Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/16):

  1. New Mexico 11-0
  2. UNLV 8-1
  3. BYU 8-1
  4. San Diego State 8-2
  5. Colorado State 7-3
  6. Air Force 5-3
  7. TCU 5-5
  8. Utah 5-5
  9. Wyoming 5-5

Superlatives:

Team of the Week.  New Mexico – As the lone remaining undefeated team in the Mountain West, this one is a no-brainer.  The Lobos combined a hard-fought semi-neutral site win over Texas A&M in Houston with an absolute blowout of Northern Arizona yesterday to improve their record to 11-0, and, especially against Northern Arizona, were the epitome of a team, with all ten of the players who got minutes scoring, and eight players scoring more than eight points.

Player of the Week.  Roman Martinez, Sr, New Mexico – It’s a clean sweep for New Mexico at this point, with Darington Hobson taking home the first two POTWs and Roman Martinez grabbing the last two.  Martinez wins the award this week by averaging 19.5 PPG and knocking down eight more three-pointers, to bring his season total to 40 while shooting 55% from behind the arc.

Newcomer of the Week.  Tyler Haws, Fr, BYU – Haws has taken up some of the scoring slack left by senior Jonathan Tavernari’s shooting woes, scoring 17 points on seven of 11 shooting, including knocking down three threes in the Cougars win at Fresno State on Saturday.

Game of the Week.  New Mexico vs Texas A&M – The Lobos withstood 29 points from Aggie senior guard Donald Sloan on Saturday to advance to 10-0 for the first time in 13 seasons in a game in which they never trailed.  While New Mexico controlled the first half, taking a 40-29 lead to the break, they had to withstand a strong A&M second half charge, with the Aggies getting to within two points on a Sloan three with 30 seconds left.  Moments later, following a couple of free throws by sophomore forward A.J. Hardeman, a three by freshman Khris Middleton cut the lead to a single point.  Martinez, however, knocked down a couple more free throws to extend the lead to three, and a game-tying attempt by Aggie junior guard B.J. Holmes came up short, allowing the Lobos to escape from Houston with their perfect record intact.

Games of the Upcoming Week.  BYU in the Las Vegas Classic – Admittedly, this is probably not a very appealing slate of games for the week.  Creighton vs New Mexico looked interesting before the season began, but Creighton has struggled to a 3-5 record early.  Colorado State gets to take their crack at the UCLA piñata on Tuesday, but that could be viciously ugly regardless of the outcome.  Utah hosts Illinois State (7-1) in the MWC/MVC Classic, but Utah is inconsistent and Illinois State is probably not as good as their record. But the most interesting game of the week won’t even happen unless BYU is able to knock off Nevada after Tulsa does the same to Nebraska in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Classic.  If both schools are able to advance to the final, a BYU/Tulsa matchup next Wednesday night could be a nice early Christmas present.

League Notes:

While the league as a whole was riding high last week at this time, the member schools ran into a bit stiffer competition this week, and had mixed results on Saturday.  While New Mexico continued its winning ways, and BYU and San Diego State kept their winning streaks alive with a couple solid wins, UNLV, Utah, Air Force, and Wyoming all slipped up against BCS conference schools and TCU dropped a game to Wichita State, putting the MWC behind in the MWC/MVC Challenge three games to two.

There will be an uptick in the number of games played over the next week, as finals wrap up and schools get a chance to stretch out a bit, and a couple more early-season tournaments will play out, as BYU takes part in the Vegas Classic and UNLV plays in the Diamond Head Classic.  But the subtext over the next couple of weeks will be preparation for conference play which looms on the not-too-distant horizon.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back:  The big test of the week for the Lobos was traveling to Houston to play Texas A&M on Saturday night, detailed above in the Game of the Week section.  After coming away with that win, it was time to have a little fun against Northern Arizona last night, and the whole team got in on the action.  The Lobos got off to a strong start, scored the first 14 points of the night, then coasted the rest of the first half, and took a ten-point lead to the break, before blowing the game open in the second half, outscoring the Lumberjacks 60-31 in the second frame while shooting a whopping 71% from the field and 62% from behind the arc.  For the game, the Lobos knocked down 16 of their 32 three-point attempts (including four each from Martinez and sophomore guard Phillip McDonald) and forced 16 NAU turnovers, while only coughing it up four times themselves.

Looking ahead:  New Mexico hosts a Creighton team on Saturday that has struggled against some tough competition early in the season and has yet to win a road game, then travels to Oral Roberts on Wednesday for a sneaky-tough roadie.

UNLV

Looking back:  The Running Rebels took one of two remaining undefeated records in the MWC into a Saturday night battle with Kansas State down the Strip from the Thomas & Mack at the Orleans Arena.  However, the Wildcats won just about every facet of the game and the Rebels took their first defeat of the season.  The Kansas State backcourt of junior Jacob Pullen and senior Denis Clemente dominated the younger Rebel backcourt, combining for 50 points and leading the Wildcats to a 57% shooting night from the field, including knocking down 61% (14-23) of their threes.  The Rebels were able to bounce back on Wednesday at Southern Utah, but they looked sluggish in the first half and needed a 23-6 run at the start of the second half to break open what had been a one-point Rebel lead at the half.  While the Rebels did force 25 turnovers on the night, there was still plenty of cause for concern as UNLV was outrebounded by Southern Utah.

Looking ahead:  The Rebels host games against Weber State and South Carolina-Upstate before heading to Hawaii for the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with a potential meeting with St. Mary’s in the final on Christmas Day.

BYU

Looking back:  While the BYU basketball players had plenty of tests this week, their only on-court exam came in Fresno on Saturday night as the Cougars visited former BYU head coach Steve Cleveland and his Fresno State squad.  Junior guard Jimmer Fredette bounced back from his struggles in his previous game with 24 points (including four three-pointers) and seven assists as the Cougars held off the Bulldogs, 72-67.  Tavernari’s cold shooting continued, however, as the senior only made four of his 11 attempts on the night.  Haws, our MWC Newcomer of the Week, however, has stepped up offensively in his stead, as has sophomore forward Noah Hartsock.

Looking ahead:  BYU hosts two games in Provo as part of the Las Vegas Classic “tournament” but will advance to the semifinal game in Las Vegas against Nevada on Tuesday regardless of the outcome of those first two games.  A potential showdown in the final with Tulsa on Wednesday could await the Cougars.

San Diego State

Looking back:  It was a quiet week for the Aztecs, but they made the most of their rest as they beat up on Arizona on Saturday night.  Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard continued his impressive play with 13 points and 12 rebounds (and frankly, he made 12 rebounds seem like 20), and the Aztecs got contributions from their entire rotation as they dominated the Wildcats on the glass and held them to 36% shooting on the way to a 63-46 victory.

Looking ahead:  A couple tough road games await the Aztecs as they head out of finals week and back into the swing of the season.  They’ll travel to Tempe to face the Sun Devils on Saturday before heading to Des Moines on Tuesday for their MWC/MVC Challenge matchup with Drake.

Colorado State

Looking back:  The Rams almost let a slow week lull them to sleep, but got some clutch play out of freshman guard Dorian Green down the stretch to pull out a squeaker at home against Montana on Saturday.  With Colorado State down one and the clock running down, Green drove the lane and got fouled, where he made both free throws with nine seconds remaining, the second of which proved to be the decisive point in the game as the Rams escaped, 62-61. Green finished with 18 points and junior guard Adam Nigon added 17 as Colorado State won their third straight game, all at home in Moby Arena.

Looking ahead:  Colorado State gets one more home game, against Northern Arizona on Sunday, before having to travel out of the state of Colorado for the first time in a over a month on Tuesday for a visit to Pauley Pavilion for their crack at a reeling UCLA team.

Air Force

Looking back:  The big news for the Falcons this week was the absence, due to a groin injury, of senior forward Grant Parker, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, in their lone game, a loss at Washington State.  Freshman guard Mike Lyons, however, did take the opportunity to step up and led the Falcons with 25 points, his second straight game with double-digit scoring after a slow start to the season. While Air Force was able to keep the score relatively close by holding the Cougars’ sophomore phenom Klay Thompson to 19 points on 13 shots, the Falcons most missed Parker’s presence on the glass as they were outrebounded by Washington State 36-24.

Looking ahead:  Air Force gets to spend the holidays close to home as they will host Northern Arizona and UC Davis over the next week.

TCU

Looking back:  TCU traveled to Wichita to meet the Shockers this week as their part of the MWC/MVC Challenge.  But despite an often spectacular 29 points from senior forward Zvonko Buljan and a surprising 17 from junior guard Greg Hill, the Horned Frogs never led in the game and fell by an 80-68 score.  Senior forward Edvinas Ruzgas and sophomore point Tuffy Moss were well defended by the Shockers and held to 16 points on a combined three out of ten shots, well below their combined 30 PPG average, and Wichita State made it free throws down the stretch (25/28 from the line) to stave off any TCU comeback attempts.

Looking ahead:  TCU hosts NAIA school St. Gregory’s on Sunday, then has a tough in-state battle with Houston on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back:  The Utes’ lone game of the week was a chance to host Big 12 power Oklahoma at the Huntsman Center on Saturday night.  And while they played with plenty of energy, their inability to knock down open shots, especially from range (5-24 on the night from three, 0-10 in the 2nd half) was the decisive factor in their 78-73 overtime loss.  Junior guard Carlon Brown scored with six seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, but Sooner sophomore guard Willie Warren, who led the Sooners with 27 points (albeit on 22 attempts), hit a big deep three-pointer as the shot-clock expired to give Oklahoma a 74-71 lead that they never relinquished.

Looking ahead:  The Utes host Illinois State as part of the MWC/MVC Challenge on Saturday, then travel to Malibu for a matchup with Pepperdine on Wednesday.

Wyoming

Looking back:  The whole season has been a good news/bad news thing for Wyoming, and this week was more of the same.  Good news:  sophomore guard and leading scorer Afam Muojeke returns from a knee injury to lead his team to a victory over Northern Colorado.  Bad news:  the Cowboys then had to get on a plane and fly to Knoxville to face a Tennessee team ranked in the top ten nationally.  Good news:  The Cowboys hang with the Vols for the first 20 minutes, looking for all the world that they belong on the same court with Tennessee.  Bad news:  Wyoming then proceeds to shoot 26% from the field in the second half, missing all eight three-point attempts, and gets blown out of the gym, getting outscored 35-17 after the break.  Good news:  Muojeke at least looks strong against the Vols and leads the team with 15 points and seven rebounds.  Bad news:  he also adds 10 turnovers and shoots 4-15 from the field, including just 2-11 from behind the arc.  All things considered, not a bad week for the Cowboys.  They weren’t expected to beat the Vols, and frankly, aren’t in the same ball park as that squad, but they have to be happy to have Muojeke back for a few games before conference play begins.

Looking ahead:  Wyoming will host South Dakota on Sunday, then travel to Cedar Falls for their MWC/MVC matchup with Northern Iowa, a much more reasonable challenge (but still, quite a challenge) for the Cowboys.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)


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