Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 22nd, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/21):

  1. BYU                                        19-1                       4-0
  2. New Mexico                      17-3                       3-2
  3. UNLV                                     15-4                       3-2
  4. San Diego State                14-5                       3-2
  5. Colorado State                  11-7                       2-2
  6. TCU                                        10-9                       2-2
  7. Utah                                      9-9                          2-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-11                       1-4
  9. Air Force                              8-9                          0-4

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Two road games (albeit against the eight and ninth place teams in the conference) and two road wins, getting back on track and breaking out of their shooting slump in a big way, knocking down 13 of their 27 three-point attempts against Air Force on Wednesday.

Player of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State. Thomas, a transfer from Pepperdine in his first year with the Aztecs, had a huge week for Steve Fisher, putting in 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out six assists in a home win against TCU before going for a career high 23 points and ripping down 13 rebounds in a road win at Utah on Tuesday as the Aztecs got right back into the picture at the top of the standings in a bunch of teams with two losses.

Newcomer of the Week. Thomas. I suppose if you’re the POTW, and you’re a newcomer, you’re also the Newcomer of the Week. Special mention to freshman Tyler Haws of BYU, who has turned into a legitimate second offensive threat for the conference-leading Cougars.

Game of the Week. San Diego State 70, Utah 68. After Utah knocked off UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday, they came back home knowing that things were not going to get a whole lot easier. And with the MWC POTW spending most of the game hanging out above the rim, grabbing rebounds, sending back opposing shots, throwing down dunks, slipping in layups around Utah’s seven-foot-five sophomore center David Foster and generally dominating the paint, the Aztecs definitely gave the Utes all they could handle. And yet, down the stretch, with the Aztecs trying to seal off a victory, the free throws clanged off the rim left and right (SDSU was 10-23 from the line over the course of the game, and just 5-11 in the final two minutes). A desperation three by junior guard Carlon Brown at the buzzer, however,  rattled off the rim and the Aztecs pulled off a key road win to wrap up a 2-0 week in the MWC.

Games of the Upcoming Week. BYU @ San Diego State, January 23rd , The MTN and BYU @ New Mexico, January 27th, The MTN. While the Cougars are off to a 4-0 start in conference, most of that damage was done in front of the home crowd at the Marriott Center. But Dave Rose and company will have to take their act on the road to face two teams sitting in the pack just behind BYU. If BYU can come through this week unscathed, you can pencil them in as the one seed in Vegas in March.

League Notes:

A couple weeks worth of conference play is in the rearview mirror, and those standings are starting to look like we expected them to look now: BYU at the top, a pack including UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State sitting within striking distance, a pack in the middle including Utah, and Wyoming and Air Force bringing up the rear. While there will be some type of shuffling throughout the year, expect those tiers to remain relatively intact.

Also of note, this week’s Utah/Wyoming game will be the last MWC game that will not be televised on either The MTN, CBS College Sports Network or Versus.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: BYU had a couple of home games against middle-of-the-pack MWC teams this week, and coasted, winning by an average of 29.5 points. The week started with a matchup with Colorado State, a battle between the final two teams with undefeated conference records. While the Rams hung around through a few TV timeouts, the Cougars posted a 12-0 run heading into the break and then went on to post a 53-25 second half romp on their way to a 44-point thrashing of CSU. They followed that up with a solid 15-point victory over Wyoming and now sit on the verge of a 20-win season before February even arrives. While junior guard Jimmer Fredette’s return from mono to have a solid week may be the most important news of the week, the continued development of Haws may be just as important to BYU’s hopes come March. This week, Haws posted a new career high of 24 points against Wyoming, and also added 11 against CSU.

Looking ahead: As mentioned above in our Game of the Upcoming Week section, this is a huge week for the Cougars with two road games against very good competition in front of very unwelcoming crowds, at San Diego State on Saturday, then at New Mexico on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: While the opponents weren’t impressive, and the Lobos continued to struggle at times, the outcomes of the game (two road wins) vaulted New Mexico back up the standings and gave them new confidence. Sophomore guard Philip McDonald was the hottest Lobo this week, averaging 20 points per game and knocking down ten threes in the process, including a career high seven as the Lobos caught fire from behind the arc in the second half against Air Force on Wednesday, after their shooting woes had continued against Wyoming on Saturday (3-19 from three). But, it was the Lobo defense that saved the day against the Cowboys as they forced 23 turnovers on the game, including turnovers on three straight possession after the Cowboys came back to tie the score at 58. New Mexico converted those three turnovers into six points and never looked back, eking out a two-point road victory.

Looking ahead: Back to the home-court advantage of The Pit, as the Lobos will host Colorado State on Saturday before hosting conference-leader BYU on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels emerge from the week with a 1-1 record, and remain right in the thick of things at the top of the MWC standings, but their play this week was less than impressive. While junior guard Tre’Von Willis provided most of the offensive spark for the Rebels this week (24 PPG, plus six rebounds and four assists in a loss to Utah on Saturday), it was sophomore forward Chace Stanback who took the biggest step forward this week, going for 14/10 against Utah, then pouring in 19 points, including 15 in the second half as the Rebels withstood Colorado State in Fort Collins. However, all the weaknesses that are apparent in UNLV’s lineup were on display this week, as the team went 1/12 from three in their loss at Utah and turning the ball over 16 times in allowing CSU to hang around. While Willis and Stanback have turned into the lead duo for the Rebels and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield is an excellent leader, there is precious little consistency beyond those three and that will need to change should UNLV hope to be a serious threat for the MWC title.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to TCU on Saturday, then host Air Force on Tuesday as the schedule lightens up a bit before round two of the MWC home-and-home round robin.

San Diego State

Looking back: The main takeaway from this week is a 2-0 record, including the tough road win at the Huntsman Center detailed above in our Game of the Week section. Before that, however, the Aztecs also added a home win against TCU, during which the Aztecs defense forced 20 TCU turnovers and limited the Horned Frogs to just six free throw attempts (compared to SDSU’s 25). However, as things start to tighten up as we head towards March, the Aztecs know they will have to shoot their free throws better. Over the week, the Aztecs made just 25 of their 48 free throw attempts, and over the season they rank 344th in Division I in free throw percentage, just 58.4%, a weakness that could prove deadly in close games.

Looking ahead: Just one game for the Aztecs this week, but it is a doozy as they host BYU at the Mesa on Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: A week ago at this time, the Rams were undefeated and riding high. Two losses to two of the conference’s power teams later, and CSU is back where they deserve to be: right in the middle of the MWC pack. The Rams got exposed as pretenders to the MWC crown when they visited Provo on Saturday, failing to show up at all in the second half, but to head coach Tim Miles’ credit, he had his kids ready to play at home against UNLV on Wednesday. The Rams held tight all night, forced 16 turnovers, got 20 points (including five threes) from freshman point Dorian Green, but wound up losing the game at the free throw line, making just 16 of their 28 free throw attempts while UNLV his 19 of their 23. It was made pretty clear this week that the Rams are not up to the level of the top teams in the conference, but they seem to be very capable of finishing atop the middle-of-the-pack tier.

Looking ahead: If the one-two punch of BYU/UNLV wasn’t enough, the Rams get an extra course with a trip to New Mexico on Saturday. On Wednesday, things will settle down a little as the Rams get to pick on someone their own size as they host TCU in what should be an evenly-matched battle.

TCU

Looking back: TCU’s lone conference game of the week was a trip out west to face San Diego State on Saturday, and  for a half at least things looked pretty good. The Horned Frogs were on fire in the first session, hitting 70% of their shots and six of their eight threes on the way to a nine-point halftime lead. However, they couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half, knocking down only seven of their 21 field goal attempts (although six of those seven makes were from behind the arc) and they were outscored by 14 in the second half. While the Frogs still wound up shooting at a 55% clip from behind the arc in the game, they turned the ball over 20 times and only got to the free throw line six times. On Wednesday, Jim Christian’s squad wrapped up non-conference play with a date with Texas-Pan American, and without a doubt the coach got in their ears about not relying on the three-point shot, as the Horned Frogs made a whopping 73% of their shots inside the arc on their way to a 12-point win. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss bounced back from some unsteady play last week by handing out 21 dimes this week, and senior forward Zvonko Buljan added 11.5 PPG and 9 RPG.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts UNLV on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back: This is the type of week we have predicted all along for Utah, knocking off an upper-echelon team on the road, then backing it up with a home loss. This Ute team remains only predictable in their inconsistency, and at some point this season, they will throw up a loss to Wyoming or Air Force or TCU just to prove it. In an upset victory at UNLV on Saturday, the Utes looked like a solid, veteran squad, hitting half of their field goals in the second half, hitting half of their threes over the course of the game and knocking down seven of their eight free throws in the final 90 seconds to withstand a late charge by the Rebels. They got balanced scoring (four players in double figures), they rebounded well, they played solid defense, they got six blocks from Foster, Brown knocked down some clutch threes, freshman guard Marshall Henderson added five more threes and they held on for a four point win. Three nights later, playing in front of a supportive Huntsman Center crowd, well, let’s just say things didn’t work out. They shot only 23% from the field in the first half, and despite SDSU’s best try at giving the game away (detailed in our MWC Game of the Week section above), Utah came away with a split over the week.

Looking ahead: Looking at the schedule, this looks to be a good week for the Utes, as they host Air Force before heading to Laramie to face Wyoming on Wednesday. Knowing this Utah team, don’t be surprised if they shoot 24% from the field for a game and drop one of these.

Wyoming

Looking back: Heath Schroyer had to know coming into the week that this was going to be a tough week, facing two of the elite teams in the conference. While the Cowboys played New Mexico tough in Laramie on Saturday, losing by just two despite turning the ball over 23 times, things took a bad turn early in Wednesday’s game in Provo when sophomore swing Afam Muojeke went down with a knee injury early in the first half and didn’t return. Wyoming never seemed to recover emotionally from that blow, and that combined with another 17 turnovers led to a 15-point loss at Wyoming. As of Thursday, the extent of Muojeke’s injury was not yet known, although he did miss four games earlier this year with a bruised knee.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Utah on Wednesday in their only game of the week.

Air Force

Looking back: Different week, same Air Force story; another loss (to New Mexico by 23 on Wednesday), and another injury report. Senior forward Mike McLain returned from his concussion and got 21 minutes in the New Mexico game and senior guard Avery Merriex continues to play through a broken nose after returning from a concussion. Still no sign of nor report on senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury) or sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion). While this Falcon team never had a chance to be an elite MWC team, it would have been interesting to see where this team could have finished with a full complement of players and they could still be capable of springing an upset or two if they ever get back near full strength. Junior guard Evan Washington did break out of a slump a bit this week with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists against the Lobos.

Looking ahead: At Utah on Saturday and at UNLV on Tuesday. Looks like another brutal week for the Falcons.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)


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