ACC basketball rocked by early entries, transfers

Virginia guard Justin Anderson's decision to enter the NBA Draft rather than return for his senior season was just one of a slew of early depatures in ACC basketball. 

With a record number of NCAA Tournament wins and some of the nation’s best teams in the 2014-15 season — including the national champions in Duke — the ACC had as good a year as it could have possibly wanted. With some first-year head coaches making strides in rebuilding their programs and most of the league’s elite programs living up to their billing — plus a few pleasant surprises — the future seemed bright for the newly-expanded league.

But with the graduation of some key players, not to mention early entires to the NBA Draft — some of which were more expected than others — it looks like the ACC in 2015-16 will be a little bit low on star power.

Of the 2015 All-ACC First, Second and Third Team selections, just four remain — First Team selection Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia, and three on the Third Team (Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige of North Carolina and Virginia’s Anthony Gill). Three of the players out of the top 10 graduated. The other six who are gone will be going pro early.

Some announcements were more expected than others. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, whose team made a surprise run to the Elite 8, knew sophomore guard Terry Rozier and junior forward Montrezl Harrell would be gone. Both were honored on Louisville’s Senior Night. It was expected that Duke’s freshmen would be gone, too — if not all three, then at least two in Okafor and Winslow (who didn’t even make one of the All-ACC teams).

Virginia’s Justin Anderson and NC State’s Trevor Lacey were somewhat less expected. And adding in transfers — 12 of the ACC’s 15 schools will see at least one player transfer — it means there’s a lot of uncertainty headed into next year.

Here’s a team-by-team look at things:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Graduated: G Aaron Brown, G Dimitri Batten, G/F Patrick Heckmann, F Eddie Odio

Going pro: G Olivier Hanlan

Transfers: G Lonnie Jackson, F Will Magarity

Verdict: Last year wasn’t good for Jim Christian in his first year as head coach, in spite of positive signs and competitiveness. A team without Olivier Hanlan — one of the nation’s best scorers — is going to be in dire need of some sort of help, and fast. Christian might have to work the transfer market hard just to find bodies to fill out the 2015-16 Eagles. They look to be bottom-feeders again.

CLEMSON

Graduated: G Rod Hall, G Demarcus Harrison

Going pro: None

Transfers: G Patrick Rooks

Verdict: Nothing’s going to look all that different for the Tigers headed into 2015-16 than anyone thought. Rooks was a seldom-used freshman, and the Tigers have plenty of guards. This will be a big year for head coach Brad Brownell, entering Year 6 at the helm. The Tigers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, his first season.

DUKE

Graduated: G Quinn Cook

Going pro: G Tyus Jones, G/F Justise Winslow, C Jahlil Okafor

Transfers: G/F Semi Ojeleye, G Rasheed Sulaimon

Verdict: At one point last season, Duke was so deep that it employed a 10-man rotation (one that wouldn’t have lasted until March, but still). Ojeleye was a midseason transfer, which brought Duke’s rotation of scholarship players to nine. Then Sulaimon was kicked off the team in January, bringing it down to just eight. Duke obviously did just fine with eight, but losing all three freshmen will hurt. (More on that here.) Still, their head coach knows what he’s doing. Just a hunch. 

FLORIDA STATE

Graduated: C Kiel Turpin

Going pro: G Aaron Thomas

Transfers: G Dayshawn Watkins

Verdict: The loss of Thomas, was was declared ineligible, early in the season hurt the Seminoles significantly. But going into next season, they’ll have rising sophomore point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who was at times one of the best scorers in the league. He’ll be joined by almost the entirety of the 2014-15 roster who saw significant minutes, plus McDonald’s All-American Dwayne Bacon. FSU will be a team to watch.

GEORGIA TECH

Graduated: F Demarco Cox, F Robert Sampson

Going pro: None

Transfers: None

Verdict: Georgia Tech remained surprisingly intact, particularly considering attrition has often seemed to hit Brian Gregory’s teams the hardest in the last few years. But that’s not necessarily a good thing for a team that finished 3-15 in ACC play, even if a number of their losses were close. Gregory got a reprieve this year when many thought he’d be let go; it’s probably time for the Yellow Jackets to take a significant step forward.

LOUISVILLE

Graduated: G/F Wayne Blackshear, G Chris Jones*

Going pro: G Terry Rozier, F Montrezl Harrell

Transfers: F Akoy Agau, G/F Shaqquan Aaron, G Anton Gill

Verdict: Both Aaron and Gill saw limited minutes for the Cardinals last year, although Gill would’ve seen his role increase next season. Pitino has already addressed some of the needs his team will have next season, signing Cleveland State sharpshooting transfer Trey Lewis in addition to a good incoming class. Much like Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, Louisville may not be what it was last season but the Cardinals will be fine with a Hall of Famer at the helm.

*Jones was kicked off of the team late in the season after he was named in rape allegations. That case is still pending. (MORE ON THIS)

MIAMI

Graduated: F Joe Thomas

Going pro: None

Transfers: G Manu Lecomte, G Deandre Burnett

Verdict: The Hurricanes are losing Lecomte unexpectedly, but they return the bulk of a roster that was at times very competitive in the ACC and nearly made the NCAA Tournament. Miami will need a better showing from transfer point guard Angel Rodriguez, who faded fast at midseason, but Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan had a great year and there’s a lot of returning young talent on a roster that made the NIT title game.

NORTH CAROLINA

Graduated: None

Going pro: G/F J.P. Tokoto

Transfers: None

Verdict: Obviously, North Carolina will return almost intact. The Tar Heels didn’t quite live up to lofty preseason expectations early on against a very difficult schedule — for a variety of reasons — but they were playing as well as anyone in the country by the end of the season. The unexpected loss of Tokoto will hurt — he was an athletic, dynamic defender and playmaker on the wing — but he was going to be their fourth or fifth offensive option anyway. They’ll be a likely preseason favorite yet again.

NC STATE

Graduated: G Ralston Turner, G Desmond Lee

Going pro: G Trevor Lacey

Transfers: F Kyle Washington

Verdict: The Wolfpack were all set to be preseason ACC favorites as they seemingly returned almost everyone. West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson would fill the role Turner did of the team’s sharpshooter, and everything would fall into place. Then Lacey announced his intentions to turn pro, somewhat unexpectedly. Lacey was the Wolfpack’s leading scorer last year and best playmaker. Without him, they still have a ton of young talent that can keep developing — and will likely still be a top-4 team in the ACC — but there are a lot more unknowns.

NOTRE DAME

Graduated: G Jerian Grant, F Pat Connaughton

Going pro: None

Transfers: None

Verdict: The Irish were one of the most fun teams in the country to watch with the way they played offense, and the nation fell in love with them too when they almost knocked off Kentucky in the Elite 8. The core of this team, its heart and soul, graduated with Grant and Connaughton. But things don’t look so bleak for the Irish as everyone else returns, and their ACC schedule will be very manageable. They likely won’t be ACC Champs again, but they won’t be anything close to a bottom-feeder the way they were in their debut season in 2013-14, either.

PITTSBURGH

Graduated: G Cameron Wright, F Derrick Randall

Going pro: None

Transfers: G Durand Johnson, C Joe Uchebo, F Tyrone Haughton

Verdict: Johnson was suspended before last season began, and Pittsburgh understandably got off to a rough start as a result (he was their best returning player). He was dismissed after this season ended. But other guys took a step forward last season, like Honorable Mention All-ACC forward Jamel Artis and versatile center Michael Young. Pitt returns a lot of talent from a team that was at times pretty good and at other times disappointing. This is probably a good year for the Panthers to get back to what they’ve traditionally been under Jamie Dixon.

SYRACUSE

Graduated: C Rakeem Christmas

Going pro: F Chris McCullough

Transfers: F B.J. Johnson

Verdict: Syracuse’s NCAA punishment is going to haunt the program for the next few years, certainly, but in the immediate fallout, the Orange unexpectedly lose McCullough (who tore his ACL in midseason). Johnson was more or less an expected loss, though it hurts the overall depth. Syracuse was probably going to be a middle of the pack team with or without McCullough, but it certainly doesn’t help to lose him.

VIRGINIA

Graduated: F Darion Atkins

Going pro: G/F Justin Anderson

Transfers: G B.J. Stith

Verdict: Virginia is still going to be one of the best teams in the ACC, if not THE best team. The Cavaliers return almost everyone. But the Anderson loss hurts. It wasn’t completely out of the blue — everyone knew he was considering it — but the fact that he broke his finger and missed such a significant chunk of the season, many thought he’d want to come back and improve his stock a bit more. But he had to make the best decision for him and his future. As a result, though, Virginia goes from national title contender to a tier below that.

VIRGINIA TECH

Graduated: F Christian Beyer, G Will Johnston

Going pro: None

Transfers: G Adam Smith, C Joey van Zegeren

Verdict: The van Zegeren transfer was not unexpected — head coach Buzz Williams dismissed him in midseason — but the Smith transfer doesn’t help anything. Smith was the Hokies’ leading scorer. Still, Virginia Tech returns almost everyone else and was far more feisty of a team than it had any business being a season ago under Williams, considering its roster. Adding Maryland transfer Seth Allen should help the Hokies take a step from really bad to not-so-bad and downright plucky.

WAKE FOREST

Graduated: F Darius Leonard

Going pro: None

Transfers: G Miles Overton, F Aaron Rountree, C Daniel Green

Verdict: Wake Forest turned plenty of heads in head coach Danny Manning’s first season in Winston-Salem. His first real recruiting class looks to be a good one, and they’ll join a talented and intriguing group. Wake is probably still a year away from being one of the top-tier teams in the ACC, but the Deacs should make a solid leap to the middle of the pack at the very least.