By Mark Carroll - Blog Coordinator
We're past halfway through the Greater NC Pro-Am regular season. After getting a chance to watch some local stars, here is the forecast for a few area teams:
Duke: Coming into the season, the Blue Devils are the clear cut favorite to win the ACC. But after catching a glimpse at all potential starters with the exception of Kyle Singler, we now have an idea of just how good this team can be. Very good. Excellent. For opposing teams, terrifying.
Kyrie Irving was a scoring machine in the two games he played this summer. He also is expected to fill the biggest hole in Duke's offense this season, taking over the point guard position that Jon Scheyer thrived at last season. Irving will bring an up-tempo game that will fit well with athletes such as Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. Barring chemistry issues, he should have no problem making an instant impact for this team.
Nolan Smith only took part in one contest this summer, but it was impressive to say the least. What was more impressive than Smith's 36 points was the way he led his team to a win after erasing a 12 point deficit coming into the final quarter. He was possibly the most improved player in the conference last season, and the Devils will benefit enormously if he continues to get better.
Duke's biggest question is still the front court. Miles Plumlee has displayed excellent post play, but struggles when he is not playing with his back to the basket. Mason Plumlee is a monster athlete who will excel in transition, but it will be interesting to see how he plays against a proven big man such as Tracy Smith. If the Plumlees can step up with Ryan Kelly logging in valuable minutes off the bench, there is no doubt that the potential is there for a repeat.
North Carolina: Tar Heel fans have a lot to look forward to with the way Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and John Henson have played so far this summer. The trio has led Team Stackhouse to a 5-0 record, and in one game, accounted for 73 of their team's 76 points. Coming into the ACC, Barnes and Bullock join a team that was last year plagued by injuries and chemistry issues. As freshmen, they have something to offer that the Heels so blatantly lacked last season - a consistent three point shot.
Bullock has shown off his three ball all summer, and it has been most evident in situations when his team needs it the most. He rained plenty of treys on his way to 30 points in Team Stackhouse's first contest against Team McGladrey (featuring N.C. State star recruits). He also demonstrated how his size gives him a tremendous advantage over opposing guards, as his large frame helps him muscle his way to the rack, and his height makes him nearly impossible to defend on the perimeter.
So far, Barnes has been successful in living up to the hype. As the nation's top recruit in the class of 2010, Barnes is a fundamentally sound player with no major flaws in his game. After the way he has played so far this summer (averaging 26.3 points in his last 3 contests), it would not be unreasonable to expect Barnes to be a leader of this North Carolina squad as a freshman. It's rare to see an incoming player as mature as Barnes, and it will be interesting to see how Roy Williams will use him this season.
Although the Tar Heels have a great deal to be excited about, there are still issues with depth in the paint. Henson has put on about 30 pounds since this time last year and is sure to be more involved this season, but Tyler Zeller and Justin Knox are the only other true post players on the team. Henson and Zeller are both talented and have gotten their share of minutes, but may struggle against more physical players such as Jeff Allen and Tracy Smith. The point guard position is also a spot receiving a lot of attention. Larry Drew II has spent the past month working out in California and Kendall Marshall has not participated in the Pro-Am, so it is debatable how concerned fans should be about that spot. All that said, North Carolina fans can expect a return to the dance in the 2010-2011 season.
N.C. State: Wolfpack fans are the most excited about basketball than they have been in years, and for good reason. C.J. Leslie is a freak athlete and fits in well with the games of fellow 2010 recruits Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown. Leslie, who is arguably the biggest N.C. State commitment since Julius Hodge, will have a significant effect on opening things up for his team's offense. The Pack can play big, putting Leslie at the 3, or they can put him at the four and allow Brown and Scott Wood to find open perimeter shots.
Tracy Smith has only made a couple appearances this summer, but has shown off a new element to his game. Smith has been playing more face-up basketball and has begun to develop a mid-range jumper. Fellow forward Richard Howell has also shown off some range, even knocking down a trey every once in awhile. While Jordan Vandenberg still must get better in order to be a competitive big man in the ACC, Smith and Howell have established themselves as real forces at the forward spots.
The Wolfpack will receive a boost in the back court with the addition of Harrow and Brown. Brown is likely to be an immediate starter at shooting guard, as he offers size, a consistent three point shot and even some ball-handling skills. Harrow is an outstanding player, but his size (5'11'', 155) leads to questions as to whether or not he is physically ready, and Sidney Lowe hinted a few weeks ago that there is likely to be a freshman learning curve. Although he was inconsistent at times, Javi Gonzalez was a key player for the Pack toward the end of last season and is a reliable option at point guard who could help smooth the transition for Harrow.
N.C. State still had questions, but will undoubtedly have a better team this season. Wood has struggled some this summer from three point range, but with the addition of Brown, he won't have to worry about taking over a game by himself. Leslie not only has the potential to be an instant scorer and rebounder, but also provides depth that Sidney Lowe can use to draw up numerous scenarios. The three freshmen have shown no trouble in finding ways to score this summer and are all likely to play major roles on this upcoming N.C. State team. It's not yet time to start talking conference championship, but an NCAA tournament appearance is an absolutely reasonable expectation.
NCCU: Senior C.J. Wilkerson has made plenty of noise this summer, and will likely be the leader of this Eagles basketball team. Wilkerson has shown off inside-out play, as well as the ability to find his way to the free throw line to capitalize. After averaging 16.3 points for NCCU this past season, local fans should be ready for a huge senior season for Wilkerson.
Landon Clement joins Wilkerson, as he will be eligible to participate this year for the Eagles. Clement is a sniper from the outside who is impossible to stop once he gets hot. After facing top competition, he has averaged 14.5 points per game this summer, and will definitely make himself recognized this season as a go-to three point shooter.
Junior forward Nick Chasten has also contributed solid play this summer. At 6'7'', he serves as a threat from deep, but also can make powerful drives to the basket. He may not be the scorer that Wilkerson is, but he, along with sophomore forward Dijon Manns, has proven this summer that he can run with ACC talent. After averaging 10 points per game last season, Chasten will have a greater opportunity to shine this year on an improved and experienced NCCU basketball team.