Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mountain West Mystery: UNLV

Two years ago, I looked at UNLV and saw a team I thought was a dark horse Final 4 team. Instead, they were a wildly inconsistent team that flamed out as a 5 seed upset special to California in Round 2 of the tournament. A year ago, they seemed loaded with talent but were once again an inconsistent bunch who didn't play anywhere in March. As Brian notes, they're a completely made over team with only one nominal starter returning, Kendall Smith who made 13 starts a year ago but only averaged about 13 minutes per game.

UNLV Coach Dave Rice didn't let the disapointments of the last two seasons slow him down on the recruiting trail. Rice landed a top-5 class. The names to know are G Rashad Vaughn, a top-10 recruit, SF Dwayne Morgan, a top-15 recruit and big man Goodluck Okonoboh, a top-35 recruit. All 3 are expected to provide big minutes this year.

The Rebs also add San Francisco transfer, Cody Doolin who should start at PG. Doolin has the skill to be a 1st team Mountain West type player. The aforementioned Kendall Smith will likely be his backup. Returning players G Jelan Kendrick and big man Christian Wood should see much more court time this season. The Rebels lost Daquan Cook to a knee injury this summer and Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers will not be granted a wavier to play this season.

UNLV will be tested heading into conference play. They have Stanford and Duke or Temple in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. UNLV also plays Arizona at home and travel to Arizona State and Kansas. We could know early what kind of team this might be. We won't read too much into it given the inexperience on the roster but the kids will be tested.

Given the last two frustrating seasons, Dave Rice has a little heat despite getting a contract extension. It isn't unfair to ask if he's a recruiter and not a strong player development type coach. The talent is there, but it's green. It's also strong enough this team should make a strong case for a spot in the tournament. A middling season and the questions on Rice as a coach will be amplified.

Conference Preview #11

The Mountain West has slowly fallen the last couple years from routinely having 3-4 bids to a potential of only 1 or 2 this year. The top team is still strong but those mid-tier teams have suffered from graduation and immature players. It looks to be a done year out west.

League Champion: San Diego State
Yes, they lose the top player in Xavier Thames but they still return more than any other team in the conference. I don’t see the path to a conference title being as easy as it looks but I do think they are a solid 2-3 games better than the next group of teams.

At-Large: Boise State
The Broncos return their two leading scorers and it’s more about how bad the bottom of the conference is than it is about how good they are. If they can avoid any bad losses to the San Jose’s of the league they should be able to string enough wins to garnish At-Large support

Also Considered:
UNLV – Who will be better based on cutting dead weight
Colorado State – Larry Eustacy can do wonders with any roster
Wyoming – If Larry Nance Jr is healthy he can carry a team. If not, this team is toast.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Conference Preview #12

Our next conference to spotlight is Conference USA. Boy has this conference fallen. Back in the day it used to be a solid 7th or 8th best league but now it looks like a glorified Sun Belt/WAC mess.

League Champion: Louisiana Tech
They probably should have got a longer look at an at-large bid last year but the Bulldogs return most of their team from last year and managed to keep their head coach from bolting to Tennessee. 29 wins again and I think they get in comfortably.

At-Large: UTEP
Tim Floyd has done a good job recruiting and UTEP is back to being a player at least in a conference like this. They return most of the team like the Bulldogs but Tim Floyd usually does something stupid to fail in the end. I still think he can put up gaudy numbers this year and with a solid non-conference schedule they should be able to have a decent RPI.

Also Considered: Old Dominion, Western Kentucky

Monday, October 20, 2014

Conference Preview #13

Our first potential two bid conference from the “Mid-major” category is the MAC. The days of multiple bids have been long gone from late 90’s but the ghost of Antonio Gates still lives on running post routes for the Chargers. This year looks again like there will only one bid but I’m thinking at least one team hangs around in the Also Considered bunch late into the season.

League Champion: Western Michigan
It was a tossup between Toledo and Western Michigan, both of whom return enough from last year to continue to lead the conference. The Broncos kind of snuck in last year but they will have a target on their back come November. I think they have just enough firepower to squeak past Toledo and a solid Akron team. Down the road Ohio will be the team to watch as Saul Phillips, late of North Dakota State, begins his rebuilding projection there. Look for the Bobcats in two years to be a front runner.

Also Considered: Toledo

Friday, October 17, 2014

More Previews

As our preview continues we round out the last for sure one low-major leagues.

Horizon – Cleveland State: I love their Snork Court.  Nuff said

Ivy – Harvard:  I think they sweep the league and end the season in the top 20.  They might have enough to get an at large if needed

MAAC – Iona:   Kurlinski’s already broke down the MAAC conference.  Ultimately I think it comes down to Iona and Siena with Iona getting the slight nod.  I don’t see two bids coming out here.

Big West – UC Irvine:  Could this be the replacement for my lost love, the Colonial?  I like what I see out in Cali.  The Anteaters are solid but Northridge, UCSB, and Long Beach State could all give them a run.  I’m suspecting solid RPI numbers out of this conference.  Two bids perhaps?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Conferences Continued

Big Sky – Eastern Washington:  The home of the red football field looks to get their name on the basketball map.  Weber State looks like the only team that may put up a fight.

Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast:  They have the name value but still the talent.  Comer is a senior, it’s their last hurrah.

Ohio Valley – Murray State:  Popeye Jones watches you while you sleep

Colonial – William and Mary:  It still brings a tear to my eye thinking about what this conference used to be.  ODU, VCU, George Mason…multiple bids.  Sigh, this is the year I cut the cord and find a new conference to love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More on Georgia State

Brian picks Georgia State to win the Sun Belt and they are the overwhelming favorite. If they're a 14 seed, you will not want to be the 3 seed that draws them. This team has a lot of talent on it.

I wonder if they can't get higher than a 14 seed, though. The schedule affords them an opportunity to make themselves known. They travel to Iowa State and Colorado State in November. The Cyclones are a Top-10 type team and Colorado State is probably a long shot NCAA team but have some good players capable of keeping them on the bubble. The Panthers also have a home-and-home scheduled with UWGB. The conference is okay, too, probably better than the Colonial. Ul-Lafayette and UALR will be good teams.

Helping Georgia State is they have a potential NBA player in RJ Hunter. Hunter is the prohibitive favorite to be the conference player of the year. They also have familiar names in Ryan Harrow, the former Kentucky guard who scored 17ppg last season. He'll need to improve his 29% from deep. They also add Kevin Ware, late of Louisville. Ware should help on the defensive end where Georgia State was weakest last year. State was also weak on the defensive glass, so they have flaws.

I've seen Georgia State pegged between 12-14 on pre-season brackets. They're an early bracket buster pick and worth a look when they play in Ames on November 17th.