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.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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