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2013-2014 NEC Preview: Changes at the top

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

One would have to go back to 2008 to find the last time an NEC team not named LIU Brooklyn or Robert Morris reached the NCAA Tournament. The two teams have had a stranglehold on the league during this stretch with LIU Brooklyn having won three straight league titles (2011-13) and Robert Morris two straight (2009-10). Even though the Colonials missed out on the big dance last season, you may remember they defeated Kentucky at home in the NIT. There’s little doubt who’s owned the NEC for the past half-decade, but that figures to change.

Although the Blackbirds won the NEC tournament last season, they finished 12-6 in the regular season – good for a three-way tie for second place. With graduation claiming Jamal Olasewere and sixth-year senior forward Julian Boyd — who will be out until at least January after re-tearing the ACL in his right knee — a question mark all season, LIU Brooklyn’s run atop the NEC is in danger. Robert Morris will challenge, but losing Coron Williams to Wake Forest and Velton Jones to graduation are big voids to fill.

(MORE: Can Robert Morris build off of their upset win over Kentucky?)

There’s a new sheriff in town, and that’s the Wagner Seahawks. In his second season as head coach, Bashir Mason, the youngest coach in America, has Wagner in a prime position to build on their 12-6 conference record from last season. Mason, who took over for Dan Hurley in 2012, inherited a talented team with Southern Mississippi transfer Kenneth Ortiz in the backcourt playing alongside Latif Rivers. Perhaps Wagner’s top player, however, was watching from the sidelines last season – Jay Harris, a transfer from Valparaiso. Also keep an eye on former top 100 recruit and Michigan State transfer Dwaun Anderson.

Along with Wagner, upstart Bryant — who had won 19 games last season after just two in 2011-12 — will be a contender. Tim O’Shea returns perhaps the league’s best player in 6-foot-6 forward Alex Francis, along with sharpshooter Dyami Starks who connected on better than three three-pointers per game a season ago.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: N/A
Out: Monmouth and Quinnipiac

source:
Lucky Jones shoots over Archie Goodwin (AP)

PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alex Francis, Bryant

Francis (17.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 apg) has been a staple in Bryant’s lineup since his freshman season. Assuming he scores at the same rate he did last year, he will eclipse the 2,000 point career scoring mark.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State: There was a moment where it looked like Vinales would transfer to Toledo, but in returning to CCSU he’ll have a chance to lead the NEC in scoring for the second straight year.
  • Jay Harris, Wagner: The transfer from Valparaiso who sat out last season will be a fixtutre in Bashir Mason’s lineup.
  • Jason Brickman, LIU Brooklyn: The best point guard in the NEC, Brickman ranked top five nationally in assists per game a season ago.
  • Lucky Jones, Robert Morris: Will step into more of a leadership and go-to scoring role this season; one of the top three-point shooters in the league.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW@pioneer_pride

PREDICTED FINISH

1) Wagner
2) Bryant
3) Robert Morris
4) Mount St. Mary’s
5) Central Connecticut
6) LIU Brooklyn
7) Sacred Heart
8) St. Francis (NY)
9) St. Francis (PA)
10) Fairleigh Dickinson

VIDEO: Grayson Allen suffers gross finger injury vs. Miami

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Grayson Allen suffered a pretty nasty looking injury to the pinky on his left hand right at the end of the first half against Miami.

His reaction to seeing the injury is to recoil in horror … :

And you may do the same thing when I post the picture of what his finger looks like:

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I’m not going to speculate as to the nature of the injury, whether it was just dislocated or broken, but this is just another blow for a team that has had some dreadful injury luck this season.

Kansas State beats No. 7 West Virginia, whose press may be broken

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Bruce Weber of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts to a call during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on January 3, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas State had five players score between 13 and 15 points as the Wildcats finally landed the marquee win that has eluded them this season, picking off No. 7 West Virginia in the Octagon of Doom, 79-75.

Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown both scored 15 points to lead the way for the Wildcats, who improved to 4-3 in the Big 12 this season.

Here are three things to take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats needed this result so badly: Kansas State has pretty good computer numbers and a record that looks pretty on paper, but entering Saturday, they really hadn’t won all that much this season. They didn’t land a single non-conference win over a team ranked higher than 142nd in KenPom, and their wins in league play were over arguably the three worst teams in the conference – Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

So yes, this is a massive boost to Kansas State’s NCAA tournament chances.

But it’s also a morale boost that they needed. The Wildcats have been on the wrong end of some brutal late game calls, from the no-call on Svi Mykhailiuk’s travel in a loss to Kansas to the referees swallowing their whistles down the stretch in a loss at Texas Tech. Throw in the fact that Bruce Weber is more or less coaching for his job this season, and you can imagine the pressure that’s starting to build in Manhattan. This should help alleviate some of that.

2. West Virginia has played themselves out of the Big 12 title race: With 11 games remaining on the schedule, West Virginia is now three games behind Kansas for first place in the Big 12 standings. I don’t know how much you know about Kansas and the Big 12 – they’ve won 12 straight conference regular season titles, no big deal – but you don’t come from behind on the Jayhawks. You just don’t.

We’re just 12 days removed for the Mountaineers putting together a 21-point beatdown of then-No. 1 Baylor. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

3. Is West Virginia’s press broken?: In the win over Baylor, West Virginia forced 29 turnovers, or a turnover on 37.2 percent of Baylor’s possessions. After that game, the Mountaineers were forcing turnovers on more than 33 percent of their possessions on the season, which is a number that is totally insane.

But in the three games since then, Press Virginia has been no where near as effective. In a two-point win over cellar dweller Texas, WVU forced turnovers on 26.4 percent of Longhorn possessions, well below their season average. In a loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday, that number was 15.2 percent. Against Kansas State, it was 21.3 percent. If West Virginia isn’t forcing turnovers and if they aren’t getting easy baskets in transition out of it, they are a limited basketball team. Something to keep an eye on.

No. 5 Kentucky beats No. 24 South Carolina despite De’Aaron Fox ankle injury

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 21:  Bam Adebayo #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half at Rupp Arena on January 21, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Malik Monk scored 27 points and Bam Adebayo added 18 as No. 5 Kentucky rolled over No. 24 South Carolina, 85-69, in Rupp Arena on Saturday evening.

The win kept the Wildcats undefeated in the SEC and set the stage for a battle of top five teams when No. 1 Kansas comes to Lexington next weekend.

South Carolina got 34 points out of Sindarius Thornwell, who was terrific on Saturday, but the rest of the starting lineup combined for 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats have firm control over the SEC title race: We already knew this entering the year, but after seeing Florida and South Carolina enter this week without a loss in league play, there was reason to think – to hope? – that maybe someone would make the race entertaining.

It doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

On the same day that Florida lost a home game to Vanderbilt, dropping them two games off of the pace atop the conference, the Gamecocks lost the only game that they’ll play against Kentucky this season. South Carolina looked like the only team capable of picking off UK in league play, but without a return game, it’s hard to imagine Frank Martin’s club will be able to make up the ground.

2. Kentucky’s supporting cast stepped up: Monk was awesome on Saturday, but Kentucky’s other two stars – Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox – didn’t do much. Fox left the game midway through the first half with an ankle injury – more on that below – and Briscoe was, frankly, atrocious, going scoreless and committing seven turnovers against South Carolina’s overwhelming defense.

But even with their best players struggling, Kentucky was able to breeze to a pretty easy win against the only other undefeated team in the SEC. Adebayo was dominant in the paint, finishing with 18 points, but more important was the performance of Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel, who was averaging 12 boards in his last two games entering the weekend, had 11 points and five boards and his three more threes while Willis finished with 12 points, seven boards and one facial.

It’s comforting for Kentucky to know they can beat the second-best team in the SEC by 16 points on a night where two of their three starting guards provide basically nothing.

3. Injuries overshadowed everything else: Unfortunately for South Carolina, they probably never had a chance in this one once news came down that P.J. Dozier would miss the game with back spasms. Thornwell has, unquestionably, been the best player for the Gamecocks this season, but with Thornwell out of the lineup for six games earlier in the year, Dozier stepped in and looked the part of being a McDonald’s All-American. With Dozier, who is the second-best offensive weapon on the roster, South Carolina entered Saturday ranked 175th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. You cannot expect to compete with Kentucky without having the horses to run with them.

But midway through the first half, Kentucky lost De’Aaron Fox to a right ankle injury. It didn’t appear to be all that serious – Fox didn’t even limp immediately after he rolled the ankle over – but he sat out the second half of the game.

Fox returned to the bench wearing a walking boot. His status going forward will be something to monitor. It would be a shame if he had to miss Saturday’s showdown with Kansas in Rupp Arena.

“It’s not swelled,” head coach John Calipari told reporters after the game. “I think it might’ve been a stinger. I don’t know. But something hit his ankle.”

No. 2 Kansas’ backcourt shines in 79-67 win over Texas

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 21: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns in the first half at Allen Field House on January 21, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Shaquille Cleare turned the ball over on Texas’ first two possessions. Not even 40 seconds had expired before Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham drained a 3-pointer in transition.

Thirty seconds later, Frank Mason III pulled up for a shot outside the arc to put Kansas up 6-0.

“I think that’s the best we started a game in the past few games that we’ve played in,” Mason said. “We have to do that every game moving forward.”

Graham scored 18 points, Mason added 17 and No. 2 Kansas beat Texas 79-67 on Saturday.

Freshman Josh Jackson chipped in 15 points for the Jayhawks while Svi Mykhailiuk added 12 points and Landen Lucas had 12 rebounds.

Kansas (18-1, 7-0 Big 12) hovered between a six- and eight-point lead for most of the second half. The Jayhawks only pulled away with 60 seconds remaining, as Graham and Mykhailiuk hit corner 3-pointers in front of the Kansas bench.

“We were so good early, you’re not going to keep playing that way,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Texas, we kind of staggered them early and then the law of averages prevailed. They fought back. I don’t think you should apologize for playing somebody even.”

Texas (7-12, 1-6) opened the game with five turnovers in the first 4 minutes, letting the Jayhawks run out to a quick 10-point lead. Texas managed to cut the deficit to three points with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the first half, but that was as close as the Longhorns would get.

Freshman Jarrett Allen posted season-highs with 22 points and 19 rebounds for Texas. Eric Davis Jr. added 12 points and Cleare scored 11.

BIG PICTURE

The next three games for Kansas are going to be the biggest test the Jayhawks have had all season. In a span of nine days, the Jayhawks will play three top seven teams. Two of those games take place in hostile road environments.

Kansas goes to No. 7 West Virginia on Tuesday and remains on the road to play at No. 5 Kentucky on the following Saturday. Kansas returns home that following Wednesday to host No. 6 Baylor.

The big win over the Longhorns should give the Jayhawks confidence heading into their tough test, but the big question is: Will Kansas have enough energy to get through it?

“This is a stretch that is probably as tough as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Self said.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Villanova leapfrogged Kansas for the No. 1 spot on Monday. With the Wildcats’ definitive 30- and 10-point wins over Seton Hall and Providence this week, expect the top two spots to remain the same.

QUOTABLE

“It’s kind of like the `Twilight Zone’ because it feels like there’s nothing else going on here besides the game,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said of Lawrence and the University of Kansas. “Everybody’s locked in on the game. That’s a testament to the program and Coach Self and what they’ve built over the years.”

GOIN’ STREAKING

The win over Texas gave Kansas its 50th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse and its 36th straight at home in conference play.

UP NEXT

Texas returns home to host Oklahoma on Monday.

Kansas hits the road to start its gauntlet, playing at West Virginia on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Happ, No. 17 Wisconsin edge Minnesota in overtime, 78-76

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS — Ethan Happ scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead No. 17 Wisconsin to a 78-76 overtime victory over Minnesota on Saturday.

Nigel Hayes added 21 points for the Badgers (16-3, 5-1 Big Ten) and Bronson Koenig hit two huge 3-pointers in overtime to help beat the Golden Gophers for the sixth straight time. The bigger, stronger Badgers outscored Minnesota 44-24 in the paint to win for the 12th time in their last 13 games.

Amir Coffey scored 19 points and Akeem Springs added 16 for the Gophers (15-5, 3-4), who lost their third straight game. Springs hit a 3 to force overtime, but his last-second heave in overtime clanked off the rim to preserve the victory for Wisconsin.

The border rivalry had not been much of a rivalry lately, with the Badgers taking every game following an upset by the Gophers in 2014. That game, a win over No. 9 Wisconsin, was the last time Williams Arena was sold out for a game before Saturday. And this crowd got its money’s worth.

There was plenty of red in the upper deck at the Barn, but the old gym’s rafters rattled for the first time in recent memory thanks to a Gophers program that has awakened this season after winning just eight games last season. With the homegrown Coffey leading the way, Minnesota took a 48-45 lead with 12 minutes to play in the game.

Reggie Lynch scored on a putback to put Minnesota up 64-62, but the Gophers went more than 5 minutes without scoring against the Big Ten’s best defense. Springs got loose for an off-the-dribble 3 from the left wing that tied the game with 11.4 seconds to go.

Koenig’s second 3 of OT put Wisconsin up 77-76 with 44 seconds to play. He finished with 11 points.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: Another tough win on the road against an opponent with a strong RPI has the Badgers rolling. They are in first place in the conference and withstood a fiery effort from the Gophers that should move them up the Associated Press’ Top 25. Wisconsin has road wins over Minnesota, Indiana and Marquette to bolster its resume.

Minnesota: Win or lose, this was a big game for establishing Williams Arena as a place to be in the crowded Twin Cities sports market again. The Gophers were knocked out of the AP Top 25 last week with consecutive losses to Michigan State and Penn State, but the young team gave senior-laden Wisconsin all it could handle. The gritty performance should further show a skeptical public that the team is worthy of its attention once more.

HAPP’S BINGE

The Wisconsin big man got off to a slow start in the game, missing several easy shots early. But the Badgers never would have made it to OT without his performance in the second half. He scored 14 straight for the Badgers at one point and almost single-handedly fouled Lynch out of the game.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Hosts Penn State on Tuesday.

Minnesota: Visits Ohio State on Wednesday.