Conference Preview: Youth vs. Experience in the SoCon

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Throughout the month of October (and part of November), 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.

These are the times that try institutions of higher learning’s souls. As the power conferences jockey for supremacy in football, realignment has opened up power vacuums in basketball conferences across the land. The CAA is losing three contenders to other leagues, so they’re looking to survive the torpedoing by calling in reinforcements from the USS SoCon. Davidson has said “no.” College of Charleston has said “let’s talk about it.” Some even think Elon and/or Appy State may jump ship, tie a square knot, or do some other important nautical thing demanded by this tortured metaphor.

In the meantime, all three programs are currently hanging around the upper echelons of the Southern Conference. Davidson, now several years removed from the Steph Curry ascendancy, looks to prove that team basketball and wily coaching can take them just as far as star power. Forward De’Mon Brooks is the linchpin, and he proved his worth last season in upset non-conference wins over Richmond and Kansas. Ace ballhandler Nik Cochran will keep the offense moving, and 6’10” senior Jake Cohen will do the dirty work in and around the half circle on both ends of the floor. Those three key pieces should keep the Wildcats in the hunt for the regular season crown throughout the season.

Charleston, led by British Olympian Andrew Lawrence, is expected to come in second to Davidson in the SoCon’s South division. The true threat to snatch the auto-bid is more likely to come from UNC-Greensboro, a team whose head coach – former Chapel Hill hardcourt standout Wes Miller – is just a few years older than his fourth-year players. Miller somehow won 13 games after a 2-14 start as an interim placeholder last season, and his ability to keep leading scorer Trevis Simpson in the fold and build a decent nucleus around him has the Spartans on track to win the North division. Elon and Western Carolina are nipping at Greensboro’s heels.

Will the Big Dance invite go to the grizzled veteran, Bob McKillop, or will tyro Wes Miller gain the upper hand? Will a wild-card emerge and deny them both? That’s what makes the SoCon season so much fun.

All Conference Team (*denotes Player of the Year)

G Trevis Simpson (Greensboro)

G Andrew Lawrence (Charleston)

F De’Mon Brooks (Davidson)*

F Trent Wiedeman (Charleston)

C Jake Cohen (Davidson)

Predicted Standings

1. Davidson

2. Greensboro

3. Charleston

4. Elon

5. Western Carolina

6. Appalachian State

7. Georgia Southern

8. Wofford

9. Furman

10. Chattanooga

11. Samford

12. The Citadel

(photo: Wes Miller/AP; Bob McKillop/Getty)

McDuffie leads No. 13 Wichita State past SMU 84-78

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DALLAS — Markis McDuffie scored a season-high 26 points off the bench, including nine during the first four minutes of the second half, to lead No. 13 Wichita State to an 84-78 win over SMU on Saturday.

The Shockers (23-5, 13-3 American Athletic Conference) have won six straight games and are one-half game behind first-place Cincinnati. Wichita State will host Cincinnati on March 4 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

SMU (16-13, 6-10) lost for the sixth time in seven games since leading scorer Shake Milton (18 points per game) was sidelined with a hand injury.

McDuffie added to Wichita State’s 37-35 halftime lead on the first possession of the second half with a midcourt steal leading to a three-point play. A 10-1 run put the Shockers ahead 56-43 with 12:18 to play, and they led by as many as 17 points.

McDuffie, a junior forward, led Wichita State in scoring last season but missed this season’s first 11 games because of a stress fracture. He has primarily been a reserve since returning.

Jahmal McMurray led SMU with 28 points. McMurray has topped the Mustangs in scoring in five of the past six games.

Shaquille Morris had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Wichita State. Landry Shamet returned after missing the Shockers’ previous game because of illness and scored 10 points in 27 minutes, playing only eight first-half minutes because of foul trouble.

Because of injuries and NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations, SMU played with seven scholarship players on Saturday and has had seven or fewer during its past seven games.

Wichita State failed to pull away during the first half despite a 21-12 rebounding advantage. The Mustangs shot 45.4 percent during the half and the Shockers 41.4 percent, both hitting six 3-pointers.

Wichita State got even for one of its two home losses this season, 83-78 on Jan. 17.

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers are 8-2 in true road games this season with one to play. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, they lead Division I in road wins (48) and road winning percentage (.857). They avoided a conference opponent’s sweep of a two-game season series for the first time since 2012-13 (Evansville, Missouri Valley).

SMU: The Mustangs opened the season 12-3, including wins over then-No. 2 Arizona and then-No. 14 USC, but have since gone 4-10. SMU will finish with a losing league record after winning the AAC last season at 17-1.

UP NEXT

Wichita State will visit UCF on Thursday.

SMU hosts Houston in its final home season of the season on Wednesday.

Shareef O’Neal decommits from Arizona

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Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, has decommitted from Arizona following the latest in the FBI scandal.

Considered a five-star prospect on Rivals, the 6-foot-9 Shareef becomes one of the best available prospects in the country in the Class of 2018.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller was reportedly caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of freshman Deandre Ayton. The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, who is a focal point in the FBI’s investigation.

Recruiting has taken a major hit for Arizona over the last several months as the program lost five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly and now O’Neal due to scandal.

Sean Miller’s contract with Arizona pays him $5 million more if he’s fired for cause

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Following a bombshell report from ESPN on Friday night that Sean Miller is caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for superstar recruit Deandre Ayton, the Arizona head coach will not be coaching the Wildcats on Saturday night when they play at Oregon.

It seems as if Miller’s tenure in Tucson is coming to an end, which puts the University into a weird position. According to ESPN, the way that Miller’s contract is written, if he is fired for cause, he will receive twice as much money in a buyout — $10.3 million vs. $5.15 million — as he would receive if he was not fired for cause.

The reason for this?

According to Forbes, it appears to simply be a mistake that was made by Arizona when drafting the contract. In a section titled “Termination by University Without Cause; Liquidated Damages”, the contract states clearly that he’ll be entitled to receive 50 percent of his base salary for each year left on his contract. But in the section discussing what happens if Miller is fired FOR cause, the contract reads that “the University’s sole obligation to Coach shall be the payment of his Base Salary” for each year left on the contract.

His full base salary.

No agent in their right mind is going try and sneak something like that into a contract with a school because no school is going to be dumb enough to agree to put a clause like that in the contract. It is, quite literally, an incentive to break rules in order to get fired for cause.

What does that mean?

Well, Miller is probably not going to be fired for cause.

And if he is, he’ll double the amount of money that he’ll have to toss into his bank account while he figures out what the next move for him will be.

No. 19 Tennessee tops Ole Miss 73-65

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OXFORD, Miss. — Admiral Schofield scored 23 points, Jordan Bowden scored 15, Lamonte Turner scored 13 and No. 19 Tennessee earned a 73-65 win over Mississippi on Saturday.

The Volunteers (21-7, 11-5 SEC) jumped out to a 29-9 lead in the first 10 minutes and held off a rally by Ole Miss in the second half to earn the key road victory.

Neither team shot well from the floor with Tennessee shooting 39 percent and Ole Miss shooting 34 percent.

The Rebels (12-17, 5-11) struggled from long distance. Ole Miss shot 4 percent (1-for-23) from three-point range. Terence Davis, who was 1 for 7 on 3s, connected in the second half.

Breein Tyree led the Rebels with 17 points, Bruce Stevens scored 14 and Davis finished with 13.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: With Saturday’s win, the Vols remained behind No. 12 Auburn and in second place in the league.

Mississippi: The Rebels enter the final week of the season with an attempt to grab momentum heading into the SEC Tournament and the offseason.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will travel to Mississippi State on Tuesday before closing out the regular season at home against Georgia next Saturday.

Mississippi: Ole Miss travels to Kentucky on Wednesday and will host Vanderbilt on Saturday in the regular-season finale.

Michigan State clears Miles Bridges to play

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Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges has been cleared to play, the school announced on Saturday.

Bridges was one of the players named in the Yahoo Sports report on Friday that linked numerous players to NBA agent Andy Miller and former runner Christian Dawkins. In the report, Bridges’ mom allegedly received $400, according to an expense report filed by Dawkins, while Bridges’ parents had a meal with Dawkins listed at $70.05.

Even though the report looks bad, a number of programs, including Duke, Kentucky and USC are allowing their players named in the report to continue to play.

“After learning of the allegations in yesterday’s Yahoo! Sports article, our compliance office conducted a thorough internal review. Michigan State presented its findings to the NCAA, and Miles Bridges has been cleared for competition moving forward, beginning Sunday at Wisconsin,” Beekman said.

In the midst of an 11-game winning streak, Michigan State has been one of the best teams in the country over the next several weeks. But now the Bridges case adds another complicated matter that this program has to deal with heading into the Big Ten Tournament next week.