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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.

CBT Podcast: So are we going to have a college basketball season?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to talk through … well, to talk about whether or not the Coronavirus pandemic is going to cause us to lose out on a college basketball season. Depressing, I know.

Patriot League punts on fall football as SEC leaders meet

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The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the pandemic while holding out hope games can be made up.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will not compete in any fall sports, which include football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey. The council of presidents said the league will consider making up those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any two opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

The Patriot League competes in Division I’s second tier of college football (FCS) like the Ivy League, which announced a similar decision last week. Unlike the Ivy League, the Patriot League participates in the FCS playoffs.

Meanwhile, at the top of college sports, Southeastern Conference athletic directors met in person in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss how the SEC can have a football season as COVID-19 cases spike throughout much of the South.

No final decisions were expected to be announced, but the meeting comes just days after the Big Ten and Pac-12 said they would play conference-only schedules this fall in football and a number of other sports.

SEC football media days, the unofficial start of the season for many fans, had been scheduled to begin this week, but the coronavirus pandemic forced all FBS conferences to hold those events online this year. Even some of those – for the SEC and ACC – are now on hold.

Some programs are taking steps toward playing in and even starting their football seasons on time. Monday was the first day the NCAA allowed football players to take part in mandatory team activities with coaches, including unpadded walk-through practices.

Florida State posted a video on social media of its team hitting the field with players and coaches wearing face coverings and shields to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Pac-12 football teams will have to wait. Last week, conference presidents delayed mandatory team activities for Pac-12 athletes, acknowledging it would likely delay the start of the fall sports seasons.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard in a letter to fans posted online said the school is trying to balance the health and safety of athletes with the drastic financial repercussions of not having a football season.

“If we are unable to play sports this fall, the athletics department would incur approximately $40M in unfunded expenses in the next six months,” Pollard wrote.

College football season was scheduled to start with a handful of nonconference games – three involving Pac-12 teams – on Aug. 29, before a full slate around Labor Day weekend from Sept. 3-7.

The Patriot League has seven schools that play football: Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette, Holy Cross and affiliate members Georgetown and Fordham.

Lehigh and Lafayette, located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania, started playing in 1884, sometimes as many as three times in a season. Only in 1896 was the rivalry not played since it began.

Army and Navy play in college football’s highest tier of Division I and were exempt from the Patriot League’s decision regarding other fall sports. The Patriot League council said the service academies will be allowed to pursue competition in those sports in which they usually compete within the conference, including soccer and volleyball, as the schools’ leaders see fit.

Northwestern’s Phillips to chair NCAA men’s hoops committee

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INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern vice president Jim Phillips was chosen Monday to chair the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2021-22 season, succeeding Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Phillips, who is in his fourth year on the committee, will spend the upcoming season as vice chair.

Phillips was the first active athletic director to serve on the Board of Directors and Board of Governors, and he was elected first chair of the NCAA Division I Council in 2015. He also sits on the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors and is vice chair of LEAD 1, an organization made up of athletic directors from all 130 schools that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The rest of the Division I Men’s Basketball committee includes Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson; Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett; Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade; Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds; Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien; SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland; Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard; and North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

The current chairman, Duke athletic director Kevin White, will rotate off the committee on Sept. 1.

Longtime coach, executive Craig Robinson hired to lead NABC

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Longtime basketball coach Craig Robinson, who has spent time in both the college and professional ranks, was hired Monday as executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Robinson will take over for Jim Haney, who has held the influential position for the past 29 years.

The brother of former first lady Michelle Obama, Robinson has been the vice president of player development for the New York Knicks for the past three years. That job included the title of general manager of the G League’s Westchester Knicks.

Robinson also had a similar role with the Milwaukee Bucks after spending eight years as a Division I coach, first at Brown in the Ivy League and then during six seasons with Oregon State, where he led the Beavers to four postseason appearances.

Robinson was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton. He also has worked in the private sector in finance.

James Wiseman is the new blueprint for evaluating bluechip prospects

JAMES WISEMAN 2020 NBA DRAFT
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The closest thing one will find to a consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft is James Wiseman.

In a year where every top prospect has warts, Wiseman’s athleticism given his size and his measureables makes it easy to not only envision his role early on in his NBA career but also a path to being a perennial All-Star. This is a draft class where the trendy No. 1 pick in mock drafts can’t shoot or play defense. Risk averse GMs will love a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that can move his feet.

But what makes me so interested in Wiseman has less to do with who he is as a player than what he signifies as a prospect.

James Wiseman is the blueprint for what evaluating blue-chip prospects will look like if the G League’s Pathway Program manages to attract a significant number of elite players in the coming seasons.

For those unaware of Wiseman’s path to this point, in the hours leading up to the start of Memphis’ first game of the season, news broke that Wiseman was not only considered ineligible by the NCAA, but he had gone to a courthouse to file an emergency injunction to maintain his eligibility and get on the court. The program kept up this charade for three games before finally realizing that playing chicken with the NCAA over amateurism bylaws was not in their best interest. Wiseman sat out, applied for reinstatement and was given a 12-game suspension. Midway through that suspension, he quit the team.

After playing just those three games.

All told, Wiseman logged 69 minutes of college basketball, with just one of the three games that he played coming against competition worth evaluating him against. The last time we saw him on a basketball court was on November 12th of 2019. By the time the 2020 NBA Draft actually happens, James Wiseman will be more than 11 months removed from playing in a competitive basketball environment and nearly 18 months removed from the last real opportunity NBA front office types had to evaluate him in extended, competitive settings.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

He’s hardly an unknown, mind you. He played in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit. More importantly, at least for evaluation purposes, he participated in the typically-intense practices for those events. All of his games from the Nike EYBL heading into his senior season in high school can be found on Synergy. He’s been involved with USA Basketball dating as far back as the U-16s.

But part of the reason that the NBA instituted the one-and-done rule in the first place was because you can only get so much out of evaluating elite prospects against high school competition. While college basketball and the NBA are very different, there is value in seeing how these players pick up concepts, how they work within a structured offense and defense, how they adjust to the way defenses play them as their strengths and weaknesses show up on film, whether or not they can accept the role they are being asked to play, how they handle the pressure of competition that comes with high major college basketball.

That’s not the only reason — letting schools pick up the tab for a year of development is certainly a major part of it, as is having control over a player’s age 28 season instead of their age 18 season — but if NBA teams didn’t find value in scouting players in these settings they wouldn’t shuttle scouts and front office types all across the country to see them play live.

They didn’t get any of that with Wiseman, just like they likely won’t get any of that with Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix or anyone else that plans on taking that route. And that’s significant. Wiseman turned 19 years old on March 31st. This year of development that NBA teams are in the dark about is one of the most important periods of development for any prospect. The COVID-19 era has created a lot of unknown and uncertainty when it comes to the 2020 NBA Draft, and for my money no one will have been as impacted as James Wiseman.

As far as the actual basketball is concerned, what makes Wiseman so intriguing is his agility, mobility and athleticism given his 7-foot, 250 pound frame and 7-foot-5 wingspan. He is an elite lob target and rim runner that consistently beats defenders down the floor in transition. There aren’t many people on the planet that will be able to contest him at the rim, and when Wiseman opts to go full bully-ball, he’s dominant.

2020 NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILE

The problem, however, is that Wiseman does not always go full bully-ball. One of the knocks on him is that he has a tendency to drift in and out of games, that he doesn’t always utilize the physical gifts he has. Despite the very limited minutes that he played this past season for Memphis, it is still pretty easy to find clips of Wiseman opting for fadeaway jumpers instead of powering through opponents that are half-a-foot shorter than him. One of the prevailing thoughts on Wiseman is that he envisions himself as someone in the mold of Giannis, or Pascal Siakim, or even a Bam Adebayo; that he wants to be a perimeter-oriented, ball-handling big.

And to be frank, there is some skill there. He can make shots out to about 15 feet, and that was before the 11 month layoff he’s had to improve his game. He’s a good post scorer with the ability to play facing-up. He can handle the ball a little bit and create for himself. But there is a significant difference between being capable of something and being good enough that an NBA organization is going to build a game-plan, let alone a franchise, around it.

I think the key to Wiseman’s career is going to depend on what he envisions himself to be and the way that he carries himself as a professional. I’ll start with the latter. Scouts have had questions about his competitive drive and how much he loves the game for years. He has a tendency to coast through games, playing like he’s in cruise control for stretches. The fact that he left Memphis midway through the season helped reinforce this belief to doubters.

But leaving was also completely understandable given the context of his suspension and the way the school handled it. And if you remember, Deandre Ayton had some of these same concerns coming out of high school. No one is asking those questions after he became the first player in NBA history under 22 years old not named Shaq to average 19 points, 12 boards and 1.5 blocks.

Sometimes, big men aren’t entirely motivated to play when the competition physically cannot compare.

The other part of it is something that I already mentioned. Wiseman, for years, has been intent on showcasing what he can do playing on the perimeter, and while he is certainly skilled for a 19-year old 7-footer, he is not what you would consider skilled for a basketball player. He doesn’t have a great feel away from the basket, his shooting stroke is a little wonky and he’s not a great passer.

Where he should thrive is as a defender. All the physical tools are there for Wiseman to develop into one of the best defensive centers in the NBA, and while he found himself out of position at times as a freshman, that is hardly uncommon for freshmen big men early in the season. He’ll get better on that end as he gets coached up, and his ability as a lob target means that there already is a role he can play in an NBA offense.

Put another way, if he decides that he is going to follow in the mold of Myles Turner, I think he’ll be a very, very good pro. Turner is in his fifth season in the league, has been a starter on playoff teams since midway through his rookie season, is one of the best defensive players in the league and is averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 boards and 2.1 blocks for his career.

If he embraces the defensive side of the ball and buys into being a rim runner, a lob target and a guy that punishes switches while occasionally taking opposing bigs away from the basket, I think Myles Turner is his floor. In that scenario, in the 2020 NBA Draft James Wiseman has the highest floor and ceiling combination.

But that’s a big ‘if,’ and a question only James Wiseman can give us an answer to.