February 24, 2022 

ACC notebook: UNC in wait-and-see mode with Littlefield’s fifth year

'There’s no secret that Carlie and Jaelynn are two of the more impactful human beings I’ve ever been around', Banghart said

The past few days have been difficult for Courtney Banghart.

“I’ve been a complete mess all week,” the third-year UNC head coach said Wednesday. “And I’m not usually like that.”

Banghart’s not emotional because of how the Tar Heels are playing. Things are going incredibly well for North Carolina with just two regular-season games left. UNC was ranked No. 18 in Monday’s AP Poll, its highest ranking in seven seasons, and Banghart’s side is in a position to potentially get a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and host games in the NCAA Tournament.

But one of those final two regular-season games – Sunday at home against rival Duke – is the Tar Heels’ Senior Day. So, Banghart is preparing herself for this postseason being the last time she’ll coach Jaelynn Murray and Carlie Littlefield.

“There’s no secret that Carlie and Jaelynn are two of the more impactful human beings I’ve ever been around,” Banghart said. “I’ve always loved watching Carlie play basketball, and being around Jaelynn has made me a better person. Just the thought of our journeys ending in a significant way is too much.”

However, Littlefield wants to keep playing college basketball, and Banghart absolutely wants her back. Whether or not Littlefield will be on the court wearing Carolina blue next season is up to the NCAA.

“She’s going to try,” Banghart said. “The NCAA hasn’t made that decision… The Ivy League really got a bad deal. I feel for her as everyone’s posting these videos like, ‘I’m coming back for my fifth year,’ and she didn’t get that opportunity – yet – by the NCAA.

“So, we’re going to give her a senior night and we hope that, like her and I do, we run things back. But we’re not sure yet.”

Littlefield is in this position because she last played at Princeton, where Banghart previously coached her for two seasons. While most women’s college basketball teams played games last season, the Ivy League didn’t. So, Littlefield wrapped up her studies at Princeton and transferred to North Carolina this past summer as a graduate transfer. Littlefield has logged five years of classroom time in college but only four years on the court.

Technically, if Littlefield played in the 2020-21 season, this campaign at UNC would be her extra fifth season of basketball. This is because the NCAA didn’t count the 2020-21 season toward eligibility clocks. But because the Ivy League canceled its season, Littlefield never played anyway. So, she’s in a bit of a limbo.

Indeed, it’s all a little confusing, which is why it’s unclear how the NCAA will rule. The bottom line is Ivy League players should get that fifth year of eligibility too.

Littlefield has brought a veteran boost to a Tar Heels team largely powered by sophomores. She’s started all 26 games, is third on the team in three-pointers made and leads the team in assists.

If this is the last run for Littlefield, Banghart hopes it’ll end on a high note – and with some first-round NCAA tournament games being played at Carmichael Arena.

“I just hope that, honestly, the people that are making the decisions about where this NCAA Tournament is played, that they’re taking into consideration this year – not last year, not five years ago, not the brand, but the work that went into this year,” Banghart said. “Because that’s what the tournament is each year. It’s a unique tournament that represents the year of work.”

Miles ineligible for ACC FOY

Olivia Miles is a freshman. However, the Notre Dame point guard will not be eligible to win the ACC’s Freshman of the Year award, nor will she be eligible to earn a spot on the conference’s All-Freshman Team.

That’s because Miles joined Notre Dame as an early enrollee last season and played in six games. Because of the NCAA’s COVID-era ruling, those six games didn’t count toward Miles’ eligibility clock.

But, according to a spokesperson for the conference, “any student-athlete that played in a game last season is not eligible for” freshman awards.

Miles is second in the nation in assists this season, with a total of 184 and 7.1 per game. She’s also averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.2% from the floor. Miles and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark are – according to Her Hoop Stats – the only players in the country averaging at least 13 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.

Liz ain’t leaving Louisville

Last week, Louisville senior Liz Dixon announced that she will return to Louisville next season for her fifth and final year of eligibility. Dixon joins fellow seniors Mykasa Robinson and Ahlana Smith as returning fifth-year players for the Cardinals in the 2022-23 season. Often the first post player off the bench for Louisville, Dixon averages 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game.

“My goals of finishing my degree in business and playing professionally are stronger than ever,” Dixon said. “Most importantly, I want to continue to help my team pursue an ACC and national championship.”

Dixon began her career at Georgia Tech, where she was an All-ACC Freshman Team selection in the 2018-19 season.

Emily Engstler and Kianna Smith were honored on Louisville’s senior day and have indicated that they will pass on taking a fifth year of eligibility. Chelsie Hall, who transferred in from Vanderbilt, is out of eligibility.

Engstler – a front-runner for the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award – is projected by many to be a top 15 pick. She told the Louisville Courier-Journal that she’s “80-20” on leaving vs. staying in college.

“I would have to really screw up these next games and drop my stock,” Engstler said. “I love Louisville. I wish I had more time here, actually. (But) I think I’m over my college four years. I don’t really want a master’s degree right now. I’m ready to go out and be a professional.”

Littlefield
Emily Engstler chats with Louisville coach Jeff Walz during the Cardinals’ game at North Carolina on Feb. 17, 2022. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

Notes

  • Louisville’s win over Virginia Tech on Sunday gave the Cardinals a 14-0 home record this season, completing their first undefeated regular season homestand in program history. Engstler had 19 points, 15 rebounds and three steals, while Hailey Van Lith added 20 points. Additionally, junior guard Norika Konno rejoined the team’s bench. She had been out since mid-January with an undisclosed illness.
  • Pitt has used nine different starting lineups through 16 ACC games, the most lineup combinations in the conference.
  • Aisha Sheppard is now Virginia Tech’s all-time leading scorer. Against Louisville on Sunday, the fifth-year guard scored her 1,792nd point, passing Renee Dennis, who graduated in 1987.
  • In its win over Syracuse, both Elissa Cunane and Jakia Brown-Turner has season high in assists – four and six, respectively – and didn’t turn the ball over once in a combined 46 minutes of play.
  • The ACC announced last week that the Notre Dame at Virginia game – originally postponed from Jan. 25, and set to be rescheduled for Feb. 22 – will not take place. And instead result in a Virginia forfeit. It’s the second ACC game Virginia has forfeited this season.

Written by Mitchell Northam

Leave a Comment