Checking In On… the Mountain WestPosted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013
We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.
Team of the Week
Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.
Player of the Week
Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure.
Newcomer of the Week
Roscoe Smith, Jr, UNLV – Things haven’t been going great for the Runnin’ Rebels, but the transfer from Connecticut has been a menace on the boards, averaging 16.3 rebounds per game on the season. This week he contributed an 18-point, 21-board effort in a full 40 minutes of action in a loss against Arizona State.
- New Mexico (4-1) – The Lobos come away from Charleston with a 2-1 record for the week, but they needed a Kendall Williams buzzer-beating miracle to even have a chance at their double-overtime win against UAB in the opener, then they got run off the court by Massachusetts in the semifinal round. The Lobos are still the class of the conference, at least until somebody – anybody – scores a quality win, but thus far the team clearly misses the perimeter defense of Tony Snell.
- Boise State (4-0) – An unblemished record, players like Anthony Drmic, Mikey Thompson, Igor Hadziomerovic, Ryan Watkins and, perhaps most impressively, Jeff Elorriaga (18-of-27 from three, 96.9 effective field goal percentage!) putting up insane offensive stats, and their best win is over Seattle. And, in case you may have forgotten, Seattle doesn’t have an NBA team, so that last little factoid isn’t as impressive as you may have thought.
- Utah State (4-0) – With a neutral-site affair against BYU on Saturday, this is a huge week for the Aggies. Head coach Stew Morrill is notoriously stubborn about even considering scheduling tough non-conference foes, so this is USU’s one chance for a quality win prior to conference play. No pressure or anything kids, but if you don’t win this game, you probably need to win your inaugural MW Tournament in order to get to the NCAAs.
- San Diego State (2-1) – The Aztecs beat up on San Diego Christian this week, winning by 52. Yeah. Congratulations on that one. At least Steve Fisher didn’t find a way for Matt Shrigley to score 109. Things will get tougher this week in the Wooden Legacy, where they’ll face a tough Charleston team in the opener, and then either Creighton or Arizona State on Friday.
- UNLV (2-2) – A week ago, I had the Rebels a slot lower. After a week in which they lost the only game they played – to Arizona State – I move them up a slot: what gives? Well, while the UNLV backcourt is an absolute mess right now, there is a ton of talent on this team, and if Dave Rice can find some kind of answer among his many options at the point guard, this team could be in business. Up front, the situation is pretty clear. Between Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch, the UNLV frontline is going to rebound the heck out of the ball, and there is plenty of offensive upside there as well (my god, did you see Birch against ASU grabbing a rebound, then turning and heading up court, leading a break that ended in a sweet dime from the 6’9” center to a wing filling the lane on the break?). But despite Rice’s cycling through point guards Deville Smith (bad), Daquan Cook (worse), and freshman Kendall Smith, the lead guard position in Sin City remains unsettled. Maybe off-guards like Kevin Olekaibe and Bryce Dejean-Jones, or multi-talented Jelan Kendrick, will need to pitch in, but some sort of solution needs to be found lest Rice again waste some serious talent.
- Wyoming (4-2) – The Cowboys won a couple of games this week against below-average competition before running up against Ohio State last night. Despite a solid game out of junior forward Larry Nance, the Cowboys took a second half lead in Columbus, but then scored just seven points over the final 14 minutes of the game and lost by 15. Especially against a very good defensive team like the Buckeyes, the Cowboys are going to seriously struggle to score this season.
- Colorado State (3-2) – The Rams are perhaps the last team on this list with significant upside. They split a pair of games this week, losing at UTEP last Tuesday, but there are some players here. The big surprise has been junior college transfer J.J. Avila, who has been an offensively efficient surprise. Averaging a team-high 18.8 points, another team-high 3.4 assists and chipping in five boards per night, the 6’7” forward is eating up minutes in a good way for Larry Eustachy.
- Fresno State (3-2) – Head coach Rodney Terry is one heck of a young coaching prospect, but the man has had nothing but bad luck so far in Fresno. Still, with a promising freshman in Paul Watson, rising sophomore Marvelle Harris paired with Oklahoma State transfer Cezar Guerrero at the point and veteran Tyler Johnson as the team’s leader, the Bulldogs will at least be a tough out in this conference. But man, just think about what could have been with Robert Upshaw and Braeden Anderson available.
- Nevada (3-3) – I so want to put Nevada down at #11, but unbelievably, the teams behind the Wolf Pack on this list are actually worse. But still, this squad is a disaster, having dropped games to CS Bakersfield and Morehead State since we last did this. Meanwhile Deonte Burton is intent on showing off for NBA scouts, while David Carter best be spending some time polishing his resume.
- Air Force (3-2) – A 27-point win over Colorado Christian is the news. Yawn.
- San Jose State (2-4) – Break up the Spartans! A two-game win streak is underway. Meanwhile, on the Rashad Muhammad watch, 15.3 points per game, seven total assists, four total steals and still a goose egg in the blocked shot column. Don’t let it be said I’m picking on the guy, because clearly he is a very talented scoring guard, but we’re going to see if he can beat his brother’s career totals of 27 assists, 23 steals and four blocks.