Conference Countdown: No. 6 Mountain West

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Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Jimmer Fredette, BYU

This
one isn’t even all that close. Fredette averaged 22.1 ppg and 4.7 apg
last season while shooting 44% from three and 89.6% from the line. He
is a big time scorer with out-the-gym range. Fredette has a tremendous
handle, and is a crafty finisher in and around the rim. What Dave Rose
likes to do with this team is, essentially, spread the floor and allow
Jimmer to operate. He can get into the paint, and if the defense
collapses on him, he can kick out to the open shooters. If there is a
knock on Fredette, its his defensive ability and his toughness.
Fredette missed time — a couple of games, a second half during
conference season — due to a couple of different illnesses.
Regardless, this is an extremely talented kid that will put up
impressive numbers for a team that competes for the conference title.
He’s a potential first-team all-american, which don’t come around the
MWC all that often.

And a close second goes to: Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State

Leonard
is a specimen. He’s a 6’7″ athlete with long arms and he knows how to
use those tools. He’s really aggressive going to the glass, which sets
the tone for the rest of his SDSU teammates, and is a terror when he
gets out in transition. What sets Leonard apart from other big men in
the MWC is that he plays, and projects at the next level, as more of a
perimeter player, a Gerald Wallace kind of guy. Last season, most of
his production came as a result of his tools — offensive rebounds,
transition buckets, getting into the lane and elevating over defenders
for a short jumper. Most players make their biggest jump between their
freshman and sophomore years, and I expect Leonard to make that jump if
he has improved his offensive repertoire. A better jumpshot, more fluid
offensive moves, and an improved back-to-the-basket game (he plays the
three quite a bit for this team) would make him arguably the best
player on the west coast and a much more ideal NBA prospect.

Breakout Star: Dairese Gary, New Mexico

Last
year, all anyone talked about for New Mexico was Darington Hobson’s
talent and the big shots hit by Roman Martinez. But flying under that
radar was Gary. Gary reminds me a bit of Chauncey Billups. He is a
strong, athletic point guard that plays with great control. He can get
to the rim and is excellent at drawing fouls and getting to the line,
but he’s not overly aggressive. He can knock down threes, but he
doesn’t force too many. And most importantly, he makes big shots and
shows up for big games. He averaged 20 in the Lobo’s last seven games,
and put 25 and 23 on BYU in the Lobo’s two wins. Steve Alford is going
to need Gary to step up before Drew Gordon gets eligible, and even when
Gordon is on the court. New Mexico doesnt have a ton of playmakers this
season, so expect big numbers, and a number of big shots, out of Gary
this season.

All-Conference First Team

  • POY – Jimmer Fredette, BYU, Sr.
  • G – Dairese Gary, New Mexico, Sr.
  • G – Tre’Von Willis, UNLV, Sr./Ronnie Moss, TCU, Jr.
  • G – Jackson Emery, BYU, Sr.
  • F – Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State, So.
  • F – Drew Gordon, New Mexico, Jr.

All-Conference Second Team

  • G – Oscar Bellfield, UNLV, Jr.
  • G – Chace Stanback, UNLV, Jr.
  • G – Afan Muojeke, Wyoming, Jr.
  • F – Andy Ogide, Colorado State, Jr.
  • F – Malcolm Thomas, San Diego State, Sr.

Freshman of the Year: Alex Kirk, New Mexico

Kirk
was a bit of a steal for Steve Alford. A ranked recruit (he is in or
around the top 100 on most of the major recruiting sites) that was
pursued by a number of big time programs, Kirk is a 6’10” forward with
excellent range on his jump shot. He’s solid when operating in and
around the paint, and looks to be a decent defender as well, but it is
his jump shot that makes him so valuable to New Mexico. Alford likes to
run an offensive with a spread floor, and with a post talent like Drew
Gordon joining the fray in December, keeping space in the paint would
be ideal. Kirk is an excellent shooter out beyond the three-point line,
which means that not only will pick-and-pops with Dairese Gary be a
weapon in Alford’s arsenal, Kirk will force a defender to stay close to
him. Expect Kirk to see a lot of important minutes this season.

All-Freshman Team

  • G – Kendall Williams, New Mexico
  • G – Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • G – Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
  • F – Karam Mashour, UNLV
  • F – Chad Calcaterra, Colorado State

What Happened?:

  • The MWC blew up, in the bad way:
    2010-2011 will be the last season of the MWC as we know it. As of 2011,
    Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada will be joining the league from
    the WAC, while BYU is headed to the WCC (for basketball) and Utah will
    become a member of the Pac-10. Egads, it was complicated. The MWC went from arguably the best league outside of the Big Six to close to collapse to barely surviving. The question now: what happens next?
  • Tre’Von Willis got slap happy: Willis was arrested
    over the summer for allegedly beating up his girlfriend. Willis
    received a one game suspension after pleading out to a lesser charge.
  • BYU’s back court depleted:
    The Cougars were going to have one of the best back courts in the
    country this season. Then Michael Loyd Jr., the dynamic back-up guard
    that exploded onto the national scene with big performances when Jimmer
    Fredette was sick and a 26 point performance in BYU’s first round
    tournament win over Florida, was told to pack his bags. Tyler Haws was told to pack his bags as well, expect Haws is headed to the Phillipines to complete his LDS mission. Oh well. Fredette and Jackson Emery is still pretty solid.
  • SDSU scheduling woes: The Aztecs will likely be the MWC favorite in the majority of the preseason polls. Why can’t they put together a legitimate non-conference schedule?
  • Transfers galore:
    Right now, the MWC is the go-to conference for major conference
    transfers looking for a new start. UNLV has Chace Stanback and Mike
    Moser (UCLA), Derrick Jasper (Kentucky), Quintrell Thomas (Kansas),
    Tre’Von Willis (Memphis), and Tyler Norman (Iowa State). Colorado State
    has Andy Ogide (Ole Miss) and Wes Eikmeier. Wyoming brought in Djibril
    Thiam from Baylor and Leonard Washington from USC. Hank Thorns is
    headed to TCU from Virginia Tech. San Diego State has Xavier Thames
    (Washington State) and Brian Carlwell (Illinois). New Mexico was the
    most active this offseason, bringing Drew Gordon (UCLA), Emmanuel
    Negedu (Tennessee), and Demetrius Walker (Arizona State). Yes, that Demetrius Walker.

    The most interesting story? Either Brian Carlwell, Emmanuel Negedu, or Demetrius Walker, although Leonard Washington did this.

  • Will Brown’s letter: This was just weird.

What’s Next?:

  • A memorable ending to the MWC:
    As we mentioned earlier, this will be the final season that the MWC
    looks like the MWC we in the college basketball world have grown to
    love. Can these clubs send the league out in fashion? Last season, four
    teams made the NCAA Tournament. This season, those same four look to be
    capable of making another tournament run. Wouldn’t that be something?
    Breaking up a league that sent four teams to the tournament in
    back-to-back seasons? Breaking up what is probably the best conference
    out west?
  • A battle up top:
    I think San Diego State is the best team in the conference. But BYU has
    the best player, and New Mexico looks like they will once again be a
    force to be reckoned with, especially with Gordon gets eligible in
    December. All three of those teams have a very real shot at winning the
    conference title. What if Tre’Von Willis is allowed to participate this
    season? There could very well be a four-way battle in the final week of
    the season for the MWC title. That would be fantastic.
  • Another battle up top:
    Jimmer Fredette seems like the safe bet for preseason player of the
    year, but its not a sure thing. Kawhi Leonard is a beast. Dairese Gary
    is one of the most underrated guards in the country. Drew Gordon should
    have a big season. Tre’Von Willis? Ronnie Moss? Afam Moujeke? There are
    soe very good hoopers in this league.

  1. San Diego State:
    SDSU has an absolutely loaded front line, one that is good enough to be
    considered among the best in the country. It starts with sophomore
    Kawhi Leonard, who is one of the country’s best kept secrets. A 6’7″
    power forward, Leonard is already one of the best rebounders in the
    league thanks in large part to his great wingspan and athleticism. He
    has the tools to be a combo-forward, and as his offensive repertoire
    develops, he will only get better. Joining Leonard up front are seniors
    Billy White and Malcolm Thomas, both of whom averaged double figures
    last season, and Brian Carlwell, a 6’11” center. With that group, the
    Aztecs are once again going to be a team that goes hard to the
    offensive glass (8th in the country in OREB% last season). The back
    court was where SDSU had a bit of an issue last season, as they didn’t
    have a ton of shooting threats. Their best back court player is DJ Gay,
    a 6′ point guard that will be counted on as Steve Fisher’s primary ball
    handler and creator. He did average 10 ppg and 3 apg, but a bump in his
    ability as a creator would help improve SDSU’s efficiency on their
    first shot. Chase Tapley does return as well, and with the addition of
    freshman Jamaal Franklin and Washington State transfer Xavier Thames,
    Fisher will have more options in his back court this year. SDSU will be
    the popular pick as MWC favorite.
  2. BYU:
    The good news is that the Cougars will bring back Jimmer Fredette,
    their dynamic point guard that had declared for the draft back in
    April. Fredette may very well be the most exciting player in the
    country. He’s not overly quick or athletic, but he is a lights out
    shooter off the catch or the dribble with range for days, he has
    ankle-breaking handle, and he has a crafty game in and around the
    paint. The bad news is that BYU loses quite a bit outside of Fredette.
    Jonathon Tavernari and Chris Miles graduated, the talented but
    enigmatic Michael Loyd Jr. got the boot, and Tyler Haws will be taking
    two years off for his Mormon mission. The Cougars do get Jackson Emery,
    who may actually be a better shooter than Fredette, back for his senior
    season to join Fredette on the perimeter. Junior Charles Abouo also
    returns, but the key may be the development of freshmen Kyle
    Collinsworth and Anson Winder, who were both fairly highly regarded
    high schoolers. Up front, Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies will both
    return, as does 6’10” junior James Anderson, who has played limited to
    this point in his Cougar career. Chris Collinsworth, a 6’9″ sophomore
    (and Kyle’s older brother) that just got back from his two-year
    mission, will also be back. No one on the Cougar front line has much
    scoring prowess, but there are some big, physical bodies that will be
    able to bang on the block with just about anyone. Fredette alone is
    enough to make BYU a contender in the MWC, but the issue is going to be
    replacing the pieces they lost. Haws and Tavernari, who played some
    power forward for the Cougars, were good enough shooters to spread the
    floor and let Fredette have space to operate. Loyd was a dynamic scorer
    that was able to complement Fredette and provide Rose with playmaker
    insurance if Fredette got hurt or tired. The Cougars will be in the mix
    all season long, but I’m not convinced that this team will be as good
    as they were last year.
  3. New Mexico:
    The Lobos, who had a disappointing end to a 30 win season last year,
    lose MWC player of the year Darington Hobson and sharpshooting Roman
    Martinez. In their stead comes Emmanuel Negedu and Drew Gordon, both of
    whom were top 25 recruits in 2008. Negedu’s plight has been well
    documented, but he is a strong, athletic forward that will help New
    Mexico on the glass and in the paint defensively. Gordon will likely be
    better. A 6’9″ power forward that averaged double figures at UCLA will
    have spent a full year developing his game by the time he gets eligible
    in December. Gordon also underwent knee surgery this offseason, but he
    should be ready to go before he is eligible to suit up. Its difficult
    to imagine that Gordon won’t be a dominating force in the MWC. AJ
    Hardeman, a 6’8″ forward that played significant minutes last year, is
    also back. Freshman Alex Kirk, a 6’10” forward that reminds some people
    of Wisconsin’s Keaton Nankivil, could be the x-factor along the front
    line, as his shooting touch can spread the floor will make him a nice
    complement to Drew Gordon inside.. With this strength in their front
    court — particularly Gordon — don’t be surprised if New Mexico looks
    to get the ball inside more often this season. The Lobos return their
    starting back court. Dairese Gary is a strong, athletic point guard who
    loves to have the ball in his hands late and reminds me a little bit of
    Chauncey Billups. He was a 1st team all MWC performer, and played his
    best basketball down the stretch. Long range threat Phillip McDonald
    returns as well. The issue for this New Mexico team will be developing
    depth. Will Brown and Nate Garth are no longer on Steve Alford’s
    roster, which means that seldom used returners like Chad Adams, Jamal
    Fenton, and Curtis Dennis, along with Alford’s four incoming freshmen,
    are going to be fighting for minutes. The Lobos have talent at the top
    of their roster, and as long as Alford can develop some depth, this
    team will be in the mix for the MWC title when Drew Gordon gets
    eligible.
  4. UNLV: UNLV’s
    season was seemingly in jeopardy over the summer when Tre’Von Willis
    was accused of assaulting and choking a woman at an off-campus
    apartment. But last month, Willis plead out to reduced charges and got
    handed a one (non-exhibition) game suspension, meaning that UNLV’s
    leading scorer — and the most dangerous offensive weapon in the MWC
    not named Jimmer — will play for Lon Kruger this season. Willis was
    far and away the best scorer on the UNLV roster last season, but that
    doesn’t mean there isn’t talent here. Chace Stanback should be counted
    on to develop a more predominant scoring role, while point guard Oscar
    Bellfield and wing Derrick Jasper — who should be fully healthy — are
    both talented enough to improve on their numbers from a year ago. Don’t
    be surprised if sophomore Anthony Marshall has a big year, while
    freshman Karam Mashour should also see some minutes. With the notable
    exception of Kendall Wallace, who tore his acl,
    the Rebel’s entire back court returns. The issue for UNLV will be in
    the front court. Darris Santee graduates and Matt Shaw was kicked out
    of the program. Brice Massamba does return, and redshirt freshman
    Carlos Lopez will be eligible. The key, however, may end up being
    Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas, who gets eligible this year. Thomas
    was a top 100 power forward out of St. Patrick in New Jersey, and
    should provide the Rebels with some much needed muscle inside. Even
    without Willis, this is a team that plays a similar style to last
    season, spreading the floor and allowing their talented perimeter
    players to make things happen.
  5. Colorado State:
    The Rams will be an interesting team to watch this season. They went
    just 16-16 last year, but those 16 wins were equal to head coach Tim
    Miles production his first two years in Fort Collins. They went 0-9 on
    the year against the MWC’s four tournament teams, but they cleaned up
    against the bottom of the league and finished fifth in the standings.
    But most importantly, they bring back the majority of their roster.
    Four starters return, including senior forwards Andy Ogide and Travis
    Franklin, who were both double digits scorers a year ago. Pierce
    Hornung and Greg Smith will provide depth, but the real test will be
    whether big men Trevor Williams, a 7’0″ redshirt freshman, and Chad
    Calcaterra, a 6’10” three-star recruit, are ready to compete at this
    level. Sophomore Dorian Smith is back. He had a very good year as the
    Rams’ primary ball handler, leading the team in minutes, points, and
    assists. Sharp shooter Adam Nigon returns, as does Andre McFarland, who
    dealt with back issues all last season. Rounding out the back court
    rotation is Jesse Carr (returning from an injury last season), Wes
    Eikmeier (an Iowa State transfer), and freshmen Maurice Wiltz and
    Dwight Smith. This is going to be an experienced team that finally got
    a taste of the postseason, even if it was the CBI. They need Smith to
    develop into a go-to scorer, and they need Calcaterra or Williams to
    develop into a contributor, but if you want to pick a sleeper in this
    league, Colorado State is your team.
  6. TCU:
    The Horned Frogs are going to have a tough time improving on the year
    they had last season — five conference wins — but it won’t be Ronnie
    Moss’ fault. After averaging 15 points and 6 assists last season, Moss
    was a second team all-MWC performer. He will be joined in the back
    court by Hank Thorns, a 5’9″ Virginia Tech transfer that started
    part-time for the Hokies. Beyond that, much of the Horned Frogs depth
    is going to come from newcomers — Jarvis Ray is a 6’6″ freshman guard,
    while JR Cadot and Sammy Yaeger are JuCo transfers that will provide
    some depth at the off-guard spot where TCU will be looking to replace
    the shooting of Edvinas Ruzgas. Up front is an even bigger question
    mark as the team’s leading rebounder, Zvonko Buljan, graduated. Nikola
    Cerina and Garlon Green both had decent freshman seasons that could
    turn into promising sophomore years, but after that its a bunch of
    question marks. Freshman Amric Fields, JuCo transfer Andre Clark, and
    Howard transfer Cheick Kone (who is coming off of knee surgery) should
    help with size and depth. Expect a big year from Moss without a lot of
    wins to show for it.
  7. Wyoming:
    Last year was a rough one for Wyoming. Leading scorer Afam Muojeke blew
    out his knee midway through the year and two players — starter AJ
    Davis and Thomas Manzano — left the team mid-season. The good news is
    that much of that roster returns, although bringing back a group that
    won just 10 games isn’t awe-inspiring. As I said, 6’8″ wing Muojeke is
    back while sophomore Desmar Jackson, who showed some signs of being a
    player as he filled in Muojeke’s scoring role, also returns. JayDee
    Luster will man the point, while Adam Waddell and Djibril Thiam look to
    be the starters in Wyoming’s front court. Its difficult to imagine
    Wyoming making the jump to contender this season, but with the pieces
    they have coming back — especially a healthy Muojeke, who led the
    Cowboys to an 8-8 start — Wyoming should be (much) more competitive in
    league play.
  8. Utah:
    After an incredibly inconsistent 2009-2010 season, Jim Boylen’s last
    season in the MWC looks like it will be a rebuilding one. Luka Drca and
    Kim Tillie have graduated while Carlon Brown and Marshall Henderson
    have transferred, meaning that the Utes lose four of their top five
    scorers and essentially all of their back court. The guys that do
    return — Shawn Glover and Jace Tavita — averaged a whopping 4.8 ppg
    in over 32 combined minutes. Of Boylen’s nine newcomers (five of who
    are freshmen), seven are either guards or wings, which means that there
    will be some serious competition for minutes and plenty of available
    shots. The front court does return some big bodies — 6’8″ Jay Watkins,
    7’0″ Jason Washburn, and 7’3″ David Foster (who averaged 4.0 bpg). The
    front court for Utah has some size and talent, but how good the Utes
    are this season is going to depend on what they can get out of the new
    guys in their back court.
  9. Air Force:
    The Falcons weren’t just bad last season. They were terrible. They won
    just two games in conference play, both again Wyoming (who went 3-13 in
    the league), one of which came during the MWC tournament. Their best
    win last season came against Niagara. And they lose leading scorer
    Grant Parker. But there is reason for optimism here. For starters, Air
    Force was pretty solidly decimated by injuries last season. Eleven
    different players started a game — Parker missed ten games, while
    third leading scorer Tom Fow missed four and starting center Sammy
    Schafer suffered a concussion so serious he missed the last 28 games of
    the year — which means that there are a number of kids with real game
    experience on this roster. It was also a young roster last season. Fow
    and Evan Washington are both tough and fairly talented seniors that
    return to anchor the roster, but the rest of the rotation (which
    included a whopping 21 players in 2009-2010) will essentially be made
    up of sophomores with a few juniors sprinkled in. There is room for
    improvement here. Air Force put up some good fights last season in
    conference play — they nearly knocked off New Mexico twice — but they
    didn’t have the scoring power to spring an upset. The Falcons should
    more competitive, but without a major influx of talent (which isn’t
    coming this year) their best case scenario is a .500 season with a
    handful of league win.

AP Poll: Baylor remains No. 1 in week with few changes at the top

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor is No. 1 for a second straight week in a college basketball AP poll that had no major changes at the top, a rare bit of stability in a wildly unpredictable season.

The Bears stayed well ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga in Monday’s poll, part of an unchanged top seven for the first time this season. In fact, the only change in the top 10 came with Villanova moving up a spot to No. 8 to swap positions with No. 9 Duke. That comes in a season that has seen seven different teams reach No. 1 this season, matching a record set during the 1982-83 season.

Baylor (17-1) hopped over Gonzaga last week to reach No. 1 for the second time in program history, then earned 44 of 64 first-place votes to keep a firm hold on the top spot after beating Oklahoma and Florida last week.

The Zags earned 19 first-place votes to remain either No. 1 or No. 2 in the poll since the middle of December, followed by Kansas, San Diego State — the last unbeaten team in Division I — and Florida State.

Louisville, Dayton, Villanova, Duke and Seton Hall rounded out the top 10.

No. 22 LSU, No. 23 Wichita State and No. 24 Penn State were the week’s new additions, re-entering the poll after appearances earlier this season. Texas Tech, Memphis and Arizona fell out of the rankings.

Here is the full college basketball AP Poll:

1. Baylor (44 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (19)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Villanova
9. Duke
10. Seton Hall
11. Oregon
12. West Virginia
13. Kentucky
14. Michigan State
15. Maryland
16. Butler
17. Auburn
18. Iowa
19. Illinois
20. Colorado
21. Houston
22. LSU
23. Wichita State
24. Penn State
25. Rutgers

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

___

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

ACC fines Brey for his officiating comments

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) The Atlantic Coast Conference has fined Notre Dame $20,000 and publicly reprimanded Fighting Irish basketball coach Mike Brey for his comments about officiating after Saturday’s loss at Florida State.

The league announced the penalties Monday, saying Brey’s comments “were in direct violation” of the league’s sportsmanship policy that states that public criticism of officiating “is not in the best interest of intercollegiate athletics.”

Brey referenced several issues after the 85-84 loss to the Seminoles, including a technical foul called on the Irish bench with 2:31 left. He also mentioned game official John Gaffney by name as he left the news conference in Tallahassee.

“We’re treated by the officials like we haven’t brought football as a full member (to the league), but yet we get a full share of the ACC Network TV, are you kidding me?” Brey said, a reference to Notre Dame’s independence in football even as it remains a member of all other league sports.

Moments later, a frustrated Brey waved both hands as he got up to leave and continued his comments as he left the room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, man,” Brey said, raising his voice. “Come on, man. We’re in the league, too.”

The league said in a news release that the matter is closed and declined to make additional comment. The fine will go toward an ACC scholarship fund that assists athletes with pursuing graduate degrees after completing undergraduate requirements.

More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Monday Overreactions: Ayo Dosunmu, Maryland and Nick Richards’ takeoer

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu did it again.

Illinois’ sophomore star and leading scorer finished with 27 points, none of which were bigger than the final shot of the game as Dosunmu hit a foul line jumper over Zavier Simpson with 0.5 seconds left on the clock to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor:

It’s the sixth straight win for the Illini, who have climbed all the way up to No. 21 in the AP poll, and no one has been more influential in that run than Dosunmu. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 5.4 assists over the last five games, and in a conference where winning road games is notoriously difficult, the Illini have won at Wisconsin, at Purdue and at Michigan during that stretch.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Maryland Terrapins

No team in the country has elicited a louder chorus of doubters throughout the course of the season than Maryland.

The Terps were a top ten team in the preseason, and spent the entire season ranked inside the top 20 of the AP poll and currently sit at No. 10 in KenPom’s rankings. But because of some uninspiring performances early in the season, combined with the fact that the Terps had entered the week with an 0-4 record on the road, it was easy to overlook this group as nothing more than another fraudulent Mark Turgeon roster.

This week, the narrative changed. The Terps erased a 14 point deficit on the road to knock off Northwester, 77-66, in Chicago and then followed that up by going on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to land a 77-76 win at Indiana.

Suddenly, the Terps are on a three game winning streak with back-to-back home games coming up next.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. NICK RICHARDS IS THE SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Richards has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, but Saturday was really the first time that we saw him completely take over a game.

He finished with 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks in the 76-74 overtime win at Texas Tech, scoring the game-winning points with 10 seconds left.

This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

As it stands, he’s now the leading scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats. He’s probably the leader in the clubhouse for SEC Player of the Year, and very much in the mix for an all-american team.

2. TEXAS TECH HAS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF WORK TO DO TO GET TO THE TOURNAMENT

I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

As it stands, the Red Raiders are the very last team in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection.

3. THE BIG TEN IS GOING TO DISAPPOINT IN MARCH

The biggest reason that I believe this is the lack of elite point guard play. I’ve made this point roughly 18,000 times by now, but in the last decade, the only team that won the national title without having two lead guards playing together was the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks playing together.

And the thing about this year’s Big Ten is that the lead guard play is not great. Cassius Winston, when he’s right, is the best in the country. Ayo Dosunmu, the way he’s been playing for the last month, is right there with him. Anthony Cowan is, in theory, on that list. Zavier Simpson? Maybe. Marcus Carr? At times.

I think that’s it.

So that’s a concern.

As is the fact that every team in the Big Ten is built around their frontcourt play.

I was struck over the weekend as I watch Michigan and Illinois down the stretch play with four centers on the floor — Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili for the Illini and Jon Teske and Austin Davis for the Wolverines. Iowa is at their best when they play with Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener. Tom Izzo loves to play Xavier Tillman with another big man. I could keep going if I had the time.

That is the only league in the country where that happens, and I think it is fair to wonder how well that will hold up in March.

4. ARIZONA IS NOT FAR AWAY FROM BEING REALLY DANGEROUS

More than anyone else in college basketball, the Wildcats are the team that appear to be the darling of the predictive metrics this season.

(I would say Ohio State, but they spent the first half of the season absolutely bludgeoning really good teams and still don’t have a loss to a team outside the top 40.)

They have one win against a top 30 team and just two wins against top 55 opponents. Their best win away from home is against Wake Forest, yet the Wildcats, at 13-6 overall, find themselves sitting at 10th in KenPom and 12th in the NET. This is what happens when you find a way to lose games close. Five fo their six losses came by five points or less, and it hasn’t always been the same formula. Arizona erased leads to land backdoor covers against Baylor, Gonzaga and Saint John’s. They blew leads on the road in league play in losses to Oregon and Arizona State. They completely collapsed in the second half against Oregon State.

So I’m not sure there is a clear-cut answer to what ails the Wildcats right now.

But I do know that with the talent on their roster, they are not as far away from being an actual top ten team as the average Arizona fan on twitter will have you believe.

5. IS SYRACUSE THE FOURTH-BEST TEAM IN THE ACC?

Someone has to be the fourth-best team in the ACC, and as far as league standings go, the Orange currently qualify. They are 6-3 in the conference, having won their last five games, and they have fully embraced the idea that this roster needs to fire up as many threes as possible to have a chance to win.

That said, they still haven’t beaten anyone. Their best win came at Virginia in overtime, but Virginia may not be a tournament team this season. The trouble is that the Orange only get the other top teams in the conference — Duke, N.C. State, Florida State and Louisville — once each.

They probably need to win at least two of those games to have a real shot at a tournament bid.

Bracketology: Baylor strengthens its grip on the No. 1 overall seed

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Baylor continues to strengthen its grip on the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears won their fifth true road game (5-0 in opportunities) of the season at Florida on Saturday.  They are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 10-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents combined.  Baylor hasn’t lost since November 8, a nearly two-month stretch of perfection.

Elsewhere, the top line remains in tact.  There’s room for debate across lines two through four. It’ll be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views the profiles of teams like Florida State, Louisville and Duke in the weeks ahead.  Unless something changes, there will be fewer Quad 1 opportunities in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tracking the Bubble is going to keep you busy.  It’s several lines deep into the bracket today.  The margins between a nine seed and an 11-seeded play-in team are minimal.  And that’s not factoring in the next 8-12 teams knocking on the door.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 27, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION NC State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION VCU vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  ROBERT MORRIS vs. NORFOLK ST
MIDWEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. PR VIEW A&M

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                         
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) ROB MORRIS / NORFOLK ST 16) NORTHERN COLORADO
8) Wichita State 8) USC
9) Saint Mary’s 9) Oklahoma 
Sacramento Tampa
5) Penn State 5) LSU
12) YALE 12) AKRON
4) Kentucky 4) West Virginia
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Cleveland Albany
6) Marquette 6) Colorado
11) VCU / Texas Tech 11) BYU
3) MICHIGAN STATE 3) Villanova
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) COLGATE
Tampa Spokane
7) Indiana 7) Wisconsin
10) Saint John’s 10) Memphis
2) Florida State 2) OREGON
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) UC-IRVINE 16) MONMOUTH / PV A&M
8) Ohio State 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Arkansas
Greensboro St. Louis
5) Butler 5) Creighton
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) VERMONT 13) LIBERTY
Greensboro Cleveland
6) Auburn 6) Illinois
11) DePaul 11) NC State / Arizona St
3) Duke 3) DAYTON
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany St. Louis
7) Rutgers 7) Arizona
10) Stanford 10) Michigan
2) SETON HALL 2) LOUISVILLE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) WINTHROP

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Michigan Arizona State Rhode Island Purdue
BYU NC State Virginia Tech Tennessee
Saint John’s VCU Richmond Xavier
DePaul Texas Tech Minnesota Georgetown

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
SEC (5)
Big 12 (5)

ACC (4)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor, Gonzaga lead the way

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

I sat down at my laptop to write out a column about why I ranked certain teams in certain spots and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a way to give a damn.

As I’m sure you all know, Kobe Bryant died today. He was in a helicopter along with eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, and her teammate, Alyssa Altobelli along with her mom, Keri, and dad, John. They were on the way to play in a travel team game. At least two, and certainly more, families were gutted, and while we are going to be talking about Kobe for the most part, I do think that should be emphasized.

Nine people died on that helicopter. Nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why so many folks — like myself — spent Sunday completely torn up about the death of a person that we never met, a person that may or may not be deserving of the outpouring of love and adoration coming his way. What I came up with is this: The true heartbreak in this story is that Kobe was on the plane with one of his four daughters, the one he has spent the last couple of years proudly and publicly developing into a full-blown middle-aged sports dad with. It was awesome to see. This was not how their story was supposed to end.

Kobe and his wife also have three other daughters: a 17-year old along with a three year old and a newborn that is just seven months old. The Altobellis left a family behind, too, and what that family is going through is crushing as well, but I can’t stop thinking about what Vanessa, his wife, is going to be forced to deal with. She’s post-partum, with one daughter that will never know her father, and now has to cope with the loss of her husband and the loss of a child while trying to keep that 17-year old sane and explain to a three-year old why daddy and her big sister are never coming home.

That’s unfathomable to me.

But the reason I think this hit me so hard is that I keep putting myself in that helicopter. As a parent, the only goal in your life is keep your kids safe and happy. At any cost. It’s that simple. How do you deal with being on a helicopter with your child — and, for the Altobellis, with your spouse — knowing that something has gone wrong? Knowing what’s going to happen? Knowing the inevitability of your situation? Knowing that there’s nothing you can do to stop it, to keep your baby safe?

I don’t think that I’m alone there.

So I spent as much time as I could today playing with my kids, because arguing about ranking college basketball top 25 teams has never seemed dumber.

We can yell at each other next week.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. BAYLOR (17-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (21-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (16-3, 3)
4. FLORIDA STATE (17-2, 4)
5. LOUISVILLE (17-3, 5)
6. SETON HALL (15-4, 6)
7. DUKE (17-3, 7)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (21-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (18-2, 9)
10. OREGON (17-4, 13)
11. KENTUCKY (16-5, 14)
12. WEST VIRGINIA (16-3, 15)
13. VILLANOVA (16-3, 17)
14. ILLINOIS (15-5, 24)
15. AUBURN (17-2, 12)
16. MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 10)
17. IOWA (14-5, 18)
18. MARYLAND (16-4, 23)
19. HOUSTON (16-4, 20)
20. BUTLER (16-4, 11)
21. CREIGHTON (16-5, 25)
22. COLORADO (16-4, NR)
23. PENN STATE (14-5, NR)
24. RUTGERS (15-5, NR)
25. ARIZONA (13-6, 19)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Colorado, No. 23 Penn State, No. 24 Rutgers
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Michigan