2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: The big men that will win you your bracket

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The game may be more 3-point oriented than ever, but the big fellas inside can still impact the game. Whether it’s on the block, on the boards or stretching the floor, big men will be a major part of this year’s NCAA tournament. Below you’ll find the post players you need to know.

Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson is an All-American and potential first-round draft pick after the 6-foot-10 senior’s season averages of 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: A likely top-10 pick in this June’s NBA draft, the 7-footer is averaging 17.6 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 65.6 percent from the floor. He’s the guy that Utah builds their offense — and their defense — around. Not bad for a team that’s a No. 3 seed.

Ben Bentil, Providence: As much as people love Kris Dunn, there’s an argument to be made that Bentil was actually the best player for Providence. He averaged better than 21 points, he hits threes and he provides the Friars with some kind of offensive balance. Anyone that saw him pop off for 38 points against Butler in the Big East tournament knows what I’m saying.

Georges Niang, Iowa State: The man best known for his YMCA game is back in the tournament for the fourth and final time after his best career season in which he scored just under 20 points per game while shooting 54.7 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from 3-point range. His versatile game and endless array of moves inside make him fun to watch and hard to stop.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

Perry Ellis, Kansas: The Jayhawks’ elder statesman is one of the most consistent – and consistently productive – big men in the country. The jokes about his age and extended tenure at Kansas are funny, but it minimizes just how good he has been for the Jayhawks.

Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: This duo combined to average 38.1 points, 18.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists this past season with their skill and size. One of the best interior combos in the country.

Jameel Warney, Stone Brook The 6-foot-8 Warney was a beast for the Seawolves this year, shooting 63.7 percent from the floor and averaging just shy of 20 points per game and grabbing 10.7 rebounds per night. He’s one of the country’s best shot blockers as well, swatting away 10.1 percent of attempts.

Skal Labissiere, Kentucky: The 6-foot-11 Haiti native hasn’t lived up to huge expectations this season, but appeared to be turning a corner earlier this month before another string of unproductive performances. Still, his talent makes him extremely dangerous. He may be the biggest x-factor in the NCAA tournament.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: Hayes’ season hasn’t got as swimmingly as many who projected him as a lottery pick thought it might, but the Badger junior is still a productive player who helped coach Greg Gard engineer Wisconsin’s surge late this season.

Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley, Baylor: These two are rebounding fiends for the Bears. Together they pull down 16.2 per game. Gathers ranks No. 1 in the country with an offensive rebounding percentage of 18.7 while Motley’s ranks 76 at 12.7. Motley is the more dangerous offensive weapon with a skilled game while Gathers, who will pursue an NFL career after this season, is the bruiser.

Josh Scott, Colorado: Vastly underrated. Scott was one of the best big men in the country this season.

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa: He had an all-american caliber season … that was mostly built on what he did for the first three months of the year. In the last three weeks, he — and Iowa — have really struggled.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Cinderellas | Upset Watch  ]

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The 7-foot Hammons will be looking to play himself into first-round consideration following a season in which he averaged 14.9 points, 2.4 blocks and 8 rebounds in just 24.2 minutes per game.

Ivan Rabb, Cal: The highly-touted 6-foot-11 freshman has shot 62 percent from the floor anda veraged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: The 6-foot-9 forward averaged a double-double of 14.4 points and 19.8 rebounds during his senior season.

Devin Williams, West Virginia: Williams may be the toughest player on one of the nation’s toughest teams. He put up 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game this season.

Diamond Stone and Robert Carter, Maryland: Stone, one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits last year, hasn’t put up huge numbers this season, but still is a likely first-rounder. Stone and Carter combined for 25.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.

Joel Bolomboy, Weber State: Averaged 17.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game this season for the Wildcats.

2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: The guards that will win you your bracket

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It’s been said many times over that guard play is needed to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament, and with good reason. Look at teams that have won national titles over the years, and quality options on the perimeter tend to be a tie that binds. With that in mind, below are some of the guards (one per team) you need to know heading into the NCAA tournament beginning with four who have been part of national Player of the Year and All-American conversations all year long.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine’s versatility is what has made him a favorite for national Player of the Year honors along with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. On the season the senior guard, who can play any position on the perimeter for the Spartans, is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. No other player in the country can boast averaging 19/7/7 per game.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield’s the prolific scorer who leads the way in a backcourt rotation that includes two other veterans in Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. Hield’s averaging 25.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three. Teams have tried a variety of approaches in defending Hield, but few have been successful. He’s that good of a scorer.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The sophomore point guard has emerged as one of the best leaders in college basketball. Sure there’s talent, with Ulis averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, but his work running the Wildcats has helped the team’s role players with their development.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The ACC Player of the Year, Brogdon leads the Cavaliers in scoring with an average of 18.7 points per game. The redshirt senior is shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three, and he’s also one of the best defenders in the country.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Good as a junior, Ferrell’s been even better in his senior season for the Big Ten regular season champions. Averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 assists per game, Yogi’s shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also made strides as a leader, which has been key for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Much has been made of Paige’s perimeter shooting struggles and rightfully so, as the Tar Heels lack consistent options in that area. But one has to believe that at some point he’ll get going, and the senior guard did a very good job defensively against Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon in the ACC championship game Saturday night.

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: VanVleet already has a win in this year’s tournament under his belt, and his experience (along with fellow seniors Ron Baker and Evan Wessel) is something that will help the other Shockers in the NCAA tournament. VanVleet’s ability to score and distribute the basketball is what makes Gregg Marshall’s team go, and they could make another run to the second weekend as a result.

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson’s been the point guard Mike Brey envisioned him being when the Fighting Irish lost last year’s starter (Jerian Grant) to graduation. Jackson’s averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per contest, and with a possible matchup with No.3  seed West Virginia in the second round he’ll be a key figure against the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn began the season as a favorite for national Player of the Year honors, yet despite dealing with health issues on multiple occasions the redshirt junior has remained one of the nation’s best point guards. Dunn can make things happen offensively, but he’s also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. If Dunn’s at his best, Providence is capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, Whitehead’s been a big reason why the Pirates are making their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. As a sophomore Whitehead has a better grasp of when to score and when to get the ball to his capable teammates. Whitehead’s talent and toughness have rubbed off on a team that entered the season looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season. Mission accomplished, with SHU looking to do even more this week.

Gary Payton II, Oregon State: There aren’t many point guards who have the versatility of Payton. He currently leads the Beavers in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. Oregon State’s making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990, when Payton’s father ran the show as a senior.  The skill sets are different, but the younger Payton has has a major impact on Wayne Tinkle’s program.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart broke out down the stretch last season, and he’s picked up where he left off the Big East regular season champions. Hart’s averaging 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. Hart can both knock down jumpers and attack the basket, and with his combination of size and skill the 6-foot-5 junior is a touch matchup for many opponents.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Cinderellas | Upset Watch  ]

Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s struggled in recent weeks, but there’s no denying the talent possessed by the sophomore point guard. Trimble’s a handful off the bounce, and as evidenced by his game-winner at Wisconsin in January Trimble’s more than willing to take the big shot as well.

Danuel House Jr., Texas A&M: House is shooting just over 39 percent from the field, but he’s a player capable of exploding offensively in any game. House is averaging 15.5 points per game, sharing the team lead with forward Jalen Jones. House’s scoring ability opens things up for the Texas A&M front court, which is led by Jones and freshman Tyler Davis.

Five who could spark a surprise run

  • A.J. English, Iona: The senior guard is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, and he’s the only player in college basketball who can make that claim this season.
  • DeAndré Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: Bembry’s an incredibly versatile player, and the emergence of Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown has taken some of the load off his sholder.
  • Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa: Washpun’s jumper to beat Evansville in the title game of the Missouri Valley tournament. He’s been a handful in pick and roll situations this season, so that’s something to keep an eye on when the Panthers take on No. 6 seed Texas in their tournament opener.
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: The Mountain West coaches named Harris their league player of the year and with goof reasons. Harris is averaging 20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Bulldogs, who have the pieces needed to play dep into the tournament.
  • Chris Flemmings, UNCW: Flemmings, whose fascinating story began at Division II Barton College, emerged as one of the top players in the CAA in his first season on the court. With their matchup with No. 4 seed Duke, the Seahawks are capable of making some noise with Flemmings leading the way.

2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: The unsung heroes for national title contenders

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By this point in the season you know the stars in college basketball, be it Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine or another marquee player who’s been in the highlights on a nightly basis. But even with stars doing the heavy lifting, there will be games in which the contributions of a non-star are needed to ensure victory.

Below are ten players capable of stepping forward and being “unsung heroes” for their teams during the NCAA tournament.

Derek Willis, Kentucky: Willis is fifth on the team in scoring, as he’s averaging 8.0 points per game. But his improved play is one of the reasons for the Wildcats’ late-season resurgence that resulted in a share of the SEC regular season title and an SEC tournament crown. At 6-foot-9 he’s capable of stepping out beyond the three-point line, giving the Wildcats valuable spacing on the offensive end of the floor. That will be key as they look to get to Houston.

Kris Jenkins, Villanova: During last season it was Josh Hart who stepped out of the shadows for the Wildcats. This season Jenkins has been that guy, as he’s now second on the team in scoring with an average of 13.3 points per contest. Like Willis, Jenkins can hit shots from beyond the arc and that opens up driving lanes for one of the best two-point shooting teams in the country. Jenkins’ scoring ability is key, but when he rebounds at a solid clip the Wildcats get even better defensively.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

Eron Harris, Michigan State: The West Virginia transfer was pegged as an impact addition before the season began, but while he’s certainly contributed to one of the best teams in America he has the skill to do more than he has. With Denzel Valentine’s versatility and Bryn Forbes’ shooting ability, those two will draw a lot of attention from opponents. That could open some things up for Harris, who’s averaging 9.3 points per game and shooting 42.7 percent from the field and from three.

Landen Lucas, Kansas: Lucas isn’t much of scorer, and he doesn’t have to be given the options at Bill Self’s disposal. But his abilities as a rebounder and defender are what allowed Kansas to take off once he was placed in the starting lineup for good. Kansas has won 14 of its last 15 games and are a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston. And if Lucas can continue to contribute as he has, the Jayhawks have a good shot of reaching those expectations.

Mike Tobey, Virginia: Tobey’s an interesting cog for the Cavaliers. He struggled early in the season on both ends of the floor, with the graduation of Darion Atkins proving to have a greater impact on Tony Bennett’s team than some may have expected. The senior big man has been inconsistent, but he’s capable of having an impact as evidenced by his 15-point, 20 rebound performance in Virginia’s win over Louisville in the regular season finale. At some point Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes will need someone else to step forward. Can Tobey be that guy?

Jabari Bird, California: The former McDonald’s All-American didn’t really get going this season until he returned to the starting lineup with Jordan Mathews moving into the sixth man role. At 10.4 points per game he’s Cal’s fifth-leading scorer, and with shooting percentages of 46.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three, Bird is definitely capable of making shots. He’s the kind of scorer who can get hot and left his team to a win, something Cal may need as the look to navigate the top half of the South bracket.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool  ]

O.G. Anunoby, Indiana: Yogi Ferrell is Indiana’s most valuable player and Troy Williams may be their most important option, as the Hoosiers are at their best when he’s fully engaged. And as the season’s worn on Anunoby, a freshman who didn’t play all that much during non-conference play, has developed into an important piece for Tom Crean’s team. They don’t need him to score much, but Anunoby’s activity and willingness to defend has helped make Indiana a better team.

J.P. Macura, Xavier: The Big East Sixth Man of the Year combines with James Farr to lead one of the better benches in the country. Macura can score both inside and outside of the arc, and defensively he’s a pest. When the Musketeers go to their 1-3-1 zone Macura’s usually at the top of it, and while the zone hasn’t been as good as it was last season it’s an alignment that can still cause some trouble. As for Macura, his ability to be a spark off the bench will be big for Xavier in the tournament.

Dwayne Benjamin, Oregon: Benjamin is one of many Ducks who can fill multiple roles, thus making a seven-man rotation just a little deeper that one would anticipate. Averaging eight points per game off the bench, Benjamin’s capable of contributing double figures on any given night. They didn’t need him in their Pac-12 tournament final whipping of Utah, but Benjamin came up big with 12 points and nine boards in the Ducks’ overtime win over Arizona in the semis.

Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma: Ryan Spangler has once again been the stalwart in the front court for the Sooners, who have rated amongst the best teams in the country all season long. But if Oklahoma is to get to the Final Four they’ll need consistent contributions from Lattin, who’s a Houston native. With Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Spangler handling the scoring Lon Kruger won’t need much in that area from Lattin. What he will need is Lattin reaching the 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks he’s averaging on the season consistently.

Sun Belt Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Arkansas-Little Rock coach Chris Beard cuts down the last of the net after the team's NCAA college basketball game against Texas State on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Little Rock, Ark. Little Rock won 73-68 to clinch the Sun Belt Conference title. (Stephen B. Thornton/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)
(Stephen B. Thornton/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)
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The Sun Belt has a number of intriguing teams, headlined by Arkansas-Little Rock, which has racked up a 27-4 record this season. One of the more unique aspects of this tournament is the top two seeds, the Trojans and Louisiana-Monroe, get double-byes into the semifinals in New Orleans. Just two wins will put either in the NCAA tournament.

The Bracket

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.47.45 AM

When: March 10-13

Where: Lakefront Arena; New Orleans, La.

Final: Sunday, March 13, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Arkansas Little Rock

Little Rock might be one of the strongest favorites in any conference tournament this season. The Trojans may have three league losses, but they’re far and away the Sun Belt’s best team with wins over San Diego St. and Tulsa on the resume. This is a very good team that will likely be a trendy upset pick next week.

And if they lose?: Louisiana Monroe

Analytics don’t particularly like the Warhawks, but they’ve won 13 of their last 14, a run that includes a win over UALR. Louisiana Monroe’s chief offensive weapon is their ability to control tempo. Star forward Majok Deng can play.

Other Contenders:

  • UT Arlington: The Mavericks have wins over Ohio State and Memphis this season, but lost to Little Rock twice. They’re not especially efficient offensively, but they are one of the country’s fastest-paced teams.
  • Louisiana Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns have a strong offensive attack, but their defense leaves them vulnerable.
  • Central Michigan:CMU has played Akron well twice, with one win, but they’ll have to get past the Zips to even make the title game.

Sun Belt Player of the Year: Shawn Long, UL Lafayette

The 6-foot-9 senior averaged 18.8 points and a career-high 12.9 rebounds per game for the Ragin’ Cajuns while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor. He also blocked 1.8 shots per game.

Sun Belt Coach of the Year: Chris Beard, Arkansas-Little Rock

Beard inherited a team that went 13-18 overall last year, and guided them to a 27-4 record and a likely NCAA tournament berth. The 10-0 start was the best in program history, and the Trojans had the league title sewn up weeks ago.

First-Team All-Sun Belt:

  • Shawn Long, UL Lafayette
  • Josh Hagins, UA Little Rock
  • Majok Deng, UL Monroe
  • Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern
  • Anthony Livingston, Arkansas State

CBT Prediction: Little Rock over UT Arlington

American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Fran Dunphy
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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There may not be another conference in America with as much on the line from a bubble standpoint this week as the American Athletic Conference. With SMU on the sidelines as a result of NCAA penalties, the other ten members convene in Orlando with the top dogs all looking to sew up a bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning the automatic bid is the best way to do that, but with four teams harboring realistic hopes of earning an at-large bid some will likely have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Temple managed to win the regular season title outright, but there’s still some work for Fran Dunphy’s team to do. The two-seed is Houston, whose non-conference slate likely puts them in a position where they need to win out in Orlando, and seeds three through five (Tulsa, Cincinnati and Connecticut) all find themselves on the bubble. That should make for an intense four days in Orlando, and only the winner will be able to breathe easy in the wait for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field.

The Bracket


When: March 10-13

Where: Amway Center, Orlando

Final: March 13, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Temple

The Owls managed to win their first outright regular season conference title since 2012, when they were still in the Atlantic 10. This year’s group has done it with defense, as in conference games they ranked third in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Offensively senior guard Quenton DeCosey’s led the way, with forward Obi Enechionyia being a tough matchup due to his ability to step outside at 6-foot-9 and emerging as one of the American’s most improved players. Add in contributors such as forward Jaylen Bond and point guard Josh Brown, and Temple has enough to win the tournament. Close games shouldn’t cause much concern either, as in conference games decided by five points or less they’re 7-2.

And if they lose?: Houston

The Cougars arrive in Orlando as one of the hottest teams in the American, as they’ve won nine of their last 11 games (6-1 in their last seven). Forwards Damyean Dotson and Devonta Pollard combined to average 28.3 points per game in American play, and on the perimeter Rob Gray Jr. is the team’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg overall) and the point guard tandem of Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson and freshman Galen Robinson Jr. has been a positive as well. Kelvin Sampson’s rebuilding job has gone well to this point, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they landed the automatic bid.

Other Contenders:

  • Tulsa: Tulsa’s backcourt is very good, with James Woodard, Shaq Harrison and Pat Birt Jr. being the leaders. A key for Tulsa will be finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, as they ranked ninth in the American in defensive rebounding percentage (67.7) in conference games.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats are tough, and only UConn was better in league play when it comes to field goal percentage defense. With Troy Caupain running the point and Gary Clark in the front court, Mick Cronin has the pieces needed to make a run.
  • Connecticut: Kevin Ollie’s team led the American in field goal percentage defense, limiting teams to 38.4 percent shooting in conference games. But the offense has sputtered at times. If Daniel Hamilton looks to take over consistently, making plays for himself and others, this can be a dangerous team in Orlando.

Sleeper: Memphis

Josh Pastner’s Tigers have the league’s top scoring duo in forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin, and there’s talent on the perimeter as well. But can they put it all together over the course of three days? That remains to be seen.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Temple: Opening with either East Carolina or USF won’t do much to bolster Temple’s argument for inclusion. But a loss to either would be damaging. Take care of business there and the Owls should be OK.
  • Houston: The Cougars likely need to win the automatic bid, thanks to the weakness of their non-conference schedule. They have wins over SMU and Temple on their résumé, but that may not be enough.
  • Tulsa: They face Memphis in the quarterfinals, and that’s a win Frank Haith’s team will need to get. They did pick up wins over SMU (in Dallas), Cincinnati and Temple last month, and there’s also the early season win over fellow bubble team Wichita State.
  • Cincinnati: Beat UConn in the quarterfinals Friday, which would be their third win over the Huskies this season. The Bearcats have wins over bubble teams George Washington and VCU to their credit, but there would be a lot less stress if they’d been able to close out Iowa State (81-79 loss) back on December 22.
  • Connecticut: Beat Cincinnati in the quarterfinals and that should sew things up for the Huskies. At the very least a win should get them another shot at a Temple team that swept the regular season series.

American Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore won the award last season and he’d be a good choice for the 2016 edition of the award as well. The senior point guard led the way for a team that was ranked for most of the season despite being ineligible for postseason play, averaging 15.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. A good case can be made for Temple’s Quenton DeCosey as well.

American Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple

Sure, this can be seen as giving the award to the man whose team was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches poll. But Dunphy deserves this honor just as much for the way the Owls played once out of non-conference play. Temple began play in the American with an overall record of 5-5, only to take a considerable leap forward in conference play. Led by Dunphy and seniors DeCosey and Jaylen Bond, Temple won the American outright with a conference record of 14-4.

First-Team All-AAC:

  • Nic Moore, SMU (POY)
  • Quenton DeCosey, Temple: If Moore isn’t the choice for league POY then it’s probably DeCosey, who was the leading option on the American’s best team.
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: Caupain averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 assists per game in conference play. He was also fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard led the Golden Hurricane with an average of 15.6 points per game, ranking sixth in the conference in scoring.
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The conference’s best freshman, Lawson paired up with Shaq Goodwin to form the highest scoring tandem in the American. And to think, he was originally supposed to be in the 2016 freshman class.

Second Team All-AAC:

  • Devonta Pollard, Houston
  • Shaq Harrison, Tulsa
  • Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati
  • Shaq Goodwin, Memphis

Defining moment of the season: Temple hands SMU its first loss of the season

CBT Prediction: Houston continues its recent run of solid play, winning three straight to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

Western Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

New Mexico State's Pascal Siakam, left, is fouled by Northern New Mexico's Daniel Delgado during their NCAA college basketball game in Rio Rancho, N.M., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP
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The regular season in the WAC played out the way many expected it to. Even with Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield well positioned to challenge reigning champion New Mexico State, in the end Marvin Menzies’ Aggies were simply too much for the competition. With the conference’s best player in Pascal Siakam leading the way, New Mexico State will arrive at the Orleans Arena the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets for a fifth consecutive season. And with Grand Canyon still in their Division I transitional period there’s one less challenger capable of stopping the Aggies from doing so.

The Bracket


When: March 10-12

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 12, 11:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: New Mexico State

The Aggies went 13-1 in WAC play, with the lone defeat being a four-point loss at Grand Canyon back on January 9. Siakam led the way, averaging 18.8 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game while shooting 54.6 percent from the field in conference games (all tops in the WAC). Guard Ian Baker is one of the conference’s best perimeter shooters, and the Aggies have a host of other contributors capable of stepping forward on any given night. Them not winning the tournament would be a significant surprise.

And if they lose?: CSU Bakersfield

If there’s one team in the field that has a shot at matching up with Siakam and the rest of the NMSU front court, it’s Rod Barnes’ Roadrunners. Veterans Aly Ahmed and Kevin Mays have been good all season long for the two-seed, which has four players averaging at least 11 points per game (guards Dedrick Basile and Damiyine Durham being the other two players). With a defense that is one of best in the WAC, Bakersfield is the team with the best shot at dethroning New Mexico State.

Other Contenders:

  • Seattle: The three-seed has had its share of issues on the offensive end of the floor, but the Redhawks limited WAC opponents to 40.4 percent shooting from the field. That being said, there’s a clear drop-off from CSU Bakersfield on down with the Roadrunners having defeated Seattle by convincing margins in both meetings.

WAC Player of the Year: Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State

In conference games Siakam led the WAC in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots. Regardless of what opponents attempted to do to slow him down, the sophomore was still productive and that benefitted his teammates as well.

WAC Coach of the Year: Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State

A case can be made for Grand Canyon’s Dan Majerle, whose team finished the regular season with a 25-6 record. But when your team is as dominant as New Mexico State was, with their lone WAC defeat coming by four points, you get the trophy. Menzies won his first Don Haskins Coach of the Year award last March, and given the work he’s done with this year’s team he should win it for a second consecutive season.

First-Team All-WAC:

  • Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State (POY)
  • Aly Ahmed, CSU Bakersfield: Ahmed averaged 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in conference play,
  • Kevin Mays, CSU Bakersfield: Mays was one of the best defenders in the WAC, and his 8.3 rebounds per contest in WAC games ranked third in the conference. GCU’s Grandy Glaze also has a good argument here.
  • Ian Baker, New Mexico State: Baker averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 37.7 percent from three in conference games, but his value is about more than the raw numbers.
  • Joshua Braun, Grand Canyon: Averaging 18.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest in WAC play, Braun ranked in the top ten in the WAC in scoring (t-1st), rebounding (tenth) and field goal percentage (tenth).

PREDICTION: New Mexico State takes care of business, earning another trip to the NCAA tournament.