Looking Forward: Catching up on the ACC’s offseason

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at the ACC:

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. North Carolina will be a national title favorite, if they’re eligible: The Tar Heels return essentially everyone from last season, meaning that they, along with Maryland, will enter the season as a likely favorite to win the national title. Marcus Paige is back and will be healthy, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry will have a year of experience under their belt and Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are as good of a front line as you’ll find. The biggest question mark has nothing to do with this current team, however: When will the NCAA’s findings into the paper class scandal be announced? If it’s this season, will the NCAA hit them with a postseason ban that could make a No. 1 seed and Final Four favorite ineligible? That weight is never going to stop hanging over the head of this program.

2. Is Duke the new Kentucky?: The Blue Devils are the reigning national champs, but outside of their head coach, nothing about their 2015-16 roster will resemble the team that won the title. Duke’s three best players all bounced to the NBA after one season on campus, leaving the Blue Devils in a position where they were without a point guard. No problem, they just managed to convince a five-star point guard from the Class of 2016 to reclassify, and two weeks later added a top three prospect in Brandon Ingram. That’s the same model that John Calipari has made so successful: Win with freshmen, shuttle them off to the NBA, reload with another crops of newcomers, fill in the holes with five-star spring signees.

3. Will Virginia have any NCAA tournament success?: The Cavs suffered one of the biggest blows of anyone in the league when Justin Anderson opted to enter his name in the NBA Draft. His health issues in the middle of last season more or less torpedoed what could have been a legendary season for the Wahoos. Virginia will also lose senior Darion Atkins, but the back-to-back ACC champs return the majority of their rotation. They’re going to be a top ten team in the preseason. Is this the year they can finally get past the Sweet 16?

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Derryck Thornton, Duke: Duke adds a loaded freshmen class — which also includes Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard and top three prospect Brandon Ingram — but it was getting Thornton, a five-star point guard prospect, that really makes the difference.
  • Damion Lee, Louisville: Like Duke, Louisville is bringing in a ton of talent — freshmen Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Ray Spalding as well as grad transfer Trey Lewis — but it’s Lee, who averaged 21.4 points as a junior at Drexel, that should have the biggest impact.
  • Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Florida State returns Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who had a terrific freshman season, and will team him with Bacon, a five-star wing and one of the best scorers in the Class 0f 2015.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Trevor Lacey and Kyle Washington, N.C. State: Lacey was one of the best one-on-one scorers in college basketball last season, but the junior decided to put his name into the NBA Draft. His departure, and Washington’s decision to transfer, drop the Wolfpack from a preseason top 15-ish team to outside the top 25.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: Hanlan was one of the best guards in the ACC last season, but I guess he got tired of losing at BC. He entered the NBA Draft.
  • J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina: Tokoto was the best defender and arguably the best play maker for the Tar Heels last season, but he decided to enter his name into the NBA Draft instead of returning to school. It shouldn’t hurt the Heels all that much, as they have plenty of depth on the perimeter.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke: Everyone knew Jones was gone after the tournament that he had, but the reason Duke needed to scramble to find a point guard this offseason is that they expected Jones to spend more than one season on campus.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina (Player of the Year)
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. North Carolina: The Tar Heels had their issues last season, but they got hot down the stretch. With everyone back and healthy, UNC is our Preseason No. 1.

2. Virginia: Losing Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins will hurt, but UVA will still play elite defense. Key will be who takes a step forward offensively.

3. Duke: It will be fun to watch how Duke’s youngsters come together. Can Derryck Thornton handle the point? What about their front court depth?

4. Louisville: Rick Pitino reloaded this offseason. Damion Lee’s addition will be key, and don’t be surprised to see freshman Donovan Mitchell excel.

5. Notre Dame: Losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton is a blow, but I fully expect Demetrius Jackson to have an all-american caliber season.

6. Florida State: The ACC’s biggest sleeper. The combination of Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley will be dangerous and fun to watch.

7. Miami: The Canes lost some of their back court depth to transfer. That won’t matter if Angel Rodriguez and Shelden McClellan can be more consistent.

8. N.C. State: The loss of Trevor Lacey was a brutal blow, but with Cat Barber back along with that big front line, the Wolfpack does have some talent.

9. Syracuse: Syracuse loses everyone up front, but with Kaleb Joseph, Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije and two sharpshooting freshmen, they’ll be dangerous.

10. Wake Forest: Danny Manning working his magic. Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre return while the Demon Deacons add a solid recruiting class.

11. Pitt: Jamel Artis and Michael Young are a tough pair of forwards. Will Pitt have the supporting cast to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid?

12. Virginia Tech: There’s a talent gap here, but Buzz Williams is starting to get his guys into the program. He proved at Marquette he can win with “his guys”.

13. Clemson: The Tigers will be tough to score on, but it’s hard to see where they will be a threat on the offensive end of the floor.

14. Georgia Tech: Brian Gregory got a stay of execution this spring, although the Yellow Jackets were more competitive than you realize last year.

15. Boston College: Losing Olivier Hanlan puts the Eagles behind the eight-ball this season.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.