NCAA Basketball Tournament - North Carolina State v San Diego State

The Mountain West is a two-team race, in everything

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The Mountain West Conference released a preseason media poll of their own on Monday. In all honesty, it was a formality. Only two teams truly matter in the conference race.

San Diego State was picked to finish first, receiving 10 first place votes, with UNLV getting the other eight. San Diego State squeaked out the total votes race over UNLV, 153-151.

So yea, it’s basically telling us what we already know. No one is getting a word in edge-wise if it’s not a member of Steve Fisher or Dave Rice’s squads.

New Mexico was picked third, followed by (in order) Colorado State, Nevada, Wyoming, Fresno State, Boise State and Air Force.

Keeping with the theme, San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin was tabbed as the MWC’s Preseason Player of the Year. The race between these two is so even, the media couldn’t decide who got Preseason Newcomer of the  Year action (they give that out?), SDSU’s Dwyane Polee II (formerly of St. John’s) or UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones (formerly of USC).

Finally, UNLV big man Anthony Bennett got the Preseason Freshman of the Year nod.

The only place anyone will see any players from a team outside of  SDSU or UNLV is on the all-conference team and that’s only in two spots. Franklin and guard Chase Tapley made it from SDSU and Mike Moser was the obvious choice from UNLV. In fact, it’s kind of surprising he wasn’t player of the year. But Franklin is no doubt a worthy candidate as well. Kendall Williams from New Mexico and Deonte Burton of Nevada occupied those remaining two slots.

So there you go. It’s San Diego State or UNLV. Not much argument, and rightfully so. New Mexico lost a ton off last season’s team. And by a lot, I mean Drew Gordon. Colorado State is rebuilding in their first season under Larry Eustachy and Wyoming, while coming off a 20-win season, isn’t going to have the firepower to compete with the elite in the MWC just yet.

These two will settle the argument Jan. 16 at San Diego State, then exactly a month later, Feb. 16, at UNLV.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.