Mountain West Basketball Tournament - Championship - UNLV v New Mexico

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.

Richmond promoted on Mullin’s staff

SPRINGFIELD, MA - AUGUST 8: Mitch Richmond, inductee, speaks with presenter Chris Mullin by his side speaks during the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on August 8, 2014 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Mitch Richmond has been promoted on the staff of fellow Naismith Hall of Famer Chris Mullin at St. John’s.

Richmond’s move from special assistant to assistant coach Thursday comes just before the start of Mullin’s second season at his alma mater. Richmond, a five-time All-NBA selection, played three seasons alongside Mullin with Golden State and won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.

The Red Storm promoted former graduate assistant Luca Virgilio to assistant to the head coach and Chris Huey has joined the St. John’s staff as a graduate assistant.

Richmond replaces Barry Rohrssen who the school announced was no longer with the program on Sept. 7. Rohrssen, considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball, was with the program for one season.

Arizona State four-star freshman ruled academic redshirt

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A late addition to the Arizona State will have to wait to make his debut until the fall of 2017.

On Thursday, it was reported that Romello White, a four-star power forward, will sit out the 2016-17 season as an academic redshirt after failing to meet NCAA requirements, according to Doug Haller of azcentral.com.

White, ranked as the No. 87 overall player in the Class of 2016, had previously verbally committed to Tennessee and had signed with Georgia Tech before becoming a Sun Devil in mid-May after the Yellow Jackets had parted ways with Brian Gregory.

“Just having (White) in the program, as disappointing as this feels, his upside and future here are very strong,” Hurley told azcentral sports. “We’re going to have to be a little different (without him), a little unique. With this news, we’re going to be obviously driven through our guard play.”

White was set to be one of several freshmen to see immediate time on an inexperienced frontline. The Sun Devils had graduated Willie Atwood and had lost Savon Goodman to transfer. The 6-foot-8 White, along with fellow newcomer Jethro Tshisumpa, was expected to help the team’s top returning rebounder Obinna Oleka.

This news puts even more of an emphasis on the backcourt, one that returns leading scorer Tra Holder and adds Shannon Evans, a double-digit scorer for Hurley at Buffalo, who sat out this past year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Arizona State began the Bobby Hurley era with a 15-17 (5-13) record. The Sun Devils begin the 2016-17 campaign on Nov. 11 against Portland State.

Virginia basketball joins kneeling protest

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On the latest CBT Podcast, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, wonder whether a college basketball player will kneel for the national anthem, a nationwide protest — from the professional level to the high school level — that was sparked by San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those questions were quickly answered on Thursday night, as Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome tweeted out the above picture of the entire Cavalier team kneeling at halfcourt with a caption, “Kneel for injustice. Kneel for inequality.”

It’s hard to imagine this protest, which began during the NFL Preseason when Kaepernick was photographed sitting during the national anthem, simmers by the time the college basketball season starts. For starters, it’s still very much apart of the daily sports and political conversation in this country. You also have to imagine that next month, when the NBA season starts, several players will join in on the protest.

This time last year, a video — counter to this current protest — went viral. It was of Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams teaching his players, only 150 miles away from where Virginia’s protest picture was taken, the importance of the national anthem.

It remains to be seen if Virginia — or any other college basketball player/team — kneels for the national anthem during games this season, but one thing is clear: this protest will continue.

CBT Podcast: We talk players kneeling for anthem; Coaches as debate moderators

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins questions a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 10, 2016. } West Virginia defeated TCU 86-66. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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On the latest CBT Podcast, the guys discuss the new head coach at George Washington, a search that was completed several weeks after firing Mike Lonergan. The group also wonders if any college basketball player follows Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneels for the national anthem.

Given this week’s first presidential debate, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, each choose a college coach they want to see moderate the next debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

(Side note: the podcast begins with the trio discussing how difficult it is for Scott being a fan of the Bears, Bulls and White Sox. I wish I had the chance to talk about how awesome it is to be a Patriots fan. Seriously, how can you like football if you aren’t? It’s awful.)

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Audioboom or anywhere else that podcasts are given away for free.

If you enjoy what you hear on this podcast, please rate and review the podcast, as it will help us reach more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

NC State waiting on NCAA answer on Yurtseven’s eligibility

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 07:  Omer Yurtseven in action during the adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center on June 7, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) For now, all North Carolina State freshman Omer Yurtseven can do is work on his game and be patient.

With all the attention on possible one-and-done freshman Dennis Smith Jr., the Turkish 7-footer gives the Wolfpack a second five-star prospect on an overhauled and potential-filled roster. But he’s still waiting for the NCAA to clear him as eligible to play as an amateur.

Practice starts Friday and the opener is six weeks away.

“I can’t control it so I’m trying not to think about it,” Yurtseven said Thursday during the team’s preseason media day. “Just think about education and basketball, to control as I said what you can. Because that’s not in your hands, so if you think about it more, all It’s going to get you is frustration. And I don’t want that.”

Yurtseven, a native of Istanbul, had a professional contract offer with a European club team, but opted to play college basketball and committed to the Wolfpack in May. The 18-year-old also has international experience, is considered a potential one-and-done talent himself and even had a 91-point game in a Turkish Under-18 game this spring.

“He played overseas and he grew up playing the game the right way,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said, “so he’s very skilled and has a super high IQ.”

Smith’s debut at the point guard after enrolling in January to rehab a serious knee injury has caused the biggest buzz for the Wolfpack. And sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried isn’t shying away from fueling the hype about Smith, calling him Thursday “the best guard in the country” even while saying he will have a learning curve as he transitions to the college level.

But Yurtseven’s commitment was a big deal, too, and a key reason why the Wolfpack ranks No. 6 nationally in Scout.com’s recruiting rankings.

Gottfried said Thursday that “nothing has happened in a negative way” during the NCAA’s review process of Yurtseven’s amateur status, saying there is plenty of discussion but no timetable for a decision.

“It’s not frustrating because quite honestly for us, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about that,” Gottfried said. “He’s participated in every workout. He’s integrating himself with our team in a really positive way.

“We’re approaching it with the hope he won’t have to miss any games and move right in and play. If he does (have to sit out games), we’ll deal with that, too.”

Yurtseven said he understands the evaluation process takes time.

“You’ve just got to hope for the best,” he said. “I think that they should let me get cleared because I don’t think I have done something wrong. But you know, they’re trying to do their part, so I can’t do nothing but respect them. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While N.C. State has plenty of backcourt options, the Wolfpack sure could use Yurtseven up front. Abu (12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds) and 6-9 senior BeeJay Anya are back after offseason flirtations with the NBA draft, but Gottfried is leaning toward redshirting 6-9 senior Lennard Freeman to let him fully heal after an injury-plagued season following surgery to repair a fracture in his lower right leg in summer 2015.

The opportunity is there, assuming Yurtseven suits up as planned.

“It’s a new experience and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m in a place that I’ve never been in, a situation that I don’t know if I’ll live (through) ever again, a different situation than this. I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy and hope for the best.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org