Looking Forward: What does the ACC have in store for us next season?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the ACC over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. So about those NCAA investigations … : You know which ones I’m talking about: Louisville’s alleged use of hookers as recruiting tools and North Carolina’s faux-class scandal. Initially, there was hope that they would both come to an end during the offseason, but that may not end up being the case.

Why?

Well, for starters, Louisville has not yet received their Notice of Allegations, which is the first step towards the NCAA actually putting together some kind of punishment for the program. To get an idea of what the timeline for this kind of thing looks like, North Carolina actually received their second Notice of Allegations last week — their first came last May, but they have since self-reported more violations — and that punishment isn’t expected to come until early in 2017.

So expect a lot of chatter about those investigations this summer, but that doesn’t mean you should be expecting a resolution.

2. When will the ‘Duke can go 40-0’ chatter pick up?: Duke is going to be the consensus Preseason No. 1 team in the country when all of those polls eventually come out. That will happen when you have a roster where a second-team all-american in Grayson Allen could end up being a forgotten man. Think about it: Duke adds three top ten recruits in Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson, returns Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson and also brings in Javin DeLaurier. And that’s before you consider the possibility of Marques Bolden joining the ranks in Durham. If Duke does land Bolden, there’s an argument to be made that this is the best recruiting class that anyone has landed in the one-and-done era.

So at what point do people starting talking about Duke’s chances of going 40-0? Because that’s what typically happens with Kentucky whenever they land a recruiting class that is this talented, isn’t it? I usually spend far too much energy talking and writing about how silly that notion is, particularly when we’re more than 11 months away from what would be Game No. 40, but, regardless of how good the Blue Devils end up being, the idea of Duke going 40-0 is particularly far-fetched this season …

3. … because the conference is loaded: In our Preseason top 25, there are four top ten teams from the ACC — Duke, Virginia, UNC and Louisville. Another — Syracuse — is in the top 15, seven total are ranked in the top 25 and an eighth finds themselves sitting just outside the top 25. This is all coming from a league that got six teams to the Sweet 16 in 2016, and that doesn’t include teams that will be adding top 15 freshmen and potential lottery picks.

4. Who’s coming back to school?: The one caveat when talking about how good the ACC is figuring out who is going to be playing in what league. Will Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks return to North Carolina for their senior seasons? Will Louisville get Chinanu Onuaku back? Florida State is waiting to hear from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, while Syracuse guard Malachi Richardson entered his name in the NBA Draft. Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem, N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu and Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame have also entered their names into the draft.

Virginia transfer Austin Nichols (AP Photo)
Virginia transfer Austin Nichols (AP Photo)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Duke’s freshman class: It’s loaded. But we’ve talked about that, so this is where I’m going to voice my concern: They still don’t really have a point guard. I know that’s what Jackson is listed at, and that’s what I think his best position will be long-term, but he’s still learning the position. Jackson is one of those combo-guards that is a natural scorer, a guy that is being force-fit into the point guard spot because he can dribble, work in ball-screen actions and create off the bounce. But it creates a bit of a dilemma for the Duke staff. Thanks to Derryck Thornton’s departure, Jackson is the only point guard on the roster, meaning that their four-best perimeter players all need the ball in their hands to be effective. I’m nit-picking, I know, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
  • Austin Nichols, Virginia: As a sophomore at Memphis, Nichols averaged 13.3 points, 6.1 boards and 3.4 blocks, and the former top 25 recruit spend the 2015-16 season at Virginia working with a coaching staff that is as good as any in the country at developing their talent. He’ll step in and immediately fill the void left by the perennially-underrated Anthony Gill, and maybe more. He’s a potential first-team all-ACC player.
  • Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: Isaac is the highest-rated freshman in the ACC that’s not headed to Tobacco Road. A long and lacky 6-foot-9 forward, Isaac’s build and skill-set will draw some comparisons to former Duke star Brandon Ingram. He may not have the same impact as Ingram, however, as the hype surrounding Isaac is built a bit more on his potential more than his instant production. But with him on the floor alongside the likes of Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Terrence Mann, Leonard Hamilton has a dangerous roster.
  • Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Smith was considered the best point guard in the class for a good stretch of his high school career, but he tore his ACL, which cost him his senior season in high school, and enrolled at N.C. State for the spring semester to get better medical care. He relies quite a bit on his explosiveness, so it will be interesting to see how he recovers from the injury.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • N.C. State’s turnover: Cat Barber turned pro and signed with an agent. Abdul-Malik Abu put his name in the draft. Cody and Caleb Martin transferred out of the program. Assistant coaches Bobby Lutz and Rob Moxley were reassigned while Butch Pierre and Heath Schroyer were hired to replace them. They better hope Dennis Smith Jr. is as good as advertised.
  • Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville: Onuaku may be the most influential name left in the draft in the ACC. The Cardinals have the makeup of a top 10 team this season even without Onuaku, but if he returns he’ll give them a physical presence in the paint that they wouldn’t otherwise have. He’s a borderline first round pick, and while his decision is still up in the air, it seems likely that he’ll end up remaining in the draft.
  • Malik Beasley, Florida State: This wasn’t surprising in the sense that Beasley shouldn’t have turned pro — he has a real shot to end up being a first round pick — it’s surprising when you consider where he was ranked in high school. Entering the season, he wasn’t considered a potential one-and-done prospect, but his productivity (expected) and his efficiency putting up those numbers (not so expected) intrigues scouts.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech: Tech let Brian Gregory go thinking that their AD — former Xavier AD Mike Bobinski — would have a shot at landing former Xavier coaches Chris Mack and Sean Miller, or Miller’s little brother, Archie. Well, they didn’t. They ended up with the guy that Memphis paid more than $1.2 million to go away. Pastner’s probably not as bad as his reputation would have you believe. He made four tournaments in his first five seasons at Memphis, before everything went downhill for him, and he landed two McDonald’s All-Americans out of Atlanta. And he’s only 38 years old, with all the motivation in the world to prove to everyone that he wasn’t some overhyped, under-prepared coaching bust. Time will tell, but it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Pastner didn’t exactly invigorate the fan base.
  • Kevin Stallings, Pitt: Like Pastner, Stallings was hired away from a situation at Vanderbilt where he very well could’ve lost his job after Jamie Dixon left Pitt for TCU. Stallings has a terrific reputation in coaching circles, but the results that he had with the Commodores left much to be desired.
North Carolina guard Joel Berry II (2) moves the ball against Providence during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina guard Joel Berry II (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Grayson Allen, Duke (Player of the Year)
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Harry Giles III, Duke
Austin Nichols, Virginia

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Duke: Consensus Preseason No. 1 in the country means they’re going to top the ACC Power Rankings.
  2. Virginia: UVA is a ‘program’ by now. Lose Brogdon and Gill? NBD, London’s back and they’ve guys ready for a bigger role: Nichols, Hall, Thompson.
  3. North Carolina: Much depends on Jackson and Meeks returning, but there’s more talent on the Tar Heel roster than people probably realize.
  4. Louisville: Even w/out Onuaku, Pitino has a team that should be a factor at the top of the league. Expect big years out of Mitchell, Spalding and Adel.
  5. Virginia Tech: Our ACC sleeper. They went 10-8 in the league, beat two top ten teams, return basically everyone and are a prototype Buzz Williams team.
  6. Syracuse: The PG spot is a question mark, but is Richardson and Lydon have big sophomore seasons, there are pieces on this roster to be a top 15 team.
  7. Miami: The Canes lost a lot, but Newton and Reed should thrive in bigger roles and keep this group in the NCAA tournament picture.
  8. Florida State: The Noles are loaded with talent — Bacon, Isaac, XRM, Mann — but will Hamilton find a way to get the pieces to fit together this season?
  9. Notre Dame: In Brey we trust, but losing Jackson and Auguste a year after losing Grant and Connaughton is tough. This is their rebuild year.
  10. N.C. State: Does Abu come back? Is Smith healthy? How good will Dorn and Rowan be? They have some talent, but that didn’t matter last season.
  11. Pitt: Pitt has a solid trio of forwards in Artis, Young and Jeter. Can Stallings find more success with them than he had with Vandy last year?
  12. Clemson: Clemson hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the last five years. It’s probably going to be six after this season.
  13. Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner takes over a program that has lost their top four scorers to graduation. Welp.
  14. Wake Forest: Wake won one ACC game last year and lose their two most talented pieces. Yikes. Addition by subtraction? Or just regular old subtraction?
  15. Boston College: The Eagles went winless in the ACC last season and lost two of their top three scorers. Double yikes.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.