By Mychal Hunter
I had high hopes for the ACC in the preseason. I was higher on Notre Dame than almost anyone which proved to be a mistake, but I’ll own it. I see the Irish as a team that will be very successful next year. I thought Louisville would be bad though I knew Jordan Nwora would be good. I had no idea what to think of Miami or Boston College and I knew the loss of Gabe DeVoe was a bigger deal than most were making it out to be. Then there was North Carolina State, who I chose to finish 7th. I received a little flack for that, but they are currently in 9th and could be 8th so I’m fine with it.
As this season comes to a close, I took a look back and found so, SO many factors that shaped this ACC basketball season. So many variables made this league a joy to watch this season while still being somewhat underwhelming. This league should have been even better this season, but injuries, inquiries, poor decisions and plain old bad luck robbed us of what could have been one of the greatest seasons the conference has ever produced.
I want to take a look back at the things that shaped this season in the ACC.
This is Part 1: The Preseason. Look for part 2 sometime next week.
Pittsburgh fires Kevin Stallings and hires Jason Capel
We all knew it was coming eventually. Almost as soon as the hire happened it just felt gross. Kevin Stallings was not well liked among his former players and Vanderbilt was happy to see him hit the road.
In two seasons at Pitt he went 24-41, including a winless ACC campaign. Pitt gave him $10MM and told him to pound sand.
I believe Jeff Capel was Pitt’s first choice, though my memory is a bit fuzzy. They identified him, targeted him and made him theirs. Something other schools in the ACC could learn a thing or two from.
While Capel only currently has 2 ACC wins in his first season, you can see the progression on the court. This Pitt team plays hard and recruiting is definitely seeing an up-tick. The hiring of Jeff Capel made the Pitt job a three year rebuild instead of a five year rebuild.
Jerome Robinson remains in the NBA Draft
Can you imagine this Boston College team with Robinson? I mean it is basically the same as last years team, but the emergence Chris Herren Jr and Nik Popovic along with the Hamilton brothers would have given this Eagles squad something they didn’t have last season: Quality depth.
Robinson has bounced back and forth between the G-League and the NBA in his rookie season with the Clippers. He has also suffered a foot injury and only appeared in 25 games. There was no doubt that he had to capitalize on last years numbers and jump though.
Battle and Brissett return to Syracuse
I said it a lot last season, Tyus Battle is a really good college scorer, but I am not sure he is an NBA scorer. He makes tough shots in college because he doesn’t create a ton of separation and he doesn’t shoot a great percentage. All that said, he can get you 22 points a night in college and that is nothing to sneeze at.
Oshae Brissett was one of my favorite players to watch last season and one of my top players to watch coming into this season. He likes the three ball a little too much, but he is a terror on the offensive glass at times.
Had these two guys moved on I am not sure what we would be looking at for an offense from Syracuse. Certainly not a potential 11-7 record in the ACC.
Josh Okogie leaves for the NBA after his sophomore season
This one hurt. Okogie went from a 3* recruit, to an NBA first round pick, to an NBA starter in about 30 months.
During his two seasons at Georiga Tech the 6’4 wing averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 steals. He also led the ACC in FTA as a freshman with 241. After an injury and some drama in the preseason, Josh put together a fantastic sophomore season and decided to test the waters and eventually stay in the 2018 NBA draft. You have to believe that if you were to put Okogie next to Alvarado, Devoe and Banks, this Georgia Tech team is pretty bubbly this season given how soft tournament resumes are going into the dance.
Duke signs possibly the greatest recruiting class ever assembled
Five recruits inside the top 35 decided to head to Durham for the 2018 cycle. All of which bringing a particular set of skills that made them a nightmare for a college basketball league.
The first to pop was Cam Reddish, who was followed by Tre’ Jones roughly 6 weeks later. Then, in a somewhat unexpected move, Joey Baker decided to reclassify and head to Duke, knowing that he would red-shirt. In November of 2017 RJ Barrett, the #1 player in the class, decided he was going to play his college ball for Coach K as well.
The big surprise came on January 20th 2018 however. In a press conference at Spartanburg Day, Zion Williamson announced that he would not stay home and play for Clemson as many expected. He was also heading to Duke.
The rest is basically history. Zion has become the most intriguing basketball player to watch on the entire planet. He is must see TV. It’s like watching the Super Bowl or the opening weekend of March Madness twice a week. And it’s for the same reason that always pulls us in: You just want to see what will happen next.
The Adidas scandal ensures Nassir Little ends up in the ACC
Once word came down of arrests, wiretaps and cheating in the summer of 2017, Nassir Little’s options seemed to narrow. As Nassir’s father Harold (valued friend of the program) has said on the ACCBR podcast multiple times, they “wanted to do it the right way and not put Nassir’s future at risk. If you are willing to cheat, you don’t care about what is good for my son.”
Arizona, who was thought to be the front runner by recruiting analysts, was named in the investigation. They were out.
Miami was named, out.
That left Duke, Georgia Tech and UNC as the programs left standing. Ultimately, UNC seemed like the right fit and that is where the top 5 recruit ended up. Little, alongside Coby White and Leaky Black gave the Tar Heels one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the country.
Chris Clarke is suspended, Landers Nolley is targeted.
We all knew this Virginia Tech team was going to be good. They were long and athletic, they could shoot, they were upperclassmen and they were well coached.
Then, just before the season starts, it comes down that Chris Clarke, the Hokies versatile senior swing man, was suspended due to a violation of team rules. His name was also removed from the Hokies official roster. To this day, I still have not seen a confirmation on what transpired, but he will be allowed to return next year according to reports.
Nolley’s eligibility was sent into limbo when the NCAA decided that his ACT scores didn’t seem to reflect how he performed as a student. In November it was reported that he would retake the ACT in order to be eligible, but was lost for the season anyways.
Wake Forest loses Coach Jamill Jones after he accidentally kills a man
During a late night confrontation, Jamill Jones punched a man looking for a ride in NYC, who eventually died. The man apparently broke the rear window of Jones’s BMW SUV while knocking on it thinking it was an Uber.
Jones turned himself in on August 11th and was later charged with third degree assault, misdemeanor. He was obviously placed on academic leave by Wake Forest until the conclusion of the trial which I assume is still ongoing as I could not find a verdict that had been rendered.
The impact? Jones was a rising star in the coaching community and one of Danny Manning’s recruiting guru’s. Look at how recruiting has fallen off for Wake this year. Look at their offensive efficiency numbers from last year to this year. While Wake hasn’t been great during Manning’s tenure, Jones was a positive on that staff.
Louisville moves on from Padgett, hires Chris Mack
Wrapped in the cloak of yet another scandal under Rick Pitino’s watch, Louisville decided to move on from their hall of fame coach on 10/16/17, just weeks before the start of the 2017-18 basketball season. David Padgett took the reigns and actually did a pretty decent job given the circumstances, but Louisville has a certain persona, a certain level that they want to live up to. They are also one of, if not the most profitable programs in the country.
After finishing 22-14 and playing in the postseason NIT, Louisville parted ways with Padgett and sought out its permanent solution. In true, Kentucky little brother fashion they set their sites high.
Chris Mack is the all-time winningest coach in Xavier basketball history. He is also an alum of the Cincinnati based university. Louisville didn’t care, they made him a legit offer and he accepted.
Mack immediately went to work and while the recruiting cycle could not be saved, he was able to bring in players via free agency. Akoy Agau (SMU), Kwhan Fore (Richmond) and Christen Cunningham (Samford) all came to Louisville as graduate transfers. Steven Enoch was also already on campus after transferring from UConn following the 2016-17 season. Those players have provided stability and experience in a program whose high end talent was still young and inexperienced.
Miami loses Miles Wilson and Dewan Hernandez
Wilson, a transfer from Mt. Saint Mary’s, was dismissed on September 21st 2018 for “failing to meet team expectations.” Can you imagine transferring to a school, sitting out a season and then six weeks before you get back on the court you get yourself tossed? As a freshman in the NEC Wilson averaged 11.8 points and 3.9 rebounds. He would have provided much needed quality perimeter depth for the ‘Canes.
Hernandez (formerly Huell) was named in a report tied to Christian Dawkins that indicated he was to receive some sort of monthly stipend in return for future considerations once he eventually turned pro. After being in limbo most of the season he was ruled ineligible in early February and immediately declared for the NBA draft. As a sophomore last season he averaged over 11 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game.
So, those were the big items that I came up with and all that happened before we even played a single game. Those items were the foundation that shaped the 2018-19 ACC regular season.
Come back early next week for the madness that happened in season.
If you guys think I left anything out, feel free to tweet me @ACCBR1