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May 28, 2008

North Carolina hoping for happy returns

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
May 21: What about Rice?
May 14: Building Bulldogs
May 7: Chance to rise

No program is facing more uncertainty before the June 16 deadline for players to withdraw from the NBA Draft than North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have three players who have entered the draft but have not signed with agents: guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and forward Danny Green. UCLA is the only other school with three players who fall in the same category, but guard Russell Westbrook, who is projected as a top-15 pick, is expected to leave for good.

The futures of Lawson, Ellington and Green, who combined to average 40.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 9.2 assists on a Tar Heels team that won 36 games and reached the Final Four last season, appear much more uncertain. Of those three, who should leave? Who should stay?

Those questions are answered in this week's mailbag, along with inquiries about Tennessee's Final Four potential, whether new Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis can turn his career around, if the NCAA or NBA will start cracking down on AAU basketball and if there is any truth to the reports of Memphis possibly joining the Big East.

Staying or going?

North Carolina has three players entering the draft who have not signed with agents guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and forward Danny Green. Who should leave and who should come back?

Josh from Asheville, N.C.

You can make a case for all three staying in school. None is a first-round lock, meaning each could be playing in the NBDL or overseas next season (only first-round picks are guaranteed contracts), and next year's draft looks much weaker. Plus, with 2007-08 national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough sticking around Chapel Hill, each could come back and make a run at the national title.

Of the three, I think Lawson has the best case for leaving. Unlike Green and Ellington, who had breakthrough-type years last season, Lawson has two good seasons in the ACC on his resume. More important, his stock won't get much higher than it is now. At 5 feet 11, he never will be taken in the lottery. When you are that short, why not take advantage after coming off a good season?

Green (6-5) and Ellington (6-4) have the size to play in the NBA, but each can improve his draft stock. Green needs to show he can put the ball on the floor and create his shot. Ellington needs to show he can attack off the dribble and finish around the basket with more regularity.

Orange optimism

With a great signing class and the return of Tyler Smith and J.P. Prince, do you see Tennessee possibly making a Final Four run?

D.J. Naylro from Marion, Miss.

Smith's decision to stay in school he was projected as a first-round pick makes Tennessee the favorite again in the SEC and a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four. Despite the departure of guards Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith and center Duke Crews getting booted off the team, the Vols still have a good blend of talent and experience.

They are adding five-star shooting guard Scotty Hopson, a future NBA player who probably will start in the season opener. Prince, a former five-star recruit who was the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year this past season, certainly has the ability to play a bigger role. Power forward Wayne Chism will be a three-year starter, and the versatile Smith arguably is the best returning player in the SEC.

But I think you'll probably see the Vols get stopped in the Sweet 16 again, possibly even earlier. That's largely because the point guard position remains a big question mark. Five days after saying goodbye to Ramar Smith earlier this month, the Vols signed junior college point guard Bobby Maze, who played his freshman season at Oklahoma. The other options are true freshman Daniel West, who was not ranked among the top 150 prospects in the 2008 class, and Prince, who isn't a good ballhandler or decision-maker.

One of those guys - or a combination - could prove to be the answer and bring some stability at point guard, but that most likely won't happen. With so much uncertainty surrounding such an important position, it's hard for me to believe the Vols are Final Four-bound.

Welcome back

Will Mike Jarvis get his career back on track on at Florida Atlantic?

Andy from Boca Raton, Fla.

I think so. FAU is a tough place to win. Just ask their last two coaches (Matt Doherty and Rex Walters), who left after short stays for coaching jobs at SMU and San Francisco, respectively, moves that didn't exactly boost the program's image.

But Jarvis is much better than your average coach. He has taken three programs (Boston University, George Washington and St. John's) to the NCAA Tournament. That doesn't happen unless you can evaluate talent, break down X's and O's and find ways to motivate a variety of players. That's why schools such as FAU are willing to take a second chance on a guy like Jarvis, who has some baggage.

Jarvis also is arriving at FAU at the right time. The Owls will return five of their top six scorers from a 15-18 team, provided guard Paul Graham pulls out of the draft as expected. That group includes big man Carlos Monroe, who is arguably is the best returning player in the Sun Belt Conference.

That league also is more wide open than it has been in several seasons. Perennial favorite Western Kentucky is losing its top two players. The same goes for 2008 NCAA Tournament participant South Alabama.

Changes needed?

It seems as if the AAU is at the root of the evil lurking around college recruiting. Do you see the NCAA, National High School Association and/or the NBA coming in and putting some curbs on the AAU? Maybe limit the amount of AAU games a student-athlete can participate in?

Noren from St. Louis

I doubt it. The rise in popularity of AAU basketball has made recruiting a lot more convenient for college coaches in many ways. Coaches can travel to several tournaments in the spring and summer and see many of the nation's top prospects compete with and against one another in a handful of games over a two-day period. It also offers the chance to see a bigger pool of prospects from around the country.

That's a big change from two decades ago, when coaches would travel to a player's high school to see him play one game, often against an opponent full of players who wouldn't reach the college level.

I'm sure coaches and high school organizations would like to see some changes made in AAU, particularly when it comes to some of the coaches involved. However, figuring out how to police it and getting everyone to agree on specific rules would be a daunting task, to say the least.

Memphis moving?

I read that Memphis is trying to join the Big East. Do you think that could really happen?

Jeff from Memphis, Tenn.

There was a recent report from a Memphis TV station saying that the Tigers were "in serious talks" to join the Big East. While Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson said he hasn't had any meetings with the Big East, he didn't deny there has been contact.

I think this is a situation where since there is smoke, there probably is a little fire. Memphis obviously would love to join a "Big Six" conference, and the Big East makes the most sense of the six possible options.

I've read that the Big East won't add another program since it already has 16 basketball-playing schools. But would it be that tough to make room for one more? I have to think it's a lot easier to make the leap from 16 to 17 than, say, 12 to 13, which is what it would take for the ACC, Big 12 or SEC to add Memphis.

That Memphis plays Division I-A football where there is more money to be made should appeal to the Big East as well. Currently the conference has only eight football schools, the fewest among the "Big Six" conferences.

It also makes sense geographically since the Big East is so spread out and Memphis is one market in which it doesn't have any presence.

I'm not ready to predict that Memphis will join the Big East, but if the Tigers do switch conferences in the next couple of years, expect the Big East to be their next home.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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