Mountain West Tournament PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He will be reporting from the MWC Tournament throughout the weekend.
- New Mexico (28-3, 14-2)
- BYU (28-4, 13-3)
- UNLV (23-7, 11-5)
- San Diego State (22-8, 11-5)
- Colorado State (16-14, 7-9)
- Utah (14-16 , 7-9)
- TCU (13-18, 5-11)
- Wyoming (10-20, 3-13)
- Air Force (9-20, 1-15)
- Player of the Year. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. In my MWC preview at the start of the year, the name Darington Hobson didn’t appear once. But, after a week or so of play, he was my first Player of the Week, an honor he went on to win four times over the course of the season. He broke onto the scene in the Lobos first game against UC Riverside with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, the type of jam-packed stat sheet that came to be expected of him over the season, as he averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists throughout. While not a pure shooter by any means, he averaged a little over a three per game (at a 38% clip), turned into a capable manager of the offense (despite averaging three turnovers a game) and was able to defend bigger players as well as match up with a smaller, quicker guards when necessary. With another year ahead of him in Albuquerque, Hobson’s not done being a force in the MWC.
- Newcomer of the Year. Hobson. If he’s the Player of the Year, and he’s also a newcomer, it stands to reason he’s also the Newcomer of the Year.
- Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. Sure, there was that embarrassing incident with Jonathan Tavernari at the end of the year. And sure, if this was even a little bit of a close call, I’d be throwing this thing Dave Rose’s way. But Alford took a team that lost its three leading scorers last year and rebuilt on the fly, getting solid contributions from nine different players as the Lobos ran out to a 14-1 record in the non-conference and vaulting into the top 25. However, a rough start to the MWC schedule had the Lobos 0-2 after losses at San Diego State and at home to UNLV. But Alford had his team turn it around to the tune of 14 straight wins to close out the regular season, giving the Lobos a strong argument in favor of a lofty NCAA seed. And if all that isn’t impressive enough, he did this all with only one senior on the roster (forward Roman Martinez), meaning the Lobos aren’t done howling around the top of the MWC standings.
- Freshman of the Year. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Leonard came into the season as the most highly regarded freshman in the conference, and one of the most highly sought after recruits to sign in the MWC in years. While it took Leonard a bit of time to get truly comfortable in head coach Steve Fisher’s system, by mid-December he was dropping lines like 23/18 on Cal State Fullerton. But it wasn’t really until conference play that Leonard was fully comfortable displaying all his skills. Sure, he was a great athletic rebounder (who led the conference in rebounding with almost 10 rebounds a game), sure he could finish above the rim, but as conference play wore on you saw him bring the ball up court against pressure, take the defensive challenge against opponents as diverse as UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and New Mexico’s Martinez and Hobson, develop a face-up game and turn into a leader in the Aztec huddle. And, as is a common theme that will re-occur around the league, he is one of at least eight contributors on the SDSU team that are expected to return next season.
- Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard. Conventional wisdom has this award going to Utah’s 7’3” behemoth David Foster, who did reject his foes 113 times (4.0 blocks per game) this season. But as impressive as those numbers were, Foster wasn’t particularly good on the defensive glass and was immobile enough against quicker fours and fives in the MWC to have been a liability at times. Instead, I’m going to go with the more versatile Leonard who guarded his share of fours and fives over the season, while also taking his cracks at guys like Willis (who he was partially responsible for holding to 11-30 shooting in the Aztecs’ two games with the Rebels). Leonard also added 39 steals and 20 blocks while consistently pairing with junior Malcolm Thomas to clean the defensive glass for the Aztecs
All MWC First Team
- F Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico
- G Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU
- G Tre’Von Willis, Jr, UNLV
- F Kawhi Leonard, Fr, San Diego State
- F Roman Martinez, Sr, New Mexico
All MWC Second Team
- G Jackson Emery, Jr, BYU
- F Malcolm Thomas, So, San Diego State
- G Dairese Gary, Jr, New Mexico
- F Andy Ogide, Jr, Colorado State
- G Ronnie Moss, So, TCU
All MWC Freshman Team
- F Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
- F Tyler Haws, BYU
- G Marshall Henderson, Utah
- G Desmar Jackson, Wyoming
- F Brandon Davies, BYU
- #8 Wyoming vs. #9 Air Force – March 10, 2pm PST, The Mtn. This dog of a matchup decides who gets to play sacrificial lamb to top-seeded New Mexico in the quarterfinals.
- #1 New Mexico vs. #8/9 winner – March 11, 12pm, The Mtn. New Mexico should advance here, but they have played their share of close games against inferior teams. In fact, Air Force put a good scare into the Lobos a couple weeks back.
- #4 San Diego State vs. #5 Colorado State – March 11, 2:30pm, The Mtn, CBS College Sports. The Aztecs swept the season series with the Rams, and did so behind balanced scoring. In each matchup, junior point D.J. Gay and Kawhi Leonard posted similar point totals (17 and 16 for Gay, 14 for Leonard in each game), with Leonard dominating the glass to the tune of 14 rebounds per game. But, the Rams combined to shoot just four of 29 from three against the Aztecs, so if they can get a few more threes to drop, an upset is not out of the question, a turn of events that would end SDSU’s NCAA tournament hopes.
- #2 BYU vs. #7 TCU – March 11, 6pm, The Mtn. The Cougars defeated the Horned Frogs by an average of 25 points per game in their two matchups thus far, with their last game coming just last Saturday, a game in which BYU shot 63% from the field, 57% from three, forced 24 turnovers, had four players score over 18 points and finished the game on a 103-59 run after falling behind 18-4 early. All of which goes to say, this game should not be particularly competitive.
- #3 UNLV vs. #6 Utah – March 11, 8:30pm, The Mtn, CBS College Sports. The Utes have been the Achilles’ Heel for the Rebels all year long. Utah swept the season series, winning by four in Vegas in mid-January, then backing that up with a five-point win at home in mid-February. One of the common denominators in both games was Utah shooting well from the field, hitting over 50% in both games, quite a feat for a team that shot just 43% from the field on the year. In order for the Rebels to get their revenge, they will need to get offensive production from someone other than Willis, who averaged 29.5 points in the two previous games.
Semifinals – Projected
- #1 New Mexico vs. #4 San Diego State – March 12, 6pm, CBS College Sports
- #2 BYU vs. #3 UNLV – March 12, 8:30pm, CBS College Sports. These are the two games that unbiased observers likely want to see, clearly the four best teams in the conference fighting it out with NCAA tournament implications. For the Aztecs to seal up what would likely be the conference’s fourth tournament bid, they would need to get this win over New Mexico. Paired with the previous win over New Mexico and their win over UNLV, that might be enough to put them on the inside of the bubble, while a loss here would leave them sitting on the fence on March 14. The second semifinal would be the rubber match between these two heated MWC rivals with each team having defended their home court. The difference, once again, may be the fact that this game will be played on UNLV’s home court. In the end, however, I’m gonna push the top two seeds ahead to my projected final, if only because I’m quite interested to see a rematch of the the game we had a week back, but this time with a healthy Fredette.
Finals – Projected
- #1 New Mexico vs. #2 BYU – March 13th, 4pm, Vs. It was an entertaining battle on February 27 in Provo, but the absence of Fredette left everybody feeling a bit cheated: BYU was without their best player, New Mexico had their big win and conference championship somewhat belittled due to the absence of BYU’s best player, and us observers all just missed out on a clash between the two strongest teams in a strong conference. Now, a rematch, hopefully with everybody healthy, on a neutral floor; this is what March basketball is all about. I still think a healthy BYU is the best team in the conference, but until and unless they can prove that, it is New Mexico’s conference, with everybody else just living in it.