Sunday evening San Diego State received a nice boost to its perimeter rotation, as former San Francisco point guard Devin Watson announced that he’ll join the Mountain West program. Watson, a native of Oceanside, California, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a sophomore at USF Watson averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists in just over 34 minutes of action per game, shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc.
When Watson becomes eligible for competition, the Aztec backcourt could also have Jeremy Hemsley, Trey Kell and Missouri transfer Montaque Gill-Caesar, giving head coach Steve Fisher a formidable perimeter attack to call upon. The Aztecs may not be done in the transfer “market” this spring, as they’re one of the schools being considered by former Washington State center Valentine Izundu.
Izundu, who originally was not granted a release to San Diego State, is also considering Fresno State and UNLV. And as a grad student, Izundu will be eligible to compete immediately.
Mountain West Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
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.
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.
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.
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.
San Diego State’s impressive late-game streak ends at 164 games
Entering Saturday, San Diego State had won 164 straight games in which it held a lead with five minutes remaining. While there have been some close calls, including a controversial finish against New Mexico earlier this season, Steve Fisher’s Aztecs made a habit of closing out such games over the last six seasons.
That streak came to an end at Viejas Arena, as Boise State closed the game on a 12-0 run over the final 1:04 to beat San Diego State 66-63. The Broncos, who took the lead for good on a Nick Duncan three with 22.2 seconds remaining, played without their best player as James Webb III sat out due to injury.
So how did Boise State managed to erase a nine-point deficit without reply? The answer is simple: San Diego State picked the worst possible time to start missing free throws. San Diego State missed seven straight foul shots, opening the door for Boise State to come back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
San Diego State, which wrapped up the Mountain West regular season title last Sunday at San José State, is no lock to make its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance and this loss is a damaging one. Outside of a win over California in Las Vegas, SDSU doesn’t have much on its non-conference résumé with the loss to San Diego being the most damaging blow (Little Rock and Grand Canyon, who both won at SDSU, are RPI Top 100 teams). And with the rest of the conference struggling this season, the quality win opportunities that would come in past seasons against Mountain West foes haven’t been present.
Saturday’s loss doesn’t help San Diego State from a résumé standpoint, placing even more pressure on them for the upcoming Mountain West tournament. Given the issues with their non-conference schedule and the strength of the conference, getting an at-large bid was going to be tough for San Diego State. Saturday’s loss simply puts even more pressure on the Aztecs to win the conference tournament, thus leaving no doubt as to whether or not they’ll make a seventh straight NCAA tournament.
Mountain West tournaments to remain at Thomas & Mack through 2019
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.
Dwayne Polee II was at San Diego State practice on Friday, could be weeks before he plays again
“I’m not even worried about the basketball part yet,” Fisher added. “We’re so thankful that he’s able to be here with us. He’s under great care and we’ll be very cautious on each of the steps. … I don’t think there is a timetable, but I would say more on the longer end.”
San Diego State finishes non-conference play on Saturday against NAIA opponent, San Diego Christian. The Aztecs begin their Mountain West schedule at home on New Year’s Eve against Air Force.
The 6-foot-7 Polee is averaging 8.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.