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Editor's Note: Names at the end of each sub piece delineate that writer's contribution.
The 2015-16 ACC Basketball season is rapidly approaching and the ACC Digital Network prepares you for the upcoming season with our “Players to Watch” series. Find out the #MustSeeACC player for all 15 schools below.
I’m looking into the future, and here’s what I see: Sometime around mid-January, a sportswriter or TV analyst is going to look at ACC stats and say, “Wait. Dennis Clifford is doing that?!”
Last year’s raw numbers won’t blow you away. 7 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. But he was returning from a year lost to injury. Plus, Hanlan, Brown and Heckmann were all offensive priorities before Clifford. They’re all gone. And once you get past the modest scoring and rebounding totals, you see that Clifford’s so-called True Shooting % was a very respectable 56%. And he was very good on the defensive boards--grabbing nearly 20% of opponents’ misses. His block percentage is also better than you might’ve expected.
So, take a guy who will be in better shape, be more of the focus of the offense.. and add that to what he produced last year, and we could see regular double-doubles from the 7-footer this season. – Jeff Fischel
Jaron Blossomgame is one of the most underappreciated players in major college basketball. So, let’s appreciate him.
On a Clemson team last year that was extremely mediocre offensively, Blossomgame was remarkably efficient as their go-to option. He also rebounded well at both ends. He stayed out of foul trouble. He got to the free throw line and shot from the stripe reasonably well. That’s a very good basketball player. Every team in the nation wants that skill set on the floor.
Now, I know Blossomgame’s goals will be about the team. So, let’s talk Tigers. In the toughest conference in college basketball, it will be very tough for Clemson to make the NCAA Tournament, but it’s not out of the question. I know this: If Clemson does make the tourney, it means Blossomgame has asserted himself as an All-ACC type of player. And he’ll get the appreciation he deserves. – Jeff Fischel
Brandon Ingram is Exhibit A for why this Duke team will be very different than last year’s national champs.
Instead of the offense gravitating toward a 7-foot mountain like Jahlil Okafor, it will often be Ingram finishing possessions. You’ll probably hear him compared to Kevin Durant a lot this season. Much like Durant, Ingram has a mature, diverse offensive repertoire. And much like Durant was at this age (and still is), the 6’9” Ingram is rail thin. So one concern is whether he will wear down a bit physically. I certainly think he could “hit the wall” sometime in January, and then finish strong.
What I really like is that Coach K is considering playing a lot of zone (GASP!!!), and putting Ingram and his 7’3’ wingspan at the top of a 1-3-1. That is some serious disruption to the other team initiating its half-court offense...with just 30 seconds this year. At both ends, Ingram can be a force. – Jeff Fischel
In terms of sheer ability to take over a basketball game, there might not be a better player in the ACC than Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes. XRM made scoring against Miami last season look video game-easy, as he poured in an unbelievable 30 points in less than 5 minutes in a Seminole loss.
Rathan-Mayes earned All-ACC Freshman, All-ACC Honorable Mention and Freshman All-American honors during his debut season in Tallahassee, and as the key piece of a talented FSU roster this season, XRM is poised to have a monster season in 2015-16. The Noles’ top player has been named to the 2016 Bob Cousy Award Watch List, an honor presented to the nation’s top point guard, and is a 2015-16 All-American candidate.
Head coach Leonard Hamilton has assembled one of the most talented young rosters in the conference, giving Rathan-Mayes ample opportunity to continue to assert himself as one of the ACC’s top scorers.
XRM averaged 14.9 points per game last season, while shooting 41.6 percent from the floor and 69 percent from the line. With a year of experience under his belt, it’s no stretch to say that he will eclipse each of those numbers this season. Expect another breakout campaign from Xavier Rathan-Mayes as Florida State hovers near the top third of the ACC. – Jacob Dennis
Marcus Georges-Hunt is undoubtedly Georgia Tech’s most important player, and his health moving forward will directly correlate with the success of the Yellow Jackets’ offense. The talented senior guard had his 2014-15 season cut short due to a broken foot, but that didn’t stop him from posting career-best numbers. In fact, during each of Georges-Hunt’s first three seasons in Atlanta his scoring has increased, as 11.7 points per game as a sophomore turned in to 13.6 points per game as a junior.
Georgia Tech has established its identity in good rebounding and solid defense, due in large part to the fact that head coach Brian Gregory is a Tom Izzo disciple, so Yellow Jacket games are naturally low scoring. Last season, however, the games were more low-scoring than usual, as Georges-Hunt was the lone Tech player capable of creating quality shots off the dribble. As a result, opposing defenses keyed in on him and packed the paint, grounding the GT offense to a halt.
This season, the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Adam Smith should greatly benefit Georges-Hunt, as the former Hokie’s ability to spread the floor should create driving lanes for MGH. He has consistently improved his play during each season he has been at Georgia Tech, but look for his 2015-16 season to be head and shoulders above the rest.
Georges-Hunt’s quickness and physicality from the guard position make him a matchup nightmare for most defenses, and his ability to score from anywhere on the floor only furthers that notion. An improved starting lineup and a healthy foot should improve his prospects to have a great year. – Jacob Dennis
The arrival of another talented freshman class in the ACC, led by Duke’s Brandon Ingram, has largely overshadowed the arrival of a talented veteran to Rick Pitino’s team. Damion Lee, a fifth-year transfer from Drexel, could make as much of an impact as any newcomer to the conference, as his size and ability to stretch the floor and knock down 3-pointers make Louisville a dangerous team to contend with.
Pitino has already stated that he thinks Lee has a “chance at greatness,” and Lee’s numbers to date only further support that notion. As a junior at Drexel, the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 21.4 points per game in 38.1 minutes, shooting 44 percent from the floor and nearly 40 percent from three. Naturally, Cardinal Nation was pretty hyped up about landing the coveted transfer, but Lee only increased the hype in his first game in black and red.
During an August scrimmage with the Puerto Rican National Team, the Cardinal newcomer poured in 36 points, including five three pointers. He added nine more points in just 20 minutes in a Nov. 1 exhibition, further proving that he will be Louisville’s go-to scoring option to open the season.
Aside from Trey Lewis, a graduate transfer from Cleveland State, and Mangok Mathiang, the Cardinals boast a roster laden with youth, presenting Lee the opportunity to take over the team and make it his own. Expect several scoring outbursts as he establishes himself as one of the top threats in the conference.
– Jacob Dennis
Sheldon McClellan’s first year playing for the Hurricanes under coach Jim Larrañaga was a tremendous success. The 6-foot-6 Texas-native had to sit out the entire 2013-14 season after transferring from Texas, but he immediately stepped in as an integral part of Miami success once he became eligible.
McClellan averaged 14.5 points per game, good for 12th in the entire ACC, and shot nearly 49 percent from the floor in 2014-15, making him a prime candidate to lead a Miami team that is projected to contend near the top third of the ACC this season. He is also a viable threat from the free throw line, as his 82.4 percent mark from the stripe placed him sixth in the conference.
A true workhorse, McClellan was the only Miami player to start all 38 games a season ago. He exploded for 31 points against Charlotte last season and posted three double-doubles, one in ACC play, to lead the Canes to a respectable 25-13 record.
Among several other honors, McClellan was named to the NIT All-Tournament team and was a Riley Wallace Award Finalist for the top transfer in college basketball. His length, athleticism and ability to score from almost anywhere on the floor make him capable of taking over a game when he chooses.
He will undoubtedly be the top scoring option for Coach Larrañaga this season, and Miami’s overall success will be directly related to how well McClellan plays. Expect a monster year from #10.
Oh, and was it mentioned that he has hops? Check out this alley-oop finish and expect to see more highlight reel plays from McClellan during his senior season.
– Jacob Dennis
There’s really only one question surrounding All-American, All-ACC point guard Marcus Paige this season – can he stay healthy? Paige has only missed one game in his first three seasons, but has battled through a number of injuries, including a nagging case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot that seemed to affect his play at times last season. Just a day after the Tar Heels were deemed preseason No. 1, Paige fractured a bone in his non-shooting hand during practice and will miss the next three to four weeks. That puts a possible return right around the Tar Heels prime-time match up against #3 Maryland in Chapel Hill on December 1st.
At ACC Media Day, Roy Williams said Paige is “a little whacko,” citing Paige’s refusal to get into an elevator with more than one person, but was quick to proclaim Marcus as the team’s clear-cut captain and leader.
“You know, Marcus is one of those kids that you find a difficult time finding anything wrong with him. He's got every part of the game, every part of the makeup that you want,” Williams said. “But he's the one that's the most serious guy, and he's the one that's telling our guys all the time, hey, we've got some big time dreams and goals.
Paige has been named the Tar Heels most valuable player two years in a row and is the key to UNC’s national championships hopes in the eyes of most. If he stays healthy, Paige could be a serious candidate for ACC and National Player of the Year as the Tar Heels make a deep tournament run. – Patrick Ronan
Cat Barber comes into his junior season with a lot on his plate, as he looks to fill the roll of team leader and go-to scorer after the departure of standouts Trevor Lacy and Ralston Turner. Mark Gottfried is confident that Barber is ready to take that step, pointing to Barber’s tremendous off-season improvement as both a player and leader.
“I think he's getting a lot better. He's getting better at using that great speed that he has. His shooting is much better. He's a much better perimeter shooter,” Gottfried said. “But at the same time, he's starting to really learn how to get guys in the right places, whether it's defensively what we're in or what we're trying to do offensively. He's becoming a lot more vocal and stepping up there, as well.”
Barber seems poised for a breakout season, mentioning that he sees himself as one of the top guards in the ACC alongside the likes of North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson. Like Paige and Jackson, the Wolfpack’s success will start with Barber and his ability to hit big, timely shots. If the back half of last season is any indicator of Barber’s ability to be the go-to guy for the Wolfpack, then expect NC State compete in the ACC, as Barber shot 43.1 percent (22-51) from three-point range in State’s last 14 games and helped lead the team to a Sweet 16 appearance. – Patrick Ronan
The 2016 season will put Fighting Irish junior Demetrius Jackson in the all-too-familiar position of point guards in the ACC – being the leader, motor and biggest key to success for their team. Jackson will take the reigns of the defending ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish that must replace leading scorers Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton.
The presence of Grant and Connaughton in Notre Dame’s smaller, spread out offense was a big reason why Jackson was able to average 12.4 points per game in 2015. But with a much bigger, more conventional Fighting Irish line up in 2016, the responsibility of breaking down opposing defenses and getting teammates involved will fall heavily on Jackson’s shoulders. Jackson says the system that Mike Brey has established at Notre Dame allows for guys to leave and others to step right in and productively fill those voids.
“Yeah, it is a system thing, but at the same time guys have to work hard, have to be better, have to continue to develop as the year goes on,” Jackson said. “Coach puts us in the right spots to be successful, but then it's up to us, you know, to do those things.”
Brey is confident that what he calls “a pretty good nucleus of guys” from last year’s ACC Tournament champion team will be able to put the Irish in a similar position this season. However, he wasn’t shy to point out whose team this is.
“It’s Jackon’s team,” Brey said. “He’s kind of been the guy setting the tone for us. I’ve been really pleased with his leadership.” – Patrick Ronan
Junior forward Jamel Artis is one of the only guarantees on a Pittsburgh team that brings in five transfers and one freshmen. In more of a “point-forward” role his sophomore season, Artis averaged a team-high 13.6 points while adding 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The addition of the transfers is big for Artis. Three of the new Panthers are 6’9” or taller, meaning Artis will be able to get back to his more natural position of small forward.
“It would change my role drastically,” Artis said. “It helps my teammates and it helps me. It helps me a lot because I can see what's going on around the floor. I can help others get shots in the right spot. So for the big man to play a drastic role in the 4 and the 5 is very good for me.”
Artis says his biggest off-season priorities have been getting quicker on defense and improving on a three-point percentage that was already at 39.4 percent a season ago. He should get plenty of opportunities from behind the arc, playing with a point guard in James Robinson that is on pace for the ACC all-time record in assist-to-turnover ratio.
As a junior and team leader on a squad with so any new faces, Artis says he’s more focused than he’s ever been and can’t wait to get the season started and surprise the country.
“I'm very excited for this team,” Artis said. “I think we're going to be a very good up and coming team. We're going to make some noise this year.” – Patrick Ronan
Anyone who transfers from Coach K’s Duke team to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse program must be pretty legit, right? Right.
Duke-transfer, Michael Gbinije, completely flew under the college basketball radar last season for Syracuse. Overshadowed by the spectacular play of Rakeem Christmas, Gbinije quietly averaged 12.7 points, 5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game during his junior campaign. He also shot 46 percent overall from the floor and 39 percent from behind the arc.
Judging by that stat line, it’s pretty clear that Michael Gbinije is one of the more complete players you’ll find in the ACC. The senior can score efficiently from just about anywhere on the court, as evidenced by his effective field goal percentage of 54 percent a year ago.
He’s got incredible vision for someone who stands at 6 feet 7 inches, and he rebounds relatively well for his position. Not to mention, Gbinije ranked fourth in the ACC in steals per game (1.9 spg) last season. There are truly no glaring holes in this guy’s game. – Max Skinner
Most 22-year-old student athletes set a goal to make it to the next athletic level after graduation. That isn’t the case for the one his brothers call, “Humble Moses.”
Although making it to the NBA is definitely in the back of his mind, UVa’s Malcolm Brogdon has a bigger dream to fulfill. After visiting poverty-stricken countries like Ghana and Malawi when he was younger, Brogdon has made a personal goal to create a non-governmental organization that could help alleviate poverty and hunger in third-world countries.
That kind of modest leadership shows how the redshirt senior has helped Tony Bennett restore the Virginia program back to national prominence.
While putting in diligence off the court, Malcolm Brogdon clearly flourishes with a basketball in his hands. Since stepping foot onto UVa’s campus in 2011, Brogdon has quietly improved every single year. Last season, he averaged 14 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest, en route to All-ACC First Team honors.
It may not show up on the stat sheet, but Malcolm Brogdon is the key cog in Virginia’s well-oiled defensive machine. His stats won’t jump out at you, but Brogdon will be one of college basketball’s most efficient and well-respected players this season.
Five to ten years down the road, you might see Brogdon’s name printed on the back of an NBA jersey. Then again, you may see his name on an election bumper sticker on the back of your mom’s minivan.
“People don’t realize how motivated he is,” head coach Tony Bennett commented about Malcolm’s future.
“I think his nickname is awesome because Moses was one of the humblest men,” Bennett continued. “He was the prince of Egypt and had great courage going to Pharaoh. That’s like Malcolm. He’s very driven, very purposeful in what he does, but he has humility. He’s going to stay true to who he is.”
Whatever path he chooses, this kid will do great things for the world. – Max Skinner
Since taking over the Virginia Tech program in 2014, head coach Buzz Williams has had very little to be excited about. The Hokies (11-22, 2-16) came in dead last in the ACC during his inaugural season in Blacksburg a year ago. The program also saw eight players leave during two separate off-seasons, all of whom were recruited by former head coach James Johnson. Buzz Williams will tell you firsthand, however, that it’s all just part of a difficult rebuilding process for the Hokies.
One player that Virginia Tech fans can get excited about is sophomore shooting guard, Justin Bibbs. After being named ACC Rookie of the Week in late December last year, Bibbs notched his first career double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds against Syracuse a few days later. He continued to heat up during conference play, scoring 25 points at Florida State, 15 points at No. 6 Louisville, 19 points at NC State and another 19 points at Syracuse.
This kid can score in bunches, which is a scary thought for any opposing defense this upcoming season. Not to mention, Justin Bibbs has solid size (6-5, 220 lbs) and athleticism relative to his position. It probably doesn’t hurt that Bibbs got his Uncle Michael Haynes’ NFL Hall of Fame DNA running through his genes. – Max Skinner
You know the old saying, “learning the hard way,” in regards to gaining perspective as a result of trial and error? Well, for Wake Forest’s Codi Miller-McIntyre, he had to learn the hard way at an early age.
On Wake Forest’s official school website, McIntyre recounts how his father used to dunk on him at a very early age. In his own words, his dad used to hold the ball up and shield young Codi off in what became known as the “Statue of Liberty” maneuver. Ironically, these playful antics growing up turned Codi Miller-McIntyre into one of the toughest players in the ACC.
Last season for the Demon Deacons, Miller-McIntyre started all 32 games and led the team in scoring, assists and minutes played. The guard from Concord, N.C, averaged 14.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 31.5 minutes per game last season. Miller-McIntyre is the second-highest returning scorer in the ACC and one of only six ACC players to enter the 2015-16 season with over 1,000 career points.
Unfortunately for Demon Deacon fans, Codi Miller-McIntyre underwent surgery to repair a broken foot a little less than a month ago. His timeline to return is four to six weeks, which means that the senior guard will likely miss up to seven games, including the Maui Invitational (Nov. 23-25) before returning in December.
Let’s hope for a speedy recovery and inevitably another great season for Codi Miller-McIntyre. – Max Skinner