ACC Conference Catchup: Will a loaded league live up to powerhouse reputation?

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The ACC’s 2013-2014 season did not quite go as expected.

In a year where the league was bringing in the likes of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt in order to help bolster their basketball product, the conference as a whole was as down as it has been in quite some time. The Orange won a lot of close games to start the season but in the final month lost the ability to score. Duke had as much talent as anyone in the country, but their lack of a big man and inability to defend resulted in getting picked off by Mercer in the opening round of the tournament.

North Carolina was an interesting story. They beat the preseason’s top four teams during the year, but they also lost to the likes of Belmont and UAB before finally getting themselves to play with the kind of consistency they needed to. And Virginia, who won a dual-ACC title, did so while playing a very weak ACC schedule and bowing out in the Sweet 16.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

For all the discussion about the new ACC, the ‘Hoos ended up being the only team from the league to make it out of the first weekend.

Next season, however, should be better as there are four ACC teams that have the pieces to be considered a favorite to put together a run to the Final Four.

THREE UP

North Carolina: The Tar Heels bounced back from a couple of rocky winter months to put together an impressive finish to the season and make it to within one DeAndre Kane basket of the Sweet 16. And they should be better next season. Marcus Paige will have a chance to be an all-american, UNC’s youthful front court should be one offseason’s of work better and freshman Justin Jackson should provide the kind of scoring pop from the wing that the Heels were without this past season.

Virginia: It feels weird saying this given the fact that the ‘Hoos won the ACC regular season and tournament titles last season and that they won’t enter next season as the favorite. That said, my point is that last year was not a fluke. Tony Bennett will once again field a top 10 team in 2014-2015, headlined by the ever-underrated Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Anthony Gill, who should be in line for a breakout season.

Terry Rozier: There’s a lot to like about this Louisville team heading into next season, but their x-factor may end up being the sophomore Rozier. Rozier was a bit limited in his minutes and shot attempts playing behind Russ Smith and Chris Jones a season ago, but people around the program believe — and believed last season — that Rozier might actually be the best NBA prospect on the roster. With Smith gone, expect Rozier to have a big year.

THREE DOWN

Syracuse: The Orange had a disappointing end to the 2013-2014 season, as they bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first weekend after sliding to a No. 3 seed despite being one of the last team’s in the country to remain undefeated. Next year will be tough as well. The Orange lose Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant and will once again be forced to head into the season relying on one point guard, with freshman Kaleb Joseph running the show this year.

Pittsburgh, N.C. State and Clemson: Departures hurt these three teams badly. The Panthers stumbled once they hit ACC play and they couldn’t hide behind a week non-conference schedule anymore. Next season, they’ll be playing without Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, who both graduated. There is some decent young talent on the roster, but the Panthers will have a lot of production to make up in a conference that could have four top 15 teams.

T.J. Warren was named ACC Player of the Year last season, largely because he routinely put on scoring displays that left everyone watching in awe. After coming within a couple of free throws of the Sweet 16, Warren then entered the NBA Draft, as he’s likely going to be a first round pick. The Wolfpack are going to have their work cut out for them to try and get into the tournament next season.

Clemson didn’t make the NCAA tournament, but they still lost K.J. McDaniels, their best player by far, to the NBA Draft.

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Quinn Cook: Cook is going to find himself in a difficult situation next season. He’s been a good, productive point guard in his tie with the Blue Devils, but with Tyus Jones entering the program next season, he may find himself in a situation where the freshman is better — or, at the least, most consistent — than the veteran. Duke had this same conundrum a few years ago when Nolan Smith overtook Greg Paulus in the starting lineup midseason.

NEW FACES

Louisville: The final change in the ACC’s membership stemming from the most recent round of conference will happen next season, as Louisville will replace ACC stalwart Maryland, who is headed to Big Ten country. The Cardinals were one of the big winners during the NBA Draft early entry process as Montrezl Harrell decided that he would be returning to school for his junior year. If Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear have the kind of season we expect them to have, Louisville will be an ACC title contender.

Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones: Duke is always bringing in loaded recruiting classes. It’s what Duke does. But this group is as good as any that Coach K has landed. Okafor is the best player in the class, a throwback, low-post presence that will be one of the best true centers in the country next season. Jones may not have the NBA upside of some of the other point guards around the country, but he’s a full-blooded leader and a true point guard that will excel in the pick-and-roll. Oh, and two other Duke recruits, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen, are also McDonald’s all-americans.

Buzz Williams: The most shocking move of college basketball’s coaching carousel was the decision of Buzz Williams to uproot himself from Marquette and make the move to Blacksburg, Va., where he will be coaching Virginia Tech next season. It is going to be rough sledding for Buzz early on, but he already has landed a number of talented players, including Maryland’s seconnd-leading scorer last season, Seth Allen.

Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan: Given that the Hurricanes lost six of their top seven from the team that made the 2013 Sweet 16, Jim Larranaga actually did a pretty impressive job with Miami last season. This year, he’ll add Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez and Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan, both of whom are all-league caliber players, in addition to redshirt freshman Deandre Burnett. Miami is a sleeper tournament team with those three in the fold.

Danny Manning: After a tumultuous tenure in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest finally made the decision to move on from head coach Jeff Bzdelik. In his stead, they hired Danny Manning from Tulsa.

POWER RANKINGS

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

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)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.