Sophomore center Jakob Poeltl is the focal point of the offensive attack for Midwest No. 3 Utah, but the Runnin’ Utes are at their best when they receive contributions from multiple players. That was the case in their NCAA tournament opener Thursday night, as four players scored at least 16 points in Utah’s 80-69 win over No. 14 Fresno State in Denver.
Junior guard Lorenzo Bonam scored 17 points, making seven of his ten shots from the field, and three other Utah players scored 16 points apiece. Poeltl, who also grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out four assists, was one of those three with seniors Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge being the others.
Utah shot 54 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 27 made field goals, and the offensive execution helped them end a run that saw Fresno State take a one point lead halfway through the second half.
Fresno State took a 48-47 lead with 10:33 remaining, with Utah playing with less aggression offensively and the Bulldogs successfully forcing the issue on both ends of the floor. Instead of allowing Fresno State to hang around Utah regained control, with a Bonam jumper 33 seconds later sparking a 19-2 run that removed any doubt in regards to the final outcome.
Larry Krystkowiak’s team was dominant on the glass as well, posting rebounding percentages of 56.5 percent on the offensive end and 84.6 percent defensively. From a rebounding standpoint the Runnin’ Utes will have a tougher time against either No. 6 Seton Hall or No. 11 Gonzaga Saturday, but in that regard this was a nice start to the tournament for Utah. But they’ll need to avoid the lull that opened the door for a Fresno State rally if they’re to advance to the Sweet 16.
Mountain West Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
The Mountain West certainly had an interesting regular season. UNLV, expected to be a factor both within the league and nationally, took a nosedive early in conference play and arrives at the conference tournament (in their building, no less) with an undermanned rotation and an interim head coach. Fresno State and Boise State managed to finish second and third in the league, but a familiar face separated itself as the class of the Mountain West: San Diego State. The Aztecs still have their issues offensively, but Jeremy Hemsley has been one of the Mountain West’s best freshmen and they’ve got a veteran group that remains fully committed on the defensive end of the floor.
Steve Fisher’s team won the conference by three games, and they’ll be expected to handle their business in Las Vegas as well. But given how eventful this season has been for the Mountain West, with everything from blown calls that decided games (New Mexico/San Diego State and Boise State/Colorado State) to the conference presidents not telling the coaches of their decision to trim the field to eight teams beginning next season, this could end up being a basketball version of a Hunter S. Thompson book.
Having played in six of the last seven Mountain West tournament title games (winning in 2010 and 2011), the Aztecs are used to having success in Las Vegas. That being said, the fact that the program hasn’t won the event since 2011 should serve as extra motivation this week.
San Diego State can still have the occasional lull offensively, as they ranked fifth in the Mountain West (conference games only) in field goal percentage (42.9 percent) and seventh in three-point percentage (32.8), but they have players who can make plays on that end of the floor. Jeremy Hemsley runs the show, fellow guard Trey Kell averaged 16.2 points per game in league play and Winston Shepard dished out 3.3 assists per game from the wing. But what makes this team go is their defense, as they led the Mountain West in both field goal and three-point percentage defense.
And if they lose?: Fresno State
Rodney Terry’s Bulldogs finished second in the Mountain West this season, with one of the conference’s best players in senior guard Marvelle Harris leading the way. In total Fresno State has seven players averaging at least 7.9 points per game, and they take better care of the basketball than any other team in the conference. The Bulldogs arrive in Vegas playing their best basketball of the season too, as they won six straight and eight of their last nine to end the regular season. Rebounding is a concern, especially with leading rebounder Torren Jones having missed the last ten games, but with Harris leading the way the Bulldogs have a shot.
Boise State: James Webb III’s health will be key here. If he’s in good physical condition the Broncos can win the whole thing, with Mikey Thompson, Anthony Drmic and Nick Duncan among the veterans capable of putting points on the board.
New Mexico: The Lobos have struggled with turnover issues throughout conference play. But in guard Elijah Brown and forward Tim Williams they have one of the better tandems in the Mountain West.
First-year head coach Eric Musselman’s done a very good job with this group, which includes one of the best freshmen in the Mountain West in forward Cameron Oliver. The Wolf Pack won ten conference games, even with the departure of A.J. West early in the season. What complicates this choice is the health of Marqueze Coleman, and a tough matchup with New Mexico in the quarterfinals.
The Bubble Dwellers
San Diego State: Virtually any scenario involving the Aztecs as an at-large team includes their making Saturday’s title game. They’ll need to win two games in Las Vegas to have a shot given the non-conference schedule, which includes losses to San Diego (bad), Little Rock and Grand Canyon (both good teams, but Little Rock isn’t a bubble team either; GCU’s a provisional Division I member). Their best bet: remove all doubt and win the automatic bid.
Mountain West Player of the Year: Josh Adams, Wyoming
Fresno State’s Marvelle Harris certainly has a good argument here, given his individual excellence and the fact that he led his team to 13 conference wins. But the pick here is Adams because of how productive he was despite playing with a young supporting cast that virtually guaranteed that defenses were geared towards shutting him down. The senior still averaged 23.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in Mountain West play. He also ranked in the top ten in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Mountain West Coach of the Year: Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Fisher’s Aztecs were the class of the Mountain West by a wide margin, winning the conference by three games. When a team wins the conference by a comfortable margin, as was the case here, the head coach deserves to be rewarded. San Diego State’s defense grabbed the headlines, but they were also able to do enough offensively to separate themselves from the pack.
First-Team All-Mountain West:
Josh Adams, Wyoming (POY)
Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: Harris averaged 22.7 points and 4.5 assists per game in Mountain West play, ranking third in scoring and first in assists while also leading the conference in steals (2.6 per game).
Elijah Brown, New Mexico: Brown finished second in the conference behind Adams in scoring (22.9 ppg in conference play), and he was also ranked in the top ten in field goal percentage, assists, free throw percentage and three-point percentage.
Trey Kell, San Diego State: The champs deserve to have someone on the first team, and while Shepard could have an argument because of his versatility the pick here is Kell. He gave SDSU a much-needed offensive spark in league play.
James Webb III, Boise State: The preseason pick for Mountain West POY, Webb averaged 16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in conference play.
Second Team All-Mountain West:
Marqueze Coleman, Nevada
Patrick McCaw, UNLV
Antwan Scott, Colorado State
Winston Shepard, San Diego State
Tim Williams, New Mexico
Defining moment of the season: Boise State ends “The Streak”
CBT Prediction: San Diego State takes care of business, winning the automatic bid and earning a seventh straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE RESET: Can the league get two bids this year?
College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Today, we’re taking a look at the Mountain West.
MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Adams, Wyoming
Perhaps the best player in the country nobody is talking about, the 6-foot-2 senior is having a monster season for a team that really needs him to produce. After a solid junior season (12.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 rpg), Adams has doubled his scoring and increased his shooting splits across the board while remaining productive in other facets of the game. Adams is putting up 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the free-throw line. He’s attempted the second most free throws in the country and Adams is carrying a Wyoming team that replaced four starters around him.
The Mountain West was overrated in the preseason: The Mountain West has been a strong basketball conference and regular multi-bid presence in March the last few seasons but this non-conference season has not been kind to the league. Perennial league favorite San Diego State has not been very good and every team in the league has at least three losses. There is nobody knocking on the door of the top 25. The league needs a lot of work when it comes to postseason credentials.
UNLV is as polarizing as ever: Dave Rice has recruited McDonald’s All-Americans and high-level players in every class during his tenure but the Runnin’ Rebels are still a team that is inconsistent. Some nights, they’re good enough to beat Oregon and other nights they’re blowing double-digit leads in the second half to Arizona State.
Boise State is once again among the league’s best: It was going to be interesting to see how the Broncos would replace Derrick Marks from a “First Four” NCAA tournament team but Boise State has looked like one of the league’s best teams. They’ve won five consecutive games and three of their four losses have come against legitimate top-15 teams like Michigan State and Arizona (twice). With a pretty soft schedule to open league play, Boise State could be in the driver’s seat early if they keep up the strong recent play.
Is the Mountain West a multi-bid league?: Based strictly on non-conference resumes, the Mountain West doesn’t have a lot to go by and the NCAA tournament committee gave the league low seeding for poor non-conference scheduling last year. Now with many teams in the league already struggling this season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Mountain West becomes an autobid-only league if the conference beats each other up over the next few months.
How does San Diego State look in league play after a mediocre start?: San Diego State is in grave danger of missing the NCAA tournament after six consecutive appearances and they’ve been one of the most disappointing teams in the country. That being said, the Aztecs have been a force in the conference and they have the talent to still win the conference title and the autobid.
Can a talented New Mexico team turn it around after a dreadful stretch?: The Lobos have the talent to hang with anyone in the Mountain West but they’re coming off of a brutal four-game stretch in which they lost by a point to Rice and finished in last place after three straight losses at the Diamond Head Classic. If they rally, the Lobos could make the NIT or even win the autobid, but they lost by at least 23 points the last two games in Hawaii.
BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: San Diego State isn’t the perennial NCAA tournament contender that we’ve grown accustomed to — unless they roll through the league — but they still have quite a bit of talent for a 7-6 team. If they start getting more offensive production from a few of their key players, the Aztecs should still be a contender.
BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Fresno State is one of the Mountain West’s most balanced teams, and they’re off to a solid 9-4 start, but they are severely lacking in the quality win department. With only one true road win and no signature wins, the Bulldogs need to upgrade the resume.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Dave Rice needs to have a good Mountain West conference season and get the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA tournament to feel safe after this season. Since Rice took the job in 2011, UNLV has finished no higher than third in the Mountain West. In a down year for the league, that needs to change.
POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
1. Boise State (8-4): Winners of five straight games, the Broncos have respectable losses to Michigan State, Arizona (twice) and on the road at Montana. James Webb III, Anthony Drmic and Nick Duncan are a talented and experienced trio and senior guard Mikey Thompson has stepped up his play this season.
2. UNLV (9-4): Arguably the most talented roster in the conference, Patrick McCaw has elevated into a conference player of the year candidate and this team has the size and athleticism to be a problem for most teams in the country.
3. San Diego State (7-6): The slow start might doom the Aztecs to the NIT but they’re still more than capable of a strong conference season that gets them into the postseason. And what happened to Malik Pope? He went from potential NBA Draft darling to averaging 5.2 points per game on 28 percent shooting.
4. Fresno State (9-4): One of the more balanced teams in the league, the Bulldogs have shown that they can put up points and they have six players averaging at least 8.9 points per game. If some of their bench improves from a cold-shooting start, this could be a dangerous team.
Autobid or bust
5. Utah State (8-3)
6. Nevada (8-4)
7. New Mexico (7-6)
8. Wyoming (7-6)
9. Colorado State (7-5)
10. Air Force (8-4)
11. San Jose State (5-7)
Mountain West tournaments to remain at Thomas & Mack through 2019
Friday afternoon the Mountain West Conference announced that it would continue to hold its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas through 2019. The Thomas & Mack Center, which is also UNLV’s home building, has hosted the event every year since 2007 and the new deal comes as no surprise.
What is interesting about the announcement is the change to the Mountain West tournament bracket beginning with the 2017 edition. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments will be eight-team affairs, meaning that the bottom three teams in the league standings will remain home.
“The decision by the Board to feature the top eight men’s and women’s teams in the MW Basketball Championships is consistent with a broader Mountain West Conference initiative emphasizing performance-based competitive excellence,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in the release.
“Similar approaches are being implemented in other MW championships based upon the best interests of those particular sports. This most recent action will increase the importance of our regular-season basketball competition and is a vehicle to enhance the overall success of our basketball enterprise.”
In recent years the Mountain West has been joined in Las Vegas by the WCC (played the week prior), Pac-12 and WAC in Las Vegas for conference tournament action. The WCC and WAC use the Orleans Arena for their respective conference tournaments, with the Pac-12 tournament being played at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
With the Las Vegas Arena (expected to seat 20,000 people) due to open this spring, there will be another facility for conferences to look into if they so choose.
Mountain West Preview: Boise State, SDSU to contend
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Mountain West.
While the Mountain West did manage to get three teams into the NCAA tournament a season ago, 2014-15 also served as a wakeup call of sorts. The league put together an out of conference strength of schedule that was ranked 25th out of 33 leagues, and there was a price to be paid Selection Sunday. San Diego State received an eight-seed and Boise State, which shared the regular season title with SDSU and was the top seed in the Mountain West tournament, landed in the First Four where they got to take on Dayton, whose home arena hosted those games.
The Broncos and Aztecs are two of the teams expected to contend this season, with a talented UNLV squad looking to get into the mix and Fresno State and Utah State also capable of making a run. But even with the amount of talent possessed by those programs, what they do in November and December will have a major impact on how much respect they’re given in March. The Mountain West learned this the hard way last season.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. UNLV brings in the conference’s top recruiting class in what is a big season for Dave Rice: According to Rivals.com the Runnin’ Rebels have a class that’s the 11th-best in the country, with big man Stephen Zimmerman being the crown jewel of that group. Add in transfers such as Jerome Seagears (Rutgers), Ben Carter (Oregon) and Ike Nwamu (Mercer), and a sophomore class expected to take a step forward, and there’s no denying that Dave Rice and his staff have a lot to work with. But can they take advantage of it? Not only will the answer impact this season, but it could also impact the direction of UNLV basketball in seasons to come.
2. Nevada and Utah State made head coaching changes: There were two head coaching changes in the Mountain West this offseason, and the two hires are in far different situations. Eric Musselman, who has plenty of experience at both the college and NBA levels, takes over at Nevada and he’s already had success on the recruiting trail. The other move occurred at Utah State, where longtime assistant Tim Duryea slides over a seat to take over for the retired Stew Morrill. And with all five starters back, led by Player of the Year candidate Jalen Moore, Duryea could have a Mountain West contender on his hands.
3. San Diego State has some issues to sort out offensively: You know that Steve Fisher’s Aztecs are going to bring it defensively; that hasn’t been in question for a long time on Montezuma Mesa. But what is up for questioning is this group’s productivity on the offensive end, with their best perimeter shooter from last season out of eligibility (Aqeel Quinn) and the player expected to be that option (Matt Shrigley) sidelined with a torn ACL. Can Malik Pope develop into the talent that has some NBA Draft types discussing him as a possible first round pick? Is freshman Jeremy Hemsley the answer at the point? Those are two key questions SDSU faces heading into the season.
4. Anthony Drmic returns to the court after redshirting last season: When Boise State lost Anthony Drmic for the season in January due to a back injury, it was assumed that the Broncos were in trouble. Well everyone else got healthy, Derrick Marks emerged as the conference’s best player and James Webb III took off in conference play. While Marks is now playing professionally, Drmic returns for his final season, joining a highly experienced perimeter rotation on a team that can win another Mountain West title.
5. Colorado State, Wyoming looking to account for major personnel losses: Colorado State had a good case that it should have been in the NCAA tournament last season, as they won 26 games and finished third in the conference. But that senior-laden group landed in the NIT, and now Larry Eustachy has to account for the loss of his top three scorers from a season ago (J.J. Avila, Stanton Kidd and Daniel Bejarano). As for Wyoming, Larry Shyatt has just one starter returning (Josh Adams) from a team that got hot in Las Vegas and won the Mountain West tournament.
Favorite: “I think you have to start two places. I think you have to start with Boise State, being the defending champs and having three elite players back in Webb, Duncan and Drmic. Those are three of the better players in the league on the team that won it. And I think the other place you have to start in this league is San Diego State. They’re the most physically gifted team in the league in terms of size and athleticism and length, and defensively they are the gold standard in this league.”
Sleeper: “I think that has to be Fresno State. Marvelle Harris, one of the top two or three players in the league is back, and Paul Watson’s good as well. I think they have a chance to be really good. They started out last year without their full contingent of players, and once they got everyone back they were extremely hard to guard. I think they’ll be (in the race) all year because they’re explosive offensively and put a lot of pressure on you defensively. They’re very athletic. I know they took a foreign tour this summer that I’m sure they think puts them in a good spot experience-wise.”
Best player: “I think, for the effect that they have on the game and for the efficiency they plays with, James Webb III from Boise State and Marvelle Harris from Fresno State. One of those guys is “1A” and the other’s “1B” because they both have a huge impact on the game. In different ways, but both really affect the game so those are the two guys who come to mind right away.”
Most underrated player: “I thought Marvelle Harris (was underrated last year). There are a lot of similarities between he and Derrick Marks, and I think he’s a guy who could have a breakout year this year. I think he’s as good as anybody in the league, is a pro prospect and could have a special year.”
PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: James Webb III, Boise State
While Boise State getting healthy was a big factor in them getting hot in conference play, so was the emergence of Webb. In his first season in a Boise State uniform Webb averaged 11.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three. A versatile offensive weapon at 6-foot-9, Webb could take off in 2015-16.
THE REST OF THE ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM:
Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 16.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game last season.
Jalen Moore, Utah State: Moore’s added some weight to his frame after playing well enough to earn second team all-conference honors a season ago, and he could be in the Player of the Year conversation in 2015-16.
A.J. West, Nevada: One of the nation’s best rebounders, West grabbed 11.0 caroms per contest to go with 12.1 points and 2.6 blocks.
Josh Adams, Wyoming: Adams will have a lot on his plate with the Cowboys losing four starters from last season’s team. He averaged 12.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game as a junior.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Stephen Zimmerman and Jaylen Poyser, UNLV
Skylar Spencer, San Diego State
Anthony Drmic, Boise State
Emmanuel Omogbo, Colorado State
Cullen Neal, New Mexico
BREAKOUT STAR: Malik Pope, San Diego State
After dealing with two major injuries on the tail end of his high school career, Pope showed some flashes of his array of skills as a freshman. The next step for the 6-foot-10 forward is consistency, which could come with a season spent working on his body and game as opposed to having to focus on rehab. If he can do that, SDSU has its feature scorer and Pope’s name will continue to circulate amongst those who put together mock drafts.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Dave Rice, UNLV
Rice is the clear choice here, given UNLV’s underachievement in recent years. While many choose to focus on UNLV’s lack of national success when airing their frustrations, consider this: since Rice took over in 2011 UNLV’s finished no higher than third in the Mountain West in any of the four seasons he’s been in charge. Expectations are high in Las Vegas, with UNLV having the talent to be a factor both within the conference and nationally. Anything less could spell trouble for Rice.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Are any of these teams capable of getting to the second weekend?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing if a player can step forward in the same manner that Derrick Marks did for Boise State last season.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
November 19, Boise State at Arizona
November 26, San Diego State vs. California (Las Vegas Invitational)
1. Boise State: Derrick Marks has moved on, but the Broncos have a good mix of experience and newcomers to rely on. And James Webb III is going to be a star this season.
2. San Diego State: If Jeremy Hemsley is the answer at the point the Aztecs can win the league outright. But they still need to find dependable perimeter shooters.
3. UNLV: The raw talent is definitely there for the Runnin’ Rebels. But can Dave Rice make all the pieces fit together?
4. Utah State: With all five starters back longtime assistant Tim Duryea could be in for a big year in his debut as head coach.
5. Fresno State: With their entire rotation back, led by Marvelle Harris, this could be a big year for the Bulldogs.
6. New Mexico: The Lobos enter this season with hopes of avoiding the injury bug that derailed their 2014-15 campaign even before conference play began.
7. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy lost a lot from last season, but they’ve added some quality players to make up for that. One name to remember: Emmanuel Omogbo.
8. Wyoming: Larry Shyatt finds himself in a similar situation personnel-wise, with senior guard Josh Adams being surrounded by many new faces.
9. Nevada: While Eric Musselman’s first season at the helm may not churn out too many wins, he and his staff have done a good job on the recruiting trail thus far.
10. Air Force: Dave Pilipovich’s team was one of the better offensive teams in the league from an efficiency standpoint last year. But they have to get better defensively if they’re to make a move up the standings.
11. San Jose State: Already working with limited talent, losing Rashad Muhammad (transferred to Miami) doesn’t help Dave Wojcik at all as he looks to rebuild.
Fresno State dismisses highest-rated freshman from team
Fresno State freshman guard Isaiah Bailey, the program’s highest ranked recruit in the Class of 2014, was dismissed from the team for violating a athletic department policy.
Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry confirmed the news to Robert Kuwada of the Fresno Bee on Friday night. The 6-foot-6 Bailey was ranked No. 125 overall by Rivals. He had yet to appear in a game for the Bulldogs due to a wrist injury sustained in the preseason.
“He’s a guy that we were counting on and could have helped us, but unfortunately he made a couple of bad choices that can’t be tolerated,” Terry told Kuwada.
Fresno State ends its non-conference slate against St. Katherine College (California) on Sunday. The Bulldogs open Mountain West play on New Year’s Eve at New Mexico.