Coaching changes can wreak havoc on a program’s recruiting class, and that’s been the case for UNLV thanks to the tumultuous nature of their search for a new head coach. Thursday evening one prospect who remained committed to the Mountain West program throughout the process that ultimately led to Marvin Menzies landing the job announced that he’s decided to reopen his recruitment.
“I was very much looking forward to the opportunity to be a Rebel this year,” Fisher wrote. “But there have been a lot of changes with the program since I committed to UNLV; changes that have made me reconsider whether UNLV is still a good fit for me. So with that in mind and after much consideration with my family, I have decided it’s best that I reopen my recruitment.”
Fisher’s decision leaves wing Justin Jackson as the lone member of UNLV’s 2016 class at this point, with Jackson telling Scout.com in early April that he was undecided as to whether or not he’d reopen his recruitment. The school’s search for a coach began in January when they parted ways with Dave Rice, promoting Todd Simon in an interim role.
After deciding not to retain Simon, who’s now the head coach at Southern Utah, UNLV hired former Little Rock head coach Chris Beard…who left for Texas Tech less than two weeks later. UNLV landed Menzies, who they passed over for Beard, and he’s got a lot of work to do to field a roster that will be competitive in the Mountain West next season.
As for Fisher, the Arlington, Tennessee native should be a popular prospect with his decision to reopen things. And with Memphis losing former commit Charlie Moore, the Tigers are in need of help at the point. The question now is whether or not new head coach Tubby Smith will look to reach out to Fisher.
h/t Memphis Commercial-Appeal
VIDEOS: University of Mary’s Devan Douglas wins college dunk contest
Thursday night the annual State Farm College Slam and 3-Point Championships were held in Cypress, Texas, with the event serving as a “kickoff” event of sorts to Final Four weekend. The winner of the slam dunk contest came from the Division II ranks, as University of Mary’s Devan Douglas took home the championship belt.
With his first dunk Douglas jumped over IPFW’s Max Landis and threw down a two-handed dunk. Douglas proved to be the most consistent dunker on the night, and there were times when it appeared as if he would hit his head on the rim.
UNLV’s Ike Nwamu finished second in the dunk contest, with two of his better dunks being his opening round between the legs dunk and a Vince Carter-inspired windmill in which he finished with his arm inside of the rim.
The best missed dunk came courtesy of Mississippi State’s Craig Sword, who attempted to jump over the Denny’s pancake mascot. Sword was unsuccessful on three attempts, with the pancake looking better equipped to take a charge than serve as a prop.
And his heels were inside the restricted area, so it would have been a block if we’re being completely serious about this.
The men’s and women’s three-point contests were also held Thursday night, with Georgia Tech’s Adam Smith and Minnesota’s Rachel Banham winning the respective titles. And in the matchup of champions that followed, Banham edged out Smith to take home a second trophy on the night.
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.
Less than a week after he scored 23 points and had a key blocked shot that preserved UNLV’s 79-74 win over Wyoming, freshman forward Derrick Jones learned that he’s been declared ineligible by the NCAA. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the reason for the NCAA’s decision centers around the site in the Baltimore area where Jones took his ACT.
The American College Test had issues with the site, leading to their decision to invalidate Jones’ test score. And without those scores, the NCAA made the decision to sideline the freshman for the remainder of the season.
Jones and his family have hired an attorney, Don Jackson, who issued a statement regarding the matter and noted that the NCAA prompted the investigation into Jones’ test score. Jackson has plenty of experience in such cases, most recently representing Kansas’ Cheick Diallo in his fight to gain eligibility.
“This ‘investigation’ has been ongoing for almost a year; there can be no other explanation for the timing. Over the past decade, I have routinely spoken about the selective application of NCAA initial eligibility rules to African American and international student-athletes. All of the student-athletes impacted by the ‘investigation’ of the testing site in this case were either African American or international. The testing site was ethnically diverse. The NCAA’s methodology for ‘red flagging’ student-athletes and demanding substantiation for their academic performances and standardized test performance is blatantly discriminatory and selectively applied to African American and international student-athletes.”
Given how long the investigation into the testing site has been open, the timing for the decision to disqualify Jones from competition is bad. If there were questions before the season even began, why would Jones even be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center for competition? Hopefully more will be learned about this in the future, but for the time being the best Jones and his family can do is “lawyer up” as they have.
As for UNLV’s on-court prospects, they lose a productive front court contributor just three days before their season finale at San Diego State. A win there, combined with a New Mexico loss at Nevada Saturday, would push the Runnin’ Rebels into the five-seed for the Mountain West tournament. That would keep UNLV, a team that’s been hit hard by injuries this season, from having to play in the first round (seeds six through eleven) of the tournament next Wednesday.
The Runnin’ Rebels are already without Ben Carter and Dwayne Morgan, with Carter having torn knee ligaments earlier this season and Morgan dealing with a separated shoulder. Add in the fact that freshman Stephen Zimmerman just recently returned from injury, and interim head coach Todd Simon will have to work with an even smaller rotation.
Stephen Zimmerman had 15 points, 15 boards and four blocks to lead UNLV to an 81-68 win over New Mexico last night.
He also did this:
The win was UNLV’s first of the season in the Mountain West, and it just so happened to come against a New Mexico team that had previously been undefeated in conference play.
It was also UNLV’s first game under interim head coach Todd Simon, who took over the team when Dave Rice was fired on Sunday night.
One notable difference on Tuesday was that the Rebels seemed to make a conscious effort to pound the ball to Zimmerman, the best NBA prospect on their roster and the guy best-suited to having offense run through him. He wasn’t super-efficient with his touches — Zimm was 5-for-14 from the floor — but the point is that he took 14 shots and got to the foul line seven more times. Under Rice, the only time the seven-footer took that many shots came in the win over Oregon.
That would just so happen to be the biggest win of the season for the Rebels.
It remains to be seen how the season will play out under Simon. Will the lack of a true point guard catch up to this group? Are the guards going to continue to buy into the idea that their team is at their best when the ball goes through Zimmerman and, to a lesser extent, Ben Carter inside? Was this win simply a result of UNLV being able to matchup well with and pressure a New Mexico team that is susceptible to turnovers? Were they just riding a wave of emotion after seeing their coach get the axe?
I don’t know, and I don’t think that Simon or anyone in that UNLV program really knows either.
Time will tell, but the early returns are a step in the right direction.