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Best Bets: Bettor’s guide to Thursday’s NCAA tournament games

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At 9 p.m. the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.

Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 10 MINNESOTA, CBS

  • LINE: Louisville (-5)
  • TOTAL: 136
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Louisville 70.5, Minnesota 65.5
  • KENPOM: Louisville 71, Minnesota 66

The Pitino Bowl!!!

For those that don’t get it, Louisville fired Rick Pitino 18 months ago. His son, Richard, is the head coach at Minnesota. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be the case that Rick will be flying home from Greece to be at the game, which does take away some of the revenge factor if you like to take a ride down Narrative Street.

There are two problems here for Minnesota. For starters, they do not shoot the ball all that well. Just 28.8 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc (346th nationally) and they shoot it at just 32.1 percent from three. Louisville runs the Pack-Line, which is a defense designed to cut off penetration and force perimeter jumpers. The other problem that then arises is that Minnesota’s point guard situation is a mess. Isaiah Washington hasn’t really panned out, so Amir Coffey and Dupree MacBrayer are running the show. That’s sub-optimal.

Jordan Murphy is an absolute monster in the paint, and Daniel Oturu is quite promising, but this seems like the kind of matchup and the likes of Malik Williams will be up for and one of those two will have to guard either Sutton or Jordan Nwora.

PICK: I think Louisville is the better team and I think that their style of play matches up really well with Minnesota. The only concern that I have is that Louisville has melted away so many covers because of what they do at the end of games. They’d be a top 10ish team if basketball games ended at the under four timeout. Will we see them collapse again in the tournament? That worry is probably enough to keep me away from this line.

12:40 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 YALE, TruTV

  • LINE: LSU (-7.5)
  • TOTAL: 157
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 82.25, Yale 74.75
  • KENPOM: LSU 85, Yale 76

I am all in on the Elis taking down the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

The biggest reason for this is that LSU is playing without their head coach. Will Wade has been held out by LSU after he refused to speak with the administration following the reports that he was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing a payment for a player. That’s big, because Wade is a terrific coach that is terrific when it comes to make in-game adjustments, and I do think there is something to the idea of substitute teacher syndrome setting in.

But beyond that, I just believe in this Yale team. They got dudes. Miye Oni is going to be an NBA draft pick, potentially a first rounder, as a 6-foot-6 combo-guard. Jordan Bruner is a do-it-all, 6-foot-9 forward that should be playing in the SEC, not the Ivy League. Alex Copeland proved that he can take a game over at the point. I also think it’s important to note that LSU does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass, and while Yale is going to be physically outmatched against LSU, they are top 25 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

There’s talent on Yale, they matchup well with LSU and the Tigers will be missing their coach. I like it when the dots connect.

PICK: I think I lean towards taking the money line instead of just Yale on the points, especially since we can still get it at (+260).

1:30 p.m.: No. 5 AUBURN vs. No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE, TNT

  • LINE: Auburn (-6)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 75.25, New Mexico State 69.25
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, New Mexico State 69

I love New Mexico State in theory. They’re tough, they’re old, they play hard and they won 30 games behind a really, really good coach in Chris Jans. I don’t love this matchup, however. Auburn’s got dudes. Jared Harper is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Bryce Brown can take over any game on any day and Chuma Okeke — who is a little nicked up — and Anfernee McLemore are both really useful pieces for the way Bruce Pearl wants to play.

They’re also absolutely rolling right now. In the last 12 days, they’ve beaten Tennessee twice, once by 20 points on a neutral floor.

PICK: I just don’t think NMSU has the horses to run with Auburn on Thursday, not when Pearl is going to have those kids ready to run through three brick walls.

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2:00 p.m.: No. 4 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 13 VERMONT, TBS

  • LINE: Florida State (-9)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 71.25, Vermont 62.25
  • KENPOM: Florida State 72, Vermont 63

Before the bracket was released, Vermont was one of the mid-majors that I really wanted to pick to win. After the bracket was released, I cannot say the same thing. The Catamounts are not all that big or long or that athletic. Florida State is all of those things, and they go two-deep at every position with players that are all of those things. It’s just the worst possible matchup that Vermont could have drawn as a No. 13 seed.

PICK: I think Florida State wins by about 15 points, and this line is moving in the opposite direction. I’ll keep letting it move.

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 15 BRADLEY, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-18.5)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 76, Bradley 57.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 78, Bradley 57

I want no part of betting this game. Michigan State has been banged up all season long. In the Big Ten tournament, Tom Izzo pulled his starters against Ohio State in the quarterfinals with three minutes left, and they promptly gave up a 12-0 run that blew an easy cover. If you guys want to sweat out Tom Izzo trying to steal a few extra minutes of rest for his point guard that has been an absolute workhorse this season, be my guest. I’ll be betting elsewhere.

3:10 p.m: No. 6 MARYLAND vs. No. 11 BELMONT, TruTV

  • LINE: Maryland (-4)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Maryland 75.75, Belmont 71.75
  • KENPOM: Maryland 76, Belmont 72

I didn’t think that Belmont would be able to deal with the guards on Temple, and I feel the same way about the Bruins and Maryland. But I’m even more concerned about what Belmont will do with Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, who are first round picks that have just not gotten to the NBA yet. That line seems a little bit low as well, which is why I’m leaning towards Maryland here.

PICK: Nick Muszynski looked really good against Temple. He’s going to have his work cut out for him against Maryland’s bigs, which is why I will be on Maryland (-4) here.

4:00 p.m.: No. 4 KANSAS vs. No. 13 NORTHEASTERN, TNT

  • LINE: Kansas (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 142.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 74.5, Northeastern 68
  • KENPOM: Kansas 76, Northeastern 68

Kansas is not the Kansas we are used to seeing. They start four freshmen this year, and while two of them are five-star — one of whom has not exactly played like a five-star this year — the other two are the Jayhawks third-string center and a guy that was supposed to redshirt this season. I also think Kansas is overseeded relative to the team they have now based on some non-conference wins they earned with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick healthy.

Northeastern is a really, really well-coached team that doesn’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over, they shoot it well from three, they control tempo, they don’t give up second chance points and they have a couple of high-level shot-makers, namely Vasa Pusica. The Huskies are dangerous.

PICK: Clearly, I think Northeastern is the play, but again, the money line is +235. I like it better before the line moved, but it’s still good value.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 MARQUETTE vs. No. 12 MURRAY STATE, TBS

  • LINE: Marquette (-4)
  • TOTAL: 149.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Marquette 76.75, Murray State 72.25
  • KENPOM: Marquette 76, Murray State 72

I just cannot seed the Racers getting this done against Marquette. For starters, I think that the Golden Eagles will be able to hide Markus Howard defensively on one of Murray State’s non-Ja Morant wings. Then, I think that Sacar Anim will be able to go a good enough job on Morant that it will keep him from having one of his 40 point nights. And finally, I think Theo John’s presence at the rim will help prevent Morant from having an absolute blow-up game.

And that’s just on the defensive end of the floor. I think that the Hauser twins are going to be able to get whatever they want against small Murray State defenders.

PICK: I didn’t necessarily envision myself going all-in on Marquette in the first round, but here we are. Marquette (-4) seems low for the matchup.

6:50 p.m.: No. 7 NEVADA vs. No. 10 FLORIDA, TNT

  • LINE: Nevada (-2)
  • TOTAL: 132.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Nevada 67.25, Florida 65.25
  • KENPOM: Nevada 67, Florida 66

This bet is pretty easy for me. Nevada is old, they made a run in the NCAA tournament last year and their season has felt like they were coasting and waiting for the chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage again. Well, here we are.

The Wolf Pack — led by fifth-year seniors Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline — more or less run an offense that identifies matchups and allows their studs to go and try to win that matchup. Florida’s roster is made up of freshmen and inconsistent seniors. They also like to press a bit and that often leaves them cross-matched on the defensive end, with bigs guarding smalls and vice versa. Imagine a point guard trying to stop Jordan Caroline. Good luck.

PICK: Nevada (-2) is one of my favorite bets of the first weekend.

7:10 p.m.: No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 15 ABILENE CHRISTIAN, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-22.5)
  • TOTAL: 132
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 77.25, Abilene Christian 54.75
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 75, Abilene Christian 59

P.J. Washington has been in a walking boot since Sunday. For my money he is Kentucky’s best and most important player. Are we sure that he is actually healthy? Are we sure that Cal is going to play him a full compliment of minutes? Can Kentucky cover even if Washington doesn’t play or only sees the floor for a limited stretch?

Those are too many questions for me. I’ll fade this game.

7:20 p.m.: No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 11 SAINT MARY’S, TBS

  • LINE: Villanova (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 130.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Villanova 67.5, Saint Mary’s 63
  • KENPOM: Villanova 66, Saint Mary’s 65

This is the game that I have gone back and forth the most. The spread opened at six, which was an insanely high number considering that KenPom had this line at Villanova (-1). That makes me think Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels also run a lot of ball-screen stuff and get their shots within their offense, which is something that Villanova can take away with the way they switch. That makes me think Villanova.

This is the kicker, however: Villanova shoots 53.5 percent of their field goal attempts from three, which is the third-highest rate nationally. Saint Mary’s game-plans to run teams off of the three-point line, as just 31.4 percent of the field goal attempts against them are threes, which is the ninth-lowest number nationally, and teams have shot just 31.8 percent from three.

PICK: As Saint Mary’s has gotten hot over the last six weeks, their defense has really kicked up a notch, culminating in holding Gonzaga to 47 points in the WCC tournament final last Tuesday. I think it’s also worth noting that both SMC and Nova play really, really slowly. So not only do I like the Gaels here, I think that the under is a solid play as well.

7:27 p.m.: No. 1 GONZAGA vs. No. 16 FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON, TruTV

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-26.5)
  • TOTAL: 152.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 89.5, Fairleigh Dickinson 63
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 90, Fairleigh Dickinson 65

You can criticize Gonzaga for a lot of things, but one thing they have done pretty consistently is to blow the doors off of their overmatched opponents. Fairleigh Dickinson is overmatched. They are 207th in KenPom this season. Gonzaga has played nine games against sub-200 KenPom opponents, and they’ve won those nine games by an average of 37.2 points. That number jumps to 43.5 points against the six sub-200 teams they played in the non-conference.

Should I mention that Fairleigh Dickinson played on Tuesday and had to travel tonight from Dayton to Salt Lake City to play at elevation?

PICK: Gonzaga (-26.5) is the play.

9:20 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN vs. No. 15 MONTANA, TNT

  • LINE: Michigan (-15.5)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 72.75, Montana 57.25
  • KENPOM: Michigan 74, Montana 57

This line has been moving as much as any line in the first weekend. It’s down to Michigan (-15.5) at the time of this writing, and I don’t think that it is crazy to say that it is going to move another point. Michigan and Montana played in the first round of the tournament last season. It was ugly as hell, but Michigan found a way to win by 14. The score? 61-47.

PICK: That’s where I think the edge is in this matchup. I think Michigan uglies this game up again. The under seems like the play here.

9:40 p.m.: No. 7 WOFFORD vs. No. 10 SETON HALL, CBS

  • LINE: Wofford (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 143.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wofford 73, Seton Hall 70.5
  • KENPOM: Wofford 74, Seton Hall 69

It’s a battle of the heat-check all-stars, as Wofford’s Fletcher Magee goes up against Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. As a team, the Terriers are as three-point heavy as anyone. They shoot 41.6 percent from three and more than 40 percent of their points come from beyond the arc, 17th nationally. Seton Hall is not great when it comes to running opponents off of the three-point line, but they do have some long and athletic defenders on the roster. Quincy McKnight and Myles Cale will both get a shots at Fletcher Magee.

I also think it’s important to note that Wofford has more than just Magee. Cameron Jackson is a terrific mid-major big man that is going to have a chance to prove his mettle against a power conference for. Nathan Hoover was the star of Wofford’s two biggest wins — the win at South Carolina by 20 points and the SoCon title game — and Storm Murphy is named Storm.

PICK: The question you have to ask here is just how many points will it take for you to bet on the more athletic team? For me, I think it’s more than Seton Hall (+2.5). This line has already been moving towards Seton Hall, and I think I’m going to wait it out and see how low it will go before I bet on Wofford.

9:50 p.m.: No. 3 PURDUE vs. No. 14 OLD DOMINION, TBS

  • LINE: Purdue (-13)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70, Old Dominion 57
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Old Dominion 59

I think that Purdue is probably the play here, simply because I don’t think that Old Dominion is going to have an easy time scoring. The Monarchs are just a bad, bad team on the offensive end of the floor, and while Purdue isn’t great defensively, they should be good enough to make life hell for ODU. I do think that this game and this spread is going to come down to whether or not Purdue hits shots, and I think they will be able to get it going a little bit.

PICK: If I’m going to bet this game, I am going to bet the Purdue side. What worries me, however, is this has the feel of a game that is played in the high 50s or low 60s, and 13 points is a lot of points in a game that is that low scoring. The under might be the play, but with the total at 127, I think I’ll probably just fade this game.

9:57 p.m.: No. 8 SYRACUSE vs. No. 9 BAYLOR, TruTV

  • LINE: Syracuse (-2)
  • TOTAL: 133
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Syracuse 67.5, Baylor 65.5
  • KENPOM: Syracuse 67, Baylor 66

Two teams that play zone, two teams that don’t shoot it all that well or run great offense, two teams with coaches that seem to find a way to make it work regardless of who is on their roster. Two things that are worth noting: Syracuse is really good at forcing turnovers while Baylor is pretty sloppy, but they are really bad at getting defensive rebounder and Baylor ranks second nationally is offensive rebounding percentage.

PICK: If I bet this, I’ll probably bet Syracuse simply because Jim Boeheim just finds a way to get it done in March seemingly every year this days.

UConn officially back in Big East

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UConn is coming home.

On Wednesday, the UConn Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept an offer from the Big East Conference to join the league in all sports offered. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday in New York City where the school and the conference will make their reunification complete.

The move will allow for the Husky men’s and women’s basketball programs to return to a conference that prioritizes the sport and reignites rivalries that were lost five years ago, when UConn opted not to join the new Big East after the seven catholic schools departed.

UConn is expected to join the Big East for the 2020-21 season.

The Big East does not have football or hockey, which means that UConn’s football program will be left without a home. The American is not expected to allow UConn to keep their football team as a member of the league.

Yale, ex-basketball player settle lawsuit over expulsion

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Yale University and a former basketball captain have settled a lawsuit stemming from his expulsion over sexual misconduct allegations that he denied.

A federal judge in Hartford on Tuesday dismissed Jack Montague’s lawsuit. Details of the agreement were not disclosed. Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy declined to comment.

Lawyers in the case issued a statement saying only that “the parties have resolved the case to their mutual satisfaction.”

Montague sought monetary damages over his February 2016 expulsion. He also sought readmission to Yale, but went on to attend Belmont University in Tennessee.

Montague was expelled after the woman testified before Yale’s Unified Committee on Sexual Misconduct that much of a 2014 sexual encounter with the player was not consensual. No criminal charges were ever brought.

Montague’s lawsuit alleges that the accusations against him were brought by a Title IX officer who coerced the woman to cooperate with the complaint by informing her that Montague had received sensitivity training in another case. His lawyers contend that is a violation of the school’s own confidentiality rules.

That earlier case had involved an argument in which Montague allegedly shoved a folded paper plate down a woman’s top.

Montague also asserted that the woman told Yale that he likely didn’t hear her when she asked him to end the encounter.

Yale’s attorneys have said the woman, identified only as Jane Roe, made it clear that she did not want to have intercourse and that the school and its officials acted appropriately.

Montague also argued that his accuser was allowed to give a lengthy, emotional statement to the committee, while he was denied a similar opportunity.

Because of the expulsion, Montague, a guard, missed the end of his senior season at Yale, which included an Ivy League championship and first ever NCAA Tournament victory for the Bulldogs, a first-round upset of Baylor.

Texas Tech suspends Deshawn Corprew

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Texas Tech suspended Deshawn Corprew from the basketball team after allegations of assault, the athletic department announced on Monday.

A redshirt sophomore who appeared in 37 games last season, the 6-foot-5 Corprew has Title IX allegations against him, which means the school will investigate.

“Once Coach Beard was made aware of Title IX allegations against Deshawn Corprew, the men’s basketball student-athlete was immediately suspended from all team activities, pending a full investigation. Further comment will be withheld until the appropriate time,” A Texas Tech athletics official said in a statement.

Corprew averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Red Raiders last season as he was a rotation player for the title-game losing team. Expected to receive more minutes with the loss of some key players, including top-ten pick Jarrett Culver, Corprew’s basketball future is unknown at the moment since nothing about these allegations has come out and the investigation is just beginning.

It’s difficult to judge the severity of the allegations and how it will keep Corprew away from the team but Texas Tech will have to figure out some other plans for his spot while he’s away from the team.

Oklahoma State hires brother of top 2020 prospect as assistant coach

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Oklahoma State made a splash on Tuesday afternoon as the Cowboys hired Cannen Cunningham as an assistant coach.

While Cunningham is an up-and-coming young coach who spent last season at Tulane as part of Mike Dunleavy’s staff, his hiring to Oklahoma State is significant because he’s the older brother of five-star Class of 2020 prospect Cade Cunningham.

Cade has spent the spring dominating the Nike EYBL and rising in the national rankings as he’s firmly in the discussion as the No. 1 player in his class after putting up ridiculously efficient numbers across the board. In speaking with NBC Sports at the Pangos All-American Camp earlier this month, Cade noted how much his brother aided in his overall development and improvement. Clearly, the brothers are close when it comes to basketball.

Oklahoma State was already viewed as a heavy participant in Cunningham’s national recruitment. Now that head coach Mike Boynton has made the move to hire Cunningham to a full-time assistant spot, Cannen just gives the Cowboys an additional recruiting advantage when it comes to landing Cade.

Cade Cunningham cut his list to 10 schools earlier this summer as Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Texas, Virginia and Washington are still involved. It’ll be interesting to see where Cade decides to take official visits and how many of these schools remain in the picture in light of Cannen’s hiring.

ACC Offseason Reset: Bluebloods reload; Louisville’s back; can Virginia repeat?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking ACC.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

VIRGINIA’S TALENT EXODUS: The most interesting team in the ACC heading into the 2019-20 season is the reigning national champions.

That’s because the team that we are going to see come November will look almost nothing like the team we saw walk off the court in Minneapolis in April. De’Andre Hunter shocked no one when he left school for the NBA. There shouldn’t be any surprise that Ty Jerome left school, either. Kyle Guy was the player we all expected would be back in Charlottesville this season, but when you consider that A) he was coming off of the greatest redemption story in the history of the sport, B) two of his very best friends and fellow stars on that title winning team were leaving school, and C) the NBA has never valued the one thing that Guy does at an NBA level more, it isn’t all that shocking that he ended up getting picked late in the second round.

But we’re done with last year at this point. Next year is where things get interesting, because this will be the most difficult job that Tony Bennett has had during this run where UVA has been one of the ACC’s elite. Not only did he lose his top three players, but two of the three left a year earlier than we expected heading into last season. That puts the ‘Hoos in a really tough spot. The only guard on the roster with any kind of playing experience is 5-foot-8 sophomore Kihei Clark, which is not exactly ideal for a program that changed the way that they play last season.

The key is going to end up being the development of Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff. Both of those guys are extremely long and athletic with three-point range. For my money, Diakite is the guy that needs to take the biggest leap. I think he could end up being one of the best defenders in all of college basketball next season, and if the ‘Hoos are going to live up to their preseason hype, they will need him to make as big of an individual jump as anyone in Bennett’s program has made in his decade at Virginia.

Louisville forward Jordan Nwora (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

CAN LOUISVILLE LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?: Speaking of living up to the hype, it only took Chris Mack a year to get the Cardinals to a place where they are heading into a season as a legitimate national title favorite. Part of it is the newcomers he has coming in — five-star Samuell Williamson headlines a loaded six-man recruiting class while grad transfer Fresh Kimble fills the hole they had at the point — but the biggest reason to be bullish on the ‘Ville this year is who they have returning.

Dwayne Sutton is back. Steve Enoch is back. Malik Williams is back. Those guys are all going to be important, but not quite as important as Jordan Nwora, our way-too-early ACC Player of the Year and a potential All-American. Nwora was one of the most improved players in the country this past season, and I fully expect him to develop into one of the league’s premier scoring threats playing the same role that Trevon Bluiett played for Mack at Xavier.

TOBACCO ROAD RELOAD: Duke lost Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, among others. North Carolina lost Coby White, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Nassir Little and Kenny Williams. There are six top 25 picks in that group, and that doesn’t include Luke Maye, who was an All-American in college.

And, as I’m sure you probably know, both programs reloaded this year. Duke did it via the freshmen, bringing in another loaded class that will be joining Tre Jones in Durham next season. North Carolina did the same — Cole Anthony is going to score a ton of points doing what Coby White did this season — but they also added some experience, bringing in a pair of grad transfers to fill out their roster.

As we have seen in the past, winning is not always easy when your roster is built around freshmen. It will be interesting to see how these groups all come together.

CAN ANYONE OUTSIDE THE BIG FOUR COMPETE?: The top four in the ACC all have very real national title hopes.

I’m not sure there is another team in the league that should be ranked in the top 25. If there is, my guess is that it will be N.C. State. The Wolfpack had some ups-and-downs last year, but they more or less return all of their important pieces from last year, including star guard Markell Johnson. Florida State will be interesting as well, and if there is a sleeper in the league, it is Notre Dame, but more on them in a second.

ARE THERE SANCTIONS COMING FOR ANYONE IN THE LEAGUE?: The FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has come to a close, but the NCAA’s is just starting to ramp up. A number of programs are expected to get hit with a Notice of Allegations stemming from what came to light in the last two years, and a number of programs in the league — Louisville, N.C. State, Duke, North Carolina, etc. — were either directly or tangentially linked to things that were reported by media outlets or came up during the trial itself.

How many of the teams in the ACC have something to worry about?

Tre Jones (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • ZION and RJ, Duke: The most entertaining duo in college basketball shocked absolutely not one when they left school for the NBA. Thanks for the pageviews, fellas.
  • VIRGINIA’S BIG THREE: The Cavaliers turned the most embarrassing loss in NCAA tournament history into one of the greatest redemption stories in all of sports. If Virginia is going to remain among the ACC’s elite, Mamadi Diakite is going to have to be a star.
  • UNC’S BIG FOUR: The Tar Heels are going to look very different next season, as their five-best players are all playing for checks these days.
  • BUZZ WILLIAMS and KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Virginia Tech: It took Buzz five years to get Virginia Tech to the point that they were good enough to come with one possession of getting to the Elite Eight, and that’s all it took for him to get back to Texas. Williams is now at Texas A&M, and while both Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker left, as expected, the one relative surprise was that Kerry Blackshear followed them as well. Blackshear is the most sought-after grad transfer in college basketball and will likely head into next season as a preseason All-American. We just don’t know who he will be playing for yet.
  • MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State: He spent the season coming off of the bench for the Seminoles, but his loss will hurt as much as any in the league. Kabengele was quietly the force that allowed Florida State to be able to matchup with anyone and everyone in college basketball last season.

WHO’S BACK

  • TRE JONES, Duke: Jones was the one freshmen from last year’s recruiting class to return to Duke. A defensive pest that spent much of the year banged up, Jones will have a full offseason to develop his offensive repertoire. He’s only going to be a sophomore, but he’s exactly the kind of “veteran” leader a young Duke team will need.
  • JORDAN NWORA, Louisville: We wrote about Nwora earlier, but his decision to return to Louisville was as impactful as any early entry decision. He’ll be an All-American caliber player and the star that the Cardinals, as a preseason top ten team, can lean on.
  • MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: Is this the year Diakite makes the leap to being elite? I’m betting that it is, and I fully expect him to make the biggest year over year improvement that we’ve seen out of anyone in Bennett’s Virginia tenure.
  • N.C. STATE: The biggest name to know is Markell Johnson, but with seven of their top nine returning and a couple talented transfers enrolling, the Wolfpack are probably the best of the rest.
  • CHRIS LYKES, Miami: There may not be a more entertaining player in college basketball than the 5-foot-7 Lykes, who averaged 16.2 points last season.
  • JOHN MOONEY, Notre Dame: The Irish bring back one of the best 1-2 punches in college basketball in Temple Gibbs and John Mooney, something that will be bolstered by a talented five-man sophomore class that should be ready to contribute more this season than they did last season.

WHO’S COMING

  • DUKE’S FRESHMEN: Vernon Carey Jr. is probably the biggest name to know, but Matthew hurt may be the most important. He’s precisely the kind of big, floor-spacing four that the Blue Devils were missing last season. Wendell Moore Jr. could end up being a one-and-done as well, and Cassius Stanley is going to posterize at least three unsuspecting defenders this year. Book it.
  • COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony has a shot to end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and playing for UNC is probably the best way for him to showcase his ability to create offense. He plays the same way that Coby White did, only he’s super-charged athletically. I think it’s a good bet that Anthony ends up leading the ACC in scoring.
  • JOE GIRARD III, Syracuse: Girard is one of the most prolific scorers in New York State high school history. What kind of offense will he be able to produce for the Orange?

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ACC TEAM

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville (ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia
JOHN MOONEY, Notre Dame
VERNON CAREY, Duke

Cole Anthony, Jon Lopez/Nike

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. DUKE: Last year, Duke was the most talented team in college basketball, but the talent did not fit together as well as it could have. They had too many guys that all do the same things — drive to the rim, finish at the bucket — and not enough guys to do the thing that would create space — i.e. shoot the ball. Shooting could still end up being an issue this season with Jones at the point, but the way Duke’s pieces fit together this year works better.

2. LOUISVILLE: I’m all-in on the Cardinals this season with Jordan Nwora coming back. He’s the perfect big wing for Chris Mack’s offense, and they have a talented recruiting class that will fill the holes in their roster. It only took a year for Mack to get Louisville to the point of contending.

3. VIRGINIA: I’m higher on Virginia than the consensus opinion, and that’s because I think that Bennett is going to find a way to develop the guys in his program the way he needs to. I’ve mentioned Diakite and Huff already in this column, but I also think that Braxton Key will make a big jump this year.

4. NORTH CAROLINA: Cole Anthony is going to get all the attention for the freshmen, and I do think that the Tar Heels have a pair of grad transfers in Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling that will play important roles, but we should not overlook the addition of Armando Bacot. He is the perfect big man to play in Roy Williams’ system, and even with a trio of juniors in front of him, I think that he’ll be an impact player as a freshmen.

5. N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack are going to have to replace the production of Torin Dorn, but there are some pieces on this roster — namely C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels and Jericole Hellems — that I think can take a step forward this year.

6. FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles are going to have a number of pieces that they need to replace — namely Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele — but this was a team that went 12-deep at times last year, with a huge recruiting class coming in and a couple of pieces — Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker, specifically — that have yet to really hit their ceiling.

7. NOTRE DAME: John Mooney and Temple Gibbs are the big names, but the players that will be really interesting to monitor this season will be Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski. What kind of leap to they take as sophomores?

8. CLEMSON: The Tigers lose a ton this offseason, with four of their five starters graduating. Aamir Simms didn’t quite take the leap that we expected him to take, but with a pair of grad transfers coming in — Curran Scott from Tulsa and Tevin Mack from Alabama — there should be some backcourt reinforcements.

9. MIAMI: Chris Lykes will be back and ready to do the things he did that made him one of the most entertaining players in college basketball last season, but one of the keys for the Hurricanes will be Oklahoma transfer Kameron McGusty. Can he come in and be a secondary scorer for Jim Larrañaga?

10. SYRACUSE: The Orange lose Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu. That’s a lot of talent to replace. With the likes of Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and Elijah Hughes on the roster this season, I expect the Orange to be better offensively than they have in the recent past.

11. VIRGINIA TECH: Replacing Buzz Williams is not going to be easy for Mike Young to do, especially when it comes at a time where he is going to have to replace Justin Robinson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear, too.

12. GEORGIA TECH: I loved Jose Alvarado in high school, and with James Banks coming back, the Yellow Jackets return a sneaky-good 1-2 punch and four of their top five scorers. That said, the cellar in the ACC in a long way from the middle of the pack.

13. BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles, who went 5-13 in the ACC last season, replaced Ky Bowman with Derryck Thornton. That’s suboptimal.

14. PITT: I’m going to need to see it to believe it with the Panthers. After starting ACC play 2-2 with wins over Louisville and Florida State last year, Pitt reeled off 13 straight conference losses.

15. WAKE FOREST: Danny Manning is in his sixth season at Wake Forest. He’s won more than five ACC games in a season just once, and he is coming off of a year where the Demon Deacons finished 11-20 overall.