North Florida Ospreys

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LSU wins behind Simmons’ historic night but issues still loom

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Monday night’s decisive loss at the College of Charleston was the worst performance of the young season for an LSU team saddled with lofty expectations. The Tigers couldn’t make shots, and even though he managed to tally 15 points, 18 rebounds and four assists in that game freshman forward Ben Simmons shot 4-for-15 from the field and also had seven turnovers.

LSU needed to rebound Wednesday night against Atlantic Sun preseason favorite North Florida and they did, winning 119-108 thanks in large part to an incredible performance from their 6-foot-10 freshman phenom.

Simmons shot 15-for-20 from the field, with just two of those attempts coming outside of the paint, scored 43 points while also accounting for 14 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and three blocked shots. And he only turned the ball over twice against the Ospreys, who didn’t look to double-team Simmons all that often. He took advantage, getting to just about wherever he wanted to go on the court against a team whose tallest player who saw action was 6-foot-8.

So what do we take out of this? A historic performance, one in which Simmons joined Shaquille O’Neal and Pete Maravich as the lone players in school history to score 43 points in a game? Or a game in which, while acknowledging Simmons’ achievements, the Tigers allowed 108 points? How about both?

Wednesday’s game produced multiple standout offensive performances, with UNF’s tandem of Beau Beech and Dallas Moore scoring 31 points apiece and LSU guards Josh Gray and Tim Quarterman both posting stat lines of 20 points, six assists and one turnover on the night. But it would be Simmons, projected by many to be the top pick in next June’s NBA Draft, who stole the show.

The performance certainly deserves praise. But if Simmons is to have the opportunity to showcase his skills on college basketball’s biggest stage, LSU has some strides to make defensively.

Atlantic Sun Preview: Has North Florida overthrown #DunkCity?

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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 Atlantic Sun Conference.

For the first time in three seasons, the Atlantic Sun representative failed to make noise in the NCAA tournament. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast famously became #DunkCity after knocking off Georgetown and San Diego State en route to becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. In 2014, Mercer followed up FGCU’s run by pulling off an opening round upset of No. 3 seed Duke and Jabari Parker.

In the first tournament appearance in program history, the North Florida Ospreys could not add to the upsets, but the good news is Matthew Driscoll should be in line for another shot at One Shining Moment again this March. His Ospreys are the favorites to repeat in the Atlantic Sun, returning four starters from last season’s first-place finish. Among the returnees are junior guard Dallas Moore (15.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.8 apg), a candidate for Conference Player of the Year, two other double-digit scorers in Beau Beech and Chris Davenport, and DeMarcus Daniels, the reigning Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year.

That core was part of the conference’s most efficient offense and the second-most efficient defense last season, according to kenpom. The Ospreys offense was among the nation’s leaders in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. North Florida was top-15 in 3-pointers per game at 9.1. During a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season and clinch home-court advantage in the A-Sun Tournament, North Florida shot 43 percent from three.

Florida Gulf Coast said goodbye to Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, the decorated back court from the 2013 Sweet 16, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles are going away.

Jamail Jones and Nate Hicks also graduated. Julian DeBose, who averaged 11.6 points per game, returns to anchor the back court. Rayvon Tucker, a Rivals150 guard, joins the FGCU perimeter. Joe Dooley will have the conference’s top frontline with UNLV transfer Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia back. VCU transfer Antravious Simmons becomes eligible in January. Filip Cvjeticanin, the 6-foot-9 fifth-year senior who missed all last season with a back injury, provides a 3-point shooting threat.

Conference realignment has hit the league pretty hard. This offseason, Northern Kentucky became the fifth team to leave the conference sine 2011. The A-Sun added nomad NJIT, the last remaining independent in Division I basketball, as its eighth member. The Highlanders won’t be just a placeholder, they’ll be contenders. Like Driscoll, Jim Engles brings back four starters, including Damon Lynn, a diminutive scoring guard who posted 20 or more points 15 times in 2014-15. Lynn was the star in NJIT’s upset win over Michigan last season. The Highlanders also benefit from the return of Terrence Smith, the 6-foot-6 forward, who missed the season due to injury.

Lipscomb finished below .500 a season ago, but all-A-Sun wing Josh Williams should lead the Bison to their first winning season in five years. To be a contender, the focus needs to shift to the defensive end, where the Bison allowed 70 or more points in the final 14 games of the season. Jacksonville, a 10-win team, brings back 94 percent of its scoring. The Dolphins should be a darkhorse in the A-Sun.

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

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “North Florida. Since they won it last year and went to the NCAA tournament. I know they have the majority of their team back, and looking at their stats they shoot the ball really well, they pass the ball really well. They’re a pretty effective, efficient team.”
  • Sleeper: “Lipscomb is poised to have a pretty good year. I’d expect [Jacksonville] to be pretty good, too.”
  • Star to watch: “There’s Josh Williams from Lipscomb, the two players from North Florida (Dallas Moore and Beau Beech). Julian DeBose had really good summer with one of the USA teams. Damon Lynn should certainly be the conversation. Until the season actually gets going it’s tough to really tell.”

REALIGNMENT MOVES 

In: NJIT
Out: Northern Kentucky

PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Damon Lynn, NJIT

The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 17.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game as a junior for the Highlanders. Lynn recorded 20 points (15 in the second half) in a win over then-No. 17 Michigan on Dec. 6. NJIT’s marathon man helped lead the Highlanders to the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, averaging 19.5 points in 39.5 minutes per game.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN TEAM:

  • Kori Babineaux, Jacksonville: The 6-foot-4 guard was top-five in the A-Sun in scoring, assists and steals a season ago.
  • Julian DeBose, Florida Gulf Coast: The only double-digit scorer returning for Dunk City. He played with Kansas this summer in the World University Games.
  • Dallas Moore, North Florida: The Ospreys top scorer and assist man earned all-Atlantic Sun first team honors last season after averaging 15.9 points and 3.9 assists per game. Beau Beech is also a strong candidate.
  • Josh Williams, Lipscomb: With Ty Greene graduating, Williams is the conference’s top scorer at 16.9 points per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ASunMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. North Florida
2. NJIT
3. Florida Gulf Coast
4. Lipscomb
5. Jacksonville
6. USC Upstate
7. Stetson
8. Kennesaw State

North Florida’s first NCAA tournament trip helps boost school’s merchandise sales

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The NCAA tournament is a major moneymaker in a number of ways. Of course there’s the multibillion dollar contract paid by CBS/Turner to the NCAA for the right to televise one of America’s best sporting events, and conferences earn financial “units” based upon how many games their members play in.

Also of note is the money schools can make in areas such as merchandising and increased enrollment, something that North Florida is experiencing on the heels of its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. According to the Florida Times-Union, the Atlantic Sun tournament champs have seen merchandise sales increase nearly 47 percent in the last year.

UNF Business Services reported that retail sales of UNF merchandise from all sources saw a 46.8 percent jump in the past year from $1.01 million in 2014 to $1.48 million in revenue in 2015, up by $473,860. Bookstore sales of merchandise alone increased 28 percent in the past year going from $673,735 to $862,434, a 28 percent increase, and that’s still only about 20 percent of total bookstore sales.

Those revenue streams are of great importance to any school, much less one that doesn’t have the benefit of a major college football program on its campus. And for some schools, additional money provides financial flexibility when it comes to facilities that they may not have enjoyed before.

So as head coach Matthew Driscoll looks to lead the Ospreys to a second straight NCAA appearance, being successful in that mission will have an impact on the UNF campus as a whole.

Second half adjustments push Robert Morris past North Florida

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Less than two minutes into the second half of their First Four game against North Florida, Robert Morris faced a 13-point deficit against a team that seemed to find its rhythm offensively. After turning the ball over ten times in the first 12 minutes of the first half, North Florida took better care of the basketball and found higher quality looks (most notably Beau Beech, who finished with 28 points) against the Robert Morris zone.

In order to close that gap Andy Toole’s team had to change its approach, and in doing so the Colonials were able to turn things around and go on to win 81-77 in Dayton. As a result of this win, Robert Morris’ first NCAA tournament victory since 1983, the Colonials are headed to Charlotte where they’ll take on South Region No. 1 Duke Friday.

One of the changes Robert Morris made was to mix up their defenses, as they used more man-to-man looks despite the fact that they’ve played zone for the majority of their defensive possessions this season. As a result North Florida shot just 3-for-11 from three in the second half, and after building the 13-point lead mentioned above the Ospreys turned the ball over on five of the next seven possessions.

UNF turnovers kept Robert Morris afloat in the first half, and for the game the Ospreys committed 19 turnovers which were converted into 21 points by RMU.

Offensively Robert Morris was much better in the second half, as they did a better job of using dribble penetration to attack a defense that had issues keeping them away from the basket. Lucky Jones (21 points), Rodney Pryor (20) and Marcquise Reed (19), the three offensive leaders throughout the season, combined to score 41 of Robert Morris’ 52 second half points and as a team the Colonials shot 55.2 percent from the field in the second half.

Also of note in the final stanza was the fact that Robert Morris didn’t commit a single turnover, and their ability to take care of the basketball also factored in the outcome.

The next challenge for Robert Morris is a significant one, and that’s going to be the case for any 16-seed. But it’s a challenge they’ll be able to take on, and that wouldn’t have been the case had Toole made some adjustments before the game got out of reach.

Sunday’s Snacks: Coastal Carolina, Northern Iowa and North Florida headed to NCAA tournament

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GAME OF THE DAY: William & Mary 92, Hofstra 91 (2OT)

Marcus Thornton, who scored 37 points, forced overtime by making two free throws with 23 seconds remaining in regulation, and his pass to Daniel Dixon led to the game-winning three with eight tenths of a second remaining in double overtime. Thornton’s point total is a CAA tournament single-game record, and Omar Prewitt added 33 points as the Tribe moved to within one win of its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Juan’ya Green led the Pride with 26 points and seven assists, and Dion Nesmith added 21 points and five assists before fouling out. Not only was this the game of the day, but it was also one of the best games of the season to date.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1. No. 11 Northern Iowa 69, Illinois State 60

Bubble teams across the country can breathe a sigh of relief (for the time being), as the Panthers erased a 14-points halftime deficit to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Seth Tuttle, who was held in check in the first half, got going in the second and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds and Nate Buss added 15 points off the bench. And Jeremy Morgan’s contributions can’t be overlooked either, as he hit two key three-pointers during UNI’s early second half surge. Daishon Knight scored 16 points and Deontae Hawkins added 14 for the Redbirds, who may have played their way into an NIT berth with their showing this weekend.

2. No. 6 Wisconsin 72, No. 23 Ohio State 48

The Badgers capped their regular season with a dominant win in Columbus, and outside of the Buckeyes closing to within ten early in the second half this one wasn’t all that close. Frank Kaminsky scored 20 points and Bronson Koenig added 15 for Wisconsin, which will be the top seed in the Big Ten tournament. Ohio State’s loss means that Purdue will be the four-seed, and they get the final double-bye in Chicago as a result.

3. No. 10 Maryland 64, Nebraska 61

The Terrapins capped their inaugural season in the Big Ten with a 14th victory, as they beat the Huskers in Lincoln. Melo Trimble accounted for 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and Dez Wells posted a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way. Maryland, which has won seven straight games, will go into the Big Ten tournament as the two-seed. As for Nebraska, they’ll be the 12-seed and their loss makes Minnesota the 11-seed.

STARRED

1. William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton

Thornton scored 37 points and grabbed six rebounds in the Tribe’s 92-91 double overtime win over Hofstra.

2. Iona’s A.J. English and Isaiah Williams

Enghlish scored 29 points and Williams 27 in the Gaels’ 95-77 win over Monmouth. The two combined to shoot 16-for-25 from beyond the arc.

3. Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney

Warney tallied 24 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in the Seawolves’ 79-77 win at Vermont to advance to the America East title game.

4. South Dakota’s Brandon Bos

Bos shot 7-for-12 from the field and 10-for-11 from three, scoring a career-high 29 points in the Coyotes’ 82-73 win over Fort Wayne. Bos also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists.

STRUGGLED

1. Ohio State’s Sam Thompson

While Thompson did grab six rebounds, he scored just two points and shot 0-for-7 from the field.

2. Mercer’s Jibri Bryan and Phillip Leonard

The guards struggled in the Bears’ 52-49 loss to Furman, combining to score six points (all by Leonard) on 1-for-16 shooting from the field.

3. Western Carolina’s James Sinclair Jr. 

Sinclair Jr. scored 16 points in the Catamounts’ loss to Wofford, but he did so on 5-for-19 shooting from the field.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 22 SMU won its first regular season conference title since 1993, as they beat Tulsa 67-62 in Dallas. The Mustangs won despite Tulsa’s James Woodard going off from three, as he shot 10-for-16 from beyond the arc and scoring 30 points.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • America East semis: Stony Brook will get another shot at earning that elusive NCAA tournament berth, as they won 79-77 at Vermont with Jameel Warney scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. They’ll visit regular season champion Albany next Saturday, as the Great Danes held off New Hampshire 60-58. Will Brown’s team is looking to make its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
  • Atlantic Sun final: North Florida will make its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, as they beat USC Upstate 63-57 in Jacksonville. Matthew Driscoll’s team went on a 12-0 second half run after the Spartans took a 48-44 lead with 9:13 remaining.
  • Big South final: Cliff Ellis’ Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will make their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, as they beat Winthrop 81-70. Warren Gillis tallied 22 points and six assists, and Elijah Wilson added 19 off the bench to lead the way for the Chanticleers.
  • MAAC semis: Top-seed Iona made a MAAC tournament single-game record 19 three-pointers in their 95-77 win over Monmouth. Isaiah Williams was responsible for nine of those makes, scoring 27 points on 9-for-15 shooting from deep. And for the third consecutive year Iona will take on rival Manhattan in the title game, as the Jaspers eliminated Saint Peter’s. Iona won in 2013, with Manhattan returning the favor last season.
  • Patriot semis: Both road teams won Sunday, with Lafayette beating regular season champ Bucknell 80-74 and American winning 73-62 at Colgate. Lafayette will host the title game Wednesday night. Bucknell’s loss means that this is the first time in the history of the Patriot League tournament that the top seed has not at least reached the final.
  • SoCon semis: Top-seed Wofford is now one win away from its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, as they beat Western Carolina 73-61. Spencer Collins led the way for the Terriers with 17 points, shooting 10-for-13 from the foul line. They’ll take on 10-seed Furman on Monday, as the Paladins (the lowest seed in the tournament) continued their improbable run through the tournament with a 52-49 win over Mercer.
  • Summit quarters: Brandon Bos scored 29 points as South Dakota beat Fort Wayne 82-73. The Coyotes led by 19 at the half, but the Mastodons scored 50 second-half points to close the gap. Also advancing was Oral Roberts, which made eight of ten free throws over the final 38 seconds to hang on for a 58-56 win over IUPUI. Monday’s semifinals: No. 1 South Dakota State vs. No. 5 South Dakota, No. 2 North Dakota State vs. No. 3 Oral Roberts.

NOTABLES

  • D.J. Newbill’s three-pointer as time expired gave Penn State a 79-76 win over Minnesota, which has now lost eight conference games by six points or less. On Wednesday the Nittany Lions (13-seed) will take on Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, and Minnesota (11-seed) will play Rutgers the same day.

Introducing Cinderella: Meet the North Florida Ospreys

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Conference: Atlantic Sun

Coach: Matthew Driscoll

Record: 23-11 (12-2)

Rankins and Ratings:

Kenpom: 127
RPI: 165 (per NCAA’s official numbers)
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: 16

Names you need to know: G Dallas Moore (15.9 ppg, 3.6 apg), G/F Beau Beech (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), F Chris Davenport (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), G Jalen Nesbitt (10.8 ppg, 3.4 apg)

Stats you need to know: The Ospreys have multiple players capable of knocking down shots, as they’re shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc on the season. They’re also a good foul shooting team, as they’ve connected on 72.4 percent of their attempts. Six players average at least 8.9 points per game, and they’ve rolled out the same starting lineup in 33 of their 34 games. The one exception: their win at Stetson January 17, in which reserve Trent Mackey started in place of forward Chris Davenport (one-game suspension).

Tendencies: Driscoll’s Ospreys tend to play man defensively, and they limited teams to just over 43 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Offensively North Florida scored nearly 36 percent of its points from beyond the arc, with 42.3 percent of their shot attempts coming by way of the bonus shot per kenpom.com.

Big wins/bad losses: Their biggest win of the season came on December 6, as they beat Purdue 73-70 in West Lafayette. Within the A-Sun the Ospreys swept everyone, including FGCU, with the exception of USC Upstate. The Spartans won both regular season meetings between the two, with North Florida winning the tournament final on their home floor. UNF also lost by two to Northwestern, and their worst loss came at Austin Peay New Year’s Eve.

How’d they get here?: Having clinched home court throughout the Atlantic Sun tournament, North Florida won three straight games to grab the automatic bid. After beating Stetson and Lipscomb by 14-point margins, UNF relied on its defense late to beat USC Upstate 63-57 in the A-Sun tournament final. Demarcus Daniels scored 22 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench for the Ospreys, who went on a 12-0 second half run to regain control after the Spartans took a 48-44 lead.

Outlook: No 16-seed has ever beaten a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, so that part of the equation will be a difficult one for North Florida. The question is whether or not they’ve done enough to avoid being sent to Dayton for the First Four. Part of that will depend on the results of other conference tournaments, but even if they do make that trip it gives North Florida (and the Atlantic Sun) the opportunity to earn an extra tournament unit that can be so lucrative financially to smaller conferences.

How do I know you?: You’ve likely heard the name in recent weeks thanks to debates about Purdue’s NCAA tournament worthiness. And Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a graduate of North Florida. This will be their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.