NIT Season Tip-Off

Delaware’s trip to MSG: Great experiences, missed opportunities

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – It wouldn’t be fair to say that Delaware caught a break that this happened to be the season they took part in the Preseason NIT.

They won the games that they had to win to get to Madison Square Garden and the semifinals of the country’s only true preseason tournament. They beat Penn. They went into Charlottesville and knocked off Virginia. They made it to the bright lights of MSG and a primetime showcase on ESPN on their own.

But I do think it is fair to say this: it didn’t hurt matters that the year the Blue Hens took part in the event just so happened to be the season that Monte’ Ross has his most talented roster in seven years in Newark, and that they just so happened to get put in a regional with a Virginia team that is now officially in the post-Mike Scott era.

If they happened to have gotten placed in Pitt’s regional, they may not have made it this far. If they had happened to have been invited to the event next season, than they would have been playing without star center — and potential NBA Draft pick? — Jamelle Hagins. This group had “Team of Destiny” written all over it. And when a Devon Saddler three cut a Kansas State lead that had grown to eight back to one, at 39-38, with 13:40 left in the game, everyone on press row had the same reaction: the Blue Hens might actually do this!

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as 32 points from Saddler weren’t enough for Delaware to complete the upset win over the Wildcats, losing 66-63 and missing out on a chance to take a swing at No. 4 Michigan on Friday.

The reason for the loss had nothing to do with intimidation, however. The Blue Hens didn’t make their way into the third place game because they were overwhelmed by the platform they were playing on or because they shied away from the challenge of playing a potential tournament team from the Big XII.

What cost them in this game was … spasming muscles?

With 15 minutes left in the game, one possession before that Saddler three cut Kansas State’s lead to 39-38, Hagins, who had 12 points and 15 boards before getting hurt, went down in serious pain, holding his legs. I could read his lips from press row. He said, simply, “Cramps. In both.” He’d return for a couple of possessions later in the contest, but Hagins was never the same. That was a massive loss; he has a chance to be an NBA Draft pick. Those don’t make their way down to Delaware too often.

“Who knows how this game would have turned out if Jamelle hadn’t come out,” Ross said. “They started pounding us inside when he came out.”

And those weren’t the only cramping issues that Delaware had to deal with. Jarvis Threatt, a sophomore and Delaware’s starting point guard, left the game with five minutes left as he was dealing with cramping issues. It’s kind of hard to pull off an upset when two of a team’s three best players are glued to the bench, getting their legs rubbed down by trainers with bags of ice.

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The beauty of Delaware’s trip to the Garden was that it was actually allowed to happen.

Far too often, the satellite rounds of the early season tournaments are nothing more than exhibitions and a guarantee made to the high-profile participants that they’ll get four games for signing up. Just ask Georgia. They lost to Youngstown State — “lost” is being kind; they were blown out at home by the Penguins — in the ‘opening round’ of the Legends Classic.

But who did you see lose to No. 1 Indiana on Monday night at the Barclays Center? And who did No. 11 UCLA beat on Tuesday? It certainly wasn’t Youngstown State. I know. I was there.

And that’s what makes the Preseason NIT so special.

“It would have been anticlimactic to beat Virginia and not get a chance to go to the Garden,” Ross said. “This is an earn your way tournament. It’s not predetermined. That’s what makes this tournament so special. For us, it was such a big deal to earn our way here and have an opportunity to play Kansas State.”

“I just hope it never changes, because it’s fantastic for a school like Delaware to have the opportunity we had. Like you said, it’s dwindling.”

The irony here is that people like me will paint this as a great story about the team from the little league winning the right to play with the big boys on the big stage. Use a couple of big words, toss in a few of alliterations and throw in some prose, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great story about those darling Blue Hens from the CAA.

Except the scribes are the only one that saw this group as a ‘David’.

“I knew coming into the game that we could play with them,” said Saddler, whose disgust for being asked about the implications of simply playing well on a big stage was as palpable as it was refreshing in its honesty. “It wasn’t no pride thing. We’re not into moral victories.”

I feel you, Devon. I do. And I don’t want to disagree with you, but I’m going to.

Saying that Delaware played badly in the first half would be a compliment. Saddler didn’t get it going until midway through the second half. His back court mates Jarvis Threatt and Terrell Rogers played as poorly as I’ve ever seen them play in the first 20 minutes. Kyle Anderson wasn’t hitting anything, and Delaware’s big men were getting abused on the offensive glass. The only guy that played well in the first half for Delaware was Hagins, and most of what he did was block and/or change enough shots that Kansas State couldn’t put together a big run. And despite that, the Blue Hens were only down two at the break.

In the second half, things didn’t get much better, as Hagins went down early, Threatt and Rogers continued their subpar play and Anderson still wasn’t hitting anything.

And despite all of that, Delaware went into the break down by two points and ended up losing by only three points to a team that is missing one player (and their head coach) from last year’s group that earned a No. 8 seed.

What happens when this team puts together 40 minutes of quality basketball?

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“There’s no such thing as great people in this world. There’s people, just like you and I, that take advantage of a great opportunity. We have a great opportunity right in front of us. Let’s take advantage of it.”

Those are the last words that Ross spoke to his team in the locker room before he sent them out to the Madison Square Garden floor. And while the Blue Hens fought and scrapped and threw every last punch they had against Kansas State, it wasn’t enough. The Wildcats were simply more physical and hit more key jump shots.

This wasn’t a wasted opportunity as much as it was a missed opportunity. Delaware could have won this game had they played better.

That will sting.

But that sting won’t last long.

Because the Blue Hens will have another great opportunity to take advantage of at 2:30 pm ET on Friday.

Their Madison Square Garden experience isn’t over yet.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

PHOTO: Thad Matta models Ohio State’s new jerseys

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes claps on the sideline in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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One of the things that basketball programs like to do near the start of the season is to blast out the new version of their uniforms on social media.

It gets fans excited about the upcoming season, it gets players excited to throw those jerseys on, it might result in some extra sales of team apparel. All that good stuff.

Typically, these pictures are with the uniforms modeled on a player or a mannequin. Not if you’re Ohio State, and not if you’re Thad Matta:

Here’s how the picture came to be, courtesy of ESPN:

According to Buckeyes video coordinator Kyle Davis, who took the Twitter photo, the staff was looking for a way to to show off the team’s new uniforms on social media before media day kicked off in earnest. He and OSU director of basketball operations David Egelhoff were laying the uniform out on various surfaces — tables, floors and so on — when Matta, en route to his daily workout, walked by.

“He asks us, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and we tell him we’re trying to show the new uniforms but we don’t really know what to do with this — we don’t have a mannequin,” Davis said. “And he says, ‘Why do you need a mannequin? I’m right here.'”

“We thought there was no way he was actually going to do this,” Davis said. “But Coach said ‘give me two minutes,’ and sure enough he came out wearing the uniform. He wanted everyone to know he still had it.”

Atlantic Sun Conference Preview: North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast lead a wide-open league

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 8:  Guard Dallas Moore #14 of the North Florida Ospreys directs play against theFlorida Gators  November 8, 2013 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic Sun conference.

The Atlantic Sun has experienced a surprising amount of tournament success recently as Florida Gulf Coast set the standard with its Sweet 16 appearance and famous “Dunk City” nickname in 2013 and Mercer followed that up with a win over Duke in the opening round in 2014.

The trend of solid tourney performances for the league continued last season when A-Sun tournament champion Florida Gulf Coast trailed eventual national runner-up North Carolina by only a point at halftime in a 1-16 game until the Tar Heels pulled away and won by 16 in the second half.

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This season, the league is hoping to be another tough out in the tournament as they’re led by the last two teams to make the NCAA tournament from the conference in North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast, and the rest of the league appears to be completely wide open.

After winning the regular season title last season, North Florida returns Atlantic Sun Player of the Year and senior point guard Dallas Moore as he’s clearly the top candidate to repeat his awards from last season. Moore is joined by talented forward Chris Davenport and 6-foot-11 senior Romelo Ranks returns from injury to anchor the post.

Florida Gulf Coast beat North Florida by 33 in the conference tournament and ended up back in the Big Dance as they return productive senior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia. The Eagles return four starters total as Antravious Simmons, Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell are all back and a few talented transfers makes this roster an intriguing one.

From there, the Atlantic Sun appears completely wide open with a lot of unpredictable rosters. Jacksonville was gutted by injuries last season and still managed to contend for the league’s regular-season title. The Dolphins return three starters and three more players from injury, including Darius Dawkins, who led the nation in made three-pointers before his season-ending injury.

NJIT had an admirable showing in their inaugural season in the Atlantic Sun, finishing 8-6 in league play. High-scoring senior guard Damon Lynn returns to lead while he’s flanked by two other returning starters. Tim Coleman is another returning double-figure scorer as the Highlanders have the talent to win the league.

Lipscomb lost high-scoring guard J.C. Hampton to Texas A&M as a graduate transfer but they get a transfer of their own in Western Kentucky center Rob Marberry. Former all-conference guard Josh Williams also returns from a season-ending injury as the Bisons are hoping to improve on consecutive .500 conference marks.

Stetson has some interesting pieces despite coming off a 4-10 league campaign. Forward Derick Newton was the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year last season and the Hatters return their top seven scorers and four starters. Kennesaw State brings back leading scorer Kendrick Ray but they have to replace 18 points a game from Yonel Brown. Al Skinner’s ballclub returns two more starters and productive bench scorer Aubrey Williams. Bringing up the rear is USC Upstate as they return all five starters and could just as easily finish in the league’s top half. Deion Holmes and 7-footer Michael Buchanan are returning double-figure scorers for the Spartans.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dallas Moore, North Florida

The easy choice for this award since Moore won Atlantic Sun Player of the Year honors last season. The 6-foot-1 point guard led the Atlantic Sun in points (19.7 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg) last season while also shooting 51 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. After withdrawing his name from the 2016 NBA Draft after testing the waters, Moore is hoping that another big season gives him a chance at making The League.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN TEAM:

  • Damon Lynn, NJIT: The 5-foot-11 senior was an all-league selection last season as he’s averaged at least 17.0 points per game all three years of college.
  • Kendrick Ray, Kennesaw State: The 6-foot-1 senior put up 18.7 points per game last season as those numbers could go up with the departure of Yonel Brown.
  • Chris Davenport, North Florida: Versatile senior 6-foot-8 forward was fourth in the league in rebounding, second in blocks and shot 37 percent on three-pointers last season.
  • Marc Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast: Dominant at times in the conference tournament last season, the 6-foot-8 senior averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the 2015-16 campaign.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ASUNMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. North Florida
  2. Florida Gulf Coast
  3. Jacksonville
  4. NJIT
  5. Lipscomb
  6. Stetson
  7. Kennesaw State
  8. USC Upstate

Richmond promoted on Mullin’s staff

SPRINGFIELD, MA - AUGUST 8: Mitch Richmond, inductee, speaks with presenter Chris Mullin by his side speaks during the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on August 8, 2014 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Mitch Richmond has been promoted on the staff of fellow Naismith Hall of Famer Chris Mullin at St. John’s.

Richmond’s move from special assistant to assistant coach Thursday comes just before the start of Mullin’s second season at his alma mater. Richmond, a five-time All-NBA selection, played three seasons alongside Mullin with Golden State and won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.

The Red Storm promoted former graduate assistant Luca Virgilio to assistant to the head coach and Chris Huey has joined the St. John’s staff as a graduate assistant.

Richmond replaces Barry Rohrssen who the school announced was no longer with the program on Sept. 7. Rohrssen, considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball, was with the program for one season.

Arizona State four-star freshman ruled academic redshirt

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A late addition to the Arizona State will have to wait to make his debut until the fall of 2017.

On Thursday, it was reported that Romello White, a four-star power forward, will sit out the 2016-17 season as an academic redshirt after failing to meet NCAA requirements, according to Doug Haller of azcentral.com.

White, ranked as the No. 87 overall player in the Class of 2016, had previously verbally committed to Tennessee and had signed with Georgia Tech before becoming a Sun Devil in mid-May after the Yellow Jackets had parted ways with Brian Gregory.

“Just having (White) in the program, as disappointing as this feels, his upside and future here are very strong,” Hurley told azcentral sports. “We’re going to have to be a little different (without him), a little unique. With this news, we’re going to be obviously driven through our guard play.”

White was set to be one of several freshmen to see immediate time on an inexperienced frontline. The Sun Devils had graduated Willie Atwood and had lost Savon Goodman to transfer. The 6-foot-8 White, along with fellow newcomer Jethro Tshisumpa, was expected to help the team’s top returning rebounder Obinna Oleka.

This news puts even more of an emphasis on the backcourt, one that returns leading scorer Tra Holder and adds Shannon Evans, a double-digit scorer for Hurley at Buffalo, who sat out this past year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Arizona State began the Bobby Hurley era with a 15-17 (5-13) record. The Sun Devils begin the 2016-17 campaign on Nov. 11 against Portland State.

Virginia basketball joins kneeling protest

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On the latest CBT Podcast, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, wonder whether a college basketball player will kneel for the national anthem, a nationwide protest — from the professional level to the high school level — that was sparked by San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those questions were quickly answered on Thursday night, as Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome tweeted out the above picture of the entire Cavalier team kneeling at halfcourt with a caption, “Kneel for injustice. Kneel for inequality.”

It’s hard to imagine this protest, which began during the NFL Preseason when Kaepernick was photographed sitting during the national anthem, simmers by the time the college basketball season starts. For starters, it’s still very much apart of the daily sports and political conversation in this country. You also have to imagine that next month, when the NBA season starts, several players will join in on the protest.

This time last year, a video — counter to this current protest — went viral. It was of Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams teaching his players, only 150 miles away from where Virginia’s protest picture was taken, the importance of the national anthem.

It remains to be seen if Virginia — or any other college basketball player/team — kneels for the national anthem during games this season, but one thing is clear: this protest will continue.