Norfolk State Spartans

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2014 MEAC Tournament Preview: North Carolina Central looks to cap special season

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Levelle Moton’s North Carolina Central Eagles put together an outstanding season, winning 25 games overall and going 16-1 in MEAC play. But if anyone’s assuming that NCCU will simply roll to the league’s automatic bid, consider what happened in last year’s tournament. The top three seeds were all bounced in the quarterfinals, with seven-seed North Carolina A&T winning the title. Hampton and Morgan State are the two and three-seeds, respectively, in this season’s event and four-seed Norfolk State should be considered a threat to win the automatic bid as well.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 10 -15, 2014

Where: Norfolk, Va. (Scope Arena)

Final: March 15, 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: North Carolina Central

After losing their conference opener the Eagles have won 16 straight games, and there’s even been talk about this team possibly being the best in the history of the MEAC. NCCU also has a non-conference win at N.C. State to its credit, and Jeremy Ingram’s led the way all season long. The Eagles aren’t a running team but they’ve been dominant on both ends of the floor in conference play, leading the MEAC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And you can’t overlook Jordan Parks either, as he’s averaging 10.2 points per game off the bench.

And if they lose?: Hampton

The Pirates may be able to rely on proximity during the tournament, with the trek from Hampton to Norfolk being a more than manageable one for their fans. But they’ve also got quality players, with forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell and guard Deron Powers being the headlines. Hampton’s won ten of its last 11 games, with the lone defeat being a 94-92 loss at Morgan State. The Bears may be the one concern for Hampton in their quest to reach the final, as Morgan State won both regular season meetings.

Sleepers:

  • Norfolk State: Robert Jones may be in his first season as a head coach but he was on the staff that led the Spartans to the NCAA tournament in 2012, and
  • Morgan State: Todd Bozeman’s Bears won 11 conference games, with Justin Black being one of the MEAC’s best scorers.

Studs:

  • Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central: Ingram’s averaging 20.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for the MEAC’s best team.
  • Pendarvis Williams, Norfolk State: Williams (15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.7 apg) is second on the team in scoring, third in rebounds and second in assists.
  • Du’Vaughn Maxwell, Hampton: Maxwell lead the Pirates in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

CBT Prediction: North Carolina Central finishes the job this time around, beating Hampton in the title game.

Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones receives contract extension

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When Anthony Evans left Norfolk State to fill the vacancy left by Richard Pitino at FIU in the spring, assistant Robert Jones was promoted to interim head coach. And to this point in his debut season Jones has experienced a decent amount of success, with the Spartans (8-3) currently trailing North Carolina Central (12-1) in the MEAC standings by two games in the loss column and 14-11 overall.

With this being the case, Norfolk State announced on Wednesday that the school and Jones have come to an agreement on a contract extension through the 2016-17 season while also removing the interim tag. Norfolk State also announced hat it has extended the contract of women’s basketball head coach Debra Clark through the 2015-16 campaign.

“I’ve been very pleased with Coach Jones’ performance as a head coach on the Division I level,” Norfolk State AD Marty Miller said in the release. “He’s done an excellent job of getting our team to be competitive both within the conference and in non-conference play, despite having to deal with a number of injuries to key players.

“I’m also very satisfied with the academic performance of the program. Our basketball student-athletes had an excellent fall semester overall and are on track to repeat that effort this spring.”

According to the release the Spartans’ average of 74.2 points per game is the highest for the program in 13 years, with senior guards Malcolm Hawkins (16.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Pendarvis Williams (15.9, 5.2, 2.7 apg) leading the way offensively. Norfolk State begins a three-game road swing with a game at Coppin State on Saturday afternoon.

Is Norfolk State better than the team that upset Missouri?

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source: AP
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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.

Norfolk State rebuilds in paradise

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Norfolk State v Florida
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Ever notice no basketball program ever takes a summer basketball trip to Siberia? It’s always Italy, France, Brazil, Bahamas. Sometimes Canada. Lather, rinse, repeat. And who can blame them? If you’re going to mess around and win a few games (or lose a few, that’s certainly been going around), why not do it somewhere nice where the kids can get some culture?

It’s every bit as awesome as it sounds, according to a blog written by Norfolk State forward Rob Johnson. He began penning his thoughts and experiences for the NSU faithful during the team’s recently concluded team-building trip to Tierra Del Fuego Kamchatka Sudan the Bahamas.

As we walk from the lobby to the bus that will eventually take us to the airport, Coach (Robert) Jones sings to himself, ‘Back to life, back to reality.’ Although it wasn’t as vocally fine-tuned as the version sung by En Vogue, the point still got across to the team. We were getting ready to go back to ‘reality,’ or whatever life we had before our trip to the Bahamas.

Before waking up, seeing Cable Beach from our hotel balcony, before eating 5-star meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and before the boat trips and deep sea snorkeling adventures.

(I hate to pull this old-guy stuff on Mr. Johnson, but that was Soul II Soul. I’m going to go lie down, I think I broke a hip.)

Not a bad reward for Spartans players, many of whom were on the roster during last season’s epic upset of 2-seed Missouri in the NCAA tournament. But reality is looming – what do they do for an encore? Are they a flash in the pan, or a MEAC dynasty in the making?

Before they headed to the plane that would whisk them back to the Virginia shore (which doesn’t exactly lack for beaches) the Spartans learned a little about the team they’ll put on the floor next season. Junior guard Pendarvis “Penny” Williams dropped 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 5 assists in the team’s final game, a win against the Grand Bahama All Stars. Complementing Williams in the backcourt was Jamel Fuentes, who averaged over 10 assists per game during the trip to paradise.

The 6’7″ Johnson will be a critical player himself, as the Spartans attempt to replace at least some of the production 6’10” senior Kyle O’Quinn took with him to the NBA. Johnson has never averaged as much as 7 points per game, and must take on some of that role as a senior. 6’8″ freshman Rashid Gaston may be able to contribute early on, and Johnson noted that seldom-used 6’11” junior Brandon Goode has improved over the summer and should contribute as well.

We won’t get a chance to see the Spartans play during the MEAC season, most likely. Head coach Anthony Evans led the team to unprecedented success last season, and if he can do it again, expect to see his name come up for a big promotion.

Kyle O’Quinn talks about the NBA draft

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Kyle O’Quinn was most recently seen helping the Norfolk State Spartans shock the Missouri Tigers in the first round of the NCAA tournament (yes, I am aware that it is technically the second round. I’m not much for technicalities). That national coming-out party has the shot-blocking whiz under serious consideration by NBA teams in need of a defensive stopper.

Here, O’Quinn talks with Antoine Perry about the rigors and joys of preparing for the NBA draft.

O’Quinn is something special: a self-made MEAC star with a made-for-TV personality. Would he be here without the huge upset of the Tigers last March? Doubtful. Here’s hoping he keeps living the dream, because he’s pure joy to watch, on the court and off.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He believes the children are our future.

Tourney upset has O’Quinn on NBA radar

Norfolk State's O'Quinn looks at scoreboard during end of Spartans' win over Missouri in NCAA men's West Regional tournament in Omaha
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Kyle O’Quinn was one of basketball’s best-kept secrets, up until March 16, 2012. That was the day his Norfolk State Spartans defeated Missouri in a huge 15 over 2 tourney upset. Prior to that day, even people with orange roundies for brains — like those of us who write for CBT — may have been aware that O’Quinn was a dynamic scorer and shot-blocker, but likely harbored serious doubts that his skills would translate outside of the lowly MEAC.

We had to re-evaluate O’Quinn after that huge upset, and so did NBA scouts. As it stands today, the former Spartan has been flown to work out for the glitzy Los Angeles Lakers, and is scheduled to continue his victory tour through Brooklyn, San Antonio, San Francisco and Oklahoma City. The League wants him. It seems like a crazy dream, even to O’Quinn, though he’s starting to wake up to the possibilities. “It’s all becoming very real now,” he told the Hampton Roads Pilot Online.

Unlike some blue-chippers who may feel that the NBA is a birthright, O’Quinn knows the dream is still far away. He’s taking steps to make it all happen.

O’Quinn has been living in Las Vegas and working out at Impact Basketball, one of the world’s top training facilities. He’s acquired an agent, Al Ebanks. And he’s embraced the idea that many eyes are on him.

“Every time I work out at Impact, someone is watching,” O’Quinn said. “Or at least, that’s the way I look at it. People know that some really good basketball players are here at Impact and they float in and out all the time just to watch people work out. Someone could be watching me from the rafters and I don’t even know they are there, so I make sure I’m working out hard every time.”

O’Quinn’s productive paranoia is charming. If the phrase “dance like nobody’s watching” has become a shopworn cliche, maybe it’s time to replace it with O’Quinn’s motto: “work like everybody’s watching.”