Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2009

checkinginon

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Standings (as of 11/26)

  1. New Mexico   (5-0)
  2. BYU     (4-0)
  3. UNLV    ( 4-0)
  4. Air Force     (2-1)
  5. TCU     (4-2)
  6. Colorado State   (3-2)
  7. San Diego State     (3-2)
  8. Utah     (2-2)
  9. Wyoming    (2-2)

Superlatives

Team of the week.  New Mexico – this could have been UNLV or BYU in this spot, but the nod goes to the Lobos for their sheer volume, hoisting five wins before Thanksgiving, including the win over their in-state rival, four impressive wins over mid-to-low major programs and a Basketball Traveler’s World Vision Classic title.

Player of the week.  Darrington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – Hobson has been a versatile wonder for Steve Alford so far this season. The 6-7 JuCo transfer from the College of Eastern Utah has done a little bit of everything for the Lobos. Just check out these stuffed stat lines: 16 pts/7 rebs/6 asts vs. UC Riverside; 17 pts/7 rebs/5 asts vs. New Mexico State; 14 pts vs. Nicholls State; 30 pts/10rebs/3 3s vs. Louisiana Tech; and 11 pts/6 rebs/5 asts vs. Miami (OH). With numbers like those, it is no wonder that Hobson won the MVP award at the World Vision Classic and the player-of-the-week award from the MWC.

Newcomer of the week.  Hobson.

Game of the week.  Utah vs. Utah State: A classic in-state matchup between two strong programs came right down to the wire as the Utes dodged 27 points and a potentially game-tying three from Aggie senior point guard Jared Quayle in the waning moments of a 68-67 Utah victory. Carlon Brown led the Utes with 22 points (on 8/19 shooting), and Luka Drca kicked in 11 points and six assists.  RTC Live was there in case you missed it.

Game of the upcoming week. Louisville @ UNLV: The Rebels have looked strong so far, especially in the backcourt, but they will need to get some strong contributions from their frontcourt talent in order to give the Cardinals a run for their money. The backcourt battles between the Rebels young stable of talent and Louisville guards such as seniors Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles,  Jerry Smith and Reginald Delk and freshman Peyton Siva should be quite fun.

League Notes

With the first full week of the college basketball season behind us now, it’s time to move on to our first weekly MWC update. In this space we’ll recap what happened in the past week, take a look at what’s on the docket for the upcoming week, and hand out some awards to teams, players, and even games.

As expected, there has been something of a learning curve for the relatively young MWC, with teams across the conference replacing many of the stars from last year’s squads. Utah slipped up against Idaho in its first game and then blew an eight-point halftime lead to lose to Seattle. San Diego State should have been in bed for its date in the ESPN 24 Hour Hoops Marathon and later fell in a trip to Pacific. And TCU dropped the ball (and threw it away, and traveled and then committed a foul) on its way to playing in the big time. But all things considered, there has been more cause for optimism around the conference than pessimism, with new faces all up and down the standings delivering enticing performances and some established stars continuing their winning ways.

The inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge is also underway, with the MWC taking a 2-1 lead in the first three games, but they’ll take a week off before resuming their contest with Air Force/Missouri State matchup on December 5th.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos have been busy in the early days of the college basketball season. After cruising to a home victory over UC Riverside in the season opener, they then traveled to Las Cruces for the first leg of a home-and-home matchup with in-state rival New Mexico State. Behind 27 points (including five three-pointers) from sophomore Philip McDonald, the Lobos got out to a big halftime lead, only to have the Aggies race back to take the lead about halfway through the second half. But the Lobos fired back with a 24-14 run to close out the game for a ten-point victory.  From there, the Lobos hosted three games in three nights at The Pit as part of the Basketball Traveler’s World Vision Classic, and were impressive in all three, winning games against Nicholls State, Louisiana Tech and Miami (OH) by an average of 26 points.  Do-everything JuCo transfer Darrington Hobson has been something of a revelation in his first five games under Coach Steve Alford, averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Lobos take a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Hawai’i to battle the Rainbow Warriors on Friday, then return home to host the Cal Bears on Wednesday, in what will be their biggest test of the young season.

BYU

Looking back: BYU got their season off to a strong start with a win over the Bradley Braves in the opening game of the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge, then continued their roll with a big win over Idaho State, a tough road win over Hawai’i for head coach Dave Rose’s 100th win with the Cougars and thoroughly destroying Southern by 56. Jimmer Fredette has been especially impressive for the Cougars, leading the team in scoring in their first three games while averaging almost 20 points per game. Freshman Tyler Haws has been the most impressive of the newcomers, averaging eight points, four rebounds and two assists in slightly more than 20 minutes a game while providing a spark off the bench.

Looking ahead: The Cougars get to stay in-state for a week, hosting Weber State on Friday, then traveling to face tough WAC foe Utah State in Logan on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: After opening their season with a huge win against overmatched Division II opponent Pittsburg State, the Running Rebels looked a bit sluggish in the first half against in-state rival Nevada. However, the Rebs got it together after the break, outscoring the Wolfpack 55-37 in the second half behind 22 points by sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield. Freshmen guards Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall also provided a spark for UNLV in the second half with their athleticism and defensive energy. UNLV then dispatched Southern Illinois in their MWC/MVC Challenge game while shooting 77% from the field in the second half against an historically stingy Saluki defense. The Rebels were led by junior guard Tre’Von Willis who poured in 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds. And finally, last night, all of the Rebel guards got into the swing of things in the same game, with Bellfield, Hawkins, Marshall and Willis all scoring in double figures in their 21-point win over Holy Cross.

Looking ahead: Big week for the young Rebels as they have their two biggest games of their non-conference schedule in back to back games, hosting Louisville on Saturday and then traveling to the McKale Center to face Arizona’s Wildcats on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons got out of the gates 2-0 before meeting their first Division I opponent, the Big Sky’s Northern Colorado, and the results there were not encouraging, as Northern Colorado scored a 24-point win over Air Force behind junior guard Drew Beitzel’s 24 points. While senior Grant Parker and junior Evan Washington had been doing the heavy lifting for the Falcons in their first two games, both struggled against the Bears, with Washington turning the ball over five times and Parker going 0-7 from the field en route to the entire team missing all 17 of their three-point attempts.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host two very beatable D-I opponents in Charleston Southern on Saturday and North Carolina Central on Wednesday.

TCU

Looking back: The majority of TCU’s early-season schedule has been focused around their play in the NIT Season Tip-Off. After taking care of CS Northridge with ease in their first round matchup, the Horned Frogs faced the host of the Tempe regional, Arizona State, and held an eight-point lead with under four minutes to go with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line… And proceeded to turn the ball over four times, commit four fouls, and miss the only field goal attempt they took in the final four minutes en route to a three-point loss. Guh!  Before heading back home to host a couple consolation games in the NIT, they made a side trip to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers and allowed Nebraska to shoot 60% from the field in the second half on the way to a 13-point TCU loss. But the Horned Frogs responded well in their two NIT consolation bracket games, knocking off Colgate by 13, and then winning a tough three-overtime battle against Texas State. Sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss has been the sparkplug for the TCU, averaging 20 points and seven assists per game, with senior Zvonko Buljan doing the dirty work inside with 12 points and ten rebounds a game.

Looking ahead: The Horned Frogs won’t have to leave the state, as they host Louisiana Tech on Sunday, then travel to SMU on Tuesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams got their season started in the Basketball Traveler’s Tip-Off Tournament, a round-robin tournament in Eugene, Oregon, with a couple wins over lesser opponents, knocking off UC Davis by 18 (behind 24 points and 7 rebounds by junior Andy Ogide and six threes by junior Andre MacFarland) and D-II Winston-Salem State by 17 in a ugly game that saw the teams combine to shoot under 30% from the field. In CSU’s third game in as many nights, they ran into the tournament’s host, Oregon, and struggled from the field again, shooting just 36% in a 13-point loss. The Rams then travelled to Terre Haute, IN, to face Indiana State and fell to the Sycamores by five to even their record at 2-2, before knocking off D-II opponent Mayville State on Tuesday.

Looking ahead: The Rams host San Francisco on Sunday, then travel across I-25 to face Northern Colorado on Tuesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: After opening their season by coasting over D-II UC San Diego, the Aztecs got a chance to show their stuff against a more competitive foe when they met Saint Mary’s in an 11pm game during ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, by the time ESPN actually switched over to their game (following UCLA’s 2OT debacle), they were down 20 and flailing. While the Aztecs looked significantly better in the second half (which isn’t saying much), they still wound up wearing a 22-point loss. Steve Fisher’s squad bounced back nicely at home with a thorough thrashing of Santa Clara in the next game before heading back up north for a split decision in road games in Fresno (four-point win over Fresno State) and Stockton (eight-point loss to Pacific). While junior forward Billy White got off to a slow start at Saint Mary’s, he has picked things up in recent games, averaging 21 points a game on the central California road trip. Highly-regarded freshman forward Kawhi Leonard has been inconsistent so far, but showed flashes of brilliance, including posting 13 boards against Santa Clara and he could be a key to shoring up the Aztec frontcourt that has been outrebounded in both their losses.

Looking ahead: After hosting Northern Arizona on Saturday, the Aztecs won’t have to go far for their next game, traveling across town to face cross-town rival San Diego.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes’ season got off to a rough start when the Idaho Vandals invaded the Huntsman Center and walked out with a win, aided somewhat by Carlon Brown’s six turnovers and the Utes general ineptitude from behind the arc (3-14 on 3pt attempts). However, the Utes started off last season in similar fashion, losing at home to Division II Southwest Baptist in their first game before going on to share the MWC title.  Utah was able to bounce back in strong fashion, racking up a one point victory over in-state rival Utah State and a 40-point blowout against overmatched Southern (in the first round game of the Las Vegas Invitational) in the next two games and some of the questions that were held at the start of the season were beginning to be answered. All those answers turned back into questions on Tuesday night in the second round of the Las Vegas Invitational when Utah turned in a stinker of a performance in falling to Seattle 77-74, shooting 35% from the field along the way, including 5-17 from Brown.  Seven-foot-three sophomore center David Foster has shown some upside in his limited minutes, grabbing 9 rebounds in 19 minutes in the Southern game, blocking four shots in 15 minutes in the Utah State game and adding another six blocks in 15 minutes against Seattle.

Looking ahead: The Utes travel to Vegas for the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday and Saturday. Despite losing their second round game, they will still meet Illinois in the semifinal game (due to some ongoing redefinition of the term “tournament”), and face either Oklahoma State or Bradley on Saturday.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Wyoming season got off to an ugly start with a 16-point home loss to South Dakota State in a game in which the Cowboys accounted for only four assists on their 20 field goals, before getting to beat up on D-II Peru State (only because Uruguay State backed out of their contract). That win apparently got the ball rolling as the Cowboys proceeded to beat Boise State by 26 in their next game, before another disappointing loss by the Cowboys, this time to a veteran Denver squad by three. Once again, the Cowboys playmakers failed to set up their teammates, accounting for only three assists on 18 field goals, while turning the ball over a whopping 24 times, with six Wyoming players turning it over at least three times. The one constant for Wyoming so far has been sophomore Afam Muojeke putting the ball in the hoop, averaging over 20 points per game over their first four games, while shooting 56% from the field and 54% from behind the arc. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Muojeke limped off the court in the Denver game with over 6 minutes remaining and never returned. If Muojeke is missing for any significant amount of time, Wyoming’s uphill climb just got steeper.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts three winnable games on three straight nights next weekend in something called the World Vision Challenge (not to be confused with the Basketball Traveler’s World Vision Classic in which New Mexico competed, which itself is not to be confused with the Basketball Traveler’s Tip-Off Tournament in which Colorado State competed), a round-robin tournament that also includes Hampton, Monmouth and Pepperdine.

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