College Basketball Nation: Mike Moser

MILWAUKEE -- Both Michigan and Wisconsin had their share of defensive doubters entering the NCAA tournament. The two Big Ten representatives silenced them, at least for a day, by effectively making one of the baskets disappear at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

[+] EnlargeTony Wroblicky
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin easily bottled up American's offense but will have more difficulty with up-tempo Oregon.
But the skeptics will stir again as Saturday's tipoffs approach. And they should. The Wolverines and Badgers still must validate themselves on the defensive end against No. 7 seeds -- Oregon and Texas -- that will stretch them to the max.

"Our defense," Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III said, "is going to make us or break us."

Defense pushed Robinson and his teammates into the round of 32 after their normally fluid offense zigged and zagged against Wofford. The Wolverines made just one-third of their field goal attempts in the second half but allowed just 20 points, the same total they allowed in the first 20 minutes.

Wisconsin, a program famous for stifling defense -- but one that hasn't always delivered it this season -- was even better at keeping American off the scoreboard. The Badgers allowed only 13 points in the second half -- the fewest in a half for a Badgers opponent in any modern-era NCAA tournament game -- and just 18 points in the final 29 minutes, 17 seconds.

"Obviously, we were very good," Badgers assistant Greg Gard said, "but it will be a totally different challenge [Saturday]. It goes from a test of your discipline and your focus for 30 seconds, to the shot clock might not even get to 30 at times for Oregon."

Dana Altman might not be college basketball's Chip Kelly, but his team, unlike American, is all about pushing the tempo. Oregon led the Pac-12 and ranked 11th nationally in scoring offense, reaching 90 points in nine games and 100 points in four. Offensive threats are everywhere, from the starters to the bench, which needs 18 more points to reach 1,000 for the season.

The Ducks showcased their scoring speed and prowess Thursday against BYU, tallying 87 points on 50 percent shooting. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan wondered aloud whether any tournament team will face a bigger contrast in opponents than his Badgers.

"It's crazy," said junior guard Josh Gasser, Wisconsin's top defender. "They are just completely opposite. Their philosophies, what they're trying to do, even their personnel. But we've played teams that like to slow it down, we've played teams that like to push it in transition.

"We're pretty much used to anything by now."

The Badgers have seen shades of Oregon in Big Ten foes like Iowa and Michigan State. Their defense hasn't been bad -- 63.7 points per game allowed, 42.9 percent opponent shooting percentage -- but it hasn't always met the Ryan standard, in part because of a stronger, quicker offense and a new-look front line.

Oregon is mostly perimeter-oriented but could target the post more with veteran Mike Moser and Elgin Cook, who had a career-high 23 points against BYU in his Milwaukee homecoming.

"We're attacking from every direction," Ducks point guard Johnathan Loyd said. "Anybody can go get 20 on any given night. It's just tough to defend. ... [Opponents] kind of start bickering with each other, like, 'Hey, you should have been there! Nah, I had this guy!'

"That's when you know our offense is really clicking."

Michigan faces much bigger post problems with Texas. Longhorns center Cameron Ridley and forward Jonathan Holmes combined for 483 rebounds during the regular season, including 187 offensive boards.

[+] EnlargeCameron Ridley
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCameron Ridley's size in the low post could cause problems for Michigan's defense.
Texas' final four baskets Thursday against Arizona State came on second chances, as Ridley and Holmes cleaned up down low.

"We're a good rebounding team," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "They're a great rebounding team."

Texas isn't Wofford, which started no players taller than 6-foot-7 and went 1-for-19 from 3-point range.

"I don't think that's going to happen again," Michigan forward Jon Horford said, "so we have to be realistic about defensive expectations but still bring that emphasis into every game."

Longhorns players liken Michigan's perimeter-oriented style to Iowa State, a team it split with during the regular season.

"I look to attack more," Ridley said. "This is an opportunity for me and Jon, Prince [Ibeh] and Connor [Lammert] to show how good we are and exploit the advantage we might have."

Michigan is one of the more efficient offensive teams in the country, but its defense has slipped at times, including late in the regular season. Beilein unveiled some 2-3 zone during the Big Ten tournament as a changeup from the team's standard man-to-man or 1-3-1 zone looks.

The Wolverines geared their defense against Wofford toward stopping guard Karl Cochran, the team's offensive catalyst. Texas, meanwhile, has four players who average in double figures and six who reached the mark against BYU.

"We have to vary our defensive coverages," Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander said, "whether that be man-to-man or trapping or zones, and see if we can get them off rhythm."

Even if the Wolverines succeed at forcing missed shots, Texas could still make them pay.

"Any time you can get offensive rebounds, it breaks their back," Holmes said. "Another 35 seconds of defense is never fun."

Michigan and Wisconsin had plenty of fun on defense Thursday. Both teams must dig in to keep the good times going.

January is always tough, but this January was brutal — the coldest month of the century they say, an unrelenting onslaught of polar vortices and transport disasters and Los Angeles news anchors shivering in the 60-degree chill.

Let’s all come together, then, and celebrate the end of January 2014. The Oregon Ducks can be our college hoops guests of honor. Because it’s settled now, after Thursday’s 70-68 home loss to UCLA: No team in the sport has had a more miserable month.

It seems crazy now, but it really did happen. The Ducks entered the New Year unbeaten. They began the 2013-14 season with a solid victory over a surprisingly game Georgetown at the Armed Forces Tip-Off in Seoul, South Korea, throttled a series of overmatched home opponents, and from there they just kept on winning: at Ole Miss, versus Illinois in Portland, in overtime versus BYU. Led by Houston transfer Joseph Young and UNLV transfer Mike Moser, Oregon was playing hyper-efficient, stylish, up-tempo offense -- it exceeded 100 points on four separate occasions.

On Jan. 2, Oregon traveled to Utah and opened Pac-12 play with a win. Save No. 1-ranked Arizona, no team in the West looked as good as Dana Altman’s. Plus, much of that stretch had been accomplished without suspended players Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. As both returned, and the Ducks stretched their unbeaten start to 14-0, Altman’s team had the look of a conference title contender.

Since then, Oregon is 1-6. Its first three losses -- a road defeat to Colorado and home losses to Stanford and Cal -- were forgivable. Following them with losses to Oregon State and Washington? Not so much. The Ducks lost five in a row in total before Sunday’s pounding of lowly Washington State. Even worse? Those wins that looked so promising in November and December all came against teams that have fallen apart themselves to various degrees in January. The Ducks’ month was so bad it’s infecting everything it touches.

[+] EnlargeUCLA
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsKyle Anderson and UCLA not only extended Oregon's misery Thursday, but also established themselves as No. 2 in the Pac-12.
Thursday night’s loss to UCLA was disappointing on multiple fronts for Oregon. For starters, there was the sheer fact of the loss itself, which capped off Altman’s monthus horriblus. But there were also the letdowns contained therein: how the Ducks, so lackluster for so much of the game, rediscovered their shooting late in the second half and came storming back from a double-digit deficit with a late 12-0 run. With 1:12 left to play, Richard Amardi made a free throw that put Oregon up 68-65. The Ducks would then go on to yield the final five points of the game. Their final shot, a hopeful Johnathan Loyd effort, was stopped short of the rim by Kyle Anderson's Stretch Armstrong arms.

In their eight Pac-12 games, the Ducks are now allowing more points per possession (1.074) than they are scoring (1.07). They haven’t played well, and they didn’t play well for much of Thursday night. That they still had a chance to salvage that win was lucky, all things considered.

Focusing too much on Oregon could cause one to overlook UCLA, and that would be a mistake. After Thursday’s win -- based not only on their talent but on résumé and efficiency, too -- it now seems safe to call the Bruins the second-best team in the Pac-12. Arizona State might be in that mix, same with Cal and Stanford. But the Bruins have beaten all of those teams (albeit at home) in January, and Anderson and Jordan Adams form a one-two scoring punch most of those teams don’t have.

Is the Pac-12 finally taking shape? Arizona is far and away its best team, obviously. But pulling UCLA out of the rest of a muddled middle feels fair. The Bruins are 16-4 with no bad losses on their résumé (road games at Mizzou and Utah, neutral court to Duke, home to Arizona), the most efficient offense (1.11 PPP) in Pac-12 play and, most surprising of all, the second-ranked per-possession defense (.96). They play faster and smarter and more well-executed basketball than they did a year ago under Ben Howland, and they’re not sacrificing defensive strength in doing so. They don’t belong in the same group as Cal, Stanford, Arizona State, etc., at least not right now.

Whatever your sense is of the hierarchy at work in the Pac-12 this season, UCLA certainly doesn’t belong in the same group as Oregon. The Ducks are flailing. Where they go from here is a matter of better defense, sure, but also a rediscovery of the offensive skill that made them such a thrilling proposition in November and December.

We’re crossing our fingers and hoping for a slightly warmer February to salvage this winter. Altman’s team will have to do far more than that.

3-point shot: Expectations for Oregon

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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Andy Katz talks with Oregon's Mike Moser about what to expect from the Ducks.

3-point shot: Oregon's additions

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Andy Katz discusses Joseph Young and Mike Moser's transitions to Oregon and Western Carolina coming to the rescue.
1. The NCAA men's basketball selection committee will make a formal announcement Thursday about the tweaking it did to the bracketing principles for the 2014 tournament during its meeting earlier this month in Park City, Utah. The committee is expected to produce a document that protects the "true seed" -- where a team stands according to the committee's 1-through-68 ranking -- and that doesn't jeopardize that seeding in order to avoid conference or non-conference repeat matchups. Seeding the tournament is probably more important than the final few bids that get the most attention on Selection Sunday, and the committee doesn't want to mess with the true seed. Meanwhile, there were a few other issues addressed. The new number of at-large berths is down to 36 with the split of the Big East and the American Athletic Conference, meaning that there are now 32 automatic qualifiers. But the committee was informed that, technically, the Big East's automatic bid went with the Big East, and the American must get its AQ bid formally approved by the Division I sports-management cabinet, according to a source. But that shouldn't be an issue. The committee also looked at maintaining the same standard for the Final Four of a minimum of 60,000 fans, due to the current demand for tickets (meaning only domes for the Final Four). But it continues to remain highly likely that regional final sites from 2016 and beyond will be basketball arenas only, save the one dome site that will host the Final Four the ensuing year. The committee also had an informal discussion on what it would look like if basketball were a one-semester sport. The calendar was so compressed that to make the season work and to finish in early April was impossible. The change would have been too dramatic. So the committee at least looked at the possibility. There was no movement to change March Madness or the pre-Masters dates of the Final Four.

2. Oregon is waiting for Houston transfer Joseph Young to file a waiver to play immediately for the Ducks. Oregon is somewhat confident Young would be approved -- which could give the Ducks a top-tier top seven, with UNLV transfer Mike Moser, returning guards Dominic Artis, Johnathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson, forward Ben Carter and junior college transfer Elgin Cook. Young averaged 18 points a game for Houston. So Oregon could have a much different look if Young can play immediately.

3. NC State continues to respect its past as much as any other program. The Wolfpack went with alum Sidney Lowe after Herb Sendek, but Lowe wasn't able to a build a consistent winner, despite recruiting well. Third-year coach Mark Gottfried isn't afraid to reach back into NC State's past to help forge a future by bringing Wolfpack legend Dereck Whittenburg onto the staff. Whittenburg had been head coach at Fordham and Wagner and, most recently, an ESPN analyst and producer of a documentary, "Survive and Advance," in ESPN's "30 For 30" series. Whittenburg, who has the most famous shot/pass in NC State history, will bring energy to the Wolfpack staff as well as a direct link to the past that current players should and likely will appreciate.
1. UNLV lost another player over the weekend. The latest to depart is Katin Reinhardt, who apparently had issues with the way he was being used by coach Dave Rice and wants to play the point more than shooting guard, Rice told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reinhardt will have to see if Andy Enfield plays him at the point if ends up at USC, as the Review-Journal reported is a likely destination. Reinhardt shouldn't play immediately (I feel like I have to say that now with everyone getting waivers) and can use the redshirt year to become a point if that's his chosen position. The Runnin' Rebels already lost Anthony Bennett to the NBA draft after one season, and then Mike Moser graduated and transferred to Oregon to play immediately. (UNLV was also set to lose seniors Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall.) The Rebels will be scrapping with San Diego State to catch New Mexico and maybe Boise State in the Mountain West. But Rice shouldn't be worried. He needs players who want to be in Las Vegas, and the Rebels have replacements. Bryce Dejean-Jones can play shooting guard. UConn transfer Roscoe Smith had a year to better understand the game and how to play power forward. Depth is available with Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Kendall Smith, who can play either the point or the two for the Rebels. Khem Birch is eligible for a full year and can try to be more assertive offensively and dominant defensively. This team will be in flux, but the pieces are still in play to be an NCAA team.

2. Players don't necessarily have the allegiances that fans do. That's why Antonio Barton has no issues going from Memphis to rival Tennessee. The Vols desperately needed another guard after losing Trae Golden. And of course the Vols are now a beneficiary of the new free agency in college basketball. "It's safe to say kids are more concerned with the best opportunity,'' Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said about players holding rivalry grudges. As for picking up players on the fly, Martin said, "Free agency, it's a tough call. We're on the good side of free agency. I think a lot of mid-major programs are affected by the market.'' Martin used to be the coach at Missouri State and knows all too well about life at a lower level.

3. Former Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said on our college basketball podcast Friday that Caris LeVert is ready for a breakthrough season in 2013-14. Hardaway heaped high praise on LeVert. Meanwhile, Kansas coach Bill Self hit on a number of topics, including Ben McLemore, a recruiting class that he said had tremendous promise even before Andrew Wiggins signed, and coaching Wiggins next season. You can listen to the podcast here.
On Tuesday afternoon, UNLV forward Mike Moser made Oregon coach Dana Altman so happy the coach couldn't contain his beverage:
"He said he spilled his coffee all over himself," Moser told the Oregonian. "He was really excited."

Why all the excitement and/or dangerous coffee burns? Because when Moser called, it was to let Altman know that he had chosen the Ducks as his final collegiate destination for 2013-14, when he will play his senior season of eligibility as a graduate student. Moser had been considering Washington and Gonzaga, but ultimately he wanted to be as close to home as possible. Fun fact: Oregon is Moser's homestate. So that worked out!

The question, of course, is whether it will work for Oregon. Moser was a highly sought-after graduate exemption chip this offseason, no thanks to his 2012-13 season. Two years ago, as a sophomore, Moser was a beast, an athletic and versatile power forward who dominated the glass for the Runnin' Rebels. Even better, Moser's body and skill set looked ready to blossom; he was almost too easy to imagine as an NBA small forward. He was the prototype.

The only problem? He's not a college small forward, at least not yet. Last season, as he moved more to the perimeter, his averages dropped from 14.0 points to 7.1, from 10.5 rebounds per game to 6.1. It was ugly stuff, but it was the work of a player lost in an attempt to revolutionize himself in the midst of a college basketball season. That 14.0 and 10.5 line didn't vanish into thin air. It's still in there.

It will be Altman's job to extract it once more. Moser has the ability to be not only a great rebounder but an immense defender, not dissimilar in size and physical ability to last year's hugely important transfer (and possibly Bill Walton's favorite player), forward Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi is gone but a solid, young group remains, and Moser -- if he is at his best in his hometown -- could be a lynchpin.
1. Oregon is now one-year U. The Ducks under Dana Altman have made a habit of finding players for one season who can make an impact. UNLV's Mike Moser is the latest to choose Oregon in this situation, picking the Ducks over Washington and Gonzaga. Moser, who will be at his third school in his college career after starting out at UCLA, follows Devoe Joseph (Minnesota), Olu Ashaolu (Louisiana Tech) and Arsalan Kazemi (Rice), who all flourished in their one season in Eugene. Adding transfers with more than one year left is also fair game -- the Ducks have taken in Wake Forest's Tony Woods. But credit the Oregon staff, led by Altman, for filling needs. The Ducks have needed mostly big men as their young guards develop; losing E.J. Singler and Kazemi off last season's NCAA team left a glaring opening for a rebounder and a potential inside scorer. If Moser can return to being one of the best on the boards in the country, as he was two seasons ago (an elbow injury slowed him this past season), the Ducks will have the complement needed to young guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Meanwhile, Memphis' Tarik Black was on campus Tuesday and will leave Wednesday for visits to Georgetown, Kansas and Duke, according to a source with direct knowledge -- so the Ducks could add even more to the stable of one-year transfers. As one assistant coach who has recruited these type of players said, the one-year player at the end of his college career is in high demand because he can make more of an impact than an average freshman.

2. The NCAA rules committee, men's basketball tournament selection committee and the National Association of Basketball Coaches board met Tuesday in Indianapolis as one group to discuss the NCAA tournament and any potential rules changes. The rules committee should have a decision on any changes sometime Thursday. NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt and West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who is on the selection committee, were both present; according to sources, neither has shown signs that his selection as the next commissioner of the new Big East is imminent -- though sources said the new league's presidents are close to a decision. If that is the case and it's not Gavitt, a former Big East associate commissioner, or Zaninovich, a favorite of many in the league, it could be someone from outside the league. That list is broad but could include Tim Brosnan, a Major League Baseball executive. Someone like Brosnan would make sense considering that the new Big East has partnered with Fox, which has a strong relationship with MLB. A few administrators would prefer a strong person in the NCAA membership who has already been a commissioner. But the new Big East presidents -- who also selected former CBS executive Mike Aresco as commissioner of the old Big East, now the American Conference -- were looking for someone with strong television connections. The new Big East needs to get a commissioner soon, with the clock ticking toward fall sports starting and an office, championships, bylaws, scheduling and compliance still to be determined.

3. Next week's NBA draft combine in Chicago could be one of the most intriguing camps because of the parity in the draft and the unknowns beyond some of the top players. The injuries to Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett and Alex Len mean there are even more questions than answers heading into the event. There is hardly a consensus beyond the top three of Noel, Bennett and Ben McLemore. Team workouts will be even more important for so many players who could play their way not just into the first round but into the late lottery. This will be even more of a need draft for teams picking after the top five and looking for a specific position. Which player is the best available will be highly debatable since you could ask 10 people at a given spot and receive 10 different answers.
1. The NBA’s one-and-done rule gets plenty of attention in the spring as players decide to leave college after one season. But the post-grad rule is turning every spring into free agency. UNLV’s Mike Moser is the latest to create a buzz. Moser is going on his third set of recruiting visits in his career. He was at UCLA and then transferred to UNLV. He's now a free agent after earning his degree. He’s looking for a one-year deal to finish his college career at his third school. He was at Gonzaga this weekend and into Monday. He was already being pursued by Washington and Oregon. A healthy Moser is an instant hit for three teams in the Northwest that are in need of a veteran rebounder. All that’s missing is for Moser to get paid in this deal since he’s a one-year rent-a-player. Nothing illicit here for any of the programs in pursuit. This is the new norm.

2. San Diego State built a schedule to go with a possible Big West conference slate. But then the Aztecs were able to stay in the NCAA tournament-bid rich Mountain West. This means coach Steve Fisher felt he had to dial back his schedule a bit. Fisher has asked Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin to put off a road game in Cincinnati for a year. The problem is the Bearcats have to agree and will only do so if Cincinnati can find an appropriate alternative at home. UC can’t just give up a quality home game without finding a replacement. The Aztecs are already playing home games against Arizona and Washington. They go to Kansas and they have the rivalry game with San Diego. They are also in the Anaheim Classic with Big East favorites Marquette and Creighton as well as possible Pac-12 sleeper team in Arizona State. The MWC will have 18 conference games with the additions of Utah State and San Jose State.

3. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin is confident about the momentum in the offseason. Lavin listed these facts: Orlando Sanchez got a year of eligibility for next season, they won a close game in the NIT, point guard Rysheed Jordan signed, Jakarr Sampson decided to stay instead of leaving for the NBA, a total of 14 players will return when redshirts and walk-ons are included, and the anticipation that the Red Storm will make a major step forward in the new Big East. The safe picks to push for bids are Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown, Villanova, Butler and Xavier. But St. John’s may be a better pick than Providence if there is going to be a team pushing the above six for a spot in 2014.
1. We all jump ahead on coaching searches as soon as someone is out and Rutgers is no exception. But this situation is unique. It's hard to project for certain if Rhode Island's Danny Hurley, Lakers assistant Eddie Jordan or anyone else is the favorite when the school has no athletic director. It would be tough for any coach to leave a good situation with so much uncertainty. Hurley, as reported by Sports Illustrated and SNY earlier in the week, has been negotiating a contract extension with the Rams. While nothing is ever certain, see Steve Alford, Hurley isn't sure he wants to move to a third job in three seasons. To assume he would automatically go home to New Jersey would be wrong. Leaving his players at URI, much like his decision to bolt at Wagner, would be a tough call for him. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Rutgers search drag on for a while as the whole situation remains fluid.

2. Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton said Saturday night he is negotiating to continue the seven-year rollover contract with head coach Gregg Marshall. He also said he will likely stuff the contract with new incentives. Marshall has a great deal in Wichita and is essentially king of the mountain there. He now has the best job in the Missouri Valley Conference with the departure of Creighton to the new Big East. Marshall is no fool. He won't leave for a job that wouldn't put him in a winning situation and he doesn't need to go to a program that is rebuilding. I wouldn't be surprised to see Marshall stay at Wichita to make another run.

3. Washington's pickup of UNLV's Mike Moser won't be official until he finishes the spring semester and graduates. Moser technically has to apply to a graduate school at Washington, but if all goes according to plan, then the Huskies would get a much-needed rebounder. The problem is the Huskies will be young on the perimeter. Still, this will give Moser a chance to really shine on his own. If he has the potential to be a star then he will be given a chance in Seattle.

Mike Moser is UNLV's X factor

March, 13, 2013
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LAS VEGAS -- UNLV coach Dave Rice looked at the stat sheet Wednesday and immediately thought of Dec. 9.

Three months ago, in a victory at Cal, Runnin’ Rebels forward Mike Moser had suffered one of the more gruesome injuries Rice had ever witnessed, a dislocated elbow that left Moser unable to extend his arm for nearly a month.

All of a sudden, a preseason All-American who had opened his junior season on magazine covers was on the end of UNLV’s bench in street clothes, wondering if his career would ever be the same.

“Dec. 9 was a difficult day for all of us,” Rice said. “I wasn’t sure if Mike would play for us again.”

That’s why Rice couldn’t help but smile as he glanced at the box score from Wednesday’s 72-56 victory over Air Force in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference tournament. Now back in the starting lineup, Moser snared 10 rebounds and scored nine points in a victory that propelled the Rebels into Friday’s semifinal against Colorado State.

“I feel like I’m getting back into a flow, back into a rhythm,” said Moser, who missed seven games because of his injury and has been less than 100 percent the past two months.

“My injury set us back. It kept us from peaking. This tournament is a chance for us to figure out exactly who we are.”

[+] EnlargeMike Moser
Steve Conner/Icon SMIMike Moser, still not fully back from an elbow injury, had nine points and 10 rebounds vs. Air Force.
Indeed, Moser is the X factor for the Runnin’ Rebels, the difference between first-weekend loss in the NCAA tournament and a trip to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.

That was evident Wednesday.

Anthony Bennett finished with a game-high 23 points and Bryce Dejean-Jones added 12, but it was the tone Moser set with his energy and leadership that energized UNLV the most.

“To look at his elbow on Dec. 9 and then see him playing like that out there today,” Rice said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Rice said Moser still isn’t 100 percent. He said he can’t extend his reach on rebounds as he did in the past, and often has trouble finishing plays above the rim. But that's certainly a far cry from where he was back in January, when Moser begged his way back onto the court before he was ready.

“I was playing one-handed, in a sense,” Moser told ESPN.com Wednesday. “I couldn’t even catch the ball. I didn’t want to stick my hand into tussles or go get rebounds, like I used to. It was really tough. But I just really, really wanted to play.”

Moser said the “mental hurdle” was the toughest obstacle he faced in his recovery. He’d lost the confidence and aggression that had made him such a force as a sophomore, when he averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds.

“I was remembering all the things I did before I got hurt, and my injury wasn’t allowing me to those things anymore,” he said. “I was wearing this big sleeve over my elbow, and it was as a reminder that I was injured. Once I took that off, things started to change.”

In his first 13 games back, Moser scored in double figures only once and had just one game in which he snared double-digit rebounds. In his past five games, though, Moser is averaging 11.6 points and 8.2 boards.

Rice recently inserted Moser back into the starting lineup alongside Bennett, a national freshman-of-the-year candidate who averages 15.9 points. Mix in forward Khem Birch -- the MWC Defensive Player of the Year -- off the bench, and UNLV’s frontcourt becomes one of the best in the country.

Rice said Moser’s leadership and ability to push the ball in transition makes UNLV a more cohesive unit. Moser is just thankful to be able to make an impact again.

“It’s been a test, it’s been trying,” Moser said of his junior campaign. “There were times we lost a couple of games I thought we could’ve won if I would’ve been able to contribute more.

“But overall, this season has still been a blast. It’s never not been fun. That’s because of my teammates. I can’t wait to keep it rolling.”

As excited as they are about the present, UNLV fans have been buzzing lately about Moser’s future with the program.

The speculation is that Moser will leave UNLV one year early and enter the NBA draft. Moser has been in college four years now. He played sparingly as a freshman at UCLA and then sat out a season after transferring to UNLV. He isn’t getting any younger. It might be time for a new challenge.

“I’ve definitely got a decision to make,” Moser said. “It’s something I think about, just because of how the season went. I was a preseason All-American and I got hurt. It makes you re-evaluate things.

“Who knows, though? The season isn’t over. We’ve got a chance to do some really special things before the end of the season. We’re just now getting back to who we are.”

Kind of like Mike Moser.
1. Akron coach Keith Dambrot said Saturday he was willing to switch and play on the road instead of being a home team in BracketBusters Feb. 22 or 23 in order to get a better game. Dambrot was turned down Sunday by the MAC office and the Zips will be a home team when the BracketBusters pairings will be announced Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Home/road designations have been predetermined. The problem is the better teams are at home -- having Akron possibly facing a lesser opponent, especially after the Zips beat Ohio and remain undefeated in the conference. This is the last year of BracketBusters but the teams will return the game in a nonconference matchup in 2014.

2. Duke’s Ryan Kelly is out indefinitely with a foot injury with no timetable for his return. Now Oregon’s Dominic Artis is in a similar situation. Artis has missed the last three games and the Ducks are 1-2 in his absence, losing their lead in the Pac-12. The Ducks have had 65 turnovers in their three games without the freshman point guard, 22 in a loss Saturday at Cal. Oregon officials say Artis is doubtful for next week’s homestand against Colorado and Utah. Duke has adjusted without Kelly. Oregon is having a harder time trying to deal without Artis. But both players’ absences will have a direct result on whether either can win the ACC or Pac-12, respectively, with Miami and Arizona ahead of the pack in each league.

3. UNLV caught a break when Mike Moser was ejected at Boise State for a flagrant 2 foul and not a flagrant 1. He will not have to miss the Runnin’ Rebels' game at Fresno State. Moser’s absence likely had a hand in the Runnin’ Rebels losing at Boise State. UNLV can’t afford any more lapses in games that it should win if it wants to catch New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference. UNLV is now in a third-tier group with San Diego State, trailing second-place Air Force and Colorado State, all behind New Mexico.
Five observations from Saturday’s evening games:

1. Hinkle Magic is real.

It had to end this way. We’d been spoiled with a wonderful day of college basketball -- treated to so many thrilling matchups that it was hard to keep up. Nevertheless, even with the hype surrounding Gonzaga and Butler, it was difficult to envision this game stealing the show. But that’s exactly what these two teams did. I mean, this is why we love this game. You can’t write a script that compares to the finish. Alex Barlow hits a big shot late, then commits a crucial turnover. Gonzaga commits a turnover on the inbounds, and then Roosevelt Jones charges toward the bucket for the game-winner. I couldn’t believe it. The Bulldogs played without standout Rotnei Clarke, who’d suffered a neck injury in last Saturday's victory over Dayton. Butler, however, didn’t back down from a Gonzaga team that is one of the most talented assemblies in America. The Zags shot 47.1 percent from the field. Elias Harris, Sam Dower and Kelly Olynyk combined to score 54 points. Butler wasn’t rattled, though. With just seconds on the clock, the Bulldogs maintained their intensity. They also maintained their pressure, which led to a game-winning bucket and a court-storming that actually made sense. What a game. What a day.

2. Deshaun Thomas needs help.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Thomas
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Thomas scored 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting; no other Buckeye had more than six.
So, if you watched the final seconds of Michigan State’s 59-56 victory over Ohio State, you’re probably still wondering what happened on Shannon Scott's 3-point attempt in the last seconds. Scott, who was trailed by Thomas, took an off-balance attempt that scraped the backboard on Ohio State’s final possession. But don’t blame him for the loss. Thomas (28 points) is the most dynamic offensive player in the Big Ten. He’s surrounded, however, by inconsistent offensive contributors. And that was the greatest component in the loss. Michigan State was led by Keith Appling (15 points) and Adreian Payne (14 points, five rebounds and a steal), who apparently has new life after a recent scuffle with teammate Branden Dawson. But three other Spartans recorded at least eight points. Thomas was alone. Aaron Craft (2-for-8) struggled. Lenzelle Smith Jr. (2-for-7) struggled. Scott (1-for-5) struggled. And while the Buckeyes proved that they possess the talent to contend for the Big Ten crown when they defeated Michigan last weekend, they revealed their offensive limitations in Saturday’s loss at Michigan State. Again.

3. The Mountain West is a beautiful mess.

You think your favorite league is wacky? Air Force scored 91 points in a win over Boise State. UNLV beat San Diego State on the road earlier this week but couldn’t handle Colorado State (Dorian Green scored a career-high 24 points). San Diego State scored nine points … in the first half of a loss to Wyoming. You figure it out. The Mountain West is Big Ten Lite. Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket features six MWC squads. And it’s a nine-team league. But Saturday was a good showcase for the conference. Wyoming held SDSU to a 2-for-18 clip from the 3-point line. Jamaal Franklin went 3-for-14 from the field. Colorado State is a gritty, rough team. Khem Birch, Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser combined to score just 18 points in UNLV’s loss to the Rams, who also forced 13 turnovers. This race is wide open, filled with quality programs -- six Mountain West squads ranked in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. And the other three -- Air Force, Nevada and Fresno State -- aren't what anyone would call terrible. Hell of a league.

4. Marquette and Cincinnati love drama.

Saturday was a great day for college basketball. And this game was one of its most exciting matchups. Cincinnati amassed a 29-13 halftime lead with a defensive attack that’s ranked eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. It was an impressive start for a Bearcats squad that had to go without Cashmere Wright, who missed the game due to a knee injury. But Cincy goes through scoring droughts. And Marquette loves drama. It was the perfect combination. The Golden Eagles lost to Butler on a Rotnei Clarke buzzer-beater in the Maui Invitational. They’re 2-1 in overtime games since Jan. 1. And they beat Georgetown by a point after fouling Greg Whittington on a 3-point attempt in the final seconds of an earlier Big East meeting. On Saturday, Marquette cut into Cincy’s deficit and ultimately forced overtime because UC eventually remembered that it rarely scores when necessary. The Bearcats were shorthanded due to foul trouble in a feisty extra session, but they sealed it on Sean Kilpatrick's layup with six seconds to play. It wasn’t pretty, but it was entertaining. Based on everything that had transpired in the final seconds, I figured Junior Cadougan would make his shot on the other end and send the 71-69 matchup into a second overtime. I think Cincinnati made a statement about its standing in the Big East, especially with Syracuse toppling Louisville on the same day. But Marquette also proved that it can contend with the league’s best teams. But it’s too hot-and-cold to trust as a true contender. Imagine if Buzz Williams’ squad were more consistent. At least it’s always interesting.

5. Iowa shakes up the Big Ten.

Thanks, Iowa. I thought I’d finally figured out the Big Ten until you beat Wisconsin 70-66 just four days after the Badgers upset the Hoosiers in Bloomington. It’s a cliché statement by now, but the Big Ten continues to prove that it’s the best conference in America. And this is why. A team such as Wisconsin can go on the road and beat one of the most talented squads in America (Indiana) and, less than a week later, suffer a loss at Iowa. Michigan beat the Hawkeyes by nearly 30 points. A few weeks later, Iowa takes Wisconsin down and re-enters the at-large conversation. The Hawkeyes committed just six turnovers in a game that featured a 20-point Iowa lead in the first half. Wisconsin shot poorly early but stormed back after halftime. It just wasn’t enough. Coaches around the league have talked about this for a few weeks now: The champion of this conference could have four or five losses. Maybe more. No squad has truly separated itself from the Big Ten pack. And it’s difficult to see how any team will when you have eight squads that could qualify for NCAA tournament berths. What a league.

A few more notes:

  • Alabama is 3-1 in the SEC after a 50-49 win over Texas A&M. Look, the SEC is not a strong conference. But Bama was in bad shape entering league play. Looks like Anthony Grant’s program is moving in the opposite direction now. Let’s see if the Crimson Tide can sustain it.
  • Detroit outscored Illinois-Chicago 53-14 in the first half of a 98-47 victory Saturday. I picked Illinois-Chicago to win the Horizon League at the start of league play. That was a great choice. Except it wasn’t.
  • So 4-0 Washington's first Pac-12 loss comes to 0-4 Utah at home in Seattle? Well OK then. Makes about as much sense as Oregon State dropping to 0-5 in the league after Saturday's loss to USC.

Numbers to Know: Weekend Recap

January, 14, 2013
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Player of the Weekend - Elston Turner, Texas A&M
Scoring a career-high 40 points, Turner carried the Aggies to an 83-71 win at Kentucky. That’s the most points by a Texas A&M player since Don Marbury’s 41 points against Baylor more than 28 years ago. It’s also the fifth most by an Aggie in a road game. But the venue makes this performance particularly unique. According to Kentucky, Turner is the first opposing player to score 40 points in Rupp Arena since LSU's Chris Jackson in 1990.

Stat Sheet Stuffer - Richard Howell, NC State
Howell had 16 points and 18 rebounds, as NC State knocked off No. 1 Duke, 84-76. Over the last 15 seasons, he’s the fourth player with those numbers in a win over the AP No. 1, joining UNLV’s Mike Moser, Pitt’s DeJuan Blair and UNC’s Antawn Jamison. In the second half, Howell alone outrebounded the Blue Devils 14-13.

Freshman of the Weekend - Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Bennett scored 22 points and added a career-high 16 rebounds as UNLV held off Air Force, 76-71, in overtime. He’s just the fourth freshman to reach those totals in a game this season, joining Lipscomb’s Stephen Hurt, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and High Point’s John Brown. The Rebels improved to 19-1 all-time at home against Air Force.

Bench Player of the Weekend – Kenyon McNeail, Louisiana Tech
McNeail scored a career-high 34 points off the bench in Louisiana Tech’s 73-71 win at UTSA. That’s tied for the second-most points off the bench this season. No WAC player since at least 1996-97 has scored that many as a reserve. McNeail tied Johnny Miller’s 16-year-old school record with nine 3-pointers made.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend – Vanderbilt Commodores
Lowlighted by just 11 points in the first half, Vanderbilt scored just 33 points in a 23-point loss to Arkansas. It’s the second time this season that Vanderbilt has scored just 33, having also done so against Marist in November. Prior to that, Vanderbilt’s offense hadn’t produced 33 or fewer points in a game since 1982. The Commodores’ 26 turnovers were their most in almost 11 years.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

January, 11, 2013
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The start of Mountain West play on Wednesday night was indicative of the nonconference for this league. There was plenty to shout about if you were promoting the conference. The league had quality games, tremendous atmospheres and highlight plays worthy of national attention. On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. I picked San Diego State to win the conference in our revised predictions. But it’s hard to go against the Lobos after UNM beat UNLV on Wednesday night in a classic Pit game. The Lobos showed they had the necessary balance to beat the Rebels and defended well in key stops. The Lobos have to duplicate that energy on the road.

2. UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels can’t be penalized for losing at the Pit. This was a game within a few possessions down to the final seconds. UNLV showed if it can get the ball to Anthony Bennett this team can be special. Khem Birch and Anthony Marshall are solid complementary pieces. Mike Moser isn’t up to full speed yet.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs had to squeak by Fresno State. But it’s still a road conference win. Jamaal Franklin was sensational with 20 points, 18 boards and a freak dunk off the backboard. The concern right now is for Xavier Thames, who is out with a back injury. This will be a tough stretch for the Aztecs going against Colorado State and UNLV, even if both games are at home.

4. Boise State. The Broncos handed Wyoming its first loss of the season despite playing in Laramie without four players, including leading scorer Derrick Marks. The Broncos are a legit NCAA tournament at-large contender with a win at Creighton, a near-miss at Michigan State and now a win at top 25 Wyoming. Leon Rice is quietly doing an outstanding job in rebuilding this program.

5. Wyoming. The Cowboys did lose at home by two points to Boise State but the Pokes are playing without Luke Martinez. Wyoming was in position to win in the final minute. Road games at Nevada and Fresno State are up next.

6. Colorado State. It’s odd to put the Rams this low. CSU could legitimately finish in the league's top three. But the Rams haven’t played yet in the conference, so I’m waiting before passing full judgment. The Rams are a terrific rebounding team and could cause San Diego State some issues in their MWC opener Saturday.

7. Air Force. I’ve written for weeks how experienced the Falcons are and so it should come as no surprise that Air Force won its MWC opener against Nevada. The more surprising stat was the number of points. The Falcons scored 78 against Nevada and gave up only 65. No team in the MWC will get out of Clune Arena easily.

8. Fresno State. The Bulldogs are breathing new life into the Mountain West. Fresno State gave San Diego State fits and pushed the Aztecs to the final few possessions. Kevin Foster had one of his best games of the season with 18 points in the loss. If he can score at that level, Fresno State will nip a few teams at home.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack fell flat in the MWC opener. Nevada had better take care of Wyoming at home if it wants to be taken a bit more seriously in the league. There has been very little flow to Nevada. Every time you think the Pack have turned it, they fall a bit flat.

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