5 takeaways from ACC Tipoff 2023
CHARLOTTE — The ACC came together Wednesday to kick off what will be in some respects the end of an era in ACC hoops. With the league set to move to 18 teams in 2024-25 with the addition of Cal, Stanford, and SMU, the basketball-rich league readied itself for change even as it celebrated the coming of a season upon which many of the fans in the league’s footprint set their seasons.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips dismissed the notion that the league will change too dramatically because of the new additions, despite the fact that none of the 3 programs have a basketball-rich history or situate themselves even remotely close to the conference’s geographic footprint.
“We are a national conference,” Phillips said. “We’ve been a regional conference. We aren’t now. Times have changed. In the world of realignment, either you are on offense, or you aren’t.”
Time will tell if Phillips’ moves pay off. In the meantime, the ACC Tipoff featured plenty of basketball optimism. There’s a universal Final Four favorite (Duke), a Final Four program from a year ago that returns 3 starters (Miami), and a motivated blue-blood that nearly won a national championship 2 seasons ago revving up a redemption tour (North Carolina). It made for good theater Wednesday, and the drama should continue when the regular season tips in under two weeks.
Here are 5 of Saturday Road’s takeaways from ACC Tipoff 2023.
Duke has “championship expectations”
That’s the 2-word answer Jeremy Roach offered Wednesday morning when Saturday Road asked him what Duke’s goals were in 2023-24.
Kyle Filipowski agreed, saying “No one feels sorry for Duke when they are stunned by Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament. Winning a championship is the way you silence the doubt.”
Jon Scheyer’s second Duke team will be one of the most experienced Blue Devils team in a generation. They’ll start a senior point guard in Roach and feature another captain, Ryan Young, who is a graduate student. With Filipowski, star guard Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell all back in the fold as second-year players, the Blue Devils return north of 150 career starts.
The temptation, given the talent and experience, would be for the Blue Devils to be comfortable. Scheyer sent a warning about that from the podium on Wednesday morning.
“There’s a comfort there, which is really good. But comfort can make you soft. And so for us, we’ve doubled down on the work we’ve put in every single day and not assuming anything,” Scheyer said.
But the coach hasn’t seen that in camp.
“We have the group that we want,” Scheyer said. “These (Filipowski and Roach) are the 2 guys I want to lead the rest of our team. Now it’s a matter of making sure we don’t skip steps working every single day and knowing you still have to do the dirty work; you still have to do the little things. And that’s what’s most important to me.”
Miami doesn’t care that you don’t respect them
The Hurricanes had to wait an extra 10 minutes to begin their press conference and breakout interview sessions on account of following North Carolina in the Tipoff event pecking order.
When Miami coach Jim Larrañaga finally took a seat for his breakout room availability, he looked around a half-empty ballrooom and joked, “Where did everyone go? Don’t they know the Hurricanes are here?”
The No. 13 preseason-ranked Hurricanes, fresh off a Final Four and returning 3 starters from the regular season ACC champion, don’t concern themselves with what people outside of their building think.
“The people who talk about brands and whether you are flying under the radar– most of them are you in the media,” Larrañaga said. “I tell our kids we simply can’t worry about any of that. We worry about what happens on the court for 40 minutes at a time for the next 5 months. We’ve had plenty of success. We’ve won ACC championships, tournament championships, gone to the Sweet 16, the Elite 8, the Final Four. We know who we are. We can control who we are.”
Who Miami is this season will depend on another “Big 3.” A season ago it was ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack and dominant big man Norchad Omier, who gave the Canes the frontcourt presence the prior season’s Elite 8 team lacked. Wong is off to the NBA, but Pack and Omier return. The 3rd member of the trio this year will be Wooga Poplar, whom Larrañaga raved about Wednesday.
“A scary talent,” Larrañaga said of the Philadelphia product. “He can defend. He can attack the basket. He is a mismatch. He can shoot the 3. He’s got a midrange game that is as good as I’ve seen in 5 decades of coaching. He’s special, that’s for sure.”
If Poplar breaks out, the only real questions surrounding the Hurricanes are on the bench. A season ago, Miami could play 7 or 8 consistently, knowing 2 seniors and talented defensive stopper Bensley Joseph were coming off the bench. This year, Larrañaga has to figure the bench out on the fly, with Joseph expected to join Omier, Pack, Poplar and Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland in the starting 5. The onus will be on talented freshman Kyshawn George in particular to produce. But there might not be a better starting 5 in the conference, and the Hurricanes don’t care if you disagree.
“We have played deep into March for 2 straight years, before Norchad and I were here, you know?” Pack told Saturday Road. “There’s a level of pride in defying expectations.”
Did UNC learn through failure?
Hubert Davis has known Armando Bacot since he was 15 years old.
That’s when Davis, then an assistant under Roy Williams, opted to stop at a Richmond AAU event before heading home to sleep on a long recruiting trip.
“I saw a frontline of 3 guys: 6-9, 6-10, 6-9, when I got there and thought I had lucked out and made the U17 event. That’s when someone pointed at (Bacot) and said, ‘No, this is a U15 event.’ I’ve been spending time with Armando ever since.”
It’s a touching story, and one Davis hopes has a happy ending.
“It’s a blessing and an honor to think not only have I been one of his coaches as a head coach and assistant coach, but been that for 5 years,” Davis said. “For somebody that is as accomplished as Armando and the character that he brings off the court, that is a coach’s dream. So to have him back for the 5th year is really a blessing and an honor.”
The question remains, however, whether North Carolina learned from what caused its failures last season, when they became the first preseason No. 1 to fail to make the NCAA Tournament.
RJ Davis, the silky guard who led the Tar Heels to the national title game 2 seasons ago, said the theme of this year’s Carolina team will be “grit.”
For RJ Davis, that means “getting a stop when you aren’t scoring, finishing a box out, making one extra pass when it’s easy to take a good shot but not get a great one.”
Carolina said the right things on Wednesday morning. Will they do them on the court again come Nov. 6?
Clemson has a healthy PJ Hall — and a chip on the shoulder
I voted Clemson to finish 3rd on my ACC ballot, and nothing they said Wednesday made that pick feel foolish.
The Tigers return one of the ACC’s most experienced outfits with 5 upperclassmen expected to start, depending on the health of NC State transfer Jack Clark, who has been limited in practice. They also benefit from being the first team out of last season’s NCAA Tournament, despite 23 wins, 14 of which came in the ACC.
“We don’t forget things like that,” veteran forward PJ Hall said.
The biggest difference for this Clemson team might be Hall, who is finally playing on two good legs after battling a knee injury that required surgery for the past 2 seasons.
“I feel the best physically that I have in 2 years,” Hall said. “You wouldn’t believe how good it feels to use 2 legs to play basketball again.”
A healthy Hall is frightening, considering the 4th-year player averaged 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds on 1 leg a season ago and was one of the ACC’s breakout players the season prior as a sophomore. With better shooting surrounding Hall, which Clemson believes it has found thanks to Syracuse sharpshooter Joe Girard III entering the fold, the Tigers will have outstanding balance and be hard to guard.
Hard to guard, old and hungry. That’s usually a lethal combo in college basketball.
Reece Beekman is back — and will win ACC Player of the Year
It’s easy to sleep on Virginia, especially after it lost another heartbreaker on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and returns just a shell of the team that won 25 games and a share of the ACC regular-season championship before the crushing loss to Furman.
“We are definitely young,” coach Tony Bennett said Wednesday.
“We lose Kihei (Clark), who we’ve had around forever. We’ve had so much experience and continuity. But that is also exciting, the chance to be young and figure it out and come together.”
The one thing Virginia always seems to do under Bennett is figure it out. At the center of that will be Beekman, a preseason All-ACC and All-American candidate.
Beekman averaged 9.5 points, 5 assists and 2 steals a season ago, but he feels he’s a more well-rounded player as he enters his 4th season.
“I came back to get my degree, which I promised my family I would do,” he said. “But I also came back to be a more complete player, to showcase my offense, which was better a year ago but I think will be even more improved this season. I’ve worked on my shooting again (after shooting 35% from deep as a junior) but I’ve also worked on being more aggressive, using my skills with the ball to attack defenses, using my defense to create offense. These are things I know I can accomplish and why I came back.”
A season ago, the media universally proclaimed a Tobacco Road star the preseason ACC Player of the Year. A guard from a program outside of North Carolina won. Don’t be stunned if Beekman follows suit this season. One guarantee I can make? Virginia will be really good, because under Bennett, Virginia is almost always really good.