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2013-2014 ACC Preview: Notre Dame, Syracuse invade Tobacco Road, but watch for Virginia

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

All it took was one cycle through conference realignment for the ACC to morph into one of, if not the strongest league in the country, particularly at the top. As many as five teams have the talent on their roster to feasibly put together a run to the Final Four: Duke and North Carolina will almost always be in that conversation, as will new member Syracuse. Notre Dame has arguably the best back court in the country, and Virginia will enter this season as one of the nation’s most underappreciated teams.

For my money, Duke is the favorite in this league, but I could see any of those four teams playing their way into the No. 2 spot in the conference standings. Raiding the Big East sure did make the ACC a compelling conference.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pitt
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Duke’s best lineup may be small: As talented as the Blue Devils are this season, they’re missing a presence in the paint. They don’t have a physical, imposing shot blocker and rebounder to put around the rim. Marshall Plumlee isn’t as blue-collar as his brothers were. Amile Jefferson is talented and stronger but still undersized. Josh Hairston is, well, Josh Hairston. On the other hand, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are both extremely talented combo-forwards. Could they be paired along the front line with a three-guard lineup on the perimeter? Can you imagine college fours and fives trying to chase those two around on the perimeter?

2. North Carolina’s pieces don’t necessarily fit: There are two things that Roy Williams’ offense has when it’s running right: a point guard that can get the ball up the floor in a split-second, and a big man that can score on command in the post while also beating defenses to the rim in transition. The combination of Marcus Paige and Nate Britt should resolve the first issue, but who steps up in the front court? Is Joel James in good enough shape? Has Brice Johnson gotten stronger? Does James Michael-McAdoo have a post move year?

3. Virginia is for real: Yes, the ‘Hoos have a situation at the point they have to work out, as a group of guys battling injuries will look to replace veteran leader Jontel Evans. But beyond that, Tony Bennett has himself a squad. Joe Harris is one of the nation’s most underrated stars, and Akil Mitchell is a sparkplug on the front line. Expect a much-improved Mike Tobey, who is coming off of a summer with Team USA’s U19 team, and don’t be surprised to see junkyard dog Justin Anderson take a big step forward, either. This group defends, and this season, they have some serious weapons offensively.

4. Boston College: This year’s crop of realignment additions aren’t the only former Big East members that will make some noise. Steve Donahue has himself a squad up in Beantown. Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlon form one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, and Joe Rahon is a formidable third option. BC has a decided — read: frigid — home court advantage as well. Tourney team this year?

5. What should we expect from Tyler Ennis?: I’m not sure there is a more important player in the ACC than Ennis, who is the only true point guard on the Syracuse roster. There’s enough talent around him, particularly in the front court, to make the Orange a formidable Final Four threat, but he’s more or less the only playmaker that Jim Boeheim has.

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PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jabari Parker, Duke

Before Andrew Wiggins turned into ‘ANDREW “OMFG” WIGGINS!!!’, it was Parker that most scouts believed was the best prospect in the Class of 2013. He was surpassed by a couple of guys as a senior in high school, but he was also banged up as a senior. Now healthy and in shape, Parker is going to have a chance to truly showcase his ability. He’s an all-american caliber guard with a power forward’s size. You’ll enjoy watching him play. Trust me.

THE REST OF THE ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM:

  • C.J. Fair, Syracuse: One of the most underappreciated players in the country. Quietly has had a terrific career.
  • Joe Harris, Virginia: Just as overlooked as Fair. Playing on one of the slowest teams in the country, averaged 16.1 ppg and shot 42.5% from three.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Big, talented lead guard will be Notre Dame’s best player this season.
  • P.J. Hairston, North Carolina: A terrific talent, his off-the-court issues seem to be resolved. How long will his suspension last?

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Rodney Hood, Duke
  • Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
  • Ryan Anderson, Boston College
  • Olivier Hanlon, Boston College
  • Dez Wells, Maryland

BREAKOUT STAR: Jerami Grant, Syracuse

There are two other options I considered here — Rodney Hood and Mike Tobey — but I think that Grant has the best chance to see a significant uptick in his production. A long, athletic forward, Grant is a high-energy guy that can make plays defensively and get to the glass. A very nice compliment to C.J. Fair.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest

It seems like everyone in Winston-Salem wants him gone. How bad is it down there? Demon Deacon fans want their AD fired in part because he hired Bzdelik. That’s not a good sign, and this Wake Forest squad is not a good team. That’s not a good combination. Not a good.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The ACC has five teams capable of making the Final Four.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing the teams on Tobacco Road invite the Orange-clad hills of Upstate New York.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 12, Duke vs. Kansas (Champions Classic in Chicago)
  • Nov. 12, VCU at Virginia
  • Dec. 3, Michigan at Duke
  • Dec. 4, North Carolina at Michigan State
  • Dec. 14, Kentucky at North Carolina

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Duke: Absurd amount of perimeter talent, the question for the Blue Devils will be just how well they can defend the paint and capitalize on the mismatches that Parker and Hood will create. Also key: Quinn Cook. Duke has shot makers, but not necessarily shot creators. Cook was terrific early last year, no so much in March.
2. Syracuse: That trip to Upstate New York won’t be easy. Preparing to face that 2-3 zone won’t be either. Some question marks for the Orange — Ennis, post play, perimeter shooting — but there is plenty of talent.
3. Virginia: I love this Virginia squad. They can really, really defend, and they’ve got more weapons offensively than anyone realizes. Joe Harris is a stud, as is Akil Mitchell. Will Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson make the jump as sophomores?
4. Notre Dame: The best back court in the ACC. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are known quantities, while Demetrius Jackson will allow the Irish to give three and four guard looks. They need Zach Auguste to become a force in the middle.
5. North Carolina: I’m concerned about UNC, as you read above, but if Roy Williams does find his answers at the point and at center, and P.J. Hairston and James Michael-McAdoo live up to their potential, this team can win the league.
6. Maryland: Losing Seth Allen for a month will hurt, as Roddy Peters isn’t quite ready to be a full-time point guard yet. Lots of talent on this team, with a bullying front line and the underrated Dez Wells leading the way. X-factor: Jake Layman.
7. Boston College: Couldn’t love Olivier Hanlon and Ryan Anderson anymore, but will their supporting cast be strong enough to garner a bid to the NCAA tournament?
8. Pitt: The Panthers are the most intriguing team in the ACC. They’ve got some quality big men, so talent on their perimeter, and a young point guard in James Robinson that could end up being a star. Not a lot is proven, but I think this group has top-four-in-the-ACC potential.
9. NC State: T.J. Warren is slimmed down and ready to become a scoring machine. Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis have the potential to be a thrilling back court. I don’t trust Mark Gottfried.
10. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets might sneak up on some teams this season. They filled their hole at the point with Trae Golden and bring back their top four scorers from last season.
11. Florida State: The Seminoles’ 9-9 ACC record last year was more impressive than it should have been thanks to four buzzer-beaters from the now-departed Michael Snaer.
12. Wake Forest: Losing C.J. Harris hurts, but with Travis McKie, Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre and Arnaud-William Adala Moto all back, Bzdelik’s team has a chance to finally make some noise in the ACC.
13. Clemson: The Tigers lose two of their top three scorers from a team that went 5-13 in the ACC and lost 10 of their last 11 games. Addition by subtraction or just subtraction?
14. Miami: The Hurricanes lost six of their top seven from last season, and with Angel Rodriguez, Shelden McClellan and DeAndre Burnett sitting out, Miami’s practice squad could beat their starting five.
15. Virginia Tech: No Erick Green means James Johnson’s club is in for a long season in Blacksburg.

Mountain West issues statement on Colorado State/New Mexico altercation

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The Mountain West issued a statement on Monday in response to the altercation that happened after New Mexico’s win at Colorado State on Saturday.
Following the Lobos’ 84-71 road victory, Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal captured an incident on video between Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo and the New Mexico coaching staff.
Both sides claimed that the other was the instigator and the incident didn’t make anybody in the video look good.
For as bad as things might have looked, the Mountain West has decided not to hand down any sort of punishment. After an investigation, the conference could not truly determine the root cause of all the drama saying in the release, “A number of conflicting perspectives have emerged and, in some cases, there is no definitive proof as to the responsible party or parties.”
What has been determined is the entire incident created an undesirable athletic competition environment, and did not reflect favorably upon either basketball program, either member institution or the Conference. There were a number of errors in judgment throughout the course of the afternoon and poor decisions made by various individuals. Such conduct is unacceptable.
The Colorado State and New Mexico athletic departments have already initiated follow-up conversations with all appropriate parties to address the events of this past Saturday. Those will continue, with the institutions taking corrective measures they deem appropriate and advising the Conference office accordingly.
The Mountain West Board of Directors and Joint Council have been adamant in their emphasis on good sportsmanship and appropriate behavior. Those involved with this most recent incident will be under close scrutiny going forward – as will all Mountain West constituents.

Obviously there is a lot to sift through with this incident but hopefully these two teams don’t have any further incident when they play at New Mexico on Feb. 21st.

No. 22 Xavier’s slide continues with loss to short-handed No. 7 Creighton

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 16:  Chris Mack the head coach of the Xavier Musketeers  gives instructions to his team against the Creighton Blue Jays during the game at Cintas Center on January 16, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It’s officially time to be concerned about No. 22 Xavier.

The Musketeers have now lost three straight games, all to the top three teams in the Big East, and currently sit at 13-5 on the year with just a single good win to their name: Clemson.

But prior to Monday’s loss to No. 7 Creighton, Xavier had lost all of their games on the road to teams that will either get a top five seed in the NCAA tournament (Villanova, Butler, Baylor) or play at altitude (Colorado). On Monday, the Musketeers not only lost 72-67 to Creighton, but they did so on a day where the Bluejays lost star point guard and all-american candidate Mo Watson to a knee injury midway through the first half and spent the majority of the game playing with star center Justin Patton saddled with fouls.

Should I mention that Creighton, who is third-nationally in three-point percentage, shot 5-for-19 from beyond the arc, or that their two best healthy guards – Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas – shot a combined 10-for-31?

All of the stars were aligned. Coming how to an afternoon game against a top ten team on a holiday after losing back-to-back games on the road, and that top ten team lost their most important player early in the first half?

This should have been where Xavier landed that first elite win.

Instead, the Musketeers are left scratching their head again.

And it begs the question: If not now, when?

The Musketeers still play Villanova and Butler at home, visit Creighton and have the Crossroads Classic at Cincinnati. There are opportunities for them to get wins that they need.

But if they cannot get a win over a short-handed Creighton team at home, who are they actually going to be?

VIDEO: No. 7 Creighton beats No. 22 Xavier, loses all-american Mo Watson to a knee injury

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Creighton point guard Mo Watson was carried off of the Cintas Center floor on Monday afternoon after an ugly-looking injury in the first half.

Watson drove the lane and landed on his left leg. He immediately grabbed the knee in clear distress:

The Bluejays would hold on to win a thrilling, hard-fought game, 72-67, without Watson. That’s impressive, and it means that they move into a tie for first place in the Big East with Villanova, but the story of this game was Watson.

According to a reporter at the game, Watson told head coach Greg McDermott that he “heard it pop“. Losing Watson to any significant injury would be catastrophic for the No. 8 Bluejays. Watson entered Monday averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists. He’s been in the top ten of our Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long, is a clear-cut candidate for an all-american team and is the engine for the high-powered offense that has made Creighton a Final Four contender.

The injury may be somewhat controversial as well. Two minutes before the video clip above, Watson banged knees with a Xavier defender and had to be helped off of the floor. He was tested on the sideline and allowed to return to the game, albeit with a noticeable limp.

UPDATE: Greg McDermott told FS1 after the game that Watson’s ligaments are intact, but that they are concerned about the meniscus.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kansas vaults to No. 1

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas vaulted up to the No. 1 spot in the Coaches Poll for the first time this season, receiving 23 of the 32 first place votes.

Villanova comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Kansas (23 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (4)
3. UCLA (2)
4. Gonzaga (3)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
7. Creighton
8. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Louisville
12. Florida State
13. Arizona
14. Butler
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Xavier
20. Cincinnati
21. Florida
22. Purdue
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

College Basketball AP Top 25: Villanova is back to the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova vaulted back into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll after falling out for a week when they lost at Creighton.

Kansas comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Villanova (28 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (32)
3. UCLA (3)
4. Gonzaga (2)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
t-7. Creighton
t-7. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Florida State
11. Oregon
12. Louisville
13. Butler
14. Arizona
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Florida
20. Cincinnati
21. Purdue
22. Xavier
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland