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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Buffalo vs Kentucky
Could Kentucky’s Sacha Killeya-Jones be headed to an ACC school?
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the 2018-19 season is still almost seventh months away, but the season will be shaped by what happens in the next month.

The deadline for the NBA draft early entry closed Sunday night, but many of the players who put their names in have until May 30 to withdraw without penalty. Those decisions will have a HUGE impact on the next season.

At the same time, the free agent market is in full swing as hundreds of players will be transferring to new schools. Those who do so under the old transfer rules will have to sit out a season, but dozens are the so-called grad transfers, who will be able to play immediately. At least half the ACC is heavily invested in the transfer marker and their success (or failure) could have a significant impact on next year’s race.

As it now stands, the ACC will lose at least 10 undergraduates to the NBA. These are players who are not just “testing the waters.” They have announced that they are hiring agents –they are gone:

  • The Duke quartet of Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent.
  • Louisville’s Deng Adel and Ray Spaulding
  • Miami’s Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown
  • Wake Forest’s Doral Moore
  • Clemson’s David Skara (yep, he’s definitely gone)

There are 10 more who have entered the draft, but have the option to withdraw:

  • Boston College’s Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman
  • Clemson’s Marcquise Reed and Sheldon Mitchell
  • Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie
  • Miami’s Dewan Huell
  • UNC’s Luke Maye
  • N.C. State’s Torin Dorn
  • Syracuse’s Ty Battle
  • Wake Forest’s Bryant Crawford

You can see that several teams could be devastated by NBA defections. Boston College has been moving up the standings in recent years, but if Robinson and/or Bowman leave, the Eagles will drop back to the lower reaches of the ACC. Syracuse could be a top 25 team if Battle returns, but his loss (coupled by the shocking decision by top recruit Darius Bazley to jump straight to the G-League) would leave the Orange on the bubble again. Miami has already lost its two best guards to the draft, and if the ‘Canes also lose their best big man, it will be a bleak outlook for next season.

Best guess – most of the players on the “testing the waters” list will return to school. The two most likely to stay in the draft are Battle of Syracuse and Robinson of Boston College. Both are borderline first-round draft picks and if they get solid guarantees from some NBA team, they’re gone.

Getting past the NBA hurdle is just one step that many ACC teams have to negotiate.

Transfers can fill the gaps left by graduation and defections.

Of course, the transfer market works two ways and it’s possible that more ACC players will leave. The league has already lost a number of players. Most are inconsequential bench warmers, but N.C. State’s Omer Yurtseven (going to Georgetown) was third-team All-ACC, Florida State’s C.J. Walker (going to Ohio State) was the starting point guard on an Elite Eight team and Wake Forest’s Keyshawn Woods was the team’s No. 2 scorer, averaging 11.9 points a game.

Indeed, Woods is a prime transfer target this spring. He recently visited Virginia and Ohio State and met with new Louisville coach Chris Mack. Clemson is also interested.

It used to be verboten that a player would transfer within the league, but Cam Johnson broke that taboo last year (going from Pitt to UNC). As a grad transfer, Wood can stay within the league if he wants and play immediately next season.

But Woods is just the tip of the transfer iceberg.

Several schools a working the transfer market HARD:

  • Florida State replaced transfer C.J. Walker with 6-0 point guard David Nichols of Albany. He averaged 14.6 points a game for the Great Danes. He actually had a better year as a junior in 2017, averaging 17.9 points and earning first-team all-conference honors in the American East. He’s a grad transfer and will be eligible immediately.
  • Miami is Transfer Central with four transfers joining the team next season.

One of those, 6-5 Miles Wilson from St. Mary’s actually transferred in a year ago and sat out last season. Another, 6-3 Kameron McGusty, who averaged 8.0 points a game at Oklahoma, will sit out next season and will be eligible in 2019-20. He’ll have two years left at Miami.

But the ‘Canes expect 6-6 Anthony Mack to be eligible immediately. Mack is a three-star recruit in 2017 who signed with Wyoming, but redshirted as a freshman. Miami expects to get a waiver for the one-year transfer rule in his case.

Zach Johnson will have more impact. The 6-2 guard averaged 16.1 points a game from Florida Gulf Coast and scored 37 in the Atlantic Sun title game. He’s a grad transfer who was highly sought – Louisville and Arizona were also in the mix.

If that’s not enough, Miami is one of the four finalists for Ehab Amin, a big guard from Texas A&M-Corpus Christu. Amin led the nation in steals last season and averaged 16.9 points a game. He turned down overtures from Arizona and N.C. State and is down to the ‘Canes, Nevada or Wichita State.

  • Louisville is scrambling to fill its depleted roster with grad transfers.

New coach Chris Mack missed on Johnson, Amin and on 6-3 Joseph Chartouny, a guard from Fordham who picked Marquette instead. He also tried to get involved with 6-4 Joe Cremo from Albany, maybe the top grad transfer on the market, but Cremo passed on Louisville.

Mack remains in the hunt for Woods.

Despite the misses, the Cards are pursuing Mike Cunningham, a 6-0 guard from SC-Upstate. He averaged 13.7 points a game. He visited campus this week. Also, UNC-Asheville guard MaCio Teague is looking at Louisville (along with Xavier, Arizona, Ohio State and Virginia).

Maybe the best chance Mack has of adding talent this spring is 6-3 point guard Courtney Ramey from Webster Groves, Mo. Ramey, the No. 37 rated prospect (by RSCI) in the 2018 Class, had committed to Louisville before the scandal. He decommitted when the Cards fired Rick Pitino, but has since been open to hearing Mack’s pitch.

  • Wake Forest has hit the transfer market before and with at least four and maybe five of its top seven players leaving, Danny Manning is scrambling to fill his roster.

With center Doral Moore headed for the NBA, finding a big man is his top priority. Trey Porter, a 6-10, 240-pounder who averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds at ODU, would seem to be the top target, although Maryland appears to be the favorite in this race. As a result, Manning is also kicking the tires for Ikeena Smart, a 6-10 kid who averaged just 12 minutes a game at Buffalo. But Smart is a Greensboro native who plans to return home to attend grad school in the area. He’s not much of a player but he’s a rarity -- a true grad transfer.

Wake Forest has also tried to get involved with Sacha Killeya-Jones, a slender 6-10 transfer from Kentucky, but several other ACC schools seem to be in better position.

Manning is also looking to add a shooting guard – 6-4 Nat Dixon from UT-Chattanooga looks to be his top target. Dixon averaged 13.8 points last season. He’s also being pursued by Penny Hardaway at Memphis and by Penn State,

Manning is also looking at Cheddi Mosley, a 6-0 guard from Boston University. He averaged 13.6 points in 2016 and 9.5 points a game in 2017. He missed last season with an injury. Rhode Island would seem to be the toughest competition.

  • Pittsburgh has been devastated by transfers out – new coach Jeff Capel seems to have spent most of his time re-recruiting his disaffected players and hitting the 2019 recruiting class.

He’s had some success – convincing Terrell Brown, Shamiel Stevenson, Khameron Davis and Jared Wilson-Frame to stay. He has lost Ryan Luther (to Arizona) and Parker Stewart (no destination yet). Point guard Marcus Carr is also gone (Michigan, Ohio State, Marquette or Minnesota) and 6-9 Kene Chukwuka is still up in the air.

It appears that Capel is not wasting much effort on a quick fix. He’s apparently working the 2019 recruiting class very hard, rather than diving into the free agent market.

But he will entertain Robert Morris guard Dachon Burke. The 6-4 grad transfer averaged 17.6 points and 5.8 rebounds last season. He has also visited St. John’s, Nebraska and Marquette.

  • Sacha Killeya-Jones, who is a native of Chapel Hill, is a hot target for a number of ACC schools – Clemson, N.C. State, Notre Dame and North Carolina would seem to be the most likely ACC destinations. But he’s still looking at 10 schools, including Texas, Georgetown and Nevada. He plans to schedule recruiting visits in early May.
  • Bryce Golden, a 6-8, 220-pound four-star forward from Sharpsburg, Md., was Kevin Stallings’ top recruit at Pitt this year. He was released when Stallings was fired.

Golden is now looking at Syracuse, Butler, Illinois and Georgetown.

There are likely to be more names pop up in the coming weeks, but those are the targets that appear to be most important at the moment. None are likely to have a huge impact on next year’s race, but they can patch some holes. The fact that programs as strong as Virginia and North Carolina are pursing grad transfers this year, should emphasize the significance of such pickups.

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