Big Sky conference tournament preview

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Entering the season Montana and Weber State were expected to be the class of the Big Sky and that’s how the race played out, with Weber State’s loss at Montana State proving to be the difference in the race for the regular season crown. As a result it’s Montana who hosts the tournament and receives a bye to the semifinals, but with leading scorer Mathias Ward (foot) done for the year and Will Cherry banged up as well the Grizzlies have health issues to contend with. Weber State is the Big Sky’s deepest team and that could serve them well this weekend. Will the two Big Sky titans once again meet with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line? That certainly seems to be the case.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Missoula, Montana (Dahlberg Arena)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: Weber State 

Even though Randy Rahe’s team won’t have home-court advantage they’re the favorite here due to their depth. Seven players play between 22 and 32 minutes per game with guards Davion Berry and Scott Bamforth leading the way, and the Wildcats have quality options inside such as veterans Kyle Tresnak and Frank Otis and freshman Joel Bolomboy.

Bolomboy and guard Gelaun Wheelwright are two of the best reserves in the Big Sky, and Weber State led the conference in many of the major statistical categories both offensively and defensively. A road game in the final against Montana will be difficult but they lost by just two points back on January 26 (76-74). Weber State’s more than capable of turning that result around, especially with Ward injured.

And if they lose?: Montana 

What needs to be pointed out about Wayne Tinkle’s team is that even with the injuries the Grizzlies still won the regular season title outright. A big reason why: junior wing Kareem Jamar, who was named Big Sky MVP. Jamar’s versatility makes him a matchup problem for just about any opponent they face, and if Cherry’s at full strength those two will be a handful on the perimeter.

But without Mathias Ward the interior depth, something that was an issue when Ward was healthy, becomes even more of a concern. Spencer Coleman and Eric Hutchison are two of the players Montana needs to step up if they’re to repeat as Big Sky tournament champions.

Sleepers: How about North Dakota? In their first season in the Big Sky North Dakota won 12 league games, and in guard Troy Huff they’ve got a player capable of carrying them to three straight wins. Montana State (who beat Weber State on January 24) and Northern Colorado (three straight wins) may be able to pull off an upset as well.

Studs: 

– G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana): The league MVP averages 14.2 points per game and ranks in the top ten in the Big Sky in assists (third) and assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh) as well.

– G/F Davion Berry (Weber State): The Cal-State Monterrey Bay transfer hit the ground running in his first season of Division I basketball, averaging 15.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.

– G/F Troy Huff (North Dakota): Huff is averaging 19.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for Brian Jones’ team.

Prediction: The two favorites will once again meet in the title game, but unlike last season look for Weber State to pick up the win on the road. 

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.

Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. returning to school

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Nebraska received some important news on Friday night as senior guard James Palmer Jr. will be back for next season.

The 6-foot-6 Palmer had tested the NBA draft waters, but he decided to return to the Cornhuskers. After putting up 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season, Palmer is expected to be an All-Big Ten candidate once again this season. Palmer shot 44 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range last season.

After transferring in from Miami, Palmer became the Huskers’ go-to scorer last season in helping Nebraska to a 22-win season and NIT appearance.

With Palmer back, Nebraska will have some legitimate expectations for the upcoming season, especially if the team’s second-leading scorer, Isaac Copeland Jr., also returns from the NBA draft process.