Mystery Men of the ACC

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session and it's time to cite the "Mystery Men" of each ACC school. These returning players all have the potential to make strong contributions to their team's success this season, but could also play a key role in their potential failure.

Here are my choices for the ACC's "Mystery Men" with by predictions of how their seasons will play out.

Clemson- Chris Hobbs: Hobbs' erratic play was a mystery that former Tigers' Coach Larry Shyatt could not solve last season. Hobb's numbers shrank to 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, both the lowest of his three-year career at Clemson. He is expected to play at 245 pounds this season, down from the 260+ he carried last year.

Hobbs told the ACC Handbook that he is "looking forward to being more involved in the offense and defense" this season. PREDICTION: Pushed by new Coach Oliver Purnell, Hobbs will have a career season, but will still have trouble matching up against the ACC's best big men and will continue to fight foul trouble.

Duke- Shavlik Randolph: Randolph began last season as the Blue Devils' most hyped recruit but finished as a non-factor. He struggled early on against stronger defenders, and saw his season end early due to a hip injury that required surgery. He reportedly worked out like a demon (and ate like one too), adding at least 25 pounds to his frame.

Where Randolph will fit into the rotation with the arrival of this season's mega-hyped recruit, Luol Deng, is a good question. It also remains to be seen if he can adjust his game to allow for the extra bulk. PREDICTION: Randolph will be a strong and versatile contributor off the bench for Coach K this season.

Florida State- Michael Joyner: Joyner came to Tallahassee heralded as an outstanding all-around player who could do it all. He has shown flashes of that ability, but not the consistency or assertiveness needed to live up to that billing. He has yet to average in double figures during his three years with the Seminoles.

Florida State can still reach postseason play without Joyner significantly raising his level of play, but if he does have a big senior season, he could make the Seminoles a more dangerous team than they have been since the Sam Cassell days of the early ‘90's. PREDICTION: Joyner will still not be a big scorer, but will continue to help his team by playing solid defense and being a good complimentary player on offense.

Georgia Tech- Luke Schenscher: So far in his Yellow Jacket career Schenscher, an Australian native, has been very tall but never stepped up big. He was injured for most of his freshman season, and contributed in a limited (12.5 minutes per game) role last season. He is the only true center on Tech's roster this season.

With the early departures of Chris Bosh and Ed Nelson, Coach Paul Hewitt desperately needs more production out of Schenscher this season. He needs to draw defenders to him on the low post to open things up for the Jackets' talented perimeter players, and also establish himself as a consistent rebounder and shot blocker. PREDICTION: Schenscher is still not strong or quick enough to be a major inside force on an ACC team. His playing time won't go beyond 20 minutes per game as Hewitt is forced to go with a smaller lineup.

Maryland- Jamar Smith: Smith is the latest product of the recent pipeline from Allegheny Community College in Cumberland, Maryland to play for Gary Williams (Ryan Randle and Steve Francis preceded him). As was the case with most players on this list, Smith showed flashes of brilliance last season, while at other times he resembled a lost sheep on the court.

Smith has the physical tools to compete with the other top big men in the ACC, particularly at the defensive end. It remains to be seen if he can establish himself as a low-post presence on offense, or if he will even embrace that role. PREDICTION: Smith will not match Randle's numbers from last year, but he won't have to. He will be a solid 20-25 minute a game player a defensive star, and produce a couple of Sports Center highlight dunks every game.

North Carolina-David Noel: It is usually a sign of desperation when a major college team needs to give a lot of minutes to a walk-on player. That happened at Carolina last year when Matt Doherty turned to David Noel to help bolster the Tar Heels' thin frontcourt. Noel, however, turned into one of the few pleasant surprises for Carolina last season. The former football player (6' 6", 230 lbs.) helped fill in at center for the injured Sean May and performed admirably. Noel averaged nearly ten points and over five rebounds per game over the second half of last season and earned a scholarship for this year.

Noel is considered to be a natural wing player, so it remains to be seen how Roy Williams will utilize him this season. Will Noel be able to readjust his game to face the basket more often, and will he fit in with Williams' up-tempo style? PREDICTION: Noel will play all three frontcourt positions at times this season and be a solid contributor off the bench.

North Carolina State- Jordan Collins: With the early (and unwise) departure of Josh Powell, the Wolfpack have a huge hole to fill in their frontcourt. Collins, despite rather pedestrian numbers in his first two years at State, is the logical choice to take Powell's place in the lineup. To borrow a line from ESPN's Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend!" Collins will not be eligible to play until the end of the first semester after dropping out of school last spring.

Once back on the court (he is practicing with the team), can Collins stay healthy? He was plagued with injuries last season, breaking a hand, suffering a groin injury, and twisting an ankle. If he remains upright, will he begin to realize the promise Coach Herb Sendek saw in him as a recruit? The Wolfpack's offense minimizes the role of a low post player, but no team can effectively compete in the ACC, or any other major conference, without at least a decent presence down low. PREDICTION: Given the buzzard's luck NC State has already had this season, I'm not optimistic about Collins' season. He could follow the same path Powell did last season and come on strong late, which would enhance the Pack's chances of doing some damage in the postseason.

Virginia- Elton Brown: The biggest mystery about Brown has been distinguishing him from his first cousin on the Cavaliers' football team with the same name. Brown the football player is an offensive lineman, which is a bad thing for Brown the basketball player to be mistaken for. This year promises to be different.

Brown has lost nearly 35 pounds, dropping from an estimated 280 pounds during last season to below 250 now. He has traded Big Macs and whole pizzas for grilled chicken and salad. He also appears to have a new attitude to go along with the body. Brown saw the leadership void on his team last season and plans on being one of the players to fill it this season. PREDICTION: Brown will come close to posting Travis Watson-like numbers and hold his own against the tough big men at Wake Forest, Maryland, Duke, and North Carolina.

Wake Forest- Eric Williams: The question about this man-child is not if but when will be break out and become a star. Williams started every contest for the Deacons last season, but only averaged 20 minutes per game. The main problem was fouls, which led to five disqualifications. Even in that limited playing time, he demonstrated a clear understanding of how to play the low post on offense, more of a rarity than you would think in today's game.

Williams needs to improve on the defensive end this season. He should be capable of doubling his rebounding average of just over four per game and become more of a shot blocking threat. As he becomes a more polished player, the sky could be the limit for Williams and Wake Forest. PREDICTION: By the end of the season, Williams will stand along Sean May and Shelden Williams as the best big men in the ACC, although foul trouble will still be an issue.

Question for the Jury: What do you think of my choices for the ACC's "Mystery Men" and how accurate do you think my predictions are? Send me e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com. Responses to my "Most Indispensable Players" focused mostly on my choice of Sean May at North Carolina. There were a lot of fans across the conference that thought Raymond Felton, the Tar Heel point guard, would have been a better choice. Hopefully we won't have to find out how much any of these players would be missed by their respective teams.

CourtMaster Briefs: If you think the ACC has some of the best radio play-by-play announcers in the nation, then you agree with Dick Vitale (collective groan). Dickie V listed his choices for the Sweet 16 radio voices in the nation, and 6 of them came from the ACC. They were, Gene Deckerhoff (Florida State), Wes Durham (Georgia Tech), Woody Durham (North Carolina), Bob Harris (Duke), Johnny Holliday (Maryland), and Jim Phillips (Clemson). Unfortunately, Phillips passed away on September 9. For those of you don't know, Wes Durham is Woody's son.

Do you remember Nigel Dixon, known as "Big Jelly" while at Florida State? Well, he's not quite so big anymore, although he'll never be "Little Jelly." The Associated Press caught up with him at his new school, Western Kentucky, where he is eligible after sitting out his transfer year last season. Dixon is down to a relatively svelte 320 pounds. His new coach, Darrin Horn, told the AP "Nigel Dixon has had the best off season, in terms of improving his body and his work ethic and commitment, of anybody I've been around." I'm sure you will join me in wishing him luck as a Hilltopper.

NC State continues to have an exciting preseason for all the wrong reasons. Starting forward Marcus Melvin escaped injury on Monday when the SUV he was driving his a wet spot on the road, jumped the curb, and went down an embankment. With injuries and eligibility issues, there has been some really, really bad karma working down in Raleigh so far.

Connecticut coach decided against taking the high road regarding future ACC member Boston College's departure from the Big East. According to ESPN.com, he said "I have no desire to play Boston College. Not for the fact that they are leaving but how they did it." It was not clear if he had a doo-doo lip when he said that.

Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com. Please let me know which site you read this column on. How tough is each ACC home court to play at? I'll rank them from bottom to top next time. Until then, court is adjourned!

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