College Basketball Nation: Deonte Burton

1. The Anaheim Classic is going through some changes that should make it a more intimate event, building up toward a more unique championship day. The tournament, played over Thanksgiving weekend, has been at the Anaheim Convention Center, but has had plenty of sparsely populated games. So, the plan is to move the first two days of the tournament to Cal State-Fullerton's Titan Gym. The final day of the event will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim to give it more of an elite ending. And to raise the profile of the event, the name will no longer be the Anaheim Classic but rather the Wooden Legacy. The first two rounds will be Nov. 28 and 29 with the championship day on Dec. 1. The tournament has headline teams in Creighton, San Diego State, Marquette, Arizona State and Miami with the College of Charleston, George Washington and the host Titans. Fullerton needs to take advantage of their homecourt and play well for two reasons -- to play rare higher-level games at home and to ensure the crowds are decent.

2. The cuts for the World University Games team playing in Russia could be some of the hardest for USA basketball. Junior national director Jim Boeheim of Syracuse will have a hard time whittling down this list. The team, which will train the last week of June in Colorado Springs, should be the overwhelming favorite in the event. But getting down to the cut list of 24 will be quite a chore for Boeheim and WUG coaches Bob McKillop (Davidson), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and John Beilein (Michigan). Here is the list: Eric Atkins (Notre Dame), Markel Brown (Oklahoma State), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Quinn Cook (Duke), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Davante Gardner (Marquette), Treveon Graham (VCU), Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), P.J. Hairston (North Carolina), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Luke Hancock (Louisville), Joe Harris (UVA), Tyler Haws (BYU), Andre Hollins (Minnesota), Rodney Hood (Duke), Josh Huestis (Stanford), Cory Jefferson (Baylor), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Devyn Marble (Iowa), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Chasson Randle (Stanford), Will Sheehey (Indiana), Aaron White (Iowa), Kendall Williams (New Mexico).

3. The list will be cut down to 12. Everyone could use making the team to better themselves. But Hood could use it more than anyone else after sitting out last season as a transfer from Mississippi State. Hood needs game action before he starts to star for Duke. Fair, Grant, Hairston, Jefferson, McDermott and Payne all are trying out for the team after making the decision to return to school. The fact that two players from Indiana, Duke, Notre Dame, New Mexico and Iowa are on the first list is a sign about these three teams' future next season. Kirk and Grant have a chance to be headline players next season. So too, does White. The one player who could benefit as much as anyone is Ferrell, who will have to be even more of a playmaker next season without Victor Oladipo on his wing.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

November, 30, 2012
I was convinced the Mountain West could have the highest percentage of teams in the NCAA tournament. I'm not backing down from that statement. The depth is unprecedented and it might only get better. So let's dive into the inaugural power rankings for the MWC.

1. New Mexico. The Lobos are off to a 7-0 start with quality wins against Connecticut and George Mason in the Virgin Islands and Davidson at home. Coach Steve Alford was bullish on his backcourt, and with good reason. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams can hang with any pair of guards in the country.

2. San Diego State. The Aztecs fell to Syracuse to start the season but their defense has been solid ever since. San Diego State can make another statement this weekend by knocking off UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

3. Boise State. Yes, I'm going with the Broncos over UNLV and Colorado State after the most impressive true road win so far for the conference. Boise State won handily at Creighton behind an outstanding effort from Derrick Marks. BSU also was within two possessions of taking out Michigan State in East Lansing. Leon Rice has the Broncos as a major factor in the last season in the MWC.

4. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels were stunned at home by Oregon last week, but rebounded to knock off Iowa State. UNLV needs to work on its shot selection and overall offensive patience. This team is still figuring out how to play with a host of newcomers blending with veterans. Coach Dave Rice gets another one in a few weeks when Khem Birch is eligible.

5. Colorado State. Tim Miles left his best team for Larry Eustachy. He made the NCAA tournament last season and the Rams have every reason to believe they'll make it again. CSU won easily at struggling Washington. Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson has lived up to his hype and has been well worth the wait.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys are 7-0 with a schedule that’s been about as soft as a light snow in Laramie. But Wyoming is defending and showing signs that it will be a major pest in the MWC this season.

7. Air Force. The Falcons have a veteran crew that's only loss was in a fairly competitive game at Colorado. Air Force has a chance to build credibility within the league against Wichita State this weekend in the MWC-MVC Challenge. A number of coaches in the preseason said the Falcons' experience made them an intriguing watch this season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack were supposed to be a threat to get to the NCAA tournament. But Nevada has been slow out of the gate, losing at UC Irvine and Marshall and beating Cal State Fullerton, Green Bay and UC Davis by a combined six points. Deonte Burton is scoring as expected but the overall defense has been highly suspect.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode under Rodney Terry. Their offense has been erratic. The problem for Fresno State is that there's no place to hide. There are only nine teams, meaning this improved group might have a hard time climbing.

Nevada fans' court storm was debatable

December, 6, 2011
Nevada fans rushed the court Friday after the Wolf Pack completed a comeback overtime victory against Washington, as it was a big win for a team coming off a 13-win season.

But was it big enough to justify such a celebration? Washington wasn't a ranked team nor was it unbeaten at the time. Nevada is the preseason pick to win the WAC, according to the league's coaches. So after the game, there was some debate about whether or not the court storm was warranted, according to the Nevada Sagebrush.
"I really humongously disliked the fans rushing the court," Senior business economics major Cavin Erdmannhill said after the game. "If we were playing the No. 10 team in the nation and we rushed the court, it would be chill, but Washington is not that big of a deal.

"It was a good game, but I don't think it was worth rushing the court."

Despite the critical analysis from some fans, sophomore Nevada guard Jordan Burris and junior guard Patrick Nyeko smiled from ear to ear as they frolicked in the center of the court with Wolf Pack fans.

"Any time you defeat a Pac-12 team that you’re not supposed to beat -- it's just fun, and the students love it," Nevada alumni and graduate student Russell Louie said. "They're in a better conference than us and they traditionally get better talent than we do so it's a great win, and rushing the court was warranted I would say."

The win was significant for Nevada as it saw star guard Deonte Burton lead the comeback with 31 points as the Wolf Pack looked to establish itself as the WAC frontrunner for the first time in the David Carter era. Meanwhile, Washington knows it has much to improve upon as a number of young players on the team are still getting acclimated. If anything, Nevada's celebration was a sign of respect because in the eyes of some, beating a top-tier Pac-12 team in the regular season certainly counts for something.

3-point shot: Polls should reward UNC

December, 5, 2011
1. The college basketball polls aren’t going to decide anything with seeding or selections. The polls should be a snapshot of who the best teams are in the country. And that’s why I wouldn’t have a problem if North Carolina were ranked No. 3 behind Kentucky and Ohio State. I know. I know. UNC didn’t beat Kentucky. But can you honestly watch that game and not see one of the top three teams in the country? Syracuse is the current No. 3 and will stay that way when the polls are released Monday afternoon. I don’t have an issue with the Orange being No. 3, but after watching both teams in person and on television, North Carolina has more talent and has played a tougher schedule. So, if Syracuse stays at No. 3 behind Kentucky and Ohio State, North Carolina should actually move up to No. 4 to replace Duke -- even in a loss to Kentucky. I’m not sure how or who should be out but Illinois, Creighton, Michigan State, Georgetown and Harvard would be in the polls if I were in control.

2. Nevada got rocked by BYU, losing by 22. But the Wolf Pack, the preseason WAC favorites, hardly wilted after they beat Washington by a three. A star was born in that game in sophomore Deonte Burton, who scored 31 points in the win over the Huskies. Burton could be emerging as a WAC player of the year candidate. Burton is a 6-1 guard who has the potential to be a regular big-time scorer. Nevada, headed to the MWC next season needed a performance like this to get momentum for his game and the Wolf Pack.

3. What happens to UNLV will be an interesting case study. The Runnin’ Rebels beat North Carolina last Saturday and got ranked No. 20. The Runnin’ Rebels then went on the road for two straight games, winning at UC Santa Barbara in double overtime. Then the Runnin’ Rebels went to Wichita State, the preseason MVC favorite. UNLV lost by 19. The margin is disturbing, but falling at Wichita State is no joke. I’d love to see how many Top 25 teams could go into Wichita State and win. UNLV still has to go to Wisconsin and play Illinois in the United Center. But I’d have to debate whether or not UNLV deserves to be dropped for dropping a road game at Wichita State. Would an undefeated power six team that beat North Carolina be dropped out of the poll for losing at Wichita State? Doubt it.

Nevada draws 'Fab Five' comparison

October, 18, 2011
Nevada Tuesday was named the popular pick among WAC coaches to unseat perennial conference champion Utah State this season, as the Wolf Pack topped the preseason poll.

Reigning WAC freshman of the year Deonte Burton was selected as preseason player of the year, and the point guard is the headliner for an entire starting lineup that returns this season.

The inexperienced team that was filled with newcomers last season went 13-19 and is now looking strong with former Indiana Hoosier Malik Story leading in scoring and former Duke Blue Devil Olek Czyz also providing a veteran presence. Senior Dario Hunt nearly averaged a double-double.

"Toward the end of last year, I thought we peaked," coach David Carter said. "You have to look forward to moving on to this year. I do think with experience that they gained, it's going to help them in the long run."

Another factor is the team chemistry. According to the Nevada Sagebrush, Burton and three others in the sophomore class -- Jordan Burris, Jordan Finn and Kevin Panzer -- have taken to calling themselves the Fab Four.
"I watched the (ESPN 30 for 30) documentary of the Fab Five over summer … it reminded me a lot of us, and so now we call ourselves the Fab Four," Burton said. "The Fab Five had an awesome record, and we just try to look at that as motivation."

With the Wolf Pack's 13-19 record last season (the first losing season for the team since 2000-01), the team has a lot of ground to gain if it wants to be remembered similar to the Fab Five.

Nevada basketball head coach David Carter found the comparison somewhat humorous.

"Those four are very close on and off the court," Carter said with a giggle. "That's a unique thing and they'll be friends for life. But shoot, compared to the Fab Five -- we're not even close [in terms of performance]."

The starting lineup Nevada returns isn't quite the Fab Five either, but it could very well be the group that carries the Wolf Pack to a WAC championship.

Not everyone is so sure Utah State is in for a rebuilding year, though. The media picked the Aggies to successfully defend their title and Nevada to finish second. Carter appreciated the respect from his fellow coaches, but knows his team still has to prove it.

"That's on paper," he said of being the preseason favorite. "You have to go out and play the games."

Stew Morrill: USU won't be favorite in WAC

July, 13, 2011
Utah State, which has won four straight conference titles in the WAC, will not be favored to continue its domination of the league if coach Stew Morrill is correct about what he sees as an Aggies team filled with question marks.

"For the first time in several years, we will not be the favorite in the WAC," Morrill said in a statement. "We hope the challenges of the preseason will help us improve enough to be a competitive WAC team. Nevada, New Mexico State and Hawaii appear to be very strong and we look forward to seeing how it all shakes out."

Perhaps that's an overstatement, and don't mistake Morrill's preseason prediction for a prediction on where Utah State will finish in the standings. The Aggies might be losing six seniors off their NCAA tournament team, including WAC player of the year Tai Wesley, but Morrill has managed to plug holes before after the departures of top players like Jaycee Carroll and Gary Wilkinson. Point guard Brockeith Pane is the only member of the all-conference first team to return.

Morrill is correct in noting that the rest of the league appears to be improving. Nevada had the league's freshman of the year in Deonte Burton. New Mexico State saw Troy Gillenwater turn pro, but will get top rebounder Wendell McKines back from surgery. Hawaii continues to recruit well under coach Gib Arnold, though two of his signees won't be joining the program due to academics.

Utah State still should be very much in the conversation to repeat as champion, and if it does get to the NCAA tournament again, Morrill has put together a schedule that might get the Aggies a better seed than the No. 12 seed they were assigned after a 30-win season. They host BYU in the season opener, play at Wichita State and play in the World Vision Challenge against Kent State before an important road game against Mississippi State on New Year's eve.

Then comes the WAC schedule, which Utah State can only hope won't be the RPI killer it was a year ago. A better conference would help the Aggies achieve their goal of a higher seed in the NCAA tournament, even if they think it makes it more difficult to get the nod as the favorite in the preseason.