Mountain West Preview 2012-13: San Diego State and UNLV fight it out at the top

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Mountain West sent a record four teams to the NCAA tournament in 2011-12, but, despite high expectations, saw only one advance out of the Round of 64 and claimed no Sweet 16 berths.

But the conference is back in 2012-13 with another strong group of contenders. Take a look below at NBCSports.com’s Mountain West Preview:

Five Things to Know

1.The top of the conference will be a fight between two teams that should be in the national Top 25 to begin the season, UNLV and San Diego State. The Runnin’ Rebels, with their strong recruiting class and returners Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall, will be going toe-to-toe with Jamaal Frankin, Chase Tapley, and the Aztecs down the stretch.

2. New Mexico will have to compensate for the loss of Drew Gordon, who averaged 13.7 points and 11.1 points per game last season, but the Lobos do return Kendall Williams and Tony Snell, who together combined for close to 23 points per game.

3. Colorado State, coming off a run to the NCAA tournament last season, is now without coach Tim Miles, who moved on to take the head coaching spot at Nebraska. Former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy is now at the helm.

4. Nevada and Fresno State join the conference and begin their first season in the Mountain West. The conference says goodbye to TCU, who meant more to MWC football than basketball, and actually upgrades in basketball with Nevada, who should compete in the middle of the conference.

5. Boise State, we hardly knew ye. The Broncos, who just joined the conference, will be spending their final season in the MWC before heading off to the Big West. Not a big loss for basketball, but football calls the shots at Boise.

Impact Newcomers

Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt, Khem Birch (UNLV)

UNLV got an impressive recruiting haul this off-season, capped off by Bennett’s commitment in the spring. Reinhardt, formerly a USC commit, showed his versatility over the summer and should be able to contribute for a team that will be shuffling the cards in its backcourt. Birch becomes eligible in December.

Winston Shepard (San Diego State)

Shepard is the crown jewel of a three-man recruiting class for coach Steve Fisher and the Aztecs. He brings athleticism to an already-athletic team, but can also settle down into the mid-range and hit shots.

Robert Upshaw (Fresno State)

When Frank Martin left Kansas State for South Carolina, Upshaw reopened his recruitment and fell right into Fresno State’s lap. He brings size and a big body down low. As a Top-50 recruit, Fresno State grabbed a gem.

Colton Iverson (Colorado State)

The Minnesota transfer becomes eligible this season and brings a big body to a conference where he has a chance to make an impact. He averaged 5.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in his last season with Minnesota.

Marqueze Coleman (Nevada)

Coleman averaged 21.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season for Alemany High School (Calif.) and will have a very good backcourt to learn from at Nevada.

Breakout Players

Michael Lyons (Air Force)

Lyons was a Second Team All-MWC selection last season after averaging 15.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, so perhaps that doesn’t make him a breakout player, but he is certainly under the radar. The Falcons will likely remain toward the bottom of the conference in 2012-13, but keep an eye on this senior.

Malik Story and Deonte Burton (Nevada)

This solid backcourt combo gets a shot at proving itself against tougher competition after averaging 14.1 and 14.8 points respectively last season when Nevada was a member of the WAC.

Kevin Olekaibe (Fresno State)

Olekaibe is another player who will get a chance to prove himself against competition in a more difficult conference. He was the second leading scorer in the WAC last season with 17.8 points per game.

Coaching Situation: Lots of Fresh Faces

The Mountain West is a solid split between coaches who have established themselves and coaches who are just getting into the swing of things at their new schools. Eustachy is new at Colorado State and Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich took over in-season after the firing of Jeff Reynolds. Leon Rice is entering his second season at Boise State.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, which includes Dave Rice and Steve Fisher, who should have their teams competing in March.

Player of the Year: Mike Moser (UNLV)

Moser’s decision to return to UNLV gives the Runnin’ Rebels a legitimate shot at making noise deep into March. Jamaal Franklin will contend for Player of the Year honors as well, but Moser is NBCSports.com’s pick for this season.

All-Conference Team

G Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State)

G Wes Eikmeier (Colorado State)

G Kendall Williams (New Mexico)

F Mike Moser (UNLV)

F Anthony Bennett (UNLV)

Predicted Finish

1. UNLV—Moser, Marshall, and Bennett will have Rebels in the mix in March

2. San Diego State—Franklin and Tapley lead the group, but solid newcomers and transfers supplement the attack

3. New Mexico—Losing Gordon is difficult, but Kendall Williams and Tony Snell should step up for the Lobos

4. Nevada—MWC newcomers will rely on backcourt duo Story and Burton for production after losing frontcourt piece Dario Hunt to graduation

5. Colorado State—Eikmeier is the biggest key for the Rams, who will also be adjusting to adding Larry Eustachy at head coach.

6. Wyoming- Leonard Washington and Luke Martinez return from a team that won 20 games last season.

7. Fresno State—Expect Robert Upshaw to be an immediate contributor, but the former WAC members will likely struggle against tougher competition at the top of the conference.

8. Air Force—The Falcons tied for last in the conference last season and even with another strong year from Lyons, they will likely finish near the bottom again.

9. Boise State—This will be Boise’s last season in the MWC and they’ll try to make it memorable, but will likely run into difficulties. Their three wins last season came against Air Force, Colorado State, and TCU.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 4 Duke forces 21 turnovers, beats Wake Forest 84-70

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — No. 4 Duke hounded Wake Forest’s guards, forced turnovers and turned them into easy baskets. With the occasionally maligned defense playing like this, there was no chance of a letdown or a look-ahead.

The Blue Devils forced 21 turnovers in Tuesday night’s 84-70 victory over the Demon Deacons.

By their own high standards, this counts as an off night for an offense that is the nation’s second-most efficient in the Pomeroy rankings. And they were outrebounded 37-31 by a Wake Forest team with two 7-footers in the rotation.

It didn’t really matter with the defense playing like this.

“We’ve still got our defense, we’ve got our rebounding on some nights and then we also have our offense,” guard Grayson Allen said. “So on any given night, everything has to be there. Rebounding and offense wasn’t there … but our defense was, and that’s got to be consistent.”

Wendell Carter Jr. had 23 points and 12 rebounds and Marvin Bagley III had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Blue Devils (18-2, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who built a 20-point lead with their defense and kept Wake Forest at arm’s length the rest of the way.

The 21 turnovers forced — 15 in the first half — matched a season high for Duke, which turned them into 34 points while also holding the Demon Deacons to 5-for-20 shooting from 3-point range.

Gary Trent Jr. finished with 19 points while Allen had 17 points and six assists — including an alley-oop feed to Bagley for a dunk with 9½ minutes left. It pushed the Blue Devils’ lead into double figures to stay at 62-52 and started the decisive 15-6 run that restored Duke’s comfortable lead.

Doral Moore had 18 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 2:18 left for Wake Forest (8-12, 1-7), which has lost six in a row and eight of nine. Brandon Childress scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half.

“We didn’t do ourselves any favors by how we handled the ball in the first half,” coach Danny Manning said. “That hole’s probably too much to overcome.”

BIG PICTURE

Duke: This was a classic trap situation but the Blue Devils were never really in danger of getting caught up in it, with that visit from No. 2 Virginia looming on Saturday. Duke usually picks up a couple of league losses on the road each January — the Blue Devils have 11 of them since 2015, including one at North Carolina State earlier this month. No chance of that happening this time, giving them a five-game winning streak that includes easy wins against the ACC’s worst teams — Wake Forest and Pittsburgh.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have lost two home games to Top 5 opponents in a little over 48 hours, after Virginia earned a 10-point win at Joel Coliseum on Sunday night. This was a largely discouraging step back for Wake Forest with leading scorer Bryant Crawford finishing with 10 points but a season-worst eight turnovers. “I thought he came out and pressed a little bit and made some decisions that we regret and he regrets, too,” Manning said.

INJURY REPORT

Wake Forest didn’t have its top sixth man with guard Keyshawn Woods out with a lingering knee injury. Woods is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.4 points. For Duke, backup big man Marques Bolden (knee sprain) missed his sixth straight game.

STAT LINE

Duke point guard Trevon Duval had a rough night, missing all eight shots from the field and both of his free throws. “There’s just a greater chance of inconsistent performance with young players — or young teams,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He didn’t play well tonight, but he has played well.”

RECORD BOOK

Moore finished 9 of 9 for Wake Forest — one basket shy of the school record for field-goal percentage set by Kyle Visser, who was 10 for 10 against James Madison in 2006.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.

Wake Forest: Travels to Louisville on Saturday night.

___

More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Bubble Banter: Five SEC bubble teams were in action Tuesday night

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Monday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

ARKANSAS (RPI: 29, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 10): Arkansas is a notoriously bad team away from home, but they managed to buck that trend on Tuesday and beat Georgia in double-overtime in Athens. With a win over Oklahoma on a neutral, Tennessee at home and Georgia on the road, Mike Anderson’s club has three Quadrant 1 wins. A home loss to LSU doesn’t look great, but the Razorbacks are in a good position for the stretch run, especially since …

LSU (RPI: 89, KenPom: 63, NBC seed: Next four out): … the Tigers continue to play themselves closer and closer to the bubble. They have swept Texas A&M, won at Arkansas and beat Michigan on a neutral, giving them four Quadrant 1 wins. The problem is that two of their seven losses came to teams ranked outside the top 125 and six of their wins came against opponents outside the top 200. LSU’s next six games may end up being what determines their postseason outcome: at Auburn (8), at Tennessee (12), Arkansas (29), at Florida (23), Ole Miss (91), at Alabama (24). Four top 25 opponents on the road, and a fifth top 30 opponent at home. That’s a brutal stretch.

LOSERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 37, KenPom: 54, NBC seed: 8): The Friars had a chance to set themselves up in perfect position to get a bid when they went into Philly to take on No. 1 Villanova. It didn’t quite work out that way — they lost by 20. The Friars are still in a good spot, as their win over Xavier looks great, one of three Quadrant 1 wins on their résumé. A home loss to Minnesota looks much worse today than it did when it happened, and falling at UMass was not good. But with six Quadrant 1 games left, the Friars are still in a good spot.

OKLAHOMA STATE (RPI: 83, KenPom: 62, NBC seed: Out): The Pokes blew a chance to land an elite road win on Tuesday, wasting a 12-point halftime lead against Texas Tech. Mike Boynton’s club has two Quadrant 1 wins, their worst loss is at Baylor (No. 90) and every team they play from here on out is a top 100 opponent. they’re on the outside right now, but getting hot down the stretch will change things.

ALABAMA (RPI: 24, KenPom: 53, NBC seed: 9): Alabama fell at Ole Miss on Tuesday night, but that loss is hardly a killer. With wins over Rhode Island (9) and Auburn (8), plus a win over Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide are in a good spot. But with nine of their last 11 games coming against top 40 opponents, including eight in the top 30, this thing could end up spiraling.

TEXAS A&M (RPI: 28, KenPom: 30, NBC seed: 10): The Aggies are going to be tough to project because of how weird their roster situation has been this season. They have some great wins (West Virginia on a neutral, at USC) and their only two losses to teams outside the top 25 are against LSU, the latter of which came on Tuesday. A trip to Kansas this weekend is massive.

GEORGIA (RPI: 48, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: 10): Georgia took a rough loss at home against Arkansas in double-overtime on Tuesday, a game that would have been a nice Quadrant 1 win for the Bulldogs. The good news for Georgia is that Saint Mary’s, Marquette and Alabama have all been playing well enough that they currently have three Quadrant 1 wins. The biggest concern here may actually be losses to San Diego State and UMass, both of which are Quadrant 3 losses.

No. 14 Texas Tech has big rally to beat Oklahoma State 75-70

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LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Keenan Evans reiterated a message to his Texas Tech teammates after the senior struggled shooting the ball in a couple of big losses by the No. 14 Red Raiders.

“I was going to be that guy that set the tone, whether it was aggressive on offense, or aggressive on defense,” Evans said. “I was trying to be that guy that was kind of everywhere … just making tough plays and trying to get us going in any way possible.”

Evans scored 22 of his 26 points after halftime Tuesday night, and Texas Tech rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Oklahoma State 75-75 and avoid a third straight loss.

Evans hit a 3-pointer with 3:52 left that put the Red Raiders ahead to stay. That came only 40 seconds after his rebound and assist to Jarrett Culver, whose breakaway dunk gave Texas Tech (16-4, 5-3 Big 12) its first lead since the first half, and before a jumper by Lindy Waters put the Cowboys ahead one last time.

“He’s a terrific player. I’m not surprised that he played well at all. Good players go through things like that for a couple of games,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “He’s not going to let that keep him down.”

Culver, the freshman guard playing in his hometown, finished with 25 points and four 3-pointers.

Jeffrey Carroll had 16 points for Oklahoma State (13-7, 3-5), which was coming off an overtime win three days earlier over then-No. 4 Oklahoma. And the Cowboys still had a 14-point lead with 15 minutes left.

Evans was a combined 5-of-20 shooting, 2-of-13 on 3-pointers, as Tech lost twice on the road last week. After making 1 of 4 shots before halftime against the Cowboys, he was 6 of 9 in the second half.

“Keenan didn’t play any different tonight than he has been. He’s a great shooter,” Tech coach Chris Beard said. “He’s remained aggressive.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have lost all four of their true road games, all in Big 12 play. At home, they have won their last three games in overtime or on the final shot in regulation.

Texas Tech: After a tough week on the road, the Red Raiders got a much-needed boost with an impressive comeback after halftime. They made only one of 12 field goals in the final 10 minutes of the first half, but made 15 of 28 after halftime, including 6 of 9 3-pointers.

TAKING A PUNCH

“Every game, you’re going to get punched, the other team is going to go on runs, and you’ve got to respond,” Beard said. “Tonight, above all, what I’m most proud of is just the grit, the composure. I didn’t think there was much panic out there, even when we were trying so hard to play well and we just weren’t.”

RANKING SUCCESS

Even though the Red Raiders are out of the Top 10 for the first time in three weeks, they are still among the nation’s top 15 teams for three straight weeks for the first time since 1995-96.

BEFORE THE BREAK

Carroll had a go-ahead bank shot with 5:50 left in the first half that started a half-ending 18-5 run that put Oklahoma State up 37-25. Carroll had a 3-pointer 36 seconds after that as part of eight straight points for the Cowboys.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma State plays at Arkansas on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Texas Tech also steps out of conference play for one of the early games Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, at South Carolina, a Final Four team last season.

___

More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

LUBBOCK, TX – JANUARY 23: Keenan Evans #12 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders goes to the basket during the second half of the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on January 23, 2018 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Oklahoma State 75-70. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: Oklahoma rebounds, Virginia rolls and Campbell goes off

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1. TRAE YOUNG AND NO. 12 OKLAHOMA BOUNCE BACK, BEAT NO. 5 KANSAS

In the aftermath of Saturday’s overtime loss at Oklahoma State, the game of Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young was dissected by many. Was he shooting too much? Should he change? Well, Young did change somewhat Tuesday night as he attempted just nine shots against No. 5 Kansas.

But he attempted 12 free throws and would finish with 26 points and nine assists as the Sooners came back to win, 85-80. The Sooners kept Devonte’ Graham in check, as the senior shot just 4-for-19 from the field, and they also sent Udoka Azubuike (1-for-7 FT) to the foul line during the second half rally.

Rob Dauster has more on Oklahoma’s win, and whether or not Young taking so few shots is what will get Lon Kruger’s team to the Final Four.

TUESDAY’S BUBBLE BANTER: Big night for the SEC

2. NO. 2 VIRGINIA SHUTS DOWN NO. 18 CLEMSON

Playing their first full game without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL during the second half of Saturday’s win over Notre Dame, No. 18 Clemson managed to hang with No. 2 Virginia during the game’s first 20 minutes Tuesday night. Then Virginia truly clamped down defensively, and things got out of hand as they won by the final score of 61-36.

The 36 points are the least that Virginia’s allowed in a win over a ranked opponent, and for much of the second half they played without Isaiah Wilkins (back soreness). While Clemson received a harsh reminder that their margin for error is much slimmer without Grantham, Tuesday’s blowout says more about Virginia than it does the Tigers.

3. CHRIS CLEMONS AND MARCUS BURK WENT OFF FOR CAMPBELL

The tandem of junior guard Chris Clemons and sophomore guard Marcus Burk entered Tuesday’s game at Liberty averaging a combined 40.3 points per game, with Clemons ranking first in the Big South and fifth nationally at 24.2 per night. Clemons and Burk surpassed those numbers in a big way in the Fighting Camels’ 94-85 win, combining to score 74 points with both making ten three-pointers.

Clemons scored 42 points, shooting 10-for-14 from deep, with Burk adding 32 points and making ten of his 16 three-point attempts. As a team Campbell, which is now 6-3 in the Big South and trails first-place Radford by a game in the loss column, shot 23-for-33 from three. It should be noted that Campbell attempted a total of 42 shots from the field. The 23 three-pointers made is both a school and Big South record for the most made in a single game.

No. 12 Oklahoma closes Big 12 gap on No. 5 Kansas behind Trae Young’s 26

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If you’re simply looking at the stat line, it would seem like Tuesday night’s win over No. 5 Kansas was a typical Trae Young game.

The star point guard for No. 12 Oklahoma finished with 26 points, nine assists, four boards, two steals and five turnovers, which is roughly what he has averaged throughout the season. The difference here, however, was that Young, just three days removed from taking 39 shots in a loss at Oklahoma State and less than a week removed from turning the ball over 12 times in a loss at Kansas State, shot the ball just nine times.

He was 7-for-9 from the floor. He was 2-for-3 from three and 10-for-12 from the line. He was more focused on distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved than he has been in any game this season, and the result was a critical, 85-80 win over the Jayhawks.

Oklahoma entered Tuesday night trailing Kansas by two games in the conference along with … well, everyone else: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State. This was the second loss the Jayhawks have taken in the Big 12 and it means that their lead over the field was cut in half.

Put another way, an outright regular season title is still a possibility for Oklahoma — and everyone else chasing Kansas.

There’s no two ways around it. This was a massive win and an excellent performance from Young.

The question I have is whether or not this version of The Trae Young Show is something that is sustainable for Oklahoma in the long-term.

Because I’m not sure that it is.

The narrative coming out of this game is going to be that Young, having lost a pair of road games in a league where no one wins on the road, came home and beat the conference favorites after Selfish Trae Young morphed into Unselfish Trae Young. And credit where it is due, Young made an active and impressive decision to get everyone else on the roster involved. He played differently, no one is disputing that.

But I’d argue that Lon Kruger’s decision to foul Udoka Azubuike on four possessions in the final four minutes — and Bill Self’s decision to leave Azubuike in the game — is what changed this game. Azubuike is a 41 percent free throw shooter that missed six straight free throws, two of which were front-ends, after a Malik Newman layup gave Kansas a 78-74 lead with 4:02 left. The Jayhawks would score just a single basket the rest of the game, one of only three possessions they had in those four minutes when the game wasn’t in doubt and Azubuike wasn’t on the free throw line.

That had as much to do with Oklahoma’s game-ending 11-2 run as anything else.

I also think it’s important to note that, on Saturday, Oklahoma’s supporting cast shot 14-for-43 from the floor and 2-for-15 from three. On Tuesday night, they were 21-for-48 (43.8%) from the field and 7-for-20 (35%) from three. That’s an improvement, there is no question about that, but it’s not a better or more efficient offensive option than asking Young to be aggressive is. Put another way, it’s not selfish to shoot a lot if your shots are the best way for your team to score.

Kruger needed to reel Young in a little bit after last week.

No one is going to argue that.

As I wrote here, Young needs to trust his teammates more and his teammates need to give him more reason to trust them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, on Oklahoma’s final two possessions, Young found Christian James and then Brady Manek for the go-ahead and game-sealing threes. Compare that to the Oklahoma State, when Young forced deep threes over multiple defenders at the end of regulation and overtime, possessions where the Sooners could have won the game at the buzzer.

But I also think we can all agree that for Oklahoma to reach their ceiling, they cant make a habit out of James, Manek and Kameron McGusty taking 29 shots and Young getting just nine.

Because this win, as important as it was, was not Oklahoma’s ceiling, not unless you think a home win aided by intentional fouls against a good-but-far-from-great Kansas team that saw their best player shoot 4-for-19 from the floor is super-impressive.