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MEAC Preview: Hampton trying to go back to tournament

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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 MEAC.

Not much is expected of the MEAC from casual college hoops fans. The league is as one-bid as it gets and MEAC teams don’t get seeded outside the teens very frequently.

But Hampton made a solid impression in the big dance last season, as they made a surprising conference tournament run and followed that up by beating Manhattan in one of the play-in games. The Pirates return four starters from that team, led by talented redshirt senior forward Quinton Chievous, and the experienced backcourt of Reginald Johnson and Jervon Pressley is also back. Hampton is hoping they aren’t as inconsistent in the regular season as last year, but they have the returning talent to compete for another NCAA tournament bid.

Following behind Hampton is a talented roster at North Carolina Central that will feature a number of new faces. The Eagles were unbeaten regular season champions of the MEAC a year ago, but only senior guard Dante Holmes returns from that group. Redshirt forward Jay Copeland is a former starter who should contribute and head coach LeVelle Moton is hoping some newcomers and transfers step in and produce.

Norfolk State has the league’s most gifted player in senior guard Jeff Short, but the Spartans need more help for Short besides perimeter running mate D’Shon Taylor. Replacing forward Rashid Gaston will be the most challenging task for Norfolk State this season. Howard packs some of the league’s best scoring punch with guards James Daniel and James Miller returning. Head coach Kevin Nickelberry is hoping senior Prince Okoroh is healthy and productive after missing the 2014-15 season with a broken foot. If the Bison can find more around that dangerous trio, they could be dangerous.

One team that should rise in the MEAC standings this season is North Carolina A&T, who returns all five starters and eight key rotation players from last season. Senior forward Bruce Beckford is a potential all-MEAC talent and he’s surrounded by an experienced team that starts all upperclassmen. Maryland-Eastern Shore is hoping to ride the momentum of a solid first season under second-year head coach Bobby Collins as they return talented senior guard Devin Martin and starting forward Dominique Elliot. The Hawks also hope that MEAC Rookie of the Year Ryan Andino has a solid sophomore campaign.

Last season, South Carolina State had one of the worst offenses in the nation, but they’re hoping that improves as four starters return. Sophomore guard Edward Stephens returns after averaging 12 points per game and the Bulldogs want junior point guard Jalen White to take an additional leap after taking over the reigns last season. Looking for additional help this season will be Morgan State, who needs more around star senior forward Cedric Blossom. The 6-foot-6 Blossom played nearly 35 minutes a game last season and is the only returning player who averaged more than 6.6 points per game.

It was no issue for Coppin State to put up big points last season, but the team’s defense consistently let it down. After losing three starters who averaged double-figures in points, head coach Michael Grant is hoping that a reshaped roster with six new recruits can get some more stops. Junior guard Christian Kessee returns as the team’s most consistent producer. Delaware State has to replace MEAC leading scorer Amere May and MEAC Player of the Year Kendall Gray, so it will be a rebuilding year. Junior guard DeAndre Haywood is the team’s only returning starter.

A lot of question marks loom for Bethune-Cookman, as they rely heavily on three transfers and a big group of freshmen. Senior guard Ricky Johnson is back and he isn’t flanked by much experience. Savannah State was one of the worst in perimeter shooting in the country last season and the Tigers are hoping eight newcomers help space the floor. Florida A&M was 2-27 last season and the program is still dealing with NCAA sanctions from a low APR score.

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

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “Hampton returns four starters from a team that won a game in the NCAA tournament. They’re the team to beat until proven otherwise.”
  • Sleeper: “North Carolina A&T has a chance to make an impact. They are going to have talent and Cy [Alexander] tends to win when he has upperclassmen.”
  • Star to watch: “Jeff Short is the best scorer in the league, a big wing who can score in multiple ways. He can take over a game by himself offensively.”

PRESEASON MEAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jeff Short, Norfolk State

A tremendous two-way perimeter player, Short is the runaway preseason favorite in this category after a monster junior season. Short averaged 19.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while also putting up good shooting splits (49% FG, 39% 3PT, 82% FT). The 6-foot-4 Short can get going from the perimeter or get to the basket and can be unstoppable at times.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MEAC TEAM:

  • Bruce Beckford, North Carolina A&T: One of the more underappreciated players in the MEAC, Beckford continues to improve over the course of his college career. Averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game on 44 percent shooting and 82 percent from the free-throw line.
  • Dante Holmes, North Carolina Central: The Eagles lose four starters, but the 6-foot-3 senior guard returns after averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Holmes will be relied on to put up good numbers across the board now that he’s a senior leader.
  • Quinton Chievous, Hampton: The 6-foot-6 senior put up some big games on good competition. Chievous had three double-doubles in his final four games including the NCAA tournament against Manhattan and Kentucky.
  • James Daniel, Howard: Howard’s first 1,000-point scorer as an underclassman, Daniel averaged 16.7 points and 2.4 assists per game as a sophomore.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @MEACSports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Hampton
2. North Carolina Central
3. Norfolk State
4. Howard
5. North Carolina A&T
6. Maryland-Eastern Shore
7. South Carolina State
8. Morgan State
9. Coppin State
10. Delaware State
11. Bethune-Cookman
12. Savannah State
13. Florida A&M

Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim comment on death of Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna

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Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach of the USA Men’s National team for nearly a decade, and in that time, he won two gold medals with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, died on Sunday morning after a helicopter that they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, Cali.

“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Coach K said. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.

“I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was an assistant on the 2008 Gold Medal winning team, dubbed the Reedem Team. That squad restored the image of USA Basketball after winning bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

“I first saw him in person when he came to the qualifier in ’07 before the Olympic year,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “He came in the first day and worked twice as hard as everybody else. He taught all the young players, LeBron and Carmelo and all those guys: ‘This is what you gotta do. You gotta go after this.’

“We lost in the World Championship the year before. And he just showed everybody — this is what you do. And we overpowered everybody in that tournament, then we went to the Olympics and overpowered everybody. When it was a close game against Spain in the finals, he took the ball, made the play to win the game.

“That’s who he was. He set a high standard. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Jordan, I didn’t coach, but Jordan was the same. Of all the guys that I’ve ever coached and ever seen, he worked harder than everybody.”

Tom Izzo broke the news of Kobe Bryant’s death to Cassius Winston on live TV

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While the shock and immediacy of Kobe Bryant’s death spread through my network of friends and social media follows like wildfire on Sunday afternoon, one thing I kept thinking about was how many people involved with the game of basketball were actually playing while this was happening.

Take Michigan State and Minnesota, for example. The news of Bryant’s death broke around 2:30 p.m. ET. This game tipped off at 3 p.m. ET. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s resident all-american, found out about Kobe’s death live on TV after the game came to an end:

 

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu breaks down during moment of silence honoring Kobe Bryant

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Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was moved to tears during a pregame moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant prior to a rivalry game against Oregon State on Sunday:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday morning in a place crash that also resulted in the death of one of Gianna’s teammates and a parent.

Ionescu is the best women’s player in the country, recently surpassing Gary Payton for the Pac-12 career assist record, and she has developed a friendship with Kobe Bryant over the years. Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was a huge fan of Sabrina Ionescu’s game, and Kobe Bryant had brought her and her teammates to a number of Oregon games in recent years.

These are the details of the crash, according to our Kurt Helin:

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.