Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/14):

  1. BYU                                        17-1                       2-0
  2. Colorado State                  11-5                       2-0
  3. UNLV                                     14-3                       2-1
  4. TCU                                        9-8                          2-1
  5. Utah                                      8-8                          1-1
  6. New Mexico                      15-3                       1-2
  7. San Diego State                12-5                       1-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-9                          1-2
  9. Air Force                              8-8                          0-3

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. UNLV. The Rebels started the week 0-1 in conference, with a trip to The Pit looming and tough matchup with San Diego State in their home opener to follow. As we stand now, the Rebels have a two-game winning streak, hae started to have players find their consistent roles and have shown themselves to be the main challenger to BYU’s MWC-favorite role.

Player of the Week. Tre’Von Willis, Jr, UNLV. Willis was strong all week, while averaging 21.5 PPG in UNLV’s two wins, but he really won this award in the second half of the San Diego State game on Wednesday night, when he went for 17 of his 23 points, including nine straight about ten minutes into the half to break open a 50-50 tie and send UNLV on their way to a victory.

Newcomer of the Week. Brandon Davies, Fr, BYU. With the Cougars’ leading scorer, junior point guard Jimmer Fredette, limited by strep throat and mononucleosis this week, Dave Rose needed someone to step up and contribute. And, as has happened repeatedly this season for BYU, the call was heeded, this time by Davies — an energetic, athletic power forward. Davies tossed in 14 impressive points against UTEP on Saturday, including eight straight after the Miners cut the BYU lead to two with just under six minutes to play. Davies followed up that performance with his first double-double of his college career against Air Force on Wednesday, notching 11 points while grabbing ten rebounds.

Game of the Week. Wyoming 85, San Diego State 83. With just under five minutes remaining on Saturday night, Wyoming fans at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie were gathering their belongings to head out into the cold, if they hadn’t left already. Their Cowboys were on their way to their second straight home conference loss to start the season, down 14 to San Diego State, after having previously shaved their 14-point halftime deficit to as little as three early in the half. However, when Aztec freshman forward Kawhi Leonard missed an ill-advised three on one end, and Cowboy sophomore swing Afam Muojeke drilled a three on the other, Cowboy fans on the fence about leaving were given some reason to stick around. Then freshman guard Arthur Buoedo picked the pocket of Aztec senior point D.J. Gay, and Muojeke dropped in a pull-up three to cut the lead to eight. Long story short, when sophomore point JayDee Luster knocked down his second three in the last minute (and third in the last three minutes), the Cowboys had finished off a startling comeback, coming all the way back to knock off the Aztecs, 85-83.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Colorado State @ BYU, January 16th, The MTN. The two MWC teams who remain undefeated in conference play meet up Saturday night in Provo. While the Cougars have shown they are a team to be reckoned with, both in-conference and nationally, the Rams still have quite a bit to prove, having earned their undefeated conference record at the expense of the lower end of the conference.

League Notes:

Every team has now started conference play in the MWC, and while there is a lot of basketball left, we can draw some conclusions about the relative strength of teams from their early conference and non-conference play. Thus far, BYU remains the favorite, with UNLV just a half-step behind. While the Rebels did fight the Cougars to the bitter end in Provo, BYU was at less than full strength due to Fredette’s illness. New Mexico and San Diego State are both young and talented teams that can put together phenomenal games from time to time, but may lack the consistency to compete for a conference title. However, both squads are in excellent position with regards to their tournament resumes, with the Lobos having an edge over the Aztecs due to their non-conference play. In the middle of the pack, Utah and Colorado State look to be the next tier of teams, with Air Force, TCU and Wyoming bringing up the rear.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: The story of the week for the Cougs has continued to be Fredette’s battle with strep throat and mono. Fredette missed the UTEP game on Saturday, but did return to face Air Force on Wednesday, albeit in a limited role off the bench. However, in his stead, other players have taken over when called upon. It was Jonathan Tavernari in the conference opener against UNLV last week. Davies played well enough to earn Newcomer of the Week honors, but freshman Tyler Haws was right on his heels, averaging 15 PPG this week and matching two career highs on Saturday with 20 points and 11 rebounds in El Paso. And it was junior guard Jackson Emery on Wednesday night, dropping 21 points and five three-pointers against Air Force.

Looking ahead: The Cougars get to stay close to home this week, hosting Colorado State in our MWC Game of the Week on Saturday and Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams had just one game this week, and made the most of it in their home conference opener against Air Force on Saturday. While both teams struggled a bit in the first half (CSU 39% from the field, AF 26%), shots started to fall in the 2nd half, with the Rams shooting 65% and the Falcons hitting 62%. But whether the teams were shooting hot or cold, the Rams were clearly the better team, outscoring the Falcons by 11 in each half behind scrappy defense (forced 18 AF turnovers), solid offense (only nine Ram turnovers), aggressive play (CSU got to the line 27 times, compared to Air Force’s 11 free throw attempts) and balanced offensive production (junior forward Andy Ogide led all scorers with 13, junior Travis Franklin added another 11).

Looking ahead: The Rams put their undefeated conference record (earned by beating possibly the two worst teams in the conference) on the line against some significantly more stout competition, with a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday and a chance to host UNLV on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s two wins this week vaulted them back up the conference standings, but it is the manner in which it happened that likely most pleases head coach Lon Krueger. While the Rebels got a strong week out of our conference POTW Willis, they also got an excellent week out of sophomore forward Chace Stanback, who averaged 16/7 and showed a command of the offense that had been missing earlier in the season. Throw in junior guard Derrick Jasper stuffing the stat sheet wherever needed, junior guard Kendall Wallace knocking down seven threes in Albuquerque, and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield handing out 13 assists over the week and this Rebel team seems to be coming together just in time to make a strong conference run.

Looking ahead: UNLV hosts Utah on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State to face a Ram team currently tied for first in the conference.

TCU

Looking back: TCU has been maddeningly inconsistent so far this year, thus far having failed to put together more than a two-game win streak, or even a two-game losing streak. So, this week’s results shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise: a blowout loss on the road at Utah on Saturday and a squeaker win over Wyoming at home on Tuesday. Against Utah, leading scorers sophomore Ronnie Moss and senior Zvonko Buljan combined to shoot 4-23 from the field as the team was outscored 36-21 in the second half, allowing Utah to pull away to a 20-point win. The Horned Frogs did bounce back against Wyoming, holding off a charge at the end by the Cowboys and getting 22 points from senior swingman Edvinas Ruzgas. But, Moss’ poor shooting (and perhaps poor decision-making) continued as he put up 14 three-point attempts and made only three, while turning the ball over three times.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to San Diego to face the Aztecs on Saturday before returning home to host Texas-Pan American in the MWC’s final non-conference game of the regular season.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes had to wait the longest to get their conference play underway, but they were well-prepared when they did, as they handed TCU a 20-point loss at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. Senior guard Luka Drca scored all 14 of his game-high points in the second half as Utah outscored the Horned Frogs by 15 in the second half. However, the Utes then walked into a hornet’s nest on Wednesday as they visited 0-2 New Mexico in The Pit and came away with a 17-point beatdown. The Utes still have failed to find a consistent offensive threat. Drca followed up his opener with seven points on 3-9 shooting. Junior guard Carlon Brown scored just four points on four field goal attempts. And even freshman guard Marshall Henderson, who led the team with 12, only hit three of his 11 shots, as the team combined to shoot just 35% from the field and 58% from the line.

Looking ahead: Doesn’t get any easier for the Utes. They’ll face UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday before hosting San Diego State on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: Until conference play began, the Lobos had been a high-flying, high-octane offense, routinely scoring in the 80s on their way to a 14-1 record. But, when they opened league play at San Diego State, they put up a season-low in points, scoring only 64. And against UNLV on Saturday, the Lobos season low dropped again as they scored just 62 in The Pit behind 36% shooting from the field and 22% from behind the arc. While the Lobos were able to bounce back with a big win over Utah on Wednesday, they did so in spite of just 10-31 shooting from their big three of senior Roman Martinez and juniors Darington Hobson and Dairese Gary. Head coach Steve Alford has to be pleased with his team’s ability to win games even when the shots aren’t falling (done on Wednesday by both making more free throws than their opponent took and putting together two killer runs – a 10-0 run to close the first half and a 13-1 run late in the second half to put the game away), but heads will rest much lighter around Albuquerque when the shooting percentages go back up.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a chance to feast on some of the weaker teams of the MWC this week, but they’ll have to do it on the road, traveling to Wyoming on Saturday and Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: After collapsing in the last five minutes of their game at Wyoming on Saturday (detailed above), the young Aztecs didn’t have a lot of time to regroup, having to travel to Vegas to face the Rebels on Wednesday. But, the troubles that plagued SDSU in their loss at Laramie followed them down the Rockies, namely, turning the ball over too much (39 turnovers in their two games this week) and failing to finish games (getting outscored by 16 in the second half of both games). Leonard continued his strong play this week, averaging 19/11, but has been inconsistent as well, turning the ball over six times against Wyoming and making some questionable decisions at time. Gay has also struggled a bit this week, especially against the talented backcourt of UNLV, turning the ball over five times and failing to get his offense running smoothly for long stretches.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs return to Montezuma Mesa to host TCU on Saturday before traveling to Salt Lake City to face Utah on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys avoided the dreaded 0-2 conference start at home on Saturday by roaring back from 14 down with under five minutes to play to knock off San Diego State. Muojeke had 10 points in the final five minutes (on his way to 30 for the game) and sophomore point guard Luster added nine points, all on three, in the same time span as part of a 24-8 run to win the game. The Cowboys tried to catch lightning in a bottle twice in one week at TCU on Tuesday, falling behind against by as much as 14, rallying to within a point following a Muojeke three-point play with 35 seconds left, but failing to convert three field goal attempts down the stretch in a 62-59 loss.

Looking ahead: A scary week looms for Heath Schroyer and his squad, as the Cowboys will host a hungry 0-2 New Mexico team on Saturday before traveling to Provo to face BYU on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons are still playing severely short-handed with three starters out, but did get some good news this week as senior forward Mike McLain and senior guard Avery Merriex were both able to return from concussions (at least temporarily in McLain’s case – he played on Saturday, but skipped Wednesday’s game). That little bit of good news, however, was tempered by the results on the court, as Air Force lost to Colorado State and BYU by a combined 40 points. The Falcons did get some production out of freshman swingman Mike Fitzgerald (who hit seven threes during the week), but a team that was already likely the least talented team in the league with a full roster desperately needs to get healthy in order to compete in the MWC.

Looking ahead: With still no firm date as to the potential returns of senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury), sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion) or sophomore swingman Taylor Stewart (broken wrist, out until mid-February at least), the Falcons will have to forge ahead, hosting New Mexico on Saturday in their only game of the week.

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