UNLV Running Rebels

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Looking Forward: Which programs are set to step backwards as we head into 2016-17?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some programs on the decline heading into next season.

Wichita State: It’s hard to see the Shockers take too much of a tumble given how good a coach Gregg Marshall is and their superiority to the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference, but the graduations of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker mean the end of an era. Those two were the constants of a Final Four team, then a 35-0 squad, followed by a Sweet 16 and finishing last March in the second round. There’s still talent in Wichita and they are still going to be the heavyweights of the Valley, but the dominance and national prestige that came with VanVleet and Baker may have also left with them.

UNLV: Things haven’t exactly been at a highwater mark in Las Vegas in awhile, but the Running Rebels appear to continue to sink. First, they fired coach Dave Rice in the middle of the season, which is never received well in coaching circles, exactly the place you need to go to, you know, hire another coach. The Rick Pitino pipedream never materialized, and then Mick Cronin couldn’t pull the trigger despite giving life in the desert a serious look. That left UNLV with Little Rock’s first-year coach Chris Beard, until an ugly debate regent debate to approve his contract preempted an exit to Texas Tech just a week after taking the job. New head coach Marvin Menzies was hired with just two scholarship players left in the program. All of that messiness is a terrible sign for the current health of a once-mighty program.

Iowa State: The news for the Cyclones this spring has been almost universally positive, starting with point guard Monte’ Morris deciding to not even test the NBA draft process and return for a senior season in which he’ll be the Cyclones’ focal point. ISU also will be getting Naz Mitrou-Long back after the sharpshooter was granted a medical hardship waiver. But the reality remains that the Cyclones lost one of the best players in program history in Georges Niang and have been enjoying the most successful run in program history. Some sort of slide is likely — and has been expected — as a result. But coach Steve Prohm and ISU may have enough talent to return to the NCAA tournament for a school-record sixth time and forestall any setback.

RELATED: Eight programs that are on the rise as we head into next season

Steve Prohm and Monte Morris (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Steve Prohm and Monte Morris (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

North Carolina State: It really looked like Mark Gottfried was going to get things rolling in a big way following the 2014-15 season in which the Wolfpack went 22-14, had a good core returning and recruiting booming. But Trevor Lacey turned pro (only to go undrafted), Kyle Washington transferred and NC State stumbled to a 16-17 record last season. Now, Cat Barber is leaving to go pro and Abdul-Malik Abu may do the same or follow the Martin twins into the transfer, and suddenly the forecast in Raleigh isn’t so sunny even with Dennis Smith Jr. in the fold.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers traded a coach who won two Big East titles, went to the Sweet 16 twice, the Elite Eight once and only missed the NCAA tournament twice in 13 years for a guy that Vanderbilt was pushing out the door. Not great. Even if things had gotten stale for Pitt fans with Jamie Dixon, the results he achieved are hard to argue. Few believe that Kevin Stallings is the answer to jumpstart the program back to where Dixon had it during the first years of his tenure, especially as the ACC continues to be a monster to navigate.

Kansas State: The Bruce Weber era in Manhattan started out with a bang, as he tied for a Big 12 title in his first year taking over for Frank Martin, but it’s been backsliding since, capped with a 17-16 (5-13 Big 12) campaign this past season. He couldn’t make it work with the most talented player (Marcus Foster) he’s had there, and there hasn’t exactly been a line of high-level recruits making their way to Manhattan. And if that wasn’t bad enough, KSU fans had to watch Oklahoma State hire former Wildcat assistant Brad Underwood while their administration gave Weber a stay of execution.

Ohio State: This is probably the trickiest inclusion, as Thad Matta’s track record would suggest that last year’s NIT appearance was merely a slip on the path to a return to the top of the Big Ten. The trouble, though, is that seeing four members of a heralded five-man 2015 recruiting class all decide to transfer is a major red flag. The Buckeyes do welcome another strong class to Columbus this fall, headlined by Derek Funderburk, but there are some visible cracks in the facade.

Three-star wing commits to UNLV

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UNLV landed its second recruit of the week on Friday night, as Carlos Johnson, a three-star wing, announced his commitment via Twitter.

“Happy to announce my commitment to UNLV,” he tweeted.

Johnson, who attends Findlay Prep in nearby Henderson, Nevada, joins guard Christian Vital, who picked the Rebels on Wednesday night, and four-star forward Justin Jackson in the Class of 2016.

The 6-foot-4 Johnson played for the Oakland Soldiers on the grassroots circuit, averaging 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in 19 appearances in the Nike EYBL.

UNLV commit Derrick Jones jumps over four people to win another dunk contest (VIDEO)

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UNLV commit Derrick Jones might need to build a trophy room for all of his dunk contest trophies this spring, because the native of Philadelphia is bringing home a lot of hardware.

Jones won another dunk contest on Saturday night as he jumped over four people to win the battle held at the Mary Kline Classic.

Pregame Shootaround: More solid conference play but a non-conference clash takes the Sunday spotlight

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GAME OF THE DAY: UNLV at No. 13 Kansas, Sun. 4:30 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s weekend preview:

Two weeks ago, this game would not have made this list as the Rebels were one of the more disappointing teams in the country. But they’ve bounced back with a win over Arizona in Vegas and a five point loss to Wyoming on the road. Christian Wood suddenly looks like he’ll be the best big man on the floor, and Kansas has been struggling enough that the Rebels just may be able to pull off the upset in Lawrence.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Loyola (IL) at No. 23 Northern Iowa, 3:30 p.m.

The Missouri Valley Conference has four teams with 11 wins for the first time ever at this point in the calendar year and two of those teams face off in a nice Sunday afternoon tilt. Loyola has been a pleasant surprise early this season as Christian Thomas and Milton Doyle have been a potent one-two punch while Northern Iowa will look to avenge a loss at Evansville earlier in the week.

UPSET WATCH: No. 21 Washington at Stanford, 10:00 p.m.

After starting 2014-15 with an 11-0 record, the Huskies have lost two straight games heading into a Sunday night clash at Stanford. Washington just hasn’t looked in sync these last few outings and they’ll need to pick up their play to knock off the Cardinal. Stanford, meanwhile, will still be adjusting to playing without freshman forward Reid Travis, the team’s leading rebounder. Travis has a stress fracture, so the Cardinal could shift their lineup in a number of unique ways. The Chasson Randle and Nigel Williams-Goss battle will be one of the best guard matchups in the Pac-12.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

  • There’s been some drama in Louisville this season and the No. 5 Cardinals will try to figure themselves out at Wake Forest in the team’s ACC opener. Let’s see how Chris Jones responds to being benched and if Louisville looks good in only its second true road game of the year.
  • Rivalry game in the Pac-12 as No. 8 Arizona hosts Arizona State. There aren’t many juicy storylines for this season’s game, but the Sun Devils are still figuring themselves out after re-stocking their roster and this will be a good indicator of where they stand in the league.
  • Another intriguing Valley game as Illinois State travels to No. 16 Wichita State. The Redbirds are not an easy team to face, and if they’re fully healthy (a big if in this one), they could make this a game. Illinois State gave Old Dominion its only loss of the year and only fell to VCU by four points.
  • Speaking of Old Dominion, they have a tough Conference USA road test coming at Charlotte. The Monarchs have looked like a potential favorite in the league to this point, but they’ve only played one true road game all season.
  • A Pac-12 battle of two teams heading in opposite directions as UCLA goes on the road to face No. 10 Utah. The Bruins have lost four straight games while Utah has won four straight.

TOP 25 GAMES:

  • No. 4 Wisconsin at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:

  • UCF at Temple, 12:00 p.m.
  • Houston at Tulsa, 2:00 p.m.
  • USC at Colorado, 2:00 p.m.
  • Washington State at Cal, 6:00 p.m.

UNLV’s Christian Wood throws down a nasty windmill (VIDEO)

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UNLV sophomore Christian Wood has always had a lot of upside and he’s a fluid 6-foot-11 forward. Against Southern Utah last night, Wood threw down this nasty windmill. For a big man, it’s impressive how fluid this play looked and Wood made it look easy.

As one of the most improved sophomores in the country, Wood is averaging 14.6 points, 10 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game on 51 percent shooting.

(H/T: UNLV Athletics)

UNLV upsets No. 3 Arizona

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UNLV upset No. 3 Arizona, 71-67, on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

Christian Wood scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Rashad Vaughn added 21 points. The two combined to shoot 50 percent from the field. All five starters for Arizona scored in double figures led by T.J. McConnell with 14 points and seven assists.

With 40 seconds remaining, Arizona had three chances, and came up short each time. Stanley Johnson poked away a pass to the high post. McConnell hit the streaking Johnson on the 2-on-1, but Johnson missed the layup. After UNLV a missed free throw, the Wildcats settled for a Brandon Ashley three rather than go for the tie, which rattled off the rim.

Patrick McCaw split a pair of free throws, giving UNLV a 70-67 lead. Johnson committed a turnover before Arizona could get a shot off.

This was an important win for a young UNLV roster. The Runnin’ Rebels are in the middle of stretch where they play three ranked teams in 16 days. On Saturday, No. 14 Utah took down UNLV, 59-46. On Jan. 4, the Rebels go on the road to play Kansas. Let’s see what UNLV does with this signature, non-conference victory when the team travels to Lawrence.

For Arizona, this was the second road test in the span of five days. On Friday night, the Wildcats got a fight from a talented UTEP team in El Paso. Given the circumstances, a talented team in need of a non-conference win, and the issues the Wildcats faced — foul trouble Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski and freshman mistakes from Johnson — on Tuesday night, they were still in a position to force overtime or win in the final minutes.

UNLV has Southern Utah on Saturday. Arizona has time to regroup with its next game on Jan. 4 against Arizona State, the start of Pac-12 play for the conference favorites.