Checking In On… the Mountain West ConferencePosted by AMurawa on January 3rd, 2012
A Look Back
- This past week in the Mountain West wasn’t exactly jam-packed full of great match-ups. New Mexico had a couple of very important games against quality opponents and came through with wins in each, but elsewhere there were relatively uninspiring games everywhere you looked. Air Force and Colorado State each played a couple games in four-team tournaments against middling competition (CSU won its tourney – the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso), TCU hosted a decent Tulsa team, UNLV went halfway across the Pacific to face Hawai’i, and Boise State traveled all of 22 miles to face Idaho, but there were also whitewashes against Central Arkansas and Redlands.
- And, the bad news is, with teams across the country already up to their ankles in conference play, Mountain West teams have the likes of Johnson & Wales, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley, San Diego Christian, Nebraska-Omaha, and Cal State Bakersfield on the schedule next week – truly only a schedule a mother could love.
Fun Fact of the Week
- No Mountain West team has had a sub-.500 record at any point this season. Only New Mexico has been as low as .500 at any point on the year (twice) after alternating wins and losses in their first four games of the year.
Team of the Week
- New Mexico – Easy choice here, as the Lobos beefed up their NCAA Tournament credentials this week by knocking off Saint Louis (RPI #59) in Albuquerque on Saturday after having gained revenge on in-state rival New Mexico State earlier in the week. They still are only #50 in the nation in RPI, but should have a chance to bolster than number against a strong conference this season. And, more importantly, they are playing better as a team than they were early in the season. In recent weeks, Drew Gordon has been a monster on the glass, while he and Tony Snell, Kendall Williams, Jamal Fenton, Chad Adams, and Phillip McDonald have all scored in double figures at least once in their last four games.
Player of the Week
- Drew Gordon, Sr, New Mexico – All Gordon did this week was score 41 points, grab 28 rebounds, hit 14 of his 22 field goal attempts, and 13 of his 18 free throws while swiping five steals and even notching four assists – the latter an accomplishment worth mentioning for a guy who only hands out assists on 8% of his teammates baskets when he is on the floor. In short, Gordon is not only doing all the things that he’s already proven himself to be great at, but he is also making small strides in areas of his game that need work. And with as talented as this Lobo team is, even minor improvements by a guy like Gordon could help get this team over the top.
Newcomer of the Week
- Anthony Drmic, Fr, Boise State – Drmic knocked down six of his nine three-point attempts on Saturday in his first game back from a sprained ankle to lead his Broncos to a 76-73 win over Idaho (adding six rebounds and three steals to round out his stat line). He is now sixth in the conference in scoring (14.9 PPG) and #14 in rebounding (4.5 RPG), making him the only freshman in the conference in the top 20 in both categories.
Game of the Week
- New Mexico 64, Saint Louis 60 – Not only was this a huge win for the Lobos over a very good Billiken team, it was quite a game, played entirely within a 12-point margin. New Mexico trailed by as many as seven in the first half, and never led by more than five, as down the stretch every time the Lobos would make a move, it seemed that SLU would answer. In the waning moments with UNM up, 62-58, Saint Louis forward Cody Ellis was fouled by Drew Gordon while attempting a three, went to the line and hit the first two before missing the third. Gordon grabbed the rebound, but Jordair Jett was able to steal it from him and attempt a game-tying shot that just missed. Gordon grabbed that rebound, was fouled, and hit his two free throws to seal the win for the Lobos.
Games of the Upcoming Week
- Rice at TCU, January 4, 7 PM CST, The Mtn. – Yup. This is the best game of the week. The 8-5 Horned Frogs against the 9-5 Owls. If nothing else, tuning into this game will give you an opportunity to check out Rice’s junior forward Arsalan Kazemi (13.7 PPG/12.3 RPG), one of the best under-the-radar players in the country, a guy who is in the top 10 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate, while also placing in the top 100 in the land in effective field goal percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and steal percentage. He’ll be a good test for the relatively inexperienced TCU front line.
- UNLV (15-2): Last week in this space, we talked about how this UNLV is the first Rebel team since before the Lon Kruger era to be better offensively than they are defensively, and, as if to prove that point, they went out and scored 124 points against Central Arkansas. Sure, it’s just Central Arkansas, but seven players scoring in double figures, 40 assists on 47 field goals and 80% effective field goal shooting is mighty impressive even if you’re playing against air. The Rebels backed that performance up by making the rough road trip to Hawai’i (okay, spending New Year’s Eve in Honolulu is generally not considered roughing it) and fighting through a poor shooting night (4-18 from three) by breaking out some suffocating defense, holding the Warriors to just 36.6 eFG%. Anthony Marshall was the hero in that game doing his best Mike Moser impression by scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Moser “only” had 15 and 12. A look ahead: How exactly the Rebels got roped into traveling to CS Bakersfield to face the Roadrunners is an interesting question. But then again, figuring out how exactly anybody winds up in Bakersfield is a question for the ages.
- San Diego State (12-2): Please. Make it stop. It’s now been almost a full month since the last time the Aztecs played anyone even marginally interesting. They have still got games against San Diego Christian and Chicago State before they finally get back to a meaningful game. This week they killed Division III Redlands (really, Redlands? I played against Redlands, how exactly are the Aztecs scheduling Redlands?) and had six players score in double figu…. Aw, forget it. I can’t even pretend to find this game interesting. Sure, Jamaal Franklin had 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, six steals, three blocks, and four threes, but it was against Redlands. Maybe if they could do that against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps I might be impressed. A look ahead: Snore. Good news though: the UNLV/SDSU conference opener is now less than two weeks out.
- New Mexico (12-2): The Lobos are rolling now, but still they are running a distant third in the Mountain West in terms of their NCAA Tournament credentials. Wins over Saint Louis and Missouri State are the only wins over teams likely to be in the tournament picture (and the MSU inclusion is probably exceedingly generous). Nevertheless, the Lobos will have chances against UNLV and SDSU to add to their resume. They will likely need to win at least the home games against those teams and have no more than one other slip-up in conference play to feel comfortable (barring a MWC Tournament title) come Selection Sunday. Worth noting this week was the re-emergence of point guard Jamal Fenton. In the last few weeks, we have more or less baptized Hugh Greenwood as the point guard of the future for the Lobos, but Fenton (9.5 PPG and 4 APG this week) and head coach Steve Alford apparently aren’t so sure about that. This week, it was Fenton closing out the games for the Lobos, and while Greenwood has by no means been passed, this is still very much a position that is shared and open to changes in roles on a game-by-game basis. A look ahead: Houston Baptist and North Dakota come calling this week. Yuck. The Lobos should be 14-2 heading into their conference opener at Wyoming on January 14.
- Wyoming (12-2): The Cowboys haven’t played since drilling Idaho State three days before Christmas. A look ahead: Wyoming travels to Utah Valley tonight, then gets another game against Idaho State next Monday, this one at home. If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, Mountain West fans, it’s this simple: hibernation is your best option until conference play kicks off.
- Colorado State (9-4): The Rams actually had a pretty interesting week, going to the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso just before New Year’s, handling host UTEP in their opening game, then beating up on an Artis Gilmore-less Jacksonville by 23 points to take the title. Wes Eikmeier led the way for Tim Miles’ club, averaging over 20 points per game in the tourney, shooting a 70.5 eFG% and handing out eight assists on the week. Junior grinder Pierce Hornung also had a good week, averaging 10 rebounds per game and adding a ton of hustle plays, along with five steals and a couple of blocks. A look ahead: Nebraska-Omaha visits on Saturday. And, just for the record, Nebraska-Omaha is not the good Nebraska school. Not that the good Nebraska school is very good at basketball.
- Boise State (10-5): Idaho’s not a bad team, so for the Broncos to take care of that team on a relatively neutral floor is a pretty good win for Leon Rice and company. Anthony Drmic was excellent again for the Broncos, but Ryan Watkins and Westly Perryman were also effective – Watkins had 11 points and seven rebounds, while Perryman handed out nine assists and registered four steals. However, despite the W for BSU, they have to be concerned about the fact that they were out-shot, out-rebounded and even outscored from the line by the Vandals, really only winning the game on the basis of their defense forcing 18 turnovers and their offense only coughing it up seven times. While ball control is a great strength to have, the Broncos need to improve other areas of their game. Last night, against Fresno State, BSU was again out-shot, out-rebounded and outscored from the line, but in this game they turned it over more than their opponent, and predictably fell by 13. Drmic struggled from the field (just 1/7, with all of his shots from three) and the Broncos failed to muster any real offense outside of Kenny Bruckner’s work in the post (13 points, 6-7 from the field). A look ahead: The Broncos are done with non-conference play, and will kick of MWC action on January 14 at home against Air Force.
- TCU (8-5): The Horned Frogs had one of the more challenging opponents this week, when they hosted Tulsa on New Year’s Eve. After playing the Golden Hurricane to a draw for more than 38 minutes, the Frogs gave up the final eight points of the game and fell 74-66. TCU allowed Tulsa to shoot a 57.5 eFG%, while shooting just 42.8% themselves, and lost the battle on the boards. Hank Thorns led TCU with 16 points (making four threes) and five assists, but Tulsa sophomore center Kodi Maduka killed the Frogs frontline, grabbing 15 rebounds and scoring 15 points. A look ahead: TCU hosts Rice tomorrow night in our (meager) MWC game of the week.
- Air Force (7-4): The Falcons traveled to Santa Clara this weekend to participate in the Cable Car Classic. Unfortunately for Jeff Reynolds and the gang, they did so without leading scorer and rebounder, Michael Lyons, who is out with a high ankle sprain. In his absence, the Falcons only averaged 0.93 points per possession in their two games (down from 1.01 PPP with him), and were lucky to come away with so much as a win on the weekend. They did smother Eastern Michigan in their second game of the weekend, holding them to just 1-of-14 shooting from behind the arc, and earning the win on the defensive end. A look ahead: Johnson & Wales on Tuesday and Chicago State on Friday. Sounds like a bad week on the Jon Hodgman book-slinging circuit.