Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/11)

  1. New Mexico                      22-3                       8-2
  2. BYU                                        22-3                       7-2
  3. UNLV                                     19-5                       7-3
  4. San Diego State                17-7                       6-4
  5. Colorado State                  15-9                       6-4
  6. Utah                                      11-12                     4-5
  7. TCU                                        11-14                     3-7
  8. Wyoming                            9-15                       2-8
  9. Air Force                              9-14                       1-9

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Huge week for the Lobos, getting a couple hard-fought wins, including a home overtime win over San Diego State and an impressive road win at UNLV. Those wins, coupled with UNLV’s win over BYU, leave the Lobos sitting alone atop the MWC standings, having now won their last eight games after starting conference play 0-2.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. Hobson was our player of the week after the first two weeks of the regular season, but struggled a little the first time around the conference, especially with his shot and too many turnovers. This week, for the first time since 2009, that Hobson we fell in love with early in the season was back. The JuCo transfer averaged 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, five assists, and three threes, plus threw in a half-court shot at the first-half buzzer and hit the two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left against San Diego State on Saturday. When Hobson’s jumper is falling like it is right now, he’s the best player in the conference, simply because he can do so many other things with ease as well. If the Lobos hope to make a splash nationally in March, they’ll need Hobson to bring his A game.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 88, San Diego State 86 (OT). This game tipped off just as UNLV’s defeat of BYU in Vegas went final, giving the Lobos a chance to create a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Likewise, if the Aztecs had won this, there would have been a two-way tie at the top with SDSU and New Mexico tied a game back. With such a logjam at the top of the conference, it was no wonder that this game would be a wild one as well. While the level of play in the game was stellar across the board, this game really came down to a battle between Hobson and Aztec junior guard D.J. Gay. Hobson tossed in a half-court shot at the end of a back-and-forth first half to put the Lobos up five at the break, and the Lobos extended their lead as high as ten early in the second half, and after some back and forth, the lead was still ten with just two minutes remaining. But Gay went off for 11 points on his own in the last two minutes, knocking down three (increasingly improbable) threes before getting fouled on another three-attempt with his Aztecs down two with just one second left. He made two of his three attempts to send the game to OT. But Hobson was not to be denied, scoring eight points in overtime, including his two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left. Gay finished with a career-high 25 points while playing every minute of the game. Hobson, meanwhile, did take a couple minutes off, playing just 43 minutes, but still wound up with an amazing line of 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, four threes, and three steals.

Game of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ San Diego State, 2/13/10, 1pm PST, Versus. The Rebels hope to maintain their position near the top of the MWC standings, while the Aztecs still believe they have a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While that bid for the Aztecs looks unlikely at this point (their loss to Wyoming early in the MWC season was a killer, especially coupled with the lack of big non-conference wins), they still sport a strong 17-7 overall record and an RPI in the mid-40s. And, most importantly, they still have opportunities, with this home game and a trip to Provo in a couple of weeks. The roadmap to an Aztec at-large berth begins with a win over the Rebels  on Saturday, an upset of the Cougars in Provo and a run to the MWC final in March, all while taking care of business with the teams at the lower end of the conference. It is a tough road to be sure, but one this team is capable of getting done.

League Notes

We’re only a week into the second go-round in the MWC, but things have really started to clear up. New Mexico, BYU and UNLV are all more-or-less locked into NCAA bids; it would take quite a collapse for one of those teams to not be invited to dance.

The regular season championship will likely be decided February 27th when New Mexico visits BYU. New Mexico should coast from here to that game, likely riding a 12-game winning streak at that point. BYU will have to take care of a tough San Diego State team on the Wednesday before that game, but it is likely those teams will be tied atop the conference when they meet.

That leaves the Aztecs. Let’s assume they beat UNLV at home this weekend. And, let’s say they beat TCU, Utah, Colorado State and Air Force. That right there would put them at 22-7, 11-4 in conference. They win in the first round of the MWC tournament, then face the regular season champ in the semis and win that matchup too before losing in the MWC championship. Put them at 24-8 at that point with wins over New Mexico, UNLV and whoever the MWC regular season champ is, with their next best win over Arizona. Throw in a bad loss to Wyoming. RPI would likely be somewhere around 40. Is that good enough? I don’t think it is. But, what if they also get the win at BYU on February 24th? I think if they get that, they can make a good case at 25-8 with wins over every other MWC team that will make the tourney.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Two big games, two big wins, and now all alone in first place (albeit still tied in the loss column with BYU). After a week in which New Mexico got back all of the mojo it had at the start of the season, the Lobos are a shoo-in to go dancing in March. After the overtime thriller with San Diego State on Saturday, New Mexico took control from the opening tip in Vegas on Wednesday. All four of their big offensive threats (Hobson, senior forward Roman Martinez, junior guard Dairese Gary and sophomore guard Philip McDonald) scored in double figures and the Lobos absolutely destroyed the Rebels on the glass all night long, finishing with a 45-23 advantage. The Lobos also shot 52% from three and knocked down 13 of their 14 free throw attempts and, despite a late Rebel run, held on for a convincing ten-point win.

Looking ahead: In the middle of February, it can be very easy to lose your focus, especially coming off a week in which you’ve knocked off two of your biggest competitors. The Lobos travel to Utah on Saturday night, and while this is by no means a strong Ute team, they are capable of rising up and biting the ankles of some of the teams ahead of them. Just ask UNLV. After the Utah trip, the Lobos return to the Pit to host Wyoming and Air Force.

BYU

Looking back: The Cougs are itching to get back on the court. They played only once this week, and before the matinee Vegas crowd had even opened their peanuts, BYU was on their way to getting blown out. The Rebels outscored BYU 56-34 in the first half, shooting 65% from the field and 70% from three and the Cougars were never able to scrap back into the game, dropping their second conference game of the season. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette wound up with 21 points (plus seven rebounds and six assists), but shot just four of 15 from the field. Freshman forward Brandon Davies missed the UNLV game with an emergency appendectomy and is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Cougars will have had a week to chew on that loss to UNLV by the time they host Air Force on Saturday, and that can’t be good news for the outmanned Falcon squad. BYU will then travel to Colorado State on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: After putting a whooping on BYU on Saturday to move into a first-place tie, the follow-up game with New Mexico on Wednesday had to be a tough one for the Rebels. They came out of the gates flat, struggling along to a 12-point halftime deficit and, despite making a run late in the game, never seemed to fire on all cylinders. The most unforgivable sin was their lack of effort on the glass as they got outrebounded by 22, allowing the Lobos to score repeatedly on the offensive glass. The Rebels remain squarely in the thick of things near the top of the MWC leaderboard, but their loss to New Mexico relegated them to a team that needs multiple things to happen in order to win the regular season title.

Looking ahead: UNLV’s last major challenge of the regular season comes Saturday with a trip to Montezuma Mesa to face San Diego State. After that, the Rebels just need to remain focused and take care of business against the lower tier of MWC teams, beginning with a trip to Utah on Wednesday for some revenge.

San Diego State

Looking back: While the Aztecs did take New Mexico to overtime on Saturday, the dirty little secret there is that they were really outplayed rather significantly by the Lobos, right up until the time when New Mexico got a little too conservative and Gay went nuts. But, give credit to Steve Fisher’s squad for bouncing back on Wednesday with a dominating performance in knocking off reeling Wyoming. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard went for a career-high 26 points (on 10/14 shooting) plus added eight rebounds and three steals as the Aztecs led by as many as 37 in the second half on the way to a 88-57 win.

Looking ahead: Huge Saturday for the Aztecs as they host UNLV before traveling to Fort Worth to face TCU on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams are officially tops in the second tier of the Mountain West. While they don’t have the horses to play with the big boys above, they have been consistent enough to edge their way up to this fifth spot. This week, Colorado State took care of business, sprinting past Wyoming on Saturday and then edging Air Force on Tuesday, and have set themselves up nicely to potentially gain an NIT berth. Junior forward Travis Franklin was the star against Wyoming, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half. Against Air Force, it was more of a collective effort, with junior forward Andy Ogide scoring 12 and both freshman guard Dorian Green and freshman forward Greg Smith adding ten.

Looking ahead: The Rams have a week to prepare for their chance to host BYU on Wednesday and a chance to see if they have taken any steps forward since the Cougars crushed them early and often in a 91-47 game a month ago.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes began the second half of their conference schedule in much the same way they started the first half, with a solid victory over TCU. Freshman wing Marshall Henderson lit up the Frogs for 24 points on five threes and added six rebounds; junior guard Carlon Brown added 12 points. But the Utes still needed Henderson and senior guard Luka Drca to combine to go 10/10 from the free throw line in the last two minutes (both teams combined to shoot 30/33 from the line) to seal the win.

Looking ahead: Utah gets a chance to make a huge impact on the MWC race this week as they will host both New Mexico (on Saturday) and UNLV (on Wednesday). Expect them to pull off one upset this week, while they lose the other by 25 while shooting somewhere south of 30% from the field.

TCU

Looking back: If it hadn’t happened already, it definitely happened this week. Head coach Jim Christian has turned the page and started to look towards next year. With Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas in the middle of disappointing senior seasons (their play in conference has been especially depressing), it looks like the Horned Frogs are starting to see what type of pieces they have to build around for next season. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss is a given. While he has showed some inconsistency, commits too many turnovers at times and is all too likely to fall in love with his jumper, he is a talented player on both ends of the court. Junior guard Greg Hill has been getting more attention offensively of late, and while he too can be wild at times, he is a capable shooter, knocking down seven threes on his way to 23 points in a win over Air Force on Saturday. And freshman forward Nick Cerina has shown flashes of brilliance this season, despite some inconsistency. He had 17 in the loss to Utah on Wednesday. Sophomore forward Kevin Butler and freshman guard Garlon Green have also proven themselves to be pieces who can be valuable for the Horned Frogs in the future.

Looking ahead: The Frogs travel to Wyoming on Saturday then return home to host San Diego State on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: At the start of the season there was a lot of optimism around Laramie, with a fast-paced offense, some pressure defense, a budding star in sophomore Afam Muojeke, exciting incoming transfer JayDee Luster and a handful of interesting parts, there were even some Cowboy fans who whispered a bit about postseason tournaments. Some three months later, head coach Heath Schroyer is the one MWC coach squirming on the hot seat, Muojeke is lost for the season, and the Cowboy roster is in disarray. This week, sophomore guard A.J. Davis announced he was leaving the program; Davis was still the team’s third leading scorer, despite having seen his minutes drop drastically in conference play. Schroyer has now had six of his recruits leave the program in his three seasons in Laramie (Davis was the second this season – junior guard Thomas Manzano left the program in December) and in the Cowboys’ losses this week (by 16 to Colorado State and by 31 to San Diego State), they only dressed ten players, only nine of whom were on scholarship.

Looking ahead: Playing out the string, the Cowboys host TCU on Saturday, then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: Just a couple weeks back the Falcons had broken their 22-game conference losing streak, their players were starting to get healthy and optimism surrounded the program. Now, the Falcons have started a new losing streak (up to three games now), senior forward Grant Parker continues to sustain injuries (dislocated shoulder most recently, although he is still playing through it) and it seems like the same old story in Colorado Springs. The Falcons did play Colorado State strong on Wednesday, even having a possible game-tying three by junior Evan Washington with five second left, but in the end this goes in the books as another two-loss week for Air Force.

Looking ahead: This will definitely not be a two-loss week for Air Force, as they play only once, traveling to BYU on Saturday. So, it will just be a one-loss week.

rtmsf (3774 Posts)


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