Kyle O’Quinn

Danny Hurley has Rhode Island heading in the right direction

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Danny Hurley knew that he’d have an uphill battle when he took over for Jim Baron at Rhode Island.

Forget, for a second, the fact that the Rams are coming off of a season where they managed to win just seven games, because that would just be too obvious. Maybe the fact that he’s coaching a team that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since people were still concerned about Y2K is a good indicator. Or how about the fact that the Rams only bring back four players from last year’s rotation — which managed to win just seven games, remember — two of whom missed a combined 30 games. Should I even mention that Hurley has just eight scholarship players eligible this season?

An empty cupboard at a program a long way from having relevant basketball tradition is hardly an ideal situation.

“Right now we’re not a good team,” Hurley said after his team lost to No. 4 Ohio State 69-58 in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. “We’re transitioning to try and become one.”

Moral victories aren’t the kind of wins that Hurley is used to collecting. But at this point in the program’s development, they are going to be in greater supply, and on Saturday night, Hurley’s team notched a definitive moral victory. The Rams outplayed Ohio State in the first half, and if it wasn’t for three ugly possessions in the final 1:30 of the half that led to a 7-0 Buckeye run, URI would have gone into the break with the lead.

In the second half, every time it looked like Ohio State was ready to pull away, the Rams had an answer. Mike Powell hit back-to-back threes with one second left on the shot clock to help erase an eight point lead early in the half. When OSU pushed the lead to 14 later in the half, the Rams responded with an 8-2 spurt to keep in striking distance. URI was completely overmatched and out-talented, but that didn’t keep them from fighting and scrapping and playing like they believed they deserved to win.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And coming off of a 19 point loss to lowly Virginia Tech and a 12 point loss to Kyle O’Quinn-less Norfolk State, this kind of performance a step in the right direction.

“We understand, the coaches and everyone involved in the program understand, the challenges that we’re facing in our first year here,” Hurley said. “All this does for us is strengthen our resolve to find a way to succeed.”

Hurley has pedigree. He won (a lot) as a high school coach at St. Benedict’s in New Jersey. He would have won a lot at his last stop — Wagner College — if he had been there for more than just two years. His father is Hall of Fame St. Anthony’s High School head coach Bob Hurley. His brother, an assistant on his staff, is Bobby Hurley, the former all-american point guard at Duke.

Losing won’t last long for Rhody.

“Obviously with his track record, he’s going to do a great job,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “I think it’s a great set up. With his background, he’s going to get great players up there. I think he’s got the right approach with what he’s doing.”

“With the way they played tonight, I think he might get there a little bit quicker than he thought he would.”

Help is on the way. Rhode Island has three transfers sitting out this season that could play a lot of minutes for the Rams this year — Gil Biruta from Rutgers, DeShon Minnis from Texas Tech and Jarelle Reischel from Rice. He’s also got a quality recruiting class coming in, with 6-foot-6 forward Hassan Martin and EC Matthews, a top 50 scoring guard from Detroit, joining the mix.

If the Rams can continue to play with the effort and determination that they did on Saturday with next season’s talent infusion, they’ll make some serious noise in the Atlantic 10.

How hard did they play on Saturday?

The large contingent of Rhode Island fans that made the 45 minute drive to Mohegan Sun Arena gave the Rams a standing ovation as they left the court.

“It felt good,” sophomore point guard Mike Powell said, “but I wish they were cheering because we won.”

It’ll come.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Your guide to the pre-marathon Monday night games

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With a matter of minutes left until the first Monday night slate of the college basketball season, here’s a list of game that you might be interested in before midnight hits and the world completely turns its collective attention to the 24-hours of Marathon Madness.

A few games will be of interest for certain players, certain matchups and certain minutiae that all hoopheads loves.

So if you need to turn the 24-hours of hoops into 29, here’s your guide. Choose wisely. And take it easy on the caffeine.

Games of Note (and why)

North Dakota State at Indiana (7 p.m., no TV listed)Why: It’s the no. 1 team in the nation, first off. But this isn’t just another cupcake for the Hoosiers. The Bison were selected to finish behind only South Dakota State in the Summit League and have leading scorer Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorkland back from last season. Newcomer Mike Felt scored 23 in the team’s first game of the season, a blowout win over Valley City State (yea, I know, but still….).

Toledo at Minnesota (8 p.m., no T.V. listed) – Why: Trevor Mbakwe. He only played 14 minutes in the Golden Gophers’ first game of the season, a rout of American. It’s fair to believe that Tubby Smith is bringing the sixth-year senior along slowly. No reason to rush recovery of a torn ACL. But what does he do now with a game under his belt and against a Rockets’ team that just got rolled by Loyola (Ill.)? Will Tubby release the Mbakwe on the world tonight?

Morehead State at Maryland (8 p.m., ESPN3) – Why: Do the Terrapins overcome a Big Blue hangover? Alex Len led Maryland through a nail-biter against Kentucky, coming up short but showing a lot of promise for a season that was in limbo after leading scorer Terril Stoglin was suspended, then bolted. Ironically, they play an Eagles team that took the court right before them in Brooklyn on Friday night, beating a solid LIU-Brooklyn team in what essentially was a road game at the Barclays Center. So this is no buffer game for coach Mark Turgeon. How will the Terps respond?

Central Michigan at Iowa (7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network) – Why: The Keno Davis era begins. Davis parlayed one dream season at Drake into three sub-par seasons at Providence. After one year away from coaching, which Davis will we see? The Drake coach that was able to develop a guard like former Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Adam Emmenecker? Or a coach who failed to get things started at Providence despite having a player like Marshon Brooks to build around? We’ll see.

Rhode Island at Virginia Tech (7 p.m., ESPN3) – Why: Dan Hurley gets his first true test. And this comes after a really bad game in a 67-55 loss to Norfolk State at home. And that Spartan team doesn’t have Kyle O’Quinn on it. Now they head to Blacksburg against a fellow first-year head man in James Johnson, who got an 80-62 victory over East Tennessee State to open his career with the Hokies. This will be the true barometer of how much work Hurley has to do to get the Rams back to respectability.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Conference Preview: MEAC prepares for life after Norfolk State

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Kyle O’Quinn and the Norfolk State Spartans took the country by storm last season, ruining brackets everywhere with their stunning upset of No.2-seed Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With O’Quinn now in the NBA, programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference are back to where they usually are: A college basketball afterthought serving as non-conference filler for programs looking to pad their records.

Delaware State and Savannah State are the two teams most likely to contend for the MEAC championship in 2012-2013. Delaware State returns two of the conference’s top players, sophomore guard Tahj Tate and sophomore center Kendall Gray. Tate was the team’s leading scorer last season despite missing five games, averaging 16.1ppg. He is unquestionably the most dynamic player in the conference, and can single handedly take over the game. Gray is one of the nation’s premier shot-blocker, but was limited to just 17 games last season because of a knee injury. No other team in the MEAC boasts a inside-outside combination like Delaware State, and these two players will ultimately be the reason why the Hornets finish atop the standings.

But the Savannah State should not be left out of the discussion. The Tigers had the MEAC’s best record a season ago and return their top two scorers, senior forward Rashad Hassan (13.1ppg) and senior guard Deric Rudolph (10.7ppg). After the top two teams, the conference starts to get dicey. Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central could sneak in to one of the top two spots, and Howard has the talent to cause an upset or two. But inconsistent play and a lack of talent depth will restrict the success of many of the conference’s programs.

The most interesting component of Delaware State and Savannah State sitting atop the league is that the two programs won’t face each other in conference-play. So we may not see the two best teams in the MEAC play each other until the conference tournament. But it’s not a given. Both teams stumbled in the conference tournament a year ago despite playing the best basketball in the conference up to that point. So while we have a good idea of who should win it all in 2012-2013, in the MEAC, nothing is certain.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)

G Pendarvis Williams (Norfolk State)
G Tahj Tate (Delaware State)*
G Deric Rudolph (Savannah State)
G Adrien Coleman (Bethune-Cookman)
F Rashad Hasasan (Savannah State)

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

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Norfolk State rebuilds in paradise

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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 now officially an NBA player

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Kyle O’Quinn spent all of about 15 minutes in the national consciousness during his time as a college basketball player.

He’s a product of Norfolk State, which is a program that maybe half of the nation’s college basketball fans would be able to identify as a Division I school. But that number was much, much lower prior to March, when O’Quinn went for 26 points and 14 boards as he lead the Spartans to a win over No. 2 seed Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (I can guarantee that there won’t be a soul in the state of Kansas that forgets about Norfolk State for at least a decade.)

O’Quinn eventually got drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Orlando Magic, becoming an inspiring story in the process. Eight years ago, he was just another 5-foot-11 freshman in Queens, NY. Even as he grew into his now 6-foot-10 frame, O’Quinn wasn’t much of a hoops phenom; he only played a single season of high school ball.

And now?

O’Quinn’s officially an NBA player. He signed a three-year, $2.5 million contract with the Magic on Wednesday night.

Think about that. He had as many contract offers when leaving college as he did scholarship offers when leaving high school.

Congrats, Kyle. Now be sure to always remain this entertaining with a camera in front of you.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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.