Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 6th, 2015

As conference play begins around the nation, the Mountain West appears as wide open at the top of the standings as it has been in some time. Let’s dig into this week’s awards and power rankings.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – It wasn’t a very fun non-conference slate around Albuquerque, with injuries and inexperience compounding en route to a loss at Grand Canyon as the topper for a rough early season. But things started to look up in the Lobos’ first week of conference play, with not just two wins, but a win over Top 25 Colorado State on Saturday evening. After taking their lumps early in the season, newcomers Sam Logwood, Jordan Goodman and Tim Jacobs, in particular, had their share of impressive performances this week, while just about everybody on the team had something to feel good about. Well, everybody, that is, except sophomore guard Cullen Neal, who will miss the rest of the season due to his ankle injury that has kept him sidelined since the third game of the season.

Sam Logwood Had A Break-Out Game In The Lobos Win Over Colorado State (Roberto Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

Sam Logwood Had A Break-Out Game In The Lobos Win Over Colorado State (Roberto Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Sr, Wyoming – Nance all but willed his team to a 2-0 start in conference play, averaging 23.5 points, 9.0 boards, 2.0 blocks, 1.5 steals and 1.5 assists per game while playing all but two of the Cowboys’ 80 minutes of action this week. Oh, and throw in a 64.8% eFG while less than year removed from a torn ACL. Stud.

Newcomer of the Week

John Gillon, So, Colorado State – Flying under the radar in Fort Collins, Gillon has been a solid performer all season for the Rams after transferring in from Arkansas-Little Rock. But this week he took his game to the next level, pouring in 25 points in a win over Boise State in a variety of ways, then backing that up with a solid 10-point, five-assist night in a loss at New Mexico. Gillon has the full package offensively, hitting threes at a 50 percent clip this season, capable of using his immense quickness to beat defenders off the bounce, and terrific at getting to the line (where he makes 80%). Already second on the team behind J.J. Avila in percentage of possessions used, expect to see Gillon’s minutes increase as the season wears on.

Power Rankings

John Gillon Went For A Career-High 25 Points Against Boise State (Ron Chenoy, USA Today)

John Gillon Went For A Career-High 25 Points Against Boise State (Ron Chenoy, USA Today)

  1. Colorado State (14-1, 1-1)It is getting to the point where the Rams have an embarrassment of riches. J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano, you know. If you didn’t know him already, we introduced you to Gillon above, and the Rams can also throw Gian Clavell and Joe DeCiman in the backcourt and at the wing, as they have done all season. But now, upon the changing of the semester, they also got former Oregon recruit Fred Richardson eligible, and he’s come in and shown an ability to be a physical scorer and defender as a big wing. Throw in human highlight reel Stanton Kidd throwing down dunks and sending back shots in the middle, along with fellow upperclassman Tiel Daniels, back after a couple games missed due to a calf injury that had folks worried and, all of a sudden, Larry Eustachy has a really, really good eight-man rotation. Defense is always going to be an issue with this team because, well, flat-out, Avila and Bejarano can’t really guard, but they’ve got enough firepower to stay in a lot of games. The one thing we’ll have to see from here until March is how the Rams deal with being the hunted. According to Ken Pomeroy, these guys are going to be favorites in all but three of their remaining games (at Boise, at Wyoming, at San Diego State). In those other 13, you can bet the Rams will have a target on their backs.
  2. San Diego State (11-4, 1-1) – My impression of the Aztecs on the bus ride to Fresno: “Okay, no worries, no worries. No need to panic. We good.” My impression of the Aztecs on the bus ride back from Fresno, after scoring 57 points in 65 possessions against a Fresno State team that has been pretty bad defensively.
  3. Wyoming (13-2, 2-0) – No offense Cowboys, but a home win over an inconsistent UNLV team and a five-point road win at a San Jose State dumpster fire does not exactly count as a good week. Heck, for awhile there, you actually made those Spartans look like a halfway decent team. Well, forgive me if I hold the applause for a week longer, because you’ve got quite a chance to put up a big statement this week with a trip to Colorado State and then a visit from Boise State. If you’re 4-0 next week, this blurb will be glowing.
  4. UNLV (9-4, 0-1) – The striking thing about UNLV’s win over Arizona was its domination of the boards. Let’s just say that did not happen in Lawrence on Sunday, as Kansas yanked down 17 offensive boards (41.5 OR%) and limited UNLV to just seven (20 OR%). UNLV is not a polished enough offensive team to get away with that kind of rebounding performance and still win ball games, unless maybe Rashad Vaughn does something crazy and gets super hot offensively. What’s that? Four-for-ten from the field with four turnovers? Yeah, that won’t get it done. Really though, of bigger concern for the Rebels is conference play. And while they put the ball in the hoop against Wyoming last Wednesday, they couldn’t get any stops, especially against Larry Nance and Derek Cooke, who combined for eight made field goals (out of ten attempts) at the rim. The Cowboys as a whole made 14 of their 20 attempts at the rim. And the mere fact that they got 20 attempts at the rim (out of just 52 field goal attempts) should be seriously concerning for the Rebels. On the season, UNLV is blocking 16.5% of opponents’ two-point field goal attempts. Last Wednesday night, UNLV blocked 0.28% of Wyoming’s two-pointers.
  5. New Mexico (10-4, 2-0) – We mentioned their names above, but let’s dig a little bit deeper into Jordan Goodman, Sam Logwood and Tim Jacobs. Goodman has only played in nine of the Lobos 14 games so far, and when he’s been on the court, his minutes have been limited. He’s recovered from offseason knee surgery and an in-season concussion. And then he missed the conference opener against Fresno State after being suspended for the dreaded “violation of team rules.” But goodness, was Goodman good on Saturday night, popping in eight point in just nine minutes of action. A big, skilled, physical specimen, he has the ability to be a force for the Lobos on the defensive end, on the glass, and as an inside/outside offensive threat. Of course, we’d like to see that threat lean towards the inside part of that equation (he’s 7-of-23 from three on the year), but you take the good with the bad. Logwood has missed time too with a sprained knee was terrific against Colorado State as well, making all nine of his shots on the night – four twos, one three and a quartet from the charity stripe – on the way to a season-high 15, at times spectacular, points. Logwood’s not as polished as Goodman, so a repeat of this type of performance anytime soon should not be expected, but it is just a glimpse into his big-time upside. All of which brings us to six-foot walk-on junior guard Tim Jacobs. In the Lobos first five games of the season, he played a total of 13 minutes and made a couple of shots from the line. Since earning 19 ho-hum minutes against USC in sixth game of the year, he has now never played less than 20 minutes since then, averaging 6.3 points, 3.8 assists and 3.3 boards. He’s not going to make a ton of “wow” plays, but with a body seemingly suited more for a running back and a basketball IQ to match backcourt-mate Hugh Greenwood’s, Craig Neal has found himself a diamond-in-the-rough.
  6. Boise State (10-5, 0-2) – The Broncos are another team I want to go a little long on here. Now without Anthony Drmic, head coach Leon Rice needs some guys to step up. Last week, we pinpointed Mikey Thompson as a prime candidate. He shot 5-for-20 from the field in the Broncos two games this week and had four assists compared to three turnovers. And you know what, his performance was still encouraging. He’s still never shown that 44% three-point shooting he flashed as a freshman, but he’s a big guard who’s about the best thing the Broncos have going for them defensively, he’s good at getting into the paint and drawing defenders and even the occasional trip to the free throw line. He’s probably a solid jumper away from being a star in this league, but even if that never happens, he is still capable of being a significant positive contributor for Boise. The other guy we need to mention is – no, not Derrick Marks and his 31-point outburst against Utah State – James Webb, a long and ridiculously athletic sophomore. At 6’9”, Webb (and his 10.8 OR% and 25.9 DR%, that latter good for 29th in the nation) is the heir apparent to the type of things that Ryan Watkins did at Boise. The difference is, Webb is significantly more skilled than Watkins ever was. Webb will never have the type of offensive rebounding numbers that Watkins had, simply because Watkins’ offensive skill package – he’s hitting 33% of his looks from three and is skilled enough with the ball to take his man off the bounce and make good things happen for himself – allows him to float out and about on the offensive end. Now, he’s still raw, turns it over far too much and would probably be better off playing around the paint more often (he’s making 80% of his two-point field goal attempts), but all the pieces are here for Webb to be a special talent in this league.
  7. Utah State (9-5, 2-0) – So, the Aggies beat San Jose State by, I dunno, a hundred or whatever it was on opening night. Then, they take an eight-point lead into half against Boise on Saturday night, and withstand an early second-half run to extend that thing out to 12 with the under-eight minute timeout in the rearview mirror. And then, for the bulk of the remaining time, Utah State goes out of their way to give the game away, getting outscored 16-2 over a nearly seven-minute stretch that included four turnovers, a couple missed free throws and three offensive rebounds allowed. And then, this.
  8. Fresno State (6-9, 1-1) – Saturday night in January. San Diego State, the best team in your new conference is in town. 5,900 people in the arena, according to a very generous estimate. Now, I’ve been to Fresno. I’ve been in Fresno on a Saturday night. You can’t tell me that there are a whole lot of better options on a Saturday night in Fresno. Especially for the two – let’s throw in travel time and call it a three–hour stretch that this basketball game is going to take up. Come on, Fresno. It’s not like we’re asking you to sit through a four-hour stretch of a Wagner opera or something. Errrr. Check that, know your audience, right? I mean: come on Fresno. It’s not like we’re asking you to sit through a rodeo; or a dirt-bike race; or a Tim McGraw concert; or – damn, what the hell do you people do in Fresno? Anyway, show up and support your damn team. Because that coach you’ve got there? He’s a good one, even if there have been struggles getting that program off the ground.
  9. Nevada (5-8, 1-0) – Last season, after a 5-8 non-conference slate that included losses to Pacific, Cal-State Bakersfield, Morehead State and Nebraska-Omaha, the Wolf Pack started conference play 4-0. This year’s non-conference slate was worse. And the Wolf Pack are 1-0 in conference play and scored 1.36 points per possession in that game. My brain hurts.
  10. Air Force (7-6, 0-2) – Four-point loss at San Diego State. 18-point loss at Nevada. Does not compute.
  11. San Jose State (2-12, 0-2) – Okay, the good news is, there are players back on this Spartan roster that I have heard of. Even better, they looked like they cared against Wyoming on Saturday night. I mean, Rashad Muhammad had two assists! That’s one shy of a career high!
AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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