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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.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.