College Basketball Nation: UNLV Rebels

Weekend Homework: Is UNLV that bad?

December, 5, 2013

Or is UC Santa Barbara that good?

Because that is the best chance you have, if you're a UNLV fan, of explaining away the Rebels' ugly 3-3 start -- one made uglier by the fact that all six games were played in the Thomas & Mack Center. You can excuse the loss to Jahii Carson and Arizona State on a night, Nov. 19, when Carson scorched Vegas for 40 points. You might even be feeling generous, or at least benevolent, in your willingness to overlook a 61-59 loss to Illinois that was still a 50-50 proposition until the closing moments.

But most UNLV fans would find it much harder to see the UCSB game on their record -- an 86-65 Nov. 12 loss at home -- and find a convincing explanation for it. The Gauchos' three losses, to Utah State, Colorado and UCLA, are all eminently respectable. Bob Williams' team is not bad by any means.

UNLV may very well be.

At the very least, it is not a good offensive basketball team; that much is obvious to date. Whatever strength UNLV has derived from the interior defense of Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith -- the Rebels allow just 40.8 percent shooting from 2-point range, have held opponents one of the lowest effective field goal rates (42.2 percent in the country) and rarely commit fouls -- they have almost immediately squandered on offense. Even with blowouts of Portland State and Tennessee-Martin on their résumé, the Rebels' offense is averaging .99 points per possession thus far -- good for 265th nationally. They aren't really good at anything, save for getting up and down the floor and (occasionally) grabbing their own misses. They don't shoot it particularly well, they turn it over too often, and they don't get to the free throw line. That's three of four factors, in case you were counting, where the Rebels are significantly below average. What's the point in Runnin'?

All of which makes this weekend's trip to Arizona on Saturday afternoon (ESPN2, 5:15 p.m. ET) so potentially fascinating. Note the hedge: It is just as likely, if UNLV submits a characteristically ugly offensive performance, that the Wildcats will grind Dave Rice's team to dust in the first five minutes of the game. Sean Miller's team is too good and too balanced and far better than UNLV even defensively, to say nothing of the gulf between offenses.

But there are not very many teams capable, from a sheer size perspective, of matching up with Arizona's dominant Aaron Gordon-Kaleb Tarczewski-Brandon Ashley trio up front, of keeping the Wildcats from getting easy points in the paint. UNLV may be one of those teams. In fact, "potentially interesting" seems like a fine place to leave this little mini-preview. I'm not sure Vegas can keep it close in Tucson. But if Rice is hoping for a turning point, what better time than Saturday?

Nonconference schedule analysis: MWC

September, 11, 2013
This week, is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Mountain West.


Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 30)
Next toughest: Richmond (Nov. 27)
The rest: vs. Army (Nov. 8 in Lexington, Va.), vs. Citadel/WMI (Nov. 9 in Lexington, Va.), Jackson State (Nov. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 17), Colorado Christian (Nov. 20), South Dakota (Dec. 5), Western State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 14), at UC Davis (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- As in the Falcons get two points for playing Colorado and Richmond at home. Those are nice home games for Air Force. The rest of the slate is weak, but that's OK considering that coach Dave Pilipovich has a rebuilding team. So this schedule matches the current team.


Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 10)
Next toughest: Utah (Dec. 3), Saint Mary's (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UT-Arlington (Nov. 8), Simpson (Nov. 15), Seattle (Nov. 19), at New Orleans (Nov. 23), Portland State (Nov. 29), Carroll (Dec. 5)

Toughness scale: 5 -- Boise State has a one-way ticket to Kentucky, and that's enough to warrant a decent grade. The Broncos, likely picked second in the MWC, needed to test themselves. The home games against Saint Mary's and Utah will certainly push them as well. Boise State is the potential favorite in Hawaii but will have to get past the hometown Warriors, which is no easy task. Iowa State is a possible finalist on the other side of the bracket. But this tourney could be Boise's breakout heading into the MWC, short of upsetting Kentucky at Rupp.


Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 11)
Next toughest: at UTEP (Nov. 19), New Mexico State (Nov. 30), Colorado (Dec. 3)
The rest: UCCS (Nov. 8), Weber State (Nov. 16), Northern Colorado (Nov. 22), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 25), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 27), Southwestern Oklahoma State (Dec. 7), Denver (Dec. 11), UIC (Dec. 23), Lamar (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Rams will have quite a chore winning at Gonzaga and UTEP. These are two quality games for Larry Eustachy. Getting New Mexico State and Colorado at home is a huge plus for a team rebuilding after an NCAA tournament run last March. The rest of the slate is fine, considering the inexperience at a number of key positions.


Toughest: vs. Florida (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.)
Next toughest: at Pittsburgh (Nov. 12), at Utah (Dec. 7), at Cal (Dec. 14)
The rest: at UC Irvine (Nov. 8), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 16), Cal Poly (Nov. 20), San Diego Christian (Nov. 25), Drake (Nov. 29), CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 30), Northern Arizona (Dec. 1), UC Merced (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode, but Rodney Terry put together a rough schedule to get to MWC play. Florida is an elite team. Going on the road to Pitt, Utah and Cal would be tough for most clubs, regardless of what rebuilding stage they were in. The pressure will be on the Bulldogs to clean up the rest at home to ensure there is some momentum going into the conference.


Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 28-29)
Next toughest: at Cal (Dec. 10), Iona (Dec. 22)
The rest: Montana Tech (Nov. 4), Pacific (Nov. 8), at Cal Poly (Nov. 12), at San Francisco (Nov. 15), at CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 18), Chattanooga (Nov. 22), Morehead State (Nov. 24), at UC Davis (Dec. 7), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 14), Long Beach State (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Wolf Pack were stuck at the bottom of the MWC last season, so this is a critical year for David Carter. Nevada has three high-level games, all away from Reno, with two of them in Vegas against Missouri and UCLA. No one would expect the Pack to win any of them, but Carter will test his team with those three. There are plenty of other potential hiccups -- even at home with games like Pacific, Iona and Long Beach State.


Toughest: vs. Kansas (Dec. 14 in Kansas City), vs. Marquette (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next toughest: Cincinnati (Dec. 7), Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at New Mexico State (Dec. 4), New Mexico State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 9), Charleston Southern (Nov. 17), San Diego (Nov. 30), Grand Canyon (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Lobos did an exceptional job of getting quality games away from home like Kansas, Marquette, Cincinnati and the rivalry home-and-home games with the Aggies. If the Mountain West favorites play up to expectations, the Lobos will be well-prepared for the MWC and for an NCAA tourney run. The Charleston Classic also offers a possible power-rating game with UMass in the semifinals, assuming they meet.


Toughest: Arizona (Nov. 14), at Kansas (Jan. 5)
Next toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.), Washington (Dec. 8)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 8), San Diego Christian (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Dec. 18), McNeese State (Dec. 21), St. Katherine College (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale: 8 -- This is a quality schedule for Steve Fisher's club. Going to Kansas is as tough a game as any team can get on the schedule. Arizona has become a rivalry game for the Aztecs, and the Wildcats will be one of the best teams in the country. The Wooden Legacy provides elite competition, too, with either Creighton or Arizona State -- two high-level teams -- on the second day. Washington has upper-level Pac-12 talent as well.


Toughest: at Santa Clara (Nov. 12)
Next toughest: at Houston (Dec. 7)
The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 15 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Northern Illinois (Nov. 16), James Madison (Nov. 17 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Pepperdine (Nov. 20), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 23), at Portland (Nov. 27), at Weber State (Nov. 30), UC Davis (Dec. 18), Westminster (Dec. 21), Pacifica (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 2 -- Going to Santa Clara, an upstart in the WCC, and Houston out of the American will be tall tasks for the Spartans. The first-time MWC member clearly tried to tone down the slate a bit in advance of conference play. But the chances of San Jose State getting high-profile home games is highly unlikely.


Toughest: at Arizona (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 19), Illinois (Nov. 26)
The rest: Portland State (Nov. 8), UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 15), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 30), at Southern Utah (Dec. 14), Radford (Dec. 18), Sacred Heart (Dec. 20), vs. Santa Clara (Dec. 22 at Orleans Arena), vs. Mississippi State/South Florida (Dec. 23 at Orleans Arena)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Runnin' Rebels probably made up this schedule before all of the attrition on the roster. Still, UNLV has a multitude of quality games, with only the Arizona game being away from home. If UNLV wants to make a run in the MWC, it needs to take care of business at home with a schedule that is overwhelmingly prejudiced toward the Thomas & Mack Center.


Toughest: BYU (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City)
Next toughest: USC (Nov. 8), Mississippi State (Nov. 23)
The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 12), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 16), at Weber State (Nov. 26), Pacific (Dec. 7), Utah Valley (Dec. 14), Western Illinois (Dec. 19), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 20), Troy (Dec. 21), San Diego Christian (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Aggies get loads of credit for making more of an effort to upgrade the schedule in their first year in the league. Coach Stew Morrill is usually not willing to go places, but he does have the rivalry game against BYU as well as USC at home. Mississippi State is the return of a home-and-home series.


Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 13), at Ohio State (Nov. 25)
Next toughest: at Denver (Dec. 15), SMU (Dec. 20)
The rest: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8), Western State (Nov. 10), Arkansas State (Nov. 16), Jackson State (Nov. 18), South Dakota (Nov. 22), Montana State (Nov. 30), Black Hills State (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Cowboys are going on the road to Ohio State, something that is not the norm for Larry Shyatt, who has always worked the schedule to his advantage and not played a high number of upper-level games. The rivalry game with Colorado is always a difficult one. Going to Denver may be close, but the Pioneers have become one of the better squads out West. SMU returns on the back end of a home-and-home series, but this time the Mustangs are much more formidable.

Cal zone thwarts Bennett, UNLV

March, 21, 2013

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Sun Tzu, surely laboring over his NCAA tournament bracket, once observed that "He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious."

Mike Montgomery has been coaching basketball in some form or fashion since 1974. He's seen a lot of things. And he knows sometimes you have to surrender to win.

He did that against UNLV in the second round of the East Regional at HP Pavilion.

Montgomery is mostly a man-to-man coach. But he's run more zone this season, particularly late in the season. Further, he saw what Running Rebels meaty super-frosh Anthony Bennett did to his Bears' man defense in December. Bennett trashed it, scoring 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting and grabbing 13 rebounds. All of that counted in a last-second, one-point loss in Berkeley.

So in the rematch, Montgomery ran a zone. It worked. The Bears held Bennett to 4-of-11 shooting, and UNLV as a whole to 32.2 percent from the field in a 64-61 victory that was that close only because Cal was awful from the free throw line down the stretch.

"I think the zone bothered them," Montgomery said.

It did, though things got tense at the end.

Cal held a seemingly safe 60-53 lead with 47 seconds left, but it then decided to make just four of its next 10 free throws, including missing the front end of two 1-and-1s. That was not good. It gave UNLV an opening that it almost slipped through.

[+] EnlargeCal v UNLV
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsAllen Crabbe, with 19 points and nine rebounds, put an exclamation point on Cal's upset of UNLV.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, while not exempt from the late-game bumbles, nonetheless led the way, scoring a game-high 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also added four assists and two steals for the 12th-seeded Bears (21-11). In his battle of team stars with Bennett, who scored a quiet 15 points with 11 boards, Crabbe was victorious in round two.

Cal started both halves fast, jumping to a 7-0 lead to start the game and opening up with a 9-3 run in the second half. Neither team built a double-digit advantage, but Cal was up by nine with 6:57 remaining.

Justin Cobbs, Robin to Crabbe's Batman, played one of his worst games of the season in the first matchup with UNLV. He scored 13 points and dished six assists this go-around, but his hitting 3-of-3 from 3-point range was crucial for the Bears' offense. Another offensive key: Forward Robert Thurman. The senior averaged just 4.5 points per game this year, but scored 12 in 19 minutes against the fifth-seeded Rebels (25-10). All six field goals were dunks.

UNLV hit just 1-of-9 3-pointers in the second half after a fast start from long range. Montgomery pointed out that he would have abandoned the zone if the Rebels had stayed hot from behind the arc.

UNLV becomes just the third team to lose four consecutive games in the round of 64 as the better seed, joining Clemson (four games from 1998 to 2010) and BYU (four from 1995 to 2009). The Mountain West is now 5-29 in the NCAA tournament against the Power 6 conferences.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12 improves to 3-0 in this year's tourney, with Colorado and UCLA yet to play. Perhaps the much-maligned conference deserved less maligning?

"It shows you that our conference is tough, top to bottom," Cobbs said. "Maybe the bad press we were getting before wasn't true."

Said Montgomery, "It's the only thing you can do to prove you're a good conference."

That would be winning. While the Bears' effort wasn't always pretty, the end result is a tournament victory, which always is. That probably makes any residual pain from a last-second home loss to UNLV in December disappear.
A handful of observations from IU-Michigan and the rest of Saturday night's college hoops action:

Indiana and Michigan just played the best game of the year.

No, it didn't end with a buzzer-beater finish. But that was the only thing it lacked. In every other possible way, this game was big-time college hoops at its finest, two top-five teams with a handful of pros between them duking it out in front of a completely insane crowd, countering excellent defense with even better offense, fighting for every possession, dunking the ball in high-style frequently, with not only an eventual Big Ten title but crucial NCAA tournament positioning on the line.

It was, to sum it as succinctly as possible, awesome. It was college basketball at its best.

[+] EnlargeCody Zeller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCody Zeller's 19-point, 8-for-10 performance against Michigan featured many shots like this one.
The Hoosiers won, as they have so often since their resurrection last season under coach Tom Crean, with superbly efficient offense. IU finished with 81 points on 50 shots; it shot 52 percent from the field, 38.9 percent from 3 and -- perhaps most impressively -- 22 of 25 from the free throw line. Those free throws were especially handy as IU closed out the game late, because Michigan never went away. Indiana started out as hot as possible in the first half, but Trey Burke kept the Wolverines in the game, and his 25-foot-plus first-half buzzer-beating 3 closed what had been a 15-point lead to just 36-32 at the half. The Wolverines got more balanced scoring from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas in the second half, and they hung tough throughout, but the relentless onslaught of the Hoosiers -- particularly Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller (who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds on 8-for-10 from the field), who crashed the glass for a seemingly endless barrage of tip dunks and putbacks -- paired with the reliable free throw shooting to hold on to the lead and the 81-73 victory down the stretch.

The loss may be considered something of a blown opportunity for Michigan -- Hardaway and Stauskas shot the ball poorly, and for everything good Burke did, he still finished nine of 24 and four of 12 from 3. Michigan entered Saturday with the most efficient offense in the country, but at Assembly Hall it took 70 shots to score 73 points, including an uncharacteristic seven of 23 from long range. The Wolverines also committed an unusual number of fouls, which allowed all those IU free throws. Michigan averages just 11 fouls per game, and its opponents typically shoot the lowest ratio of free throws to field goals in the country (20.1 percent). The Hoosiers' mark was more than 45 percent Saturday night, and it is hard to beat IU when it goes to the line that often.

Despite all that, and despite the Hoosiers' impressive interior work, UM was still very much in the game down the stretch. If you're John Beilein, you don't go away from that rowdy Assembly Hall environment feeling bad about your team's effort, or even its performance. You make a few more shots -- including open looks throughout the first half -- and you might just walk away with a win.

Whatever the result ended up being, this was an incredible game. It was one great play after another. It was a freaky crowd jacked on adrenaline and who knows what else. It was Oladipo flying down the lane; it was Zeller crashing the glass. It was Burke finding answers where none seemed to exist; it was Michigan scrapping for every bucket in the second half. The Wolverines tied it at 40 at the 17:32 mark in the second half. At that point, anything could have happened. All I knew was that it was going to be great.

It didn't disappoint. Not one bit.

You want to know the best part? These two teams run it back in Ann Arbor on March 10 -- in the final Big Ten game of the season. The only downside is that March 10 isn't tomorrow.

Other thoughts on tonight's games:

  • Florida keeps rolling. If you were expecting the Florida Gators to cool off, or suffer a defensive lapse, or fall victim to a ranked SEC opponent at home, think again. Not these Gators. Not right now. While most of the nation awaited Michigan-Indiana -- and rightfully so, because how great was that -- UF continued to build its case as the best team in the country right now. There is no one true star for Florida. Instead, the Gators get you with balance -- they had four starters in double figures Saturday -- which allows them to space the floor, run Billy Donovan's ball-screen offense to near perfection, and get good shots everywhere. What makes this team different is that the Gators are just as good, if not better, on the defensive end -- their Achilles' heel in recent seasons. Indiana and Michigan got the bright lights Saturday night, but Florida is just as good as either.
  • Kentucky may finally be rounding into shape. Look, the Wildcats still aren't pretty, and they are hardly dominating some of the SEC's more mediocre competition. But they are holding on to big wins on the road, and that's a serious improvement from where they were even a month ago. On Saturday, it was a 72-68 overtime victory at Texas A&M -- a team that beat the Wildcats in their own place just a few weeks ago -- but earlier this week it was an even more impressive victory at Ole Miss. There are still plenty of things the Wildcats can clean up, but it'd be foolish to overlook their improvement. Oh, and while we're on the topic, it'd be equally foolish to ignore how well Nerlens Noel is playing. Noel, who had 12 blocks at Ole Miss, notched 19 points and 14 rebounds, along with 4 assists, 2 blocks, a steal and a handful of other deflections and challenged shots. Noel faced brutal expectations at the beginning of the season, and he'll never be Anthony Davis. But being Noel is pretty darn good, too.
  • Iowa State is quietly putting together a decent NCAA tournament résumé. Beating Baylor at home is, in and of itself, not all that big of a deal. But in the context of Iowa State's season, it is. On Jan. 23, the Cyclones suffered a baffling loss at Texas Tech, but since then they've beaten Kansas State at home, played Oklahoma State to within two points on the road, and handled Baylor on Saturday, 79-71. This is still a team on the bubble, but it's one that is slowly but surely putting together some of the wins it needed in Big 12 play.
  • Temple, on the other hand, may be sliding. I'm not sure if there's a more confounding team in the country than the Temple Owls. In mid-December, the Owls lost at home to Canisius, and followed that up with a neutral-court win over Syracuse. Then they challenged -- really challenged -- Kansas on its own floor. Since then, they've played well in spurts and poorly in spurts, and they've won games we thought they should lose (home over Saint Louis) and lost games we thought they should win (home vs. St. Bonaventure). In and of itself, Saturday's 70-69 loss at Saint Joseph's is hardly terrible; the Hawks were the preseason Atlantic 10 favorite, after all. But they've been just as inconsistent, and Temple has shown few signs of putting all of that Syracuse/Kansas stuff together into a consistent, nightly package. Can it still? I'm starting to have serious doubts.
  • The Mountain West remains wild. How good is the Mountain West? Consider this: Air Force, probably the league's sixth-best team, upset San Diego State 70-67 at home Saturday to move to -- wait for it -- 5-2 in conference play, tied for second with Colorado State. Meanwhile, Boise State took down UNLV, 77-72. Despite its success in conference play (which includes an OT loss at UNLV, mind you), it would be difficult to make a case for Air Force as an NCAA tournament bubble team at the moment. Boise, on the other hand, is very much in the at-large picture, what with tonight's victory and that huge nonconference win at Creighton, which will keep paying dividends as the bubble conversation intensifies in the coming weeks. If BSU keeps knocking the league's best teams off, the Mountain West could end up with five or as many as six NCAA tournament bids -- not too shabby for a league with just nine teams.
  • One final note on the Hoosiers: Oladipo and Zeller each had their impressive athletic plays, but the best of the night were two that won't show up on the box score. The first was a lob thrown way behind Oladipo, to the point that his even catching the ball was physically miraculous. But Oladipo did catch it with one hand, grasping it way behind his head as he soared through the air toward the bucket. He cocked it back, and the ball careened off the rim -- it was an impossible play. Had that play gone in, Assembly Hall would have collapsed. A horrifying spectacle would have ensued. It was like that. The second came at the end of the game, when both teams were walking off. Instead of dribbling the clock out, Oladipo called for the pass, sprinted downcourt and unloaded a windmill walk-off dunk worthy of any dunk contest. It was probably not the best sportsmanship, and Crean gave Oladipo a serious stare before his postgame handshake with Beilein -- Victor will be running sprints for that, rest assured. But it was also kind of awesome. Just like the rest of that game.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

February, 1, 2013
The Mountain West Conference had the appearance of a six-bid league a month ago.

But the league has eaten its own. That was bound to happen. Separation has occurred and the numbers are more likely going to be a repeat of last year's four -- which is still quite a feat for a nine-team league.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. Sorry for those MWC fans hoping I would dump the Lobos out of the top spot after a loss at San Diego State -- New Mexico then went to Wyoming and won a tough turnaround game. UNM should stay in the spot with a visit from Nevada up next.

2. Colorado State. The Rams have shot up my power rankings after their 20-point blowout of Boise State. CSU lost to New Mexico at the Pit, but really made a strong comeback. The only other league loss was at San Diego State in overtime. The Rams take on Wyoming next.

3. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels are still figuring out how best to play. They have a tough chore ahead, going to Boise State, then a game they should win but won't walk through at Fresno State.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs hammered New Mexico at home in a must-win game to stay in the chase. Now the task for San Diego State is to get past a tough Air Force team that is more than capable of knocking off anyone at home.

5. Air Force. Yes, the Falcons are now at No. 5 after winning four in a row and handling Wyoming in Laramie. Air Force can disrupt the league race with games upcoming against San Diego State and at New Mexico. I have said for weeks that the Falcons' experience will pay off later in the MWC season. This is a postseason team in some form.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys are on a skid right now, having lost four of five. The defense hasn't been as much of an issue as struggling to score has been. A visit to Colorado State on Saturday won't make stopping this slide any easier.

7. Boise State. The Broncos still own one of the top nonconference road victories, at Creighton, but it's losing that importance during the MWC season. Boise State got pummeled by Colorado State and has lost four of five. UNLV at home and San Diego State on the road are up next for the Broncos, meaning this season could go in either direction.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack aren't going to make the turn into an NCAA tournament team. They are now solely in the spoiler role going forward.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have dropped four consecutive games but can be disruptive, especially at home. No one should sleep on this squad just yet.

UNLV snaps curse of Viejas Arena

January, 17, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- Welcome back to the Mountain West, San Diego State.

Wednesday night at Viejas Arena, the UNLV Rebels gave the once-outgoing Aztecs a reminder of what they would have been missing had they actually followed through with the football team’s exodus to the Big East and the rest of the school's sports going to the Big West. But earlier in the day it was announced that the Mountain West reinstated SDSU -- ensuring that fantastic rivalries such as SDSU and UNLV basketball would thrive in the future.

And Wednesday night’s showdown lived up to the recent history of up-tempo, aggressive and physical basketball between the two teams. Paced by a 20-point night from point guard Anthony Marshall, the Rebels snapped a four-game losing skid at Viejas Arena, topping the No. 15 Aztecs 82-75.

Seeing as the previous three meetings between the schools had been decided by two points, this one had to feel like a thrashing, right?

“Nah,” Marshall said with a smile. “It’s still too close for comfort, especially against that team. You never know what’s going to happen in a game like this.”

The teams traded the lead nine times before the Rebels were finally able to pull away in the closing minutes -- an ability that had eluded them previously. In the past few weeks they had dropped close games on the road to North Carolina (79-73) and New Mexico (65-60). So gutting out a victory as visitors against a ranked team was a step in the right direction for the Rebels (15-3, 2-1 MWC).

[+] EnlargeAnthony Marshall
Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesAnthony Marshall scored 20 points and added 8 rebounds and 5 assists in UNLV's victory.
“It takes a tough team to beat a tough team,” Marshall said. “When we went up 10 [in the first half], we knew they were going to make a run. We just wanted to sustain. We got rebounds and made free throws.”

This season has been one of adjustment for Marshall, a senior. After making his living as a shooting guard, he moved over to the point and is still learning the ropes of running the team. In the previous game, an overtime win against Air Force, he took just one shot but had 12 assists. Wednesday night, he was 8-of-13 shooting from the field, he snagged eight rebounds and his dribble-drive off the high ball screen kept the Aztecs' defense off balance all night.

“I’m making strides and adjusting every game because not every game is going to be the same,” he said. “This time I was trying to be more aggressive. I have to get guys involved, run the offense. When we do that we I feel we’re competitive with anyone.”

Wins don’t come easy at Viejas, either. The loss snaps a 10-game home winning streak for the Aztecs (14-3, 2-1), who are 58-5 at home over their past 63.

“At the end of the day, it was about being tough enough to make plays,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “This was a great toughness win for us. … I’m just so happy for our seniors because we don’t have a player on our roster that had ever won at Viejas Arena. After the game we dedicated it to our seniors, because certainly San Diego State has a couple of wins at Thomas & Mack.”

SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin turned in another solid performance, leading all players with 27 points on 9-of-21 shooting. He also had seven rebounds.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has helped build the Aztecs -- and really the conference -- into a major player on the national stage. The fact that they’ll be back next season -- more than likely going toe-to-toe with UNLV -- is reassuring.

“It’s nice to know for all of us that now it appears that we’ve got some stability of where we will be next year,” Fisher said. “I’m the only guy that’s been here since the beginning of the Mountain West. Coaches have come and gone. I’m the lone dog that has been here for 14 years as a coach. I value the quality of the league. It’s getting great recognition. Now we know this is where we’re going to be and we’ll make it work. This is a great league and we’re proud to be a part of it. We know we are going to continue to be part of it. This is a really good basketball league now. This league could go to any league in America and be competitive.”

Rapid reaction: UNLV 82, SDSU 75

January, 17, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- Here’s a quick snapshot of how things went down at Viejas Arena, where UNLV upset No. 15 San Diego State on Wednesday night, 82-75.

Overview: The two up-tempo teams were looking to force the issue all night, combining for 25 points off the fast break. The Rebels were able to push a six-point halftime lead to double digits early in the second half. But a 12-0 run by SDSU eventually gave the Aztecs the lead midway through the second half, setting up a neck-and-neck finish over the final seven minutes. Eventually UNLV was able to pull away at the end, snapping a four-game losing streak at Viejas Arena.

Turning point: Holding a 76-73 lead with 1:20 to play, UNLV's Justin Hawkins scooped up a missed 3 from Bryce Dejean-Jones and put in the layup to give the Rebels a five-point edge. From there it was a matter of burning the clock.

Key player: UNLV shooting guard-turned-point guard Anthony Marshall posted a team-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds and five assists.

Key stat: Both teams were doing work on the inside. They combined for 88 points in the paint -- 48 from UNLV and 40 from SDSU.

Worth noting: Each of the previous three meetings between SDSU and UNLV had been decided by just two points. By recent historical standards, this was a blowout.

Next game: Both teams are on the road. San Diego State travels to Wyoming, and UNLV heads to Colorado State.
More observations from Saturday’s evening slate:

  1. Welcome to the SEC title conversation, Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy’s program was an enigma as SEC play began. The Rebels’ numbers have been impressive (83.7 points per game, top 40 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings) all season. But their nonconference strength of schedule was so mediocre (242nd, per’s RPI) that it was difficult to know if those stats were valid indicators of their potential. Losses to Middle Tennessee State and Indiana State only complicated the assessment process. But Saturday’s 64-49 home victory over No. 10 Missouri was a statement victory for the program. The Rebels are legit. Yes, Laurence Bowers’ absence (knee injury) affected the Tigers, but they lost because Ole Miss’ defense pressured them into costly mistakes (19 turnovers, 2-for-18 from beyond the arc and a season-low 49 points). And they couldn’t stop Murphy Holloway (22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals and a block). Ole Miss is officially an SEC contender.
  2. Colorado State overcomes 18-point halftime deficit in overtime thriller: I know No. 16 San Diego State’s 79-72 overtime victory over Colorado State says a lot about its standing in the Mountain West. It’s tough to argue that the Aztecs aren’t the best team in this deep league. They have one of the best defenses in the country (22nd in Pomeroy’s ratings). Plus, Jamaal Franklin leads SDSU’s talented and versatile offense. But I loved this game because of the heart that the Rams showcased. Colorado State was down 41-23 at halftime in this matchup. Colton Iverson (18 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks), however, helped his team close the gap in the second half. He sent this one into overtime with a putback in the final seconds. CSU’s surge was more evidence of the depth in the MWC. And I actually thought this was the game of the day. So much action. Such an amazing comeback.
  3. [+] EnlargeChase Tapley
    Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsChase Tapley scored 12 of his 19 in overtime as San Diego State beat back Colorado State's charge.
  4. Arizona bounces back: I’m not saying this would have changed the outcome, but I’m disappointed that Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (10.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 2.7 bpg) did not participate due to a suspension. But I still give the No. 4 Wildcats credit for their 80-70 win in Corvallis, two days after they’d suffered their first loss of the year at Oregon on Thursday. Arizona was not flawless (16 turnovers), but it was too good (47.5 percent from the field) for Craig Robinson’s program, an average Pac-12 team at best. Mark Lyons (16 points) helped the Wildcats put together a performance that should help them put the Oregon loss behind them. Next up: Arizona State and then UCLA, two of the Pac-12's top teams.
  5. Temple wins, but Atlantic 10 still confusing: Before suffering a 64-54 loss at Temple, Saint Louis had won nine consecutive games. The Billikens were rolling entering the matchup, but Temple was aggressive in this crucial victory. Khalif Wyatt (24 points) led an Owls squad that shot 47.9 percent from the floor. Temple, however, lost to Xavier in its A-10 opener. And Saint Louis defeated UMass. So there’s still some confusion about the hierarchy in the Atlantic 10. I think Virginia Commonwealth and Butler are the two best teams in the conference, but what’s the order from there? I believe there are multiple teams in the league that could compete for the league title (VCU, Butler, Temple, Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s). At this point, though, the sample size is too small to establish a true pecking order. The Owls certainly proved that they’re one of the best teams in the league with the win over the Billikens.
Other notes:

  • Leonard Washington (16 points, 13 rebounds) helped Wyoming rebound from its first loss of the season with a 59-48 victory at Nevada. The Cowboys were coming off a 63-61 loss to Boise State by way of a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Wednesday.
  • I feel for Buffalo. The Bulls were down 54-33 to Miami (Ohio) before they launched a 24-2 run to take a 57-56 lead, but Allen Roberts’ free throws in the final seconds gave the Redhawks the 58-57 win. Heartbreaking for Buffalo.
  • Need more proof that the Mountain West is legit? Air Force nearly upset No. 24 UNLV in a 76-71 overtime loss in Las Vegas. This league is potent top to bottom.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

January, 11, 2013
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.

50 in 50 series: No. 14 UNLV

August, 23, 2012
Editor's note: Using a point system devised by the ESPN Stats & Information department, is counting down the 50 most successful programs of the past 50 years. A running list of the top 50 can be found here. For an explanation of the scoring system, read our intro.

14. UNLV (339 points)

Positives: Won 1990 NCAA title; made three other Final Fours (all four under Jerry Tarkanian); won 10 straight regular-season conference titles and seven league tournament titles from 1983-92; the Rebels earned more points than any school during that 10-year span; six consensus All-Americans; seven top-10 picks.

Negatives: Lost 24 points due to sanctions; no regular-season conference titles since 2000; has advanced to Sweet 16 just once since 1991; four different five-year spans of missing NCAA tournament.

Fun fact: Only North Carolina and Indiana had more points than UNLV in the Jerry Tarkanian era (1973-92).

Rank by the decade
1962-69: 0 (T-103rd)*
1970-79: 65 (T-16th)
1980-89: 138 (5th)
1990-99: 96 (14th)
2000-present: 40 (68th)
*Started D-I play in 1970


Which is UNLV's best team of the past 50 years?


Discuss (Total votes: 9,806)

50 in 50 starting five (1962-present)
G – Greg Anthony (1988-91)
G/F – Stacey Augmon (1987-91)
F – Larry Johnson (1989-91)
F – Eddie Owens (1973-77)
F/C – Sidney Green (1979-83)

Top options off the bench
J.R. Rider (1991-93)
Armon Gilliam (1983-87)
Reggie Theus (1975-78)

50 in 50 coach: Jerry Tarkanian (1973-92)

Best teams (1962-present)
1986-87 (37-2, NCAA national semifinals)
1989-90 (35-5, NCAA national champions)
1990-91 (34-1, NCAA national semifinals)

--Harold Shelton and Brett Edgerton contributed to this post.

Michigan State, Missouri pick up big wins

February, 11, 2012
Saturday’s action in college basketball featured four games between teams in the top 20 of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, all four from different conferences.

It’s that time of the year when résumés need to be padded, so who did themselves favors Saturday?

(12) Michigan State 58, (3) Ohio State 48
Michigan State took advantage of a sloppy day by Ohio State to snap the Buckeyes’ 39-game home win streak, which was the second-longest such streak in the country behind Kentucky.

Ohio State finished the game with 15 turnovers and 14 made field goals, shooting 26 percent from the field.

One of the key contributors to the turnovers was Jared Sullinger, who had 10, tied for the most by an Ohio State player over the past 15 seasons.

Sullinger also recorded 17 points and 16 rebounds, making him the first player with the dubious points, rebounds and turnovers triple-double in Division I this season.

(4) Missouri 72, (6) Baylor 57
Missouri improves to 3-0 this season against AP top-10 teams, with two wins coming against Baylor and another against Kansas. That’s more wins against top-10 teams than the Tigers had in their previous seven seasons combined.

Before this week, the last time Missouri defeated two top-10 teams in a week was in January 1998. The last time the Tigers beat three top-10 teams in the same season was 1989-90.

Meanwhile, Baylor drops to 0-4 this season against Big 12 foes Kansas and Missouri, allowing 80.3 points per game. Against all other teams, the Bears are 21-0 and allow 60.5 points a game.

(16) UNLV 65, (14) San Diego State 63
In a matchup of ranked teams from the Mountain West Conference, UNLV comes away with a win to improve to 14-0 at home this season. That’s UNLV’s best home start since also starting 14-0 in 1991-92.

That 1991-92 team finished 26-2 but was banned from postseason play.

San Diego State’s six-game win streak against the Rebels comes to an end. It’s also the Aztecs’ first loss in their past 48 games when allowing 70 points or fewer.

(5) North Carolina 70, (20) Virginia 52
North Carolina rebounded from Wednesday’s dramatic loss to Duke despite shooting just 35.3 percent from the field.

How did the Tar Heels overcome that number? In large part, it was thanks to hitting the offensive glass, as the Tar Heels grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and scored 23 second-chance points.

Doing it against Virginia is especially impressive, as the Cavaliers entered the game allowing the fewest offensive rebounds (7.6) and second-chance points (6.6) per game of any ACC team this season.

It was the 664th career win as head coach for Roy Williams, tying John Wooden for 23rd all-time among men’s Division I coaches. Next up on the list is Gary Williams with 668.

3-point shot: Turgeon high on Maryland

January, 26, 2012
1. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday that coming to Maryland was the best decision of his life. He said his family absolutely loves living in the D.C. area. He also is confident that he can get the Terps turned around. So, too, is Gary Williams. Williams had nothing but praise for Turgeon. Meanwhile, assistant coach Dalonte Hill will come off his two-game DUI suspension for the Terps' game against Virginia Tech on Saturday. Additional in-house penalties were assessed against Hill.

2. Watching Boise State-UNLV on Wednesday night reminded me of what the Broncos will be missing by leaving the Mountain West after just two seasons. It was a football decision to go to the Big East and send the other sports back to the WAC in 2013, but Boise will lose some of the atmosphere it is starting to get in hoops. Playing ranked conference foes such as the Runnin' Rebels will most likely not happen all that much anymore. Boise State has a strong, passionate fan base but it won’t be fully tapped without the occasional ranked team coming to Boise.

3. Check out the A-10 standings Thursday morning and try to figure out who is going to the tournament. There is a five-team tie for first and Temple and Xavier aren’t among the five. Saint Louis, UMass, La Salle, Dayton and St. Bonaventure are all at 4-2 in the conference. Temple is 3-2 and Xavier 4-3. The league is as competitively balanced as it’s been, but will that translate into multiple bids — as in three or four? Tough call if the teams continue to knock each other out.

Video: Andy Katz's Weekend Watch

January, 20, 2012

Andy Katz previews New Mexico-UNLV, Florida State-Duke, UConn-Tennessee and Michigan-Arkansas.

What we learned from Saturday's games

January, 14, 2012
It didn't look like a great slate of games coming in, but Saturday turned out to be full of upsets and last-second thrillers. Here are some things we learned from all the action ...

The Top Three

Florida State 90, No. 3 North Carolina 57
What we learned: Wow. A true beatdown. Perhaps we don’t have an elite team in college basketball this season. North Carolina has as much potential as any team in the country to warrant that title, but Saturday’s meltdown -- the most lopsided of the Roy Williams era -- contradicted much of what we thought we knew about the Tar Heels. The Seminoles are always feisty against Carolina and Duke and tend to be giant-killers, but this was just silly. The Noles were 12-for-27 from the 3-point line in this victory. Deividas Dulkys was 8-for-10 from beyond the arc and scored a career-high 32 points. He had scored a combined 32 points in his previous nine games. The Tar Heels lost their fire once the barrage began. The Seminoles saw a vulnerable team and pounced. For the third time this season, the Heels lost a game outside of Chapel Hill. But in this loss, they were bullied and lethargic. How will UNC recover, and what on earth is the ACC about right now?

No. 2 Kentucky 65, Tennessee 62
What we learned: Cuonzo Martin’s Volunteers haven’t looked like an 8-9 squad over the past week. In their past three games, they’ve defeated Florida, nearly knocked off Mississippi State on the road and battled Kentucky for all 40 minutes. Freshman Jarnell Stokes, the highly touted prep player who joined the team Monday, recorded nine points and grabbed four rebounds in his debut. Once Stokes gets into shape, he’s going to have a major effect on a Tennessee squad that led Kentucky by eight in the second half and stuck with the Wildcats until the end. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (18 points, 4 blocks) are two of America’s best, but their squad is going to get caught in league play soon if it continues to show up only after halftime.

No. 1 Syracuse 78, Providence 55
What we learned: This game was over when Ed Cooley announced stud point guard Vincent Council would not play. The Friars’ leading scorer might not have affected the final outcome, but he could have helped his squad’s deplorable offense (3-for-14 from beyond the arc, 22 turnovers) against Cuse's press. Council was a beast in PC's 31-point destruction of Louisville earlier this week. But Syracuse proved, again, that it’s the undisputed No. 1 team in the country. SU has separated itself from one of the most competitive leagues in the country. The Orange’s 19-0 start matches the best in school history. With North Carolina losing to Florida State and Kentucky struggling against Tennessee, it’s about time that Syracuse gets more credit for its strong start. Best team. In the country. No debate.

The Midwest Upsets

Northwestern 81, No. 7 Michigan State 74
What we learned: Oh, Big Ten. How you always find a way to amaze us. Within the past week, the league’s top three teams all have fallen in upsets. At home in Evanston, the Wildcats (losers of four of their previous five entering the game) snapped Michigan State’s 15-game winning streak as John Shurna led four double-figure scorers with 22 points. This game meant a few things: (1) There’s far less separation between the top and bottom of the Big Ten than there appeared to be two weeks ago. (2) Much like Michigan and Wisconsin, the Spartans are looking for a consistent No. 3. Draymond Green and Keith Appling were the team’s only two scorers in double figures. (3) Northwestern needs to prove it can put together a string of games that resemble Saturday’s outing. The Wildcats have pieces, but they tend to showcase their potential in spurts. Wonder whether this season will be different.

Iowa 75, No. 13 Michigan 59
What we learned: I can’t figure out Iowa or the Big Ten right now. The Hawkeyes knocked off their second nationally ranked opponent in two weeks. And in a Big Ten that’s as hard to peg as any league in the country right now, the Hawkeyes look like a factor. I didn’t say contender. But the Hawkeyes prove the Big Ten doesn’t offer any easy victories. No pushovers in this conference (see Minnesota-Indiana, Northwestern-Michigan for further proof). For Michigan, this game just confirmed how much the Wolverines rely on Tim Hardaway Jr. He is 17-for-55 in the team’s four losses. The only way the Wolverines -- now 1-3 on the road -- will make a push toward the top of the Big Ten standings is if Hardaway is more consistent.

Oklahoma 82, No. 18 Kansas State 73
What we learned: Frank Martin was enraged after his team lost to an undefeated Baylor squad Tuesday at home. He preached defense in his postgame interviews. That was a major challenge for the Wildcats on Saturday, too. The Big 12’s eighth-ranked scoring defense allowed a Sooners team that lost its first three Big 12 games to shoot 55 percent from the field. K-State's performances against Mizzou and Baylor suggested the Wildcats deserve a spot among the Big 12’s elite. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, with the Wildcats having dropped three of their past four games. Their conference slate gets easier from here over the next few weeks, but the Cats will find themselves in vulnerable spots, especially on the road, if their defensive woes continue. That's now 3-8 in its past 11 Big 12 road games for KSU. After a strong debut, Lon Kruger’s squad fell hard (the Sooners had lost four of five entering Saturday’s game). But the Kansas State victory should be a major confidence booster for OU. The Sooners snapped a 14-game losing skid against ranked opponents.

The Mountain West Thriller

No. 22 San Diego State 69, No. 12 UNLV 67
What we learned: The Mountain West is going to make noise in March. The league’s top two squads, both nationally ranked, battled for 40 minutes in San Diego. This wasn’t a basketball game. It was a title fight. I wasn’t there, but it felt like a tournament game from my couch. This game had some of the best back-and-forth action I’ve seen all season. Neither team could pull away. Jamaal Franklin (team-high 24 points) tumbled over a photographer in the final seconds and hurt his ankle. But he returned to the floor moments later and scored the game-winning bucket. Steve Fisher continues to exceed expectations after losing Kawhi Leonard to the NBA draft and three other starters. The Rebels won’t beat the top squads in their league or the NCAA tournament if their two leading scorers, Chace Stanback (7 points, 3-of-9 shooting) and Mike Moser (9 points, 3-of-11), struggle in big games. But San Diego State is headed to Las Vegas on Feb. 11 for the rematch. Can’t wait to see that. This matchup wasn’t just a boost for the two teams on floor; it was a boost for the entire league. The Mountain West is tough. And don't forget about New Mexico, which won its 13th straight with a victory at Wyoming. The Aztecs and Lobos go at it Wednesday night.

Taking Care Of Business

No. 9 Missouri 84, Texas 73
What we learned: The Tigers aren’t conventional. They’re undersized in a league with a multitude of skilled bigs and they’re not very deep. But Frank Haith used seven players in his second consecutive victory since last week’s lopsided loss at Kansas State. Ricardo Ratliffe led the Tigers with 21 points (10-of-12). Marcus Denmon, who had six in a win at Iowa State on Wednesday, scored 18 against the Longhorns. Phil Pressey (18 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) continued his impressive play. Few teams possess the perimeter depth and skill to challenge Missouri’s talented backcourt for 40 minutes. J’Covan Brown scored 34 points for the Horns, matching the combined scoring tally for the team’s other four starters. But they couldn’t defend a Mizzou team that held a 43-30 edge at halftime and finished with four scorers in double figures. A week ago, folks questioned the Tigers' legitimacy. But they clearly have regained their mojo since the KSU loss and should pose a threat to any top-tier Big 12 team.

No. 20 Mississippi State 56, Alabama 52
What we learned: Alabama entered this game on a five-game winning streak. But Bama won’t beat most teams in the SEC by scoring 52 points. JaMychal Green (14 points) was the Crimson Tide's only double-digit scorer. The Bulldogs weren’t much better. However, Arnett Moultrie’s 25-point, 13-rebound output was the difference. The two teams combined to shoot 4-for-26 from the 3-point line, but Dee Bost was 3-for-3 from long range in the closing minutes and that was that. Man, the SEC is confusing. Kentucky is obviously the league’s best, but who are Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5? This was an opportunity for these squads to make a definitive statement about their places in the league. Didn’t really happen. I expected more from this one, but hey, Mississippi State will take the win.

Some more observations from Saturday

  • Baylor looked like a national champ in its 106-65 victory over Oklahoma State. No, the Cowboys aren’t an elite team. But the Bears shot 52 percent on 3-pointers (15-of-29) and had almost twice as many rebounds as OSU (48-25). Nine players scored for the Bears. Their depth is underrated, and it’s going to be a huge asset in March.
  • [+] EnlargeMaalik Wayns
    AP Photo/Al BehrmanMaalik Wayns, left, dropped 39 for Villanova in a loss at Cincinnati.
  • Iowa State blew a 12-point second-half lead and lost its second consecutive matchup against a ranked opponent in its 82-73 defeat at Kansas. But with Royce White (18 points, 17 rebounds), the Cyclones can win nine or more in the Big 12. By the way, a career-high 28 points out of Tyshawn Taylor should quiet a few of his critics.
  • Connecticut is such a different team when Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond are fully engaged. Drummond (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Oriakhi (12 points, 7 rebounds) were impressive in the Huskies’ 67-53 win at Notre Dame, ending the Irish's 29-game home win streak. The Huskies didn’t have Ryan Boatright, but they played like a complete team with their bigs being so active.
  • Pittsburgh played better Saturday but still lost at Marquette 62-57. The Panthers, the models of consistency over the past decade, have lost six straight and are 0-5 in the Big East. Holy cow. Let that one sink in.
  • His team lost once again in a close game at Cincinnati, but it's worth mentioning the effort by Villanova's Maalik Wayns, who had a line of 39 points (6-of-13 from 3), 13 rebounds and six assists, and put his struggling Wildcats in a position to win on the road.
  • Xavier has won three in a row, after topping St. Bonaventure 77-64. Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway combined to score 33 points in the victory. The Musketeers didn’t secure any signature wins during this mini-revival, but that doesn’t matter. X needed to get back to winning as it prepares for the Atlantic 10's toughest squads. Until someone in the conference knocks off the Musketeers at the Cintas Center (where they've beaten 42 consecutive A-10 opponents), this team is still the league favorite in my opinion.
  • Conference USA should be fun this season. Like Xavier, Memphis -- a decisive winner at Houston on Saturday night -- should still be considered the favorite until someone proves they can beat the Tigers on the road. But Marshall and UCF played a classic in a 65-64 Thundering Herd victory, and both could give Memphis trouble. Southern Miss is right in the mix as well.
  • Meanwhile, in the Mid-American Conference, Akron now has to be considered the favorite after a 68-63 victory over Ohio, which looked so solid in nonconfernece play but has faltered of late. The Zips have wins at Mississippi State and Marshall. If they make the NCAA tournament, look out.
  • Have to be impressed with the way Oregon swept the Arizona schools. Winning in Tempe is nothing to be overjoyed about, but winning in Tucson -- no matter how mediocre the Wildcats have been for most of the season -- is still special for any Pac-12 school. The Ducks are as good a bet as any to win this crazy league.
  • You know who won't win the Pac-12? The Ducks' rival, Oregon State. The Beavers have played great at times this season, but the bottom line is 1-5 in a down conference after a horrendous double-digit loss at Arizona State on Saturday.
  • You know who just might win the Pac-12? Stanford. The Cardinal now are 5-1 in the conference after a 20-point beatdown of Colorado, which began 3-0 (all at home) but got a rude awakening in the Bay Area by Cal and Stanford.
  • Gonzaga was shaky early Saturday night, but the Zags have to be happy with their 62-58 win at Loyola Marymount, a team that has knocked off UCLA and Saint Louis this season. Mark Few's team was absolutely humiliated at Saint Mary's on Thursday. A bounce-back victory was a must, and the Zags got it done.

SAN DIEGO — Lying just beyond the baseline, where the court at Viejas Arena turns to concrete, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was reeling. He had suffered a “big tweak” in his ankle following a rough out-of-bounds collision.

There would have been no shame if he had hung it up for the day. There was 1 minute, 1 second left in the game and the No. 22 Aztecs had a 67-66 lead over No. 12 UNLV.

Franklin had already given his team 22 points and 10 rebounds -- more than admirable in a game that at times looked more like an MMA scrap than a college basketball game.

“We’re a family,” Franklin said. “If my ankle is broken, and they want me out there, I’m out there.”

And it’s a good thing he was. Because with less than a second left in the game, Franklin -- limping and all -- hit an awkward, leaning 5-foot jumper that sent the crowd of 12,414 into a frenzy and propelled the Aztecs to a 69-67 victory.

Just a minute earlier, those same fans were willing him back to his feet. They erupted when he checked back into the game with 30 seconds left.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Franklin
AP Photo/Gregory BullJamaal Franklin's 24 points included this layup in the waning seconds against UNLV.
“Oh yeah,” Franklin said. “I heard them.”

Leading up to Franklin’s heroics, it was the knock-down, drag-out game that had become typical over the past few years when UNLV and San Diego State get together.

“This was a wonderful college game,” SDSU head coach Steve Fisher said. “Obviously, we are the team smiling today. We have had so many games just like this with UNLV. We have been on the good side as of late. UNLV is a really exceptional team.”

UNLV, which has now dropped six straight to the Aztecs, did everything a team is supposed to do to win on the road: win the rebounding battle, get more points from your bench, commit fewer turnovers. The only thing the Rebels couldn’t do was shoot the ball. Anthony Marshall kept UNLV in the game with 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting. But no other Rebel managed double-digit scoring.

UNLV came into the game with the best scoring average in the conference at 81.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. The Aztecs didn’t allow UNLV anywhere near that. The Rebs managed just 35 percent from the field, including a measly 28.6 percent in the first half.

The Aztecs shot 43.6 percent on the day, including a solid 48 in the second half. James Rahon provided a big boost with 22 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. But it was the SDSU defense that made the difference.

“We just focused on our defensive schemes,” said San Diego State’s Chase Tapley, who added 11 points and six rebounds. “They are a good pick-and-roll team ... we had to really trust our defense and follow the schemes. We did that Grade-A today.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Aztecs, who travel to face preseason favorite New Mexico at “The Pit” on Wednesday.

“It’s one of the top wins of my career,” said Tapley, who came into the game leading the conference in scoring. “Two great teams were going at it. They were competitive … we just got the upper hand today. It felt good, it still feels good. We have to take this win and enjoy today, but we’ll be back in the lab on Monday to get focused on New Mexico.”

UNLV, which has lost nine of 10 to the Aztecs, is moving on and looking forward to the Feb. 11 rematch in Vegas.

“The way we look at it, we’re 0-1 in the league and they’ve beaten us one time,” UNLV first-year coach Dave Rice said. “It’s different players, it’s just a situation where they have a good basketball team and they held serve on their home floor. And that’s to their credit.”