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Offensive balance, rebounding push No. 3 Utah past No. 14 Fresno State

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Sophomore center Jakob Poeltl is the focal point of the offensive attack for Midwest No. 3 Utah, but the Runnin’ Utes are at their best when they receive contributions from multiple players. That was the case in their NCAA tournament opener Thursday night, as four players scored at least 16 points in Utah’s 80-69 win over No. 14 Fresno State in Denver.

Junior guard Lorenzo Bonam scored 17 points, making seven of his ten shots from the field, and three other Utah players scored 16 points apiece. Poeltl, who also grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out four assists, was one of those three with seniors Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge being the others.

Utah shot 54 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 27 made field goals, and the offensive execution helped them end a run that saw Fresno State take a one point lead halfway through the second half.

Fresno State took a 48-47 lead with 10:33 remaining, with Utah playing with less aggression offensively and the Bulldogs successfully forcing the issue on both ends of the floor. Instead of allowing Fresno State to hang around Utah regained control, with a Bonam jumper 33 seconds later sparking a 19-2 run that removed any doubt in regards to the final outcome.

Larry Krystkowiak’s team was dominant on the glass as well, posting rebounding percentages of 56.5 percent on the offensive end and 84.6 percent defensively. From a rebounding standpoint the Runnin’ Utes will have a tougher time against either No. 6 Seton Hall or No. 11 Gonzaga Saturday, but in that regard this was a nice start to the tournament for Utah. But they’ll need to avoid the lull that opened the door for a Fresno State rally if they’re to advance to the Sweet 16.

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.

Mountain West tournaments to remain at Thomas & Mack through 2019

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Friday afternoon the Mountain West Conference announced that it would continue to hold its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas through 2019. The Thomas & Mack Center, which is also UNLV’s home building, has hosted the event every year since 2007 and the new deal comes as no surprise.

What is interesting about the announcement is the change to the Mountain West tournament bracket beginning with the 2017 edition. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments will be eight-team affairs, meaning that the bottom three teams in the league standings will remain home.

“The decision by the Board to feature the top eight men’s and women’s teams in the MW Basketball Championships is consistent with a broader Mountain West Conference initiative emphasizing performance-based competitive excellence,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in the release.

“Similar approaches are being implemented in other MW championships based upon the best interests of those particular sports. This most recent action will increase the importance of our regular-season basketball competition and is a vehicle to enhance the overall success of our basketball enterprise.”

In recent years the Mountain West has been joined in Las Vegas by the WCC (played the week prior), Pac-12 and WAC in Las Vegas for conference tournament action. The WCC and WAC use the Orleans Arena for their respective conference tournaments, with the Pac-12 tournament being played at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

With the Las Vegas Arena (expected to seat 20,000 people) due to open this spring, there will be another facility for conferences to look into if they so choose.

Fresno State dismisses highest-rated freshman from team

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Fresno State freshman guard Isaiah Bailey, the program’s highest ranked recruit in the Class of 2014, was dismissed from the team for violating a athletic department policy.

Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry confirmed the news to Robert Kuwada of the Fresno Bee on Friday night. The 6-foot-6 Bailey was ranked No. 125 overall by Rivals. He had yet to appear in a game for the Bulldogs due to a wrist injury sustained in the preseason.

“He’s a guy that we were counting on and could have helped us, but unfortunately he made a couple of bad choices that can’t be tolerated,” Terry told Kuwada.

Fresno State ends its non-conference slate against St. Katherine College (California) on Sunday. The Bulldogs open Mountain West play on New Year’s Eve at New Mexico.

Rivals150 recruit commits to Fresno State

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Nate Grimes, a 6-foot-8 small forward, became the first commitment in Fresno State’s 2015 recruiting class.

“I wanna thank all the schools and coaches that have recruited me it’s been an amazing ride I am truly blessed to have opportunities like this. It’s time to move on to bigger and better things this will lead me one step closer to my dreams. … I would like to say I’m committing to Fresno State to play for Coach Rodney Terry,” Grimes wrote as a caption in an Instagram post on Sunday afternoon.

The Las Vegas native is currently attending Quality Education in North Carolina. He is a three-star prospect, considered the No. 116 overall recruit in the Class of 2015 by Rivals. On Sept. 20, he announced his final seven schools as the Bulldogs beat out Boise State, Iowa, San Francisco, Utah State, Washington State and Wichita State.

After a 21-win season, Fresno State rewarded Terry with a three-year extension this spring. The Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them in the Mountain West Conference this upcoming season, especially with a roster that includes seven freshmen and sophomores (one redshirt) and only one senior. But Terry will have a more experienced team by the time Grimes arrives on campus in the fall of 2015.

Fresno State gives head coach Rodney Terry a three-year extension

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After leading Fresno State to its first 20-win season in seven years, head coach Rodney Terry was rewarded a three-year extension, the school announced on Monday.

The new deal keeps Terry, who took over the program in 2011, on the Bulldogs’ sideline through the 2018-2019 season.

“Rodney Terry has changed the culture of our Fresno State men’s basketball program,” Fresno State Director of Athletics Thomas Boeh said in a statement. “He has brought back the academic standards that we expect of our Bulldog student-athletes and the team delivered an exciting run on the court late in the season and into postseason play. There is an excitement building in the community that was clearly demonstrated last season with more fans returning to the Save Mart Center.”

In three seasons, Terry has compiled a 45-57 record, though, he had a 10-win turnaround this past season. Fresno State, in its second season as a member of the Mountain West, finished seventh in the conference standings.

Terry will continue to have his work cut out for him heading into the 2014-2015 season. San Diego State will not only be the Mountain West favorite, but is arguably a top 10 team to start the year. UNLV’s highly-touted recruiting class will combat the loss of its entire starting five from a season ago. Boise State and New Mexico will return key pieces on their respective perimeters while Colorado State will have an experienced squad.

The Bulldogs return some young talent, such as rising junior Marvelle Harris and Cezar Guerrero and sophomore forward Paul Watson. Fresno State also adds transfer Julien Lewis, who averaged 11.2 points per game at Texas during the 2012-2013 season.

“I am extremely excited about the opportunity to continue to lead our program into next season and beyond. Staff continuity, support from our administration, as well as our outstanding Fresno State fan base, has made this a great place to be, and I look forward to many years of success for Bulldog Basketball,” Terry said.