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Big South Conference Preview: Nick McDevitt, UNC Asheville just keep winning

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.

At some point, a big school is going to figure out that UNC Asheville head coach Nick McDevitt is better at his job than most coaches are at their’s. After reaching the NCAA tournament in 2015-16, McDevitt lost his two best freshman – Dylan Smith and Dwayne Sutton – to Arizona and Louisville, respectively. In 2016-17, despite losing those two, McDevitt’s Bulldogs won three more conference games and a share of the Big South regular season title.

Better yet, McDevitt returns almost his entire rotation from that team, which includes a pair of first-team all-conference performers in Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague. With veterans like Kevin Vannatta and Alec Wnuk back and Donovan Gilmore, a transfer from College of Charleston, eligible up front, there’s no reason to believe UNCA will do anything other than push for the league title once again.

After reaching the NCAA tournament a season ago, Winthrop very nearly lost head coach Pat Kelsey to UMass, but after agreeing to a deal and having a press conference scheduled to announce the hire, Kelsey backed out and returned to the Eagles. He’s going to have his work cut out for him repeating last year’s success, as Keon Johnson, who averaged 22 points, is gone, along with four of their top seven from last year. But Xavier Cooks is back, and Kelsey will have a veteran-laden roster around him.

If Winthrop takes a step back, look for Liberty to take a step forward in the conference standings. They finished 14-4 in the Big South and return a number of key pieces, including Ryan Kemrite, a fifth-year senior a,d Lovell Cabbil. Ritchie McKay will also have a couple of younger players looking for bigger roles, namely Myo Baxter-Ball, but their ceiling will be determine by the health of Caleb Homesley. He was averaging 12.9 points, 6.3 boards and 2.9 assists when he tore his ACL, the second such injury he’s suffered, in December.

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Another contender to keep an eye on will be Campbell, who got Chris Clemons back for his junior season. The 5-foot-9 Clemons was the third-leading scorer in the country a year ago, but it is his supporting cast that makes the Camels promising. A year ago, they were young, with the majority of their rotation being freshmen and sophomores. Now, guys like Marcus Burk and Cory Gensler are sophomores, while there is still a nice blend of veterans on the roster; Shane Whitfield, Mogga Lado, Andrew Eudy.

Radford will also be an interesting team to track. They return everyone of consequence from a team that went 8-10 in the league last season. Charleston Southern is going to be interesting with Christian Keeling, who averaged 17 points and seven boards as a freshman, returning with Cortez Mitchell, but losing Armel Potter to transfer was a blow. Gardner-Webb would have had a shot had they not lost LaQuincy Rideau to a transfer during the offseason. Ande Fox and Jamal Wright are both good young pieces for High Point, but it won’t be easy replacing three of their top four scorers.

Presbyterian is going to be hoping that a change in leadership will change the fortunes of the program, former Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns has taken the reins. Longwood won three games last season and lost their two best players this offseason.

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PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chris Clemons, Campbell

This one was easy. Clemons, a dynamic 5-foot-9 scoring guard, was the nation’s third-leading scorer a year ago, checking in at 25.1 points per game. The Camels finished last season just 7-11 in Big South play, but they did make a run to the final of the Big South tournament and they do return essentially their entire rotation.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM

  • Xavier Cooks, Winthrop: Cooks proved to be one of the most versatile bigs in the league last season, averaging 16.5 points, 9.1 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.7 blocks for the Eagles as they reached the NCAA tournament.
  • MaCio Teague, UNC Asheville: No one is better at finding under-the-radar talent than Nick McDevitt, and he worked his magic again, as Teague averaged 15.4 points as a freshman with the Bulldogs.
  • Ahmad Thomas, UNC Asheville: Thomas was not only the leading scorer for last year’s regular season co-champions, but he also, at 6-foot-3, might have been the best perimeter defender in the conference.
  • Christian Keeling, Charleston Southern: As a 6-foot-4 freshman, Keeling averaged 17.4 points and 7.1 boards for the Buccaneers.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. UNC Asheville
2. Liberty
3. Campbell
4. Winthrop
5. Radford
6. High Point
7. Gardner-Webb
8. Charleston Southern
9. Presbyterian
10. Longwood

DeVoe leads No. 20 Clemson to 67-58 win over Irish

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey believes his program had been perfect against Clemson because during the crucial stretches, it was the Fighting Irish who made the biggest plays.

“Tonight, they made plays,” Brey said after No. 20 Clemson beat Notre Dame for the first time, 67-58 on Saturday.

Gabe DeVoe had 17 points including a critical 3-pointer with 3:18 left to keep the Tigers out front. Shelton Mitchell had 10 of the Tigers’ final 20 points after Notre Dame cut an 11-point deficit to 47-46, and freshman Amir Simms hit a 3 from the right corner with just over a minute left that proved the winning blow for the Tigers (16-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

The victory came after an awful-looking injury to Clemson captain Donte Grantham, whose right knee buckled after getting fouled from behind.

Grantham, a 6-foot-8 senior who averages 14 points a game, had 11 before going down with 10:54 left in the game. Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Grantham would have an MRI on the knee.

“He’s had a very good year and we’re hopeful it’s not over for us,” Brownell said.

Notre Dame (13-7, 3-4) lost its fourth straight. The Fighting Irish had a 5-0 all-time mark over the Tigers, and Clemson barely escaped continuing a second streak of failure in the same week: The Tigers fell to 0-59 all-time at Chapel Hill with their 87-78 loss to North Carolina on Tuesday night.

DeVoe said the Tigers learned from the slow start in that game to break out on top, 21-10 against the Fighting Irish. When things tightened up, he said Clemson’s experience came through.

“Knowing how to finish games has really helped us out a lot this year,” he said.

Mitchell and Marcquise Reed scored 12 points each for the Tigers. Mitchell caught fire after Notre Dame’s rally with a 3-pointer and a driving layup to extend the lead to 52-46.

TJ Gibbs led Notre Dame with 18 points. Matt Farrell, who came in averaging 18 points per game, ended with six on 2-of-11 shooting.

“He had an off night shooting,” Brownell said of Farrell. “But I’d like to think some of it was our defense.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish dug themselves an early hole as Clemson made seven of its first eight shots. But Notre Dame answered, gradually cutting the lead to 31-30 as it tightened up the defense and found its shooting touch. … Notre Dame shot just two free throws.

Clemson: When the Tigers are hitting shots, they’re tough to beat. Unfortunately for Clemson, it doesn’t always happen that way. DeVoe, Reed and Grantham all had open 3s early on as the Tigers forged a double-digit lead. Clemson went cold after that, making just four of its last 16 shots of the opening half to open the door for the Fighting Irish. Clemson did just enough to stay in front.

WELCOME BREAK

Brey believes his team’s week off — the Irish don’t play until next Saturday — will help them physically and mentally before trying to even their ACC record. “I think 4-4 (in the ACC) would feel like 8-0 to this group,” Brey said.

TREE TIME

Clemson great and NBA standout Wayne “Tree” Rollins was the featured former Tiger during a pregame alumni celebration. Rollins was recently inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor, the highest athletic award the university gives out. Rollins played 18 years in the NBA, 11 with the Atlanta Hawks. Rollins finished his degree from Clemson two years ago.

Jackson-Cartwright, No. 14 Arizona rally for 73-71 win at Stanford

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STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Rawle Alkins made a go-ahead layup with 38 seconds remaining, and No. 14 Arizona held on for a 73-71 comeback win Saturday over Stanford to take sole possession of first place in the Pac-12.

Allonzo Trier, who led the Wildcats (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12) with 21 points, added three free throws in the final 18 seconds for Arizona, which trailed by 11 points midway through the second half. Dusan Ristic added 18 points and nine rebounds and Alkins scored 13 for the Wildcats, who have won 16 straight against the Cardinal.

Reid Travis had 20 points for Stanford (11-9, 5-2), which had defeated No. 16 Arizona State three days earlier and was on a five-game winning streak.

The game was tied at 46 when Stanford went on an 11-0 run that included a technical foul on Arizona coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats responded with their own 11-point run, tying the game on a 3-pointer by Trier with 6:20 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats have won 13 of their last 14, but this one was closer than most of the 12 other victories — which had come by an average margin of 11 points.

Stanford: The Cardinal’s five-game winning streak was their longest in conference play in a decade.

UP NEXT

Arizona: The Wildcats return home, where they have not lost in 10 games this season, to face Colorado on Thursday.

Stanford: The Cardinal start their annual two-game trip to Los Angeles on Wednesday at Southern California. Stanford is 2-5 away from home this season, including 0-4 at neutral sites.

Bates-Diop, No. 22 Ohio State top Minnesota 67-49

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NEW YORK (AP) — Keita Bates-Diop had 17 points and 12 rebounds, leading No. 22 Ohio State over Minnesota 67-49 Saturday for its seventh straight win.

The game was part of a two-sport Big Ten doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. At night, Minnesota and Michigan State were set to meet in hockey.

The Buckeyes (17-4, 8-0 Big Ten) used a 24-2 burst to overcome a 10-point deficit midway through the first half. They stayed in control, and went on to match last season’s win total.

Kaleb Wesson added 15 points and eight rebounds for Ohio State.

Amir Coffey, who missed five games because of a shoulder injury, scored 11 points for the Golden Gophers (14-8, 3-6). Jordan Murphy had 13.

Maye, Pinson help No. 15 UNC beat Georgia Tech 80-66

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Luke Maye had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 15 North Carolina beat Georgia Tech 80-66 on Saturday.

Theo Pinson added 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Joel Berry II and Cameron Johnson finished with 16 points apiece to help the Tar Heels (16-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

They shot 42 percent and dominated the glass, building a 46-25 rebounding advantage and scoring 26 second-chance points to Georgia Tech’s four.

Jose Alvarado scored 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, including one that pulled the Yellow Jackets to 70-62 with about 3½ minutes left. But he fouled Berry on the Tar Heels’ ensuing possession — and then stepped over him, earning a technical foul with 3:21 to play.

Berry hit three of the four free throws he was awarded to put North Carolina’s lead into double figures to stay. The Tar Heels were 19 of 24 from the line, while Georgia Tech was just 3 of 6.

Josh Okogie led Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3) with 18 points, while Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye each had 12. The Yellow Jackets were just 5 of 18 from 3-point range.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets had won four in a row before this two-game run against top-15 opponents. After suffocating against No. 2 Virginia’s ACC-best defense, Georgia Tech couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s fast-paced offense, which averages nearly 83 points — especially after one stretch in which it had two field goals in 10-plus minutes.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ winning streak remains intact, but Berry had a rough day until his free-throw bonanza all but iced it. The most outstanding player at the Final Four finished just 3 of 17 from the field and was just 1 of 8 from long range.

VIDEO: Ted Valentine apologizes to Joel Berry for incident

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Two weeks ago, during a North Carolina loss at Florida State, official Ted Valentine missed an obvious foul committed on Joel Berry that resulted in a turnover.

When Berry went to ask TV Teddy about the no-call, the veteran referee turned his back on Berry.

Literally.

Today, prior to Georgia Tech’s game at North Carolina which Valentine officiated, he apologized to Berry for the previous incident:

“He was just telling me that he apologized for what he did,” Berry said after the game. “That’s all he said, just apologized and made sure that there was nothing wrong between us and I told him it was all good, it was in the heat of the moment.”