Steve Fisher

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

1 Comment

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

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Leave a comment

Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Leave a comment

Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Leave a comment

For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
Leave a comment

Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Leave a comment

James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.