Mountain West Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Boise State’s Derrick Marks (Getty Images)

Back in October the general consensus was that the Mountain West possessed a clear favorite in San Diego State and a host of teams capable of challenging the Aztecs. Well, Steve Fisher’s team did make good on the preseason predictions that they would win the league, but they won’t be the top seed in Las Vegas.

That honor goes to Leon Rice’s Boise State Broncos, who enter the conference tournament having won 14 of their last 15 games and they also swept the season series with San Diego State. Led by senior guard Derrick Marks, this has been a season of firsts for the Boise State program. Not only is this their first conference title as a member of the Mountain West, but they also picked up first-ever road wins at New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State.

As for who can challenge the top two seeds this week, Colorado State and Wyoming will be heard from with Larry Eustachy’s Rams looking to strengthen their NCAA tournament resume. Colorado State’s an older team, and in recnet years the transfer market has yielded quality players such as J.J. Avila, Daniel Bejarano and Stanton Kidd. As for Larry Shyatt’s Cowboys, they’re a tough defensive team led by one of the league’s most respected (and best) players in Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Adams is no slouch either.

There’s also Utah State, which will look to cap the coaching career of Stew Morrill with a deep tournament run, and Fresno State when it comes to teams capable of wreaking havoc. New Mexico has won the last three Mountain West tournaments, but an injury-plagued 2014-15 season is unlikely to yield a fourth consecutive title.



When: March 11-14

Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

Final: March 14, 6:00 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Boise State

This is Boise State’s fourth year in the Mountain West and it’s been an incredible one to this point. The Broncos entered league play struggling with injuries, and they dropped their first four Mountain West games (which included trips to Colorado State and Wyoming) as a result. But then guys returned to full strength, Derrick Marks played at an elite level and James Webb III emerged as one of the Mountain West’s best forwards. The end result: a share of the Mountain West title, and that’s without the injured Anthony Drmic (medical redshirt). They’ve earned the label of favorite, especially with that sweep of San Diego State.

And if they lose?: San Diego State

Given San Diego State’s run of success under Steve Fisher, one could make an argument that they should be the favorites in Las Vegas. J.J. O’Brien has emerged as this team’s most important player, as he’s a “Swiss army knife” who does a variety of things for the Aztecs on both ends of the floor. San Diego State is an excellent defensive team, with multiple athletic defenders on the perimeter and a talented shot-blocker in Skylar Spencer manning the middle. The question marks are on offense, as the Aztecs have issues shooting the basketball. If players such as Aqeel Quinn, Matt Shrigley and Dwayne Polee II can knock down shots, the chances of a run through Las Vegas increase a great deal.

Other Contenders:

  • Colorado State: The Rams entered conference play undefeated and finished just a game behind Boise State and San Diego State. J.J. Avila has been one of the Mountain West’s best, and players such as Daniel Bejarano, John Gillon and Stanton Kidd have also been productive. The key for Colorado State this week: don’t settle for challenged perimeter shots too often. That gets them in trouble on occasion.
  • Wyoming: Bouts with mono for Larry Nance Jr. and Alan Herndon essentially eliminated the Cowboys from the Mountain West race in mid-February, but Wyoming is back to full strength and capable of winning this event. Wyoming has plenty of experience, and this includes the likes of guards Josh Adams, Riley Grabau and Charles Hankerson Jr. This is a very good defensive team, but they’ll need to be better offensively if they’re to win the tournament.

Sleeper: Utah State

The Aggies were able to put together a six-game win streak before dropping games to Wyoming and Colorado State last week. Utah State has the conference’s best freshman in forward David Collette, and forward Jalen Moore averaged just over 15 points per game. Add in the fact this is Stew Morrill’s final conference tournament, and the Aggies may be able to surprise some people.

Deeper Sleeper: Fresno State

With the bottom four seeds being what they are (UNLV and New Mexico were both hit hard by injuries, and Air Force and Nevada also have issues), go with the six-seeded Bulldogs here. Marvelle Harris does it all for Fresno State, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists, and he’s the kind of player who can get hot and carry a team. Players such as Paul Watson, Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero are capable of at the very least supplementing Harris’ efforts.

Mountain West Player of the Year: Derrick Marks, Boise State

Marks was outstanding this season for the Broncos, averaging 19.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 46.0 percent from three. His averages increased across the board, and Marks did so while playing in a far more efficient manner than he did as a junior with Anthony Drmic available.

Mountain West Coach of the Year: Leon Rice, Boise State

When Boise State started conference play 0-4, a Mountain West title seemed far-fetched. Then Rice’s Broncos returned to full strength and they got rolling, winning 14 of their last 15 games.

First Team All-Mountain West:

  • Marks
  • Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: Nance averaged 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, and his impact was most noticeable when he was sidelined with mononucleosis in mid-February.
  • J.J. Avila, Colorado State: Avila (16.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.0 spg) led the Rams in scoring, rebounding and steals as a senior.
  • Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood may be the conference’s best pro prospect, and he averaged 15.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest.
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: Harris (16.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.1 spg) led the Bulldogs in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.

Second Team All-Mountain West:

  • J.J. O’Brien, San Diego State
  • James Webb III, Boise State
  • A.J. West, Nevada
  • Daniel Bejarano, Colorado State
  • Jalen Moore, Utah State

Defining moment of the season: Boise State’s win at San Diego State

While the Broncos also picked up their first-ever wins at New Mexico and UNLV, neither of those teams factored into the Mountain West race. Their 76-65 win at Viejas February 24 was the most impressive of the bunch, and if gave Boise State the inside track to the top seed in the Mountain West tournament.

CBT Prediction: San Diego State avenges two losses to Boise State with a win in the title game.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.