Cameron Bairstow

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)

Bubble Banter: It’s a quiet night on the bubble

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Miles Bridges #22 reacts after being taken out of the game by head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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STILL TO PLAY

Georgia at Alabama (RPI: 68, KenPom: 61, next four teams), 7:00 p.m.

Nebraska at Michigan State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 55, No. 10 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Towson at UNC Wilmington (RPI: 41, KenPom: 57, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim on DP Show: ‘I might be done this year’

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Jim Boeheim was on the DP Show on Thursday morning, and he admitted that John Gillon’s 23-foot banked-in three at the buzzer was (shocker!) a lucky shot.

But that wasn’t the most interesting thing that he said on the show.

Patrick asked him about his future in Syracuse, and Boeheim had an interesting response.

“I don’t know what’s etched in stone these days,” Boeheim said. “I really don’t. There’s a plan in place, and we’re going to see what happens. But basically right now, I might be done this year. You just don’t know. You just have to wait until the season’s over.”

Boeheim also responded to a column written by Pete Thamel in SI that speculated on when his time in Syracuse would come to an end, saying the only accurate part of the story was that “he spelled my name right”, before adding that, like anyone else nearing the end of a career, when he has a bad day or a bad week, he thinks about calling it a career.

Report: Creighton’s Mo Watson Jr. suspended after sexual assault allegation

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Creighton announced on Wednesday that injured point guard Mo Watson Jr. was suspended from the program on Feb. 13th for “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The reason for that suspension, according to a report from the Omaha World-Herald, is that he is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault that happened in Omaha this month.

No charges have been filed and Watson was not arrested as of Wednesday night, according to the paper.

Watson was having an all-american season and leading the nation in assists when he tore his ACL on Jan. 16th in a win at Xavier. He underwent surgery in his hometown of Philadelphia a couple of weeks later, but he has not been a part of a Creighton team activity since his return.

Creighton is 4-5 since Watson’s injury, losing on Wednesday night at home against Providence. They’ll likely make the NCAA tournament still.

Watson is not going to participate in Senior Night festivities in Omaha next week, per the OWH.

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham arrested over unpaid ticket

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was arrested and booked into Douglas County Jail late on Wednesday night on a failure to appear for court charge, according to jail records.

The charge was a result of an unpaid ticket for an expired tag that Graham had received. It dates back to June of last year.

Graham released a statement on the matter.

“This is my fault,” Graham said. “I was driving an ex-teammate’s car and I thought the ticket was paid so I didn’t pay attention to the notice to appear that I got. That’s on me, and I apologize to everyone. I learned a lesson the hard way.”

The arrest was a damper on what should have been a great night for Graham. He had 17 points and seven assists in a home win over TCU that clinched the 13th straight Big 12 regular season title for the Jayhawks. It was also his 22nd birthday.

He was released on $196 bond Wednesday night. Bill Self said he will not be suspended for the arrest.

Bracketology: Syracuse banks in a little Madness

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates tying the game with little time left on the clock during the second half against the Duke Blue Devils on February 22, 2017 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse upsets Duke 78-75.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket.

It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal.  It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha.  And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California, leaving the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close.  Are we ready for March?

No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group.  UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.

If last night was any indication, it’s going to be fun ride toward Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: February 23, 2017

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Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. Kansas State | East Region
  • Providence vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City              
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NC-CENTRAL / M.S. MARY’S 16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE
8) South Carolina 8) Northwestern
9) VCU 9) Xavier
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) PRINCETON 13) VALPARAISO
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) SMU
11) Seton Hall / Kansas State 11) Providence / California
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Maryland 7) Iowa State
10) Marquette 10) Wichita State
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Miami-FL 8) Dayton
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
Buffalo Sacramento
5) CINCINNATI 5) Wisconsin
12) MONMOUTH 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) West Virginia 4) UCLA
13) VERMONT 13) NEVADA
Greenville Orlando
6) Creighton 6) Minnesota
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) Syracuse
3) Duke 3) FLORIDA
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) E. TENNESSEE ST
Sacramento Tulsa
7) Oklahoma State 7) Virginia Tech
10) Michigan State 10) USC
2) Oregon 2) Baylor
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) UNC-ASHEVILLE

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Michigan State, Wichita State, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, California, Providence, Kansas State

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, TCU, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Next four teams OUT (at large): Vanderbilt, Clemson, Alabama, Houston

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence

Big 12 (6): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)