Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/4)

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

Superlatives

Team of the Week. UNLV The Running Rebels had the toughest week of any Mountain West team, playing two down-to-the-wire games against two major national programs in Louisville and Arizona, and came through with their perfect record intact.

Player of the Week. Darrington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – The nod goes to Hobson for the second week running, after he turned in a monstrous 22 points and 15 rebounds against Cal Wednesday night. Coupled with a 21/10/5 asst game in the Lobos visit to Hawaii, Hobson looks to have a lock on the MWC Player of the Week.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson. Again.

Game of the Week. Louisville vs. UNLV: In a week with several contenders for this title (including another Rebel game, a 2OT slugfest at Arizona’s McKale Center), the Cardinals visit to the Thomas & Mack on Saturday night stands out. UNLV got out to a strong start and led by ten at the half, expanding their lead to as much as 19 early in the second half before a furious 30-11 Louisville run tied the game up with just over four minutes remaining. However, rather than fold after giving up their lead, the Rebels responded behind sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, who scored six straight points, to regain the lead again for good. Bellfield wound up with 18 points and three other Rebels scored in double figures as UNLV prevailed 76-71.

Game of the Upcoming Week. Arizona State @ BYU: The Cougars are coming off their first loss of the season, and as things start to slow down around most campuses for finals, this is perhaps the best of a fairly weak slate of games this week. While James Harden is now playing for a paycheck, BYU would be wise not to overlook a solid Sun Devil squad whose only loss thus far is to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium North (i.e. Madison Square Garden).

League Notes

  • The Mountain West Conference seems to be settling into a story of the haves and the have-nots, as we turn the calendar into December. New Mexico and UNLV have begun to make their cases as teams to be reckoned with, between them knocking off Louisville, Cal and Arizona this week. And while BYU struggled in front of a raucous crowd in Logan, no one around the league is ready to count them out as a contender for the conference title.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Wyoming spent the weekend locked in battle with programs like Monmouth and Hampton and came out on the losing end, while Colorado State and Texas Christian dropped games to Northern Colorado and Louisiana Tech, respectively.
  • And then there’s Utah. The Utes shared the conference title last season and have historically been one of the powers in the MWC. But while there is some intriguing talent in Salt Lake City, things have most definitely not come together yet, a fact that was made abundantly clear in a bad loss to Weber State on Wednesday. While all of these teams will change and evolve between now and March, we’re beginning to see their personalities a bit.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos just wrapped up their toughest week of the young season, and they’re still strutting around Albuquerque with an undefeated record. After a Thanksgiving trip to Honolulu produced a tough road win against the Rainbow Warriors, the Lobos returned home to face the Cal Bears at The Pit. It was a classic battle that was tight the whole way (17 lead changes and 12 ties), until a Roman Martinez three-pointer under four minutes put the Lobos ahead for good. New Mexico took advantage of the Bears on the interior, outrebounding Cal 44-34 and outscoring Cal at the free throw line 27-12. Darrington Hobson was again the big man for New Mexico this week, averaging 21.5 ppg and 12.5 rpg, but Steve Alford also got major contributions from Martinez (17.5 ppg) and sophomore guard Philip McDonald (12.5 ppg).

Looking ahead: New Mexico hosts in-state rival New Mexico State on Saturday to conclude their season series, then travels to San Diego to face the Toreros on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: This week was huge for the UNLV faithful, as their young Rebels proved their mettle against two quality opponents.  After the win over Louisville (detailed in the Game of the Week section above), the Rebels traveled to Tucson for their first road game of the year, and came out on top after battling the Wildcats for 50 minutes. While the game was perhaps not a thing of beauty (the teams combined to go 9-48 from three-point range), coach Lon Kruger has to be pleased with his team’s ability to bounce back after an emotional win and pull out a difficult road win in a game where their shots weren’t falling. This is the deepest Rebel team in some time, with seven players having scored in double figures so far. While the Rebel guards (junior Tre’Von Willis, Bellfield, junior transfer Derrick Jasper and freshmen Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins) are fast, athletic and flashy, it may be the frontcourt that holds the key for the Rebels in conference play and beyond. With sophomore UCLA-transfer Chace Stanback and senior returnees Darris Santee and Matt Shaw, the Rebels have a good combination of size, skill, athleticism and muscle along the front line.

Looking ahead: Things slow down a bit for the Rebels, as they travel to Santa Clara on Saturday for their only game of the week.

BYU

Looking back: The Cougars got their week off to a good start, shooting 64% from the field in the second half of a game against Weber State to blow open what had been a tight four-point game at the half. But the week took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, as the Cougars traveled to Logan to face Utah State. BYU played pretty well for a half, but left their jumpers in the locker room at half time, shooting 30% from the field in the second half while making just one of eight three-point attempts. Senior forward Jonathan Tavernari was particularly bad for the Cougars, making just one of his 11 shots on the night, including only one of five three-point attempts, but junior guard Jimmer Fredette struggled as well, making just five of his 15 attempts. Perhaps most disturbing for head coach Dave Rose was the Cougars inability to slow Utah State’s senior guard Jared Quayle, who controlled the second half and led all scorers with 22.

Looking ahead: BYU has a chance to bounce back strong with a “neutral” court game in Salt Lake City against San Francisco, in front of a crowd that will likely be anything but neutral. They’ll return back to the Marriot Center on Tuesday to host Arizona State.

San Diego State

Looking back: Following an uneven start to their season, the Aztecs took care of business this week with a blowout win at home against Northern Arizona and a cross-town trip to knock off San Diego in overtime on Wednesday night. The win over the Toreros was San Diego State’s fourth straight win in that series, but it didn’t come easily in a game that was something of a rock-fight for 40 minutes. However, the Aztecs came out on fire in overtime, scoring the first eight points of the extra session to grab control of the game. Sophomore guard (and one of two Pepperdine transfers on the Aztecs) Tyrone Shelley has become a major key for the Aztecs on both ends of the floor, having scored in double figures in five straight games while turning into a major disruptive force on the defensive end (three blocks and three steals against San Diego, plus another four steals against NAU). Beyond Shelley, there have been a lot of Aztecs sharing the load, with six players scoring in double figures against NAU and the entire squad, including six-foot junior point guard D.J. Gay, hitting the glass.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs get a taste of the Big West conference this week, as they travel to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday and host Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday

TCU

Looking back: The week got off to a rough start for the Horned Frogs, as they dropped a home game to Louisiana Tech, a team that New Mexico beat by 29 a week earlier. Louisiana Tech’s senior center Magnum Rolle dominated the Frogs inside, accounting for 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, making up for the Bulldogs’ dismal outside shooting (1-13 from three-point territory). The opposition’s inability to hit from outside was again a theme in TCU’s second game of the week, a 60-53 victory over SMU in which the Mustangs went 0-for-13 from behind the arc. TCU trailed at the half against SMU, but started off the second half with a 23-6 run and never trailed again. The core of the Horned Frog team continues to be the trio of sophomore Ronnie Moss and senior Edvinas Ruzgas and Zvonko Buljan, who are averaging a combined 47 ppg, 17 rpg and 10 apg between them.

Looking ahead: This is the beginning of a slow time for TCU, with only two games over the course of 17 days. The Horned Frogs host Texas Tech on Tuesday.

Air Force

Looking back: Air Force had two very winnable games at home this week, and to their credit they won them both. Senior forward Grant Parker starred in both games, posting 25 points and 11 rebounds in a 68-58 victory over Charleston Southern and 24 points and six rebounds in a 61-49 win over North Carolina Central. Junior Evan Washington continues to be a solid Robin to Parker’s Batman, averaging six assists per game this week and tossing in 19 points against NC Central. Because the Falcons don’t look to have the talent to compete with the teams at the top of the conference, they need to grab wins like these when they can, but their 19 turnovers against NC Central were a troubling sign.

Looking ahead: The MWC/MVC Challenge gets back underway as Air Force travels to Missouri State on Saturday, then the Falcons host another very beatable team in Prairie View A&M on Tuesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams pulled out a double overtime victory over visiting San Francisco on Sunday, ripping off the first 16 points in the second overtime period en route to a 91-75 victory, but followed that thrilling win up with a stinker on Tuesday at Northern Colorado, where it took them 7:27 to score their first field goal. The rest of the game wasn’t much better for CSU as they shot 35% from the field and turned the ball over 21 times compared to only six assists. While freshman guard Dorian Green has shown some flashes at times this season (17 points and eight assists against USF, for instance), he has been far too careless with the ball, having turned it over 28 times compared to 25 assists, and is struggling from the field, currently shooting 33% from the field, while still leading all Rams scorers.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Denver on Saturday.

Utah

Looking back: Utah advanced to the semifinal of the Las Vegas Invitational (despite losing to Seattle in what was ostensibly the 2nd round of the “tournament”) and started out the first half as if they didn’t belong (which, well, they didn’t, because, you know, they had already lost and all that) shooting just 24% in the first half of their game with Illinois. But, the Utes came back from a 32-16 halftime deficit, shot 70% in the second half and turned a missed (Illinois junior guard) Demetri McCamey jumper with four seconds left into a Shawn Glover game-winning runner at the buzzer all via a Jay Watkins rebound and outlet pass. However, despite the thrilling victory, there were some continued ominous signs from Jim Boylen’s club. Aside from the terrible first half, Utah managed only five assists on 23 baskets and junior guard Carlon Brown continued to struggle from the field, hitting just three of 15 shots. Those struggles reappeared the next night, as Oklahoma State drilled Utah 77-55 in the championship game, holding the Utes to 32% shooting and three of 14 shooting from behind the arc, while Utah managed just seven assists on 17 field goals. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Utes traveled to Ogden to face Weber State on Wednesday night, and proceeded to hit three straight three-pointers out of the chute in the first half, and lead by as many as 14, only to wind up losing 83-76, and again only getting nine assists on 25 baskets. Clearly Utah is having trouble getting good shots within their offense and is having to rely on players going one-on-one or shooting jumpers to score, none of which is working consistently for the Utes early in the season. One bright spot for the Utes: sophomore center David Foster blocked ten shots against Weber State.

Looking ahead: The Utes hope to right their ship this week with two games at the Huntsman Center, one a game they should win (Idaho State on Saturday) and the other a game in which they will need to show improvement in order to get a win (Michigan on Wednesday).

Wyoming

Looking back: When last we checked in with Wyoming, leading scorer Afam Muojeke was seen limping off the court with an apparent knee injury. The bad news: Muojeke did not return this week, missing all three of Wyoming’s games in the World Vision Challenge, played in Laramie. More bad news: Wyoming lost two of those three games, to Monmouth (on a game winning shot by Whitney Coleman with 3.6 seconds remaining) and Hampton (in which the Cowboys were one for 21 from three-point land on the way to giving Hampton their first win of the season) before beating Pepperdine (ironically, the winner of the round-robin tournament). The good news: Muojeke’s knee injury is merely a bruise and not as serious as it appeared at first.

Looking ahead: Okay, one last bit of bad news: Muojeke remains doubtful to play in Wyoming’s lone game this week, home to Loyola Marymount on Saturday. And, just to end on a positive note, another little bit of good news: Wyoming will have a week off after that game in order to hopefully get Muojeke healthy for their trip to Tennessee on December 15th.

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