CBT Weekly Roundtable: Figuring out the ACC

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Friday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. The inaugural installment focuses on the ACC, the now 15-team conference that some stated was the greatest conference ever assembled before a game had been played. Now that we’ve seen the teams in action, who’s the favorite to win the regular season crown? And who else can make a run at challenging for the title? 

Rob Dauster: The ACC, especially the teams at the top, started out the season in fairly ugly fashion, with Duke losing to Kansas, UNC losing to Belmont and Virginia losing at home to VCU. But over the last couple weeks, Duke bounced back with a win over Michigan, Syracuse won the Maui and UNC has proven they’re going to be Team Schizophrenia this year.

Who’s your pick for winning the league? Right now, I’m still riding with Duke, especially if Marshall Plumlee can find a way to be as effective over 15-20 minutes as he was on Tuesday in six minutes. I think Syracuse is right there with the Blue Devils as well, and I’d probably slot North Carolina 4th and Notre Dame, UVA and Florida State from 5-to-7 in some order. Here’s the sleeper though: Pitt. They’re the third best team best team in the league, period.

Raphielle Johnson: I like Duke, especially with Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker on the wings and an improved point guard in Quinn Cook running the show. But who are they going to defend? The Blue Devils have put forth better efforts in their last three games, and they won’t be as bad as they were against either ECU or Vermont as the season wears on. That being said, those who are thinking that a player who isn’t even averaging ten minutes per game could potentially be the “rim protector” the Blue Devils need may not be thinking clearly.

Enter Syracuse, who has no such issues on the defensive end of the floor. Their 2-3 zone has length on the wings, and what starting guards Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney lack in that department they’ve made up for with sheer activity. And offensively this is a group that will only get better, especially as Cooney improves after struggling last season. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are two high-level forwards, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Michael Gbinije either. This should definitely be a fun race to watch, but I’m taking Syracuse to win it with Duke, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina next in line.

RD: I don’t think Duke necessarily needs a rim protector to be good enough to win the ACC, especially if they are going to defend on the perimeter the way they did against Arizona and Michigan. The Blue Devils game-plan well to take away what their opponents want to do and have a long track of success executing those game plans. That’s not to discredit Syracuse, because I think they’re awesome this year, but writing Duke off is just dumb, especially if Marshall Plumlee can find a way to build on the game he just played.

Seriously, though, Pitt! I’m telling you, this team is legit. Outside of Casey Prather and Xavier Thames, I can’t think of another senior that is having a more pleasantly surprising season that Lamar Patterson. Frankly, if the season ended today, he’d be an all-american. He’s been that good.

RJ: Point taken regarding Duke, and I’m with you on Pittsburgh. Outside of the one hiccup in which they landed in the CBI (and ended up winning it), the Panthers have been a consistent factor under Jamie Dixon. I don’t think that changes in the ACC, with Patterson and Talib Zanna leading the way in the front court. But here’s another name for you: Cameron Wright. He may not be the most improved player in the ACC (Maryland’s Jake Layman and Syracuse’s Jerami Grant), but Wright’s name will come up in those discussions as the season wears on. He’s given Pitt the perimeter scorer they needed with Tray Woodall graduating, and that also relieves a little of the weight on James Robinson’s shoulders.

But here’s something else I want to touch on. Prior to the season Boston College and Georgia Tech were two teams expected to show signs of improvement this season, but it can be argued that their W/L records won’t be the greatest indicator based on the strength of the ACC. Now that we’ve played some games, it’s become evident that the Eagles would have trouble guarding stationary objects. Can they turn things around before the start of league play? I like the offensive pieces, but I’m not sure they can based upon how they defend.

RD: I’ve given up on BC. Eight games into the season. Awesome.

Olivier Hanlon and Ryan Anderson are still two of the best players in the ACC, but there just isn’t the kind of toughness up and down that roster that will allow them to compete in a league as strong as the ACC.

And while we’re here … look, you shouldn’t have listened to anyone who told you that this year’s ACC was going to be the best conference of all time. If you did, that’s your fault. Maybe one year, when Syracuse, Duke, Louisville and North Carolina all are having a top ten-caliber season, we can revisit this conversation. Until then, no.

But that doesn’t mean the ACC isn’t good this year. I mean, this is still the ACC. Florida State beat the brakes off VCU. North Carolina, a team that I think will struggle to finish in the top four of the conference, has beaten Louisville on a neutral court and won at Michigan State. This is still a tough league.

RJ: I agree with your point on the “best of all time” talk. I know people were excited about the programs the ACC was adding, but that’s crazy talk based upon the fact that the league had yet to play a season in its new form. And while I get your point about the high-level programs needing to have top-ten caliber seasons, I’m not sure they’re the ones who will ultimately determine how great this league is. I know March and national polls are what most people use to determine strength in college basketball but hear me out. We know (mostly) what we’re going to get from a Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina or Louisville, and programs such as Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are solid as well. But if this league is to be the “best ever” it’ll take the improvement of the programs in the middle and lower portions of the league pecking order.

Yes they’re going to take losses in conference play, but the number of “bad” losses outside of the ACC can’t be what they’ve been in recent years. For example Georgia Tech, with the amount of talent in the Atlanta area, needs to take steps in the right direction and Wake Forest needs to do enough to get its fans to stop buying billboard space calling for the jobs of their head coach and AD. That all takes time, and that’s why there shouldn’t have been so much chatter about this being the best league ever during the preseason. But is also means that the folks who immediately jumped to bury the league last month need to exercise restraint as well. Let’s allow it all to play out, and it’ll definitely be fun to watch.

RD: Agreed.

And when North Carolina ends up winning the ACC title over Notre Dame and Virginia, we’ll just pretend this conversation never happened.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas dunks on 2 Butler defenders

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Creighton did not get off to the best of starts Tuesday night, trailing by as many as 20 points with Butler making eight of its first 12 three-pointers.

Junior guard Khyri Thomas did his best to provide a spark, driving the lane and then dunking on two Butler defenders.

Thomas’ dunk sparked a 12-4 run to end the half, trimming the Bluejays’ deficit to a slightly more manageable 12 points.

Rival fans fired up over placement of UNC national title signs

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When sports teams win championships, one of the benefits received is usually the placement of signs along major highways that honors said achievement. This is what the North Carolina Department of Transportation did in honor of North Carolina winning the national title. But according to the News & Observer some rival fans are none too pleased with the placement of two of these signs.

The two signs in question were placed on Interstate 40 in Raleigh, with one (which is visible to those driving east) being just three miles away from NC State’s home arena. For those driving westbound on I-40, there’s a visible sign at the Wake-Durham county line.

According to the News & Observer, the signs were placed at those spots in order to grab the attention of passengers deplaning at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But even with that being the case, someone had to know that the placement of the signs would not go over well with the fan base that calls Raleigh home.

In November, North Carolina’s request for eight signs to be erected across the state in acknowledgement of the men’s basketball team’s achievement was approved by the North Carolina Board of Transportation. A sign placed along I-85 also drew criticism, as some believed it to be too close to the Charlotte (formerly UNC Charlotte) campus. That sign would ultimately be moved to a spot close to the South Carolina state line.

And given the reactions to the signs along I-40, one has to wonder if the locations of those two signs will change as well.

The differences between the NCAA’s Louisville and North Carolina rulings

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One of the questions that I have been asked the most since news broke that the NCAA had upheld a ruling that Louisville would have to vacate four seasons worth of wins, including a trip to the Final Four and a National Title, was why what Louisville did was significantly worse than the two decades of academic fraud that had occurred at North Carolina.

UNC, if you’ve forgotten, was not punished at all by the NCAA for the scandal involving paper classes that helped keep football and basketball players eligible.

And the reason for that is really quite simple: The NCAA made an active decision that they would not be in the business of determining what does and what does not constitute academic fraud. In April of 2014, the Division I Legislative Council clarified academic misconduct rules, saying “academic standards and policies governing misconduct are the responsibility of individual schools and their accreditation body,” and that “the membership’s position that it is a school’s responsibility to decide whether or not misconduct involving current or future student-athletes or school staff has occurred.”

The thinking here makes sense.

The NCAA is not an organization that is designed to determine whether or classwork is legitimate. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of accrediting agencies. Those rules are bigger than the NCAA. What they couldn’t have predicted, however, was that a university as prominent and as well-respected as the University of North Carolina would a hit to their academic respectability to protect their athletic department. UNC said that the fraudulent classes weren’t, you know, fraudulent. That’s why the NCAA tried North Carolina as an extra benefits case.

Put another way, the Committee on Infractions for the UNC case could not determine that the “courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” because they weren’t. They were created by a rogue professor. The athletic department found out those classes existed. Student-athletes took advantage of a fake class the way the rest of the student body at-large did. The fake classes were not created specifically for those student-athletes.

That distinction is critical, because it represents the difference between the scandal falling under NCAA jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the agency tasked with accrediting the University of North Carolina as something other than a diploma mill.

With Louisville, there really was no debate about whether or not this was an NCAA issue. A member of a college basketball team’s coaching staff was providing student-athletes and prospective recruits, some of whom were under the age of 18, with lap dances and sexual favors that he paid for. That is the definition of extra benefits in the NCAA rulebook, and the egregiousness of what occurred — strippers, hookers, underage recruits, etc. — is why Louisville was hit so hard.

The NCAA is stupid and illogical and I hate so much about it, but I find it hard to fault them for the way either of these cases played out.

Penny Hardaway acknowledges links to college programs

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One of the most fascinating subplots to this year’s college coaching carousel is what will happen with Penny Hardaway.

A Memphis basketball legend, Penny is currently the head coach of the powerhouse Memphis East high school while running a Nike-affiliated AAU program aptly named Team Penny. Combined, those rosters include an absolutely ridiculous amount of talent. James Wiseman, who may just be the best player in the Class of 2019, plays for both East and Team Penny. Another five-star prospect in the Class of 2019, D.J. Jeffries, also plays for Team Penny while his cousins — Jonathan and Chandler Lawson, the younger brothers of former Memphis and current Kansas players Dedric and K.J. — play for East.

There’s a real debate about whether or not those teams would be able to beat the Memphis Tigers basketball team.

As in the University of Memphis.

That’s where things are in that city.

Which is why Penny Hardaway has been linked to a job that isn’t even open yet. It’s why his name is mentioned when discussing whether or not Ole Miss should hire him to replace Andy Kennedy. We’re talking about a guy with more than a decade of experience in the NBA that can, in theory, bring with him the kind of talent that you would expect to see on a roster like Kentucky or Duke. It would only make sense for the likes of Memphis and Ole Miss to kick the tires.

What if he says yes?

And, according to an interview he gave to SEC Country, it sounds like Penny would, at the very least, listen.

“It’s a huge compliment for any college to even think about wanting me to come in. I feel like I bring a lot to the table even though I haven’t coached college,” he told the site on Monday. “I feel like my NBA experience and the coaches I’ve had over the years, I’ve learned enough to be a head coach in college. But I’m really enjoying this right now and coaching these guys.”

If Louisville vacates the 2013 national title, does Michigan win the national title?

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Louisville lost their appeal, meaning that for the first time in college basketball history, a Division I program is going to have to take down a national title banner.

The details are pretty straight-forward: If one of the three enrolled student-athletes or 15 recruits that the were determined by the NCAA to have received “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” from strippers and sex workers played in any game from Dec. 2010 through July 2014, when Louisville staffer Andre McGee was paying for girls to come around Louisville’s Billy Minardi Hall, then that game is to be vacated from the Louisville record books.

That includes 123 regular season games and 15 NCAA tournament wins.

That also includes the 2012 Final Four and the 2013 National Title.

What does that mean? How does a program vacate records and titles?

Well, they can no longer do anything to officially reference winning that title. Banners come down. Record books must be changed. For all intents and purposes, Louisville must never again acknowledge that their run to the national title — which included Kevin Ware breaking his leg in the Elite 8 against Duke, a marvelous comeback in the Final Four against Wichita State and one of the most exciting halves of basketball in NCAA tournament history as Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht went shot-for-shot — took place.

It doesn’t, however, mean that Michigan, whom Louisville beat in the national title game, won the 2013 National Championship.

This not like the Olympics. A silver medal does not turn to gold when the official winner is ruled a cheat. Michigan still lost that game in the eyes of the NCAA. Louisville did not forfeit the win. They just … also lost.

There is no winner.

Officially speaking, as of today, no one won the 2013 national title.