Countdown to Hurricanes Hoops, ACC Big Men Edition

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

In the second part of our Atlantic Coast Conference positional breakdowns, we look at the bigs.

As the game of basketball has evolved, there are fewer and fewer true low post threats at all levels of the sport.

More and more big men fall into the "stretch 4" category, who can just as easily knock down open jumpers as back their man down.

But the 4 and 5 spots on the floor have not lost their significance altogether.  One could argue, C's and PF's are now as important as ever as they not only asked to pick up the trash, but also remain viable threats on the pick and pops.

Even in power conferences like the ACC, the two positions are often hard to differentiate. Some team's (see UNC latter part of last year) do not even implement "true centers."  So we will look at the two positions as a unit.

In no particular order, here is what to watch for from every team in the ACC at the C/PF positions and a team rating for each squad (1-10):


Duke

Analysis: The Plumlee torch has been passed from Miles to Mason and now Marshall. The 7'0 260 pound sophomore will have big shoes to fill as brother Mason, who was a force at both ends of the floor, is now off in Brooklyn playing for the Nets. With a deep back court and arguably the best wings in the country,  Duke is not expected to run much offense through the low post. So look for this Plumlee to earn minutes by rebounding and defending.  Josh Hairston is a senior, with plenty of experience, but limited skills. Amile Jefferson looked out of place and undersized playing the 4 last year,  but it is a talented player who may need to play closer to the rim to earn minutes.  Ditto Alex Murphy.

Rating 7 - It's not that there is anything wrong with this group, but Rasheed Sulaiman, Jabari Parker, Quinn Cook, and Rodney Hood (who may also play some 4) are dominant perimeter/wing players, who will overshadow the Devils' big men.


North Carolina

Analysis: UNC's season really took off last year when they went to a smaller line-up featuring James Michael McAdoo at the 5.  McAdoo often showed great resolve against bigger players. Developing that toughness, to go along with his terrific skill set and athleticism, arguably made JMM a better player.  If healthy, massive 6'10 280 pound Joel James can give McAdoo a little help down low. McAdoo may even benefit from moving back to the 4 spot. 6'9 Brice Johnson looked painfully thin as a freshman. If he added any muscle this summer, he can be a factor as a shot blocker and scorer.  Another huge man 6'8 290 pound freshman Kennedy Meeks could earn minutes as well. But the freshman to really watch is Isiah Hicks.  Att 6'8 220 Hicks can do almost anything you ask on the floor.  Desmond Hubert is limited, but provides depth.

Rating 8.5  - McAdoo is the star of the group, but if James or Meeks can hold their own alongside him, UNC will be a force to be reckoned with. Hicks is one of the top recruits in the country and could see time at both forward spots.


Miami

Analysis: Main stays Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji, and Julian Gamble have all graduated.  Fortunately for the Hurricanes, one leftover for last year's ACC Championship front court is back. Tonye Jekiri did not put up big numbers as a true freshman, instead embracing his role as a defender/rebounder in limited minutes. But the talent is there, and boy does UM need it to show. Jekiri is a 7 footer who runs like a deer, and actually developed tendonitis in his shooting shoulder from taking too many shots this summer. He is that kind of worker. Look for Jekiri to have a break out year.  6'8 JUCO transfer James Kelly is a combo forward who will need to play the 4 with Miami's limited depth up front. He has no shortage of athletic ability.  Donnavan Kirk returns to Miami after a stint with DePaul, and can block shots and knock down open threes. Raphael Akpejori And Erik Swoope are hustle players who will try to make the most of limited minutes.

Rating 6.5 - This rating is largely the product of high hopes for Jekiri. There is no where near the depth that Miami had up front during last season's magical run.


Syracuse

Analysis: C.J Fair is a dark horse candidate for ACC Player of the Year,  as well as the Cuse's leading returning scorer (14.5 ppg) and rebounder (7.0 rpg). While Fair is more of a wing then a big, look for the 6'8 215 pounder to be the Orange's go to guy, and see the ball in a variety of ways this year, including some post ups. 6'9 288 pound sophomore DeJuan Coleman looks to be healthy and ready to bang down low. But the player up front who Jim Boeheim and staff will need to most improvement from is clearly Rakeem Christmas. If Christmas comes early for the Cuse, it could be a season for the ages.

Rating 7.5 - Fair is the most sure thing on a team with high expectations. Can Christmas be enough of an offensive presence to take the pressure of their best player?


Notre Dame

Analysis: With Jack Cooley no longer around, the weakness of the Irish is clearly their post play.  Look for 6'10 258 pound senior Tom Knight, 6'10 246 pound Garrick Sherman, and 6'10 230 pound Zach Auguste to share the load. All are high percentage shooters, and perhaps one emerges to be an above average player. Nonetheless ND will clearly be counting on its' back court for production this year.

Rating 5.5 - If Notre Dame gets good energy out of their trio of big men, it should be enough for a successful season considering their perimeter firepower.


Virginia

Analysis: Quietly, Akil Mitchell emerged as a consistent force last year for the Hoos.  Few schools in the ACC have a more proven returning PF. Mitchell averaged 13.1 ppg and 8.9 rpg while the whole world focused on the exploits of Joe Harris. Mike Tobey is a 6'11 sophomore who can clean up close to the rim and step out and knock down 3's. 6'8 231 pound Anthony Gill is now eligible after transferring from South Carolina.  Gill's game can best be described as "rugged."  Darion Atkins is a solid glue guy who can come in off the bench and play quality minutes.

Rating 8 - For all of Harris' accolades, Mitchell is just as important to UVA's hopes this year. Tobey is an intriguing prospect, and Gill is a perfect fit for Tony Bennett's squad.


Maryland

Analysis: Because of the immense talents of Alex Len, the Terps seemed to have a shot in almost any game they played last year, despite poor guard play. Len is off to the NBA, but the cupboard is not empty down low for Maryland. Shaquille Cleare came to College Park with high hopes, but struggled some as a freshman. At 6'9 265 he has the potential to be a force. Charles Mitchell is another sophomore, who was fairly productive in limited minutes last year. 6'10 240 pound freshman Demonte Dodd could step right in and provide defensive help.  Additionally 6'9 Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz is a stretch four with a nice floor game, who should give Maryland a new dimension in the front court.

Rating 7.5 - There are enough pieces up front for Mark Turgeon to get solid, consistent production every game. Now if only someone can get these guys the ball.


Pittsburgh

Analysis: Pitt has plenty of good wings and guards, but down low the only returning player who is a known quality is Talib Zanna.  Zanna was a force at times last year, and quiet at others.  The Panthers need more this year from the 6'9 230 pound sophomore. Freshmen Jamel Artis and Michael Young are athletic forwards, who will need to develop quickly to take some pressure off Zanna.  6'10 JUCO transfer Joseph Uchebo will also get a long look.

Rating 6.5 - It is rare that a Jamie Dixon coached team is so inexperienced in the front court. Pitt will lean on their guards and wings, and hope Zanna plays the entire season with his hair on fire.


FSU

Analysis: Leonard Hamilton has no shortage of options among his big men going into this year. Michael Ojo, Boris Bojanovsky, Kiel Turpin, and Robert Gilchrist are all suitable options at the 4 and 5 spots. Turpin appears to be the most consistent, and the massive 7'1 292 pound Ojo probably has the most upside. Hamilton mixed and matched this group with limited success last year, but was able to get each valuable experience. Look for all 4 to continue to share the load, but each to do so a little more effectively this year.  If Hamilton is forced to go small, Okaro White is a very talented combo forward (12.4 ppg 5.9 rpg) who can play on the wing and down low.  6'9 freshman Jarquez Smith is the wildcard of the group, and may be too good as a stretch 4 to not see the floor ASAP.

Rating 8 - No team in the conference has quite the versatile mix of post players as the Seminoles. Hamilton will have to find the right formula to maximize this group's potential.


Boston College

Analysis: Ryan Anderson is one of the most underrated players in the country. The 6'9 Anderson makes up for average athleticism with sheer will and heady play. Last season he averaged 14.9 ppg and 8 rpg as a sophomore. In his two years at Chestnut Hill he has largely carried the torch down low by himself. BC hopes that 7'1 junior Dennis Clifford can stay healthy, and take some burden off Anderson in the post. Alex Dragicevich is an intriguing forward who can step out and knock down jumpers. 6'11 KC Caudill is a "break glass in emergency" option.

Rating 7 - Anderson is fun to watch and a highly productive player. If someone can help him supplement the Eagles talented back court, BC might make some major noise in the ACC this season.


Georgia Tech

Analysis:  After a very nice freshman campaign, Robert Carter Jr. looks like a future double double candidate. 6'11 Daniel Miller averaged over 2 blocks per game last year, and at times showed very nice touch. Additionally 6'8 Kammeon Holsey came off the bench to average 8.8 ppg last season. With a plethora of wings and guards on the roster, these 3 should play most of the minutes up front for the Yellow Jackets.

Rating 7.5 - Carter should emerge as the go to guy. if Miller can play with more consistency offensively this is a very formidable group.


NC State

Analysis: Perhaps no team in the ACC has bigger shoes to fill up front as NC State. Richard Howell was a flat out warrior, and CJ Leslie was the best player on the court when he wanted to be. The Wolfpack will be hard pressed to replace their talent and production. 7'1 Jordan Vandenberg, who saw plenty of action last year but rarely scored, returns.  The good news is, 6'9 275 pound freshman force of nature Beejay Anya arrives.  Anya will be joined by another freshman, 6'9 Kyle Washington, who also has plenty of potential.

Rating 6.5 - If the young fellas come to play right away, this could be too low.  Vandenberg can be a factor if he is in shape and plays with more confidence.


Wake Forest

Analysis: One of the few bright spots in a dismal season for Wake, was the inspired play of Devin Thomas. Thomas averaged 10.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg and never looked intimidated as a freshman, regardless of the opponent. The Deacs hope that Daniel Green is fully recovered from a torn ACL and can help Thomas out down low. Tyler Cavanaugh is 6'9 player who likes to shoot threes. Andre Washington is a 7 footer who's freshman year was a wash.

Rating 7 - Thomas will be a good NBA player whenever he leaves Wake.  If he gets some help in the box, Wake might actually turn things around this season.


Clemson

Analysis: Devin Booker is gone, and that means someone will need to replace the talented and enigmatic forward's production. Jaron Blossomgame missed his freshman year with a compound fracture (ouch). If healthy, he is the most likely candidate to get chances down low. 6'10 JUCO product Ibrahim Djambo looks like a player, but how quickly will he adjust to major college hoops?  There are other front court players on the roster such as Josh Smith and Landy Nnoko, who are also unproven.

Rating 4.5 - If you are a Clemson fan and you are reading this, you HAVE to be looking forward to the Wing/SG breakdown.


Virginia Tech

Analysis: CJ Barksdale and Cadarian Raines are upperclassmen with a plethora of experience. Both have also had their moments. With Erick Green off to the pros, both will need to step up their games significantly for VT to improve. Joey Van Zegeren has good size at 6'10 and decent skills.

Rating: 5.5 - Solid workmanlike players. The 6'9 Raines in particular has a chance to be pretty good. But in the the ultra talented ACC these are not the kind of players who help you hang banners.

Be sure to check back in the coming days as we break down each position on the floor in the ACC.

Previously in the Series:

ACC point Guards

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