03 May

Florida State WRs emerging, Clemson QB developing among storylines

The 2024 ACC football season will be unlike anything in the league’s history. Now at 17 teams with the additions of Cal, Stanford and SMU, the conference spans from coast-to-coast. It features a varied makeup of programs with all kinds of expectations heading into the fall. There are multiple jobs with new coaches since the end of 2023 and a few teams with coaches still early in their tenures, but also ACC mainstays like Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, NC State’s Dave Doeren and — if we are counting both the 1990s and the current run — North Carolina’s Mack Brown.

The league also enters 2024 with a chip on its shoulder after Florida State finished the regular season as a 13-0 conference champion but was left out of the College Football Playoff; the 2023 Seminoles were the first power conference program to carry that unfavorable distinction. Of course, the ‘Noles have a bit of a complicated relationship with the league at the moment. The school was the first to challenge the Grant of Rights agreement — potentially putting together an exit strategy from the league — by suing the ACC before Clemson followed suit. These things have very little to do with the work being put in during spring practice right now, but the chaos of potential conference realignment looms large around these programs off the field.

So, while the current state of affairs in the ACC is unprecedented and the future is unknown, those things need to be put to the side so we can focus on the coaches, players and storylines that will determine how things shake out in the fall. Let’s dive in to the key spring questions for all 17 ACC teams.

Boston College
How will Bill O’Brien’s arrival impact Thomas Castellanos? Though he was not the starting quarterback at the beginning of the year, it did not take long for the former UCF quarterback to cement himself as QB1 in Chestnut Hill. Castellanos gave the Eagles’ offense an extra dimension with his ability to make plays on the move; by the end of the season, he had racked up 1,103 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. There is still plenty of room for Castellanos to improve since he also threw 14 interceptions and completed just 57.3% percent of his passes, but those areas are places where it’s expected O’Brien will have an impact. As head coach for some of Deshaun Watson’s more successful NFL seasons and the offensive coordinator for Bryce Young’s Heisman Trophy-winning season at Alabama, O’Brien has the profile to be able to guide Castellanos to the next level of his development.

Can Fernando Mendoza carry over last year’s progress? A redshirt freshman in 2023, Mendoza took over the starting quarterback job for the final eight games of the season and performed adequately. He had 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, completed 63% of his passes and helped guide the Bears to three straight wins to close the regular season (Washington State, at Stanford, at UCLA) and finish bowl eligible at 6-6. The offense will be anchored by Jadyn Ott, who enters 2024 as one of the most proven running backs in the country, but it’s clear that Justin Wilcox and the offensive coaching staff want to improve the passing game; they would not have brought in Chandler Rogers from North Texas if they believed otherwise. Rogers is a redshirt senior who threw 29 touchdowns to just five interceptions last year for the Mean Green, and while Mendoza has experience in the program, it is Rogers who has the overall experience and production edge in the battle.

Can Cade Klubnik level up his game? Clemson’s coaching staff is challenging Klubnik, the former five-star prospect who enters his junior season with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a Tiger, and looking for him to improve in several ways in order to unlock the offense’s full potential. They want Klubnik to get stronger and have more pocket awareness (he took 28 sacks in 2023) as well as get a better feel for situational football after some of his more disappointing moments came in key spots of close losses. This is not a one-man scenario, though; Clemson needs pass catchers and a solid offensive line to help Klubnik in those efforts. Given his blue-chip pedigree, it’s fair to look for a big step forward from the Tigers quarterback in his second full season as a starter.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl – Clemson vs Kentucky
Clemson is looking for Cade Klubnik to develop into the star they believed he could be out of high school. getty images

Will Maalik Murphy prove to be a splash transfer signing? The outlook on Murphy has taken several twists and turns over the last 12 months. It started with beating out Arch Manning for the backup quarterback role at Texas behind Quinn Ewers — and doing so with some fairly impressive spring practice reviews — before finally having his number called when Ewers got hurt in late October. Murphy went 2-0 as a starter in Ewers’ absence, but the performance across those two games was mixed with highs and lows. The combination of his physical skills and limited on-field experience (71 pass attempts across seven games) made Murphy one of the more intriguing transfer portal quarterbacks. His commitment to Duke was viewed as a win for first-year coach Manny Diaz. Now, in spring practice, we can begin to see how much a win that portal signing was and whether it can dramatically change the floor or ceiling for Duke’s offense in 2024.

Florida State
Which difference-makers emerge at wide receiver? If we’re willing to assume that DJ Uiagalalei is going to take over for Jordan Travis at quarterback, the biggest question for Florida State’s offense is going to be replacing the production of multiple NFL Draft-bound pass catchers. Florida State’s three leading receivers — Keon Coleman, Johnny Wilson and Jaheim Bell — combined to account for 50% of all the receptions from last season, 51% of the receiving yards and 60% of the touchdown catches. The “good problem to have” aspect is there are options, both from the portal with former Alabama wide receiver Malik Benson but also from the much-improved high school recruiting pipeline as former five-star prospect Hykeem Williams gets more work in his sophomore season.

Georgia Tech
How does the passing attack build on the success of 2023? Quarterback Haynes King proved to be an inspired addition for Brent Key as King oversaw an offense that had one of the biggest single-season improvements in the ACC. King threw for 2,842 yards and 27 touchdowns, and not only is he back, but so are many of the key pass catchers from last season. Leading receiver Eric Singleton Jr. returns after a freshman campaign that saw him finish second in ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year voting and earn Freshman All-America honors from 247Sports. The Yellow Jackets also have Malik Rutherford and Christian Leary back as well, which sets the stage for Georgia Tech to have one of the top passing attacks in the conference. So, the key to meeting those expectations starts with taking the next step here in spring, and that’s one of many goals for the Yellow Jackets over the next couple weeks.

What transfers emerge as the top difference-makers? For the second year in a row, Louisville has loaded up on transfer portal talent to give the Cardinals their best chance at remaining competitive without having to reboot the roster. Of the 26 transfer portal signees, 24 are with the team for spring practice. Among that group are plenty of players expected to be key contributors in 2024. Edge rusher Tyler Baron from Tennessee and wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks from Alabama are the headliners, but there’s also sixth-year quarterback Tyler Shough, now on his third power conference stop after two years at Oregon and three at Texas Tech. Which of these players gels the best with the current group — Shough did not start spring ball fully healthy, it should be noted — will be informative for what to expect from Jeff Brohm’s group as they eye a return trip to the ACC Championship Game.

Is Cam Ward the key to a Mario Cristobal breakthrough season? When Miami hired Mario Cristobal away from Oregon, the South Florida native and former Hurricanes offensive lineman sold a vision of returning “The U” to the land of championship contention. But in two seasons with Cristobal at the helm, Miami has yet to sniff even conference title contention, going 6-10 in ACC play and 12-13 overall across 2022 and 2023. Quarterback Cam Ward chose Miami after initially declaring for the NFL Draft, and the best of his performance at Washington State suggests that he’s the kind of electric playmaker needed to wind up on the winning side of close games. Miami is loaded up along both lines of scrimmage and has a pair of high-end wide receivers with Xavier Restrepo and Jacolby George, so the table is set for Ward to have a good season. If so, Miami could be a dark horse to reach the levels Cristobal spoke of and contend for an ACC title in 2024.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Washington State at Washington
Miami is hoping Cam Ward can get the Hurricanes over the hump in 2024. getty images
North Carolina
Who replaces Drake Maye? Mack Brown has enjoyed five consecutive seasons of having future NFL talent at quarterback, and though he held open competitions prior to naming both Sam Howell and Drake Maye the starter, this does feel like the most uncertainty there’s been at the position since his return to Chapel Hill. One of the earliest transfer portal pickups in the offseason cycle for the Tar Heels was Max Johnson, who brings 30 games (22 starts) of experience across four seasons at LSU and Texas A&M that saw him amass 47 touchdowns and more than 5,800 passing yards. Johnson’s primary competition appears to be redshirt sophomore Conner Harrell, who showed potential as a starter in the bowl game with Maye out but lacks the experience and production that Johnson brings to the table.

NC State
Can the Wolfpack maintain success with a retooled roster? NC State has evolved into a steady and reliable winner, totaling 34 wins over the last four seasons with two top-25 finishes. It’s a program that has logged recent wins against both Clemson and Florida State, and in 2024 has a favorable schedule draw with some eyeing the potential of competing for an ACC title. But doing so requires strong work this spring for a roster that has largely been retooled with 32 new players (transfers and early enrollees) joining the team for spring ball. Among the notable additions is former Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall, who at his peak was breaking the FBS pass efficiency record at the time but has dealt with injuries in recent years. The foundation of his program is solid and the portal additions — McCall included — address some needs. But capitalizing on a seemingly favorable schedule requires bringing everyone up to speed this spring.

Is a bounce-back season in store in 2024? Pat Narduzzi was on a run of churning out consistent winning seasons, making six bowls in eight years with an ACC championship in 2021 and top-25 finishes in both 2021 and 2022. That’s what made last year’s 3-9 season so disorienting. Now, there’s an assumption for a bounce back because of Narduzzi’s standard, but there are not a lot of obvious answers for how this team takes a big step forward. One place to start is on offense where new offensive coordinator Kade Bell has arrived from Western Carolina with a new scheme that’s reportedly a bit more up-tempo and easier to install than what the Panthers have been working with the last couple of seasons. Pitt ranked last in the ACC in both total offense and scoring last season, so getting the offense right is a great place to start the turnaround efforts.

Is Preston Stone poised to be the ACC’s breakout star in 2024? Of the three newcomers to the conference, the one that enters with the most momentum is SMU after winning AAC title on their way out of the league in 2023. If SMU is going to have a successful debut as an ACC member, then it will likely include a strong showing from quarterback Preston Stone, who checked a lot of boxes during his first season as a starter. Stone ranked in the top-15 nationally for both passing touchdowns (28) and passer rating (161.3), and had nine games with multiple touchdown passes across his 12 starts before a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale. He started spring practice limited as he continues to recover from that broken leg, but coach Rhett Lashlee is pleased with his progress and he’s been able to get in some individual work with hope of going in 7-on-7 before the end of spring. Stone’s health is a key to SMU riding the momentum of an AAC title into its ACC era, so getting him back in rhythm is a big offseason storyline for the Mustangs.

Preston Stone and his gun-slinging ability leads SMU into its ACC era this season. getty images
Can Elijah Brown push for the starting job? Both Ashton Daniels and Justin Lamson are back after sharing the quarterback duties throughout the first year of the Troy Taylor era in Paolo Alto, California. Daniels was the more effective passer, but he had just 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions and both quarterbacks were significant parts of the rushing attack for a Cardinal offense that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in both scoring (11th) and total offense (10th). Enter Elijah Brown, a four-star prospect from California power house Mater Dei High School with two state championships to his name. As an early enrollee, he’ll get a crack at the starting job this spring. When there’s a top-end pass-catching option like 1,000-yard receiver Elic Ayomanor at your disposal, it becomes crucial that Stanford take advantage with quality quarterback play.

Can Kyle McCord get in sync with Oronde Gadsden? First-year coach Fran Brown has done some important work in the transfer portal, but when it comes to projecting how things are going to go in Year 1, there is a heightened importance on getting quarterback right. Well, the Orange have a capable option with former Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord. All eyes are going to be on how McCord establishes chemistry with Oronde Gadsden, the hybrid tight end-wide receiver who was first team All-ACC in 2022 but suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of 2023. When healthy, Gadsden is one of the best pass-catchers in the league. Being on the same page as McCord is crucial to the Syracuse offense reaching its ceiling.

Does Virginia have the next future pro WR on the roster? The quarterback debate between Tony Muskett and Anthony Colandrea has filled more minutes on the Cover 3 Podcast than you would expect, but when projecting forward, there is a more pressing matter for Virginia’s offense. Malik Washington caught 110 passes last season and totaled 1,400 receiving yards, but now he’s in the NFL Draft process while his former teammate, Malachi Fields, enters spring with an expectation to take over as WR1. Fields was second on the team in receptions (58), receiving yards (811) and touchdown catches (5) last season, and the expectation is he will see an increase in all three categories as the result of a more significant workload with Washington off to the NFL.

Virginia Tech
Can the on-field product match the off-field buzz? The dark horse conversation in the ACC heading into 2024 includes Virginia Tech because there’s proof of concept in Brent Pry’s plan and the schedule sets up favorably to enter November with a spot in the ACC title race. The Hokies have loads of skill talent back from a group that exceeded expectations in 2023 with a 5-3 conference record and a bowl win, making Virginia Tech a team that everyone is keeping an eye on this spring. It’s been a while since Virginia Tech has entered a season with some legitimate hype, but if the on-paper strengths play out on the field, this is one of the most dangerous teams in the league.

Wake Forest
Which quarterback can seize their opportunity? Wake Forest has two veteran quarterbacks vying for the starting job: one who has been a bit of a journeyman and another who has spent more than five years in the program. Both Hank Bachmeier, the former Boise State and Louisiana Tech quarterback, and Michael Kern, an early enrollee at Wake back in January 2019, seem to be the favorites for the starting role. The question for Dave Clawson and his offensive staff is whether they see more bonuses from the player experienced in the system or the player with more experience on Saturdays in the fall. Bachmeier has appeared in 38 games while Kern has just 16 games under his belt, and both are on their sixth year of college football. Still, Kern has shown flashes of the potential that drew the coaching staff’s attention to him as a recruit. This spring is all about which veteran signal-caller can grab hold of the QB1 duties.

03 May

Revisiting the Alabama-Clemson rivalry in football as schools vie for Final Four bid

Clemson and Alabama are both making waves during March Madness. The two southern football giants are set to face off in Saturday’s Elite Eight with an appearance in the coveted Final Four on the line — a goal that neither basketball program has yet to attain. While this may be a rare postseason showdown between the two on the hardwood, the Crimson Tide and Tigers share a rich history on college football’s biggest stage.

Between 2016-19, Alabama and Clemson competed in four straight College Football Playoff games, three of which were for the national championship. That streak constitutes four out of the five matchups between the two teams since the turn of the century. On top of that, Alabama and Clemson have never played one another — outside of the playoff format — in the postseason.

As one might expect from such a prolific modern rivalry, Alabama and Clemson’s playoff streak featured amazing moments and monolithic figures. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was in the midst of building an emergent dynasty, while former Alabama coach Nick Saban worked to stack wins onto an already Hall of Fame worthy résumé.

Myriad future NFL Draft picks, All-Americans and Heisman Trophy winners featured in these clashes, highlighted by the likes of Deshaun Watson, Jalen Hurts, Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa. With Alabama and Clemson set to play in the postseason once more, this time on one of college basketball’s biggest stages, it felt appropriate to look back at their College Football Playoff rivalry.

2016: College Football Playoff National Championship
Final: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
In the first meeting between the two teams in eight years, Alabama and Clemson took center stage at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, with a national title on the line. What a battle it was, setting the precedent for an impressive streak of postseason clashes, each with something major on the line. They traded blows until midway through the fourth quarter when Alabama running back Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 38-27 lead. From there, the Crimson Tide were firmly in the driver’s seat with the win cemented by a 1-yard Derrick Henry touchdown run as the clocked ticked down to one minute.

We are 95 days away from Alabama’s 2018 season opener! Here is Kenyan Drake’s 95-yard kickoff return touchdown at the National Championship game vs. Clemson in Glendale, Arizona. pic.twitter.com/rgj8Vhf9bo

— alabamavault (@alabamavault) May 29, 2018
2017: College Football Playoff National Championship
Final: Clemson 35, Alabama 31
One year later, the two found themselves in a similar situation with a different — but significantly more thrilling — result. Alabama led 24-14 entering the fourth quarter thanks to strong performances by running back Bo Scarbrough and tight end O.J. Howard. But Clemson scored just 1 minute into the fourth quarter to cut the lead and found the end zone again 10 minutes later to take its first lead of the game. Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts roared back with a 30-yard touchdown run with just around 2 minutes left to put Clemson back down. The Tigers and quarterback Deshaun Watson methodically moved down the field with the assists of spectacular catches by the likes of Mike Williams and eventually landed at Alabama’s 9-yard line with 9 seconds left. A pass interference on the ensuing play moved the ball forward 7 yards, allowing Watson to hit Hunter Renfrow on a rollout for a walk-in 2-yard touchdown. Clemson recovered the onside kick to seal its first national championship of the century.

On This Date: Deshaun Watson found Hunter Renfrow to give @ClemsonFB the title 🏆 pic.twitter.com/G62Vmh0Lqp

— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2019
2018: Sugar Bowl (CFP Semifinal)
Final: Alabama 24, Clemson 6
Not a whole lot of drama in this one with a trip to the CFP National Championship on the line. Clemson was held to just two field goals while Alabama’s defense controlled the game from start to finish. Defensive lineman Daron Payne, who was eventually named the game’s defensive MVP, even had an impact on offense, catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide defense intercepted Clemson QB Kelly Bryant twice, the second of which linebacker Mack Wilson returned 18 yards for a touchdown and the game’s decisive score.

PICK SIX! Mack Wilson (@5mackwilson1) intercepts the Bryant pass and takes it back 17 yards for the score. pic.twitter.com/xdDEC4YU5p

— Allstate Sugar Bowl (@SugarBowlNola) April 10, 2020
2019: College Football Playoff National Championship
Final: Clemson 44, Alabama 16
On paper, this had the makings of an instant classic. A fourth straight postseason showdown between two college football giants with absolutely stacked teams; the starting lineups featured 33 future NFL Draft picks and seven All-Americans. Alabama was at the height of its offensive boom with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa spreading the ball to wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III. Clemson’s defense was historically good, anchored in the middle by a pair of all-star defensive linemen in Christian Watkins and Clelin Ferrell. In reality, the game was a complete rout. Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell got the best of Tagovailoa on a pick six less than 2 minutes into the game. The two went back-and-forth through an explosive first quarter, but Clemson gained a 21-16 lead with just over 11 minutes to play in the second quarter and held Alabama scoreless from there. Future No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence finished the game with 347 yards and three touchdowns, while Tagovailoa threw two interceptions.

03 May

Alabama’s Nate Oats credits advice from Nick Saban, inspirational quotes in team’s run

Nate Oats has led Alabama basketball into uncharted waters. With an Elite Eight win over Clemson in the NCAA Tournament, the Crimson Tide secured a spot in the Final Four for the first time in program history, and they’re just two wins away from claiming an unprecedented national championship.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Oats, who inherited a team that won 20 games just once in seven years prior to his arrival. He failed to reach that mark in two out of his first three years, though that was offset by an SEC championship and a run to the Sweet 16 in Year 2. Through all the highs and lows, Oats has been able to lean on one constant: former Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who retired in January after 17 illustrious years with the university.

Though Oats initially “didn’t want to bother” Saban, he still found ways to pick the longtime coach’s brain.

“I went and watched practices, I sat in on staff meetings, I shadowed him for a day, I went on road trips with him to see how they operated,” Oats said following the Tide’s Elite Eight win. “I tried to learn as much as I could. It never nagged me or bothered me that football was huge at Alabama. I loved it. It’s better for recruiting, it’s better for everything for us. I tried to learn from it.

“I love the fact that he’s still got an office at Bryant-Denny [Stadium],” Oats continued. “I love the fact he’s willing to talk to me. He talked to me before this run. He texted me during the run.”

How Coach Saban was an asset to Coach Nate Oats as he was rebuilding the Alabama basketball program

Nate Oats discusses how he embraces Alabama’s rich tradition in football, he shared some amazing praise for Coach Saban and how Saban helped him build this basketball program… pic.twitter.com/Hdcn1tAFXB

— Ryan C. Fowler (@RyanCFowler) April 1, 2024
Oats’ admiration of Saban began long before Alabama. As the coach at Romulus High School in Detroit, Oats created an Excel document containing tabs for, among other things, inspirational quotes broken down into two subcategories: “regular quotes” and “Saban quotes.”

“Every Saban quote I had, it was lined with them,” Oats said. “And then I got here, I’m like, ‘Should I use them as much as I used to use them?’ Cause he’s actually coaching next door. Is it going to bother our basketball players that I keep using the football coach’s quotes? Well, I still use them. They’re pretty good. I’m still getting more of them and adding them to the list.”

Alabama’s last roadblock to the national title game is top-seeded UConn, the reigning national champions. The Huskies have won each of their last 10 NCAA Tournament games, dating back to last season’s run, by double digits. Tipoff for Saturday’s Final Four game is scheduled for 8:49 p.m. ET.

29 Apr

 Houston, North Carolina lead way-too-early Top 25 And 1 for 2024-25 season

It’s never been more difficult to construct the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 seven months before the start of the next season than it is these days. The transfer portal is full. Massive NIL deals are being offered from coast to coast. John Calipari is changing jobs. There’s a lot going on.

But the uncertainty won’t stop me!

So here is Version 1.0 of the 2024-25 CBS Sports preseason Top 25 And 1, where Houston will start at No. 1 based on the idea that Kelvin Sampson should return his top four scorers — and every rotation player besides Damian Dunn — from a team that won the Big 12 by multiple games and secured a No. 1 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Truth is, as great as Jamal Shead is at this level, he’s not guaranteed to be picked in the 2024 NBA Draft. So, with no great professional options available, the most financially sensible thing the All-American guard could likely do is return to Kelvin Sampson’s program with nice NIL packages.

If he doesn’t, I’ll adjust — just like always.

But, for now at least, Houston is No. 1 in the Top 25 And 1.

As you’ll see below, I’ve omitted both Kentucky and Arkansas — i.e., Calipari’s former school and current school — from Version 1.0 of the Top 25 And 1 because there’s just so much uncertainty in both places. Arkansas has a coach but no team. Kentucky has neither. So, while it’s possible, if not likely, that the Razorbacks and Wildcats will both eventually end up in the Top 25 And 1, right now there’s just nothing solid to base that on, which is why Kentucky and Arkansas are starting on the outside looking in.

What about UConn?

I’ve placed the Huskies at No. 6 in Version 1.0 even though they’re projected to lose four of their top five scorers — everybody except Alex Karaban. Simply put, that’s just me giving Dan Hurley’s program the benefit of the doubt that it’s earned over the past two seasons as back-to-back national champions. Once UConn starts adding pieces via the transfer portal, my assumption is that they’ll slowly move up the Top 25 And 1 throughout this offseason and find themselves in November positioned to possibly three-peat.

29 Apr

Ex-Kentucky coach taking over Razorbacks is ‘imminent’

Kentucky coach John Calipari is expected to sign a contract to become the next coach at Arkansas, sources told CBS Sports. Calipari met with multiple Kentucky athletic administrators Monday afternoon, but UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart was not one of them, a source told CBS Sports. Calipari still has not signed a contract with Arkansas, but on Tuesday, the legendary coach posted a video to social media confirming his departure from Kentucky after 15 seasons leading the Wildcats.

Calipari and power players at Arkansas were involved in serious talks over the weekend, and by Sunday night, the school and Calipari entered into a verbal agreement, according to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. One source said Calipari becoming the Arkansas coach is “imminent” and a deal could could be finalized as soon as Tuesday.

Calipari’s deal is expected to be for five years and pay north of $8 million. The school’s biggest donors are also expected to inject millions more into Arkansas’ NIL collective, potentially putting the program atop the list in the sport for the largest pool of resources.

Sources told Norlander that the family of John Tyson, Arkansas Athletics’ biggest donor, is prepared to make a major commitment to land Calipari and pour millions into the men’s basketball program. Calipari has a longstanding close relationship with the Tyson family.

Calipari has spent the past 15 seasons as the leader of the Wildcats program and would remain in the SEC to succeed Eric Musselman, who took the vacant job at USC earlier this month if he were to accept an offer to become Arkansas’ next coach.

Barnhart told CBS Sports on Sunday night that Calipari had not notified him of talking to Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek about potentially becoming the next Arkansas coach. However, sources said UK officials had been made aware over the weekend through third parties that Calipari was looking into Arkansas and vice versa. The contract terms of Calipari’s deal with Kentucky mandate he must inform Barnhart if he engages with another school about a job interview.

The 65-year-old Calipari took the job at Kentucky in 2009 after spending nine seasons at Memphis. Calipari previously had stops as an assistant coach at Kansas (1982-85) and Pittsburgh (1985-88) and was the head coach at UMass from 1988-96. Calipari dipped his toes into the NBA world and was the coach of the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) from 1996-99 and spent one season as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1999-2000 season.

The news of Calipari talking with Arkansas comes after an annual meeting with Barnhart at the end of each season. The conclusion from that meeting was Calipari would return for his 16th season with the program. The two appeared on local television as a sign of good faith moving forward.

“As we normally do at the end of every season, Coach Calipari and I have had conversations about the direction of our men’s basketball program and I can confirm that he will return for his 16th season as our head coach,” Barnhart said last month.

The Wildcats season ended with a loss to No. 14 seed Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a defeat that enraged the fan base and led to widespread speculation over Calipari’s future with the school. Kentucky failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season with the loss to the Golden Grizzlies. Kentucky missed the tournament in 2021 and lost to Saint Peter’s and Kansas State, respectively the two previous seasons.

In his 15 years at the school, Calipari compiled a 410-122 record with four Final Four appearances (2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015) and coached Kentucky’s last national championship team in 2012.

Calipari is known as one of the best high school recruiters in the country. Kentucky landed the No. 1 overall recruiting class in the 2023 cycle, which included standouts Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham, Justin Edwards, D.J. Wagner, and Aaron Bradshaw.

The Wildcats’ incoming recruiting ranked No. 2 in the country behind Duke. That recruiting class includes five-star center Jayden Quaintance, four-star guard Boogie Fland, four-star center Somto Cyril, four-star guard Travis Perry, four-star guard Billy Richmond, and four-star forward Karter Knox.

Sources told CBS Sports that Calipari’s bargaining with Arkansas included discussions about bringing aboard his freshman class, in addition to widened parameters over how he could recruit the transfer portal.

The Arkansas job opened after Musselman left to replace former USC coach Andy Enfield, who departed for the vacant job at SMU, which fired Rob Lanier after just two seasons. Musselman spent five seasons with Arkansas and helped them reach the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 once during his tenure. Prior to Musselman taking Arkansas to the Sweet 16 in 2021, the school hadn’t made it that far since 1996.

The Razorbacks finished this season with a 16-17 record and (6-12 in SEC) and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time during Musselman’s tenure. Multiple Arkansas players such as Tramon Mark, Khalif Battle, and Davonte Davis have already entered the transfer portal.

29 Apr

Kentucky star Rob Dillingham turning pro after shining in freshman season with Wildcats

Kentucky star Rob Dillingham is entering the 2024 NBA Draft after winning SEC Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, he told ESPN. The 6-foot-2 guard sparked the Wildcats off the bench, helping UK finish with the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense at 89 points per game.

Though Dillingham has a long way to go defensively, the flashes of NBA-caliber offensive acumen came early and often at UK for the Hickory, North Carolina, native. Dillingham averaged 15.2 points in just 23.3 minutes per game and also dished out 3.9 assists per game as he and fellow freshman guard Reed Sheppard brought offensive firepower from outside the starting lineup in coach John Calipari’s 15th and final season at Kentucky.

As a 44.4% 3-point shooter in his lone college season, Dillingham is a long-range threat who also has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break defenders down off the dribble to find his spots inside the arc. Dillingham reached double figures in 27 of 32 games and reached 20 points on eight occasions for the Wildcats and surpassed some of his own teammates in NBA Draft projections during the process.

“It doesn’t matter what pick I am, if I get picked 60th,” Dillingham told ESPN. “I want to go to a team that trusts me and can help me build, and I can build with them, and make me better. I just want to help my team win, and they can develop me and teach me things.”

Robert Dillingham’s NBA Draft projection
Given Dillingham’s offensive upside and the relatively weak nature of the top of the 2024 NBA Draft class, Dillingham will have a chance to rise up the board. Dillingham is slotted at No. 1 in the 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings from CBS Sports, and he landed at No. 2 in a recent mock draft from Kyle Boone.

“Despite coming off the bench the majority of the season for Kentucky, Dillingham flashed shades of Kyrie Irving with his twitchy ability and brilliant ball-handling skills,” Boone wrote. “He can take over games when he’s hot and has the athletic pop to grow into a potent two-way player.”

Defense will be the biggest issue for Dillingham early in his career until he adds strength. But as a natural scorer with a deep bag of tricks on the offensive end, it’s easy to envision Dillingham blooming into an All-Star caliber guard.

Impact on Kentucky
Even if Calipari had remained at Kentucky for the 2024-25 season, the likelihood of getting Dillingham back was virtually nonexistent. With a chance to be one of the first players selected in the NBA Draft, Dillingham is making the correct and long-expected decision to turn pro. Whoever winds up replacing Calipari will likely be building a roster from scratch as the transfer portal and draft lure most of the program’s 2023-24 roster away. Kentucky’s highly touted recruiting class is also at risk of disintegrating, which means UK’s next team is likely to be a transfer-heavy group.

29 Apr

Ex-Kentucky coach agrees to five-year deal with salary starting at $7 million

Arkansas has hired Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, who announced Tuesday in a video posted to social media that he was stepping away from Kentucky after 15 seasons with the program. Calipari replaces Eric Musselman, who made a surprising move of his own from the Razorbacks to USC.

Calipari’s contract is for five years and starts at $7 million per season, per Arkansas, and features a maximum of two automatic rollover years for NCAA Tournament appearances that would extend him through 2031. Incentives include a $1 million signing bonus, $500,000 retention bonuses annually, and additional bonuses for making the NCAA Tournament and advancing through each round.

“As I visited with Coach Calipari during this process, he acknowledged the tremendous opportunity we have at the University of Arkansas to attract and retain top players and compete for championships,” Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “He understands the deep passion of the Razorback Nation and has experienced the tremendous home court advantage of Bud Walton Arena. I have no doubt that under Coach Calipari’s leadership and with the collective support of all those who love the Hogs, Razorback Basketball will continue to maintain its national prominence within college basketball.”

Calipari said in a video statement Tuesday that he felt it was time to “completely” detach from the Wildcats program for another opportunity — presumably, at the time, with the Razorbacks.

“The last few weeks, we have come to realize this program probably needs to hear another voice,” Calipari said. “That the university as a whole has to have another voice giving guidance about this program. The fans need to hear another voice. We think it’s time for us to step away and step away completely from the program. There have been opportunities presented to us and we are discussing them as a family.”

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart also released a statement on social media, just minutes after Calipari posted his video to social media,

“We’re appreciative of John Calipari leading our program for the last 15 years, adding to the legacy of championship success at Kentucky,” Barnhart’s statement read. “We’re grateful to John for his many contributions to the University, and our state, both on and off the court. We are working diligently to hire a proven, highly dedicated coach who embraces the importance of this program to our fans and the state of Kentucky.”

A message to #BBN: pic.twitter.com/TG344ipTfZ

— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) April 9, 2024
Calipari spent the past 15 seasons as the leader of the Wildcats program. If he accepts Arkansas’ reported offer, he would remain in the SEC to succeed Eric Musselman, who took the vacant job at USC earlier this month.

The 65-year-old Calipari took the job at Kentucky in 2009 after spending nine seasons at Memphis. Calipari previously had stops as an assistant coach at Kansas (1982-85) and Pittsburgh (1985-88) and was the head coach at UMass from 1988-96. Calipari dipped his toes into the NBA world, coaching the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) from 1996-99 and spending one season as an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1999-2000 season.

29 Apr

USC PG Isaiah Collier plans to turn pro after freshman year with the Trojans

USC guard Isaiah Collier is entering the NBA Draft, he announced on Wednesday. 247Sports’ No. 2 overall recruit in the 2023 class earned a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team but had an up-and-down season as his team failed to meet lofty expectations.

Collier averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 26 games. He missed most of January due to a hand injury suffered against Washington State. He would return for USC’s final 11 games, flashing his five-star talent with a handful of standout performances.

At 6-foot-5, Collier projects as a true point guard at the next level who can facilitate the offense and attack the basket downhill with authority. One of Collier’s elite traits on the AAU circuit was his passing ability. After struggling with turnovers through the first month of his college career, Collier improved down the stretch.

Isaiah Collier’s NBA Draft projection
Although Collier’s draft stock has fallen slightly, he still projects as a lottery pick. The USC star consistently showed his ability to penetrate and spray the ball out to the corner. Collier’s 4.3 assists per game could’ve been much higher if his teammates connected on their shots at a higher clip.

He ranks No. 12 in CBS Sports’ 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings. Collier landed at No. 13 in a recent mock draft from Kyle Boone and No. 9 in Gary Parrish’s most recent mock draft.

“Since returning from injury earlier this season, Collier helped breathe life into USC’s once-dead season and impressed with his competitive nature on a Trojans team whose NCAA Tournament hopes were nil,” Boone wrote. He’s a grinder who gets downhill in a hurry and an electric combo guard with room to develop into a two-way starting NBA guard.”

Impact on USC
Collier’s departure coupled with Bronny James’ and Kobe Johnson’s decision to enter the transfer portal means USC coach Eric Musselman will have to retool the roster. The Trojans’ 15th-ranked recruiting class dissolved after former coach Andy Enfield departed Southern California for the vacant job at SMU.

The headliner from the 2024 recruiting class was four-star guard Trent Perry. The Southern California native requested his release from his National Letter of Intent and will explore his options before making a final decision. Musselman is one of the best high school and transfer portal recruiters in the country, but his skills will be tested as he looks to quickly replenish a depleted Trojans roster.

29 Apr

Marquette’s Tyler Kolek turns pro after starring for Golden Eagles

Marquette star Tyler Kolek is forgoing his final season of college eligibility and entering the NBA Draft, he announced Wednesday. Kolek started 99 games for the Golden Eagles over the past three seasons while emerging as a foundational piece for the program’s revitalization under coach Shaka Smart.

The 6-foot-3 guard began his career at George Mason in the 2020-21 season and could have played another season of college basketball because of the extra year of eligibility provided to players amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But after establishing himself as one of the nation’s top point guards, Kolek is headed on to the game’s biggest stage.

“While I may be moving on to the next chapter of my basketball career, I will always cherish the memories and lessons from my time in Milwaukee and take tremendous pride in representing this special basketball program at the highest level moving forward,” Kole wrote in a social media post announcing his decision.

Kolek averaged 15.3 points and 7.7 assists per game while shooting 38.8% from 3-point range in the 2023-24 season. He was a CBS Sports second-team All-American each of the past two seasons and Big East Player of the Year in the 2022-23 season.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation for everyone who has been a part of my journey at Marquette,” Kolek wrote. “These past three years have exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations while allowing me to build relationships that have changed my life.”

Tyler Kolek’s NBA Draft projection
Kolek ranks No. 35 in the 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings from CBS Sports. He landed at No. 27 in a recent mock draft from Kyle Boone.

“Coming back from an oblique injury, Kolek returned to his regular self in a big NCAA Tournament run for Marquette that ended in the Sweet 16,” Boone wrote. “He averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 assists per game in the Big Dance and showed off the passing instincts and scoring that made him the most exciting point guard in the sport this season.”

Kolek went at No. 30 in Gary Parrish’s most recent mock draft.

“Kolek has some obvious issues as an NBA prospect, most notably a lack of athleticism relative to what’s desired from lead guards,” Parrish wrote. “Still, at 6-3, Kolek is adequately sized for his position, terrific in pick-and-rolls, an A-plus passer and a reliable 3-point shooter. If you focus on what he can do instead of his perceived deficiencies, what you’ll see is a reigning Big East Player of the Year who is skilled enough to stick in the NBA for many years.”

Impact on Marquette
Kolek missed six games covering the end of the regular season and the Big East Tournament. The Golden Eagles went 3-3 in those contests, which was not surprising. Kolek was the quintessential floor general for Smart’s club, and he will be missed. The good news is that leading scorer Kam Jones is expected to return next season. The 6-foot-4 guard could easily play with the ball in his hands more often and should help the Golden Eagles avoid a crippling drop-off in backcourt play. Stevie Mitchell and Sean Jones are also veteran guards with eligibility remaining who could collectively help Marquette cope with Kolek’s departure.