CIO… the Mountain West ConferencePosted by AMurawa on December 18th, 2012
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Much like everywhere else around the country, it was an exceedingly slow week in the Mountain West. Between last Tuesday and last night, just 10 games were played involving MW teams. Two teams in the conference haven’t played a game since we last did this. And, with the exception of the two games played by Fresno State, the MW teams have escaped unblemished against largely mediocre teams. As a result, your weekly MW rundown may be a little lighter than normal.
But the big news around the conference may be the ripples from the Big East breakdown that are reaching the Mountain West’s shores. While for now, San Diego State and Boise State are maintaining their intentions to follow through on their plans to join the Big East beginning next season, you just know that behind the scenes, both schools are seriously weighing their options. As the MW Connection details here, there are basically three options for these two schools: (1) head to the Big East as planned, regardless of the diminishing state of the conference, for football, with the rest of their sports in the Big West; (2) remain in the Mountain West and possibly bring other schools with them; or (3) go independent in football and keep other sports in the Big West. Obviously, the people involved in making these decisions know a lot more about the financials of these decisions than me, but for what it’s worth, while the Big East is in the middle of negotiating a new television contract, the MW remains locked into its current contract with CBS through 2016, and the network has an additional option to extend that contract to 2019. Of greater concern to the MW than whether they are able to keep BSU and SDSU around may be whether they are able to fend off advances from other conferences. For instance, the Big East, which may in the interest of self-preservation and establishing a western outpost to satiate the likes of BSU, SDSU, SMU and Houston, take a shot at teams from the conference. There may not be a lot of fat on the football bones of the teams remaining here, but if the Big East can poach, say, UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State they will (aside from really needing a re-branding) be able to cobble together a strong basketball conference. But, who am I kidding? Up until this week, basketball was rarely mentioned in this whole realignment fiasco, except to note that basketball doesn’t matter.
Team of the Week
Nevada – Yay! Home wins over Cal Poly and San Francisco! Rejoice! OK, so those wins aren’t suddenly going to turn the Wolf Pack into an NCAA Tournament contender, but given that this is a team with losses to UC Irvine, Marshall, Drake and Pacific on its record, not to mention several other near-misses, the fact that Nevada handled that level of competition by an average of double-figures is a sign of progress. As is the fact that they finally showed some semblance of aggressiveness on the glass, grabbing nearly 40% of offensive rebound opportunities this week, and better than 80% on the defensive end. Jerry Evans was particularly effective, grabbing 14 total rebounds against Cal Poly.
Player of the Week
Anthony Drmic, Sophomore, Boise State – Drmic exploded Friday in Boise State’s 19-point win over previously unbeaten LSU, knocking down six threes on the way to a career-high 34 points and redemption for last season’s awful performance against the Tigers. As usual, Drmic wasn’t just a threat from behind the arc, as he scored from everywhere on the court, getting to the hoop, getting to the line and pulling up for mid-range jumpers. He also added a few rebounds along with a block and an assist, while teammates like Ryan Watkins (17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end), Derrick Marks (23 points, six assists, six boards and four steals) and Igor Hadziomerovic (six boards, five assists) also deserve mention for stuffing the stat sheet.
Newcomer of the Week
Daniel Bejarano, Sophomore, Colorado State – Slim pickings this week, as none of UNLV’s freshmen did enough to earn the honor (sorry, but I can’t count a game against La Verne), Colton Iverson was limited in his lone game of the week and other newcomers around the conference were relatively silent. But, no matter, Bejarano earned this recognition on the basis of doing what he has done best so far for the Rams: a little bit of everything well. Last night, the Arizona transfer knocked down three of his five field goal attempts, including a couple threes, grabbed seven boards, handed out three assists and grabbed a steal in 24 minutes of action.
Clip of the Week
Anthony Bennett earns the honors here again with another massive dunk. Sure, this is just against La Verne, but still.
Game of the Week
N/A – Let’s face it. If you were locked away in an underground bunker this week (or better yet, out getting some fresh air and exercise or enjoying some quality time with friends and family – or, yeah, the bunker) and didn’t see a single basketball game involving MW teams, you didn’t really miss a whole lot.
Games of the Upcoming Week
Ole Miss vs. San Diego State, (potential second round matchup of the Diamond Head Classic), December 23, 3 PM PST, ESPNU – It is never wise to project teams into deeper rounds of mid-season tournaments, but we’re breaking all the rules here this week. Assuming SDSU can get past San Francisco and Ole Miss can get past Indiana State, this could be a serious semifinal challenge to the much-anticipated potential SDSU/Arizona Christmas Day final of this Hawai’i tournament. The Rebels haven’t had a ton of challenging games on their schedule, and they dropped their biggest test against Middle Tennessee, but Andy Kennedy has assembled quite a bit of talent down in Oxford, including a face familiar to Mountain West fans – Marshall Henderson, who spent a season at Utah under Jim Boylen. Provided this potential match-up holds up, Ole Miss’ defense will give the Aztecs plenty of trouble, while seniors like Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner will test SDSU’s interior strength.
- New Mexico (11-0): The Lobos had a block party in celebrating their win in the front-end of a home-and-home series with in-state rival New Mexico State. Alex Kirk led the way with five blocks, but Hugh Greenwood added four as the team combined to swat 11 shots. The ability of the Lobos to find some way to replace the production of last year’s departed frontcourt duo of Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman had been questioned somewhat prior to the season, but thus far (admittedly, against lesser competition than they’ll see once conference play rolls around), the Lobos are doing a better job on the defensive glass, are blocking more shots and are their offensive rebounding numbers have only dropped slightly. While Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow deserve most of the credit there, others like Greenwood, Kendall Williams, Demetrius Walker and senior wing Chad Adams have all chipped in on the rebounding effort. A look ahead: The Lobos finish up their series with NMSU with a visit down to Las Cruces on Wednesday before hosting Nate Wolters and a dangerous South Dakota State team on Saturday.
- UNLV (9-1): The Runnin’ Rebels went 2-0 this week, but in relatively unimpressive fashion. They manhandled Division III La Verne on Thursday in a game that deserves no comment, then inched by UTEP on the road last night. Against the Miners, Anthony Bennett had his first real struggles of his freshman campaign, going just two-for-nine from the field, the first time he shot less than 50% from the field in his UNLV career. But perhaps the biggest news from last night was the debut of Khem Birch, who played 14 minutes off the pine and scored four points and grabbed three boards. It remains to be seen how the Vegas frontcourt rotation shapes up when Mike Moser returns from his dislocated elbow, but at first glance, Savon Goodman looks to be the loser here, as he earned only five minutes, his lowest total since the day after Thanksgiving. For now, Birch is still competing with Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez-Sosa for minutes (the latter two earned more minutes than the newcomer), but expect to see those numbers slowly tilt. Also worth mentioning that this is really the first game against significant competition that Bennett was playing primarily the four instead of the five, a seemingly minior adjustment that is worth at least keeping an eye on. A look ahead: The Rebels host Northern Iowa on Wednesday, then Canisius on Saturday. Both games present some challenges, but the UNI game in particular is of interest.
- San Diego State (8-1): The Aztecs handled San Diego in ho-hum, workmanlike fashion after a nine-day break for finals. Nothing much else to report here. A look ahead: They’ll host Point Loma Nazarene of the NAIA tonight in a game that is only notable for the unveiling of newly eligible big man James Johnson. Following the game, they’re off to Hawai’i for the Diamond Head Classic where they’ll face San Francisco in the opener on Saturday. Potential dates with Ole Miss, then perhaps either Arizona or Miami await further down the line in that tournament.
- Wyoming (10-0): The Cowboys are at the tail end of a ten-day break for exams and haven’t played a meaningful game in almost two weeks. A look ahead: Wyoming gets back in the swing of things tonight by hosting Denver, then they finish up an in-season home-and-home with UC Santa Barbara by hosting the Gauchos on Friday night. Then they get another 12-day break before traveling to SMU on January 2.
- Colorado State (7-2): The Rams broke a nine-day basketball fast with a 28-point demolition of North Florida last night, built on a solid foundation of balanced scoring and dominant rebounding. Credit CSU for doing what they were supposed to do against that caliber of competition, but otherwise, not a lot to report here. A look ahead: Cal State Bakersfield tomorrow night, Portland on Saturday, then Adams State next Saturday will go a long way towards keeping the spotlight off CSU until the new year. We’ll check back in with the Rams after visits from UTEP and St. Bonaventure.
- Boise State (7-2): The Broncos’ win over LSU on Wednesday came in front of the second-largest crowd at Taco Bell Arena since 1999 and the 16th largest crowd in school history. In other words, for a program that has long toiled deep in the shadows of the national power football team, this Bronco basketball team is starting to gain some attention around the city. And rightly so. Between Drmic and Marks, Hadziomerovic and Watkins, Jeff Elorriaga and Mikey Thompson, this is a seriously entertaining ball club to watch. While they may not exactly have the most athletic perimeter players, these guys can score in a variety of ways and stay in a lot of games just because of their offensive prowess. Head coach Leon Rice deserves plenty of credit for rebuilding on the fly after losing almost everybody after his first season in town. And now he’s got a talented squad that features just one senior; in other words, expect Boise to be a factor beyond just this year. A look ahead: The Broncos should coast through the remainder of their non-conference schedule (Idaho, New Orleans, Corban, Texas-Arlington and Walla Walla) before opening Mountain West play in a seriously intriguing game with Wyoming on January 9.
- Air Force (7-2): The Falcons haven’t played in more than a week. A look ahead: And they won’t play again until Saturday when they travel to UC Riverside. After that, it is another week off until they head to Sunrise, Florida to face the Gators.
- Nevada (7-4): It’s been a bumpy ride for the Wolf Pack as they’ve tried to replace last year’s two leading rebounders, but things have started to pick up in recent games. While there is nobody on this roster than can match the departed Dario Hunt’s rebounding acumen, let alone Olek Czyz’s, between Jerry Evans, Devonte Elliott, Kevin Panzer, Cole Hoff and Jordan Burris, Nevada has been at least competent on the boards in four out of its last six games. Now, getting any scoring help from the frontcourt? Let’s not get too crazy. If either Deonte Burton or Malik Story is struggling offensively, the Wolf Pack are going to struggle offensively. A look ahead: Nevada hosts Cal State San Marcos on Friday night, then Yale the following Friday, before traveling to Oregon on New Year’s Eve for their final, and most challenging, non-conference game.
- Fresno State (5-6): Last we caught up with the Bulldogs, they were looking up. Even though they had just lost to Washington State, prized recruit Robert Upshaw earned his first start and looked impressive. This week, however, he struggled; although, to be fair, just about everybody struggled this week for FSU, as they lost consecutive games to Colorado and UC Irvine. Upshaw made just five of his 19 field goal attempts this week and averaged just 5.5 points per game, although he did chip in five boards and three blocks per game in 21.5 minutes. All told, those are numbers that are not unexpected for a young big guy who is still working on his game. But, outside of Upshaw, and perhaps junior guard Tyler Johnson (who is average nine efficient points per game, knocking down better than 40% from three and doing a lot of other good things), everything else here is up in the air. Allen Huddleston has been active for the Bulldogs, using about 25% of possessions when he is on the floor, but he doesn’t do a ton to get his teammates involved and has struggled shooting the ball thus far. A look ahead: The Bulldogs travel to UCLA on Saturday, where they’ll need a win to have a chance of entering conference play with a winning record.