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

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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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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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

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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.