03 May

Alabama, Ohio State highlight must-see scrimmages

A majority of college football programs will take the field for a spring game over the next few weekends, giving fans an enticing preview of their favorite teams ahead of the 2024 season. While spring games are often glorified scrimmages, with the play-calling pared down and the best players protected to prevent any disastrous injuries, there are often standout storylines worth monitoring.

For instance, Alabama takes the field without Nick Saban for the first time in nearly 20 years. Teams like Ohio State and Ole Miss hit the transfer portal hard to gear up for a run towards the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff. Those new pieces are figuring out their roles and trying to assimilate with the team as the spring progresses.

Even Michigan, the reigning national champion, lost head coach Jim Harbaugh — and a whole lot more — to the NFL, creating an almost unprecedented transition for a team fresh off reaching such heights. There are plenty of story threads worth monitoring outside of these examples, especially given the latest wave of conference realignment and playoff changes, creating one of the most intriguing springs we’ve seen in a while.

With that in mind, here are some spring games that you should pay attention to over the next few weeks.

All times Eastern

Alabama
Saturday, April 13 | 4 p.m. on ESPN: It’s an entirely new era in Tuscaloosa after the retirement of legendary coach Nick Saban, who led the Tide to national relevance and SEC dominance over 17 seasons. Kalen DeBoer is in after leading Washington to its first appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship. DeBoer had a chaotic first couple of months at the helm, filled with transfer portal madness and plenty of staff shuffling.

There are still enough pieces in place for Alabama to keep its spot among the SEC’s upper echelon, and the competition for those first-team snaps are always something to monitor, but this particular spring game will be worth viewing if only to see what a brand new, post-Saban Crimson Tide program looks like.

Ohio State
Saturday, April 13 | Noon on Fox: Buckeyes coach Ryan Day is going all-in for 2024. The biggest addition by far is Chip Kelly’s unprecedented arrival as the team’s offensive coordinator after stepping down as UCLA’s coach. Kelly brings decades of experience at every level of football, and his creative rushing philosophy, utilizing a mobile quarterback and versatile running backs, seems to fit the scheme that Day is drifting towards.

Reinforcing that shift in mindset are the transfer portal additions of QB Will Howard (Kansas State) and RB Quinshon Judkins (Ole Miss). The former is a bruising rusher that can make plays out of structure, while the latter does his best work on carries between the tackles. Spring will give us a peek at this anticipated new look as Ohio State gears up for a potential national championship run.

Michigan
Saturday, April 20 | Noon on Fox: Michigan just went 15-0 and won its first national title since the beginning of the BCS/CFP era. Along the way, it picked up its third straight win against Ohio State and third straight Big Ten championship. Harbaugh, the man who steadily built Michigan towards this modern Renaissance, is off to the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers. The Wolverines’ entire defensive staff followed Harbaugh to the professional level, though not all ended up with the Chargers. Longtime running backs coach Mike Hart, who tutored the record-shattering Blake Corum and engineered some of the best rushing offenses in the entire nation, is no longer on staff.

The Wolverines also have to replace starting quarterback J.J. McCarthy, Corum, both leading wide receivers, six offensive linemen with starting experience and seven starters on the defensive side of the ball. Needless to say, new coach Sherrone Moore has plenty to figure out in his first spring running the program as the Wolverines will look almost entirely different than they did just a handful of months ago.

Utah
Saturday, April 13 | 1 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks: Utah is an early favorite to win the Big 12 as a first-year member and a dark horse to do a whole lot more on the national stage. A lot of those expectations are dependent upon seventh-year quarterback Cam Rising and his recovery from a devastating knee injury. The former First Team All-Pac-12 selection is going through spring and has scrimmaged, so there’s a good chance that he’ll suit up in the spring game. It will be his first televised action since the 2023 Rose Bowl.

Star tight end Brant Kuithe is also coming back from a knee injury, so his progress is equally as important. The Utes have some starting spots to figure out elsewhere at running back and wide receiver after losing key contributors at both positions. The defense returns a lot of production, though the secondary has some question marks.

Florida State
Saturday, April 20 | 4 p.m. on ACC Network: Disregarding the bitter ending, can Florida State repeat the magic from the 2023 season? The Seminoles certainly won’t be excluded from a 12-team College Football Playoff, injured starting quarterback or not, if they can come anywhere close to another 13-0 ACC championship run. It won’t be easy to match; there are holes to fill all over the field. Quarterback Jordan Travis is gone after his breakout efforts, but coach Mike Norvell dipped into the transfer portal to sign ex-Clemson and Oregon State starter DJ Uiagalelei. Wide receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, along with tight end Jaheim Bell, are taking a ton of receiving production to the NFL. The defense will have a ton of transfers stepping up into key roles after losing the likes of Jared Verse.

On paper, this team is talented enough to challenge for another ACC title, but there are a lot of moving parts that need to be sorted over the next couple of weeks.

03 May

Judge denies motions by Florida State to dismiss ACC lawsuit, likely keeping case in North Carolina

A North Carolina judge denied two motions filed by Florida State to dismiss or stay a lawsuit from the ACC, marking a notable win for the conference in its ongoing legal battle with FSU. The ruling will likely allow the lawsuit to proceed through North Carolina courts, where the ACC is headquartered, rather than in Florida. At stake is more than $500 million that Florida State could be ordered to pay if it leaves for another conference before 3036 in violation of the conference’s grant of rights.

“We are pleased with today’s decision, which confirms North Carolina courts are the proper place to enforce the ACC’s agreements and bylaws,” said the ACC in a statement. “We remain committed to acting in the best interests of the league’s members and will see this process through to protect and advance the ACC.”

Florida State’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted on Dec. 22, 2023, to file a lawsuit against the ACC challenging its grant of rights; however, the ACC preempted this move with a lawsuit of its own the day before, accusing Florida State of breach of contract.

“Although it’s highly unusual for a court to dismiss a lawsuit at this initial stage, we are disappointed in the Court’s decision not to dismiss the North Carolina lawsuit,” Florida State said in a statement following Thursday’s decision. “At the same time, we appreciate the ruling today that Florida State could not have breached any supposed fiduciary duties to the ACC by seeking legal relief from the Conference’s gross mishandling of member school media rights. We will continue to aggressively advocate for the University, for FSU Athletics, and for the sovereignty of the State of Florida as these cases proceed.”

At issue is the ACC’s withdrawal penalty, which would cost Florida State $572 million — $130 of which would be drawn from TV revenue — if it chooses to leave the conference before 2036. The ACC grant of rights is meant to keep schools tethered to the conference. Its media rights agreement with ESPN runs through 2027 with a unilateral right to exercise a nine-year option through 2036.

Florida State’s lawsuit asserts that the penalty is unenforceable and that the ACC breached its contract with the university for failing to create proper media rights value.

Clemson recently filed its own lawsuit against the ACC challenging the grant of rights, though the university ensured in a press release that it has not given notice that it is exiting the conference. The ACC immediately defended its grant of rights upon Florida State’s initial filing.

“Florida State’s decision to file against the conference is in direct conflict with their longstanding obligations and is a clear violation of their legal commitments to the other members of the conference,” the conference said in a statement. “All ACC members, including Florida State, willingly and knowingly re-signed the current Grant of Rights in 2016, which is wholly enforceable and binding through 2036. Each university has benefited from this agreement, receiving millions of dollars and neither Florida State, nor any other institution, has ever challenged its legitimacy.”

03 May

Predicting the final four College Football Playoff teams in 2024 season as postseason field expands

The NCAA Tournament will hit its climax this weekend with the Final Four, pitting the best teams in the nation against each other with a national championship on the line. Though it isn’t quite as expansive as its basketball counterpart, the College Football Playoff is expanding to 12 teams for the 2024 season.

So, though making the “Final Four” was once a given for teams that earned a berth in the previous format, a trip to the semifinals moving forward will involve playing through at least a couple of rounds. That creates an air of unpredictability around the College Football Playoff that we haven’t yet seen.

With March Madness still in the air, though, and several college football teams reaching the end of their spring practice sessions, it felt appropriate to take a stab at predicting the Final Four for the 2024 season; in other words, the college football writers at CBS Sports each took a stab at picking which four teams will be the last ones standing.

There are the obvious powerhouses to choose from, like Ohio State and Georgia — two teams that are looking to make it back to the playoff after missing out in 2023 — and some dark horses, such as Ole Miss and Notre Dame, that could benefit from an expanded field to make a deep run. Here’s how we think the “Final Four” will play out during the 2024 college football season.

Chip Patterson
Georgia, Ohio State, Texas, Oregon

While the ACC and the Big 12 champions will have an advantage in the 12-team playoff by getting a pass directly to the quarterfinals, I wonder if the rest/rust debate breaks the other way when they have to play a first-round winner that might be a betting favorite. I think the likes of Texas or Oregon could be coming off victories in front of their home crowd and primed to take aim at a quarterfinal opponent who hasn’t played since the conference championship game. I’ve got Georgia and Ohio State projected to win their respective conferences, and the on-paper advantage that they carry over most of the competition makes it difficult to imagine either team not making it at least to the semifinals.

Tom Fornelli
Georgia, Ohio State, Texas, LSU

After watching Alabama lose to Michigan in the Rose Bowl last season and seeing two Big Ten programs (eventual, anyway) square off in the title game, the SEC answers by putting three programs in the final four this season. My thought process isn’t complicated. We don’t know who the best quarterback in the country will be this year, but when I look at these four programs, I’m confident each will be solid at the QB spot. They also boast talented rosters outside the position. In other words, they’re the type of teams we typically see in the title picture come the end of the season.

Shehan Jeyarajah
Ohio State, Texas, Georgia, Oregon

I’m rarely one to go chalk, but a few programs are just in title-or-bust range heading into next season. Between its easy path and roster strength, Ohio State should be the No. 2 seed at worst. Anything less than an appearance in the Final Four would be a major disappointment. Texas and Georgia are also poised to battle at the top of the SEC and the loser of the conference title game is well-positioned to defeat the Big 12 or ACC champion. That leaves an opening for the fourth team. With Kalen DeBoer gone from Washington and Jim Harbaugh off to the NFL, Oregon has an opening to rise to the No. 2 team in the Big Ten. With all the attrition among top Big 12 and ACC teams, it’s difficult to see which champ can knock off a top-end team.

The CFP Committee will have some leeway to tinker with the rankings — especially when deciding if they’d prefer conference title game rematches in the semis or title game — but the gap between these four teams and the field feels significant entering April.

David Cobb
Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ole Miss

Ohio State has amassed a supremely talented roster and will have the physicality required to steamroll into the Final Four. Georgia coach Kirby Smart will be able to motivate his team with the fact that it missed last year’s College Football Playoff. Notre Dame will have more dynamic quarterback play than it has had in years if Duke transfer Riley Leonard can stay healthy. Ole Miss is all in on 2024 with major additions to its defensive front that should help the Rebels maintain or build upon its program record of 11 victories. Texas and Oregon are omitted largely out of skepticism that they will be able to withstand the grind associated with moving to tougher leagues.

Cameron Salerno
Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon, Ole Miss

It feels weird picking a “Final Four” with two teams from the SEC and Big Ten, but here we are. After missing out on the CFP last season, Georgia will return to the big stage. Carson Beck should be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy, and Kirby Smart’s defense is elite. Ohio State went all in this offseason by landing star safety Caleb Downs from Alabama and running back Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss. The Buckeyes will have a quarterback battle heading into the fall, with Kansas State transfer Will Howard looking like the current favorite. Ryan Day has lost to Michigan for three consecutive seasons, and this will be the year the Buckeyes get over the hump.

The Ducks landed former Oklahoma and UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel to pair with highly-touted wide receiver Evan Stewart from Texas A&M. Ole Miss is my wildcard pick. The Rebels have a favorable schedule, and like others on this list, they went all-in via the transfer portal to upgrade the roster. The 12-team CFP will benefit Ole Miss tremendously.

Will Backus
Ohio State, Georgia, Oregon, Texas

Ohio State and Georgia seem like fairly obvious picks, and there’s a reason they’re consensus selections here. The Buckeyes loaded up ahead of Ryan Day’s sixth season at the helm, adding Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator and welcoming arguably the nation’s most impressive transfer class. Day is certainly in win-now mode, and anything short of the “Final Four” will be a huge disappointment. Georgia is Georgia. Kirby Smart has built an absolute Death Star thanks to his ability to recruit and develop, so the Bulldogs will be around the top so long as he’s patrolling the sidelines. The other two spots were hotly contested. Oregon seems like a solid choice. Though it might take some knocks in the Big Ten conference, the Ducks are easily the second-most talented team in the conference and should be in the race all year. Multiple teams could occupy the fourth spot, but this far out from the actual season, it boils down to the eye test. Texas passes with flying colors, given that quarterback Quinn Ewers returns and the Longhorns strategically plugged any holes on the roster with high-impact transfer additions.

29 Apr

UConn’s Donovan Clingan turns pro after helping Huskies win consecutive national titles

UConn star Donovan Clingan has declared for the NBA Draft, ESPN reports. Clingan played a pivotal role in helping the Huskies become college basketball’s first repeat national champions since 2007. The 7-foot-2 center is a defensive menace who stepped into an elevated role in the 2023-24 season and thrived as an efficient interior scorer and shot-blocking machine.

Clingan averaged 13 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 63.9% from the floor in 22.5 minutes per game during the 2023-24 season. He turned up his game in the postseason when it mattered most and was particularly dominant in the Huskies’ Elite Eight win over Illinois when he finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.

Rated a four-star prospect in the Class of 2022, Clingan burst onto the scene as UConn’s backup center in the 2022-23 season, playing behind Adama Sanogo and showing his promise in just 13.1 minutes per game. A foot injury hampered Clingan early in the 2023-24 campaign. But once he settled in, he proved to be one of the nation’s most dominant centers, earning third-team All-American honors from CBS Sports.

Donovan Clingan’s NBA Draft projection
Clingan is No. 11 in the 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings from CBS Sports. But he landed at No. 5 in a recent mock draft from Kyle Boone.

“Illinois went 0-for-19 in the Elite Eight in shots contested by Donovan Clingan, which turned out to be one of his most dominant performances of the year,” Boone wrote. “Clingan — known affectionately by UConn fans as “Cling Kong” — is a monster on the defensive side of the floor whose timing and anticipation on that end has changed the trajectory for the reigning champion Huskies. He’s gone from surefire lottery pick to potential No. 1 overall.”

So long as everything checks out from a health standpoint, he’ll hear his name called early in the draft. Though he’s limited offensively — Clingan made just two 3-pointers in his college career — he’s agile enough defensively to not only survive in the NBA, but potentially thrive as an impact defender.

Impact on UConn
UConn coach Dan Hurley must remake much of his starting lineup yet again. He did it perfectly for the 2023-24 season by replacing three starters from a national title team and somehow coaxing the Huskies back to the top of the sport. Pulling off a three-peat will be demonstrably more difficult without Clingan as a defensive stopper. Samson Johnson has been in the program and is a high-quality center in his own right. But he’s 6-foot-10, not 7-foot-2. Additionally, the Huskies are expected to lose their entire starting backcourt of Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle. Castle has yet to declare for the draft, but projects as a lottery pick.

29 Apr

Kentucky moved quickly to hire Mark Pope but Wildcats fans will need some convincing it was the right move

When news started circulating Sunday that John Calipari was nearing a deal to be the next coach at Arkansas, Kentucky fans celebrated on social media and seemed largely thrilled to be getting the change in leadership they desperately wanted after another disappointing exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Four nights later, those same folks were melting down.

Mark Pope?

Yes, Mark Pope.

After missing on UConn’s Dan Hurley and Baylor’s Scott Drew, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart quickly turned his attention to BYU’s Mark Pope. They reached an agreement Thursday night, announced their agreement Friday morning. And though UK fans might grow to love the move in time, there’s no denying the news was initially met with equal parts of confusion and disappointment, presumably because when you run off a Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach with six Final Four appearances and the 2012 national championship on his resume, you just don’t expect to end up replacing him with someone who has never won a conference championship or even a single NCAA Tournament game.

UK fans had bigger dreams.

And I’d be lying if I said I don’t understand their frustration. No, Dan Hurley was never exiting UConn after back-to-back national championships. And I’m not surprised that, in the end, Scott Drew just couldn’t pull the trigger and leave the Baylor program he built from nothing. So I don’t think it’s reasonable to be frustrated that Barnhart couldn’t land either of those coaches. But there’s a big gap between where this search started and where it ended. And, frankly, any fanbase would be frustrated to watch a search close with the hiring of a man who was really only a candidate because he wore the jersey three decades earlier (Pope) when it began with hopes of either hiring the man who won the 2021 NCAA Tournament (Drew) or the man who won the 2023 and 2024 NCAA Tournaments (Hurley).

But none of that matters now.

What’s done is done. Mark Pope is the new coach at Kentucky, and if the first few hundred words of this column have led you to think that I believe this will go poorly, let me spend the final few hundred words of this column making it clear that I don’t really believe that at all.

Honestly, I have no idea.

At this point, I’ve been doing this long enough where I’ve watched coaching hires I thought were great go terribly and coaching hires I thought were terrible go well. Anybody speaking definitively, positively or negatively, about the future before Pope is even formally introduced is being silly. None of us have any idea.

If Pope comes in and convinces Reed Sheppard to return for his sophomore season, lures a few big pieces from the transfer portal and adds a five-star prospect or two, Barnhart will look like a genius for pivoting to Pope and handing over the reins of one of college basketball’s biggest jobs to an alum. However, if Pope comes in and struggles, especially while Calipari flourishes at Arkansas, this will be labeled a failed experiment that likely leads to Kentucky officials nudging Barnhart into retirement.

Everything’s on the table. Everybody knows the stakes.

As for what’s next, I suspect UK fans will mostly start talking themselves into this hire after the initial disappointment subsides, fill Rupp Arena on Sunday for Pope’s introductory press conference, rally around one of their own and give him every opportunity to succeed. Then we’ll see how it goes, just like always.

Could UK have hired somebody more proven?

Yes, definitely.

But if Mark Pope does enough early to suggest he really is fit for the job, any skepticism UK fans have now will quickly be replaced with unbridled excitement. That is, after all, always how these things go because it never matters what you were when you were hired as much as it matters what you do once you are.

29 Apr

Alabama falls from top 10 as Rylan Griffen opts to enter transfer portal

Alabama has participated in its first Final Four in history and received a public pledge of allegiance from its coach, Nate Oats, over the past week. Those are two great developments.

But it’s not all good news in Tuscaloosa.

That’s because Rylan Griffen, the Crimson Tide’s fourth-leading scorer, has entered the transfer portal after starting 33 games as a sophomore, which means Alabama is now projected to lose three of the top four scorers — specifically Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada and Griffen — from the team that made the 2024 Final Four. Unsurprisingly, Oats responded to the departure by quickly securing a commitment from Chris Youngblood, a 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 15.3 points this past season at South Florida. But the loss of Griffen and addition of Youngblood is still a net-negative for Alabama, in my opinion, which is why the Crimson Tide are down to No. 12 in Version 3.0 of the 2024-25 CBS Sports preseason Top 25 And 1 college basketball rankings.

Sears could improve that ranking, though.

The All-American guard hasn’t yet announced his intentions for next season and theoretically could return for a fifth year of college basketball. If he does, Alabama will move into the top 10 of the Top 25 And 1, perhaps even the top five. But based on where most analysts have Sears slotted in the 2024 NBA Draft, the prevailing assumption is that he’ll ultimately enter and remain in the 2024 NBA Draft, and Alabama’s projected roster in Version 3.0 of the Top 25 And 1 is a reflection of that belief.

I removed BYU from the Top 25 And 1.

Mark Pope’s decision to leave BYU and replace John Calipari at Kentucky on Friday means the team I had 13th in Version 1.0 of the Top 25 And 1 no longer exists. (Dallin Hall and Aly Khalifa are already in the transfer portal.) Consequently, the Cougars are completely out of the Top 25 And 1 and have been replaced by a Michigan State team projected to return six of the top eight scorers from a roster that just helped Tom Izzo make his 26th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Needless to say, it’s possible, if not likely, that Pope will eventually build a team worthy of inclusion in the Top 25 And 1 at Kentucky the same way it’s possible, if not likely, Calipari will eventually build a team worthy of inclusion in the Top 25 And 1 at Arkansas. If either does, I’ll adjust, just like always. But, for now, neither Kentucky nor Arkansas have rosters deserving of a spot. That’s why they’re absent.

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29 Apr

Father Jeff addresses Mark Pope hiring

A new era in Kentucky basketball is on the horizon after longtime coach John Calipari stepped away from the program to take the job at Arkansas. Just days after Calipari’s stunning exit, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart zeroed in on BYU coach Mark Pope to succeed him.

Pope has deep ties to the Bluegrass State dating back to his time as a player from 1994-96. Pope was teammates and roommates with Jeff Sheppard, the father of current Kentucky star Reed Sheppard. The younger Sheppard has yet to decide whether to declare for the 2024 NBA Draft or return to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

“It’s a good question,” Jeff Sheppard told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Friday. “You know, Mark has been a friend for a long time. I don’t know. Last night was a late night, and I haven’t really gotten to talk to Reed much about that. He’s trying to go through a process of gathering information to really see truly where he is. There’s obviously all kinds of talk.”

Sheppard ranks as the No. 5 prospect on CBS Sports’ NBA Draft prospect rankings. Sheppard was named CBS Sports Freshman of the Year after averaging 12.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.5 steals.

Here are a few pros and cons of Sheppard returning to Kentucky for another season.

Pro: Strong connection with Pope
It’s no secret that the Sheppard family has deep ties to the new Kentucky coach. The older Sheppard and Pope were key members of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team and have stayed in touch. In fact, the Jeff Sheppard told The Athletic that he’s already spoken with his former teammate as Reed mulls his future.

“We’re open for everything,” Jeff Sheppard said. “Mark and I have had some conversations already, and Reed is still in the process of making that decision. There’s considerable interest right now from the NBA, so we have to listen to that. There’s also considerable interest from the fans at Kentucky, so that makes it hard. That makes it very difficult.”

That connection could be a key factor in Sheppard’s pending decision.

Con: His draft stock is already high
The saying “take the money or leave it” could be applied here. If Sheppard declares for the draft, he’s almost guaranteed to be at least a lottery pick. In CBS Sports’ latest mock drafts, Kyle Boone and David Cobb have Sheppard going No. 4, and Gary Parrish has him going No. 2. Sheppard has worked his way up from a four-star recruit ranked No. 79 in the 2023 recruiting cycle by 247Sports to one of the most intriguing draft prospects in his class. Sheppard’s draft stock has soared over the last five months, and it could rise even more depending on how he tests at the NBA Combine next month. Sheppard was one of the most efficient players in college basketball last season. He should be able to find a role from Day 1 on whatever team drafts him for that reason.

Pro: Sheppard would start from Day 1
Despite logging 28.9 minutes per game, Sheppard made only five starts in 33 games. Sheppard played behind a starting backcourt of Antonio Reeves and D.J. Wagner and came off the bench alongside fellow freshman Rob Dillingham. With Reeves out of eligibility and Dillingham heading to the NBA, Sheppard would have a strong chance of sliding into the starting lineup. With an increased role in his second season, Sheppard could soar up draft boards. Another reason for a potential return could stem from Name, Image, and Likeness. Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones reported that two UK donors pledged at least $4 million into the program to help Pope build the roster.

Con: 2025 NBA Draft class is stacked
The 2024 NBA Draft is considered one of the weaker draft classes at the top in quite some time. While Sheppard projects a surefire top-10 pick this summer, there’s no guarantee he would hold that spot if he returns for another season. Sheppard will likely increase his overall stock by returning to school, but the 2025 NBA Draft is shaping up to be much stronger at the top. That could ultimately result in Sheppard getting pushed back in the pecking order even if he puts up better numbers in Year 2. The headliner of that future draft class is Duke signee Cooper Flagg – the projected No. 1 overall pick. Other players projected to go in the lottery include Duke signee Khaman Maluach, Rutgers signees Ace Bailey and Dylan Harper, Baylor signee V.J. Edgecombe, and Texas signee Tre Johnson.

Pro: Sheppard can become a UK legend by staying
Sheppard grew up in London, Kentucky, less than an hour from the Lexington campus. His father helped bring home Kentucky’s sixth national title, and his mom, Stacey, was a star for the Kentucky women’s basketball team in the 1990s. If any lottery-projected pick from this class is returning to school for another season, it’s Sheppard – and it’s because of the deep ties he has with the school. While it’s likely that Sheppard declares and forgoes his remaining eligibility, there are too many connections to the school to overlook this as a possibility.

If he returns for his sophomore season, he will have a chance to add to the legacy his parents started at the school nearly three decades ago.

Con: Longer timeline to get second NBA contract
Sticking to the theme of money and the draft, Sheppard leaving school this season would speed up the process of getting a second and more lucrative contract. When players enter the NBA from the draft, they receive a four-year rookie-scale contract. The second contract is the goal of any player because it (for the most part) can result in further generational wealth. Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton – a lottery pick from the 2020 NBA Draft – signed a five-year deal with up to $260 million last summer. Players from the 2024 class will be extension-eligible starting in the summer of 2027. If Sheppard returns to school, that process gets delayed for at least one more year.

29 Apr

Kentucky big man exploring options after John Calipari’s departure

Kentucky center Zvonimir Ivišić has entered the transfer portal, according to 247Sports. The 7-foot-2 freshman’s decision comes four days after former Wildcats coach John Calipari left to take the same position at Arkansas.

Ivišić is the second 7-footer to transfer out of Kentucky since Calipari’s departure, joining fellow freshman and former five-star prospect Aaron Bradshaw. A native of Vodice, Croatia, Ivišić played basketball professionally with SC Derby in Montenegro from 2020-23.

The 20-year old Ivišić signed with the Wildcats in Aug. 2023 but had complications with the admissions process that prevented him from enrolling until October. Ivišić missed the first 16 games of the season while awaiting clearance from the NCAA and finally made his debut in January against Georgia. He scored 13 points, pulled down five rebounds and blocked three shots in just 16 minutes off the bench.

From there, Ivišić became a semi-regular fixture in Kentucky’s rotation, reaching at least 15 minutes in four out of Kentucky’s last five games, and he had a solid role in both the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. He finished the year averaging 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 15 games played.

Though it seems natural that he’d follow Calipari to Arkansas, Ivišić is sure to attract plenty of attention in the portal. On top of the fact that well-developed 7-footers don’t grow on trees, he has plenty of ability outside of the paint. Ivišić hit on 37.5% of his 3-point shots as a freshman, including an impressive 3 of 4 from 3-point range in his debut. That puts a lot of stress on opposing defenses and increases Ivišić’s profile as a prospect.

29 Apr

Houston jumps to No. 1 after landing Oklahoma transfer Milos Uzan

Milos Uzan is not Jamal Shead.

That goes without saying.

But the 6-foot-4 guard is somebody who started 56 games at Oklahoma over the past two seasons while helping the Sooners finish in the top 55 at BartTorvik.com both years — point being that Uzan’s commitment to Houston this weekend suggests Kelvin Sampson has found a player who should be capable of eating a lot of the minutes Shead’s departure from the program will open up next season.

It’s a nice addition.

Houston now has a possible starting lineup that looks like this:

G: LJ Cryer
G: Milos Uzan
G: Emanuel Sharp
F: Ja’vier Francis
C: J’Wan Roberts
That lineup features four returning starters (Cryer, Sharp, Francis, Roberts) from a Houston team that won the Big 12 by multiple games and secured a No. 1 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament — plus a fifth player (Uzan) who’s already been starting in the Big 12 for two years. In total, the Cougars are now expected to bring back eight of their top 10 scorers to pair with an interesting group of newcomers featuring Uzan and two top-85 prospects from the Class of 2024, and that’s why Houston is No. 1 in Version 4.0 of the 2024-25 CBS Sports Preseason Top 25 And 1 college basketball rankings.

North Carolina is No. 2.

Duke is No. 3.

The fact that there have already been four versions of the Top 25 And 1 since UConn won the 2024 NCAA Tournament last Monday night indicates how busy the first days of this offseason have been. There’s no reason to think things will slow down any time soon with the transfer portal still full of impactful players. So, Version 5.0 of the Top 25 And 1 is likely just around the corner.

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