Rothstein Files | ACC offseason notebook

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Five Questions Entering The ACC

1. Will the ACC take a “step back”?

It’s hard to say that about a league that is set up to be the best in college basketball on an annual basis, but it’s probably safe to assume that the ACC won’t have a 14th-place team like N.C. State next season that’s capable of winning a game at Duke while possessing the ninth pick in the NBA Draft (Dennis Smith).

The ACC likely won’t be as deep as it was in the 2016-17 campaign, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be exceptionally well represented in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Miami are all ranked in the FanRag Sports Preseason Top 25, while Florida State, Syracuse, and Virginia will also begin practice with legitimate aspirations of hearing their names called on Selection Sunday. The bottom of this conference doesn’t appear to possess the same capabilities as it did a year ago, but the ACC is still positioned to get seven to eight teams in the field of 68 once again next season.

2. Is Louisville a cut above the rest?

It feels that way following the Cards’ late addition of 5-star freshman Brian Bowen. The 6-7 forward is as gifted an offensive player as there is in the 2017 class. He gives Louisville another dynamic scoring wing to go with both Deng Adel and V.J. King. Veteran point guard Quentin Snider is back for his fourth tour of duty. He’ll be backed by another highly touted freshman in Darius Perry. The frontcourt features two returning veterans in Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud with 6-11 freshman Malik Williams likely to have a major role in reserve.

The ACC still boasts more quality teams than any other league in America, but no other team will enter this league with as many answers as Louisville. Duke is a state of transition while North Carolina is attempting to find a secondary big man to pair with Luke Maye. Syracuse and Virginia? They’re both retooling after finishing below their normal marks a year ago. Even without Donovan Mitchell, Rick Pitino still has the best team in the best league in America, led by a senior point guard in Snider who has yet to do the one thing in this career that would forever cement his place in UL history — take a team to the Final Four.

3. How will Grayson Allen bounce back?

College basketball’s most chastised player struggled on and off the court last season and never seemed to find his niche around Duke’s loaded arsenal of Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson. Allen played a huge role in the Blue Devils’ 2015 national title run as a freshman. As a sophomore, he averaged 21.6 points while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Last season as a junior, Allen averaged just 14.6 points while shooting 39.5 percent from from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

With Duke’s rotation for 2017-18 set to be comprised mostly of freshmen (Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Jordan Tucker) and two unproven sophomores in Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier, look for Allen to re-emerge as the Blue Devils’ alpha dog as he aims to make his last collegiate season his best one yet.

4. Which non-blue-blood should be on America’s radar?

Virginia Tech. Many people would initially highlight both Miami and Notre Dame, but the Hokies’ program is oozing with stability and depth. Buzz Williams has assembled a roster of quality program guys who are proven producers.

Virginia Tech’s top two scorers from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament — Seth Allen and Zach LeDay — are gone, but Williams returns six different players — Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Ty Outlaw, and Khadim Sy — who averaged double-figure minutes last season. Combine that with the return of another starter-caliber frontcourt player — Kerry Blackshear — who redshirted in 2016-17 and three capable freshmen in Tyrie Jackson (redshirt), Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Wabissa Bede, and you have 10 guys who can make an impact on the game. The 6-5 Alexander-Walker was a 5-star prospect out of Toronto, who represents tangible evidence that the Hokies are clearly recruiting a different caliber of player since Williams was plucked from Marquette in 2013.

5. Who is the sleeper?

Florida State. The Seminoles lost three pros from last year’s team that earned a three seed in the NCAA Tournament — Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, and Jonathan Isaac — but the remnants from that group with a couple of key newcomers give Leonard Hamilton’s squad a chance to be “sneaky good” in 2017-18.

C.J. Walker, Trent Forrest, and Terrance Mann are all former top-100 recruits who were ancillary pieces last season and should gain augmented roles on the perimeter. Long-range marksman P.J. Savoy and Braian Angola-Rodas also return after getting acclimated to the ACC (from junior college), while five-star freshman M.J. Walker is a big-time scorer who could be one of the best offensive guards in the country. Add 7-4 Christ Koumadje and 7-foot newcomer Ikey Obiagu as rim protectors along with veteran Phil Cofer at power forward, and Hamilton again has the depth he loves to coach with.

A word to the wise: Keep an eye on 6-8 freshman Raiquan Gray, an off-the-radar prospect who could find a role with this team thanks to his versatility and skill level. Florida State doesn’t boast a lot of the known commodities it possessed entering last season, but its roster is still very much in place to reach the NCAA Tournament and pick off plenty of ranked teams along the way.

CORAL GABLES, FL - FEBRUARY 01: Head Coach Leonard Hamilton looks on during a college basketball game between the Florida State University Seminoles and the University of Miami Hurricanes on February 1, 2017 at the Watsco Center, Coral Gables, Florida. Florida State defeated Miami 75-57. (Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

ACC Offseason Power Rankings

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

ACC Preseason Player of the Year: Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

ACC Preseason First Team

Joel Berry, North Carolina
Grayson Allen, Duke
Deng Adel, Louisville
Bruce Brown, Miami
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

ACC Preseason Sleeper: Florida State

15 Impact Freshmen

Trevon Duval, Duke
Wendell Carter, Duke
Gary Trent Jr., Duke
Lonnie Walker, Miami
Chris Lykes, Miami
Brian Bowen, Louisville
Darius Perry, Louisville
Malik Williams, Louisville
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
Wabissa Bede, Virginia Tech
M.J. Walker, Florida State
Ikey Obiagu, Florida State
Jalek Felton, North Carolina
Chaundree Brown, Wake Forest
D.J. Harvey, Notre Dame

10 Under-The-Radar Freshmen

Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
Sterling Manley, North Carolina
DeAndre Hunter, Virginia
Jay Huff, Virginia
Jordan Nwora, Louisville
Aamir Simms, Clemson
Matthew Moyer, Syracuse
Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse
Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech
Lavar Batts, N.C. State

5 Impact Transfers

Cameron Johnson, North Carolina
Geno Thorpe, Syracuse
Nigel Johnson, Virginia
Al Freeman, N.C. State
Mark Donnal, Clemson

10 Breakout Players

V.J. King, Louisville
Luke Maye, North Carolina
Marques Bolden, Duke
Temple Gibbs, Notre Dame
Ty Outlaw, Virginia Tech
Kerry Blackshear, Virginia Tech
Dewan Huell, Miami
Frank Howard, Syracuse
Ty Jerome, Virginia
Donte Grantham, Clemson

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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