Conference Catchups: Mountain West competitive at the top

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico

When the season began teammates Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk had the look of Lobos most likely to make a run at the league’s Player of the Year award. But at the “halfway” point it’s been the third member of New Mexico’s “big three” who’s stood out. Bairstow is currently ranked in the top ten in both scoring (2nd) and rebounding (9th), and he’s third in the Mountain West with a field goal percentage of 54.7%.

First Team All-Mountain West:

  • Xavier Thames, San Diego State
  • Deonte Burton, Nevada
  • Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
  • Roscoe Smith, UNLV
  • Alex Kirk, New Mexico

Midseason Coach of the Year: Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Fisher’s Aztecs are off to a 10-1 start, and while the overall strength of schedule has been noted in some circles SDSU does have wins over solid Creighton and Marquette squads thus far. And, their lone defeat came at the hands of an Arizona team that now sits atop the national polls. Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard III have led the way offensively with J.J. O’Brien and Josh Davis contributing in the front court, and as those youngsters mature this will be a tough team in Mountain West play.

Favorite: New Mexico Lobos

Sticking with the preseason favorites despite San Diego State’s start, with their senior trio being one reason why. But of note in New Mexico’s last two games has been the play of freshman Cullen Neal, who averaged 21.0 ppg and shot 13-for-22 from the field in wins over Marquette and Grand Canyon. With Hugh Greenwood due back for the team’s conference opener and Deshawn Delaney playing better basketball of late, New Mexico is well-positioned entering Mountain West play.

And three more contenders: 

  • San Diego State will certainly be a team to be reckoned with, and their ability to defend is a big reason why. According to kenpom.com the Aztecs rank 13th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and they limit teams to 38.2% shooting inside of the arc.
  • With Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks leading a roster of capable scorers, Boise State will be a contender in the Mountain West. But if they’re to win the league the Broncos will need to get even stronger on the defensive end, as they rank 9th in the league in field goal percentage defense.
  • It didn’t look good early but UNLV’s taken advantage of its recent schedule and looks to be an improved group heading into conference play. With Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith inside this is a very difficult team to score on, and if they can become more efficient offensively look out.
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Most Surprising Team: Colorado State

Not sure how many people were ruling out Larry Eustachy’s team before the season began, but the fact of the matter is that the Rams lost a lot of production from last season’s NCAA tournament team. But there they sit at 9-4, with the tandem of J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano leading the way. They’ll need to get better defensively in conference play, but all things considered this has been a good start for CSU.

Most Disappointing Team: UNLV

This pick is a product of their early struggles, but to be fair to this group loaded with newcomers you also have to look at who their losses came against. UCSB, for as disappointing as UNLV’s play in that game was, will contend in the Big West, Arizona State and Illinois have both proven to be solid teams and Arizona is…well, Arizona. The issue early for Dave Rice’s team was their lack of cohesion on the offensive end, but in the last five games the Runnin’ Rebels have made strides. Don’t expect them to be in this spot come March.

Most Important Player (in league play): Josh Davis, San Diego State

Davis has been productive on the glass for the Aztecs, as he ranks second in the conference in rebounding (10.2 rpg). But from a scoring standpoint it feels like he’s capable of doing more, especially when considering the fact that he averaged 17.6 points per game at Tulane last season. If he can move towards that level of production on the blocks, San Diego State becomes a tougher team to defend in the half court.

Who will slide?: Colorado State

Larry Eustachy’s Rams are off to a 9-4 start, with the forward tandem of J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano doing a lot of the heavy lifting (guard Jon Octeus has also played well). But this is a team that lost an awful lot of production from last year’s NCAA tournament team, and that could be an issue against some of the Mountain West’s premier teams. And they open up league play with San Diego State (home) and New Mexico (road), which makes for a difficult start.

Who is the sleeper?: Utah State

The loss of Jarred Shaw certainly doesn’t help matters, as he was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder prior to his suspension. But in Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield the Aggies have two players more than capable of producing offensively, and Kyle Davis has picked up the slack on the boards. Add in head coach Stew Morrill and the fact that he hasn’t failed to win at least 20 games since his first season in Logan and you’ve got your sleeper.

New Power Rankings

1. San Diego State
2. New Mexico
3. Boise State
4. UNLV
5. Utah State
6. Wyoming
7. Fresno State
8. Colorado State
9. Nevada
10. San Jose State
11. Air Force

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.

No. 13 Notre Dame drubs LSU 92-53 to reach Maui title game

Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
1 Comment

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — T.J. Gibbs scored 26 points, Matt Farrell added 17 and Notre Dame dominated LSU 92-53 on Tuesday night to reach the Maui Invitational championship game.

The Irish (5-0) expectedly breezed through their opener against Division II Chaminade did the same thing to LSU in their first game against a power program this season.

Notre Dame shot well, shut the Tigers down on defense and were in control from the opening tip in a superb all-around game.

Bonzie Colson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who shot 52 percent and hit 15 of 32 from 3-point range.

Next up: A top-of-the-marquee title game against No. 6 Wichita State on Wednesday night.

LSU (3-1) lost starting guard Brandon Sampson to an ankle injury in the game’s opening minute and struggled without one of its top defensive players.

The Tigers had trouble slowing the Irish on defense and labored from the perimeter on offense, hitting 6 of 23 shots from the 3-point arc while shooting 36 percent overall. Duop Reath led LSU with 17 points.

LSU beat Michigan 77-75 in its Maui opener behind the stellar play of Tremont Waters. The talented freshman point guard had 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with a spectacular over-the-shoulder, no-look assist from his knees.

Notre Dame had a much easier road to the semifinals, dominating Chaminade from the start of an 83-56 rout.

The Tigers had a tough break on their first possession of the semifinals, when Sampson came down on someone’s foot and rolled his left ankle. He had to be helped off the court, leaving LSU without arguably its best defensive player.

The Irish took advantage, scoring at the rim and the 3-point arc during a 15-2 run that put them up 25-10. Farrell had the highlight-reel play of the spurt, bouncing a pass between the long legs of 6-foot-11 Reath to set up Martinas Geben for a dunk.

Notre Dame didn’t let up, hitting seven 3-pointers, 15 of 31 shots overall and holding the Tigers to 1-for-8 shooting from the arc for a 40-24 halftime lead.

The Irish continued to stretch the lead in the second half, using a 6-0 burst midway through to go up 61-35.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame turned its first game against a power program into a laugher with a strong effort on both ends of the court.

LSU was hurt by the loss of Sampson, but it may not have mattered the way the Irish played.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame plays No. 6 Wichita State in Wednesday’s championship game.

LSU gets Marquette in the third-place game on Wednesday.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Hot shooting leads No. 3 Kansas past Texas Southern, 114-71

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas shot the ball from 3-point range better than it ever has in its illustrious history.

Once the Jayhawks found their rhythm from deep, their offense was virtually impossible to stop. Texas Southern coach Mike Davis was in awe.

“I’ve never seen a team pass the ball and shoot the basketball as well as they do,” Davis said.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 21 points, Udoka Azubuike added 20 and No. 3 Kansas cruised to a resounding 114-71 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday night in the Jayhawks’ first game of the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

They got after it early, as with just under 5 minutes remaining in the first half Lagerald Vick hit the team’s seventh 3 of the half — a program record. A similar feat was achieved in the second half, when Devonte’ Graham hit No. 17, the record for 3s in a game.

“It’s super fun,” Graham said. “Being active, sharing the ball, it’s contagious. Just making that extra pass, and when the ball’s going through the hoop like that, it just feeds energy into us.”

Graham, Vick and Marcus Garrett all finished with a double-double for Kansas, as Vick posted 19 points and 10 rebounds, Graham had 17 points and 11 assists, and Garrett logged 13 points and 11 boards.

Texas Southern’s Demontrae Jefferson led all scorers with 24 points. Donte Clark added 19 and had a game-high 14 rebounds as well.

Davis has seen plenty of high-powered offenses run by Bill Self, as the pair used to meet regularly when they coached at Illinois and Indiana, respectively. After watching a performance like this, he has no doubts over his former rival’s future chances.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” Davis said. “If you play basketball like they play basketball, they’ll be cutting the net down in April.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas continues to thrive without freshman Billy Preston, who remains benched as the school investigates a single-car on-campus incident involving him earlier in the month. His absence has left Self with just two big men, but the lack of depth has yet to truly hurt the Jayhawks.

Texas Southern is still searching for its first win after facing a daunting schedule to start the season. Even though the Tigers have yet to find themselves in the win column, games against bigger schools like Kansas will continue to provide invaluable experience regardless of the score.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” Davis said. “We leave tomorrow to go play Clemson on Friday, and this game right here will get us ready for our next game.”

T’ED UP

Azubuike earned a technical foul midway through the first half when he hung on the rim following a thunderous dunk.

“He deserved it,” Self said of the technical. “I told the official — he said ‘I hate calling that,’ I said ‘but you got to call it.’ I mean, that’s good for us … he has a bad habit of doing that, and I was glad they called it because that may end up not costing us where we really need it, in a close game.”

SARCASTIC SELF

While Self agreed that the Jayhawks shot the ball about as well as they possibly could have, he wasn’t overtly enthused by the record, as per usual.

“I couldn’t be happier. I think we should celebrate for a week,” Self said. “My reaction is we made shots. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”

MODEL FOR SUCCESS

“Love the way they play,” Davis said of the Jayhawks. “That’s the way I want my team to play. When we get to January and play in our conference, that’s the way we want to be playing basketball.”

UP NEXT

Kansas will continue Hoophall Miami Invitational play Friday night with another home game against Oakland, which has already dropped its first two games of the tournament.

Texas Southern will once again face an uphill battle for its first victory as it travels to Clemson on Friday.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 12 Cincinnati uses strong start to defeat Richmond 75-48

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Unlike the previous night, Cincinnati didn’t need a hero on Tuesday night.

Instead, the 12th-ranked Bearcats relied on their defense, smothering Richmond in the first half and cruising into the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic with a 75-48 win over the Spiders.

Cane Broome led a balanced attack with 13 points and Jacob Evans added 12 for the Bearcats (5-0).

Jarron Cumberland opened the scoring with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and Evans hit another before the Spiders scored and when Justin Jenifer hit a 3 just beyond the five-minute mark Cincinnati was up 14-4.

The Bearcats hit 8 of 14 3-pointers and shot 54 percent overall to race to a 40-14 lead at the half and Wyoming’s opponent for Wednesday’s championship game was never in doubt. Five different Cincinnati players had six to nine points while forcing the Spiders (1-3) into 13 turnovers and 4-of-18 shooting.

“The first half, we played great defensively and on offense, when we did make the right pass, we found open shooters,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We try to start the best defensive lineup. We want to focus on things that win games, defense, rebounding, physicality, and guys that play together.”

Jenifer went 3 of 4 from behind the arc, scoring all nine of his points in the first half. Gary Clark, the leader in a hard-fought 73-68 win over Buffalo in the opener on Monday night with 24 points and 14 rebounds, had his eight points — all in the first half — and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Richmond made five 3-pointers and went 12 of 24 from the field but never challenged in the second half.

“Obviously Richmond has a young team,” Cronin said. “I thought Buffalo made us better last night. We were able to jump out to an early lead and put the game away with our defense.

Freshman Jacob Gilyard led the Spiders with 12 points.

BIG PICTURE

Richmond: Gilyard was leading the nation’s true freshmen in playing time, averaging 37.3 minutes a game. He played 32 in the loss. … Grant Golden, a redshirt freshman, had 26 points in a win over UAB in the opener, the most by a Spider freshman in 10 years and with his seven rebounds was the first UR frosh with a 20 and 7 line since 1999. The Bearcats held him to four points and one rebound on Tuesday. … Khwan Fore, Richmond’s leading scorer last year, made his debut after missing the first three games recovering from a stress reaction in his left shin. He went 1 for 1 from the foul line with a rebound and an assist and three fouls. … The Spiders have one senior and five juniors.

Cincinnati: Freshman Sam Martin scored his first points, making a pair of free throws. … The Bearcats had 20 assists on 25 baskets but they also had 20 turnovers, 11 in the second half. But in that first half had a 16-0 advantage in points off turnovers. … With reserves seeing plenty of time, Cincinnati’s bench outscored Richmond’s 38-17, 28-15 in the second half.

NEXT GAME

Richmond will face Louisiana-Lafayette in the third place game Wednesday night.

Cincinnati meets Wyoming in the championship game Wednesday night.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Murphy’s double-double leads Minnesota over Alabama A&M

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jordan Murphy had his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds as No. 14 Minnesota defeated Alabama A&M 100-57 on Tuesday night.

Four other scored in double figures for the Gophers (5-0). Davonte Fitzgerald had 13, Nate Mason scored 12 and Reggie Lynch and Jamir Harris each added 11.

Mohamed Sherif led the Bulldogs (0-4) with 10 points.

The Bulldogs went the first 11 minutes without a two-point field goal, preferring outside shots due to the Gophers’ size advantage. A&M’s first four baskets came from 3-point range, but Minnesota built a 26-12 lead thanks to 12 quick points from Mason.

In the last minute of the first half, reserve big man Fitzgerald threw down a dunk and drained a long jump shot for the Gophers before Murphy beat the buzzer with a step-back jumper to put Minnesota on top 47-25.

Harris, a freshman guard, hit 3-pointers from the same spot in the corner on three consecutive possessions in the second half as Gophers coach Richard Pitino played his reserves almost exclusively for the final 10 minutes of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama A&M: Coming off a 2-27 season, the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They were no match for a Minnesota team expected to contend for a Big Ten title.

Minnesota: The Gophers got what they needed out of this game. Everyone stayed healthy, the reserves got extended playing time, and the starters weren’t overtaxed with back-to-back games coming up this weekend.

UP NEXT

Alabama A&M: Travels to Niagara Falls, New York, for the final rounds of the Barclays Center Classic. The Bulldogs take on Niagara on Friday and will play either Western Carolina or UT-Arlington on Saturday.

Minnesota: Travels to Brooklyn to wrap up the other half of the Barclays Center Classic bracket. The Gophers play UMass on Friday and No. 25 Alabama on Saturday.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25