Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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Morning Five: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 19th, 2014

morning5

  1. Bruce Pearl still has a few months left on his show-cause penalty, but that isn’t stopping Auburn from hiring him to a six-year deal worth $14.7 million. Since it appears that the NCAA won’t raise any objection with the hiring (the lead investigator on the case works for Auburn now) it seems like a great move by Auburn. We would be tempted to question Pearl’s decision to take the Auburn job, but when you have been blacklisted by the NCAA for three years and technically still are you have to take what is available. Our only question is that now that the door has been opened by Auburn, how long will Pearl stay there before moving on to a better job. The school appear to be weary enough of that they included a clause where he will have to pay $5 million if he leaves within two years meaning that he will actually lose money on the deal if he does so.
  2. We would not have considered Boston College’s decision to fire Steve Donahue that surprising if not for Pete Thamel’s recent report that they were retaining Donahue. Assuming that Thamel’s sources were good it is a pretty abrupt change of course for the program. Having said that it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before Donahue was gone as he was 54-76 in four seasons with his first season being by far his most successful. Boston College is one of the more interesting job openings because many people consider a spot with great potential because of its proximity to several great AAU and high school programs, but nobody has been able to tap into that potential.
  3. Donahue was not the only big name who was shown the door yesterday as Washington State fired Ken Bone yesterday. Bone went 80-86 in five seasons and had a difficult task of following up Tony Bennett, who went 69-33 in his three seasons there while leading the Cougars to two NCAA Tournament appearances including a Sweet Sixteen (and is also doing an ok job in Charlottesville). Pullman might not seem like a great destination to the outside observer, but it is still in the Pac-12 and has quite a bit of talent in the region to draw from. If they are able to lure one of the names mentioned in the link above they could be competitive in the Pac-12 in the not too distant future.
  4. We had almost forgotten about the strange circumstances under which Providence suspended Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin. The pair of prized freshmen were suspended on November 6 for “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes” and nobody paid much attention to it after that except when Austin transferred to Oregon. Now it appears that a woman is claiming that the pair sexually assaulted her on November 3–three days before they were suspended. We aren’t going to say that the two events are related, but the optics don’t look good. Outside of the obvious legal implications we have to wonder what this will mean for Austin, Bullock, and Providence administrators.
  5. The transfer market is starting to heat up as two big names–UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones and Temple’s Anthony Lee–entered it in the past few days.  Dejean-Jones was UNLV’s leading scorer this year, but had some off-court issues that likely led to his decision to transfer for his senior year. He is on pace to graduate this summer so he will likely be able to play next season with the graduate student transfer waiver. Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game and has also decided to transfer for his senior year. Lee has already graduated and is expected to use a graduate student transfer waiver.
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Four Questions Previewing the Mountain West Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Bennet Hayes on March 12th, 2014

RTC Mountain West correspondent Andrew Murawa and national columnist Bennet Hayes will both be in Las Vegas this week for coverage of the Mountain West Tournament. San Diego State and New Mexico appear to be on a crash course for a third and final meeting in the tournament final, but there are plenty of questions worth asking before play kicks off on Wednesday afternoon. Murawa and Hayes weigh in below on four of the most pressing.

Which is the most dangerous team outside of New Mexico and San Diego State?

Could "Khem Kong" And A Raucous Thomas And Mack Center Crowd Propel UNLV To An Unexpected Mountain West Tournament Run?

Could “Khem Kong” And A Raucous Thomas And Mack Center Crowd Propel UNLV To An Unexpected Mountain West Tournament Run?

AM:  UNLVWell, I jumped the gun and got my answers in first, so while Bennet gets stuck having to make a case for someone besides UNLV, I get to tell you why the Runnin’ Rebels – you know, the team playing the Mountain West tournament on its own home floor – has the best chance to win this thing. And honestly, even if they weren’t playing at the Thomas & Mack, the Rebels would still be my pick, even if they’re still something of a longshot compared to the two favorites. They’ve been inconsistent all year, and that isn’t going to change, but in Bryce Dejean-Jones and Deville Smith, they’ve got offensive firepower, and in Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith, they’ve got the hard-working defensive grinders in place. This team should have been better than it was this year and the conference tournament would be a good place for Dave Rice’s crew to turn things around. For what it’s worth, UNLV has won the MW tournament three times at the Thomas & Mack, but the most recent is six years ago; maybe they’re due?

BH: Boise StateIn all likelihood, to win the Mountain West title this week, you will have to beat both New Mexico and San Diego State. No team was able to accomplish that feat in the regular season, but if there’s a team in Vegas capable of doing it, it’s the Broncos. They split with New Mexico in the regular season (winning in Boise) and lost two games to the Aztecs by a total of five points, so don’t let their 9-9 conference record fool you – this team can compete with anyone in the MW. Of course, they’ve proven capable of losing to almost anyone in the conference as well (see: Saturday against Air Force), but Las Vegas offers Boise a chance at a clean slate. Four wins in Vegas would go a long ways towards erasing the disappointment of a season that began with high hopes.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 4th, 2014

As we head into the final week of the season, the regular season conference championship remains very much up for grabs San Diego State and New Mexico are tied atop the standings at 14-2, four games ahead of third-place UNLV, each with one game to go prior to their showdown at Viejas Arena on Saturday evening for what figures to be a battle for the outright conference title. The Aztecs have a bit more precarious mid-week exam ahead of them, as they’ll travel to those previously mentioned Runnin’ Rebels tomorrow to renew what has become one of the better rivalries in the conference in recent years.

Team of the Week

UNLV – The Rebels bounced back from an 0-for-2 previous week to score a solid win over Colorado State and a blowout of Air Force this week, securing their credentials, at least for the time being, as the third-best team in the conference. And, there’s little doubt that this Rebel team is significantly improved from the squad that was stinking up the Thomas & Mack in a home loss to those Falcons back in the early days of 2014. Dave Rice and company are probably still in a position where their only chance at an invitation to the Big Dance involves a Mountain West Tournament win in a week’s time, but at least such a possibility is no longer just a punch line to a bad joke.

Bryce Dejean-Jones Has Helped The Runnin' Rebels Become More Stable

Bryce Dejean-Jones Has Helped The Runnin’ Rebels Become More Stable

Player of the Week

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Junior, UNLV – His teammate Khem Birch won the official conference player of the week, but we’re going to go with the team’s most consistent offensive performer, who turned in a solid week of 14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per night while knocking in shots at an efficient 54.7% eFG clip this week. Dejean-Jones has been maddening at time with erratic shot selection early in his career, but on a team without a ton of other guys capable of creating for themselves, he has been a high-volume shooter who has also significantly increased his capacity to separate a good shot from a bad one.

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The Case for UNLV’s Dave Rice

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 27th, 2014

For those interested in bashing Dave Rice this season, it hasn’t been a challenge finding a few friends to join in on the fun. Even our own Andrew Murawa took a rip at UNLV’s walking, breathing, coaching piñata a few weeks back, listing Rice dead last in a ranking of the MW’s 11 current head coaches. This lack of love from Mr. Murawa and others is understandable: The Rebels have slogged their way through a season that began with a seemingly loaded roster and Mountain West title aspirations. Thomas & Mack Arena has turned uncharacteristically hospitable — feel free to ask Air Force, Nevada and UC Santa Barbara about UNLV’s new, friendlier visitor initiative if you don’t believe me. The Runnin’ Rebels may still finish third in the Mountain West and UNLV fans will fairly entertain hopes of running the table (at home) in the MW Tournament to find a backdoor into the Big Dance, but like the Vegas weekender stumbling onto his Sunday flight home, there is no hiding the disappointment for this UNLV team. Just don’t blame Dave Rice.

Dave Rice Has Plenty Of Destractors After A Disappointing UNLV Season, But Let's See If The Same Critics Are This Vocal Twelve Months From Now

Dave Rice Suddenly Has Plenty Of Detractors After A Disappointing UNLV Season, But Let’s See If The Same Critics Are This Vocal Twelve Months From Now

Remember last year’s UNLV team? The one that won 25 games and earned a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament? If the memories aren’t flowing in, don’t look to this year’s team for any help. The only current Rebels to earn serious minutes a season ago are Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones — the result of Rice losing seven rotation players from last year’s team. Adding to the offseason chaos was the fact that four of those seven departees still possessed college eligibility, so their decisions to pursue basketball careers elsewhere (for a variety of reasons) were largely unplanned. The impact of those defections has been dramatically overlooked by Rice critics; lose that much talent and production from any team, and creating a brand-new winner the next season is bound to be difficult. For every Kansas there is a Miami, Temple or Illinois, where rebuilding years are understood as necessary steps to a brighter future. Somehow the folks in Sin City missed the memo preaching leniency in the wake of an offseason exodus, as most explanations for the Rebel malaise have skipped over the overhaul, choosing instead to focus on the perceived deficiencies of the man at the helm.

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Checking in On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 8th, 2014

After the slowdown around the holidays, the Mountain West is back in full swing. Conference play is underway; everybody has played at least one game against a conference opponent; and San Diego State ended non-conference play on a big high, scoring a thoroughly impressive win at Kansas over the weekend. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in, after recognizing that right now we have Air Force and Nevada – two teams we have been making fun of all season – tied atop the conference standings with 2-0 records.

Team of the Week

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

San Diego State – The Aztecs got conference play underway well by going on the road to Colorado State, getting a good early start, and then maintaining a solid lead the rest of the way. Then on Sunday, they capped off a dream day for San Diego sports fans, backing up the Chargers’ playoff win with a win of their own at Allen Fieldhouse. They’re not a perfect team, but this squad likes each other, works exceedingly well together, and Steve Fisher is getting every last drop out of it in what is turning out to be yet another masterful coaching job. While we maybe have been a step behind on fully believing in this team, those days are over; the Aztecs are the clear favorite in the Mountain West.

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Disappointing Loss to Air Force Saturday Brings Surging UNLV Back Down to Earth

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 6th, 2014

Back at Thanksgiving, things weren’t looking especially bright for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Dave Rice’s team was just 2-3 (a record that excludes an embarrassing exhibition loss to Dixie State), and even that middling early mark may not have been representative of how quickly the team’s expectation level had deflated. Just a few weeks into the season, the Rebs appeared to be headed nowhere fast. But then, finally, things got going. Slowly at first — an easy win over Tennessee-Martin was followed by an encouraging loss at #1 Arizona (UNLV trailed by just two points with 30 seconds to go) – before things quickly accelerated, as the Rebels ripped off seven straight double-figure wins. The spurt restored much of the faith that had landed the team second in the Mountain West preseason poll, but after a puzzling, out-of-left field loss to Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night, doubts about the Rebels are again resurfacing.

Bryce Dejean-Jones

Bryce Dejean-Jones 28 Point Effort Wasn’t Enough For UNLV On Saturday Night, But Continued Offensive Efficiency From The Junior Will Be Key For The Rebels

Fair warning for anyone who peeks at Air Force’s early-season schedule: There are some scarring results on there. Losses to VMI, Jackson State, and 3-10 UC Davis (#320 in the latest Pomeroy rankings) are among the eyesores, although the increasingly salubrious Falcons did enter Saturday fresh off an upset of a solid Utah State team. Still, few expected Air Force to be especially competitive in this one (including local bookmakers, who had the Falcons listed as 14.5 point underdogs).As it turns out, the Falcons proved every bit as competitive as UNLV was disappointing. In his postgame presser, head coach Dave Rice flatly stated that “this was a very disappointing effort” multiple times. Disappointing indeed, and suddenly that post-Thanksgiving Rebels’ schedule took on a slightly less rosy tint.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013

We’ve talked about it a lot around these parts this year, since before the season even began — so many Mountain West teams putting all their eggs in a very small scheduling basket. For instance, Utah State’s only really quality non-conference game was its rivalry game with BYU. After losing that one, it was assured that their best win prior to the calendar flipping over to conference play would be at UC Santa Barbara – a good victory for sure, but not one to pin your NCAA Tournament hopes on. To make matters worse, Utah State backed up that BYU loss with a home loss to Pacific. So now the Aggies sit at 5-2; they’re lucky to have an RPI in the low 40s; and they face the prospect of needing a very strong run through the Mountain West on their first go-round in order to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament talk later this year.

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don't Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune)

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don’t Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)

Likewise, Boise State went out and put together a schedule not befitting for a squad with borderline Top 25 talent and arguably the best team in school history. Certainly, they’re in the midst of the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, what with a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night followed by a visit from an undefeated Saint Mary’s team on Saturday. But, as could have been expected, the Broncos struck out against the talented Wildcats, getting killed on the glass and at the rim and not being able to find enough good clean looks from deep against their long and athletic guards. Now all their hopes for a quality non-conference win get pinned on Saturday’s game against the Gaels. Again, on the basis of six wins in seven games, the Broncos are fortunate to have an RPI of #40, but with no resume wins in the non-conference, those four conference games against New Mexico and San Diego State in conference will loom large.

You see, it is only the Aztecs and the Lobos who have succeeded in coming away with some quality wins in the non-conference. SDSU has scalps from Creighton and Marquette, while New Mexico’s got UAB and Cincinnati on the wall already, with Kansas in Kansas City looming on Saturday and Marquette up the following Saturday. None of the victims of the Lobos or Aztecs are elite teams, but they’ve at least helped their teams to RPIs of #11 and #17, respectively. At the quarter-pole of the year, those two squads are alone among Mountain West teams on the good side of the resume ledger.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013

Hooray! The Mountain West has its hero. November is in the books and the conference finally has a victory worth crowing about under its collective belt. In fact, San Diego State scored a couple really meaningful wins this week at the Wooden Legacy, knocking off both Creighton and Marquette to earn the tournament title. Still, I for one have yet to put a MW team in my weekly national Top 25. I’ve considered New Mexico previously and have kept them just on the outside looking in. Boise State also remains in the back of my mind, where they’ll stay until they play anybody of note. And the Aztecs were among my final cuts this week. So what leaves SDSU still needing to prove itself? I know they’re going to defend like nuts all year long and stay in games that way, but I just don’t believe that Xavier Thames is going to be able to knock down shots at his current rate forever, and aside from him, there aren’t a whole lot of polished offensive players on this team. Still, there is no denying that the Aztecs have looked awfully good so far this year and are beginning to earn the benefit of my doubt.

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week

San Diego State – We’ll get to Thames shortly, but there have been a lot of guys stepping up for this squad who deserve attention. J.J. O’Brien has been the most regular second option for the Aztecs, averaging nearly 14 points per game before a hand injury limited his production on Sunday. Matt Shrigley has emerged from his redshirt year to display not only a nice shooting touch but a good game off the bounce. Winston Shepard has clearly worked on his body and his game in the offseason, and he’s well on his way to becoming a great college player. And true freshman Dakarai Allen is out of the gates with a strong start to his college career. Even if Thames does slow down a bit, there are some options here who could pick up the slack.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Could Khem Birch Represent the Leader UNLV Needs?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 9th, 2013

Welcome to 2013, the year of the roster overhaul in college basketball. The most notable projects may be taking place in Lexington and Lawrence, but this year’s UNLV team looks quite different from the Runnin’ Rebels as we last saw them. This version of the Rebs got their first chance to show off the new look on Friday night. It wasn’t easy and was rarely pretty, but behind four starters making their UNLV debuts, the Rebels used a strong second half to dispatch Portland State, 67-48. With junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones sitting this one out due to a tight hamstring, Khem Birch was the lone UNLV returning starter for the opener. Birch is no different from the quartet of teammates (and Dejean-Jones for that matter) he took the floor with tonight in one regard: He began his college basketball journey at another school, in a place a world away from Las Vegas. But on nights like this, with a slew of new faces surrounding him and his prodigious talent on full display, it becomes painfully obvious that for this UNLV team to fully maximize its potential, Birch must also stand alone from his teammates.

A Consistent Presence From Khem Birch Would Go A Long Ways For UNLV

A Consistent Presence From Khem Birch Would Go A Long Ways For UNLV

While earning a #5 seed to the NCAA Tournament after a 25-win season is nothing to hang your head about, there was a definite sense of underachievement lingering in the desert last year. The overall talent level may not be quite as plentiful on this season’s team — there are no #1 picks hanging out on the wing — but Dave Rice’s squad isn’t starving for natural ability either; seven Runnin’ Rebels were top-100 recruits in their high school class. The goal, once again in Vegas, is to put that talent together in a maximally efficient manner.

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Morning Five: Opening Day Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 8th, 2013

morning5

  1. We can appreciate the arguments made by people advocating for athletes to receive compensation beyond their scholarship even if we question the economics of it, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t think that Dominic Artis and Ben Carter acted irresponsibly when they sold their team-issued shoes. For their transgression, Artis and Carter have been suspended for the first nine games of this season. Artis and Carter had to have known the rules and chose to break them. We would have a hard time filing this one under civil disobedience or whatever ridiculous idealistic phrase some writers may choose to defend then. Unfortunately for Oregon, the length of that suspension means that they will also miss key games against Ole Miss and Illinois in addition to the season opener against Georgetown. Now, if you want to debate why selling your shoes is worth a suspension that is 80% longer than lying to the NCAA about paying off a booster who had reportedly committed multiple NCAA violations…
  2. We have seen plenty of ridiculous headlines over the years in college basketball, but the one stating that Illinois State junior guard Daishon Knight pleaded guilty to punching a woman in the face and resisting arrest and was reinstated to the team soon after that ranks pretty high. Now the actual story is a little more complex: Knight reportedly punched to woman in the face on August 25 and was able to get the charges decreased from a felony to a misdemeanor with the stipulation that he complete 24 months of conditional discharge and 100 hours community service. Illinois State coach Dan Muller says that Knight has done what he needed to be reinstated, but we have a hard time believing that unless that means being a player that Muller needs to win. On the bright side for Illinois State they were mediocre last year so there is a decent chance nobody in the mainstream media will pick up on this to rip them apart.
  3. There has been plenty of hype about the return of Dunk City in Lincoln tomorrow night as Florida Gulf Coast takes on Nebraska, but the bigger story might be what is happening in the Cornhusker locker room where the team, which will already be without Deverell Biggs for three games (the result of a DUI) will be without Ray Gallegos, the team’s leading scorer last year, for two games after he was suspended for “behavioral issues.” If Tim Miles can get his team back on track they could still be an interesting team in the Big Ten (certainly better than last that they were picked in the media poll), but right now they seems like a team on the verge of falling apart.
  4. With the season officially starting in a few hours we have a lot of quick injury updates to get to before the season starts. Michigan will open the season without Mitch McGary as he continues to deal with a “lower back condition.” Louisville will be without Final Four MOP Luke Hancock as he will sit out the first three games of the season while he recovers from an Achilles tendon injury. UNLV still does not know the extent of Bryce Dejean-Jones‘ hamstring injury, but he will not play in their opener against Portland State. David Pellom, a George Washington graduate transfer, is expected to be out for five weeks after undergoing arthroscopic debridement surgery on his left knee. Washington will not have the services of Desmond Simmons for 6-8 weeks after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. Sam Mills will play for La Salle in their opener against Manhattan on Saturday despite injuring his ankle recently.
  5. As we predicted yesterday, the NCAA quickly reversed its ruling on Nathan Harries and says that he is eligible to play immediately. Harries, a freshman at Colgate, was ruled ineligible this year by the NCAA after admitting that he had played in three church league games while he was on his two-year Mormon mission. As we suspected this appears to be a case of eligibility decisions being rubber-stamped and much like the case of Steven Rhodes, the Marine who was temporarily ruled ineligible for his freshman year of football for games he played while on a military base, the decision was reversed as soon as the public became aware of the decision. The NCAA gets plenty of criticism for a wide variety of dumb decisions, but at least they have been quick in correcting their missteps in these cases.
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