X-Factors DeShawn Delaney, Dwayne Polee Unlikely March Stars for Mountain West PowersPosted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2014
With San Diego State and New Mexico earning semifinal victories Friday night, the MW title game match-up that everyone expected came to fruition, albeit with some new faces occupying starring roles along the way. SDSU’s Dwayne Polee may have been voted the MW’s Sixth Man of the Year earlier in the week, but the junior transfer from St. John’s had only scored in double figures four times in 2014 before he erupted for a game high 18 points against UNLV last night. Meanwhile, New Mexico swingman Deshawn Delaney had only scored in double figures four times all season before last night, but the bouncy junior’s season-high 14 points was a major key in New Mexico’s narrow escape against Boise. Xavier Thames and Cameron Bairstow will still be the names on the marquee in advance of today’s MW title clash, but roles change throughout the course of a season, and both Polee and Delaney are proving this week in Vegas that the two best teams in the MW may have found new weapons heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Polee has now played 18+ minutes in each of the Aztecs’ last seven games, and especially in the midst of Winston Shepard’s continued struggles (2-of-11 FG last night), will play a key role on offense moving forward. Detractors have long argued that SDSU is one Xavier Thames off night away from an ugly NCAA Tournament demise, but Polee may be the one Aztec with an offensive game varied enough to pick up the slack for Thames. His freakish length and athleticism make him a terror in the open floor, but he knocked down three of his five three-point attempts against UNLV, and has shot 40 percent from long range from February on. Polee’s greatest strengths will always be his disruptive defensive ability and open-court prowess on offense, but even a moderately capable floor-spacing option will help an Aztec offense that overly depends on Thames already, and Polee is beginning to show signs of becoming a consistent complementary jump shooter.
New Mexico’s big three of Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk usually need little help in manufacturing Lobos’ victories, but with the NCAA Tournament and better competition just around the corner, finding another guy to take some pressure off that trio would make Craig Neal’s life much easier. Enter Delaney. The junior has actually been extremely efficient (in his limited role) all season, shooting 64 percent from two-point range in earning an offensive rating of 119.2, while also bringing energy and defense from his small forward position. But efficiency in a meager role turned into major contributions in the semifinal win over the Broncos, as Delaney slashed his way to 14 points (most coming at the rim), while also chipping in seven rebounds and four assists. He missed all three of his three-point attempts last night, but is a passable outside shooter, making exactly a third of his 42 attempts on the year. A significantly expanded role will be available for him next season, but as for Saturday’s MW title game and the NCAA Tournament that rests beyond, Delaney is proving capable of acting as the link between the bruising power games of Bairstow and Kirk and the jump-shooting, perimeter-oriented Williams.
New Mexico vs. San Diego State Round Three is set for takeoff on Saturday afternoon. The familiar faces that have defined the rivalry this season – most notably, Thames and Bairstow – will again take center stage at Thomas & Mack. However, with bragging rights on the line and the NCAA Tournament finally in sight, don’t be surprised if it’s one of these two unexpected contributors that pushes their team to a MW title. Dwayne Polee and Deshawn Delaney were marginalized pieces on great teams for much of the season, but in last night’s preamble to today’s season-defining clash, each showed they may be ready to take on a more meaningful March role.