It’s late October. That means one thing. College Basketball hype season is here.
Less than a month from now Duke, NC State, and North Carolina will make their 2016-17 hardwood debuts. Until then, each fanbase is left to speculate as to exactly what team will emerge from Schrodinger’s Closed Gym. Until November 11, NCAA Title-winning versions of the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, and Wolfpack theoretically exist.
That glimmer of possibility, however unlikely, generates hype. This hype doesn’t simply exist in the abstract, but instead manifests itself in certain players. The rest of this piece will be spent identifying the hypebearer for each Triangle Team in 2016-2017 and rating them on a standardized scale of hype from 1-10. [1. The units of this scale are “Black Falcons” named in honor of Harrison Barnes, who remains the most hyped preseason player in the modern era of Triangle Basketball.] Additionally the athlete who has the highest potential impact-to-hype ratio has been identified and dubbed the “hypeless hero.”
NC State Wolfpack
Hypebearer – Dennis Smith Jr.
Dennis Smith Jr. will have the most important Wolfpack Basketball career since Julius Hodge. That may seem ridiculous to claim for a career that likely will only span one season but it’s true nonetheless. DSJ not only has the chance to lead a sneaky good team into the national spotlight, but almost more important he can legitimize NC State as a one and done destination. While the Gottfather may never become a recruiting don on the level of Calipari or Coach K, if Smith Jr. can parlay a dominant season in Raleigh into a NBA lottery selection, he could open the recruiting floodgates for one and done talent the same way Kyrie Irving did at Duke.
That’s a good bit of pressure for one player, but everything coming out of NC State’s practices seems intent on building Smith Jr.’s hype rather than subduing it.[2. The Wolfpack are sending Smith Jr. to ACC Media day as a player representative, which is rare for a freshman.] Watching highlights it’s not hard to see why people are so incredibly high on the freshman out of Fayetteville. Smith Jr. seems capable of getting into the lane at will and unleashes jarringly thunderous dunks for someone listed at 6’2”. While his predecessor, Cat Barber, was a high volume scorer, Smith Jr. brings the added intrigue of watching someone who has NBA All-Star upside.
Hype Score: 9.5/10 Black Falcons
Hypeless Hero – Abdul Malik Abu
While the Wolfpack junior did briefly flirt with leaving for the draft after a solid-if-unspectacular sophomore season, Malik Abu is flying somewhat under the radar after ultimately deciding to return to Raleigh. This isn’t entirely surprising given that Smith Jr. and fellow freshman Omer Yurtseven’s eligibility have dominated the preseason headlines for the Wolfpack. Nonetheless, Malik Abu could thrive in the pick and roll with Dennis Smith Jr. Furthermore, if Yurtseven is cleared, Abu will be paired with another legitimate scoring threat for the first time in his Wolfpack career. Smith Jr. will be NC State’s brightest star, but Abu could be the player that elevates NC State to a legitimate contender in the ACC.
Duke Blue Devils
Hypebearer – Grayson Allen
Look this should be Harry Giles. The #1 overall recruit further solidified Duke’s recent recruiting dominance when he picked the Blue Devils over the Tar Heels. However, a third knee surgery in three years has dampened the excitement surrounding Duke’s most recent freshman phenom and led fans to wonder how much Giles will even see the court as a Blue Devil.
While Duke has no shortage of other elite first year talent coming in, Grayson Allen takes the mantle of hypebearer in Giles stead. A season after leaning into the role of “Duke Villain” harder than anyone since JJ Reddick, Allen enters his junior season as the presumptive favorite for National Player of the Year. And look, while the tripping and Ted Cruz lookalike jokes write themselves, Grayson Allen is really good at basketball. While he shoots the three exceptionally well, his go to move is a Harden-esque drive to the basket where he sweeps his arms up, virtually ensuring contact and frequently drawing fouls. The move is as unstoppable as it is infuriating to opposing fans — perhaps the perfect metaphor for Grayson Allen.
Hype Score: 8/10 Black Falcons
Hypeless Hero – Amile Jefferson
Last year Duke got routinely abused in the paint. [3. Brice Johnson averaged freaking 24 and 20 against the Blue Devils.] With Giles potentially limited, Duke’s frontcourt remains susceptible to similar abuse in 2016-17. While freshman center Marques Bolden is highly touted, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to prevent experienced frontcourts like North Carolina from playing volleyball at the rim. Amile Jefferson on the other hand, is likely up to the task. The fifth year senior has been lost in the preseason hype of Allen and Duke’s freshmen, but has the potential to correct Duke’s most glaring weakness from last season. If he is able to do so effectively, Duke may be truly unstoppable.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Hypebearer – Isaiah Hicks
It’s oddly fitting that I had such a hard time identifying which player for North Carolina enters 2016-2017 with the most hype. The Tar Heels enter the season with a roster full of experienced talent. Justin Jackson is probably UNC’s best NBA prospect. Reigning ACC Tournament MVP Joel Berry will probably be the team’s best player. But ultimately I settled on Isaiah Hicks as North Carolina’s hypebearer.
It’s hard to remember, but going into last season a good portion of the Carolina fanbase expected Hicks to overtake Brice Johnson as the team’s starting power forward. Despite being a McDonald’s All-American, Hicks has been relegated to an off-the-bench role in his first three seasons at UNC. Finally a starter entering his senior season, many expect Hicks to make a jump similar what Brice Johnson did last season.
While Hicks doesn’t quite have Brice’s silky touch, the senior forward may actually have a more versatile offensive repertoire than Johnson. Hicks combines a reliable mid-range jumper with a surprising ability to attack the basket off the dribble. If Hicks can significantly cut down on his foul rate and thus play 30+ minutes a night, All-American aspirations may not be out of his reach.
Hype Rating: 4/10 Black Falcons
Hypeless Hero – Nate Britt
Nate Britt’s career is a little strange to consider. Britt was unexpectedly thrown into a starting role his freshman season with the unexpected absence of PJ Hairston. He will come off the bench as a senior. Yet, Britt affords the Tar Heels a luxury few teams can boast — a reliable experienced guard to run the second unit who can be trusted to make good decisions with the ball. Beyond that, Britt has improved his jump shot over his Carolina career after infamously switching shooting hands his sophomore season. While all Midnight Madness scrimmages should be taken with a giant grain of salt, Britt won the night’s three point contest and shot well from deep in the blue-white scrimmage. If that improvement proves real during the season, Britt could be a dark horse for ACC sixth man of the year.