ACC M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TheACC.com: The ACC media picked Duke as a fairly strong favorite to win the league this year, giving the Blue Devils 41 out of a possible 65 first place votes at ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday (for a complete rundown of the day, don’t forget to check out Lathan Wells’ 15 takeaways post). North Carolina joins newcomer Louisville and defending champ Virginia in a tight cluster in the next three spots in the poll. Last year’s three Big East transfer teams occupy the next three positions, which confirms the general opinion that the old ACC needed an injection of quality teams to boost itself back into the nation’s elite. The preseason all-ACC team was led by North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, but an interesting repeat member of the preseason all-conference squad is Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who missed the entire ACC season in 2013-14 due to his academic suspension.
  2. Kenpom: Speaking of rankings, Ken Pomeroy has posted his initial ratings for all 351 NCAA Division I teams, and he gives a summary explanation of how he develops his statistical model in his most recent blog entry. The legendary guru of advanced basketball statistics has six ACC squads among his top-23, including Duke at #1, which is a mild shock considering the relative talent and experience returning at Kentucky and Arizona. Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC is rated as the Pomeroy’s third-best conference, sitting behind the Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, as the season progresses, Pomeroy’s preseason ratings will weigh progressively less in his formulas, giving a more accurate picture of all the teams as they relate to each other.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One thing that came out of ACC Operation Basketball that caught many by surprise was when Tony Bennett revealed that Virginia’s accomplished sophomore point guard London Perrantes has not practiced since a foot injury occurred on October 3. Although the Cavaliers have had their fair share of injuries over the last few years, last season’s run to the ACC regular season title was definitely aided by the fine health of the team. Virginia was able to develop a consistent rotation in which everyone knew and executed their respective roles, game after game, culminating with the Cavaliers grabbing their first ACC Tournament championship in almost 40 years. Certainly, January and conference play is pretty far off at this point, so Bennett hopes Perrantes is able to get healthy in time to make a similar run.
  4. Greensboro News-Record: In this interesting piece, Ed Hardin looks at the ACC’s newest member Louisville and compares Rick Pitino’s program to some of the great ACC teams of the past from a style standpoint. It is true that the Cardinals bring characteristics that remind long-time observers of some of the ACC’s best and most entertaining teams in its long and illustrious history. For instance, the multiple defenses that Pitino employs so effectively reminds us of how North Carolina’s Dean Smith befuddled opponents by using combinations of man-to-man and zone defenses, trapping on both. And even though Pitino is known as a visionary regarding the use of the three-point shot as a vital part of his offense, going back to leading an improbable Providence team to the 1987 Final Four, he knows the value of a legitimate inside game as well.
  5. Groupstate.com: It seems as if Clemson’s representatives in Charlotte were asked about departed player K.J. McDaniels more than they were questioned about this year’s squad. Possibly only ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State meant as much to his team last season as did McDaniels, now beginning his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. But while the Wolfpack will certainly miss Warren’s offense, what makes the loss of McDaniels so critical to Clemson is that he was its best player all over the court. It will obviously take a committee of several to replace everything he did, but the ACC media is skeptical of that notion, picking Clemson 11th this year after a sixth place finish in 2013-14.
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ACC Preview: Miami’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on October 30th, 2014

How quickly can Jim Larranaga rebuild at the ACC level?

There’s no denying Jim Larranaga is a great coach. He won at George Mason and he won when he got to Miami. But the question is whether he can put together a program in Coral Gables like Leonard Hamilton or Tony Bennett have in Tallahassee and Charlottesville? There are two parts of coaching at any level: player development and game coaching. Two seasons ago, Larranaga showed he was a master at both. But at the college level, there’s a third equally important factor in play: recruiting.

Jim Larranaga needs this team to improve on last year's. (photo credit: AP)

Jim Larranaga needs this team to improve on last year’s. (photo credit: AP)

Leonard Hamilton is the better comparison because Miami doesn’t have nearly the investment in basketball as Virginia, but both Hamilton and Bennett run sustainable programs. He also turned Miami into a strong Big East program before moving on to Tallahassee. Hamilton’s team has had its ups and downs, but Florida State is always competitive and will be a contender every few seasons. It’s important to remember that building a program takes time, but this year should say a lot about Miami’s momentum. Last season, Larranaga established his floor: close to .500 overall, bottom of the middle tier of the ACC, and a win in Chapel Hill. The team was competitive. Rion Brown stepped up as the only important returnee from the 2013 conference champions. Now he’s gone, leaving junior Tonye Jekiri and sophomore Manu Lacomte to take the reins here.

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15 Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 29th, 2014

The ACC’s Operation Basketball on Wednesday experienced the prevailing theme of putting last season in the rearview mirror and starting anew. This included the teams with successful campaigns just as much as those who had disappointing ones. It was clear after speaking with and listening to players and coaches that everyone is eager to make the 2014-15 ACC a more powerful entity than its predecessor of a year ago. Here are some takes on each team, in no particular order, gleaned from the Westin in Charlotte.

Duke: Much of the discussion centered on the Blue Devils’ newcomers, especially Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Both Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson were quick to point out that no rotation is set and that there is a ton of competition and talent in practice. Cook said as much when asked about practice: ” Yeah, we don’t have a starting lineup yet.  Different guys, we have like a white and blue team; different guys are put on the white team, different guys are put on the blue team.  So we’ll know soon, but whatever coach wants us to do, I think everybody will buy in because he obviously knows what he’s doing.  We all have to buy in and just put personal sacrifices aside.”

ACC Op BB

Wake Forest: Even when discussing their new coach, it was easy to tell that the Demon Deacons’ players still see him as a former National Player of the Year who enjoyed a long professional career. Manning, however, spoke mostly about his expectations for the team, which he put simply as “win every game.” The Demon Deacons, coming off the uninspiring Jeff Bzdelik era, better not spend their time in awe of their new coach, as they have a lot of ground to make up in order to compete in the ACC.

Miami: Transfers Sheldan McClellan and Angel Rodriguez representing the Hurricanes at this event was emblematic of a new Miami team that has put last year’s lackluster season behind it. Reverence for Jim Larranaga’s paternal style was obvious in listening to the two players discuss their coach. Larranaga immediately referenced them in his comments as well, showing that while the Hurricanes return some holdovers from last year, they will go as far as his two Big 12 transfers take them.

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ACC Preview: Georgia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Brian Gregory survive another losing ACC season?

During the offseason, one of the favorite media activities is formulation of the preseason “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list. Going into this season, Georgia Tech’s Brian Gregory is the one ACC coach who seems to show up on all of those lists. On this list put out by Athlon Sports, it’s interesting to see that Gregory is joined in the fire pit with a few former ACC head coaches like Oliver Purnell and Mark Turgeon. So what kind of year will it take for Gregory to avoid joining that group of former ACC head coaches?

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory lost out on one, maybe two important prospects recently. (Icon Sports Media)

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory may not survive another losing ACC season. (Icon Sports Media)

While no two situations are exactly the same, the best way to examine this issue is to review recent ACC coaches who were in similar circumstances going into their fourth year at the helm of their particular school. By similar circumstance we mean a coach who has a losing record in ACC games in each of his first three years on the job. Below we show four coaches who entered their fourth year at the helm under those conditions.

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ACC M5: Operation Basketball Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TheACC.com: Coaches and players from all 15 ACC schools will meet the media in Charlotte for a full day of ACC Operation Basketball, and our own RTC ACC microsite correspondent Lathan Wells will be on hand to take in the entire proceedings. It’s sure to be an eventful day with so many developing stories heading into the season. We have a loaded Louisville team led by legendary coach Rick Pitino joining the league; the nation’s top recruiting class arriving at Duke; a strong defending champ returning many key pieces at Virginia; and, of course, the big-time off the court issues. It will be interesting to hear Commissioner John Swofford’s commentary about the academic scandal at his alma mater North Carolina, as well as the ongoing NCAA investigation into Syracuse’s program. Follow Lathan @rtcACC for frequent live reports throughout the day.
  2. ESPN: Virginia hopes to be more than a one-hit wonder after sweeping both the ACC regular season and tournament titles last season. This ESPN.com article reveals a Tony Bennett who is focused on not letting last year’s success create too big a sense of accomplishment, and with good reason — Virginia became only the fourth school not named Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament in the last 18 years. In each of the other three instances — which includes Miami and Florida State from the previous two seasons as well as the 2004 Maryland squad — the subsequent year did not include a winning conference record. That shouldn’t happen this year, though, with the Cavaliers returning a solid nucleus.
  3. Notre Dame Media: This is a really neat video that features Mike Brey and his recent foray in a US Navy Blue Angels fighter jet. Fighting Irish Digital Media along with the Blue Angels take you right into the seat with the Notre Dame coach in what he called a “trip of a lifetime, and an honor.” Perhaps all the abrupt twists and turns will prepare Brey for a better second go-round in the ACC, where up and down seasons can come easily.
  4. Andy Katz: In a recent 3-Point Shot segment, ESPN‘s Andy Katz talks about a couple of ACC topics. First of all, he reviews comments from Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory concerning some of the newcomers that he will need to come through in a big way. Many think that this could be Gregory’s last season in Atlanta if he doesn’t produce an NCAA Tournament team. Katz also brings up an interesting possible fallout issue from the North Carolina scandal that has to do with academic performance incentives in college coaches’ contracts. It’s worth a viewing.
  5. TheState.com: New Boston College coach Jim Christian is preaching a fast paced offense, as many coaches do when taking over a listless program that needs an infusion of energy. It remains to be seen if his words translate to reality when the Eagles take the floor this season — and speaking of “floor,” the head coach won’t be the only thing new this year, as the playing court in Conte Forum will have a new look as well.
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ACC Preview: Notre Dame’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 28th, 2014

This team preview is part of the ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Will the Irish get enough production from their big men?

Notre Dame’s inaugural season in the ACC was a rough one, as the Irish snapped a seven-year streak of 20-win seasons and instead finished with the first losing season of Mike Brey’s coaching tenure in South Bend (the six ACC wins were also a conference low for one of his Notre Dame teams). A big reason for the fall was the December suspension of the team’s best player, guard Jerian Grant, for academic reasons. Grant returns for his senior year, a huge addition, but the Irish must also find a way to replace the inside production of the graduated Garrick Sherman.

Is Junior Zach Auguste Ready to Step-Up his Production? (m.southbendtribune.com - Robert Franklin)

Is Junior Zach Auguste Ready to Step Up his Production? (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune)

In each of the last seven seasons, Notre Dame has had a big man who averaged over 13 points per game. In all but one of those years, that post player also pulled down at least seven rebounds per game. When Brey looks at his returning roster, he only sees two bigs with any collegiate experience. With no incoming post players to count on, the 14-year Notre Dame coach has to hope one of his veterans can make a big jump in production. The most logical choice is 6’10” junior Zach Auguste, who averaged 16 minutes per contest last year. One thing in his favor is the recent history of Irish big men developing to provide big jumps in production. The table below shows that Auguste’s two post predecessors came through with solid years when they received a corresponding increase in minutes. The other semi-experienced returning big man is junior Austin Burgett, who averaged 15 MPG in 28 games, but was not very productive (3.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) when on the floor. Perhaps 6’9″ freshman Martin Geben can have an impact. According to scouts, he has a reputation of being physical and fundamentally sound, and may be ready to contribute right away. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preview: Wake Forest’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

How fast can Danny Manning turn around this program?

With nowhere to go but up, Wake Forest hopes to have hit a home run with the hiring of former NBA star and Tulsa head coach Danny Manning after a miserable stretch under Jeff Bzdelik. Hired to fix a program that was winning on the court but losing off of it (multiple player arrests), Bzdelik flipped the script. His players generally stayed out of trouble, but his teams never sniffed postseason play. The four-year period included a weak overall record (51-76), bad ACC performance (17-51), one of the nations’ worst road records (6-38), and a single ACC Tournament win. No wonder the fan base demanded a change. Assuming Manning will improve from the depths that Bzdelik took this program, how long will it take him to lead Wake Forest back to the role of an ACC contender?

After Four Miserable Years, Wake Forest turns to Danny Manning to Turn Things Around. (wxii12.com)

After Four Miserable Years, Wake Forest turns to Danny Manning.
(wxii12.com)

Danny Manning had one on the most storied collegiate careers in history, leading Kansas to the 1988 National Championship and earning National Player of the Year honors along the way. After a long NBA career, Manning decided to pursue a life in coaching. But unlike many former stars who make the move to coaching, Manning went the college route — starting at the ground floor as the director of student-athlete development/team manager, followed by five years as an assistant coach, all at his alma mater — rather than joining an NBA staff.  He deserves credit for not taking a short cut and using his name recognition to land a head coaching job before he was prepared for one. He spent the last two seasons as Tulsa’s head man, which not only gave him excellent experience in the role but also prepared Manning for coaching at a small private school that values academics but also wants to compete athletically with the big public schools. Another interesting thing about Tulsa is that it has historically served as something of a breeding ground for coaches, several of whom have gone on to great success at the high-major level. Look at the chart below. Can Manning become the fourth former Tulsa head coach to reach the pinnacle of the sport, and can he do it at Wake Forest?

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ACC M5: 10.27.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. ESPN: North Carolina played an exhibition game Friday night — a 111-58 rout over Fayetteville State — but the headline continues to be all the fallout from the Wainstein Report released last week. In the postgame press conference, Roy Williams made his first public comments since the release of the damaging report. An emotional Williams acknowledged the pain he’s felt over the scandal at his beloved school, but his comment that “I feel strongly, strongly that we did things the right way” makes you wonder who the “we” is, exactly. As for the game itself, a peek at the box score reveals that Justin Jackson continues to impress, leading the team with 18 points in 22 minutes of action, including a 3-of-4 performance from three-point land.
  2. Durham Herald Sun: Saturday night Duke held it’s annual “Countdown to Craziness” event, and freshman center Jahlil Okafor stole the show during the scrimmage, scoring 27 points and grabbing eight boards in 24 minutes. The drinking word of the article is definitely “dominant” and its other forms – dominates and domination – that are used to describe Mike Krzyzewski’s latest Chicago prodigy. The scarier thing is that, according to the Duke coach, Marshall Plumlee did a pretty good job defending Okafor. Perhaps that is just coachspeak for trying to keep up the confidence level of a reserve, but expect most opponents to have their hands full with a Duke post player for one of the few times in recent memory.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest‘s latest recruit has a familiar last name to Deacons fans. Current assistant coach and legendary Deacon player Randolph Childress’ son Brandon has pledged to join the program in two seasons. Danny Manning now has three commitments in the Class of 2015 and hopes that Childress, his first commitment from the current junior class, is just the start of great things. Not only is Wake getting a good player and the good legacy feeling of bringing in a legend’s son, Manning also hopes to now improve the Deacs’ position with a certain teammate of young Childress at Wesleyan Christian Academy in nearby High Point.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: It appears that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is happy with the progress being made by his young center Mangok Mathiang. The wiry sophomore appears to be following a similar career path of former center Gorgui Dieng, a key member on the Cardinals’ 2013 National Championship team. Like Mathiang, Dieng came to school as an unknown and was expected to take a long time to become a high-level college player, but he became a poster child for Pitino’s well-respected player development system, and ready for the NBA after only three years in the program. While no one is saying Mathiang will progress at the same rate, he certainly has a great role model to follow.
  5. Hurricanes Sports: This is a very good read on Miami‘s new point guard Angel Rodriguez. It tracks his path from his native Puerto Rico to Miami for high school, Manhattan, Kansas, to play for Kansas State, and finally back to Miami as a transfer. It seems that Rodriguez has made the best of his redshirt year, immersing himself into practice. Jim Larranaga is counting on the junior point guard to be the prime leader for the young Hurricanes even though he’s yet to play a game yet in a Hurricanes uniform.
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Clockwork Orange: NCAA Investigating Syracuse Basketball

Posted by Matt Patton (@rise_and_fire) on October 24th, 2014

It wasn’t a good week for ACC student-athlete academics. First the Wainstein Report dropped like a bomb in Chapel Hill. Now Syracuse may be due for bad news next week. Jim Boeheim, along with several former members of the basketball team’s “support staff” for academics, all got invitations to the NCAA’s upcoming Committee of Infractions hearing.

Jim Boeheim is in for a tough week. (photo credit: Syracuse.com)

Jim Boeheim is in for a tough week. (photo credit: Syracuse.com)

The story surrounding Jim Boeheim’s program isn’t new. The investigation started at least a year ago, as originally reported by the Syracuse Post-Standard and CBSSports. The investigation is looking back at least a decade (dating to Carmelo Anthony), and spans everything from academics to the drug policy to extra benefits. Boeheim hinted in his recent book that the investigation focused on academics:

We suspended [Fab Melo] for three games. After that, we were under the impression that he could appeal and do some academic work to get himself eligible. He did that work. But then there arose a question about how he had gotten eligible, and he was declared ineligible again, right before the NCAA Tournament. The issue is extremely complicated, and at any rate I can’t really go into it because it is part of an ongoing NCAA investigation.

Based on the reported invitations — and the information from Boeheim’s book — it may have been an internal investigation of extra benefits that made the NCAA look more closely at the program, but expect the findings to focus on academics.

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ACC Preview: Boston College’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on October 24th, 2014

Last place or not last place?

It’s not easy taking over a slumping program in a conference that just added three perennial Top 25 programs. It’s even harder when you can’t start until April and you lose your two of your three best players before you even take the job. That’s where Jim Christian stands a little over six months after replacing Steve Donahue. Perhaps his most important battle, though, was won when Olivier Hanlan decided to stay in Chestnut Hill. Hanlan’s presence — along with a graduate transfer and a healthy center — are the only reason this is a burning question at all.

Jim Christian needs to change the culture in Chestnut Hill (photo credit: Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald)

Jim Christian needs to change the culture in Chestnut Hill (photo credit: Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald)

Any look at Boston College this season has to start with Christian, a former coach at Kent State, TCU and then Ohio before coming to Chestnut Hill. He built a solid MAC program at Kent State, improving nearly every year while he was there. During his last year at TCU, he turned one of the worst programs in the country into a middling Mountain West team with a few solid wins (including one over Virginia). But there’s not much data from which to judge his time at Ohio, and he’s never coached in a major conference.

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ACC M5: UNC Fraud Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 23rd, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: At a widely-viewed press conference yesterday in Chapel Hill, independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein publicly revealed his findings concerning the academic fraud that we now know began as far back as 1993 at North Carolina. His detailed 131-page report confirms much of what the Raleigh newspaper has already been uncovering since 2011. In this piece, Luke DeCock captures the significance of yesterday’s revelations in Chapel Hill, including the fact that the school’s administration finally admitted what was suspected all along – UNC academic advisors steered athletes to phony classes in order to keep them eligible to compete in football and basketball.
  2. CBSSports: Officially, head coach Roy Williams was not implicated in any of the wrongdoing. But according to CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish, that doesn’t mean Williams is innocent in the matter. Basically, Parrish makes a reasonable case that if Williams wanted to know the truth about the phony coursework, he easily could have. After all, the basketball program’s academic advisor at the time, Wayne Walden, was brought to Chapel Hill by Williams when he left Kansas in 2003. It seems reasonable to assume that the two had a close relationship, and that they would be comfortable talking with each other about the administrative intersections of athletics and academics. In Wainstein’s report, Walden admits that he knew that the classes in question were fake and that he sometimes steered players to them. So if Williams didn’t know what was going on, why did his basketball players stop taking those classes over the next several years?
  3. CNN: One of the new revelations that came out in the report is that the fraudulent classes started all the way back in 1993. Of course the head coach at UNC at that time was Dean Smith. In this article, CNN investigative reporters Sara Ganim and Devon Sayers point out that 54 basketball players enrolled in those phony classes during Smith’s tenure, which ended after the 1997 Final Four. This now necessarily raises questions about those last four years of the legendary Smith’s career, someone who has always maintained a spotless reputation in terms of the academic integrity of his program. Many observers have noted that Smith’s philosophy behind recruiting also seemed to change around that time, perhaps in response to the rise of archrival Duke’s back-to-back National Champions in the early 90s. Smith brought in the talented but brash 1993 class of Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Jeff McInnis, which is not to say that these were bad kids, but they certainly didn’t act like what we traditionally thought of as quiet, humble and gentlemanly Dean Smith/”Carolina Way” players. There’s also the fact that upon his retirement four years later, Smith said that he did not enjoy coaching anymore. Remember that this was coming from one of the great competitors of all-time in the sport, someone who was about to begin the 1997-98 season with a completely loaded team. Is it too much of a reach to tie those two things — his suspected change in recruiting philosophy and abrupt retirement several years later — to what we now know about the academic fraud going on at North Carolina? Perhaps the bigger question is whether any reporter will be bold enough to take on that legacy and try to get to the truth, while fighting the “how dare they” backlash that would certainly ensue given Smith’s current poor health.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Another surprise from the report was that the academic fraud extended to other teams in the UNC athletic department. Most of us have focused on the football players and men’s basketball program, but they weren’t the only Tar Heel athletes taking advantage of the fake classes. In another reaction article from the N&O, Jane Stancill describes how a current faculty member has admitted steering members of the women’s basketball team to the phony classes as well. It appears that there was a network within the academic advising community at UNC that spread the word about a way to help keep their athletes eligible and in the lineup.
  5. WRALSportsFan: Former UNC academic adviser Mary Willingham was interviewed for her reaction on the report’s findings, which mostly vindicate much of what she originally asserted. Known now as “Whistleblower” Willingham, she makes the larger point that the real problem is that colleges are failing to educate their athletes. While that may be true, I think it’s time to face the root cause of what is going on across the country at the big-time programs. The model we want to put forward as fans of college sports is so outdated that it’s ridiculous. We want to see the best athletes play on the field or on the court for our favorite schools, but we don’t want to know how they are able to get admitted to the school or what classes they take or what grades they get, so long as they perform. We only want to know those facts about the OTHER school. Then there’s the colleges themselves, which cling to the notion that their athletes should be able to perform in the classroom just like the rest of the student body. Being an elite athlete today is a full-time job when you add up all the time requirements, and do we really expect them — many of whom the school made an exception to admit in the first place — to carry full course loads and stay on course to graduate? It’s time for a new model that fits modern realities. We are not going to give up high-level college sports so let’s rid ourselves of the farce that is the “student-athlete.” They’re already treated differently so why not change the class requirements to give credit hours (six?) each semester for full-time participation in a sport? Maybe if they only had to take two classes per semester, we could actually expect them to take some meaningful classes and perform their own work. The alternative is to cut time spent on their sport and that would mean fewer practices, less travel, no late night games for TV, and so on, but we know that’s not going to happen. But something needs to give in order to reduce the overwhelming incentives to cut ethical corners. If it happened at North Carolina, it doesn’t mean it is happening at all the other schools, but it does mean that it can.

 

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ACC Preview: Virginia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 22nd, 2014

Can Buzz Williams make Virginia Tech competitive quickly enough to fill the seats in Cassell Coliseum?

It’s no secret that Virginia Tech’s college basketball program is a distant second to its football program in Blacksburg. With that hurdle an annual one in terms of fan engagement, putting a subpar product on the floor has only further alienated whatever fan base the Hokies’ basketball team already had. While the team was modestly successful at times under Seth Greenberg, James Johnson’s two-year tenure was a complete disaster that kept fans away from the arena in droves. Last March new Athletic Director Whit Babcock made a splashy hire in hopes of changing the school and fans’ attitudes when he plucked rising star Buzz Williams away from Marquette. Williams took his Marquette teams to the NCAA Tournament five times in his six-year tenure, including three trips to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond. Williams has come into Blacksburg preaching toughness and attitude, putting together a “Boot Camp” aimed at toughening up his charges for the ACC gauntlet. While he reminded the nation that Virginia Tech actually has a basketball team while making a public relations tour during March Madness coverage, proving successful on the court in a competitive league will be a major challenge.

Buzz Williams hopes his enthusiasm helps reinvigorate a dormant Hokies fan base (credit: dailypress.com)

Buzz Williams hopes his enthusiasm helps reinvigorate a dormant Hokies fan base (credit: dailypress.com)

The Hokies return only four regulars from last year’s rotation, as a mass exodus of transfers and graduations greeted Williams at his new gig. The backcourt should be the team’s strength this year, with ACC all-freshman first team selection Devin Wilson returning to man the point. Adam Smith will likely man the other guard spot, and he will need to live up to his reputation as a lights-out long-distance shooter on a consistent basis. Malik Mueller is coming off of a redshirt campaign so there’s uncertainty there, but Williams did add to his backcourt depth by bringing signee Ahmed Hill along with him from Marquette. The immediate question mark for the Hokies will be in the frontcourt. Joey Van Zegeren will likely man the post after averaging career highs with 6.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game a year ago. After that, newcomers will be asked to play heavy minutes. Shane Henry, a junior college recruit from Georgia Perimeter College, needs to contribute immediately. Freshman Satchel Pierce, another Williams recruit at Marquette who followed his coach southeast, will also be counted on to help stabilize an uncertain frontcourt. Clearly there is far more unknown than known about the Hokies’ crop of big men, meaning this team will lean heavily on its backcourt early and often.

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