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Virginia Tech’s Khadim Sy leaves program

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Virginia Tech lost a piece to its frontline on Thursday, as the program announced that sophomore forward Khadim Sy had left the program.

“We are genuinely grateful for the fifteen months Khadim was part of our program, and all he contributed on and off the floor,” Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams said in a statement. “I will be watching the rest of his career unfold, and wish him only great things.”

Originally considered a three-star prospect by Rivals, the 6-foot-10 Sy picked the Hokies over Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Miami, and Purdue. In his lone season in Blacksburg, he started in 28 of 32 games, averaging 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game.

Sy’s departure leaves Virginia Tech’s front court in an even more precarious situation entering the 2017-18 season. Zach LeDay, the team’s top scorer and rebounder from a season ago, has graduated. Chris Clarke is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in February. Ty Outlaw suffered an ACL tear of his own less than two months ago. Kerry Blackshear Jr. returns after missing all of this past season in order to recover from a foot injury.

The only other forwards on Virginia Tech’s roster are freshman P.J. Horne and 6-foot-10 Nick Fullard, who sat out last season after transferring from a Division II program.

Since late July, Buzz Williams has lost two returning starters. The Hokies still have a strong backcourt led by the veteran trio of Ahmed Hill, Justin Robinson, and Justin Bibbs. Even with a healthy Clarke and a healthy Blackshear, depth up front is a serious concern for the Hokies

Virginia Tech opens its season on Nov. 10 against Detroit Mercy.

Duke recruit Bagley hoping to play in the 2017-18 season

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Marvin Bagley III, widely considered the top recruit in the class of 2018, reclassified this week and could be eligible to play for Duke in the upcoming season.

His decision immediately thrusts the Blue Devils toward the front of the national-title conversation for the 2017-18 season.

But what exactly does it mean to reclassify and how does the process work?

According to the NCAA, all incoming student-athletes must complete 16 core courses from a list that includes English, math, natural or physical science, social science, foreign language, comparative religion or philosophy. Classes such as physical education, health and music do not count as core courses, nor do remedial classes or classes completed through credit-by-exam.

The student-athlete must also show proof of graduation from high school and have an ACT/SAT test score that corresponds to his or her core course GPA on a sliding scale; the higher the GPA, the lower the standardized test score needs to be.

The NCAA eligibility center’s amateurism team then determines whether to certify a student-athlete. The process and requirements are the same for every sport.

Bagley is scheduled to graduate from Southern California’s Sierra Canyon High School later this month, completing his course work a year ahead of schedule. His transcripts may be a little more complicated because he attended three different high schools and the NCAA will review his final transcript following his graduation to determine if he is eligible to play Division I basketball.

Bagley’s move is not unprecedented.

Through the years, five-star prospects who want to get a jump on their college careers — and potentially professional careers — have gone through the same process, though usually not right before the fall semester begins as Bagley did.

Mike Gminski is considered the leave-high-school-early originator, graduating a year early so he could play at Duke in 1976. He went on to become an All-American and played 17 NBA seasons.

In recent years, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr., Duke’s Derryck Thornton and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns were among the student-athletes who graduated early to play college basketball sooner. Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo graduated a semester early and joined the Wildcats in January last season, but did not play. He declared for the NBA draft before deciding to return to Lexington.

Jontay Porter reclassified this year so he could play a year early with his brother, top recruit Michael, at Missouri. Canadian guard R.J. Barrett, considered the top recruit in 2019, has reclassified so he can graduate in 2018.

“With AAU and year-round competition basically, a lot of the players are ready for college-level play at an earlier age,” Gminski told WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2015. “And most of these guys have been around a lot. They do a lot of traveling. They tend to mature pretty fast.”

Early graduation in football became popular in the early 2000s, though they typically only do it a semester early to enroll in college for the spring semester and participate in spring practices.

Baseball player Bryce Harper left his Las Vegas high school after his sophomore season and earned his GED so he could start playing professional baseball sooner. He played one season for the College of Southern Nevada and was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft by the Washington Nationals.

An opposite trend has started playing out in recent years, with parents holding their kids back a year so they can become bigger, stronger and more polished — some as early as middle school. Many top-tier recruits hold off going to college for a year, instead playing for elite prep schools after graduation for more seasoning and exposure.

Bagley opted for the get-to-college-early route, changing the landscape in college basketball in the process

After hearing, UNC now awaits NCAA ruling in academic case

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North Carolina has wrapped up a two-day hearing with an NCAA infractions committee panel that will decide whether the school faces penalties tied to its multi-year academic scandal.

Now the case goes into yet another holding pattern.

School officials spent much of Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with committee members in Nashville, Tennessee. They returned Thursday morning for a second session lasting about 4½ hours with the panel that will determine whether UNC faces penalties such as fines, probation or vacated wins and championships.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the hearing was complete but both sides were mum afterward.

Osburn didn’t comment further because the panel must deliberate before issuing a ruling, which typically comes weeks to months after a hearing. UNC athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school wouldn’t have any comments about the hearing either.

Getting through the hearing process was a major step toward resolution in a delay-filled case tied to irregular courses, though there’s still the potential for the case to linger beyond a ruling if UNC decides to appeal or pursue legal action. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.

In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program that resulted in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in a May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then again in December.

Most notably, the NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell attended both hearing days. Football coach Larry Fedora, who wasn’t at UNC at the time in question, attended Wednesday’s session.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in the broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill providing improper assistance on assignments.

Boxill and Deborah Crowder, who is also charged individually in the case, attended Wednesday with their attorneys but didn’t return Thursday. Crowder is a former AFAM office administrator who enrolled students, distributed assignments and graded many of the papers in irregular courses.

The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.

North Carolina’s Kenny Williams undergoes knee surgery

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina guard Kenny Williams has undergone surgery on his right knee but is expected to be ready for the start of preseason practice in October.

School officials announced Tuesday that Williams had surgery Friday. The university release announcing Williams’ surgery also said he should be able to participate when preseason practice begins.

Williams started 22 games for North Carolina as a sophomore last season but tore his meniscus in a February practice and missed the final 14 games of the Tar Heels’ drive to the national championship.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Midlothian, Virginia, averaged 6.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 23.7 minutes.

Four Takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win over No. 5 Duke

(Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)
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Virginia Tech picked up a potential signature victory as they took advantage of Grayson Allen’s suspension and ran past No. 5 Duke for a 89-75 home ACC win.

The Hokies jumped out to a big early lead that turned into 47-31 by halftime as they were never seriously threatened in the second half. The Blue Devils were playing without Allen — the junior Player of the Year candidate who was suspended indefinitely following his third tripping incident in a win over Elon — for the first time and the 10-day layoff, a tough road game and the conference opener all combined for an ugly effort.

Here are four things we learned from this game.

1. Duke still has to figure out its defense: The biggest takeaway from this game is that Duke’s defense needs to improve a lot in order from them to win the national championship. While Duke’s offense suffered without Grayson Allen, its defense was completely atrocious in allowing Virginia Tech looks from all over the floor.

Perimeter defenders were getting blown by and big men weren’t protecting at the rim — a total failure that led to Virginia Tech shooting 55 percent from the field and 61 percent from three-point range.

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Allen’s return to the lineup should obviously help with some of the perimeter problems but the bigger issue here is Duke’s glaring lack of a rim protector. Amile Jefferson is more of a rebounder and best suited with a big man next to him while freshmen like Marques Bolden and Harry Giles are just returning from injury. Bolden can wall up and be a presence, but he’s never been noted as a plus shot blocker, while Giles is at his best as a rebounder.

We can’t expect Duke to just develop a rim protector overnight — although that can improve a bit — but they can get better at preventing guards from just coasting to the bucket. And this entire Duke team can also stand to be more physical on the defensive end.

2. Virginia Tech picked up a signature victory: Buzz Williams didn’t exactly put his team through a rigorous non-conference schedule leading up to this point, but it doesn’t matter now, as the Hokies have a win over a potential No. 1 seed.

While Virginia Tech had only a road win at Michigan to show for its non-conference schedule, this win should certainly give the Hokies a lot of momentum. The key for this team securing a NCAA tournament bid could come in the next few games. If Virginia Tech is able to split its next four games (at N.C. State, at Florida State, Syracuse, Notre Dame) then it will be off to a solid start heading into a winnable home game against Georgia Tech.

You wouldn’t think of Blacksburg as a place you wouldn’t want to play but the Hokies have knocked off three top-10 opponents at home over the last calendar year.

3. Duke’s freshmen are still adjusting to the college game: We heard so much about Duke’s freshmen class entering this season and they’re finally all seeing the floor as we begin conference play (even seldom-talked-about forward Jack White got minutes for Duke in the Virginia Tech loss…).

But this talented group still has adjustments to make as we enter the tough part of the schedule. After the hot start, guard Frank Jackson was only 3-for-9 from the field for six points in the Virginia Tech loss while Jayson Tatum (18 points, seven rebounds) picked it up after a slow shooting start.

Harry Giles showed some flashes in finishing with four points and six rebounds (the offensive putback, in particular, was a classic Giles play when he was healthy as he has such a natural gift of timing on offensive putbacks) but he doesn’t have the wind or confidence to be relied on yet.

Marques Bolden contributed three rebounds off the bench and didn’t provide any rim protection when Duke desperately needed some.

Tatum and Jackson will be aided by Allen’s return and Giles and Bolden will get more comfortable as they get more healthy and active but this Duke team is still going to need a lot from its veterans to make a title run.

4. Virginia Tech’s balance is tremendous: The Hokies don’t have one-and-done, five-star prospects or a lot of pro prospects. They’re not going to get the hype of certain teams because their own conference is littered with teams that have both.

But the Hokies are filled with confidence and aggressive players who perfectly embody what Buzz Williams likes out of his teams. Williams has multiple guards who can attack and make plays in Seth Allen, Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs while Chris Clarke has become a versatile double-double threat who is one of the toughest players in the ACC. Ahmed Hill is a valuable slasher while Zach LeDay is underrated on the interior.

I just named six talented players for the Hokies and any of those guys can lead them to victory. If all six of them finish in double-figures — as the Hokies did in the win against Duke — that’s when Virginia Tech can hang with any team in the country. This team is going to get plenty of battles in the ACC and they’ll be equipped to handle most of them because of this team’s unique toughness and balance.