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.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.