College basketball preview: Howard Bison

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Coach:Kevin Nickelberry. Second season, 6-24; 98-100 overall

Key Player:FMike Phillips. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder will again be counted on to carry the load for a team that frequently got pushed around on the boards last season. His physical presence at the forward position will complement a reinvigorated frontcourt that will feature 6-10 center Alphonso Leary and 6-9 power forward Theodore Boyomo.

Biggest Loss:GKyle Riley. Riley was the Bison’s only player to graduate last season, but his departure leaves a crucial hole to be filled. The senior averaged 35.1 minutes per game last year, tied for most on the team.

Best Addition:GPrince Okoroh. With his blend of size, quickness and athleticism, the talented Glenarden, Md., native could enter the starting lineup right away as a shooting guard. In addition to his intensity on the defensive end, Okoroh has the ability to score from anywhere.

Best Case: A stellar freshman class and recoveries from injury will give them the depth to at least be competitive this year. That could translate to finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack, slightly better than the ninth-place finish predicted in the MEAC preseason coaches’ poll.

Worst Case:Nickelberry finds that he still doesn’t have the athletes he needs to execute the up-tempo style offense that became his bread and butter in previous coaching stints. Consistent scoring continues to elude Nickelberry’s squad as they rely too heavily on six freshmen that need more time to develop. Throw in another injury or two and the Bison would be staring at its ninth straight season with 20 or more losses.

Key Games:

* At American, Nov. 23. A chance to challenge American for local D.C. supremacy

* Hampton, Dec. 4. Could set the tone for the season in this tough conference opener at Madison Square Garden

* At Savannah State, Jan. 28. Coming off a brutal five-game conference stretch, this is one of their few winnable road games and could provide a much-needed confidence boost at a critical point in the season

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