Picked to finish in a tie for second place in the preseason Mountain West coaches poll, Dave Rice’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were clearly expected to contend for a conference title. While there certainly were some adjustments to be made given the number of newcomers inheriting key roles, there’s enough talent to make UNLV a factor in the Mountain West and at the very least earn another trip to the NCAA tournament.
In the aftermath of UNLV’s disappointing performance in a 74-71 home loss to Nevada on Wednesday night, with the final margin being that close thanks in large part to the Wolf Pack’s struggles to put the game away, it seems pretty clear that UNLV is a team in search of answers. And they don’t look all that equipped to provide the answers needed to turn things around, which is highly concerning with road games against New Mexico (January 15) and No. 13 San Diego State (January 18) next on the schedule.
And for a team that up until the last week proved to be solid defensively, those home losses to Air Force and Nevada are especially concerning in that regard.
After allowing the Falcons to score 1.16 points per possession on Saturday the Runnin’ Rebels weren’t much better against their in-state rivals, with Nevada scoring an average of 1.10 points per possession. Nevada was able to do that despite shooting just 6-for-19 from beyond the arc, with the guard tandem of Deonte Burton (29 points, five rebounds and three assists) and Michael Perez (18 points, seven rebounds and three assists) doing just about whatever they wanted offensively.
Nevada made 52.3% of its shots inside of the arc, as they were able to find ways to attack UNLV’s defense off the dribble on many occasions (and a few backdoor cuts from Perez for good measure) with little resistance to be found. Burton sat a portion of the first half due to foul trouble, but once he was able to get rolling in the latter stages of the half UNLV had no chance of slowing him down.
The reasons for the loss are many and will be discussed ad nauseam by the fans who, like the team, have a week to stew on this two-game losing streak before back-to-back trips to New Mexico and San Diego State starting Wednesday. There may be no better place to start than how excited Burton was to see Kendall Smith guarding him to start the game.
“I was surprised about it,” Burton said. “We just have to exploit the mismatches, and that’s what we did.”
Asked if he was pleasantly surprised, Burton grinned.
But to limit UNLV’s issues to the defensive end of the floor would be a mistake, especially when considering the fact that they shot just 35% from the field. UNLV got the ball inside but they couldn’t convert at a decent rate, with Khem Birch (3-for-10 FG), Bryce Dejean-Jones (4-for-14) and Kendall Smith (3-for-11) all struggling to knock down shots. Add in Jelan Kendrick’s benching due to his being late to a practice and the problems were plentiful for UNLV.
Now comes the most important six days in the season for the Runnin’ Rebels, and they won’t play a single game during this stretch. For a team that lacked focus, and Birch even noted that players are “emotionally and physically tired” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it’s imperative that Rice’s squad uses this time off to get on the same page.
UNLV may be playing better basketball away from Thomas & Mack this season (five of their six losses have come at home), but if they don’t find a way to right the ship those games at The Pit and Viejas Arena will get ugly.
Oklahoma’s Akolda Manyang has been suspended indefinitely from the team following a fight with a football player that resulted in two broken teeth and a bloodied lip.
The school announced the suspension on Thursday. According to the AP, Manyang has been charged with aggravated assault after an incident on Campus Corner in Norman. Court documents state that Manyang punched former football player Tyler Evans in the mouth after he was told to stop pursuing women that were with Evans.
“We are aware of the matter, and Akolda has been indefinitely suspended from the team,” the statement from the athletic department read.
Manyang, who is Sudanese by way of Minnesota, was a role player for the Sooners this past season. He had a big game in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Cal State-Bakersfield, but he did not play for the Sooners again. He returned to Minnesota following his brother’s suicide, which was discovered during that first round game.
Manyang has two prior offenses on his record, according to the Duluth New-Tribune. In 2010, he was arrested for second-degree burglary and in 2009 he was cited for giving a fake name to a cop and charged with felony theft.
Looking Forward: Here’s what the Atlantic 10 has in store for the 2016-17 season
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Atlantic 10 over the next six months.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
1. Hot coaching names stay put: The A-10 doesn’t lack for quality coaches, with some being discussed for major coaching vacancies on an annual basis. Two that fit the mold are Dayton’s Archie Miller and Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley, with the latter facing some questions in regards to the Rutgers opening earlier this spring. Hurley decided to stay put in Kingston for another season, choosing a talented roster that’s approaching full strength after an injury-riddled 2015-16 instead of taking on a major rebuilding job in his home state. Miller, whose name seemingly comes up regarding every major opening, also has a deep roster to work with next season at Dayton. Unless the opening is a truly elite one, why mess with happiness? VCU’s Will Wade also opted to remain in Richmond. He was targeted by Vanderbilt after Kevin Stallings left for Pitt.
2. The conference’s battle for respect is a continuous one: For those who watch the Atlantic 10 on a consistent basis, there’s no doubt that this is a quality league. But Selection Sunday left a bad taste in the mouths of some, the result of VCU getting a ten-seed or regular season tri-champion St. Bonaventure being left out of the field completely. It would be nice to say that the remedy is to simply win more games, but when it comes to getting teams in the NCAA tournament field who really knows what it takes when discussing a conference like the Atlantic 10 (and the league rated well in out of conference RPI and strength of schedule). The good news for the league is that it has multiple teams capable of playing their way into the national polls and staying there, with Dayton and URI leading the way.
3. Saint Joseph’s getting used to life without top three scorers: Phil Martelli’s Hawks won the Atlantic 10 tournament title and gave top seed Oregon all they wanted in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles leading the way. But those two, along with Aaron Brown, have all moved on meaning that Saint Joseph’s will have to account for the loss of their top three scorers from last season. The positive is that there are options, including guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble and forwards James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva, to call upon. But making that jump from supplementary piece to key cog in the attack can be a difficult one for some, and how the returning Hawks handle that shift will have a major impact on their season.
4. Incoming transfers will have a significant impact on the conference race: Many Atlantic 10 programs benefitted from the transfer market, whether it was the more conventional transfer (sit out a year before playing) or those of the grad student variety. Dayton (power forward Josh Cunningham) and Rhode Island (shooting guard Stanford Robinson) will both have transfers available, as will teams such as La Salle, George Washington (see below) and Duquesne. Duquesne’s most noteworthy transfer additions are of the grad student variety, with Kale Abrahamson (Drake) and Emile Blackman (Niagara) needing to be key contributors from the start with the Dukes losing the productive tandem of Micah Mason and Derrick Colter. Also adding immediately eligible transfers were George Washington (Patrick Steeves, Harvard) and Fordham (Javontae Hawkins, Eastern Kentucky).
La Salle’s transfers: The Explorers’ lack of depth last season placed too much upon the shoulders of Jordan Price, with the team struggling to get wins in spite of his lofty point totals. Dr. John Giannini won’t lack for option in 2016-17, thanks in large part to the transfers who will be able to take the floor. Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson, Demetrius Henry and Tony Washington will all be eligible after sitting out last season, and Arizona State transfer Savon Goodman is eligible to compete immediately as a graduate student. The question: how well will the pieces mesh together?
Jaren Sina, George Washington: Another transfer, the former Seton Hall guard will be a key figure for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. As a sophomore Sina averaged 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game, but with Alex Mitola out of eligibility and Paul Jorgensen transferring he’ll be asked to run the show for a team that welcomes back Yuta Watanabe and Tyler Cavanaugh.
DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham, Massachusetts: The two Louisiana natives wanted to attend college together, and in the end their desire to do so benefitted the Minutemen. Of the two Jarreau may be the more important figure early on, as the four-star guard will be asked to help fill the void left by the departures of Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds on the perimeter.
De’Riante Jenkins, VCU: Will Wade landed a quality four-member freshman class, with the 6-foot-5 Jenkins being the crown jewel. Ranked 60th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, Jenkins is the second-highest ranking incoming freshman in the Atlantic 10 (Jarreau is 39th). And with Melvin Johnson graduating, there’s room for the athletic wing to have an immediate impact at VCU.
L.G. Gill, Duquesne: Not sure how surprising this move truly is, especially considering the current transfer climate. Gill graduates this spring, and with the rules being what they are he can use his final season of eligibility at another school. But the loss of his team’s leading rebounder from a season ago means that head coach Jim Ferry will have to account for the departure of his top three scorers from last season (Derrick Colter and Micah Mason being the others).
Paul Jorgensen, George Washington: With Alex Mitola and Joe McDonald both out of eligibility, it appeared as if “Prince Harry of Harlem” was in line for an increase in playing time (averaging just over 15 mpg as a sophomore) in 2016-17. Instead Jorgensen decided to transfer, as his style didn’t always seem to mesh with what GW wanted to do offensively, and he’ll complete his final two seasons of eligibility elsewhere. The move leaves Mike Longeran’s team with even less experience on the perimeter, with Jaren Sina competing with underclassmen such as sophomore Jordan Roland for the point guard spot.
Travis Ford, Saint Louis: After a busy spring in 2015 the Billikens made the lone coaching change in the Atlantic 10 this spring, with the former Oklahoma State head coach replacing the dismissed Jim Crews. Ford has his work cut out for him too, as SLU’s talent issues that resulted in Crews’ firing won’t be remedied overnight. Of Saint Louis’ top five scorers from a season ago three have moved on, with Mike Crawford (10.3 ppg) and Jermaine Bishop (8.9 ppg) being the leading returning scorers. Ford attracted his fair share of talented recruits while in Stillwater, and the hope at SLU will be that he can do similar things while also developing that talent into a team capable of winning in the Atlantic 10.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
G Jack Gibbs (Davidson) – Player of the Year
G E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island)
G Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
F Charles Cooke III (Dayton)
F Hassan Martin (Rhode Island)
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS
1. Dayton: The Flyers return most of their key cogs, and a Charles Cooke III withdrawal from the NBA Draft would make them a Top 25 team.
2. Rhode Island: Health issues were the biggest problem for Rhody. With Matthews, Martin and Terrell among those back, URI can make a run at the A-10 crown.
3. VCU: Losing Melvin Johnson hurts, but VCU returns both experience and talent. They’ll be fine.
4. Davidson: Led by one of the nation’s top scorers in Jack Gibbs, the Wildcats return forward Peyton Aldridge as well.
5. Richmond: This is a big year for Chris Mooney, but he’s got some key pieces returning led by T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones.
6. George Washington: The Colonials have some key losses to account for, but returning Watanabe and Cavanaugh will help.
7. St. Bonaventure: Yes they lose Marcus Posley and Dion Wright. But Jaylen Adams returns, and it’s time to stop overlooking the job Mark Schmidt’s done as head coach.
8. Saint Joseph’s: Losing your top three scorers would hurt any team. The good news for SJU is that they’re rising sophomores are pretty good.
9. La Salle: The depth issues of last season have been remedied by the influx of transfers. But will all the pieces fit together?
10. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer has a budding all-conference player in Joseph Chartouny at his disposal, but the loss of Ryan Rhoomes hurts.
11. Massachusetts: The freshman class will help the Minutemen down the line, but this team needs to defend far better than they did a season ago.
12. Duquesne: Abrahamson and Blackman were productive stats-wise at prior stops, but can they help vault Jim Ferry’s team up the A-10 standings?
13. George Mason: Losing Shevon Thompson doesn’t help Dave Paulsen’s rebuilding efforts, but give him time. He’ll get Mason headed in the right direction.
14. Saint Louis: Speaking of needing time, Travis Ford is faced with quite the rebuilding project at SLU given the departures and their recent struggles.
USC’s Julian Jacobs to sign with an agent, turn professional
USC guard Julian Jacobs will sign with an agent and forego his final season of college eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.
Jacobs averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards for the Trojans last season, operating in the dual-point guard back court that Andy Enfield employed. A terrific athlete at 6-foot-3, Jacobs was one of the more entertaining players in the country to watch this past season given the style with which USC played.
But all of the info that Jacobs had received during the process told him to return to school. He wasn’t invited to the draft combine and the consensus seems to be that if he someone plays his way into getting drafted, it will be as a late-second round pick.
Losing Jacobs is a major blow for the Trojans, who looked like they could legitimately compete with Arizona and Oregon for a Pac-12 title next season. They’re still a tournament team and a top 25 team without Jacobs — Jordan McLaughlin’s presence is the biggest reason why — but Jacobs was something of a steadying presence in their back court. And if they end up losing Nikola Jovanovic as well, Andy Enfield’s team may take a step backwards from last season.
Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.
The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.
Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.
The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.