College Basketball Nation: Kendall Williams

It was another eventful Saturday in the world of college basketball.

These 10 players were responsible for some of the most significant performances of the day.

  1. Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) -- A few weeks ago, Fred Hoiberg identified the senior as the glue guy who has helped him rebuild Iowa State basketball. The veteran recorded 20 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks in No. 16 Iowa State’s 81-75 home win over No. 22 Kansas State. He also blocked Shane Southwell's 3-point attempt in the final seconds, snatched a key rebound and hit a pair of late free throws to seal it.
  2. Treveon Graham (VCU) -- The junior guard scored a career-high 34 points in VCU’s 97-89 double-overtime win at La Salle. Graham scored six straight points to send the game into its first overtime. He also finished with 12 rebounds and two assists for a VCU squad that has won 12 of its last 14 games.
  3. [+] EnlargeLe'Bryan Nash
    AP Photo/Sue OgrockiWith Marcus Smart struggling, Le'Bryan Nash came through with a huge game to lead Oklahoma State past West Virginia.
  4. Le'Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State) -- Travis Ford needed some help on a horrible day for Marcus Smart, who fouled out with just four points and a 1-for-7 tally. Nash stepped up. He recorded 29 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks in No. 11 Oklahoma State’s 81-75 win over West Virginia, which played tough for 40 minutes.
  5. Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova) -- The controversial offensive foul call at the end of No. 4 Villanova’s 94-85 overtime win over Marquette shouldn’t mask the exceptional effort by Arcidiacono. The point guard finished with 20 points, 11 assists and, most impressively, zero turnovers in 39 minutes. He also grabbed a critical loose ball and steadied the Wildcats in the extra period.
  6. Isaiah Taylor (Texas) -- Why are the Longhorns legitimate Big 12 contenders now after winning three consecutive games against ranked opponents (Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor)? Because players such as Taylor continue to step up for Rick Barnes. The guard finished with 27 points (10-for-18), three assists and three steals in Texas’ 74-60 road win over Baylor.
  7. Kendall Williams (New Mexico) -- The Lobos dealt with some tough losses during the nonconference season, but they’re 6-1 in league play after a 68-66 victory over Colorado State. Williams finished with 23 points, five assists and one steal in that game. He hit 5 of 10 3-pointers.
  8. Michael Frazier II (Florida) -- The guard anchored a balanced attack in No. 6 Florida’s 67-41 win over Tennessee. Frazier finished with 17 points (3-for-6 from beyond the arc), four rebounds and two assists. The Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2.
  9. Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) -- It wasn’t a pretty performance. But No. 2 Syracuse scored a 64-52 win at Miami in a tough road game. Ennis continues to make a case for “best point guard in America” status. He finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. That effort included some clutch plays in the final minutes.
  10. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) -- The sophomore hasn’t been a consistent offensive threat, but his defensive presence is undeniable. He only scored eight points in No. 14 Kentucky’s 79-54 win over Georgia. But he also recorded six steals, six blocks and altered multiple shots. He's such a vital player for that young Kentucky team.
  11. Chase Fieler (Florida Gulf Coast) -- The “Dunk City” contributor had an impressive stat line during Florida Gulf Coast’s 83-62 win over Kennesaw State. He hit 7 of 14 shots and went 9-for-9 from the free throw line for 24 points while also recording 7 rebounds, one block and two steals.
On Holiday is College Basketball Nation's daily rundown of the holiday tournaments, complete with previews, recaps, and links to all of the early-season tournament info you'll need in the weeks to come.

In Review

[+] EnlargeShabazz Napier
Elsa/Getty ImagesConnecticut's Shabazz Napier was "too good," according to Indiana coach Tom Crean.
Top story: Shabazz Napier is above the law (2K Sports Classic): "Shabazz Napier is just too good," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "I imagine it would be in the NFL like trying to deal with a great running back like Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson now, something like that where a guy can change direction at the drop of a hat, he can play with both hands, both feet, he's explosive to the basket, he's got the pull-up (jumper), obviously. He's got the straight pull-up, he's got the step-back, he's got the 3. And he's got one of those unteachable abilities to make big shots at really crucial times." — Kieran Darcy,

New Mexico is not (Charleston Classic): New Mexico's struggles in Charleston didn't end with UAB. A day after an occasionally thrilling, often ugly two-overtime survival of the Blazers, Kendall Williams & Co. lost for the first time this season, 81-65 to Massachusetts.

New Mexico fans shouldn't panic, and not only because it's still just Nov. 22. For one, UMass is an experienced team on the cusp of a very good season. They also happen to play very fast basketball — difficult to slow down, anyway, but especially so just one day after a double-overtime scrap. New Mexico played the Minutemen even through 30 minutes. In the final 10, they were outscored 22-8. That reeks of fatigue.

Michigan (somehow) survived Florida State in OT (Puerto Rico Tip-Off): "Michigan’s offense was as effective in the second half as it was dreadful in the first. The Wolverines scored 27 points on 30 first-half possessions compared to 55 points on 42 possessions in the second half and overtime. That’s 0.9 points per possession in first and 1.31 points per possession after the halftime horn. Florida State’s length was as advertised inside and Michigan shot just 46 percent on twos but made some threes, 37.5 percent, and got to the free-throw line. Converting the freebies was a different story; Michigan was just 17-of-27 at the stripe. The free-throw shooting almost cost the Wolverines down to the final horn, when Florida State had a desperation heave at the win. … A loss to Florida State would have been crippling to Michigan with games against Duke, Arizona and Stanford still on the schedule." — Dylan Burkhardt, UMHoops

In Puerto Rico, Florida State pounded VCU and took Michigan to the wire — and honestly, probably should have finished the Wolverines off in regulation. I don't know whether this is a short-term November blip or a sign of a team that is much better than anyone outside Tallahassee expected — but the latter option is officially on the table.

VCU survived, too, needing an eight-point second-half run, and an 8-of-14 night from Juvonte Reddic, to shed Long Beach State. A win's a win and all, but the no-turnover-no-stop formula that eventually sank VCU last March reared its ugly head again here (Long Beach turned it over on 16.4 percent of its possessions and scored 1.10 points per trip.)

Michigan State got by Virginia Tech with relative ease, their first cruise since beating Kentucky and earning the No. 1 ranking 10 days ago. Next up is Oklahoma, a more challenging, but still eminently winnable, test.

What else? The semifinal rounds of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off are under way as of this writing; read Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil and C.L. Brown on North Carolina and Louisville (and their opponents Fairfield and Richmond) here.
Now that realignment is behind us, rosters are mostly finalized, and freshmen are getting used to living in dorm rooms (oh, to be reborn at summer orientation), we're spending the week looking ahead at some of the more interesting players and storylines we expect to track in 2013-14. Next up: players facing crucial senior seasons, both individually and for their teams.

(Important note: This is not a list of the best seniors, or even necessarily the most important or most indispensable). It is a list of seniors -- some who have underachieved to date -- that need to, once and for all, make good on their star potential in their final year in the college game. Make sense? Cool.)

10. C.J. Fair (Syracuse): Fair's career to this point has been characterized by admirable consistency. In his first two campaigns he maintained similarly promising offensive ratings (109.5 and 114.6) while averaging a 17.3 percent usage rate, while blending in quality defense, rebounding and stellar work on the offensive glass. Fair's usage jumped slightly as a junior (to 20.5 percent of available possessions), and he grew far more comfortable wielding his outside shot, but the rock-solid fundamentals of his game remained mostly the same. As a senior, even on a team with plenty of oncoming talent, Fair may yet be expected to do even more. If he can expand his game further on the perimeter and provide go-to scoring in the midrange without losing the things that have made him so solid for so long, the Orange should make a massive impression in their first year in the ACC, and Fair should do the same for NBA scouts.

[+] EnlargeKevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier
John Woike/Hartford Courant/MCTGuard Shabazz Napier has taken on a leadership role under coach Kevin Ollie.
9. Shabazz Napier (Connecticut): Napier has had one of the most up-and-down careers of any player in recent college hoops memory. You can make the argument that he got where he needed to be as a junior. Not only did he have his best year by far statistically (he posted a 115.3 offensive rating on 24.3 percent usage and a 54.4 effective field goal percentage, shot 39 percent from 3 and created plenty of steals) but also, under new coach Kevin Ollie, assumed the leadership role denied him by that apathetic 2011-12 team. The only problem? UConn was ineligible for the NCAA tournament. With a full batch of returning players and that APR-induced postseason ban behind the Huskies, Napier is in position to make his biggest impact since Kemba Walker was on campus.

8. Tim Frazier (Penn State): As promised above, some of the guys on this list have underachieved for most of their careers; it's not fair to lump Frazier into that group. There are two reasons he isn't already a household name: Penn State and injuries. When Frazier was healthy for his true junior season in 2011-12, he led the Big Ten in assists (and posted the nation's second-highest assist rate, higher than either Kendall Marshall or Scott Machado), averaged 18.2 points per game (second in the Big Ten), created four steals per 100 possessions and drew an average of six fouls per game, while playing 92.8 percent of his team's available minutes. Thanks to a medical hardship waiver -- the 2012-13 campaign was derailed by a brutal ACL injury Achilles tear in just the fourth game of the season -- 2013-14 will provide Frazier with his last chance to earn the kind of individual national attention that gets scouts to raise an eyebrow. If he can also pull Penn State over the rebuilding hump, hey, all the better.

7. Aaron Craft (Ohio State): You couldn't say Craft has underachieved in his career. Quite the opposite. During his prep days, Craft was seen as a merely respectable but hardly a program-changing recruit, provided your head coach didn't lie to NCAA investigators about having him over for a barbecue. (Ba-dum-ksh.) Craft has long since exceeded those expectations. As a freshman, he seized a starting role in Thad Matta's very good veterans-plus-Jared Sullinger-led lineup, and he has maintained his spot by cementing the respect of teammates and coaches and, most noticeably, playing the best, peskiest perimeter defense in the country. That's his calling card, and it won't go anywhere, but one can't help wondering whether Craft still has more to pick up on the offensive end. Can he be a leading scorer? A more confident 3-point shooter off the dribble? Is that even possible, given the tireless work Craft does on the defensive end? (Related: Can Shannon Scott, who morphed into a deadly defender late last season, take on some of that burden?) Losing Deshaun Thomas means Ohio State has to replace a large chunk of scoring one way or the other; more incisive stuff at the point of attack would be a good place to start.

[+] EnlargeMike Stobe/Getty Images
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesCory Jefferson was a force during Baylor's NIT run.
6. Cory Jefferson (Baylor): It is never wise to project too much based on the disproportionately weighted sample of a few postseason games in March. This is especially true when the postseason in question was the NIT. So yes, you can expect Jefferson's 21.2 points per game in the Bears' NIT title run -- which ended with a 74-54 vivisection of a very good Iowa defense -- to earn him his fair share of prospective love this fall. But Jefferson was good long before March. He posted a 128.1 offensive rating on 19.1 percent usage -- and shot 61.8 percent from inside the arc, leading the Big 12 in overall field goal percentage (61.0) in the process -- in 2012-13. Could he approximate that effort with more of a lead role as a senior? We'll see.

5. Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss): Here's another question: Did Henderson already max out his talent? After a season in which he took 394 3s (which is insane!) and made 35 percent of them (less insane, but pretty good), it's hard to imagine Henderson somehow finding a way to take more shots. It's even harder, given the volume involved, to picture him finding a way to improve that 113.5 offensive rating. According to Synergy scouting data, 38.2 percent of Henderson's possessions ended with off-ball screen action; no other play type came remotely close to that sort of frequency. (No. 2? Spot-ups, with 17.2 percent, trailed by transition offense and hand-off plays -- all of which screams "not allowed to put it on the floor.") With a less experienced frontcourt, there are only so many screens the Rebels can set. There are only so many shots Henderson can take.

So the premise for improvement is twofold. To dig an even better senior season out of his madcap heart, Henderson needs to become a better ball handler, distributor and scorer off the dribble -- less a gunner than a capable combo guard. He also, obviously, has to get to the court in the first place, which will be no small feat given the substance abuse issues that put his status at Ole Miss in jeopardy this month. Henderson appears to be taking that stuff seriously -- which he clearly wasn't at first -- and that's a good thing. It is also crucial for his career. If Henderson has any shot of making his NBA dreams a reality, he has to adjust his skill set and quell any and all concerns about his life away from basketball. It won't be easy.

4. Kendall Williams (New Mexico): It is hardly fair to tie one's assessment of a player to one particularly bonkers scoring night, but I know what I saw, and what I saw was Williams score 46 points in 33 minutes against a good Colorado State team on the road. It's not like he had a bad season otherwise -- 13.3 points and 4.9 assists per game is perfectly respectable -- but it was impossible to watch him that night and not think there was something more below the surface. Truth is, Williams hasn't really improved statistically in his college career. He was a better passer and drew more fouls as a junior, but his freshman season remains his most efficient. His 3-point accuracy fell to 34.8 percent, down from the 42.6 percent mark he posted two years prior. Without newly minted Chicago Bull Tony Snell in the backcourt, it's fair to wonder whether the Lobos will have the same defensive chops that anchored their excellent 2012-13 season. Williams will have to work more efficiently alongside emerging star Alex Kirk to find another gear going forward.

[+] EnlargePatric Young
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty ImagesPatric Young may see more opportunities in the post this season.
3. Patric Young (Florida): Young has always felt a bit disappointing. That's rarely been his fault. During his first two seasons at Florida, he frequently languished on the low block while Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton fired away from 25 feet. As a junior, the calculus changed somewhat and Young began to get more genuine post touches in a strikingly balanced edition of the Gators' spread attack. Still, he remains the college game's greatest physical specimen for three years running; you can't look at him and not expect him to dominate everyone in his vicinity. He got closer on the defensive end last season. Overall, he still isn't there. This may be the year. Boynton, shot-magnet Mike Rosario and fellow four Erik Murphy are all gone. Scottie Wilbekin is not an aggressive attacker by nature. Freshman phenom Chris Walker's status remains up in the air. Odds are, Young may finally get the chance to go to work on the low block, even if by default. The question is whether he's ready.

2. Keith Appling (Michigan State): When Appling first popped up as a freshman at Michigan State, he was a breath of fresh air. That 2010-11 team was one of the few -- honestly, maybe the only -- in Tom Izzo's tenure to genuinely underachieve. Delvon Roe fought admirably through career-ending injuries, and a young Draymond Green pointed toward a bright future, but the team's three lead guards (Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Korie Lucious), so key in bright back-to-back Final Four runs, proved to be corrosive, selfish influences. Appling quickly provided a contrast. His offensive game was tentatively promising, and his tenacious defense earned him Izzo's immediate respect. Here was a young, willing guard coached by a guy who made a career out of turning the Keith Applings of the world into Spartan legends. He was as sure a bet as the sport had to offer.

Remind me not to start a career oddsmaking business. Three years on, Appling's offensive game hasn't really improved. As a junior, he averaged 46.4 percent from inside the arc and 32 percent outside it. Turnovers are not uncommon to Izzo's teams, but Appling's inability to get his turnover rate down -- it was still 18.6 percent in 2012-13, just two points lower than his 20.6 percent assist percentage -- has compounded the effects of mediocre shooting. Last season, he went whole games, even whole weeks, when he would either (A) disappear, or (B) play so poorly (or at best, so tentatively) that Spartans fans would wonder whether option A wasn't preferable.

Appling has never been bad, per se. His perimeter defense hasn't gone anywhere. He has battled injuries with characteristic toughness, battled his slumps with determined accountability. You never hear bad things about him; he's been a reliable, hardworking presence within the program. But he has also never developed into what his coach once so convincingly proclaimed he would be.

This season is his final chance. The Spartans will be loaded again, with the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris set for a monster sophomore season and forward Adreian Payne still blossoming into a devastating talent. Appling doesn't have to morph into a turnover-free replicate. He merely has to do what he does already and shoot the ball a bit better. If he does, there won't be many teams in the country capable of matching Michigan State man for man. If he doesn't, the Spartans will still be good -- but they, like Appling himself, risk leaving something on the table.

1. Joe Jackson (Memphis): Fortunately, Memphis won an NCAA tournament game in 2013. Getting that monkey off coach Josh Pastner's back meant knocking back at least some of the steadily growing "But can he actually coach?" talk in the Bluff City (and reinforcing a personal pet peeve about tournament sample size). It also meant less pressure on the player that has, for both better and worse, defined Pastner's tenure at the school.

Like many of the very best players Pastner has recruited in his tenure, Jackson is a local product, one of the first Pastner landed, who was unafraid to place his hometown's hopes -- and its uniquely provincial baggage -- on his back. He has also been emblematically frustrating. Hugely confident but too sensitive to criticism. Talented but too inconsistent. At times, he has been Memphis' best player. Just as often, he has moped his way to the bench.

Give Jackson credit for this much: He's still here. Many of Jackson's teammates have been fellow Memphis natives, and by many accounts the dynamic around the program has often resembled a youth team writ large, with whole neighborhoods and high school sets standing in for bickering parents arguing on behalf of one player or another. Rumors of intrasquad squabbles have been just as common. Jackson could have transferred, cordoned himself away from the local intensity, but despite all the struggles he remained. As a junior, he was much improved. His improved third season -- more unselfish and efficient than either of the two that preceded it -- built an excellent foundation for his senior campaign, but there is much more to be accomplished -- a deep tournament run chief among it.

When he arrived four years ago, Jackson embraced the unique pressure of his situation. As he told our own Dana O'Neil:

"I want to be remembered," Jackson said. "I want to be a legend. I want to be a hero. I want old people to see me on television and say, 'Look at that kid. He made it. He did it. That's who I want you to be like.'"

His performance has never quite matched that ambition. He has one more chance to close the gap.
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.
1. If New Mexico doesn't hire associate coach Craig Neal to replace Steve Alford then there is a legit chance that star players Alex Kirk, Kendall Williams and Tony Snell will go elsewhere, according to multiple sources. Of course, players can end up reconsidering depending on the hire but this possibility exists. There are five reasons (and more) why Neal fits now: 1. He allows for continuity of the success the Lobos have had and the current culture at UNM; 2. Neal has been a part of every major decision in the past six years in creating one of the most successful runs in UNM history; 3. Neal recruited every player on the team and those committed to playing for the Lobos; 4. Neal is well-liked by the administration and boosters and within the community; 5. He's ready. He was a candidate at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, and hiring an assistant -- if it's the right one at the right time -- is more than acceptable at New Mexico.

2. Georgia State returns four starters next season, including coach Ron Hunter's son, R.J., who led the team in scoring at 17 points a game, and the addition of Kentucky transfer guard Ryan Harrow will only make the Panthers more effective next season. Georgia State (15-16, 10-8 in the CAA) will join the Sun Belt next season. Harrow will likely receive a waiver to play immediately because of his ill father. Hunter said Harrow will definitely help his son become an even more productive player. Georgia State will send in the waiver immediately for Harrow to play next season. Kentucky was at 13 scholarships with Harrow and now without him the Wildcats will be down one but are still actively pursuing the last elite player in the class of 2013 in Andrew Wiggins. Harrow's loss won't be felt too badly at Kentucky with the arrival of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both expected to start next season and eventually become NBA-level talent.

3. Wichita State's Gregg Marshall will be one of the hottest names in college basketball. But there isn't an elite job open for him right now and with a $1 million salary and a team that can win the Missouri Valley Conference every year there is no need to leave. Marshall will also want to enjoy being in the Final Four (and who knows, playing in the final or winning it all next week). He can be the toast of Wichita for a year and beyond so there's no reason to not enjoy this after all the hard work. Wichita State will have to pay Marshall even more and likely will after this historic run to the Final Four.

SALT LAKE CITY -- A year ago, Harvard guard Laurent Rivard was in awe just seeing the midcourt NCAA logo; after all, the Crimson hadn’t made the tournament in six decades.

So helping the program to its first tournament victory -- a 68-62 win over No. 3 New Mexico that marked the biggest seed upset of all time by an Ivy League team?

That, he said, was indescribable. Although he tried: “You imagine it … it’s something everyone dreams about,” Rivard said after scoring 17 points and going 5-for-9 from 3-point range, “but it’s a different feeling when it actually becomes real.”

The win seemed improbable for a plethora of reasons: The Lobos (29-6) were bigger (7-footer Alex Kirk finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds), and more seasoned by playing in a conference many considered one of the nation’s toughest. Heck, some even thought UNM was robbed by the tournament committee when it didn’t earn higher than a No. 3 seed.

But Harvard countered with a four-guard lineup that was sharpshooting (52.4 percent overall, including 8-for-18 from 3-point land) and that frustrated Lobos leading scorer Kendall Williams into a forgettable, 1-for-6 night. Led by their tallest starter, 6-foot-8 Kenyatta Smith, the Crimson also aggressively banged with Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow (15 points, nine rebounds).

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
AP Photo/Rick BowmerHarvard's Wesley Saunders drives past New Mexico's Tony Snell on his way to 18 points.
“We knew they were going to be tough,” Smith said. “We just had to be confident.”

And they were, particularly down the stretch.

New Mexico, trailing for most of the game, took a 53-52 lead with 6:26 left on yet another Kirk inside move. But Harvard, even with its three bigger guys in foul trouble, countered with a 7-0 run -- beginning with another 3 from Rivard and including a jumper from guard Wesley Saunders (18 points) -- to rebuild its cushion. The Lobos never got closer than four after that.

“For me to see the composure that we had is meaningful to me as a coach,” Harvard’s Tommy Amaker said. “We had the lead. We lost the lead. We had to make plays and to have an answer each time when things got really tight there. We had to make pressure free throws. … But we didn’t wilt or cave in.”

Somehow, the Crimson (20-9) didn’t seem to feel the pressure of being a No. 14 seed on the brink of making history.

“I was just playing in the moment, enjoying the moment,” freshman point guard Siyani Chambers said. “… It felt like, just getting here, was our night.”

Indeed, not long ago it seemed like a long shot that the Crimson would make the tournament at all -- much less advance to the round of 32.

First there were the offseason academic problems that led the team’s co-captains -- Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry -- to withdraw from school.

And although those departures gave Chambers (5 points, 7 assists in 40 minutes Thursday) the opportunity to develop more quickly, the team wasn’t quite the runaway favorite it might have been to dominate the Ivy League -- as evidenced by back-to-back road losses at Princeton and Penn in early March.

Yet the Crimson endured. And prevailed.

And forget about last year’s awe-inspiring NCAA logo. Now, there’s a new daydream: the Sweet Sixteen.

“Before this, we wanted to be the Cinderella story,” Smith said. “And I guess now, we kind of are.”

LAS VEGAS -- A few quick thoughts from New Mexico's 63-56 victory over UNLV in the championship game of the Mountain West Conference tournament Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Overview: Tony Snell scored 21 points and Kendall Williams added 12 points and seven assists to lead New Mexico past UNLV in front of 18,500 fans. The Lobos led 34-32 at intermission and used an outstanding defensive effort to run away with the game in the second half.

Snell accounted for all of his team's points during a 10-2 run that ended with New Mexico leading 56-47 with about three minutes remaining. UNLV made just one basket during a nearly 10-minute span in the second half.

Still, the Rebels gave themselves a chance when back-to-back 3-pointers by Bryce Dejean-Jones shaved New Mexico's cushion to 56-53. UNLV forced a turnover on New Mexico's next possession and got the ball to Katin Reinhardt in transition. But Reinhardt missed a wide-open 3 -- a wiiiidddeee-open 3 -- from the right wing. New Mexico responded with a 3 from Snell that made it 59-53 with 1:06 remaining. That was basically the ballgame.

Reinhardt is typically one of UNLV's top shooters, but he suffered through a brutal Saturday, making just 4 of his 16 field goal attempts, including a handful of crucial misses that would have either given UNLV the lead or, at the very least, the momentum. Somehow, he was named to the all-tournament team.

Dejean-Jones scored 19 points in a losing effort while Anthony Bennett added 15. Bennett scored 13 of his team's first 15 points but was quiet after that. UNLV shot just 33.9 percent as a team and only 29 percent from 3-point range.

New Mexico, meanwhile, played an unselfish brand of basketball from start to finish. It's easy to see why the Lobos won the MWC regular-season title by two games. Sixteen of their 23 baskets Saturday came off assists, including seven from Williams and five from Hugh Greenwood.

By winning Saturday, New Mexico avenged a 64-55 loss to UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center on Feb. 9. The Lobos were aided by some incredible fan support. There were at least as many -- if not more -- New Mexico fans in attendance as UNLV fans. At times it felt like a Lobos home game, especially during the postgame court-storming.

What's next: New Mexico will take a 29-5 record into the NCAA tournament, which begins next week. UNLV is 25-9.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

March, 1, 2013
The Mountain West Conference has been the most consistent and reliable league the past two seasons for predicting NCAA tournament bids.


That could change if Boise State makes a late run, but the lock seems to be that the MWC will have four bids yet again.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have answered every challenge. The losses to UNLV and San Diego State on the road didn't have any residual effect. UNM beat San Diego State and Colorado State in the past week as Kendall Williams likely cemented his spot as the Mountain West player of the year with his 46 points in the win at CSU. UNM finishes the regular season at Nevada and Air Force.

2. Colorado State. The Rams are still the most consistent team in the league, even though they hit a bit of a skid. They have the most experience and probably will be the least rattled once they get to the NCAA tournament. CSU has a tough go ahead with road games at Boise State, Wyoming and at home against Nevada.

3. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels might be getting quality production from Khem Birch at the right time, as the Pitt transfer put up a double-double in Saturday's victory at Wyoming. UNLV has underachieved at times, but there is still plenty of talent and time for it to get back in gear and be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team. The Rebels finish with a game at Nevada, then head home for Boise State and Fresno State.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs have been a bit of a tease this season. Jamaal Franklin has been productive and separated himself with his skills, but the rest of the team has largely been inconsistent. A nagging injury to Xavier Thames hasn't helped. The Aztecs finish with Air Force and at Boise State and could use some momentum.

5. Boise State. Boise State can control its destiny by winning games against Colorado State, at UNLV and at home against San Diego State. Take two of those three -- the home games -- and it would be tough to keep the Broncos out of the field.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are a legit postseason team. Air Force can improve its chances in its final games against Fresno State, San Diego State and New Mexico. Guard Michael Lyons will likely finish as a first-team all-MWC player.

7. Wyoming. The Pokes gave the league a valiant effort, but their conference-mates caught up to them. The Cowboys weren't able to get more than one signature victory (San Diego State) this season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack has lost seven of eight games. Nevada can be a spoiler with games against UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State before the tournament in Las Vegas.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have improved overall, but losing five of their past six keeps them at the bottom of the rankings.

Wooden Watch: Jason King's POY ballot

February, 28, 2013

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is still considered the leading candidate to win the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation’s top player. The race, however, is far from over.

Players such as Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will all garner heavy consideration. And so will Georgetown’s Otto Porter, who might be the biggest threat of all to Oladipo.

Or at least that’s how it seems this week.

A 6-foot-8 forward, Porter is averaging 15.9 points on the season, but that number rises to 19.2 points in his past 13 games. As a result, Georgetown sits alone atop the Big East standings with a 12-3 conference record. Porter has been particularly impressive during the past week. You can read about that -- and more -- in the ballot below.
  1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana: I’m just not sure there’s a player out there that does more for his team than Oladipo. The one possibility could be Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart, who could be an even better leader. But right now I think Oladipo is more polished as a player. And it helps that he plays for the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
  2. Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter sparked the Hoyas to their 10th consecutive victory by scoring 21 of his 22 points after intermission in Georgetown’s 79-78 double-overtime win at Connecticut. Porter’s layup with 9.5 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner. Five days earlier he scored 33 points in a win at then-No. 8 Syracuse.
  3. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga: A victory at BYU on Thursday could well give the Zags the first No. 1 ranking in school history. Olynyk is one of the main reasons. The 7-foot junior averages 17.7 points and 7 rebounds -- and he’s playing just 25.4 minutes per game for a squad that has blown out most of its West Coast Conference opponents.
  4. Trey Burke, Michigan: The sophomore point guard has been phenomenal for the Wolverines, averaging 18.9 points, 6.9 assists and only 1.8 turnovers. But Michigan, which was ranked No. 1 less than a month ago, has lost four of its past seven games, including a 23-point setback to Michigan State and an embarrassing defeat Wednesday at Penn State, previously winless in the Big Ten. It’s hard to keep a player -- particularly a point guard -- at the top of this list when his team is struggling so mightily.
  5. Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott had 32 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s win over Bradley. Saturday’s game against Wichita State in Omaha will be for the regular-season title of the Missouri Valley Conference.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically):

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: The preseason All-American is averaging 21.2 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 43.2 percent from the field. Canaan hasn’t been surrounded by the same kind of hype he received as a junior, mainly because this Racers squad isn’t as good as the one that lost only a single regular-season game a season ago.

Shane Larkin, Miami: The point guard helped the Hurricanes get back on track Wednesday by scoring 22 points and dishing out six assists in a victory over Virginia Tech. A bigger test will come Saturday when Miami travels to Durham to face a Duke squad it embarrassed 90-63 on Jan. 23.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: If they win the rest of their games, the Wildcats can claim a share of the Big 12 title for the first time since 1977. McGruder (14.8 points, 5.4 rebounds) is the main reason K-State is in this position. His senior leadership has been invaluable during coach Bruce Weber’s first season.

Mason Plumlee, Duke: The senior is averaging 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds for a Duke squad that has a huge game this weekend against Miami. Plumlee has proven himself over and over against some of the top competition in the country.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: The freshman guard is one of the best leaders in the country and has completely revitalized the Cowboys’ struggling program. Unfortunately he’s made just nine of his past 32 attempts from the field.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: The scoring machine finally dipped below the 20-point barrier and is averaging 19.9 points on the season. His 14 points in Sunday’s victory over Michigan State marked his second-lowest output of the season. Thomas had made just 24 of his past 66 field-goal attempts (36.3 percent).

Kendall Williams, New Mexico: Williams’ 46-point effort in Saturday’s victory over Colorado State has landed him a spot on this list. It was arguably the most impressive showing by a player all season. Williams averages a team-high 14.4 points for a Lobos squad that’s on pace to win its fourth Mountain West Conference title in the past five seasons.

Jeff Withey, Kansas: If the Jayhawks win the league title, Withey will get my vote for Big 12 Player of the Year. He averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds on a very balanced team and ranks third in the country in blocks with 3.8 per game.

Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: The senior guard ranks third in the country in scoring with 22.9 points per game. He also contributes 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Wolters had a 53-point game against IPFW on Feb. 7. He shoots 49.9 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range.

Cody Zeller, Indiana: The sophomore averages team highs in points (16.3) and rebounds (8.1) for the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers. But he had a poor showing in a nine-point, seven-rebound effort in Tuesday’s loss at Minnesota. Zeller is having a solid season, but I’ll be surprised if he is named first-team All-America.

Numbers to Know: Weekend Recap

February, 25, 2013
Co-Player of the Weekend – Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Williams exploded for 46 points in New Mexico’s road win over Colorado State. That’s the third most in a Division I game this season and tied for the third most in school history. His 10 3-pointers also set a school record. Williams is the first player with 46 points, five rebounds and four assists on the road against a ranked team since Jodie Meeks at Tennessee in 2009.

Along with Air Force’s Michael Lyons, Williams was the second player in eight days to score at least 45 against Colorado State. Consider that it had only happened to a ranked team three times in the previous 15 years.

Co-Player of the Weekend – Otto Porter, Georgetown
Porter went off for a career-high 33 points (11 more than his previous best), as Georgetown beat Syracuse 57-46 in front of 35,012 at the Carrier Dome. That’s the most points in a win at Syracuse in at least 15 years. Porter and Kemba Walker are the only players with at least 33 points, eight rebounds and five steals against a Top-25 team in the past 10 years. Both came against the Orange.

Freshman of the Weekend – Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Paige had arguably the best game of his young career, finishing with 14 points, eight assists and no turnovers in the Tar Heels' win over NC State. Over the past 10 years, only two other ACC players have done that in a conference game. Both were Tar Heels: Kendall Marshall and Ty Lawson.

Stat Sheet Stuffer – Chavaughn Lewis, Marist
With 112 points against VMI, Marist had its highest scoring game in 19 years. Lewis’ stat line was the biggest beneficiary; he went off for 30 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and five steals, becoming the only player in at least 15 years to record that line. In that span, it’s only happened once in the NBA. Vince Carter did it in 2001 against the Nuggets (albeit in 51 minutes of action).

Ugly Stat of the Weekend – Mississippi State Bulldogs
Vanderbilt destroyed Mississippi State 72-31, holding the Bulldogs to 7-of-40 from the field (17.5 percent). It was Mississippi State’s second-worst loss at the 37-year-old Humphrey Coliseum and its lowest scoring output of the shot-clock era. It’s also the fewest points the Commodores have allowed in SEC play in 64 years.

Video: Players of the week

February, 24, 2013

Andy Katz discusses Georgetown's Otto Porter and New Mexico's Kendall Williams, who combined to score 79 points Saturday and earn joint Player of the Week honors.

Video: Lobos' Williams after 46-point game

February, 23, 2013

Kendall Williams exploded for 46 points -- including 10 3-pointers -- as No. 16 New Mexico came back to win at No. 22 Colorado State 91-82.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

December, 21, 2012
Indiana losing gave the Mountain West a distinction: It is the only conference with two of the last unbeatens. Both the New Mexico Lobos and Wyoming Cowboys weren't supposed to be this good, this early. The Lobos have more talent than a year ago when they won the league, and so far they have been as together as any team Steve Alford has coached. And it shows in the results.

1. New Mexico: Kendall Williams hurts his right ankle and it doesn't do anything but fuel him for a career-best 24 points in a win at New Mexico State. The Lobos pulled off the rare sweep of the in-state rival in consecutive games. Alford has the Lobos as a legit MWC title contender, something that wasn't considered real in the preseason. But Alex Kirk has answered all questions inside, and the Lobos have yet to disappoint. This upcoming stretch with games at Cincinnati and Saint Louis will be a true barometer of this squad.

2. UNLV: Who needs Mike Moser? Well, apparently the Runnin' Rebels can do without him for a bit as freshman Anthony Bennett lit up Northern Iowa for 20 points and 12 rebounds while Pitt transfer Khem Birch contributed 11 points and nine boards in his second game since becoming eligible. Moser is due back soon, and the Rebels might have one of the most formidable frontcourts in the West. When this team is whole, it is going to be very dangerous.

3. San Diego State: The Aztecs have won nine in a row since the opening loss to Syracuse outside on a ship. San Diego State will find out a lot about itself during the Diamond Head Classic. A possible matchup with Ole Miss and then either Arizona or Miami will give the Aztecs a true picture of where this team stands.

4. Wyoming: The Cowboys might have a softer schedule than most in the Mountain West, but they’re 11-0 and haven’t really struggled much at all. The latest team Wyoming took down was Denver. Going to SMU will pose a challenge, but the Pokes could enter the conference season undefeated, needing only a few wins to at least be playing in the NIT.

5. Boise State: The Broncos have rebounded well since the road blowout loss at Utah. Beating LSU at home and beating rival Idaho was a strong sign that the win at Creighton was no fluke. Derrick Marks will enter the MWC as one of the top scorers in the country. Boise State has to make sure playing in Boise is a rough trip for the other teams. There's no reason to believe the Broncos won't be a factor in this race.

6. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy has the Rams playing stingy defense, and the challenge going forward is for this crew to win on the road. They weren't able to do that under Tim Miles on a consistent basis. The Rams got into the dance because they became a rough road game for anyone in the league. Eustachy has to ensure that still occurs.

7. Nevada: The Wolf Pack have won three in a row and are finally finding consistency. The talent on this team is too good to be at the bottom of the conference. Nevada will find out soon enough where it stands with a road game at Oregon on New Year's Eve before starting the league season at Air Force.

8. Air Force: The shooting is near 50 percent, and the scoring and assists are in the top 25 in the country. The Falcons have lost only twice, but whom have they beaten? They might get a rude awakening in the nonconference with a matchup next week against Florida. The rest of the coaches in the MWC talk about how tough it is to play Air Force. If the Falcons live up to that billing, then this league will deliver on being the deepest.

9. Fresno State: The Bulldogs have hit a rough patch, unable to score more than 51 points a game. The three-game losing skid is because Fresno is offensively challenged, and fans have to be patient. Rodney Terry has this program going in the right direction, but he needs time, especially in a league that has so much quality without the quantity.

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.

Paradise Jam Primer

November, 16, 2012
Until Connecticut’s opening day victory over Michigan State in Germany, there wasn’t much reason to get excited about the 2012 Paradise Jam. And even after a gutty, fired-up UConn team showed us it’s not ready to wither just yet, the P-Jam (which is an abbreviation I just made up, I think; let’s go with it) is far from the best early-season tournament out there. That would be the Battle 4 Atlantis, which basically drank every other early-season tournament’s milkshake.

Even so, there are a few teams and players worth keeping an eye on.

The basics: Nov. 16–19 at University of the Virgin Islands

The set matchups: Mercer vs. George Mason, 1:30 p.m. ET; Illinois-Chicago vs. New Mexico, 4 p.m. ET; Wake Forest vs. Connecticut, 6:30 p.m. ET; Quinnipiac vs. Iona, 9 p.m. ET

The favorite: Connecticut. New Mexico isn’t far off -- the Lobos are still criminally underrated in the 2012-13 Mountain West conversation -- but it’s hard to look at what UConn did to Michigan State and not be impressed (particularly because the Spartans took down Kansas four days and a 4,500-mile trip from Germany to Atlanta later). The Huskies’ backcourt -- Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and lengthy wing DeAndre Daniels -- appear to be playing fast, scrappy, motivated basketball under hungry young coach Kevin Ollie. And they have a straightforward route to the tournament title game.


Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier struggled with leadership issues throughout the Huskies’ lackluster 2011-12 season; he fully admitted other players simply didn’t want to hear it. But Napier is now a legit veteran presence with a national title on his résumé, and this greenhorn UConn team revolves much more around his perimeter abilities.

[+] EnlargeRyan Boatright
David Butler II/US PresswireRyan Boatright's making better decisions so far in his his sophomore season for UConn.
Ryan Boatright, Connecticut: Boatright’s freshman season was like many freshman seasons: promising but flawed. This season, he appears to be playing much more of a true point guard role, with Napier working more frequently off the ball, and the decision-making that made him a liability last season looks to be much improved.

Tony Snell, New Mexico: The Lobos have a really good chance to win this tournament -- if UConn is the favorite, it’s not by that much -- and Snell is a major reason why. He led New Mexico’s 86–81 comeback win over Davidson Tuesday morning with 25 points, including a final-minute shot-clock-beating 3 to help seal the deal.

MoMo Jones, Iona: Iona lost national assists leader Scott Machado and senior forward Mike Glover. It will gain former Iowa State point guard Tavon Sledge and former Toledo forward Curtis Dennis. But Jones -- the former Arizona point who transferred to Iona last summer -- should get the touches to have a very big season, even if he isn’t always the most efficient scorer in the country.

C.J. Harris, Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons still have a big talent hole to climb out of before they get competitive in the ACC again, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook Harris. The guard had a breakout junior season, shooting 50.7 percent from 2, 42.2 percent from 3 and 84.4 percent from the line while lowering his turnover rate and drawing shooting fouls frequently.


Is this Connecticut thing real?

As good as UConn looked Friday night -- and it did look good -- it’s important to temper this kind of exuberance this early in the season. It was only one game (in Germany, no less) and Michigan State hardly had its finest outing. A convincing jaunt this weekend will hardly guarantee Big East title contention, but it will be another green shoot.

Where is George Mason right now?

Paul Hewitt enters his second season at George Mason with the program arguably as bereft of talent as at any point in the past five seasons. That’s what happens when you lose two leading frontcourt scorers, Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison (and your program’s best recent scorer, Luke Hancock, is preparing to debut for Louisville). Mason looks likely to slide this season, but did open with a win over Virginia. This tournament will tell us more.

Is New Mexico good enough down low?

The Lobos have plenty of perimeter talent. Kendall Williams and Snell are gifted scorers, Hugh Greenwood is a crafty point, Demetrius Walker is finally getting it, and Jamal Fenton can really go. But after losing Drew Gordon to the draft, can New Mexico find and develop some interior presence in time to compete with UNLV and San Diego State?

Is Wake on its way?

There’s no two ways about it: Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure has been a disaster thus far, and that’s before you consider the comparatively gleaming record of the man (Dino Gaudio) he replaced. But Bzdelik did improve Wake to a 13-win outfit last season after losing two starters from an 8–24 team, and Harris and Travis McKie form a really nice scoring combo. The Demon Deacons aren’t going to challenge for the ACC title anytime soon, but there’s at least a chance they won’t be horrible. So there’s that.

Will college football editor Brian Kelly shave his head if his alma mater, Quinnipiac, wins this tournament?

I don’t know, but I triple dog dare him.


First round: Iona over Quinnipiac (sorry BK); UConn over Wake; New Mexico over UIC; George Mason over Mercer.

Semifinals: UConn over Iona; New Mexico over George Mason.

Championship: UConn over New Mexico.