Conference Catchups: The ACC’s power lies in … Upstate New York?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Jabari Parker, Duke

At this point in the year, Parker is our National Player of the Year. So it only makes sense to name him the ACC Player of the Year, right? Parker is averaging impressive numbers — 22.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg — and doing so for a top ten team, but he also is simply the best, most versatile player in the country. Right now, that goes a long way.

All-ACC First Team:

  • Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina
  • Rodney Hood, Duke
  • Jabari Parker, Duke
  • T.J. Warren, N.C. State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Roy Williams, North Carolina

I don’t care who they’ve lost to, so you can take that argument and head right out the door with it. North Carolina, and Williams in particular, has been through one of the most tumultuous periods of time for a program, and a coach, in recent memory. Read through this story by Jason King and tell me it doesn’t sound like the stress that’s been weighing on Williams has knocked five years off of his life. P.J. Hairston’s career at UNC is over, but Williams has somehow managed to guide this group — who, on paper, look like an NIT team — to wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.

Favorite: Syracuse Orange

source: Getty ImagesIf it wasn’t for Jabari Parker’s sensational season, I think that Tyler Ennis would be the ACC Player of the Year through the season’s first two months. He’s just such a perfect fit at the point for what Syracuse needs. He controls the game, he doesn’t turn the ball over, he can score when he needs to but he’s content to just set the table for his teammates. Those teammates — C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant — happen to be pretty good.

And three more contenders:

  • Duke is a national title contender if these defensive improvements of the last month hold through league play.
  • I don’t get it, and I’m not sure that I can tell you exactly why, but North Carolina can win this conference. They also could probably finish in eighth. I don’t think I’d bat an eye either way, which kind of makes them more fun to follow.
  • I know Pitt lost to Cincinnati. I know that might be the best team that they’ve played this season. I don’t care. The Panthers are good.

Most Surprising Team: Florida State Seminoles

Leonard Hamilton’s club has put together a pretty impressive non-conference resume, knocking off Atlantic 10 powers VCU and UMass without suffering a resume-killing loss. I don’t know how many people had Florida State being a potential tournament team back in October, but that’s precisely what they are.

Most Disappointing Team: Boston College Eagles

I’m going with B.C. over Maryland because at least with the Terps, I can tell myself that they’ll get better when Seth Allen gets back. Steve Donahue has himself one of the best 1-2 punches in the country with Olivier Hanlon and Ryan Anderson, but a lack of toughness and an inability to play any kind of defense has put B.C. in a position where making the NIT this year will end up being an accomplishment.

Most Important Player (in league play): Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke

The Blue Devils don’t need Sulaimon in order to be a good basketball team. The trio of Andre Dawkins, Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton can do some things. But Sulaimon is the most talented off-guard on their roster, a guy that can hit threes, drive through a defense and defend on the perimeter. Duke is a national title contender if Sulaimon works his way all the way out of the doghouse.

Who will slide?: N.C. State Wolfpack

I love what T.J. Warren is doing this season, and believe me, seeing the Wolfpack head into the holiday break with a 9-2 record is not something I’m taking lightly. Tennessee isn’t all that good this season, but going into Knoxville and pounding them is not an easy thing to do. But I’m still not convinced that this group is going to be able to make this last all season. They get Missouri at home on Saturday. Beat the Tigers and we’ll talk.

Who is the sleeper?: Virginia Cavaliers

They were a top 25 preseason team that a lot of people have forgotten about thanks to losses against Wisconsin, VCU and at Green Bay. But there’s a reason this group was a preseason top 25 team. They defend, they can control tempo and they have quite a bit of talent on their roster. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are too good not to be able to figure out their issues.

New Power Rankings:

1. Syracuse
2. Duke
3. North Carolina
4. Pitt
5. Florida State
6. Virginia
7. N.C. State
8. Notre Dame
9. Maryland
10. Georgia Tech
11. Clemson
12. Wake Forest
13. Miami
14. Boston College
15. Virginia Tech

California bans state-funded travel to eight states; does it affect college hoops?

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A new California law could end up causing a headache for the sports teams for public universities in the state.

Because of recently-added laws that are perceived as discriminatory against the LGBT community, California has now banned travel to eight states: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota join a list that already includes Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The law states that contracts that were signed before Jan. 1st, 2017, are exempted and can be fulfilled, but there’s not guarantee that will be the case in the future.

“Moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law,” a UCLA spokesman told the Sacramento Bee. That said, the university does not use state funding for travel sports teams as it currently stands, and the goal of the law to avoid “spending taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” according to California’s Attorney General.

On the college basketball side of things, the biggest question mark here is whether or not this law will prevent teams from playing in the NCAA tournament if they are sent to a site in one of those eight states. Next season alone, there are first weekend sites in Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee, not to mention the Final Four taking place in San Antonio. The location for many of those events were determined prior to January 1st.

“We are generally not going to deny student-athletes the opportunity to compete in the postseason,” a UCLA spokesman told NBC Sports.

The next question then becomes whether or not regular season travel will be allowed. Earlier this year, Cal dropped out of talks with Kansas about a potential home-and-home series due to this law, and if regular season travel is not allowed, it would mean that Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville and Wichita State, along with Kansas, are not allowed to be visited by California public schools that need state funding to travel. A request for a clarification on the legality of college sports teams traveling to those states has been filed with the Attorney General by Fresno State, whose football team is headed to Alabama for a game this year.

Travel for recruiting is also a question that needs to be answered, but at the highest level of the sport, that is typically funded by boosters.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)