CIT Mercer Utah St Basketball

Conference Preview: Utah St., New Mexico St. lead way in WAC

Leave a comment

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 Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

For all the concern about the health of leagues such as the Big East and Big 12, there’s no conference that’s had more to deal with from a realignment standpoint than the WAC. And things got even tougher when Idaho made the decision to move its non-football sports to the Big Sky in 2014, adding themselves to the list of schools that will be leaving the conference in the future. With six of the ten teams scheduled to leave the conference at the end of this academic year the WAC will look a lot different in 2013.

So who wins the league in 2012-13? At the top of the list have to be two of the programs that have ranked among the most consistent in the WAC in recent years. Utah State, which had a down year by its standards last season, is ready to once again contend with junior guard Preston Medlin leading the way. New Mexico State may have lost a few key contributors led by Wendell McKines but guard Daniel Mullings is back, and the Aggies are talented enough to return to the NCAA tournament.

The newcomer that’s most capable of winning the WAC? That would be Denver, who was one of the better teams in the Sun Belt last season and will rely on forwards Chris Udofia and Royce O’Neale. UT Arlington is also making its WAC debut on the heels of a 24-win campaign and a Southland regular season title, and even with the loss of their top two scorers the Mavericks will be a formidable team.

Louisiana Tech and Idaho both return players who received postseason honors last year, with WAC Freshman of the Year Raheem Appleby back in Ruston and senior center Kyle Barone leading the Vandals. Guard Kannon Burrage and forward Jeromie Hill return to a UTSA squad that won 18 games last season, and three of the Roadrunners’ top four scorers from last season are back.

San Jose State, Seattle and Texas State all have major questions to answer, which will make it tough on them to have a significant impact on the title race. Enjoy this group of schools while you can, because the WAC is going to look a lot different come 2013.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech)
G Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State)
G Preston Medlin (Utah State)*
F Chris Udofia (Denver)
C Kyle Barone (Idaho)

Predicted Standings
1. Utah State
2. New Mexico State
3. Denver
4. UT Arlington
5. Louisiana Tech
6. Idaho
7. UTSA
8. San Jose State
9. Seattle
10. Texas State

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Leave a comment

Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Leave a comment

Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.