Category: News

Two Men Walk into Thibodaux and Create a Winner

 

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Nicholls senior guard Roddy Peters (Photo by Jared Shanklin)

 

The Nicholls Colonels (13-8, 7-1) are sitting in first place in the Southland Conference and on the surface, are just another mid-major team taking their brief turn in the spotlight. However, their story is about two men intersecting at an unlikely place, Thibodaux, La., to produce a season fans have been waiting decades for.
“Coming from D.C. you’re used to everything moving fast and everything is city-like,” said senior guard Roddy Peters. “Then you come out here and it’s the complete opposite. It’s very country and everything is slow. It’s been a humbling experience.”
The action on the court in Thibodaux has been anything but slow as Peters and Nicholls head coach Ritchie Riley are key figures in what is shaping to be a season to remember.

Peters is a former top-50 recruit from the Washington, D.C. area, who had offers from Kansas and UCLA. Riley is a young, but well-travelled coach, who appears to have a bright future in the industry. Their story is fascinating.
In the summer of 2012 Peters, then a rising senior at Suitland High School in District Heights, Md., became one of the fastest risers on the AAU circuit. He eventually became the focus of a local recruiting battle between Maryland and Georgetown.
That fall Peters eventually picked Maryland. However, things didn’t go as planned there. In 2013-14, his freshman season, Peters averaged 4.1 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 turnovers per game. Several outlets reported there were off the court issues that affected his play and those issues eventually led Peters to transfer to South Florida in the spring of 2014.
His time at South Florida started a bit better. After sitting the customary year per NCAA rules, Peters averaged 9.8 points per game. However, after the 10th game of that season, he injured his left foot and missed the rest of the year.
Then, in March of 2016, he was dismissed from the school for violations of school policy. Those violations were never made public, but later that year, then head coach Orlando Antigua and one of his assistants and his brother, Oliver, were both gone as part of a NCAA probe into recruiting violations.
Peters suddenly found himself without a home. He said he wasn’t sure if basketball was in the cards for him.
“Coming from Maryland, you’re treated one way and then South Florida it’s something different” he said. “After you leave two schools you kind of think your basketball career is done and over with.”

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Nicholls senior guard Roddy Peters (Photo by Jared Shanklin)

Meanwhile Riley was looking for a new home himself.

Riley had spent his entire adult life coaching college basketball. Riley was an assistant at places like Georgetown College, Hawaii-Pacific and Pikeville College from 2003-2009 before taking his first Division 1 job at Coastal Carolina.
After leaving Coastal in 2011, he joined the staff at his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky for a season before moving on to UAB in and then finally Clemson in 2014. Riley thought it was time to seek out a job and found one in an unlikely place.
“There’s been one winning season here in 22 years,” Riley said. “When I took the job some of the people I’m closest to questioned do you wait on an opportunity that’s more set up to win right away.”
So how did Peters end up playing for Riley? At Clemson Riley coached Peters’ childhood friend Marcquise Reed. Peters was searching for a place and Riley was looking to build a program. Reed recommended both to each other.
“I kind of got connected with one of Marcquise’s mentors and was just able to build a relationship with [Peters],” Riley said. “Rod was looking for the same thing that I wanted. I wanted a chance as a head coach, my first opportunity at 33…I wanted chance to go win a championship and run my own program and Rod wanted that last chance.”
That last chance had been going well as Peters is averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. In the last game at Lamar, Peters scored 28 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Riley said its because Peters is finally playing at a comfort level and has been fully integrated into his program.
“I’m so proud of the progression that he’s made since he’s been here and the maturity level that he’s gotten himself to,” said Riley.
For Peters and Riley, the season isn’t over yet. They still have to worry about New Orleans, SE Louisiana and Stephen F. Austin. So far, though, they’ve given themselves an opportunity that Peters said he didn’t think he’d get.
“The team goal and my personal goal is to get to the tournament,” Peters said. “I was never really big on the NCAA tournament and things like that because I never really thought I’d be there. Now I see I have a legitimate chance so I really want to get there.”

 

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Mid-Major Update

 

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Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams (3) tries to strip a rebound from Saint Mary’s center Evan Fitzner (21) during the first half of a NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

 

Here’s an Update on three teams that have been playing well recently.

Saint Mary’s had a disappointing time in the Wooden Legacy tournament earlier this season. The Gaels went 1-2 as they lost games to Washington St and Georgia. They have been on cruise control ever since.

They’re 18-2 and 7-0 in league play – already beating top challengers BYU and No. 13 Gonzaga on the road. Tomorrow they travel to Pacific in what will be a trickier game than most people know. However, the Gaels have set themselves up for a huge finish.

They’ll have opportunities for more quality wins at home and their Kenpom rating of 15 is the best for any team not in a power conference. I thought the Gaels would be the best team in the West Coast Conference before the season started and right now they’re proving that to be true.

Western Kentucky is quietly doing work in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers are 6-0 in league play and are building a solid NCAA tournament resume.

Their RPI is 34 and their Kenpom rating is 46.  They have neutral-court wins over SMU and No. 3 Purdue. They have a non-conference strength of schedule (SOS) of 12 with their overall SOS expected to drop to 79 by the end of the regular season due to the competition within the league.

They have two tilts with Middle Tennessee remaining, including at home tomorrow, and have already beaten Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech in league play with another game with Old Dominion coming next month. The Hilltoppers can probably take at least 2 losses and still be ok for an at-large bid.

There was much hand-wringing about Florida Gulf Coast’s non-conference struggles. The Eagles lost to Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Oral Roberts and Bowling Green during non-league play.

All those concerns have been put to bed as they’re in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Sun at 4-0 after beating Lipscomb 88-83 last night.

Those struggles may hurt them a seed line or two on Selection Sunday, but with a conference tournament that’s played on the home court of the higher-seeded team; the Atlantic Sun  title will once again go through Fort Myers. They’re still the team to beat.

After Loss to Cincinnati, the Time is Now for UCF

 

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Cincinnati forward Gary Clark (11) blocks a shot by Central Florida forward A.J. Davis (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

 

After UCF’s 49-38 home loss to No. 12 Cincinnati on Tuesday, junior guard B.J. Taylor expressed frustration with the loss, but vowed that the team would be better by March.

“We have good players in that locker room – good offensive players in that locker room,” Taylor said. “The offense is going to come for us. Teams don’t win in March from offense. They win from defense.

“As long as we keep our defense where it is our offense is going to get where it needs to be,” he continued.

However, for that March to matter at all the Knights have to figure out a way to stack wins now.

UCF now sits at 12-6 and 3-3 in American Athletic Conference (AAC) play. Last night’s game was Taylor’s, who was preseason first-team all-conference, first game back since injuring his foot in the first half of the season’s first game against Mercer. As a result the Knights haven’t been able to get the kinds of wins they’ve needed to stay in the NCAA tournament conversation.

Right now UCF has an RPI of 58 and a KenPom rating of 86. Their lone quality win was a road win at Alabama on Dec. 3.  They’ve lost two in a row and head on the road for two games at USF and No. 7 Wichita St.

You add that to SMU, Temple and to a lesser extent, UConn, having disappointing starts to conference play and, simply put, UCF is running out of opportunities. The Committee will take into account the time Taylor missed due to injury. The Knights still have to justify any consideration by stacking wins.

That’s hard to do while they’re having trouble scoring. As Taylor gets better acclimated and his minutes increase, the Knights should, in theory, get better offensively.

That being said; UCF held Cincinnati to 15 first-half points and 49 overall in a home game and still lost. That’s because they shot 30 percent from the field and only had one more made field goal (15) than they had turnovers (14). It’s an offense that wasn’t explosive to begin with and played one of the better defensive teams in the country. Something that Knights’ head coach Johnny Dawkins admitted his team needed get up to speed on.

“For our guys it was a heck of a learning experience,” Dawkins said. “Facing a team like Cincy with guys in the backcourt as freshmen and sophomores having to kind of learn what its going to take to be competitive and win games like that in this league.

That learning curve needs to be expedited and Taylor is going to have to by dynamic down the stretch. If not, the most anticipated season in program history will end in another NIT berth.

Jacksonville Rides Impressive First Half to Win over Lipscomb

The Jacksonville Dolphins shot a season high 65.5 percent in the first half and held Lipscomb to 31.3 percent as they rolled to a 87-69 win on Saturday. The win propelled the Dolphins to their first 3-0 start in Atlantic Sun Conference play in 10 years.

“I thought we did a really good job of being locked in on what we were trying to do,” Jacksonville head coach Tony Jasick said.

One of the things they were trying to do was limit Bisons’ junior guard Garrison Matthews. Matthews came into the game averaging over 23 points per contest, but was held to only 3 points in the first half. It was a part of the scouting report that Jasick said he emphasized going into the game.

“We felt like we had to give Garrison Matthews all kinds of attention,” Jasick said. “I thought our guys did a really good job of limiting his effectiveness for most of the game.”

On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins’ backcourt of senior guard Devin Harris and freshman guard J.D. Notae scored 19 and 21 points respectively; with both scoring 11 in the first half. Notae was especially impressive as he scored at all three levels.

“I’m very comfortable,” Notae said. “I seem like I fit in real well with my team so I feel like I just go out there and play the game.”

In the first half, the Dolphins used their hot shooting in conjunction with great defense in a performance Bisons just couldn’t match.

In addition to holding Lipscomb to poor shooting, Jacksonville also forced 11 turnovers. The only issue Jacksonville had in the first half is shooting 5-14 from the free-throw line.

However, even that didn’t stop the Dolphins from carrying a 20-point lead into halftime at 47-27.

The second half started in a similar fashion as Jacksonville was able to grab a 59-35 lead. The Bisons would then go on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 17 at the under-12 timeout at 59-42.

The Dolphins stopped the bleeding and stretched the lead back out to 20 at the under-4 timeout at 74-54.

Then the Bisons started playing pressure defense and forced the Dolphins into several turnovers and even cutting the lead down to 10 at one point. The Dolphins were able to regain their composure and eventually pulled away with the 18-point win.

Matthews was able to get some buckets in garbage time and finished with 23.

The game marked the third time this season Jacksonville shot over 60 percent in a half this season and it was their largest margin of victory over Lipscomb ever.

The Dolphins return to the court on Thursday when they travel to USC Upstate while Lipscomb plays host to Florida Gulf Coast the same evening.

Is Kevin Keatts Working Magic at NC State?

Keatts

He might be. After NC State (12-5) won its second straight game over a team with just one loss on the season, the Wolfpack’s postseason outlook just became a little bit rosier.

NC State beat Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas earlier this season, has a win over Penn State and just beat Duke and Clemson back-to-back. Granted the Penn St, Duke and Clemson wins were all at home, but those victories are a hell of a lot better than what a lot of other similar teams have.

There was no doubt in many people’s minds that, eventually, Keatts could do a good job at NC State, but it wouldn’t happened as fast as it did for him previously.

He turned UNC-Wilmington completely around in one year. In 2013-14, the year before he took the Wilmington job, the Seahawks were 9-23 and 3-13 in league play. In his first year, they were 18-14 and 12-6 in league play – good enough to tie for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) regular season title.

While the Seahawks failed to make the NCAA tournament that season, they would make the next two (25-8 in 2015-16 and 29-6 in 2016-17); giving Duke and Virginia huge tests in first-round matchups.

He took the NC State job just days after the Seahawks loss in the NCAA tournament last season to the delight to most Wolfpack fans. The message was to be patient though. The ACC is not the CAA and winning big in that league would prove to be much more difficult.

Here the Wolfpack are though. Keatts has them squarely in the discussion for an at-large berth now. Something that seemed unthinkable in what many consider to be the best conference in college basketball.

The Wolfpack travel to Virginia on Sunday in a game that almost certainly will be a loss. However, the three after that are at home to Wake Forest and Miami and then on the road at Pitt. It is within the realm of possibility that the Wolfpack finishes this four-game stretch 3-1.

If that happens, maybe NC State fans don’t have to be patient  with Keatts at all.

 

The #RiverCityRumble was College Hoops at it’s Finest

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UNF’s Ivan Gandia-Rose (21) struggles against Jacksonville’s J.D. Notae (1), Cody Helgeland (33) and Antwon Clayton (25)

I know no one outside of the city of Jacksonville cared much about what happened Saturday night at UNF Arena. However, those who cared enough to make it inside were treated to two rivals, the North Florida (UNF) Ospreys and Jacksonville Dolphins, trading body blows for 40 minutes with the Dolphins coming away with a 90-86 win.

“As a basketball player if you don’t like this environment – a hostile environment, where you can go up-and-down and dunk and be athletic and shoot the ball when you get stops then I don’t know what else you want,” Jacksonville senior guard Devin Harris said. “You’re playing the game everybody wish they could play.”

It was an enthusiastic crowd all game long. UNF fans showed up with “Beat JU” shirts and screamed at the Dolphins during the layup line to let them know they meant it. Among those fans were several former Ospreys; each one greeted by UNF head coach Matthew Driscoll with a hug. Even they knew it was big.

Once the action on the floor began, the fans got louder and had a great game to match. The game was free-flowing with run after run. There was UNF pushing the ball even after made baskets. Then there was Jacksonville, running pick and roll after pick and roll.

“You gotta give them credit,” Driscoll said. “They fought back like we fought back. They took the lead after we took the lead.”

It had a key player for Jacksonville heading to the bench – allowing for what seemed to be a back-breaking run for the Ospreys, before a freshman took the game over.

What makes this even more fascinating, is how this wasn’t even a game that would count on a NCAA tournament resume 15-years-ago.

UNF is fairly new to Division I athletics – playing its first season as a full member in 2009-2010. Since then the program won two regular season Atlantic Sun championships in 2015 and 2016 and went to its first NCAA tournament in 2015. They made it all the way to the Atlantic Sun Championship game last season before losing to Florida Gulf Coast.

By contrast, Jacksonville has struggled since UNF became full members. The Dolphins haven’t won a regular season Atlantic Sun title since that 2009-2010 season. They haven’t been to the Big Dance since 1986 and before Saturday’s win, they hadn’t beaten the Ospreys since Feb. 15, 2013.

That was the state of both programs before entering Saturday’s game. From the outset it seemed this one would be different. The Dolphins were getting healthy and went toe-to-toe with the Ospreys for much of the first half as the score was 22-19 at the second media timeout. That’s when UNF’s pace seem to take over. The Ospreys outscored the Dolphins 26-19 over the last 9:19 of the first half to take a 52-42 lead at the half.

The second half began in similar fashion as the Ospreys took a 12 point lead on a layup by sophomore forward Noah Horchler with just 30 seconds gone from the half. From that moment, the Dolphins would outscore the Ospreys 22-5 to take a 64-59 lead with 12:55 remaining in the game.

The teams traded scores before Jacksonville’s 70-65 lead with 9:39 remaining. That’s when UNF answered with their 13-0 run, partly with Harris on the bench, to take a 78-70 lead with 6:04 remaining.

This was the moment of the game when the Dolphins seem to be on the ropes. The crowd was at its loudest and it seemed like the momentum had shifted for good. This is when Jacksonville freshman guard J.D. Notae took over.

Notae scored 14 of his 25 points over the last 5:38 to help the Dolphins to a 18-6 run and steal the game on the road. Not only cementing his place in the rivalry, but doing things the opposing coach said he was expecting as he saw Notae a lot on the recruiting trail.

“The thing about Notae is he has a scorer’s mentality. He’s always had a scorer’s mentality,” said Driscoll. “He’s a Georgia kid who played with one of our Georgia kids and we saw him a lot. He really has a great feel for who he is, what he is and what he wants to do.”

It was first game of conference play for both teams and they’ll both have to regroup quickly. However, they play again on Feb. 22 at Historic Swisher Gym on Jacksonville’s campus. You can’t help, but look forward to another classic matchup.

Duel in the Desert: Arizona St vs. Arizona Preview

 

Arizona St and Arizona are preparing to play perhaps the biggest regular season game in the history of the rivalry. That’s because the preseason top-5 Wildcats are rolling again while their opponents, the Sun Devils, are the talk of the college basketball world.

Over the past thirty-plus years, Arizona has been one of the marquee brands in college basketball. Arizona St, on the other hand, has had specific years where it’ll surprisingly pop up and make the tournament, but it has never been able to sustain success.

This year’s game is different. Both teams are playing well especially on offense. They both rate in the top-ten in adjusted offensive effiency.

The Sun Devils will be led by probable All-American senior guard Tra Holder, who’s averaging 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He’s been aptly supported by his backcourt mate senior Shannon Evans II, who’s averaging 17.8 points per game and 4.7 assists.

Those two have been paramount in helping the Sun Devils to shock the nation this season. They not only beat Xavier and Kansas away from home, but they made it look easy. They blew out Xavier by 16 in Las Vegas in late November. Then, earlier this month, beat Kansas by 10 at Phog Allen Fieldhouse – becoming the first nonconference opponent to win at Kansas since San Diego St on Jan. 5, 2014.

Arizona on the other hand, had a dubious start to its season as it lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas during Thanksgiving week. Since then, the Wildcats seem to have fixed their problems and have their glue guy, sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, back from injury.

Junior guard Allonzo Trier lead the Wildcats in scoring with 21.2 points per game. He’s the one in the 1-2 punch that also features freshman center Deandre Ayton, who’s averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

What will be the difference? I believe it will be Ayton. In neither of the Sun Devils’ wins over Kansas or Xavier did they have to match-up with a presence like Ayton. Freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake provide a solid presence in the frontcourt, but the physical Ayton, the future lottery pick, is a totally different animal.

Add that with Arizona at home, neither team being great defensively, and it being New Year’s Eve and I have the Wildcats in a 92-88 win over the Sun Devils.