Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Standings (as of 3/5)

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (27-4, 12-3)
  3. San Diego State    (21-8, 10-5)
  4. UNLV       (22-7, 10-5)
  5. Utah          (14-15, 7-8)
  6. Colorado State      (15-14, 6-9)
  7. TCU          (13-17, 5-10)
  8. Wyoming         (10-19, 3-12)
  9. Air Force          (9-19, 1-14)

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. The obvious answer here, as the Lobos this week knocked off BYU at the Marriott Center to clinch at least a portion of the regular season title, then followed that up by knocking off TCU back at The Pit to wrap up their MWC schedule with their 14th straight victory after starting out the conference season 0-2. The Lobos will head to Las Vegas as the #1 seed and have the potential to take home perhaps a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament should they extend their winning streak to 17.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. The junior JuCo transfer wrapped up this title, as well as my vote for the MWC Player of the Year, by leading his team to a win at BYU and a MWC title. Along the way this week, he averaged a mere 20 points, 14 rebounds (he in fact had exactly 20/14 in both games this week) and 5.5 assists, and had the key defensive play at the end of the Lobos win over BYU when he rejected Noah Hartsock’s game-tying attempt in the closing seconds.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 83 BYU 81. While this game came down to the wire and provided plenty of drama in a game for the conference regular season title, it is unfortunate that this game may be more notable for what didn’t happen than what did, specifically BYU’s junior guard Jimmer Fredette riding the pine for all but 29 seconds in the second half due to an “upset stomach.” The Cougars did have backup point Michael Loyd step up in Fredette’s absence to the tune of 19 points, but there is little doubt that the Cougars were at less than 100% effectiveness without their best player. The other story that came out of this matchup that had little to do with the game was New Mexico head coach Steve Alford aiming an insult at BYU senior forward Jonathan Tavernari after the game. Nevermind that Tavernari’s behavior in the closing minutes of the game was suspect at best, Alford was somewhat out of line. As far as the game goes, there were plenty of great moments, but most fans are left wanting a rematch in Vegas, preferably with a healthy Fredette.

Game of the Upcoming Week. The MWC Tournament Championship Game, March 13, 4pm, Versus. The remaining games in the MWC regular season schedule are all more or less snoozers, although UNLV, San Diego State and BYU will have to avoid slipping up against Wyoming, TCU and Air Force, respectively. But, at this point in the season, all eyes turn toward the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas next weekend, in what should feature some very competitive semifinals and a great final.

League Notes

At this point, there are four teams with NCAA dreams (New Mexico, BYU, UNLV and San Diego State) and a couple others (Utah and Colorado State) with their eyes on the NIT (or potentially, one of the other fourteen lesser post-season tournaments that have popped up recently – ah look, there goes another one now). While that makes for a banner season in the MWC, the concern around the league is not just getting to the tournament, but advancing. With that in mind, a brief look at how high (in terms of NCAA seedings) and how far these teams can go.

  • New Mexico – The Lobos will likely end up somewhere between a #2 and a #4 seed. If they roll through the MWC Tournament and get maybe one or two other breaks, they could potentially get up to a #2, while if they falter, say in the semifinals, they could slide to a #4. Split the difference and put ‘em down for a #3. In terms of how far they can go, clearly a team looking at those kinds of seeds has their eyes on at least the Sweet Sixteen, but a night of cold shooting especially at the foul line could cause the Lobos to underachieve. Their worst potential matchup would be with a team with a lot of size that could neutralize New Mexico’s rebounding strength, a team like Gonzaga, Wisconsin or Georgia Tech. In the end, I say this is a Sweet Sixteen team, but likely no further.
  • BYU – BYU’s lack of great wins will probably knock them down a notch or two in seeding, so even if they are able to run through the MWC Tournament, they probably get a #4 tops. More likely they are looking at a #5 and could slip to a #6. However, BYU may be a more dangerous team in the tournament than New Mexico. The Cougars are one of the most efficient teams on both sides of the court and feature not only a boatload of great shooters, but a strong bench as well, and this is a more athletic team than it is normally given credit for. BYU is also a team that can succeed not only in high-tempo games, but in slower grind-it-out games. I can see this team as a Sweet Sixteen team with a puncher’s chance of going a step further.
  • UNLV – The Rebels have enough good wins this season to more or less ensure inclusion in the tournament and they should draw a first-round battle as a seed somewhere in the #7-#9 range. Their chances of advancing depend a lot on matchups, but this is not a team that is likely to be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
  • San Diego State – The big question for the Aztecs is not so much where they will be seeded, but if they will be seeded. A big run through the MWC Tournament is the only way that Steve Fisher will be resting easy on the night of March 13, but a run to the final would at least give SDSU another quality win to hang their hat on. Either way, even if the Aztecs do get to dance, they’ll likely be doing so with a double-digit seed, somewhere from #11 (if they do win the MWC tourney) to #13 (if they are among the last teams in. I’ve got a hunch this team will get a #12 seed, and while they are athletic enough to do some damage, they’ll likely bow out quickly.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Not much else to say here that wasn’t said above. The Lobos have wrapped up their conference schedule and by the time they play again they will not have lost in over two months. Roman Martinez dropped 19 points and five threes on TCU in his senior night performance, and junior point guard Dairese Gary has been big lately as well, having averaged 21ppg over the Lobos last three games and has been clutch down the stretch, routinely being the guy getting to the line and knocking down his shots from the charity stripe in the closing minutes of games.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a week off to prepare for their trip to Vegas where they will open play with a matchup against the winner of the Air Force/Wyoming game before moving on to more challenging fare.

BYU

Looking back: BYU’s four losses on the season have come at Utah State, at New Mexico, at UNLV, and then at home against New Mexico without their best player for much of the game. They swept the season series against in-state rival Utah, and are all ready to receive a fairly high seed in the NCAA tournament. However, despite a bevy of accomplishments, it will go down as just another season if the Cougars are unable to advance out of the first round of the NCAA tournament, something they have been unable to do in the 11-year life of the MWC. The higher the seed the Cougs get, the easier it will be for them to accomplish that goal, so a strong performance in Vegas next weekend will be vital to BYU’s tournament chances.

Looking ahead: BYU wraps up the regular season by travelling to TCU on Saturday, then will face the Horned Frogs again on March 11th in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

San Diego State

Looking back: After the BYU loss, the Aztecs had just two games left on their schedule, games that they were expected to win, and they took care of the first half of that equation this week with a win over Colorado State on Wednesday. SDSU got eight straight points from junior point guard D.J. Gay to extend their lead to 33-19 at the half, and the Rams never really challenged again. Gay wound up with a team-high 16 points, while freshman forward Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and 15 rebounds and junior forward Malcolm Thomas added 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs wrap up the regular season with a trip to Air Force, then will travel to the MWC Tournament, where they will be a three-seed with a win and a four-seed if they lose and UNLV wins. Either way, they are locked into a matchup with either Colorado State or Utah in the quarterfinal, and a likely matchup with either BYU or New Mexico in the semifinal, a game which will be huge for the Aztecs NCAA tournament chances.

UNLV

Looking back: Much like the Aztecs, the Rebels are in the midst of a couple games they should win to wrap up the season and they’re halfway there, having polished off Air Force on Saturday by 30 behind a career-high 21 points to go along with eight rebounds from sophomore forward Chace Stanback. The Rebels dominated on the glass and shot 59% from the field, while lighting it up from three as well at a 48% clip. Junior guard Kendall Wallace added five threes.

Looking ahead: The Rebels can move up to the three-seed in the MWC Tournament with a season-closing win over Wyoming paired with an unlikely SDSU loss to Air Force, and like SDSU they’ll face either Colorado State or Utah in the quarters and either BYU or New Mexico in the semis. Unlike the Aztecs, the Rebels seem to already have their ticket to the NCAA tournament punched, barring a bad loss between now and then.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes are all alone in fifth place, the highest they have been this season, thanks to their win over Wyoming on Saturday coupled with a pair of Colorado State losses. Utah got 33 total points from senior Luka Drca and junior Carlon Brown, the two most capable scorers in an inconsistent lineup, and Drca in particular made this win possible with 10 of his 17 points in the last six minutes of the game. However, as if to highlight their inconsistencies, the Utes failed to have a single player score in double figures in their 20-point loss to BYU on Tuesday and the entire team when over 8:30 of game time without scoring a single point ranging from the end of the first half through the start of the second and the team shot just 27% and turned the ball over 17 times.

Looking ahead: Utah will have a chance to get back to .500 on the season and wrap up the fifth seed when they travel to Colorado State on Saturday in a battle of the middle-of-the-pack MWC teams.

Colorado State

Looking back: For the first time all season, the Rams have lost four in a row, following a week in which they dropped a couple road games after giving up big runs. Against TCU on Saturday, the Frogs finished the game on a 20-6 run to come back from an eight-point deficit with 8 minutes left to win by six. Then, at SDSU on Wednesday, the Aztecs finished the first half on a 16-6 run to take a 14-point lead into the half, from which the Rams never recovered. Junior forward Andy Ogide continued his strong play of late, however, averaging 18.5ppg and 12rpg this week. Ogide has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games, and in the one that he didn’t hit double figures, he was still the team’s leading scorer.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Utah on Saturday in a battle for the five-seed in Vegas, where they will have a tough quarterfinal matchup with either SDSU or UNLV.

TCU

Looking back: This was probably the Horned Frogs’ best week of games since early January, and when you look at the 1-1 record with just a win over Colorado State to show for it, you get why TCU is down here in the dumps. TCU did get some signs of life from senior forward Zvonko Buljan (14.5ppg/11rpg) and senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas (12.5ppg), and rode some hot shooting (7-13 from three) against CSU to the week’s lone win.

Looking ahead: The Frogs are going to get a double-dose of BYU over the next week: they’ll host the Cougs on Saturday then meet them in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys closed out Air Force late on Tuesday night with a 10-2 run to seal, well, nothing more than eighth place in the conference. But, the highlight for Heath Schroyer’s team over the back-end of the schedule has been the emergence of freshman guard Desmar Jackson as a legitimate scoring threat. Jackson had 31 in Wyoming’s loss to Utah on Saturday, then followed that up with 12 points and five assists against the Falcons, and has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys will be playing the rest of their games this season at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. They’ll face UNLV there on Saturday to wrap up their regular season schedule, then face Air Force there in the first round game of the MWC Tournament.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s been a rough season for the Falcons (again), with injuries decimating a roster that was already the least talented in the conference. And while they will likely finish up with just a 1-15 conference record (a one-game improvement over last year, mind you), they have fought it out right to the end. They put a scare into New Mexico a week ago, and this week (after getting demolished by UNLV in Colorado Springs), got to with a point of Wyoming late on Tuesday before folding down the stretch and cementing their hold on last place.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host SDSU on Saturday, then get a rematch with Wyoming, this time on a neutral court in the MWC Tournament.

rtmsf (3775 Posts)


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