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Starting Five: Storm clouds continue to loom over NCAA

The college basketball world has been walking on eggshells for the past few months in the wake of the FBI's initial bust that led ti 10 individuals being arrested, the firings of four assistant coaches and the ouster of Rick Pitino at Louisville. This week’s Starting Five would not be relevant without touching on the various dimensions of this week’s revelations (which were led by Pete Thamel and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports). We also discuss Kansas’ Big 12 dominance and the continued ascensions of Virginia Tech and Texas Tech.

RANKINGS: 2018 Rivals150 | 2019 Rivals150 | 2020 Rivals150 | 2018 Team | 2018 Position

NCAA CLOUD LINGERS 

The sport’s event of the year, the NCAA Tournament, is supposed to be a time of enjoyment for everyone in the industry and a time when the casual observer obsesses over who wins and loses so they can champion themselves as winners of their bracket pools. Instead, the ongoing investigation into the sport continues to unravel, unveiling all that has gone wrong in the industry when it comes to recruiting.

In the coming days, a number of programs will punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, and some of those have been spotted on the recent reports. While Kentucky, Duke, Alabama, USC and a slew of others have done their best to vet the situation before clearing the prospects included in the reports, all it takes is one minor snippet of information to be revealed before aspirations of March dominance are totally eradicated.

The college basketball world is on new ground and no one can forecast what is coming. With the sport’s grandiose stage just weeks away, a new type of uncertainty has emerged - with no clear end in sight.

TROUBLE IN THE DESERT 

Many other programs included in the recent revelations are facing perplexing situations, but issues at Arizona trump all others. The problems in the desert began Thursday with the suspension of second-leading scorer Alonzo Trier after a small trace of the steroid Ostarine was found in his system.

The issues pertaining to Trier were just the tip of the iceberg, however. A Friday report by ESPN brought to light Sean Miller’s alleged knowledge of a $100,000 payment that would help in securing the commitment of All-American big man DeAndre Ayton. This all comes down after Miller had said in the fall that he knew nothing of the matter that led to the arrest and firing of long-time assistant Emmanuel Richardson.

Where do the Wildcats go from here? Arizona is now without Trier and Miller will likely never coach another game at Arizona. Ayton, though he remains in uniform, continues to have his own eligibility in question. To make matters worse, the Wildcats' top 2018 pledge, Shareef O’Neal, decommitted Saturday.

Many thought that the firing of legendary head coach Rick Pitino was the hit that would rock the sport. Instead, it was the appetizer to what might unfold this spring: the transformation of the sport as a whole, with a blueblood program in Arizona being rocked to its core during a time when it could have achieved its first Final Four berth since 2001.

WILL THE STREAK EVER END? 

Kansas players celebrate their win over Texas Tech.
Kansas players celebrate their win over Texas Tech. (AP Images)

You can go ahead and begin the engraving. Barring a major breakdown, Kansas will win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title for the 14th consecutive season, thanks to its win on Saturday over Texas Tech. This comes during a season in which Bill Self has gone away from his typical playing style. Instead, he has relied upon a four-guard offense due to a very thin frontcourt. Could this be the best coaching job of Self’s career? In a year that the Big 12 may be as deep as it has ever been, and Kansas sports a roster that does not boast at least one can’t-miss NBA prospect, it sure looks that way.

Devonte Graham will graduate in the spring, joined by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman could follow the two standout perimeter producers out the door. However, the talent coming in is even better, with transfers K.J. Lawson, Dedric Lawson, and Charlie Moore becoming eligible, and the enrollments of top 50 seniors David McCormack, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson.

The early portion of next season may be a little rocky with so many new faces needing to be acclimated in Self’s system, but with the talent that will be on Kansas' roster other Big 12 teams may have missed their best shot to end KU’s Big 12 reign.

VIRGINIA TECH NEARS NEW TERRITORY

When causal sports fans think of Virginia Tech, they might first think of Hokies football and the consistent success the team has enjoyed for 20 years. While the pigskin may still reign supreme in Blacksburg, what Buzz Williams has done during his time there is impressive.

Williams enjoyed great success at Marquette, taking over where Tom Crean had left things and pushing the program to great heights off of the backs of blue-collared wings such as Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler. Making what seemed to be a head-scratching decision to take over at Virginia Tech four years ago, Williams immediately transformed the program into a consistent NCAA Tournament contender. Despite losing to Louisville on Saturday, the Hokies are on the cusp of consecutive tournament berths, a first for the program since the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

Not only that, but the best might still be ahead. The Hokies will bring back most of their core next season and will enroll a four-star, top-75 scoring wing in Landers Nolley. Saturday, they hosted five-star 2019 forward Christian Brown. And as they hope to secure an NCAA Tournament spot with a home win over Duke, the Hokies will host five-star center Armando Bacot, Rivals150 juniors Greg Gantt and Josh Nickelberry, along with Au’Diese Toney, Mekhi Long, Mahamadou Diawara and Nolley.

TEXAS TECH REMAINS AMONG THE BIG 12 ELITE 

Keenan Evans
Keenan Evans (AP Images)

The fact that ESPN’s "College GameDay" would even select Texas Tech as the place to be on the last Saturday in February says a lot about just how far the program has come in recent years. The Red Raiders are no longer basement dwellers in the league. Instead, they reside among the conference’s elite. While Texas Tech missed on the chance to secure the Big 12 regular season title Saturday, the Red Raiders are no longer just a feel-good story. They could cause a major ruckus for years to come.

Thanks to the tremendous play of Keenan Evans and an elite defensive unit, the future remains as bright as ever, even though the Red Raiders have stumbled of late. United Supermarkets Arena was absolutely bonkers on Saturday, displaying the type of atmosphere that should be an easy sell for Chris Beard and his staff in luring Rivals150 prospects to campus.

One of those prospects is Khavon Moore, a top-50 wing and one of the best available seniors, who was taking an official visit to the Big 12 program this weekend. By all accounts, the 48 hours spent in Lubbock went very well. Moore will visit Oklahoma next weekend, and he has already been to Florida and Mercer, although the Gators are no longer in the picture.

Texas Tech may be in a prime spot for Moore’s commitment. Regardless, Beard looks to have the program in the best position that it has been since Bobby Knight was roaming the sidelines 10 years ago.