Men’s basketball coach Gary Tuell, who is in his 11th season at Nova Southeastern University, said rival Barry is the top Division II team in the country and the best Sunshine State Conference club he’s ever seen.
Tuell, whose 6-7 team plays at Barry (12-1, best start in school history) on Saturday at 4 p.m., takes his praise a giant step further.
“They have a legit chance to win a national title,” Tuell said. “They’re the No. 2 (college basketball) team in town. And I’m not so sure they’re not No. 1.”
Translation: Barry, with six Division I transfers, is better than FIU and could challenge the University of Miami, at least in Tuell’s estimation.
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Barry is ranked fifth in the nation in Division II, which is a school record. The Bucs recently knocked off then-top-ranked Florida Southern, 107-102.
Meanwhile, NSU is without two would-be starters: Casey Carroll, a 6-7 junior forward who is out for the year due to a back injury; and Brian Cahill, a 6-4 senior shooting guard who is out two more weeks after getting poked in the eye in practice and requiring surgery.
Carroll averaged 10.3 points last season and was second in the conference with a .462 three-point shooting percentage. Cahill averaged 12.7 points and led the team with 3.6 assists.
In addition to those losses, Nick Rosa, a 6-6 freshman forward from Westminster Academy, will not play the rest of the season. Tuell said Rosa’s father passed away in the fall due to a heart attack, and the decision was made to allow the young man time to focus on academics.
Fortunately, the Sharks have 6-5 junior shooting guard Chris Page, who is averaging 20.3 points, second-best in the conference.
Page has dealt with his own adversity: His father, Bob, 69, has lung cancer, and the chances of survival are not very high.
“The doctors have put a two-percent chance that he makes it to the two-year mark (in August of 2016),” said Chris Page, a native of Plainfield, Indiana. “But we’re hopeful.
“It’s been tough on me. I talk to my dad every day. He’s doing pretty good right now – he hasn’t been declining. He watches my games online, and he’s always trying to coach me up.”
Papa Page will probably see a close battle on Saturday – 11 of the past 12 games between NSU and Barry have been decided by four points or less, and the schools split two meetings last season.
Tuell said his team lacks depth and size. The point guard is 6-2 senior Stian Berg, a native of Norway. In the post is 6-8 sophomore Harrison Goodrick, from Australia. And joining Page on the wings are 6-1 senior Maurice Fuller of Indiana and 6-3 senior Justin Jeangerard from California.
Page, who aspires to play pro ball overseas and then become a college coach, has posted impressive shooting numbers: .511 on field goals, .473 on three-pointers and .786 on free throws.
Tuell said Page has improved his three-point shot from last season and his defense is a work in progress.
“His focus on defense is much better than a year ago and even better than it was a month ago,” Tuell said. “On offense, he’s gifted. On our level, he’s like a Kobe Bryant in that he’s hard to guard.”
Page will likely have to be at the top of his game if NSU is to upset Barry.
“I’m taking my beat-up band of warriors out there,” Tuell said. “We’re held together by band-aids and tape.
“If we knock down shots, we can beat people. But if we play poorly, we can fumigate the gym.”