Best of the rest, and then some

Published 6:47 pm Friday, November 8, 2019

Last week I gave my first preview of the 2019-20 Atlantic Coast Conference basketball season, making my top-seven picks.

Since then, I’ve had a chance to see at least highlights of every team’s play and learned a few things early:

Cole Anthony is everything as advertised;

Anthony scored as many points in his debut as the entire Syracuse team;

I underestimated Louisville … they’re good, really good;

Some teams need more time to get in playing shape; and,

Wake Forest may’ve waited a year too long keeping Danny Manning as coach.

Those musings aside, here’s the rest of my order of finish:

8 – MIAMI

With their influx of talent from transfers and the high school ranks, Coach Jim Larranaga should have the requisite scoring, depth, and defense to push for a middle-of-the-pack finish in the ACC and secure an NCAA Tournament bid. Early injuries have put added production pressure on guard Chris Lykes, but the Hurricanes will continue running their offense primarily through the pick-n-roll where Lykes excels coming off screens and penetrating or pulling up from deep.

9 – PITTSBURGH

No sooner had Coach Jeff Capel assembled a quality recruiting class than he lost two key pieces to pre-season injuries. In their upset of Florida State, Pitt showed much improvement on defense. Point guard Xavier Johnson is no Cole Anthony nor Tre Jones, but his slashing moves setting up scoring late in the ‘Noles game showed these Panthers may now be out of their “pit(t) of despair.”

10 – GEORGIA TECH

The NC State win notwithstanding (well, it did force me to bump them up a couple of spots), this might be Coach Josh Pastner’s best roster since arriving in Atlanta and Tech now has some solid pieces at nearly every position. Defense should continue to be the Jackets’ strong suit, but will the offense improve? They’ve already proved that with their first ACC win.

11 – SYRACUSE

Face it, this team will never be an offensive powerhouse, scoring is going to come at a premium with little-to-no proven creators on this roster. Outside shooting may improve, eventually; but without an impactful post player or dribble-drive game, it’s hard to imagine the Orange scoring consistently. Coach Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone will give some teams fits, and ECU transfer Elijah Hughes must step up his game.

12 – CLEMSON

I’ve had a soft spot for Tigers Coach Brad Brownell’s teams since his days at UNC-Wilmington. But this year, as the loss to Va. Tech showed, the basketball Tigers need what the football Tigers have: a go-to guy. Defensively, they’ll be okay (that’s Brownell’s hallmark); but offensively; they’re still anemic, and a young team with significant early injuries doesn’t help.

13 – BOSTON COLLEGE

Two of my bottom-three opened the season with ACC wins, but that still didn’t sway my thinking. Former Havelock High star Ky Bowman has moved onto the NBA, and Derryck Thornton has moved on to his third college team (after Duke and USC). The Florida State win showed they have enough to climb out of the league cellar, they just won’t rise very far with this bunch.

14 – VIRGINIA TECH

Former Wofford coach Mike Young (who engineered a win over UNC in Chapel Hill two years ago) heads up two states to Blacksburg, VA. Just like he had plenty of miles in front of him from Spartanburg, he’s got plenty of rebuilding to do this time. Buzz Williams split for Texas A&M last season, leaving the cupboard pretty bare talent-wise, and the Hokies will pay for it this season.

15 – WAKE FOREST

I don’t know if Coach Danny Manning’s job was protected more by a new athletic director at Wake Forest, or a reported $10 million buyout. Whichever it was, the Demon Deacons were 11-20 last season and brings back just one starter, senior Brandon Childress. Oh, Danny-Boy, your young talent is maturing, but will it be enough to save their season, and your job?

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.