Rob Dauster

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Mountain West Conference Preview: Can the league get back to being a multi-bid conference?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Mountain West Conference.

Five or six years ago, the Mountain West was one of the most entertaining conferences in college basketball.

Maybe it was Kawhi Leonard leading the upstart San Diego State Aztecs to a top five ranking while competing for a league title with BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who became must-see TV despite never actually playing on TV. Or maybe it was the Steve Alford-led New Mexico teams loaded with Pac-12 talent like Drew Gordon, or Kendall Williams, or Darington Hobson, or Tony Snell. Dave Rice had UNLV rolling, Leon Rice was just starting to build Boise State into something that could match the football program and Larry Eustachy took over from Tim Miles at Colorado State and kept the Rams squarely in the NCAA tournament picture. Fresno State had Paul George. Wyoming had Larry Nance.

The MWC had years where they rated as a top four basketball conference in the sport. There were years that they sent five teams to the NCAA tournament. In 2011, both BYU and SDSU were top three seeds.

And now?

It looks like the league will once again be a one-bid league come March.

So what happened?

Some of it is cyclical. Colorado State and Boise State aren’t always going to be NCAA tournament teams, and Fresno State and Wyoming aren’t always going to find late-bloomers with first round potential that often. Some of it was also luck. San Diego State just so happened to land the best coach they’ve ever had, who happened to land a future top five player in the NBA, at the same time that Alford was mining the Pac-12 for their castoffs and Jimmer, a once-in-a-decade player, was doing Jimmer things at BYU.

And maybe it was just as simple as all ships rising with the tide. Mastery of the RPI combined with an influx of coaching talent, a run of promising recruits outperforming expectations and an impressive amount of home court advantage keeping anyone at the top from running away with league titles meant their were balanced races where the teams in fourth and fifth place were landing themselves wins that looked great on a tournament resume.

The league today is not what it was then, not with three of the most successful programs in the conference over the last decade in the midst of regime changes.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t get back to that level one day.

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FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Nevada has it rolling: Things are still rolling for the Wolfpack under Eric Musselman has his ability to attract talented recruits has not slowed down yet. In addition to Jordan Caroline, who may just be the best player in the MWC this season, and Lindsay Drew, the son of NBA head coach Larry Drew, four former high-major transfers will be eligible this fall after redshirting last season in Reno: Kendall Stephens (Purdue), Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Cody and Caleb Martin (N.C. State). That doesn’t include Darien Williams, a grad transfer from St. John’s.

Nevada lost a ton of talent from last season – Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner – but with the influx of players that Musselman has coming in combined with a returning star in Caroline and a veteran point guard in Drew, this team will enter the season as the heavy favorite to win the league and a team with the potential to make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

2. San Diego State replacing the man that built the program: When Steve Fisher took over the San Diego State basketball program in 1999, the Aztecs had been to just one NCAA tournament in the modern era (the first one) and three since becoming a Division I program in 1970. Fisher built SDSU into a Mountain West powerhouse with a rabid fanbase that could compete with some of the biggest names out west for recruits. He retired, and longtime assistant Brian Dutcher took over.

Dutcher was not left with the cupboard bare. The Aztecs probably have one of the best back courts in the league, as Trey Kell, Jeremy Helmsly and Montaque Gill-Cesear will be joined by San Francisco transfer Devin Watson, who could end up starting at the point. The enigmatic Malik Pope is back as well, while Max Montana – formerly Max Hoetzel – and Kameron Rooks, a grad transfer from Cal, join him up front.

The question isn’t the talent. It’s Dutcher. Can he right the ship for a program that has missed the last two NCAA tournaments after reaching the dance six years in a row?

Jordan Caroline (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

3. Can Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison make up for the loss of key pieces?: Hutchison is a very, very good basketball player, one that looks like he will lead the league in scoring this season. But he is also going to be the focal point for a team that just lost three of their four best players, including starting point guard Paris Austin. If the Broncos want to get back to the NCAA tournament, they are going to need Justinian Jacob and Zach Haney to have big years.

4. Can the basketball program survive New Mexico going through a regime change: The carnage runs deep at New Mexico, where scandal after scandal is getting exposed and it’s unclear what decision-makers are actually going to be left by the time the dust settles. Craig Neal already lost his job. In his stead is Paul Weir, who will have to try and find a way to earn back the fanbase’s trust. It might take a while, as a Lobo team with no depth lost their two best players last season. That’s why they had to go out and hire the coach from archrival New Mexico State.

The good news? There is talent transferring in; JaQuan Lyle, Vance Jackson, Antino Jackson. The bad news? That talent will have to sit a year.

5. Marvin Menzies might have something at UNLV: Menzies managed to win four MWC games last season after having to essentially rebuild the entire roster when he took over, and while he lost a number of key pieces from that team, he did get Jovan Mooring, the team’s leading scorer, back. More importantly, he landed a commitment from Brandon McCoy, a top 15 prospect and a potential one-and-done talent at the center spot. Whether or not there are pieces around McCoy to make a run is arguable. But there is McCoy, and he is good.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule
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PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chandler Hutchison, Boise State

Boise State got somewhat lucky this offseason, as Hutchison, a 6-foot-7 forward with three-point range that averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 boards, opted not to enter the NBA Draft. He probably was not destined to be a first round pick, but there are plenty of NBA scouts that do believe he has a shot at having a good professional career. Leon Rice’s club lost three of their top four scorers from last year’s team, meaning there are going to be more opportunities for Hutchison this season. If Boise is as good as I expect them to be, it will likely be because Hutchison turns in a phenomenal season.

THE REST OF THE ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • Jordan Caroline, Nevada: It’s a toss-up for Player of the Year in the MWC between Hutchison and Caroline. I lean Hutchison personally, mainly because I think that he will put up much bigger numbers for a team that competes for top three in the league, but there’s a valid argument to saying that Caroline is the best basketball player in the conference. Picking him as POY is not the wrong choice.
  • Koby McEwen, Utah State: McEwen had a monster freshman season for the Aggies, and with Jalen Moore and Shane Rector gone, he’ll have that much more on his plate this season.
  • Justin James, Wyoming: James came off the bench for the Pokes last season despite being their best player. This year, Wyoming has a real shot to finish second in the league, and James is a major reason for that.
  • Brandon McCoy, UNLV: The 7-foot McCoy is the most talented player in the conference. The talent may not be there around him, but there aren’t any other potential lottery picks in the conference.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Trey Kell, San Diego State
  • Jaron Hopkins, Fresno State
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada
  • Hayden Dalton, Wyoming
  • Jeremy Helmsly, San Diego State

BREAKOUT STAR: Koby McEwen, Utah State

Down the stretch of the season, McEwen was arguably the best player on the Aggies. Defenses knew how to slow down Jalen Moore after four years in the league. McEwen was a new talent, one that will shine even brighter next season now that Moore and Shane Rector have graduated.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State

Dutcher, by no means, is in danger of losing his job. He literally just got the job. But he is taking over for the greatest coach in the history of the program, a coach in Steve Fisher that built a perennial tournament team where a perennial cellar-dweller had resided. Being the guy to replace The Guy is never going to be easy, particularly when taking over a talented team that has underperformed expectations of late.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The Mountain West is a one-bid league once again.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing if Wyoming can make the push to win a league title. Anyone that’s been to Laramie knows that it is not exactly the easiest place to recruit a player to, not if they visit during the winter.

FOUR NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/13, Rhode Island vs. Nevada
  • 12/1, Boise State at Oregon
  • 12/2, Arizona at UNLV
  • 12/21, Gonzaga at San Diego State

POWER RANKINGS

1. Nevada: The Wolfpack are the reigning champions of the MWC and will once again be the most talented team in the league. That’s a good combination of things.
2. Wyoming: I’m going out on a limb with this one, but with the Pokes returning all but two of their rotation players, including Justin James and the underrated Hayden Dalton, Wyoming is going to sneak up on some people.
3. Boise State: Leon Rice is going to have to replace a lot of scoring and minutes this year, but the good news is that he will be able to do that while relying on Chandler Hutchison to carry the team.
4. San Diego State: The issue for the Aztecs isn’t going to be talent. As we discussed above, they have the pieces. The question is whether or not those pieces come together. The key may be Devin Watson, the San Francisco transfer. SDSU had three “point guards” that wanted to score last season. Can Watson embrace the role of distributor, or is he going to want to be a scorer as well?
5. Fresno State: Rodney Terry returned arguably his two best players with Jaron Hopkins and DeShon Taylor and has a handful of talented redshirts and transfers around them. If New Williams and Nate Grimes can live up to the hype they had in high school, the Bulldogs are a sleeper to push for the league title.
6. Utah State: This may be too high for a USU team that is losing two of their best players, but the Aggies have a pair of really promising sophomore guards in Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill  that played some of their best basketball late last season.
7. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy’s teams at CSU have been up and down: He’ll contend for the league one year, finish around .500 the next. They contended for the league last season, lost their two best players and now look destined for the middle of the pack as they reload.
8. UNLV: It’s hard to know what to expect from this group. Brandon McCoy should be awesome, but do they have the supporting cast to push for the top half of the league standings? Is there anyone on the team that can actually feed McCoy the ball where he can be effective?
9. New Mexico: The Lobos needed some new blood running the program, and I fully expect Paul Weir to get things turned around. That said, there is more talent redshirting this season than there will be playing.
10. Air Force: The Falcons have 23 players on their roster. They’re also Air Force. They’ll probably win a few games they shouldn’t – and beat UNLV, since they always do – but that’s about it.
11. San Jose State: Their coach left this summer after their best player transferred to Gonzaga, and now there is a lawsuit alleging the former coach verbally abused players on the team.

Big Sky Conference Preview: Will North Dakota repeat as league champs?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big Sky Conference.

The Big Sky has, in recent history, been dominated by Montana and Weber State, two of the best mid-major programs out west, but in two of the last three seasons, the conference has seen someone else win the conference.

In 2015, it was Eastern Washington that won the regular season and tournament title.

Last year, it was North Dakota that pulled off a dual-league title, but it will be tough for the Fighting Hawks to pull off a repeat of that feat. Not only did they lose Quinton Hooker to graduation, but Corey Baldwin and Drick Bernstine, who is a graduate transfer at Washington State, are gone as well. Geno Crandall should be in a position to embrace the role of superstar on this roster, and the likes of returnees Cortez Seales and Connor Avants along with transfer Marlon Scott (Creighton), Dale Jones (Iowa) and Jafar Kinsey (Robert Morris via JuCo) give Brian Jones a talent infusion.

In a league with no clear-cut favorite, UND will certainly be in the mix.

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The most entertaining team in the league may end up being Montana State simply due to the presence of Tyler Hall. A 6-foot-4 scoring guard, Hall averaged 23.1 points last season while shooting better than 43 percent from three. The Bobcats return seven of their top eight scorers from a season ago – notably Harald Frey, last year’s newcomer of the year – while adding Keljin Blevins, a 6-foot-6 forward who started for Southern Miss in 2015-16. Hall is good enough to carry MSU to a win on any given night, and he’s only now becoming an upper-classmen.

Both Montana and Weber State will contend for the league title as well. The Wildcats are going to have to find someone to replace Jeremy Senglin, who was significantly underrated from a national perspective, but they may have the guy with Jerrick Harding, a 6-foot-1 lefty lead guard that averaged 9.3 points in just over 17 minutes as a freshman. Zach Braxton is back to anchor the front line, along with Utah transfer Brekkot Chapman, while freshman Doc Nelson should provide some firepower off the bench in a role similar to what Harding played last year.

Montana will be led by Oregon transfer Ahmad Rorie, who had some blow-up games as a sophomore. In a league with a number of good-to-great guards, Rorie may actually be the best point guard of the bunch. Four of the Grizzlies’ five leading scorers returning, including Michael Oguine, while Washington transfer Donaven Dorsey and Cal-St. Fullerton transfer Jamar Akoh will be eligible.

Idaho will be a team to keep an eye on. They’re not one of the traditional powers in the league, but once Victor Sanders opted to return to school after flirting with the professional ranks, Idaho will return everyone of significance from a team that went 12-6 in league play, including their Big Sky Player of the Year favorite.

After that, there seems to be a bit of a drop off in the league. Eastern Washington will return some talent, namely Latvian forward Bogdan Bliznyuk, but replacing the production of Jacob Wiley would be too much for any mid-major program. Sacramento State does get Marcus Graves and Justin Strings back, but they lacked depth before losing Nick Hornsby and Eric Stuteville. Jordan Davis had a monster season for Northern Colorado a year ago, and getting Anthony Johnson, their leading scorer in 2015-16, back healthy will be key. Portland State, Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Idaho State all finished near the bottom of the league last season and lost their leading scorers.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Hall, Montana State

Tyler Hall has a chance to be the mid-major darling of college hoops this season. A rising junior, Hall has already scored 1,317 points in his two seasons with the Bobcats, including posting better than 23 points a night as a sophomore. A 6-foot-4 guard that shot 43 percent from three on more than eight attempts per game, Hall had eight games last season where he went for more than 30 points, including a 42-point outburst against Milwaukee. I’m not saying he’s Damian Lillard, but like the former Weber State star, Hall has a chance to go from the Big Sky to the first round of the NBA Draft before it’s all said and done.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY FIRST TEAM

  • Ahmad Rorie, Montana: The former Oregon point guard had a promising first season with the Grizzlies, and he should only get better as the Grizzlies add a pair of talented transfers to a roster anchored by the redshirt junior.
  • Victor Sanders, Idaho: Sanders is the second-leading returning scorer in a league that featured six players that averaged better than 20 points last season. The 6-foot-5 senior will anchor an Idaho team that returns essentially everyone from a team that finished tied for third.
  • Bogdan Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington: Bliznyuk actually led EWU in scoring as a junior, bettering the best player in the conference last season, Jacob Wiley. A skill, 6-foot-6 wing, Bliznyuk is also a talented playmaker.
  • Geno Crandall, North Dakota: Crandall played second fiddle to Quinton Hooker the last two seasons, but with Hooker gone, Crandall should step into a starring role for a UND team with real Big Sky title aspirations.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @bigskybball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Montana State
2. North Dakota
3. Idaho
4. Montana
5. Weber State
6. Eastern Washington
7. Northern Colorado
8. Sacramento State
9. Southern Utah
10. Portland State
11. Northern Arizona
12. Idaho State

John Calipari says players should be allowed representation, earn income off their likeness

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The question I’ve been asked the most over the last week is how we can fix what’s wrong with college basketball.

And, believe it or not, my opinion on the matter is no different than that of John Calipari.

To start, let the players have an agent.

“Players should be allowed representation just like they have in baseball,” Calipari said, according to FanRag Sports. “They don’t need a new model because there’s already a model in place. That’s what they do in baseball.”

Agents have this nefarious connotation when it comes to college sports, but the truth of the matter is that an agent is simply a representative for a player that helps that athlete navigate the business side of professional athletics. That’s literally their job, and their incentives line up with the player that employs them – if the agent is getting 4 percent of every dollar a client makes, the bigger the salary the bigger that 4 percent ends up being.

Cal also discusses putting an end to amateurism, which, like it or not, is the reason we are here in the first place.

“Players should be able to earn income because of their name, their signature, and their likeness,” he added. “If a uniform is sold with a player’s name on it, the player should get a percentage on it. If they want to go out and sign autographs, let them sign autographs. The money should be deferred. They should be able to sign a shoe contract too, but the money should be deferred unless it’s used by the parents of the player for transportation or expenses to come and see the kid’s play. They’re not professionals if that happens and it probably eliminates a lot of stuff.”

I don’t know that I’d even go as far as forcing the payments to be deferred, but this would at least be a step in the right direction.

And, quite frankly, it would solve all of the problems that are never going to go away under the current model.

Basketball ref sues Kentucky Sports Radio over harassment

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A college basketball referee filed a federal lawsuit against a Kentucky media company on Tuesday, accusing it of creating conditions that led to the harassment of him and his family after he worked an NCAA Tournament game between Kentucky and North Carolina in March.

In his suit, John Higgins blamed Kentucky Sports Radio for helping incite death threats that frightened him and his family and defamatory messages on social media and in phone messages that disrupted his roofing business in suburban Omaha. The harassment came after Higgins worked Kentucky’s loss to the eventual champion Tar Heels in a regional final.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was critical of the officiating in his postgame comments, a theme that was picked up on by commentators for Kentucky Sports Radio after the game.

The suit alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business and civil conspiracy. Higgins, who is seeking at least $75,000, declined comment.

Higgins, his wife Carol and his business, Weatherguard Inc., are listed as plaintiffs. Kentucky Sports Radio and two of its operators, Matthew Jones and Drew Franklin, are listed as defendants.

In a tweet and posting on the KSR website, Jones said, “The Higgins lawsuit against KSR is frivolous and without any legal merit whatsoever. We will defend it and expect a favorable result quickly.”

A video showing contact information for Higgins and posted on the KSR website was partly responsible for sparking the harassment, the suit said.

“After defendants’ publication of Mr. Higgins’ business and contact information, as well as their encouragement and enticement to thousands of people to utilize the contact information, Weatherguard received over 3,000 phone calls during the two days after the game, of which approximately 75 percent were from Kentucky area codes,” the suit said.

Higgins’ business also received a flood of bogus negative online reviews, causing his Google rating to plummet. Higgins’ website got more than 28,000 hits in the days after the game, and he was forced to take the company’s Facebook page down.

A sheriff’s investigator in Sarpy County, where Higgins’ business is located, said in April that he had identified 450 phone calls or messages and another 200-300 messages on social media or in emails that were “of a threatening nature.” The sheriff’s department provided extra patrols around Higgins’ office, and Omaha police did the same near Higgins’ residence.

The lawsuit said Higgins and his family had a bodyguard with them when Higgins was in Phoenix for the Final Four.

ACC Preview Podcast

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Rob Dauster was joined by Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips to pour over the ACC and make a handful of bold – and not so bold – predictions about the league.

As always with these podcasts, please rate and review them in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, any place you can get these podcasts for free. The ratings and the reviews help us in the metrics in those apps. Last week, I shared with you the moment that made me fall in love with college basketball, and what we’re asking of you all is to share with us the moment that made you love the sport in the reviews that you leave on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. We will read the best ones on the pod, and to date they have been great.

If you’re into reading, here is the full ACC breakdown.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
RELATED: WCC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series

Here is a timecode for when each team gets discussed:

Boston College: 1:42
Clemson: 4:03
Duke: 7:11
Florida State: 14:38
Georgia Tech: 18:20
Louisville: 21:10
Miami: 27:10
North Carolina: 32:40
N.C. State: 36:58
Notre Dame: 39:57
Pitt: 44:21
Syracuse: 45:45
Virginia: 48:18
Virginia Tech: 53:13
Wake Forest: 56:06

NBA GMs: Age-limit is not the most important rule change needed

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NBA.com’s annual GM survey is usually a fun way to get a pulse on the way that the people within and running the NBA feel about the NBA.

Frankly, this year’s poll is not all that enlightening. GMs think the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James and Gregg Popovich are all really good.

Shocking, I know.

But there was an interesting nugget buried all the way at the bottom of the page. The GMs were asked about what rule they believe needed to be changed the most. Playoff seeding topped the list. The Draft Lottery system, which has since been amended, was second. The draft combine was next. Then the advance-the-ball rule. Then enforcing double dribbles, changing the goaltending rules, addressing the issue of fouling flailing jumpshooters and intentional fouls.

Only after all of that did the GMs list the age minimum, the rule that has created the one-and-done era of college basketball.

I’m not sure what this actually means. On the one hand, it can be looked at as the GMs are at least thinking about the fact that the current structure of the age limit rule is not ideal. But seeing where it pops up on this list – behind changing goaltending rules and enforcing double-dribbles, which I never really realized was a thing – makes me wonder just how much of a priority it is.

Over Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, was vocal about identifying the age limit as something that the NBA is targeting for change. I wrote about it at the time. It was a big thing.

And it still may be a big thing. Frankly, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for the NBA to try and find a way to take ownership of the developmental ranks of basketball. But it is interesting where it lands in the mind of these GMs.

Maybe it’s not as pressing of an issue as we once thought?