Boston College could surprise some teams in the ACC next season

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UNION, N.J. — The ACC is on its way to becoming the best conference in college basketball.

Duke and North Carolina, pending the status of PJ Hairston, are perennial Final Four favorites, and that’s going to be no different this season. Bring Syracuse into the mix this season gives the league yet another annual title contender, and that’s before you factor in the likes of Virginia, Notre Dame, Pitt and even NC State and Florida State.

But if you’re looking for a sleeper in the league heading into the 2013-2014 season, look no further than Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles.

BC finished a paltry 7-11 in ACC play a year ago, going 16-17 on the season and missing out on the NIT. But the Eagles came together down the stretch, winning six of their last 11 regular season league games to say nothing of the one possession losses they took at home against the two best teams in the conference, Duke and Miami.

More importantly, the Eagles essentially bring back their entire roster from a season ago, headlined by three excellent underclassmen in rising junior Ryan Anderson and rising sophomores Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, the team’s three leading scorers. Throw in Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich, who has reportedly looked good in offseason workouts, and a decent recruiting class, and there’s reason to be bullish on the Eagles.

“I think we definitely see ourselves in the tournament,” Anderson told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University last week. “We have a lot of new guys coming in, we have a transfer from Notre Dame that’s really going to help us out and we got a big guy from Sweden [Billy Magarity Jr.] that’s going to help us out in the post, too. I think if me and Olivier become more efficient with the basketball, and all the other guys play their role, I think we’re going to be a very good team.”

Anderson was one of the best young post players in the country a season ago, proving to be a versatile post scorer, and he used his time at the Skills Academy to work on fine-tuning some aspects of his post game.

“Where you catch the ball in the post, whether you want it higher or lower, just to help me get more efficient out there,” Anderson said. “As big guys, we’ve gotta be more efficient with our touches. The little things that I’ve learned at this camp will really help me with that.”

The Eagles can score, there’s no question about that. They were 43rd nationally in offensive efficiency last season, and that will likely improve as some of the team’s younger guys now have a year of experience under their belt. With Anderson in the post and a slew of shooters around the perimeter, it will behoove Donahue’s club for point guard Olivier Hanlan to develop into more than simply being a scorer. While Hanlan led the team in scoring a season ago, he averaged just 2.3 assists as the team’s primary ball-handler.

“I just want to keep on improving as a point guard,” Hanlan said. “Be more vocal, get my assists up a bit more this year. Being aggressive and competing.”

“I just feel like the thing that I’ve gotta work on the most is just ball-handling and, if you saw Kyrie out there, just really loose and all the guards are pretty good with that. I’ve gotta improve at that.”

Going from being a team that finished under .500 to making the NCAA tournament would be an impressive leap, but it’s one that the Eagles very much believe is a possibility.

“Everybody’s goal is to make the tournament and give yourselves a chance for March Madness,” Anderson said. “That’s what everyone’s goal going into the season, so it would be awesome to fill out the bracket and have your name on the list.”

“All the individual accolades come through the team being successful. If we’re efficient with the ball and we’re getting wins, at the end of the season, the individual stuff will take care of itself.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Deandre Ayton eligible to play for Arizona

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Arizona announced on Saturday afternoon that Deandre Ayton will be eligible to play the rest of the season. The Wildcats play at Oregon on Saturday night.

On Friday night, ESPN reported that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap during the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of Ayton.

The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller. According to ESPN, when asked by Dawkins if he should work through former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson to finalize a deal, “Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money.”

Miller will not be coaching for Arizona tonight.

“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement. “I continue to fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated. For now, my thoughts are with our team. They are a great group of young men that will support each other and continue their pursuit of winning a Pac-12 championship.”

McDuffie leads No. 13 Wichita State past SMU 84-78

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DALLAS — Markis McDuffie scored a season-high 26 points off the bench, including nine during the first four minutes of the second half, to lead No. 13 Wichita State to an 84-78 win over SMU on Saturday.

The Shockers (23-5, 13-3 American Athletic Conference) have won six straight games and are one-half game behind first-place Cincinnati. Wichita State will host Cincinnati on March 4 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

SMU (16-13, 6-10) lost for the sixth time in seven games since leading scorer Shake Milton (18 points per game) was sidelined with a hand injury.

McDuffie added to Wichita State’s 37-35 halftime lead on the first possession of the second half with a midcourt steal leading to a three-point play. A 10-1 run put the Shockers ahead 56-43 with 12:18 to play, and they led by as many as 17 points.

McDuffie, a junior forward, led Wichita State in scoring last season but missed this season’s first 11 games because of a stress fracture. He has primarily been a reserve since returning.

Jahmal McMurray led SMU with 28 points. McMurray has topped the Mustangs in scoring in five of the past six games.

Shaquille Morris had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Wichita State. Landry Shamet returned after missing the Shockers’ previous game because of illness and scored 10 points in 27 minutes, playing only eight first-half minutes because of foul trouble.

Because of injuries and NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations, SMU played with seven scholarship players on Saturday and has had seven or fewer during its past seven games.

Wichita State failed to pull away during the first half despite a 21-12 rebounding advantage. The Mustangs shot 45.4 percent during the half and the Shockers 41.4 percent, both hitting six 3-pointers.

Wichita State got even for one of its two home losses this season, 83-78 on Jan. 17.

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers are 8-2 in true road games this season with one to play. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, they lead Division I in road wins (48) and road winning percentage (.857). They avoided a conference opponent’s sweep of a two-game season series for the first time since 2012-13 (Evansville, Missouri Valley).

SMU: The Mustangs opened the season 12-3, including wins over then-No. 2 Arizona and then-No. 14 USC, but have since gone 4-10. SMU will finish with a losing league record after winning the AAC last season at 17-1.

UP NEXT

Wichita State will visit UCF on Thursday.

SMU hosts Houston in its final home season of the season on Wednesday.

Shareef O’Neal decommits from Arizona

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Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, has decommitted from Arizona following the latest in the FBI scandal.

Considered a five-star prospect on Rivals, the 6-foot-9 Shareef becomes one of the best available prospects in the country in the Class of 2018.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller was reportedly caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of freshman Deandre Ayton. The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, who is a focal point in the FBI’s investigation.

Recruiting has taken a major hit for Arizona over the last several months as the program lost five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly and now O’Neal due to scandal.

Sean Miller’s contract with Arizona pays him $5 million more if he’s fired for cause

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Following a bombshell report from ESPN on Friday night that Sean Miller is caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for superstar recruit Deandre Ayton, the Arizona head coach will not be coaching the Wildcats on Saturday night when they play at Oregon.

It seems as if Miller’s tenure in Tucson is coming to an end, which puts the University into a weird position. According to ESPN, the way that Miller’s contract is written, if he is fired for cause, he will receive twice as much money in a buyout — $10.3 million vs. $5.15 million — as he would receive if he was not fired for cause.

The reason for this?

According to Forbes, it appears to simply be a mistake that was made by Arizona when drafting the contract. In a section titled “Termination by University Without Cause; Liquidated Damages”, the contract states clearly that he’ll be entitled to receive 50 percent of his base salary for each year left on his contract. But in the section discussing what happens if Miller is fired FOR cause, the contract reads that “the University’s sole obligation to Coach shall be the payment of his Base Salary” for each year left on the contract.

His full base salary.

No agent in their right mind is going try and sneak something like that into a contract with a school because no school is going to be dumb enough to agree to put a clause like that in the contract. It is, quite literally, an incentive to break rules in order to get fired for cause.

What does that mean?

Well, Miller is probably not going to be fired for cause.

And if he is, he’ll double the amount of money that he’ll have to toss into his bank account while he figures out what the next move for him will be.

No. 19 Tennessee tops Ole Miss 73-65

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OXFORD, Miss. — Admiral Schofield scored 23 points, Jordan Bowden scored 15, Lamonte Turner scored 13 and No. 19 Tennessee earned a 73-65 win over Mississippi on Saturday.

The Volunteers (21-7, 11-5 SEC) jumped out to a 29-9 lead in the first 10 minutes and held off a rally by Ole Miss in the second half to earn the key road victory.

Neither team shot well from the floor with Tennessee shooting 39 percent and Ole Miss shooting 34 percent.

The Rebels (12-17, 5-11) struggled from long distance. Ole Miss shot 4 percent (1-for-23) from three-point range. Terence Davis, who was 1 for 7 on 3s, connected in the second half.

Breein Tyree led the Rebels with 17 points, Bruce Stevens scored 14 and Davis finished with 13.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: With Saturday’s win, the Vols remained behind No. 12 Auburn and in second place in the league.

Mississippi: The Rebels enter the final week of the season with an attempt to grab momentum heading into the SEC Tournament and the offseason.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will travel to Mississippi State on Tuesday before closing out the regular season at home against Georgia next Saturday.

Mississippi: Ole Miss travels to Kentucky on Wednesday and will host Vanderbilt on Saturday in the regular-season finale.