2014-2015 Season Preview: Coastal Carolina, High Point early favorites in competitive Big South

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Andrew Rowsey of UNC Asheville (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The Big South will be one of the most entertaining mid-major conferences to follow this season, and it’s not just because of the absurd about of young talent in the league. Let’s talk about that before I get into the meat and potatoes of this preview. The best player in the conference, High Point’s John Brown, is a junior this year. Last year’s leading scorer, Andrew Rowsey of UNC Asheville, is a sophomore this season. The leading scorer on Coastal Carolina, the team that won the automatic bid last year and the favorite to win the league this season, was now-sophomore Elijah Wilson. How many leagues can make that same claim, particularly at that level?

It’s not just the talent in the league that’s exciting, however. Last season, seven of the 12 teams in the Big South won at least 10 games, with six teams finishing within two games of regular season champ High Point. While VMI has left the conference for the SoCon, there are still enough quality teams here to make this regular season title race wild.

It starts with Coastal Carolina, who will strengthen what is the best perimeter attack in the conference. Wilson returns, as does senior point guard Warren Gillis, the best player on the Chanticleers. Add in senior Josh Cameron and transfer Shivaughn Wiggins, who may end up being the best point guard on the roster, and Cliff Ellis has himself some serious back court talent.

Should I mention that the Big South tournament is played at the HTC Center, Coastal’s home floor?

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High Point’s John Brown (HPU Men’s Basketball)

The biggest question mark, however, is CCU’s front court simply because they don’t have anyone on the roster that can matchup with Brown, a 6-foot-8 athletic specimen that led High Point with averages of 19.5 points and 7.7 boards. Brown is a workhorse that creates all kinds of matchup problems with opponents because, quite frankly, he has no business being a Big South player. Sharpshooter Devante Wallace, who hit nearly 60% of his threes in league play, is back, as is Adam Weary. The x-factor for this group will be sophomore Anthony Lindauer, who played well when HPU’s starting point guard got hurt last year.

Anyone looking at last year’s standings may not realize this, but Charleston Southern is a team to keep a very close eye on this year. They entered last season as the favorites to win the league, but injuries to Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper derailed their season. Those two are reportedly healthy now, and if they are, the Buccaneers will be a factor in the conference race.

Radford brings back five seniors from last year’s team, headlined by Javonte Green, who may be the best player in the conference not named John Brown. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-4, but he scores, rebounds and defends well. Size will be an issue, however, as there are times the Highlanders play Green at the four with three guards on the floor. UNC Asheville will never be out of a game when Rowsey is on the floor, but losing Jaron Lane and big man D.J. Cunningham will be a lot to overcome.

Winthrop returns four starters, including another standout sophomore in Keon Johnson. The Eagles will be a serious threat to win the league if former Louisville and Missouri center Zach Price gets a waiver to be eligible immediately. Gardner-Webb brings back Jerome Hill, but they lose three starters, including Naji Hibbert and Donta Harper.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

  • In: None 
  • Out: VMI

PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Brown, High Point

Brown has been one of the most productive players in the country since he made his debut with the Panthers two seasons ago. Expect much of the same from the reigning Big South Player of the Year, and don’t be surprised when one of the nation’s hardest-working big men routinely makes it on Sportscenter’s Top Ten.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM:

  • Andrew Rowsey, UNC-Asheville, So.: Rowsey averaged 20.3 points as a freshman, the second person to ever do that. The first? Seth Curry. And he’s just getting started.
  • Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern, Sr.: Nimley is just 5-foot-8, but he’s one of the best mid-major players in the country … when healthy.
  • Javonte Green, Radford, Sr.: A 6-foot-4 forward, Green averaged 16.9 points and 8.1 boards last season.
  • Warren Gillis, Coastal Carolina, Sr.: Gillis, a point guard, was the best player on the Big South’s conference tournament champion last season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigSouthSports

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.