2013-2014 Mountain West Preview: Strong, will they perform better in March?

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The 2012-13 season for the Mountain West proved to be another solid campaign for the league with one notable problem: once again the conference struggled mightily in the NCAA tournament. Despite being ranked as the nation’s top conference in the RPI, none of the five Mountain West schools in the field reached the second weekend of the Big Dance. But hope springs eternal, and in 2013-14 the league and its fans are hopeful that another solid regular season will result in a more productive postseason.

Defending champion New Mexico welcomes back key performers in guard Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk, and with longtime assistant Craig Neal replacing the departed Steve Alford there should be no concerns about continuity. The Lobos won’t be without their challengers however, as Boise State, San Diego State and UNLV are all capable of contending for the Mountain West crown. Add in Colorado State and league newcomer Utah State, and this should be a fun season in the Mountain West.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: San Jose State (WAC), Utah State (WAC)
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Two new programs have entered the conference: Two more schools have made the jump from the WAC to the Mountain West: San Jose State and Utah State. While the rebuilding Spartans will take their lumps this season, Stew Morrill’s Utah State program enters the Mountain West ready to compete. The key for the Aggies, who haven’t failed to win at least 20 games in a season since 1998, is to stay healthy. Multiple key players, most notably guard Preston Medlin, missed significant time last season due to injury.

2. “Noodles” grabs the reins at New Mexico: When Steve Alford made the move from Albuquerque to Los Angeles (UCLA) the calls for Craig Neal to be named the head coach were loud, and UNM ultimately promoted Alford’s longtime right-hand man. And he isn’t working with a bare cupboard either. Tony Snell was a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but four starters return, including guard Kendall Williams and center Alex Kirk.

(MORE: New Mexico’s bid for postseason success)

3. UNLV lost some key players but they’ve got plenty of talent as well: The Runnin’ Rebels saw one of their players from last season’s NCAA tournament team get drafted with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft (Anthony Bennett), another graduate (Anthony Marshall) and two more transfer (Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt). But Dave Rice won’t lack for talent, with UConn transfer Roscoe Smith eligible and guard Bryce DeJean-Jones back for another run. And in Jelan Kendrick, they’ve got a transfer talented enough to have a major impact immediately.

4. San Diego State lost its top two scorers: Head coach Steve Fisher has some key contributors to replace as well, with leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley out of eligibility. But Xavier Thames returns, as do Winston Shepard and Skyler Spencer. If SDSU’s newcomers, especially Dakarai Allen, are ready to contribute the Aztecs will once again contend.

5. Boise State returns all five starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team: Leon Rice’s Broncos are a trendy pick to contend for the Mountain West crown, and their experience has a lot to do with that. Both Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks return, as do guards Jeff Elorriaga and Mikey Thompson and forward Ryan Watkins. They may not have a playing surface as original as the football team, but the Broncos will definitely attract eyeballs this season.

PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Kendall Williams (New Mexico)

For three seasons Williams has been a steadying influence for the Lobos, and his ability to operate both on and off the ball make the senior guard a tough matchup for opponents. With Tony Snell in the NBA there may be more opportunities for Williams, the reigning Mountain West POY, to score and he’s more than capable of handling the additional responsibilities.

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THE REST OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM:

  • G Deonte Burton (Nevada): Burton (16.3 ppg, 3.6 apg) may be asked to do even more scoring this season with Malik Story out of eligibility
  • G Anthony Drmic (Boise State): Drmic (17.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) shot 46.4% from the field and 39.2% from beyond the arc in 2012-13
  • F Josh Davis (San Diego State): Davis averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game at Tulane last season, earning first team All-Conference USA honors
  • C Alex Kirk (New Mexico): Averaged 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, earning second team All-Mountain West honors

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G Preston Medlin (Utah State)
  • G Derrick Marks (Boise State)
  • F Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming)
  • F Roscoe Smith (UNLV)
  • G Deshawn Delaney (New Mexico)

BREAKOUT STAR: G Daniel Bejarano (Colorado State)

This pick is as much about opportunity as it is talent. Bejarano won Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year honors last season, posting averages of 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. With the Rams losing all five starters from last season’s team the Arizona transfer will need to score early and often for Colorado State.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: David Carter (Nevada)

In four seasons as the head coach Carter’s posted an overall record of 74-58, winning a WAC regular season title and making two NIT appearances. But two of his last three seasons have been 19-loss campaigns, including last season’s 12-win campaign (3-13, last in the Mountain West). With a new athletic director as well, this could be an important season for Carter despite having a contract that won’t expire until 2017.

(MORE: Read about Deonte Burton’s push to bring Nevada more team success)

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: That regular season was nice and all, but it won’t mean much if the league once again falters in the NCAA tournament.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing whether or not Boise State can build on last season’s NCAA tournament appearance.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 10, Boise State at Kentucky
  • December 14, New Mexico vs. Kansas (in Kansas City)
  • December 7, UNLV at Arizona
  • December 21, New Mexico vs. Marquette (in Las Vegas)
  • January 5, San Diego State at Kansas

PREDICTED FINISH

1. New Mexico: The shift from Alford to Neal isn’t your “standard” coaching change, and with Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk leading the way the Lobos have the pieces needed to remain on top.
2. UNLV: No more Bennett, Marshall or Moser, and Katin Reinhardt transferred, but the Rebels are still talented. Keep an eye on Khem Birch, who should build on his solid play a season ago.
3. Boise State: Drmic and Marks make up one of the best tandems in the conference. Whether or not the Broncos can win the league will depend on their front court.
4. San Diego State: How much has Winston Shepard improved? That’ll be one key for the Aztecs, who need to account for the loss of both Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley.
5. Utah State: The Aggies may be a newcomer but with Preston Medlin back (and healthy) they’ll give their new conference foes fits.
6. Wyoming: Leonard Washington and Derrious Gilmore are gone but Larry Nance Jr. returns for the Pokes, who look to match their 20 wins of a season ago.
7. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy lost a lot of talent from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but this is a solid program (tip of the cap to Tim Miles). The question: can Daniel Bejarano and Jonathan Octeus be the on-court leaders the Rams need with Jesse Carr (knee) unavailable?
8. Nevada: The Wolf Pack won just three league games last season, and that can change if they get more production from the front court. PG Deonte Burton is one of the nation’s best at the position.
9. Fresno State: The dismissal of Robert Upshaw wasn’t a crippling blow for the Bulldogs, who will be improved. But losing Braeden Anderson for the year definitely hurts.
10. Air Force: Falcons lost their top four scorers from a season ago, most notably guard Michael Lyons (17.7 ppg). Could be a tough year in Colorado Springs, but Dave Pilipovich’s team will compete every night.
11. San Jose State: Dave Wojcik takes over as head coach, and his young roster will take its share of lumps in the Spartans’ inaugural Mountain West campaign.

Oklahoma sophomore Doolittle to miss first semester

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Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule just got a little more challenging.

Sooner sophomore Kristian Doolittle has been suspended for the first semester of this upcoming season due to academic reasons, the school announced Wednesday.

“I didn’t meet the academic standards and I apologize to my teammates, coaches, fans and the university,” Doolittle said in a statement released by the school. “I take full responsibility for my actions and will use this time away from the team to learn from my mistakes. I am committed to bettering myself throughout this process and look forward to earning a chance to compete with my teammates after the fall semester.”

The 6-foot-7 forward should be back in time for Oklahoma’s most important part of the season – Big 12 play – but the Sooners have a rather challenging non-conference slate for which he’ll be sidelined. Oklahoma is in the loaded field of the PK80 tournament in Oregon with Arkansas its first-round opponent and then North Carolina potentially waiting in the second round. The Sooners also play USC in Los Angeles and at Wichita State before welcoming Northwestern into Norman.

“We’re disappointed for Kristian,” OU coach Lon Kruger said in a statement. “He made some poor decisions that resulted in his suspension from the university. We will provide support and encouragement as he works to earn the opportunity to rejoin the team at the conclusion of the fall semester.”

Doolittle averaged 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, starting 25 games in Oklahoma’s 20-13 campaign.

SMU hires father of five-star recruit

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SMU just seemingly positioned itself to land one of the top recruits of the Class of 2019.

The Mustangs have hired Tyrone Maxey, the father of top-25 2019 forward Tyrese Maxey, as their new director of scouting, according to Scout.com.

It’s a move that’s sure to raise eyebrows given that Maxey is the father of a five-star recruit that SMU would likely otherwise not be in play for on the recruiting trail, but the elder Maxey does have nearly 20 years experience coaching at the high school level and played at Washington State in the 1990s, so it’s not as though his resume is completely barren. Also, and this probably should be taken with some skepticism, Maxey said his employment wouldn’t change his son’s recruitment.

“It doesn’t affect him at all,” Maxey told Rivals. “I tell people this is an opportunity for me. This is not going to affect him one way or another. In my household, we support him and this is all about him in this recruiting process. Wherever he wants to go, that is what we support wholeheartedly. It is not one of those kind of deals.”

Even if you take that statement at its word, it’s hard to believe that employing a high-level recruit’s father isn’t going to bolster a program’s chances to land a game-changing recruit. There doesn’t even have to be a wink-wink, handshake deal. The implicit pressure of making a decision that can alter the course of your father’s career and employment is probably plenty significant for a teenager.

And it’s certainly not a move without precedent. Michael Porter, Sr. has gotten hired twice, first at Washington and then at Missouri, largely on the strength of having a potential No. 1 draft pick as a son. And would Keelon Lawson have been brought on to Josh Pastner’s staff at Memphis if his sons weren’t all high level recruits? There’s a long history of this practice in college hoops.

The NCAA did try to curb this move not too long ago by forcing programs to hire those close to prospects to coveted full-time coaching positions, as if they’re hired to support staff jobs – such as Maxey’s director of recruiting position – there’s a two-year moratorium on bringing on the related recruit. Given that Tyrese Maxey, who has offers from the likes of Michigan State, UCLA and Oregon, is still two years away from joining a college program, the Mustangs probably wouldn’t have an issue there.

That is, should the Garland, Texas native choose to follow his father a few miles down the road to Dallas.

“I love my son,” Tyrone Maxey told Rivals, “and am going to support him wherever he wants to go and that it what it is. He has worked hard and whatever he deserves and wherever he wants to go with the recruiting process is on him.”

Report: Elite prospect Mitchell Robinson not expected to play in college in 2018

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It now appears as if college is off the table for Mitchell Robinson, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2017 and a potential lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, as Yahoo! Sports is reporting that he has passed on the idea of playing for his hometown university, New Orleans.

Robinson was initially a Western Kentucky-signee, and he spent two weeks over the summer practicing and attending classes as a Hilltopper. But he left school earlier this summer, which puts him in a bind: He’s a one-and-done player, but if he spends that year in college, he’ll do so as a transfer that must sit-out as a redshirt.

There were three schools that Robinson was eventually considering: LSU, Kansas and UNO. LSU stopped recruiting him two weeks ago. Bill Self told reporters last week that Kansas would not be adding anymore players this season. And now, according to Yahoo!, he will not be attending UNO.

As we wrote on Monday, the options for Robinson are now simple: He can either sit out for a year, working out on his own to train for the 2018 NBA Draft, or he can head overseas, where there is a market for his services; Australia, where Terrence Ferguson played last season before getting selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, has been a place where Robinson has been linked.

Ball State forward Zach Hollywood found dead in off-campus apartment

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Zach Hollywood, a redshirt freshman on the Ball State basketball team, has died, the university confirmed to multiple local news outlets Tuesday.

Muncie police are investigating the death at Hollywood’s off-campus apartment, according to WTHR-TV. Multiple outlets are reporting that the death has been ruled a suicide.

Hollywood was 19 years old.

This is his final tweet, from 5:39 a.m. Tuesday morning:

Hollywood redshirted last season at Ball State after averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a senior at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in Bradley, Ill.

“On behalf of Ball State University, it is with profound sadness that we learned today of the passing of Zachary “Zach” Hollywood, a student from Bradley, Illinois,” the school said in a statement. “Zach has been a part of our family for the past year. During his time on campus, he was a member of men’s basketball team and made many positive impressions throughout campus.”

“This is a tragedy. Our heartfelt condolences are with his family, friends and teammates.”

Hollywood’s teammates reacted on social media:

Hollywood’s death is a tragic turn in an already devastating story for his family, which lost Zach’s mother, Susan, suddenly just over one year ago.

3-on-3 at the Final Four for $100,000? It’s happening

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The Final Four just got more exciting.

On Tuesday, Intersport announced a 3-on-3 tournament that they will be hosting at the Final Four with a $100,000 payout for the winners. The participants must be seniors that have exhausted their collegiate eligibility, the teams will be created based on conference and the rules will be standard, international 3-on-3 rules: one-point for a bucket inside the arc, two points for a bucket outside the arc, 12-second shot clocks and games played to 21 points, or whoever has the highest score after 10 minutes. Each all-star team will feature four players, including one sub.

And, well, this is awesome.

I cannot express enough how much I love this idea.

One potential pothole here is that teams that are playing in the Final Four will, quite clearly, not have players eligible to participate.

It also should be noted that since “three-pointers” are now worth two points and “two-pointers” are now worth one, the value of long-range shooting is increased even more.

With all that in mind, why don’t we make a quick power ranking of the teams that can be created from the nine biggest conferences in college hoops:

  1. ACC: Grayson Allen (Duke), Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Joel Berry II (North Carolina), Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech)
  2. Big East: Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Marcus Foster (Creighton)
  3. Big 12: Devonte’ Graham (Kansas), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Jeffery Carroll (Oklahoma State), Zach Smith (Texas Tech)
  4. AAC: Rob Gray (Houston), B.J. Taylor (UCF), Gary Clark (Cincinnati), Obi Enechionya (Temple)
  5. Pac-12: Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart (USC), George King (Colorado), Thomas Welsh (UCLA)
  6. Big Ten: Nate Mason (Minnesota), Scottie Lindsay (Northwestern), Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas (Purdue)
  7. Atlantic 10: E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell (Rhode Island), Peyton Aldridge (Davidson), Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
  8. SEC: Yante Maten (Georgia), Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss), Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford (Arkansas)
  9. WCC: Jock Landale and Emmett Naar (Saint Mary’s), Jonathan Williams III (Gonzaga), Silas Melson (Gonzaga)

I had way too much fun putting this together.

What did I miss?