ACC Preview, Part One (10-12)

ACC Preview, Part One (10-12)
Sep 25, 2006, 03:18 am
Jonathan Watters kicks of DraftExpress’ 2006 NCAA preview coverage with an in-depth look at the ACC. Part one looks at the bottom the much-changed conference, where Wake Forest, NC State, and Miami may be in for rough seasons.

The ACC is a very tough conference to predict this year, once you get past number one. Several contenders lost key contributors, impact freshmen appear on nearly every roster, and several teams appear capable of making a jump from the lower half of the standings. Like usual, every squad has plenty of talent, and every squad is capable of a .500 finish. The middle of the pack is quite large and undefined, but somebody has to be picked last. Wake Forest, Miami and NC State appear to be the three teams least likely to impact the ACC race in 2007.

Wake Forest

05-06 Record: (17-17, 3-13)
Coach: (111-52 in 5 years at Wake Forest, 276-130 overall)
Postseason: NIT (lost to Minnesota 73-58)

2006 Season Review:

The teams that lose key pieces are always the toughest to predict. North Carolina lost its entire lineup, and had returned to the Top 10 before year one of the rebuilding project was finished. Comparatively, Wake Forest “only” lost its All-American point guard and its “glue guy” ball-handler. The Demon Deacons returned two potential All-Americans and enough frontcourt depth for two successful ACC teams. Also back was a small forward with NBA athleticism, and a solid group of incoming recruits. And Justin Gray’s natural position had always been PG, right?

Unfortunately for Skip Prosser, Wake’s late Paul-era defensive struggles also had eligibility remaining. It was painfully obvious early in the season that Gray not only made a lousy point guard, but also lost most of his scoring effectiveness when forced to focus on running the team. He would eventually move back off the ball, but the alternatives, freshmen Harvey Hale and Shamaine Dukes, looked nearly as out of their element as Gray did. Prosser’s veteran group looked out of synch on both ends of the floor, and only showed signs of pulling it together once saving the season became a lost cause.

The Deacons may have known they wouldn’t be dancing fairly early in the ACC slate, but that didn’t stop them from causing a substantial amount of trouble for several ACC teams with legitimate Tourney aspirations. Gray finally started taking care of the ball down the stretch and fellow senior Chris Ellis emerged as a formidable alternative scoring option after four years of near-dormancy, allowing the Demon Deacons to send NC State tumbling about 5 Tourney seeds (a pair of wins), knock Florida State out of the Tourney altogether (ACC Tourney win), and give Duke a legitimate test in the ACC Tourney Semifinals. Altogether, 2006 marked a stunningly precipitous decline for a program that was running and gunning with Duke and North Carolina just one year previously. Skip Prosser and his suddenly underachieving program now head into 06-07 under a substantial amount of fire.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)
Players on scholarship: 13

Key Losses
*CG Justin Gray (18.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.9 3PM/G)
*SF Trent Strickland (11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
*PF Chris Ellis (5.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
*C Eric Williams (16.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg)

Returnees (7)
6’1 PG Shamaine Dukes, so (1.4 topg in 7.7 mpg)
*6’2 CG Harvey Hale, so (5.6 ppg, 35.2% shooting in 21.7 mpg, 16 starts)
6’6 SF Michael Drum, sr (5.5 ppg in 22.0 mpg, 14 starts)
6’6 SF Cameron Stanley, so (2.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg in 9.2 mpg)
6’7 PF Kevin Swinton, so (2.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg in 11.5 mpg, 7 starts)
6’11 C Kyle Visser, sr (5.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 17.1 mpg, 17 starts)
6’10 C David Weaver, redshirt fr (2005 3-star)

Starters: 1
Rotation Players: 6
Redshirts: 1
Sophomores: 4
Juniors: 0
Seniors: 2
05-06 Starts: 59 (11th in ACC)
Career Starts: 67 (12th in ACC)
Scoring: 29.9
Rebounding: 40.6

Newcomers: (6)

6’0 PG Ish Smith, Concord NC ( 4-star, #92 nationally)
6’3 CG Anthony Gurley, Boston MA ( 4-star, #58 nationally)
6’4 G/F LD Williams, Yadkinville NC via Montverde (FL) Academy ( 3-star)
6’8 PF Jamie Skeen, Charlotte NC ( 4-star, #54 nationally)
6’8 PF Casey Crawford, Overland Park KS ( 3-star)
7’0 C Chas McFarland, Lovington IL via Worcester (MA) Academy ( 3-star)

ACC Recruiting Class rank: 4th

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

Prosser has put together a non-conference slate that shouldn’t break the spirit of his inexperienced squad. That isn’t to say there aren’t tests along the way. Mid-major power Bucknell will provide a stiff challenge in just the second game of the season. Mid-level SEC teams Vanderbilt and Georgia will make their way to Winston-Salem, while the Demon Deacons play two very tough games on the road against Air Force and DePaul.

Conference highlights:
Play once: (@Virginia Tech, Boston College, @ Duke, @ Florida State, Maryland, Clemson)

Wake will probably take its lumps early in the conference slate. The opener is a tough one at Virginia Tech, and there are games against Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech in January. February gets a bit easier, with winnable home games against Maryland, Clemson, Miami, and Virginia all on tap, as well as a trip to NC State.

Roster Analysis

Backcourt: The Ish Smith era can’t begin fast enough for most Wake Forest fans, as the name-lacking aftermath of Chris Paul’s turned into a complete disaster. The right to replace one of the NCAA’s greatest point guards ever was a surprisingly hard sell, as Prosser completely whiffed for 05 and missed on a series of 06 targets as well. Needless to say, the Wake Forest faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief last June after living through a torturous season of various out of place guards attempting to run the show. Smith is a local product with a top 100 billing, and his ability to quickly adjust to ACC-level basketball is probably the key to Prosser’s future in Winston-Salem.

Smith isn’t a big-time scorer, but is jet quick and a natural distributor. An immediate contribution provides a double-bonus for Wake supporters. Not only does the offense flow more smoothly, but those out of place combo guys can return to doing what they do best. We all watched this effect in reverse last season with Gray’s switch to point guard leaving Prosser lacking a point guard and an efficient scorer, but Smith’s presence should do wonders for sophomore Harvey Hale. Like many freshman combo guards, Hale struggled with decision making most of the season, and never truly found his stroke from the outside. He could emerge as an excellent player as a sophomore, with his toughness on both sides of the ball and ability to knock down the midrange jumper off the bounce.

The other key member of the backcourt could be freshman CG Anthony Gurley, a national top 75 level recruit out of Boston. Gurley can light it up from anywhere, and is improving his game off the bounce. Also available to Prosser are freshman power wing LD Williams and sophomore point guard Shamaine Dukes. Williams is an impressive athlete, while Dukes never adjusted to the speed of the ACC and wasn’t a viable PG option for Prosser as a freshman.

Frontcourt: While most of the beef that held down the fort for Paul and Gray has moved on, there is plenty of talent and a diverse array of play styles for Prosser to choose from here. Kyle Visser is the only returning upperclassman and the only one with truly significant experience. A pecking order will have to emerge for the rest of the group, which includes a shooting specialist, a pair of promising sophomores, and 4 freshmen.

Prosser should be able to count on a double-double from Kyle Visser pretty much every night, but in his first three years as a Deacon the 7-footer has yet to emerge as a serviceable ACC-level starter. Last year was a true step in the wrong direction, as Visser started the season with a nice string of productive games but slowly lost his confidence and his role as the season wore on. Visser knows how to get position in the paint, has good footwork and a range of post moves, rebounds the ball well, and can run the court better than most college big men. But he tends to get nervous when the ball is delivered, often rushing his shots and failing to convert on garbage opportunities last season. He could emerge with a more defined role as a senior, but nobody is counting on it.

Prosser slowly worked a pair of promising youngsters into the mix last season. SF Cameron Stanley started slowly after injury issues forced him to sit out the 04-05 season, but was starting to make his presence felt by the end of the season. The powerful, athletic Stanley reached double figures in three out of Wake’s last five games and his transition into Trent Strickland’s “power wing” role should go off without a hitch. His ferociousness attacking the rim may remind many of a certain Wake Forest alumnus now making headlines in Dallas. True sophomore Kevin Swinton is an undersized rebounding specialist with the ability to score effectively in certain matchup situations. The other returnee is senior shooter Michael Drum, who should be able to showcase more of his shooting ability and less of his lacking athletic gifts.

A newcomer will play a role here, and the competition for time could be stiff. With all the new faces, it is likely one of the youngsters will end up taking a redshirt to even out class sizes a bit. Redshirt freshman David Weaver was a highly regarded local recruit that will compete for time behind Visser. Athletic specimen Jamie Skeen was the most highly regarded recruit in the state, and his signing a major coup for Prosser. PF Casey Crawford and late-emerging 7-footer Chas McFarland are probably furthest down on the depth charts, but both have the look of players that will contribute at some point.

Backcourt: C+
Frontcourt: B-
Depth: B
Experience: D

Tempo-Adjusted Demon Deacons:

05-06 Tempo: 68.5 poss/40 min (125th nationally, 7h in the ACC, down from 56th in 04-05)
05-06 TO %: 23.2 (271st nationally, 11th in the ACC)
05-06 Opponents’ TO %: 17.9 (319th nationally, 12th in the ACC)

While Wake Forest’s precipitous decline was most often blamed on the lack of an adequate replacement for Paul, the Demon Deacons’ defensive efficiency took a significant decline as well. The inadequacy of Prosser’s point guards shows up loud and clear in the turnover statistics. The Demon Deacons went from being mediocre in terms of taking care of the ball when it was under Paul’s care to downright generous under Gray, Hale, and Dukes. Wake Forest didn’t force a lot of turnovers with Paul pressuring the ball, but without him were actually the 15th worst team in the country when it comes to forcing turnovers. This ranked 4th from the bottom among high-major schools, and is an embarrassing number for an ACC school.

It should be interesting to see if Wake Forest can reduce the negative turnover margin it played with last season with Smith at the helm.

Recruiting Report:

2007 Commitments (current ACC rank: 5th)
6’1 CG Jeff Teague, Indianapolis, IN ( 4-star recruit, 55th nationally)
6’8 SF James Johnson, Cheyenne, WY ( 4-star recruit, 38th nationally)

What is the coach of a program whose wheels are showing signs of coming off to do? Prosser’s position isn’t an easy one to be in, but his answer certainly passes the test. In spite of all the negativity surrounding last season, he still managed to reel in two out of region, top 50-caliber recruits in Teague and Johnson. After a painful year without a quality ball-handler, the signing of Teague means Prosser could roll out a familiar-sounding 3 lead guard lineup as soon as next fall. Wake was on Johnson long before anybody else, and his decision to leave his home state was a major blow for Wyoming.

Despite appearing to be out of scholarships, Prosser continues to recruit big-time PF Patrick Patterson and Kansas PG Tyrel Reed.

Keys to the Season

Is Ish Smith an immediate answer to Wake’s PG woes? If he’s ready to go from day one, Wake Forest instantly takes a huge step forward. Players like Gurley and Hale will be able to focus on the things they do best, and the turnover difficulties are sure to be marginalized by a significant amount. But rare is the point guard prepared to effectively run an ACC team as a freshman. It remains to be seen what kind of impact Smith will have on the Demon Deacon program.

Will a viable rotation emerge? There is as much young talent within the Wake Forest program as there is at any ACC school, but that may or may not mean anything when it comes to wins and losses. Very good freshmen are often not ready to beat out incumbents for playing time, and younger teams often find ways to lose games they shouldn’t. The playing time situation is wide open for just about everybody on the roster – it is now Prosser’s job to sift through the talent and come up with a viable scheme. This is something he couldn’t accomplish a season ago.

Can this team play defense well enough to compete? The inability of this team to even slow down opponents the past two seasons is quite surprising, given Prosser’s long-term winning track record. It appeared as though very little emphasis has been placed on the other end of the court, in terms of player effort and depth of strategy. This team can overcome being young and inexperienced, but it cannot afford to be as bad as its predecessors defensively. Until this issue is resolved, Prosser’s victories on the recruiting path won’t mean squat when it comes to the standings.

Conclusions: Everybody is picking Wake to be worse than they were a season ago, but I just can’t do it. There is plenty of talent within the program, and Prosser has repeatedly proven he can win at the highest levels of college basketball. With a new mix of players competing for roles and a bit of tightening at the strategic level, the past season will be quickly forgotten. While most seem to think this will be the season that the Demon Deacons hit rock bottom, my opinion is that rock bottom happened midway through the ACC slate last winter. Wake Forest is certainly going to take its lumps this year, but is also capable of besting what are admittedly low preseason expectations.

Prediction: 10th Place


05-06 Record: (18-16, 7-9)
Coach: Frank Haith (3rd year, at Miami: 34-29)
Postseason: NIT Quarterfinals (def. Oklahoma State 62-59, def Creighton 53-52, lost to Michigan 71-65)

2006 Season Review:

For every new high-major coach, there comes a moment when landing good recruits and showing “progress” just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Frank Haith’s has come earlier than most, in large part thanks the outstanding talent that former coach Perry Clark left behind. The undersized but electric guard tandem of Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite sliced through ACC defenses the past two seasons, and Anthony King was able to provide just enough of an inside presence to keep Miami competitive. In light of what is about to be said, it should be noted that this is a major accomplishment, considering just how far behind the Hurricanes were supposed to be as they entered basketball premier conference.

Nonetheless, if there was a year when Miami was going to move the from lower-tier ACC program to consistent Tourney qualifier, 05-06 was it. There was experience in the backcourt, finally a presence in the frontcourt, and thanks to a solid recruiting class, a roster with adequate depth across the board. But at the end of the day, Haith was trying to develop a program with a different style of play than the one the holdovers were recruited to play in. Haith insisted on slowing the tempo despite an undersized roster full of players born to run and gun. Diaz was now a marked man, and the team never really figured out how to make opponents pay for sending help his direction. His efficiency plunged, and if the streaky Hite wasn’t at his best, the team had trouble putting points on the board.

Things started off on the wrong foot when starting point guard Anthony Harris went down with an injury in the preseason, and nagging injuries eventually caught up with Diaz. The Hurricanes largely blew their chances in the non-conference slate while Harris was getting back to full strength, losing telling contests against Air Force, Temple, Michigan, and Louisville. January was a good month, with wins at North Carolina and at Florida State bolstering the resume, but a brutal stretch home games against NC State and North Carolina followed by a trip north to Boston College and Duke took the wind right back out of the sails. Miami was able to win a pair of games in the NIT, but the impending losses of Diaz and Hite were already looming.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)
12 scholarship players

Key Losses

*G Guillermo Diaz (17.2 ppg) – declared for NBA Draft (#52, LA Clippers)
*SG Robert Hite (16.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
*C Gary Hamilton (3.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg)


Starters: 2 (46% of all starts, 53% of all minutes played)
Rotation Players: 5
Sophomores: 4
Juniors: 1
Seniors: 2
Scoring: 44.2%
Rebounding: 57.4%

*6’2 PG Anthony Harris, Sr (9.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 26.7 mpg, missed 7 games due to injury)**
6’0 PG Denis Clemente, So (5.5 ppg, 2.1 apg, 33% shooting)**
6’7 SF Brian Asbury, so (spot duty in 05-06)
6’7 CF Raymond Hicks, jr (4.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg in 16.4 mpg)**
6’8 PF Jimmy Graham, so (1.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg in 10.6 mpg)
6’7 PF Adrian Thomas, so (spot duty in 05-06)
*6’9 C Anthony King, sr (8.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg in 28.3 mg)**


ACC Recruiting Class rank: 6th
6’1 CG Jack McClinton, so (transfer from Siena, averaged 13.6 ppg and 5.0 rpg as freshman)**
6’3 SG James Dews, Westchester, OH, ( 4-star)
6’7 G/F Lawrence Gilbert, New Orleans, LA, ( 4-star)
6’8 PF Dwayne Collins, Miami, FL ( 4-star, #84 nationally)
6’10 PF Fabio Nass, Brazil via Arkansas-Fort Smith CC ( #19)

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

Haith has scheduled well for this team, with an easier slate early in the season as new roles are established but a nice run of tough competition immediately before conference play begins. In November, Miami will join Buffalo and Cleveland State for the Evansville-hosted America Youth Classic. An improved Mississippi State team will be in town on December 11, and then comes a trip to Louisville, a visit from Nebraska, and a date at UMass. This is a non-conference schedule that really shouldn’t kill the chances of any team legitimately hoping to dance, but also includes a few challenges that could end up as nice resume builders.

Conference Highlights:
Play Once: Georgia Tech, @Clemson, Duke, @North Carolina, NC State, @Maryland

The schedule makers have certainly helped out the Hurricanes this season. Miami will play league favorites North Carolina, Duke, and Georgia Tech once, with the Duke and Georgia Tech games coming at home. The only top tier team on the schedule twice is Boston College. We probably know what this team is made of by mid-January. After a tune-up against Wake Forest at home, a visit from Duke is sandwiched around a trip to Maryland and a Boston College-Florida State road trip.

Roster Analysis

Backcourt: Since Miami joined the fast-paced, guard-oriented ACC, the one thing Frank Haith’s always had in his back pocket is a dynamic backcourt. That could change this season, with the graduation of shooting specialist Robert Hite and leading scorer Guillermo Diaz’ decision to bolt for the NBA after his junior year. Haith has done a good job of finding talent to replace his accomplished duo, but it may be a year before this group is really ready to compete in the ACC. If no effective wing presence emerges, expect Haith to roll out the familiar undersized 3-guard lineup.

Senior PG Anthony Harris will have to bounce back after a disappointing junior year. His name was being mentioned in the same breath as Diaz and Hite after a stellar sophomore campaign, but injuries forced him to miss the first seven games of the year, and he really sputtered down the stretch. Harris’ scoring average dipped nearly 3 ppg, and his Ast/Turnover ratio declined from a respectable 1.53/1 to a dismal-for-an-upperclassman 1.05/1. Harris was probably the team’s best perimeter defender the past two seasons and certainly has all the physical tools and the ability to run an offense. He is the type of player that needs to have the ball in his hands, and should thrive with more of a featured offensive role. He might not do it efficiently, but expect some bigger numbers from Harris this year.

If Harris falters, sophomore jet Denis Clemente will be waiting in the wings. One of the quickest basketball players in the world, Clemente took his lumps early in the season while running the show with Harris sidelined, but he should be ready to contribute in a bigger way as sophomore. He doesn’t have bad form on his shot, but had a tendency to rush things a bit from long range and didn’t hit his trademark runner as a freshman. If he can add some bulk and calm down in terms of looking for his own offense, he should develop into a serviceable ACC point guard.

The other starter in the backcourt should be sophomore transfer Jack McClinton, who averaged 16.4 ppg in MAAC play as a freshman at Siena. He can play both guard spots, and reportedly would have been a big time contributor even last season if not for his redshirt year. McClinton is known as an excellent long-range shooter, and he probably will have to be for this team to achieve much of anything. None of the other guards expected to play big roles offer much in this area.

There is little experience available for Haith behind these three. Many followers of the program expected wing Brian Asbury to make a freshman impact, but he never found is comfort level and seemed to struggle with the speed of the college game. The former top-100 recruit has ACC-caliber tools and will get a chance to prove that last season was a fluke, but will have to fight with a pair of touted freshmen to find minutes. Ohio scorer James Dews needs to advance physically, but is a deadeye shooter and very crafty off the dribble. 6’7 Lawrence Gilbert is a powerful wing from New Orleans, and could eventually give Haith the kind of size that hasn’t been available to him on the wing in his time coaching the Hurricanes.

Frontcourt: Progress is being made here, but Miami’s interior presence still isn’t even close to being a positive. Things center on King, and beyond him the big men are generally a bit undersized but athletic enough. Though the ‘Canes will certainly miss the presence of space eater Gary Hamilton, one of several younger bodies should finally be able to step up and replace him. Haith has managed to add bodies, and that is a start.

The presence of Diaz and Hite would have resulted in absolutely nothing if it weren’t for the surprise emerged of big man Anthony King two years ago. He doesn’t offer ideal size at the center position, but has gamely battled away nonetheless. He is relentless on the glass, constantly throwing his weight around on the blocks, and never backs down from anybody. King finished 9th in the conference in rebounding at 4th in blocked shots and barring injury, will finish his career as Miami’s 3rd all-time leading shot blocker. King’s offense is passable but will probably never be his strong point. Nonetheless, as the 2nd-leading returning scorer, King should be able to provide a double-double, all-conference type of presence as a senior.

No other significant producers return, but there are a few intriguing options here. Senior Raymond Hicks is a bit of a combo forward who can effectively post up smaller defenders but likes to utilize his midrange face-up game when he has the space. To secure a starting spot, he will have to contribute more on the glass. He will be pushed by Jimmy Graham, an aggressive but unpolished sophomore, who could have the inside track on the job. Graham has the right mentality, and his skill level should improve with time. Also in the mix is athletic forward Adrian Thomas, another well-regarded second year man that didn’t contribute much as a rookie. Thomas does have some potential as a rebounding specialist. Freshman PF Dwayne Collins is a local recruit and member of many national Top 100 lists. Also joining the team is Brazilian product Fabio Nass, a 6’10 shooter that averaged just 3 ppg at an Arkansas Community College last winter.

Backcourt: C
Frontcourt: C-
Depth: B
Experience: C

Tempo-Adjusted Hurricanes:

05-06 Tempo: 63.0 poss/40 min (310th nationally, 12th in the ACC, down from 67.6 in 04-05)
05-06 Defensive Efficiency: 96.0 (National Rank=87, but just 10th in the ACC)
05-06 3FGA/FGA: 33.0 (National Rank=166)
05-06 Opponents’ 3FGA/FGA: 37.8 (National Rank=305)

One would expect an offense featuring two high octane guards and very little frontcourt beef to play at a higher tempo and maybe even play some pressure defense. But in 05-06, Haith decided to pack it in and slow down the tempo. Miami played at the slowest pace of any ACC team, coming in at 310th nationally. This did little for their horrendous defense, however, as the team still ranked 10th in the ACC in that category. Haith’s desire to slow things down can also be seen in the relative number of 3-point attempts taken by Miami and their opponents. Despite those three guards and their ability to get hot from the outside, the Hurricanes didn’t shoot a whole lot of 3-pointers last year. Their opponents, on the other hand, were given the green light.

One thing that can be said about this team is that they will have an adequate amount of depth for the first time in a long while, and that depth is made up of ACC-caliber athletes. Haith claims he wants to go bigger this year, and this might suit his slower-paced style a bit better than what was essentially a 3 point guard lineup the past two seasons.

Recruiting Report:

2007 Commitments (current ACC rank: 10th)
6’1 PG Edwin Rios, Hollywood, FL ( 4-star, #92 nationally)
6’9 C Freddy Asprilla, Miami, FL ( 3-star)
6’9 C Julian Gamble, Durham NC ( 3-star)

Haith has done a good job of stocking the cupboard with capable bodies over the past two seasons. He has clearly focused on building international and local pipelines, which makes sense with Diaz’ success and how many elite kids from Latin America are now ending up in the area. Haith’s current sophomore class started the trend, with Clemente, Thomas and Asbury all top area prospects, and top incoming recruit Dwayne Collins also a Miami native. He decided to bank the final 2006 scholarship after losing spring recruiting battles for several highly regarded centers like Luis Colon, Hamaday N’Diaye and Phil Jones, as well as in-state guard Derwin Kitchen.

Haith’s 2007 class has a bit of everything. The much-hyped Edwin Rios has been committed since his sophomore year in high school and the floor general should be a game one starter next fall, even though he has dropped in the rankings since picking the ‘Canes over the likes of Duke, Louisville, and Kentucky. Freddy Asprilla comes to Miami from Columbia via an area prep school, but will have to work on his conditioning if he ever wants to play in the ACC. Julian Gamble is the program’s final 2007 pledge, a bulky big man that blew up over the summer after displaying some very nice footwork and touch around the basket.

The Hurricanes appear to be out of scholarships for 2007, but Haith is still recruiting big-time wing prospect Dorenzo Hudson ( 4-star, #51 nationally) for next year. Key 2008 targets include wing Rayford Shipman ( 4-star) and big man Loy Vargas ( 4-star, #50 nationally). Miami has also been popping up on the list of Five-star small forward Devin Ebanks.

Keys to the Season

Which of Haith’s sophomores will emerge?

Haith has brought in numerous recruits rated in that national top 75-150 range, but has received little production from them thus far. Asbury, Graham, and Thomas weren’t factors last season, and Clemente’s status as a quality ACC player is far from set in stone. This class will be relied on heavily in 06-07, or Hurricane fans had better hope that incoming freshman crop, similarly rated, makes a much bigger impact.

Can Frank Haith find an inside presence on the offensive end?

Having two legitimate go-to scorers in the backcourt can make up for the lack of a frontcourt scorer. But Miami doesn’t have that luxury anymore. If Haith can’t develop some sort of inside offensive productivity, this team could be in trouble. The best candidate may be Collins, who is a legit back to the basket presence with a rep for not always playing hard.

Who replaces Diaz and Hite?

The two leading scorers from a season ago were more than just scorers. They created offense for themselves, and for others. They were the team’s only dependable outside shooters. They were the only players capable of getting into the lane with any sort of regularity. Who steps in? Clemente and Harris will be asked to pick up the slack in terms of dribble penetration and keeping the offensive running smoothly. It will probably be up to McClinton to provide everything else as he is the only outside shooting threat that can be counted on at the moment. Dews can certainly stroke it and create in the lane, but could be a year away.

Final Thoughts:

For everything that Haith has done for Miami basketball, from the surprising ACC respectability to the inroads he has made with area recruits, it still appears that his Hurricane program is treading water a bit. Last season was a real opportunity for this program to advance a level, but it simply didn’t happen. I really question Haith’s decision to keep the tempo slow at all times, with gunslingers like Harris, Clemente, Diaz, and Hite leading the charge, but also admit that this year’s team could be better suited for a slower pace. Miami does feature a couple of nice complementary players in Harris and King, but it is hard to see either of the Anthony’s ever leading a successful team in the ACC. There is still talent on the roster, but it is young and without experience. If Haith can’t find himself a couple of standouts quickly, the optimism of the past two seasons could vanish very quickly. Matching last season’s record and a return trip to the NIT seem like the best scenario for 06-07.

Prediction: 11th Place

North Carolina State

2006 Season Review

Record: (22-10, 10-6,)
Coach: Sidney Lowe (1st Year)
Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round (defeated Cal 58-52, lost to Texas 75-54)

Talk about your ups and downs.

The 05-06 season wasn’t particularly noteworthy for the Wolfpack. There were some genuinely exciting moments (Cedric Simmons’ emergence and breakout game against Shelden Williams and the Blue Devils comes to mind) and some others that fans are probably trying to forget (that blowout home loss to Seton Hall, or the maddening four game losing streak to end the regular season, which featured a blown game against BC, a shellacking at the hands of the Tar Heels, and two inexplicable losses to Wake Forest). This team was noticeably worse on the defensive end without the long arms and bottomless energy reserves of Julius Hodge, but shot the ball typically well and featured an impressive stable of young talent. The season probably ended fittingly, with a hard-fought win over an equally up and down California team, and a blowout loss at the hands of Elite Eight-bound Texas.

Of course, the real story of the 05-06 season didn’t even begin until after it was all over. The sounds of discontent amongst a supporter base that desperately wanted to compete with the real powers of Tobacco Road grew from the occasional grumble to a deafening roar over the disappointing latter portion of the season. Sendek, incredulous over a perceived lack of respect in the aftermath of a 5th consecutive trip to the dance, abruptly packed his bags and headed west. The Gators hadn’t even cut down the nets.

Two highly regarded members of his 2006 recruiting class headed elsewhere and NC State’s first legit point guard prospect in years (2007’s Chris Wright) decommitted almost on the spot. State fans were hoping for a big-name capable of taking on Coach K and Roy Williams, or maybe even coach a more entertaining brand of basketball than they were used to seeing under Sendek. But Rick Barnes and John Calipari both passed. By the time John Beilein and Steve Lavin said no, it was becoming clear that the new coach wouldn’t be convincing Simmons to pull out of the draft and NC State athletics had a major crisis on their hands. The list of names bandied about grew longer and more embarrassing by the day, but the Wolfpack ended up going an unconventional route.

A beloved former player and member of the 1983 national team, Sidney Lowe has a decade of NBA coaching experience, and should be able to pull his own weight with the local recruiting base. But Sendek left the cupboard bare, especially with the recent news that junior PF Andrew Brackman will be focusing on his more promising baseball career this winter. Forget about battling it out with Tar Heels and Blue Devils. Let’s focus on the task at hand - 7 scholarship players for a coach with no college experience, entering the toughest conference in America, having just taken a job so difficult that nobody else wanted it - Who knows what is going to happen this year in Raleigh, but Sidney Lowe had better figure it out fast.

Roster (* denotes 05-06 starter; ** denotes projected 06-07 starter)
8 scholarship players

Key Losses

*G Tony Bethel (9.3 ppg, 43.9% 3-PT)
*SG Cameron Bennerman (14.1 ppg)
*F Ilian Evtimov (10.4 ppg, 40.8% 3-PT)
PF Andrew Brackman (7.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
*C Cedric Simmons (11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.5 bpg)


*6’4 CG Engin Atsur, sr (10.8 ppg, 3.4 apg, 40.1% 3-PT in 33.3 mpg)**
6’8 G/F Gavin Grant, jr (8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, in 22.8 mpg)**
6’5 G/F Courtney Fells, so (spot duty as a freshman)**
6’9 PF Brandon Costner, RS fr (spot duty early in season, eventually redshirted due to** stress fracture)
6’10 PF Ben McCauley, so (spot duty as a freshman)**

Returnee Statistics

Starters: 1
Rotation Players: 2
Scholarship Players: 5

Redshirts: 1
Sophomores: 2
Juniors: 2
Seniors: 1

Scoring: 29.4%
Rebounding: 57.4%

ACC Recruiting Class rank: 12th

6’5 SG Trevor Ferguson, fr, transfer from Pittsburgh
6’7 SF Dennis Horner, Absecon, NJ ( 3-star)
7’3 C Bartosz Lewandowski, Poland via Bridgton (ME) Academy ( 2-star)

Schedule Analysis

Non-Conference highlights:

This isn’t a challenging schedule by any means. Michigan comes to Raleigh as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge lineup, with Alabama visiting on December 20th. The Wolfpack will travel to West Virginia and Cincinnati, both currently transitional programs that should give us a decent idea of what this team will be capable of in the ACC.

Conference Highlights:
Play once: (Boston College, Clemson, Duke, @Georgia Tech, @Miami, @Florida State)

The conference schedule seems to be standard fare, with home games evenly distributed throughout the season, and between the top and bottom of the conference. The Wolfpack probably need to win against Clemson or at Wake Forest, with these two games sandwiched in between home dates against Boston College and Duke to start ACC play.

Roster Analysis

Backcourt: Sidney Lowe will apparently try to pick up the tempo, but that is going to be tough in year 1. There is no true point guard, and the only legitimate shooting threat will be marginalized because he will be handling the ball full time. What this group does have is some decent size and more than enough athleticism to get by.

Engin Atsur was hyped as an elite spot up shooting presence headed into his freshman season, but the Turkish combo guard has never really been given a chance to dive into that ideal specialist role full time. Things aren’t going to get any easier this year. NC State hasn’t featured a true PG since he arrived, but at least players like Julius Hodge and Tony Bethel were around to help out in previous years. While Atsur has handled his additional ballhandling duties well enough (1.68/1 Ast/TO ratio last year), that was a part time role on a team that didn’t like to run. There is no backup this season, and Atsur is noticeably more effective when he has a chance to get his feet set and shoulders squared before shooting. It would have been nice to see Atsur get a chance to do what he is best at before he heads back to Europe.

The wing rotation will probably end up as the strength of this squad, with three ACC-caliber athletes available. Gavin Grant finished with a bang last season, but absolutely has to shoot the ball better than he did last season (only 23% on 3-pointers). Despite his length and versatility, one gets the feeling he would be better suited as an all-around 2nd or 3rd option type role player, rather than the go-to guy he’ll be expected to become this season. Offensive consistency is also a major issue. Grant has good court vision and will contribute with his ability to handle the ball and slash, but utilizing his midrange game a bit more often will be a must. Providing depth will be a pair of untested but promising underclassmen. Sophomore Courtney Fells was buried on the depth chart as a freshman, but was a top 50 recruit out of high school. He is a player somewhat similar to Grant, in that his length and athleticism are assets, but overall polish is needed. Trevor Ferguson began his career at Pitt, but transferred before playing a game. He will be eligible at the semester break, and add a much-needed shooting presence to Lowe’s mix.

Frontcourt: Sidney Lowe’s job could have been so much easier. All he had to do was convince Cedric Simmons he needed another year to develop, and Andrew Brackman that he had as much of a professional future on the basketball court as he would on the mound. Lowe went 0 for 2, and while there are still a few intriguing options here, this is a group that has proved absolutely nothing at the ACC level. Brackman didn’t have the breakout season that many expected a season ago, but that may have had more to do with the emergence of Simmons than anything else.

NC State’s hopes will fall on a pair of relatively untested sophomore forwards, Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner. Both were highly regarded coming out high school, but neither was able to make much of an impact on last year’s squad. Costner, Sendek’s first McDonald’s All-American since Julius Hodge in 2001, missed most of the season with a stress fracture. Coming into school, Costner had a reputation as a skilled, physically mature 4-man that could operate both inside and outside. McCauley played a minor role last season, and will have to add strength before he is an effective interior player at the ACC level.

In terms of newcomers, the Wolfpack were burned with the coaching switch when skilled combo forward Dan Werner re-opened his recruitment and eventually signed with Florida. This means that 6’7 freshman shooter Dennis Horner will likely end up playing mostly out of position in the frontcourt. The other new face is 7’3 Bartosz Lewandowski, who wasn’t considered an ACC-level recruit and would normally be a prime redshirt candidate.

Backcourt: C
Frontcourt: C-
Depth: F
Experience: D

Tempo-Adjusted Wolfpack:

05-06 Tempo: 66.8 poss/40 min (211h nationally, 8th in the ACC, down from 67.7 in 04-05)
05-06 Defensive Efficiency: 94.7 (73rd nationally, 7th in the ACC, down from 37th in 04-05)
05-06 Offensive Rebounding %: 26.0 (310th nationally, 12th in the ACC)
05-06 Defensive Rebounding %: 32.0 (182nd nationally, 8th in the ACC)

Normally when you think of Herb Sendek, NC State, and the Princeton offense, terms like “halfcourt” and “defense-oriented” come to mind. However, the above stats don’t exactly describe your stereotypical slow-it-down team, and may partially explain the Wolfpack’s struggles late last year.

While NC State still played at a slower than normal tempo for an ACC team, this team struggled in several areas that half-court oriented teams normally attempt to excel in. This team was significantly worse on the defensive end than they were a season ago, and actually ranked in the bottom half of the ACC, They also ended up as the worst rebounding squad in the conference. The relative struggles on the defensive end can be explained by the absence of Hodge, but even the most loyal Sendek supporter must acknowledge that such a poor effort on the glass for a team with such a talented and dynamic frontcourt.

It is hard to project what sort of numbers we will see from this year’s Lowe-coached team. He says he wants to pick up the pace, but that will be hard to do with players that were recruited to play in the Princeton offense, and such a thin roster. The fact that Lowe doesn’t have the personnel that fit into his desired style of play is only one more reason why NC State is probably in for an ugly season.

Recruiting Report:

2007 Class: (6 scholarships available, 2 commitments)
(current ACC rank: 11th )

6’3 SG Farnold Degand, so transfer from Iowa State (redshirted freshman season)
6’5 SF Johnny Thomas, Greensboro, NC ( 3-star)

The conventional thought is that Lowe, with his NBA experience and successful playing career, should be able to strike a chord with area recruits. At the same time, Tobacco Road youngsters don’t exactly have a shortage of schools to pick from, and Lowe’s competition will certainly point to his lack of college coaching experience until he can achieve some sort of ACC success. So while expectations for Lowe’s inaugural season should remain low, NC State fans must hope for a few positives that he can point to in his recruiting pitches.

It is too early to begin talking about results, but Lowe appears to be in good standing with several top prospects. In terms of what he has accomplished so far, at least there will be a few more bodies in the backcourt next year. Iowa State guard Farnold Degand transferred in after Wayne Morgan was fired, and in-state SF Johnny Thomas is a decent pickup. It also appears that Rashad Green, younger brother of North Carolina guard Danny, may have already committed.

It will be the bigger names that will define Lowe’s early recruiting success. He continues to recruit Chris Wright, but it remains to be seen just how interested the once-committed PG is in the Wolfpack. Likely McDonald’s All-American PF JJ Hickson appears poised to visit campus, and top 100 forward Tracy Smith has declared the Wolfpack his leader. Other possibilities at PF include Louisville native Jeff Brooks, Hargrave product Mike Scott, former Maryland pledge Kenny Belton, and Georgia big man Chris Barnes.

Keys to the Season

Will NC State’s makeshift lineup hold up? Obviously, any team with only seven active players needs to stay healthy. But what Sidney Lowe will roll out on opening night this November brings new meaning to the word “makeshift”. Once again, it isn’t that this team isn’t talented. But its best shooter will be forced to handle the ball full time. Its defensive specialist will have to carry the load as a shot creator. The team’s top newcomer, expecting to play a perimeter-oriented role, will likely spend the season getting knocked around by the ACC’s interior brutes. Can these players be effective in less than ideal roles?

Can the sophomore class step up? Sendek’s 2005 recruiting class was supposed to be one of the best efforts of his NC State tenure. But as freshmen, the impact of Fells, Costner, and McCauley was next to nothing. Fells and McCauley found themselves buried on the depth chart, while Costner never really got a chance before the injury sidelined him. The Wolfpack didn’t exactly need contributions from their freshman a year ago, but that absolutely changes in 06-07. Costner has to stay healthy, and McCauley must help him carry the frontcourt. Fells may be Lowe’s best shot at a consistent scoring presence at the wing. If this hyped recruiting class can’t live up to its billing this season, you can forget about NC State.

What about Sidney Lowe? The task in front of Lowe is a monumental one. We know how long NC State will tolerate losing, and we know how cutthroat the environment is on Tobacco Road. Lowe has a few things going for him. He is a local hero, he should be able to recruit well enough in the ACC, and has plenty of professional coaching experience and connections to help him along the way. At the same time, the ACC is an entirely new competitive arena. The coaches here are the best of the best, and there is absolutely new room for error given the situation that Sendek left for him. Can he learn the nuances of coaching in this conference in such an environment? Can he hold the program together if the worst case scenario for 06-07 becomes reality?

Final Thoughts: By accepting the NC State job, Sidney Lowe took on quite an unenviable task. It got worse throughout the summer, with the large-scale recruiting setbacks and the crucial frontcourt returnees heading for greener pastures. Once again, it must be said that NC State does have a roster capable of competing in the ACC. However, there is little returning production, and even less experience. Lowe must find a way to win in the most competitive conference in America with no true point guard, his one proven shooter handling the ball, no proven shot creator, literally no returning production in the frontcourt, and no intimidating physical presence in the paint. Even if the individuals are talented, it would be a Coach of the Year type effort if Lowe could mold this group into a winner. Never say never, but it could be a really long year for the Wolfpack.

Prediction: 12th

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