North Carolina Tar Heels: Syracuse Orange

Position battles: Point guards

May, 12, 2014
May 12
10:00
AM ET
Some of the best 1-on-1 matchups will take place before the 2014-15 season tips off. They will come in the form of position battles within a team to determine a starter, which will in some cases shape an entire lineup.

Starting with point guard, ESPN.com will examine those quiet battles on a position-by-position basis this week while also promising we will never use the phrase "iron sharpens iron" to describe the competition.

In places such as Michigan State, the chance to replace a graduating senior was anticipated and planned. In places such as Oklahoma State, the vacancy opened up unexpectedly. The job was likely going to Stevie Clark, but his February dismissal means the Cowboys will rely on freshman Tyree Griffin or junior college transfer Jeff Newberry. And in many cases, the position comes down to choosing between a returnee or a talented newcomer.

Unlike other sports, even the players who lose their respective battles will still have a chance to shine. But winning could be the difference between a starring role and being a footnote.

Here are point guard battles to keep an eye on:


Duke: Quinn Cook vs. Tyus Jones

Cook too often allowed his overall game to be shaped by his makes and misses and was replaced in the starting lineup the final 10 games of the season by Rasheed Sulaimon. Jones’ arrival in the Blue Devils heralded recruiting class means Sulaimon can move back to his natural position off the ball and sets up this showdown. Jones was rated No. 4 overall and the top point guard in the 2014 class by ESPN.com. Praised for his court vision and ability to run a team, Jones is arguably the better facilitator. Cook is a much better defender who has the added advantage of knowing the system.

SMU: Nic Moore vs. Emmanuel Mudiay

Moore had a solid year for the Mustangs leading the team in scoring, assists and 3-point shooting while starting every game. He was first team all-conference in the American. Yet here comes Mudiay, who might be the most important recruit -- he’s certainly the highest ranked -- in SMU history. The 6-foot-5 Mudiay was ranked fifth overall by ESPN.com, and his time in Dallas could be limited to one season before he’s in the NBA. Point guard is the toughest position to play under coach Larry Brown, and Moore has had the luxury of learning his expectations for two years. Mudiay’s talent is so undeniable that the Mustangs might find a way to play both in the lineup.

Kansas: Frank Mason vs. Conner Frankamp vs. Devonte Graham

Naadir Tharpe’s decision to transfer opened up what was already a position begging to be solidified. The Jayhawks haven’t had stability at point guard in two seasons and it threatens what could again be a top-10 team. Mason was third on the team in assists as a freshman and briefly supplanted Tharpe in the starting lineup. Frankamp, also a rising sophomore, played in enough games as a freshman to season him for extended time this season. Graham just signed this month out of prep school, but is considered a true playmaker.

Michigan State: Travis Trice vs. Lourawls Nairn

Trice proved his value at point guard running the Spartans when Keith Appling was sidelined by injury this past season. If Nairn shows the ability to play right away, the two could likely be used in the same lineup with Denzel Valentine at small forward and Branden Dawson at power forward. Should coach Tom Izzo opt for Valentine at shooting guard, Trice would probably be the starter at point. Nairn, a 5-foot-10 freshman, will have to develop his perimeter shooting, but his toughness and leadership skills already mesh into the Izzo mold.

Wisconsin: Traevon Jackson vs. Bronson Koenig

It seems absurd that Jackson, a rising senior who started every game on a Final Four team, could see his minutes diminished by a reserve, but it speaks to Koenig's great potential. Jackson showed a penchant for making the big shot. Koenig is arguably the better scorer with his ability to get to the rim. The rising sophomore proved he’s ready for a bigger role during the Badgers’ loss to Kentucky in the national semifinals. Entrusted to run the team with Jackson in foul trouble, Koenig scored 11 points in 16 minutes during the first half.

Syracuse: Kaleb Joseph vs. Michael Gbinije

Coach Jim Boeheim has proven the past two seasons that he’s unafraid to play an untested point guard. As he did with Michael Carter-Williams two seasons ago and Tyler Ennis this past season, Boeheim could again put the ball in the hands of a player with little point guard experience in his system. Gbinije, a 6-foot-7 junior, filled in at times for Ennis, although he’s more of a combo guard than a point. Joseph, a true freshman, will be a part of the guard rotation that includes shooting guard Trevor Cooney. Don’t be surprised if Joseph ends up like Ennis in the starting lineup early.

Memphis: Rashawn Powell vs. Dominic Magee

It’s been a while since Memphis didn’t have an heir awaiting the starting duties at point guard. Coach Josh Pastner looks to replace five senior guards with a three freshmen who can all play point. Powell and Magee are the likely front-runners as pure point guards. Powell is as much of a wild card as the true freshman Magee. He didn’t qualify last season and was not allowed to practice, but was enrolled in school. Pastner will have a third option in Markell Crawford, who redshirted last season, who has the leadership skills to step in and run the team.

North Carolina: Nate Britt vs. Joel Berry

Thank Kendall Marshall for this battle. Marshall’s injury in the 2012 NCAA tournament sabotaged a team built for a national title run, and coach Roy Williams vowed he’d never be in that position again. In past years, Williams probably would not have added a point guard in this class considering Marcus Paige will ultimately run the show. This battle won’t be as detrimental to team success as others, but is intriguing nonetheless. Berry, the freshman, will challenge Britt, the sophomore, and the time-old notion in Chapel Hill that seniority wins out.

For the third time since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, more teams have been added to the mix. The battle for conference supremacy started with just nine games deciding the outcome back when that was the extent of ACC membership.

The league has ballooned to 15 teams and now that the Big Ten expanded too, a slate of 14 games over three consecutive nights from Dec. 1-3 will determine bragging rights.

The ACC was 6-0 when just nine teams played in the Challenge. It was 4-2 after ACC expansion and 11 teams played. Since going to 12 teams the Big Ten won once and the Challenge has ended in consecutive ties.

The ACC still holds an advantage winning 10 of the 15 meetings overall, but it has not won the Challenge since 2008.

Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will make their respective debuts in the Challenge this season. Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech did not participate last season for the ACC. Boston College will sit this one out this season.

As Maryland changes allegiances from ACC charter member to Big Ten expansion team, it becomes the Big Ten team with the most wins. The Terrapins have participated in every challenge and has a 10-5 record, and trails only Duke (13) for most Challenge wins. Five Big Ten teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin) are tied with seven wins in the series.

From top to bottom, here are the best matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

1. Duke at Wisconsin: It just might be an early Final Four preview. On paper, both have the rosters that could be playing the final weekend of the season. The Badgers, led by center Frank Kaminsky, return most of the rotation that got Bo Ryan to his first Final Four during his Wisconsin tenure. Duke restocks with the No. 1 recruiting class led by center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils were 0-4 versus top 10 teams away from home last season in a year that ended with a NCAA second round flameout against Mercer. Wisconsin will be an early test to see if Duke will write a different narrative this season.

2. Iowa at North Carolina: Expect a high-scoring game because the Hawkeyes and Tar Heels both want to run early and often. Forward Jarrod Uthoff and center Gabriel Olaseni give Iowa a formidable frontcourt duo that will put up points in Fran McCaffery’s system despite their roster losses from last season. The Hawkeyes have never won on the road (0-5) in the Challenge. UNC will be a much more athletic team than it was last season with the addition of freshmen Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. The game could offer a small bit of redemption back home for guard Marcus Paige, who is a Marion, Iowa, native, after the Heels were bounced by Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.

3. Ohio State at Louisville: The last time Thad Matta squared off against Rick Pitino, Xavier upset the Cardinals in the 2004 NCAA tournament en route to the Elite Eight. It was the run that helped Matta land the Buckeyes job. Matta will learn what he’s working with in an early road test for a young, but talented team. The game will also serve as a homecoming for Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, who had an offer from Louisville. Ironically, next season, the Cards will rely heavily on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native, who is expected to have a breakout year with the departure of Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell’s decision to return to school was like a recruiting coup for the Cards.

4. Virginia at Maryland: A new twist to an old rivalry. The two foes have literally played the past 100 years, and as ACC rivals the game had the exalted status of the final regular season game for the better part of the last four decades. It could easily be the most intense game of the Challenge since both teams know each other so well. The backcourt battle pitting Virginia’s London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon against Maryland’s Seth Allen and Dez Wells could determine the outcome.

5. Michigan State at Notre Dame: From 1908 to 1979 the Spartans and Irish had a healthy basketball rivalry, meeting 94 times. It’s the first meeting between the schools since MSU beat the Irish in the Elite Eight en route to its 1979 national championship. The Spartans bring back Branden Dawson, who considered turning pro. The Irish welcome back Jerian Grant, who withdrew from school at the start of conference play due to an “academic matter.”

6. Syracuse at Michigan: Think of how great this game would have been with guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant still suiting up for the Orange and guard Nik Stauskas, forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary playing for the Wolverines. Instead, they form an all-star lineup of NBA early entries. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, only a combined five players (Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney; Michigan: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert) remain who played in the game.

7. Nebraska at Florida State: If the Cornhuskers plan on improving on last season's NCAA appearance, they have to learn to win games like this. The Huskers were just 3-8 last season on the road and Tallahassee can be a tough place to play. The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament last season due to several close nonconference losses, a trend they’ll need to reverse this season.

8. Pittsburgh at Indiana: The Panthers haven’t played the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1941 and Pitt's experienced guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson won’t be intimidated by Assembly Hall. Noah Vonleh’s decision to turn pro possibly set IU back in its bid to rejoin the nation’s elite. But guard Yogi Ferrell and newcomer James Blackmon Jr. means the Hoosiers' cupboard isn’t bare.

9. Illinois at Miami: The Illini could be a darkhorse in league and an early road win could prove it. Guard Rayvonte Rice will be even harder to stop if he can improve his 3-point shooting from 29.5 percent last season. The Canes return just three players from last season, who accounted for just 15 percent of their scoring. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) should make immediate impact for Miami.

10. Minnesota at Wake Forest: Guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins give Minnesota backcourt stability. The Deacons counter with their top duo of leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, who should help Danny Manning make a smooth transition in his first season as coach.

11. Rutgers at Clemson: The Mack and Jack show is back for Rutgers. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack were the top two scorers from last season and a formidable duo. Clemson returned everyone of impact except leading scorer and rebounder K.J. McDaniels. Guard Rod Hall will likely expand his scoring role after leading the Tigers in assists.

12. NC State at Purdue: The Boilermakers are the hottest team in the Challenge with five straight wins. Junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons gives Purdue a solid centerpiece to build around. NCSU has the monumental task of replacing 2014 ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack's fortunes could rest with talented, yet erratic, point guard Anthony Barber.

13. Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Both teams hope to get a boost from guards lost to injury last season. Tech’s Travis Jorgenson played in just four games before tearing his ACL. Northwestern’s oft-injured guard JerShon Cobb, its leading scorer returning, missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets have only won once on the road in the Challenge.

14. Virginia Tech at Penn State: The Nittany Lions return most of their rotation that lost eight games by five or fewer points. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, who led the team in scoring, is now the unequivocal leader with Tim Frazier gone. Buzz Williams begins Hokies rebuilding project with a good starting point -- guard Devin Wilson was on both the coaches and media all-ACC freshmen teams and ranked third in the league in assists.
video

At 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday night, the NBA's early-entry draft deadline came and went. No key college hoops offseason date has so much, or so widespread, an impact on the landscape to come. And, for the fledgling offseason rankings writer, no consideration is trickier. Without question, that's the hardest part about the Way Too Early Top 25, which we published with confetti still on the keyboard just after UConn's national championship earlier this month. Until draft decisions are in, you're just making guesses. Educated guesses, sure. But guesses all the same.

Now that we know which players are staying and which are going, it's time to offer an edited addendum to this offseason's first attempt at a 2014-15 preseason top 25. How did draft decisions change the list?

In short, not a whole lot. But we do have a new No. 1. It will surprise nobody.

  1. John Calipari
    Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari will have a roster full of future NBA players, as usual, next season. And this one will have experience.
    Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky was our No. 3 in the Way Too Early rankings back when we were almost certain the Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and maybe even Dakari Johnson would be headed to the NBA. In the end, Kentucky kept all five, and add two of the best big men in the country (Trey Lyles, Karl Towns) in the incoming class to form a team that is surprisingly experienced, mind-bendingly tall (Calipari has three 7-footers and two 6-10 guys, all of whom are likely to play in the NBA), and every bit as loaded on natural talent as ever. Kentucky is losing Julius Randle and James Young to the draft, and will probably be better next season. Kind of insane!
  2. Duke Blue Devils: Nothing less than a Jabari Parker return could have moved Duke beyond Kentucky and into the No. 1 spot at this point in the season, and Parker is heading to the NBA, as expected. Even so, the Blue Devils are in great shape, mixing the nation's best recruiting class with a really solid group of veteran, tried-and-tested role players.
  3. Arizona Wildcats: The tentative No. 1 back when Nick Johnson was still weighing the proverbial options, Arizona takes the deep, chasmic plummet all the way to No. 3. In less sarcastic terms: Sean Miller has Arizona so well-oiled that it can lose its two best players (Aaron Gordon and Johnson) and still be a national title contender next season.
  4. Wisconsin Badgers: Frank Kaminsky almost made this more work than it had to be; after a breakout postseason, Kaminsky saw scouts' interest skyrocket. But he held off in the end, which means the Badgers are still only losing one player -- senior guard Ben Brust -- from last year's excellent Final Four group.
  5. Wichita State Shockers: Nothing to report here: The Shockers are still losing Cleanthony Early and still keeping Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Will they go unbeaten until late March again? No, but they'll be awfully good.
  6. North Carolina Tar Heels: Point guard Marcus Paige played well enough in 2013-14 to earn a fair amount of NBA discussion by the time the season was over. Brice Johnson was just as promising, even in more limited minutes. But both players were always likely to come back, and now that they have, Roy Williams has more talent and experience at his disposal than at any time in the past five years.
  7. Virginia Cavaliers: The Cavaliers are still a relatively predictable bunch going forward. Losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris will hurt, but Tony Bennett's team will still be led by Malcolm Brogdon and a very solid returning core.
  8. Louisville Cardinals: Montrezl Harrell was probably a lottery pick, making his decision to stay in Louisville for another season one of the most surprising of the past month. It's also worth a big boost to Louisville's 2014-15 projections.
  9. Florida Gators: Probably the biggest boom-or-bust team on this list, Florida's 2014-15 season will hinge on the development of point guard Kasey Hill and raw-but-gifted big man Chris Walker. Jon Horford, a graduate transfer from Michigan, will add size and stability.
  10. Kansas Jayhawks: Bill Self's team won't have Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid in the fold next season, which was always a foregone conclusion (even if Embiid waited just long enough to make us wonder). But the players Self does have returning, plus another solid batch of arrivals, should make for another Big 12 regular-season title, the program's 11th in a row. Ho-hum.
  11. Connecticut Huskies: DeAndre Daniels' pro turn is a little bit surprising, given how quickly Daniels rose from relative obscurity in the NCAA tournament, but it is far less damaging than Ryan Boatright's return is helpful. And transfer guard Rodney Purvis, eligible this fall, will help, too.
  12. Southern Methodist Mustangs: An already good team (and one that probably deserved to get in the NCAA tournament over NC State, but oh well) gets almost everyone back and adds the No. 2 point guard in the 2014 class (Emmanuel Mudiay) to the mix, coached by Larry Brown. This should be interesting.
  13. Villanova Wildcats: Before Jay Wright's team lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament and UConn in the round of 32, it lost exactly three games all season. Four starters and an excellent reserve (Josh Hart) return, and Wright's program should remain ascendant.
  14. Virginia Commonwealth Rams: Shaka Smart has a lineup full of his prototypical ball-hawking guards, with the best recruiting class of his career en route this summer.
  15. Gonzaga Bulldogs: As Kentucky prepares for another season in the spotlight, a player who helped the Wildcats win their last national title -- forward Kyle Wiltjer -- re-emerges at Gonzaga, where he'll be the perfect stretch 4 in a devastating offensive lineup.
  16. Iowa State Cyclones: By and large, the Cyclones are what they were when their season ended: Seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane are off to the Association, but Fred Hoiberg still has a lot of interesting, interchangeable pieces at his disposal.
  17. Texas Longhorns: The recently announced transfer of Maryland forward Shaquille Cleare won't help the Longhorns until 2015-16, when Cleare becomes eligible, but with everybody back, the Longhorns have a chance to make a real leap right away.
  18. [+] EnlargeBranden Dawson
    Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMichigan State shouldn't slide back too far with Branden Dawson returning.
    Michigan State Spartans: Our first offseason ranking of Michigan State essentially assumed that Gary Harris would leave, which he did. Branden Dawson's return is crucial, and if Denzel Valentine has a big year, Tom Izzo's team might not take as big a step back as everyone is predicting.
  19. Oklahoma Sooners: Same story here: a very good offensive team with most of its major pieces back that needs to get a bit better defensively to really make a move into the elite.
  20. San Diego State Aztecs: The team that should have been on our first list anyway gets here now in large part as a function of its competition. But that's not an insult: Even losing Xavier Thames, the Aztecs are going to defend really well again, with a group of exciting young West Coast players on the way.
  21. Syracuse Orange: The Orange took not one, but two big-time hits in the draft-decision window. The first was point guard Tyler Ennis; the second, forward and sixth man Jerami Grant. Ennis was the most crucial, as it leaves Syracuse without an obvious point guard replacement.
  22. Oregon Ducks: Now that UCLA's Jordan Adams switched his decision and will leave for the NBA (with little time to spare, too), Oregon's combination of Joseph Young, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson looks like the second-best Pac-12 team.
  23. Kansas State Wildcats: Freshman star Marcus Foster was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2013-14 season; he should be even better as a sophomore.
  24. Michigan Wolverines: The worst-case scenario for Michigan fans came true: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all left for the NBA draft. That said, Caris LeVert is on track for a major season, and while Michigan won't have the firepower of the past two seasons, it's fair to assume the Wolverines will still put up a ton of points.
  25. Iowa Hawkeyes: The argument for Iowa still stands: Fran McCaffery can reasonably replace Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe with Jarrod Uthoff and Gabriel Olaseni and still get the kind of offense that fueled the pre-collapse Hawkeyes last season.

Early-entry winners and losers

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
10:00
AM ET
The NBA’s early-entry deadline passed Sunday night as Division I coaches were returning from the only April recruiting weekend.

For the first time since the end of the season, the coaches finally know whom they will have and whom they won’t for next season.

Here are the winners and losers after the early-entry deadline. Keep in mind, some teams -- Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, Arizona State and Tennessee -- knew long ago they would be losing players, so they don’t fit in either category.

Winners

Kentucky: The Wildcats could have been starting from scratch again next season. The players would have had plenty of reason to bolt after making the national title game. But only two did, and the Wildcats can absorb the losses of Julius Randle and James Young. The decisions by Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to stay, coupled with newcomers Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr., give Kentucky a deeper and more versatile frontcourt. The return of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison means coach John Calipari doesn’t need to restart his perimeter. Kentucky is probably the only program in the country that can be in the winners column by losing two lottery picks because of the NBA draft-level depth of the freshman and sophomore classes.

Wisconsin: The Badgers were within one stop of advancing to the national title game before Aaron Harrison’s 3-point dagger in Arlington, Texas, in the national semifinal. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky easily could have put their postgame emotions behind them and said goodbye to Madison. But they did not. The return of the two scorers -- one on the wing and one inside and out -- means the Badgers have enough returning to be a Big Ten preseason favorite, a top-five team and a national title contender.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels were in a danger zone. UNC lost James Michael McAdoo, who had been inconsistent at times during his career. It could have seen point guard Marcus Paige and forward Brice Johnson bolt too. But that didn’t happen. Having Paige return is huge for coach Roy Williams. Paige will be the preseason favorite for ACC Player of the Year. His return was a must for UNC to be a conference title contender.

Louisville: The Cardinals had the most electric frontcourt player in the American last season in Montrezl Harrell. Few players could keep him off the backboard when he was going for a flush. The Cardinals continue to reload but don’t need to restart in the ACC sans Harrell. They won’t have to with his return.

Arkansas: The Hogs were a bit of an enigma last season with a sweep of Kentucky and a near-miss overtime loss at home to Florida. But the chances for Arkansas to make the NCAA tournament next season under Mike Anderson would have been reduced considerably if 6-foot-10 Bobby Portis and 6-6 Michael Qualls declared for the draft. Anderson was pleased to report Sunday that they did not.

Nebraska: The goodwill created by the Huskers’ run to the NCAA tournament could have been snuffed out if Terran Petteway was romanced by the good fortune and declared for the NBA draft. But he chose against it, and as a result Nebraska should be in the top six in the Big Ten and competing for a bid again.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had moments last season when they looked like an NCAA tournament team. They should be next season with the decision by point guard Juwan Staten to return to Morgantown. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He will enter the season with a strong case to be considered for Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

Oregon: The Ducks are constantly in transition but needed some sort of consistency from one season to another with a key transfer. Joseph Young had the goods to declare. But he’s coming back to give them a legitimate scorer going into next season and an all-Pac-12 player in the quest to return to the NCAA tournament.

Utah: Larry Krystkowiak has the Utes on the verge of being an NCAA tournament team. That plan could have easily been derailed if Delon Wright took the bait of being a possible first-round pick. Wright’s return means the Utes will be an upper-half Pac-12 team and a preseason pick to make the NCAA tournament.

Losers

UCLA: The Bruins found out late Saturday night that Jordan Adams was gone. He joins Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine. That means four of five starters are not back from the Pac-12 tournament champs. Steve Alford has a stellar recruiting class, but this team will be extremely young.

Michigan: The Wolverines are a prisoner of their own success. Nik Stauskas was hardly a two-year player when he was signed. But he matured into a Big Ten Player of the Year. He jumped with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who had no choice after a one-year ban because of a failed drug test for marijuana during the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines will enter a new era under John Beilein.

Syracuse: Tyler Ennis was probably more of a two-year point guard when he was signed. But he was one of the best players in the country as a freshman and capitalized on his success by leaving for the lottery. Jerami Grant's departure means the Orange will look quite a bit different in their second year in the ACC.

Missouri: The Tigers lost coach Frank Haith to Tulsa and their two best players in Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. They will be pushing a restart button next season.

Xavier: The Musketeers had one of the most dynamic players in the Big East last season in Semaj Christon. Xavier is never down, but this presents yet another challenge for Chris Mack.

New Mexico: Alex Kirk was a potential early entrant. Add his departure to the known exits of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams and the Lobos are rebuilding under Craig Neal.

Clemson: The Tigers had serious momentum with a strong finishing kick led by K.J. McDaniels. Brad Brownell always finds a way to keep his teams competitive. He’ll need to reinvent the team again with the loss of McDaniels.

Oregon State: The Beavers had a real gem in Eric Moreland, if he came back to work on his skills. He is tantalizing with his length and athleticism for the NBA, but he leaves the Beavers as a raw product when he and Oregon State could have benefited from his return.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have recruited at a high level the past four years under Tom Crean. Noah Vonleh is the latest to bolt. The problem for the Hoosiers is that he left a year too early, before he could have a full effect on the program with an NCAA berth.

NC State: The Wolfpack made a remarkable late surge to the NCAA tournament and won a game in the First Four before a late-game loss to Saint Louis in the round of 64. They had the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack were supposed to be rebuilding last season and at times looked the part. But the run to the tournament changed the narrative. Now, with Warren gone, the rebuild might be underway.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels were a disappointment last season even with Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith. Now they’re both off to the NBA draft, putting more pressure on Dave Rice to keep the Rebels chasing San Diego State, among others, next season.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their best defensive player and leader in Aaron Craft. Now one of their top scorers is gone, too, with LaQuinton Ross' decision to declare.

Push

Arizona: The Wildcats lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson -- two significant body blows. But the return of Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski, coupled with another elite recruiting class led by Stanley Johnson, means the Wildcats will be the pick to win the Pac-12.

UConn: The Huskies could afford to lose DeAndre Daniels with the addition of transfer Rodney Purvis but couldn’t handle the loss of Ryan Boatright. His return gives Kevin Ollie a lead guard to run the offense and jump-start the defense. No one will pick the defending champs to win the title again, but that’s exactly how UConn likes the odds.

LSU: Johnny Jones knew he was likely going to lose Johnny O’Bryant III, but there were questions about whether he would be without freshmen bigs Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. He got them both back, and the Tigers should be in contention for the NCAA tournament.

Michigan State: The Spartans weren’t surprised Gary Harris left after two seasons. But Michigan State would have taken an even deeper dip if Branden Dawson had jumped at the chance for the NBA. Dawson wasn’t a lock for the first round. He took the advice and stayed.

Roundtable: Jordan Brand Classic 

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:00
AM ET
It has been a busy few weeks for the top prospects in the ESPN 100.

It began at the beginning of the month when they arrived in Chicago for the McDonald's All American Game. Immediately after that game concluded, some players jumped on a red-eye to New York for the Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. Last week it was a trip to the West Coast for the Nike Hoop Summit in Oregon. This week, that string of all-star events gets a fitting culmination as the top players in the Class of 2015 return to New York for the Jordan Brand Classic.

Given what we've seen, not just in the past few weeks but in the past few years, is there anything left to learn? Here are a few players whom our Recruiting Nation staff will be watching during Friday's Jordan Brand Classic (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET):


The Jordan Brand Classic features the best talent high school basketball has to offer. Here are some of the most intriguing potential matchups in this terrific annual event, which airs Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Tyus Jones (Duke) vs. Tyler Ulis (Kentucky)

This matchup will be the battle for who can get the most assists. Both are terrific pass-first point guards who can play fast or slow. They can make open shots in order to keep the defense honest, and their decision-making on the offensive end of the floor is excellent, as well. Ulis can apply more heat on the ball defensively, while Jones is stronger and the better finisher in heavy traffic. It will be interesting to see who makes the fewest mistakes with the ball and who will win the assist category as Jones and Ulis push each other on both ends of the floor.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Look back, look ahead: ACC

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:00
AM ET
A basketball-related expansion -- an anomaly during the entire conference realignment shuffle -- was supposed to culminate by making the Atlantic Coast Conference rise above other conferences. The league was supposed to be the biggest and baddest of the major conferences thanks to its first season with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame as league members.

However, the only thing that increased was disappointment in the league’s overall showing.

Expanding to 15 teams did little to affect the ACC’s reach in the NCAA tournament. Six teams received bids -- and that likely would have been just five until NC State’s late push (including its upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament).

North Carolina and Duke both failed to advance into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 1979. The Blue Devils were upset by Mercer in the second round. The Tar Heels lost to Iowa State in the third round. The ACC has long depended on the bluebloods to carry the league’s baton, and this season did little to change that narrative.

Only Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed by winning the league title, advanced to the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers were then eliminated by Michigan State.

The league should improve next postseason thanks in part to Carolina's and Duke's potential to have powerhouse squads.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesWith a stellar recruiting class, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils may be the ACC's best in 2014-15.
What we saw this season: The Cavaliers returned to prominence by winning their first outright ACC regular-season title since 1981. Criticism followed since the Cavs, who only played Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina once each and two of those games were in Charlottesville. It took winning the ACC tournament for Virginia to erase those doubts.

Freshmen Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Jabari Parker (Duke) proved to be not only among the best players in the conference, but in the nation -- regardless of class.

Many ACC teams had outstanding individual talents -- NC State’s T.J. Warren (won the league’s player of the year award), Duke’s Rodney Hood, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels to name a few -- but those teams were heavily flawed. Opponents who stopped Lamar Patterson essentially stopped Pittsburgh. Syracuse had trouble scoring. Duke had a thin frontcourt. Carolina was limited by its shooting from the perimeter.

Syracuse started the season strong -- winning its first 25 games -- but faded down the stretch losing six of its last nine games, as its offense went on hiatus. The Orange did provide two classics sure to be talked about in ACC lore. Their first meeting with Duke was a thrilling 91-89 overtime win in the Carrier Dome and their 66-60 loss at Duke featured Jim Boeheim’s first ejection in a regular-season game.

As has long been a problem since the league expanded to 12 teams, the ACC failed to develop a strong second tier of added depth. The conference continued to be top-heavy as Florida State, Maryland, Clemson and Notre Dame never quite became teams to fear.

Three of the bottom four teams in the standings played poorly enough to end the season with their coaches being fired. Boston College arguably had the most disappointing seasons of them all relative to its talent level. The Eagles pulled it together long enough to hand Syracuse its first loss, which was the highlight of their season.

What we expect to see next season: More of the nation’s top freshmen. Duke’s recruiting class is considered tops in the land and is led by center Jahlil Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 100, and Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard who is fourth overall. North Carolina also snagged two top-10 recruits in Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and is ranked third as a class by ESPN.com.

Newcomers are great and all, but let’s also appreciate what we won’t see in the ACC for the first time in its existence. Maryland, a charter member of the conference started in 1953, will begin competing in the Big Ten. Let’s pause to remember the good times.

Long enough? OK.

Louisville obviously doesn’t compare to the tradition Maryland had within the league, but it could be considered an upgrade otherwise. With three national titles and a Hall of Fame coach currently on its sideline, the Cardinals fit the league’s basketball pedigree.

Their addition, plus Virginia’s returning most of its ACC title squad, should help the league become closer to the juggernaut many of its coaches expected this past season.

For all the hand-wringing over a change of guard in the ACC, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels look primed to re-establish their stranglehold on the top of the league standings. Regardless of how Parker’s NBA draft decision falls on Wednesday, Duke will have a good blend of experience (Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) and young talent (Okafor, Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen) at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal.

Carolina returns the likely front-runner for preseason player of the year in Paige. Forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks give the Heels an inside offensive scoring punch that will be hard to contain.

Because of those teams at the top, a trio of new coaches could face a harsh inaugural season in the league. Buzz Williams shocked many by leaving Marquette to take the reins at Virginia Tech, replacing James Johnson. Jim Christian (after a stint at Ohio) takes over Boston College, replacing Steve Donahue. And Danny Manning returns home to Tobacco Road to rebuild Wake Forest, replacing Jeff Bzdelik.

It could all add up and help the ACC live up to its own expectations as the best basketball conference in the nation.

Tournament preview: ACC

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
7:30
AM ET

There are no longer any hot teams in the ACC, as Virginia, which won its first outright regular-season title since 1981, had its 13-game winning streak snapped by Maryland in overtime on Sunday and Duke took care of North Carolina’s 12-game winning streak on Saturday, which means no team enters the tournament having won more than two straight games.

The ACC plays its first season with a 15-team tournament format that includes double byes for Virginia, Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina. There's also a play-in round for teams situated from 10-15. A team from the bottom third would have to win five games in five days to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Unfortunately, watching an underdog rise in Greensboro, N.C., isn't likely to happen based on what happened in the regular season. This tournament could be one of the most predictable in some time. There seems to be a noticeable separation between the top four seeds and the rest of the league. The top four had a combined 56-8 record against the remaining 11 teams in the league.

What’s at stake?

 Mike Krzyzewski
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe ACC was top heavy in the regular season, but Mike Krzyzewski thinks the league deserves more than four NCAA tournament bids.
When the ACC sought to expand, it purposely targeted schools with basketball imprints like Syracuse and Louisville (the Cardinals don't join until next season). During the league’s media day, coach after coach talked about how it could be the best basketball conference ever assembled. But that dominance never manifested itself. Instead, the ACC was again a league that’s top heavy and incredibly average after the top four teams.

Sensing the way Selection Sunday may develop, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made a preemptive strike on the ACC’s teleconference last week. Speaking as a de facto ambassador, Krzyzewski said the league deserved more than five bids to the NCAA tournament. “I have a hard team thinking that our 15-team league would only get five bids,” Krzyzewski said. “I find that hard to believe.”

However, there’s really no reason that this league should be guaranteed more than four bids. Pittsburgh, which finished fifth, went 0-for-5 against the league’s top four teams and its best nonconference win was over Stanford. That’s why Florida State, Clemson, NC State and conceivably the Panthers are fighting to make an 11th-hour impression on the NCAA tournament selection committee.

“[On Selection Sunday] hopefully we’re congratulating seven or eight teams that get into the NCAA tournament from the ACC,” Krzyzewski said.

Should the ACC get only five teams in, it would mark the third time in the past four seasons that only a third of the conference received bids.

Teams with the most to gain

Syracuse needs to halt its slide and rebuild its confidence heading into the NCAA tournament. After a 25-0 start, the Orange have stumbled down the stretch, including losses to cellar-dwellers Boston College and Georgia Tech. Injuries to an already-thin rotation haven’t helped, but they are hopeful sophomore forward Jerami Grant can return to form after battling back issues since the loss to Duke on Feb. 22. The Orange need to find a way to bring their offense back to life as they've scored more than 62 points just once since beating Duke 91-89 in overtime on Feb. 1.

Virginia may be the least celebrated regular-season champion in conference history. Because of the unbalanced schedule, it played the remaining top three teams only once each and only the Duke game, a 69-65 loss, came on the road.

Add that to the fact that technically, the ACC doesn’t recognize its regular-season winner as the league’s champion. That honor is reserved for the winner of the tournament, which is a holdover from the times when the league tournament determined the lone NCAA tournament representative. And it means the Cavaliers are coming to Greensboro with a collective chip on their shoulders. Once again the Cavs will look to make history. Since the ACC tournament began in 1954, the Cavs have won it only once -- in 1976.

For Maryland, a charter member of the ACC, it’s one last, awkward trip to Tobacco Road. The Terrapins didn’t always feel welcomed in those parts. They felt the conference leaned too heavily toward the state of North Carolina, where it has held 49 of its 60 league tournaments. That unresolved tension that was decades in the making played a small role in the Terps' break from the conference. The acrimonious split caused a curious omission from Maryland’s home schedule this season. The Terps did not get to host Duke or North Carolina, which have typically been the most anticipated and best-attended games throughout the years. With all of that as a backdrop, the Terps would sure like to go out on top before heading to the Big Ten next season.
video
When we analyze and evaluate the skill set of today's basketball player, we speak quite often about their ability to drive to the rim and finish as well as knocking down 3-point shots.

What has been forgotten and not emphasized enough from coaches and workout coaches is their middle game. The ability to score the ball inside the arc and before one gets to the rim in tight quarters is a true gift. I would love to see today's player really work on their middle game to be a more well-rounded scorer.

Let's take a look at which ESPN 100 prospects possess the all-important middle game in the senior class.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Syracuse puts its stamp on the ACC

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
4:54
PM ET


SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- For a team that’s been as impressive as Syracuse has in its march to a 16-0 record and No. 2 ranking in both polls, the Orange could be the hardest team to impress as any in the nation.

Syracuse handled North Carolina 57-45 and held the Tar Heels to a historic-low scoring output while establishing itself as the ACC front-runner in the process.

Duke, the overwhelming preseason pick to win the league, lost its second league road game at Clemson. The Blue Devils are just one game above Carolina, which was picked third in the preseason, and now, with its third straight conference loss, owns sole possession of the cellar.

Pittsburgh hasn’t cracked the polls, although it is tied with Syracuse at the top of the standings. And Virginia, which also started the day unbeaten in the league, has been embarrassed enough times this season (Wisconsin, at Tennessee) that it doesn’t strike fear into opponents.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Fair
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesC.J. Fair led the way with 20 points in Syracuse's win over North Carolina.
The Orange, however, can potentially do just that. From the unknown element of ACC opponents having to face their zone for the first time to actually figuring out how to defend their growing arsenal of weapons, the Orange will be handful during their inaugural ACC run.

Carolina had no answer, especially for Jerami Grant, who was recently inserted in the starting lineup. He posted his second straight double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Tar Heels.

UNC forward J.P. Tokoto said that out of pride he didn’t want to agree that Syracuse was the No. 1 team in the ACC, but “playing against us the way they did today, yes, they definitely are.”

Yet it seems it’s a hard time convincing the Orange of that. There were no signs in the locker room that winning registered as anything special. No loud music blaring. No players playing jokes on one another. There really weren’t even a lot of smiles or laughter.

“They don’t get that high, they’re not celebrating a lot -- they haven’t celebrated yet,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I don’t think they even celebrated [the Maui Invitational] that much and that was a good tournament win. They’ve been good, they come to work every day.”

Most days at work don’t take place before 32,121 at the Carrier Dome, even for the Orange. Last weekend against Miami in their ACC opener, attendance was just 21,839. The game bested the 28,153 who watched the Orange against former Big East foe Villanova as the season’s best crowd.

Syracuse senior C.J. Fair at least would admit having the Tar Heels come through for the first time as a conference opponent gave a different energy in the Dome.

“This is a great statement game for us to the teams in the league to show them we’re coming our first year to win it,” Fair said.

That’s about as big as it gets as far as declarations go on this team.

Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis said being 3-0 in the league meant only that it was still a long season ahead. Boeheim wouldn’t even say he has a great team.

“You’re going to get beat up in a league like this, no matter who you are, unless you have a great team,” Boeheim said. “And there’s no great teams anymore.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams would disagree.

Williams watched the Heels tie the 1996-97 team for their lowest scoring output of the shot-clock era. It also represented the lowest point total for a Williams-coached team in his 896 games.

“There are some other good teams in our league, Syracuse so far has played better than everybody else, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Williams said. “They’ve accomplished more. They’re 16-0. So everybody is going to have to play their best, there’s no question. You’re not going to beat Syracuse unless you’re playing to the top of your potential.”

And that came after Carolina caught the Orange on an off game offensively.

Ennis had not had more than two turnovers in a game this season but totaled four on Saturday. Trevor Cooney, who entered the game shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, managed to make just 2 of 12 from behind the arc. The Orange shot a season-low 35.0 percent from the field.

But they never trailed UNC after taking the lead midway through the first half.

“Today impressed us more than other wins because I don’t think we played that well offensively, but we played really well defensively,” Cooney said.

Rakeem Christmas had four of Syracuse’s nine blocks, which is the most for a UNC opponent this season.

With a 16-0 start to the season, it’s valid to wonder if the Orange have improved this season to the point that they are better than their Final Four team of last season.

“I don’t know which team is better,” Fair said. “But I think we have the same shot to get to the championship game.”

No. 2 Syracuse is playing very much like a No. 1 team. The Tar Heels did win at Michigan State when the Spartans were the nation’s top-ranked team. That’s why Carolina hopes its 3-0 mark against ranked teams this season means it can avoid an 0-3 start in ACC play.

“Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky -- I thought when we played them those were really good teams,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We caught them on a night when they didn’t play well and we played very well. I hope that that would happen again.”

For that to happen, the Heels will have to figure out the Orange zone better than it operated against Miami. That means getting better shots and taking better care of the ball.

UNC sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto said the team has to be smart with its decision-making against Syracuse and not take too many risks of trying to squeeze a pass in a small window.

“One big key for us is recognizing their length, you can’t really simulate their length in zone [defense],” Tokoto said. “The passes we make right now probably won’t be there. So just recognizing that and be smart with our decision making in the game.”

Syracuse doesn’t look at playing zone as being passive. It generates as many deflections and steals as a team that plays man-to-man full time.

“People don’t realize how aggressive it is,” Williams said. “We try to steal the ball, that’s what we try to do -- we don’t do a good job of it so far this year -- but our turnover margin is 2.2. They play zone, they’re turnover margin is plus-6.”

Tokoto added that it was important to stay active against the Orange in order to exploit their weak spots. In the loss to Miami, Tokoto said he got stagnant and his movement was something that could have helped Carolina become more efficient.

UNC shot a season-low 30.8 percent to the Hurricanes, which came after shooting just 38.7 percent in the loss to Wake Forest. It’s not a coincidence that leading scorer Marcus Paige had his worst two games shooting this season in those contests.

Williams said getting Paige some help and out of his shooting slump was his biggest concern heading into the game.

He had little concern that the Heels would be ready. Williams said “no question” his team was a bit more focused and played harder in meetings with ranked teams.

“If that’s the same kind of attitude that shows up (against the Orange) I’ll be very pleased,” said Williams, who later added, “…We have to be completely fired up, completely enthused, completely motivated or we have no chance.”
C’mon, Memphis.

I never thought Cincy would stomp the Tigers the way it did last weekend. That was my lone blemish.

I figured out the rest, though.

I have a feeling, however, that I’ll be less accurate this weekend. Too many difficult matchups to predict.

So I’d advise you to take all of this with a grain of salt. (What on earth does that mean anyway?)

Last week: 4-1
Overall: 17-8

Saturday

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsRoy Williams takes his wildly inconsistent squad into the Carrier Dome to play No. 2 Syracuse.
North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN: Oh, Tar Heels, college basketball’s chameleon. At least they make it fun, right? I mean, every time North Carolina takes the floor, we’re all curious about the version of the program that will actually show up. Will it be the team that has defeated every ranked opponent that it has played this season (Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky)? Or will it be the team that has suffered losses to UAB, Texas, Miami and Wake Forest? Saturday’s matchup at Syracuse might be this team’s toughest test thus far. The Orange do most things well. They’re a Ken Pomeroy gem. They’re great on the offensive glass, they don’t commit many turnovers, they force plenty of turnovers, they defend well, and they’re loaded -- the same situation that North Carolina has encountered and overcome multiple times against ranked opponents.

Prediction: North Carolina 82, Syracuse 80

No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, noon ET, ESPNU: When I was in Ames earlier this week for Iowa State-Baylor, Cyclones fans told me that they were nervous about this game. Lon Kruger’s program has given other nationally ranked opponents fits this season. The Sooners are fifth in the country with 87.0 PPG scoring average. On paper, Iowa State is certainly the better team. And the Cyclones are coming off a 15-point whipping of Baylor. But this is their third true road game of the season. Plus, there’s a gigantic matchup versus Kansas coming on Monday. This is dangerous for the Cyclones because Oklahoma is good enough to ruin Iowa State’s undefeated record, especially if Fred Hoiberg’s program gets caught looking ahead.

Prediction: Iowa State 82, Oklahoma 75

No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: San Diego State became just the third team to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse over the past 115 games. Think about that. That’s a tremendous streak. The Jayhawks rarely lose at the Phog. But Bill Self’s current assembly is still figuring things out. That’s fine in early December. But it should be troubling in early January, especially when Kansas has so much competition at the top of the Big 12, perhaps the best league in the country pound for pound. And the Jayhawks are playing a confident Wildcats team that is nationally ranked after upsetting Oklahoma State last weekend. Kansas State has a stubborn defense that can exploit KU’s knack for committing turnovers (K-State is 39th in defensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy). Can and will, however, are two different things.

Prediction: Kansas 79, Kansas State 76

Sunday

No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS: Ohio State nearly knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing after recovering from a 17-point deficit earlier this week. That’s really all you need to know about the Buckeyes. Their defensive prowess and guts have anchored the program all season. This wasn’t their first close call, but it was more proof that it will take a 40-minute effort (and possibly extra time) to beat Thad Matta’s program. For 30 minutes, Iowa outplayed Wisconsin on Sunday. Illinois’ lopsided loss in Madison on Wednesday should put the Hawkeyes’ performance in Madison in the proper perspective. Even after Fran McCaffery was ejected from that game, the Hawkeyes continued to fight. McCaffery’s team might be a legit Big Ten contender. Iowa would prove it by beating a top-tier squad on the road. Iowa will prove it by beating a top-tier Big Ten squad on the road.

Prediction: Iowa 69, Ohio State 68

Xavier at Creighton, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: Grant Gibbs’ knee injury is a major blow for Creighton. The Bluejays could have lost star Doug McDermott too. McDermott suffered a shoulder injury in a win over DePaul earlier this week. But he’ll be available this weekend for a critical Big East battle with Xavier. The Musketeers haven’t lost since late November when they ended the month on a three-game losing streak. They outplayed preseason title favorite Marquette on Thursday night behind Semaj Christon’s 28-point effort. Creighton, Villanova and Xavier are all 3-0 in league play. So Sunday’s matchup could be critical in the race, even though it’s early. The next time Xavier faces Creighton (March 1), Gibbs should be back in the mix. But even without him, Creighton will tough to beat in Omaha.

Prediction: Creighton 90, Xavier 88 (overtime)

What we're reading while we use the cold as an excuse to bust out the Blu-Ray copy of “Fargo.” Submit links via Twitter.

  • Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn is back with another edition of his enjoyably wonky Power Rankings, where San Diego State checks in as a top-10 team and this week’s Aaron Craft hyperbole proved totally out of whack -- especially in relation to Michigan State guard Gary Harris: “Friend-o'-the-Rankings Chris Mackinder compiled Defensive Score Sheets from the Spartans' overtime win over Ohio State on Tuesday, and his charting suggests that ESPN's lovefest should have been for Gary Harris instead of Craft. Craft's loose-ball dive near the end of regulation was one of the game's signature plays, and he did force four turnovers, but by DSS' standards -- which take into account field goals and free throws allowed, as well as rebounding -- it was not a Craftacular performance. Harris, meanwhile, forced seven (!) turnovers and 4.5 misses while yielding just three points in 42 minutes, which is incredible.”
  • On Wednesday, Creighton guard Grant Gibbs made his blog debut for USA Today’s “For The Win.” His first post is as funny and well-done as you’d expect, though the timing of his injury Sunday (right after he filed this first dispatch) rearranges the perspective just so. Gibbs will blog periodically for FTW, though, when you think about it, what is a blog, really? (Don’t answer that.)
  • CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb picks Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim as his midseason coach of the year, Orange Nation reacts with a resounding “wait … huh?”
  • UNC put all of coach Roy Williams’ post-Miami-loss press conference on YouTube, and the whole thing is worth a watch -- if you’re the kind of person who likes to watch people not having fun, anyway.
  • Via r/CollegeBasketball: Vanderbilt is offering giveaways to fill the student section … for the Kentucky game. Yeah. Yikes. (Good prize, though!)

With expansion, ACC gets its depth back

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
11:00
AM ET


The previous time the ACC expanded -- in a move clearly made to boost football -- the impact on basketball simply equated to scheduling more games. The league didn’t get stronger. In fact, in some ways it appeared to get weaker.

The latest expansion will be different, league coaches and players say. Newcomers Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh -- with Louisville joining in 2014 -- will elevate the ACC back to what some would say is its rightful standing as the nation’s best basketball conference.

“Our league now -- the depth of the league, the tradition, the history, the success that all the programs have had -- is unmatched,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Fair
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesSyracuse forward C.J. Fair is hoping the Orange can end the stranglehold Duke and UNC have had on ACC bragging rights.
The depth. That’s what the ACC has been sorely missing. Virginia, Wake Forest, NC State and Georgia Tech used to be reasons why the conference was strong. But none of those programs has been consistent the past decade.

As the first expansion proved, depth doesn’t come from merely adding schools to the mix. Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech have combined to win one regular-season league title. On four occasions, one of those teams has finished last in the conference.

The Irish, Orange and Panthers, however, are expected to live in the upper echelon of the conference, as they did in the Big East. Pitt finished fourth or better in the 16-team Big East in three of the past four seasons, including winning the 2011 regular-season title. The team that finished second to Pitt that season was Notre Dame, which placed third or better in two of the past three seasons.

Syracuse and eventually Louisville, both of which have both won national titles and made multiple Final Four appearances, add historically elite-level programs to the league. Syracuse has the potential to immediately loosen Duke and North Carolina’s vise grip on the crown.

“I read a stat as far as Duke and North Carolina -- they’re the only two teams that be winning it,” Syracuse forward C.J. Fair said. “We want to win the ACC and start off right and have bragging rights early.”

The ACC has been shallow for too long, dependent on Duke and North Carolina to carry the league. The pair from Tobacco Road has accounted for at least a share of every conference regular-season title but three since 1997, and 10 of the league’s 13 Final Four appearances in that same span.

Consider that since Georgia Tech appeared in the 2004 national title game, no team from the league outside of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels has reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, and only five have been to the Sweet 16.

Only four teams from the ACC received NCAA tournament bids last season. That has been closer to the norm than the exception since expanding to 12 teams in the 2005-06 season.

In eight seasons, the league put only four teams in the Big Dance on four occasions. Considering North Carolina and Duke made it in each of those seasons where the ACC had only four teams in the tournament, that means only two other programs were representing the conference.

Compare that to the span of 1992 to 2004, when as a nine-member league, the ACC received six tournament bids on five occasions.

“Those were glory days in the ACC ... But you know what, I think bigger glory days are coming with this thing,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

The ACC had its best seasons in 2006-07 and 2008-09, when seven teams received NCAA tournament bids. Brey believes that number will only increase based on how the depth of the Big East bolstered its tournament bids.

“We had years where we were under .500 in the league in early February, but you have enough big games on your schedule where if you get one or two of them, they’re RPI top 50, top 25 wins, all of a sudden you’re 9-9 and you’re on the board,” Brey said. “You’re never dead in a league like this.”

Thanks to the expansion, the ACC will feel alive again.

ACC team previews

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
2:30
PM ET
From Sept. 30 through Oct. 25, Insider will be rolling out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider's hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the ACC:

Boston College Eagles Insider
Clemson Tigers (free)
Duke Blue Devils Insider
Florida State Seminoles Insider
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Insider
Maryland Terrapins Insider
Miami Hurricanes Insider
North Carolina Tar Heels Insider
North Carolina State Wolfpack Insider
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Insider
Pittsburgh Panthers Insider
Syracuse Orange Insider
Virginia Cavaliers Insider
Virginia Tech Hokies Insider
Wake Forest Demon Deacons Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES