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Mountain West Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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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.

The Bracket 

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When: March 9-12

Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

Final: March 12, 6:00 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: San Diego State

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.

Other Contenders:

  • 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.

Sleeper: Nevada

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.

VIDEO: Wyoming’s Larry Shyatt celebrates win in style

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There have been many instances this season of college basketball coaches dancing in the locker room following a big win. But how often does a head coach do so at the state border?

That’s what Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt did Saturday afternoon following the Cowboys’ 84-66 win at Colorado State. Josh Adams was outstanding for Wyoming, hitting nine three-pointers and finishing with 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The rivalry, which Wyoming swept this season, is also known as the “Border War” so it makes sense that Shyatt waited until they crossed the border back into Wyoming to celebrate.

To the victor go the spoils. Dab on ’em, coach.

Mountain West suspends Wyoming guard one game

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There are few players in college basketball as important to their team as Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams. Adams, averaging 24.2 points per game, leads the Cowboys in points, rebounds, assists and steals on the season and is a candidate for Mountain West Player of the Year honors. Unfortunately for head coach Larry Shyatt, Adams won’t be available when the Cowboys welcome of the conference’s best teams in Boise State Saturday.

The Mountain West announced Friday afternoon that Adams has been suspended one game for his actions in the Cowboys’ loss to Nevada earlier in the week. According to the conference there were multiple violations of the league’s rules on sportsmanship, resulting in the suspension.

Adams, who was assessed a technical foul in the game, wasn’t the only player to receive some kind of discipline from the Mountain West. Nevada’s Cameron Oliver was reprimanded for his being ejected from the game after receiving two technical fouls within just over a minute of game action.

Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal provided the details on the incident that led to both Adams and Oliver receiving technical fouls.

After being raked across the face by Wyoming’s Jason McManamen during a battle for a loose ball, Oliver pushed McManamen, who fell to the ground. Oliver was one of three players assessed a technical foul on the play (the others were Wyoming’s Trey Washington III and Josh Adams).

Oliver picked up a second technical foul 64 seconds later when he clapped following a Wyoming timeout aimed to quell a 12-1 Nevada run. The second technical, with 12:48 remaining in the game, triggered an automatic ejection. The MW said Oliver being assessed two Class A technical fouls violated provisions of Mountain West Rule 4-Sportsmanship.

Oliver will be available to play in Nevada’s game against UNLV, but Adams was not as fortunate. Without Adams, who coach Shyatt planned to bring off the bench as a result of his technical foul, Wyoming has a lot of production to account for against a team that includes the likes of James Webb III, Nick Duncan and Anthony Drmic.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE RESET: Can the league get two bids this year?

(Ryan Dorgan/Casper Star-Tribune viai AP)
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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.

ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • Patrick McCaw, UNLV
  • James Webb III, Boise State
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State
  • Elijah Brown, New Mexico
  • Josh Adams, Wyoming

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WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

[CONFERENCE RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | American | Big East]

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Patrick McCaw (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Patrick McCaw (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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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

Tourney teams

  • 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.

NIT teams

  • 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)

Wyoming’s Larry Shyatt reprimanded by Mountain West for scathing comments

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Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt has been publicly reprimanded by the Mountain West Conference following the comments he made regarding the league’s decision to only invite the top eight teams from an 11-team conference to the postseason tournament.

The change will be implemented beginning in 2017. The conference also announced earlier this month that the league tournament will continue to be held at the Thomas & Mack Center, UNLV’s full-time home court, through 2019. It’s been at the T&M every year since 2007 and 13 of the last 16 seasons. That has also irked Shyatt.

Shyatt read the statement on behalf of the other ten coaches in the conference.

Here is Shyatt’s statement in its entirety:

“As chairman of the men’s basketball coaches, I feel it’s appropriate to address the shocking announcement for all of our student-athletes and coaches who were recently stripped, removed and/or eliminated from their ‘opportunity’ to qualify for the Big Dance. A dream of every men’s basketball player ever since the inception of conference tournaments.

Since I represent the men’s coaches, my comments will be on their behalf, although I do realize over 28 percent of all of our men’s and women’s student-athletes have now been eliminated from their opportunity they so deserve. I have also waited a couple of weeks to remove the emotion and collect as many thoughts from the people whose opportunities have been stripped, student-athletes and coaches.

Moreover, the way in which these student-athletes and coaches were to find out, in an age of student-athlete opportunity and welfare is pursuant, becomes even more disappointing and embarrassing. As chairman of the men’s basketball coaches, I am on the phone every two to three days each and every week to stay in constant communication with anything related to our student-athletes and discussions that are relevant. When the presidents and athletic directors met a couple weeks ago there was no, I repeat no communication or dialogue to discuss any such action. I spoke constantly with our assistant commissioner for men’s basketball who also had no communication or dialogue about the action that would take place. In an age of mass communication it’s embarrassing that perhaps the most intelligent group of men and women at our institutions would choose to eliminate, strip and remove from three teams the opportunity they have always worked two semesters for without any discussion or opportunity to speak to not one single coach or student-athlete involved.

Furthermore, it would be equally distressing if there was a president or any athletic director that thought for a moment or spoke or suggested something like ‘who cares what the coaches or student-athletes think about this action.’ Could there be a more sad and shallow kind of communication and understanding? Yes, we the coaches and student-athletes were bamboozled as President Obama would say. Was the need to strip, remove and eliminate these teams from their dreams and opportunity so important to come to an extremely curious and suspiciously quick vote without further research that is necessary? Could no one in the room perhaps suggest that we could ‘General Patton’ the situation and look at all the other options as to not strip, remove and eliminate these student-athletes’ opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament? What was the rush? A week, a month, three months to find perhaps yet another alternative as to not foil these student-athletes’ dreams.

Shortly after this surprising vote took place, I was informed by our commissioner that there were two reasons given, No. 1 finances and No. 2 that this was something that was similar to what some other sports in our league were experiencing. Men’s basketball, however, has been the torch bearer for our league. Specifically since the departure of Utah, BYU and TCU recently. In fact in men’s basketball we have received 17 NCAA bids the last five years. That is approximately 3.5 bids per year, nothing like a one-bid league. Here are the 20 conferences who continue to provide all of their men’s student-athletes the opportunity to have one more chance to run the table to the big dance: ACC, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big South, Big Ten, Colonial, Horizon, MAAC, Mid-American, MEAC, Missouri Valley, Pac 12, Patriot, SEC, SoCon and West Coast. And here are the only three that have removed a large (over 25 percent) of their student-athletes opportunities: Ohio Valley, Southland and Sun Belt.

Obviously this action to remove, strip and eliminate student-athletes’ opportunity is on that has been taken in low-budget and one-bid leagues. It is both and insult and embarrassing especially that the surprise vote and action was taken with no interesting in searching for the student-athletes and coaches involved. In situations where there is such a surprise with no notice, no inclusion and no communication, not one word uttered to an assistant commissioner, there seems to be a degree of behind-the-scenes plotting by someone or someones as to not let the cat out of the bag. We coaches are often critized by making quick emotional decisions and often are asked to go up to our athletic directors about certain issues. When we deal with our young student-athletes, however, we don’t expect them always to come to us with their concerns, interests and issues. We go to them both individually and collectively. In my opinion that is how trust and communication works best for all.

Months ago, I purposely brought up at the our spring meetings that as soon as our basketball coaches reach 14 or 15 wins, we should proudly communicate our student-athletes have become “bowl eligible.” It drew a snicker, which it was supposed to, because my point was precise. Those student-athletes work really hard and deserve their accolades and opportunities, as 82 out of 128 (64 percent) of them will have this additional postseason opportunity. Our young men too work their tails off on and off the court every bit as hard as others, deserve to be congratulated and praised as well. In the case of the latest action taken from our presidents and athletic directors quite the opposite approach was taken. We coaches all knew that, regardless of the research, we would continue to play our men’s tournament on UNLV’s home court because of financial reasons only. That was coming, but the decision to strip, eliminate and remove the opportunity of our men’s student-athletes’ was not even spoken about with any of us.

In my 41 years as a basketball coach, I have seen some wonderful illustrations of these second-opportunities being afforded. In 2001, a ninth-seeded Connecticut ran the table to win the Big East tournament. They then went on to beat our own San Diego State in the Sweet 16 and became national champions. Just last year, our Wyoming team led our conference to six weeks only to have two key forwards contract mono and have us slip to fifth place. Four weeks later a healthy team came back with their last, but deserved, opportunity to win the conference tourney and compete in the big dance. What if our team had been a solid fourth place, slipped to eighth or ninth and was now stripped, eliminated or removed from that deserved opportunity. Also, what about three or four-way ties in the final week of conference play? What do the fans and family members of those student-athletes plan? (flights/hotels/tickets) Will they be reimbursed? In an age of fiscal responsibility do we now choose to neglect those monetary needs?

In my opinion, this action was wrong, non-inclusive and quite opposite to where student-athletes’ welfare has gone in the last few years. If we can take action for unlimited nutrition and meals and add the cost of attendance money for student-athletes, why would we limit the men’s basketball conference tournament opportunities? Simply to save money?

This goes against the core of where main-stream collegiate athletics has been headed, which is student-athlete opportunities and well-being. Why remove the over 28 percent of our young student-athletes’ last opportunity and their dream to compete for a berth in the big dance. I only pray that these opportunities for these student-athletes will be restored soon.”

Mountain West tournaments to remain at Thomas & Mack through 2019

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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.