College football, to be sure, is in full swing in the ACC and here at All Sports Discussion. However, men’s college basketball is right around the corner.
Rob Dauster, lead college basketball writer at College Basketball Talk on NBC Sports, wrote about seven Final Four sleepers. You know the ACC is deep when Dauster doesn’t have any of these teams in the top four in his ACC men’s hoops preview (the usually suspects are at the top of the ACC are Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and North Carolina). But let’s talk about his sleepers… it’s not who you would expect:
Syracuse Orange: I initially thought the people ranking Syracuse after their run to the Final Four were crazy. They lost two fifth-year guards in Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije, who was criminally underrated last season, and watched the guy that sparked their Final Four run, Malachi Richardson, bolt for the NBA. They had two guards slated to be on their roster once Kaleb Joseph transferred.
But then Tyler Lydon decided to come back to school while the Orange dabbled in the transfer market, adding a pair of fifth-year grad transfers in John Gillon and Andrew White. Throw in a talented freshman like Tyus Battle and all 7-foot-2 of Providence transfer Paschal Chukwu, and suddenly things don’t look quite as bleak.
I’m still not convinced that the Orange actually have a point guard on this roster, but this may be the longest team that Jim Boeheim has ever had at his disposal. If Lydon takes a step forward, if Battle can be a significant contributor off the bat, if White can embrace playing a role, if this team can find a way to get a defensive rebound …
That’s a lot of ‘ifs’. I know. But Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Famer, and on paper, this group looks the kind of team he has success with.
Florida State Seminoles: How many teams are going to have more talent on the floor on a nightly basis than Florida State will? Dwayne Bacon has the physical tools of a first round pick, averaged 15.8 points as a freshman and is a consistent jumper away from being a nightmare to deal with. Xavier Rathan-Mayes probably doesn’t have the same upside as Bacon, but he’s a talented lead guard that is in his fourth year on campus and once scored 30 points in less than five minutes. Then there’s Terrence Mann, a sophomore that was productive and efficient in limited minutes playing behind first round Malik Beasley as a freshman.
Both Bacon and Rathan-Mayes have some efficiency issues to work through — they shot under 29 percent from three combined — but if that perimeter attack can somehow put all the pieces together, they will be a problem.
And that’s before you factor in Jonathan Isaac. Isaac is a bit of a unknown commodity at this point. He’s a 6-foot-11 combo-forward with a combination of skill and fluidity that has him projected as a lottery pick. But he also weighs a Chipotle burrito over 200 pounds and is still figuring out how to use his length to be effective. There are going to be growing pains, especially if the Seminoles cannot find anyone to make a jumper, but if we’re picking teams that can win four straight games in March, the ‘Noles have the talent to be on that list.
Virginia Tech Hokies: I’m all in on Buzz Williams’ boys this season. There isn’t a coach in the country that is better at slapping together a group of players that were overlooked, under-recruited and are hungry-to-prove-themselves and winning with them. He did it at Marquette for years, and the result was a whole lot of wins and guys like Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler and Wesley Matthews in the NBA.
That’s precisely who he has on his roster this year. I’d be willing to bet even die-hard ACC fans can’t name more than one player on Virginia Tech’s roster right now, but Buzz has some guys that can play. Zach LeDay and Seth Allen are probably the two best players he has at his disposal, but Buzz has talent, depth and grit up and down his roster.
The Hokies got off to a rough start last season — they lost to Alabama State at home, which is … yuck — but they finished with 19 wins and a 10-8 record in the ACC. That includes wins at home over Virginia and North Carolina.
And they bring everyone back from last season while adding a healthy Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw to the mix.
The Hokies aren’t “win the ACC” good, not with how loaded the ACC is this season, but they are “win four games in March” good.
And that’s the great thing here. You look at Dauster’s ACC Predicted Order of Finish and you have Duke (#1), Virginia (#2), Louisville (#3), North Carolina (#4)… and…
5. Virginia Tech: My sleeper pick. They return everyone — and add two injured pieces — from a team that won 19 games, went 10-8 in the ACC and beat UNC and UVA.
6. Syracuse: Getting Tyler Lydon back to school was key. Adding Andrew White was big as well. The Orange are going to have an absurd amount of length and athleticism in that zone. Will their point guard play and rebounding hold up?
10. Florida State: Like N.C. State, the Seminoles have plenty of pieces, but they’ve struggled to look like a cohesive unit in recent years.
A Virginia Tech team at #5, a Syracuse at #6, and a Florida State at #10 – and, as you saw above, Dauster also lists these teams as Final Four sleepers… well, then, what you have is the deepest league my buddy @TalkinACCSports (Jeffrey Fann) and I have seen in years.
John Swofford has to be smiling right now