Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 2nd, 2016

Its been too darn long since we’ve done one of these, so let’s do this right and get caught up on the Mountain West. We’re basically halfway through conference play with eight of the 11 teams having played at least nine conference games, and San Diego State has clearly established itself as the conference’s best team — off to a 9-0 start that gives them a game-and-a-half lead over two-loss New Mexico. Before we get into the team-by-team rundowns, let’s take a moment to congratulate the conference on the fact that, in an era of the horrors of unbalanced scheduling in large conferences, its brass made sure that the league’s top four teams (San Diego State, New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV) play each other twice. Sure, it’s easier to set that up when the league only has 11 teams (where you only miss a home-and-away schedule against two conference foes), but regardless of how, that part of the schedule is right this year.

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (16-6, 9-0) – I wrote plenty about the Aztecs yesterday, so go read that article first. But, there’s also the matter of San Diego State’s 17 million straight wins when leading with five minutes remaining in a game (actually, the number now stands at 159 straight). Now, that number sounds impressive, and it is (Mark Zeigler noted three weeks ago that the next longest streak in the conference is at 14 wins). But even more impressively, that time 160 games ago when the Aztecs lost a game after leading at the five-minute mark was when Wyoming hit six threes in the final 4:12 to outscore the Aztecs 24-8 over that stretch. Even crazier: That loss broke another long 65-game Aztec streak of winning games when they were ahead at the five-minute mark. By my math, San Diego State is 224-1 in the last 225 games where it led at the five-minute mark. Go read that excellent Zeigler article about the streak. There’s a lot more great stuff in there too.
San Diego State's History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

San Diego State’s History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

  • New Mexico (13-8, 6-2) – After getting handled by the Runnin’ Rebels in UNLV’s first game post-Dave Rice a couple weeks back, the Lobos came back and got surprised by Wyoming in The Pit. It was easy to write New Mexico off at that time, and wins at San Jose State and at home against Air Force did nothing to change that idea. But Saturday night in Boise changed this up indeed. Behind a 30 points from Elijah Brown and 21 from Tim Williams, the Lobos had a terrific offensive night, kept their turnovers in check and served notice that despite some early season bumps and bruises, they were going to stick around for awhile. In that loss to Wyoming, sophomore point guard Cullen Neal suffered a concussion and missed the win over San Jose State, but in the two games since then, Neal played his best back-to-back games of the season, averaging 11.5 efficient points and a combined six assists to three turnovers.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2015

Last week we were bemoaning the fact that the conference’s early season struggles had put it clearly behind the eight-ball. For example, in naming our top five non-conference wins, we had to include UNLV’s win over Cal Poly and Boise State’s win over UC Irvine. This week, however, following the Runnin’ Rebels defeat of Oregon, not only does the Mountain West have another fine scalp, the league has also got a team in those same Rebels with the makings of a legitimate at-large resume. Now, there’s a long, long way between here and Selection Sunday, but at least we can say there is some hope that the Mountain West is something more than a conference-tourney-winner take all one-bid league. And along the way, we’re ready to vault UNLV right into the role of the conference favorite.

UNLV's Most Recent Resume Win Has Dave Rice And Co. As Conference Favorites

UNLV’s Most Recent Resume Win Has Dave Rice And Co. As Conference Favorites.

 Power Rankings

  1. UNLV (7-1) – A technically neutral-site win over Oregon on Friday night gives the Runnin’ Rebels the two best non-conference wins in the Mountain West, arguably three of the top five and put them on the national top 25 radar. What’s more, that game against Oregon showed a lot of the things that have been missing around Vegas in recent years. First, there was far more ball movement that the nine assists on 26 made field goals would have you believe. Second, there was camaraderie and chemistry, all the signs of a group of teammates that actually get along with each other. And third, there were productive coaching adjustments and coherent offensive strategies against changing defenses. Ongoing doubts about Dave Rice’s ability to pull it all together for this team are still reasonable, but there is plenty of reason for hope. And with a trip to Wichita State tonight followed on down the line by dates with Arizona State and Arizona, we’ll continue to get chances to test that hope. Exciting times for the Rebs. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 1st, 2015

For mid-major conferences (and make no bones about it, that’s exactly what the Mountain West is whether you like that term or not), the non-conference schedule is when rivals get together, lock arms and march in unison against all comers. San Diego State fans may hate UNLV (and vice versa) from January to March, but at this time of the year, Aztecs are rooting for Rebels (and Lobos and Broncos and Rams and the like) to maximize the overall strength of the conference. It’s sort of like Thanksgiving dinner in a dysfunctional family. Early on, everybody’s working together to make a great dinner. The turkey’s in the oven; the pumpkin pie is cooling on the windowsill; Aunt Bertha’s working on the mashed potatoes; Uncle Fred’s passing out liquid cheer by the pint-full; the kids are playing quietly on the floor. Good times. That’s the non-conference slate. Everybody is still on speaking terms. Hours later, people have eaten too much; perhaps a little too much of that cheer got consumed. The kids are screaming at high pitch. An argument has started over, well, nobody really remembers what. Past grievances begin to be aired. That’s the conference schedule. Everybody hates each other again and even if they can’t remember exactly why, surely somewhere there’s a good reason.

thanksgiving-family

But so far, in the early stages of this Mountain West season, that kitchen seems filled with a few too many cooks who don’t exactly have their eyes on the dish. There’s some smoke coming out of the oven. The gravy’s boiled over. One of those bratty kids knocked the pie off the window sill and the dog got up on the counter and into the mashed potatoes. It’s all going to hell and dinner hasn’t even been served yet. To turn this metaphor back into basketball, here we are three weeks into the season and these are the five best non-conference wins among the 11 Mountain West conference teams (with current KenPom rankings of the opponents in parentheses).

  • UNLV by three over Indiana (#25)
  • Colorado State by six at Northern Iowa (#45)
  • San Diego State by 14 over California (#52)
  • UNLV by two over Cal Poly (#99)
  • Boise State by seven over UC Irvine (#112)

That’s it. We’ve got to include some wins over two Big West teams as ingredients for our big feast. As the saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (to completely mix metaphors), and you can’t make multiple NCAA Tournament bids out of a conference that looks poised to leave non-conference play without many great wins. That said, there are still some chances out there. Boise will get a home crack at Oregon next weekend. San Diego State won at Kansas a couple years back and will host the Jayhawks this season. UNLV still has Oregon, Wichita State, Arizona State and Arizona on their schedule. New Mexico travels to Purdue this weekend followed by Northern Iowa at home next weekend. And there are other chances. But to make a long story short, the margin for error with this conference is already getting awfully thin.

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Other 26 Previews: Mountain West Conference

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

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Boise State Won The Conference Title Last Year, But Was Rewarded With A Road Game In The NCAA Tournament (Charlie Litchfield/IPT)

Boise State Won The Conference Title Last Year, But Was Rewarded With A Road Game In The NCAA Tournament (Charlie Litchfield/IPT)

Respect. If this conference isn’t careful, it could be on the verge of losing all of the respect it has built up over the course of a long period of competitive basketball. Last season, following Wyoming’s surprise Mountain West Tournament victory, the league went into Selection Sunday hoping to land four teams in the field of 68. Instead, the Cowboys were joined by San Diego State and a woefully underseeded Boise State (regular season champion relegated to a road game against Dayton in the First Four), while Colorado State and its three seniors were entirely left behind. Since 2011, when the conference put two teams (San Diego State and BYU) into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the league has been afforded plenty of respect by the Selection Committee with 14 invitations over the past four seasons. But during that stretch, the Mountain West has also combined to go just 6-14 in the NCAA Tournament, a full six wins below expectations based on its seed line. Worse yet, the conference has dipped from top five conference RPI rankings in 2013 to #10 in 2014 and #13 last season. Not good.

Non-Conference Slate. Part of upping those RPI numbers has to do with scheduling smartly in the non-conference schedule. Back when the Mountain West was earning five NCAA Tournament invitations, some of the credit for that Selection Sunday success had to go to the conference programs massaging their schedules to boost their RPI profiles. It seemed like there was a collective effort to avoid scheduling terrible RPI anchors and, while also scheduling several tough teams with good RPIs, avoiding a brutal schedule to harm the all-important win/loss records. This year? As Matt Stephens of The Coloradoan showed on Monday, if you average the 2014-15 RPIs of this year’s opponents, nobody in the league plays a schedule with an average RPI of stronger than 100th. That’s not good. UNLV has the toughest non-conference slate, with UCLA, Oregon, Wichita State, Arizona State and Arizona dotting the schedule, but those tests are also dragged down by some of the dregs of Division I basketball (Southern Utah, Prairie View A&M, South Dakota). Long story short: the Mountain West has seemingly scheduled it’s way behind the eight-ball from the get-go this season.

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Morning Five: 04.14.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 14th, 2014

seasonmorning5

  1. California will have to move on in their coaching search after Chris Mack decided to stay at Xavier. Mack, who is 111-57 in five seasons at Xavier including four NCAA Tournament appearances and two Sweet Sixteens, cited a desire to continue to coach the players he has worked with as his reason for staying. Xavier will be without Justin Martin, who averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season, but decided to transfer after his junior year and will be eligible to play immediately because of a graduate student waiver. Former Arizona State assistant and NBA coach Eric Musselman was reported to be next in line, but it appears that he is no longer in the running for the coaching vacancy. It is unclear who the administration is targeting now, but the two names who have been mentioned the most are California associate coach Travis DeCuire (Mike Montgomery’s recommendation) and UC Irvine coach Russell Turner.
  2. It appears that Georgia State is becoming a popular destination for discarded guards from the state of Kentucky. A year after Ryan Harrow left Kentucky to be with his father, who suffered a stroke, former Louisville guard Kevin Ware has decided to also transfer to Georgia State. Ware will also seek a hardship waiver and when combined with his medical redshirt from last season could be eligible to play for two more seasons at Georgia State. When combined with a backcourt that already has Harrow and R.J. Hunter, they should be the dominant team in the Sun Belt once again.
  3. It was an interesting weekend for Iowa State on the transfer front. Abdel Nader, a transfer from Northern Illinois transfer who sat out last season after averaging 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds at Northern Illinois, was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested for a DUI late on Saturday night. Iowa State got better news on Sunday when Bryce Dejean-Jones announced that he would be transferring to Iowa State. Dejean-Jones, who led UNLV in scoring last season at 13.6 points per game, will be eligible to play immediately because of a graduate student waiver.
  4. Creighton will be taking a step back next year, but the addition of Maurice Watson Jr. could help ease the transition. Watson, a transfer from Boston University after a sophomore season in which he led them in scoring (13.3), assists (7.1), and steals (2.1 per game), will serve as Grant Gibbs’ replacement assuming Gibbs is unable to figure out to work out a couple more years on the Creighton campus (honestly, he is approaching Tommy Boy status at this point). Shockingly, Watson does not appear to have any transfer waiver ready so he will be able to play during the 2015-16 season.
  5. Ohio State picked up a potentially important transfer in Trevor Thompson. Thompson averaged 5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season as a freshman, but did show flashes of becoming something more including a 15 point, six rebound performance against Duke. Thompson joins Anthony Lee, a Temple transfer among those joining the Buckeyes next season. According to reports, Thompson will also be seeking a transfer waiver due his father’s medical condition (no idea what that condition is). With his height (6’11”) and potential, he could be a valuable addition to Ohio State.
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The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Eric Musselman

Posted by WCarey on July 1st, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

As the son of the fiery, late coach Bill Musselman, Eric Musselman grew up around the game of basketball. Not long after his playing career finished at the University of San Diego, the younger Musselman followed in the footsteps of his father and became a coach. Starting as a head coach in the CBA and USBL, Eric Musselman soon earned the reputation of being one of the top young coaches in basketball. The NBA soon took notice and he earned spots on the staffs with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, and Memphis Grizzlies. He broke through for the first time with the Golden State Warriors, where he coached from 2002 to 2004, and later with the Sacramento Kings in the 2006-07 season. Following his stints in the NBA, he worked as an NBA and college basketball analyst and color commentator for several national networks. Musselman returned to coaching in the 2011-12 season when he took the helm for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBDL. In his only season with the team, he was named the NBDL Coach of the Year. In September 2012, Musselman became a member of Herb Sendek’s staff at Arizona State. In his first season coaching in the collegiate ranks, Arizona State improved from a 10-21 mark in 2011-12 to a 22-13 mark in 2012-13. In May, Musselman was rewarded for his efforts, being promoted by Sendek to associate head coach at ASU. RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to Eric Musselman about the 2013 NBA Draft and Arizona State’s development as the 2013-14 season nears. You can follow him on Twitter @EricPMusselman.

Rush the Court: The 2013 NBA Draft was widely viewed as a weak draft. What are your thoughts on the draft in terms of its overall strength?

Musselman Has Coached Elite Talent at Both the Professional and College Levels

Musselman Has Coached Elite Talent at Both the Professional and College Levels

Eric Musselman: Obviously, there are going to be years where the NBA Draft is going to be down, just like any other sport. A lot of people are already talking about the 2014 draft – and for good reason. Regarding this year’s draft, I think a few guys like Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, and Shabazz Muhammad – to name a few – could end up making a impact . Then, there’s an assortment of other guys that were drafted that come could in and make an NBA rotation. As a whole, yes, the draft was down, but there are still guys that can help an NBA team. A lot of that depends on opportunity and fits with teams. Just because there was not a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant in the draft does not mean it was that weak. There are some good point guards in the class and a lot of hungry guys – like Nerlens Noel and Cody Zeller – who have something to prove to the critics. A lot of these guys have been questioned for being picked either too high or too low, so they are a hungry bunch.

RTC: What player do you believe has the most upside among the 2013 NBA Draft class?

EM: Anthony Bennett. At the end of the day, he is a young player who only played one year in college. He is a dynamic four or a three who has the ability to play both inside and outside. Not to mention the fact that he is already an impact player. I think he is only going to get better and he could end up being a key piece in helping the Cavaliers get back to the playoffs – sooner rather than later. Trey Burke is another guy whom I feel has a lot of upside.

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Morning Five: Morning After Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 9th, 2013

morning5

  1. Normally the day after the NCs AA Championship Game leaves feeling a little empty inside with the long off-season ahead, but last night’s game (and the first half in particular) was so ridiculously good that we are still buzzing from it. College basketball may not be at the same level it was in the 1980s, but as last night demonstrated it can still be amazing. So while we will miss college basketball for the next six month (we count practice) last night was a nice parting gift.
  2. Last night may have been huge for Louisville‘s fans in terms of cementing themselves among the nation’s elite programs particularly with the Goliath next door, but according to research by Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, Cardinal fans have nothing to worry about as their program was  already the most valuable in college basketball. We have not had a chance to analyze the methodology for the valuations and we have seen some pretty ridiculous valuation models over the years (see hundreds of Internet IPOs), but the top 10 looks fairly reasonable even if we don’t agree with the order. If we get a chance to analyze the valuation models in more detail we will post more on it at a later date.
  3. The night may have belonged to Louisville, but it was still a special night for 11 other individuals (and Rick Pitino) who were announced as the newest inductees into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The headliners for us were the men’s coaches–Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, and Guy Lewis–all of whom should have been inducted long ago particularly the latter two. This year’s class may not have the standout name that grabs the headlines like Michael Jordan or the Dream Team have done in recent years, but as usual it should be another memorable class and we cannot say there is anybody in the group with whom we can see anybody making a reasonable argument against induction.
  4. There will be plenty of news about players deciding to enter the NBA Draft over the next few days, but players are already transferring and we have noted several over the past few days. The most recent entries into the transfer pool are Pe’Shon Howard who is leaving Maryland and Anrio Adams who initially left Kansas then tried coming back before apparently being told that he was not needed any more. Howard appears to be leaving for family reasons as his grandmother is apparently quite sick. We don’t know all the details of his family situation, but it appears that his grandparents had a big role in raising him and he wants to be near her for his final season of eligibility. The Adams saga is a little more complex and as the above link alludes to Adams brought a lot of this on himself with his use of social media to announce publicly that he was transferring rather than discussing it with the coaching staff.
  5. The coaching carousel may already started filling many of its open seats, but the position at Florida Gulf Coast is still open after the surprising departure of Andy Enfield to USC, but it looks like they are narrowing down the list of potential candidates. As you would expect the opening has generated more interest than you would expect for a program of FGCU’s caliber. Perhaps the thought of living in Naples (overrated in our opinion) is attractive to many coaches, but the opening has drawn some big names most notably former NBA coach Eric Musselman, who also submitted his name for consideration for the job in 2011 before being beaten out by Enfield. Personally we think the opening is overrated, but perhaps the appeal of the team’s style might lure some recruits that otherwise would never consider the school.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.08.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 8th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Following Wednesday’s awful loss to the hands of Washington State, UCLA fans are once again calling for head coach Ben Howland‘s job. The fact that UCLA had won four games in a row, including a road win at rival USC and a home sweep of the Arizona schools, not to mention getting back into the top 25 for the first time since November, apparently doesn’t matter to a fan-base that openly dislikes its coach and athletic director. In late December it was revealed that UCLA was leaning toward replacing Howland, but those talks appeared to cool when the Bruins rolled off 10 straight wins. Now that we have reached the time of year where the coaching carousel begins to spin, the question is, how deep does Howland have to take UCLA in the NCAA Tournament to keep his job? Anything further than the Sweet Sixteen would seem to be enough, but with Bruins fans, you never know.
  2. After the reports that USC athletic director Pat Haden met with former Trojans coach and current UTEP head man Tim Floyd earlier in the week, the search continues to heat up. It was revealed yesterday that Haden was now targeting two coaches back east; Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins. Jeff Goodman says the Orange’s coach-in-waiting would be a perfect fit for SC, being a California kid that can recruit the Southern California hotbed well. As Goodman notes, the Trojan program has the possibility of being a sleeping giant if the right man is in place. Both Dixon or Hopkins would be ideal fits and have the tools to quickly turn things around in Los Angeles.
  3. The Territorial Cup has long been one of the more intense rivalries in the conference, but it’s not exactly recognized as one on a national level. Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman thinks differently, saying “The passion of both universities makes it really unique. There are only so many rivalries like this one across the United States.” Musselman is in his first season on the bench under Herb Sendek, with his latest coaching stops including stints with the Venezuela national team, Los Angeles D-Fenders, and Reno Bighorns. He picked a good year to get acquainted with the rivalry, as tensions will be high on Saturday with ASU needing a win to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt. As of Thursday night, the Devils are currently in the “Next Four Out” category, according to ESPN Bracketologoist Joe Lunardi.
  4. CougCenter broke down the anatomy of an upset on Thursday, following of course Washington State‘s 12-point victory over UCLA. The key for the Cougars was not settling for shots on the perimeter, and instead working the ball inside to the tune of attempting 45 two-pointers. They made 56% of those twos, and when they did miss, they picked up 62% of the available offensive rebounds. These are numbers that tournament-bound teams put up – good tournament-bound teams – not teams that are on the wrong side of the CBI bubble. But congrats to the Cougs, and who knows, maybe they can continue this type of production and make some noise next week in Vegas.
  5. We close with some important news straight out of Walnut Creek, where the Pac-12 announced yesterday that there would be no additional penalties handed down for Wednesday’s skirmish between California and Stanford. The incident occurr with just over five minutes remaining in the blowout game, and after sorting everything out, six technical fouls were assessed and two players and three assistant coaches were ejected. With Wednesday’s meeting being the final regular season game for both teams, some were worried the altercation would cost the teams later in the Pac-12 Tournament. That turns out not to be the case, and as Adam Butler points out, there is a scenario when we could see these two teams meet again in six days. Now that would be madness.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 15th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The big news on Monday morning was the surpise firing of a Los Angeles area head basketball coach. Less than a month ago, the odds were probably on the rest of this paragraph being about the end of the Ben Howland era in Westwood, but instead, the “other” LA-area Pac-12 basketball program ended the Kevin O’Neill era abruptly. We posted our thoughts on the matter yesterday, but gave scant attention to USC’s new interim head coach, Bob Cantu, who has now outlasted three Trojan head coaches at the institution. Cantu said he plans to try to speed the game up a bit (but really, doesn’t every coach say that?), may opt for more zone defense, and will try to get USC’s two seven-footers (Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby) on the court together at the same time. In addition, he hopes to get transfers Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge, a pair of guys who have been all but forgotten this season, some more run.
  2. Names like Jamie Dixon, Randy Bennett and Dan Monson seem to be the obvious lead choices for the next USC head coaching position, but plenty of other names have surfaced already, including one who is currently employed by another Pac-12 institution: Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman. Musselman, who has been a head coach in the NBA twice, is apparently interested in the job, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. But, the question is, just how far down the list is Musselman? And, as always, Reggie Theus is also on the list, at least, according to Theus, that is. And, how about a really deep cut? Former Laker and Lobo star Michael Cooper is presently the head women’s basketball coach at USC. Like I said, a seriously deep cut.
  3. Meanwhile, across town, Ben Howland has turned it around, getting his team back into the Top 25 riding a nine-game winning streak. David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times has a big feature on Howland that does a good job of slapping a human face on the often introverted coach. The article touches on his relationship with his players, his assistants, and, as always, UCLA fans. But perhaps most interesting is how Howland has made the change from playing the grind-it-out, defense-first style that has characterized his last decade-plus as a head coach, to the more transition-oriented team that has currently got those rather picky Bruin fans interested again.
  4. As for the team that USC just beat, Utah, head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s job is in no immediate danger, but in order to make sure it stays that way, and in order to make sure he has his team on the right track, he held one-on-one meetings with each player this week to ensure that both coach and player were both on the same page. The meetings are in an effort to let the players know what Krystkowiak needs them to work on and to hear back from the players any suggestions that they have for the coaching staff. With an 0-4 start featuring three hotly contested games now in the rear view mirror, the Utes hope to use these meetings as a springboard for future improvements.
  5. It’s about that time of the year where, for one reason or another, suspensions and other little punishments begin to crop up here and there around the nation, especially on teams that have had their struggles. We saw Eric Moreland get suspended last week (and it was announced today that he’ll return Saturday against USC, making it a three-game suspension in total), but we glossed over the fact that Stanford point guard Chasson Randle got a slap on the wrist for being late to a shootaround prior to the game against Washington, having to start the game on the bench. He still wound up earning 28 minutes (and scoring 16 effective points along the way), but it’s something to stick in the back of your mind, given Stanford’s early struggles.
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Pac-12 Weekly Five: 09.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on September 7th, 2012

  1. The big news around the Pac-12 this week continues to be the eligibility status of UCLA’s highly-touted freshman class. Depending on who you believe, some combination of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker are being investigated by the NCAA for potential amateurism problems. UCLA claims that Parker has been cleared, while the other two are still a work in progress, while CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman insists that Parker is still a subject of an NCAA inquiry. We’ve known about the issues with Muhammad for some time, but the Anderson issue – related to his connections with Thad Foucher, a sports agent – is a new one. But all of this, coupled with CBS’ anonymous cheap shots at UCLA and Ben Howland, have already cast a pall over the Bruins’ season. With the most talent assembled in Westwood since the days of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, it was expected that UCLA was ready for a bounce-back year, but now it remains to be seen when, and if, this group of freshmen will ever play a game together. This situation continues to evolve, so keep an eye on this.
  2. Across town, it wasn’t a great week for the Bruins’ rivals either, as USC’s athletic department took another hit with further allegations of players receiving impermissible benefits. RTC’s Chris Johnson took a look at the problems around both Los Angeles-area campuses, but that was not the only blow to the Trojans, as would-be-junior point guard Maurice Jones was declared academically ineligible for the 2012-13 season last weekend. Jones led last year’s injury-riddle team in minutes played (approaching 40 minutes per night), shots attempted and possessions used last year, but seemed primed to take a step back into a supporting role this year with the return of senior point guard Jio Fontan from last year’s ACL injury. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Neill will again go to battle minus the services of one of the guys he had been counting on. Jones will stick around in school and hopefully get his grades up in order to resume his USC career in the 2013-14 season, with two years of eligibility remaining then.
  3. Just about two weeks ago, Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek was left in a lurch when two assistants – Scott Pera and Lamont Smith – departed for similar jobs at other institutions (Penn and Washington, respectively). At such a late date, and with such an important season ahead of the Sun Devils, that could have been a crushing blow to ASU’s chances this season. However, Sendek bounced back strong, coming up with a pair of excellent hires to fill the vacancies, as it was announced on Wednesday that Eric Musselman and Larry Greer would be welcomed aboard. As Matt Norlander writes, this was a serious score for Sendek. With his back against the wall, Sendek was able to land two experienced coaches with fine resumes. Musselman has twice been an NBA head coach, was an NBA D-League Coach of the Year, and has been an NBA assistant coach under such luminaries as Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, current Celtic head coach Doc Rivers (then with Orlando), and current Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger (then with Atlanta). Greer was a long-time college assistant (with Wright State and Boston U.) before joining the Houston Rockets as a scout last year. It remains to be seen how these guys will do on the recruiting trail, and they’ve certainly got some catching up to do as the start of practice looms little more than a month away, but given the time constraints, Sendek hit this one out of the park.
  4. Speaking of hitting one out of the park, California scored big this week as well when what had long been rumored came to pass: Jabari Bird, the 20th rated recruit (according to ESPN) in the 2013 class committed to Mike Montgomery and staff. Better yet, Bird has announced his plan to help out the Cal coaching staff by trying to convince fellow ’13 recruits Aaron Gordon (ESPN’s #6 recruit) and Marcus Lee (ESPN’s #27) to join him in Berkeley next season. Washington remains the favorite to land Gordon’s services, and Cal is but one of several options for Lee, but if Bird can help Cal land those two guys, the Golden Bears will be rather formidable next season. As it is, Bird, a 6’6” shooting guard with great athleticism, three-point range and a ton of upside, is a good start to an important class for the Bears.
  5. Lastly, it’s that time of year again where Connor and I get to exchange our weekly football picks. Last week, Connor picked up where he left off last season: namely, roughing me up a bit. I completely whiffed on picking Washington State to upset BYU, then missed it by this much when I went out on a limb to pick Toledo ruining RichRod’s opener in the desert. So, as it is Connor’s got a two-game lead on me just one week into the season. But have no fear, I’ll begin my comeback this week. I hope. In a good week of games around the conference, our game of the week this week is Nebraska visiting the Rose Bowl to face UCLA (if only because I’ll be in attendance), while other intriguing match-ups like Arizona/Oklahoma State, Wisconsin/Oregon State and LSU/Washington will be sure to keep us entertained as well. Picks below, with our game of the week prediction in bold:
Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
Utah at Utah State Utah State Utah
Eastern Washington at Washington State Washington State Washington State
Sacramento State at Colorado Colorado Colorado
Southern Utah at California California California
USC at Syracuse USC USC
Wisconsin at Oregon State Wisconsin Wisconsin
Fresno State at Oregon Oregon Oregon
Washington at LSU LSU LSU
Nebraska at UCLA UCLA 23-14 Nebraska 27-20
Duke at Stanford Stanford Stanford
Illinois at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
Oklahoma State at Arizona Oklahoma State Oklahoma State
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Morning Five: 09.04.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 4th, 2012

  1. Here’s hoping everyone had a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend, wherever you may have spent it. By now, most colleges are back in session, and the weeks leading up to Midnight Madness (October 12 this year) are often fraught with tales of players getting into all sorts of trouble as the combination of free time and warm weather results in a devilish concoction — let’s cross our fingers that the next six weeks are clean. One player who recently found himself unjustifiably in hot water to the point of school expulsion (at least according to an Ohio grand jury) is Xavier’s Dez Wells. The rising sophomore star spent his holiday weekend flying around and visiting potential new schools — specifically, Oregon, Memphis and Maryland — according to several published reports. Earlier contenders Louisville, Ohio State and Kentucky had been removed from his list for various reasons, and it now appears that Mark Turgeon’s program may be the clubhouse leader as Wells is expected to make his decision in coming days. According to the Washington Post, Wells’ trip to College Park seemed to produce a level of excitement that he didn’t experience (or at least, share) while touring the others. Regardless of where he ends up, that program will receive an unexpected yet instant infusion of talent into its backcourt.
  2. This UCLA situation involving its top recruiting class remains interesting. We mentioned in yesterday’s M5 that the big news over the weekend involved the NCAA investigating potential violations in the recruitments of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker. Athletic director Dan Guerrero fired back at this report on Monday, suggesting that such an investigation is “misleading and inaccurate” but offering little in the way of specific details beyond the simple statement that two Bruin players had yet to receive their amateur certification. A separate Monday report from Peter Yoon at ESPNLosAngeles stated that the two players not yet certified are Muhammad and Anderson (interestingly, Parker has been cleared, according to his source). Whether something substantive actually sticks to one or both of these elite recruits certainly must have UCLA fans nervous right now — the program’s resurgence depends almost entirely on the NBA-quality talent that these two are bringing to Westwood. If they are not available in 2012-13, UCLA likely drops from a top five team to a top 35 team, and Ben Howland’s job would correspondingly be in jeopardy.
  3. No doubt Howland’s blood pressure has risen over the last few days, and with good reason — acting as CEO of a major college basketball program is a stressful job. This is especially true in the midst of a crisis, such as the strong likelihood of a player mutiny that could threaten one’s reputation as well as his employment. Billy Gillispie, as we all now, has been hospitalized since Friday in a Lubbock hospital, and he is not expected to leave the premises soon as he receives ongoing treatment for high blood pressure. An early-morning episode Friday where his BP spiked to “dangerous” levels left the second-year head coach feeling the “worst” he’s ever felt. Presumably aware of what faces him once he returns to campus — to be certain, nothing short of a serious inquiry into how he runs his program — the salve for his long-term health might be to stay in the hospital for as long as possible. We certainly wish him the best in recovery on both his medical and professional counts.
  4. Some vacant assistant coaching positions were filled over the holiday weekend on both coasts, as Arizona State added two new members to Herb Sendek’s staff and Steve Lavin brought on a former one of his players to assist him at St. John’s. As Andy Katz notes on ESPN.com regarding ASU’s new hires, Sendek is clearly trying to make a bold statement in bringing former Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors head coach Eric Musselman in addition to Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Larry Greer into his program. Three thousand miles away in Queens, Lavin hired former UCLA point guard Darrick Martin to help him with recruiting and coaching up their backcourt. Martin played under Lavin — then an assistant to Jim Harrick at UCLA — in the early 90s, leaving the program as the then-all-time leader in assists and steals before moving on to the NBA for 15 years. He also has ties to the NYC area, having played prep basketball across the Hudson River at Bob Hurley’s famed St. Anthony’s program in the mid-1980s.
  5. It’s not often that the media publishes an in-depth report essentially stating that nothing happened, but that appears to be the case with the bizarre yet compelling story that San Diego State‘s best-ever 34-3 season in 2010-11 was targeted by those involved with the University of San Diego point-shaving scandal as another viable option. FBI agents who at the time were monitoring the key individuals associated with the USD case were also keeping a very close eye on a number of SDSU players — and when we write “close eye,” try this on for size — several players were subjected to “physical and electronic surveillance, GPS tracking devices on cars, phone logs, infiltration of the team by an undercover agent, even recruitment of a player to be a confidential informant.” Uh, yeah — that’s serious stuff. Thankfully, the outcome of all of this surveillance was the aforementioned ‘nothing’ — whether because SDSU players from that illustrious season were never actually approached by point-shavers, or because they were smart enough to turn down those doing the asking — we’re not sure. Still, the FBI never accused any Aztec players of wrongdoing, and the school has been adamant in stating that none of its players were involved in any of the shenanigans that went on across town. Crazy story.
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