Checking In On… the Mountain West ConferencePosted by AMurawa on December 27th, 2011
A Look Back
It’s been a relatively quiet week around the Mountain West as teams took a bit of a break to celebrate the holidays. However, despite just eight games in the past week, we’ve had three fairly significant injuries. Boise State was the team hardest hit, as it lost freshman wing Igor Hadziomerovic to a broken foot and will likely play the rest of the season without him, while fellow freshman Anthony Drmic, the team’s leading scorer, missed the Broncos’ visit to Iowa with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile, Air Force lost is leading scorer, Michael Lyons, early in its visit to Spokane to face Gonzaga to a sprained ankle of his own. He never returned to a game in which the Falcons possibly could have challenged the Bulldogs, and the worst-case scenario for Lyons is not a good one. Since he sustained a high-ankle sprain, he could miss as many as six weeks, but a lot depends on how he reacts. It is possible he could be back as soon as this weekend, but ideally he would be back by January 14 when the Falcons travel to Boise State to open the conference season.
Another prominent MW player missed a game this week for a different reason, however, as New Mexico’s Kendall Williams sat out the Lobos’ Thursday game against UMKC as punishment from head coach Steve Alford for a poor academic fall semester. Williams is not in any way academically ineligible, and certainly the Lobos did just fine without him against middling competition, but give credit to Alford for laying down the law.
Team of the Week
UNLV – The Runnin’ Rebels take this honor down for the second straight week on the strength of its demolition of California on Friday. UNLV used a 31-12 run to close the first half to build a 20-point halftime lead, then led by as many as 27 in the second half before coasting home to a 17-point win. Anthony Marshall led the way in style with 22 points, nine rebounds, and three steals, while Oscar Bellfield handed out 11 assists and the Rebels dominated every facet of the game. UNLV still has to travel to Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield in their non-conference (along with hosting Central Arkansas), but if everything holds up, they should enter conference play with a 16-2 record, including wins over North Carolina, Illinois and California and a good shot at a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Player of the Week
Dorian Green, Jr, Colorado State – Green caught absolute fire Thursday night for the Rams, hitting eight-of-ten three-pointers and 11-of-16 from the field while exploding for a career-high 36 points in a win over Northern Colorado. After an excellent freshman season in Fort Collins, Green took a step back last season, seeing his scoring and shooting numbers take a healthy dip. But in his third season, Green has been rock-solid shooting the ball, hitting 58.7% of his three-point attempts this year. He’s also picked up his rebounding numbers for the third year running, (even adding his first-career double-digit rebounding game against Duke a couple weeks back) while helping out with the ballhandling duties and providing an explosive offensive threat in a Ram backcourt made up of multiple excellent shooters.
Newcomer of the Week
Craig Williams, Sr, TCU – Williams may be a senior, but he’s new to the MW and new to the Horned Frogs. The graduate student transfer from Temple came through this week with a career-performance in a win over Grambling State, scoring 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting and grabbing ten rebounds. It took him a while to get going this season, but he’s grabbed double-digit rebounds twice, has scored double-digits in his last two games, and has begun earning significant minutes, earning 25+ minutes in his last two outings.
Game of the Week
It may not have been much to watch, but UNLV’s win over California will pay dividends not only for the Runnin’ Rebels, but for the rest of the conference. The win bolstered UNLV’s resume and bumped them up to eighth in the RPI, meaning that teams like San Diego State (57th in RPI) New Mexico (74th) and even Colorado State (a surprising 46th), TCU (76th) and Wyoming (99th) will have a crack at a seriously good resume-boosting win in conference play.
Games of the Upcoming Week
New Mexico at New Mexico State (12/28, 7PM MST, Aggievision), Saint Louis at New Mexico (12/31, 4PM MST, The Mtn.) – The Lobos have two huge games this week as they try to put the finishing touches on an NCAA-worthy non-conference schedule. First, on Wednesday the travel to Las Cruces to try to gain revenge on their in-state rival Aggies (RPI: 77), before returning home to host Saint Louis (RPI: 52) on the final day of the year. A couple of wins here would give UNM some solid (if not spectacular) wins over Washington State, Missouri State, Oklahoma State and these two teams prior to conference play.
1. UNLV 13-2
Back in the heyday of Runnin’ Rebel basketball, the Jerry Tarkanian days, UNLV was known primarily as an offensive juggernaut. In 1990, when Larry Johnson and company swept to a 30-point win in the national title game over Duke, the Rebels scored over 100 points 15 times in 40 games. The next season, they did it 14 more times. To make an awful comparison, in Lon Kruger’s seven years in Vegas, that happened twice. So far under Dave Rice, the Rebels haven’t yet scored over 100, but for the first time since 2007, UNLV is a better offensive team than a defensive team. With players like Justin Hawkins, Chace Stanback and the three-headed center all playing significantly better on the offensive end this year, plus the addition of rebounding prodigy Mike Moser, the Rebels are capable of exploding offensively on any given night. And, if you throw out the loss at Wichita State in which the Rebels allowed 1.48 points per possession (a game beginning to look like an aberration), UNLV has only once allowed a team to score more than one point per possession.
A look ahead: The Rebels host Central Arkansas on Wednesday before taking a big trip to Honolulu for a New Year’s Eve game at Hawaii. While the Rainbow Warriors aren’t much to look at, the prospect of New Year’s Eve in paradise could be a distraction for anybody.
2. San Diego State 11-2
Ho-hum. I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll mention it again: the Aztecs are in the midst of an absolutely horrible stretch of their schedule. It’s been three weeks since their last remotely interesting game, it’s more than two weeks until th, and eir next one. This week they beat up on Elon by 26 points, bringing up an interesting question. If Jamaal Franklin goes for 19 and 6 and Chase Tapley has 14 and 5 in an invisible game, does it make a sound?
A look ahead: Yuck. Division III Redlands visits on Friday, then a few more days off until San Diego Christian of the NAIA visits next Thursday. Hey, but they go back to Division I games shortly after that when they host 0-13 (ranked second-to-last in Division I by Ken Pomeroy) on January 10. These are wins for the Aztecs, but they probably do more harm than good.
3. New Mexico 10-2
A couple wins over Montana State and UMKC (by an average of 35 points) mean next to nothing. But seeing Tony Snell continue to play with authority and drill threes with regularity is a good sign. Snell ripped the heart out of Montana State early and often, hitting three threes in the first two minutes and change, hitting his first five attempts from deep and six on the night (on the way to a career-high 24 points). Steve Alford also got a couple other big performances this week from reserves, first as junior point guard Jamal Fenton scored 27 points in the two games and added eight assists against UMKC when he earned a starting spot in Kendall Williams’ absence; and second as senior Philip McDonald had his best game of the season against UMKC, throwing in 18 points and four threes. McDonald has battled some nagging injuries all year long, so hopefully for the Lobos he is getting ready to turn it on.
A look ahead: We mentioned the upcoming Lobo games above in our Game of the Week section, but they are important enough that they bear repeating: at New Mexico State on Wednesday, then home against Saint Louis on Saturday.
4. Wyoming 12-2
The Cowboys bounced back from their loss at Denver by handling a poor Idaho State team on Thursday with ease. JuCo transfer Derrious Gilmore broke out for his first double-digit night at the Division I level, scoring 18 points and drilling four threes in a season-high 29 minutes. Senior point JayDee Luster picked up a quick two fouls in the first half, then a quick third early in the second and only played 12 minutes, but Gilmore took over and led the way. However, Gilmore’s five turnovers and just two assists don’t come close to the level of Luster’s 3.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season.
A look ahead: The Cowboys are in a deep freeze until next year, with their next game at Utah Valley on January 3.
5. Colorado State 7-4
We still don’t know a lot about the Rams. Their best win is maybe over Colorado, a young and under-talented Pac-12 squad. Meanwhile, all their games against better competition (Stanford, Southern Miss, Northern Iowa and Duke) have ended in losses by an average of over 15 points per game. Their offense has been excellent, as they lead the nation in three-point shooting and rank 34th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings. However, they just can’t do anything right defensively; they rank 267th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings and have been unable to force turnovers, keep their opponents off the line or prevent the opposition from scoring at a prolific rate. Certainly, those numbers can be partially explained by the facts that this team that is 336th out of 345 teams in effective height (nobody on this team that is taller than 6’6” gets more than 19% of the team’s total minutes) and features some relatively unathletic guards (sorry Wes Eikmeier and Jesse Carr, but as good as you are shooting the ball, you just can’t stop anybody), but regardless of the excuses, unless this team can manufacture some kind of defense, they’re not a threat to any of the top three teams in this conference on all but their worst nights.
A look ahead: CSU travels to El Paso for the Sun Bowl Invitational this week and will begin with a matchup with host UTEP on Wednesday before facing either Jacksonville or Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Thursday.
6. TCU 7-4
We talked about Craig Williams’ breakout game above, but junior wing Garlon Green had a fine game of his own against Grambling State, hitting three threes and going for a career-high of his own: 24 points. Meanwhile, head coach Jim Christian has officially switched to a dual-point-guard starting lineup, shifting freshman Kyan Anderson into the starting five alongside senior Hank Thorns. Against GSU, they combined to hand out 14 assists and the Frogs as a team wound up with 26 assists on 32 baskets. Anderson has yet to find any semblance of a consistent jumpshot (38.9% from the field, 19% from three), but he’s a solid playmaker and defender. Christian may still move Anderson out of the starting lineup should the opponent require a more imposing front line, but expect him to get plenty of run for the rest of his time in Fort Worth.
A look ahead: The Horned Frogs host Tulsa on New Year’s Eve, a good test.
7. Boise State 9-4
The loss of Anthony Drmic and Igor Hadziomerovic for the Broncos trip to Iowa could be used as part of the excuse for the nine-point loss. But more to the point, BSU just didn’t have anybody to deal athletically with Roy Devyn Marble, who went for 18 points, eight rebounds five assists, three blocks and three steals against them. And, when you get out-athleted by Iowa, you know you’ve got some issues. Leon Rice can gameplan all he wants and rely on his deep roster of shooters in the backcourt and grinders up front, but until they prove otherwise, this Bronco team looks like a collection of players that can get run off the court by a more explosive bunch.
A look ahead: Boise travels to face Idaho for a fun intrastate rivalry on New Year’s Eve.
8. Air Force 6-3
Really, here’s how deep the Mountain West is: I have no idea if Air Force is the worst team in the league or the fourth-best team in the league. And really, fill in any of Colorado State, Wyoming, Boise State and TCU for Air Force in that first sentence, and I’ll still stand by it. However, without Michael Lyons, I would guess eighth is about right for the Falcons. Guys like Todd Fletcher, Taylor Broekhuis and Mike Fitzgerald are nice pieces, but without Lyons to provide an athletic scoring punch, this is an awful ordinary team. For the sake of the watchability of the MW, we should all hope that Lyons is back sooner rather than later.
A look ahead: The Falcons head to Santa Clara for the Cable Car Classic this week, facing Wagner on Thursday and then either Eastern Michigan or the host Broncos on Friday. Without Lyons, they could easily come home without a win.