Jerrelle Benimon, Nate Lubick

Northern lights shine brightly for new-look CAA

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Towson Athletics

If you want to know which way the wind blows in the Colonial Athletic Association these days, open your ears. The league that rode Virginia-based schools like George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion to attention-grabbing Big Dance victories sounds very different these days.

For starters, Northeastern University pahked their cah in the yahd by winning 14 league games and claiming the regular-season crown. Right behind them at 13-5 was Maryland-based Towson, led by Massachusetts native Pat Skerry, who took a league doormat and turned it into a winner in one season. New guy Joe Mihalich hopes to work similar magic in his debut season at Hofstra, a pronouncement he delivers in the hard-bitten tones of a big city police detective.

“When I got here, there were four players on the team,” Mihalich told NBC Sports via phone. “That was the bad news and the good news. I had to go out and get eight guys all at once, but I was able to get my guys. The kind of guys you need to get this thing turned around.”

(MORE: Click here to read’s CAA Preview)

It’s common to hear a coach make upbeat noises when he takes over a moribund program, but that kind of confidence seems strangely warranted in the new CAA. Pat Skerry’s Towson team was built along similar lines, taking on players various and sundry in an attempt to improve on 2012’s 1-31 mark. Clearly, five wins would have counted as progress. Skerry’s team went out and won 18, despite the fact that APR missteps from the prior administration had his program on a postseason ban.

“It took a while, but they did a good job of buying in,” Skerry said, also via phone. “We didn’t talk about the ban, just about trying to get better each day. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but they handled it. Pride was the key piece.”

The Tigers are entering this season with much higher expectations, hoping to ride reigning CAA Player of the Year Jerelle Benimon to an NCAA berth. Skerry has surrounded his breakout star – a Georgetown transfer – with several complementary pieces.

“Jerome (Hairston) was on the All-Rookie team last year and he’s a lead guard who can score the ball,” Skerry said. “Timajh Parker will step right in for us this year, and our transfer from Vermont, Four McGlynn, is still a sophomore and he’s a very good shooter.”

In addition to the dramatic uptick in talent and team cohesion, Skerry is excited about the possibilities presented by SECU arena, the new $72 million home base for Tiger basketball. His team’s bright future was built brick-by-brick, quite literally.

To add a cherry on the sundae, the CAA tournament, long anchored in the Richmond Coliseum, has migrated to Baltimore this season. With Virginia-based founding members George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU realigned out of the conference, the shift makes some geographical sense.

Skerry acknowledges that the northern contingent: Towson, Delaware, Drexel and Northeastern in particular, stand to benefit from the changes. But he scoffs at the notion that the power will easily shift his direction.

“We added Charleston as well, and they beat our brains in last year,” Skerry said. “Elon’s going to be very good (in 2014), and James Madison are the reigning champs. We’ve got our hands full.”

Winning the league is, honestly, considered little more than a first step in the CAA, thanks to a rich history of giant-killing in the NCAA tournament.

source: AP
Joe Mihalich embraces the challenge of turning Hofstra around.

“We had our coaches meeting a few months back and one of the other coaches said ‘Hey, we’ve seen teams come out of this conference and be incredibly successful, get to the Final Four,'” said Hofstra’s Mihalich. “‘Who’s going to be the next VCU or George Mason?’ I do believe that somebody can do that.”

It may not be Mihalich this year, though he made strong moves to stabilize the Pride’s roster in both the short and long term. Hofstra added graduate students Dion Nesmith (formerly at Monmouth) and Zeke Upshaw (Illinois State) to serve as one-year elder statesmen, signed three skilled freshmen and let his four holdovers show them the ropes. Another layer of known quantities will debut next season, when Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley – who followed Mihalich from his last posting at Niagara – and former SMU guard Brian Bernardi are eligible to suit up.

Neither coach thinks it will be easy to seize a title in a league that hasn’t seen an auto-bid issued from north of the Mason-Dixon line since before the turn of the millennium.

“As John Chaney used to say, for us to win this year, we need the two women in our lives to be there for us,” Mihalich joked. “Mother Nature and Lady Luck. We’ve got to hope a lot of things break our way.”

Skerry, in a decidedly better place than last year, concurred.

“Make no mistake about it, winning is really hard,” the Massachusetts native said with a chuckle. “I think Doc Rivers said that.”

That being said…

“We’ve got a chance to be good. We’re not hiding from that.”

Utah grabs important commitment from four-star center

DENVER, CO - MARCH 19:  Head coach Larry Krystkowiak of the Utah Utes shouts in the first half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Pepsi Center on March 19, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Utah landed an important player for its future on Sunday as four-star center Branden Carlson pledged to the Utes.

The 6-foot-10, 210-pound center is great commitment for Utah as he’s regarded as the No. 113 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals. Carlson’s development is going to be especially intriguing because he won’t play for Utah until the 2019-20 season because of a two-year LDS mission out of high school, according to’s Josh Gershon.

Since Carlson needed to add strength and weight, that should give him a little more time to bulk up before college begins. Utah also has freshman center Jayce Johnson just entering the program — another four-star center — so that spaces the two big men out by a few years.

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak has done a nice job developing big men, specifically Jakob Poeltl, and it appears to be paying off on the recruiting trail.

Tar Heels ready for Final Four push after title-game loss

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts on the bench against the Harvard Crimson during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina won’t have a difficult time finding motivation this season.

The memories of losing in the NCAA championship game on a last-second 3-pointer to Villanova still sting more than six months later. It was the crushing final play in a 33-win season that saw the Tar Heels go from a preseason No. 1-ranked team questioned about its toughness to a group that matured enough to sweep the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before reaching the Final Four.

There are enough veteran returnees for UNC to have the potential to do it again, driven by the memory of coming so oh-so-close to cutting down the nets in April.

“Every time I turn around and look up at the banners, where the national championship banners are,” junior Joel Berry II said, “sometimes it hurts me that we don’t have the 2016 national championship up there. So it’s just motivation to me.”

Some Tar Heels, including Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, still haven’t watched film from the loss.

“I thought we had a great, great year but it’s just like somebody pulls your heart out and taunts you by shaking it in front of you,” Williams said. “But you’ve got to get over it.”

The Tar Heels (33-7, 14-4 ACC) have some big holes with the losses of four-year starter Marcus Paige – the guy UNC looked for when it needed a big shot – and Associated Press all-American Brice Johnson inside. But they return six of their top eight scorers while adding a top-10 recruiting class.

Berry is the top returning scorer (12.8 points), while fellow junior Justin Jackson (12.2) and senior big man Kennedy Meeks are returning starters. The Tar Heels also return ACC sixth man of the Isaiah Hicks, now likely to earn a promotion into the starting lineup.

On the bench, senior Nate Britt provides backcourt depth along with junior Theo Pinson – out indefinitely with a broken bone in his right foot – and sophomore wing Kenny Williams III.

The Tar Heels also will get help up front from McDonald’s All-American Tony Bradley Jr., who headlines a wing-heavy recruiting class.

Some other things to know about the Tar Heels this season:

PINSON’S INJURY: Pinson’s injury during a recent practice, announced Friday, has the potential to be a big blow. The versatile swingman is the team’s top defender, a good passer and a leader with a knack for keeping up team morale .

BERRY IN CHARGE?: Berry looks like the top candidate to take Paige’s role as the guy to entrust with taking the big shot. He was the team’s best outside shooter (38 percent from 3-point range) and led the team in assists, steals and free-throw percentage. And in a sign that Berry could be ready for a leap, he upped his game by averaging 13.7 points and shooting 50 percent in six NCAA Tournament games – ending with 20 points against Villanova.

HICKS’ FOUL TROUBLE: Keeping Hicks on the floor last season was a challenge, including twice in the final 10 games when he picked up four or five fouls in fewer than 10 minutes. The 6-foot-9 forward brings scoring and rebounding, and he was the team’s defensive player of the game eight times – third most on the team behind Paige and Berry. The Tar Heels need him out there this year with fewer frontcourt options.

JACKSON’S GROWTH: Jackson has good size on the perimeter and has been a complimentary scorer through his first two seasons. The Tar Heels need him to become a consistent scorer now in a leading role, especially when it comes to improving his 29-percent shooting from behind the arc last year. He’s an unselfish player and has occasionally seemed content to blend into the background, but the Tar Heels are tougher to stop when he’s playing assertively .

THE ROOKIES: The 6-foot-10 Bradley, a native of Bartow, Florida, will have a shot at immediate minutes for a team with only Meeks and Hicks returning to the frontcourt. The rest of that recruiting class brings depth on the wing with Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods and Shea Rush.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at and the AP’s college basketball site at

Coaches pick Cincinnati to win American Athletic Conference

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) American Athletic Conference coaches have picked Cincinnati to win the league title this season.

The Bearcats edged UConn in the poll, which was released Monday at the conference’s annual media day.

Cincinnati received 95 points and six first-place votes, while UConn claimed the other five and finished with 94 points.

Cincinnati guard Troy Caupain and Memphis’ Dedric Lawson were chosen as the league’s preseason co-players of the year.

Caupain is joined on the preseason conference first team by teammate Gary Clark, Lawson, SMU forward Ben Moore and Houston guard Damyean Dotson.

UConn guard Alterique Gilbert was projected as the league’s top rookie, the fourth straight season a Huskies player has been chosen for that honor.

SWAC Preview: Will Texas Southern get back to the NCAA tournament?

Texas Southern forward Derrick Griffin (23), left, blocks the shot of Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5), right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 72-59. (AP Photo/Rod Aydelotte)
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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 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SWAC.

Texas Southern ripped through the league last year before seeing its NCAA bid chances evaporate with a loss to Southern in the SWAC tournament, but coach Mike Davis has conference player of the year Derrick Griffin back and committed to hoops after being dismissed from the football program, making the Tigers a favorite in the league once more.

Paris Collins returns to lead Jackson State after their third-place finish from a year ago.Chance Franklin is also back after putting up 12.3 points per game for the Tigers, who lost the SWAC title game a year ago by a single point to Southern.

The Jaguars will be looking for big contributions from Tre’lun Banks and Jared Sam, their top two returnees from last year’s NCAA tournament team. They’ll be needed in a big way to offset the losses of Christopher Hyder, Adrian Rodgers and Shawn Prudhomme.

Alcorn State was the regular-season runner-up last season, but is down four senior starters from the group and the Braves are ineligible for postseason play due to APR scores.

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

PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern

The two-sport star is down to one after getting dismissed from the Texas Southern football team this fall, but he’s back for hoops following a year in which he averaged 13.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.


  • Paris Collins, Jackson State: Averaged 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season.
  • Marcus Romain, Mississippi Valley State: The 6-foot-2 senior guard averaged 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
  • Tommy Armstrong, Alabama State: Armstrong returns to power an Alabama State team that won eight of its last 11
  • Trelun Banks, SouthernShot 36.4 percent from 3-point range while scoring 12.4 points, grabbing 2.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.2 assists per game.



1. Texas Southern
2. Jackson State
3. Southern
4. Alabama State
5. Alcorn State
6. Prairie View A&M
7. Mississippi Valley State
8. Alabama A&M
9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
10. Grambling State

Defending champion Oregon picked to repeat as Pac-12 winner

Dana Altman
AP Photo/John Locher
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Defending Pac-12 champion Oregon is picked to repeat as the regular-season conference winner.

The Ducks received 23 first-place votes from a panel of 27 media members covering the conference, the Pac-12 announced Friday at its media day. Oregon returns four starters from last season’s team that won a school-record 31 games and earned a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, led by junior forward Dillon Brooks, who averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Arizona received four first-place votes and was picked second, with UCLA third.

The Pac-12 sent a conference-record seven teams to the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Commissioner Larry Scott expects to announce next month the conference’s plans regarding games played in China. Last year, the Pac-12 began a two-year commitment opening the season in China with Washington beating Texas. On Nov. 11, Stanford will play Harvard in Shanghai.