2014 Mountain West Tournament Preview: San Diego State, New Mexico clear favorites in Las Vegas

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After enjoying a very good season in which five teams reached the NCAA tournament, the Mountain West took a step back in 2013-14. Only two teams enter this week as locks to reach the field of 68, with regular season champion San Diego State and runner-up New Mexico being those squads. The Aztecs and Lobos have been the conference’s best all season long, with Steve Fisher’s team also picking up wins over Creighton and Kansas in non-conference play. With high-level stars and role players who understand what’s required of them, these are the two favorites in Las Vegas.

However there are teams capable of springing an upset along the way. Three-seed Nevada is led by explosive senior guard Deonte Burton, and the midseason addition of forward A.J. West made the Wolf Pack more formidable that some expected back in October. UNLV may get to play this event on its home floor but while talented the Runnin’ Rebels are no guarantee to take advantage of the familiar surroundings.

The plight of UNLV and six-seed Boise State is part of the appeal of conference tournaments, with teams who’ve failed to meet preseason expectations having one last chance to “catch lightning in a bottle” and make good on the early hype. Wyoming, Colorado State, Fresno State, Utah State and Air Force all have the ability to at the very least scare someone (if not win), and San Jose State is more than likely 40 minutes away from the end of a tough debut season in the conference.

There may not be the same number of tournament locks as there have been in prior editions of this event, but the combination of fan support (New Mexico and SDSU travel very well to this event), talented players and Las Vegas should make for an interesting Mountain West tournament.

The Bracket

When: March 12-15

Where: Las Vegas, Nev. (Thomas & Mack Center)

Final: March 15, 6:00 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: San Diego State

The Aztecs aren’t a great offensive team by most measurements, as they ranked last in the Mountain West in both three-point and free throw percentage during conference play. But this is a group that knows where its bread is buttered on that end of the floor. Good luck keeping SDSU out of the lane because they simply refuse to settle for too many perimeter shots, instead using dribble penetration (Thames, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard II lead the way here) to get into the lane. And when shots are missed, SDSU is capable of making teams play via the second shot as they led the Mountain West in offensive rebounding percentage.

As for the defense, San Diego State’s length is one reason why this group led the conference in efficiency (94.5), turnover percentage (20.6%) and three-point percentage defense (30.6%). They challenge shots and get out in passing lanes, with the latter spurring fast break opportunities for some very good athletes capable of finishing above the rim. And an important developments of late has been the improved play of their role players, with Dwayne Polee II, Aqeel Quinn and Matt Shrigley all earning more minutes. The offense won’t set the world ablaze, but San Diego State’s good enough defensively to more than make up for that.

And if they lose? New Mexico

Led by the experienced triumvirate of Bairstow (20.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Williams (16.4, 5.0 apg) and Kirk (13.7, 8.7 rpg), UNM was the Mountain West’s most efficient offense in conference play. They take good care of the basketball, and with Bairstow and Kirk getting most of the shots inside the Lobos made 52.5% of their two-pointers in league play. And it also helps to have role players who understand what’s needed from them, with Hugh Greenwood doing what ever needs to be done on the floor and Deshawn Delaney, Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas and Cullen Neal also being valuable contributors. The combination of experience and skill makes this group 1A to SDSU’s 1 in regards to who the favorites are this week.

Other Contenders:

  • UNLV: There’s no denying that Dave Rice’s team has plenty of individual talent, with Birch winning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and Smith being one of the league’s best rebounders. But the lack of a steady hand at the point has been one reason for UNLV’s maddening inconsistency, and there are times where the basketball IQ displayed leaves viewers scratching their heads. That talent is tough to overlook, and if the proverbial light bulb turns on (and just as importantly, stays on) the Runnin’ Rebels may have a run left in them.
  • Nevada: Simply put, Deonte Burton is one of the most electrifying players in college basketball. Period. Averaging 20.0 points and 4.5 assists per game, Burton’s led the way for a team that has four players averaging double digits. Fellow guards Jerry Evans Jr. and Michael Perez can also score, with forward Cole Huff averaging 12.3 points per game. If Nevada can hold its own on the glass, they’re capable of making a run.

Sleeper: Fresno State

Rodney Terry’s Bulldogs have won eight of their last ten games, and with Tyler Johnson and Marvelle Harris leading the way for a team with multiple scoring options the Bulldogs are a team to watch in Vegas. If this group, which also includes Mountain West Freshman of the Year Paul Watson and entertaining guard Cezar Guerrero, defends they can pull off a stunner.

Deeper Sleeper: Boise State

The problem for the Broncos is a simple one: they arrive in Vegas having lost three of their last four games, the most recent being a two-point loss at Air Force on Saturday. Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are the leading offensive options, and forward Ryan Watkins has been one of the league’s best big men. They’ll beat San Jose State, which would set up a winnable quarterfinal meeting with Nevada.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Tyler Johnson, Fresno State: Averaging 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, Johnson leads the Bulldogs in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Tre’ Coggins, Air Force: After averaging 2.4 points per game as a freshman, Coggins is up to 15.9 points per game as a sophomore.
  • Daniel Bejarano, Colorado State: The league’s best sixth man a season ago, Bejarano’s averaging 16.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.

CBT Prediction: Look for New Mexico to handle San Diego State’s 1-3-1 zone better than they did at Viejas Arena on Saturday night, winning what should be a classic title game.

Best Mountain West Tournament Memory: Nick Jacobson wins the 2004 title for Utah (apologies for the quality of the video)

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.

2017-18 College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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It’s about that time to release the 2017-18 preseason top 25.

A couple of notes here:

  • Final decisions on NBA Draft decisions won’t be made for more than a month. We’re making educated (some more than others) guesses on who will be doing what.
  • We also make some educated guesses on where some of the remaining uncommitted kids will end up going to school.
  • If there is a * next to a player’s name, it means we’re still waiting for official word on what his status will be next season.

Next season’s top 25 is awful uninspiring. There also isn’t anything close to a clear-cut No. 1 team, not with how much is still left to be determined through NBA Draft decisions, transfers and elite recruits picking a school.

Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.

Here is the top 25:

1. Louisville

  • Who’s gone: Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, Tony Hicks
  • Who do they add: Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell*, VJ King, Deng Adel*, Jaylen Johnson*
  • Louisville has a chance to be very, very good next season. Just how good probably depends on what Donovan Mitchell decides to do — opinions seem split on him, as of this posting — but assuming Deng Adel is back and guys like VJ King, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud take a step forward, the Cardinals might be the best team in the ACC. That says a lot this year.

2. Duke

  • Who’s gone: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Luke Kennard
  • Who do they add: Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O’Connell, Kevin Knox*, Trevon Duval*
  • Projected starting lineup: Trevon Duval*, Frank Jackson*, Gary Trent Jr./Grayson Allen, Kevin Knox*, Wendell Carter
  • We’re going to go through this all over again with Duke next season, aren’t we? Look at that starting five and tell me the talent on that team isn’t scary. Grayson Allen is back for his senior year, but Duke’s season hinges on Frank Jackson returning and landing one of, if not both Trevon Duval and Kevin Knox.

3. Michigan State

  • Who’s gone: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III, Ben Carter*
  • Who do they add: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward
  • I like this Michigan State team a lot. Nick Ward was a beast last year and Jaren Jackson is the perfect sidekick. Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will both take a step forward. The key, however, is that a potential Player of the Year in Miles Bridges opted to return to school.

4. Arizona

  • Who’s gone: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins*
  • Who do they add: Deandre Ayton, Brian Bowen*, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello, Dylan Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier, Brian Bowen*, Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic
  • The Wildcats add the most talented big man in the class in Deandre Ayton, and may add Brian Bowen to a class that also includes Brandon Randolph. The reason they’re a top five team, however is the return of Allonzo Trier.

5. North Carolina

  • Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
  • Who do they add: Jaleek Felton, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, Andrew Platek
  • Projected starting lineup: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson*, Luke Maye, Tony Bradley*
  • The Tar Heels are coming off of back-to-back national title game appearances, and while they will lose three key seniors from that team, and probably Justin Jackson as well, there are some important pieces that will likely return. Berry will be a National Player of the Year contender, Tony Bradley will be a breakout star and Luke Maye will move into the starting lineup.

6. Kansas

  • Who’s gone: Frank Mason II, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas
  • Who do they add: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
  • Projected starting lineup: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Billy Preston, Udoka Azuibuike
  • The Jayhawks are going to have a lot to replace, but they do have some players coming in. If Devonte’ Graham does come back, I think he’ll be a star and all-Big 12 player at the point, and he’ll be joined by a former top 10 prospect in Malik Newman and a current top ten prospect in Billy Preston.

7. Miami

  • Who’s gone: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
  • Who do they add: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg
  • Projected starting lineup: Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Anthony Lawrence, Dewan Huell
  • Losing Reed and Murphy will hurt, but Bruce Brown was one of the best-kept secrets last year, Lonnie Walker is a big-time scorer and Dewan Huell is a former top 30 prospect in line for a big bump in minutes this year. Jim Larrañaga is exactly the coach to take advantage of this guard-heavy lineup, too.

8. Florida

  • Who’s gone: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Devin Robinson
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Stokes, Egor Koulechov, Chase Johnson, DeAundre Ballard, Michael Okauru, Jalen Hudson, Dontay Bassett
  • Projected starting lineup: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu
  • Coming off of a trip to the Elite 8, the Gators bring back most of their key pieces while adding a talented recruiting class and two players that redshirted last season. Two keys to this team’s ceiling: The health of John Egbunu, who missed the second half of last season, and the development of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza.

9. Villanova

  • Who’s gone: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
  • Who do they add: Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Omari Spellman
  • Projected starting lineup: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman
  • The Wildcats are going to take a major hit with Josh Hart finally graduating, but the good news is that Jay Wright is still around, as is Jalen Brunson. Omari Spellman getting eligible will help, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks Donte DiVincenzo has a chance to develop into an all-Big East player.

10. Kentucky

  • Who’s gone: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder, Dominique Hawkins
  • Who do they add: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Nick Richards, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington, Nick Richards
  • Kentucky is a tough team to peg for next season. They should be really good defensively — Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt are elite defenders — and insanely athletic, but it’s going to be another year where we don’t know who shoots it for Kentucky. They’re in the mix for Mo Bamba and Kevin Knox; the addition of either one, particularly Knox, would make Kentucky a top five team.

11. Wichita State

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Samajae Haynes-jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard
  • Projected starting lineup: Landry Shamet, Connor Frankamp, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie*, Shaq Morris
  • The Shockers finished the season ranked in the top ten at KenPom, but ended up with a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament because they struggled to get used to each other early on in the season. With everyone returning from last year’s team, don’t be surprised to see Gregg Marshall’s team as a Final Four contender.

12. West Virginia

  • Who’s gone: Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins
  • Who do they add: Derek Culver, Brandon Knapper, D’Angelo hunter, Teddy Allen, Wesley Harris
  • Projected starting lineup: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Elijah Macon
  • At this point, I’m just going to assume that Bobby Huggins is going to put a good team on the floor regardless of the situation. The names don’t even matter, although Jevon Carter is back for what feels like his 17th season in college hoops while Esa Ahmad seems primed for a monster year.

13. USC

  • Who’s gone: Charles Buggs
  • Who do they add: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon, Jordan Usher
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
  • There is a lot of talent on the USC roster for now, especially now that Metu is returning, but the key to this team is going to be whether or not they get Boatwright and Stewart back.

14. Minnesota

  • Who’s gone: Akeem Springs
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris, Davonte Fitzgerald
  • Projected starting lineup: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch
  • The Golden Gophers bring everyone back from last season, a year where they were one of the most surprising teams in the country. Minnesota could win the Big Ten.

15. UCLA

  • Who’s gone: Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton
  • Who do they add: LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Aaron Holiday*, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Thomas Welsh*
  • It’s going to be interesting to see how the Bruins move on from the Lonzo Ball era. It will also be interesting to see how LaVar Ball handles the fact that LiAngelo Ball isn’t Lonzo.

16. Cincinnati

  • Who’s gone: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
  • Who do they add: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme, Cane Broome
  • Projected starting lineup: Cane Broome, Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington
  • The Bearcats return a lot of important pieces from a team that won 30 games last season. Broome averaged 23 points for Sacred Heart as a sophomore.

17. Baylor

  • Who’s gone: Ishmail Wainright
  • Who do they add: Mark Vital, Tyson Jolly, Tristan Clark
  • Projected starting lineup: Manu Lecomte, Jake Lindsey, King McClure, Jo Lual-Acuil, Johnathan Motley*
  • It all hinges on whether or not Motley opts to return to school for his final year of eligibility. That’s very much in the air. With him, they’re a top ten team. Without him, they’re probably closer to the 20-25 range. We split the difference and went 18th.

18. Seton Hall

  • Who’s gone: Madison Jones
  • Who do they add: Myles Cale, Darnell Brodie
  • Projected starting lineup: Khadeen Carrington, Myles Powell, Desi Rodriguez, Ishmael Sanogo, Angel Delgado*
  • This is the team that I’m going to probably overhype all offseason. I love this group.

19. Gonzaga

  • Who’s gone: Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins
  • Who do they add: Jacob Larsen, Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert, Jesse Wade
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams III*, Killian Tillie
  • With Nigel Williams-Goss gone, the key to Gonzaga’s season will be the development of Josh Perkins. Can he play the point full-time and do it successfully?

20. Northwestern

  • Who’s gone: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
  • Who do they add: Anthony Gaines, Aaron Falzon, Rapolas Ivanauskas
  • Projected starting lineup: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Aaron Falzon, Dererk Pardon
  • The Wildcats, a year removed from their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, bring back essentially everyone from last season and get Aaron Falzon healthy. Bryant McIntosh will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year.

21. Alabama

  • Who’s gone: Nick King, Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale, Corban Collins
  • Who do they add: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Daniel Giddens
  • Projected starting lineup: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key*, Daniel Giddens
  • The Crimson Tide bring back a talented young core and add two five-star guards, including Collin Sexton, who could lead the conference in scoring.

22. Notre Dame

  • Who’s gone: Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem
  • Who do they add: DJ Harvey, Nikola Djogo
  • Projected starting lineup: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben
  • At this point, I’m fine betting on Brey to have Notre Dame in the mix every year. They’re going to need Rex Pfleuger and Temple Gibbs to take a step forward, but Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell can carry the Irish.

23. Virginia Tech

  • Who’s gone: Seth Allen, Zach LeDay
  • Who do they add: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Khadim Sy
  • The Hokies return all five starters from last season despite the fact that the team graduates their top two scorers. A healthy Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear will help.

24. Saint Mary’s

  • Who’s gone: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
  • Who do they add: Angus Glover
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan Ford, Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Jock Landale
  • Losing Rahon will hurt, but with Naar and Landale coming back, the Gaels are going to push Gonzaga in the WCC race once again.

25. Nevada

  • Who’s gone: Cameron Oliver*, Marcus Marshall
  • Who do they add: Hallice Cooke, Cody and Caleb Martin, Kendall Stephens
  • Projected starting lineup: Lindsey Drew, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin, Kendall Stephens, Jordan Caroline
  • Even without Oliver, the Wolf Pack look like a team that can make another run in the Mountain West. Jordan Caroline should be MWC Player of the Year.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.