Originally Published: August 15, 2013

Five Biggest Offseason Storylines

By Jason King | ESPN.com

Jamie Dixon, Jim Boeheim and Mike BreyUSA TODAY SportsThe ACC welcomes three new coaches to the fraternity: Jamie Dixon, Jim Boeheim and Mike Brey.

1. The new ACC: No college basketball conference in the country can match the ACC following the latest phase of realignment that kicked into effect last month. Three of the Big East's top programs -- Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame -- became official members of the league on July 1, and 2013 NCAA champion Louisville will join the conference next season. Adding Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Jamie Dixon and Mike Brey to a coaching stable that includes Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski makes the tradition-rich ACC even more intimidating. This league's football might still leave a bit to be desired, but this is truly a megaconference when it comes to college hoops.

2. Schedule creates more hype: The ACC's new members will make a grand entrance into the league thanks to a conference schedule that's loaded with marquee games. Syracuse, in particular, has a slate that should be appealing to fans. The Orange's home schedule at the Carrier Dome includes tilts with the ACC's top two programs, Duke and North Carolina. And Cuse also plays the Blue Devils on the road. The conference also took care of new member Notre Dame in terms of scheduling, as the Fighting Irish will host both Duke and North Carolina at the Joyce Center, one of the toughest venues in college basketball.

P.J. Hairston
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesWith his numerous off-court issues in the offseason, P.J. Hairston put himself in a tough spot.

3. Hairston under fire: An air of uncertainty surrounds North Carolina following the offseason antics of guard P.J. Hairston, who averaged a team-high 14.6 points in 2012-13. Hairston was suspended July 28 after being ticketed for driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Hairston also encountered trouble on June 5, when he was arrested on charges of possessing marijuana and driving without a license. A gun was also found outside of his vehicle, a 2013 GMC Yukon rented by a convicted felon named Haydn "Fats" Thomas. All charges from that arrest were dropped, but USA Today later reported that a car rented by Thomas received 12 parking citations on UNC's campus between April 1 and May 28.

4. Maryland's swan song: Forgotten amid the hype surrounding the upcoming campaign is the fact that Maryland will be playing its final season in the ACC. The Terrapins made the head-scratching decision to join the Big Ten, which makes zero sense from a geographic standpoint. It's a shame the ACC will be losing a top program with such a passionate fan base during such an exciting time. Maryland is hopeful it can make its final ACC season a memorable one. Mark Turgeon's squad lost center Alex Len to the NBA draft but returns enough key pieces to contend for an NCAA tournament berth.

5. Pittsburgh departures: The Panthers were traditionally one of the top teams in the Big East under Jamie Dixon, but their first year in the ACC could be a struggle. Promising center Steven Adams left after one season for the NBA draft, where he was selected with the 12th overall pick. Trey Zeigler and J.J. Moore transferred, and guard Tray Woodall graduated. It seems almost inevitable that depth and experience issues will plague Pitt in 2013-14. Lamar Patterson returns at small forward and James Robinson could have a breakthrough year at point guard. The Panthers, though, are incredibly thin in the paint, where Talib Zanna is the only player with significant experience.

Best-Case/Worst-Case Scenarios

By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

Boston College

Best case: In a way, this is just the third year of fourth-year coach Steve Donahue's rebuild; his first season in 2010-11, which featured star guard Reggie Jackson and four seniors in the starting lineup, doesn't really count. That's the frame of reference we're operating within, but the outer projections should be bullish. Everyone from last season's young, promising group is back, and if the Eagles can merely play average defense, they could absolutely break through to the NCAA tournament.

Worst case: In three seasons, even when the offense has flowed -- as it did last season, or in 2011 especially -- the Eagles have yet to rank higher than No. 174 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency metric. Frankly, Donahue's teams at Cornell (which, OK, it's Cornell, but still) never really played great defense. Until that half of BC's game gets better, the potential for a triumphant post-rebuild breakthrough is minimal.


Best case: Brad Brownell, on the other hand, had a pretty solid defensive team on his hands last season; he just couldn't find anyone to score efficiently. On paper, losing senior forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings (Booker especially) could make that search more difficult, but if one of a handful of young defensive-minded guys adds a new dimension, the Tigers could still compete in the ACC.

Worst case: Could that player be K.J. McDaniels? He's the likeliest candidate, but he's also the team's best defender -- rebounding, blocking shots and forcing steals at highly respectable rates. Is more offense too much to ask? Where do now-sophomores Jordan Roper and Adonis Filer fit in? If the best case is a competitive ACC campaign and (at the most) an NCAA tournament bid, the worst-case scenario is symmetrically mild.

Jabari Parker
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast Jabari Parker enters Duke with mammoth expectations.


Best case: A national title, but that's always the case at Duke. Ho-hum. What makes this Duke season especially fascinating is the arrival of arguably the most talented player Mike Krzyzewski has ever coached: Chicago's Jabari Parker. Until he broke his foot last summer and Andrew Wiggins reclassified, Parker was the one earning all the "best since LeBron" comparisons on covers of magazines. His game actually resembles Carmelo Anthony's more than James'; he is a good but not freak athlete on what has to be some vague outer limit of teenage offensive versatility. He can do it all. It is going to be fascinating to see how he and Coach K -- who may be the best ever at tailoring his team's style to its talent -- put those skills to work. So a best-case scenario isn't just a national title. It's a chance to see a transcendent young talent play for one of the greatest coaches ever. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?

Worst case: It's hard to imagine Parker not panning out at the collegiate level, and the risk of a Harrison Barnes-style disappointment relative to expectations seems minimal; Barnes was never as versatile (or as good) as this. But he is just one player, a freshman to boot, and given the landscape and talent that arrives alongside Parker in this class (see Wiggins at Kansas, Kentucky's insane haul, etc.), Duke will have to get title-level performance from Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and a cast of younger players in lieu of productive alums Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly.

Florida State

Best case: After four seasons of top-15 defense and back-to-back years in which the Seminoles ranked No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency, the loss of seniors Bernard James, Xavier Gibson and Luke Loucks sent FSU plummeting down the defensive rankings, finishing 2012-13 ranked No. 165. Correcting that drastic slide is the top priority going forward. If the Noles can get back to playing even top-30 defense, they might get enough from star senior Okaro White, sophomore Devon Bookert and four-star freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes to push back into the top half of the ACC.

Worst case: You really can't say enough about White's development in his three years in Tallahassee. When he arrived in 2010-11, he was an athletic defender and rebounder and little more. Last season, he posted a 117.6 offensive rating and made 25 of his 80 3-point attempts. FSU is already priming an All-American campaign for White's senior season, but even if he lives up to the branding -- and he very well could -- if FSU doesn't start playing stingy defense, it won't be enough. Another .500-ish season is possible, if not likely.

Georgia Tech

Best case: The Yellow Jackets established an impressive backbone last season, when they ranked 33rd in per-possession defense, but their stalled-out offensive play kept them from really pushing good teams. To improve on that, senior center Daniel Miller needs more designed post touches (according to Synergy, he got just 87 post-ups in 2012-13, far too low a number for the most efficient offensive player on the team) and sophomore breakout candidate Marcus Georges-Hunt needs to take that proverbial leap.

Worst case: There isn't much new talent in the pipeline besides maybe transfer Trae Golden, so any bullish predictions rely on the collective growth of three rising sophomores who all started as freshmen last season: Robert Carter, Chris Bolden and Georges-Hunt. If all three can't cook together on the offensive end just yet, Tech is probably going to be about where it was last season. Not bad for a worst-case scenario, but still.


Best case: Mark Turgeon's teams at Texas A&M were defined by their slow-paced, methodical defensive leanings, but his first two teams at Maryland have shown far more inclination for transition. Turgeon might have to double-down on tempo this season. That's where the runaway freighter that is Dezmine Wells (go ahead, take a charge, I dare you) is at his best; the gulf between Wells' half-court production (0.795 PPP) and the open floor (1.336) is too wide not to exploit. Maryland's young, wing-infused lineup -- including freshman point guard Roddy Peters -- might yet have a few surprises up its sleeve ("Mark Turgeon, fast-break devotee" chief among them).

Worst case: Of course, that's all theoretical. Even if Turgeon does push his stylistic chips to the middle of the table, he still has to account for the loss of center Alex Len, who protected the rim and scored reliably in the half court. This program isn't far from completing its post-Gary Williams restart, but getting there this season could be too much to ask.

AP PhotoLast season was magical, but it's doubtful Jim Larranaga will be cutting down any nets in 2014.


Best case: Let's hope Hurricanes fans enjoyed the party while it lasted. It really was one of a kind, a rare ACC regular-season title built on a perfect collaboration between veteran players pre-dating Jim Larranaga's arrival and Larranaga's irrepressible personality. The party is over now: Seniors Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson are all gone, as is point guard Shane Larkin, who smartly dove into a weak NBA draft and landed in the first round for his troubles. Losing all that talent and experience in one offseason almost always requires recovery time, as all good parties do.

Worst case: Which is not to say Miami is about to turn into Wake Forest (shudder). The Hurricanes are getting a really intriguing player in Miami native Deandre Burnett. Scouts love his sheer scoring talent. And there are some promising holdovers: sophomore center Tonye Jekiri, senior wing Erik Swoope and senior guard Rion Brown. But the loss of Larkin, and the wait for Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez, leaves the Canes in shaky position at the point. Don't expect a complete fall from grace, but a .500 season is looking likely.

North Carolina

Best case: It's hard to make a prediction about North Carolina without a prediction about star guard P.J. Hairston, whose well-documented brushes with local traffic officers have exposed his strange propensity to drive cars rented to the address of a convicted felon nicknamed "Fats." The Hairston drama has in some ways obscured what could be a very good UNC team with or without him, a mix of stud freshmen (Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks), still-developing sophomores (Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, Joel James) and Hairston's classmate, junior James Michael McAdoo, whose rough sophomore season in the limelight necessitated a return. If McAdoo can polish his interior game (and purge those inefficient 10-foot jumpers he loves so much) -- or if Carolina can find a suitable offensive alternative on the block, which shouldn't be too difficult -- the Summer of Haydn "Fats" Thomas will soon be forgotten.

Worst case: There are some big ifs attached to that best case; assuming McAdoo will morph into the player his prep talent implied is hardly a guarantee. But the biggest one is obviously Hairston. Whatever his off-court question marks, on the floor Hairston shot 40 percent from 3, created three steals per 100 possessions, rarely turned the ball over and posted a 120.3 offensive rating on 25.2 percent usage. Without NBA-bound wing Reggie Bullock (who was a slightly more efficient carbon copy of Hairston), Roy Williams could lose a lot of 3-point shooting in one fell swoop and his team could repeat last season's mediocrity. In Chapel Hill, 8-seeds are the worst-case scenario.

NC State

Best case: This year's Wolfpack won't have as many talented players as in 2012-13, but it might end up being a better all-around team. Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Rodney Purvis are gone. It's never ideal to bid farewell to so much in one summer, but the upside is the attitude and effort issues that plagued the Pack so obviously on the defensive end should be gone too. In its place will be a young group Mark Gottfried can mold around T.J. Warren's underused, hyper-efficient offensive game.

Worst case: Even if the atmosphere around the team is better (and the talent level is still high), the sheer youth could be a lot to overcome. The long-term direction is clearly positive, but NC State might still be a year away -- if not more.

Notre Dame

Best case: Mike Brey is eager to break through in the NCAA tournament, and understandably so, but in the meantime, his program's workmanlike consistency typically makes the Irish an entity to project. Even in a new conference, this season should be no different. With almost everyone (save rebound machine Jack Cooley) back, a trip to the NCAA tournament feels like a given.

Worst case: The loss of Cooley's immense rebounding on both ends of the floor -- grabbing 17.4 percent of available offensive rebounds (third-best in the country) and 24 percent of opponents' -- shouldn't be brushed aside. Garrick Sherman should be able to compensate, but if the Irish are hollow up front, a downgrade could be in order.


Best case: Like its fellow lost Big East travelers at Notre Dame and Syracuse, you almost always know what you're going to get from Pitt: lots of hard-nosed physical play, very good offense and tons of offensive rebounds. With the lion's share of Jamie Dixon's trademark front-line bruisers back plus incoming standout Mike Young (whom scouts love for having an actual post game, a rarity among talented young bigs), the Panthers will present a constant stylistic challenge to the finesse-oriented denizens of the ACC.

Worst case: Still a top-half team in the league. Unless there's some sort of adjustment period involving officiating styles -- which some fans have raised as a concern; I'm not convinced -- it's hard to slot Dixon's team any lower than that.


Best case: Winning an ACC title is probably not something Jim Boeheim ever thought he'd have the chance to do, but now that he's here, you can bet he'd love to get it done in his first season in the league. (How sweet would that be?) With Boeheim's steady pipeline of talent ready to fill the perimeter holes left by Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams and with brutally long forwards C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita patrolling the back of the 2-3 zone, said accomplishment is well within reach -- along with a repeat trip to the Final Four.

Worst case: Since 2003, Boeheim has missed exactly two tournaments (2007 and 2008), and his team has never been seeded lower than fifth. Let's just keep this simple and call a 6-seed the worst case. Deal? Deal.

AP Photo/David StlukaWill Tony Bennett, Joe Harris and the Cavaliers take it to the next level in 2013-14?


Best case: Don't sleep on the Cavaliers. Tony Bennett's team plays the stout pack-line defense his father pioneered at Green Bay, which, combined with Virginia's Wisconsin-esque pace, makes every game against his team a grinder. Even better, Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell -- the former a smooth outside-in wing scorer, the latter a do-everything post presence -- are back for their senior seasons. Mix in some interesting sophomores-to-be (Justin Anderson and Evan Nolte) and you have an outfit worth being bullish about, even if it isn't always thrilling to watch. ACC title contention is well within reach.

Worst case: Tempo-free stats tell us UVa underachieved last season; on a per-possession basis, it ranked just below 4-seed Kansas State. But Virginia suffered a score of RPI-killing early-season losses and missed the tournament as a result. Harris & Co. are too good to let that happen again.

Virginia Tech

Best case: Rookie head coach James Johnson got an absolutely brilliant offensive season out of senior Erick Green, who averaged 25.0 PPG with a 120.0 offensive rating on 31.7 usage, placing him atop the efficiency-plus-volume mountain alongside the Doug McDermotts and Trey Burkes of the world. With Green gone, an already bad team is due for a major, long-term rebuild.

Worst case: No such thing. Progress, foundation, long-term goals, you know the drill.

Wake Forest

Best case: For all the Sturm und Drang surrounding coach Jeff Bzdelik and athletic director Ron Wellman -- a good deal of it justified -- the Demon Deacons did improve last season. That improvement didn't show up in the win-loss record, but given Bzdelik's first two seasons (in which Wake ranked outside the Pomeroy top 200), the jump up to No. 132 last season, and the few promising wins that came with it, was at least a step in the right direction. Forward Travis McKie will be the senior next season; all other contributors of note (as Wellman is fond of pointing out) were freshmen last year. In a general way, that might set Wake up for a collective jump this season, even if a tournament bid still feels like a long way off.

Worst case: Wellman has been steadfast in support of Bzdelik, but the fact that he felt compelled to announce Bzdelik's return this season should serve as a pretty big hint of what will happen if the Deacons don't noticeably improve in Year 4. Another hopeless year and the Bzdelik experiment is probably over. For many Wake fans, that doesn't sound like a worst-case scenario.


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