Big South Conference Tournament Preview

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The race for the Big South’s automatic bid took an unexpected turn last week when High Point freshman forward John Brown went down for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. Senior forward Allan Chaney, whose career nearly ended due to a heart ailment, will have to lead the way for a team that is down to two double-digit scorers (guard Adam Weary being the other). Corey Law scored 14 points in their 63-62 win over Campbell, and he has give High Point consistent offense if the Panthers are to win three straight games.

However a possible quarterfinal matchup with host Coastal Carolina looms, and the two-seed from the South (Gardner-Webb) is also capable of knocking off High Point. South Division champion Charleston Southern, led by point guard Saah Nimley, averaged nearly 75 points per game in Big South play while also leading the league in field goal percentage defense. VMI, as the second place finisher in the North, received the other first-round bye in the top half of the bracket but don’t be surprised if UNC Asheville knocks them off in the quarters. Eddie Biedenbach’s team won ten league games, with one being a 90-79 win at VMI on February 9.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: HTC Center (Conway, South Carolina)

When: March 5, 7, 9-10

Final: March 10, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Gardner-Webb 

The Runnin’ Bulldogs didn’t win their division (Charleston Southern did) but they did sweep the regular season series between the two teams. Chris Holtmann’s team enters the conference tournament in good form as they’ve won ten of their last 11 games, with the lone defeat being a surprising 57-54 loss at Presbyterian.

Guard Tashan Newsome (14.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and wing Donta Harper (12.9 ppg) lead the way offensively, and if Gardner-Webb can control tempo (they average 65.5 possessions/40 minutes, per statsheet.com) the Runnin’ Bulldogs are capable of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I member.

And if they lose? Charleston Southern did win the South, the tougher of two two divisions, and in Saah Nimley they have the league’s best point guard. In total four players average double figures for the Buccaneers, who led the conference in both scoring offense and field goal percentage defense. Jeremy Atkinson and Keith Hornsby lead the way for UNC Asheville, but the Bulldogs enter the conference tournament having lost five of their last six. High Point still has Chaney inside but losing a player of John Brown’s caliber at this point in the season may be tough to overcome.

Sleepers: Look no further than the host team, Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers lost just one conference home game this season, falling by seven (70-63) to Gardner-Webb on February 16. Anthony Raffa is capable of getting hot, and fellow guard Kierre Greenwood’s no slouch either. Another possibility is VMI, which averaged 74.7 points per game in conference play and is led by the league’s best player in senior forward Stan Okoye.

Studs:

– F Stan Okoye (VMI): The Big South Player of the Year, Okoye is averaging 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. And Okoye enters the conference tournament hot, as he averaged 33.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in wins over Liberty and Longwood.

– F Jeremy Atkinson (UNC Asheville): Atkinson’s only 6-4 but that didn’t stop him from being one of the league’s best front court players, averaging 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and earning first team All-Big South honors.

– G Saah Nimley (Charleston Southern): One of two underclassmen (Brown) to earn first team All-Big South honors, Nimley posted averages of 16.0 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 5-8 floor general is one reason why Charleston Southern won 12 league games.

Prediction: Nimley and Arlon Harper take over the weekend, leading Charleston Southern past Gardner-Webb in the final.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.

Report: NCAA ‘anticipates’ hearing UNC case in mid-August

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Today, the AP churned out a story on Greg Sankey’s involvement with the NCAA’s investigation into the academic scandal at North Carolina, and buried within that story is this little nugget:

UNC must respond to the latest charges by May 16. The NCAA enforcement staff then has until July 17 for its own response. Sankey wrote that his panel will hear the case in August with “anticipated” dates of Aug. 16 and 17.

Rulings typically come weeks to months later.

We’ve been down this road before, as the current iteration of the Notice of Allegations is the third that the NCAA has provided the university. The first was given out back in May of 2015 for an investigation that began back in 2010.