ACC season preview, pt. 2: Young teams primed for breakouts - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

ACC season preview, pt. 2: Young teams primed for breakouts

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The 2012-2013 Maryland Terrapins came up short in their quest for an NCAA tournament bid. This season's team will look to improve upon that in the program's last year with the ACC. (Source: Maryland Athletics) The 2012-2013 Maryland Terrapins came up short in their quest for an NCAA tournament bid. This season's team will look to improve upon that in the program's last year with the ACC. (Source: Maryland Athletics)

(RNN) - The youth movements started by ACC teams in 2012 could pay off sooner than expected.

A weaker than average recruiting year and several lineups heavy on underclassmen led to a down season in the ACC. Only four - Duke, Miami, North Carolina and NC State - made the NCAA tournament, and only two more, Virginia and Maryland, garnered any consideration as bubble teams.

This year brings many of those fresh(man)-faced lineups back fully intact. And the guys who spent all season in advanced placement courses for lump-taking gained exponential growth on their learning curve.

Now, they are ready to share their education with others.

Part 2 of the ACC preview profiles multiple teams with the necessary parts to make the leap from also-ran to rival the best of the league's competitors.

Part 1, featuring teams 15 to 11, was released Monday. Look for part 3 on Wednesday.

10. Pittsburgh Panthers

Last season: 24-9 (12-6 Big East). Key returnees: Lamar Patterson, James Robinson, Talib Zanna.

Newcomer Pitt's playing style could be described as "deliberate," although "slow" would work, too. Well coached under Jamie Dixon, the team will again rely heavily on defense and rebounding to win games.

That style of play has been successful for the program during the regular season, and it has translated into three Sweet 16 runs in 10 years. However, their pacing may be more difficult to maintain against an ACC schedule littered with teams who want to go at a fast pace for 40 minutes.

Grabbing missed shots may be more of a challenge for the Panthers with the loss of Steven Adams, who left school early for the NBA. The Panthers' top recruit, Michael Young, joins returning starter Talib Zanna in the frontcourt.

Young stands at 6'8" and has impressed scouts and analysts with a polished low-post game. The freshman showed he could potentially become a scorer right away, even with the jump in talent level.

Lamar Patterson, now a senior, will have more responsibility to account for points. He shot a respectable 46 percent from the floor in 2012-13, but will need to improve on his 66 percent rate at the line.

9. Maryland Terrapins

Last season: 22-12 (8-10). Key returnees: Nick Faust, Dez Wells, Shaquille Cleare.

Seth Allen, who was slated as the starting point guard, won't be back from a broken foot until early to mid-January, leaving the duty to Wells, Faust and freshman Roddy Peters. That is not a good indicator for the team who gave up the most turnovers in the ACC last year.

Despite that, Maryland was playing its best basketball late in the season. Coach Mark Turgeon's use of a deep bench kept any of his guys from averaging 29 minutes a contest. And they had plenty left in the tank for a late run that included two wins against Duke and a run to the semis of the NIT.

Wells, who combines speed with the physicality needed to finish at the rim, also sparked the improved play when he took it on himself to be the team's No. 1 option. With him established in that role for 2013, the team shouldn't have the struggles of identity crisis it faced, and he will likely improve upon the 13.1 points per game he averaged.

Alex Len was the man most responsible for the Terps' proficiency in rebounding (40.8 per game, third in the nation), but he left school early to become the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Filling his sizable shoes will be a pair of 6'8 wide-bodies in Cleare and Charles Mitchell. The duo may make up for some of the loss on the boards with an improved low-post game - something they flashed signs of already.

Maryland may have a little more motivation to finish well in its last season before moving to the Big Ten. Their opposition will be inclined to see that doesn't happen.

8. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Last season: 13-18 (6-12). Key returnees: Travis McKie, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Devin Thomas.

The pressure has built in Winston-Salem, with the Wake faithful calling for the dismissal of head coach Jeff Bzdelik, as well as the athletic director, during the offseason. The Deacons have the talent to step up and save their leader's job, provided that pressure doesn't collapse the ground beneath them first.

Their frenetic pace produced some good results and some bad. While they were the second-best team in the league at causing turnovers, they were third-worst at giving them away. Their top scorer last year, C.J. Harris, was one of the worst offenders at 2.5 a game, but it remains to be seen if someone can add his load on offense while protecting the ball better.

Senior Travis McKie has shown he can provide more offense when needed, and he will be a stabilizing presence to a rotation of mostly sophomores. An increase in opportunities could get him back to the numbers he had two seasons ago (16.1 points, 48-percent shooting, 38-percent on 3s).

Maybe the most important of the second-year players is Devin Thomas, a 6'9 nuclear blast of energy in the painted area. He showed he could ride the wave of a roaring pro-Wake crowd to a great game, but has yet to put up the same level on someone else's floor.

Their ACC road record, 1-24 under Bzdelik, was the topic of an ad placed in the Greensboro, NC, newspaper during the conference tournament, along with the website FireBZ.com. Whether that record improves will be the best gauge of the Demon Deacons' season and their coach's future.

7. Boston College Eagles

Last season: 16-17 (7-11). Key returnees: Ryan Anderson, Olivier Hanlan, Joe Rahon.

BC fans have a lot of positives they can point to as evidence their team is poised to break out. The team finished the regular season on a 4-2 stretch, played spoiler with wins over Maryland and Virginia, saw Hanlan emerge as a legitimate star and returns nearly everyone from their rotation.

The 41-point effort in the ACC tournament victory against Georgia Tech showcased the point guard's offensive skills. He beats defenders off the dribble, gets to the free throw line and goes scorching hot for stretches behind the arc (40 percent on 3s in 2012-13).

Hanlan's play also took pressure off Ryan Anderson near the basket, preventing defenses from collapsing on him when he got the ball. The 6'9 forward totaled 14.9 points and eight rebounds a game while shooting 48 percent.

Head coach Steve Donahue's biggest loss from a year ago is Andrew Van Nest, who played little more than 10 minutes a game. He will look to shot blockers Dennis Clifford and Eddie Odio to keep opponents from driving the lane at will, something that happened too often in the past.

If the Eagles can muster even a serviceable presence on defense, they have enough firepower to knock off any of the names on their schedule.

6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Last season: 16-15 (6-12). Key returnees: Chris Bolden, Robert Carter Jr., Marcus Georges-Hunt.

Brian Gregory's team may be the best-suited for a leap in the standings. A raw but talented group of freshman saw starter's minutes a year ago, and they should be ready to provide far more consistency on offense than they did last year.

The Ramblin' Wreck also get a huge upgrade at the point guard position with incoming transfer Trae Golden. The senior logged more than 30 minutes a game at Tennessee the last two years and has a knack for getting to the basket and drawing fouls.

While he's not a pure passer, he will better set up sophomores Georges-Hunt and Carter for open looks, something they usually had to generate themselves. Georges-Hunt's skills at getting to the rim should get displayed more, and Carter can spend more time using his 6'8", 250-pound frame to get position around the basket.

Bolden will miss the first two games of the regular season on suspension. But, provided his team rules violations are behind him, he should help Golden with the ball-handling duties and the outside shooting.

Tech quietly developed into one of the better defensive teams by season's end (62.4 points per game allowed), which is impressive given the number of freshman on the court. Coming off a full offseason to learn the system, the combination of discipline and athleticism could be a nightmare for the rest of the conference.

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