Horizon Preview: Valparaiso remains dangerous

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Horizon League.

CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT:
IN: Northern Kentucky (Atlantic Sun)

The Horizon League enters the 2015-16 season with some talented teams, including a returning NCAA tournament team that has all five starters back. Adding another level of intrigue to the Horizon’s postseason proceedings, the conference tournament moves to Detroit this season after being played as a true home game for the Horizon’s top team.

Regardless of where the league’s conference tournament is played, Valparaiso enters as the heavy favorite to repeat after winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles last season. The Crusaders return all five starters and three key reserves to a team that took Maryland to the brink in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Junior forward Alec Peters is the league’s Preseason Player of the Year and he’s surrounded by three seniors, including rim protector Vashil Fernandez. Most importantly, head coach Bryce Drew is back and he’s got a chance to lead a dangerous mid-major team that could easily win a game or two in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

Trailing behind Valpo is two talented teams, Oakland and Milwaukee. Greg Kampe’s Grizzlies return player of the year candidate Kahlil Felder, a non-stop threat who played nearly every minute of Oakland’s 2014-15 season. Felder is flanked by two returning starters and some high-major transfers in former Iowa State products Percy Gibson (center) and Sherron Dorsey-Walker (guard). Texas transfer Martez Walker is also eligible to make for a talented group that could push for the league crown.

After sitting out the postseason last season due to NCAA violations, Milwaukee has reloaded and Rob Jeter has his most talented team in years. All-league forward Matt Tiby is the Horizon’s leading returning rebounder while the Panthers redshirted three forwards — including versatile junior Austin Arians — and recruited two talented guards. Six of the top seven return from last season to go along with those five new players and Milwaukee ended the 2014-15 season by winning seven of nine.

Wright State has to stay healthy to be a top-tier Horizon League team but they return their four top scorers. Forward J.T. Yoho was one of the league’s best players when healthy last season and senior guard Joe Thomasson is very experienced. Detroit has to replace the scoring of Juwan Howard Jr., but sophomore forward Paris Bass is one of the league’s most talented players and could be poised for a big year. The Titans return four of its top five scorers from last year’s team, that includes three local recruits.

Things will be quite different in Green Bay as Brian Wardle has been replaced by Linc Darner and Keifer Sykes and Greg Mays are gone. But wing Jordan Fouse is one of the league’s best defenders and guard Carrington Love showed some scoring punch as well. The Phoenix will have question marks after their two returning starters.

UIC is now under the direction of former Indiana assistant Steve McClain and he brought in some immediate talent in guards Dominique Matthews and Dikembe Dixson. Two starters return for the Flames in double-figure scoring guard Paris Burns and forward Jake Wiegand. Cleveland State got hit by transfers as Trey Lewis (Louisville) and Anton Grady (Wichita State) are on new rosters and only starter Andre Yates returns. The Vikings have two redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen they’ll count on early.

Not much is proven for Youngstown State outside of 6-foot-10 senior forward Bobby Hain. Five new recruits will be asked to do a lot of a Penguins team that lost four starters from last season. Northern Kentucky is the new program in the league with a new coach in former Alabama assistant John Brannen. The Norse bring back three starters from a team that was 13-17 last season.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “Valparaiso has a team that could have won a NCAA tournament game last season and now everybody is back. With Vashil Fernandez still in the lineup, they’re going to be very tough for any team to beat.”
  • Sleeper: “Milwaukee finished extremely strong to end last season. They bring back a core nucleus of experienced guys and have the postseason to play for. When you put all of those things in the equation, it makes them a dangerous team.”
  • Star to watch: “Kahlil Felder probably means more to his team than Alec Peters, but Peters is the type of player who hits a huge shot to put a game out of reach. When he’s on, Valpo plays at another level.”

PRESEASON HORIZON LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alec Peters, Valparaiso

The skilled 6-foot-9 junior barely edges out Oakland guard Kahlil Felder for preseason honors, in a debate that should be fun for the next two seasons. With his tremendous efficiency shooting the ball from all over the floor, Peters gets the nod here after averaging 16.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game as a sophomore. Peters put up those numbers while shooting 48 percent from the field, 46 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the free-throw line. With Valpo having so much balance in its deep and talented lineup, teams have to decide whether they want to overload on Peters or risk him having a big game. Since Peters can score from all over the floor, he’s a matchup nightmare for nearly any program.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-HORIZON TEAM:

  • Kahlil Felder, Oakland: The 5-foot-9 junior is a complete warrior who averaged 38.5 minutes a game in 33 games last season. Put up 18.1 points, 7.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds per contest.
  • Matt Tiby, Milwaukee: The league’s returning leading rebounder, the 6-foot-8 Tiby can score and rebound among the best in the league. Averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for a team that couldn’t play for the postseason.
  • JT Yoho, Wright State: If he can stay healthy, the 6-foot-6 Yoho is a Player of the Year candidate. Yoho averaged 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season and is talented enough to score from all over the floor.
  • Paris Bass, Detroit: After a productive freshman season, expectations become even greater for Bass since this is his team now. The 6-foot-8 sophomore averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds per game and is one of the league’s most talented young stars.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @billpotter_HL

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Valparaiso
2. Oakland
3. Milwaukee
4. Wright State
5. Detroit
6. Green Bay
7. UIC
8. Cleveland State
9. Youngstown State
10. Northern Kentucky

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.