Daniel Mullings

2014 Western Athletic Tournament Preview: Another title within sight for New Mexico State

Leave a comment

Even though New Mexico State is the WAC’s top team, they aren’t walking into Orleans Arena with the No. 1 seed. That would be Utah Valley, the former member of the Great West Conference that joined the WAC when it imploded after the 2013 season. And while UVU recently beat the Aggies, Marvin Menzies’ team is the favorite to garner another NCAA autobid, which would mark the third tournament title for Menzies.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 13 – 15

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

Final: March 15, 10 PM (an ESPN Network)

Favorite: New Mexico State

Daniel Mullings is the team’s key. He attempts the majority of the team’s shots — the only other Aggie with a comparable attempted shots percentage is DK Eldridge, and he doesn’t play as many minutes — and with the extended suspension of KC Ross-Miller (who’ll miss the WAC tournament following a late-February scuffle versus Utah Valley), Menzies will have to rely even more heavily on the WAC’s player of the year. The Aggies also have the conference’s most fascinating statistical footnote: though Ken Pomeroy ranks their effective height as tops in the nation, the team is dreadful at keeping WAC opponents off the glass. The Aggies haul roughly a third of teams’ misses, a mark bested by five other WAC squads.

And if they lose? Utah Valley

Should New Mexico State fail in their record-tying quest, the team most likely to scoop up the WAC title is Dick Hunsaker’s squad. This is a problem for the conference: NMSU has a potential to win an NCAA tournament game, whereas UVU’s prognosis is cloudier. The Wolverines’ efficiency margin isn’t great (plus-4), and since they struggle to score, the squad prefers to play at a slow pace and use their skills on the defensive glass as well as keeping opponents from converting on the perimeter to win conference games.

Sleepers:

  • Idaho: The Vandals are riding a winning streak into tournament play, taking four of their past five, including a win over Grand Canyon (the team which would have been the favorite to challenge New Mexico State but is ineligible for the tourney). Of the teams playing at Orleans Arena, Idaho features the conference’s second best offense, and the team is led by Stephen Madison, who some have argued should have been the conference’s player of the year.
  • UMKC: Kareem Richardson had quite a task for his first season in Kansas City. Not only did he have convince KC-area talent to stay home for college, but he also had to field a competitive team. He is making headway on the first assignment: Martez Harrison, who is a Kansas City native but prepped at Brewster Academy, was named the WAC freshman of the year and was the offense’s focal point. Richardson’s second goal has steadily progressed: four of their nine losses were by single-digits, and crucially for a team trying to make a statement during its first WAC tournament, the Kangaroos rarely commit a turnover (roughly 16 percent of their possessions result in a giveaway).

Studs:

  • Stephen Madison, Idaho: The forward dropped 42 points in a loss to Utah Valley, and can single-handedly keep the Vandals’ offense churning. What Madison does very well, in particular, is get to the free throw line: he has attempted ten or more free throws in nearly half of Idaho’s 2014 contests.
  • Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State: The guard is best suited when he is able to penetrate the defense and create for himself, but without Ross-Miller, Mullings will now have to generate offense for the other Aggies.
  • Isiah Umipig, Seattle: The Cal State Fullerton transfer has emerged as one of the conference’s most electric scorers, but since he recently suffered his two worst games — both UMKC and Chicago State held him to single digits — he is bound for an offensive outburst.
  • Tshilidzi Nephawe, New Mexico State : After last year’s tournament, everyone knows Sim Bhullar, but the Aggie big to pay attention to is Nephawe. The 6-foot-10 senior is the WAC’s most improved player, earning all-second team recognition after three seasons of using less than 50 percent of NMSU’s minutes. Nephawe converted 55 percent of his twos this season, and as he possesses a soft touch from the field and the free throw line, has evolved into a consistent option for the Aggie backcourt.

CBT Prediction: According to Pomeroy’s WAC log5, more than 60 percent of his simulations point to New Mexico State as winning the league’s autobid, and we’d be surprised if the Aggies didn’t dance for the third straight season.

Wisconsin ends No. 2 Maryland’s 27-game home win streak

Wisconsin forward Vitto Brown (30) shoots during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
2 Comments

Just over a month ago Wisconsin lost at Northwestern, dropping to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten and had the look of a team that would have to fight simply to get into the NIT. Since then, Greg Gard’s Badgers have won seven straight games with the most recent triumph being a 70-57 victory at No. 2 Maryland. Not only did Wisconsin become the first Big Ten team to beat the Terrapins at the Xfinity Center since Maryland joined the Big Ten, but they also ended Maryland’s 27-game home win streak.

And it was Wisconsin’s offensive balance that stood out, as four starters scored in double figures led by forward Vitto Brown.

Brown, who accounted for 18 points and five rebounds in Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska Wednesday night, was even better against Maryland as he scored a career-high 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. While Bronson Koenig (16 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Nigel Hayes (14 and six rebounds) are the ones expected to shoulder much of the load, players such as Brown, Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter (11 points) will also be key as Wisconsin makes its push for an NCAA tournament bid.

In Wisconsin’s first five conference games Brown averaged 4.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per contest. Since then he’s averaging 11.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, scoring in double figures in each of Wisconsin’s last three games.

Overall Wisconsin’s looked far more fluid offensively during this win streak, and over the last three games the Badgers have shot very well from the perimeter as they made nearly 51 percent of their attempts (12-for-26 against Maryland). Add in Wisconsin’s ability to take advantage of Maryland’s defensive rebounding issues, converting 13 offensive boards into 20 second-chance points, and it was easy to see why Wisconsin was able to grab control of the game in the first half during a 20-0 run that gave them the separation they needed.

Maryland’s issues throughout conference play remain the same, as they struggled to end defensive possessions while also turning the ball over far too often (seven times) during the aforementioned Wisconsin run. With Melo Trimble not playing at the level he’s capable of reaching (he may not be completely healthy), Maryland has some things to address during this stretch run.

But more than anything, Saturday was the product of a Wisconsin team that’s starting to click at the right time. And as crazy as it may seem, given how Wisconsin began Big Ten play, the Badgers only two games out of first place.

No. 5 Xavier finds shooting touch in 74-57 blowout at Butler

Xavier head coach Chris Mack talks with James Farr (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Indianapolis. Xavier won 74-57. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) No. 5 Xavier learned its lesson.

To keep winning, it must continue do the dirty work.

Four days after stumbling at Creighton, the Musketeers got back to basics and used a balanced offense and a smothering defense to run away from Butler 74-57 on Saturday.

“We played much better today and after about the first four or five minutes, we defended,” coach Chris Mack said. “Our shots were, in my opinion, really good ones because we got in the lane, we made the extra pass and I thought that was the difference.”

Whatever the explanation, the Musketeers (22-3, 10-3 Big East) certainly looked worthy of the highest ranking in school history.

After making a season-low 30 percent from the field and just 1 of 21 3-point attempts in Tuesday’s loss, Xavier rebounded by shooting 56.9 percent and going 9 of 18 beyond the arc. J.P. Macura led the way with 13 points while Edmond Sumner and Remy Abell each had 12.

But the biggest improvements showed up in other areas – defense, rebounding and effort. They allowed 36 points over the final 31 1/2 minutes.

“Everybody was boxing out and rebounding, and on the offensive end we have so much talent we could get whatever we wanted,” said Abell, who started his college career playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.

The difference was obvious.

Butler (17-8, 6-7) was held almost 25 points below its season average.

Kelan Martin, with 15 points, and Andrew Chrabascz, with 12, were the only players to score more than 10. And the top three scorers – Martin, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones – were a combined 11 of 39 from the field as the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak came to an end.

Xavier crushed the Bulldogs so thoroughly that chants of “Let’s Go X” resounded throughout sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse over the final minutes.

“We didn’t have near the effort, the juice, the purpose defensively and we didn’t move the ball offensively and that was actually the case from the opening minute,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We mentioned that in the four-minute media and said that had to improve and when it doesn’t these things happen.”

Butler used a 9-0 first-half run to take a 21-13 lead midway through the first half.

Xavier answered with a 27-6 run that included four 3s and a three-point play in a 27-6 run to make it 40-27. The Bulldogs got as close as 47-39 early in the second half, which later became a seven-point deficit after a replay review gave Dunham a 3.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t get closer.

“You can go 1 for 21 one game, and then the next game it’s – I’m sure it was better,” Macura said. “That’s basketball.”

POINTERS

Xavier’s dominance showed up in two key stats on the box score. The Musketeers outscored Butler 36-14 in points off the bench and 36-18 in the paint despite having only two offensive rebounds. Xavier has won six of its last seven.

ON THE ROAD

Even the road has been kind to the Musketeers this season. They have won seven times in true road games, their highest season total since 2010-11. They have also won five Big East games on the road – more than they won in either of their first two seasons in the league and they have won 10 of the last 13 at Hinkle.

MOVING UP

Dunham continues his ascent on the Bulldogs’ career scoring list. After moving from 14th to sixth on the list in the first 23 games this season, Dunham moved passed Lynn Mitchem (1,798) for fifth and within one point of A.J. Graves (1,807) for fourth. Matt Howard is third (1,939) and the only 2,000-point scorers in school history are Chad Tucker (2,321) and Darrin Fitzgerald (2,019).

TIP-INS

Xavier: Former Indiana prep star Trevon Bluiett had 11 points and four rebounds and James Farr had 12 rebounds. … Each of Xavier’s 22 wins has come by at least seven points. … The Musketeers were the highest-ranked team to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse since No. 3 DePaul visited Feb. 23, 1981.

Butler: Shot 33.3 percent overall and was 8 of 22 on 3s. …. The Bulldogs only have three wins at home against Top 10 teams – No. 8 Gonzaga in January 2013, No. 3 Michigan in 1965-66 and No. 5 Tennessee in 1958-59. … Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence attended the game.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 20 Providence on Wednesday.

Butler hosts Creighton on Tuesday.