Boston College could surprise some teams in the ACC next season

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UNION, N.J. — The ACC is on its way to becoming the best conference in college basketball.

Duke and North Carolina, pending the status of PJ Hairston, are perennial Final Four favorites, and that’s going to be no different this season. Bring Syracuse into the mix this season gives the league yet another annual title contender, and that’s before you factor in the likes of Virginia, Notre Dame, Pitt and even NC State and Florida State.

But if you’re looking for a sleeper in the league heading into the 2013-2014 season, look no further than Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles.

BC finished a paltry 7-11 in ACC play a year ago, going 16-17 on the season and missing out on the NIT. But the Eagles came together down the stretch, winning six of their last 11 regular season league games to say nothing of the one possession losses they took at home against the two best teams in the conference, Duke and Miami.

More importantly, the Eagles essentially bring back their entire roster from a season ago, headlined by three excellent underclassmen in rising junior Ryan Anderson and rising sophomores Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, the team’s three leading scorers. Throw in Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich, who has reportedly looked good in offseason workouts, and a decent recruiting class, and there’s reason to be bullish on the Eagles.

“I think we definitely see ourselves in the tournament,” Anderson told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University last week. “We have a lot of new guys coming in, we have a transfer from Notre Dame that’s really going to help us out and we got a big guy from Sweden [Billy Magarity Jr.] that’s going to help us out in the post, too. I think if me and Olivier become more efficient with the basketball, and all the other guys play their role, I think we’re going to be a very good team.”

Anderson was one of the best young post players in the country a season ago, proving to be a versatile post scorer, and he used his time at the Skills Academy to work on fine-tuning some aspects of his post game.

“Where you catch the ball in the post, whether you want it higher or lower, just to help me get more efficient out there,” Anderson said. “As big guys, we’ve gotta be more efficient with our touches. The little things that I’ve learned at this camp will really help me with that.”

The Eagles can score, there’s no question about that. They were 43rd nationally in offensive efficiency last season, and that will likely improve as some of the team’s younger guys now have a year of experience under their belt. With Anderson in the post and a slew of shooters around the perimeter, it will behoove Donahue’s club for point guard Olivier Hanlan to develop into more than simply being a scorer. While Hanlan led the team in scoring a season ago, he averaged just 2.3 assists as the team’s primary ball-handler.

“I just want to keep on improving as a point guard,” Hanlan said. “Be more vocal, get my assists up a bit more this year. Being aggressive and competing.”

“I just feel like the thing that I’ve gotta work on the most is just ball-handling and, if you saw Kyrie out there, just really loose and all the guards are pretty good with that. I’ve gotta improve at that.”

Going from being a team that finished under .500 to making the NCAA tournament would be an impressive leap, but it’s one that the Eagles very much believe is a possibility.

“Everybody’s goal is to make the tournament and give yourselves a chance for March Madness,” Anderson said. “That’s what everyone’s goal going into the season, so it would be awesome to fill out the bracket and have your name on the list.”

“All the individual accolades come through the team being successful. If we’re efficient with the ball and we’re getting wins, at the end of the season, the individual stuff will take care of itself.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”