The regular season has flown by, but before the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders this postseason, it’s time to honor individuals for their valuable play this year. Even the teams that fell short of expectations had most valuable players, so let’s honor each of them below. Today we’ll present the team MVPs from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee, in no particular order.
Missouri – Keith Shamburger
Keith Shamburger was a steady hand in a rocky season for Mizzou (zimbio.com).
Shamburger was a good soldier on a miserable team this season. He ran the point respectably (3.9 APG, 24.4 assist percentage) and acted as the Tigers’ lone ball-handler for a stretch after Wes Clark got injured and Tramaine Isabell was suspended. After spending the bulk of his career at San Jose State and Hawaii, a 9-22 season wasn’t what he expected during his only taste of high-major basketball but his body language remained consistently positive. His signature moment of the season was hitting the game-winner against Auburn on Senior Night.
Auburn – Cinmeon Bowers
Cinmeon Bowers was Auburn’s lone threat down low this season (al.com).
It’s hard not to write great things about K.T. Harrell, who ended up being the SEC’s leading scorer this year at 18.1 PPG. But as great as he was, the Tigers featured several perimeter scorers. Other than Bowers, however, who nearly averaged a double-double (12.6 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game) on the season, Bruce Pearl’s inaugural team on The Plains simply didn’t have any reliable size. He prevented the Tigers from getting eaten alive in the paint and on the glass all season long. The better news is that he should have more help coming next year as Trayvon Reed develops and Horace Spencer and Danjel Purifoy arrive on campus.
The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Missouri.
Strengths. A fresh start with a familiar face. Frank Haith produced three draft picks over the last two years (Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, Jordan Clarkson), two first team All-SEC players (Pressey, Jabari Brown), and two second team All-SEC players (Clarkson, Laurence Bowers). But all this talent resulted in only one NCAA tournament appearance: an uninspiring second round loss to Colorado State in 2012-13. Missouri never seemed to play up to its potential after a magical first season under Haith, and the defense often looked disjointed. His three-year tenure was also marked with fallout from the Miami NCAA investigation. It’s not that Haith did a bad job in Columbia, it’s just that the program didn’t seem to be trending in the right direction and the fanbase wasn’t exactly crushed when he left for Tulsa after last season. Enter Kim Anderson, the former Missouri player who spent 11 years as an assistant coach under Norm Stewart, and is coming off a 12-year stint at Central Missouri that culminated in a Division II national championship. It might take time for Anderson to readjust to the Division I level, but his hire has created excitement among the fanbase, and along with six newcomers on the court, provides Missouri with a fresh start.
Jonathan Williams is looking to take a big step forward in his sophomore season. (columbiamissourian.com)
Weaknesses. Scoring. Two numbers highlighted by the Columbia Tribune’s Steve Walentik speak for themselves: the Tigers are replacing 78 percent of their scoring from last season and Jonathan Williams is their leading returning scorer at just 5.8 points per game. To be fair, there weren’t a lot of scoring opportunities for players other than Clarkson, Brown, and Earnest Ross last year. Still, points will have to come from somewhere. Williams and Wes Clark should improve on their freshmen seasons, and Baylor transfer Deuce Bello has a chance to play a big role in the backcourt. The same can be said for Hawaii graduate transfer Keith Shamburger, but he figures to be more of a distributor than scorer. Freshman forward and late signee Montaque “Teki” Gill-Caesar has picked up rave reviews over the summer, and Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright are top-100 Haith recruits that Anderson was able to hang on to. Despite the upside there are a lot of offensive question marks. Williams and Clark didn’t show the potential to be primary scoring threats in their first years, and Bello was just a role player during his two seasons in Waco. The other three players are just freshmen, and as a whole it doesn’t seem like there is much three-point shooting ability on the roster. Read the rest of this entry »
Sam Wasson is the RTC correspondent for the Western Athletic Conference.
Nevada wrapped up at least a share of the regular season title with a win over Fresno State
New Mexico State strengthened their grip on second place with a pair of wins over Hawai’i and San Jose State
Idaho lost big at Utah State but gained ground in the battle for third place
Utah State picked up a win over Idaho avenging an earlier loss to the Vandals
Hawai’i got shellacked in their two road games
Louisiana Tech swept their two home games
Fresno State lost a tight one at home against Nevada
San Jose State was swept on the road
Nevada (23-5, 11-1): The Wolf Pack survived a stiff challenge on the road from Fresno State, survived a horrid shooting night from backcourt mates Deonte Burton and Malik Story (5-for-29) and survived getting just one point from their bench. It all added up to a 79-76 triple-overtime victory and at least a share of the regular season WAC crown and also the #1 overall seed in next week’s WAC Tournament. Nevada’s second half run through the WAC has not been nearly as easy as their 7-0 stroll through the first half. The Wolf Pack won those first seven games by an average margin of 10.7 points per game but the second half run through has included a loss to Idaho and a winning margin of just 4.75 points per game. Nevada appears to be losing just a little bit of steam heading into the gauntlet that is the WAC Tournament.
Malik Story (34) and Deonte Burton Continue To Help Nevada Lead The Pack (Nevada Athletics)
New Mexico State (22-8, 9-3): New Mexico State dominated its week of WAC play busting Hawai’i 115-73 and then keeping San Jose State at bay (no pun intended) 79-68. The story of the week for New Mexico State revolved around their trio of seniors and one very talented freshman. The seniors, Wendell McKines (1000-plus points, 1000-plus rebounds), Hernst Laroche (1,000-plus points, soon-to-be all-time leader in games played) and Hamidu Rahman (1,000-plus points, second all-time in blocks) played their final game at home in the win over San Jose State but two nights earlier freshman Daniel Mullings stole the show with a 28-point, 12 rebound, 10-assist triple double, just the second in the school’s history and just the 13th in conference history. New Mexico State is peaking at the right time (if you’re an Aggie fan, the wrong time if you’re not) and as noted last week, they could be the odds-on favorites to steal the WAC’s auto-bid. Read the rest of this entry »
Nevada essentially locked up the regular season title with a road sweep of Hawai’i and San Jose State and has road wins at Idaho, Hawai’i, New Mexico State and Utah State, all contenders coming into the season. The Wolf Pack has a two-game lead with three to play and all the head-to-head tiebreakers. While it is still mathematically possible for the southern Aggies to tie or even overtake Nevada for the regular season title, it would likely take a collapse of epic proportions — a loss to New Mexico State coupled with a loss to either (or both) bottom-feeders Louisiana Tech or Fresno State. New Mexico State notched a road win at Utah State, though it followed a one-point loss against Idaho two nights earlier. Idaho stayed in contention for a two-seed by picking up wins over New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech and remains a half-game ahead of Hawai’i in the standings. San Jose State finally notched a conference victory taking down fellow golden-stater Fresno State.
Kyle Barone Put Up Stellar Lines To Earn Him Conference Player Of The Week Honors.
Nevada (22-4, 10-1): The Wolf Pack successfully navigated the treacherous Honolulu/San Jose road swing coming out with a pair of wins and regaining a two-game advantage over second place thanks to an Idaho victory over New Mexico State. Perhaps a little road-weary against San Jose State, the Wolf Pack overcame a 26-point night from the Spartans’ James Kinney thanks to a “just-a-little-better” 27/10 outing from Olek Czyz and 23 points from Malik Story.
New Mexico State (19-8, 7-3): It was a tale of two 12-minute periods for New Mexico State on their most recent road trip. The final six minutes of each half at Idaho did them in, getting outscored by a combined 27-10, but it was the exact opposite at Utah State, outscoring the northern Aggies 30-5 in the final six minutes of each half to propel them to victory. Hamidu Rahman joined the 1,000-point club this week and he’s the third member of the squad to do so this season joining fellow seniors WendellMcKines and Hernst Laroche.
Idaho (15-11, 7-4): A home sweep of New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech kept the Vandals in the mix for a second-place finish in league play as Kyle Barone had two magnificent outings en route to WAC Player of the Week honors. His stat line for the two games read 16 points, eight boards, four assists, and two blocks on 7-13 shooting against New Mexico State and 14 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocked shots on 6-10 shooting against the Bulldogs. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Week’s Action: Nevada stayed perfect, sweeping their Las Cruces/Ruston road trip, and sits comfortably atop the WAC standings with a two-game lead over second place New Mexico State. There’s a three-way logjam in third behind the Aggies as Idaho, Hawai’i and Utah State all sit at 4-3 while surprising LA Tech is 3-4. Fresno State and San Jose State bring up the rear as the Bulldogs and Spartans both went winless last week in league play.
Busting Brackets: Nevada and New Mexico State were pegged for two of the 13 televised BracketBuster games. The Wolf Pack will travel to take on Iona while the Aggies will host Drake on February 18.
Nevada (18-3, 7-0): The Wolf Pack head into the second half of conference play unblemished as they manhandled New Mexico State in Las Cruces in a bit of a shocker. The 68-60 final doesn’t necessarily reflect the point disparity present for the majority of the game. Nevada led this one by double-digits throughout, but a late run by New Mexico State cut the lead to just five before the Wolf Pack hung on for the eight-point win. Then perhaps suffering a little bit of a letdown, the Wolf Pack escaped by a deuce in Ruston as they were pushed to the brink by the Bulldogs in escaping with a 65-63 victory. The Wolf Pack’s bench delivered just two points in the win over LA Tech, a season low for any team in the WAC in terms of bench production this season. Pre-conference assessment (Why they won’t win the WAC): Lack of depth. Mid-conference assessment:Thus far, their bench production (or lack thereof) has not hurt them, though they won’t go through the second half unscathed if their bench has a repeat performance of their game against LA Tech.
Deonte Burton And Nevada Sit Atop The WAC (AP)
New Mexico State (16-7, 5-2): The big showdown was a big letdown for New Mexico State as another flat start in a big game cost the Aggies. Head coach Marvin Menzies was at loss in the postgame presser, stating, “I just don’t have a good feeling about how we are playing that first half,” Menzies said. “We have to come out with better execution, especially after timeouts. It’s frustrating.” The Aggies were pushed by Fresno State two nights later, but came away with the victory, 60-56. Pre-conference assessment (Why they won’t win the WAC): The three-point line. Mid-conference assessment: Entering conference play the Aggies were sixth in three-point shooting percentage and last in three-point percentage defense. In the Aggies’ two losses, they shot just 5-15 (33.3 percent) and 5-22 (22.7 percent) from distance and allowed Hawai’i and Nevada to shoot 9-17 (52.9 percent) and 7-17 (41.1 percent) respectively from three. Though their three-point defense has been fairly very good in their five conference wins, their shooting in the seven conference games is a league-low 28 percent. Read the rest of this entry »
Louisiana Tech had the best week overall finishing 2-0 on their road trip to Honolulu and San Jose. New Mexico State split that same road trip, winning in San Jose but falling on the islands. Nevada held off a pesky Fresno State squad while Idaho got the better of Utah State in Moscow.
Jerry Evans And The Wolf Pack Are On A Collision Course With New Mexico State (Julie Dawes/RGJ.com)
Nevada (16-3, 5-0): Winners of 13 in a row, the Wolf Pack now holds the second longest win streak in the nation thanks to a loss by Syracuse over the weekend. Only Murray State, a potential BracketBuster opponent, has a longer win streak (and is the only undefeated team left in the nation). Nevada’s starting five continue to get it done, scoring 58 of the team’s 74 points in a tougher-than-expected win over Fresno State at home on Saturday. That win sets up the battle for first place with New Mexico State (4-1) in Las Cruces on Thursday night, though the Aggies come in with a blemished record thanks to fellow contender Hawai’i. The Wolf Pack has been torching the nets from deep. In conference play, the Pack is shooting 43 percent, tops in the league and four percentage points better than their non-conference performance.
New Mexico State (14-6, 4-1): The Aggies split the San Jose State/Hawai’i road trip, winning easily at San Jose State but falling at Hawai’i in a game where they trailed big in the second half but rallied in the waning minutes before eventually losing by four points. The Aggies were done in by Zane Johnson‘s 29 points, which included seven treys. The Aggies had done an outstanding job guarding the three-point shot in the previous five games (their previous four WAC opponents had hit just 22 percent of their attempts), but allowed UH to shoot 53 percent from deep, something which they cannot allow Nevada to do when the two teams meet Thursday night in Las Cruces. Read the rest of this entry »
Conference play got underway and nobody made a bigger statement than preseason favorite Nevada, who went 2-0 with wins on the road at Idaho and UtahState, the latter snapping the Aggies’ 33-game home conference win streak. New Mexico State hit the road and came away with a win while Hawai’i protected home court against San Jose State to join the ranks of the conference unbeaten.
Deonte Burton's Latest Exploits Include a Stunning 51-Point Effort On The Road.
Nevada (12-3, 2-0): The Wolf Pack have won nine in a row, but it’s the latest victory that has the rest of the conference buzzing. Nevada’s opening road sweep over Idaho (73-55) and Utah State (78-71) saw point guard Deonte Burton score 51 points on 19-32 shooting including seven three pointers, the final three being a dagger-to-the-heart trey in which he was also fouled in the act. His four-point play sealed USU’s fate and a 2-0 league start for Nevada. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Wolf Pack starters combined to scored 134 of their 151 points on the weekend. Eventually that lack of bench production will catch up with them. Read the rest of this entry »
The WAC finished off non-conference play with a few near-misses. Utah State lost by two, 66-64, at Mississippi State, Hawai’i was unable to overtake UNLV, falling 74-69, Idaho came up just short against Boise State, 76-73, but Fresno State extracted some revenge for the conference, shellacking the Broncos 72-59 in Fresno.
Meanwhile New Mexico State needed a miracle to overcome Cal State-Bakersfield 73-72. In the game, NMSU lived out a “Butler over Pitt” scenario, giving up a go-ahead free throw with 2.4 seconds to go, but got fouled on the ensuing possession with 0.9 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws to escape with a win. The WAC heads into conference play as the 16th-best conference as rated by the RPI and a 56-50 record in the non-conference.
Utah State Fell By Just Two To An Improved Mississippi State Squad, But Enters WAC Play With Confidence. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
Nevada (10-3): The preseason pick to win the WAC heads into league play with the best record in the non-conference portion of play but has not played since December 28. The Wolf Pack open up league play on the road at Idaho and Utah State and a pair of victories to open league play there would definitely put them in the early driver’s seat. Why they won’t win the WAC: Lack of depth. The starters for Nevada score 82.8 percent of their points (56.4 of 68.1). Conference play is a grind and the Wolf Pack starters may eventually succumb to the wear and tear of the pressure of having to produce night in and night out with no scoring help from the bench. Read the rest of this entry »
Hawai’i picked up the league’s best non-conference win of the season knocking off No. 14 Xavier (albeit a slightly shorthanded Musketeer squad) in the Diamond Head Classic en-route to a 2-1 finish in their home tournament. New Mexico State got thumped by in-state rival New Mexico at home and Utah State had a relatively easy time in its home tournament.
Zane Johnson Led Hawaii Over Xavier Before Falling To Auburn In The Diamond Head Classic. (AP/Marco Garcia)
Nevada (10-3): The Wolf Pack avoided a Cedarville trap game and has eight days off to rest before starting WAC play. The Wolf Pack have the best record in non-conference play and boast the best defense in the league allowing just 0.91 points per possession. Nevada continues to get it done with seemingly little help from the bench in terms of scoring production. That’s something that could hurt them down the road when the rigors of conference play and WAC travel start to take their toll. One thing in the Wolf Pack’s favor is the conference schedule. They’ll get the Idaho/Utah State and New Mexico State/Louisiana Tech road trips out of the way in the first half of the league schedule.
Hawai’i (7-5): The Warriors vault into the number two spot thanks in large part to a solid showing at the Diamond Head Classic where Hawai’i won two out of three: a 65-62 loss to Auburn, an 84-82 overtime victory over 14th ranked Xavier and finally a 75-68 win versus Clemson. In the latter contest, Zane Johnson regained his accuracy and finished with 27 points, bolstered by going 6-12 long distance shooting and center Vander Joaquim produced a 14/10 double-double. UH shot 49% overall and committed just 12 turnovers. It was forward Joston Thomas scoring 26 points and Joaquim scoring 20 in the win over Xavier. Last year’s strong performance in the DHC set the Warriors up for a better-than-expected conference season and their 2-1 record this year could be the catalyst for a strong run through the WAC again. Read the rest of this entry »
Aside from Nevada‘s wins over Washington and Arizona State, it was a tough week for the WAC. New Mexico State fell to Arizona 83-76 then at Southern Miss 74-66 and Utah State lost to Denver 67-54 ending their 33-game home winning streak in the process then lost at Pacific 65-57 and Louisiana Tech lost to Southeastern Louisiana 72-69 in overtime. The WAC’s wins were against the likes of UTSA (future WAC member), Academy of Art University, UC Davis, UL-Monroe, Utah Valley and Northwestern State… oh and a win against a truly abysmal Utah Utes team by Fresno State.
1. Nevada (6-3): The Wolf Pack notched the WAC’s most impressive victory of the season to date knocking off Washington 76-73 in overtime. Deonte Burton looked very much like a WAC Player of the Year candidate finishing with a stat-sheet-stuffing 31 points on 9-18 shooting, 4-6 from three, 9-14 from the free throw line with six assists and six rebounds. If Burton plays like the rest of the year, the Wolf Pack may very well fulfill the lofty preseason expectations. Since losing their first two games of the season the Wolf Pack have reeled off six wins in their last seven games with the only loss coming against BYU. The reserves contributed just eight points in the OT win over the Huskies. The question still remains for Nevada as to whether their bench can score on nights when the shots aren’t falling for the starters.
2. New Mexico State (5-3): The Aggies have fallen on tough times as of late and their road weariness may have caught up to them. After starting the season out 4-0, the Aggies have dropped three of their last four including a pair to Southern Miss. The Aggies’ early season successes were due in large part to their propensity for sharing the ball (63 assists through four games), rebounding (175 through four games), and getting to the charity stripe (167 attempts through four games). However, the last four games have seen a significant decrease (43 assists, 136 rebounds, 103 free throws attempts– 44 of which came in one game). It should be noted that the Aggies have played at home just twice through their first eight games with trips taking them from Greeley, CO to Anchorage, Alaska to Hattiesburg, MS, but frequent flier miles aside, the Aggies simply haven’t been as effective in those three areas as they had in the first four games and until they get back to dominating those statistics, their struggles may very well continue.
Deonte Burton Is A One-Man Wrecking Crew For The Surging Wolf Pack, Winners Of Six Straight. (Seattle Times)
3. Idaho (4-4): The Vandals continue to be steady winning games that they should and not losing games that they shouldn’t. It has accounted for a 4-3 record thus far. Four different players have led them in scoring but it has been the arrival of sophomore forward Stephen Madison that has been the pleasant surprise for the Vandals. Madison is averaging 12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and is 11-24 from three point distance (45.8 percent) and has been a nice complement to Deremy Geiger (14.6 PPG) and Kyle Barone (13.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) after seeing action in all 32 games last season, but averaging a modest 11.6 minutes while contributing 3.7 points and just 2.0 rebounds per game. One area the Vandals need to seriously improve in is at the charity stripe. They are a dismal 63.2% with only Deremy Geiger shooting it well (80%). Nobody else on the team is better than 68%.