#139 Norfolk State Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

Norfolk State Spartans

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #139
Conference Rank: #1 MEAC

Norfolk State Team Page#139 Norfolk State Men's Basketball 2015-2016 PreviewBuy Norfolk State Basketball Tickets

Had it not been for an extremely talented and gifted NC Central team, the Norfolk State Spartans would have been the heavy favorites to take the MEAC title last season. A postseason team for the past five seasons (1 NCAA, 2 NIT, 2 CBI), the Spartans are starting to work up quite a reputation for themselves on the mid-major scale. With a young, talented coach at the helm (Robert Jones: 35 years old) who insists he’s in it for the long run with the Spartans, this is a program that could be very, very good for the next 5-10 years. With a couple big returners and a surprisingly solid incoming class, the Spartans should be the heavy favorites for the MEAC title in 2015-16.

2014-15 Record: 20-14, 12-4
2014-15 Postseason: CIT
Coach: Robert Jones
Coach Record: 39-29 at Norfolk State, 39-29 overall

Who’s Out:
For a team that rarely went very far into their bench last season; losing three of the everyday players is definitely not an easy thing to overcome. Unfortunately for the Spartans and Robert Jones, however, it’s something they’ll have to get past if they hope to win. The three players leaving all played over 20 minutes per game last season and more often than not; started the basketball game for Jones and the Spartans. Starting with the most surprising (not to mention painful) loss out of the three, RaShid Gatson decided to transfer out of Norfolk State for his final season (headed to Xavier). He wasn’t the leading scorer on last year’s team-that honor would go to Jeffrey Short (19.2 ppg)-but he was arguably the most pivotal to the Spartans success. The reasons for this are pretty simple. As a guard-oriented team, without Gatson’s rebounding (9.6 rpg) and interior scoring presence down low (15.5 ppg), the Spartans would have been a much easier team to guard. Also, his work on the other side of the ball wasn’t so bad either (1.2 blocks per game). A true warrior down low, Gatson was expected to be a huge, huge, part of this team’s offensive game-plan in 2015-16. Instead, the Spartans now have a massive, 6-9, 240 pound hole at the center position. The other two losses may not sting a much as the departure of Gatson did, but they certainly aren’t going to be celebrated either. BU transfer Malik Thomas, although not the most fun guy to watch on last year’s team, was a very, very underrated piece of the Spartan pie last season. A reliable outside threat (33%) solid perimeter defender and decent rebounder (4.4 rpg), Thomas made up for his lack of elite scoring (9.4 ppg) by putting up numbers across the board. Even more importantly, his unorthodox size (6-7, 185 pounds) at the small forward position made him a tough guy to guard for MEAC wings both on the perimeter and down low. People won’t be talking about this graduation as much as the transfer of Gatson, but it’s another starter leaving for Jones. The third and final notable departure is that of senior point guard Jamel Fuentes. This may seem like an odd selection; as Fuentes averaged just 3.1 points per game last season and shot a dismal 33% from the field. However, he was the starting point guard for two straight seasons and leading assist-man (4.2 per game last season) in that time as well. Overall, Fuentes was a stable, reliable guard that loves to get his teammates involved and didn’t care about padding his own stats. In a college basketball world filled with D’Angelo Russell’s, Andrew Harrison’s, and Melo Trimble’s, a smart, selfless guard is a cool, refreshing piece to have on your roster. Worst yet, it leaves another hole for Jones to magically try to fill.

Who’s In:
Even if Robert Jones doesn’t strike gold with any of his eight incoming recruits for next season, you can’t say he didn’t try. This is actually the largest amount of incoming, eligible recruits that Norfolk has had in the history of their program. Pretty impressive, regardless of how they turn out. Unfortunately, most of them are likely to be bench dwellers for the majority of their careers. With seven unranked recruits and one former two star recruit who has yet to live up to the hype coming out of high school three years ago, it could be a two or three years before any of these guys are able to produce. Nevertheless, let’s go down the list. Out of the seven incoming unranked recruits, three of them are JUCO transfers (Brian Kelley, Preston Bungei, Jonathan Wade), one is a walk-on (Devonte Banner) and the other three are traditional freshmen (Elijah Davis, Alex Long, Moses Toriola). The only recruit out of this group that could be a 20-30 minute per game player by next season is Elijah Davis; one of the traditional freshmen. Overall, Davis does a lot of things really well. He can shoot the lights out (at least from the high school arc) is a solid presence in the lane, and is an above average defender. The only knock on Davis is his below average athleticism. He’s a solid spot-up shooter, but didn’t look all that comfortable in one on one situations or in the midrange throughout his high school career. Still, it’s tough to think that somebody that can shoot, defend, and rebound at a high level (and is 6-4, 220 pounds) will be a complete bust at the next level. The other recruit is an interesting one: former two star recruit Nkereuwem Okoro, also known as ‘Kerwin.’ Kerwin has not had the career many thought he would have up to this point. A fast, big-bodied, athletic wing coming out of high school, he was a guy that was supposed to waltz right into Iowa State and instantly contribute. Instead, he played just five minutes per game. He looked for a change of scenery, found Rutgers, but continued to struggle (7-9 minutes per game in two seasons). The MEAC is a much weaker conference than both the Big Ten and Big 12, so there is reason to believe Okoro could turn it around in his last season. He is eligible for play next season.

Who to Watch:
Although the Norfolk State Spartans were undoubtedly a good basketball team last year-the record doesn’t lie-they weren’t a very deep team. In fact, just five players played over 20 minutes per game. In other words, they heavily, heavily relied on their starting rotation. Like I said previously in the write-up, however, three of those guys are gone for next season. So why isn’t it panic time for the Spartans? Well, for starters, they have a ton of incoming recruits and are likely to strike gold with at least one of them. The other reason? The two guys that are coming back. Jeffrey Short and D’Shon Taylor, both wings, are going to be seniors for next season. With all due respect to D’Shon Taylor (who was great in his own right last season) the real main attraction for next season both offensively and defensively is going to be rising senior shooting guard Jeffrey Short. This guy can downright score the basketball. I don’t care if it’s driving the lane (5.6 free throw attempts per game) from the midrange or from behind the arc (39.4%), Short is an absolute nightmare matchup to any MEAC player, period. He isn’t particularly big (6-4) or strong (195 pounds), but he uses his supreme athleticism and shooting ability to simply score from anywhere on the floor. His 19.1 points per game were the second highest mark in the MEAC last season, ranking behind just Delaware sweet shooter Amere May (21 ppg). With May graduated and his big man down low transferring, Short could be a 20-23 ppg scorer in 2015-16 if Coach Robert Jones lets him off his leash. D’Shon Taylor wasn’t expected to do much for the program in his first season after transferring from junior college, but he quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the wing. A decent shooter (35.5%), driver (4.4 free throw attempts per game) and midrange shooter (45% FGP), Taylor made a living off being pretty good at everything. I don’t see Taylor putting up incredible scoring numbers for next season, but 16-20 ppg isn’t out of the question with Gatson gone down low. Either way, these guys are going to have to be leaders for this young team both on and off the floor.

Final Projection:
Although this year has the potential to be something very special for the Norfolk State Spartans, it also has a higher chance of flopping than last year. This is because instead of relying on sturdy blocks like Jamel Fuentes, Jeffrey Short and RaShid Gatson for the majority of their production, they’re now going to have to rely on some of these unproven freshmen to perform. Former two star recruit Kerwin Okoro has the chance to be something really special in his last season, but he’s going to have to put his past struggles at Iowa State and Rutgers behind him and just simply play. Overall, watch the Spartans next season for Jeffrey Short and D’Shon Taylor; but don’t be surprised if some of these young guys come to play as well.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA Tournament

Projected Starting Five:
Zaynah Robinson, Sophomore, Guard, 2.6 points per game
Jeffrey Short, Senior, Guard, 19.1 points per game
D’Shon Taylor, Senior, Guard, 13 points per game
Jordan Butler, Sophomore, Forward, 2.5 points per game
Moses Toriola, Freshman, Center, DNP last season

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 70.1 (98th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 66.3 (157, 3)
Field-Goal Percentage: 47.2 (32, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.0 (82, 3)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.6 (247, 5)  
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 34.6 (159, 5)
Free-Throw Percentage: 65.9 (282, 7)
Rebound Margin: 4.9 (34, 1)
Assists Per Game: 13.5 (99, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.5 (263, 6)


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