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ACC Preview: Duke’s back, but what do we make of Miami, Louisville and UNC?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the ACC.

The ACC is not as loaded this season as it has been in past seasons.

Part of that is just the simple, cyclical nature of these things. North Carolina, coming off of a national title, lost five of their top seven players. Virginia lost London Perrantes and enters something of a rebuilding year. Syracuse is in full-blown rebuilding mode after six of their seven leading scorers departed. Hell, even a team like N.C. State likes the kind of elite talent that always gave us hope, and left Wolfpack nation bitterly disappointed, under Mark Gottfried.

But there won’t be a lack of intrigue this season, not with Duke finding themselves right back in the same position they were in last season or with Louisville in a position to make a run at the league title. Throw Miami and Notre Dame in mix, along with reigning champs UNC, and what the ACC may lack in star power in should make up for with drama.


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FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Louisville should be fine this season, they just need to find their new Donovan Mitchell: In case you were living under a rock for the last week and haven’t heard by now, the entirety of the college basketball world is imploding and Rick Pitino, along with his prized freshman Brian Bowen, was the first casualty of a scandal that could rock the sport to its core.

OK, maybe there is some hyperbole in there, but the truth is this: The Hall of Fame head coach Louisville had employed for the last 16 seasons was fired three days before the start of practice when it became clear that, at the very least, a member of his staff – and likely Pitino himself – orchestrated a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Bowen to get Bowen to Louisville.

What that means is that the Cardinals will be coached by David Padgett this season while playing under the cloud of more potential NCAA sanctions.

Not good.

RELATED: Scandal is business as usual | Proof players have value | Death Penalty?

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals do have top 15 talent on this roster. Assuming they find a way to maintain Pitino’s principles, this group is going to be very, very good defensively again this season. It seems like they have plus length, plus athleticism and depth at every single position … expect the point. As well as Quentin Snider played for stretches last season, I have yet to be convinced that he is a true Pitino point guard. He’ll have a chance to prove that this season, as Louisville’s success may ultimately hinge on it.

But the real x-factor this year is going to be finding a player to make ‘the leap’. Donovan Mitchell did it last year, going from prospect to producer to lottery pick in the span of what felt like two months. Will that be Deng Adel this season? He finished last year strong. What about V.J. King? Athletic and positionally-versatile wings are something Pitino is excellent at taking advantage, and reports out of Louisville have been bullish on King’s sophomore year. Maybe this is the year that Anas Mahmoud or Ray Spalding finally takes the leap.

In all likelihood, someone is going to for the Cardinals. I’m just not sure who it is yet.

And I’m not sure that they’ll get to February without self-imposing another postseason ban, or if the team will fully gel under an interim coach.

It’s a nightmare scenario, for sure. But Louisville has the talent to make this ending a happy one, at least in the short term.

RELATED: WCC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series
Marvin Bagley III (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

2. Duke is back: I’ll be taking a much deeper dive on Duke later on this fall, but suffice to say, the Blue Devils are going to be the most fascinating team to watch this season. They are the most talented team in college basketball – seriously, their starting lineup will include the No. 1 point guard in the 2017 recruiting class (Trevon Duval), the No. 2 shooting guard (Gary Trent Jr.), the Nos. 1 and 2 power forwards (Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter) and the 2016-17 Preseason National Player of the Year (Grayson Allen). Allen, himself, is must-watch TV, as his talent has been completely overshadowed by the off-the-court issues that have plagued him the last two years.

Then there are the point guard question marks. And the issues with depth. And the concern about trying to shoe-horn elite talents into smaller roles, and whether or not Marques Bolden will be happy coming off the bench for the second straight season.

And that’s before we get into the bigger picture: this is the exact same thing Duke went through last season.

It may be a soap opera, but just like Gossip Girl and the first two seasons of The O.C., I just can’t stop watching it.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

3. Miami can win the league: I may be higher on Miami than anyone else in the country, but I think that it is justified. Let’s start with the obvious – the Hurricanes are going to have arguably the best back court in the country. Sophomore Bruce Brown is the name to know (more on him below), and he’ll be flanked by veteran JaQuan Newton and five-star freshman and projected lottery pick Lonnie Walker; Walker is dealing with a knee issue but should be healthy by the time the season starts. Those are three big, athletic and talented guards, and if we’ve learned anything about the Larrañaga era in Coral Gables, it is that he thrives with players like that.

The front court will be a bit of a question mark, but Dewan Huell is a former five-star recruit that should have a big year after playing behind Kamari Murphy last season. If the Hurricanes can find a way to adequately replace Davon Reed, we might be looking at the best team in the ACC this season. Even if they don’t, they can win the league.

4. North Carolina is going to have a hard time defending their titles: I love Joel Berry II.

I don’t see any way that he is going to have anything other than a frustrating senior season.

The Tar Heels have had a terrific amount of success the last two years. They’ve gone 66-14, won back-to-back regular season titles, an ACC tournament title and came one Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater away from winning back-to-back national titles. But that came with a typical Roy Williams team, one built around a big, powerful, veteran front line. With Tony Bradley going one-and-done, UNC’s lone veteran presence up front is Luke Maye, who is more of a stretch four than anything, and their freshmen aren’t exactly considered to be game-changing talents this season. Berry is a winner. He’ll keep them competitive, just not at the top of the league.

5. Notre Dame is the most underrated program in college basketball: No one has a better recent track record of developing talent than Mike Brey. He keeps kids in his program, lets them ride the bench for a year or two as they develop and then unleashes them on an unsuspecting ACC that thought it was finally the year the Irish were rebuilding. With Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson already proven, and Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger chomping at the bit to get more minutes, we’re not yet at the Notre Dame rebuild.


Bonzie Colson (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

I can hear you scoffing at this pick from here, but facts are facts. As a sophomore, Allen was a second-team NBC Sports All-American, and we were far from the only outlet to have him slotted there. Prior to last season, he was the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year, and again, we were far from the only outlet that made that prediction. After battling through injuries and the off-the-court distractions he created for himself, Allen had offseason surgery and, according to Mike Krzyzewski, is finally back to being healthy. That should mean that, this season, we’ll see the Grayson Allen we all expected to see last season.

THE REST OF THE ACC FIRST TEAM

  • Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Coming off of a national title, Berry is going to have to shoulder much of the load for the Tar Heels this year.
  • Bruce Brown, Miami: I am the conductor of the Bruce Brown hype train. Get aboard now while there are still seats available.
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson averaged 18 points and 10 boards for the Irish last season as a junior. Expect that, at minimum, to be repeated this season.
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke: I’m not convinced he’ll be the best player in college basketball off the bat, but he is a big time talent that fills a role Duke badly needed filled.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Matt Farrell, Notre Dame
  • Tyus Battle, Syracuse
  • V.J. King, Louisville
  • Deng Adel, Louisville
  • Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech

Bruce Brown (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Bruce Brown, Miami

There are a couple of other names to like in this league – namely Notre Dame’s Temple Gibbs and Brown’s teammate Dewan Huell – but Brown is the clear-cut favorite for me to be the ACC’s breakout star. The 6-foot-3 combo-guard showed flashes of his potential down the stretch of last season, but he may be the best two-way guard in the country and he plays for a coach that has thrived with lead guards that operate well in ball-screen actions. He’ll have to share the limelight in the back court with JaQuan Newton and Lonnie Walker, but there should be more than enough shine to go around for a team that has a real shot of winning the league.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Brad Brownell, Clemson

It’s not often that you see a coach at the high-major level go six seasons without getting to the NCAA tournament and keep his job, but that is exactly what has happened with Brownell. He reached the Big Dance in his first season with the program and, since then, has managed just a pair of NIT appearances. The good news for Brownell is that the success of Clemson’s football team might mean that no one has noticed … yet. Seven years without an NCAA tournament would likely be the nail in the coffin.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The only No. 1 seed from the ACC this season is the Miami Hurricanes?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

Watching Duke try to figure it all out. There is an absurd amount of talent on that roster, and while the rest of the country will likely end up with Duke fatigue, the drama that inevitably creates is always going to be interesting.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/14, Michigan State vs. Duke, Champions Classic (Chicago)
  • 11/29, Miami at Minnesota, ACC-Big Ten Challenge
  • 11/30, Notre Dame at Michigan State, ACC-Big Ten Challenge
  • 12/3, Seton Hall at Louisville
  • 12/29, Louisville at Kentucky

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

POWER RANKINGS

1. Duke: The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the conference. Does that mean it will translate to the being the best team in the conference? It did in 2015. It didn’t in 2017. However it does turn out, the presence of Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III on this roster will mean that Duke is one of the most talked about teams in the country. So get used to it.
2. Miami: I’m very, very in on Miami this year. I love their back court, I think they have a ton of young talent on the roster, and when you give Jim Larrañaga talented guards and athletic big men, good things usually happen. Remember the name Bruce Brown. He’ll be an all-american and a first round pick by the time April rolls around.
3. Louisville: There are so many question marks surrounding this team, not the least of which is the potential for a self-imposed postseason ban. Given the amount of turmoil this group of kids has gone through in the last two years, I can’t begin to predict what this season will hold.
4. Notre Dame: At this point, we might as well just look at Notre Dame as the new Wisconsin. Regardless of who is on the roster or what the program has lost, just slot them into the top 25 somewhere. The good news for Irish fans is that, this year, both Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson are back, meaning that the Irish look like they will once again be in the mix for the top four in the league. The big question? Will Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Martinas Geben and D.J. Harvey be enough of a supporting cast?
5. North Carolina: Joel Berry II might end up being the ACC Player of the Year this year, but if the Tar Heels are going to have a shot at winning the league title, they’re going to need that kind of season out of him. With three of their top four players gone, this wasn’t unexpected, but the real killer was losing Tony Bradley. For a program that thrives on pounding the ball inside, UNC will have a real lack of experience – and, frankly, talent – up front.
6. Virginia: This will probably come back to bite me, but I think this is the year Virginia takes something of a step back. The Wahoos lost London Perrantes, and while there is quite a bit of promising young talent in the program, those players – Kyle Guy, Ty Jermoe, Jay Huff, De’Andre hunter – seem like they’re a year away.
7. Virginia Tech: Despite losing Zach LeDay and Seth Allen, I still think the Hokies are an NCAA tournament team. They bring back an impressive supporting cast, get Chris Clarke healthy and add a pair of talented and promising freshmen in Wabissa Bede and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
8. N.C. State: I’m actually bullish on this N.C. State team this season. Just like last year, there is enough talent on the roster – Abdul-Malik Abu, Omer Yurtseven, Allerik Freeman, Torin Dorn, Markell Johnson, Lavar Batts – to make some noise in the league. It’s almost as if the coaching staff put the talent on the roster to waste. We’ll see if new head coach Kevin Keatts can make a difference.
9. Florida State: The Seminoles are a tough team to project. They lose their three best players off of last year’s team, but they bring in five-star freshman M.J. Walker and return a handful of talented pieces. There is also a ton of size up front, as we’ve come to expect of FSU.
10. Georgia Tech: Somehow, the Yellow Jackets went 8-10 in the ACC last season. Josh Pastner returns a pair of talented pieces in Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie, meaning that, for the first time in a few years, there should actually be some expectation for success for Georgia Tech.
11. Boston College: I think BC is going to sneak up on some people. Between Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman, they have one of the best back courts in the league. Throw in Illinois State transfer Deontae Hawkins, and that’s not a bad top three. Depth, clearly, is the issue, but when you’ve won two ACC games in the last two years, almost anything is an improvement.
12. Syracuse: I’m very curious to see how this season plays out for the Orange. After finishing last year 19-15, the Orange lost six of their top seven scorers. Tyus Battle is back and is going to be asked to carry a massive load. There are pieces here – Geno Thorpe is a fifth-year senior at the point, Paschal Chukwu was once a promising prospect, Matthew Moyer has the tools to be good in a 2-3 zone and Jim Boeheim did bring in a promising recruiting class – but this roster looks a lot different than the rosters you expect to see from the Orange.
13. Wake Forest: Danny Manning has been getting things done on the recruiting trail, but to date that has earned the Demon Deacons a trip to last year’s play-in game thanks to the unexpected emergence of John Collins. He’s gone, as is Dinos Mitoglou. This year’s group will have some back court talent – Bryant Crawford, Brandon Childress, Chaundree Brown – and a four-guard group was how Manning had his most success as a head coach, when at Tulsa.
14. Clemson: The Tigers were better last season than their 6-12 ACC record would indicate. The lost six games by a single possession and three more by less than five points. That would normally be a good sign, except that the Tigers lost Jaron Blossomgame, the best player on their roster the last few years. I’m not sure who on this roster would worry me as an opposing coach, but I also think there are enough quality pieces that, say, finishing eighth would not be an insane prediction.
15. Pitt: The Panthers went 4-14 in the ACC last season then lost their top five scorers, including all-ACC talents like Jamel Artis and Michael Young. They were the easiest team to pick in these power rankings, easier even than picking Duke to win the league.

Iowa’s McCaffery says, “I’ve turned programs in” for cheating

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There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.

Not for Fran McCaffery, though.

The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.

“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”

Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.

McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.

“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”

Report: Louisville offered $1.5 million settlement to Pitino

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When it became clear that Louisville and Rick Pitino were going to part ways, much of the discussion instantly turned to the more than $40 million left on the coach’s contract.

The school reportedly tried to avoid that whole ordeal Monday, but Pitino apparently wasn’t interested.

Louisville offered to pay $1.5 million to a charity started by Pitino in exchange for his resignation, according to WDRB-TV Louisville. Pitino did not accept and was then fired for cause by the Louisville board.

It’s little surprise to see Pitino reject such an offer with so many more millions on the table should he (almost certainly) begin legal proceedings trying to recoup the cash that Louisville says it doesn’t owe him by firing for cause.

I vehemently reject (the school’s) right to do so ‘for cause,’” Pitino said in an affidavit sent to the school. “I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”

The firing came on the heels of the latest controversy  to hit Louisville under Pitino’s watch. First came the escort scandal that rocked the program, but now the school is part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Ten people were arrested as part of the probe, including an adidas executive who is alleged to have orchestrated getting $100,000 to the family of a recruit in order to facilitate his commitment to the Cardinals program.

Pitino may be out at Louisville, but with more than $40 million at stake, the school surely hasn’t seen the last of him.

Louisville officially fires Rick Pitino

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Louisville’s Athletic Association has officially fired head coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball linked the Hall of Fame head coach and his program to a $100,000 payment from Adidas to a recruit that enrolled at Louisville.

The association, made up of trustees, faculty, student and administrators, oversees Louisville athletics. They voted unanimously to fire Pitino.

Pitino has $44 million in salary remaining on his contract, which extends through the 2026 season. He was with Louisville for 16 seasons.

Pitino had been ‘effectively fired‘ by the university on September 27th, the day after the scandal first broke.

Earlier this summer, Louisville had received their sanctions from the NCAA in a different scandal that enveloped Pitino’s program. In October of 2015, a book was published by an escort named Katina Powell who alleged that a member of Pitino’s staff had paid for strippers and prostitutes for recruits and members of the Louisville team, some of whom were underage. The NCAA’s sanctions, which included vacating the 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title in addition to Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban, were handed down in June, two weeks after a Louisville coach had allegedly helped facilitate a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Brian Bowen’s family and six weeks before another coach would allegedly attempt to do the same for a 2019 prospect.

Kansas’ Self: Adidas case a “dark cloud on our profession’

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self had come to know James Gatto well over the years, along with just about everyone else involved with the college basketball side of the athletic apparel giant Adidas.

It comes with the territory as one of the company’s flagship schools.

But when Self first heard that Gatto had been swept up in a wide-ranging FBI investigation, centered on Louisville but uncovering corruption elsewhere in college basketball, the Jayhawks’ coach admitted being “very disappointed and disheartened” and likened it to a “dark cloud for our profession.”

Prosecutors have accused the 47-year-old Gatto of conspiring with coaches and others to funnel payments to top prospects and their families to win commitments to play at schools sponsored by Adidas. The idea was that their relationship with Adidas would continue whenever they reached the professional level.

The family of one prospect was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit, according to court documents, and the school was later revealed to be Louisville. The school has since placed coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave while the federal investigation is being resolved. Nine others, including former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, have been charged in the case.

Self said during a lengthy interview Friday that the cash payments from Adidas surprised him, but “what is not surprising is third parties’ involvement in recruiting. Everyone should know that.”

“That’s prevalent everywhere,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about agents talking to kids and their families in ninth and 10th grade. There’s nothing illegal about shoe companies funding AAU programs. That is what’s been encouraged and done, so it shouldn’t be a surprise you could have influence from third parties.”

Kansas officials insist they have not been contacted by the FBI, and the school is not under any sort of investigation. It

Kansas recently reached a 12-year contract extension with Adidas that will ultimately provide the school with $191 million in sponsorship money and apparel. Self suggested the affiliation is being used by rivals on the recruiting trail.

“Whenever in recruiting there is something out there that has been reported, whether it’s reliable or unreliable, total myth, whatever, there’s usually competitors that make sure that information gets to people. Unfortunately, that’s how it works,” Self said. “You can say that’s negative recruiting … but a lot of times the things that are reported are so inaccurate it puts you on the defense.”

The Jayhawks already have commitments from two top-100 prospects in 6-foot-9 forward Silvio de Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy and 6-10 center David McCormack from Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.

They are also in the mix for several more top-50 prospects in what could be a crucial class for them.

“I’d be lying,” Self said, “if I told you we hadn’t discussed these issues with kids. And has it hurt us to date? I don’t think it has. But it’s not signing day, either.”

Attorney makes case for Louisville to retain Pitino as coach

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rick Pitino’s attorney has told the Louisville Athletic Association that it should not fire the coach of the men’s basketball program because his client “could not have known” about activities alleged in a national federal investigation of the sport.

Steve Pence made his case Monday while the ULAA was meeting to discuss whether to fire Pitino nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged the program’s involvement in the investigation. The association board is still meeting and has not announced its decision.

Association, a separate body that oversees Louisville’s sports programs and comprised of trustees, faculty, students and administrators, on Oct. 2 authorized university interim President Greg Postel to begin the process of firing Pitino for cause after Postel placed him on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 27.

Pitino, 65, is not named in court complaints in the federal probe but Postel said in a disciplinary letter that the allegations violated his contract.

Pence has contended that Louisville rushed to judgment and made his case before the board for 45 minutes on Monday.

He said Pitino should be retained and noted, “The coach did not engage in any of this activity, he didn’t know about the activity. I think we made a very compelling case to the board, I think they listened attentively and we’ll just have to wait and see what they say.”

Pitino has coached 16 years with the program, a run that included winning the 2013 NCAA championship but was tarnished by several embarrassing off-court incidents.