Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 9th, 2016

It’s a week of callbacks in the Mountain West check-in because a lot of the things we talked about last week at this time proved particularly relevant in the interim. Before we jump into team-by-team breakdowns, however, let’s hit the big story: San Diego State going a long way toward wrapping up at least a share of the regular season title for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Aztecs knocked off New Mexico on Saturday night, bumping their conference record to 11-0 and establishing a three-game lead over the Lobos in the loss column with seven games remaining. It wasn’t a dominant win and the Aztecs needed a fortunate (but not egregious) call with 12.9 seconds left to have a chance to tie the game. But, credit to Steve Fisher’s bunch, they made the most of the second chance by nailing a three from Malik Pope to send the game to overtime and then taking care of business from there. With the win, San Diego State continued its ascension up to #44 in the RPI and #64 in KenPom. What this all means is that there is some lingering hope around the conference that a second NCAA Tournament bid is possible. That would of course have to mean some team will knock off the Aztecs in the conference tournament, but six of those 11 conference wins have been decided by only one possession. In other words, if the luck factor in close games reverts to the mean, the Aztecs will have some losses coming between now and Selection Sunday.

With Saturday Night's Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

With Saturday Night’s Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (18-6, 9-0) – Last week we dug into the Aztecs’ ongoing streak of what was then 159 straight wins (and 224 out of 225) when leading games with five minutes left to play. Since that post, the Aztecs found themselves ahead two more times with five minutes left, and in both games, with the outcome with a minute to go was severely in doubt. Against Colorado State, it was the Rams turning it over on three consecutive possessions and a contested layup at the buzzer that came up short. Against New Mexico it was a poorly executed in-bounds and a technically incorrect (but completely understandable) call. But here we stand with the streak now at 161 games. It’s not exactly on par with UCLA’s 88-game winning streak. Or DiMaggio’s hitting streak. But it is sort of mind-boggling. And I’ll certainly take it over the Globetrotters. One other note from the week: big men Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol combined to play 85 minutes and between them went 10-of-13 from the field, scored 20 points, grabbed 21 boards and blocked five shots. However, despite 13 feet and five inches of frontcourt goodness, the pair earned exactly zero free throw attempts.

  • New Mexico (14-9, 7-3) – Don’t blame the refs. Technically, yes, it was a bad call by the officials (also, note: it was a game chock full of absolutely terrible officiating that was split fairly evenly down the middle). But it was definitely poor execution of a questionable call by the New Mexico coaching staff. With the game on the line, the Lobos looked frantic and confused attempting to execute the pass from Cullen Neal, standing out of bounds, to teammate Xavier Adams, who was rushing to get out of bounds to accept the pass and then turn and get it in bounds. Even if the officials hadn’t ruled that Adams hadn’t established himself out of bounds, his late move once the official handed the ball to Neal meant that by the time he caught the ball, he only had one more second to in-bound it and his first look, back to Neal, had been taken away by Jeremy Hemsley. Yes, the whistle was wrong by a split second. But likely without that whistle, there’s a different whistle a second later with the same result – San Diego State ball. But, there are a lot of good takeaways for the Lobos. They can very much play with the Aztecs. On the same court with long and athletic Aztec bigs, Tim Williams played second-fiddle to no one. The Neal/Elijah Brown backcourt was solid. And in a game where the Lobos just couldn’t get good looks to fall, they took the 11-0 Aztecs to overtime in Viejas Arena. Those are positives for a team that is really just looking to find itself playing its best basketball of the season come March.
Tim Williams Was As Good As Anyone On The Court Saturday (USATSI)

Tim Williams Was As Good As Anyone On The Court Saturday (USATSI)

  • Boise State (16-8, 7-4)The Broncos’ first half early afternoon on Saturday at Air Force was concerning enough, with the team sleep-walking its ways to a ten-point deficit against an overmatched Falcon team. But, Lonnie Jackson dialed in back-to-back threes and at the half, Boise was up a point, seemingly headed to a slog to an uninspiring road win. However, in that second half, the uninspiring thing stuck around while the road win half of the equation disappeared. Unlike the normal Bronco calculus, where the team keeps in the game on the offensive end only to have defensive lapses let them down, Saturday the offense was equally bad. In the second half, Boise shot just 27.6 percent from the field, while the Falcons hit 62.5 percent. Just past the halfway mark, this goes down as the leader in the clubhouse for the most inexplicable conference outcome and does no favor to the rest of the conference hoping to improve the RPI of the teams at the top.
  • UNLV (13-11, 4-7) – The losing streak now stands at three, following a four-point road loss to New Mexico and then a double-overtime loss at Fresno State on Saturday. And freshman center Stephen Zimmerman is out indefinitely with a sprained knee, leaving the Runnin’ Rebels with erratic 6’8” sophomore Dwayne Morgan as the team’s tallest player for the time being. And interim head coach Todd Simon is now just 4-4 in his time in the hot seat. But, is it crazy to think there’s still plenty of upside here? Morgan turned in the best performance of his college career with 14 points and 12 boards in 45 minutes against Fresno. Patrick McCaw was his typical electric self, but also added an amazing 16 boards. Jordan Cornish was big. Derrick Jones played effectively through foul trouble. And Simon made competent adjustments (namely the completely necessary 2-3 zone) that kept an undermanned team in the game against a hot-shooting and well-coached Bulldog team. The Rebels need to get Zimmerman back for anything good to happen come March, but there’s nothing in this conference this team needs to be afraid of.
  • Fresno State (15-8, 6-4) – So, yes, a double-overtime home win behind a 37-point explosion from Marvelle Harris is fine. But mid-week at San Jose State? With Harris going for seven points on 16 FGAs and six trips to the line? With the team that we lauded last week for its drastically improved rebounding getting beat up on the glass by a Spartan team in the mid-240s on both ends of the court in rebounding? With San Jose turning it over 15 times and still running the Bulldogs out of the gym? What was that about?
  • Nevada (13-9, 5-5) – There’s been a lot of love for Eric Musselman around these parts. And with the improvement the Wolf Pack have showed since last year’s disaster, it is no wonder why. But, in the interest of fairness, after killing San Diego State for its backwards offense, it’s only right to point out that Nevada is doing a similar thing. Nevada is 314th in the nation in the percentage of their shots that come from three (28.4%) and 306th in the percentage that come right at the rim (30.5%). Combine those numbers and it is no surprise that the Wolf Pack are 12th in the nation in the percentage of inefficient two-point jumpers they’re taking (41%). One small saving grace is that the Pack are slightly better than the Aztecs at hitting those two-point jumpers (34.5%, 235th in the nation) and just as bad at hitting the three (29.3%). So, in this case, with an undersized, athletic team that can’t really shoot the ball, Musselman is actually playing to his (admittedly) limited strengths. One more non-MW-related note: the team that leads the nation in percentage of shots coming as two-point jumpers is North Carolina. But unlike the Wolf Pack and the Aztecs, the Tar Heels are really good at that, hitting 44.9% of those kinds of shots, good for fourth in the nation and, helping to make them the third-most efficient offense in the country. (Note: all stats here from
Emmanuel Omogbo's Story Is A Heartbreaking One (The Coloradoan)

Emmanuel Omogbo’s Story Is A Heartbreaking One (The Coloradoan)

  • Colorado State (13-10, 5-5) – The Rams played the Aztecs to a near-draw in San Diego mid-week. On Saturday, they returned home and got a hard-fought win over Nevada behind a 19-rebound game from junior forward Emmanuel Omogbo, who recently became a national name for the most heartbreaking of reasons. Matt Norlander and Gene Wojciechowski have his story.
  • Wyoming (12-13, 5-7) – As much as I just want to talk about Josh Adams and point to more highlight-reel dunks (ok, just one), the days in his college career are numbered, meaning we’re headed for a new-look Cowboy squad. Junior Jason McManamen has had a break-out year, knocking in 66 threes at a 45.8 percent clip, but he’s really just a spot-up shooter. Sophomore Alan Herndon has been strong in his first year in a big role. We knew he could board and defend, but he’s shown a nice touch around the hoop (83.3% on attempts at the hoop) and flashes of potential with the ball in his hands away from the paint. But the most compelling may be freshman Justin James, who is just a ball of versatile potential. At 6’7”, he’s capable of stepping out and hitting a three, or getting down in the paint and boarding with the big fellas, or initiating offense off the bounce, or making plays on the defensive end. He needs to add polish (he’s just a 56.4% free throw shooter in his young career), but he’s got the potential to be a future Laramie star.
  • Utah State (11-11, 3-8) – Tim Duryea’s first season in as the head coach in Logan has got to get better sometime, right? Just prior to his first game in the hot seat after 14 seasons as an assistant to Stew Morrill, one of Duryea’s best returnees – would-be-sophomore David Collette – opted to transfer out of the program to Utah. In a fit of pique among whispers over charges of tampering, Duryea denied a release to Collette, earning national disapproval. Once games started, the Aggies got through their typically soft non-conference slate with nine wins, but lost all three up games (assuming BYU and UC Irvine could be considered “up” games). In conference, they’ve got three wins, over San Jose State, Air Force and Colorado State. And the notorious Spectrum home court advantage has withered, with four losses in five conference games. Gloomy. The good news: four of the seven remaining games are at home, and, aside from tonight’s game against New Mexico, there is not a particularly threatening opponent remaining on the schedule. And despite the team’s struggles, they’ve still put together and offense ranked 87th in the nation, behind typically hot three-point shooting.
  • San Jose State (8-15, 3-8) – Home wins against Wyoming and Air Force are one thing. Scoring a win over a pretty good regional rival in Fresno State? That’s golden. Icing on the cake would be the Spartans scoring a road conference win at some point, with dates at Utah State and at Wyoming surrounding the flip of the calendar into March as the best bets. KenPom gives the Spartans about a 20% chance in each game.
  • Air Force (12-12, 3-8) – Last week we used this space to praise Dave Pilipovich, despite what was then an eight-game losing streak, the last of which came in a 21-point defeat at San Jose State. God bless Coach Pilipovich, because he made us look good, putting together an improbable pair of wins over Wyoming and Boise State. Things are probably about to get ugly again (at Nevada, at San Diego State, then back home against UNLV and New Mexico before a trip to Fresno State), but this guy gets everything he can out of his guys.
AMurawa (999 Posts)

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One response to “Checking in on… the Mountain West”

  1. Gus says:

    Great Post!

    Do you think the Aztecs have a chance for an at-large bid if they have win out conference play, and lose late in the conference tournament?

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