Sunday evening San Diego State received a nice boost to its perimeter rotation, as former San Francisco point guard Devin Watson announced that he’ll join the Mountain West program. Watson, a native of Oceanside, California, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a sophomore at USF Watson averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists in just over 34 minutes of action per game, shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc.
When Watson becomes eligible for competition, the Aztec backcourt could also have Jeremy Hemsley, Trey Kell and Missouri transfer Montaque Gill-Caesar, giving head coach Steve Fisher a formidable perimeter attack to call upon. The Aztecs may not be done in the transfer “market” this spring, as they’re one of the schools being considered by former Washington State center Valentine Izundu.
Izundu, who originally was not granted a release to San Diego State, is also considering Fresno State and UNLV. And as a grad student, Izundu will be eligible to compete immediately.
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.
San Diego State’s impressive late-game streak ends at 164 games
Entering Saturday, San Diego State had won 164 straight games in which it held a lead with five minutes remaining. While there have been some close calls, including a controversial finish against New Mexico earlier this season, Steve Fisher’s Aztecs made a habit of closing out such games over the last six seasons.
That streak came to an end at Viejas Arena, as Boise State closed the game on a 12-0 run over the final 1:04 to beat San Diego State 66-63. The Broncos, who took the lead for good on a Nick Duncan three with 22.2 seconds remaining, played without their best player as James Webb III sat out due to injury.
So how did Boise State managed to erase a nine-point deficit without reply? The answer is simple: San Diego State picked the worst possible time to start missing free throws. San Diego State missed seven straight foul shots, opening the door for Boise State to come back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
San Diego State, which wrapped up the Mountain West regular season title last Sunday at San José State, is no lock to make its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance and this loss is a damaging one. Outside of a win over California in Las Vegas, SDSU doesn’t have much on its non-conference résumé with the loss to San Diego being the most damaging blow (Little Rock and Grand Canyon, who both won at SDSU, are RPI Top 100 teams). And with the rest of the conference struggling this season, the quality win opportunities that would come in past seasons against Mountain West foes haven’t been present.
Saturday’s loss doesn’t help San Diego State from a résumé standpoint, placing even more pressure on them for the upcoming Mountain West tournament. Given the issues with their non-conference schedule and the strength of the conference, getting an at-large bid was going to be tough for San Diego State. Saturday’s loss simply puts even more pressure on the Aztecs to win the conference tournament, thus leaving no doubt as to whether or not they’ll make a seventh straight NCAA tournament.
LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 5 Xavier beats No. 1 Villanova, No. 8 Iowa and No. 9 Arizona fall
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 5 Xavier 90, No.1 Villanova 83
The top two teams in the Big East met at the Cintas Center, with the Musketeers picking up the win to move within a game of first place. In total six Musketeers reached double figures with Edmond Sumner and JP Macura scoring 19 apiece, as they gave the Villanova defense fits all night. The question now: does Chris Mack’s team have what it takes to play deep into the NCAA tournament?
Wisconsin 67, No. 8 Iowa 59: Zak Showalter limited Peter Jok to four second half points as the Badgers won for the nine time in their last ten games. Bronson Koenig scored 15 points and Nigel Hayes 12 for Wisconsin, which added another quality win to its résumé. And the biggest reason for the improvement in Greg Gard’s team has been the play of his reserves.
Colorado 75, No. 9 Arizona 72: Colorado also added another quality win to its résumé, as they held off the Wildcats in Boulder. Josh Scott accounted for 26 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win, and George King added 14 points and seven rebounds. Ryan Anderson led the Wildcats with 19 points and ten rebounds, but Arizona will now nd help if they’re to win another Pac-12 title.
No. 7 North Carolina 80, NC State 68: No. 7 North Carolina rebounded from a slow start to win at NC State. The Tar Heels didn’t have an answer for Cat Barber (32 points) early, but the Wolfpack were unable to do enough to keep UNC under wraps on the other end of the floor. Brice Johnson finished with 22 points and 11 boards for North Carolina, which leads the ACC, but Marcus Paige continues to struggle offensively.
Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: 26 points and 14 rebounds in the Sooners’ home win over Oklahoma State.
Chris Hass, Bucknell: 30 points, eight rebounds and two assists in the Bison’s 86-83 double overtime win at Lafayette.
Edmond Sumner and JP Macura, Xavier: Sumner and Macura scored 19 points apiece, with Sumner also accounting for six rebounds and nine assists, in the Musketeers’ 90-83 win over No. 1 Villanova.
Maverick Rowan, NC State: Rowan scored eight points, shooting 2-for-12 from the field, in the Wolfpack’s 80-68 loss to No. 7 North Carolina.
Nick Faust, Long Beach State: Three points on 1-for-9 shooting and three turnovers in the 49ers’ loss at UC Irvine.
Devonte Brown and Khristian Smith, Indiana State: Brown and Smith combined to score 12 points on 4-for-21 shooting in the Sycamores’ 66-44 loss at Northern Iowa.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
No. 3 Oklahoma took control of its game against Oklahoma State in the second half, outscoring the Cowboys by 19 points as they won by the final score of 71-49. Ryan Spangler was the star for the Sooners, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
Pittsburgh missed out on a quality win, as they lost at home to No. 11 Louisville 67-60. Quentin Snider led four Cardinals in double figures with 14 points while also dishing out seven assists, and Damion Lee added 13 points.
No. 13 Oregon won its school-record 24th straight home game, beating Washington State 76-62. Elgin Cook finished with 24 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, and Chris Boucher added 18 points, 13 boards and four blocked shots.
No. 21 Texas A&M avoided a bad loss, beating Mississippi State 68-66 in College Station. Danuel House scored all 16 of his points in the second half, and Tyler Davis finished with 15 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
No. 23 Notre Dame rebounded from its close loss at Georgia Tech with a 69-58 win at Wake Forest, limiting the Demon Deacons to 31.4 percent shooting. Zach Auguste posted a double-double for the Fighting Irish with 18 points and 12 rebounds, with Steve Vasturia (16 points) and Demetrius Jackson (15) also scoring in double figures.
OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS
Houston picked up its 20th win of the season, beating UCF 88-61 in Orlando. The Cougars, who will in all likelihood need to win the AAC tournament to go dancing, haven’t won 20 games in a season since 2013.
Wednesday was an important night for bubble teams in the Atlantic 10, with VCU, George Washington and St. Bonaventure all in action. While the Colonials (73-61 win at Richmond) and Bonnies (80-76 win over Duquesne) took care of business the Rams didn’t, losing 76-69 at George Mason.
Bucknell retained a one-game lead on Lehigh in the Patriot League as they won 86-83 at Lafayette in double overtime. The Bison host Navy Saturday, while Lehigh (winners of eight straight) visits Army.
Marquette picked up 66-61 win at Creighton, which could be a crippling blow to the Bluejays’ NCAA tournament hopes. Henry Ellenson posted his 17th double-double with 22 points and ten rebounds.
San Diego State wrapped up the outright Mountain West title with a 71-61 win at Wyoming, despite Wyoming’s Josh Adams scoring 27 points. The Aztecs lead second place Fresno State by four games, and if they won out this would be the largest margin for a league champion in Mountain West history.
UC Irvine, which lost to first-place Hawai’i Saturday night, grabbed sole possession of second place in the Big West with a 90-69 win over Long Beach State. The Anteaters (10-3) are ahead of the 49ers (9-4) by a game, and they hold the head to head tiebreaker due to their sweep of the season series.
Stephen Thompson Jr.’s three-pointer as time expired gave Oregon State an 82-81 win over Washington in Corvallis. And with both teams looking to play their way into the NCAA tournament, this finish is an important one for both teams.
WEEKLY AWARDS: Kris Dunn’s big week overshadowed by Iowa?
Kris Dunn was the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year, but ever since Denzel Valentine went for 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists, the Michigan State Spartan has found himself atop out Player of the Year rankings. That may end up changing on Tuesday, as Dunn kicked off Big East play in impressive fashion.
On New Year’s Eve, Dunn had 15 of his 20 points and seven of his nine assists in the second half as No. 12 Providence went into Hinkle Fieldhouse and erased a 13-point deficit in a win over No. 9 Butler. Dunn was totally unstoppable, just like he was two days later when St. John’s paid a visit to The Dunk, when he totaled 26 points, nine boards and six assists, the third time this season Dunn has gone for 25-5-5 in a single game.
Right now, Ben Simmons is the best player in college basketball and I’m not sure that anyone in their right mind would argue that fact. But Dunn, when he’s playing like this and given what he can do on the defensive side of the ball, is not all that far behind. There’s a reason that Providence is a top ten team. He is it.
THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Diamond Stone, Maryland: Stone was solid in a win at Northwestern, finishing with 10 points, but it was his 39-point, 12-rebound performance in a come-from-behind win over Penn State — when he scored 32 points in the second half — that got him on this list.
Mark Donnal, Michigan: Donnal came up huge for the Wolverines in a 2-0 week to kick off Big Ten play, averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 boards while shooting 72.0 percent from the floor. Michigan needs consistency from the front court, a fact that is all the more important with Caris LeVert’s injury.
Jordan Mathews, Cal: The Golden Bears had a statement week, beating Davidson, Colorado and No. 21 Utah in Berkeley. Mathews was the most consistent player for them, averaging 19.3 points while shooting 13-for-24 from three.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The Pirates kicked off Big East play with a pair of wins as Whitehead led the way, averaging 17.0 points and 8.0 assists.
Rob Gray Jr., Houston: The most underrated player in the American? Kelvin Sampson has a talented Cougar team and Gray is their best player. He averaged 21.0 points in a pair of road wins to kick off league play.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Iowa Hawkeyes
If you had doubts about the Hawkeyes this season, you weren’t alone. The reputation that Iowa has built for themselves is of a program with the talent to compete with anyone in the country and the inability to close out games. That was only reinforced when Iowa blew a 20-point second half at Iowa State earlier this year.
But it may be time to change that scouting report.
Iowa kicked off the week by handing then-No. 1 Michigan State their first loss of the season, the kind of win where the NCAA tournament Selection Committee won’t factor in that it came with Denzel Valentine injured. They followed that up by going into West Lafayette and knocking off No. 14 Purdue despite the fact that they trailed by 19 points late in the first half. And here’s the best part: The Hawkeyes won the Michigan State game despite a pedestrian (relatively, by his standards) effort from Jarrod Uthoff and completed their comeback against Purdue without having to rely on their star to do the heavy lifting.
All of those things are great signs for a team that suddenly looks like they’re the elusive fourth-best team in the Big Ten.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Washington Huskies: The Huskies sit atop the Pac-12 standings right now. How about that? After a double-overtime win over No. 25 UCLA on Friday night, U-Dub followed that up by erasing a 22-point deficit in the final 14 minutes against USC. Andrew Andrews has been awesome awesomes.
Kansas Jayhawks: After cruising to a win over UC Irvine mid-week, the Jayhawks absolutely beat down No. 23 Baylor in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, winning by 28 points in a game that was really never in doubt. Kansas should be the AP’s No. 1 team in the country on Monday.
Oklahoma Sooners: The Sooners matched Kansas, setting up a potential No. 1 vs. No. 1 game thanks to a win over No. 11 Iowa State on Saturday. Oklahoma is currently No. 2 in the Coaches Poll, one spot behind Michigan State.
Villanova Wildcats: Like Iowa, there are quite a few people who have had their doubts about Villanova. After beating Xavier by 31 points, those people may now have an answer.
San Diego State Aztecs: SDSU has not looked like the program that has become a powerhouse atop the Mountain West under Steve Fisher. They kicked off league play this week and went 2-0. Does that say more about SDSU or the MWC?
SET YOUR DVR
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 2 Kansas, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
No. 10 Kentucky at LSU, Tue. 9:00 p.m.
No. 8 Arizona at No. 25 UCLA, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
No. 23 Baylor at No. 11 Iowa State, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
No. 16 Villanova at No. 9 Butler, Sun. 7:30 p.m.