Steve Fisher

Mountain West Conference Catchup: San Diego State remains ahead of the league

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The Mountain West is annually an interesting league because they often fall in the “mid-major” category despite producing top-25 programs and multiple NCAA Tournament teams.

San Diego State returns to the top 25 in 2014-15 after a Sweet 16 loss to Arizona and Steve Fisher’s ballclub adds some talented new pieces while looking like one of the premier teams on the west coast.

The Aztecs check in at No. 9 in the College Basketball Talk Preseason Top 25 and Dwayne Polee could be a big key for them thanks to his late-season offensive comfort.

Chasing San Diego State is a strong and talented group at UNLV, a rebuilding New Mexico team that loses three experienced starters and a Boise State team that returns the high-scoring duo of Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.

Dave Rice’s Runnin’ Rebels pose as the most interesting threat to San Diego State as UNLV adds two five-star freshman in Rashad Vaughn and Dwayne Morgan and a four-star prospect in Goodluck Okonoboh, who might be the best shot blocker in the 2014 class.

New Mexico returns Hugh Greenwood and Cullen Neal but needs to replace Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, three very talented and experienced cogs in head coach Craig Neal’s lineup.

Marks and Drmic have led the Broncos to glory before and Boise State is hoping to improve it’s sour late-game efforts that led to a lot of close losses.

Colorado State, with some strong returning players and eligible transfers, could be an interesting team in the middle of the pack while Nevada will look to replace its top-three leading scorers.

Fresno State also has some young talent in place and Texas transfer Julien Lewis should give them another scoring option from the perimeter next season.

Utah State needs to stabilize in the league to be a major factors. The Aggies lost five straight before winning three, losing four and winning three more games before ending the season in an ugly Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to San Diego State. Wyoming will need to make sure it’s struggling offense gets Larry Nance, Jr., back in the lineup from a torn ACL.

Air Force and San Jose State round up the rear of the league.

THREE UP

  • UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels have run a lot of talent through the doors in recent years and this year, head coach Dave Rice gets a ton of new pieces to work with. Rashad Vaughn might be the most ready-to-produce two-guard in the country thanks to his strength and savvy and Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh are also both talented newcomers. The key could be the eligibility of San Francisco transfer and point guard Cody Doolin.
  • Colorado State: A year after making the NCAA Tournament, the Rams were in rebuilding mode last season but should be back and stronger for 2014-15. Top returning contributors J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarnaro return and Colorado State adds some key transfers like Stanton Kidd from North Carolina Central and Dantiel Daniels from Southern Illinois. Losing Chane Behanan hurts from a talent perspective but not having to deal with his potential off-the-court baggage could also help.
  • Boise State: The Broncos finished to a tough 21-13 finish, but remain stable in 2014-15 as head coach Leon Rice signed an offseason extension and the team’s two best players, Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks return to the lineup. The Broncos also lost a LOT of close games last season as eight of their 13 losses came by five points or less. A few tight games going their way could have Boise State heading in the right direction.

THREE DOWN

  • New Mexico: A year after losing Tony Snell to the NBA Draft, now the Lobos and Craig Neal have to replace Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. New Mexico will attempt to re-load using a big and balanced recruiting class that features high school and junior college prospects, but it will be tough to replace the experience of the three veterans that have moved on.
  • Nevada: The Wolfpack lose their top three scorers in Deonte Burton, Jerry Evans Jr. and Cole Huff as they look to rebuild on the fly for next season. The loss of Burton to the NBA and Evans, Jr. to graduation was expected, but losing the efficient Huff is a big loss. Huff would have led the team this season along with 12.4 points per game on 45 percent shooting and 40 percent shooting from the three-point line.
  • Wyoming: With the uncertain status of Larry Nance, Jr., following his torn ACL late in the season, the Cowboys could really struggle to score points. Nance, Jr. is expected to return to the lineup at the beginning of the season the but Wyoming lost six of the last seven games without him and could struggle without his scoring punch.

FIVE NEW FACES

  • Malik Pope, San Diego State: Pope could be a major key this season for the Aztecs. The five-star wing is a bit of a mystery man thanks to some injury concerns his rising-senior grassroots season and senior season of high school but he’s a high-level athlete who can knock in jumpers with deep range.
  • Stanton Kidd, Colorado State: A transfer from North Carolina Central, Kidd put up solid numbers in averaging 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on 55 percent shooting and 37 percent shooting from three-point range. The 6-foot-7 Kidd should give the Rams another solid frontcourt option.
  • Rashad Vaughn, UNLV: The No. 8 overall prospect in Rivals.com’s 2014 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Vaughn might be the most reliable incoming two-guard in the country. Vaughn is physically strong, plays both ends of the floor hard and can also score the ball at a very high clip.
  • Dwayne Morgan, UNLV: Joining Vaughn at UNLV will be the 6-foot-7 Morgan, the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2014 class and another plus-defender who could step in and play on the wing and some small-ball four. If Morgan can continue to improve his offensive game, he’ll form a potent freshman one-two punch with Dwayne Morgan for UNLV next season.
  • Jordan Goodman, New Mexico: Goodman is well traveled, but the 6-foot-8 junior college forward is talented enough to contribute immediately for the Lobos. Goodman averaged 18 points, five rebounds and 2.2 assists a night for Harcum College.

Way Too Early Power Rankings

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

CBT Podcast: Reminiscing about a road trip and the NCAA Selection Committee meeting

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Mississippi Rebels and Xavier Musketeers players run by the logo at mid-court during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Here is the latest episode of the College Basketball Talk podcast, featuring my former colleague Troy Machir talking about a road trip we took five years ago and Andy Glockner going over what was discussed at the meeting of the analytic minds in Indianapolis with the NCAA Selection Committee this weekend.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Arizona’s Miller elaborates on Trier’s suspension

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 21: Allonzo Trier #35 of the Arizona Wildcats goes up for a layup against TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins during the first half of the game at Pauley Pavilion on January 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Arizona sophomore guard Allonzo Trier sat out the first 19 games of the season for reasons not made clear until last week.

Now that Trier has been cleared to play after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, Wildcats coach Sean Miller is able to elaborate on the process and the need to be so tight-lipped through it.

“It’s a process that had no history,” he said during his weekly news conference Monday. “I think the NCAA did the best they could. They were extremely fair. I think they really had the student-athlete welfare at the forefront of a lot of things. It might not have felt that way to the outside, but they were very communicative, very direct, vert cooperative, trying to hold to the standards that they need to hold these types of issues to.”

Trier was expected to be the key cog for No. 7 Arizona after bypassing a chance at the NBA to return for his sophomore season. Instead, he was replaced at the last minute for Pac-12 media day and spent the first three months of the season on the bench unable to play.

Trier issued a statement last Wednesday saying he tested positive for a banned PED he received to treat an injury from someone not affiliated with the university. Trier was conditionally cleared to play in November, contingent upon the PED leaving his system. He was cleared before Saturday’s game against UCLA, finishing with 12 points in the Wildcats’ 96-85 victory.

“There are just too many unknowns,” Miller said of not providing information on Trier’s suspension before last week. “The No. 1 here is to protect the student-athlete privacy of a situation that was very complicated and to not at all harm him in any way. There are no secrets, nobody is hiding anything. It’s just a matter of trying to do right by the young man. We would much rather have the criticism pointed toward us than to do something that is unnecessary and could potentially harm a young person.”

Arizona (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) has played well through Trier’s suspension and a string of injuries, winning 11 straight games before his return on Saturday. Their 12th consecutive win moved the Wildcats up seven spots in Monday’s AP Top 25.

No. 3 Gonzaga improves to 20-0 with win over Portland

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Zach Collins had 13 points and No. 3 Gonzaga remained the nation’s only undefeated Division I team with an 83-64 victory over Portland in a game Monday night that was rescheduled because of a winter storm earlier this month.

The Bulldogs have won 20 straight games, their longest streak since winning that many in the 2005-06 and 2003-04 seasons. Gonzaga is now 8-0 in West Coast Conference play.

Silas Melson and Jordan Mathews each added 12 points for the Zags, who led by as many as 33 points and had four players in double-digits.

Rashad Jackson and D’Marques Tyson had 15 points apiece for Portland, which won its first two games in conference but has lost six straight since then. The Pilots (9-11, 2-6 WCC) are playing their first season under former NBA player and coach Terry Porter.

The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, but a winter storm in Portland forced it to be postponed. Portland opened up extra seats and Gonzaga’s fans outnumbered the home team’s crowd.

The two teams had met just two days ago in Spokane, with Gonzaga leading from the start to win 73-52. But Portland, playing without top scorer Alec Wintering, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33 and held them to 45 percent shooting.

The Zags fared better on Monday, out-rebounding Portland 41-36 and shooting 42 percent.

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who left the game against Portland because of a left hip injury with about five minutes left, was questionable against Portland but started.

But freshman forward Killian Tillie appeared to injure his right leg under Portland’s basket with 9:38 to go in the game, and teammates helped him from the floor. The 6-foot-10 Tillie, who is from France, is averaging 4.8 points this season.

Wintering, a senior, was hurt in last Thursday’s game against San Francisco and the Pilots announced this weekend that his college career was over because of a torn left ACL.

Wintering averaged 19.5 points and 5.6 assists a game this season. He was on Portland’s bench in street clothes, but during warmups before the game and at the break he was on the court, offering his teammates advice and encouragement.

Gonzaga jumped out to a 9-0 run but the Pilots closed within 9-8 following Philipp Hartwich’s dunk. Portland was competitive, answering Melson’s 3-pointer for Gonzaga with Jackson’s 3 that got the Pilots within 22-19.

But the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run to go up 30-19 and went into halftime with on a 16-4 run for a 38-23 lead. Melson and Jonathan Williams led Gonzaga at the break with eight points apiece. Jackson’s 13 first-half points for Portland were a new career high for a game.

Gonzaga extended the lead to 50-26 on Przemek Karnowski’s layup with just under 16 minutes to go, the Bulldogs were on the way to their 20th straight win.

THE BIG PICTURE:

Gonzaga: The Zags have won eight straight against Portland. … The Bulldogs’ longest winning streak was 22 games, set in the

Portland: Portland Trail Blazers President Neil Olshey was at the game. … The game, originally scheduled to be played over winter break, was sold out. So despite school being back in session, the usual student section wasn’t as large for the televised game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS: Gonzaga rose a spot from No. 4 and only trails No. 1 Villanova (19-1) and No. 2 Kansas (18-1) in the AP rankings released earlier in the day. The Bulldogs were also ranked No. 3 in the Feb. 23, 2015 poll.

VIDEO: Andrew Jones nails deep three to give Texas win over Oklahoma

AUSTIN, TX - DECEMBER 27: James Banks #4 and Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns react during the game between the Texas Longhorns and the Kent State Golden Flashesat the Frank Erwin Center on December 27, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Texas freshman Andrew Jones nailed one of the most heroic game-winners of conference play with a dagger against Oklahoma on Monday night.

The Longhorns put together an 84-83 win over the Sooners as Jones took the final possession off of a missed free throw to dribble across the floor and fire an NBA-range bomb over a defender.

This win isn’t going to save a struggling Texas season, but it’s a nice win and a confidence-boosting shot for a McDonald’s All-American who has the potential to be a big-time player with some more seasoning. Jones finished with 16 points in the win as the Longhorns are now 8-12 and 2-6 in the Big 12.

(H/t: Mike Leslie)

VIDEO: Dennis Smith Jr. caps N.C. State win with thunder dunk

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives in for a dunk as time expires during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Dennis Smith Jr. showed why he is a potential top three pick in this year’s draft and why he was the reason many thought that the Wolfpack could be an Elite 8 team coming into the season on Monday, popping off for 32 points and six assists as N.C. State won at No. 17 Duke, 84-82.

He capped off the performance with the perfect exclamation point, a dunk contest-worthy throwdown:

Let’s get another angle of that dunk, shall we?: