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Is Norfolk State better than the team that upset Missouri?

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source: AP
AP

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

In 2012, the Norfolk State Spartans stunned second-seeded Missouri behind the play of now Orlando Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn. Last season, Norfolk State was in good position to make a second-straight trip to the NCAA tournament after running the table and going undefeated in MEAC play. However, in the quarterfinal of the conference tournament, Norfolk State was on the wrong end up an upset as eighth-seeded Bethune-Cookman took down the regular season champion.

Anthony Evans has left the program to fill the coaching vacancy at Florida International, giving the reigns to Robert Jones, who has spent six years at Norfolk State with last season being his first as the associate head coach. He’s been with the program through the highs of 2012 and the disappointment of last March. Coming up short has fueled his team early in the fall.

“I think it humbles a team. It makes them a little hungrier,” Jones told NBC Sports during a phone interview on Friday afternoon.

Norfolk State is the projected No. 1 team in the MEAC again this season with reigning MEAC Player of the Year Pendarvis Williams back along with Malcolm Hawkins, Brandon Goode, Jamel Fuentes and Rashid Gaston.

(MORE: Click here to read NBCSports.com’s MEAC preview)

“We have so many guys coming back, they have a bitter taste in their mouths,” Jones said.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Jones said of the offseason. “Some it has to do with stuff we implemented such as workouts. But a lot of it has to do with the guys, who have a chip on their shoulder, trying to redeem themselves from last year.”

source: Reuters
Reuters

The talent is there, and according to their coach, the Spartans have been more intense in practice than the team from 2012. Norfolk State doesn’t have a player like O’Quinn — though the 6-foot-6 Williams will get his fair share of pro looks — but the depth is better than two seasons ago. So could this team possibly be better than the fifth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed?

“Potentially,” Jones answers.

Jones acknowledges that postseason play can come down to luck, just like last season when Bethune-Cookman dropped a one-point game to the Spartans, made some adjustments, and beat Norfolk State nine days later the MEAC tournament.

“That 2012 team, the luck of the draw was that we were playing a Missouri team that: 1. We were bigger than and 2. They played a style that we had already seen throughout the seen in the MEAC with four guards against us,” he added. “It was a perfect matchup. If we can get a couple of those things to happen this postseason, you never know what could happen.”

Jones hasn’t changed too much since taking over. He’s tweaked some stuff, with a little more focus on the offensive end.  “I think in the past we concentrated more on the defensive side of the ball, and lacked on the offensive side of the ball,” Jones said. “[We’ll] play a little bit faster, get some more points on the board. I think we have the athletes to get over the 70 range.”

Norfolk State showed what can happen in 2012. Like Jones said, they’ll need some bounces to go there way, but if Norfolk State doesn’t live up to the expectations once again, it won’t be for lack of effort. The Spartans have talent, an improved offense, and something to prove heading into its season, which starts on Nov. 8 against Texas Southern.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

Ernie Kent
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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.