2023-24 ACC Bellwether Players
A new season of college basketball is set to begin in just five weeks. There are lots of new names around the ACC. As well as returners that will be relied on more than before. Because of those dynamics, each team has at least one player whose performance will be a key indicator of their team’s success in 2023-24. They’re the bellwether players.
Boston College guard Claudell Harris
Head Coach Earl Grant has the Boston College program headed in the right direction. He led them to a 9-11 ACC record last season, their best conference winning percentage in 12 years. With star center Quinten Post (15.1 PPG) opting to return for his fifth season, the Eagles have a chance to take another step forward.
Guard play is the question, particularly after losing three-year starter Makai Ashton-Langford to graduation. They brought in Charleston Southern transfer Claudell Harris (17.4 PPG) to help fill that void. He’ll be paired in the backcourt with the steady Jaeden Zackery (10.7 PPG). How well Harris is able to transition to the high major level will be a big indicator of BC’s success or lack thereof this year.
Clemson forward Ian Schieffelin
Expectations are fairly high for Brad Brownell’s bunch. The Tigers bring back a pair of standouts from last year’s third place team, senior center PJ Hall (15.3 PPG) and fifth-year guard Chase Hunter (13.8 PPG) along with a nice group of young potential breakout players. They made a splash in the portal this offseason too, highlighted by the addition of Syracuse transfer guard Joe Girard (16.4 PPG)
Junior Ian Schieffelin (5.5 PPG) will have the opportunity to step into a bigger role. Despite being a starter last season, the crafty forward wasn’t asked to carry a heavy load. They’ll need more production from that spot this year to help make up for the departure of Hunter Tyson.
Duke forward Mark Mitchell
The Blue Devils will be just about everybody’s pick to win the ACC, and a popular choice for the national title. For good reason, they return their top four scorers. Most notably seven-footer Kyle Filipowski (15.1 PPG). And as always, there’s another bumper crop of highly rated freshmen. They’re talented, deep, and unusually experienced in comparison to recent Duke squads.
Sophomore forward Mark Mitchell (9.1 PPG) is one of those key returners who gets overlooked a bit. A former five-star recruit and likely first-round pick next summer, he served in sort of a glue guy role last year. If he can become another consistent go-to scoring option this season, which he certainly has the potential to do, it starts to get scary for Duke opponents.
Florida State forward Baba Miller
The Seminoles are coming off their worst season under Leonard Hamilton. That was followed by a rough offseason in which they lost star players Caleb Mills and Matthew Cleveland as transfers. It feels like almost a reset in Tallahassee. And that might not be a bad thing, considering their record over the last couple years.
There isn’t a more talented player in the entire conference than sophomore forward Baba Miller (4.3 PPG). The Spaniard didn’t show much last year after missing the first half of the season due to an NCAA suspension, but he has the potential to be very special. In order for FSU to have a turnaround in 2023-24, they’ll need Miller to blossom into a star.
Georgia Tech wing Deebo Coleman
Georgia Tech experienced heavy roster turnover, as is usually the case following a coaching change. New boss Damon Stoudamire did a good job keeping the key pieces though. There was a nice young core in place, led by junior guard Miles Kelly (14.4 PPG). And they’ve added several quality transfers as well. The focus is clearly on building toward the future, but the Yellow Jackets have enough to be interesting right away.
They have a good collection of guards. The weakness is up front, where the brunt of the transfer losses occurred. That could provide an opportunity for wing Deebo Coleman (9.5 PPG) to have a breakout season. Expect him to be frequently used as a small-ball power forward as a way to get their best players on the floor. His perimeter skillset is a tough matchup in that spot.
Louisville guard Skyy Clark
Louisville had a nightmare season in Kenny Payne’s first year at the helm. Their offseason wasn’t great either. Multiple starters transferred, including leading scorer El Ellis to Arkansas. Then highly ranked incoming freshman Trentyn Flowers left the team this summer to turn pro in Australia. Payne has assembled a talented group of underclassmen though, providing hope for the future.
Sophomore point guard Skyy Clark (7.0 PPG) will be immensely important this season. The transfer from Illinois might be the only real point guard available. Freshman Ty-Laur Johnson reportedly has eligibility issues that could keep him sidelined. Either way, Clark is expected to be heavily relied on. They’ll need him to live up to his top 40 high school ranking if the Cardinals are to return to respectability.
Miami wing Wooga Poplar
Miami will be picked to finish in the upper echelon of the conference once again. Head Coach Jim Larranaga returns three starters from his Final Four team, most notably guard Nijel Pack (13.6 PPG) and center Norchad Omier (13.1 PPG). They also made a big transfer addition, snagging Matthew Cleveland (13.8 PPG) from rival Florida State. And with a great recruiting class for next year, the Hurricanes aren’t going away anytime soon.
Junior wing Wooga Poplar (8.4 PPG) came on strong in the second half of last season, Particularly as a shooter, hitting 43% from behind the arc against ACC competition. They’ll need higher volume from him to help replace Isaiah Wong’s scoring. With an expanded role and the way he finished last year, Poplar is a strong candidate for a breakout season.
North Carolina guard Elliot Cadeau
Last year was a disaster for the Tar Heels, missing the NCAA Tournament after being ranked #1 in the preseason. A lot of portal activity followed. The result is a remade roster featuring two returning starters, center Armando Bacot (15.9 PPG) and guard RJ Davis (16.1 PPG). They’ll be joined by several high-profile transfer additions, former Notre Dame guard Cormac Ryan (12.8 PPG) among them.
It’s a freshman who I believe is the key, five-star point guard Elliot Cadeau. He brings an element that UNC hasn’t had in a while, the true floor general. They’ll surround him with a lineup that is every bit as talented as the group who had such lofty expectations a year ago. If the Heels play up to that potential this time, their freshman floor general will be the difference.
NC State guard Casey Morsell
NC State is another remade roster. They bring back a pair of fifth-year standouts, big man DJ Burns (12.5 PPG) and guard Casey Morsell (11.8 PPG). Other than that, ACC fans won’t recognize many of the names. Seven total incoming transfers by my count. Former Arizona State guard DJ Horne (12.5 PPG) and Butler leading scorer Jayden Taylor (12.9 PPG) are the headliners.
For them to be better than a middle of the pack bubble team, they’ll need a star to emerge in the backcourt. Casey Morsell is the best candidate to make that type of leap. He established himself as one of the top shooters in the league last year. They’ll ask him to be more of a playmaker and go-to scorer this time around.
Notre Dame forward Carey Booth
New Head Coach Micah Shrewsberry inherited an empty cupboard. The Irish lost their top seven scorers. And although they did add a couple transfers out of necessity, they aren’t the kind who will make a big immediate impact. Shrewsberry obviously wants his young team to grow together while he continues to rebuild through high school recruiting.
Forward Carey Booth is the prize of their freshman class. Given the roster situation, he’ll probably earn a large role right away. This figures to be a rough year for the Irish, no way around that. It’s more about establishing pieces for the future. A good first season from Booth would be a terrific building block.
Pittsburgh guard Jaland Lowe
Pittsburgh was the surprise of the ACC last season, with a lineup mostly consisting of transfers. The centerpiece of that squad is back, leading scorer Blake Hinson (15.3 PPG). Head Coach Jeff Capel brought in a couple more portal guys to help, but he’ll also rely on promising young players to step into bigger roles. It seems to be a roster in transition, making them a difficult team to predict.
Freshman Jaland Lowe has the inside track to start at point guard. A late emerging recruit who became popular following a great week at Nike Peach Jam last summer, he has a golden opportunity in front of him. If the Panthers can get steady point guard play, they have a chance to be pretty good again.
Syracuse wing Justin Taylor
It’s a new era at Syracuse with longtime assistant Adrian Autry taking over for Jim Boeheim. They’ll even be switching to playing primarily man-to-man defense instead of Boeheim’s patented zone. Guard play is their strength, led by star sophomore Judah Mintz (16.3 PPG) and Notre Dame transfer JJ Starling (11.2 PPG). The Orange are looking to break out of mediocrity, having finished right around .500 in conference play each of the last nine seasons.
While Mintz and Starling are great players, neither is a prolific shooter from deep. And in today’s game, you need three-point shooting. Sophomore Justin Taylor (4.2 PPG) is the one guy in the rotation who can absolutely provide that. The bigger his impact is, the better Syracuse will be this season.
Virginia forward Ryan Dunn
Tony Bennett’s team will have a different look than last year’s group that tied for first place. Senior point guard Reece Beekman (9.5 PPG) finally gets the keys all to himself. He’ll be surrounded by emerging young talent and some good transfer additions. Sophomore guard Isaac McKneely (6.7 PPG) is an obvious breakout candidate. Opinions vary on this year’s Wahoos. Their upside is higher than the last few years, but there are more variables than people are used to with UVA.
Sophomore forward Ryan Dunn (2.6 PPG) is the ultimate bellwether player in the league. He wasn’t asked to score last year, focusing on being a defensive stopper off the bench. They’ll need him to produce on both ends this year. He was recruited as a guard, so those skills are there. He just hasn’t shown much of it in college yet. If he becomes the two-way player Bennett is banking on, this Virginia team can be dangerous.
Virginia Tech guard Rodney Rice
The Hokies had a disappointing campaign a year ago, settling for an NIT birth. They’ll return one of the best guard combos in the conference, junior floor general Sean Pedulla (15.0 PPG) and fifth-year sniper Hunter Cattoor (10.8 PPG). Head Coach Mike Young reached into the portal to fill in frontcourt vacancies. One of those additions being former Northwestern forward Robbie Beran (7.5 PPG), who figures to be an important piece for them.
Sophomore guard Rodney Rice (7.4 PPG) was the highest rated recruit Mike Young has signed to date. He was limited to only eight games last season due to injuries. The Hokies need more playmaking in their lineup. He has the potential to deliver that. For them to get back to the NCAA Tournament, Rice will have to be a big part of things.
Wake Forest guard Hunter Sallis
Wake has a good shot at being a tournament team this year. They bring back three double-digit scorers. Junior guard Cameron Hildreth (12.4 PPG), senior wing Damari Monsanto (13.3 PPG), and senior forward Andrew Carr (10.7 PPG). Coach Steve Forbes once again added several transfers to fill in the gaps. Former Gonzaga big man Efton Reid (2.1 PPG) will be an interesting case to watch, as he’ll need a waiver to play this year following his second transfer.
For two straight years, Wake brought in relatively unheralded transfer point guards who both went on to be first-team All-ACC performers. If history is going to repeat, it’ll be Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis (4.5 PPG). A former five-star recruit who was stuck in a limited role for the Zags. He’ll have the opportunity to be featured in Winston-Salem.
(Featured image courtesy of Getty Images)