Oregon picked up one of the nation’s best graduate transfers on Wednesday night as New Mexico guard Anthony Mathis pledged to the Ducks.
A native of West Linn, Oregon, Mathis will head close to home to finish out his college career as he joins former high school teammate Payton Pritchard to form the new backcourt for the Ducks. A sharpshooter who received his fifth year of NCAA eligibility in mid-April, Mathis has been a double-figure scorer the past two seasons for the Lobos as he averaged 14.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three-point range last season.
Since Oregon only returns three scholarship players from last season (Pritchard, Will Richardson and Francis Okoro), the addition of Mathis is important since he can come in and contribute right away for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman has been successful with grad transfers in the past, including guard Ehab Amin last season as Mathis provides important insurance in case a highly-touted four-man recruiting class isn’t ready to all contribute right away.
The Pritchard and Mathis backcourt should be one of the better duos in the Pac-12 as this addition makes Oregon dangerous once again.
I’m convinced of it. Imagine, for a second, the offers that would get thrown around as Duke looks for some shooting, or Michigan looks for another playmaker, or Kansas tries to find a way to avoid losing the Big 12 for the first time since Hoobastank was still a thing.
It wouldn’t make the headlines that this Anthony Davis soap opera has, but it would be one of the biggest story in sports.
So with that in mind, let’s pretend this trade deadline exists. What would happen? We have the answers.
One major caveat here: These trades have to benefit both teams, and they have to be trades that, in theory, would be accepted. So, for example, no matter how much I want to imagine someone like Cam Reddish with the freedom he’d have at Kansas. The same can be said for someone like Dylan Windler or Ja Morant or Chris Clemons. Those mid-majors superstars are on teams with the talent to win their league. They’re not making moves right now.
I know it’s kind of silly to require some sensibility for something that could never possibly happen, but it makes the exercise that much more fun.
Anyway, here are the trades. Drop a note in the comments or hit me on twitter with any I missed:
WICHITA STATE’S MARKIS MCDUFFIE TO DUKE FOR ALEX O’CONNELL
McDuffie is everything that Duke is missing at this point in the season. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 wing that is a versatile defender and, most importantly, a senior that has already won a bunch of games in March. He’s have the best year of his career this season, averaging 18.9 points while shooting 38.1 percent from three. He’s a better version of Jack White, a piece that can spell any of Duke’s Big Three while also being able to hold his own if Duke went to their death lineup — with McDuffie on the floor with the four freshmen.
O’Connell would be a good get for Gregg Marshall. He’s going to have to be better defensively to fit in there, but you get better defensively when you spend time in that program. And frankly, playing for one of the better programs in the American is more O’Connell’s level than playing for arguably the best program in America. He hasn’t been great for Duke, but keep in mind, he’s an athletic, 6-foot-6 wing that can shoot it from three and was a top 75 prospect coming out of high school.
Wichita State is dead in the water this year, so it makes sense to give up McDuffie for the rest of a wasted season to get two more years of O’Connell in return.
STANFORD’S KZ OKPALA TO MICHIGAN FOR BRANDON JOHNS AND THE COMMITMENT OF JALEN WILSON
Stanford’s season is done. They’re 11-10 on the year, they’re 4-5 in the horrid Pac-12 and while Jerod Haase isn’t quite on the hot seat just yet, he’s getting closer and closer to that territory by the moment. He also has one of the best sophomores in the country on his roster in K.Z. Okpala, a 6-foot-9 wing that shoots 41 percent from three, can handle the ball and will likely end up being a top 20 pick in this year’s draft.
This season is currently going to waste for Okpala, who is the perfect fit on a Michigan team that can go through stretches were they really struggle to score. Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and, to a point, Charles Matthews are sensational defenders that can be liabilities on the offensive end of the floor, and when all of them are playing roughly 20 minutes together, Michigan can get bogged down on that end of the floor.
Enter Okpala, who has the length and athleticism to be a plus-defender and whose shooting and playmaking ability will fit in perfectly with a John Beilein offense. He’ll create depth on a roster that doesn’t have a ton of it, and suddenly give Beilein the option of playing a lineup that includes Iggy Brazdeikis, Isaiah Livers, Matthews and Okpala.
Johns is going to end up being pretty good, and Wilson is a top 50 prospect, so that’s a lot to give up, but Johns will play at least one more year behind Teske and Livers, and Wilson can be replaced on the recruiting trail still. Okpala gives Michigan a real chance to win a title this season, and Stanford will be getting good foundational pieces to add to a young core in return.
NORTHWESTERN’S VIC LAW TO KANSAS FOR CHARLIE MOORE
SOUTH CAROLINA’S CHRIS SILVA TO KANSAS FOR MARCUS GARRETT
Charlie Moore has not had anywhere near the impact we thought he would have this season for Kansas. Devon Dotson has taken over starting point guard duties, and Moore — who was good for a bad Cal team as a freshman — has been forced into essentially being a back-up point guard that shoots a bunch of threes. Northwestern is closer to his level, and Law is a perfect piece to add to the Kansas roster. He’s a versatile and talented 6-foot-7 wing defender — he’s averaging better than 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game this season — that is averaging 15.0 points and 2.9 assists this season. He’s not shooting it all that well this year, but the last two seasons, he was a 39 percent three-point shooter.
But it is the second trade here that really gets the juice flowing. Marcus Garrett has become surplus to requirements for the Jayhawks with the emergence of Ochai Agbaji and the struggles of Quentin Grimes, which has made it seem more and more likely he’ll end up in Lawrence for a second season. Garrett is one of the nation’s best defenders, but he is not the offensive weapon that Self needs him to be.
He is, however, the perfect fit longterm for a South Carolina program that is more or less dead in the water right now. They aren’t going to get an at-large bid and currently sit three games behind the No. 1 team in the country and two games behind the No. 5 team in the country in the SEC title race. Chris Silva is a hoss in the paint and maybe the most underrated big man in the sport. He’s precisely what Kansas needs for the rest of the year with Udoka Azubuike out and the rest of their frontcourt not ready.
These two deals would make Kansas the best team in the Big 12 and would not totally mortgage the program’s future.
USC’S BENNIE BOATWRIGHT TO SYRACUSE FOR JALEN CAREY
Bennie Boatwright is perfect for Syracuse. He’s 6-foot-10 and he’s not all that interested in playing defense, which makes him a perfect fit to be hidden in that zone. He also can shooting the cover off the ball, and what the Orange need more than anything else is someone that can create some space offensively. He’ll pull defenses out of the lane and allow Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett to do what they do best.
Jalen Carey has had some flashes for the Orange, but he’s on the smaller side and he can’t really shoot it, which has limited his effectiveness as the season has gone on.
TULSA’S DAQUAN JEFFRIES TO TEXAS TECH FOR KYLER EDWARDS
Finding the right fit for Texas Tech was tough. I toyed with Justin James of Wyoming, a number of the other wings you currently see on this list as well as Robert Franks from Washington State. I finally settled on Jeffries.
A lot of people won’t be familiar with Jeffries, but he would be a perfect fit for the Red Raiders. He’s tough as hell, he’s a really good defender and, most importantly, he can shoot it from three. That is the big thing that this team needs — floor-spacing. Someone that can ease the burden that is on Jarrett Culver’s shoulders. Jeffries can be that guy.
Giving up Kyler Edwards would not be ideal, but Texas Tech does have some depth on their perimeter and some pieces coming in in their backcourt. He’ll be a star for Tulsa in the American, and would give Frank Haith a nice building block moving forward.
ST. JOSEPH’S CHARLIE BROWN TO KENTUCKY FOR JEMARL BAKER
Charlie Brown is a talented, 6-foot-7 sophomore with an NBA future that has struggled to find his way within the St. Joe’s program. He needs a fresh start, and his length and athleticism on the perimeter would be a really nice fit on Kentucky’s roster. He can shoot it as well, meaning that the Wildcats won’t lose much with Baker leaving.
St. Joe’s, on the other hand, will be getting a former four-star recruit that needs a place where he can get more minutes to prove how good he can be.
UTAH’S SEDRICK BAREFIELD TO INDIANA FOR TWO FRESHMEN TO BE NAMED LATER
There are two things that this Indiana program needs: Veteran leadership at the point guard spot, and someone that can consistently hit jumpers to create space for Romeo Langford, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis to operate. Barefield is a senior that is averaging 16.3 points and 3.8 assists for Utah while shooting 40.6 percent from three. He’s the perfect fit for the Hoosiers, who, in exchange, would send back some of their young pieces. Who do you like? Clifton Moore? Damezi Anderson? Jake Forrester? Jerome Hunter? If I’m Archie Miller, the only guy that I’m not giving up is Robert Phinisee.
NEW MEXICO’S ANTHONY MATHIS TO VCU FOR P.J. BYRD
I really think that this VCU team has a chance to be dangerous this year … if they can find a way to start consistently making threes. Anthony Mathis is a guy that will consistently take, and make, threes. He plays in a system at UNM that is not all that different from what VCU does, and while Byrd has looked promising in his limited minute with the Rams, VCU will be getting Marcus Evans back next season. There won’t be many minutes for him available, and it shouldn’t be that hard for Mike Rhoades to find another point guard to fit what he wants to do.
Monday Overreactions: Kansas-Iowa State, Nevada is in trouble and weekly awards
Last Saturday, Ponds was held in check as the Johnnies blew a big second half lead while suffering their first loss of the season against Seton Hall. It was his most disappointing performance of the season in the only loss that the team has suffered to date.
That performance also feels like it is so far in the past after the week that Ponds had. On New Years Day, in a battle of what appears to be the two best teams in the Big East this season, the junior point guard went for 20 of his 26 points in the first half, completely out-dueling Markus Howard and leading St. John’s to a dominant, 89-69 win. He followed that up by popping off for 37 points and five assists as the Johnnies went into Capitol One Arena and landed a come-from-behind win over Georgetown, 97-94.
Ponds is getting the kind of national attention that some of the other great guards around the country are. He’s been totally overshadowed by Howard in his own league. But Ponds has quietly been an absolute monster when St. John’s has needed him to be. The Red Storm have played six games that were decided by single digits. In four of those six, Ponds finished with at least 32 points, popping off for 37 against Georgetown and Georgia Tech.
If he is at his best in the biggest games, I can’t wait to see what the rest of Big East play has in store for us.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: New Mexico Lobos
Where in the hell did this come from: New Mexico 85, Nevada 58.
Entering Saturday night, the Lobos were ranked 190th on KenPom. They were 6-6 against Division I competition on the season. They had lost to New Mexico State by 35 points. They lost to Saint Mary’s by 25 points. They lost at home to the likes of Penn and North Texas. They opened the day as 14 point underdogs at home and, despite winning for the entire first half and taking a 38-26 lead into the break, they were still getting points from live-betting sites — the Nevada money line was -139 and the second half betting line was Nevada -13.5.
And while much of that blame falls on Nevada — I’ll get to them — the credit also has to be given to the Lobos. To be frank, there is no way that this team should be 190th in anything. There is talent on the roster, especially now that Carlton Bragg is eligible and playing. Regardless, this is a great win for Paul Weir’s program and, hopefully, a chance for them to reignite a program with a massive, passionate fanbase that has been dormant since Steve Alford left.
1. KANSAS IS STILL THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE BIG 12
I love this Texas Tech team. They are the redneck version of Virginia, a team with toughness oozing out of their pores that plays suffocating defense and has a first-team All-American running the show in Jarrett Culver.
I also love Iowa State — I’ll get to them in a second — and we shouldn’t gloss over just how good Oklahoma has been and TCU can be when Jaylen Fisher is healthy and running with the starters.
That said, for my money, Kansas is still the favorite to win the Big 12 and my pick to take home their 15th straight regular season title.
There are a couple of reasons for this, but the most obvious is the man running the show: Bill Self. Every year, we ask whether or not this is going to be the year where the Jayhawks slip up, and every year, Self somehow finds a way to get it done. There are not many coaches in the country that are as good at figuring out how to get the most out of a team as Self is, and while losing Udoka Azubuike to a torn ligament in his hand is going to force him to change up some things, I’m still betting on the Jayhawks figuring this thing out.
For starters, they still have an all-american to run their offense through in Dedric Lawson. He’s been as good as advertised, and while having him at the five takes away some of what made him so effective — his ability to pass in high-low actions — it does mean that he will be the anchor in the post. They also still have Lagerald Vick, and while he has come back to earth after a scorching start to the year, this is still a guy that is capable of putting up 30 on any given night. Vick is joined on the perimeter by a trio of highly-regarded youngsters — Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. All four of them have question marks (Garrett hasn’t really figured out how to be a threat to score, Grimes seems to finally have regained his confidence and Dotson can’t seem to stop turning the ball over) but there is talent there.
There things that need to be fixed. Grimes cannot continue to be a 31.5 percent three-point shooter. Garrett needs to find a way to contribute offensively and Lawson … well, he has to be at his best. That said, those are certainly things that can happen.
So I’ll bet on Kansas for now, because that bet has been a winner for nearly a decade and a half.
2. BUT IOWA STATE IS A TOP TEN TEAM
There were some fluky things that happened in Iowa State’s 77-60 win over Kansas on Saturday afternoon.
Azubuike was ruled out an hour before the game after suffering a hand injury the day before the game, forcing the Jayhawks to play a smaller lineup. That smaller lineup meant that the Cyclones could matchup perfectly with Kansas. Iowa State made 13 threes, hitting 9-of-13 in the second half, and did so while playing in front of one of the rowdiest environments in college basketball.
So I feel pretty comfortable saying that part of that result was situational and fluky.
But I also do think that Iowa State is a top ten team this season, mainly because Steve Prohm has an ideal roster for the way modern basketball is played.
He starts four wings, all of whom stand between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6. The smallest of the four — Talen Horton-Tucker — checks in at 240 pounds and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. It makes them switchable and versatile on the defensive end of the floor, where Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb and Tyrese Haliburton can all guard up and down somewhere between adequately and effectively. The Cyclones are historically a team that has a reputation for being soft on the defensive end, and that’s not this group.
And I’m not sure they’ve hit their ceiling yet. The best player in the program is Lindell Wigginton, a 6-foot-2 combo-guard that returned to action in the Big 12 opener after missing about a month with a foot injury. He played just 17 minutes on Saturday and shot 2-for-11 from the floor. He’s one of three players on this roster that are skilled enough to play the point — Weiler-Babb is technically the starting point guard while Haliburton, a sneaky NBA prospect, is averaging 8.3 points, 4.5 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 45 percent from three. Throw in Horton-Tucker, and there are now four perimeter players on this team that are averaging 3.0 assists this season.
That doesn’t include Shayok, who is the leading scorer in the Big 12 at 20.1 points, and Horton-Tucker is the only member of that perimeter rotation that is not a dangerous three-point threat.
Then throw in the fact that Michael Jacobson, who is averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 boards, is currently outplaying the most talented big man on the roster, Cameron Lard, and there is still room for Iowa State to grow.
They are for real.
3. VIRGINIA TECH IS THE BEST ACC TEAM NOT NAMED DUKE OR VIRGINIA
We haven’t spoken all that much about Virginia Tech this season, which is what tends to happen when you are a football school in a basketball conference that is overshadowed by a bigger, better program in your own state.
But the Hokies are currently sitting at 13-1 on the season after starting out ACC play with wins over Notre Dame and Boston College. They’ll play at Georgia Tech on Wednesday before next Tuesday’s showdown with Virginia in Charlottesville.
The reason I like this team so much is because they are essentially playing with two point guards — Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — on a team that loves running ball-screens, shoots 44.2 percent from three and, like Iowa State, has switchable defenders all over their perimeter.
Two of their next four games are at Virginia and at North Carolina, so we’ll have a better feel for what this team is come January 22nd, but I’m getting ahead of the curve. Virginia Tech is the third-best team in the ACC.
4. MICHIGAN AND MICHIGAN STATE ARE THE ONLY BIG TEN TEAMS THAT AREN’T THOROUGHLY AVERAGE
On the other hand, I’m not sure who the third-best team in the Big Ten is, but I don’t think there is anyone that is on par with the two Michigan schools.
We have spent plenty of time talking about how good the Wolverines are this year, and I am starting to believe that Michigan State — who is now ranked ahead of Michigan on KenPom — is not all that far behind. They went into Columbus and knocked off Ohio State without Josh Langford. That’s not easy to do, not when you trail by seven points at the half.
That is going to be a fun race, one that will feature two battles between the teams in the final four games of the regular season. I am here for that.
The question I have is whether or not anyone else in the Big Ten is actually good, or if the rest of the league is a mashup of teams that are good enough to talk about but aren’t quite good enough to be a threat to do anything of note. Wisconsin, for example, is now 11-4 on the season after following up their loss at Western Kentucky by losing to Minnesota at home. Nebraska opened up 2019 with losses at Maryland and Iowa, neither of whom have been super-impressive this year. Purdue has looked good in stretches but has a bunch of “good” losses on their resume. Ohio State seems to be punching above their weight again this season. Indiana might have a shot to get into that conversation if they can ever find a way to get, and stay, healthy.
I still think this league is going to end up putting as many as ten teams into the NCAA tournament. I just don’t know if anyone outside of the top two are actually worth getting all that excited about.
5. NEVADA CAN GET TO THE FINAL FOUR AND CAN ALSO REALISTICALLY MISS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Nevada can beat anyone in college basketball. That includes Duke, and Virginia, and whoever else you consider among the elite in college basketball. That’s how high their ceiling is. This roster is built around three all-american caliber players that thrive in isolation. Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin — those are tough shot-makers that have proven the ability to take over games. It’s what they do, and on the nights when they get it rolling, they can do things like they did in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year: light up Cincinnati, one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams.
But Saturday proved that they are not talented enough to avoid getting caught on the nights they decide not to show up, and that matters because of how weak their schedule is.
To put this into context, Saint Mary’s entered Selection Sunday with a 28-5 record last season, a win at Gonzaga and four of their five losses away from home — their one home less was to the Zags. They missed the NCAA tournament. Now, Nevada’s non-conference schedule was tougher than that Saint Mary’s team, and the Mountain West is better than last year’s WCC, but there’s nothing that Nevada can do that will be remotely as impressive as winning at Gonzaga.
And … well, their non-conference wins keep looking less and less impressive. That win at USC? Whatever. Beating Arizona State on a neutral looked more impressive before the Sun Devils lost to Vanderbilt, Princeton and Utah, the latter two at home. Winning at Loyola-Chicago and Utah are solid Quadrant II-ish wins. Hell, the only team that Nevada has played that is currently in the top 50 at KenPom is Utah State, and they are 47th.
We’re still three losses away from really needing to have this conversation, but if Nevada can lose by 27 points at New Mexico, why should we assume that they’ll go 17-1 in the Mountain West?
And if they lose three more league games — at Utah State, at Fresno State, San Diego State — we might actually head into the MWC tournament wondering if this team has a resume that is truly deserving of getting an at-large bid.
Just three unbeatens remain after No. 6 Nevada is embarrassed at New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico coach Paul Weir did his best to get the Lobos to focus on playing their game against undefeated and sixth-ranked Nevada.
“I actually gave them a quote (Friday) and a quote (Saturday) in the locker room from Gregg Popovich after the Spurs beat the Raptors,” Weir said of the San Antonio head coach. “It’s not about who we’re playing. It’s not about anything, it’s just about us executing and competing. And that’s all we talked about for two days.”
The message sunk as the Lobos shut down Nevada on Saturday, getting 27 points from Anthony Mathis and handing the Wolf Pack their first loss of the season, 85-58.
“We had so many people rebound the ball. And play unselfish,” Mathis said. “A team that plays unselfish is so hard to beat, as you see. We played super unselfish and we got a big win.”
New Mexico (8-6, 2-0 Mountain West) knocked the Wolf Pack (14-1, 1-1) from the ranks of the undefeated and sent fans streaming onto the court.
Vance Jackson came off the bench for a double-double, with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and added seven assists and three steals for the Lobos. Makuach Maluach had 14 points.
Jordan Caroline scored 17 for Nevada, which looked out of sorts throughout. Brothers Caleb and Cody Martin combined for 4-for-21 shooting from the field and 17 points.
New Mexico took control early in the first half with a 20-6 run for a 22-9 lead. The spurt featured 3-pointers by Jackson and Dane Kuiper, as well as a resounding windmill dunk by Carlton Bragg that energized the crowd and the team.
“It just got us going,” Mathis said. “You see your opponent dunking on people like that, it just gets you going. You just want a piece of it. You want to get in there. You want to contribute. You want to do your thing and that’s what we did.”
New Mexico maintained a double-figure lead despite the Wolf Pack scoring three straight points off of technical foul shots. The lead grew to 22 points at 67-45 after 3-pointers by Maluach and Mathis with seven minutes left.
“The one thing we’ve prided ourselves on was really competing until the end,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “We didn’t play hard tonight. We splintered and we came apart. We have to regroup and try to play better next game.
“We just had a bad night all around. We had a bad night sharing the ball. We had a bad night defensively. Usually they’re zoned in on the scoring report, but we let guys who are shooters take open shots and we didn’t play who we are. Just a terrible game for all of us.”
Nevada’s 14-0 start equaled the best in school history, matching the 1951-52 squad. The Wolf Pack came into the game as one of four undefeated teams in the country. Nevada had been dismantling most opponents, with 10 of its victories by double figures. But this loss will likely drop the Wolf Pack several spots in the rankings, behind two-loss teams Gonzaga and Michigan State.
Coming into the game, New Mexico had lost three of four at home, but had beaten the Wolf Pack three out of four meetings in the Pit. Nevada, however, had won the previous four in the series, one in Albuquerque and two in Reno and once in the conference tournament.
The last time Nevada played in the Pit in 2017, it turned into a legendary Wolf Pack performance as they came back from a 25-point deficit with 11 minutes left, and down by 14 with 1:10 left. Nevada’s last six buckets in regulation were 3s and Caroline had a career day with 45 points and 13 rebounds in the Wolf Pack’s 105-104 double-overtime victory.
But Mathis, who was one of the few players who played in that game, said he tried not to think about it.
“Completely different team,” he said. “Completely different players. I didn’t even want to think about it. I’ve thought about that so many times. I’ve seen it on ESPN so many times. It was way out of my head.”
Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Mountain West.
The Mountain West had a Sweet 16 team and a second NCAA tournament bid last season as the league tries to regain its former basketball glory.
While finding multiple bids is much tougher than it used to be, the Mountain West brings a legitimate Final Four contender to the forefront this season while a few mid-level teams have NBA prospects and former McDonald’s All-Americans.
New coaches with Mountain West roots have entered at three programs and the league is trying to find balance after looking like a one-bid conference during some recent seasons. With a national contender, and some big-name players, the Mountain West will be a league to stay up late for this season.
Because of one team that will be awesome.
And at least one player that might hear his name called very early in next June’s draft.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Nevada is a legitimate Final Four contender.
Expectations are huge for Nevada this season. After a Sweet 16 run last season, the Wolf Pack have nearly everybody back, as head coach Eric Musselman also added quality depth through transfers and recruiting.
The return of the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline for their senior seasons is huge, as that trio are all All-Conference players. Point guard Lindsey Drew should also return from an injury while Portland transfer Jazz Johnson offers more insurance at guard. Other notable transfers include Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), Tre’Shawn Thomas (Omaha), Trey Porter (Old Dominion) and Corey Henson (Wagner). A McDonald’s All-American big man in Jordan Brown also joins the mix.
With a legitimate center and credible depth, Nevada won’t have to ride five or six players to heavy minutes at the end of the season like last season. The Martin twins are game changers, especially since Cody’s late-season move to point guard. Caleb Martin remains the league’s best overall player while Caroline isn’t far behind.
Nevada won’t be tested as much as other Final Four contenders thanks to a light Mountain West (more on that in a moment) but they still have the talent and experience to make a deep run in March. Now that they are the hunted, it’ll be fascinating to see how Nevada handles the immense pressure of being a national contender.
2. San Diego State has a chance to return to the NCAA tournament
After stealing an NCAA tournament bid last season by winning the conference tournament, San Diego State returns most of the core from that group. Replacing Trey Kell and Malik Pope won’t be easy, but the Aztecs will hope that some enticing young players develop into consistent go-to players.
It starts with sophomore Jalen McDaniels. The 6-foot-10 forward transitioned into a starter late last season as he started putting up double-doubles and showing scary potential at the end of the season. He’s firmly on the NBA radar — a potential first-round pick. McDaniels also has never scored more than 19 points in a college game. At the end of last season, McDaniels didn’t produce in some big games.
Other key players returning for San Diego State include senior guards Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley while sophomore forward Matt Mitchell was also an effective freshman as a double-figure scorer. If the young frontcourt develops while the senior backcourt stays consistent, then San Diego State might not need to win a tournament to get a bid. They’ve already knocked off Nevada twice last season and won’t be scared to face them. If the Aztecs earn some quality win like that, they might be good enough to be the league’s second tournament team.
3. New Mexico has some intriguing transfers as they hope for NCAA tournament return
The Lobos are the wild card in the Mountain West this season thanks to some talented transfers. It’s unfortunate that guard JaQuan Lyle will miss the season with injury. But New Mexico still has the frontcourt of Vance Jackson (UConn) and Carlton Bragg (Kansas/Arizona State) to work with.
Although New Mexico loses four of its top five leading scorers from last season, Bragg and Jackson have a chance to make an immediate impact. Jackson provides some stretch ability while Bragg had the talent to once be a McDonald’s All-American.
Underrated senior guard Anthony Mathis is also back along with sophomore Makuach Maluach. Both Mathis and Maluach shot better than 46 percent from three-point range last season. Senior Dane Kuiper is a returning starter who should provide some experience on the wing. With knockdown shooters, and capable interior play, New Mexico could surprise this season, as they have some talented players to work with.
4. The Mountain West has three new head coaches
Some fresh blood enters the Mountain West this season in the form of three new head coaches. The main hire to keep an eye on will be Niko Medved at Colorado State. Returning to the Rams after spending time as an assistant coach there from 2007 through 2013, Medved comes to Colorado State as one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks.
Making three straight CIT appearances with Furman, and then Drake, Medved has done a quality job of getting some quick results at schools that aren’t easy to win at. With a solid program that he’s familiar with in Colorado State, Medved could end up being a quality hire for a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since Medved was last with them in 2013.
Justin Hutson takes over at Fresno State after being an assistant in the Mountain West at San Diego State and UNLV since 2006. Knowing the ins and the outs of everything with the league should be hugely beneficial for Hutson. It also helps that Hutson is inheriting a program that is in decent shape since Rodney Terry left for UTEP. The Bulldogs have front-court question marks for this season, but they do have plenty of backcourt talent that is intriguing.
At Utah State, Craig Smith gets a chance the regain the Aggies’ former glory as he replaces the fired Tim Duryea. Much like Medved, Smith has spent time as an assistant at Colorado State under Tim Miles as he is familiar with the league. Expectations will be high at Utah State, but Smith did an excellent job of turning South Dakota into a 20-win team in back-to-back seasons.
5. The league will seek its second two-bid season since 2015
The second half of this decade, the Mountain West has struggled to consistently put multiple teams in the NCAA tournament. Last season, it only happened once San Diego State got hot and unexpectedly won the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Although Nevada has the chance for a great season, the rest of the league is very uncertain when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. While the Mountain West would regularly get four and five teams in contention for bids in the early part of the decade, the league has looked more like a one-bid league in recent seasons.
Will the Mountain West get anyone into the field besides Nevada? It the Wolf Pack end up running most of the conference, then there won’t be many quality wins to go around and another unexpected conference tournament champion will be needed.
PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CALEB MARTIN, Nevada
Returning to college at the final hour of the NBA Draft deadline, Martin returns after a monster junior season with the Wolf Pack. Putting up 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range, Martin is one of the most consistent producers in college basketball. With a season of his brother, Cody, running the point, Nevada’s highly-efficient offense should be ready to roll once again.
THE REST OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM
CODY MARTIN, Nevada: Transitioning to point at the end of last season, the 6-foot-7 Martin thrived as a jumbo playmaker in Nevada’s potent offense.
JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The 6-foot-10 sophomore could explode into a big-time NBA prospect. But he has to be more consistent and show that he’s a go-to player in his second year.
JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada: Playing his natural spot at the four this season, the two-time All-Mountain West performer should have a monster final season with Nevada.
JUSTIN JAMES, Wyoming: One of the nation’s most underrated players, James put up 18.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season despite battling an early-season ankle injury.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
SAM MERRILL, Utah State
DESHON TAYLOR, Fresno State
SHAKUR JUISTON, UNLV
NICO CARVACHO, Colorado State
ANTHONY MATHIS, New Mexico
It’s hard to call Fresno State senior guard Deshon Taylor a breakout star after last season’s monster output. But after putting up 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season, the 6-foot-2 guard still doesn’t get a lot of national acclaim. After putting his name in the NBA Draft and pulling his name out, Taylor will be counted on for a big season after former backcourt running mate Bryson Williams transferred. That could mean more 20-point games while also being asked to get teammates easy looks.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE
Unquestionably one of the toughest jobs in all of college basketball, things haven’t gone according to plan for Dave Pilipovich during his time at Air Force. Five straight losing seasons in the Mountain West hurts, while the program has been held out of the postseason since a CIT appearance in 2013. While everyone acknowledges the Air Force job is difficult, this was a program that made two NCAA appearances and a deep NIT run during a span from 2004 through 2007. Winning is possible in Colorado Springs with the right mix of players.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
Nevada gives the Mountain West a legitimate Final Four contender, but it’s hard to say how good the Wolf Pack actually is since they didn’t play another NCAA tournament-caliber team in the Mountain West this season.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …
Seeing if Nevada can live up to the preseason hype. Being a potential top-five team and Final Four contender is some major pressure. That could especially be the case for a Wolf Pack team that is incorporating a lot of new pieces for this season. But if this Nevada team can put it all together, they have the potential to be scary good.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
Nov. 19, San Diego State vs. Duke (Maui Invitational)
Nov. 27, Nevada at Loyola Chicago (Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge Series)
Dec. 1, Nevada at USC
Dec. 1, Cincinnati at UNLV
Dec. 7, New Mexico vs. Saint Mary’s (Hall of Fame Classic, Los Angeles)
1. NEVADA: Watching how Nevada operates its rotation will be something to monitor this season. Head coach Eric Musselman has typically liked to work with a shorter bench, but with this group, he has plenty of experienced options. If the Wolf Pack can interject some depth into the equation, then the Final Four is possible.
2. SAN DIEGO STATE: The Aztecs will need more from senior guard Jeremy Hemsley after a disappointing junior season. Once a double-figure scorer, if Hemsley can return to form, then San Diego State will be loaded with options in the starting lineup.
3. NEW MEXICO: To stabilize the roster, New Mexico brought in a quality stable of junior college recruits and freshmen, as some rotation pieces should also emerge from that pack. If the Lobos find some immediate contributors then they might be deeper than anticipated.
4. UNLV: Things looked promising last season for the Runnin’ Rebels until they lost six of seven to finish out the season. Replacing Brandon McCoy, Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson will be tough, but the Rebels have some talented newcomers and forward Shakur Juiston back.
5. COLORADO STATE: New head coach Niko Medved lost Prentiss Nixon to transfer, but he inherits an experienced core. Guard J.D. Paige and forward Deion Page are senior double-figure scorers while big man Nico Carvacho is a regular double-double threat.
6. BOISE STATE: Replacing Chandler Hutchison will be next to impossible but the Broncos have hope. Justinian Jessup should be in line for a bigger season while Alex Hobbs, Zach Haney and Marcus Dickinson have all contributed in the past.
7. FRESNO STATE: All-conference guard Deshon Taylor returns to give the Bulldogs a go-to player. Transfers should play a huge part for Fresno State this season as Braxton Huggins (New Mexico State) and Noah Blackwell (Long Beach State) should contribute right away.
8. WYOMING: Losing nine players from last season (including five transfers), this Cowboy team will look like a completely different team outside of Justin James. Wyoming needs to find newcomers to supplement James’ immense ability.
9. UTAH STATE: Losing Koby McEwen and DeAngelo Isby early is going to hurt. Thankfully, new head coach Craig Smith can turn to promising junior Sam Merrill as the Aggies look to get back on the winning track.
10. AIR FORCE: Two of three leading scorers return for Air Force as Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan are back. Expected to play slow once again, Air Force can be a tough out at home, but they need to improve dramatically on the road.
11. SAN JOSE STATE: The Spartans went 4-26 overall and 1-17 in the league as they still lost their three leading scorers to transfer. The leading returning scorers are Oumar Barry (5.8 ppg) and Noah Baumann (5.2 ppg) as San Jose State once again looks like a bottom feeder.
New Mexico transfer JaQuan Lyle to miss 2018-19 season
New Mexico announced that former five-star prospect and prized transfer JaQuan Lyle ruptured his achilles and will miss the entire 2018-19 season.
Lyle sat out last season in Albuquerque after transferring into the program from Ohio State, where he averaged 11.3 points in two seasons for the Buckeyes. The 6-foot-5 guard was expected to play a major role for a team that had an outside shot of getting to the NCAA tournament.
“JaQuan has meant so much to our program in the short time he has been here. Unfortunately this injury postpones his return to playing the game he loves,” headcoach Paul Weir said in a statement. “But his spirits have already turned incredibly positive and we look forward to supporting him in every way possible.”
“I am going into this process trying to get 1 percent better every day, both physically and mentally, to be ready to compete next season,” Lyle said. “I am so thankful to everyone for their thoughts and considerations.”
The recovery is expected to take around six months.