2014-15 Season Preview: San Diego State leads what will be a wild Mountain West race

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we focus on the Mountain West.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Last season in the Mountain West provided some surprises, with the team picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll (San Diego State) winning the regular season title outright and Nevada finishing in a tie for third place after being picked to finish ninth last October. Seven teams won at least nine conference games in 2013-14, and heading into the 2014-15 season many hold the belief that seven teams have a realistic chance of winning the Mountain West. Steve Fisher’s team is seen as the favorites despite losing Mountain West Player of the Year Xavier Thames, and the order of the next six teams is anyone’s guess.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Just one first team All-Mountain West selection returns: Thames, New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams, and Nevada’s Deonte Burton have all moved on to the professional ranks. The lone returnee: Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr., who missed the final seven games due to a torn ACL. Nance is back on the floor for the Cowboys, who are in that mix of teams looking to win the conference. If he hits the ground running, Larry Shyatt’s team is capable of contending.

2. The Mountain West also lost its top five rebounders: This fact can’t be glossed over, with UNLV losing Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch, Boise State moving on without Ryan Watkins, and San Diego State (Josh Davis) and New Mexico (Alex Kirk) also having to account for the loss of their best rebounders. However, it should be noted that each of these programs has added some solid front court talent in both the freshman and junior college ranks. And when it comes to Boise State, the Broncos got a lot taller inside after going through last season with just one player who stood 6-foot-8.

3. UNLV adds one of the nation’s top freshman classes, and a very important senior transfer: After briefly flirting with the possibility of moving across the country, Dave Rice returned to his alma mater, where he received a new contract and then put the finishing touches on one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Guard Rashad Vaughn may be seen as the jewel of the class, but there’s also big man Goodluck Okonoboh, forward Dwayne Morgan and guards Jordan Cornish and Patrick McCaw to consider as well. UNLV’s most important addition, however, is former San Francisco PG Cody Doolin, who gives them the on-court leader they so desperately needed a season ago.

4. UNLV wasn’t the only Mountain West program that landed a Top 20 recruiting class: Rivals.com ranked two Mountain West recruiting classes in the top 20 of its rankings this spring, with UNLV coming in fifth and San Diego State 17th. Steve Fisher’s class is one reason why many saw last season as a “bridge” year for the program, and we all saw what happened there (31-5, Sweet 16 appearance). Now they add guards Kevin Zabo and Trey Kell and forwards Malik Pope and Zylan Cheatham, as well as Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, to an experienced cast led by Winston Shepard and J.J. O’Brien. SDSU’s deep, athletic and they’ll once again be tough to score points on.

5. Colorado State returns the top scoring tandem in the Mountain West: Forward J.J. Avila (16.6 ppg) and guard Daniel Bejarano (16.3 ppg) are back for their senior seasons, and they’re just two reasons why Larry Eustachy’s Rams will be in the middle of the Mountain West race. Both of those players began their college careers at other schools, and they’ll be joined by a deep group of transfers that includes guard John Gillon (UALR) and Antwan Scott (Grambling State), and forwards Tiel Daniels (Southern Illinois) and Stanton Kidd (North Carolina Central). Of those four three were with the CSU program last season (Scott’s the exception), which should help from a chemistry standpoint.

PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming

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Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. (AP Photo)

While it remains to be seen just how explosive Nance will be following the knee injury that ended his junior season, the fact of the matter is that he can affect the game in a variety of ways. Nance finished last season ranked in the top ten in the Mountain West in scoring (tenth- 15.4 ppg), rebounding (sixth- 8.6 rpg), field goal percentage (second- 54.4%), steals (fifth- 1.4 spg) and blocked shots (fourth- 2.1 bpg). He’s certainly capable of putting together a similar season in 2014-15.

THE REST OF THE ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM:

  • Anthony Drmic, Boise State: Averaged 15.9 ppg and 4.5 rpg last season, and he’s a better perimeter shooter than he showed as a junior (34.1% 3PT).
  • Daniel Bejarano, Colorado State: Bejarano followed up his Sixth Man of the Year award in 2013 with a first team All-Mountain West spot as a redshirt junior.
  • Winston Shepard, San Diego State: Shepard will be key for the Aztecs as they look to account for the loss of Xavier Thames. And if Shepard can make opponents at least respect his jump shot, look out.
  • J.J. Avila, Colorado State: Avila came in and earned third team all-conference honors in his first season at CSU, averaging 16.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Dwayne Polee II, San Diego State
  • Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
  • Paul Watson, Fresno State
  • Derrick Marks, Boise State
  • Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico

BREAKOUT STAR: Dwayne Polee, San Diego State

Polee may have finished the season averaging 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, but he was a different player from February on. Polee scored in double figures in nine of SDSU’s final 14 games, including a stretch of five straight double-digit outings to end the season. And with Thames gone, there’s room for Polee to take another step forward production-wise.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: David Carter, Nevada

With Dave Rice landing a new deal at UNLV this summer and recruiting well, he’s in good shape for the time being. That brings us to Carter, who despite managing to finish tied for third in the conference last season led his team to an overall record of 15-17. Can the Wolf Pack once again surprise people within the league while also improving their overall record?

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: Can multiple Mountain West teams reach the second weekend?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: How wide-open this conference race will be.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 17, Utah at San Diego State
  • November 21, UNLV vs. Stanford (in Brooklyn, New York)
  • November 22, Boise State at Wisconsin
  • December 10, Colorado State at Colorado
  • December 23, Arizona at UNLV

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @GeoffGrammer

PREDICTED FINISH

1. San Diego State: Xavier Thames is a big loss, but there’s still plenty of talent at Steve Fisher’s disposal.
2. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy’s roster is stocked full of transfers ready to contribute immediately.
3. Boise State: Drmic and Derrick Marks lead the way for a team that has more size than it did last season.
4. UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are loaded with talent, but will the pieces fit together cohesively?
5. Wyoming: Larry Nance Jr. returns from his torn ACL, and guard Riley Grabau is back as well.
6. New Mexico: The Lobos have some questions to answer, but given their recent run of success it wouldn’t be a surprise if they made another run at the title.
7. Fresno State: Mountain West dark horse? That could be the case, with Julien Lewis joining a group led by Marvelle Harris and Paul Watson.
8. Nevada: The Wolf Pack have the unenviable task of accounting for the loss of electric PG Deonte Burton.
9. Air Force: Dave Pilipovich lost his leading scorer in Tre’ Coggins, but that trip to Colorado Springs can be a tough one.
10. Utah State: Stew Morrill’s system has always been tough to defend, but the personnel losses may be too much to overcome.
11. San Jose State: Another rough year for Dave Wojick, and the Spartans won’t play in the conference tournament either due to APR sanctions.

2019 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?

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Here is a full list of the players that have signed with an agent, declared and are testing the waters and those that have decided to return to school. The NBA released its official list of early entry candidates as it includes 233 total names –175 coming from colleges or other educational institutions. 

Underclassmen have until April 22nd to declare for the NBA draft this season and until May 29th to remove their name from consideration and return to college. With players now allowed to sign with agents, we’re not designating players who are “testing the waters” vs. declaring with an intention to stay in the draft.

One change worth remembering here is that underclassmen are now allowed to hire an agent to help them navigate their way through the NBA draft process, and that is expected to increase the number of players that test the waters of the draft. 

The NBA Draft Combine will be held May 16-20 this year. 

This will be updated throughout the spring, as more and more players put their names in the mix. 

2019 EARLY ENTRANTS

  • MILAN ACQUAAH, California Baptist
  • BRYCE AIKEN, Harvard
  • NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
  • AL-WAJID AMINU, North Florida
  • DESMOND BANE, TCU
  • R.J. BARRETT, Duke
  • CHARLES BASSEY, Western Kentucky
  • TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse
  • TROY BAXTER JR., FGCU
  • DARIUS BAZLEY, Princeton High School (OH)
  • KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR, Virginia Tech
  • PHIL BLEDSOE, Glenville State
  • BOL BOL, Oregon
  • MARQUES BOLDEN, Duke
  • JORDAN BONE, Tennessee
  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College
  • DAQUAN BRACEY, Louisiana Tech
  • KEITH BRAXTON, St. Francis (PA)
  • IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan
  • OSHAE BRISSETT, Syracuse
  • ARMONI BROOKS, Houston
  • CHARLIE BROWN JR., Saint Joseph’s
  • MOSES BROWN, UCLA
  • YOELI CHILDS, BYU
  • BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga
  • NIC CLAXTON, Georgia
  • AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota
  • RJ COLE, Howard
  • TYLER COOK, Iowa
  • ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland
  • JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
  • JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati
  • CALEB DANIELS, Tulane
  • TULIO DA SILVA, Missouri State
  • AUBREY DAWKINS, UCF
  • JAVIN DELAURIER, Duke
  • SILVIO DE SOUSA, Kansas
  • MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia
  • ALPHA DIALLO, Providence
  • JAMES DICKEY, UNC Greensboro
  • DAVID DILEO, Central Michigan
  • DAVON DILLARD, Shaw
  • LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State
  • DEVON DOTSON, Kansas
  • JASON DRAGGS, Lee College
  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
  • CJ ELLEBY, Washington State
  • STEVE ENOCH, Louisville
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
  • JAYLEN FISHER, TCU
  • SAVION FLAGG, Texas A&M
  • DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas
  • DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt
  • EUGENE GERMAN, Northern Illinois
  • QUENTIN GOODIN, Xavier
  • TONY GOODWIN II, Redemption Christian Academy
  • KELLAN GRADY, Davidson
  • DEVONTE GREEN, Indiana
  • QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas
  • JON AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
  • KYLE GUY, Virginia
  • RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
  • JAYLEN HANDS, UCLA
  • JERRICK HARDING, Weber State
  • JARED HARPER, Auburn
  • KEVON HARRIS, Stephen F. Austin
  • JAXSON HAYES, Texas
  • DEWAN HERNANDEZ, Miami
  • TYLER HERRO, Kentucky
  • AMIR HINTON, Shaw University
  • JAYLEN HOARD, Wake Forest
  • DAULTON HOMMES, Point Loma
  • TALEN HORTON-TUCKER, Iowa State
  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
  • TY JEROME, Virginia
  • JAYCE JOHNSON, Utah
  • KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
  • MARKELL JOHNSON, N.C. State
  • TYRIQUE JONES, Xavier
  • MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State
  • SACHA KILLEYA-JONES, N.C. State
  • LOUIS KING, Oregon
  • V.J. KING, Louisville
  • NATHAN KNIGHT, William & Mary
  • SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia
  • MARTIN KRAMPELJ, Creighton
  • ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
  • CAMERON LARD, Iowa State
  • A.J. LAWSON, South Carolina
  • DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas
  • JALEN LECQUE, Brewster Academy (N.C. State recruit)
  • JACOB LEDOUX, Texas-Permian Basin
  • NASSIR LITTLE, UNC
  • TEVIN MACK, Alabama
  • JERMAINE MARROW, Hampton
  • NAJI MARSHALL, XAVIER
  • CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
  • SKYLAR MAYS, LSU
  • JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State
  • E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky
  • JA MORANT, Murray State
  • ANDREW NEMBHARD, Florida
  • KOUAT NOI, TCU
  • ZACH NORVELL JR., Gonzaga
  • JAYLEN NOWELL, Washington
  • JOEL NTAMBWE, UNLV
  • JORDAN NWORA, Louisville
  • CHUMA OKEKE, Auburn
  • KZ OKPALA, Stanford
  • MIYE ONI, Yale
  • DEVONTE PATTERSON, Prairie View A&M
  • REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State
  • LAMAR PETERS, Mississippi State
  • FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga
  • JALEN PICKETT, Siena
  • SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
  • JORDAN POOLE, Michigan
  • CLETRELL POPE, Bethune-Cookman
  • JONTAY PORTER, Missouri
  • KEVIN PORTER JR., USC
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
  • PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon
  • NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State
  • BRANDON RANDOLPH, Arizona
  • CAM REDDISH, Duke
  • ISAIAH REESE, Canisius
  • NAZ REID, LSU
  • NICK RICHARDS, Kentucky
  • LAQUINCY RIDEAU, South Florida
  • ISAIAH ROBY, Nebraska
  • AYINDE RUSSELL, Morehouse
  • KEVIN SAMUEL, TCU
  • PAUL SCRUGGS, Xavier
  • SAMIR SEHIC, Tulane
  • JOSH SHARKEY, Samford
  • SIMI SHITTU, Vanderbilt
  • NIKE SIBANDE, Miami OH
  • JUSTIN SIMON, St. John’s
  • D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State
  • JAVONTE SMART, LSU
  • JUSTIN SMITH, Indiana
  • DERRIK SMITS, Valparaiso
  • LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State
  • JALEN SYKES, St. Clair College (Canada)
  • ETHAN THOMPSON, Oregon State
  • KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga
  • DONNIE TILLMAN, Utah
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State
  • OBI TOPPIN, Dayton
  • RAYJON TUCKER, Arkansas-Little Rock
  • JUSTIN TURNER, Bowling Green
  • NICK WARD, Michigan State
  • PJ WASHINGTON, Kentucky
  • TREMONT WATERS, LSU
  • KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
  • COBY WHITE, UNC
  • JIMMY WHITT, SMU
  • JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa
  • LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State
  • KRIS WILKES, UCLA
  • CHARLES WILLIAMS, Howard
  • EMMITT WILLIAMS, LSU
  • GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
  • ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
  • HOLLAND WOODS II, Portland State
  • KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

RETURNING TO SCHOOL

  • UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
  • AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
  • ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
  • TRE JONES, Duke
  • JALEN SMITH, Maryland
  • CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Prosecutor: Greed fueled college basketball coaches’ bribes

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NEW YORK (AP) — A scandal in which college basketball coaches were bribed to steer NBA-bound players to favored agents and money managers was motivated by greed, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday — before defense lawyers criticized the case as an FBI-led setup.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark said at the opening of a criminal trial that Christian Dawkins cheated to elevate prospects for his fledgling sports management company.

“This is a case about money, bribes and college basketball,” Mark said.

The prosecutor said Dawkins was aided in his scheme by Merl Code, a Clemson point guard in the 1990s who developed many contacts while doing work for shoemakers Nike and Adidas.

Mark said Code played a key role in the crimes by introducing college basketball coaches to two investors in Dawkins’ company. Those individuals, the prosecutor said, were undercover FBI agents.

“Why was Code doing this? Simple, greed,” Mark said.

Mark said Dawkins gave envelopes stuffed with cash to coaches who Code brought to him.

He said the men arranged payouts to coaches at the University of South Carolina, University of Arizona, University of Southern California, Creighton and Texas Christian University.

Dawkins’ attorney, Steven A. Haney Sr., said his client was 22 years old when the undercover FBI agents posing as investors and a cooperator seeking leniency from criminal charges met him on a yacht in lower Manhattan in 2017 to convince him to bribe college coaches.

Haney said that although Dawkins accepted thousands of dollars in cash given to him on the yacht, jurors will learn that Dawkins and Code resisted the plan to bribe coaches.

“He said he was going to bribe the coaches but he didn’t,” Haney said.

Haney predicted a not guilty verdict.

“You are not going to condemn a man for something he didn’t do,” the lawyer told jurors.

Attorney Andrew Mathias, representing Code, said evidence will show his client did not want to bribe coaches.

“Merl wanted to get paid for making introductions,” Mathias said.

He said Code repeatedly said coaches should not be given money.

He also told jurors they could conclude there was reasonable doubt because no coaches would testify.

Prosecutors objected, but Judge Edgardo Ramos allowed the statement.

The trial was the second to result from an investigation that’s exposed a seedy side of college basketball recruitment.

Code and Dawkins already were convicted in October on similar charges and were each sentenced to six months in prison. This time, the focus is on bribes to coaches instead of players’ families.

Former assistant basketball coaches Tony Bland at USC, Emanuel “Book” Richardson at Arizona, Chuck Person at Auburn University and Lamont Evans at South Carolina and Oklahoma State have pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy charges and are awaiting sentencing.

North Carolina lands second 2019 guard commitment of the day

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North Carolina added another top-100 talent on the perimeter on Tuesday as four-star Class of 2019 guard Anthony Harris pledged to the Tar Heels.

The commitment from Harris comes on the same day that North Carolina made a major splash by landing five-star 2019 guard Cole Anthony.

The 6-foot-4 Harris was previously committed to Virginia Tech, but he opted to re-open his recruitment once head coach Buzz Williams left and took the same position at Texas A&M.

Missing most of his senior season with a torn ACL, Harris gives the Tar Heels another solid perimeter option who should contribute as early as next season. Playing with notable programs on the high school level like Team Takeover in the Nike EYBL and Paul VI during the high school season, Harris can contribute in many different ways.

Team Takeover was arguably the best AAU team in the country last spring and summer as Harris put up 8.6 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. More importantly, Harris is a strong and willing defender who is capable of locking down opposing perimeter options.

The commitment of Harris gives North Carolina’s thin perimeter group even more depth for next season as they now have Anthony, Harris, seniors Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson and fellow freshman Jeremiah Francis. Sophomore shooter Andrew Platek is also returning.

Regarded as the No. 65 overall player in the Class of 2019 per the 247Sports composite, Harris is a quality late pickup for the Tar Heels as North Carolina’s perimeter depth looks far better at the end of Tuesday than it did entering the day. While Anthony is likely a one-and-done player, Harris will likely stay and contribute for at least a few seasons as he comes from a winning background.

Michigan’s Jordan Poole staying in 2019 NBA Draft

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Michigan sophomore guard Jordan Poole will remain in the 2019 NBA Draft, according to a post on his Instagram.

The 6-foot-5 Poole already announced his intention to declare for the NBA draft while signing an agent. But Poole has made it clear that he’ll not be returning to school before the May 29th deadline as he’s set on turning pro.

“I need to thank God for putting me in the position to walk along the right path. There has been much consideration, but after weighing all my options and having many positive discussions, my family and I, along with the help of coach (John) Beilein and the rest of the coaching staff, believe now is the right time for me to begin my professional basketball career,” Poole said in a statement. “It has been a dream of mine to play in the NBA. I feel I am ready to go after that dream.”

As a sophomore, Poole became a key piece for the Wolverines as he averaged 12.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 rebounds per game. Shooting 43.6 percent from the floor and 36.9 percent from three-point range, Poole is a talented shot creator who can be very streaky.

Poole’s decision to leave has major ramifications on Michigan for next season as the Wolverines currently sit at No. 2 in the NBCSports.com Preseason 2019-20 Top 25. Without Poole, Michigan will likely turn to Eli Brooks to earn more minutes.

The pro decision of freshman wing Ignas Brazdeikis now becomes a major focus for the Wolverines this offseason as his return would likely solidify Michigan as a top-five preseason team. If Brazdeikis also opted to go pro like Poole, and junior Charles Matthews, then the Wolverines would need to figure out where their offense will come from next season.

Arizona lands grad transfer Max Hazzard

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Arizona has landed a commitment from UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard, one of the most sought after transfers on the market this season. Hazzard’s brother, Jacob, was a walk-on for the Wildcats from 2012-2016.

The 5-foot-10 rising senior averaged 12.5 points and 2.1 assists and shot 38.7 percent from three as a junior with the Anteaters. He put up 19 points against Kansas State’s suffocating defense in UCI’s upset win in the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament.

Hazzard joins a perimeter in Tucson that is absolutely loaded. He joins a recruiting class that includes five-star guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green, plus four-star bigs Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko and four-star guard Terry Armstrong. Sean Miller also returns a number of backcourt veterans, namely Brandon Williams, Brandon Randolph and Dylan Smith.

The Wildcats look like they should be favorites, along with Oregon, to win the Pac-12 this season.