With the majority of the major transfers picking their new homes, the coaching carousel coming to a halt and the draft deadline passing at the end of May, the college basketball season is beginning to build a much clearer picture.
Yes, it’s only June and teams are just now getting on campus with the intentions of their first summer workout sessions, but there is a strong idea of what teams will look like come October and November.
What we do know is the ACC is projected to be one of the best conferences in the nation, if not THE best, and Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville are the sure-fire top-four teams in the league.
We know Florida State, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will all likely be boarder-line NCAA Tournament teams while Notre Dame is expected to take a step back with the departure of Demetrius Jackson.
But there are three teams that offer intriguing potential. Casual basketball fans may not expect them to launch forward into the national spotlight, but whether it’s because of incoming recruits, eligible transfers, or continuity, these teams could finish in the top 1/3 of a monster of a league.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
At the beginning of the offseason, North Carolina State was in a state of flux due to departures of Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber (NBA Draft with an agent), Abdul-Malik Abu (NBA Draft without an agent), BeeJay Anya (NBA Draft without an agent) and the Martin twins (transferred to Nevada).
A month and a half later, things are looking upwards for Mark Gottfried and company. The Wolfpack landed Turkish big man and future NBA prospect Omer Yurtseven while Abu and Anya opted to return to school.
It may take time for Yurtseven to adjust to the speed of the college game (he’s only 17), but his presence in the pick-and-roll with five-star point guard Dennis Smith will form a dangerous one-two combo.
Then there’s the depth in the backcourt that the Wolfpack possess. Charlotte transfer Torin Dorn is eligible, Terry Henderson will finally be healthy after dealing with a serious ankle injury, Shaun Kirk has more experience and Maverick Rowan is a capable sharp shooter who should be better in year two.
The only bad news is that Barber isn’t returning and Lennard Freeman had a rod inserted into his leg and could possibly miss the entire season.
But with the new additions, the losses may not be all that devastating. Smith should slot in immediately as the starting point guard, while Abu and Anya have the experience to make up for the loss of Freeman.
The Wolfpack, who are dealing with a lot of moving parts, are capable of making the Big Dance if they play their cards the right way
Clemson head coach Brad Brownell received the best possible news on the NCAA’s NBA Draft deadline: His best player Jaron Blossomgame announced he was returning to school for one more season.
Blossomgame was an elite player in the ACC last season as he averaged 18.7 points per game and grabbed 6.7 rebounds per game. He should take another step forward next season due to his athleticism, versatility and ability to score from all areas of the floor.
Clemson isn’t a one man show though. While Blossomgame is by far the team’s best player, the Tigers also return rising senior guard Avry Holmes and rising junior forward Donte Grantham. The program adds Robert Morris transfer Marcquise Reed, Vanderbilt transfer Shelton Mitchell and Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas.
That is excellent news for a team that won 10 games in the ACC without a true home court advantage. Littlejohn Coliseum was undergoing renovations last year (it will be done for this season) so Clemson had to travel 45 minutes to Greenville to play their home games.
The Tigers can do serious damage in the ACC and will be a sleeper nationally.
Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies finished seventh in the ACC last year after winning 19 games overall and finishing two games above .500 in league play. Head coach Buzz Williams has done a remarkable job turning around the program and they should be even more experienced and improved in 2016-17.
Virginia Tech returns Seth Allen, Justin Robinson, Justin Bibbs, Devin Wilson, Ahmed Hill (who is coming off injury), Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Zach LeDay. In other words, the only two players off last year’s squad that Williams is losing is Jalen Hudson (off to Florida) and Satchel Pierce (off to Penn State).
Even though they don’t have much size and have an overload at the guard position, this team has chemistry, talent and athleticism.
They will need to buckle up their defense, but overall, the Hokies could win more than 10 games in a daunting league because of their continuity.