ACC Conference Catchup: Duke, Virginia and Louisville give the league star power

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Jahlil Okafor (Getty Images)

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the ACC.


Okafor has been the best player in the country this season, so naming him the Player of the Year in the ACC shouldn’t come as any surprise. What Okafor does for Duke is hard to limit to just one paragraph. He’s a lethal scorer on the block if you try to guard him one-on-one but he’s also a talented enough passer that Duke can run their offense through him.


  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Grant is second in the league in scoring (18.4 points) and leads the conference averaging 6.2 assists. His return is the biggest reason the Irish look like a top 25 team.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell is not only averaging 16.0 points and 9.3 boards for the Cardinals, but he’s also their emotional leader and defensive sparkplug.
  • Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson is the leading scorer for a top five team and an ACC contender, shooting 60.9 percent from three on the season while playing his typical brand of defense.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: The fact that Christmas is one this list is the most surprising part of the ACC season. The senior center is averaging 17.3 points and 8.8 boards.


1. Duke is the ACC’s best, but Virginia’s not far behind: The Blue Devils are clearly the best team in the league — they’re the closest thing to Kentucky outside of Lexington — but the Cavaliers are going to give Duke a run for their money for the league title. Virginia doesn’t have the same kind of talent that the other ACC contenders have, but they are the most disciplined and detail-oriented defense in the country. There offense isn’t high-powered, but it is efficient and balanced. All Tony Bennett does is win.

2. North Carolina is a step below the top three: Entering the season, the ACC looked like it had a pretty clear-cut top four, but through the first month and a half of the year, it’s become pretty clear that the Tar Heels are a step below Duke, Virginia and Louisville. Part of the issue is that Marcus Paige hasn’t quite found a groove this season — he will eventually — but the other part is that North Carolina just doesn’t have the ideal personnel for Roy Williams’ system. They’re still good, but they’re closer to being a top 20 team than they are a real ACC title contender.

3. There’s a major drop off after the top five: Add Notre Dame into the mix with Duke, UVA, Louisville and UNC and the top five in the ACC are better than the top five in any league in the country. After that? It gets ugly, as there isn’t a single program that looks like a lock to make the NCAA tournament. The best of the bunch is probably Syracuse, and they are in a bit of a rebuilding year this season. Florida State and Pitt lost key players, N.C. State has underperformed, Miami has fallen off a cliff since they’re hot start.


1. Will Louisville find a third-scorer, and what happens with Chris Jones?: Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell is the best one-two punch in the conference, but the Cardinals have yet to find a consistent third-option offensively. Chris Jones wants to be that guy, but he hasn’t grasped the concept that he’s not Russ Smith yet. There’s an argument to be made that Jones has been to worst offensive player on any top 25 team this season. He was benched in Louisville’s last win and has caused chemistry issues all season long.

2. When will the real Marcus Paige show up?: Marcus Paige is currently averaging 13.6 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 34.4 percent from three. That’s not exactly bad, but when you consider that Paige was showing up on most preseason first-team all-american lists, those numbers are a bit underwhelming. Some of it is that he’s been playing out of position as a pure point guard, but some of it is that Paige is just missing shots he usually makes. The ceiling for this Carolina team changes if he plays like an all-american.

3. Can Syracuse play their way into the Big Dance?: There are all kinds of issues with this Orange team. For starters, they have just one point guard on the roster — freshman Kaleb Joseph — and he’s been up and down in that roll. Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough have been really good up front, but there is no depth behind them. Michael Gbinije has played great of late, but he and Trevor Cooney have had consistency issues throughout their careers. They’ve played much better in recent games, but the lack of a marquee non-conference win could end up being a killer.


1. Duke takes home the league title: They’re the best team in the conference, they have the best player in the country and they’re the most difficult team in the league to matchup with. The two keys for Duke: Quinn Cook continuing to embrace his role as the off-guard and Justise Winslow’s ability to matchup with power forwards on the defensive end of the floor.

2. Notre Dame’s defensive issues catchup with them: The Irish are one jumper from LaDontae Henton from being undefeated entering ACC play, and they’ve done it while posting the nation’s second-most efficient offense, according to Kenpom. But they are also atrocious on the defensive end of the floor, finding themselves ranked between Akron and New Hampshire at No. 147 nationally. Notre Dame will win their share of games this season, but they need to find a way to tighten things up on that end.

3. The ACC sends two teams to the Final Four: I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s hoping Duke makes it to the Final Four and gets a chance to square off against Kentucky, but if any conference is going to send two teams to the Final Four, the ACC is the safe bet.


NCAA: Duke, Louisville, Virginia, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse

NIT/CBI: Pitt, N.C. State, Miami, Florida State, Boston College

NO POSTSEASON: Clemson, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.