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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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2014

This week in the Mountain West conference had it all: a much-awaited Top 25 match-up between the two teams remaining in the race for the conference title; an epic (game of the year?) overtime battle between what appears to be the third- and fourth-best teams in the conference that went down to, literally, the final split second before some postgame controversy; and straight heartbreak, when an all-conference performer had his season abruptly ended by injury. Let’s get right to it.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – A little patience, plenty of hard work and steady improvement, and the Lobos are back where their fans expected them to be all along – in first place in the conference. After going on the road and handling the Runnin’ Rebels with relative ease, Craig Neal and company returned home and, in front of a raucous home crowd, showed San Diego State that there is at least another team in the conference capable of some lockdown defense on occasion. Inside the Top 25 and tied atop the conference standings, the Lobos seem to be peaking at just the right time.

Cameron Bairstow And The Lobos Earned A Big Home Win Over San Diego State on Saturday Night (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Cameron Bairstow And The Lobos Earned A Big Home Win Over San Diego State on Saturday Night. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Player of the Week

Cameron Bairstow, Senior, New Mexico – Prior to today, we had awarded the Mountain West Player of the Week 11 different times this season. Four players had earned our award twice – Xavier Thames, Larry Nance and Khem Birch. That tie has now been broken, and at precisely the time when the senior Aussie big man first inched ahead of Thames in the Player of the Year race. There is plenty of work left to be done, but with Bairstow’s averages this week of 22.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 3.0 BPG in two huge conference games, his inclusion here can hardly be argued with. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014

With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.

Team of the Week

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.

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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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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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Pac-12 Roundup: Week Two

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the second week of Pac-12 basketball.

Power Rankings (As voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler):  

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon
  3. UCLA
  4. Arizona State
  5. Colorado
  6. California
  7. Stanford
  8. Oregon State
  9. Utah
  10. USC
  11. Washington
  12. Washington State
Jahii Carson Went Off On Tuesday In Las Vegas (Joe Nicholson)

Jahii Carson Went Off On Tuesday In Las Vegas. (Joe Nicholson)

Best Game – Arizona State @ UNLV: In a week where Harvard-Colorado was probably the second best Pac-12 game, Arizona State and UNLV provided greater drama. Intensity was high from the outset as both teams battled back and forth in the first 20 minutes. Neither team led by more than four points in the first half, and that was the margin when junior Deville Smith hit a jumper as time expired to put UNLV up by a score of 38-34. The crowd of over 12,000 was quieted with about five minutes remaining when the Sun Devils went on a critical 8-2 run to lead by seven, and Jahii Carson made sure the Devils stayed in front with a clutch jumper and two key free throws. When all was said and done, Carson had finished with 40 points and seven assists, a performance you may not see topped this year in conference play, and Arizona State left the Thomas & Mack Center with an 86-80 win to remain undefeated. The 5’10″ sophomore also made 14 of his 16 buckets from the field at the rim, a ridiculous stat for someone of his stature.

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SEC Morning Five: 03.27.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on March 27th, 2012

  1. South Carolina landed its new head coach, luring Frank Martin from Kansas State to come to Columbia. A strained relationship with his AD has been cited as the reason Martin was looking for a chance. “Frank is just looking to be happy,” a source said in a Kansas City Star report. “He wants to work at a place where he has the full support of his athletic director and president. He wants to be left alone so he can do what he does best — coach.” Martin apparently felt he could no longer do that at K-State.
  2. Mississippi State received news on multiple fronts on Monday. On the player front, the Bulldogs lost a pair of players, Renardo Sidney to the NBA Draft, and DeVille Smith to transfer. A third Bulldog, Arnett Moultrie, has decided to delay his decision until Wednesday on whether he too will leave for the NBA. On the coaching front, one of the rumored candidates to take Rick Stansbury’s former job, Murray State’s Steve Prohm, agreed to a new contract that will extend him there through the 2015-16 season.
  3. On Monday afternoon, the Associated Press released its All-America team and one player earned the acclaim as a unanimous selection – and it wasn’t presumptive Player of the Year Anthony Davis of Kentucky. Of the 65 ballots, he appeared on 63 of them. Scott Reid of the Orange County Register and Scott Mansch of the Great Falls (MT) Tribune were the duo who left Davis off their ballots. As CBS Sports‘ Jeff Borzello wrote “To be honest, that’s mind-boggling. There is absolutely no case that can be made against Davis being a first-team All-American. What’s the logic, other than not simply paying attention? If you believe Robinson is the best player in the country, that’s fine. I disagree – as do most of the Player of the Year awards – but that’s not the point. There are still four other spots on the All-American team – and Davis needs to be on there in some form.”
  4. In six postseason games (two SEC Tournament and four NCAA Tournament games) in which he averaged 16.5 points per game and shot 53.1% (42.9% on threes, one Gainesville Sun writer surmised that Florida freshman Bradley Beal boosted his NBA Draft prospects. “Either way it goes, if I leave, I still played a great year of college,” Beal said before the NCAA Tournament. “I enjoyed it. If I stay, it’s only going to make me get better. Either way it goes, I’m gaining something positive out of it.”
  5. In a season recap on Indiana’s season, the possibility of the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry ending because of SEC expansion merited a couple of paragraphs of attention. From Sunday’s Indianapolis Star: “IU athletic director Fred Glass said Friday morning that the sides have had some preliminary discussion, but it will likely be June before a decision is reached.”
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SEC Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 7th, 2012

  1. Alabama head coach Anthony Grant suspended junior forward Tony Mitchell indefinitely on Monday due to “conduct detrimental to the team.” Grant said that the decision came after “an accumulation” of incidents. On Saturday, Mitchell came off the bench for the first time this season but still played 31 minutes in a double-overtime win over Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide face rival Auburn on Tuesday and Tiger head coach Tony Barbee said the suspension “doesn’t mean a thing.”
  2. More than a few column inches have been dedicated to Kentucky’s SEC schedule, starting with the lack of a Thursday-Saturday scenario and finishing with the Wildcats’ first nine league games featuring only one RPI top 50 opponent (home vs Alabama). Starting with tonight’s top-10 showdown with Florida, Kentucky will face six top-50 foes and #51 (Ole Miss) in its last seven games. “I’m going to talk to them today about making sure we are humble,” head coach John Calipari said in his weekly teleconference. “Let’s understand why we’ve been winning and let’s understand where we have to take this.”
  3. The best SEC freshman not residing in Lexington, Florida’s Bradley Beal, has proved repeatedly to be the real deal and he again showed why in the Gators second half rally against Vanderbilt on Saturday. He scored five straight points and 14 of his 16 in the last 12 minutes of the game. In addition to his scoring, Beal ranks as the top rebounding guard in the conference and he credits Billy Donovan for making him work on his dedication to rebounding, “It’s always in my mind, because I always get on myself because I’m like, ‘Dang, I need to rebound or coach is going to get on me,’” Beal said. “Coach has always been hectic on me about going to rebound, going to rebound. I’ve just been trying to take that into my mentality and try my best to rebound.”
  4. In his weekly teleconference, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury offered up some positive news on freshman DeVille Smith who had missed the Bulldogs’ last four games and was hospitalized for headaches, dizziness and memory loss for the second time this season. Stansbury said Smith returned to school on Monday, but was not ready to project when Smith might return to the team.  ”Right now I’m not even concerned about the basketball part of it,” he said. ”That’s not even a concern, when he’ll play. I have no idea when that’ll happen. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
  5. By virtue of a loss at LSU, CBSSports.com special contributor Jerry Palm placed Arkansas as one of his “Weekend Losers” as the Razorbacks fell to 0-6 on the road. Arkansas has only one more road game against a top-100 opponent, its season finale at Mississippi State, but they can get off the schneid on Wednesday in Athens against Georiga.
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Freeze Frame: Attacking Arkansas’ Full Court Press

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2012

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is known for his patented full court pressure, and that defensive intensity caused a headache for the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday. The Razorbacks scored 23 points off turnovers, pressuring the Bulldogs into 18 miscues for the game. Mississippi State looked flustered all night, making a parody of costly errors. Today’s version of Freeze Frame will look at where coach Rick Stansbury’s squad went wrong on Saturday. We’ll also discuss how HD channels should be a prerequisite for watching college basketball. Watching ESPN Full Court’s free preview this week is like watching an old Atari game on your 1980s television complete with drunk goggles. Not good.

Play 1 (14:05 remaining in the first half):

The first rule of attacking Arkansas’ press is you don’t talk about the press. The second rule of beating the press is you DO NOT talk about the press. Ok, the third rule is you don’t try to dribble through it. Freshman guard Deville Smith received the ball in the corner as two Arkansas guards closed in on him.

Don't dribble towards the baseline!

He committed another cardinal sin by dribbling towards the baseline (That’s the fourth rule, by the way). With nowhere to go, Smith’s best option is a skip pass to a streaking offensive player near the half-court line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Set Your TiVo: 12.28.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 28th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See the bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Tonight’s action offers a variety of 4-star matchups, including some exciting conference openers and one of the last top-25 non-conference showdowns. Carve out some time tonight to catch these great games.

Perry Jones and Undefeated Baylor Face Their Final Non-Conference Test Tonight Against Mississippi State (AP/T. Gutierrez)

#12 Georgetown at #10 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • One of the biggest surprises in the country thus far, Georgetown is now looking to prove it can hang with the top teams in the Big East. Given how the Hoyas have played recently, they should have a great chance to add another impressive win to their resume tonight in the KFC Yum! Center. Georgetown has already won a true road game over then-top-15 Alabama, and tonight it heads west looking to rely on a veteran big three that have been consistent all year. Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark are getting it done from the perimeter, each averaging about 15 points per game and hitting exactly two three-pointers per game to lead the team from deep. Henry Sims, the most unlikely assist man in the nation, has executed his point forward role to perfection in Coach Thompson III’s Princeton-style offense. Sims leads the team with 3.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game while continuing his low-post impact to the tune of 12.5 points and 5.5 boards per contest. If Georgetown can continue its current pace of 1.16 points per possession, which is ninth best in the country, then they will have a shot to pull off the road win tonight.
  • Before taking on Kentucky later this week in a massive in-state powerhouse showdown, Louisville has this fierce test to begin Big East play. Rick Pitino’s team has been well-prepared all season leading to an undefeated record, but they have been vulnerable at home and have nearly been upset several times at the Yum! Center. The Cardinals, though, continue to collect wins thanks to a spectacular defensive effort. Louisville’s defensive efficiency of 83.0 is the fifth-best number in the nation, and they are also ranked top-10 defensively in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, points per possession, and rebounding. Coach Pitino will run out a nine- or ten-man rotation and look to speed up the Hoyas’ efficient offense by implementing high pressure and different defensive looks throughout the night. How guards Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, Chris Smith, and Peyton Siva shoot from behind the arc will be the key to the Cardinals’ offense.
  • This should be a tremendous game, as two red-hot conference foes do battle with their conflicting styles of play. Louisville is a five-point favorite at home, and their depth across the board will give them an advantage tonight. But the Hoyas are able to counteract any opponent’s strengths when their offense is clicking. Keep an eye on who can establish their style of play early in the game.
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Night Line: Mississippi State Shows Its Upside in NYC

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. 

For the past two seasons, Mississippi State has been a team that’s warranted strong preseason buzz but never lived up to expectations. After a home loss to Akron in its second game this season, it looked like the same old story for these Bulldogs. But just one week later, the outlook of Rick Stansbury’s team has completely changed.

What's Reasonable to Expect From These Bulldogs? (JCL/F. Franklin)

On Friday night, Mississippi State defeated No. 16 Arizona in Madison Square Garden to be crowned champions of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, one night after it knocked off-No. 18 Texas A&M in the semifinals. MSU used a balanced offensive attack in which eight different players all converted at least two field goals to control this game from the outset. Its depth and talent were on display all night, as veteran leaders Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie played well and were joined by impressive young reserves Wendell Lewis and Deville Smith. In limited minutes, Moultrie dominated inside to the tune of 19 points and ten rebounds on 8-10 shooting, while senior lead guard Dee Bost racked up eight points, six boards, and five assists.

Watching tonight’s game just makes you wonder how the Bulldogs lost at home to Akron last week. Perhaps we should just accept that this, again, is who Mississippi State is — talented enough to beat ranked teams on back-to-back nights, but undisciplined enough to lose at home to a team from the MAC. MSU’s ability to bounce back from the early upset and improve immediately to win two games over good teams with excellent coaches should leave a real impression on the rest of the SEC and, perhaps, the entire country. The Bulldogs could be ranked in the new Top 25 come Monday, and the buzz will be building again. This team goes eight deep with a combination of experience and youth, and a good mix of size inside and speed on the perimeter.

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