against Kentucky, a potentially nasty game at Saint Louis, and home games against Rutgers, Dayton, and Penn. A late-January trip to Tuscon, Arizona was thrown in for good measure. Roy Williams has come up with a schedule fit for a championship contender. Perhaps even a true contender is incapable of running this gauntlet completely unscathed.

Conference Highlights
Play Once: (Florida State, Virginia, @ Clemson, Miami, @ Boston College, @ Maryland)

There are home and homes with Wake Forest and NC State on the schedule, but this isn’t exactly an easy tilt. The schedule gets increasingly difficult with trips to Chesnut Hill, College Park, and Atlanta as well a season-ending home date with Duke making up four of the final five conference games.

Roster Analysis

This is one talented group. There is a diversity of talent and play style, and perhaps more depth than any other perimeter rotation in the country. There is a chance to keep all the blue chippers happy as well, with North Carolina’s relentless pace and Williams’ necessary desire to keep everybody’s minutes light. Last season, no guard averaged more than 27.5 minutes per game. It should be interesting to see who wins the majority of the minutes, as the freshmen are NBA-caliber and the sophomores, who got significant experience last season, are darn talented in their own right.

The Ellington and Lawson show should be fun to watch, even if it only lasts a season or two. Roy Williams has always desired an elite speedster to lead his constant fast break of a system, and Ty Lawson is one of the more talented ones to come along this decade. He is a bit undersized, but gained valuable experience running the show for Oak Hill against a national schedule. Lawson could improve his shooting form a bit, but blazing quickness will give him enough space to get off the set shot he has proven he can hit. He makes everybody around him better, and fellow freshman Wayne Ellington should reap the benefits within two or three years in the form of an NBA paycheck. With an NBA-style fadeaway as his trademark scoring move, he might be impossible to keep out of the starting lineup. He isn’t as well-rounded or consistent as his former Episcopal High teammate Henderson, but there aren’t many volume scorers capable of putting points on the board as quickly as Ellington.

The player who stands to benefit the most from Lawson’s arrival is sophomore combo guard Bobby Frasor. Frasor did a phenomenal job with the ball-handling duties a season ago, but running the squad caused his biggest strength to be marginalized. Now that he is playing off the ball most of the time, expect dramatic increases in Frasor’s shooting percentages. He could emerge as one of the ACC’s elite perimeter shooters, and was already a fantastic perimeter defender. If Frasor can’t find the range, senior Wes Miller is still around. Miller was a pleasant surprise for Williams, hitting numerous big shots during North Carolina’s decisive ACC run.

If that wasn’t enough ball-handling depth, maybe you’d like an NBA-level athlete with a 2-1 Ast/TO ratio. Junior Quentin Thomas hasn’t quite lived up to his advanced billing, but he pushes the ball well in the open court and has improved his decision making. This is a player who can make a difference playing next to Lawson. The other two guards are sophomore wings Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard, both of which played big roles as freshmen. Ginyard is an athletic, defense-minded swingman who can handle the ball in the open court and is capable of improving on his lousy freshman year shooting percentages. Danny Green is a versatile perimeter player with a high basketball IQ who should fit in perfectly as a complementary piece on a championship contender. He picks his spots well, and does a bit of everything.

With the frontcourt a major issue headed into 05-06, Tyler Hansbrough outdistanced even the most optimistic expectations by emerging as the ACC’s top big man over the second half of the conference schedule. Hansbrough managed to stay healthy, while the rest of the group was able to do just enough, mostly thanks to the success of Williams’ smaller lineups. Needless to say, depth isn’t going to be a problem this year. Williams now appears to have one of everything, and all that is left to be determined is who gets the minutes next to Hansbrough.

Hansbrough took the nation by storm, showing remarkable poise and displaying remarkable bouts of ferocity that would usually begin with multiple bodies flying across the floor and end with his dunking on whichever opposing players were left standing. He held his own against every elite big man in the conference, showing the ability to finish through contact around the basket, and occasional flashes of a perimeter game when the situation allowed for it. If Hansbrough isn’t the country’s premier returning player, he’s very close to it. The other feature returnee is senior SF Reyshawn Terry, who finally got the opportunity to play and showed once and for all why he was offered a scholarship in the first place. Terry can absolutely soar for highlight-reel finishes in the open court, and is a respectable outside shooter as well. For Terry to emerge as a legitimate NBA prospect, he needs to polish up his ball-handling skills, improve his decision making and develop his ability to create off the bounce.

Hansbrough isn’t a shot blocker, and Williams really didn’t have one at his disposal in 05-06. That all changes with the addition of Brandan Wright, a Tennessee native universally considered one of the top 3 prospects in the freshman class. The lanky, versatile forward shocked many by picking the Heels, as Duke and Kentucky were considered the strong favorites headed into his official visit to Chapel Hill. Wright needs to put on a significant amount of weight, but has a 7’5 wingspan and the ability to score facing up and with his back to the basket. Wright probably has a two-year stay ahead of him in Chapel Hill before a spot in the lottery awaits him. Williams added three other highly regarded frontcourt prospects with in-state product William Graves and west-coast projects Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson. Stepheson is an impressive physical specimen who will need some time to develop offensively, while Thompson has lost a lot of weight in the last year and has been described as a poor man’s Sean May. Graves is very much a tweener, but can create his own shot and light it up from the outside.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: A
Depth: A
Experience: C+

Tempo-Adjusted Tar Heels:

05-06 Tempo: 72.2 poss/40 min (29th nationally, 3rd in the ACC, up from 70.5 in 04-05)
Offensive Efficiency: 116.2 (10th nationally, 3rd in the ACC)
Defensive Efficiency: 89.8 (19th nationally, 2nd in the ACC)
Turnover %: 22.6 (239th nationally, 10th in the ACC)

This was a near perfectly balanced team in 05-06, executing equally well on both sides of the ball. They shot the ball well, dominated the glass, got to the line more often than their opponents, and distributed the ball effectively. The young Heels showed remarkable poise and dedication on the defensive end, working well as a unit and showing excellent restraint. There really isn’t a whole lot to complain about here.

The one area where this team can improve is taking care of the ball. The Tar Heels played at a racing pace last season largely without a true point guard, so it makes sense that this would be an issue. Adding Lawson to the equation, this team’s tempo-adjusted profile is should look downright scary-good at this time next year.

Recruiting Report
Scholarships available: 1
2007 Commitments

After Williams’ historical 2006 haul, the recruiting updates have been thin around Chapel Hill. The Heels went all in on Kevin Love, but finished a distant second to UCLA in that battle. Williams appears content to let 2007 play out while getting a jump on 2008’s elite, though he could extend an offer to Kansas point guard Tyrel Reed if a scholarship opens up in the spring and Reed decides to wait. The Heels are heavily involved with elite 08 prospects like Tyreke Evans, Delvon Roe, Samardo Samuels, and Ed Davis. Expect Williams to pick and choose amongst the cream of the crop once again.

Keys to the Season

How long will the phenoms stick around? North Carolina cashed in big time when Williams landed Lawson, Ellington, and Wright. These are three players that may not have played a minute of college basketball if not for the age limit. Will they view their freshman seasons as unfairly imposed NBA auditions, or will they buy into the team concept? Will their professional futures be a distraction that wasn’t an issue with last year’s close-knit group? Do any of the three end up back in Chapel Hill for their sophomore years?

Can Reyshawn Terry take his game to the next level? It was a breakout season for the kid buried at the end of the bench during North Carolina’s championship run. Terry has the body of an NBA small forward and shot the ball well enough to indicate he may have a decent professional career ahead of him. But his basketball know-how isn’t quite there yet, and he must continue to polish up his perimeter game. He has poor court vision and doesn’t handle the ball well at all. There is some risk of getting lost in the shuffle, especially if he doesn’t connect from the outside as consistently. Nonetheless, Williams’ lone senior improved dramatically over the course of last season, and big things appear to be in the cards.

Is there enough room on the roster for all this talent? My guess is that top 50 big men don’t travel across the country to come off the bench for four years. Nonetheless, that is what Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson may have done if Williams continues to recruit the way that he has. Both players will add valuable depth this year, but there is so much in front of them that at least one is unlikely to be a part of the regular rotation. The same question has to be asked of former top 50 recruits Quentin Thomas, Marcus Ginyard, and Danny Green. All three could start for most programs in the country, yet everyone in this group will likely be relegated to part-time roles in 06-07. Elite talent like Lawson, Ellington, and Wright can go virtually anywhere in the country and be assured 35 minutes a game. They will be forced to earn their place as Tar Heels. Williams’ tendency to go deep into his bench should help, but a transfer or two at some point over the next year appears likely.

Conclusions: As you can tell from the flimsy Keys to the Season questions, I don’t have many bones to pick here. The talent is unquestionable and unlike last season, there is more than enough depth to go around. Ego management and playing time concerns could cause some friction, but Roy Williams knows how to deal with strong personalities. He plays an up-tempo system that requires a lot of bodies, so everybody should get their fair shot. This team is still relatively young and inexperienced which means that the standard “good vs. great” question must be asked, but again, North Carolina’s youth really shouldn’t be an issue. This team played like a group of seasoned veterans last year on both ends of the floor, and that really shouldn’t change in 06-07. Just like rival Duke’s outlook a season ago, it is national title or bust for the Tar Heels this year.

Prediction: 1st


05-06 Record: 32-4 (14-2)
Coach: Mike Kryzewski (680-191 in 28 years at Duke; 753-241 in 33 years overall)
Postseason: Sweet Sixteen (def Southern 70-54, def George Washington 74-61, lost to LSU 62-54)

2006 Season Review:

From J.J. vs. Adam to the ACC officiating controversy, Duke basketball was everywhere in 05-06. The Blue Devils were the overwhelming favorites to take home the championship, and anything less than cutting down the nets would be considered a disappointment. Coach K appeared well on his way to another title, after winning the Preseason NIT and steamrolling Texas in early December. Redick’s stock hit an all-time high after the 30 point blowout in which he single-handedly destroyed the Longhorn’s resolve with a seemingly endless barrage of long-range bombs. While warning signs were there for those who took notice (the near-shocker against Virginia Tech, the loss at Georgetown), the Blue Devils continued to roll through the ACC. Redick scored 30+ in six of seven games over a stretch in February, and the Blue Devils entered March undefeated in ACC play.

Unfortunately, March wasn’t a very good month, certainly not the storybook ending that Redick and Shelden Williams had hoped to leave with. Redick began to wear down, and despite a roster laden with capable secondary options, Coach K never made teams pay for doubling (or tripling) his shooting superstar. The ACC slate ended with consecutive losses, the first to a vengeful Florida State team who felt they were robbed of a win earlier in the season, and then an embarrassing loss to the Tar Heels in Durham on senior night. Duke would rebound to take the ACC Tournament, but bowed out to an energetic LSU squad in the Sweet 16. Redick couldn’t get a shot to fall, in part due to the smothering, physical defense of Garrett Temple. Redick lost his cool midway through the second half, and his team would soon follow. Mental mistakes down the stretch would bring an end to the careers of JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, an era of Duke basketball characterized by historic individual accomplishment but also a fair amount of postseason underachievement.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)
Players on scholarship: 10

Key Losses
*PG Sean Dockery, sr (7.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.7 spg in 29.7 mpg)
*SG JJ Redick, sr (26.8 ppg, 3.9 3fg/g in 37.1 mpg)
SF Lee Melchionni, sr (5.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg in 19.9 mpg)
*C Shelden Williams, sr (18.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.8 bpg in 33.3 mpg)
C Eric Boateng, so, transferred to Arizona State

Returnees: (6)

6’1 *PG Greg Paulus, so (6.7 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.6 spg in 32.3 mpg)**
6’3 SG DeMarcus Nelson, jr (7.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 41.0 3fg% in 21.5 mpg, 24 games)**
6’4 SG Martynas Pocius, so (6.1 mpg in 28 games)
6’6 SF David McClure, so (redshirted in 05-06 due to knee injury)
*6’10 PF Josh McRoberts, so (8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg in 24.5 mpg)**
6’7 PF Jamal Boykin, so (2.7 mpg in 26 games)

Starters: 2
Rotation Players: 3
Redshirts: 0
Sophomores: 5
Juniors: 1
Seniors: 0
05-06 Starts: 71 (10th in ACC)
Career Starts: 74 (11th in ACC)
Scoring: 27.2%
Rebounding: 42.2%

Newcomers: (4)
6’5 SG John Scheyer, Northbrook IL ( 5-star, 20th nationally)
6’5 SF Gerald Henderson, Merion, PA ( 5-star, 15th nationally)**
6’9 PF Lance Thomas, Newark, NJ ( 5-star, 18th nationally)**
7’0 C Brian Zoubek, Haddonfield, NJ ( 4-star, 38th nationally)
ACC Recruiting Class rank: 2nd

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

While maybe not as action-packed as a year ago, the 2006 non-conference slate is filled with games that will test this inexperienced team’s resolve. The Blue Devils will participate in the CBE (formerly Guardian’s) Classic, along with Stanford, Air Force, Long Beach State, Marquette, Texas Tech, and Akron. Then Indiana comes to town for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, followed by a chance to avenge last year’s loss to Georgetown. George Mason, Kent State, and Temple travel to Durham, but the pre-Christmas matchup vs Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden should be particularly telling.

Conference highlights:
Play Once: (Virginia Tech, @ Miami, Wake Forest, @ NC State, @ Virginia, Florida State)

Duke’s conference schedule is anything but easy, with two games against North Carolina, Boston College, and Georgia Tech. Other than a trip to Atlanta, January is a fairly easy month, if a month in the ACC can be categorized as easy. This helps Coach K out quite a bit, as all the youngster will have more of a chance to adjust to the rigors of the ACC. The stretch run is nasty, with two games against rivals Maryland and North Carolina, as well as Florida State, Boston College, and Georgia Tech all packed into the last month.

Roster Analysis

For the first time in four seasons, Duke fans will get a new look in the backcourt. Coach K would shuffle supporting players in and out around Redick, but the focus was always on J.J. This season, things change. This group is much younger, but as talented as ever.

It all starts with sophomore point guard Greg Paulus, who is coming off an up and down freshman season. Paulus is a crafty, prototypical Duke floor general who did a great job of finding his upperclassman teammates, but wasn’t immune to the occasional freshman decision making lapse. Paulus wore down as the season went on, but should factor into the scoring picture a bit more as a sophomore as long his development follows the typical point guard path. Paulus is the only real ball-handler on the roster, and will be asked to make life easier for numerous inexperienced players. Needless to say, Paulus is a very important piece of Duke’s puzzle this season.

The other returning contributor in the backcourt is junior DeMarcus Nelson, who plays more like a small forward but is just 6’3. Nelson didn’t have the breakout season many expected from him as a sophomore, but an injury that kept him out during the preseason is at least partially responsible for that. Nelson has NBA-caliber athleticism, and dramatically improved as a shooter over the course of the year. Nonetheless, his form is sub-par and the number of open looks he receives will be dramatically reduced without Redick’s presence. Nelson isn’t polished enough as a ball-handler to do much off the bounce, unless he is in the open court.

The rest of the backcourt minutes will come from new faces, but at least they are talented new faces. McDonald’s All-American Gerald Henderson should be penciled in to start at SF from day one, and is remarkably well-rounded for a freshman. An elite leaper, Henderson has an advanced midrange game, is an excellent passer, and has the physical strength/mentality to really punish opponents not prepared for a battle. As soon as he extends his shooting range out beyond the arc, he is an All-American. Nelson will receive competition from two youngsters at shooting guard. Lithuanian Marty Pocius was Redick’s apprentice a season ago, and should earn a few minutes with his energetic disposition. Bruce Weber’s brother coached burger boy SG John Scheyer in high school, but Coach K somehow managed to steal him away from the Illini. Because of his slight frame and unmistakable whiteness, many have him pegged as Duke’s next Redick. But Scheyer probably isn’t going to end up as a shooting specialist. Instead, look for him to contribute with forays into the midrange and excellent court vision.

We are also going to get a new look in the Blue Devil frontcourt. No longer will things revolve around Shelden Williams, and once again Coach K has the depth to go with an extended rotation. The last time this was the case, Michael Thompson transferred and Shavlik Randolph was essentially ignored, leaving Nick Horvath to guard Emeka Okafor down the stretch in the final four. We all know what happened at that point. I don’t want to claim that Coach K cost himself a national title by refusing to develop a competent second option to Williams, but I do hope that Kryzewski has learned his lesson and makes an attempt to fully utilize the significant frontcourt talent he has recruited this time around.

If Coach K wants to feature a big man this year, it is likely going to be sophomore Josh McRoberts, who didn’t get much of a chance to play to his strengths as a freshman. McRoberts has only recently returned to the court after offseason back surgery, but the future lottery pick was explosive enough playing with the injury all of last year. His offensive game is as diverse as they come. If he isn’t knocking down jumpers or nailing traditional back to the basket hook shots, McRoberts likes to use finesse floater and slashing moves while operating in the mid-post. Some added lower body strength would help him immensely on the low blocks, but he is likely a 2007 lottery pick either way. It will be interesting to see how Coach K utilizes McRoberts this season, as one has to go back to the pre-Elton Brand era to find a non-traditional big man as Duke’s feature offensive threat.

There is plenty of depth here. Third year sophomore David McClure comes off a knee injury, but was expected to play an important complimentary role a season ago. Sophomore Jamal Boykin is another undersized hustle type that could team well with McRoberts. The two newcomers both come with accolades. Lance Thomas took his recruitment down to the wire, only spurning hometown Rutgers once Quincy Douby declared for the NBA Draft a year early. The athletic Thomas is best suited for a role in the high post, which is likely to be McRoberts’ turf much of the time this year. He still probably earns minutes in more of a blue-collar role, but we probably don’t find out exactly what Thomas is capable of until after McRoberts turns pro. The massive Brian Zoubek is Coach K’s first true center project since Michael Thompson. Most expect his contributions to come as an upperclassman, but Zoubek has the bulk and footwork in the post to make an immediate impact. He could end up giving the Blue Devils an Aaron Gray-esque presence before he is done at Duke.

Backcourt: A-
Frontcourt: A-
Depth: A
Experience: C

Tempo-Adjusted Blue Devils:
05-06 Tempo: 72.2 poss/40 min (29th nationally, 3rd in the ACC, up from 70.5 in 04-05)
Free Throw Rate: 34.3 (3rd nationally, 1st in the ACC)
Opponents’ Free Throw Rate: 27.6 (26th nationally, 2nd in the ACC)
A/FGM: 55.8 (169th nationally, 5th in the ACC)
Opponents’ A/FGM: 46.1 (8th nationally, 1st in the ACC)

This is the moment where I get up on my soapbox and comment on the much-debated “Duke officiating advantage”. Duke fans probably won’t like what I have to say, but the mailbox is always open for flames if you must.

I’ve always believed Duke gets a significant advantage from the stripes, but that it comes from what the Blue Devils are allowed to get away with rather than unfairly tight officiating on offensive end. As everybody knows, Duke is a team that ought to commit a lot of fouls. The Blue Devils are constantly trapping and reaching, disrupting opposing offenses to the point where in 2006 they led the ACC in A/FGM defense and finished second in the ACC in steals. Coach K also leaned heavily on Shelden Williams’ shot altering abilities, allowing his guards to gamble constantly and resulting in plenty of violent collisions around the basket.

One would expect the Blue Devils to commit a lot of fouls, but their opponents shot a relatively small amount of free throws. Clemson was a very similar team in terms of steals numbers and A/FGM defense. The Tigers finished an abysmal 262nd nationally in Opponents’ FT Rate last season. On the other side of the fence, the Blue Devils shot a ton of free throws. This makes sense given the attention Redick and Williams commanded, but it is still a bit surprising given the fact that Duke didn’t have a player that got all the way to the basket on a consistent basis.

I’m not about to drag Coach K and his program’s accomplishments through the mud over the officiating issues. I understand that the premier programs receive extra respect, and this trend can be observed on all levels of basketball. Good teams are generally going to shoot more free throws, given the fact that they are usually ahead at the end of games. At the same time, I have gone back and watched much of Duke’s season (as well as every other team in the ACC) in recent weeks - to say that there aren’t times when the Blue Devils get away with murder just isn’t a defensible viewpoint. Krzyzewski coaches team defense better than any coach at any level, and halfcourt pressure-based defensive schemes are largely responsible for his becoming the king of the NCAA coaching mountain. But Duke isn’t this good on the defensive end. Nobody is.

You won’t get any National Enquirer-style investigative reports on ACC officiating bias from me this year, but I had to get my two cents in.

On a different topic, are you skeptical when I say that Duke got far too one-dimensional last season? If you can explain to me how a team with the best spot up shooter in the country and two pass-first point guards ended up ranked 169th in the nation in A/FGM, I’ll let the admittedly battered horse rest in peace.

Recruiting Report
Scholarships available: 3

2007 Commitments
6’2 CG Nolan Smith, Washington DC via Oak Hill (VA) Academy ( 4-star, #31 nationally)
6’7 SF Taylor King, Santa Ana, CA ( 4-star, #35 nationally)
(current ACC rank: 1st )

This is already a great class, and the biggest news is probably still forthcoming. Coach K reached across the country to grab shooting specialist Taylor King. King is a slow-footed shooting specialist whose spot in the college hoops pantheon will likely end up somewhere in that gulf between Lee Melchionni and Adam Morrison. A Melchionni lookalike, King is a truly elite shooter. Tobacco Road would have run out of nets by January if he had been spotting up opposite Redick a season ago. At the same time, he’s developing the ability to create for himself in the midrange in spite of those uncooperative feet. Smith has made a name for himself feeding Michael Beasley, both during the school year at Oak Hill and during the summer with the DC Blue Devils. The defense-oriented Smith is already earmarked for that Ewing-Dockery second ball-handler role, but Smith has a bit more burst in his step than either of his predecessors.

The bombshell should drop sometime between now and November, when Kyle Singler does the expected and commits to Duke. If King reminds of Morrison a bit, Singler is his stylistic protégé. Already more athletic than the mustached madman, Singler is a deadly outside shooter and can create his shot literally whenever he wants, using many of the moves that Adam Morrison borrowed from Nowitkzi and Bird. It might take awhile for Singler to adjust his finesse scoring game to the college level, but this is only a bonus for the Blue Devil faithful. He is a 2-3 year college player at minimum. A couple of players might be able to top Singler’s freshman year impact, but it is doubtful that anybody in the class of 2007 will match his second run. Be afraid, ACC. Duke is also involved with West Virginia PF Patrick Patterson, whose blue-collar style and explosive toughness would fit in well next to McRoberts, in the unlikely event that he returns for his junior season.

Keys to the Season

Does this team have enough experience to beat back numerous experienced squads from the lower tiers of the ACC? This is the same old question. The youngsters are talented and ready to put up points, but are they ready to win? I think this question is more easily answered in the case of Duke. There are a number of parallels between Duke’s 02-03 squad and this year’s team. In 02-03, the Jason Williams/Carlos Boozer/Mike Dunleavey era had come to an end with a disappointing loss in the Sweet Sixteen. A dynamite class of freshman was on the way in, and a few talented holdovers were about to step into bigger roles. The result? A 26-7 season and an NCAA Tournament run that ended with the youngsters giving the eventual national runners up everything they could handle in the Sweet 16. Some want to exclude Duke from their national top 10’s this fall, and that is downright foolish. I don’t doubt that this question still has a bit of relevance, as Coach K only has so much control of his players, but Duke freshmen are almost always ready to win right away.

Will McRoberts’ back be an issue? Josh McRoberts has all the tools in the world, but he missed the summer with back surgery. He really needed to add some muscle to his frame, and didn’t get a chance to do that. There likely would have been an adjustment period even without the injury. McRoberts rarely got to create for himself as a freshman, but showed the ability in flashes. Now he has to prove that he can produce while being keyed in on, and produce consistently. The back injury could set back this process a little bit.

Can coach K adjust his system to fit his talent? Parallels can be made to Maryland’s recent failures and Duke’s recent failures to live up to expectations in the postseason. The difference is that Coach K generally has significantly more talent to work with. Both coaches reached legendary status by strictly adhering to a specific system, and both coaches have struggled in key late-game situations by refusing to move away from it. With Duke, it appears this is something that has taken place in recent years. Coach K has refused to involve more than one big man in the offense, despite recruiting like he wants multiple post options at all times. His reliance on Williams to single-handedly control the paint last year allowed him to extend the Duke defense further than ever, but it is no coincidence that opposing big men often had their best games of the season against one of the nation’s premier individual defenders.

The over-reliance on Redick on the offensive end should also be mentioned. When Redick wasn’t at his best, the Blue Devils were beatable. Why not run a play for a McRoberts or Nelson every now and then, so that they are prepared to step up and Redick is allowed to have an off night on occasion? I don’t doubt that it was the right decision on most nights, but the potential risk on those rare bad days outweighs any sort of benefit in the short term. It puts unnecessary pressure on players that are already under intense scrutiny due to their status as Duke basketball players, and wears your star down over the course of a season. It just doesn’t make sense to recruit solely elite prospects and then only go 7-deep at best. These were problems inherent to the Duke system that happened to be exacerbated by the roster makeup of the past several seasons. Perhaps they won’t be issues with new players who have different strengths and weaknesses. But if Coach K isn’t stuck in his ways and I am simply looking for a way to hate on Duke, he will get fringe rotation guys like Pocius, McClure, Boykin and Zoubek consistent opportunities. My guess is that it would pay off in March.

Conclusions: This preview might sound somewhat negative up to this point, but it wasn’t intended to. Duke is quite underrated in some of the national preview publications, and should be viewed as a top 5-10 team to the pollsters with a vote. This group doesn’t have much experience at all, but Paulus and McRoberts earning starting roles on the top-ranked team in the country as freshmen probably makes both of them significantly more ready to lead a team to wins than your average stud soph. Freshmen Gerald Henderson and Brian Zoubek are also being underrated on the national scene, with Henderson as good a bet to win ACC Freshman of the Year as any. If McRoberts takes some time to get back to where he was at the end of last season, I can easily see the Philadelphia product leading this team in scoring. We don’t even know what little-used sophomores like Pocius, McClure, and Boykin will bring to the table. As long as Coach K can adapt to using a non-traditional big man as his go-to scoring option, keep the scoring balanced, and make a commitment to utilizing the substantial depth he has brought on, there is no reason why Duke can’t challenge an almost equally youthful North Carolina team for the top spot in the ACC and make yet another Final Four run.

Prediction: 2nd

Boston College

05-06 Record: 28-8 (11-5)
Coach: Al Skinner (147-100 in 8 seasons at Boston College; 285-226 in 17 years overall)
Postseason: Sweet Sixteen (defeated Pacific 88-76, defeated Montana 69-56, lost to Villanova 60-59)

2006 Season Review:
Al Skinner and Boston College had no problem adjusting to ACC-style basketball last season. Senior Craig Smith was an unstoppable force all season long, and Skinner found enough complementary pieces to turn the Eagles into one of top offensive teams in the country. There were a few bumps in the road early, with Sean Williams still working his way back into school. BC lost a close one to Michigan State, and then started ACC play 0-3. But Williams would eventually round into game shape, and provide the Eagles with a much-needed defensive presence in the paint.

Smith got better as the season wore on, and Boston College would only lose two games (one a nail-biter against Duke) the rest of the regular season. Williams would break through with a dominant 8 block performance against NC State, and the Eagles took down North Carolina to end the regular season. While BC would lose close games to Duke and Villanova to end their respective ACC and NCAA Tournament runs, this team was capable of playing with anybody in the country by the end of the season. Skinner must deal with life after Smith, but appears to be as equipped for success as he’s ever been headed into a season. Another top-tier ACC finish appears likely.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)

Players on scholarship: 11

Key Losses
*PG Louis Hinnant, sr (7.5 ppg, 4.6 apg, 43.0 3fg% in 32.7 mpg)
*PF Craig Smith, sr (17.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.0 apg in 36.3 mpg)

Returnees: (7)

6’0 CG Tyrese Rice, so (9.3 ppg, 2.5 apg, 39.1 3fg% in 20.8 mpg)**
6’3 CG Marquez Haynes, so (2.5 ppg in 10.3 mpg)**
*6’6 SF Sean Marshall, sr (11.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg in 28.0 mpg)**
*6’7 F Jared Dudley, sr (16.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.2 apg in 37.2 mpg)**
6’8 PF Akida McLain, jr (4.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg in 12.1 mpg, 29 games)
6’10 C Sean Williams, jr (3.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg in 17.3 mpg, 27 games)**
*6’10 C John Oates, jr (3.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg in 15.0 mpg)

Starters: 3
Rotation Players: 7
Redshirts: 0
Sophomores: 2
Juniors: 3
Seniors: 2
05-06 Starts: 108 (6th in ACC)
Career Starts: 262 (1st in ACC)
Scoring: 65.3%
Rebounding: 64.9%

Newcomers: (4)
6’4 CG Daye Kaba, France via Our Savior (NY) Prep ( 3-star)
6’7 SF Tyler Roche, Manchester, NH ( 3-star)
6’6 PF Shamari Spears, Salisbury, NC via Blair (NJ) Academy ( 4-star)
6’11 C Tyrelle Blair, jr, transfer from Loyola Chicago (5.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg as so)
ACC Recruiting Class rank: 10th

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

As usual, Skinner will largely stick to regional matchups with a few notable exceptions. The end of November could be telling, with Michigan State and Massachusetts coming to town. The Eagles travel to Kansas just before Christmas for a true holiday blockbuster.

Conference highlights:
Play Once: (Maryland, @ NC State, @ Wake Forest, Virginia, North Carolina, @ Georgia Tech)

There aren’t many easy games on BC’s ACC schedule. However, the Eagles do have a decent chance to be undefeated headed into a late January matchup against Duke. The stretch run could be tough, with trips to Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech as well as home dates against Duke and North Carolina all packed into the last 6 regular season games.

Roster Analysis

We have seen this in the past, but if Boston College has a weakness it would be depth and experience in the backcourt. Guard play is vital in the ACC, and while the Louis Hinnant-led Eagles were able to do fine a season ago, this year’s guard rotation isn’t going to have an experienced, calming presence like the graduated senior.

Ready or not, this will be Tyrese Rice’s show. Rice acquitted himself well as a freshman, and can get his shot off from just about anywhere thanks to a quick release and nearly unlimited range. Rice is crafty off the dribble, but will have to put the ball on the floor a bit more this year. It remains to be seen how handling the point guard duties full-time will affect his offensive game. Next to Rice will be longtime Skinner stalwart Sean Marshall, a steady but unspectacular contributor. Marshall isn’t much of a scorer off the dribble, but will knock down open shots and always compete on the defensive end. Boston College could use a bit more consistency from the senior wing this year.

The rest of the backcourt is completely unproven. Sophomore Marquez Haynes came in with the advanced billing, but was beaten out by Rice early in the season. Haynes is a nice athlete and will play the brand of defense Skinner requires, but needs to polish his offensive game. The other options are athletic freshmen Daye Kaba and shooter Tyler Roche. The physically mature Kaba could fit perfectly in the BC system and challenge Haynes for the right to start next to Rice.

Smith is gone, and his absence will make life tougher for everybody. No longer will Jared Dudley and Sean Williams get easy looks when defenses collapse on Smith in the paint. But this group is accomplished and talented nonetheless, still one of the better groups in the ACC. Dudley, now a senior, will step to the forefront as the team’s leader and star. Many claim he doesn’t have a true position, but the fact of the matter is that Dudley could play both small forward and power forward full time. The ultimate opportunist, he uses well-timed slashing moves to score in the mid-post, makes the most of his chances on the offensive glass, and is deadly from the outside. Dudley certainly benefited from the extra space that the presence of Smith created, but this tough as nails senior should be capable of leading this team to another NCAA Tournament berth.

The real test for Skinner this season is to speed along the development of junior shot blocking specialist Sean Williams, who appeared to have flamed out last spring but ended up back in Boston midway through the year. Williams started slowly, but his impact on the team down the stretch was undeniable and his upside unlimited. If he can become a bit more physical on the blocks and nail down a go-to offensive move, Williams would turn into an All-Conference performer overnight. He is the best shot blocker in the nation either way, and probably the most athletic big man in the country as well.

Skinner has no shortage of big bodies. Junior John Oates is a high-post big man that will scrap with anybody, while Akida McClain is another third year player that provides more of an athletic presence. Tyrelle Blair had moderate success at Loyola-Chicago before deciding to transfer, and will provide Skinner with a traditional Center presence. Freshman PF Shamari Spears is getting plenty of hype as a preseason sleeper, with Boston College fans hoping Skinner has landed another Craig Smith type. Spears is undersized, but knows how to score and will push people around on the block.

Backcourt: C+
Frontcourt: A-
Depth: B
Experience: B

Tempo-Adjusted Eagles:

05-06 Tempo: 63.2 poss/40 min (307th nationally, 11th in the ACC, down from 67.6 in 2005)
Offensive Efficiency: 116.7 (8th nationally, 2nd in ACC)
Effective FG%: 54.3 (15th nationally, 3rd in ACC)
A/FGM: 67.8 (4h nationally, 1st in ACC)

Skinner has reputation as a bit of a defensive-minded coach, but did a good job of adapting his style to the offense-oriented ACC. The Eagles were able to successfully slow games down and had little trouble scoring in their halfcourt sets. This was the best passing team in the ACC, with Hinnant’s 2.26/1 Ast/TO ratio and both Smith and Dudley averaging over 3 assists per game. Teams collapsed on Smith, and everybody was willing to make the extra pass. There was slippage on the defensive end, so it will be crucial for Skinner to find a way to keep the offense flowing without its key component.

Recruiting Report
Scholarships available:
2007 Commitments (current ACC rank: 6th )
6’6 SG Rakim Sanders, Pawtucket, RI via St Andrew’s (RI) School ( 4-star, # 91 nationally)
6’5 SF Corey Raji, Westwood, NJ ( 3-star)
6’8 PF Courtney Dunn, Dallas, TX ( NR)
6’9 C Josh Southern, Saginaw, MI ( 4-star, #74 nationally)

Yes, Skinner just missed on top 100 prospects Jeff Teague and Keaton Nankavil. But he landed two others in an effort that has to rank amongst his best at Boston College. He landed area standout Sanders early on, and beat out the likes of Tubby Smith and Bruce Pearl for Southern. Raji and Dunn don’t have the same national pedigree, but Dunn follows Sean Williams and Marquez Haynes as the latest Texan to head east. Boston College doesn’t have a high recruiting profile, but manages to identify elite talent nonetheless. There is likely a home run in this group somewhere. There is a chance that Skinner could take another guard in the spring, but he is likely done for 2007. Top 50 center Jeff Withey may be the top target for 2008 at this early juncture.

Keys to the Season

Is there enough offensive firepower without Smith? I was concerned about BC’s ability to play an ACC-style game headed into last season, but the Eagles adapted quite well. Unfortunately, a big part of that was Craig Smith. Jared Dudley may have put up comparable numbers, but it was Smith who was drawing attention and making life easier for everybody else. Dudley has succeeded as the perfect complement to Smith for three years, but now has to deal with defensive attention he has never seen before. The same can be said for double-digit scorer Sean Marshall. This team scored points with machine-like efficiency a season ago, and that is far from a guarantee this fall. Considering that BC was average-at-best on the defensive end in their inaugural ACC campaign, Skinner needs some major development from returning players.

What does BC have with Sean Williams? Williams has earned his fair share of press over his first two seasons, some of it good and some of it bad. On one hand, his freakish athleticism and game-changing shot blocking presence made it immediately obvious that Skinner had found another diamond in the rough. His explosiveness and size make him the best NBA prospect Skinner has coached at Boston College. On the other, there have been questions about his commitment and feel for the game. His freshman year was filled with academic and off the court issues, which led to his being dismissed from school in the spring. But Williams went back home, got his grades in order, and rejoined the team in January. It took him time to get up to speed within BC’s system, and he didn’t make enough of an impact as a scorer or a rebounder. But his shot altering presence was undeniably dominant, and Skinner never really required him to be more than a weak side shot blocker with Smith and Dudley around.

Williams spent this summer working out with his teammates and developing his offensive game, and it is now time for him to emerge as a complete player. There is no limit to his potential, and this team needs a double-double type of contribution from him this year.

Is Tyrese Rice capable of carrying this team? Boston College doesn’t need as much out of its guards as many programs do, but last year was somewhat of a unique case. The guards were responsible for getting Smith the ball in an efficient manner, and then spotting up once the double teams came. Things aren’t going to be that easy this year, and Rice has a lot of responsibility for a 5’11 sophomore that isn’t even a natural point guard. He was the perfect complement for Hinnant last year, but now he must become Hinnant. Running the offense and getting the big guys involved will become the focus, instead of 25-foot bombs and the slick forays into the lane. Rice has proven he can be a quality player in the ACC, but is he ready for this much responsibility?

Conclusions: No, this team is not as talented as the other ACC contenders. But Al Skinner’s teams have rarely fielded exceptional talent, and still almost always contend. Craig Smith can’t be replaced, but Skinner will find a way to keep this team near the top of the ACC. He has a frontcourt practically overflowing with options, and a pair of double digit scoring seniors to take over the leadership role. Certain players will have to emerge, but as long as Sean Williams and Tyrese Rice are up to the task, Boston College should be fine. In the end, history tells us betting against Al Skinner is an unwise decision.
Prediction: 3rd

Georgia Tech

2005-2006 Record: 11-17 (4-12)
Coach: Paul Hewitt (107-83 in 6 seasons at Georgia Tech; 173-110 in 8 years overall)
Postseason: None

2006 Season Review:

Many suspected that 05-06 could be a rebuilding year for Georgia Tech, and it turns out that we were right. Hewitt was essentially starting over, handing the reigns to a group that had been forced to wait while the holdovers of the Bosh-Jack era played out their careers. The Yellow Jackets began the season with a disheartening blowout loss at the hands of Illinois-Chicago and then were decisively defeated by in-state rival Georgia. The new year began promisingly enough with victories over Vanderbilt and Boston College, but Tech would win just two games against ACC foes the rest of the way. There would be a few competitive moments, but the youngsters couldn’t close out games on the road, and were almost as bad at home.

While 05-06 was the worst season of Hewitt’s tenure, optimism within the program was anything but diminished. While his talented youngsters struggled to learn how to win ACC games, the focus had already shifted to 06-07. Hewitt managed to reel in two future NBA players in PG Javaris Crittenton and SF Thaddeus Young, while the considerable talent already on the roster matured through their trial-by-fire. Anthony Morrow emerged as one of the top long-range shooters in the conference. Combo guard Lewis Clinch came on down the stretch after injuries held him back early in his freshman season. Frontcourt regulars Ra’Sean Dickey and Jeremis Smith had their fair share of struggles, but also held their own in a league full of experienced, talented big men. While Georgia Tech will again be relying on quite a bit of youth, nobody in the conference is more talented. Georgia Tech fans should rest assured that their season to forget will quickly become a distant memory.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)
Players on scholarship: 13

Key Losses
*PG Zam Fredrick, so, transferred to South Carolina (10.6 ppg, 3.9 apg in 28.8 mpg)
PF Theodis Tarver, sr (3.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg in 17.4 mpg)

Returnees: (9)
6’3 CG Lewis Clinch, so, (8.9 ppg, 2.1 apg in 24.0 mpg, 23 games)
*6’5 SG Anthony Morrow, jr, (16.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.78 3fg/g in 32.2 mpg, will miss preseason practice with back injury)**
*6’4 SG Mario West, sr (5.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.0 spg in 22.1 mpg)
6’5 SG De’Andre Bell, so (3.9 ppg, 1.2 spg in 18.4 mpg)
6’6 SF Paco Diaw, so (7.1 mpg in 19 games)
6’8 SF Mouhammad Faye, redshirt fr (injured wrist this summer, out until December)
*6’6 PF Jeremis Smith, so (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.3 spg in 28.0 mpg)**
6’9 PF Alade Aminu, so (8.0 mpg in 24 games)
*6’9 C Ra’Sean Dickey, jr (13.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg in 27.6 mpg)**

Starters: 4
Rotation Players: 6
Redshirts: 1
Sophomores: 5
Juniors: 2
Seniors: 1
05-06 Starts: 109 (5th in ACC)
Career Starts: 128 (10th in ACC)
Scoring: 80.9%
Rebounding: 84.8%

Newcomers: (4)
6’4 PG Javaris Crittenton, Atlanta, GA ( 5-star, 14th nationally)
6’8 SF Thaddeus Young, Memphis, TN ( 5-star, 6th nationally)
6’7 PF Zach Peacock, Miami, FL ( 4-star)
6’10 C Brad Sheehan, Latham, NY ( 3-star)
[b[ACC Recruiting Class rank: 3rd

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

The nation will get a good look at Crittenton and Young very early, as the Yellow Jackets will head to Maui and face a loaded field that includes DePaul, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Purdue, and UCLA. Maui will set the tone for the non-conference season, but several other interesting games await. The Jackets get an improving Penn State squad in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and will make a return trip to Vanderbilt in early December. Georgia is in town just before Christmas break, and Connecticut heads south in mid-February for a late non-conference showdown.

Conference highlights:
Play Once: (@Miami, @ Maryland, Virginia Tech, NC State, @ Virginia, Boston College)

Georgia Tech probably hasn’t been helped by the unbalanced schedule. The Jackets have to play Duke and North Carolina twice, and must go to Maryland and Virginia. The first month of the ACC slate is going to be tough, with @ Clemson, Duke, Florida State, @ North Carolina, and @ Maryland consecutively. The stretch of Connecticut, @ Florida State and @ Duke isn’t exactly a cakewalk, either.

Roster Analysis

The loss of Jarrett Jack weighed heavily on this team, as Zam Fredrick was a capable scorer but not ready to lead a group of youngsters to success in the ACC. The issue should be resolved this season, with blue-chip NBA prospect Javaris Crittenton on campus and Fredrick back home at South Carolina. Thaddeus Young might be the bigger name, but nobody is more important to Georgia Tech than Crittenton.

The Jackets could have been much better, but mental errors on both sides of the ball really doomed this team to a lost season. There were struggles with turnovers, defensive lapses, and poor free throw shooting. A good point guard should make a big difference, though Crittenton may have a bit of a learning curve himself. He has a phenomenal combination of size, athleticism, strength, and explosiveness, everything an NBA coach could ask for out of a PG from a physical standpoint. At the same time, Crittenton has a tendency to force the issue and now needs to figure out how to keep his talented teammates happy without ignoring his own formidable scoring abilities. Crittenton is as talented as they come, but is he ready to lead a team to a top-tier ACC finish? The task is a tough one, regardless of how good he ends up down the road.

The rest of the backcourt should fall into place nicely around Critttenton. Junior shooting specialist Anthony Morrow broke out last season, leading Georgia Tech in scoring and the ACC in 3-point percentage. Morrow doesn’t do much outside of the shooting department, and could take more of a backseat role to the incoming freshmen. He is out for most of the preseason with a back injury. The other feature option in the backcourt is sophomore Lewis Clinch, who was hampered by an injury early in the season but really emerged once he was healthy again. He is explosive off the dribble, capable of creating for himself in the midrange, and gets hot in a hurry. Both Morrow and Clinch could have been more consistent a season ago. Fifth year senior and defensive specialist Mario West will get his 15-20 minutes per game, while crafty sophomore De’Andre Bell is also in the mix after contributing as a rookie.

Keeping with the “deep, talented, and young” theme, there is no shortage of explosiveness or versatility with this group. Super-frosh Thaddeus Young wouldn’t have played a minute of college ball if not for the age limit, and should be an all-league caliber presence from day one. There is little the lefty Young can’t do, whether it be breaking people down off the dribble, slashing to the basket, playing physical defense, or soaring for highlight reel dunks in the open court. The only issue right now is an inconsistent perimeter jumper, but don’t expect that to be a problem for long. A bit more perimeter polish and Young is ready to contribute for an NBA team.

Young probably spends the season shifting between the 2, 3, and 4 spots, with a pair of versatile Senegalese wings also fighting for time at these spots. Paco Diaw is quite raw offensively, but is capable of earning a few minutes with his abilities on the other side of the ball. Mouhammed Faye is an unknown, and it will stay that way for a while longer after he injured his wrist in the offseason.

The true interior presence will again be provided by Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey. Smith is undersized, but made an immediate impact on the ACC with a unique blend of explosiveness and strength. One of the most underrated athletes in the nation, he was impossible to keep off the offensive glass even as a freshman. If you were a fan of PJ Tucker early in his time at Texas, you’ll want to keep an eye out on Smith. Smith struggled with foul trouble late in the season and needs let the game come to him a bit more, but he has the potential to be an ACC star at some point in his career. Dickey is one of the more physically imposing big men in the country, and has a deadly offensive arsenal on the low blocks. At the same time, the ball never got back out to the perimeter once he received it, and this led to a lot of forced shots and unnecessary turnovers. He is also prone to defensive lapses. The depth will be provided by lean sophomore Alade Aminu and freshman combo forward Zach Peacock. Skinny freshman Brad Sheehan is also available, but may need a year or two to develop.

Backcourt: A-
Frontcourt: B+
Depth: A
Experience: B-

Tempo-Adjusted Yellow Jackets:

05-06 Tempo: 70.3 poss/40 min (69th nationally, 6th in the ACC, down from 71.3 in 2005)
Turnover %: 24.5 (309th nationally, 12th in ACC)
Opponents’ FT Rate: 45.2 (306h nationally, 12th in the ACC)
Offensive Rebound %: 37.5% (27th nationally, 4th in the ACC)

Hewitt’s lack of a point guard really shows up in the Turnover statistics, where the Jackets ranked last in the ACC. The issues at the defensive end are put into perspective with how often their opponents got to the line. There were way too many breakdowns a season ago, especially for a team that wasn’t very successful in disrupting the opposition’s ball movement.

The biggest positive from last year was the way the Jackets crashed the offensive glass, and Jeremis Smith’s presence can be seen here.

Recruiting Report
Scholarships available: 1
2007 Commitments (current ACC rank: 6th )
6’2 PG Maurice Miller, Memphis, TN ( 4-star, 88th nationally)
5’11 PG Matt Causey, D-2 transfer (walk-on, played freshman season at Georgetown)
6’4 SG Lance Storrs, Decature, GA ( 3-star)
6’8 PF Gani Lawal, Norcross, GA ( 4-star, 35th nationally)

This is a second straight excellent recruiting effort for Paul Hewitt, headed by the versatile, athletic Lawal. Miller’s addition was particularly important, as Crittenton is likely to jump to the NBA as quickly as possible. Storrs adds another shooter in the backcourt, and Causey was a surprise late addition to the roster this fall. I have this group rated 6th in the ACC at the moment, but only because other schools were in more need of the talent they landed. The Jackets could easily switch places with #2 Florida State. Hewitt has enough depth to think big for 2008, which is a good thing considering all the local 2008 talent. Wing Al-Faroq Aminu, brother of Yellow Jacket sophomore Alade, is a 5-star prospect and major target. Tech will also be heavily involved with local big man Howard Thompkins and wing Chris Singleton, and appear to be after New York shooting guard Sylvan Landesburg pretty hard.

Keys to the Season

Does Ra’Sean Dickey develop into a complete player this year? There is a lot to like about Ra’Sean Dickey. He is built like an ox, runs the court well, has good touch in the midpost, and can score at will on the blocks. But a lot was missing from his game last year. There were costly defensive lapses, and a lack of awareness on rotations. Dickey could really help the Jackets’ cause by passing the ball out of the post. Teams knew what was going to happen as soon as he got the ball, and had no reason not to double team him. Dickey is one of the more formidable physical presences in the conference, not too far away from what Eric Williams offered the past two seasons. But Williams never picked up on the nuances of the game. It is now or never time for Dickey.

Can Javaris Crittenton make a difference at the point? Crittenton is a talent, but can he lead an ACC team in his freshman year? This team turned the ball over way too much a season ago, and the Jackets need his presence as a penetrator and defender. He is going to score a lot of points, but can he do the little things that will turn last year’s talented individuals into a successful team unit?

Could this team be a year away? Last year’s team had enough talent to be good, but almost no ACC experience. Players like Morrow, Dickey, and Smith were able to put up good numbers, but weren’t ready to lead a team to wins in the ACC. They were learning how to play together, and build chemistry that would allow them to win in the future. But now Georgia Tech has to take that next step and become a winning basketball team. This step is never easy, no matter how many blue-chippers are on the roster. And now two talented freshmen are expected to come in, skip the adjustment year, and lead this team to success. This is a team that could potentially need another year. And with talents like Crittenton and Young, this exact group might not have one.

Conclusions: All eyes will be on Paul Hewitt and his Yellow Jackets this November at the Maui. He has recruited his way back into the national spotlight, but now must start winning games again. This is a program that hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since the Championship Game run, and needs a big season in a big way. The talent and depth is undeniable, and Thaddeus Young is going to be an All-ACC caliber performer right away. But the early schedule is tough, and this team has a lot of learning to do in a short amount of time. We will know a lot more after Maui, but it remains to be seen if the Yellow Jackets are ready to emerge as an elite ACC program this season, or if they should have been previewed in the middle of pack article. This should be a successful season for Georgia Tech, but fans of the program shouldn’t breathe easy until the Yellow Jackets start winning games in the ACC.

Prediction: 4th

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