ACC Conference Preview (Part Two)

ACC Conference Preview (Part Two)
Nov 07, 2005, 02:41 am
Projected order of finish

1. Duke
2. Boston College
3. Maryland
4. N.C. State
5. Miami
6. Wake Forest

7. Virginia Tech
8. Florida State
9. Clemson
10. North Carolina
11. Georgia Tech
12. Virginia

The ACC continues to be the center of the college basketball universe, even though most teams in the conference lost major pieces in the offseason. Duke didn't lose much, and enters the season as the clear-cut number one team in the country. There is a significant gap between the Blue Devils and the rest of the conference, where the real battle is for second place. Newcomer Boston College might be the favorite here, though Gary Williams and the Terrapins might have something to say about that. The other teams in the top half of the conference return enough to compete as well, though NC State will miss Julius Hodge and Wake Forest won't be the same without Chris Paul. Miami would be the one non-traditional power here, but Frank Haith has put together an explosive lineup capable of competing in this toughest of conferences.

DraftExpress 2006 Preseason All ACC Teams and Awards

Player of the Year: Shelden Williams, Duke
Defensive Player of the Year: Shelden Williams, Duke
Newcomer of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Most Improved Player: Andrew Brackman, NC State
Coach of the Year: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

All ACC Team

First Team

G Guillermo Diaz, Miami
SG JJ Redick, Duke
PF Craig Smith, Boston College
C Shelden Williams, Duke
C Eric Williams, Wake Forest

Second Team

PG Sean Singletary, Virginia
PG Justin Gray, Wake Forest
SG Chris McCray, Maryland
SF Nik Caner-Medley, Maryland
F Jared Dudley, Boston College

Third Team

PG Jamon Gordon, Virginia Tech
SG Zabian Dowdell, Virginia Tech
SG Cliff Hammonds, Clemson
PF Andrew Brackman, NC State
PF Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

All-Newcomer Team

PG Greg Paulus, Duke
PG Tyrese Rice, Boston College
SG Lewis Clinch, Georgia Tech
PF Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
PF Josh McRoberts, Duke


2005 Record: (27-6, 11-5)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Michigan State in Sweet Sixteen
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Key Losses:

G Daniel Ewing (15.3 ppg, 4.0 apg)
PF Shavlik Randolph (4.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg)

6’1 PG Greg Paulus, Syracuse, NY
6’4 SG Martynas Pocius, Lithuania via Holderness (NH) School
6’7 PF Jamal Boykin, Los Angeles, CA
6’10 PF Josh McRoberts, Carmel, IN
6’10 C Eric Boateng, England via St. Andrews (DE) School

PG – 6’2 Sean Dockery, sr
SG – 6’4 JJ Redick, sr
SF – 6’3 DeMarcus Nelson, so
PF – 6’10 Josh McRoberts, fr
C – 6’9 Shelden Williams, sr

PG – 6’1 Greg Paulus, fr
SF – 6’6 Lee Melchionni, sr
PF – 6’7 Jamal Boykin, fr
C – 6’10 Eric Boateng, fr

While the rest of the nation looks on, Duke just continues to pile up wins. Last season was no different, when many experts had the Blue Devils finishing as low as fourth in the ACC before the season started. Despite a shallow roster missing the presence of three NBA players, the Blue Devils won their first fifteen games, split with North Carolina and won the ACC tournament before falling to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen. While the other conference powers took significant off-season personnel hits, the core of Duke’s roster remains intact. Coach K has added a banner recruiting class as well, highlighted by spectacular floor general Greg Paulus and the player considered by most to be the top freshman in the nation, Josh McRoberts. The team will still be led by senior superstars JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, but the Blue Devils now have the depth and athletic ability to stay fresh late in games. There may not be a better defensive mind in the entire world than Coach K, and his team is going to absolutely lock down a weakened ACC this year. It has been four years since Duke won a championship, so the fan-base is starting to get a little antsy. With the overwhelming amount of experience and talent that Duke has this year, the Blue Devils have to be considered the odds on favorite to cut down the nets next spring.

Senior shooter extraordinaire JJ Redick (21.8 ppg) is easily the most scrutinized player in the nation. The detractors look at his percentages and wonder what all the fuss is about. The realists know that even when defenses design their game plan around stopping him, Redick still manages to hit 40 % of his 3-pointers and is a threat to go off for 30 on any given night. Redick has made a living off of his quick release, and hits the types of contested shots that any other player would be benched for taking. Make no mistake about it, Reddick is the best shooter in college basketball this season. Nonetheless, he appeared to tire down the stretch last year, and his inability to get going was a major part of Duke’s mini slide late in the season. Sophomore DeMarcus Nelson (6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) spent much of last year hampered by nagging injuries, but should be a major help to Reddick this time around. Nelson is one of the few Blue Devils capable of breaking down defenses off the dribble from the wing, and is in line for a breakout season.

The starter at point guard hasn’t been crowned, but you can bet that Coach K will get steadier play out of the position this year. Freshman Greg Paulus is your consummate pass first point guard. He can control the tempo, run the offense to perfection, and create offense for his teammates with his spectacular passing ability. Senior Sean Dockery (6.2 ppg, 2.3 apg, 1.6 ppg) is the likely starter for now, but Paulus will push him. Dockery doesn’t have Paulus’ natural floor general instincts, but is a nasty on the ball defender and will be more of a threat off the dribble. Providing depth in the backcourt will be underrated freshman Martynas Pocius, and versatile senior small forward Lee Melchionni (7.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

Senior big man Shelden Williams (15.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.7 bpg) has fought Duke’s interior battles almost by himself over the past three seasons. He is tough, explosive, and relentless around the basket. Despite having numerous fresh bodies thrown at him constantly, Williams overpowers nearly everybody that tries to keep him in check. He is impossible to keep off of the glass, and blocks plenty of shots that one wouldn’t expect him to get to. Coach K has asked a lot out of his senior post man over the years, and Williams has been unquestionably up to the task at every turn.

While Williams is more than capable of playing the lone warrior role in the post again this season, he will have the luxury of a little help for once. Freshman Josh McRoberts is an incredibly skilled big man, polished enough to take his man outside, but smooth enough to be a factor around the basket. He should start immediately. Two other touted freshmen will provide depth. Eric Boateng comes in with the McDonald’s All-American tag, but Jamal Boykin is more likely to contribute right away. Boykin is undersized, but has a mature body and the intensity that will win him minutes in Coach K’s frantic system.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say in summarizing the Duke Blue Devils and their 2006 chances. They are the national favorites, featuring a devastating 1-2 punch that has played in the big game before, and a freshman class that includes two of the top five newcomers in the land. If Coach K could push last season’s somewhat undermanned group to such success, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Blue Devils are the clear front runners in the ACC and in the nation.

Recruiting Update: Coach K continues to largely pick and choose, and has three more blue chippers lined up to arrive in Durham next fall. Illinois native John Scheyer is known for his shooting ability but is much more of an all around talent. Coach K stole him from the Illini in spite of the fact that Bruce Weber’s brother is his high school coach. Duke is also the choice for athletic wing Gerald Henderson out of Philadelphia and promising 7-footer Brian Zoubek. The Blue Devils received a shock when top power forward target Brandan Wright picked the Tar Heels, and thus Krzyzewski is back on the trail of unsigned power forward Lance Thomas. The loss of Wright is a temporary sting, but it isn’t like the Blue Devils were in desperate need of immediate help. Coach K will focus in on Oregon forward Kyle Singer as his top 2007 target.

Boston College

2005 Record: (25-5, 13-3)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to UW-Milwaukee in 2nd round
Head Coach: Al Skinner

Key Losses:

PG Steve Hailey (4.5 ppg, 2.8 apg)
SG Jermaine Watson (9.6 ppg)
SF Gordon Watt
C Nate Doornekamp (5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

6’0 PG Tyrese Rice, Chesterfield, VA
6’3 G Marquez Haynes, Irving, TX
6’7 PF Evan Neisler, Raleigh, NC

PG – 6’4 Louis Hinnant, sr
SG – 6’6 Sean Marshall, jr
SF – 6’7 Jared Dudley, jr
PF – 6’8 Akida McLain, so
C – 6’7 Craig Smith, sr

PG – Tyrese Rice, fr
G – Marquez Haynes, fr
C – 6’10 Sean Williams, so ?
C – 6’10 John Oates, so

Al Skinner is finally starting to garner some respect around college basketball nation. His teams aren’t always particularly talented, but Skinner will always get the most out of what he’s got. When he does have a worthy roster, good things tend to happen. Last season, The Eagles didn’t lose until February, and while the team faltered down somewhat down the stretch and bowed out early in the NCAA tournament, it has become truly obvious that Skinner simply knows how to win basketball games. His knack for finding hidden gems on the recruiting path is uncanny, and the emergence of Jared Dudley and Sean Williams only added to that legend. With both Dudley and Craig Smith returning, big things are expected from the Eagles in their first go-round in the ACC.

While the star power is clearly there, Skinner will again have to milk everything he can out of his role-players. Williams ran into legal problems in the off-season, and won’t return until January at the earliest, if at all. Due to a couple of transfers, there is little depth in a backcourt that may struggle in the up-tempo ACC, and Skinner will be forced to throw a couple of freshman into the fire right away. Nonetheless, the star power of Jared Dudley and Craig Smith should be able to carry this team once again. The return of Williams would be one heck of a midseason boost, but a second place finish in the ACC is very feasible and would be one heck of a way to join the league.

It is tough to compete in the ACC without a viable guard rotation, and it was obvious during the NCAA tourney loss to UW-Milwaukee last spring that Skinner’s perimeter players are in for a struggle when going up against more athletic teams. The situation got a bit worse over the off-season, when backup point guard Steve Hailey and athletic wing Gordon Watt both transferred. So what does Skinner have to work with? Senior point guard Louis Hinnant (5.3 ppg, 4.8 apg) is a steady, if unspectacular floor general presence. He isn’t going help as a scorer, but will get the ball to the right people in the right places. Senior wing Sean Marshall (11.1 ppg) is another contributor that won’t knock your socks off, but will provide a complementary outside shooting presence.
Beyond the two seniors, there is little depth to speak of. Skinner has brought in two freshmen, and the early word is that point guard Tyrese Rice could be the latest of Skinner’s recruiting steals. Rice was a late signee, but can light it up from the outside and is more than capable of running the team. Combo guard Marquez Haynes is more highly regarded coming out of high school, and has the athletic ability to become a true standout. Skinner seems to always find a rotation that works, and if Rice or Haynes is as good as advertised, all this talk about depth and being overmatched in the backcourt can be thrown out the window.

Junior Jared Dudley (16.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 apg) doesn’t really have a true position, but is simply a good basketball player. He can hit the outside shot, get into the lane off the dribble, and really dominate a game with toughness and leaping ability around the basket. He is probably considered a small forward on this team, but will still do most of his damage near the basket. Dudley has improved as a perimeter player over his first two seasons as an Eagle, and there would be much more balance on the offensive end if he could contribute even more on the perimeter.

Senior Craig Smith (18.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg) has been the heart and soul of the team for three seasons. He is undersized, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he knocks people around on the low block. Despite having the build of an offensive lineman, Smith is very light on his feet and is comfortable taking his game to the mid post. He will be one of the top players in the ACC this year.

Skinner was planning on having perhaps the most athletic big man in the nation to start next to Dudley and Smith, but Sean Williams was arrested last spring and is currently taking classes at Houston in an attempt to re-enroll in January. With his long arms and stunning athletic explosiveness, he would have challenged Duke’s Shelden Williams for the ACC shot blocking title. It is unclear whether Williams will play at all this year, as his legal issues will apparently be revisited right around the time he was hoping to rejoin the team. While Williams remains sidelined, it looks as if sophomore combo forward Akida McLain, who is coming back from some legal issues of his own, will have the inside track as the fifth starter. Sophomore center John Oates, bulked up since last spring, will also fight for playing time.

In all honesty, this writer is far from convinced that Al Skinner has a top 10 team on his hands. There is little depth, and the backcourt could really struggle in the more guard-oriented ACC. This team was quite mediocre down the stretch last year, and might be getting a bit more hype this preseason because of last year’s 20-0 start. Nonetheless, it is silly to underestimate what Al Skinner can do, especially when he’s got two stars to work with in Dudley and Smith. Considering the success that Virginia Tech and Miami had upon moving to the ACC, it would be silly to underestimate what this team can do. The early reports on the freshman guards are encouraging, and the return of Williams would make the Eagle frontcourt perhaps the best in the country. The amount of potential the troubled big man showed as a freshman really can’t be understated. Several teams will likely fight that second spot in the conference behind Duke, and the Eagles appear to be a notch or two ahead of the other competitors.

Recruiting Update: Skinner has never recruited at a particularly high level, but has made a good living by signing passed over gems late in the process. Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Sean Williams, and Tyrese Rice all fit this mold. While this strategy has worked in the past, Skinner might have to start landing a few more blue chippers. No offense to the Big East, but the ACC is just a completely different animal in terms of top to bottom talent. BC appears to have missed out on many of its top targets yet again, but recently landed promising combo guard Daye Kaba. Skinner also has two frontcourt commitments. Shamari Spears is an undersized post man with some potential, while small forward Tyler Roche is a shooter with some size. Skinner has offers extended to guards Greivis Vasquez and Doneal Mack, though both appear primed to head elsewhere. The Eagles are clearly in the mix for 7-footer Chas McFarland, and Skinnner will inevitably find somebody he likes in the spring.


2005 Record: (19-13, 7-9)
Postseason: NIT, lost to South Carolina in semifinals
Head Coach: Gary Williams

Key Losses:

PG John Gilchrist (13.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg)

6’1 PG Parrish Brown, jr, Kennedy-King (IL) JC
6’7 PF Dave Neal, McLean, VA

PG – 6’5 DJ Strawberry, jr
SG – 6’5 Chris McCray, sr
SF – 6’8 Nik Cander-Medley, sr
PF – 6’8 James Gist, so
C – 6’9 Ekene Ibekwe, jr

PG – 6’4 Sterling Ledbetter, sr
PG – 6’1 Parrish Brown, jr
SG – 6’5 Mike Jones, jr
PF – 6’8 Travis Garrison, sr
C – 7’1 Will Bowers, jr

When discussing Maryland’s 2005 season, it might be relevant to think back to 2004 for a second. In the ACC championship game, John Gilchrist was electric. Coming off of a 30 point performance, Gilchrist put the team on his back. The Terps beat Duke in OT, but it would also be fair to say Gilchrist beat Duke. In that moment, he was about as dominant a presence as you will ever see from a college basketball player. Contrast that moment with 2005, where Gilchrist openly feuded with Gary Williams, fell off in terms of production, and seemed to wilt as the season went on. Williams even went as far as benching Gilchrist during the team's NIT run. Nobody will ever know exactly how Gilchrist’s star fell so fast, but his volatile performance perfectly exemplifies the ups and downs a team that beat Duke twice yet lost to Clemson three times.

In a new beginning of sorts, Gary Williams and the Terrapins return intact, minus Gilchrist. This team is much, much better than the one that finished below .500 in the ACC and failed to reach the NCAA tournament. How much better? The Terps are deep, balanced and athletic. The backcourt is explosive, with the potential to be quite nasty on the defensive end. There are options in the frontcourt, though no stars. Point guard is a question mark, though DJ Strawberry should be able to manage there. While it is too early to anoint Maryland as a top 25 team, Gary Williams has proven himself as a coach. For now, last year’s train wreck can be chalked up to bad chemistry and a little bit of bad luck.

The Maryland backcourt should be a well-balanced group, with several experienced, consistent performers. The leader will be steady senior Chris McCray (14.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg), who may be the team’s best all-around player. He isn’t a standout in one area, but will consistently hit the outside jumper, contribute on the boards, create with his passing, and play lock down defense. McCray ran into some legal troubles in the off-season, but no charges were filed in the incident. Williams welcomes junior DJ Strawberry (7.1 ppg, 1.7 spg) back to the court with open arms, after Strawberry missed most of the ACC slate with a bad knee. He isn’t a natural point guard, but the listed ones, senior Sterling Ledbetter and incoming junior college transfer Parrish Brown, probably aren’t good enough to keep Strawberry out of the starting lineup. It would be a major development if either was capable of giving Williams significant minutes at the position.

Rounding out the backcourt rotation are Maryland’s two most talented players. Nik Caner-Medley (16.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a unique player, but struggled at times last season under the weight of trying to be the team’s go-to guy. When his shot is on, he his size and versatility that may remind you of a poor man’s Wally Szczerbiak. When his shot is off, he tends to force things a bit too much. Shooting guard Mike Jones (7.2 ppg) has NBA athleticism and scoring ability, but hasn’t shown the dedication on the defensive end to beat out players like Strawberry or McCray for consistent minutes. If he can improve his play on that side of the ball, he is an ACC star waiting to happen.

Williams has a similar variety of options in the paint, where nobody is likely to emerge as a star, but there are enough bodies to give the opposition a serious pounding. Junior Ikene Ibekwe (8.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg) was expected to emerge last season, but really struggled at times. He couldn’t stay on the court due to constant foul trouble, struggled to convert around the basket, and just isn’t a natural back to the basket scorer. If he sticks to what he does best, which is rebound, block shots, and generally disrupt things in the paint, his efficiency will go back up.

The most intriguing big man might be sophomore James Gist, (6.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.0 bpg) who was able to make a difference with his freakish athleticism and length. Gist may run into many of the same problems that Ibekwe did as a sophomore, but the future looks bright. It appears Williams will bring senior Travis Garrison (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) off the bench. Garrison gets a lot of flack for being inconsistent and soft, but is clearly the best scorer Williams has in the frontcourt. Even deeper into the bench, 7-footer Will Bowers (2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is a project that might actually start yielding some results this season. After the touted Shane Clark was sent home because of a mix up in admissions, scrappy forward David Neal became the only freshman on the roster.

Nobody really knows what to expect from the Terrapins this winter. Last season can realistically be chalked up to the deteriorated relationship between the coach and his point guard. If that truly is the case, this team is more than capable of getting back on the same page and putting in a big season. However, there was a tremendous amount of negativity surrounding the program last year. Gilchrist certainly wasn’t the only underachiever on the team. Finding a replacement at the point guard slot is priority number one. It would also be nice to see a true go-to scorer emerge. It doesn’t appear that Williams trusts Jones enough to allow him to break out, so it might be Nik Caner-Medley and his inconsistent jumper once again. If Williams can get efficient play from the point guard spot and keep this team playing like a team all season, the Terrapins will claw their way back to the upper tier of the ACC.

Recruiting Update: A source of much disgust in Maryland circles over the past couple of seasons, Williams hasn’t had much luck on the recruiting path as of late. Maryland fans are still smarting over Rudy Gay’s decision to attend Connecticut, and 2005 recruiting ended up as a non-event. Terp fans had high hopes for blue chippers like Tywon Lawson, Jerome Dyson, and Mike Jones, but there is still a bit of talent in the 2006 class. Top 100 prospect Eric Hayes is the point guard of the future, while Landon Milbourne is equally well regarded and has a chance to be a star. Big man Jerome Burney is also on board, and Terp fans expect a commitment from versatile guard Greivis Vasquez any day. 2007 is a crucial recruiting year for the program. Five star big men Kousta Koufos and Braxton Dupree both claim Maryland as their leader, while big names like Austin Freeman, Jeff Jones, Corey Rajj, and Malcom Delaney are legitimate possibilities for the backcourt.

NC State

2005 Record: (21-14, 7-9)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Wisconsin in Sweet Sixteen
Head Coach: Herb Sendek

Key Losses:

SG Julius Hodge (17.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.8 apg)
F Levi Watkins (3.9 ppg)
C Jordan Collins (6.6 ppg)

6’6 SG Courtney Fells, Shannon, MS
6’9 PF Brandon Costner, West Orange, NJ
6’9 PF Ben McCauley, Hermine, PA

PG – 6’3 Engin Atsur, jr
SG – 6’4 Cameron Bennerman, sr
SF – 6’7 Ilian Evtimov, sr
PF – 6’10 Andrew Brackman, so
C – 6’9 Cedric Simmons, so

PG – 6’2 Tony Bethel, sr
SG – 6’6 Courtney Fells, fr
SF – 6’7 Gavin Grant, so
PF – 6’9 Brandon Costner, fr
PF – 6’9 Ben McCauley, fr

The Julius Hodge era has come to an end, and the zany star will be missed. He led the Wolfpack to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, including last year’s sweet 16 run in which he hit the game winning shot against Connecticut. While the NC State media will probably miss Hodge’s off-kilter take on life, the program is undoubtedly in better shape than it was the year that he arrived. It will take a group effort to replace Hodge’s production, but former role-players like Engin Atsur, Gavin Grant, Andrew Brackman, and Cedric Simmons all are capable of breakout seasons. Early practice reports claim that it could be Brackman that is truly ready to shine. Herb Sendek has parlayed his program’s on-court success into better recruiting results, and this year’s three man class is a gem. Point guard is a bit of a concern at the moment, as senior Tony Bethel is struggling to get over a groin injury suffered last season. He is expected to be ready for opening night, but Atsur isn’t an ideal starter. It may take a while for this team to find itself without the presence of Hodge, but NC State should be prepared for a nice run by the time ACC play begins. This is one of the most balanced teams in the conference, and a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance is in the cards.

Make no mistake about it, point guard is an issue. Tony Bethel (8.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.5 apg) isn’t exactly a pass first point guard, but he can tickle the twine, run the offense, and defend quicker players. He is supposed to begin practicing shortly, but it isn’t clear what kind of shape he will be in when that day comes. Shooting specialist Engin Atsur (9.4 ppg) is the current starter. While he can fill in, he doesn’t have the instincts to actually improve the team’s offensive flow, and Sendek will miss his spot up shooting presence on the wing. The versatile Ilian Evtimov (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) can play all five positions, and will likely help out with the ball-handling duties.

At the wing, senior Cameron Bennerman (9.6 ppg) is primed for a breakout season. He was very effective last year when healthy, but missed a large chunk of time in the middle of the season. Bennerman is a nice athlete, outside shooter, and all-around scorer. Sophomore Gavin Grant (4.2 ppg) had his moments as a freshman, and is blessed with a nice combination of size, athleticism, and outside shooting ability. He could play a much bigger role if recently publicized immigration issues don’t send him back to Jamaica. Both returnees will be pushed by freshman Courtney Fells, who is likely a star in the making. Fells is an explosive athlete with a mature body and shooting ability that will earn him minutes right away.

While it may look as if the Wolfpack frontcourt is a bit ho-hum, this is going to be a very effective group. Evtimov might spend a lot of time on the perimeter, but is more than ready to take defenders into the mid-post. He is completely healthy after a series of injuries sidelined him early in his career. Sophomore Andrew Brackman (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg) had an excellent freshman season, stretching defenses with his outside shooting and blocking shots on the other end. Brackman has bulked up significantly, and might be ready to emerge as the team’s go-to scoring threat. Fellow sophomore Cedric Simmons (3.5 ppg) was brought along slowly as a freshman, but is a truly special athletic specimen. Two freshmen are ready to contribute as well. McDonald’s All-American Brandon Costner has a polished offensive repertoire, while Ben McCauley can step out on the perimeter and knock down shots.

It is hard to know for certain how this team will react without Julius Hodge to lead them on the court. He was as valuable to the Wolfpack as any player to any team in the nation over the past four seasons. However, Sendek has recruited well enough to absorb his loss without too much of a setback. The Wolfpack will be able to win games in a variety of ways. There are numerous tall, athletic, skilled performers to work with. Finding a go-to presence will be crucial, as will the healthy return of Tony Bethel. If Bethel can get back to full strength in time for ACC play, North Carolina State is in the mix for 2nd place. A second consecutive sweet sixteen isn’t out of the question.

Recruiting: Herb Sendek hasn’t hit a homerun on the recruiting path since signing Hodge, but is now consistently bringing in ACC-level players. For 2006, wing Larry Davis is Sendek’s latest top 100 recruit from New York, while forwards Dennis Horner and Dan Werner are cut from the mold of versatile player that thrives in the NC State system. Wolfpack fans have to be excited about the prospects of landing 2007 point guard Chris Wright. It has been a while since NC State had a true point guard of his caliber.


2005 Record: (16-13, 7-9)
Postseason: NIT, lost to South Carolina in 1st round
Head Coach: Frank Haith

Key Losses:

PF William Frisby (8.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

6’0 PG Denis Clemente, Puerto Rico via Miami Calusa Prep
6’6 SG Brian Asbury, Miami, FL
6’8 PF Jimmy Graham, Goldsboro, NC
6’7 PF Adrian Thomas, Pembroke Pines, FL

PG – 6’0 Denis Clemente, fr
SG – 6’2 Guillermo Diaz, jr
SF – 6’2 Robert Hite, sr
PF – 6’7 Raymond Hicks, so
C – 6’9 Anthony King,

PG – 6’2 Anthony Harris, jr
SG – 6’6 Brian Asbury, fr
SG – 6’4 Eric Wilkins, sr
PF – 6’10 Gary Hamilton, sr
PF – 6’8 Jimmy Graham, fr
PF – 6’7 Adrian Thomas, fr

Much like their former Big East counterpart Virginia Tech, nobody expected the Hurricanes to be as good as they ended up being last season. Frank Haith had no previous experience as a head coach and was taking over a team that went 4-12 in the Big East and had lost its best player (Darius Rice) to graduation. As it turns out, the core of players that Perry Clark left for Haith wasn’t all that bad. Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz became two of the top scoring guards in the ACC, while sophomores Anthony Harris and Anthony King both developed into viable starters. Haith didn’t have the bodies to play a traditional lineup, but embraced going small. The three guard rotation was successful, and the Hurricanes were in a position to make the NCAA tournament before a late season slide cost them that opportunity. With nearly everybody back this fall, expectations now include an NCAA tournament berth. Haith has recruited well, bringing in four high quality athletes that will provide the depth that wasn’t available a season ago. The three guard lineup of Harris, Diaz and Hite should again be devastating, but was dealt a bit of a blow when Harris recently hurt his foot. Most crucial to this season will be getting enough production out of a beefed up frontcourt. Haith has the horses to rebound and defend adequately, but would like to find a legitimate offensive option in the post. With a few tweaks, an upper half ACC finish and NCAA tournament berth are distinct possibilities.

The effectiveness of Haith’s three guard lineup shocked everybody, and no ACC coach has more firepower in his backcourt this year. Junior Guillermo Diaz (18.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg) developed into one of the nation’s deadliest all-around threats, and is capable of scoring 30 on anybody. He is a true combo guard, capable of creating his own shot, hitting from deep, handling it a little, and of course, posterizing anybody with a physics-defying dunk. A bit more in the consistency and decision making departments will make Diaz a legitimate All-American. Senior Robert Hite (17.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) was nearly as productive last season, though he remains an up and down perimeter shooting gun. When these two are on, the Hurricanes are going to be almost impossible to beat.
The third guard is junior point guard Anthony Harris (12.4 ppg, 4.6 apg), who came out of relative anonymity to become a vital cog in Haith’s lineup. Harris doesn’t lose a step to even the most athletic ACC guards, and fit in with his higher scoring counterparts nicely after making the decision to become a pass first player. Unfortunately, Harris recently suffered a hairline fracture in his foot and is likely out until at least mid-December. That means two freshmen will be required to play increased roles right away. Point guard Denis Clemente is already one of the quickest players in the nation, and will likely move into the starting lineup until Harris returns. The 6’6 Brian Asbury is a national sleeper, and will provide a valuable change of pace to the rest of the undersized backcourt. Also on the roster is senior Eric Wilkins, who played a reduced role last season.

The Miami frontcourt certainly isn’t a strength, but the emergence of Anthony King (6.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.0 bpg) as a blue collar producer in the paint was a major reason for the team’s resurgence. King put up some freakish numbers in the non conference slate, including 19 rebounds in the season opener against Wofford and an astounding 10 point, 11 rebound, 13 block triple double against Florida Atlantic. King cooled off a bit while adjusting to ACC-level competition, but remained one of the conference’s top shot blockers. Haith needs King to become more of a factor on the offensive end, as offensive option Will Frisby has graduated.

The other productive returnee is the bulky Gary Hamilton (4.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who certainly isn’t going to get pushed around by anybody. However, he is another big man that isn’t comfortable in the role of scorer, and will likely come off the bench to start the year. Sophomore Raymond Hicks is an impressive athlete, and despite not being a regular rotation player a season ago, is slated begin the year in the starting lineup. Hurricane fans are excited about the arrival of freshman Jimmy Graham, who is physically mature and ready to play right now. Adrian Thomas is another freshman that will get a chance to contribute.

The Hurricanes still don’t feature the complete lineup that some of the conference favorites do, but the backcourt certainly makes up for a lot of that. Both Diaz and Hite can win games by themselves on any given night, and teams are really going to struggle to find a way to defend Haith’s athletic guards. However, both players depend disproportionately on their outside shots, and cold streaks will take place. It doesn’t look like there is a frontcourt player on the roster that is capable of picking up some slack on one of those nights. Nonetheless, there is now significant depth across the roster, and it is very likely that at least one freshman will contribute significantly. While it is not yet time to move this team onto the list of conference contenders, the Miami Hurricanes are an explosive, experienced group. This looks like an NCAA tournament team, and a program that is ready to challenge the traditional ACC powers.

Recruiting Update: Haith’s second recruiting class is looking like Miami’s best in recent memory, and he is continuing to bring in solid talent for 2006. Power forward Dwayne Collins and wing James Dews are both top 100 caliber prospects. Haith recently added junior college big man Fabio Nass, a native of Brazil. Point guard Jack McClinton is transferring in from Siena, after averaging double figures there as a freshman. It is unclear whether the Hurricanes will add another player for this class, though big men like Jason Bennett and Jeremy Mayfield are possibilities. Haith has a big 2007 commitment as well, in potential McDonald’s All-American Edwin Rios.

Wake Forest

2005 Record: (27-6, 13-3)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to West Virginia in 2nd round
Head Coach: Skip Prosser

Key Losses:

PG Chris Paul (15.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 2.4 spg)
PG Taron Downey (9.9 ppg, 2.5 apg)
F Jamal Levy (7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
PF Vytas Danelius (7.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

6’1 PG Shamaine Dukes, Cuthbert, GA
6’2 G Harvey Hale, Albuquerque, NM
6’6 SG Michael Drum, jr, transfer from Presbyterian College (DII)
6’7 SF Kevin Swinton, Greensboro, NC
6’10 C David Weaver, Black Mountain, NC

PG – 6’2 Justin Gray, sr
SG – 6’2 Harvey Hale, fr
SF – 6’5 Trent Strickland, sr
PF – 6’9 Chris Ellis, sr
C – 6’9 Eric Williams, sr

PG – 6’1 Shamaine Dukes, fr
SG – 6’6 Michael Drum, jr
F – 6’6 Cameron Stanley, (rs) fr
PF – 6’7 Kevin Swinton, fr
C – 6’10 Kyle Visser, jr
C – 6’10 David Weaver, fr

Wake Forest may have been the best offensive basketball team in the nation last season. They steamrolled the national champions, and put up 100 points three different times in conference play. Unfortunately, the team’s Achilles heel flared up in the second round of the NCAA tournament, when the Deacons found themselves going up against a team that could actually outscore them. Despite heroic performances from Chris Paul, Taron Downey, and Eric Williams, Wake Forest bowed out of March Madness early in one of the great games in the history of the tournament. Make no mistake about it, that loss could haunt this program for years. Wake Forest was a program on the verge of becoming a powerhouse both on the court and as a recruiting draw. The Demon Deacons missed out on their golden opportunity to make a final four, and then watched as numerous big name recruits headed elsewhere. Now, the program is looking more middle of the pack every day. That isn’t to say Skip Prosser doesn’t have a few bullets left. While you can never replace the mainstays that just headed out the door, the senior duo of Justin Gray and Eric Williams is more than capable of keeping this team competitive. The rest of the roster remains a question mark. Prosser was unable to find himself a capable point guard, so it looks like Gray will have to play out of position this season. Roleplayers like Trent Strickland, Chris Ellis, and Kyle Visser have flashed potential in the past, and now must turn it into production. Wake Forest is certainly in that group behind Duke that will be jockeying for a high NCAA tournament seed, but don’t expect another 26 win season out of the Demon Deacons in the near future.

Justin Gray (16.0 ppg) is the one major backcourt contributor back from last season’s team, and probably ought to be a lock for the All-ACC first team this season. Gray is a polished all-around scorer, creative off the dribble and capable of burying teams with an outside shooting barrage. Unfortunately, Gray must move to the point guard position this season. He has the size of a point guard and even moves like one, but simply doesn’t have the mentality. His biggest strength, spot up shooting, is seriously compromised when he is forced to handle the ball. Freshman Shamaine Dukes was signed over the summer, but wasn’t highly recruited and probably isn’t ready to play major minutes.
The other backcourt slots remain largely up for grabs. Trent Strickland (5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) is strong and downright explosive on the wing, but his somewhat raw perimeter game hasn’t developed. If the Demon Deacons are going to be a factor in the ACC race, Strickland will likely have to improve on the 26% he shot from 3-point range a season ago. The other starter could be freshman Harvey Hale, who is an eager and effective defensive player. Wing Michael Drum is a Division II transfer, and may be the team’s best perimeter shooting option beyond Gray.

The frontcourt is a bit stronger, with the All-American-caliber Eric Williams and a stockpile of players capable of providing a presence. The light really came on for Williams (16.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) during ACC play last season, and he might be the most productive post player in the ACC this year. He is impossible to move in the paint, and has gone from raw physical specimen to polished scoring machine over the past three seasons. Williams was always in foul trouble early in his career, and he must not revert into old habits this year.

There are several players fighting for the right to start next to Williams. Senior Chris Ellis (3.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg) might be the odds on favorite. Ellis has nice bulk, can score with his back to the basket, and carved out a consistent role in last year’s rotation. Junior center Kyle Visser (3.2 ppg) might have more potential, but hasn’t shown enough consistency to play on a regular basis. He may be the guy that spells Williams. Three freshman are also in the mix. Redshirt Cameron Stanley has struggled with injuries, but could get minutes at both forward spots. Combo forward Kevin Swinton and center David Weaver are further down the depth chart, though Weaver could become a very nice player down the road.

There is room to move up or down in the middle of the pack of the ACC this year, and Wake Forest is a team that could end up on either end. Key to this season has to be Gray’s transition to point guard. He has been preparing all summer, but Prosser can’t be happy with the situation. Not only is the team without a true floor general presence, but he also looses out on a lot of Gray’s electric wing scoring ability. Eric Williams is the stalwart here, and will crush opposing frontcourts single-handedly all season long. On the whole, it appears that last season’s run and gun, up-tempo pace is a thing of the past. This team is designed to play more of a half-court, defense-oriented style. The Demon Deacons will go as far as Justin Gray and Eric Williams will take them, but Prosser must find a way to mix in the role players around them. Wake Forest will be back in the NCAA tournament, but any upper-tier ACC aspirations remain very much up in the air.

Recruiting Update: Wake Forest fans spent last spring dreaming about the Greg Oden-Mike Conley-Daequan Cook package that ended up committing to Ohio State. Other top prospects such as DJ Augustin, Jerry Smith, and Duke Crews also chose to go in a different direction. Nonetheless, Prosser still has managed to snatch a bit of talent for himself. Wings Anthony Gurley and LD Williams are firmly planted in top 100 lists, and in-state big man Jamie Skeen makes three marquee freshmen for 2006. The point guard of the future is Ishmael Smith, a top 150 caliber recruit. The Demon Deacons are still on the short list of highly regarded forward Lance Thomas, though he looks like a longshot at the moment. Prosser will be a major contender for the services of 2007 blue chippers like Kalin Lucas, Eric Wallace, and Julian Vaughn.

Recent articles

Twitter @DraftExpress

DraftExpress Shop