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Conference preview: Northeast Conference still LIU’s world

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Long Island might’ve been the luckiest team in college basketball this offseason. Four players were involved in an on-campus brawl that ended with all players being charged with third-degree assault. They included the team’s top three scorers — last year’s conference Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd, Jamal Olsawere and C.J. Garner. Fortunately, the charges only resulted in a two-game, conference play suspension for all of them. With that, they should be primed to repeat as conference champions.

Behind them, Wagner lost coach Dan Hurley, but new head man Bashir Mason gets four starters back, including leading scorer Latif Rivers (14.6 points per game) and forward Jonathon Williams (13.4 points, five rebounds per game). Robert Morris might’ve been one the most neglected 20-win teams in 2011-12 en route to a 26-11 record, including a 13-5 mark in NEC play. The Colonials get four of their starters back, including first-team all-conference guard Velton Jones. Quinnipiac could be in for its best season in school history after 18 wins last season and Ike Azotam returning. Expect Sacred Heart to make an impact with four starters coming back, including first-team All-NEC pick Shance Gibson and his 22 ppg last season, fourth in the country. Glenn Braica and the St. Francis (N.Y.) Terriers will get back guard Shane Calloway after a season-ending injury in 2011-12 and Monmouth is hoping to bounce back from a 20-loss season behind Jesse Steele (12.6 ppg) and five returning scorers.

Kyle Vinales is pretty much the only ray of light for a Central Connecticut State team that lost a lot of offensive firepower with the graduation of Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek. But Vinales led all freshman in the nation in scoring last season. Mt. St. Mary’s is hoping for new life under new head coach Jamion Christian while St. Francis (Pa.) is looking for more than the six wins they had last season under new coach Robbie Krimmel. Bryant lost 28 games last season, so there’s nowhere to go but up, really, behind forward Alex Francis (17 ppg, 7 rpg in 2011-12) and Frankie Dobbs’ 13.3 ppg. Fairleigh Dickinson is coming off the worst record in school history — 3-26 — and gets back only Lonnie Hays, from injury.

All-Conference Team

G: Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart

G: Velton Jones, Robert Morris

G: Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State

F: Jamal Olaswere, LIU

F: Julian Boyd, LIU*

*-Player of the Year

Predicted Finish

1.) LIU

2.) Wagner

3.) Quinnipiac

4.) Robert Morris

5.) St. Francis (N.Y.)

6.) Sacred Heart

7.) Monmouth

8.) Central Connecticut State

9.) St. Francis (Pa.)

10.) Mt. St. Mary’s

11.) Bryant

12.) Farleigh Dickinson

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.

Duke’s Azura Stevens transfers to UConn

Duke's Azura Stevens (11) steals the ball from North Carolina A&T's Kenya Hailey, right, as Duke's Ka'lia Johnson watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Durham, N.C. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.

Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.

She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.