Don't Be Quick To Count Out Florida State
CHARLOTTE -- Toney Douglas' departure last season meant Florida State was missing its primary scorer and leader, the one person that you could count on in any given possession.
So it was natural to dismiss Florida State as an ACC contender at this time last year.
True to form, the underappreciated Seminoles didn't disappear. They finished tied for third with Virginia Tech at 10-6 and, unlike the Hokies, made the NCAA tournament.
So when shot-blocker and space-eater Solomon Alabi declared for the NBA draft, the natural reaction was to push FSU down a few spots again.
Well, careful with that. Because that's hardly the way the Seminoles view the upcoming season.
"I think this team will be very good," said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. "People that know me, know that I seldom say that. Our system is in place, our returning players understand it and with our experience, I'm encouraged by our attitude and our commitment. We've got great chemistry."
The team will be led by Chris Singleton, the junior forward who is well respected by NBA scouts and will have tremendous battles with Duke's Kyle Singler and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes. Singleton has consistently been overlooked in the league. No more.
"He can affect the game in so many different ways, especially the way he moves on the floor," said FSU guard Derwin Kitchen. "He presents so many matchup problems for the other teams, whether we play him at the 4 or the 5. We're going to depend a whole lot on him this year. We can post him up and or he can be on the wing."
Singleton said the Seminoles will actually have more freedom to move offensively without Alabi.
"We'll be more up-tempo and more athletic," Singleton said. "We've got some good jucos coming in who are versatile. We don't have anybody clogging up the middle."
Does that mean Alabi was?
"If you looked at it, you had to give him the ball and he produced for us," Singleton said, "but right now we can roll out and hit the jump shot and we're more athletic and we can all move around."
Hamilton also said the length and strength of the Seminoles has improved with the addition of 6-8 Okaro White, 7-foot Jon Kreft and 6-9 Bernard James. The backcourt of Kitchen, Michael Snaer and newcomer Ian Miller make this team deeper than a year ago and mean it's clearly in the mix for a top-five finish in the ACC.
"I admire Duke and respect what they do and how they play and how they play together and they are the standard by which all of us should get to," Hamilton said. "But I feel we're capable of being competitive with everybody in the league. We'll be a team that surprises an awful lot of people."
New Beginnings At BC, Wake Forest
Good thing he did. Cornell went on a magical run to the Sweet 16 that even pushed mighty Kentucky for a spell during the regional semifinal in Syracuse.
"I feel even more grateful for what I did at Cornell, that we went through it and now I'm starting over again," said Donahue, who begins his career anew at Boston College. "I can't imagine what it would feel like if I build it up and knew that something special was going to happen at Cornell [this season]. I could never do that. I got to watch this group through. It's like leaving a movie before the finale and asking 'what happened?' I got to go [see it come to fruition]."
That's not the case for another of the ACC's three new coaches, Jeff Bzdelik. The first-year Wake Forest coach is agonizing a bit, not for taking the Demon Deacons' job but rather leaving behind a solid foundation at Colorado. He essentially had no choice. CU has never had much of a commitment to men's basketball and the long-term security working for his good friend, Wake athletic director Ron Wellman, made it a cinch after Wellman abruptly fired Dino Gaudio.
But Bzdelik knows he will never get to reap the benefits of sweating out difficult times in Boulder. The Buffaloes have two NBA prospects in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, and new coach Tad Boyle has a real shot to walk into a possible NCAA team in the Buffs' last season in the Big 12.
"They are two of the best wing players in the country," Bzdelik said of Higgins and Burks. "I really believe that they'll win 20-plus games and go to the NCAAs. That was the vision I had for the program. We inherited a program that won seven games and averaged 3,500 fans and a team GPA of 2.0. We had the average attendance up to 8 or 9,000 and a higher GPA. They've got veterans that have played in the Big 12 for two years. They're stronger and more mature. We averaged 75 points a game. Everyone loves to talk about the Princeton offense, but we scored over 100 points against Texas Tech and won four of our last six games."
Bzdelik, whose Demon Deacons were picked to finish last by the ACC media Wednesday, said he did something similar when he was starting his career at Maryland-Baltimore Country and set up the program for success before leaving for the NBA's Washington Bullets.
"That's the sad part. I went to Colorado and [critics will just] look at the record," Bzdelik said. "The timing was bad, but what can I say? I wasn't looking, but when they called me, I had to take the job."
Miami Has A Chance To Make Early Impression
And that is sort of the hope with these Hurricanes. To be more noticeable this season, Miami needs to be bold, loud and make the rest of the league blinded, not by the tint of the orange, but the talent on the floor.
If the Canes are going to be taken seriously as a contender to finish in the upper half of the league, after a last-place finish last season, it will be in large part because of the backcourt of Grant and Scott.
Those two and their teammates will certainly have an immediate chance to turn around the program's fortunes. During the first couple of hours of Nov. 16, Miami will open ESPN's 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon with a game at nationally ranked Memphis.
"It's definitely big for us," Scott said. "If we can come out and get a win, everyone will start to realize that we're a team to be reckoned with."
Maybe it's not fair to put so much pressure on a nonconference opener that will tip off at midnight ET (11 p.m. in Memphis). But Miami is trying to move its team forward and having a strong showing in this game, even in a close loss, will do wonders for changing the image of this team.
Scott and Grant, who started his career at Villanova, both had more than 100 assists last season and will lead a backcourt that lost James Dews from the guard rotation. Going up against Will Barton and Joe Jackson of Memphis next month will speak volumes about where this tandem stands. In the frontcourt, Reggie Johnson should be a force inside, and if DeQuan Jones lives up to his hype, the Canes should be a tough out.
They did finish strong last season, upsetting Wake Forest and Virginia Tech in the ACC tourney before losing in a late-possession game to Duke in the semis. And Miami coach Frank Haith doesn't lack for confidence, saying his team should be considered one of the best in the conference this season.
Well, we shall know early enough.
"There's no question it will be great exposure early," Haith said of the Memphis game. "I'm excited about that. We didn't play well on the road last year. We struggled with that youth. This team now has experience. Starting out on the road, in a hostile environment against a top-20 team will no question give us a good barometer. We're not on anybody's radar and if you win that game then suddenly you are."
Virginia Fans Will Need Patience
Isn't that why UVa hired him in the first place? Someone who they truly believed would build the Cavs for the long haul?
Well, with the news that junior guard Sammy Zeglinski is out for at least the next two months (essentially the nonconference portion of the season) after surgery on his left knee, Virginia will start the season even younger than Bennett projected.
"He was our leading perimeter player returning, so if we were young, we're ultra-young now," Bennett said. "There's more opportunity for our first-year players coming in. They'll have to play pretty strong. It's a great opportunity."
Bennett is drawing the parallel to his initial Washington State recruiting class, which was led by Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill. That class was undervalued but led the Cougars to a renaissance on the Palouse. So the Cavs' six-player newcomer class of K.T. Harrell, James Johnson, Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell, Billy Baron and Will Regan has quite a shadow to creep out from under.
"It's about adding the right pieces," Bennett said. "The character is there. They're similar. They're all sold on the vision of coming and establishing and turning it around. They've bought into the vision and they've got the hunger to do it together. It's a hard-working group that wants to leave its mark when they're done."
But the Cavs, who were picked to finish 11th in the 12-team ACC, will likely take their lumps this season. So Bennett is preaching patience.
He has no other choice.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams
Boston College: "I've been extremely impressed [with junior guard Reggie Jackson]. He never gets tired. You don't have to take him out after two or three hours. He plays at such a high level. He has a terrific IQ. He is way more skilled than I ever imagined and if there is a guard more talented than him, I haven't seen him. He's a great leader on and off the court. I couldn't ask for more."
-- First-year coach Steve Donahue
Clemson: "Demontez Stitt hasn't been asked to be a leader in this program, but he's a kid that always had a chip on his shoulder because he wasn't recruited as hard. He felt he was good enough and played his way into a position to be a high-level player in this league. He wants this opportunity and he's excited that I've opened up the reins a bit and given him freedom and time to talk in our locker room. He's a great competitor and wants to win."
-- First-year coach Brad Brownell
Duke: "This is different than any other year since I've been here. This is the most talented team since I've been here. It's nice in a way to have that expectation for us, but it puts more motivation into it."
-- Senior forward Kyle Singler
Florida State: "We get that all three years since I've been here, we're that sleeper. We're who we are -- a team that is capable of anything. I feel like we've yet to meet our full potential and this might be the year we meet it."
-- Junior forward Chris Singleton
Georgia Tech: "Internally we believe we're as good as ever, vying for an NCAA berth. Losing Derrick [Favors], Gani [Lawal], Zach [Peacock] and D'Andre Bell is a pretty big loss, but what people don't realize is that we're not going to play the same way. We're not going to throw it down. We'll be really good off the dribble. Our backcourt is going to be very strong and as deep as it's been in a long time."
-- Coach Paul Hewitt
Maryland: "It's amazing how you get spoiled with [Greivis] Vazquez, [Landon] Milbourne and Eric Hayes when they walk out the first day of practice going into their senior year and they could run the practice. This year with six new guys it's a little different, there's a lot more teaching for me. It takes you back so that you check everything and go over each practice plan, study and watch a lot more tape of the previous practice and seeing what is actually going on on the court."
-- Coach Gary Williams
Miami: "We're always under the radar. I've had the best of both worlds [after transferring from Villanova]. Personally, I love being the underdog and shocking people. We just have to prove to each other. The main thing is to win."
-- Senior guard Malcolm Grant
North Carolina: "[Last season] was the most frustrating year I've ever been through in 22 years as a head coach. The 17 losses, we've never had more than 12. It was winning the national championship and being on top of the world to be where we went last year -- the penthouse to the outhouse."
-- Coach Roy Williams
North Carolina State: "There's not as much pressure on [Tracy Smith] now that others can create shots for him. He doesn't just have to catch it and move and score the ball. He's making the adjustment. He can continue to move and create the shots. He hasn't had that in three years. He loves playing with those guys [freshmen C.J. Leslie, Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown].
-- Coach Sidney Lowe
Virginia: "We're really starting this process [of building] with this [freshmen] group. I hope everyone sees the positives and people will see there's hope and potential there. We'll have to do that in the initial stages. I'll let you know [how it turns out] in five years.''
-- Second-year coach Tony Bennet
Virginia Tech:"If we don't have Cadarian Raines, we have an issue. We will be very small with [guards] Malcolm Delaney, Dorenzo Hudson, Erick Green, [wing) Terrell Bell and [forward] Victor Davila. The key for us is Monday when Raines comes out of the boot [for a fractured foot]. If we get good news, and the bone scan is showing it is healing, then we will bring him along slowly. We might not have him ready for Kansas State [Nov. 16], but I hope so. With a Jones fracture you have to be careful.''
-- Coach Seth Greenberg
Wake Forest: "I think we're going to surprise some people. We can really shoot the ball. We've got good shooters and we'll be able to spread the court. We've got guys who can shoot it and drive it. I think we'll be able to handle the ball, drive the ball, contain the ball. But when the ball is up on the glass, do we have the grit and the physicality and the athleticism?''
-- First-year coach Jeff Bzdelik
FSU forward Chris Singleton
ACC Preview Content
For a Blue Ribbon breakdown of all 12 ACC teams, click here.
More ACC coverage:
• Dana O'Neil's "Five Things I Can't Wait To See" in the ACC
• Eamonn Brennan's wind sprint preview of the league
• Chad Ford's breakdown of the ACC's top NBA prospects. (Insider)
• Mike Hume's three key questions for the conference (Insider)
• Former Ohio State player Mark Titus previews the ACC from a unique point of view ... the end of the bench (Insider)
• Doug Gottlieb's podcast with Paul Hewitt, Tony Bennett and Frank Haith
• Profiles of the league's three new head coaches: Steve Donahue (Boston College), Brad Brownell (Clemson) and Jeff Bzdelik (WFU).
• For more ACC coverage in the Nation blog, click here
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
It's Everyone Versus Duke
CHARLOTTE -- You've got to match their intensity. You may have to play a perfect game. They won't beat themselves. They are clearly the favorite.
Over and over again and without fail, from opposing players and coaches the refrain was complete praise for defending national champion Duke throughout Wednesday's ACC media day.
The talking points being used to describe the Blue Devils were similar in scope to the feelings toward North Carolina prior to the 2008-09 season.
The Tar Heels had their flaws that season, notably dealing with injuries to stars Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. That Carolina team even started ACC play 0-2 before it got healthy, the switch went on and UNC rolled toward a national title.
Barring injuries, don't expect the Blue Devils to stumble as much. Sure, this Duke team isn't as dominating or intimidating as the 2009 Heels. But the Devils don't need to be, with so many teams flawed or facing serious questions heading into the season
For the rest of the story, click here for Andy Katz's Daily Word