Daniel Mullings looks to lead New Mexico St. to third straight NCAA appearance

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

When the latest round of conference realignment came to its conclusion, the Western Athletic Conference looked nothing like the league many had become familiar with. Of the fifteen players to receive All-WAC honors last season just two return: New Mexico State’s Daniel Mullings and Sim Bhullar. Both played pivotal roles on last season’s WAC tournament champion squad, with the 7-foot-5 Bhullar winning tournament MVP honors and Mullings earning a spot on the All-Tournament team.

They’re also two of the reasons why Marvin Menzies’ Aggies are expected to win the conference’s regular season title in 2013-14, with Mullings assuming the role of the WAC’s most versatile player. As a sophomore Mullings posted averages of 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game, leading the Aggies in scoring and steals. And with New Mexico State losing two double-digit scorers, including leading rebounder Bandja Sy (11.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Mullings stands to have more responsibilities on his plate.

And the overwhelming feeling is that the Toronto native has worked hard enough to be ready for the challenge.

“When Daniel came in, he was relatively raw but very athletic and he was a gym rat,” Menzies said in a phone interview with NBC Sports. “He’s lived in the gym and worked above and beyond the hours we’re allocated to improve his game.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s WAC Preview)

After a freshman season in which he was a supplementary piece on an NCAA tournament team led by Wendell McKines, Mullings led the Aggies with a possession percentage of 23.7% as a sophomore. After surpassing the 20-point mark just twice as a freshman Mullings did so nine times in 2012-13, including 23-point outings in late-season wins over WAC regular season co-champion Louisiana Tech and Idaho.

His overall field goal percentage remained about the same (47.0% compared to 48.9% as a freshman), but Mullings’ greatest improvement came as a perimeter shooter. After making just 27% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2011-12, Mullings knocked down 37% of his shots from deep and attempted 31 more three-pointers as a sophomore (54 compared to 23 as a freshman).

“The biggest differences [from freshman to sophomore year] were developing my shooting an easing into more of a leadership role alongside our seniors,” said Mullings, who also noted his improved played on the defensive end (2.3 spg after averaging 1.6 as a freshman).

Outside of Mullings and the aforementioned Bhullar the Aggies return other contributors from last season’s team. Forward Renaldo Dixon (5.6 points, 4.0 boards) proved to be a valuable reserve in 2012-13, center Tshilidzi Nephawe (7.2 points, 5.2 boards) returns after playing in just nine games due to a hand injury and guard K.C. Ross-Miller is the team’s third returning starter. But even with this being the case there will be some adjustments to make given the fact that New Mexico State lost two double-digit scorers in Sy and Tyrone Watson (10.3 points, 5.0 boards, 2.8 assists). That’s where Mullings’ progression as a leader comes into play.

“As I’ve gone along I’ve become more vocal,” said Mullings. “I’ve been here for a couple years now so I know the system and what the coaches want, so I’ll be able to add whatever knowledge I have to help the new guys and the players returning.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

New Mexico State adds four newcomers, including 7-foot-4 center Tanveer Bhullar (Sim’s younger brother) and New Mexico JuCo transfer DK Eldridge, and they’ll have some depth at point guard thanks to the return of Ross-Miller and the arrival of freshman Travon Landry. The combination of talent, experience and conference turnover has made New Mexico State the prohibitive favorite to win the WAC in the eyes of many. It’s up to Mullings and his teammates to retain the focus needed in order to accomplish that task and return to the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season.

“We have to just focus on ourselves and whatever New Mexico State has to do,” said Mullings when asked about whether or not the changes within the WAC will affect the Aggies’ approach. “We can’t worry about everybody else, but obviously we have to be aware of the new teams in our conference.”

With a non-conference schedule that includes two games against rival New Mexico as well as contests against Arizona, Colorado State and Gonzaga, New Mexico State should be ready when WAC play begins in January. And there’s also a good chance that more college basketball fans will be familiar with Mullings’ game if they aren’t already.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: