Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
When you lose four starters, 73% of your scoring production, and one NBA lottery pick from the season before, it usually means that a year of rebuilding awaits your basketball program. But for San Diego State, a fresh slate of players who mainly watched and waited their turns last season have picked up where Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas left off. Tuesday night’s road victory over Wyoming improved No. 15 SDSU to 18-2 on the season and 3-0 in Mountain West conference play as one of the most surprising teams in the country. Veteran coach Steve Fisher and the new-look Aztecs have wildly exceeded expectations and are looking to match or surpass last season’s run to the Sweet Sixteen.
Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)
Junior guards Chase Tapley and James Rahon are the only current Aztecs who played significant minutes on last year’s outstanding 34-3 team that won the MWC and advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament before falling to the eventual National Champion UConn Huskies. Tapley was a starter and averaged 8.6 PPG a year ago, but this season has taken his game to a whole new level. The shooting guard leads the Mountain West in scoring (16.4 PPG) and steals (2.05 SPG) while hitting a tremendous 46.7% from behind the arc on over five attempts per game. His growth from role player to star guard, however, is not even the biggest improvement on the team. That distinction goes to sophomore Jamaal Franklin, who hardly rose off the bench last season (8.1 MPG), but who’s now developed into one of the most talented players in the conference. He didn’t start the first 10 games of this season, but Fisher has had him in the lineup in the past 10 after he flashed tremendous skills and strength at the small forward position. He’s now averaging 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game as a versatile threat for the Aztecs.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences and a microsite staffer for the Pac-12.
A Look Back
While a couple Mountain West teams took their lumps early in the week, the weekend was an unabashed success for the teams at the top of the conference, clearly highlighted by UNLV knocking off the nation’s #1 team, North Carolina, at the Las Vegas Invitational Saturday night. In the process, and with preseason co-favorite New Mexico struggling to find its stride early, the Runnin’ Rebels have grasped the mantle of sole favorite in the conference. The Lobos lost their second game of the season on Thanksgiving night, dropping an overtime game to Santa Clara at the 76 Classic, but they rebounded to sweep through an unimpressive consolation bracket in that tournament. And San Diego State confirmed the fact that they are, in fact, a contender not only for an NCAA Tournament bid, but a league title, despite losing the bulk of last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. While there are some other solid teams among the rest of the conference, these three have risen to the top as the cream of the conference, but the strength and depth of the conference can be seen in the MW’s collective 39-10 record (second in the nation behind only the Big Ten’s 63-10 record) including a 3-0 record against the ACC and a 6-2 record against the Pac-12.
Team of the Week
UNLV – Last week the Rebels probably should have been the pick here, but in the interest of mixing things up, I went with Boise State. This week Dave Rice’s team leaves no other option. Not only did the Rebels beat the #1 team in the country, they handled them pretty well, winning 90-80, outrebounding the vaunted Tar Heel front line (31.7 OR%, 78.6 DR%) and knocking down 13 threes (spread out over five players) to seal the deal. Last year at this time, the Rebels were coming off of an impressive championship performance at the 76 Classic, but were never really able to capture the energy they showed that weekend the rest of the season. It remains to be seen if this vintage of the Rebels has a staying power that last year’s team did not.
Player of the Week
Mike Moser, Sophomore, UNLV – Much like the TOTW award, Moser could have and probably should have taken down this award last week. This week, no such slight as he averaged 13.3 points and 13 rebounds per game, and stepped up his game even another notch in the UNC upset when he had 16 points, 18 boards, added six assists and even dropped in his first two three-pointers of the season (although, his shot selection may be one area he could still stand to work on). With his long arms, freaky athletic ability and feel for the game, you can expect to see his name here again this year.
Game of the Past Week
San Diego State 76 UC Santa Barbara 75 (OT) – The Aztecs traveled north to Santa Barbara to face a formidable foe Saturday night and needed a late 11-0 run in regulation to eventually force overtime, then an improbable ending to seal the victory in overtime. SDSU head coach Steve Fisher was the Michigan coach when Chris Webber infamously called a timeout that his team didn’t have in the waning moments of a national championship game. On Saturday night, Fisher’s Aztecs were on the receiving end of a similar play. With SDSU up three and the clock under ten seconds, UCSB’s Orlando Johnson lost control of the ball near midcourt. After Johnson recovered the ball in a scramble, an unidentified Gaucho called for timeout; unfortunately for them, they had just used their final timeout minutes before. Jamaal Franklin sank one of two technical free throws, effectively sealing what had been a great back and forth game. Point guard Xavier Thames had his best game as an Aztec, going for 20 points, ten rebounds and six assuists, while UCSB’s Johnson had 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Games of the Upcoming Week
Creighton @ San Diego State, 11/30, California @ San Diego State, 12/4 – The Aztecs stretch of incredibly tough non-conference opponents wraps up this week with visits from the favorites of the Missouri Valley and the Pac-12 conferences. By the end of the week, SDSU will have played six top-75 teams (according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings), and if they can continue the success they’ve had in the opening weeks of the season, they could earn serious consideration for a national ranking. Creighton’s sophomore wing Doug McDermott leads a Blue Jay team that is #1 in the country in effective field goal percentage, and the Aztecs defense will have to take a big step forward to slow down that offensive attack on Wednesday. Then on Saturday, the Golden Bears backcourt duo of Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be pitted against SDSU’s backcourt in a battle of the two team’s strengths.
Fun Stat of the Week
In honor not only of UNLV’s 13 three-pointers in their win over UNC on Saturday, but also of the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the three-point shot to the college game, it is worth noting that the Rebels hold the NCAA record for consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer, with 812 games. The Rebels are joined by Vanderbilt and Princeton as the only three teams in the country who have made at least one three-point field goal in every game since the rule was implemented, but since the Rebels have played more games than the other two schools, they currently hold the record.
Runnin' Rebels Fans Participated In An RTC-Approved Court Storm Saturday Night After UNLV Toppled #1 North Carolina.
1. UNLV (7-0): Okay, I’ve made it this far without bragging about the fact that I had UNLV hanging tough with UNC in the LVI final, several days before the matchup was even official and then again after the win over USC was final. Well, enough fake humility. Now that’s out of the way; more details from the upset over UNC. First, senior forward Chace Stanback set a career-high with 28 points and added ten revounds, a breakout performance for the team’s leading returning scorer who had been almost invisible the previous night (four points, two rebounds in 17 minutes against USC). Second, Oscar Bellfield was brilliant, scoring 16 points, knocking down four threes and handing out nine assists in what may have been the best game of his UNLV career; if he can continue that type of play, this Rebel team has got a bright future. Third, the three-headed center of Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez was solid if unspectacular against the future pros along the Tar Heel front line – the three combined for 14 points, nine rebounds and a couple blocks, while deftly using 11 of their 15 fouls in 44 minutes of action. And finally:
A Look Ahead: Tough week for the Rebels, especially in the penumbra of the North Carolina victory; the team travels to UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night (and RTC Live will be courtside there) and heads to Wichita State on Sunday.
2.San Diego State (7-1): It’s important to remember what the Aztecs are missing from last year’s Sweet 16 team. First, NBA lottery pick and freak-of-nature Kawhi Leonard’s double-double and lock down defense are gone. Senior forwards Billy White and Malcolm Thomas (21.7 highly efficient points and 12.5 rebounds between them) are also gone. And floor general-supreme and master of the clutch hoop, D.J. Gay, also gone. The only two returnees who played significant roles for last year’s club – Chase Tapley and James Rahon – were merely low-usage role players. This year, however, Tapley has stepped up and taken over not only a leadership position on this team, but also the role as go-to scorer. He has attempted double-digit field goals in six of the Aztecs first eight games, scored in double figures in the same number of games and done so while knocking down exactly half of his 46 three-point attempts to this point. Rahon hasn’t been quite so lucky yet, as an ankle injury kept him out of SDSU’s first three games and he has yet to really hit his stride yet. The three-point specialist did post a career-high 20 in the win over Long Beach State, but he’s struggled with his stroke from deep, hitting just three of his 20 attempts thus far.
A look ahead: We detailed the Aztecs’ tough stretch at home above in our Game of the Week section, but after this week, SDSU takes a significant step down in the remainder of its non-conference schedule, with games against Division III and NAIA teams mixed in with ho-hummers against Big West and WCC also-rans.
3. New Mexico (4-2): It hasn’t really been the start that New Mexico fans expected. The loss to in-state rival New Mexico State? Okay, it’s a hard-fought rivalry game; anything can happen. You can write off a loss there with any number of excuses or explanations. But the 76 Classic opening round loss to Santa Clara? That one was inexcusable. Defensive problems were exposed in that game (notably the fact that as athletic as Kendall Williams is, he had no chance chasing SCU’s Kevin Foster off multiple screens every possession), but give the Lobos credit – their defense looked better in the final two games of that competition, albeit against lesser competition. Further, the New Mexico offense showed signs of coming into its own, with freshman Hugh Greenwood clamping down the point guard position that he’ll likely hold for the next four years with a three-game, zero-turnover performance over the weekend. Moreover sophomore wing Tony Snell continued his vastly improved play, hitting 18 of 32 field goals (and 12/24 threes) on his way to a stellar weekend. Williams and Drew Gordon, the established stars on this club, still have yet to really get comfortable out there, but with Greenwood running the offense smoothly and Snell giving opposing defenses a third scoring option to worry about, expect the Lobo big guns to have a bit more room to operate.
A look ahead: A visit from Idaho State on Wednesday precedes a tough matchup in the MW/MVC challenge on Saturday when Missouri State visits Albuquerque.
4. Boise State (4-1): The Broncos got brought back down to earth a bit on Tuesday with a ten-point road loss at Long Beach State, but given that the 49ers are a high-caliber opponent, there is no shame in that loss for BSU. The Broncos bounced back Saturday with a 14-point win over Northern Illinois, and the trend of new players stepping up every night for head coach Leon Rice continued as sophomore guard Jeff Elorriaga went for 14 points on the night. Offensively, Elorriaga is nothing but a bomber. On the year he has attempted 20 field goals; 18 of those (and all six of his makes on the year) were from behind the arc. Kenny Buckner, a bruising jucotransfer, also picked things up this week, posting a season-high 14 points in the loss to LBSU. Buckner provides a good presence in the middle for the perimeter-oriented Broncos, averaging 5.4 rebounds in 18.8 minutes on the season.
A look ahead: The Broncos host a couple of MVC opponents this week, with Drake coming in on Wednesday night before Indiana State visits on Saturday. The latter game is the only official part of the MW/MVC Challenge.
5. Air Force (3-1): The Falcons only played one game this past week – a 76-73 overtime loss to Colorado – but they’ll hold on to the #5 spot this week, if only because, you know the Pac-12 is so strong that a loss to one of its member institutions is no big deal, right? Anyway, Michael Lyons continued his sparkling start to the season by going for 31 points, seven rebounds and three steals in the losing effort. Junior Todd Fletcher continued his solid play at the point by handing out six assists in the game; he’s had at least six assists in every game this season against Division I competition. And junior center Taylor Broekhuis has shown that as long as he can stay out of foul trouble (which he did not do in the Falcons’ season opener against Army) he can provide a strong interior presence for the Academy.
A look ahead: It’s another slow week for the Falcons, with only a trip to Des Moines on Saturday for a matchup with Drake ahead.
6. Wyoming (6-1): The Cowboys have lost the toughest game they’ve played this year – a road trip to face Green Bay, a team that is just 2-4 on the year – and have beaten no one of consequence (they’re best win is over Northern Colorado, another 2-4 team). But the mere fact that the Cowboys are beating these teams is an accomplishment. Last year, Wyoming lost to Northern Colorado by 14, to North Florida by 16 and to South Dakota by ten. While this team may not have the talent to measure up with the big boys at the top of the league, at the very least they are competing under new head coach Larry Shyatt. This week it was redshirt junior guard Luke Martinez, who misses all of last season with a broken elbow, who led the way, averaging 17 points per night and knocking down 16 out of 26 three-pointers in the Jim Thorpe Classic round-robin tournament in Laramie. Fellow guard Francisco Cruz pitched in with three consecutive double-figure games, while freshman forward Larry Nance, Jr. (does that name ring a bell?) had his best game of his young career on Saturday with nine rebounds and four steals, although his offensive game is still not quite ready for primetime. Also worth noting is that JayDee Luster, who struggled to take care of the ball under previous head coach Heath Schroyer, has handed out 26 assists this season while only turning it over three times.
A look ahead: Utah Valley on Wednesday won’t raise the bar much, and a visit from a poor Bradley team in the MW/MVC Challenge on Saturday means the Cowboys have a good chance to get to 8-1 before they face Colorado on 12/9.
7. Colorado State (4-2): The Rams won both of their games this week, but the fact remains that the team’s best win was in the opener over an average Montana team. With no real producers on this team over 6’6”, this team is going to go as far as its backcourt triumvirate of Wes Eikmeier, Jesse Carr and Dorian Green will take it. This week, in close wins over Texas-San Antonio and Manhattan in the NIT Season Tip-Off consolation bracket, Eikmeier and Green were strong, each scoring in double figures in both games (Eikmeier 20.5 PPG this week, Green 16 PPG). None of the three guards are true lead guards, but all share the duties at point; the problem is that none of the three are great at creating opportunities for teammates. Up front, Greg Smith and Will Bell are hard workers (the two combined to average 18.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG), but they could get overpowered even by a relatively small frontcourt like SDSU’s.
A look ahead: The Rams will get a couple of good tests this week, with Colorado visiting on Wednesday, followed by a trip to Northern Iowa on Saturday.
8. TCU (4-2): After a strong opening win in the Paradise Jam, the Horned Frogs dropped their final two games, with Ole Miss sending the team back home with an 11-point loss. But they bounced back on Saturday with an exciting one-point win at Houston. After Houston took a one-point lead with six seconds left, senior wing J.R. Cadot rebounded his own miss and scored with under a second left to give TCU their fourth win on the year. The 6’5” Cadot has taken it upon himself to hit the glass with abandon this season, leading the team in rebounds and generating offense for an team without a lot of offensive options by crashing the offensive boards. Juco transfer Adrick McKinney has also been helping out on the glass and while this is still a relatively undertalented team, head coach Jim Christian is getting the most out of the players he does have.
A look ahead: Lamar visits Fort Worth on Wednesday, with a trip to Evansville lined up on Saturday.
The new APR rule is a fact. 930 Or Bust is happening. So let’s talk about it.
On the ESPN blog last week, Diamond Leung, a gentleman we’re happy to file under Official Friend Of RTC, posted an article in which he listed the 12 teams that would not have been eligible to compete if the new APR standard had been applied to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. #1-seed Ohio State? Watching from home. Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State? Sorry, they’d have been studying for finals and not playing basketball. Leung also noted how eventual champion Connecticut would not be invited to the 2012 edition to defend its title since, according to the latest numbers, over the 2006-07 to 2009-10 academic periods the Huskies managed an APR of just 893. They could go undefeated throughout the entire 2011-12 season and it wouldn’t matter. In that scenario they’d win as many NCAA Tournament games as Centenary.
Bill Carmody and Northwestern (18-13) May Have Been Dancing Last Year, Had the New APR Rule Been In Play
Mr. Leung’s article got us thinking: if there would have been 12 fewer teams in the Dance last March, who would have replaced them? Among the unlucky 12, seven were automatic qualifiers through conference tournament titles and five were at-large entries. A quick examination of who would have replaced the disqualified teams shows how putting a binary, all-or-nothing, you’re-in-or-you’re out emphasis on a specific number would have affected the Tournament; as you’ll see, the reverberations go deeper than just the aforementioned 12 teams.
The FIBA Under-19 World Championship is held every couple of years in some exotic locale. This year’s tournament is in Riga, Latvia (yep, that Riga) and the USA are the defending champs, having taken the gold in Auckland in 2009. Our boys had trouble in exhibitions against a couple of Lithuanian youth teams in the lead-up, but they won their first game against Egypt yesterday by 55 points. Obviously we’re keeping an eye on how the team does, but, as the Wall Street Journal points out, what’s just as interesting is seeing the huge surges next season in the skill and confidence of the players on the current team. The article mentions the most impressive one we can recall: Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs in 2009, who came back from New Zealand a changed man, averaging 4.7 PPG the season before his U19 squad membership and 15.7 PPG after it.
The blog at the San Antonio Express-News has taken a San Diego writer to task regarding the question of whether or not Kawhi Leonard fell victim to some bad advice when he decided to leave San Diego State early for the NBA. SanDiego.com’s Lee Hamilton says Leonard should have stayed, gone higher in next year’s draft, and hopefully wouldn’t have ended up with the Spurs whom he claims are a poor fit for Leonard. Tim Griffin of the SAEN feels that Leonard will be fine in San Antonio and this was the year to make the jump. Our stance: as much as we loved watching him in college, Leonard made the right call. You don’t know what will await a 15th pick next year, and 2012 will bring a deeper draft. Plus, even though the Spurs are unlikely to soon return to their recent championship form, you can do a lot worse than learn from Tim Duncan for a few seasons.
Incoming coach Archie Miller would rather be back on campus while potential Flyers are making visits to the University of Dayton in August, but he won’t be there, poor guy. From August 8-18 he’ll be learning about his new team as they play exhibitions in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Color us jealous. As the linked article explains, Miller already has a reputation among his players as a coach who gives them a little more independence (read: responsibility) both on and off the floor. That said…a little advice, guys, given your destinations: 1) it’s called a bidet, 2) iPhone + no European voltage adapter = bad scene, man, and, 3) those aren’t the brownies you’re used to at home. Hey, Coach Miller, if you need someone to come along and blog the entire trip…
For the past ten years the Pac-10 Tournament has been held in Los Angeles. And why not? Couple of schools reside there, huge city, basketball-friendly…but is it time for a switch? LA wants to keep it, and Phoenix has raised its hand for consideration, but the most interesting possibility in our eyes is Seattle. The 2012 Pac-10 Pac-12 get-together will still happen in Los Angeles, but a move could happen as soon as 2013.
Rotnei Clarke isn’t the only guard leaving Arkansas. Razorback point guard Jeff Petersonwill play his senior season at a third school (he was Iowa before transferring to Arkansas), this time Florida State. This is a different situation, though. Peterson has already graduated from Arkansas, and he’s taking advantage of that rule that allows student-athletes to change schools and play immediately if the school in which they’re enrolling has a graduate program in an area not offered by the previous school. Peterson averaged 6.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG and 2.4 APG in 21.8 MPG last season and will be going after a marketing master’s in the B-school. With the departure of these two gents, the Hogs have lost last year’s co-leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3) and will return only two guards who played more than 12.5 MPG.
The NBA Draft has come and gone with one of the most boring evenings in its televised history. Maybe it was the arena setting, maybe it was the lack of marquee names, maybe it was the fact that none of the draftees wore anything particularly ridiculous, but the league’s capstone summer event was so uninspiring that even Bill Simmons’ usually-hilarious draft diary felt trite and mailed in. Still, the draft represents to every major college basketball player the culmination of a lifelong dream to hear one’s name called by David Stern, and it’s worth a quick reflection on how things went last Thursday for many of the players we’ve been watching and tracking for years.
The 1-and-Dones Did Well in This Year's Draft (AP)
The 1-and-Dones. Generally speaking, the NBA Draft went well for the seven 1-and-done players who declared after their freshman season. Excluding Enes Kanter, who never played a minute at Kentucky, from the discussion, six of the seven players who left school after one season were drafted, and five of those went in the first round. Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris were chosen in the first thirty selections, while Kansas’ Josh Selby was taken in the next thirty picks. The lone holdout was Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, a player who clearly had a much higher opinion of himself than did NBA general managers (although if you listen to his uncle, delusions of grandeur may extend beyond Richmond to his extended family). Whether any of the others are “ready” for the NBA is an irrelevant notion in this day and age, but seeing Thompson jumping up to the #4 selection despite not being able to shoot the ball, and Joseph going at #29 despite averaging only 10.4 PPG as a “scorer” has us raising our eyebrows.
Sneaking Into the First Round... Not Exactly. We heard time and time again in April that the impetus behind numerous marginal players deciding to enter the NBA Draft this year was because players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones were not coming out. The logic was that their staying in school opened up more first round spots for lesser talents, a statement certainly true in theory but in no way a sane justification for a dozen additional players to declare for the draft. Four doesn’t equal twelve the last time we checked. Interestingly, three of the four beneficiaries to earn guaranteed first round money were college seniors: Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (Texas freshman Cory Joseph was the fourth player to benefit). As for the players who came out early in an attempt to sneak into the first round of this year’s weaker draft, it didn’t really work out for them. We’re looking at second rounders like Shelvin Mack (Butler), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Trey Thompkins (Georgia), Darius Morris (Michigan), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), Travis Leslie (Georgia), DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky), and Isaiah Thomas (Washington), as well as undrafted guys like Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Jeremy Green (Stanford), Terrence Jennings (Louisville), Greg Smith (Fresno State) and Carleton Scott (Notre Dame). What’s going to be awesome is in future years when underclassmen have roughly two weeks to gauge their draft prospects before having to commit to the draft or heading back to school — we’re sure this will result in nothing but great decisions.
Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
One final stab at how Thursday night will play out before we finally send off some of our favorite college players to the next level:
1 ) Cleveland Cavaliers- Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke. Any Derrick Williams-to-Cleveland rumor is searching for intrigue that’s simply non-existent. Irving was the pick the night the Cavaliers struck gold at the lottery and remains the pick today. Irving is a safe bet to develop into a dynamic player at such a vital position on the floor.
Kyrie Irving appears to be the near-unanimous choice at #1
2) Minnesota Timberwolves- Derrick Williams, SF/PF, Arizona. Ideally, Minnesota would be eyeing a 2-guard, but they’ll have to swing a pre-draft deal to fill that need, as no shooting guard is worth taking this high. My money’s on GM David Kahn holding on to the pick and trying to trade Michael Beasley later. Williams has all of the skills to be an eventual All-Star.
3) Utah Jazz- Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky. The Jazz are fairly set up front with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors waiting in the wings, so look for #3 to come down to either Knight or Kemba Walker. Given Knight’s shooting ability, size and character, I see the former Kentucky point as the most likely choice.
4) Cleveland Cavaliers- Enes Kanter, C, Turkey. Rumors are spreading that Cleveland is looking to trade #4 for more picks to fill multiple needs, but passing up on Kanter here could be a grave mistake. The young Turk has a great attitude, impressed at the Chicago combine and could mold into the best post player in the entire draft.
5) Toronto Raptors- Jan Vesely, PF, Czech Republic. Toronto has a major need at power forward and worked out both Vesely and Bismack Biyombo this past weekend. The Raptors have been connected with Vesley since the first draft prognostications began and we see no reason to change our minds now. Vesley is a high-level athlete with commendable versatility for his size.
6) Washington Wizards- Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State. Washington could be a candidate to move up to either #4 or #5 and take Kanter or Vesely. If they hold fort here, look for Leonard to be the selection. The former Aztec is a phenomenal rebounder and athletic freak that can instantly boost a position of dire need for the Wizards.
7) Sacramento Kings- Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut. The Kings wouldn’t mind if Leonard fell to them at #7, but if Washington grabs him, point guard is the next choice with Tyreke Evans more suited as a scoring guard. This pick will come down to Walker, Alec Burks and even Jimmer Fredette. Walker could instill some character to a shaky locker room and can contribute immediately.
Everybody applauded Shaka Smart a few months ago when he turned down the allure of programs with bigger names to stay at VCU with the hopes of building an elite program there. He may do that, but it looks like he will need to do it with a new coaching staff as Radfordsnapped up VCU assistant Mike Jonesand Boston University is apparently strongly considering another VCU assistant, Mike Rhoades. As for Jones, he may have a difficult time cleaning up the mess left by former coach Brad Greenberg, who resigned after numerous irregularities were discovered within the program.
For much of the past year college fans have been inundated by rumors about conference realignment. One move that definitely stayed under our radar was Seattle moving to the WAC. The move that will become official in the 2012-13 academic year will allow the men’s basketball program, coached by former UCLA point guard Cameron Dollar, to compete at the Division 1 level in the first year that they are eligible for the NCAA Tournament. While most fans are not that familiar with the Seattle program, they do have an impressive pedigree if you are willing to go back nearly 50 years. In 1958, led by Elgin Baylor, they made it to the NCAA Championship game before losing to Kentucky, 82-74, and in 1966 they handed Texas Western (yes, the Glory Road team) its only loss of the season in their last game before the NCAA Tournament. The current Seattle team is significantly less talented, but should be aided by the depleted WAC, which will see Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada leave the conference in the next two seasons.
When Missouri hired Frank Haith after the season ended they were widely ridiculed (ok, we were in that group), but it looks like he is making some significant moves with the addition of Auburn transfer Earnest Ross (13.1 PPG and 6.6 RPG as part of an anemic offense last season) and he is reportedly in the hunt for UConn transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell (yes, the guy who dunked over seven people). If Haith can land that trio, the media ridicule about the hire may soften although questions about his in-game coaching will remain.
When Dwayne Polee announced that he was transferring from St. John’s several weeks ago we speculated that it might have had something to do with the influx of talent that Steve Lavin was bringing to the Red Storm. Yesterday, Polee announced that he was transferring to San Diego State and was applying for a hardship waiver (his mother has a medical condition requiring surgery) that would allow him to play for the Aztecs next year. Although Polee had a disappointing freshman campaign this is a big signing for Steve Fisher and could help the team transition from Kawhi Leonard era to the future if Polee can find his game again now that he is back in California.
Last night we went on a Twitter rant questioning the public’s anger at LeBron James for not fulfilling his potential (or at least what we perceive it to be), but we won’t question the existence of the widespread hatred of James and his current Heat team. Even before the season began, Sports Illustrated released a list of the top 25 most hated teams of all-time and had the Heat, who had yet to play a game together as the 25th most hated team of all-time. We are sure they would move up the list if it was done again today, but we were surprised to see that three college basketball teams–1983-84 Georgetown at #23, 1991-92 Duke at #12, and 1989-90 UNLV at #9–were rated ahead of the Heat. We aren’t exactly sure where the Heat would rank if the list were done again today, but we are guessing that they would rank higher than all three of those teams.
Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.
Player Name: Kawhi Leonard
School: San Diego State
Height/Weight: 6’6, 227 lbs.
NBA Position: Combo Forward
Projected Draft Range: Mid- to Late Lottery
Overview: In his two seasons under Steve Fisher at San Diego State, Leonard took the Mountain West by storm. He won the MWC Tournament MVP as a freshman after grabbing 21 rebounds in the championship game, then backed that up by notching a second-team All-American spot as a sophomore. Leonard didn’t really bloom until his senior year of high school, and even then was still just the 56th-best prospect in the nation (according to ESPNU), but he averaged over ten rebounds per game in his time on the Mesa and developed into a versatile full-court threat, capable of pulling down a monster rebound over a seven-footer on the defensive end, turning and pushing the ball upcourt and either finishing at the rim, pulling up for a midrange jumper or finding a teammate on the break. Despite measuring out at an underwhelming 6’6, Leonard is plenty long enough to play the power forward in the NBA, with a 7’3 wingspan and a 8’10 standing reach. However, Leonard’s terrific ballhandling skills, ever-improving jumper and ability to defend a wide range of offensive players means he is just as capable of playing the three at the next level. In fact, at SDSU, Leonard was most often seen working out with the guards rather than the big men. Leonard’s athletic testing at the NBA Combine returned some very average numbers (just a 32.5-inch vertical leap and just three reps at 185 pounds), but Leonard’s frame can definitely get stronger and he’s done just fine so far without jaw-dropping leaping ability.
Kawhi Leonard Led SDSU To Its Best Season Ever
Will Translate to the NBA: Leonard’s versatility gives him any number of ways to help out his future team. A tenacious defender, capable of guarding the two, three or four spot, he could develop into a lockdown caliber player. And his rebounding isn’t going anywhere, as he’ll be at least the equal of most fours in the league on the glass, while immediately putting his name in the hat for best rebounding small forward on the planet. Throw in the fact that Leonard is a tireless worker both on and off the floor and he’s got a very bright future.
Zach Hayes is an RTC contributor, columnist and bracketologist. For the next six weeks, he’ll also be our chief draftnik, mocking up the place with his first round selections. For additional detail, be sure to also check out our 35 draft profiles of the top collegians that we are rolling out over the next five weeks.
As a college basketball fan, the NBA Draft has always represented a final sendoff to the previous season and for the players we’ve followed religiously over the course of their collegiate careers. Even though some stops (Derrick Rose, John Wall, Greg Oden) have been shorter than others (Tyler Hansbrough, J.J. Redick, Evan Turner), each player has provided a long list of memories while making their individual imprint on the college game. Similar to a parent sending their kids off to school for the first time, the draft in late June serves as one last chance to say goodbye.
It's 2003 All Over Again For the Cavs... Sorta
Now that the lottery order has been unveiled, it’s time to introduce our first ever 2011 NBA Mock Draft here at RTC. As someone who annually follows the happenings surrounding the draft for weeks leading up to the big night, hopefully my mock selections will provide both insight and expectation into what will transpire in around five weeks time, although with this year’s weak draft class we could see more trades than ever with teams looking to exchange picks this year for 2012 selections.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers- Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke. In a point guard heavy league where a gifted court general is essential for any team with championship aspirations, Irving makes the most sense of any single pick in the draft. Irving has tremendous playmaking ability at the position both setting up teammates and generating his own offense.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves- Derrick Williams, SF, Arizona. The most efficient player in college basketball who possesses phenomenal athleticism and excels in isolation, Williams is the clear cut choice if Minnesota hangs onto this pick. Although Williams is a bit of a tweener, an improved mid-range game will render Williams a matchup nightmare for opposing threes.
3. Utah Jazz- Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky. This pick could certainly go in a different direction if the Jazz head honchos feel Devin Harris is their point guard for the foreseeable future. Even if Harris sticks around, Knight needs some grooming as a distributor before he’s ready to shine. Knight is already a capable shooter and offensive threat.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers- Enes Kanter, C, Turkey. After selecting Irving, it only makes sense to grab the best available big man and pick Kanter. A supremely skilled 7-footer with advanced footwork and scoring ability in the post, Kanter’s ceiling is very high. Kanter hasn’t played outside of a Kentucky practice in over a year, so there’s risk in this selection.
5. Toronto Raptors- Jonas Valanciunas, PF, Lithuania. The Raptors have never been bashful about selecting international players and there’s certainly a need for more athleticism in the low post for Toronto. If the question marks surrounding Valanciunas’ buyout can be resolved, the Raptors are nabbing a projectable low-post threat who can really rebound.
We made mention yesterday that Kansas disruption Josh Selby was too busy working out in Las Vegas to attend last week’s KU Basketball banquet; well, he made if official on Thursday. The Rivals #1 recruit from the class of 2010 will be taking his eight points and two assists per game to the NBA, where team executives are now classifying him as a late first/early second round pick after a tumultuous freshman year in Lawrence. The combo guard will sign with an agent, thereby closing the door on his returning to school — from Garden City to Emporia, Jayhawk Nation shrugged.
Moving on to players who actually performed at an elite level while in college, San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard also announced that is going to the NBA and is signing with an agent. The sophomore who led SDSU to its greatest two-year run in program history is projected as a mid-first rounder, and with the graduation of Billy White, DJ Gay and Malcolm Thomas pending, Steve Fisher will have a significant rebuilding project ahead of him next season. Two others from Thursday… Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Notre Dame’s Carleton Scottwill bothtest the waters, but neither will sign with an agent and are expected to be back in a collegiate uniform next season.
If you’re looking for further insight as to why Harvard’s Tommy Amaker would turn down a much higher-paid position at Miami (FL) in the ACC, this article from The Harvard Crimson is rather insightful. For some reason, we get a little jiggy with the idea that there’s something called Friends of Harvard Basketball, and that its core function is to write checks for things like assistant coach pay raises and upgrades to Lavietes Pavilion. Considering that FoHB probably owns 5% of this nation’s wealth, we somehow don’t think those specific requests will be much of a problem.
It’s with bittersweet feelings that we report that New Mexico and former Tennessee forward Emmanuel Negedu’sbasketball career is officially over. You certainly recall that Negedu collapsed and was literally dead for a brief period at Tennessee in 2009; he then transferred to New Mexico and played in ten games last season before a reading on his internal defibrillator gave team officials reason to shut him down. He will remain on scholarship at UNM, but he will not count against the team total for competition purposes, and frankly, we’re just happy that this story didn’t end with us writing a heartfelt post about all the reservations we had with the Lobo program allowing him to continue to play.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.
Conference Recap: It was a banner year for the Mountain West despite the turbulence of the offseason that will see two of the standard-bearers of the conference (Utah and BYU) leave for arguably greener pastures this summer with TCU following them out the door the following summer. The two teams leading the conference this season, BYU and San Diego State, posted a combined 66-8 record this year and were constants in the national top ten making the Sweet 16 before bowing out in tight contests. In addition to having two of the country’s top teams the conference also had arguably the nation’s top player in BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who led the country in scoring, regularly producing eye-popping, shake-your-head-in-disbelief moments and becoming a household name in Utah and beyond. UNLV joined the conference leaders in the NCAA Tournament, but tripped up in ugly fashion before losing head coach Lon Kruger to Oklahoma over the weekend. Colorado State and New Mexico had their hopes pinned on NCAA Tournament bids, but came up a little short. Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the biggest collection of talent in the history of this conference and likely the high water mark. While there is not a whole lot of love lost between either followers of the conference or executives in the MWC and BYU, there is little doubt that the loss of both of the Utah schools from its ranks will leave a major hole.
It was clearly the year of the Jimmer in the Mountain West
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Dick Vitale is perhaps ESPN’s most easily-recognized personality ever on the college basketball scene. Watch some fellow ESPNers do their best Vitale in celebration of his 35th year with the network.