Thanks to a surprising decision by the NCAA two days before the start of the new college basketball season, the ACC may have a program capable of challenging the Tobacco Road trio atop the conference this year.
Maryland announced Wednesday the NCAA has approved the waiver appeal for Dez Wells, making the highly touted Xavier transfer eligible this season. Wells left Xavier in August after being expelled amid sexual assault allegations later deemed unworthy of prosecution by a grand jury.
"At the end of the day, the NCAA made the right decision," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. "Our staff did an incredible job in putting this NCAA waiver appeal together on Dez's behalf. Dez has been a welcomed addition, a great teammate, and has made a seamless transition in getting acclimated to our campus. This has been a long process for him and his family, and we're grateful he can put it behind him."
The immediate addition of Wells accelerates Maryland's rebuilding process under Turgeon. Instead of a fringe NCAA tournament contender hoping to finish in the upper half of the ACC, the Terrapins now appear to have the firepower to become the most worthy challenger to league title favorites North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke.
Wells, a 6-5 sophomore, started 32 games as a freshman at Xavier last year and averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds on a veteran team, earning Atlantic 10 freshman of the year honors. He would have been the obvious choice to assume the role of go-to scorer for the Musketeers next season after the departure of Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease.
Maryland's backcourt will have an enviable amount of talent this season with Pe'Shon Howard returning from injury at point guard and Wells and promising sophomore Nick Faust at wing. Throw in potential star Alex Len at center and a strong, frontcourt-heavy freshman class, and the Terps have all the pieces necessary to end a two-year NCAA tournament drought and return to national relevancy.
What's surprising about the NCAA granting Wells' waiver request is that the organization was willing to set the precedent of allowing a transfer expelled by his former school to play immediately at his new one. If other athletes are expelled from school but not charged with crimes, will they be granted the same opportunity?
At the same time, it's hard not to feel good for Wells, a kid who even prosecutors felt got a raw deal at Xavier. Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters urged the university to "revisit" its decision to expel Wells, telling told WLW-AM 700 in Cincinnati that it was "fundamentally unfair" Xavier expelled Wells and denied his appeal without allowing the legal process to first play out.
So while the NCAA's decision was surprising because of the precedent set, perhaps it was also just. And the best part for Maryland fans is they won't have to wait long to see Wells make his debut.
The Terps open the season Friday night against defending national champion Kentucky. Suddenly that's a matchup that just became far more intriguing.