Checking In On… the Mountain West ConferencePosted by AMurawa on December 20th, 2011
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12 Conferences.
A Look Back
After a slow week for finals (just seven games between December 10 and December 18), things picked up against for the Mountain West last night, with six teams in action. All told, MW teams went 10-3 since the last time we did this, with two of those three losses coming at the hands of a sneaky good Denver team. The other loss was TCU getting blown out at USC, but aside from that game, MW teams scored wins over teams from the Big Ten (UNLV over Illinois) and the Big 12 (New Mexico over Oklahoma State), bringing the conference’s record on the year against teams from BCS conferences to 15-8.
Team of the Week
UNLV – Let’s not overthink this; the Runnin’ Rebels are the Mountain West team of the week on the strength of posting the best win of the week, a 64-48 thumping of previously undefeated Illinois in an anything-but-neutral site game in Chicago. Combined with a sluggish win over UTEP and a by-the-numbers slog over Louisiana-Monroe, UNLV, ranked #20 in this week’s RTC Top 25, improved to 12-2 on the season. And, even better, in the win Monday over ULM, they picked up another weapon, as point guard Reggie Smith, a transfer from Marquette, got his first minutes of the season after becoming eligible at the semester break. He played just nine minutes, but hit a three-pointer, grabbed a couple offensive rebounds and handed out an assist (we’ll overlook the three turnovers for today) in his first action.
Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week
Hugh Greenwood, Fr, New Mexico –The freshman from Australia has earned his accolades this season mainly by not turning the ball over, admittedly a great characteristic for a point guard to have. Five different times this season he has played at least 25 minutes in a game without a single turnover, and his 3.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is 19th in the nation among players with 20 or more assists. But this weekend, in the Lobos win over Oklahoma State, Greenwood showed that he can also be called upon to score in the clutch when needed. After UNM had given up a 13-point 2nd half lead to allow OSU to take a one-point lead, Greenwood sparked a 14-3 run to close out the win for his squad, scoring eight points (including a couple of threes), grabbing two rebounds and snatching a steal over that stretch. After four years of Dairese Gary being the floor general in The Pit, Greenwood is well on his way to living up to that precedent.
Game of the Week
The most important game of the past week was UNLV’s destruction of Illinois in Chicago. Not only was it a measure of revenge for the Rebels, who were embarrassed by the Illini in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, but, more importantly, it is another solid non-conference win to add to their resume for this season. Mike Moser led the way for the Rebs, posting his sixth double-double of the year with 17/11, but it was their lock-down defense – holding Illinois to a mere 30.9 eFG% – that earned Dave Rice’s team an enjoyable flight home.
Games of the Upcoming Week
California @ UNLV, 12/23, 2 PM PST, CBS College Sports – The Rebels wrap up a brutal non-conference stretch by hosting the Pac-12 favorite California in a pre-Christmas treat. Cal’s senior guard, Jorge Gutierrez, has earned a reputation as a defensive nuisance, so UNLV’s already somewhat turnover-prone guards will need to make sure to take extra special care of the ball. Up front, UNLV’s Mike Moser, Chace Stanback and the three-headed center will meet a Golden Bear front line depleted by the loss of sophomore Richard Solomon to a stress fracture in his foot. Nevertheless, the Bears do a great job of keeping opposing teams off of the glass, grabbing 77.2% of defensive rebounds. Both teams have had trouble guarding the three-point line, and while UNLV has been good enough from three (especially against North Carolina), Cal is shooting 42.1% as a team from behind the arc, 11th in the nation. For Cal, they’ll need this game to send them into conference play with at least one solid non-conference victory (to this point their best win is over Denver), while UNLV could polish their non-conference resume with yet another MW win over a Pac-12 school (MW 10-3 vs. Pac-12 this season).
1. UNLV 12-2
Aside from the win over Illinois, the Rebels had a hard time with UTEP on Wednesday night before finally pulling away behind an Anthony Marshall-fueled 16-6 run to end the game. Marshall had 16 second-half points in that game, including ten during UNLV’s game-sealing run. On Monday night, it was senior Chace Stanback who led the way for the Rebs, breaking out of a slump (he had only scored seven points on two-of-12 shooting in the previous two games) in a big way, hitting eight-of-nine three-point attempts on his way to a career-high 29 points.
A look ahead: Our RTC-approved MW game of the week features the Rebels hosting California on Friday.
2. San Diego State 10-2
The Aztecs returned from a 11-day hiatus for finals by taking care of UC Riverside with ease on Monday night. James Rahon broke out of his season-long slump from three by hitting five of his eight attempts from behind the arc in a 25-point win over the Highlanders. It was the first game this year where Rahon hit multiple three-point shots, something he did 14 times last season.
A look ahead: Man, the Aztecs are a boring team right now. It’s been more than two weeks since they’ve played an opponent of any worth, and it will be more than three weeks until their next game of interest, when they open MW conference play by hosting UNLV. In the meantime, this week they host Elon on Thursday, then take another eight days off. Must be nice.
3. New Mexico 8-2
Aside from Greenwood’s performance on Saturday night, senior center Drew Gordon had his best game on the glass this year, pulling down 20 rebounds in the win over the Cowboys. To put that in perspective, he pulled down about 15% of all the New Mexico misses and about 33% of all of Oklahoma State’s misses. This was Gordon’s fifth double-double of the year, but he still has yet to get his offensive game on track. Against OSU, he missed 10 of his 14 shots from the field, and is now shooting just 44.4% from the field on the year. Even worse, the guy is just incapable of passing out of the post. Even when he draws a double-team, he is either forcing up shots, turning the ball over or (at best) kicking the ball back out to reset the offense. It may be time to admit that, other than his ability to get his own points by attacking the offensive glass, Gordon’s offensive game may be a lost cause.
A look ahead: The Lobos have a couple of breathers in The Pit prior to their holiday break, hosting Montana State tonight and UMKC on Thursday before trying to get some revenge on New Mexico State in Las Cruces next Wednesday.
4. Boise State 9-3
The Broncos started the week by losing their second straight game, this one to Denver in a game in which they never got comfortable. They shot just ten three-pointers on the night, quite a bit lower than the 22 per night they’ve been averaging on the season, and made just two (rather than their nine-per night average), while the Pioneers did more or less what BSU wanted to do, hitting eight of their 15 threes and fighting their opponent to a draw just about everywhere else. BSU did bounce back with a win over future-MW member, Fresno State, on Monday night, and looked a lot more like the three-point bombers we’ve come to expect, led by Anthony Drmic’s four three-pointers. Sophomore forward Ryan Watkins also excelled, posting his first career double-double, grabbing a career-high 11 boards, including an amazing nine on the offensive end that led to 18 points.
A look ahead: A trip to Iowa City on Thursday to face the Hawkeyes will be a tough, but winnable, road test.
5. Wyoming 11-2
Boise State wasn’t the only MW team that had problems with Denver this week, as the Cowboys learned Monday night that Larry Scott’s club can beat quality teams in a variety of ways. Leonard Washington led the way for Wyoming in a losing effort, scoring 18 and grabbing nine rebounds, but the Cowboy shooters just couldn’t get going, as the team combined to shoot just one-of-13 from three. Wyoming did take care of business in their previous two games, knocking off UC Irvine and Sioux Falls with relative ease.
A look ahead: The Cowboys have a manageable road trip to Pocatello to face Idaho State on Thursday night, before being able to head back home for an extended holiday break.
6. Air Force 6-2
The Falcons sole game with week was against Maryland Eastern Shore, one of the worst teams in Division I, ranked 334th out of 345 teams by Ken Pomeroy. Knowing that, a four-point win earned when Michael Lyons got a steal and layup followed by a rebound of a UMES miss and a couple free throws, all in the last 14.6 seconds, is not the most comforting thing. But, coming off finals week and with a trip to Gonzaga next in line, perhaps Jeff Reynolds and company can just call a win a win and move on.
A look ahead: The trip to Gonzaga comes on Thursday, with a visit to Santa Clara’s Cable Car Classic tournament (including a some decent teams – Wagner, then either Eastern Michigan or Santa Clara) due up next week.
7. Colorado State 5-4
Eleven days off was real good to Wes Eikmeier and the Rams. Eikmeier, CSU’s leading scorer, tied a career-high by hitting four threes and nine-of-14 from the field in a 24-point win over Texas Southern. Junior forward Pierce Hornung also made a splash for the Rams, playing his first game after missing six straight due to the effects of a concussion. He grabbed 11 rebounds, snatched three steals, handed out three assists and just generally provided an emotional lift to the team and the fans.
A look ahead: The Rams have a good local rivalry going with Northern Colorado, but have yet to win in any of head coach Tim Miles’ trips to Greeley. They’ll try to remedy that situation on Thursday night.
8. TCU 7-4
USC scored 83 points on TCU. USC. A team that had been averaging 54 points per game (good for 340th in the country – yeah, fifth to last); a team whose previous high had been 66 points. The Horned Frogs could have lost this game and it would have been perfectly understandable. But to lose a game by 24 points while allowing 1.26 points per possession to one of the worst offensive teams in the country? Simply unacceptable. We been trying to figure out who the worst team in the conference is, but after Monday night, there is no longer a debate. How this team beat Virginia, I still have no idea.
A look ahead: TCU begins a stretch of four straight home games with a visit from Grambling State on Thursday night.