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Western Carolina’s Trey Sumler looks to leave mark in final season

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Mark Haskett/WCU Public Relations

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.

Hope springs eternal in college basketball (and sports in general), with the start of a new season sparking optimism amongst programs across the country. That’s certainly the case in the Southern Conference, with multiple programs welcoming back many of their key contributors from a season ago. One of those programs is Western Carolina, which returns all five starters from a team that finished 9-9 in SoCon play (14-19 overall).

Expected to lead the way for the Catamounts is redshirt senior guard Trey Sumler, who played nearly 38 minutes per game and posted averages of 18.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. While Sumler’s percentages remained about the same when compared to his redshirt sophomore campaign, his scoring increased by nearly five points per game. With the Catamounts having to account for the graduation of their top two scorers from the season prior, Sumler had a lot more to manage in 2012-13.

“I think it was just the nature of our team. We were more inexperienced and didn’t have any seniors a year ago,” Hunter told NBC Sports. “He’s not a ‘selfish’ scorer, he just plays. You look at his other stats and he rebounded well, he was our leading assist man. He’s a very efficient player.”

Lat season Sumler finished with a possession percentage of 26.9%, and his efficiency rating of 105.2 ranked seventh in the SoCon among players who factored into at least 24% of their team’s possessions according to kenpom.com. But even with the numbers he put up Sumler still saw the need to fine tune his game, and that meant spending a lot of time in the gym during the summer. During a three-month stretch from May 15 to August 15, both Hunter and Sumler estimated that the guard put up more than 30,000 shots.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Southern Conference Preview)

“Most of [my offseason work] was in the gym,” Sumler told NBC Sports when asked about how he prepared for his senior season. “I was able to get a couple of our DVDs from the coaches to watch film. It wasn’t for anything specific; it was just to see what I could and could not do, and what I could have done.”

With all five starters back, including forward Tawaski King (11.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and guard Brandon Boggs (10.3, 3.6), what’s required of Sumler will likely change some. Without as much pressure to both be the primary scoring option and find quality looks for his teammates the 6-foot-2 Sumler may be in line for an even better senior season, even if his scoring numbers don’t reach last year’s level.

“His scoring may go down some this season, because I think we have more pieces to the puzzle,” said Hunter, who used Sumler exclusively at the point last season. “I will probably move him more to the off-guard position just to try to get him a few more opportunities.”

Those extra opportunities have the potential to make the Catamounts a contender in a conference race that has the potential to be as wide-open as any in recent memory. Defending champion Davidson is still to be respected but the Wildcats have some significant personnel losses to address, most notably 2012-13 SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen.

Elon, like the Catamounts, returns all five starters from last season and after winning 21 games the Phoenix are the early favorite to win the conference in the eyes of many. And with programs such as Appalachian State, Samford and Wofford also having plenty of experience, multiple teams began practice with realistic hopes of not just contending but winning the SoCon.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“I think it’s really going to be a great conference race,” said Hunter. “There are a lot of veterans returning, and a lot of good teams in the league.”

Western Carolina is hopeful that by the time conference play rolls around they’ll be well-positioned to make a run at the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996. That bunch nearly made history as the first 16-seed to be a one-seed, as Phil Hopkins’ squad fell to Purdue by two points in the first round. One of the players on that team was Anquell McCollum, who scored a game-high 21 points for the Catamounts and is now an assistant on the Western Carolina coaching staff.

When a former player from a program’s glory days returns to campus fans enjoy getting nostalgic, but those conversations can also serve as a motivating factor for the current players. Instead of hearing about the road paved by the heroes of the past, Sumler and company aim to write their own chapter in the Western Carolina history books.

“It would mean a lot, not just to me but for the other four seniors,” noted Sumler when asked what an NCAA tournament appearance would mean to him. “I know Coach McCollum was a part of that ’96 team and a lot of people talk about that. 1996 was a long time ago, so we feel like it’s about time to take that next step.”

With Sumler leading the way, Western Carolina is more than capable of taking that step.

Alabama upsets No. 15 Texas A&M as Aggies continue recent freefall

Alabama guard Retin Obasohan (32) scores against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Alabama played inspired ball on both ends of the floor and held on to upset No. 15 Texas A&M 63-62 in an SEC thriller on Wednesday night. Trailing by one point with less than three seconds left, Texas A&M had a chance to tie or take the lead with senior Anthony Collins at the line for two free throws. But Collins, one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters at 92 percent on the season, missed both free throws in a heartbreaking loss for the Aggies.

The Crimson Tide controlled the glass most of the game by outrebounding the Aggies 36-29 and also forced 13 Texas A&M turnovers. The loss for Texas A&M means they’ve lost four of their last five games and four straight games in the SEC.

Retin Obasahon led Alabama (14-9, 5-6) with 16 points as he made a lot of big plays in the second half to put the team on his back. The win means the Crimson Tide have won three consecutive games and defeated four ranked opponents during the season. Riley Norris added 11 points for the Crimson Tide while Shannon Hale was also in double-figures with 10 points.

Although Texas A&M (18-6, 7-4) did better with their recent shaky 3-point defense, holding Alabama to 8-for-25 (32 percent) from distance, they were outhustled on the glass for much of the game and couldn’t overcome a slow start. Senior Jalen Jones finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Danuel House had 12 points and Collins finished with 11.

This loss is absolutely killer for Texas A&M, as they continue to slide down the SEC standings. The recent road woes for the Aggies also continued as they’ve lost three straight away from home. The schedule doesn’t get much easier for the Aggies the next few games, either, as they travel to LSU and then host Ole Miss and Kentucky. Texas A&M is in a potential freefall right now and they went from a major contender in the SEC to a team that just needs to get back on track.

As for Alabama, this is another solid win for head coach Avery Johnson in his first season. It’s hard to say if Johnson got some scouting advice from his son Avery Johnson Jr., a redshirt guard for the Crimson Tide who played for the Aggies last season, but they’ll certainly take this tight win. Alabama is now 5-1 in one-possession games this season and there’s something to be said for that mark.

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This is the win that Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) needed.

Entering Wednesday night, the Hawks were a paper tiger, a team with terrific computers numbers despite the fact that they hadn’t actually accomplished much of anything this season.

Well, that’s not exactly true. They are now 20-4 on the season and 10-2 in the Atlantic 10. They haven’t lost to anyone ranked outside the RPI top 50, and while that seems like it should be a simple thing to do, upsets happen all the time in college basketball. Not losing to anyone that stinks is one of the marks of a good team.

The problem, however, is that prior to their trip to Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, the best win that St. Joe’s had on the season … Princeton? At Temple? They were without an RPI top 50 win and, if you factor in Buffalo, the Hawks and three top 100 wins on their résumé.

That’s not exactly the stuff of at-large bids.

And then Wednesday happened, and the Hawks went into the Smith Center and hammered a good George Washington team by 18 points, the same GW team that went into Richmond on Saturday and handed VCU their first loss of the conference season.

It looks like nothing more than a top 50 road win on their profile, but for at least one person that was in attendance (Hi!), it was something of a statement win. I had my doubts about the group, and while the eye-test is totally subjective and probably the worst way to gauge whether or not a team is a tournament team, they certainly passed my eye-test today.

WINNERS

  • Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67): The Bulldogs landed a critical win on Wednesday night, as they went into Newark and knocked off a Seton Hall team that is probably better than you realize. That’s an RPI top 50 win on the road that’s getting added to a résumé that, entering the night, had just a single top 50 win. Period. The Bulldogs still have plenty of work to do, but with their only two bad losses coming on the road against league competition and five wins against the top 100 with four coming away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, Chris Holtmann’s club has positioned themselves nicely to not only get a bid but get a solid seed as well.

LOSERS

  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37): Losing to Butler certainly doesn’t help Seton Hall’s cause, but this isn’t a bad loss. The Pirates are still without a sub-100 loss, although this does drop them to 6-7 against the RPI top 100 with a pair top 50 wins. They’re still in the tournament as of today, and probably with some room to spare.
  • George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34): There are two positives to take out of GW’s loss to Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night: 1) The Hawks may end up being an RPI top 25 team once the numbers are crunched overnight, so this is anything but a bad loss, and 2) This 18-point drubbing will look exactly the same as a one-point loss at the buzzer in the eyes of the selection committee.

LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.