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No. 12 Virginia claims first ACC regular season title since 1981

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In their final non-conference game before the start of ACC play No. 12 Virginia turned in its worst performance of the season, losing 87-52 at Tennessee in a game that was never in doubt. On that evening Tony Bennett’s squad looked more like a team that would have to fight its way into the NCAA tournament than one that could potentially win the ACC.

But that changed in conference play, and on Saturday the Cavaliers beat No. 4 Syracuse 75-56 to win their first ACC regular season title since 1981. Trailing by a point at the half, Virginia pulled away in the second half thanks to a combination of stout half-court defense and much-improved offensive execution. In the game’s final 20 minutes Tony Bennett’s team shot 57.7% from the field and scored a staggering 1.55 points per possession, making seven of its 11 three-point attempts.

However to focus solely on the second-half perimeter shooting when discussing how Virginia was able to execute so well against the Syracuse zone would be a mistake. The Cavaliers did shoot 8-for-16 for the afternoon, but they didn’t settle for many of those looks. Malcolm Brogdon, who finished the game 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, proved to be valuable in his ability to attack the Syracuse defense at the foul line area as both a passer and a scorer. Freshman point guard London Perrantes was also key, dishing out seven assists and turning the ball over just twice.

As a team Virginia assisted on 19 of its 27 made field goals and turned the ball over six times, winning the turnover battle against a Syracuse team that has excelled in that department for much of the season. And Virginia’s performance on the boards shouldn’t be overlooked either, as they both took away one of Syracuse’s strengths (offensive rebounding) and made the Orange pay on the other end.

Syracuse entered Saturday ranked second in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage, but they managed just ten offensive rebounds and ten second-chance points. By comparison Virginia corralled 13 offensive rebounds (Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey combined for ten) and converted those opportunities into 21 second-chance points, doing much of that work (nine offensive rebounds) in the first half. The Orange were missing a key piece in the second half with Jerami Grant (back) having to sit out, but the Cavaliers simply outperformed them on both ends of the floor.

Virginia has multiple players capable of taking the reins, something that wasn’t the case a season ago. Joe Harris, while not required to score as much as he did last year, remains a threat and the return of Brogdon has certainly helped to alleviate some of that pressure.

Perrantes has been outstanding in running the offense, making sound decisions and displaying a level of maturity you don’t always see from freshman point guards. And in the front court  Mitchell (12 points, nine rebounds) and Tobey (11 points, eight rebounds) both played well on Saturday, with Justin Anderson adding 11 points off the bench.

Virginia looked incapable of winning the ACC on that late-December Monday night in Knoxville, but as the season’s worn on the Cavaliers have shown otherwise. On Saturday Virginia achieved that goal, but there’s anything to be taken from the result its that they’re capable of doing more.

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.

Duke’s Azura Stevens transfers to UConn

Duke's Azura Stevens (11) steals the ball from North Carolina A&T's Kenya Hailey, right, as Duke's Ka'lia Johnson watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Durham, N.C. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
(AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.

Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.

She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.

Beachem says he’ll be back at Notre Dame for senior season

Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem reacts during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Wisconsin in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 25, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.

Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.

How did Bob Knight wind up leading Donald Trump rallies in Indiana?

Former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign stop at Old National Events Plaza, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Evansville, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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As Donald Trump makes his way through the state of Indiana, looking to beat Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary, he’s managed to team up with disgraced — and somehow still-beloved — for Hoosier head coach Bobby Knight.

How did those two end up together? From Time.com:

Knight says he told a mutual friend in New York that he’d like to talk to Trump, who he had never met. They connected on the phone. “I just told him I thought that we needed him,” says Knight. “That right now, in this moment in time, he was the man who should be in charge. He should be the guy that can get us back to where we want to be.”

According to Knight, Trump responded: “Coach, I know exactly how I want you involved. And when the time comes, I will give you a call and we’ll go from there.”

Sounds about right.

It makes too much sense that Knight would be a loyal Trump supporter, and the marriage is perfect for Trump as well. Knight is still basketball royalty to many in the most basketball-mad state in America, and just last week Cruz tried to reenact a scene from Hoosiers while calling the rim a “basketball ring”. (Her face!!!)

All Trump had to do was get ‘The General’ involved to prove to the Hoosier Hoop Heads just how much he loved basketball.

And then he went and tweeted this:

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Stick to politics, fellas. Please.

Looking Forward: What does the ACC have in store for us next season?

Grayson Allen, Jake Allsmiller
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the ACC over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. So about those NCAA investigations … : You know which ones I’m talking about: Louisville’s alleged use of hookers as recruiting tools and North Carolina’s faux-class scandal. Initially, there was hope that they would both come to an end during the offseason, but that may not end up being the case.

Why?

Well, for starters, Louisville has not yet received their Notice of Allegations, which is the first step towards the NCAA actually putting together some kind of punishment for the program. To get an idea of what the timeline for this kind of thing looks like, North Carolina actually received their second Notice of Allegations last week — their first came last May, but they have since self-reported more violations — and that punishment isn’t expected to come until early in 2017.

So expect a lot of chatter about those investigations this summer, but that doesn’t mean you should be expecting a resolution.

2. When will the ‘Duke can go 40-0’ chatter pick up?: Duke is going to be the consensus Preseason No. 1 team in the country when all of those polls eventually come out. That will happen when you have a roster where a second-team all-american in Grayson Allen could end up being a forgotten man. Think about it: Duke adds three top ten recruits in Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson, returns Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson and also brings in Javin DeLaurier. And that’s before you consider the possibility of Marques Bolden joining the ranks in Durham. If Duke does land Bolden, there’s an argument to be made that this is the best recruiting class that anyone has landed in the one-and-done era.

So at what point do people starting talking about Duke’s chances of going 40-0? Because that’s what typically happens with Kentucky whenever they land a recruiting class that is this talented, isn’t it? I usually spend far too much energy talking and writing about how silly that notion is, particularly when we’re more than 11 months away from what would be Game No. 40, but, regardless of how good the Blue Devils end up being, the idea of Duke going 40-0 is particularly far-fetched this season …

3. … because the conference is loaded: In our Preseason top 25, there are four top ten teams from the ACC — Duke, Virginia, UNC and Louisville. Another — Syracuse — is in the top 15, seven total are ranked in the top 25 and an eighth finds themselves sitting just outside the top 25. This is all coming from a league that got six teams to the Sweet 16 in 2016, and that doesn’t include teams that will be adding top 15 freshmen and potential lottery picks.

4. Who’s coming back to school?: The one caveat when talking about how good the ACC is figuring out who is going to be playing in what league. Will Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks return to North Carolina for their senior seasons? Will Louisville get Chinanu Onuaku back? Florida State is waiting to hear from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, while Syracuse guard Malachi Richardson entered his name in the NBA Draft. Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem, N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu and Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame have also entered their names into the draft.

Virginia transfer Austin Nichols (AP Photo)
Virginia transfer Austin Nichols (AP Photo)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Duke’s freshman class: It’s loaded. But we’ve talked about that, so this is where I’m going to voice my concern: They still don’t really have a point guard. I know that’s what Jackson is listed at, and that’s what I think his best position will be long-term, but he’s still learning the position. Jackson is one of those combo-guards that is a natural scorer, a guy that is being force-fit into the point guard spot because he can dribble, work in ball-screen actions and create off the bounce. But it creates a bit of a dilemma for the Duke staff. Thanks to Derryck Thornton’s departure, Jackson is the only point guard on the roster, meaning that their four-best perimeter players all need the ball in their hands to be effective. I’m nit-picking, I know, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
  • Austin Nichols, Virginia: As a sophomore at Memphis, Nichols averaged 13.3 points, 6.1 boards and 3.4 blocks, and the former top 25 recruit spend the 2015-16 season at Virginia working with a coaching staff that is as good as any in the country at developing their talent. He’ll step in and immediately fill the void left by the perennially-underrated Anthony Gill, and maybe more. He’s a potential first-team all-ACC player.
  • Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: Isaac is the highest-rated freshman in the ACC that’s not headed to Tobacco Road. A long and lacky 6-foot-9 forward, Isaac’s build and skill-set will draw some comparisons to former Duke star Brandon Ingram. He may not have the same impact as Ingram, however, as the hype surrounding Isaac is built a bit more on his potential more than his instant production. But with him on the floor alongside the likes of Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Terrence Mann, Leonard Hamilton has a dangerous roster.
  • Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Smith was considered the best point guard in the class for a good stretch of his high school career, but he tore his ACL, which cost him his senior season in high school, and enrolled at N.C. State for the spring semester to get better medical care. He relies quite a bit on his explosiveness, so it will be interesting to see how he recovers from the injury.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • N.C. State’s turnover: Cat Barber turned pro and signed with an agent. Abdul-Malik Abu put his name in the draft. Cody and Caleb Martin transferred out of the program. Assistant coaches Bobby Lutz and Rob Moxley were reassigned while Butch Pierre and Heath Schroyer were hired to replace them. They better hope Dennis Smith Jr. is as good as advertised.
  • Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville: Onuaku may be the most influential name left in the draft in the ACC. The Cardinals have the makeup of a top 10 team this season even without Onuaku, but if he returns he’ll give them a physical presence in the paint that they wouldn’t otherwise have. He’s a borderline first round pick, and while his decision is still up in the air, it seems likely that he’ll end up remaining in the draft.
  • Malik Beasley, Florida State: This wasn’t surprising in the sense that Beasley shouldn’t have turned pro — he has a real shot to end up being a first round pick — it’s surprising when you consider where he was ranked in high school. Entering the season, he wasn’t considered a potential one-and-done prospect, but his productivity (expected) and his efficiency putting up those numbers (not so expected) intrigues scouts.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech: Tech let Brian Gregory go thinking that their AD — former Xavier AD Mike Bobinski — would have a shot at landing former Xavier coaches Chris Mack and Sean Miller, or Miller’s little brother, Archie. Well, they didn’t. They ended up with the guy that Memphis paid more than $1.2 million to go away. Pastner’s probably not as bad as his reputation would have you believe. He made four tournaments in his first five seasons at Memphis, before everything went downhill for him, and he landed two McDonald’s All-Americans out of Atlanta. And he’s only 38 years old, with all the motivation in the world to prove to everyone that he wasn’t some overhyped, under-prepared coaching bust. Time will tell, but it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Pastner didn’t exactly invigorate the fan base.
  • Kevin Stallings, Pitt: Like Pastner, Stallings was hired away from a situation at Vanderbilt where he very well could’ve lost his job after Jamie Dixon left Pitt for TCU. Stallings has a terrific reputation in coaching circles, but the results that he had with the Commodores left much to be desired.
North Carolina guard Joel Berry II (2) moves the ball against Providence during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina guard Joel Berry II (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Grayson Allen, Duke (Player of the Year)
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Harry Giles III, Duke
Austin Nichols, Virginia

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Duke: Consensus Preseason No. 1 in the country means they’re going to top the ACC Power Rankings.
  2. Virginia: UVA is a ‘program’ by now. Lose Brogdon and Gill? NBD, London’s back and they’ve guys ready for a bigger role: Nichols, Hall, Thompson.
  3. North Carolina: Much depends on Jackson and Meeks returning, but there’s more talent on the Tar Heel roster than people probably realize.
  4. Louisville: Even w/out Onuaku, Pitino has a team that should be a factor at the top of the league. Expect big years out of Mitchell, Spalding and Adel.
  5. Virginia Tech: Our ACC sleeper. They went 10-8 in the league, beat two top ten teams, return basically everyone and are a prototype Buzz Williams team.
  6. Syracuse: The PG spot is a question mark, but is Richardson and Lydon have big sophomore seasons, there are pieces on this roster to be a top 15 team.
  7. Miami: The Canes lost a lot, but Newton and Reed should thrive in bigger roles and keep this group in the NCAA tournament picture.
  8. Florida State: The Noles are loaded with talent — Bacon, Isaac, XRM, Mann — but will Hamilton find a way to get the pieces to fit together this season?
  9. Notre Dame: In Brey we trust, but losing Jackson and Auguste a year after losing Grant and Connaughton is tough. This is their rebuild year.
  10. N.C. State: Does Abu come back? Is Smith healthy? How good will Dorn and Rowan be? They have some talent, but that didn’t matter last season.
  11. Pitt: Pitt has a solid trio of forwards in Artis, Young and Jeter. Can Stallings find more success with them than he had with Vandy last year?
  12. Clemson: Clemson hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the last five years. It’s probably going to be six after this season.
  13. Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner takes over a program that has lost their top four scorers to graduation. Welp.
  14. Wake Forest: Wake won one ACC game last year and lose their two most talented pieces. Yikes. Addition by subtraction? Or just regular old subtraction?
  15. Boston College: The Eagles went winless in the ACC last season and lost two of their top three scorers. Double yikes.