UNC athletes steered to a Navy Weapons class?

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The North Carolina academic scandal took another twist late on Tuesday night as the Raleigh News & Observer published yet another article on the investigation.

Instead of focusing on the African and Afro-American Studies department, the N&O dug up some information on a Naval Weapons System class that attracted a high-concentration of athletes. 30 of the 38 students in the class were athletes, and of those 30, six were basketball players. Bobby Frasor spoke on record about the class to the paper, and while he declined to name which of his teammates also took the class, the paper did identify Tyler Hansbrough as one of the six.

According to the report, it was the only time in the past six years that the class had basketball players in it.

That fact, in and of itself, isn’t troubling.

This is:

The syllabus for the NAVS 302 class shows that it was a different type of course than in other years. It had no required exams or quizzes and no major research paper. Students received much of their grade from a two- to three-page double-spaced midterm paper and a group project that required a 20-minute oral presentation split among five students.

Frasor recalled the paper was on weaponry and the presentation was on battle scenarios.

The professor for the class, Lt. Brian Lubitz, taught it only once, UNC records show. […]

The current head of the Naval Science Department at UNC, Capt. Doug Wright, said the course work requirements in that particular class had troubled his predecessor, Capt. Stephen Matts, so much that Matts told subsequent instructors he wanted them changed. Later course outlines show quizzes, tests and papers or presentations. Matts could not be reached.

Wright said he would have made the same changes because the class as structured under Lubitz would make it difficult to determine whether the students were learning the material.

Now, there is an important distinction to make here.

No-show classes, like what was happening in UNC’s AFAM department, are a problem. Having courses adjusted to make them easier so athletes can enroll in them, which is what yesterday’s revelation appears to say, is a problem.

But athletes gossiping about, and clustering in, classes that are rumored to be easy?

That happens on every college campus and includes far more students whose only athletic achievement involves an x-box controller than students who are on athletic scholarships. I certainly did it. I took four years of spanish in high school and, as a senior in college, enrolled in an Intro Spanish class with a teacher that I had heard graded quite easily. I took a half-credit Geology course that I knew was only graded with online, multiple-choice tests, and the enrollment in that class might have been 75% athletes. I took multiple Anthropology courses with one professor that I knew to be quite easy and that also brought her dog to class.

And I was an economics major at Vassar.

It also should be noted that simply having a large number of athletes in one class or one major isn’t indicative of cheating, either. At a school like North Carolina, the coaches are more concerned about having their athletes in practice than whether or not they are getting into the classes they want to take. (I doubt the players complain about that.) The more players that are in a class that meets at Noon instead of 7 p.m., the easier it becomes to schedule practices with the majority of the roster able to attend.

Don’t take what I’ve written here as evidence that North Carolina hasn’t cheated. I’m not saying that. I don’t know anything more than what’s been reported.

My point is simply that there needs to be more than a high percentage of athletes and an easy syllabus for a class to constitute academic fraud.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.