Kendal Williams, Larry Gilmore Jr.

2013 Mountain West Conference tournament preview

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Before the season began much was made of the talented newcomers at both UNLV and San Diego State, with both teams predicted to not only rise to the top of the Mountain West but also make a splash nationally. Yet once the Mountain West season played out the answer to the question of best team in the conference was a simple one: New Mexico.

Steve Alford’s team won the conference by two full games, with point guard Kendall Williams and center Alex Kirk being two primary figures. Colorado State won 11 conference games and finished second in Larry Eustachy’s first year in Fort Collins. This group, unlike last season’s NCAA tournament team, has size in the form of 7-footer Colton Iverson and with him in the middle the Rams punished teams on the glass consistently.

UNLV has plenty of talent, led by Anthony Bennett, but they haven’t always looked like a cohesive unit on the floor. SDSU’s biggest concern is the health of point guard Xavier Thames, who’s been dealing with back issues for much of the season. But even with Thames’ issues the Aztecs still have one of the league’s best players in Jamaal Franklin.

SDSU’s quarterfinal against Boise State may be the biggest game of the entire weekend, as both could use another resume-building victory (or two). It can be argued that up to six teams are capable of winning the Mountain West tournament (Air Force being the sixth), and that should make for an exciting weekend in Las Vegas.

The Bracket (.pdf file)

Where: Las Vegas (Thomas & Mack Center)

When: March 12th-March 16th

Final: March 16, 6 p.m. CBS

Favorite: New Mexico

Given New Mexico’s two-game margin it’s difficult to put any other team in this spot. Williams and Kirk have been outstanding, and while Tony Snell’s always been a factor offensively the junior’s improved on the defensive end of the floor. Add in Hugh Greenwood and Jamal Fenton and the Lobos have more than enough depth on the perimeter. Cameron Bairstow starts alongside Kirk inside, and senior wing Chad Adams give UNM a versatile defender off the bench.

And if they lose?: Colorado State

Don’t expect UNM to fall to the Wyoming/Nevada winner in the quarters but a loss to either San Diego State or Boise State in the semis is more than possible. If the Lobos are to go down Colorado State would be the team to watch. The Rams lost at UNLV by just two points and of the top five seeds they’re the only one to win at Air Force. In addition to Iverson in the front court CSU has Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung, two tough veterans who help CSU in a variety of areas.

Other contenders: UNLV’s home court advantage, especially when the Runnin’ Rebels have it rolling, cannot be ignored. Anthony Marshall leads the conference in assists but at times it seems as if there are too many offensive options on the floor. SDSU’s hopes hinge on the back of Thames; if he’s healthy and can manage the quick turnarounds the Aztecs can win the tournament.

Sleeper: Boise State

Armed with wins over Creighton, UNLV and San Diego State, the Broncos may need one more win to feel comfortable in regards to their NCAA tournament hopes. Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are both threats to go for 30 points or more on any given night, and Jeff Elorriaga is an excellent three-point shooter. If Boise State takes care of the basketball (7th in the Mountain West in assist-to-turnover ratio) look out.

Deeper sleepers: Air Force is the team to watch here. Dave Pilipovich’s team will end up in the NIT at the very least, with senior guard Michael Lyons leading the way. Lyons dropped 45 on Colorado State in a close loss to the Rams in Colorado Springs, and in the regular season finale he scored 30 to help lead Air Force past New Mexico.

Studs:

– G Kendall Williams (New Mexico): The Mountain West Player of the Year race looks to be wide-open and Williams is one of the players under consideration. He scored 46 in New Mexico’s win at Colorado State last month.

– F Anthony Bennett (UNLV): Bennett has the build of a pro right now, and he’s extremely difficult to stop in the paint.

– G/F Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State): Last year’s Mountain West Player of the Year is averaging 17.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game on the season, and he’s the only player in the Mountain West to be ranked in the top three in both categories.

– C Colton Iverson (Colorado State): The Minnesota transfer averaged a double-double (14.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg) in conference play, the lone Mountain West player to do so.

– G Michael Lyons (Air Force): Lyons averaged 17.6 points per game on 47.3% shooting, doing so despite being the first line of any opponents’ scouting report.

Prediction: Look for some entertaining finishes, with Air Force being an upset possibility in the quarterfinals. But in the end New Mexico will repeat as tournament champions, knocking off Colorado State. 

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.