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Mountain West Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The goal of the Mountain West in recent years has been to get back to the days earlier this decade in which the conference could count on multiple teams going to the NCAA tournament. There’s still work to be done in this regard, as the 11 teams will arrive in Las Vegas knowing that only regular season champion Nevada is well positioned to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

Despite seeing multiple players suffer injuries throughout the course of the season, Eric Musselman’s Wolf Pack won the Mountain West by two games. Led offensively by twins Caleb and Cody Martin, forward Jordan Caroline and guard Kendall Stephens, Nevada may not be that deep but the team doesn’t lack for talent or experience either.

That being said Nevada won’t lack for challenges in Las Vegas, especially with Fresno State and San Diego State on their side of the bracket. Leading the way on the bottom half of the bracket is two-seed Boise State, which has some work to do in order to ensure itself of an NCAA tournament bid.

Here’s a look at the 2018 Mountain West Tournament, an event that’s been won by the top seed twice in the last five seasons.

THE FAVORITE

Even with Saturday’s loss to San Diego State in the regular season finale, Nevada has earned the label of favorites heading into the tournament. Boasting a 15-3 league record, the Wolf Pack had the Mountain West’s most efficient offense and defensively led the conference in both effective field goal and three-point percentage defense. Nevada’s top four scorers, led by Caleb Martin at 19.5 points per game, have combined to account for nearly 65 points per game on the season. And without Lindsey Drew, who went down with a ruptured Achilles last month, the Martin twins, Caroline and Stephens have even more on their plates.

But if a Josh Hall, who chipped in with ten points in Nevada’s win at UNLV on February 28, or Hallice Cook can step forward this week that would bode well for the Wolf Pack. What also helps this team is the fact that they take care of the basketball, as their 9.1 turnovers per game were by far the least in the Mountain West. That being said, they’ve got a tough half of the bracket to navigate.

THE CONTENDERS

Boise State leads this list, due in large part to the presence of senior guard Chandler Hutchison. Averaging 19.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Hutchison leads the Broncos in all three statistical categories. While Leon Rice certainly has other options he can call upon offensively, led by Christian Sengfelder and Justinian Jessup (who’s shooting 46.7 percent from three), when a big play needs to be made it’s Hutchison who will have the ball in his hands.

After Boise State, New Mexico and San Diego State both deserve mention. Paul Weir led the Lobos to a 12-6 record in league play, and after being stuck on the bench his first two seasons in Albuquerque Anthony Mathis has emerged as the team’s leading scorer. And UNM capped the regular season with a win over Fresno State. As for the Aztecs, after getting blown out by Nevada on February 10 Brian Dutcher’s team won its last six to finish the regular season. SDSU is balanced offensively, with Malik Pope leading four double-figure scorers, and freshman Jalen McDaniels is going to be a star in this league.

WHO NEEDS A WIN THE MOST?

Boise State. With Nevada due to pick up an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the tournament, that leaves the Broncos as the only other team in the Mountain West that has a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament if they don’t win the automatic bid. But that would likely require Boise State reaching Saturday’s title game, at minimum. A win over Utah State or Colorado State in the quarters won’t do much for their resume, and neither would a semifinal win over New Mexico/Wyoming/San Jose State. And it should be noted that if Nevada isn’t the opponent in the final, a close loss could spell doom for Boise State there as well.

WHO IS ON THE BUBBLE?

Boise State. Ranked 41st in the NCAA’s most recent RPI update, Boise State enters the Mountain West tournament with two Quadrant 1 (Loyola-Chicago and Oregon) and four Quadrant 2 wins to its credit. The RPI likes Boise State more than other metrics, which have the Broncos ranked in the fifties with the exception of the KPI (61). Getting to the final may not be good enough, especially if the opponent in that game isn’t Nevada. Why risk it? Just win the whole damn thing and sleep easy Saturday night.

THE SLEEPER

Given the fact that they aren’t listed with the contenders above, Fresno State would be the best choice here. However, this is a group that is now playing without guard Jaron Hopkins as he suffered a right foot injury in a loss at Wyoming on February 24. Hopkins accounted for 20 points and five assists in the Bulldogs’ home win over San Diego State, their quarterfinal opponent, back on February 6. While many like to parrot the phrase “it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season,” that’s been proven to be false.

Matchups matter, and Fresno State has some guys who can cause trouble in Deshon Taylor and Bryson Williams. The Bulldogs can account for the loss of Hopkins, especially with the time off between the end of the regular season and the start of the conference tournament. The bigger concern regarding Fresno State is the way that San Diego State is playing of late. As for any other sleepers, Wyoming is a team worth monitoring with Justin James and Hayden Dalton leading the way for Allen Edwards’ team. With San Jose State being the opponent in their tournament opener, Wyoming will likely face New Mexico for the third time this season in the quarters (UNM won both meetings).

PLAYER TO WATCH

Caleb Martin, Nevada. Martin, one of the top transfers in the country, is averaging 19.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on the season, shooting 47.3 percent from the field, 43.1 percent from three and 75.4 percent from the foul line. Martin going off over the course of three days, especially when he’s scored 20 points or more in 17 games this season, would surprise no one. And frankly, he’s a fun player to watch.

X-FACTORS

– Does Nevada’s lack of depth catch up with it due to the quick turnarounds? Three games in as many days could be a tough ask for the Wolf Pack, but the versatility of the players available should help matters.

– UNLV’s mindset. The Runnin’ Rebels lost five straight to end the regular season, with four of the losses being by double digits. There’s enough talent on this roster to cause some trouble, but given the beating they took at the hands of rival Nevada at Thomas & Mack on February 28 (101-75) who knows what this team will be thinking if the teams meet for a third time on Thursday.

– San Diego State’s defense. Long known for its commitment on that end of the floor, during a stretch in which it went 2-6 SDSU allowed 77 points or more in seven of those games (losing six). The Aztecs have defended better during the current six-game win streak, and if that carries over into Las Vegas maybe they make a run.

NBC SPORTS MOUNTAIN WEST POSTSEASON HONORS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chandler Hutchison, Boise State

COACH OF THE YEAR: Eric Musselman, Nevada

FIRST TEAM ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST

  • Justin James, Wyoming
  • Chandler Hutchison, Boise State
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada
  • Hayden Dalton, Wyoming
  • Jordan Carolina, Nevada

SECOND TEAM ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST

  • Sam Merrill, Utah State
  • Deshon Taylor, Fresno State
  • Cody Martin, Nevada
  • Shakur Juiston, UNLV
  • Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Annual doubleheader featuring state of Iowa’s four schools ending after 2018

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One of college basketball’s distinctive events is coming to a close after this season.

The Hy-Vee Classic, formerly the Big Four Classic, which has put the state of Iowa’s four Division I programs under one roof for a doubleheader each season since 2012 will have its last edition this December with the University of Iowa electing to exercise its option to pull out of the event with the Big Ten’s move to 20 conference games.

“The addition of two conference games is good for our fans, the Big Ten Conference and our strength of schedule,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement, “but unfortunately it created some scheduling challenges that impacts this event.”

The event was unique as it pit the state’s two Power 5 institutions – Iowa and Iowa State – against its two Missouri Valley Conference programs – Northern Iowa and Drake – on a rotating basis each season in the state capital of Des Moines. One year Iowa State would play Drake while Iowa would face Northern Iowa with the following year featuring Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa and Iowa vs. Drake. And so on and so forth for the last six years and ending after one last go-round this December.

The event was a sort of compromise to keep the intrastate series alive after years of both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones playing home-and-homes with Drake and Northern Iowa most years, putting them on the road in hostile MVC arenas.

That went away in 2012 and doesn’t appear to be likely to return with the dissolution of the yearly doubleheader.

“Although we would certainly welcome continuing to play games against UNI or Drake in the future,” Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said in a statement, “our ability to do that will most likely depend on each of their institution’s willingness to play games in Hilton Coliseum.”

Needless to say, Drake and UNI were not pleased with Iowa’s decision to force the end of the event.

“What has made our state unique on the college basketball landscape was the willingness and cooperation between the state’s four Division I universities to play each other on a regular basis,” Drake athletic director Brian Hardin said in a statement. “I understand the position that Iowa and Iowa State believe they are in. However, it is a sad day for passionate basketball fans of all four programs who have enjoyed nearly a century of history and rivalries between these four schools that were played in various great venues in our state.”

When the event was initially announced, it always felt like it was intended to act as a wind-down for Iowa and Iowa State – who will continue to face each other in on-campus games every year –  of the mid-major games that were popular with fans but not always with Hawkeyes and Cyclones coaches. Given the option, few Power 5 coaches are going to be excited about facing a lower-tier in-state rival every year anywhere other than its home floor.

Still, it’s a major loss for a unique situation in a small-population state that is not home to professional sports, but four Division I men’s hoops programs. College athletics is the passion in Iowa, and depriving the state’s fans of what were – if not national marquee – fun and interesting matchups that carry with them pride and bragging rights is a step in the wrong direction.

Ultimately, these games are likely going to be replaced on the schedules for the Cyclones and Hawkeyes with low-major opponents that won’t move the needle either at the gate or on their NCAA tournament resumes. Instead of an innovative event that against a co-worker’s or neighbor’s alma mater, Iowa and Iowa State fans can say hello to a steady diet of games against Bryant, Campbell and Maryland Eastern Shore while Drake and UNI get relegated to even more pronounced second-class status.

The move isn’t surprising, but it is disappointing.

High-scoring White ready for shot at UNC point guard role

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WILSON, N.C. (AP) — No one questions whether Coby White is good enough to help North Carolina immediately as a freshman.

Rather, the pressing question as White heads to campus this week is this: can the instate McDonald’s All-American who scored more points than any high school player in state history help the Tar Heels replace departed point guard Joel Berry II?

“I want to play. Who doesn’t want to play?” White said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I know it’s going to take a lot to learn the offense and defense of North Carolina. … I feel like I’m a quick learner and I have a high IQ for the game. Basketball is just reads to me. I think I always make the correct read.

“It’s going to be hard but I feel like it’s going to be a quick adjustment for me.”

The 6-foot-4 White is ranked as the nation’s No. 23 recruit by 247sports, joining McDonald’s game MVP Nassir White (a 6-7 small forward ranked third nationally) and four-star 6-8 guard Rechon “Leaky” Black.

The trio joins a team that returns three starters — including AP third-team All-American Luke Maye — but must replace Berry and swingman Theo Pinson, fixtures from a 2017 NCAA title run.

Berry’s absence could be the biggest void. He was a Final Four most outstanding player, floor leader and won’t-back-down competitor.

Rising junior Seventh Woods has struggled with injuries and inconsistency as Berry’s possible successor, while freshman Jalek Felton withdrew from school after being suspended at midseason by the university for an unspecified reason.

That leaves an opening for White, a scoring point guard with more than 3,500 career points for Greenfield School in Wilson before the school retired his jersey.

“Will he have to score 31 at Carolina next year? Absolutely not,” Greenfield coach Rob Salter said. “But when the opportunity is there for him to score, he can do it, and he can do it pretty naturally.”

UNC coach Roy Williams began recruiting White as a point guard and an “instinctive passer.” Of course, he’s not overlooking White’s scoring punch, either.

“If you’re the leading scorer in North Carolina history, it means you shot a hell of a lot,” Williams quipped. “He did, but he makes a bunch of them, too. … The one thing that will have to become more important to him is his field-goal percentage.

“But if he didn’t get 30 or 40 or whatever, they had a difficult time beating a good team. So if I was coaching him (in high school), I’d say, ‘If it feels like leather, shoot it.'”

To prepare for college basketball, White said he has worked to get stronger and is up to about 190 pounds. He’s honing off-ball skills to play on the wing, too.

His mother, Bonita, said it’s merely the latest example of how her son has always been “wired to work.” She pointed to his freshman year when he’d return from basketball workouts at Greenfield and then head to the YMCA near their Goldsboro home.

“I was like, ‘You just got home, why do you want to go to the Y?'” she said. “He said, ‘The ball never stops.’ That’s where I saw it became very, very serious for him. It became a goal, even as a kid at that age who in his mind knew that the only way he would get better is to continue to work. And that’s what he did.”

White is fresh off helping the United States claim the FIBA Americas under-18 championship Saturday night in Canada. By week’s end, he’ll be in Chapel Hill to begin summer classes and start prepping for an oncourt opportunity.

“I’m probably going to be more nervous about just going to school because I’ve always been (at Greenfield) and it’s a little school,” White said.

“But basketball, I’ve been playing basketball since I was 5. I’m not really nervous because it’s what I do. I practice it every day. I put 100 percent into it so I don’t see why I should be nervous about it.”

South Carolina’s Martin understands Bowen’s choice to leave

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s Frank Martin understood all along he might never get to coach Brian Bowen in a game and is just happy the 6-foot-7 forward whose name is part of the federal corruption case in college basketball had the chance to spend a few months with the Gamecocks.

Bowen gave up his college career to turn pro last month when the NCAA informed South Carolina he would miss at least all of next season — his second full year on the bench — because of his alleged involvement in the scandal.

“Am I surprised? No. I’m realistic enough to understand when we took him that this was a possibility,” Martin said. “Was I disappointed? Yes.”

Bowen, from Saginaw, Michigan, transferred to South Carolina following his suspension from Louisville amid the federal probe after news of an alleged payment involving the Cardinals and his father to get him to join that school. Bowen could not play for the Gamecocks until at least the middle of December next season because of NCAA transfer rules.

The governing body told the school the penalty for Bowen would at least include the rest of the next year, something Martin knew meant Bowen had little option other than to turn pro.

“The NCAA kind of pigeon-holed him into only one choice,” Martin said.

Martin said did not want to dissect the NCAA’s decision, saying he accepted it and worked with Bowen and his family on his future. Bowen has since withdrawn from this month’s NBA draft. Martin said he’ll play in a developmental league or play outside the country to preserve his eligibility for next year’s draft.

South Carolina brought in Bowen last January despite his involvement with the college corruption scandal. It was not the coaches only ties to the ongoing investigation. One of Martin’s former staff members, ex-Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, was arrested by federal authorities. Documents from the investigation showed former Gamecocks point guard PJ Dozier received $6,115 from the ASM Sports Agency while in school.

Martin has said he knew nothing about Dozier or his family dealing with agents and that he has always run a clean program.

Bowen has insisted he’s had no involvement with Christian Dawkins, the would-be agent who federal prosecutors say brokered and facilitated payments to players during their recruitments in exchange for them hiring him when they turned pro.

Martin is grateful for the time he’s had with Bowen, who had a 3.5 GPA this semester and was a model teammate who’d spend hours by himself in the gym shooting jumpers. He was also committed to South Carolina’s future, the coach said, which he proved after his time at the NBA draft combine last month.

Martin said Bowen spent six days working out at the combine and another five after that visiting NBA teams for workouts. When Bowen finally returned to Columbia, he drove to a restaurant where Gamecocks coaches were entertaining a recruit.

“He’s a real good kid,” Martin said.

The coach also believes he is a future NBA player, though obviously Bowen needs to improve areas of his game. Martin recalled an informal workout with past South Carolina stars including Los Angeles Clippers guard Sindarius Thornwell and Dozier, who spent much of this season in the G-League with the Oklahoma City Blue.

“I wasn’t sure Brian wasn’t the best player on the court when I walked out of there,” Martin said.

Bowen also made other South Carolina players better at practices. Martin cited an early January slump — the so-called “freshman wall” many newcomers hit — by first-year forward Justin Minaya. When Bowen arrived for practices, he was matched up most of the time against the 6-5 Minaya.

“Justin had no choice but to engage in that matchup with Brian because Brian’s such a talented kid,” Martin said.

As a result, Martin said Minaya recovered his form and was among the Gamecocks most consistent players in February and March.

“I know what I walked into. I knew the situation,” Martin said. “Do I regret it? Not one bit because of the person he is.”

North Carolina gets commitment from four-star 2020 forward

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North Carolina has its first piece in its 2020 recruiting class.

Day’Ron Sharpe, a 6-foot-9 forward, committed to the Tar Heels on Sunday, according to multiple reports.

The Winterville, N.C. native picked Roy Williams’ in-state program over offers from Florida, Georgetown and Virginia, among others, after a second visit to Chapel Hill recently.

“We weren’t expecting it, and it kind of came out of the blue,” his father, Derrick Sharpe, told 247 Sports about the commitment. “He told coach Williams and coach was just really excited about it.”

Sharpe averaged 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game during his sophomore season.

“He’s a very multi-talented player,” Dwayne West, executive director of the Garner Road Bulldogs told the Raleigh News & Observer. “He does several things very well at a high rate. He can obviously score the ball around the basket, has a solid shot and is actually a very good playmaker. Handles the ball very well.”

Sharpe is a four-star, consensus top-75 player in the 2020 class. Williams also has one commit in the 2019 class, top-50 point guard Jeremiah Francis, who, like Sharpe, committed to the Tar Heels the summer before his junior season.

Former Western Michigan basketball player cleared of murder

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A jury has acquitted a former Western Michigan basketball player of murder in the shooting death of a fellow student but convicted him of armed robbery and a weapons charge.

The Kalamazoo County jury deliberated two days before returning the verdict for Joeviair Kennedy. He faces a possible life sentence when he’s sentenced July 16.

Nineteen-year-old Jacob Jones was killed near the campus on Dec. 8, 2016.

Co-defendant Jordan Waire of Muskegon was convicted last month of felony murder, armed robbery and weapons charges.

Prosecutors said it was Waire who shot Jones. Kennedy has said they took marijuana and about $25.

Kennedy’s attorney, Eusebio Solis, said his client agreed to the robbery but not the killing.

Kennedy was arrested in 2016 at the start of his second basketball season.

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