Mountain West Preview: Ranking the 15 most intriguing non-league games

22 Oct

The Dagger's two-day Mountain West preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.

1. UNLV at North Carolina, Dec. 29

College Hoops Countdown, No. 7: Mountain West

• Mountain West Preview Capsule: Transfers again bolster league's top teams
• Ranking the Mountain West's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Tuesday: The UNLV-San Diego State rivalry will reach a crescendo in the Aztecs last year in the league
• Tuesday: A former Mountain West player breaks down this year's league race

For more news on the Mountain West, visit

Comment: Dave Rice credits last year's nationally televised upset of top-ranked North Carolina for demonstrating his vision for the UNLV program to recruits and enabling the Rebels to land a top 10 class. The Tar Heels lost four starters to the NBA last spring, but they'll have home-court advantage this year and they certainly won't be lacking for motivation.

2. San Diego State vs. Syracuse (USS Midway), Nov. 9

Comment: It took a collaborative effort between the Aztecs, the Orange and Fox Sports San Diego to save perhaps the most appealing of four marquee games on Naval ships to be played on the first day of the 2012 season. The result is the preservation of a matchup between a San Diego State team that boasts one of the nation's elite backcourts and a Syracuse program that will contend in the Big East despite losing most of its starting lineup from last season.

3. San Diego State vs. UCLA (Anaheim), Dec. 1

Comment: If California had a state championship trophy, the Aztecs would own it. They're undefeated against teams from their own state the past two seasons including two wins over Cal, Long Beach State and San Diego and one over USC and Saint Mary's. The only reason UCLA isn't on that list is the Bruins won't play a home-and-home with the Aztecs, but Ben Howland did agree to a rare meeting with San Diego State this season on a neutral floor in Anaheim.

4. New Mexico at Cincinnati, Dec. 27

Comment: This is the marquee game on New Mexico's unusually challenging non-league schedule. Cincinnati graduated enigmatic center Yancy Gates, but returns guards Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon and the rest of the core of a team that caught fire last February and rode that momentum to the Big East title game and the Sweet 16.

5. Colorado State at Colorado, Dec. 5

Comment: Used to be that this game meant something in football. Now it's the hoops side that's nationally relevant. A youthful but promising Colorado team coming off a Pac-12 tournament championship hosts a Colorado State team that adds 7-foot Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson to last year's perimeter-oriented group that reached the NCAA tournament.

6. San Diego State vs. Diamond Head Classic, Dec. 22-25

Comment: If San Diego State and Arizona can both survive their first two games in Hawaii, then the Christmas Day title game of this tournament promises to be lots of fun. Up first for the Aztecs is rebuilding San Francisco, followed by a matchup with either a solid Ole Miss team or Indiana State.

7. Nevada at Washington, Dec. 8

Comment: The last time these two met last December, Deonte Burton scored 31 points including the game-tying basket in regulation to propel Nevada to a 76-73 home win. Burton will be back again to terrorize the Huskies, as will backcourt-mate Malik Story, but this year's matchup may favor the Huskies because it takes place in Seattle instead of Reno.

8. UNLV at Global Sports Classic ( Las Vegas), Nov. 23-24

Comment: Oregon will get a look at what might have been when they see Anthony Bennett up close in the opening game of this two-day event. If the Rebels win, they'll get Cincinnati or Iowa State in the title game.

9. Davidson at New Mexico, Nov. 12

Comment: It won't tip off until 2 a.m. EST since it's part of ESPN's 24-hour marathon, but this one is worth staying up for if possible. Even though New Mexico is historically tough at the Pit, the Lobos will get a huge challenge from Davidson, which returns all five starters including forwards Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks from a group that reached the NCAA tournament last March.

10. Colorado at Wyoming, Dec. 1

Comment: Like last season, the Cowboys have scheduled to try to get to 20 wins, with home games against the likes of Cal State Bakersfield and Southern along with an unusual same-season home-and-home with UC Santa Barbara. This matchup with Colorado is far and away the most appealing home game on the schedule, though a road test at Illinois State as part of the final Valley-Mountain West challenge will be difficult as well.

11. UNLV at Cal, Dec. 9

Comment: The toughest true road game on UNLV's non-league schedule is this trip to Berkeley to face a Cal team the Rebels dismantled in Las Vegas last season. The Bears graduated leaders Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp, but they return high-scoring point guard Justin Cobbs, smooth shooting guard Allen Crabbe and a more mature Richard Solomon, who was suspended the second half of last season.

12. New Mexico at Saint Louis, Dec. 31

Comment: The back half of New Mexico's two-game late December road swing won't be any easier than the Cincinnati game four days earlier. Saint Louis won't have Rick Majerus on the sidelines, but the Billikens do return four starters and most of their bench from a team that spent part of last season in the Top 25 and defeated Memphis in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

13. Colorado State at Washington, Nov. 24

Comment: Here's a chance for Colorado State to earn a marquee early-season win to bolster its hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament. Even without Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, wings C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs and point guard Abdul Gaddy give the Huskies enough perimeter firepower to challenge for a top-five Pac-12 finish.

14. Fresno State at Texas, Nov. 9

Comment: Former Texas assistant Rodney Terry returns to Austin with a youthful Fresno State team that added six new players this offseason for a much-needed talent infusion. It may not be a happy homecoming for Terry, however, unless leading scorer Kevin Olekaibe (right elbow) and top freshman Robert Upshaw (leg) have returned from injury by then.

15. Air Force at Colorado, Nov. 25

Comment: Is it good or bad that Air Force is returning most of its roster from a team that went 3-11 in the Mountain West last season and got head coach Jeff Reynolds fired last winter? This early test at Colorado will provide a barometer for whether the Falcons have improved or not.

Tags: , , , Mountain West, , , , , UNLV
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Mountain West Preview: Transfers again will bolster league’s top teams

22 Oct

Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 7 league, the Mountain West.

Until UNLV landed McDonald's All-American Anthony Bennett and San Diego State nabbed promising forward Winston Shepard last spring, Mountain West teams had seldom landed elite prospects directly out of high school.

What they've become adept at, however, is securing talented transfers dissatisfied with their original choice of schools.

From UNLV forwards Mike Moser and Chace Stanback (UCLA), to Wyoming big man Leonard Washington (USC), to New Mexico forward Drew Gordon (UCLA), transfers have fueled the Mountain West's rise in stature in recent years. This season will be no different with incoming transfers playing key roles for many of the league's top teams.

Once he becomes eligible in mid-December, Pittsburgh transfer and former McDonald's All-American Khem Birch will complement Moser and Bennett in the UNLV frontcourt with his shot-blocking and rebounding. USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones was often the Rebels' best player in practice last season and will start at off guard for UNLV as soon as he returns from a fractured non-shooting hand.

Outside of Las Vegas, 7-foot Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson will make an immediate impact for a previously undersized Colorado State team that at times played a 6-5 forward at center last season. And San Diego State's formerly thin frontcourt will be bolstered by the arrival of high-scoring forward J.J. O'Brien (Utah), springy, versatile Dwayne Polee II (St. John's) and beefy back-to-the-basket option James Johnson (Virginia).

The addition of those players will help shape a Mountain West race that again promises to be intriguing. UNLV and San Diego State are the headliners, but guard-heavy New Mexico, improving Colorado State and league newcomer Nevada each are capable of making the NCAA tournament this March.

If the Rebels are a slight favorite over the Aztecs, it's only because they boast more talent than they've had since the Jerry Tarkanian era. Dave Rice's challenge will be getting the newcomers to mesh with the returners, keeping everyone satisfied with their playing time and helping senior Anthony Marshall make the transition from playing off ball to running the point.

San Diego State can overtake the Rebels if the transfers and Shepard are able to bolster a frontcourt that was thin last year and returns only reserve DeShawn Stephens. The Aztecs again will be loaded on the perimeter with steady point guard Xavier Thames, sharp shooter Chase Tapley and Mountain West player of the year Jamaal Franklin all back from last season's surprising 26-win team.

Best shooter: Chase Tapley, San Diego State. Thrust into a larger role last season as a result of the graduation of four starters from the previous year, Tapley responded with a breakout season. He averaged 15.8 points per game and shot 43.3 percent from behind the arc despite opposing defenses being able to focus the majority of their attention on guarding the perimeter because of San Diego State's lack of interior game.

College Hoops Countdown, No. 7: Mountain West

• Mountain West Preview Capsule: Transfers again bolster league's top teams
• Ranking the Mountain West's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Tuesday: The UNLV-San Diego State rivalry will reach a crescendo in the Aztecs last year in the league
• Tuesday: A former Mountain West player breaks down this year's league race

For more news on the Mountain West, visit

Best playmaker: Kendall Williams, New Mexico. On a Lobos team that boasts one of the best backcourts out West, Williams remains the top scoring threat and the guy responsible for getting his teammates involved. He averaged 12.1 points and 4.2 assists per game last season, both numbers that could increase this season with New Mexico more reliant on its perimeter after Drew Gordon's departure.
Best defender: Pierce Hornung, Colorado State. Undersized to play in the paint at just 6-foot-5, Hornung thrived nonetheless last season because of his effort. Not only did he average 8.7 rebounds and a league-high 8.7 steals per game, he also made every hustle play for the Rams and played sound post defense. Seven-footer Colton Iverson's arrival will enable Hornung to guard power forwards instead of centers this season, which should make him even more effective. 
Top NBA prospect:
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State. Maybe highly touted UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett claims this title by March, but for right now this is a toss-up between Franklin and UNLV's Mike Moser, the Mountain West's two premier players. Moser's athleticism and ability to rebound and defend multiple positions gives him a shot of being a late first-round pick. Franklin's ceiling is even higher if he can continue to make strides as a jump shooter while maintaining his defensive prowess and explosive ability to get to the rim.
Best backcourt: San Diego State. Thanks to the ability of its staff to unearth prospects overlooked by the top programs on the West Coast, San Diego State has a backcourt that rivals any in the nation. Xavier Thames is a steadying force at point guard, Tapley is the league's best shooter, James Rahon is a solid complementary piece when healthy and Franklin is a blossoming star who will be able to play more on the perimeter this year because of the Aztecs' newfound frontcourt depth.
Best frontcourt: UNLV. Few teams nationally have more frontcourt talent or depth than the Rebels. There's Moser, a unanimous all-league pick who averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds as a sophomore. There's Bennett, a 6-foot-8 McDonald's All-American who is UNLV's most heralded recruit in years. And there's highly touted Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, who will likely start alongside Moser and Bennett once he becomes eligible in mid-December.
Best recruiting class: UNLV. The slight edge goes to the Rebels over the Aztecs mostly because of Bennett, the early favorite for Mountain West newcomer of the year because of his rebounding ability and ability to score in transition. He spurned Kentucky, Florida and Oregon among others to join the Rebels. In addition to Bennett, UNLV also landed several other impact freshmen including versatile forward Savon Goodman and skilled guard Kaitin Reinhardt, a deft passer and knock-down shooter.
Coach on the rise: Larry Eustachy, Colorado State. It took eight years of building at Southern Mississippi, but Eustachy finally reached the NCAA tournament and parlayed that into a better job. Now the former Iowa State coach takes over a Colorado State program set up to win immediately thanks to the return of four starters from an NCAA tournament team and the addition of Iverson.
Coach on the hot seat: None. Even the second-tier teams in the Mountain West are mostly on an upswing. Larry Shyatt has Wyoming defending superbly, Rodney Terry has injected new life into Fresno State's program with his recruiting and Leon Rice returns four starters and some nice young talent at Boise State. The only exception is Air Force, which dispatched Jeff Reynolds last winter and replaced him with assistant Dave Pilipovich.

New coaches: None;
Regular-season winner last season: New Mexico, San Diego State
Tourney winner last season: New Mexico
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 5th ; 2010-11: 4th, 2009-10: 6th
NCAA bids the past three seasons: 11 (UNLV 3, San Diego State 3, New Mexico 2, BYU 2, Colorado State 1)

Tags: , , frontcourt, McDonald, Mountain West, , perimeter, , , UNLV
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Atlantic 10 Preview: Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews has big shoes to fill

21 Oct

Two years after being fired at Army just weeks before the start of what would have been his eighth season at the school, Jim Crews had no intention of reentering the coaching industry.

College Hoops Countdown, No. 8: Atlantic 10

• Atlantic 10 Capsule Preview: Addition of VCU, Butler makes strong league even more formidable
• Ranking the Atlantic 10's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Interim Saint Louis coach Jim Crews has big shoes to fill
• A former Atlantic 10 player breaks down this year's league race

For more news on the Atlantic 10, visit

Crews, 58, had moved to Indianapolis with his wife and had begun dabbling as a TV analyst for the Big Ten network. About the closest he had come to coaching was working a few basketball camps and clinics for girls in elementary school.

All that changed days before the start of practice for the 2011-12 season when Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus called and told Crews he had an unexpected late vacancy on his staff because one of his assistants had left for an NBA gig. A hesitant Crews initially insisted he was content in retirement, but his longtime friend Majerus wouldn't take no for an answer.

"He tried to make it sound as short as possible by saying it would only be for 4 1/2 months," Crews recalled with a chuckle. "He said, 'There's no dress code, all the food you can eat, we'll laugh a lot and I think we can really win.' What else do you want in a job besides that? Eventually, I told my wife, 'What the heck, let's do it.'"

[More Atlantic 10: VCU, Butler add to league]

Turns out Crews' breezy 4 1/2-month gig has become a bit more demanding than he originally expected. First, he accepted Majerus' offer to remain a second year as an assistant. Then Majerus had to abruptly step away from the program in late August as a result of health problems, leading Saint Louis to ask Crews to accept the title of interim replacement because he had the most head coaching experience of anyone on staff at the time.

Suddenly, Crews had to decide whether to accept the task of leading a Saint Louis team considered the most talented of the Majerus era, quite an undertaking for a man content in retirement only a year earlier.

The Billikens return four starters from last year's 26-win team that spent a portion of the season in the Top 25 and beat Memphis in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. One publication ranked them as high as No. 9 in its preseason poll, though that was before Saint Louis lost starting point guard Kwamain Mitchell to a broken foot that will likely sideline him most of November.

"I had to think about it because if you do it you have to be all in. You can't dibble and dabble," Crews said. "But first of all the staff is really fun to be around. We all get along great. The players we have coming back are enjoyable too And the administration was very, very honest. When you know exactly what the truth is, it's easy to get things done."

And the chance to coach a team with so much returning talent? That's "pretty good icing on the cake," Crews admits.

There was a time in his life when Crews thought he'd be much more likely to work for a Fortune 500 corporation than a Top 25 college basketball team.

Even though his father was a college coach and he played for the legendary Bob Knight on Indiana's undefeated 1976 national championship team, Crews had no interest in going into coaching during his playing days. He graduated from Indiana with a business degree and turned down an offer from Knight to join his staff immediately after college, instead going into the business world.

"In my way of thinking, which was not the correct way of thinking, athletes had a bit of a "dumb jock" stigma back then," Crews said. "I was dumb enough to probably believe that a little bit. If you went into coaching there was a stigma with that too, so that would have been a double whammy. That's not the right way to be influenced, but I let that influence me. I didn't want to be stereotyped. I knew Indiana had a great business school and I wanted to prove I could do it, so I did it."

[More Atlantic 10: The 15 most intriguing non-league games]

One year out of college, Knight again had an opening on his staff and he called Crews. By this time, Crews missed basketball and he agreed to return to Bloomington to begin his coaching career at his alma mater.

Crews spent eight years as an assistant under Knight before branching out on his own as a head coach.

He had some very successful years at Evansville in the 1980s and '90s, leading the Purple Aces to six NCAA tournaments. He also was fired after seven mediocre seasons at Army in Sept. 2009 amid reports alleging verbal and physical abuse of a player.

As a result of that up-and-down history, many consider Crews' ability to replace a top technical mind like Majerus to be the biggest question mark about this year's Saint Louis team. Crews understands the skepticism, yet he's confident in his ability and he doesn't think the transition will be as difficult as others think.

He has known Majerus since his playing days, recruited against him for years and coached with him last season and with USA Basketball. He has many of the same philosophies as a coach, from spacing and sets on offense, to fierce man-to-man defense, to the importance of being meticulous.

"We're not changing a whole lot," Crews said. "Defensively, it's 98, 99 percent the same. Offensively, big picture, it's the same. Player ball movement, spacing, rhythm. Rick prefers ball screens and my offense was screens away from the ball, but we're going to do what the players are invested in.

"Rick and I are very similar. I'm very detail-oriented. He is detail-oriented on steroids. He probably slows it down more in practice than I do, almost puts on a little clinic with things. We have more of a rapid-fire practice style now compared to him. But we're very similar in a lot of ways."

Once Mitchell returns to the Saint Louis lineup in a month, the Billikens will have the core of last year's ultra-successful team. The loss of leading scorer Brian Conklin will force others to shoulder a greater offensive burden, but few teams nationally will be better on defense.

In the backcourt, Mitchell averaged 12.4 points per game last season, played solid defense and distributed the ball capably to his teammates. Jordair Jett is a defensive stopper who needs to take his scoring up a notch, while Mike McCall will provide more of an offensive lift.

Highlighting the frontcourt is Cody Ellis, a sharp shooter who is also adept at taking charges in the paint. Center Rob Loe provides capable perimeter shooting, while forward Dwayne Evans is perhaps the best athlete and rebounder on the team.

Typically an interim coach will be worried about winning enough games to win over his administration and land the full-time gig, but that's not Crews' focus. Of course, he wants to win as many games as he can next season, but he'd have no problem returning to semi-retirement if Saint Louis chooses not to invite him back.

"My wife told me a long time ago, 'If you worry about next year, you can't enjoy this year,'" he said. "I think that's really a good way to put coaching. I don't care where you are, who you are or how long your contract is for. I've always kind of done that."

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Tags: , Atlantic 10, , , Interim Saint Louis coach Jim Crews, Jim Crews, Majerus, , Preview, Saint Louis, ,
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Atlantic 10 Preview: Ex-Xavier captain Steve Wolf projects the league

20 Oct

Former Xavier captain Steve Wolf, a color analyst for CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports Ohio, spoke with me this week to help preview the Atlantic 10. Here's his scouting report on the league next season:

1. With Xavier rebuilding, Temple set to leave and Butler and VCU coming aboard, does it feel like the Atlantic 10 is experiencing a bit of a changing of the guard this season?

College Hoops Countdown, No. 8: Atlantic 10

• Atlantic 10 Capsule Preview: Addition of VCU, Butler makes strong league even more formidable
• Ranking the Atlantic 10's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Interim Saint Louis coach Jim Crews has big shoes to fill
• A former Atlantic 10 player breaks down this year's league race

For more news on the Atlantic 10, visit

SW: In the past, it was always the same teams at the top. You had Xavier who was perennially at the top and you had Temple. But now you look at it, and I think it's changing. You have two teams coming in from another league that are very similarly in consistency to the top A-10 teams Both of them have very good guard play and both are going to be in the top six or seven at the end of the year.

2. The consensus seems to be the six league title contenders are Saint Louis, VCU, Temple, St. Joseph's, UMass and Butler. Out of that group, who would be your preseason pick to win the conference?

SW: I'm really fired up about Phil Martelli's team this year. It's tough to play them at home, they have a really solid big guy in C.J. Aiken and I like their backcourt. Carl Jones, is a great scorer. I also love the big kid [Halil] Kanacevic, the transfer who came in there. So I like them, but you also have to look at Temple. Scoonie Randall didn't play last year but he's back. Khalif Wyatt, I thought was unbelievable. Saint Louis has some great players, but now they've lost Kwamain Mitchell for six weeks to a broken foot. He is really the straw that stirs their drink. I think they'll be there toward the end of the year, but that's a big blow and I don't know if they can salvage it. So I have to say I think Saint Joseph's is probably my favorite to win it. Then I'd look at VCU and Temple would be third in my mind. Saint Louis could go either way, but right now I'd say four and five between UMass and Saint Louis.

3. When you look at the rest of the league, is there a sleepr team you could see surprising everybody and cracking that top six?

SW: Out of the rest of the teams, I'm interested to see what Rhode Island will do. Rhode Island fell off the tracks last year. They weren't as bad as they played, but they had so much dissension, so many problems. Everyone knew [Jim] Baron was gone, but now they've got Dan Hurley in there and I love what he did at Wagner. You've got a coach who teaches fundamentals, you've got a guy, [Nikola] Malesevic, who's a good shooter, Ryan Brooks is a senior and is ready to play. So I think Rhode Island could be a sleeper. The other one may be La Salle. I liked them at the end of last season. They have a great point guard in [Tyreek] Duren. So I would say it's a pick'em between Rhode Island and La Salle.

4. Xavier obviously had one of the toughest offseasons of any team in the nation. Is this a rebuilding year for your alma mater and how long do you think it will take that program to get back to where it has been?

SW: When you lose, I think, 53 points a game with Lyons, Holloway and Wells and everyone, that's pretty big, but they're not going to be as bad as everyone projects. They're going to need to do it fundamentally. They're not going to overpower anybody or out-quick anybody, but they do have some good players. It depends if they all come together and say nobody thinks we're going to be any good. I remember last year, the second half of the year, nobody thought they were any good, yet at the end of the year, they get to the Sweet 16.  I think Chris Mack works better in this type of atmosphere with a chip on his shoulder. I think he's better this way than as a front runner. But still it's going to be a tough year.

4. The player of the year race in the Atlantic 10 looks about as wide open as the league title chase does. Do you have a preseason pick?

SW: I think it's going to be Khalif Wyatt, Chaz Williams or Kevin Dillard. Those are the guys that are going to run the show. Now if Dayton doesn't play up to its capabilities or UMass falls apart early or Temple doesn't play up to snuff, then maybe you look at the big guy [C.J.] Aiken. How's he playing for Saint Joe's? If Saint Joe's starts playing great and he's dominating on the boards because there aren't a lot of big guys in this league, then maybe he's your guy. But if I had to pick, I'd probably pick Wyatt. He's a great player, and Temple always gets better and better as the year goes on. I think they'll be in the hunt.

5. Which Atlantic 10 arena do you think is the most difficult on opposing teams?

SW: There's three, right now, I think are tough. Xavier and Dayton are two of the tough ones and Saint Louis has become a really, really good home crowd. Now that they're winning, it's always packed. When they're playing well, that place is rocking. So I'd say those are the top three. Dayton is one of the best places in the country to play. It's very hard to play there. They love their basketball there.

6. If you could go back in time, what Atlantic 10 coach would you most like to play for?

SW: I love a lot of those coaches, but I'd have to say it would come down to Phil Martelli [Saint Joseph's] and Fran Dunphy [Temple]. I'd probably take Martelli because I think he's hilarious. Dunphy is such a good guy, but when he gets on the court, he's a different bird. He's a mild-mannered guy, but he's not mild-mannered in practice. So my choice would be Martelli because he's a little funnier, but Dunphy and Martelli are my two choices.

Tags: Atlantic 10, , , , , Phil Martelli, , Preview, Saint Louis,
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Trevor Mbakwe avoids jail time, enabling him to continue his career at Minnesota

19 Oct

Trevor Mbakwe's basketball future was on the line Friday in Florida when the Minnesota forward appeared before Judge Jose Fernandez due to a parole violation stemming from a July DUI in Minnesota.

Fernandez could have sentenced Mbakwe to up to 30 months in prison, effectively ending his college career at Minnesota and damaging his hopes of playing professionally one day. Instead he showed lenience by merely handing down an additional two years of probation and requiring Mbakwe to attend AA meetings and perform 20 hours of community service per month.

The result of the ruling appears to be that Mbakwe will be able to play right away for Minnesota this season, assuming his surgically repaired knee allows it. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported Mbakwe's status with the team was unlikely to change unless he was sentenced to jail time.

Mbakwe emerged from the courtroom Friday relieved that the judge ruled in his favor.

"I've been thinking about this since July 1," he told the Star-Tribune. "It's been stressing me and my family out and I'm glad it's over. ... I'm just going to stay on the right track now; no more slip-ups. The judge gave me another chance and I'm grateful for that. ... I'm just going to show everybody they were right in supporting me."

Mbakwe needs to live up to his "no more slip-ups" promise because frankly he's received more chances than most in his shoes would have gotten.

His legal issues started when he was charged with felony assault during junior college in Florida for allegedly punching a woman and breaking bones in her face. Later, he was arrested for harassment when he allegedly posted a Facebook message to a St. Paul woman's page in violation of a restraining order she previously obtained. Those previous issues landed him on probation, which he violated in July with his DUI.

Part of the reason Minnesota has been willing to look past his legal trouble is surely his impact on the court. The double-double threat averaged 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds last season before going down with a season-ending knee injury.

In his comments to Mbakwe, Judge Fernandez offered this warning: "You're not a cat; you don't have nine lives."

Mbakwe should heed that warning. He is fortunate Minnesota is granting him another chance, but he has already damaged his reputation and one more "slip-up" could be his last.

Tags: , , , , , , , Minnesota Star Tribune, Minnesota Trevor Mbakwe, , Trevor Mbakwe, violation
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Best of Midnight Madness: Anthony Bennett leaps giant cardboard Mike Moser cutout

19 Oct

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or .

Anthony Bennett's performance in the dunk contest at Thursday's Scarlet/Gray Showcase did nothing to diminish the excitement for the UNLV freshman's college debut in a few weeks. Bennett had two fans hold up the giant cardboard cutout of teammate Mike Moser known as "Mozilla" that UNLV students brandished during the season last year. Then Bennett leapt over the cardboard version of his teammate and soared for a one-handed dunk, a slam that brought the crowd to its feet but made UNLV coach Dave Rice a bit nervous.  "I figured that Mozilla would make a full recovery, but I was nervous about Anthony Bennett," Rice told the Las Vegas Sun. "What an unbelievable play that was."

More from Best of Midnight Madness Series:

• Wagner forward leaps over his mom and dad for dunk
• Kentucky transforms Rupp Arena floor into a projector screen
• D.J. Byrd pulls one over on unsuspecting Purdue crowd
• Jamie Dixon's 'Jackie Moon' costume wins the night
• Brittney Griner does a near-360 jam in Baylor's dunk contest
• Missouri's Keion Bell leaps over six people for a dunk
• Tom Izzo wows Michigan State crowd with 'Iron Man' entrance
North Carolina freshmen don ballet slippers and tutus
Kentucky women's coach channels MC Hammer

Tags: Anthony Bennett, Bennett, cardboard cutout, , cutout, dunk, , Mike Moser, , , , UNLV
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Atlantic 10 preview: Ranking the 15 most intriguing non-league games

19 Oct

The Dagger's two-day Atlantic 10 preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.

1. Butler vs. Indiana, Dec. 15 (Indianapolis)

Comment: Since the formation of the Crossroads Classic pitting Indiana's top four teams against one-another, this has been the matchup many have wanted to see. Can a Butler team that has toppled so many high-profile programs take down a Hoosiers squad that may enter the season No. 1 in the nation? We'll find out in two months.

College Hoops Countdown, No. 8: Atlantic 10

• Atlantic 10 Capsule Preview: Addition of VCU, Butler makes strong league even more formidable
• Ranking the Atlantic 10's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Interim Saint Louis coach Jim Crews has big shoes to fill
• A former Atlantic 10 player breaks down this year's league race

For more news on the Atlantic 10, visit

2. Xavier vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 19

Comment: Even though Xavier appears headed for a rebuilding season this year, the first post-brawl matchup between the Musketeers and Bearcats will still be fascinating to watch. Expect both teams to be on their best behavior, and expect Cincinnati to avenge last year's drubbing.

3. Temple vs. Duke, Dec. 8 (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Comment: In last year's matchup, Temple upset Duke 78-73 behind 22 points from guard Khalif Wyatt and 17 from forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. The Blue Devils better find some answers for those two because the Owls have both of those guys back.

4. Gonzaga at Butler, Jan. 19

Comment: ESPN College GameDay will visit Hinkle Fieldhouse for this matchup between two of the nation's premier non-BCS programs. Gonzaga is loaded this season with a pair of sharp-shooting sophomore guards in Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell and one of the nation's deepest frontcourts.

5. Saint Louis at Washington, Nov. 28

Comment: Saint Louis embarrassed Washington last season in Lorenzo Romar's return to the Arch City, building a 20-point first-half lead and never letting the Huskies come close to getting back into it. The loss of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten suggests Washington won't contend in the Pac-12 this season, but the Huskies still have firepower and they're far better at home than on the road.

6. VCU at Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24)

Comment: VCU is guaranteed three challenging games in the nation's best preseason tournament this season. First up for the Rams is Memphis, another up-tempo team that will try to run with Shaka Smart's team. Duke, Louisville, Missouri, Minnesota, Stanford and Northern Iowa round out the loaded field.

7. Temple vs. Syracuse, Dec. 22 (New York City)

Comment: Who plays Duke, Kansas and Syracuse out of conference in the same season? Temple, that's who. The Owls will have to overcome a partisan Syracuse crowd and shoot well against the Orange's trademark zone to have a chance at the upset.

8. UMass at Harvard, Nov. 13

Comment: Unless Boston College surprises or one of these two teams disappoints, this is a matchup to determine the state of Massachusetts' best team. Harvard may be an underdog because of the season-long suspensions of senior captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, but the Crimson have enough young talent to still pose a challenge for the Minutemen.

9. Alabama at VCU, Dec. 15

Comment: When Anthony Grant coached at VCU from 2006 to 2009, his contract stipulated that the school that someday hired him away would have to schedule a home-and-home series against the Rams as penance. As a result, Alabama hosted VCU last November, a 72-64 Crimson Tide win, and will visit the Rams in Richmond this season.

10. Saint Joseph's at Drexel, Dec. 31

Comment: The best team in Philadelphia this season? Believe it or not, it may not be a member of the Big Five. CAA favorite Drexel will look to strengthen its case against a Saint Joseph's team that appears to be the most talented Phil Martelli has had since the days of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.

11. Richmond at Kansas, Dec. 18

Comment: Richmond has forged a giant-killing reputation thanks to its history of NCAA tournament upsets against marquee programs. The Spiders probably have too many frontcourt questions to contend in this year's loaded A-10, but they'll still be dangerous when they take aim at a Kansas team that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16 two years ago.

12. Butler at Xavier, Nov. 13

Comment: This is not a misprint. Butler at Xavier is really a non-conference game even though both programs will be in the Atlantic 10 this year. The programs scheduled the game as part of ESPN's 24-hour marathon before Butler joined the league and decided to play anyway rather than find new opponents.

13. Butler at Maui Invitational, Nov. 19-21

Comment: Butler will be as battle-tested as anyone in the preseason thanks to a brutal non-league schedule meant to vault the Bulldogs into at-large contention in the Horizon League rather than the tougher Atlantic 10. Up first for Butler in Maui is Marquette, followed perhaps by North Carolina in the semifinals.

14. Saint Joseph's at Villanova, Dec. 11

Comment: The Holy War may be a mismatch this season, but in a new twist, it won't be because Villanova is the favorite. Although the Wildcats are the home team, they have a lot to prove after a disastrous 2011-12 season and the unexpected departures of starting guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek and forward Markus Kennedy.

15A. Dayton at Charleston Classic, Nov. 15-18

Comment: How much has Dayton improved? Could the Flyers be an Atlantic 10 sleeper? This early-season tournament should provide a barometer. A Dayton team led by point guard Kevin Dillard and a deep frontcourt could face Baylor in the semifinals if it springs a mild upset against Colorado in the opening round.

15B VCU at Old Dominion, Dec. 7

Comment: A reader correctly noted this was omitted from the list, so it's being added here. What has traditionally been one of the CAA's premier rivalry games is now a compelling non-league matchup between one team that has already left the CAA and another that is Conference USA bound in 2013.

Tags: Atlantic 10, CAA, Duke, Interim Saint Louis coach Jim Crews, , , , Ranking, Saint Louis, , ,
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Atlantic 10 preview: Addition of VCU, Butler makes strong league even more formidable

19 Oct

Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 8 league, the Atlantic 10.

If the ACC is basketball's biggest conference realignment winner because of the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, then the revamped Atlantic 10 certainly isn't too far behind.

This season, the league welcomes newcomers VCU and Butler, two of the nation's glamor mid-major programs the past few years. Add those two to an already improving league that won't lose Temple to the Big East for one more season, and the result is a particularly formidable Atlantic 10 that lacks a truly elite team but appears to have at least a half dozen NCAA tournament contenders

Trying to pick a preseason Atlantic 10 favorite is a fool's errand this year because any of consensus the top six teams could make a legitimate case.

Is it VCU, which returns four starters from a team that fell one bucket shy of the Sweet 16? How about Saint Louis, which boasts Rick Majerus' most talented team but doesn't have Majerus to coach it? Or maybe Saint Joseph's, which has elite shot blocker C.J. Aiken and the league's best backcourt duo? Or perhaps Butler, which brings in Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham to fix last year's shooting woes?

The other two programs that can't be overlooked are Temple and UMass, both of whom are especially strong on the perimeter.

The Owls boast a stable of talented wings highlighted by the league's top returning scorer in Khalif Wyatt, but they'll need sophomore Will Cummings to develop at point guard and unproven frontcourt players to emerge. UMass is a year away from having its best team as a result of the impending arrival of Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon, but Chaz Williams is good enough to make the Minutemen a contender this year if an interior scorer or two emerges.

All six of those programs received first-place votes in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, with Saint Joseph's somewhat surprisingly edging second-place Saint Louis and third-place VCU for the top spot. The Billikens and Rams are probably the safest choices because they return so much from teams that went to the NCAA tournament and won a game last year.

Of teams outside the consensus top six, the most likely to surprise may be Dayton. With all-league point guard Kevin Dillard complemented by a frontcourt that includes a healthy Josh Benson, improving Matt Kavanaugh and LSU transfer Matt Derenbecker, the Flyers boast a nucleus perhaps good enough for a top four finish in previous years.

Notably missing from the conversation is Xavier, the Atlantic 10's flagship program for the past decade.

Thanks to the departure of Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway, Dez Wells and Kenny Frease and the NCAA half their recruiting class academically ineligible, the Musketeers will have an unusually threadbare roster this season. Their best hope is freshman point guard Semaj Christon leading a group of unproven veterans to a competitive season in a rebuilding year.

Best shooter: Rotnei Clarke, Butler. In three seasons at Arkansas, Clarke connected on 41.7 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. That's welcome news for a Butler team that was among the poorest shooting teams in the nation last season but figures to improve greatly in that area with the additions of Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham.
Best playmaker: Kevin Dillard, Dayton. The nod goes to Dillard here slightly ahead of UMass star Chaz Williams simply because of the Dayton point guard's superior assist-to-turnover ratio. Both point guards led their respective teams in scoring, assists and steals last season, but Dillard averaged 6.0 assists per game and just 2.8 turnovers.

College Hoops Countdown, No. 8: Atlantic 10

• Atlantic 10 Capsule Preview: Addition of VCU, Butler makes strong league even more formidable
• Ranking the Atlantic 10's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Interim Saint Louis coach Jim Crews has big shoes to fill
• A former Atlantic 10 player breaks down this year's league race

For more news on the Atlantic 10, visit

Best defender: C.J. Aiken, Saint Joseph's. It's tempting to go with Briante Weber or one of VCU's other ball-hawking guards, but Aiken gets the nod here for his game-changing shot-blocking ability. The 6-foot-9 junior swatted away 3.5 shots per game last season, earning A-10 defensive player of the year honors and establishing himself as one of the nation's premier shot blockers.
Top NBA prospect:
Semaj Christon, Xavier. For a league with as many quality teams as the Atlantic 10, there aren't a lot of surefire NBA prospects to choose from this year. C.J. Aiken's shot-blocking and Khalif Wyatt's scoring give both a chance, but the selection here is Christon because of the Xavier freshman's size, skill and ability to run a team. He'll start right away at point guard for the Musketeers.
Best backcourt: Most of the Atlantic 10's top teams have an all-league-caliber guard in their starting lineup. Only Saint Joseph's has two. Between explosive Carl Jones (17.0 ppg) and versatile Langston Galloway (15.5 ppg), the Hawks have two of the six highest-scoring returners in the league last season. The depth behind them is unproven, but sophomore Chris Wilson is a good option off the bench at point guard.
Best frontcourt: Butler. In a backcourt-dominated league featuring numerous talented guards, most teams have questions up front. Butler's interior depth is a concern, but the starting duo of senior Andrew Smith and junior Khyle Marshall may be the class of the Atlantic 10. Both shoot a high percentage from the floor, rebound capably and play the solid interior defense we've come to expect from the Bulldogs.
Best recruiting class: Xavier. Chris Mack landed's No. 19 class nationally last season, a group that included Christon, outstanding perimeter shooter Myles Davis and talented power forward Jalen Reynolds. As with most things for Xavier this offseason, however, there's a catch: Both Davis and Reynolds were ruled academically ineligible for the 2012-13 season.
Coach on the rise: Dan Hurley, Rhode Island. Butler's Brad Stevens and VCU's Shaka Smart remain the hottest coaching commodities in the nation, but Rhode Island has another up-and-comer. Hurley, hired by the Rams last spring, built Wagner into a 25-win NEC contender in a mere two years. It will take longer to turn around Rhode Island, but Hurley has the Northeast recruiting ties to do it.
Coach on the hot seat: None. LaSalle's John Giannini and UMass' Derek Kellogg began last season with pressure to succeed, but the Explorers won 21 games and made their first postseason under Giannini and the Minutemen won 25 and made a deep NIT run. Barring a crash-and-burn from either of them, they should both have built up enough equity to remain in their jobs. Charlotte's Alan Major also needs to show some progress sooner or later, but it's tough to see him getting fired after just his third year with the 49ers.

New coaches: Dan Hurley, Rhode Island (Had been coach of Wagner); Jim Ferry, Duquesne (Had been coach at Long Island); Jim Crews, Saint Louis (Had been assistant under Rick Majerus);
Regular-season winner last season: Temple
Tourney winner last season: St. Bonaventure
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 7th ; 2010-11: 9th, 2009-10: 5th
NCAA bids the past three seasons: 10 (Xavier 3, Temple 3, Richmond 2, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure)

Tags: , Christon, , , , ,
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They’re taking different paths, but Davidson and College of Charleston both got it right

18 Oct

In the span of mere days, officials at College of Charleston and Davidson made conflicting decisions regarding whether they should remain in the Southern Conference or accept an invitation to join the Colonial Athletic Association.

Now, history will evaluate the trajectory of these two programs against one-another in an effort to determine who made the better decision.

College of Charleston reportedly will accept an invitation to join the CAA, a decision that suggests the Cougars believe a more prestigious conference with greater TV revenue represents their best chance to grow as a program. Davidson will remain in the less high-profile SoCon, in essence sending the message they're comfortable with who they are and the level of success they've enjoyed.

So who got it right? Counterintuitive as it sounds, perhaps both of them.

Davidson had more to lose by leaving the SoCon than Charleston because the Wildcats have the greater recent history in the league.

In the past 11 seasons, Davidson has won its half of the SoCon eight times, made five NCAA tournament appearances and landed two NIT bids. The Wildcats are heavy favorites to win the SoCon and return to the NCAA tournament again next season thanks to the return of five starters from last year's 25-win team.

Charleston has been a perennial contender in the SoCon during that same time period, but the Cougars only have won or shared their half of the league four times in 11 years and they haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1999. Most preseason projections have Charleston just behind Davidson yet again this season in the SoCon's Southern Division.

There's no guarantee Charleston can rise in stature in the tougher, deeper CAA, but the gamble comes with less risk for the Cougars than it would for Davidson. And even with the departure of VCU and Old Dominion severely weakening the CAA, the league still has some qualities that make it attractive to Charleston.

The CAA has been superior to the SoCon in basketball, earning multiple NCAA bids three times in the past seven years, producing two Final Four teams and landing a TV deal with NBC Sports Network. New contenders will have to emerge for the league to earn multiple NCAA bids again with regularity, but CAA teams have been far more likely to land in the 8-12 seed lines in the NCAA tournament than the SoCon teams, which seldom fare better than a No. 13 seed.

So if joining the CAA potentially could mean more money, more prestige and more exposure, why would Davidson turn that opportunity down? Well, because such a move would come with plenty of risk.

Since the CAA's footprint extends to the Northeast with Drexel and Northeastern, travel for league games would be much more arduous for Davidson than it is in a more regional league like the SoCon. Also, the CAA may not produce two or more NCAA tournament bids on a regular basis without VCU and Old Dominion, so Davidson no doubt worried that it would be making its path to the NCAA tournament more difficult by trading one one-bid league for a tougher one.

In an era of conference realignment when bigger is always better no matter the consequences, it was refreshing to see Davidson show restraint.

The Wildcats had too much to lose to join the CAA at a time when the league's future strength is unclear. College of Charleston was in a much better position to take that risk.

Tags: CAA, CHARLESTON, College of Charleston, Cougars, Davidson, , NCAA tournament, , , , ,
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Maryland will wear weird faux-wool jerseys against Kentucky to honor the Brooklyn Dodgers

18 Oct

If the alternate jerseys Maryland will be wearing against Kentucky on Nov. 9 appear to be merely the latest abominable example of college basketball's newfound infatuation with gray, then take a closer look.

Those aren't just basic ugly gray jerseys. They're ugly gray jerseys with a textured pattern meant to resemble wool.

Since the season-opening Kentucky matchup will be held at the brand-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Under Armour chose the unusual look to honor the Brooklyn Dodgers. The faux-wool jersey is supposed to be reminiscent of 1950s-style baseball uniforms, while the Maryland script is both something the Terps have worn previously and another homage to baseball.

"The expectation is for teams to come out in unique uniforms for big games," Adam Clement, Under Armour's lead designer for uniforms, said in a statement. "We worked with the school to do something that showed the appreciation for sports in Brooklyn."

The gray jerseys are just one of a myriad of new looks Maryland will be unveiling next season. Expect the Terps to also don a "Pride" basketball jersey modeled after the state flag and reminiscent of the ones the football program wore during the 2011 season.

Whereas the preliminary design of the Pride jerseys appears to be bold yet tasteful, these Brooklyn jerseys don't hold the same appeal.

First, like most gray jerseys, they're not exactly aesthetically pleasing. And secondly, why should Maryland wear a jersey that honors the Brooklyn Dodgers? If the Terps ever play in Montreal, will they bring back the Expos logo?

Thankfully, the jerseys are merely a one-time-only experiment. As one commenter on the Maryland-themed site, Testudo Times, said, "They are ugly as sin and the University of Maryland basketball is paying homage to a Brooklyn baseball team. I don't get it."

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