CBI championship format intriguing to Cowboys

One thing you can say about the College Basketball Invitational — its not afraid to be different.

As Wyoming and Coastal Carolina get ready to play Monday for the CBI championship, it’s not a one-game format. When the CBI was created 10 years ago it went with a best-of-3 series for the championship.

Allen Edwards

UW (21-14) plays at Coastal Carolina (19-17), located in Conway, S.C., at 5:30 p.m. MT. Game two is in Laramie at 7 p.m. MT Wednesday. If a third game is necessary, UW hosts that one as well at 5 p.m. MT. All games are televised on ESPNU. If you’re wondering why a potential third game is at such an odd time, don’t blame UW, it has to do with TV.

As for the best-of-3 format, first-year UW coach Allen Edwards said: “We’ll try it out. It’s differnet when you think about what is traditionally done in college basketball. It has more of a NBA feel. I’m interested to be a part of it and see.”

The NBA now uses best-of-7 series’ for all of its playoff games. There used to be best-of-5 for early round playoff matchups. The travel between Laramie and Conway is 1,810 miles and that will make things interesting for that second game in Laramie Wednesday — not just how both teams adjust from the first game, but also fatigue from travel, etc.

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Many college bowls and smaller postseason hoops tournaments – what’s the difference?

Answer this question for me: Why is the perception or vibe of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) generally negative among most fans, yet in college football most teams are celebrated when they get bowl bids to such games as the — and I’m just throwing out a few names here — the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Belk Bowl and Dollar General Bowl?

Not including the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, there were 38 bowl games for the 2016 seasons. That’s 76 teams out of close to 130 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. A good number of .500 teams, and even below .500 teams, have gone to bowl games in recent years to fill those slots.

Throw in the CFP teams, and about 61 percent of FBS teams play in postseason bowls in 2016, and over the last five years or so.

There are 351 Division I college basketball teams. This year, 132 made one of four postseason tournaments, which equates to 37.6 percent.

Tournaments like the CBI and CIT don’t hold the same prominence or clout as the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, and probably never will. But most college bowl games don’t hold the interest level compared to the CFP games or the bigger bowls such as the Rose Bowl.

But when you break it down, what is the difference between going to a lesser-than bowl in football and playing in a postseason basketball tournament like the CBI?

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MW not perceived as a good hoops league, but don’t tell Allen Edwards that

As Wyoming gets set to begin play in the Mountain West Tournament at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday against Air Force, it appears — and this isn’t breaking news — that the MW will again be a one-bid league to the NCAA Tournament.

Allen Edwards

Last year, San Diego State went 16-2 in MW play and was the top seed in the MW Tournament. It lost to Fresno State in the tournament’s championship game, and played in the NIT. Nevada won this year’s regular-season MW title, and although its RPI entering the MW Tournament is 36, the Wolf Pack seemingly has to win the tournament to get to the NCAAs.

Right, wrong or indifferent, on a national scale the MW is a mid-major conference. The days of getting multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament, let alone five not that long ago, are gone — at least until its 11 hoops-playing members win some notable nonconference games.

First-year UW coach Allen Edwards was asked about this perception Monday, and had this to say:  “Sometimes the perception hurts because of the year San Diego State (sixth seed) and New Mexico (fifth seed) has had, and probably because those guys not taking down a Power 5 team. This is a well-balanced league and we’ve been beating up on each other. Sometimes that looks bad. There are teams in this league can go into the (NCAA) Tournament and get a win. Nevada is a good team. So is Colorado State, Boise State, Fresno State. … I can go down the list all the way down to us (the seventh seed in the MW Tournament). I disagree with people saying it’s down year or a one-bid league.”

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UW players put it on themselves to do what coaches tell them

After Wyoming’s 78-73 home loss to Colorado State Tuesday, first-year coach Allen Edwards said at some point his players must get what he and his staff are telling them and go out and do it.

For those of you who missed it, here is Edwards’ complete postgame comments:

To me, there seems to be a communication problem between the coaching staff and the players, which led me to write column which ran Thursday in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang and online at wyosports.net. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2kPmH9h

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Adams got the message, which could benefit Cowboys down the stretch

Lou Adams started both halves in Wyoming’s 102-100 four-overtime home win over Fresno State last Wednesday, but played only at total of seven minutes.

Lou Adams

Lou Adams

First-year coach Allen Edwards didn’t like the energy Adams showed on the floor, so he didn’t play him when it mattered most.

Adams, a junior guard in his first season with the Cowboys after transferrring from Odessa College in Texas, got the message Edwards was conveying. He scored a team-best 16 points and three steals in 24 minutes in Wyoming’s 81-74 loss at Utah State last Saturday. The points were the most Adams scored in a MW game, and tied for the second-most minutes he’s played in a game this season.

“Lou came out with more energy, but at the same time, it has to be more of a consistent thing,” Edwards said. “He seems to have figured it out, and we will go with that from there.”

Added Adams: “I was just trying to help my team win and do the little things.”

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UW predictable in trying to get Naughton going early

The Wyoming men’s basketball team has been predictable at the start of games, and first-year coach Allen Edwards is fine with it.

Jordan Naughton

Jordan Naughton

The Cowboys (16-9 overall, 6-6 Mountain West) almost always look to get the ball to sophomore post Jordan Naughton on its first few offensive possessions. It did so in their 102-100 four-overtime win over Fresno State Wednesday night. Naughton scored in the pain on UW’s second offensive series.

“I don’t care if opponents know we’re going to him or not, we’re going to him,” Edwards said. “We want to get him going because I think he can be a really good player in this league. When he demands the ball, he’s a much different basketball player than when he’s just out there.”

The 6-foot-10, 235-pound Naughton has played in all 25 games this season for UW, and started 24. His numbers aren’t eye-popping at 5.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 14.8 minutes per game.

But he’s had some good games and moments for the Cowboys this season.

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James evolving, still growing as a player for Cowboys

Wyoming sophomore guard Justin James, at 6-foot-7, is the Cowboys’ leading scorer this season at 15.3 points per game. All of those points have been off the bench, but James is among the team leaders in minutes at 24.2 per game.

Justin James

Justin James

James often is the Cowboys’ point guard, and of all the players on the team, has the ball in his hands more often than not. A by-product of that is turnovers. His 55 are second-most on the team.

The Port St. Lucie, Florida, product is coming off back-to-back 20-point games, including a game-high 26-point effort in the Cowboys’ 83-74 road win at Air Force last Saturday. James also had a career-high seven assists in that game.

The only other time this season James had consecutive 20-point games was back in late November when he had a career-high 28 at California, and 21 at home against Denver. In those games, James had a combined three turnovers. Against Air Force and the previous game against Boise State, he had nine.

“We’ve been harping on it,” said first-year UW coach Allen Edwards on the turnovers by James this season. “The thing with Justin is he’ll continue to get better. Sometimes he tries to rely on talent, and that’s where he gets into trouble. Sometimes it may not be the ultimate respect for guy guarding him.”

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MW men’s basketball: mediocrity or competitive?

First-year Wyoming coach Allen Edwards was asked Monday why he thinks the Cowboys’ opponent Tuesday — San Diego State — has been off this season. The Aztecs enter the game 11-9 overall and 3-5 in the Mountain West. They were picked to win the conference in the preseason by the league’s head coaches and select media. I was one of those media members, and also picked the Aztecs to win it.

“I think it’s because the league is more balanced than it has been. yet they’re only losing by a few points,” Edwards said. “Last year when going through league 16-2, they got a lot of wins by close margins. This year, they’ve not found a way to do that consistently. It may look like they’re having a down year, but many of those losses could have been flipped.”

That’s a good and fair point.

San Diego State is 0-6 in games decided by six points or less, or two possessions. Four of its five MW losses has been by six points or less, including three by three points or less. The Aztecs lost their last two games by a combined four points, but held double-digit leads in both.

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Lieberman becoming pesky problem for opposing teams

If someone calls you “a pest” you wouldn’t think it’s a compliment.

It is if you’re Wyoming junior point guard Jeremy Lieberman.

Jeremy Lieberman

Jeremy Lieberman

Over his last six games, the 6-foot-1 Lieberman has averaged nearly five points per game, and his assist-to-turnover-ratio is 2-to-1. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but isn’t the only thing first-year coach Allen Edwards has seen from Lieberman.

“He’s embraced the defensive part of it, and he’s taken it upon himself to be a pest on the ball,” Edwards said. “I thought he was really good at San Jose State (an 80-70 UW win where Lieberman had nine points on Jan. 18), and has been really good since with him taking on that role.”

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Edwards offers three keys to closing out games

First-year Wyoming men’s basketball coach Allen Edwards feels like his team is “right there” in terms of closing out and winning close games in conference play.

Allen Edwards

Allen Edwards

However, UW (13-7 overall, 3-4 Mountain West) isn’t there yet. Two of the Cowboys’ four conference losses were by single digits. But even in an 85-70 loss at Fresno State on Jan. 4, UW was close in the second half before things fell apart.

“We can’t continue to be just right here. Have to take the next step to get over the hump,” Edwards said.

Edwards on Monday listed three things he told his players they must do:

  1. Taking care ball.
  2. Don’t allow offensive rebounds.
  3. Positioning and execution on defense.

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