Lawrence, Mattocks on NFL radar

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Wide receiver Desmond Lawrence and defensive back Donald Mattocks from North Carolina A&T State University are two of the top HBCU standouts on the NFL's radar. Lawrence and Mattocks helped the Aggies get off to a great start this season with a 47-13 win over Alabama A&M in the 10th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney, writes Donald Hunt.

Galloway signs contract with Knicks

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
Former Saint Joseph’s basketball standout Langston Galloway, who starred for the Hawks in last November’s Old Spice Classic (now known as the Orlando Classic) at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., will have a chance to play at the next level. Galloway has signed a contract with the New York Knicks, and will begin the next chapter of his career at the team’s training camp, which begins in October.

Galloway put the finishing touches on a brilliant college career last season, rounding out his playing days with the designation as the school’s second highest scorer in team history, with 1,991 points. Galloway is also the Hawks’ all-time leader in three-point field goals, with 334.

According to play-by-play announcer Bob Picozzi, Langston is a solid medium- to long-range jump shooter. “He excels at moving without the ball and coming off screens,” said Picozzi, who watched Galloway play in three games during last November’s tournament. “He is able to get his shot off quickly. He is also unafraid [and] wants the ball in game-ending situations and is not afraid to miss a shot when the game is on the line.”

The 6-foot-2 guard was a key contributor to the Hawks’ success in the 2013-14 season. The Baton Rouge, La., native was the leading scorer for the Atlantic 10 champions, averaging a career-best 17.7 points per game and hitting on 108 three-point shots. Galloway earned Atlantic 10 Conference first-team honors, and was named to the A-10 All Championship team.

As important, Galloway graduated from Saint Joseph’s in May with a bachelor’s degree in sports marketing. He played for the New York Knicks Summer League team in Las Vegas, and averaged 5.8 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in four games.

In last November's Orland Classic, Galloway and Saint Joseph’s dropped a decision to LSU, then went on to beat Siena before edging Washington State in the fifth-place game.

The Thanksgiving weekend tournament, now in its ninth year, will be played Thursday, Nov. 27, Friday, Nov. 28, and Sunday, Nov. 30, at HP Field House at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The field for the 2014 event includes Georgia Tech, Kansas, Marquette, Michigan State, Rhode Island, Rider, Santa Clara and Tennessee.

The Great Bracket Reveal

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
Yes, it's still warm outside -- but we're already thinking about November and December, when ESPN Events' early season basketball tournaments will be in full swing. Some of's finest and most experienced writers broke down all of our eight-team tournaments. All you have to do is sit back, read ... and, of course, decide which event to attends in person. Enjoy!

>> Gildan Charleston Classic
When and where: Nov. 20-21 and 23, at the TD Arena in Charleston, South Carolina

>> Puerto Rico Tip-Off
When and where: Nov. 20-21 and Nov. 23, San Juan, Puerto Rico

>> Orlando Classic
When and where: Nov. 27, 28 and 30, at the HP Field House near Orlando, Florida

>> The Wooden Legacy
When and where: Nov. 27-28 and Nov. 30, Anaheim, California

>> Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic
When and where: Dec. 22, 23 and 25, at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu

Payton Award winner nets MEAC honor

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
Nesly Marcellon has performed extremely well on and off the field for Bethune-Cookman’s football team. His hard work and dedication as a student-athlete has earned a special honor. Dr. Dennis Thomas, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference commissioner, named Marcellon as a recipient of the 2013-14 Post Graduate Scholarship.

“The program has been around for almost 20 years,” Thomas said. “We established it because we had some talented student-athletes who wanted to further their education, and we wanted to let them know that the conference was committed to their academic success. That’s really why we established it – to help our best and brightest student-athletes achieve their academics and professional goals.”

Marcellon, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., completed his final year of eligibility for the Wildcats and received his degree from Bethune-Cookman in May. He is the first B-CU player under head coach Brian Jenkins to earn this scholarship.

A year ago, Marcellon, a linebacker for the Wildcats, had 10 starts and played in all 13 games. He recorded 37 tackles, three sacks, two hurries and forced one fumble in leading B-CU to the MEAC title.

In 2011, Marcellon earned the Walter Payton Achievement Award, which is given to one player from each school participating in the annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual HBCU game, which kicks off at 11:45 a.m. ET Sunday, Aug. 31. The game will be televised on ESPN, live from Bright House Stadium at UCF in Orlando, Fla.

The award, named after one of the greatest athletes in history, was started in 2008 to recognize football players who are great students and solid contributors on the field. Jarrett Payton, Walter Payton’s son, makes the presentation of the award each year, reminding the recipients that football served as a vehicle to success for his father. The nominees for this year were announced last week, and voting is open until Aug. 20.

“The biggest thing for the family is to keep my dad’s legacy alive,” said Jarrett Payton, a former Miami Hurricanes running back who also played for the NFL's Tennessee Titans for two years, as well as the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe. Payton is an active speaker and radio host in Chicago. “I think with all the awards out there, it’s pretty cool to be able to kind of look and see the impact that my dad left not just football, but lives. The MEAC/SWAC Challenge gives my dad a chance to be recognized and remembered.”

Thomas has strong recollections of Walter Payton, the Professional Football Hall of Fame member who starred at Jackson State and for the Chicago Bears.

“I am a big fan of Walter Payton,” Thomas said. “We had a good relationship. I’ve played against him. I have a lot of memories of his career – and obviously people remember Walter for his athletic career, and it was a tremendous one, a Hall of Fame one. But my favorite memory of him was the kind of person he was. He was kind – always wanting to help others to be better people.”

Marcellon is certainly one of those people.

Payton Awardees announced, voting open

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
First presented in 2008, the Walter Payton Achievement Award is an honor given annually to one player from each of the two schools participating in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney. The award is named in honor of the late Walter Payton, the Professional Football Hall of Fame running back who spent his entire NFL career (1975-1987) with the Chicago Bears. Payton attended Jackson State University, a SWAC school, in the 1970s.

* Meet the six nominees for 2014 >

* Cast your vote >

Puerto Rico Tip-Off impacts NBA Draft

June, 29, 2014
Jun 29
Led by tournament MVPs Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Nik Stauskas of Michigan, nine players that have participated in the last three Puerto Rico Tip-Off were selected Thursday in the National Basketball Association Draft.

Smart and Stauskas were the most valuable players at the 2012 and 2013 Puerto Rico Tip-Off, respectively, as Oklahoma State won the title two years ago by defeating North Carolina State 76-56 in the finals while Michigan dropped a 63-61 decision in the championships game last season to Charlotte.

Smart, who scored 51 points, grabbed 25 rebounds and handed out 13 assists in the three Puerto Rico games in 2012, was drafted sixth overall by the Boston Celtics. In securing the MVP honor at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Smart scored 20 points in the championship game with seven rebounds and seven assists.

Stauskas, who was picked eighth overall by the Sacramento Kings Thursday, led all scorers in the 2013 Puerto Rico Tip-Off with 70 points, including a 20-point effort in the championship game. He also made 20 of his 39 shots from the field while collecting 12 rebounds and five assists in his three Puerto Rico games.

T. J. Warren of North Carolina State and Mitch McGary of Michigan, who also participated in the previous Puerto Rico Tip-Off, were also selected in the NBA first-round Thursday. Warren, who joined Smart on the 2012 Puerto Rico Tip-Off all-tournament team, was picked 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns while McGary was the 21st overall selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Other players with Puerto Rico Tip-Off experience drafted Thursday by the NBA were Markel Brown (44th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves) of Oklahoma State (2012), Spencer Dinwiddie (38th, Detroit Pistons) of Colorado (2011), Jordan McRae (58th, San Antonio Spurs) of Tennessee (2012), Glenn Robinson III (40th, Minnesota) of Michigan (2013) and Jarnell Stokes (35th, Utah Jazz, 2012 PRTO all-tournament team) of Tennessee (2012).

For previous NBA drafts, here are selections where the players competed in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

2013 Draft

* Reggie Bullock, North Carolina 2010 (pick 25 by Los Angeles Clippers)
* André Roberson, Colorado 2011 (pick 26 by Minnesota Timberwolves, traded to Oklahoma City Thunder via Golden State Warriors)
* Lorenzo Brown, North Carolina State 2012 (pick 52 by Minnesota Timberwolves)
* Colton Iverson, Minnesota 2010 (pick 53 by Indiana Pacers, traded to Boston Celtics)

2012 Draft

* Harrison Barnes, North Carolina 2010 (pick 7 by Golden State Warriors)
* Kendall Marshall, North Carolina 2010 (pick 13 by Phoenix Suns)
* John Henson, North Carolina 2010 (pick 14 by Milwaukee Bucks)
* Tyler Zeller, North Carolina 2010 (pick 17 by Dallas Mavericks, traded to Cleveland Cavaliers)
* John Jenkins, Vanderbilt 2010 (pick 23 by Atlanta Hawks)
* Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt 2010 (pick 30 by Golden State Warriors)
* Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt 2010 (pick 31 by Charlotte Bobcats)
* Kim English, Missouri 2008 (pick 44 by Detroit Pistons)
* Robbie Hummel, Purdue 2011 (pick 58 by Minnesota Timberwolves)
* Marcus Denmon, Missouri 2008 (pick 59 by San Antonio Spurs)

2011 Draft

* Charles Jenkins, Hofstra 2011 (pick 44 by Golden State Warriors)
* Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech 2009 (pick 17 by New York Knicks)
* Marshon Brooks, Providence 2007 (pick 25 by Boston Celtics, rights traded to New Jersey Nets)
* Lavoy Allen, Temple 2007 (pick 50 by Philadelphia 76ers)

2010 Draft

* Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech 2009 (pick 3 by New Jersey Nets)
* Larry Sanders, Virginia Commonwealth 2007 (pick 15 by Milwaukee Bucks)
* Terrico White, Mississippi 2009 (pick 36 by Detroit Pistons)
* Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech 2009 (pick 46 by Phoenix Suns)
* Dwayne Collins, Miami 2007 (pick 60 by Phoenix Suns)

2009 Draft

* Tyreke Evans, Memphis 2008 (pick 4 by Sacramento Kings)
* DeMar DeRozan, USC 2008 (pick 9 by Toronto Raptors)
* Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth 2008) (pick 20 by Utah Jazz)
* Taj Gibson, USC 2008 (pick 26 by Chicago Bulls)
* DeMarre Carroll, Missouri 2008 (pick 27 by Memphis Grizzles)
* Derrick Brown, Xavier 2008 (pick 40 by Charlotte Bobcats)
* Jack Mcclinton, Miami 2007 (pick 51 by San Antonio Spurs)
* Robert Dozier, Memphis 2008 (pick 60 by Miami Heat)

2008 Draft

* Sonny Weems, Arkansas 2007 (pick 39 by Chicago Bulls, traded to Denver Nuggets)

Wooden Legacy impacts NBA Draft

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
Two players that earned all-tournament honors at the 2013 Wooden Legacy were selected in the National Basketball Association draft Thursday along with five other players that had competed in previous editions of the Anaheim Classic. Creighton’s national player-of-the-year Doug McDermott and Xavier Thames of San Diego State were competitors from the 2013 Wooden Legacy, which combined the Anaheim Classic and the John R. Wooden Classic in June 2013, picked in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Thames was named the 2013 Wooden Legacy most valuable player as he led San Diego State to three-straight wins in the Thanksgiving weekend event played at both the Titan Gym on the campus of Cal State Fullerton and Honda Center near Disneyland.

Highlighted by a 29-point effort in the Aztec’s 67-59 win over Marquette in the December 1 championship game at Honda Center, Thames scored 66 points in three games as he made 11 of his 15 three-point shots.

McDermott scored 64 points in his three Wooden Legacy games last fall starting with a 27-point performance in the Bluejays’ 86-60 opening round victory over Arizona State. In the semi-finals at Titan Gym before a sellout crowd, San Diego State defeated Creighton 86-80 as Thames scored 26 points while McDermott tallied 30 points.

Other players drafted Thursday with previous playing experience in the former Anaheim Classic were Markel Brown (44th pick overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves) of Oklahoma State (2010 Anaheim Classic participant), Josh Huestis (29th, Oklahoma State Thunder) of Stanford (2010), Dwight Powell (45th, Charlotte Hornets) of Stanford (2010), Cameron Bairstow (49th, Chicago Bulls) of New Mexico (2011) and Semaj Christon of Xavier (55th, Miami Heat) of Xavier (2012, all-tournament selection).

For previous NBA drafts, here are selections where the players competed in the former Anaheim Classics.

THE WOODEN LEGACY PLAYERS IN THE NBA DRAFT (Anaheim Classic participation only)

2013 Draft

* Tony Snell, New Mexico 2011 (pick 20 by Chicago Bulls)

* Allen Crabbe, Cal 2012 (pick 31 by Cleveland Cavaliers, traded to Portland Trailblazers)

* Isaiah Canaan, Murray State 2010 (pick 34 by Houston Rockets)

* Erick Green, Virginia Tech 2010 (pick 46 by Utah Jazz)

* Romero Osby, Oklahoma 2011 (pick 51 by Orlando Magic)

* Colton Iverson, Minnesota 2010 (pick 53 by Indiana Pacers, traded to Boston Celtics)

2012 Draft

* Quincy Acy, Baylor 2008 (pick 37 by Toronto Raptors)

* Khris Middleton, Texas A&M 2009 (pick 39 by Detroit Pistons)

2011 Draft

* Shelvin Mack, Butler 2009 (pick 34 by Washington Wizards)

* Malcolm Lee, UCLA, 2009 (pick 43 by Chicago Bulls, rights traded to Minnesota Timberwolves from Utah Jazz)

2010 Draft

* Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest 2008 (pick 8 by LA Clippers)

* Gordon Hayward, Butler 2009 (pick 9 by Utah Jazz)

* Trevor Booker, Clemson 2009 (pick 23 by Minnesota Timberwolves)

* Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia 2009 (pick 42 by Miami Heat)

* Devin Ebanks, West Virginia 2009 (pick 43 by Los Angeles Lakers)

2009 Draft

* James Harden, Arizona State 2008 (pick 3 by Oklahoma City Thunder)

* DeMar DeRozan, USC 2007 (pick 9 by Toronto Raptors)

* James Johnson, Wake Forest 2008 (pick 16 by Chicago Bulls)

* Jeff Teague, Wake Forest 2008 (pick 19 by Atlanta Hawks)

* Taj Gibson, USC 2007 (pick 26 by Chicago Bulls)

* Jeff Pedergraph, Arizona State 2008 (pick 31 by Sacramento Kings, traded to Portland Trailblazers)

* Patrick Mills, Saint Mary’s 2008 (pick 55 by Portland Trailblazers)

2008 Draft

* O. J. Mayo, USC 2007 (pick 3 by Minnesota Timberwolves, traded to Memphis Grizzles)

Broadway, Spady ready for MEAC/SWAC

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22
These aren’t quite fightin’ words, but make no mistake – the coaches who’ll be dueling in the 10th installment of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney are ready.

Both schools -- North Carolina A&T State, coached by Rod Broadway, and Alabama A&M, coached by James Spady, are making their debuts in the annual HBCU game -- to be played Sunday, Aug. 31 (11:45 am ET, on ESPN). Broadway and Spady have already started rallying their respective fan bases, all but guaranteeing a healthy showdown to get the 2013-2014 football season started.

» Spady’s message: Watch

» Broadway’s message: Watch

Desmond Lawrence: Catch me if you can

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22
Want to catch sight of a really fast wide receiver?

Watch the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney game, broadcast on ESPN, which will take place on Aug. 31 at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla. That’s when quick-footed Desmond Lawrence, a senior at North Carolina A&T State, will have an opportunity to showcase his blazing speed on a national stage. The Aggies will take on Alabama A&M in this black college football classic, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Labor Day Weekend.

One of the top sprinters in the nation, Lawrence finished 7th in the 100 meters at the NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championship, with a time of 10.24. He had clocked a personal-best 10.12 to land a spot in the finals. Lawrence’s performance earned him the honor of becoming the first athlete in North Carolina A&T State history to capture All-American honors in the 100 meters.

The nation has taken notice, and so have his coaches: “I’m proud of the way he competed,” said Duane Ross, North Carolina A&T State's director of track and field programs. “He’s a talented athlete. He loves what he does ... I look forward to seeing him put that speed to work out there on the football field.”

The 5-foot-10, 181-pound senior was A&T’s leading receiver last season, with 37 receptions for 403 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 10.3 yards a catch. Given Lawrence’s abilities, those numbers could increase significantly this season—with lightning speed.

MEAC/SWAC announce Legends

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
Five honorees, headlined by three former NFL standouts, will be recognized at the sixth annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legends Reception at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, near Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 6 p.m. ET. The evening will honor National Football League (NFL) Hall of Famers Elvin Bethea (North Carolina A&T State University); Harry Carson (South Carolina State University); and John Stallworth (Alabama A&M University); as well as sports media relations veteran Bill Hamilton (South Carolina State) and former athletic director and longtime volleyball coach Betty Austin (Alabama A&M University).

Established in 2009, the MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legends Award pays tribute to those individuals whose achievements have impacted Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The Legends Reception will precede the 10th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disneyfeaturing the North Carolina A&T State University Aggies of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Alabama A&M University Bulldogs of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). The game will be played Sunday, Aug. 31 at 11:45 a.m. ET, and televised on ESPN. MORE

Dolphins great earns honorary doctorate

May, 29, 2014
May 29
As a Hall of Fame offensive guard with the Miami Dolphins and a star player for Bethune-Cookman, Larry Little has enjoyed a great many accolades throughout his football life. Yet Little was still humbled to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Bethune-Cookman’s graduation ceremony last week.

“It was a great honor, especially being an alumnus,” said Little, one of Bethune-Cookman’s most prestigious alumni. “They had over 350 graduates. When I graduated [in 1967], my class had 120. There were only 750 students at that time. The campus has really grown over the years. But the honorary doctorate is second to none. I want to thank the president, Dr. [Edison] Jackson, and the board of trustees for bestowing this honor on me.”

A 2011 MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legend, Little earned all-conference honors in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for his brilliant play as a Wildcat. Even so, he wasn’t drafted by an NFL team. In 1967, Little signed with the San Diego Chargers as a free agent. Then, in 1968, he was traded to Miami, and that’s where he made his mark.

Little quickly became a starter in his first season with the Dolphins. He was selected as an All-Pro six times with the team. In 1970, Little’s outstanding blocking skills helped Miami win 10 games and capture its first AFC Eastern Division title in 1971. In 1972, the Dophins finished the season with a 17-0 record. The team went on to win Super Bowl VII, and remains the only NFL team to have won the Super Bowl with a perfect season. The Dolphins also won Super Bowl VIII.

In 1980, after 13 seasons with the Dolphins, Little retired from professional football and moved into coaching. He was head coach at his alma mater from 1983-1991. In 1992, he became head coach of the Ohio Glory in the World League of American Football, and served as head coach at North Carolina Central from 1993-1998.

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge game, broadcast on ESPN, will take place on Aug. 31 at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla. North Carolina A&T State and Alabama A&M will battle for bragging rights in this HBCU classic, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“The game has really grown nicely over the years,” said Little, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. “It looks like they have a good one this season. I’m pretty familiar with North Carolina A&T. They have two assistants who played for me in Trei Oliver and Shawn Gibbs, and one who worked for me in Sam Washington. I’m sure a lot of people will be watching.”

Payton Award winner gets Chiefs camp invite

May, 14, 2014
May 14
Bobby Wenzig, Alabama State’s outstanding placekicker and punter, has been invited to the Kansas City Chiefs’ minicamp. A 2012 Walter Payton Achievement Award winner -- presented annually to a player from each school participating in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney -- Wenzig was presented with the honor along with Arlen McCray-Nibbs from Bethune-Cookman University.

The Chiefs’ camp will be held at the end of the month. Wenzig, a graduating senior, had a solid career with the Hornets. He transferred to Alabama State from Arizona State and became a two-time All-America selection and a three-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference standout.

Wenzig, who took care of the Hornets’ kickoff, field goal and PAT responsibilities, completed his career averaging 43 yards a punt. He had the ability to land his punts in key positions; 68 of his 208 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He connected on 35 field goals and 69 PATs during his three seasons. Wenzig finished his career with 204 points, becoming just the fourth Alabama State player to score more than 200 points during his playing days.

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge game will be played on Aug. 31 on ESPN from Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando. Both schools -- North Carolina A&T State (of the MEAC) and Alabama A&M (SWAC) -- will be making debuts in the annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) game.

Saint Joseph's Kanacevic to play in Italy

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
Saint Joseph's forward Halil Kanacevic has signed a professional contract with Virtus Roma of Italy. A 6-foot-8, 255-pounder, Kanacevic had a terrific season for the Hawks, who won the Atlantic 10 Conference championship, averaging 10.9 points and a team-best 8.7 rebounds a game. He led SJU in assists (4.4) and blocks (1.5), while earning A-10 All-Conference second team honors. Kanacevic was the Most Valuable Player of the Atlantic 10 championship as he tallied 15.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in the Hawks' three tournament wins.

Virtus Roma plays in Italy's Series A league, the country's highest level of club competition.

Since starting their season in the Old Spice Classic in November -- losing to LSU, defeating Siena and beating Washington State in the fifth place game -- Saint Joseph's stepped up its play throughout the season, with the Staten Island, NY-raised Kanacevic being a key contributor.

Galloway leading charge for Saint Joseph’s

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
It’s that time of year, when teams have their sights set on post-season play. Saint Joseph’s is among them, and looking to make a huge push toward an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Hawks (21-7 overall, 11-3 Atlantic 10) have won sixth straight games, largely on the strength of the play of shooting guard Langston Galloway, the team’s leading scorer. Galloway, a 6-2 senior, is averaging 16.9 points a game – and is fresh off a 27-point performance in Saint Joseph’s 83-74 win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday.

Moreover, Galloway has moved into third place on the Hawks’ all-time scoring list with 1,827 points. Currently the school’s all-time career leader in three point field goals (with 316), he recently broke the Hawks’ single game three-point record with 10 against Fordham, when he notched a scoring a career-high 33 points.

Saint Joseph’s has two more games left – tonight at George Washington, and La Salle at home on March 9.

Saint Joseph’s has come a long way since its early season appearance in the Old Spice Classic last November. While in Orlando, the Hawks went 2-1 in three games, losing to LSU, defeating Siena and beating Washington State in the fifth place game.

It wasn’t so long ago – a decade, actually – that Saint Joseph’s finished a regular season with a 27-0 record and advanced to the NCAA Final Eight. That team was led by All-American and National Player of the Year Jameer Nelson, now with the Orlando Magic.

The 2014 version of the Hawks are looking to build on that history, and get to the Big Dance.

They’re well on their way.

UVA loving life under the radar

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
Most of the college basketball world Saturday night was locked on Durham, N.C., as No. 5 Duke edged No. 1 Syracuse in a down-to-the-wire thriller on ESPN.

Probably among those interested viewers were the Virginia Cavaliers.

A few hours earlier and about 170 miles to the north, the then-No. 14 Cavaliers extended their winning streak to 11 and won their program-best 14th conference game, trouncing Notre Dame, 70-49, to much less fanfare — they’re now No. 12 at 24-5, 15-1 in the ACC after dismantling Miami, 65-40, Wednesday night.

Just another Saturday for the Cavs.

“I think that’s something we’ve kind of always done. We’re not a super-flashy team,” said senior forward Akil Mitchell, the Cavs’ leading rebounder. He shot 7-for-7 and scored 15 points to tie the game-high. “We play defense. We kind of got off to a rocky start after a lot of attention this year, but being able to fly under the radar is exactly what we want to do.”

Mission accomplished so far for the Cavaliers, who were fourth in the conference in the preseason polls, behind Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina.

Their rocky start was a 59-56 loss to No. 14 VCU on Nov. 12, in which they missed 14 free throws, then back-to-back non-conference losses in early December, against Wisconsin – Virginia scored a season-low 38 points – and an uncharacteristic fall at Green Bay – allowing 75 points, ruining coach Tony Bennett’s return. The Cavs ended December by laying an egg at Tennessee, allowing a season-high 87 in a 35-point defeat. That left UVA 9-4 and apparently took care of any further national attention.

Few noticed the 69-65 heartbreaking loss at No. 23 Duke on Jan. 13, which left the Cavs 3-1 in the ACC. But they got defensive after that game – and haven’t lost. Unexciting as it might seem, the Cavs are 15-1 and alone in first in the ACC. They’ll take the former for the latter.

“It’s definitely not the prettiest style of basketball,” Mitchell said. “We defend. We play a hard-nosed, tough style of basketball. It might not be people’s favorite style to watch but it gets it done.”

The Cavaliers lead the nation in fewest points per game (55.5), are in the top 10 in fewest points per possession, field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage. They lead the ACC in key defensive categories, scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and rebounding.

Playing UVA is a shooter’s nightmare as they’ve now held their last 16 opponents under 50 percent shooting.

It’s what Bennett-coached teams are all about. In his seven seasons as a head coach Bennett, the National Coach of the Year in 2006-07, has seen four of his teams finish in the top five nationally in scoring defense. This season should make five in eight.

Since Bennett arrived in Charlottesville in 2009 from Washington State, which he led to the Sweet 16 in 2008, Virginia has raised its win total every season, and with the win Saturday, became the second school in ACC history to increase its conference win total five straight seasons.

With two games to go and a 1 ˝-game lead on second-place Syracuse, the Cavs control their destiny in winning only the second undisputed ACC regular-season title in school history (they’ve shared it four other times, last in 2007). It would be the first outright title since 1980-81, when National Player of the Year Ralph Sampson led the school to its first Final Four. That team was the last Cavs team to start ACC play 13-1.

Unlike 1981, few expected a conference title this season.

“We’ve always kind of been underrated,” said Mitchell, who remembers Bennett showing him a poster of “Rocky” during his visit. “Myself, Joe [Harris], a bunch of our guys, the first recruiting class that coach Bennett put together was a bunch of guys that had something to prove.”

They’ve proved plenty this season. In ACC play they’ve clamped down on opposing offenses, holding 13 opponents at least 11 points below their season scoring average. That has resulted in runs such as the 25-0 tear Saturday, during which they scored on 15 straight possessions.

“When we’ve gotten a couple of stops in a row, the energy picks up. You can really see a team start to lose life when they’re struggling,” he said. “They start jacking up quick shots. It’s kind of like blood in the water. You can smell it.”

That defensive intensity has covered for an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring, seventh in field goal percentage and 11th in free throw percentage (fourth in three-point shooting). The nation will get a chance to appreciate the Cavs at 4 p.m. ET March 1, when they host Syracuse on ESPN in what could decide the top seed heading into the conference tournament.

“It’s a big game, but Boston College proved that every game is important,” Mitchell said. “We want to remind ourselves of what happened last year when we lost a couple, to remind ourselves of the pain of not making the tournament.”

Mitchell laughed at the prospect of being back on everyone’s radar. “To be on people’s radar, I don’t think that at this point we’ll even notice it,” he said. “We’re just enjoying the game. It’s so much fun that we don’t even realize what we’re doing.”