Spotlight on Rising Mid-Major Coaches: Tim Miles & Wayne Tinkle

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

Montana traveled to Colorado State on Friday night in a game that did not garner much national intrigue (the Rams beat the Grizzlies, 64-58). Neither team made the NCAA Tournament last season and they will be fighting tooth and nail to make it this season. Montana is predicted second in the Big Sky heading into the season, and Colorado State is projected as the fourth best team in the Mountain West. However, the game did feature of the best young mid-major coaches in all of college basketball.

Tim Miles Has CSU Moving in the Right Direction (AP/L. Boomerang)

Colorado State is coached by Tim Miles, who at age 45 is beginning his fifth season in Fort Collins. He began his Division I coaching career at North Dakota State, where as head coach of the transitional team (they are now Division I), he took NDSU into then #12 Wisconsin and won (2006), and then into #8 Marquette and won (in 2007). He left after a 20-win season, and two years later the players he recruited went to the NCAA Tournament.

His CSU career started somewhat rocky, as the Rams went winless in his initial Mountain West campaign. They have improved every year, however, and they were a bubble team last year after going 19-13 in a Mountain West Conference that included powerhouse teams at BYU and San Diego State. He is an energetic and charismatic guy (example: I talked to him after the game and told him I went to North Dakota, a rival of NDSU. He responded with, “Did you lose a bet?”). His players enjoy playing for him, and he has a player’s style. Wes Eikmeier, CSU’s leading scorer, took a couple of questionable shots late in the game, and Miles responded by saying he was comfortable with those shots because if Eikmeier felt like he could make them, then he should take them. That’s what players love to hear. He will get Colorado State to the Tournament either this year or next year, and then larger schools could come calling.

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RTC Conference Primers: #7 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 31st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences; he is also a staffer on the Pac-12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Tectonic Shifts in the MW: As the landscape of college sports continues to shift, the Mountain West continues to change. This year, the conference is without BYU and Utah for the first time in its history. Aside from the fact that the state of Utah was sort of the center of the conference for many years, the impact on the basketball side of things cannot be overstated. In the 12 years that the two schools were a part of the conference, they won five outright regular season titles between them and twice shared the regular season title. TCU will join the two Utah schools as ex-MW members after this year when it joins the Big 12.
  • Temporary Fixes? As old schools depart, new schools come in. Boise State joins the conference this season, although there are already rumors that its stay may be short-lived, as other conferences including the Big 12 and the Big East, woo the Broncos. Fresno State and Nevada are due to join the conference in 2012-13, but as the ground continues to move under the feet of college athletics, one never knows what changes will come next.
  • Scheduling: With just eight conference teams this year, each team will play just 14 conference games. So while the Pac-12 and Big Ten and other major conferences are kicking off games against their conference rivals on or before New Year’s, MW schools will wait until the middle of January to get into conference play, filling the interim with games against schools like Johnson & Wales, Texas-Pan American, Nebraska-Omaha, Houston Baptist, San Diego Christian and Utah Valley. This is not a good thing for a conference, not a good thing for the fans, and not a good thing for college basketball.
  • Changes On The Sidelines: Aside from having a new team in the conference, we’ve got a couple returning teams with new coaches. The most high profile coaching change comes at UNLV with Lon Kruger gone for Oklahoma, and Dave Rice, the former associate head coach under Dave Rose at BYU, returning to Vegas where he played and served as an assistant under Jerry Tarkanian. The other coaching change is at Wyoming, where Larry Shyatt returns to town after spending the last several years as the associate head coach at Florida.

Drew Gordon Looks to Lead New Mexico to a Mountain West Title

  • New Favorites. Last year, it was more or less a two-horse race for the conference title between BYU and San Diego State. This year, there is no BYU and SDSU has graduated its four most important players. As a result, it looks to be two new horses who head the pack in search of a conference title with UNLV and New Mexico far and away the favorites. In the MW preseason basketball poll, the Lobos got 22 of the 26 first place votes from the media, with the Rebels snagging the other four. Those two schools also dominated the all-conference team selections, each putting two players on the list.
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

[Ed. Note: This was published before BYU suspended Brandon Davies for the rest of the season.]

A Look Back

With BYU’s second 13-point win of the season over San Diego State on Saturday, the Cougars have put the clamps on their first outright regular season Mountain West Championship since 2007-08. They’ve got a one-game lead now over the Aztecs, but own the tiebreaker as a result of their two head-to-head wins, so one more win clinches the #1 seed in the MWC Tournament and two more wins (in their two remaining games) sews up the conference title all for themselves. We’ll have more on the game below, but elsewhere around the conference, it is looking more and more like a three-bid league. While SDSU and UNLV can count on their Selection Sunday invitations arriving without delay, Colorado State’s hopes for its own at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament took a huge hit on Saturday when they got run out of Clune Arena by Air Force, failing to score for almost nine minutes in the second half and dropping their tenth game of the season. Barring a big late run by the Rams, which would have to include a win at San Diego State on the final Saturday of the regular season, or a surprising run by somebody else outside of the top three seeds in the MWC Tournament, the Cougars, Aztecs and Rebels will be the entirety of the MWC representatives in the Big Dance.

  • Team of the Week: BYU – In their final season as members of the MWC, the Cougars have fought through numerous hurdles on their way to all but clinching the regular season title. They’ve been able to deal with the distractions of the media circus surrounding the traveling Jimmer Fredette show (although, in all honesty, the benefits of having a guy like Fredette obviously outweigh whatever distractions his presence may bring), they’ve weathered the taunts and jeers of jilted and jealous fans across the conference, and they’ve replaced players lost due to injury or calling. And when all is said and done, they’ve put themselves in position to be in strong consideration for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’re the #1 team in the RPI, they’ve got a 27-2 record on the season, an 8-1 record against top-50 RPI teams, and, if they can take care of business in the regular season, then continue their success into the MWC Tournament, they’ve almost got to get a #1. Of course, winning the MWC Tournament is a whole other consideration, as BYU is just 6-4 in the MWC tourney since it returned to Las Vegas in 2007, with three losses to UNLV (and one to SDSU) mixed in there. While this Cougar team has made a habit of proving that it is different from previous incarnations, the prospect of either beating UNLV on its home court for the second time this season or beating SDSU for the third time this season is one challenge I’m very interested in seeing the Cougars face.
  • Player of the Week: Dairese Gary, Senior, New Mexico – Gary has been the one constant for Steve Alford this year, but this past week he took his game to another level. In a tough home loss against UNLV, Gary put up 26 points on 10-15 shooting, six assists, three steals and a couple of threes. After finding that such a contribution just wasn’t enough, Gary made sure to get the job done at TCU over the weekend, scoring 32 points on 11-14 shooting, with nine assists, another steal and three more threes. While this has not been the type of season that Lobo fans expected, their senior leader has more than lived up to expectations and he’ll be sorely missed in Albuquerque next year.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Quintrell Thomas, Sophomore, UNLV – The Kansas transfer has come on in a big way down the stretch for the Running Rebels, and when he gets minutes, he produces for Lon Kruger. Since the start of February, Thomas has gotten more than 20 minutes four times, including twice in the last week. In those four games, he has averaged 15.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG, and over four offensive rebounds in those games. This past week he posted 34 points and 20 rebounds, made 12 of his 19 shots from the field and got to the line 14 times and converted ten times. While the Rebels still have major question marks from behind the three-point lines, Thomas has helped clear up any questions about their ability in the paint.
  • Game of the Week: BYU 80, San Diego State 67 – It was, almost without a doubt, the biggest basketball game in the history of the Mountain West Conference. It may not have had a dramatic finish, but it’s the only choice as the MWC game of the week. Fredette continued his sterling season by matching his season high of nine assists, turning into the distributor rather than the scoring point guard that had taken the college basketball world by storm (and the fact that a 25-point, four three-point game is proof of Fredette backing away from his score-first persona tells you exactly how great of a scorer he is). With Steve Fisher giving Fredette several different looks defensively, from the long defenders like Billy White and Kawhi Leonard to the more traditional defender in Chase Tapley, to double-teams of all sorts, Jimmer had plenty of chances to set up his teammates for clean looks from deep, and they responded beautifully, as the Cougars knocked down 14 of their 24 shots from deep. That, coupled with the Aztecs repeatedly missing point-blank shots following offensive rebounds, explains the final score, but while BYU did everything right to earn their victory, most college basketball fans without a rooting interest in the outcome would love to see these two teams run this one back in a week and a half.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: Colorado State (18-10, 8-6) at San Diego State (27-2, 12-2), 3/5, 7pm, The Mtn. – If the Rams are going to continue to entertain any notions about a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, this is an absolute must-win. A loss here, and their only chance at a bid is running the gauntlet through Utah or New Mexico in the first round of the MWC Tournament, BYU in the semifinals and either San Diego State or UNLV in the finals. In other words, win this game. And, really, even if they win this game, they are still completely bubblicious, and would really need a semifinal victory over BYU in order to ease their worried minds a bit, but first things first: win this game. And in order for that to happen, there are a few events that need to take place. First, Andy Ogide needs to continue his strong play, and given that he has only failed to score in double figures once on the season, has only shot less than 50% from the field four times this year and has posted nine double doubles, that is a likelihood provided he can stay out of foul trouble against SDSU’s talented front line. More troubling for Tim Miles is finding somebody else on his team that can help Ogide out. Travis Franklin is the team’s second leading scorer, but he’s scored exactly 11 points over the span of the team’s three-game slide and hasn’t posted back-to-back games in double figures since January. Adam Nigon, Wes Eikmeier, Dorian Green, and Greg Smith (among others) have all shown the ability to be that big second-option to Ogide, but none have proven their ability to be consistent. For all the improvement that the CSU basketball program has made in Miles’ four years on campus, now is their time to finish the deal and get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Power Rankings

1. BYU (27-2, 13-1): We’ve talked about Fredette and Jackson Emery in this space quite often. We’ve talked about the emergence of Brandon Davies (though the Cougars now have to survive without him after an honor code violation led to his suspension for the rest of the season). We probably haven’t talked about Noah Hartsock and Stephen Rogers and Charles Abouo enough, but suffice it to say, each of those guys has made significant contributions on the Cougars’ way to that gaudy record above. The guy we haven’t talked about near enough is the guy at the end of the bench, head coach Dave Rose. Rose has been nothing short of spectacular in his time in Provo. He took over a program that had just finished last in the conference with an abysmal 9-21 campaign, and since then he has never once finished lower than second place in the conference. Assuming the Cougs finish the deal this year, he will have three outright MWC titles in six years, another shared title and a couple second place finishes. All that’s impressive enough, before you even mention his biggest win of all, surviving a bout with pancreatic cancer a couple of years back. On the verge of his third MWC Coach of the Year award and more than a couple of National Coach of the Year votes, Rose is every bit as important to the success of this BYU program as is the scoring machine from Glens  Falls.

A look ahead: The Cougars get a chance to avenge their only MWC loss when they host New Mexico on Wednesday with a chance to wrap up the #1 seed in the conference tourney. On Saturday, they’ll complete the regular season by hosting Wyoming.

2. San Diego State (27-2, 12-2): In his two games this year against BYU, D.J. Gay has scored eight points, handed out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds. He’s made just two of his 14 shots from the field, has been largely invisible on the defensive end and simply has shown no signs of being the positive on-court leader that he has proven himself to be in the rest of his games this year. While what blame there is for the losses to BYU does not fall solely on Gay’s shoulders, he’ll need to play more like the type of guy who won duels with Casper Ware, Anthony Marshall and Dairese Gary earlier in the season in order for the Aztecs to live up to their March dreams.

A look ahead: The Aztecs finish up with a trip to Wyoming tonight, then senior night at Viejas Arena during which The Show will say goodbye to Gay, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas. And, they might as well say goodbye to Kawhi Leonard while they’re at it.

3. UNLV (22-7, 10-5): The Rebels have now won eight of their last ten games (losses at BYU and home against SDSU) since Tre’Von Willis returned from missing a couple of games with a knee injury. Willis has now scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has averaged over 16 points a game over that stretch, just a notch below the 17.2 he averaged all of last season. He’s also averaged four assists per game in those seven games, and the box scores will tell you that Willis is back. Then you watch a game. And you see Willis dragging that left knee up and down the court. Every now and then he surprises you and blows by a defender with an explosiveness that reminds you of what he was like at the top of his game last year, but for the most part, it is pretty clear that Willis is really just squeezing every last drop of goodness out of a knee that needs at the very least some rest and more likely needs some medical attention. Can the Rebels win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament with a gimpy Willis? It remains to be seen, but you can never count out a tough old veteran like him.

A look ahead: The Rebels travel to Utah on Saturday to wrap up their season before hosting the MWC Tournament at the Thomas & Mack as a #3 seed.

4. Colorado State (18-10, 8-6): This Ram team already had a couple bad losses on their scorecard: a home loss to Sam Houston State and a neutral-site loss to Hampton. This team had also lost more than one game in a stretch this season, when they lost back-to-back games at Colorado and Kansas. And yet, with all that, they were still solidly on the bubble. Then came this weekend’s loss at Air Force, their third loss in a row, during which only Ogide was even remotely effective. The rest of the CSU starting lineup went a combined 5-30 from the field. Really. 16.6%. On the final weekend of February. Coming off losses to BYU and UNLV. With an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. For the Rams to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, they now have to do something that they’ve given little reason to believe they are capable of doing: beat both San Diego State and BYU in their next four games, while at the same time taking care of their other business. They did play SDSU to the buzzer a month ago, but that was at home. To go to Montezuma Mesa and beat the Aztecs on Senior Day? That’s quite a challenge.

A look ahead: Before that SDSU game, the Rams have to get back on track at home against a rested and hot Utah team.

5. New Mexico (18-11, 6-8): The Lobos broke their four-game losing streak behind Gary’s heroics, but of bigger concern for Alford is the inability of any other Lobo to provide consistent offensive production. While the Lobos are still in the top 50 in offensive efficiency, their shooting percentages are headed downward and the confidence of guys like Philip McDonald and Kendall Williams is plummeting, with each guy thinking too much about his shot and often passing on good looks. While the Lobos are still talented enough to make things tough for a higher seed in the MWC tourney, they’re not playing anywhere near their best basketball right now.

A look ahead: The Lobos have already beaten BYU once this season, but this time around, given the visit to the Marriott Center looming, the challenge is a bit tougher. On Saturday, they’ll close out the regular season by hosting Air Force.

6. Utah (13-15, 6-8): The Utes haven’t played since we last checked in, so not much new to report on them, but it is interesting to note that the only games the Utes have won in conference are against Wyoming, New Mexico and TCU, and they’ve swept all three teams.

A look ahead: With Colorado State and UNLV looming on the Utes schedule, unless they pull off an upset, they’ll wind up being swept by the other five teams in the conference.

7. Air Force (14-13, 5-9): The Falcons broke their four game slide with the big win against CSU, and did so in convincing fashion. They effectively shot 61% from the floor and held the Rams to just a 36.4 effective field goal percentage, and even beat the Rams from the free throw line, outscoring them 24-14, a rather uncommon occurrence for the Academy. Sophomore guard Michael Lyons continued his strong breakout season, scoring in double figures for the fifth straight time and for the 18th time on the season, while the versatile senior Evan Washington, who has taken a backseat in the scoring department this season, continued to contribute in other ways, handing out eight assists and grabbing four rebounds. Washington has in many ways been the consummate Academy player, doing whatever is needed of him to help the team. Last year as the Falcons struggled through injuries to an eighth place finish, Washington was called on to score more, and he provided over ten points per game. But this year he has been asked to be more of a distributor and has racked up nearly a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this year

A look ahead: The home crowd says goodbye to Washington on Wednesday as the Falcons host TCU, then they travel to New Mexico on Saturday to wrap up the regular season.

8. Wyoming (10-18, 3-11): Fred Langley continues to get great production out of sophomore forward Amath M’Baye, who added 24 points and seven rebounds in a loss at UNLV. He has averaged 21 points per game since the dismissal of Heath Schroyer and is now averaging 12.3 points per game.

A look ahead: Wyoming hosts SDSU then travels to BYU in a nightmare end to a nightmare season.

9. TCU (10-20, 1-14): Speaking of nightmares, the Horned Frogs have now lost 16 of their last 17 games. And in doing so, they’ve been bad everywhere. They don’t shoot particularly well, and they certainly can’t keep opponents from shooting well against them. They get killed on the glass as if it were their collective life’s meaning. They never get to the line, but they send their opponents to the line regularly. They’re a very bad basketball team. And yet, somehow, junior J.R. Cadot is ranked #41 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating. Typically, despite an offensive rating higher than guys like Jon Leuer, Nolan Smith, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette, Cadot only uses about 15% of all TCU possessions when he is in the game. Sure, if he was used at a higher rate, his efficiency numbers would likely drop, but given that Garlon Green is the only other Frog with an offensive rating above 100, you’d figure that Jim Christian would find a way to use him more. Cadot’s numbers had been picking up, as he averaged over 14 points a game in the four games before his one-point, two-field-goal-attempt stinker against in the loss against New Mexico, but given that there’s not a whole lot else going on in Fort Worth, you would hope that Cadot would get a chance in TCU’s remaining games.

A look ahead: Mercifully, the Frogs wrap up their regular season at Air Force on Wednesday.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 25th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

A Look Back

With the battle for the conference title just a day away, the conference race has taken its shape. Up top, of course, are national top-ten teams BYU and San Diego State, tied at 12-1 and ready to battle on Montezuma Mesa on Saturday morning. Next, UNLV has moved backed into third and seems a lock to be asked to the Big Dance, while Colorado State is still waiting in the wings, hoping to secure its own invitation in its remaining schedule after having just booted one of its last big chances. Down the ladder another rung, Utah has suddenly turned on the juice and bolted to three straight wins (although it may not be enough to save Jim Boylen’s job), while New Mexico has been the biggest disappointment in conference play, still three positive outcomes away from a .500 MWC record. At the bottom of the conference, Air Force has now lost four straight and fallen back to .500 overall for the first time since their second game, and suddenly they’ve got Wyoming nipping at their heels for the right to avoid the 8/9 game in the MWC Tournament. And finally, there’s TCU all alone at the bottom with a 1-13 record, an 11-game losing streak and a program in shambles in advance of an upcoming move to the Big East in 2012-13.

Team of the Week: UNLV – Since we last talked, the Rebels have bounced back from their disappointing result against the Aztecs and reeled off three straights wins to pop their bubble and plant themselves firmly in the NCAA field. While there has been very little pretty about their wins over Air Force (just a horribly brutal game to watch), New Mexico and Colorado State, the Rebels have gotten back to playing the type of defense they were playing in November. Against the Falcons, UNLV turned on the pressure and held Air Force scoreless for over 13 minutes in the second half, while grabbing a staggering 96.7% of all defensive rebound opportunities in securing a come-from-behind win there. Then the Rebels paired a revenge victory over Colorado State in Fort Collins with a squeaker over New Mexico in Albuquerque, two mighty impressive road wins. While offense continues to be a struggle most nights, this Running Rebel team figures to be an awful tough out in the MWC Tournament on their own home floor.

Player of the Week: Malcolm Thomas, Senior, San Diego State – On the hyper-talented Aztec frontcourt, Kawhi Leonard is the star, the go-to guy, the All-American candidate. But this guy is pretty good too, and a vital cog in what Steve Fisher wants to do. While Leonard is flashier with the ball in his hands, Thomas is nearly as good on the glass, and arguably a better interior defender. Thomas leads the Aztecs with more than two blocked shots per game (and blocks on about 8% of all opponents’ two-point field goals – good for 66th in the nation), and he racked up seven more blocks this week, to go with 21 points and 9.5 rebounds per outing. Given that he had been in a bit of a slump on the offensive end, averaging just over seven points per game in the prior eight games, his offensive awakening is a welcome piece of good news heading into Saturday’s big game.

Newcomer of the Week: Drew Gordon, Junior, New Mexico – Despite three losses this week, part of a four-game slide for the Lobos, Gordon has to take down the honor on the basis of his 17 points and a MWC-record 23 rebounds against Utah on Saturday. Throw in 13 points and nine rebounds against SDSU and 15 points and 14 rebounds against UNLV, Gordon has become a dominant low-post force in the conference. There are still some holes in his game, but if those can get patched (or at least temporarily hidden), he could help the Lobos make some noise in the MWC Tourney.

Game of the Week: Utah 62, New Mexico 60 – This game just epitomizes the type of season the Lobos are having. New Mexico controlled just about every facet of this game, except for the small little fact that they couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean from the beach, post a sub-40% effective field goal percentage. And yet, they still found themselves up one with time running down and with the Utah offense in disarray. And then Chris Hines did this. With the Lobos having lost to UNLV in overtime on Wednesday night after having a good look at the buzzer in regulation, and lost at SDSU last Wednesday after fighting back from a 14-point deficit to be right there at the end, this was just another annoyance. But couple with all the other missed opportunities in the Lobo year (a one-point loss at UNLV in which they had multiple chances to put that one away, a double-overtime loss at Dayton, and this heartbreaking loss at Wyoming), this must be just the basketball gods getting back at New Mexico for all their fortunate bounces last year.

Game of the Upcoming Week: New Mexico (17-11, 5-8) at TCU (10-19, 1-13), 2/26, 5PM PST, CBS College Sports – Yes, this epic battle between the Horned Frogs and the…. Okay, just wanted to see if you all were paying attention. Clearly the game of the week (which will be played Saturday morning at 11AM PST on CBS – the first ever national non-cable television broadcast of a MWC regular season basketball game – between San Diego State (27-1, 12-1) and BYU (26-2, 12-1). And CBS knocked the ball out of the park in choosing this game to televise way back in August. When these two teams played in late January, Jimmer Fredette took the nation by storm, knocking down 43 points in increasingly improbable fashion and slowly breaking the will of the Aztec defenders. What was a close game for 30-plus minutes or so turned into a game that was not particularly in doubt after the final TV timeout. The Aztecs controlled the glass as expected, but struggled to score. In particular senior point guard D.J. Gay, who started off guarding Fredette, seemed overwhelmed by the responsibility of both guarding Fredette and being the Aztec offensive rock. I’m guessing that won’t happen again. While the Aztecs are rightly afraid of getting into a wide-open transition game with the Cougars and Fredette, they’ll need to be able to turn some of their rebounds into transition opportunities in order to get some easy offense, but most importantly, they’ll need to control Fredette. Gay was ineffective against him last time, and Steve Fisher can’t risk losing his offense this time around, so expect Chase Tapley to get the first crack at Jimmer, while Billy White and even Kawhi Leonard may get some face-time with the National Player of the Year candidate.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (27-1, 12-1): The Aztecs posted wins over Air Force and New Mexico, got Tapley and Tim Shelton back from injury, and then got to rest up in the middle of the week in preparation for Saturday’s game. This week couldn’t have gone any better. While his running mate Thomas took down the POTW award, Leonard continued his great play, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds this week. Apropos of little, you could actually piece together a pretty strong All-American team with just players from the MWC and Pac-10 this season, and only have to reach once. Gimme Leonard and Fredette paired with Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas (Fredette and Williams are dead-solid locks to be first-team All-Americans, while Leonard and Thomas should be second-team, but may lose out to players who play primarily on ESPN), and throw in Klay Thompson for good measure and I’d guess that team could probably take any other team put together out of any other two conferences around the country.

A look ahead: The Aztecs host the Cougars in the biggest game in the history of the Mountain West Conference on Saturday, after which they’ll wrap up the season with a trip to Wyoming and a visit from Colorado State.

2. BYU (26-2, 12-1): A ho-hum week for the Cougars: two more wins (a 23-point blowout at TCU and a never-particularly-close eight-point win at home against Colorado State) and 57 more points from Fredette (although in an increasingly inefficient manner – just 15 of 42 from the field in the two games). Other highlights included Kyle Collinsworth contributing eight rebounds per game off the bench and sophomore Stephen Rogers having his best game since New Year’s Day with 15 points and three threes against TCU.

A look ahead: I’m only reminding you one more time: 11AM PST Saturday morning, your local CBS affiliate. BYU at San Diego State. Watch it.

3. UNLV (21-7, 9-5): We detailed the fact that the Rebels have now won three straight games in our Team of the Week section, but it’s interesting that they’ve done it with different players leading the way in each instance. In the Air Force game, Tre’Von Willis took over and led the team with 13 points and four assists (those numbers may not sound impressive, but it is all relative in a game where the winning team scored 49 points). He continued his strong play in the other two games (eight assists against Colorado State and 25 points, five three, four assists and four steals against New Mexico), but in each case had plenty of help. In the CSU game, Oscar Bellfield led the way with 18 points, including 16 in the second half, to secure the Rebel victory, while it was Quintrell Thomas taking over the game against the Lobos with 19 points and 13 rebounds in place of the fouled-out Chace Stanback. The Rebels still don’t have a single go-to guy (although Willis has begun to look willing to take that role back over, despite his nagging knee injury that is not getting any better), and there are plenty of maddeningly inconsistent performers here (with Stanback’s yo-yo act the most egregious example), but the good news for Lon Kruger is that he is at least getting somebody to step up every night, even if it is somebody different every time out.

A look ahead: UNLV hosts Air Force on Tuesday, then travels to Colorado State on Saturday with revenge on their minds.

4. Colorado State (18-9, 8-5): The good news for the Rams is that they took care of business against TCU. The bad news is that they struck out in their chances against UNLV and BYU, falling by seven at home to the surging Rebels and by eight at Provo. With the season-ending game at San Diego State the sole remaining “up” game on their schedule, the Rams are faced with the prospect of going into Selection Sunday with a neutral-site win over Southern Miss and a win at UNLV as their sole wins against teams in the top-50 RPI. This year, that could be good enough, but a win over the Aztecs on the final day of the season or a MWC Tournament semifinal win over either BYU or SDSU would go a long ways towards helping Tim Miles sleep well on March 12.

A look ahead: The Rams travel to Air Force, then host Utah, and while a win in either of those games is not going to put them in the NCAA Tournament, a loss might keep them out. Then, on March 5, they travel to San Diego to face the Aztecs on a day when the raucous crowd at Viejas Arena will be saying goodbye to D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas, Billy White and likely Kawhi Leonard. Yikes. Good luck with that.

5. New Mexico (17-11, 5-8): So, three straight losses have effectively killed any prayer this Lobo team had of getting an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament. And yet, I still think this team is a threat in the MWC Tournament. Why? Well, Dairese Gary is every bit the bulldog that Gay is at SDSU, the type of player who is capable of willing his team to victories down the stretch (although, admittedly, you maybe wouldn’t know that following these guys this year). Gordon has turned into a dominant rebounder and athletic presence up front (although he’s the consummate black-hole on offense – the ball goes in to the post and never comes back out). Tony Snell, Kendall Williams and Philip McDonald are athletic and skilled wing players who are each capable of catching fire from deep (although (1) Snell is a freshman who has only recently started producing, and inconsistently at that, (2) Williams, also a freshman, has tailed off some since a lightning fast start and (3) McDonald is a complete mystery who is shooting 10 percentage points lower than last year’s average from three just 33% from the field in MWC play). And then there’s a ton of tough big guys up front to pair with Gordon (none of whom have displayed any hint of desperation in grabbing a rebound, playing solid post defense or setting solid screens). See. They’re brilliant!

A look ahead: At TCU, at BYU and home against Air Force as the Lobos play out the string. None of those games mean a thing to the Lobos tournament hopes – they’ll need to win three straight games on March 10th, 11th and 12th, or they’re NIT bound.

6. Utah (13-15, 6-8): When last we checked in with the Utes, they had lost five straight games and the last two of those by an average of more than 22 points. Jim Boylen’s job was in serious jeopardy and they looked to be already in the offseason mentally. Since then, they’ve strung together three solid wins, albeit against the three teams currently below them in the standings, and by a combined total of 14 points, but you’ve got to give credit to Boylen for keeping this team playing hard. While circumstances may conspire against him in Utah, he’s given the administration some good reasons to consider giving him another chance.

A look ahead: The Utes are down their final two games in their MWC regular season history: at Colorado State next Wednesday and at home against UNLV next Saturday. An NCAA Tournament bid is extremely unlikely (they’d need to win the conference tourney), but if they can extend their momentum a bit longer, perhaps they’ll get back on the NIT’s radar.

7. Air Force (13-13, 4-9): Four straight losses (and an average of just over 50 points per game in those losses) and all of a sudden, what was looking like a surprisingly strong Falcon season has turned into a fight to hold on to the first-round bye in the MWC title. While Air Force got destroyed on the glass by BYU, UNLV and San Diego State in the first three of those losses, Wednesday’s night loss at Wyoming was bizarre basketball. Out of the blue, suddenly the Falcon outrebounded somebody, and at the hands of a Cowboy team that killed them on the glass in their first meeting. Just as surprising, the Falcons turned the ball over 19 times, a stunning number for a team that takes care of the ball well. And, for a third surprise, Wyoming, a team in the bottom quarter of Division I teams in effective field goal percentage, outshot the Falcons, the 22nd best team in the nation in that category. And, through all that, Wyoming snuck out a one-point win.

A look ahead: Tough games at home against Colorado State and at New Mexico surround a very winnable home game against the cellar-dwelling Horned Frogs. Win two of those three games and the Falcons are guaranteed a .500-or-better regular season record.

8. Wyoming (10-17, 3-10): Four games in and Fred Langley’s got a 2-2 record as a head coach. Given that Heath Schroyer was 1-8 when he was fired, you’d have to say that it looks like the timing to fire him was right. The biggest boost from the coaching change has undoubtedly been given to sophomore forward Amath M’Baye, who has averaged 20.3 points and 6.5 rebounds under Langley.

A look ahead: Wyoming travels Salt Lake City for a matchup with Utah, where a win could put the Cowboys in seventh place in the conference.

9. TCU (10-19, 1-13): Three more losses, and the assumption is that Jim Christian is a dead man walking; this has turned into a total collapse. With two of the four leading scorers on this team having been kicked off the team, the back-half of this conference season has been little more than tryouts for next year’s scholarships. Point guard Hank Thorns has been tough, handing out assists all over the place (he’s easily the conference’s leading assist man, with nearly seven per game), junior wing J.R. Cadot has come on strong of late (he’s had double figure scoring in four straight games and has shown a penchant for rebounding above and beyond his 6’5 frame) and Garlon Green has been a consistently solid performer all season long, but beyond that, this roster is in need of an overhaul.

A look ahead: The Horned Frogs host New Mexico, then travel to Air Force next Wednesday in a game that gives them a solid chance at their second conference win.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

Another week in the books, and as we head down the stretch, the back half of the Mountain West schedule may as well be filler on the way to the San Diego State/BYU rematch on February 26 in San Diego. While we still have Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico playing meaningful games with an eye towards at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, the battle between the Cougars and Aztecs, in addition to being the first MWC basketball game aired on an over-the-air/non-cable network to the entire country, is also one of the most anticipated games of the season. This week both squads took care of business to maintain their exemplary records, but each team has that matchup – a game that will in all likelihood determine the MWC’s regular season champion – sitting prominently in the back of their minds.

  • Team of the Week: San Diego State – The Aztecs get the nod based on the strength of a 32-point blowout of Utah and a six-point road win over UNLV. The win over Utah was a complete domination, in which the Aztecs owned every aspect of the game, while the UNLV was a much tighter affair in which SDSU actually found itself trailing for just the second time in the game with three minutes remaining. But the Aztecs came up big down the stretch, knocking down nine of their ten free throws after relinquishing the lead and escaping from enemy territory with a very good win.
  • Player of the Week: Jackson Emery, Senior, BYU – Emery often takes a backseat to Jimmer Fredette, but he is a very important cog in the Cougar attack as well. This season Emery has broken Danny Ainge’s all-time BYU steals record, and he added another eight this week – including six against Utah on Saturday, a couple of which helped transform a tight game in the second-half to a runaway BYU victory. He also added 17 points in each game this week, both times on six-of-12 shooting, including knocking down five three-points in the Cougar win over Air Force.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – Clyburn continued his consistently strong play for the Utes this week, despite his team adding two more losses to their disappointing record. He averaged 18 points, six rebounds and knocked down three more threes this week.
  • Game of the Week: San Diego State 63, UNLV 57 – After an unimpressive first half, the Rebels ratcheted up the pressure in the second half and got back into the game little by little. They played tough, harassing defense, forcing turnovers and earning transition baskets. They got the ball into the heart of the San Diego State defense and scored over and drew fouls on the talented Aztec defense. And then, finally, they regained the lead for just the second time in the game when senior guard Tre’Von Willis scored on a layup with just over three minutes left. And then, from there, they reverted to doing all the bad things that had gotten them in trouble in early games and in the first half. Instead of continuing to attack the Aztec defense, UNLV got three-happy, shooting six threes in the final three minutes, missing all of them, and allowing the Aztecs to beat them from the line.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UNLV (18-7, 6-5)  at Colorado State (17-7, 7-3), 2/19, 4PM PST, The Mtn. – While the battle at the top of the conference is still a week away, this matchup that will help determine third-place in the conference is an intriguing one. The Rams have a two-game lead in the loss column, but a closer look at the schedule shows that they’ve still got trips to BYU and San Diego State ahead, while the Rebels are done taking those beatings for the regular season. But in order for the Rebels to catch up with CSU, they’ll need to pay them back for the loss they were handed at the Thomas & Mack the first time around. In that game, which Willis missed, the Rebels never led and had no answer for the Rams’ talented frontcourt, as Travis Franklin and Andy Ogide combined to score 42 points and grab 16 rebounds. And, in a familiar turn of events, the Rebs struggled mightily shooting the ball, hitting just two of their 15 shots from deep. For UNLV to come out of Fort Collins with a win, they’ll need big games from their interior players like Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez, and they’ll need somebody to step up and hit some shots.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (25-1, 10-1): Chase Tapley and Tim Shelton continued to miss games following their injuries against TCU on February 5, but they are still considered day-to-day. Freshman guard Jamaal Franklin took advantage of the extra minutes to put in a bid for additional playing time when he scored 13 points and grabbed ten rebounds – both career highs – in 17 minutes against Utah. However, in his seven minutes against UNLV, he managed just one rebound and one turnover. Elsewhere, D.J. Gay averaged 17.5 PPG this week, while Kawhi Leonard averaged 13 points and 12 rebounds.

A look ahead: The Aztecs host New Mexico on Wednesday and then travel to Air Force on Saturday.

2. BYU (24-2, 10-1): Fredette continued his great season, he just did it in a slightly different way. Against Air Force, he was typically excellent, with 25 points, five three-pointers and five assists. But against Utah, he struggled out of the gate, missing threes, missing runners and clearly being bothered by the double and triple teams that the Utes threw at him. But, then in the middle of the second half, after a couple of steals by Emery gave the Cougars the momentum, Fredette took the reins and scored 12 straight points and 17 points in the final nine minutes. He still leads the nation in scoring with 27.3 per night. The other big factor in the Utah game was junior guard Charles Abouo, who had a career high 22 points and ten rebounds. Better yet, 17 of those points came in the first half when other Cougars were struggling to score effectively, another example of Dave Rose getting role players to step up in times of need.

A look ahead: A mid-week bye for the Cougars, then a Saturday contest with TCU, which is near enough to a bye.

3. Colorado State (17-7, 7-3): The Rams had just one game this week, but it was a big one, a middle-of-the-pack battle against a New Mexico team that had already beaten CSU earlier this season and was currently riding a four-game winning streak. However, a 17-2 run in the middle of the first half opened this game up early, and the Rams led by as many as 18 in the second half. Eventually, the Lobos did make a run late, but CSU had plenty of people there to answer it and they came away with a big six-point win that probably puts them on the good side of the NCAA bubble. However, with games at BYU and at San Diego State remaining, the Rams need to continue to take care of business.

A look ahead: A Wednesday meeting with TCU, followed by the all-important visit from the Rebels on Saturday. These are two games the Rams really need to win in order to feel comfortable about their Tournament chances.

4. UNLV (18-7, 6-5): A look at the Rebel KenPom page shows an awful lot of green – the color used to denote not only wins on the schedule, but good statistical numbers. You see some darker greens in the defensive efficiency category, turnovers forced, blocked shot percentage, steal percentage, and even two-point field goal percentage, both on the offensive and defensive ends. And in there amongst all the green, there’s this one little red section – red being the color to denote losses on the schedule and ugly numbers in the stats – offensive three-point percentage. The Rebels are currently shooting just 30.5% from three, good for 307th in the nation. Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback check in at around 36% for the season, with the rest of the roster clocking in at about 23%. And yet, there were the Rebels, after scraping and scratching and clawing their way back into the game against San Diego State, with the game on the line launching six straight threes in the waning moments in lieu of any other semblance of coherent offense. There are a couple of things to learn here. First, at some point, yes, the Rebels are going to need someone to knock down a three for them. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Rebels still need to learn that this is not a team built around hoisting the three. While they don’t shoot a lot of them, they can from time to time get three-happy and just start bombing, a poor decision when they are actually an effective offensive team when they work the ball inside. With the three-headed big man of Massamba, Lopez and Thomas starting to come around, with Willis finally starting to look healthy and confident, and with the Rebels needing to finish the regular season strong in order to assure themselves of an NCAA Tournament invite, Lon Kruger needs to get the offensive ship righted, and soon.

A look ahead: UNLV hosts Air Force on Tuesday, then travels to Colorado State on Saturday with revenge on their minds.

5. New Mexico (17-8, 5-5): This week was the tale of two Drews. Against Wyoming, Drew Gordon was dominant. He had 16 points and 18 boards, grabbing 21.4% of all of his team’s missed shots and 27.3% of Wyoming’s missed shots. As a result, despite the Lobos cold shooting and inconsistent offense, New Mexico was able to pull through in the second half and grab a win over the Cowboys. However, on Saturday, it was a different story. Gordon grabbed just three rebounds, turned the ball over six times and committed five fouls on his way to an early exit as the Lobos were without his services for the final four and a half minutes. While Gordon was effective when he was able to find his shot (he made six of his seven field goal attempts for 12 points), too often he panicked when the Rams doubled him and he was unable to move the ball back around to an open teammate. For now, the secret is out on Gordon. If you can send a double-team at him in the post, he’ll turn the ball over, pick up an offensive foul or force up a bad shot. Until he can effectively handle the double team, he can’t be counted on as a key component in the Lobo offense.

A look ahead: The Lobos travel to San Diego State on Wednesday, then face Utah on Saturday. Given that these are two of the biggest teams in the conference, Gordon will get plenty of chances to prove that he can handle a double team.

6. Air Force (13-10, 4-6): The Falcons sole game of the week was a 38-point loss at home against BYU, from which very little was learned on either side of the ball.

A look ahead: On the heels of last week’s fiasco, the Academy travels to UNLV before hosting San Diego State.

7. Utah (10-15, 3-8): The Utes lost two games last week by an average of 22.5 points per game. Despite being the biggest team in the league, they were killed on the glass by SDSU, grabbing less than 50% of the available defensive rebounds and only 25% of the offensive ones. Against BYU, they played much better and kept the Cougars within reach for about 30 minutes, but faded late.

A look ahead: Utah hosts Wyoming on Wednesday, then travels to New Mexico on Saturday.

8. Wyoming (9-16, 2-9): The Fred Langley era is underway in Laramie (and frankly, probably a quarter of the way to its end), and so far so good. The Cowboys played New Mexico tight for about 35 minutes in the first game under the new head coach, then knocked off TCU on Saturday in order to wrest away sole control of eighth place in the conference. While the same old players still make up the roster, sophomore forward Amath M’Baye put together the two best games of his college career this week, setting a career-high of 19 points in the New Mexico game before breaking that one game later with 21 against TCU, while grabbing six rebounds in each game. With Heath Schroyer no longer around trying to save his job, the remainder of this season is simply about finding out who can be building blocks in this program, and early on M’Baye has thrown his hat into the ring as a contributor to the rebuilding of the once proud Wyoming basketball program.

A look ahead: Wyoming travels Salt Lake City for a matchup with Utah, where a win could put the Cowboys in seventh place in the conference.

9. TCU (10-16, 1-10): Another week, another couple of losses. Sophomore Garlon Green averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds, senior Greg Hill averaged 13.5 points and Hank Thorns added another 12 assists, but despite some hard work, there just isn’t enough talent here for the Frogs to compete on a regular basis. Give credit to head coach Jim Christian for continuing to get solid effort out of his club, but his days could be numbered.

A look ahead: Home games against Colorado State and BYU mean the Horned Frogs are looking 1-12 straight in the face.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

Last Wednesday, after Wyoming, in front of their home crowd, improbably stuck right with the #7 team in the nation, BYU, for 39-plus minutes, MWC fans were treated to an epic battle between two very good teams, one with its ticket all but punched for the NCAA Tournament, the other with its resume still very much in doubt. In the end, D.J. Gay’s clutch shot as the clock wound down followed by his play on Colorado State’s last-ditch effort sealed the road victory for San Diego State, just the latest in a streak of big plays at crunch time for the wily senior. The Rams, however, bounced back on Saturday with a closer-than-expected road win of their own over Wyoming. Elsewhere around the conference, New Mexico beat Air Force in Colorado Springs on Tuesday and Air Force came back with their own road win – their second in a row following 20 straight conference road losses – with their win over Utah on Saturday. If you’re not counting at home, that makes five road wins in eight conference games this week, but in the end, the teams at the top of the conference by and large keep piling up the wins, giving the MWC five times who at least have aspirations for at-large NCAA Tournament selections. With talented veteran rosters across the conference, this may be the high water mark for the conference, with stalwarts Utah and BYU (and TCU, a non-factor basketball-wise) heading to higher ground next season. And, on Monday, we got news of the firing of Wyoming’s head coach, Heath Schroyer, an announcement that was only potentially surprising because of the timing. With Utah and TCU also struggling through some recent hard times on the hard court, and with their impending departure, Jim Boylen and Jim Christian have to be looking over their shoulder as well.

Team of the Week: BYU – It’s hard to pick out one team this week, but we’ll go with the Cougars largely on the strength of their impressive handling of UNLV at the Marriott Center on Saturday. BYU built up a 12-point halftime lead, then coasted through much of the second half behind 29 points from Jimmer Fredette on his way to grabbing the mantle of the all-time leading scorer in Mountain West history, passing San Diego State’s Brandon Heath. Fredette also added seven assists and made all 16 of his free throw attempts as the Cougars prevailed in a game that was not exactly a thing of beauty. Couple that win with their surprisingly difficult win over Wyoming on Wednesday and it’s just another 2-0 week for the Cougars.

Player of the Week: Kawhi Leonard, Sophomore, San Diego State and Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Nobody in the conference came out and stole this week’s award, so I’m going to split the recognition between the two candidates for MWC Player of the Year (yes, I know Fredette’s winning this thing going away right now). At the surface, both of these guys had great weeks. Fredette scored 55 points in his two games, while Leonard had 23 points and 25 rebounds on the week. But closer examination reveals flaws for each. Leonard made just ten of his 27 shots, turned the ball over as many times as he handed out assists and missed both of his three-point attempt, while Fredette was just 13-35 from the field and 3-16 from deep, and had nine turnovers to his eight assists. And despite those flaws, these two share the Player of the Week award, in recognition not only for the things they did well this week, but also all that they’ve done well over the season.

Newcomer of the Week: Hank Thorns, Junior, TCU – It hasn’t been a fun season in Fort Worth, but Thorns has been a bright spot. The 5’9 transfer from Virginia Tech leads the conference in assists, with 6.4 dimes per game. This week he added eight more assists in a seven-point loss at San Diego State, but he’s also been adding more of a scoring punch, in the wake of the suspension of the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer, Ronnie Moss. This week Thorns had 16 points, and while TCU is in the middle of a six-game losing streak, Thorns has averaged 12 points and nine assists in the three games since Moss’ suspension.

Game of the Week: San Diego State 56, Colorado State 54 – Playing in front of an emboldened Moby Arena crowd, the Rams were out to prove that they were no pretender. And for 39 minutes and about 50 seconds, they fought the #6 team in the nation to a draw. And then D.J. Gay broke the hearts of the Rams and their 7,353 screaming fans. I linked to it above, but it is good enough to watch again. After CSU’s Travis Franklin tied the game at 54 with a strong move to the basket with 10 seconds left, Gay took the inbounds pass, calmly dribbled up court, and, in front of head coach Steve Fisher who had opted to let Gay go to work on his own rather than call a timeout, he knocked down a step-back jumper in the face of CSU’s Dorian Green. And then, not to be outdone, he got back on defense and intercepted Adam Nigon’s Hail Mary pass as time expired, reminding everyone around the conference why Gay is so important to his team.

Game of the Upcoming Week: New Mexico (16-7, 4-4) at Colorado State (16-7, 6-3), 2/12, 6PM PST, The Mtn. – On a day when San Diego State visits UNLV, I’ll take this game as the more important game, the more competitive game and the more exciting game. I may have been a little slow to the party, but I’m finally on board with the Rams as a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender, and I’ve also been waiting on the Lobos to turn the corner as well. At this point, all signs point to the corner having been turned, so we could be in for a serious battle here. The possibility of a Drew Gordon-Andy Ogide battle up front should be enough to get any college hoops fan interesting, but it could be the battle between Lobo senior point Dairese Gary and Ram sophomore guard Dorian Green that could decide things. Green surprisingly got the best of Gary in the first go-round, holding the Lobo leader scoreless in 34 minutes, but it was Gordon’s 16-rebound dominance on the glass that put the Lobos over the top at The Pit. This time around, the Rams will have the home court advantage, but it is unlikely they’ll be able to shutout Gary again. The winner here sneaks ahead in the battle for the MWC’s potential fourth Tournament bid, but people around the conference have been whispering giddily about the possibility of five teams in the Big Dance.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (23-1, 8-1): While the Aztecs did come out of the week with two wins, they also got a bit of a scare on Saturday night when starting guard Chase Tapley and reserve forward Tim Shelton both left the game in the first half with injuries – Tapley’s a sprained ankle and Shelton’s a foot injury. Neither player returned to the game and both sat on the bench with protective boots on their feet in the second half, but later X-rays revealed no broken bones in either player’s case. Shelton, who has had knee injuries end two seasons in his time in San Diego, underwent an MRI on Monday to determine if there was any ligament or tendon damage.

A look ahead: The Aztecs host Utah tonight before traveling to UNLV for a big collision on Saturday.

2. BYU (22-2, 8-1): In recent weeks, this space has turned into a “Cougars Who Aren’t Named Jimmer” section, and we’ll go back to that well here. While Jackson Emery continued his strong play (27 points, five threes and seven steals this week), Saturday’s win over UNLV featured a strong showing from sophomore forward Stephen Rogers, who went for 12 points, a career-high eight rebounds and two three-pointers in 21 minutes. Rogers’ chance at significant playing time came after freshman Kyle Collinsworth and junior James Anderson both left the game with injuries – Collinsworth a concussion and Anderson a separated shoulder. While Brandon Davies was a huge factor in the Cougars win over Wyoming on Wednesday, with 20 points and nine rebounds, he was limited by foul trouble on Saturday and struggled home to just four points, his only non-double-digit scoring effort since conference play began.

A look ahead: Sneaky week for the Cougars, with a trip to Air Force on Wednesday and then a visit from Utah for the final MWC edition of the basketball version of the Holy War on Saturday.

3. Colorado State (16-7, 6-3): The Rams played two games decided by five total points this week, and came away with a 1-1 split and a host of believers around the MWC. Rather unbelievably, CSU actually outrebounded the Aztecs, holding them to a mere five rebounds and a 14.3 offensive rebounding percentage. Andy Ogide led the way with 12 rebounds to go with his 18 points, but the Rams were done in by their ability to score against the suffocating SDSU defense, posting just a 38.5 effective field goal percentage. Against Wyoming on Saturday, there was a little bit of a hangover in effect, as Ogide was in foul trouble throughout and scored just 11 points, as the Ram starters combined to go 14-38 from the field. However, they were bailed out by their depth, as CSU’s bench outscored the Wyoming reserves by a 23-3 margin. Sophomore Pierce Hornung led the way with ten points and 11 rebounds, his first career double. As a whole, the bench combined to make ten of their 17 field goal attempts.

A look ahead: The Rams get a mid-week bye in advance of their battle with New Mexico on Saturday.

4. UNLV (17-6, 5-4): It’s a good thing for the Rebels that they took care of business against Utah on Wednesday, because they never had a chance against BYU on Saturday afternoon. While the Rebs were impressive on the glass against the Cougars (they grabbed almost 40% of all available offensive rebounds, and were solid on the defensive glass), their inability to hit shots on a consistent basis continues to plague them. Against BYU they posted just a 35% effective field goal percentage, and for the season they are just a shade above 50% in that category, good for 110th in the nation. Worse yet, they are shooting less than 30% from three, 318th in the nation. Their defense continues to be elite (they’re ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency), but unless they can somehow start putting the ball in the hoop, they’re a non-entity come March. Quintrell Thomas led the way against Utah with 15 points and 16 boards, while Anthony Marshall’s 16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against BYU was the only good thing the Rebs had going that day. Chace Stanback continues to be the leading scorer on the team, and he’s scored in double figures in six straight games, but UNLV fans keep waiting for last year’s Tre’Von Willis to show up. In his four games back since a knee injury kept him out of a couple games, he has only shot 35.9% from the field and averaged 12 points per game, and his quickness and ability to challenge defenders and get to the line is a pale imitation of the Willis from ’09-’10.

A look ahead: The Rebels visit TCU on Wednesday, with a chance to build up their confidence before heading into a huge home game with the Aztecs on Saturday. If the Rebels are going to get their mojo back, it has to start on Saturday by breaking SDSU’s three-game win streak in the series.

5. New Mexico (16-7, 4-4): After a terrible 1-4 start in conference play, the Lobos have now strung together three straight wins to get back to .500. This week they went to Air Force and looked impressive in helping head coach Steve Alford to his 400th career win, before getting a weekend bye. Drew Gordon led the way with 17 points and six rebounds, Dairese Gary added eight assists and the Lobos won by 14.

A look ahead: The Lobos host Wyoming on Wednesday in what is bound to be an emotional game for the Cowboys in their first game without head coach Heath Schroyer. If the Lobos can get through that game, their battle with Colorado State on Saturday will be huge.

6. Air Force (13-9, 4-5): In the home loss against New Mexico, the Falcons were just outclassed. But on Saturday, they played a strong game at Utah and came away with a five-point win. Against the bigger and stronger Utes, the Falcons went against type and hit the glass hard and effectively, grabbing a sparkling 90.6% of all defensive rebounds and a solid 24.3% of the offensive rebounds. Sophomore Zach Bohannon impressed, posting career highs in points (12), rebounds (8) and assists (5) and the Falcons led every step of the way after ripping off a 14-2 run to break a 2-2 tie early in the game.

A look ahead: Air Force’s sole game of the week is a visit from BYU on Wednesday night. They slow it down, ugly the game up and try to control Fredette in the hopes of keeping in contact as far as the under-four timeout. If they can do that much, anything can happen down the stretch.

7. Utah (10-13, 3-6): The head coach at Utah prior to Jim Boylen was Ray Giacoletti. He won a MWC championship in his first season and advanced the Utes to a Sweet 16. Two straight 6-10 years later, he was the ex-Utah coach. This is Boylen’s 4th season as the head coach in Salt Lake City. In his second year, his Utes won the MWC championship before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last season, they finished 7-9. But with the Utes stepping up to the Pac-10 next season, last season’s mass exodus of players not too far back in the rearview mirror, and with history saying the Utah athletic department isn’t fond of consecutive losing seasons for its basketball program, it might be a good idea for the Utes to finish this season strongly if Boylen expects to be back next year. This week’s two losses, especially the home loss against Air Force on Saturday during which the home crowd did not hesitate to show its displeasure, did not do Boylen any favors. Yes, he’s had to deal with a nearly complete roster overhaul that has been exacerbated by injuries, and he’s a well-respected man in his profession, but if the Utes don’t finish this season strongly, you can bet the athletic department will be entertaining thoughts of a new head coach.

A look ahead: Given the above, this week is absolutely brutal. A trip to San Diego State tonight, a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday, and in all likelihood, a 3-8 conference record come Sunday morning.

8. TCU (10-14, 1-8): Much like the Utes, the Horned Frogs have a transition to a higher level of basketball in the near future, as they’ll join the Big East in ’12-’13. With head coach Jim Christian, now in his third season, having never posted a winning record in Fort Worth, he can’t be resting all too comfortably, especially given the fact that he has just suspended his best player in Ronnie Moss, a player who in all likelihood will not wear a Horned Frog uniform again. The fact is, this roster is pretty devoid of talent, and doesn’t compare favorably with even some of the truly bad teams at the bottom of the Big East. If TCU decides that Christian isn’t the man for the future of this program, do they decide to go a different way immediately, giving the new head coach a couple years worth of recruiting before being thrown into the Big East gauntlet? Or does Christian get one more year to turn it around, with the Horned Frogs using a new head coach in 2012 to generate some type of buzz before heading into the Big East? My educated guess? Given that Christian still has four years on his contract – after receiving a two-year extension following his first season in Fort Worth – given that the basketball is clearly a distant second in importance to the TCU football program (and may even be third behind baseball), and given that the previous head coach left the program in total disarray, I suspect Christian will get another season. An added bonus: if the Horned Frogs do wind up with a new head coach in their first year in the Big East, that’s a good excuse for their inability to keep up with the big boys of college basketball.

A look ahead: UNLV visits Fort Worth on Saturday, then the Frogs visit Laramie in a spectacular preview of the 8/9 game at the MWC Tournament.

9. Wyoming (8-15, 1-8): At Wyoming, they no longer have the same decision to make that the two programs above have to make. Schroyer is gone, assistant coach Fred Langley has been promoted to interim coach and the only decision that remains to be made is who is next. The early leader is BYU associate head coach Dave Rice, but Wyoming has a nice head start on searching for a new head man. As for the Schroyer era, the final tally stands at 49-68 over the course of almost four years, but his lasting legacy may be cleaning up the academic and off-court performance of the team. Given the substandard facilities at Wyoming, Schroyer was fighting an uphill battle the whole way, but he never got any momentum going. It was somewhat surprising that he was fired in the middle of the season, as all indications were that any decisions about his future would be made after the season, but there was no real suspense as to whether he would return or not. The ironic part is, this firing came after a week in which the Cowboys played BYU down to the wire, then gave Colorado State all they could handle before coming up short.

A look ahead: Wyoming travels to New Mexico for their first game in the Langley era, then return home to host TCU on Saturday.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

The Mountain West goes national – at least for a night. On Wednesday, the much-anticipated MWC clash between BYU and San Diego State took the nation by storm, and Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars certainly did not disappoint. After a pretty standard first eight minutes, during which Fredette “only” had five points, he exploded for BYU’s final 15 points of the first half, then picked up right where he left off after the break, scoring nine of the first 12 Cougar points on his way to a total of 43 on the night. And when the final buzzer sounded on a 71-58 BYU win, the fun was just beginning. Over the next 24 hours, Fredette’s name popped up all over, and not just among the typical college basketball dorks. ESPN couldn’t get enough of him, Kevin Durant called him the “best scorer in the world,” and Fredette, with his new horribly unimaginative update of his nickname (really, adding a “The” to “Jimmer”? come on…) was just about as close to a household name as a college basketball player can be. And so, our secret is out. Tucked away in our little corner of the college hoops world, we seemingly had Fredette all to our own for the last few years. To most of the rest of the average casual college basketball fan, Fredette was just that good shooter tucked away on The Mtn. and other backwoods channels who they might get a chance to watch a time or two a year. For us, we knew there was more. We’d seen him knock down the deep threes, but we’ve also seen him power by defenders to get into the lane and finish in absolutely ridiculous ways. We’ve been calling Fredette must-see TV for most of this season, and while there is maybe a bit of bittersweetness to losing that little secret that MWC hoops fans had, we’re far more apt to be happy that the rest of the college basketball world gets it now: Fredette is as fun of a player to watch as ever comes down the pike and hoops fans should be taking advantage of every opportunity to see him play in what is now his final nine games of his college career. And, for the MWC fan who still wants to be in on a secret that the rest of the country doesn’t know about yet, there’s still Kawhi Leonard who is somewhat undervalued nationwide. There’s Jackson Emery. There’s D.J. Gay, Dairese Gary, Andy Ogide, Malcolm Thomas, Billy White and Tre’Von Willis. And you know what? We’ve likely got just over a month remaining in each of those players’ great college careers. MWC fans are very lucky right now.

Team of the Week: New Mexico – While BYU handing SDSU their first defeat of the season was the big national story of the week, the Lobos were the big winner this week as they got back on track in conference play. After destroying TCU on Wednesday night in the shadow of Jimmermania, the Lobos were able to perhaps take advantage of BYU’s ride back to earth and score a big nine-point win in The Pit. The Lobos are still a game below .500 in the conference, and I’ve been wrong before in saying that Steve Alford had this thing turned around, but New Mexico is now getting contributions from all over their roster. Dairese Gary has been the sure thing the last couple of years, but now there’s plenty more help. Drew Gordon is on a roll with double-figure scoring in his last six games and double-digit rebounding in five of those games. Philip McDonald has been inconsistent during his career, but he’s averaging over 14 points a game in the last six. While it looked for a while that Kendall Williams had hit the freshman wall, he’s scoring more than 12 a game over that stretch, while still adding four assists a night. And against BYU, freshman Tony Snell offered up by far his biggest contribution of the season, scoring a career-high 16, with five threes – including two big ones down the stretch – and a pretty solid performance while guarding Fredette. I’ve made the comparison before, but the Lobos have the potential to be this year’s San Diego State at the conference tournament. They’ve struggled on their way to building a cohesive team, but as the Lobos come barreling down the final stretch of highway in March, don’t be surprised if they’re playing their best basketball of the season at exactly the right time.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – With apologies to Andy Ogide, there is no way this can go to anyone else but Fredette this week. The loss on Saturday is a pretty major blemish on the resume, but really when we look back at the college basketball season when all is said and done, this will go down as The Week of Jimmer. When you average 37.5 points per game on 26-50 shooting and 11-17 from behind the arc, you’re very much on the short list for player of the week in any conference. When you do that in a week when your name is on the lips of sports fans across the country, when the mere mention of your name incites smiles, disbelieving head shakes and looks of wonder, when you vault yourself right up to the top of the leaderboard for potential National Player of the Year candidates, you’ve got the little old MWC POTW award in the bag.

Newcomer of the Week: Drew Gordon, Junior, New Mexico – A couple weeks back when we gave Gordon this award, it was on the heels of a spectacular week. (Seriously, have you checked this out yet?) This week was perhaps a more pedestrian week, but Gordon was still incredibly effective. Over the course of the week, he went for 27 points, 23 rebounds, four blocks and 65% shooting from the field. There are still plenty of places where Gordon needs to improve his game (um, he’s averaging one assist every 111 minutes this season), but if he can keep being a ferocious rebounder and a reliable post scorer for the Lobos, he can help turn this squad into a scary matchup for teams across the conference.

Game of the Week: BYU 71, San Diego State 58 – Usually here we detail a particularly close and dramatic game. This week, while Air Force did play in a couple of games decided by a total of four points, the game of the week was obvious. While there was no real drama in the last four minutes or so, this was the MWC’s turn in the national spotlight. And it was good. Sure, the Aztec team that we’ve seen all season was a shadow of its usual self, and sure there were stretches where the defenses seemed to be significantly ahead of the offenses, but this was a completely enjoyable way to spend a weeknight hour or two. Fredette gets all the publicity (and rightly so), but Leonard was amazing as well, despite playing with the flu, notching 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Maybe next time these two teams meet in San Diego, we’ll get the down-to-the-wire, white knuckle finish we were hoping for, but just because we didn’t get that on Wednesday night doesn’t mean we watched anything short of a completely compelling spectacle.

Game of the Upcoming Week: San Diego State (21-1, 6-1) at Colorado State (15-6, 5-2), 2/2, 6PM PST, CBS College Sports – While this won’t have the national panache that the game of a week earlier had, this battle could have just as big an effect on the conference title picture. The Aztecs and Cougars are tied atop the conference with just one loss, but just a game back looms CSU, a veteran team that still has to prove that they belong in the conversation with the big boys in this league. Against BYU a couple weeks back, they kept the game close for the better part of 40 minutes before letting the game slip away at the end, but they did score a win over UNLV. Right now the Rams sit on their own mini-tier in the conference, not quite having yet posted the credentials to earn them consideration alongside the two teams above them, but surprisingly ahead of the rest of the conference. However, in their quest to prove that they are deserving of NCAA Tournament consideration, a win over the Aztecs would be a huge feather in their cap. For their part, the Aztecs still have a bad taste in their mouth after their less than stellar performance against BYU, and even a 39-point win over Wyoming on Saturday hasn’t yet washed that away; they’ll be looking to re-establish their place in the conference.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (21-1, 6-1): I’m leaving the Aztecs as my pick in the conference based on BYU’s loss to New Mexico and the fact that SDSU’s hosts the next matchup between the teams on February 26. But, beyond that, the loss on Wednesday night did reveal, or highlight, some flaws here. We’ve talked about it before, but as good as the Aztecs have been on the offensive glass all season long, they’re just average on the defensive glass. Some of that comes from their aggressiveness in trying to challenge shots on the defensive end, but a bit of it comes from the lack of effort at times. That portion of it is eminently fixable. More concerning was the complete absence of any positive effect on the game from D.J. Gay. Gay has been a rock for the Aztecs, knocking down big shots, playing solid defense and just generally willing his team to victories in tight games since the middle of last season. On Wednesday night, he was largely invisible, other than being in the frame when Fredette was knocking down jumpers. He wound up with two points on 0-7 shooting, and seemed to lose confidence as Fredette ascendance continued. For the Aztecs to live up to their potential, they’ll need Gay to be the tough-nosed bulldog that he has been over the past year.

A look ahead: The Aztecs travel to Fort Collins for our Game of the Week on Wednesday, then return home for a relative breather against TCU on Saturday.

2. BYU (20-2, 6-1): Believe it or not, there is more than one player on this Cougar team, and there are plenty of good ones. Among them, sophomore forward Brandon Davies has taken a huge leap forward this season, a very positive development for this squad, given that at the start of the year he was very much a question mark. There was no doubt about his talent, but his effort and basketball IQ were sometimes questioned, leaving him riding the pine for large portion of the Cougars first two games. However, of late he has earned a valuable spot in the rotation and has come through, scoring in double figures in the last seven games and in 13 of their last 14. While his best years are still ahead of him (I’ll put him on by 2011-12 Preseason All-MWC team right now), he’ll be a big factor for the Cougars down the stretch. Another intriguing frontcourt player is 6’10 junior James Anderson. Against the Aztecs he came out of nowhere to block five shots in the game, just one shy of his total in the other 146 minutes he’s been on the floor this year. His minutes have been up and down this year, and he’s most apt to get run only when there are injuries or foul problems up front, but he showed on Wednesday that when called upon, he’s capable of providing quality minutes.

A look ahead: The Cougars travel to Laramie for a win at Wyoming, then return home to welcome the Runnin’ Rebels as the second time around the conference begins.

3. Colorado State (15-6, 5-2): After a couple of good wins against some sneaky-tough middle-of-the-pack MWC teams this week, the Rams can look back at the first half of their conference schedule and feel good that they’ve at least beaten the teams that they should have beaten. Mix in a loss at New Mexico, a home loss to BYU and a road win at UNLV and Tim Miles has to feel pretty good about the fact that he’s got his CSU team in the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There is still work to do, however, and as happens every year, the bubble is bound to shrink come March as teams steal bids, but the Rams are at least in a place where this is a doable thing. If senior forward Andy Ogide keeps playing the caliber of basketball that he currently is, not only will he have a spot saved for him on the first team All-MWC, but he should be able to get the Rams over the hump. In a tight win over Utah on Saturday, Ogide went for a career-high 28 points, ten rebounds and three three-pointers, the latter a jaw-dropping number given that he had made exactly four other threes in his entire collegiate career.

A look ahead: CSU travels to UNLV on Wednesday, then hosts BYU on Saturday. Good luck.

4. UNLV (16-5, 4-3): The Rebels just had one game this week, and given the way they played in the early-going of their game in Laramie, they seemed like that were interested in taking the whole week off. Luckily, their offense got going late in the first half and then the Rebels ripped through a 51-34 second half to ease away from the Cowboys late. Tre’Von Willis, Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback each went for 17 points in the game and Anthony Marshall led the team in both rebounds (11) and assists (5).

A look ahead: A tough week awaits the Rebels, with a visit from a vastly improved Utah squad preceding a visit to Provo for an attempt at paying back the Cougars for their conference-opening loss in Las Vegas.

5. New Mexico (15-7, 3-4): We talked about the Lobos above in our team of the week section, but to sum it up: Lobo fans are hoping that their team has turned the corner.

A look ahead: The Lobos have a winnable road game at Air Force tonight, but they’ll need to earn it with a good performance against an improved Falcon squad. They’ve got a bye on the weekend before beginning their second run through the conference with a visit from Wyoming next Wednesday.

6. Utah (10-11, 3-4): The Utes gave Colorado State all they could take on Saturday, but after scrapping back to tie the game late at 68, they gave up the final six points of the game and slid back below .500 in conference. Will Clyburn continued his strong play with 19 points and ten rebounds, but also turned the ball over six times, a weakness that has plagued the Utes all season long.

A look ahead: Utah wraps up the first half of conference play with a trip to Las Vegas, then start the flip side by hosting Air Force on Saturday.

7. Air Force (12-8, 3-4): The Falcons played two games they can be proud of this week; unfortunately, the record still reads 1-1 on the week. Against CSU on Wednesday, sophomore Mike Lyons did his best to bring the Academy back late, with seven points in the last 30 seconds, but every time his heroics brought the Falcons a step closer the Rams had an answer. Against TCU on Saturday, it was junior Taylor Stewart with a layup with 15 seconds left in overtime that provided the final margin in a 66-65 win.

A look ahead: The Falcons host New Mexico on Wednesday, then travel to Utah for what should be a very evenly matched game.

8. TCU (10-13, 1-7): TCU has wrapped up the first half of their conference schedule, given that they have a mid-week bye this week, and with just one win on the season, they are assured to be at least tied for last place in the conference. We knew coming in that this would be a tough year for the undersized and inexperienced Frogs, but this has been above and beyond what was expected. Aside from two additional losses last week, there was a third, big loss: the indefinite suspension of junior guard and leading scorer Ronnie Moss. Moss was suspended by head coach Jim Christian on Friday for “a failure to adhere to the standards of the program” and the feeling around Fort Worth is that he has played his last game for the team. Combined with the dismissal of junior college transfer Sammy Yeager at the beginning of this month, it has been a rough January for a program that seemed to be making some strides in the non-conference schedule. But now, the program seems to be back to square one, a proposition that has to have Christian, in his third year as the Horned Frog coach, questioning his future in Fort Worth with a move to the Big East imminent.

A look ahead: Things are going to get worse before they get better for the Frogs, with a visit to San Diego State due up on Saturday.

9. Wyoming (8-13, 1-6): While things are bad for TCU and Jim Christian, they can be thankful they are not Wyoming and Heath Schroyer. After playing UNLV pretty good for a half on Tuesday, SDSU took out their frustrations on the Cowboys in a big way on Saturday, scoring the first 14 points, 33 of the first 44 and building a 53-22 halftime lead. The only big question remaining for the Cowboy program this season is when they fire Schroyer and who they look to as a replacement.

A look ahead: Wyoming hosts BYU and Colorado State this week, at least giving the home crowd a chance to see what a good team looks like.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

While the top of the conference was business as usual, with BYU and San Diego State both taking care of things on their way towards Wednesday’s collision, there was quite a bit of shakeup in the middle of the conference. Colorado State handled UNLV at the Thomas & Mack with ease on Wednesday, before falling in a fairly close battle with BYU on Saturday. UNLV bounced back from their loss to squeak one out over New Mexico on Saturday, while the Lobos struggled to a two loss week and sank to the back of the pack of teams hoping to contend for upper-division finishes. The other team that got over on New Mexico this week was Utah, who built on last week’s road win at Laramie with a home win against the Lobos and another road win on Saturday, this time at TCU. With the Ute roster rounding into relative health, Jim Boylen has his team ready to be a tough out the rest of the way in conference play. But as we head into fourth week of conference play, the big story is the two teams at the top of the conference getting ready to meet in Provo on Wednesday night. With just one loss on the season between the two teams, a National Player of the Year contender in Jimmer Fredette and a couple of top ten teams, the game sets up as not only the game of the year in the Mountain West, but one of the better regular season games of the entire college basketball season.

Team of the Week: Utah – In the middle of last week, the Utes were mired in the middle of a seven-game losing streak, with a loss to San Diego – one of the worst teams in Division I – mixed in with more explainable losses to teams like Butler, Portland, San Diego State and BYU. Now, they’re riding a three-game winning streak and are right in the conversation with a bunch of teams in the middle of the conference behind the front-runners. Junior center David Foster has come back strong from injury problems in the early season to average 8.7 rebounds and four blocks per game over the course of the winning streak, providing the Utes with a big dominant force in the middle. While junior Josh Watkins has struggled with turnovers all season, he has provided a scoring punch from the backcourt for the Utes, and he has averaged 17.3 PPG over the last three games. Junior Will Clyburn had his first game of the season in which he did not score in double figures when he was limited to 27 minutes (yes, limited – he averages over 36 minutes per game) against New Mexico, but he surrounded that game with a 24-point, 12-rebound monster at Wyoming and a 22-point, nine-rebound effort at TCU. In addition, freshman J.J. O’Brien and sophomore Shawn Glover have both stepped up as excellent role players. This isn’t going to magically turn into a classic Utah team overnight, but assuming everyone stays healthy, seeing Utah on the schedule means a tough game again.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Last week, when Fredette scored 47 against Utah, I instead gave the Player of the Week to Kawhi Leonard, and deservedly so. This week, Fredette went for a quiet 21 against TCU before exploding again for 42 at Colorado State. I hear ya, Jimmer, I hear ya. In the CSU game, Fredette was unstoppably aggressive, getting to the line easily for 17 attempts (making 16), but also knocking down the typical deep Fredette threes. In the past week, he has seemingly extended his range, knocking down a couple of threes from about 30 feet out, both times within the normal flow and context of the game. Oh, there’s Jimmer dropping in a pull-up 30-foot three with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. Ho hum. He’s just ridiculous, guys. Once again, I’ll take this opportunity to point out that we’ve only 11 more opportunities in the regular season to watch Fredette play. Every one of those games is available on television. If you’re not taking advantage of the chance to get to watch this guy play every time out, you’re the one missing out.

Newcomer of the Week: Wes Eikmeier, Sophomore, Colorado State – The transfer from Iowa State came to Fort Collins with the reputation of being “just a shooter,” capable of knocking down the three, but not likely to be counted on for much else. While he’s lived up to the shooting expectations (having knocked down 33 threes at a 38% clip), he’s shown as a Ram that he’s also pretty good with the dribble, capable of creating shots for himself or teammates with a shot fake and a move. This past week he handed out nine assists in the Rams’ two games, while still very much making teams pay for leaving him free from deep, hitting seven of his 13 three-point attempts. Against BYU he went for a career-high 25 points, hitting five threes, handing out five assists and even grabbing five boards. As the Rams fight for NCAA Tournament consideration, Eikmeier is a key cog in their machine.

Game of the Week: UNLV 63, New Mexico 62 – Both teams came into this battle in Las Vegas off of underachieving losses. But while this was by no means a pretty game, it was a hard-fought battle to the finish. The Rebels seemingly had things in control with just under six minutes left, after seven straight points from Carlos Lopez put them up 56-50. But after a three by freshman Tony Snell, the Lobos held a 61-60 lead with 38 seconds left. From there, Tre’Von Willis, playing in his first game back from a knee injury, came up with a steal leading to a breakaway and Lobo senior guard Dairese Gary got called for a questionable intentional foul in trying to separate Willis from the ball. Willis made both shots, and after UNLV got possession back, Oscar Bellfield was fouled and made one of his shots, putting UNLV up 63-61. After Lobo freshman Kendall Williams turned the ball over on a bad pass, he almost made up for his mistake by coming up with a big steal on the Rebel inbound pass, drawing a foul and getting sent to the line with a chance to tie the game. But, after making the first of two, his second shot was long and the Rebels escaped with a much-needed victory while the Lobos were sent back to Albuquerque with a 1-4 record in conference play.

Game of the Upcoming Week: San Diego State (20-0, 5-0) at BYU (19-1, 5-0), 1/26, 7PM PST, CBS College Sports – The game of the year in the MWC, at least until February 26 when they do it all over in San Diego, should be a classic. With a combined 39 wins between these two teams, there is not even a doubt that these are the best two teams in the conference. There are plenty of interesting matchups here to talk about, but taking a look at the sole BYU loss (to UCLA a week before Christmas) may give us some insight as to what might happen. In that game, UCLA’s big and physical frontline gave the Cougars’ frontcourt all sorts of trouble, outscoring them 60-30 and controlling the boards. Given that SDSU’s frontline is among the best in the nation, BYU will again have their hands full. But the big question is what the Aztecs will do defensively to slow Fredette. In the UCLA game, it was long and athletic Malcolm Lee who slowed Fredette. The Aztecs don’t really have that type of player, but  D.J. Gay and Chase Tapley will each get their shots at guarding him. What this curious fan wants to see is if Steve Fisher maybe pegs Kawhi Leonard to take a couple runs at Fredette.  Leonard has taken on guards like Tre’Von Willis and Dairese Gary at times during his college career, and while he may not have the quickness of Fredette, his strength and length may be enough to give Fredette problems. In the end, whichever team wins the battle of the tempo (BYU wants to play fast, SDSU wouldn’t mind getting into a slugfest) may come out on top, but SDSU’s offensive rebounding prowess (they snatch 37.6% of all available offensive rebounds) and struggles from the free throw line (they shoot just 67.1% from the line) may be two competing areas to keep an eye on. If I had to guess, I’d take the Aztecs, 70-65.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (20-0, 5-0): The Aztecs had just one game this week, as they were fortunate enough to have a bye built into their schedule prior to each of their games with BYU this season. On the court, they needed a late run against Air Force to finally put the Falcons away. Leonard had ten points and ten rebounds for the 30th double-double of his career, while Gay followed up his career-high 30 against New Mexico last Saturday with 20 more, including six threes. He now has 13 three-pointers in his last two appearances. But it was Billy White who stepped up to finally put the game away, scoring ten of his 12 points in the middle of an 13-3 SDSU run down the stretch to expand what had been a four-point contest into a 14-point Aztec win.

A look ahead: At BYU on Wednesday night. And if the schedule-makers weren’t to be thanked enough already for the byes before the BYU game on the schedule, they certainly deserve one for scheduling Wyoming after the Cougar game.

2. BYU (19-1, 5-0): We’ve talked plenty about Fredette in these posts this year, and with good reason, but there are plenty of other big contributors to the BYU cause on this roster. Fellow senior Jackson Emery just passed Danny Ainge as the all-time leader in steals at the school and has been a perfect complement to Fredette in the backcourt. He’s knocked down 22 three-pointers in 44 attempts during conference play (after a slightly cool stretch during non-conference play) and his ability to get in passing lanes or pick the pockets of opposing players often fuels BYU’s dynamic transition game. Up front, sophomore Brandon Davies has turned into a consistent offensive threat, since earning Dave Rose’s trust early in the season. After scoring just two points in 15 minutes in the first two games of the season, Davies has scored in double figures in 14 of the last 18 games. In the Cougars wins over TCU and Colorado State this week, he averaged 12.5 points and nine rebounds per game. Then there’s freshman guard Kyle Collinsworth who is just now starting to look comfortable for the Cougs. In the past three games, he’s averaged 12.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and four assists and has turned into a solid offensive option for BYU.

A look ahead: While SDSU gets a feathery-soft landing following the big clash on Wednesday night, BYU has to follow up the game that everyone has been pointing to with a trip to Albuquerque to face an angry Lobo squad on Saturday.

3. Colorado State (13-6, 3-2): The Rams have the third-best record in the conference and they just got done beating UNLV at the Thomas & Mack. My eyes keep telling me that this CSU team isn’t any better than the fifth-best team in the conference; I’m going to an ophthalmologist this week. The Rams followed up their 15-point win at UNLV by keeping BYU within shouting distance for most of the game on Saturday, before finally succumbing, but there were plenty of good signs this week for Tim Miles’ and company. Senior Travis Franklin finally shook off a stretch of down-games following his success in Cancun, by going for 22.5 PPG this week and adding six rebounds a night. Fellow senior Andy Ogide was just as good, racking up 18-point and nine-rebound averages over the week. When those two guys are going strong, they open up a lot of good looks for perimeter players like Eikmeier and sophomore Dorian Green.

A look ahead: CSU travels to UNLV on Wednesday, then hosts BYU on Saturday. Good luck.

4. UNLV (15-5, 3-3): Rebel fans are in need of something of a wake-up call. Since looking great over Thanksgiving weekend en route to a 76 Classic championship, Vegas has looked very ordinary. Defensively, they are stellar. They force turnovers, they harass opposing ballhandlers, they clog up the lane – they are very hard to score against. The problem is on the other end. Sure, if those turnovers they force can get them out in transition, they have some good athletes who excel in the open court (I’m looking at you, Anthony Marshall). But in the halfcourt, there is no one really capable of breaking down a defender and getting his own shot, there is no one whose three-point ability really scares opposing teams, and there is no great offensive rebounder. In short, this is a very ordinary offensive team. And while Reb fans may hold out hope that Willis’ knee problems will disappear just in time for a big NCAA Tournament run, it is looking more and more likely that the Willis we see now is the Willis we’ll see come March. But even if a 09-10 Willis shows back up, is that really enough to turn this Rebel offense into anything more than ordinary? I’m not buying it.

A look ahead: The Rebels travel to Wyoming tonight, then get the weekend off to patch their bones.

5. New Mexico (13-7, 1-4): I’m going to keep holding on to the idea that this Lobo team is a talented squad that is just about ready to turn the corner and cause problems. They’ve got to be, right? Led by senior point guard/bulldog Dairese Gary and with players like Drew Gordon, Philip McDonald, A.J Hardeman and the talented freshman class of Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk, Cameron Bairstow and Tony Snell, isn’t this team too good to be 1-4 in the MWC? Apparently not. Williams has come back to earth a bit after his fiery start, McDonald remains an up-and-down enigma and Gordon has yet to really establish himself as a post-man who demands the ball when things are going good. There is talent here, but it is up to Steve Alford and his senior point to fold the newcomers in with the returning talent, and to this point, that just hasn’t happened.

A look ahead: The Lobos are badly in need of some home cooking, and they’ll get it this week, welcoming TCU to The Pit on Wednesday, then entertaining BYU on Saturday. The Lobos had better handle the Frogs midweek or the home folks will be howling, while the Saturday game sets up pretty nicely for New Mexico.

6. Utah (10-10, 3-3): Back to .500 on the season and in the conference, the Utes are our MWC Team of the Week (see above).

A look ahead: Utah hosts Colorado State on Saturday, following a mid-week bye.

7. Air Force (11-7, 2-3): The Falcons actually gave San Diego State a good run for their money on Wednesday, pulling within 48-44 on consecutive threes by seniors Tom Fow and Derek Brooks. But from there, the Air Force offense went cold and SDSU went to the spurs, using a 13-3 run to propel them to a 13-point win. On Saturday, the Falcons bounced back nicely, however, using 17 first-half points by sophomore Mike Lyons to build up a big early lead and using balanced scoring on the way to an eventual 21-point win over Wyoming.

A look ahead: The Falcons are on the road this week, with trips to Colorado State and TCU ahead.

8. TCU (10-11, 1-5): There aren’t a ton of positives around the TCU basketball program, but we’ve found a couple worth mentioning. First, as Luke Winn points out, junior guard Ronnie Moss was actually incredibly effective against Fredette in the Frogs’ 16-point loss at Provo on Tuesday. Fredette wound up with 21 points, but aside from one of Fredette’s insane 30-foot threes, Moss held him to 0-of-8 shooting in the first half, and allowed just one layup-plus-foul in the second half. Throw in the fact that Moss had 27 points and six rebounds of his own, and that’s not a bad day at the office. Elsewhere on the TCU squad, I’ve just got to mention Hank Thorns this week. The guy is listed at 5’9, which means he’s maybe 5’7. Maybe. And yet he led the Frogs in rebounding in both of their games this week, grabbing a total of 13 boards on the week. He’s also had 40 assists in the past five games, but back to the rebounding thing. Now, TCU is not a massive team across the front line, but their starting frontcourt in their last game went 6’7, 6’9, 6’9. All told, those three guys (Garlon Green, Amric Fields and Nikola Cerina) grabbed 21 rebounds in their last 159 minutes of game time. And the 5’9 Thorns grabbed 13 by himself last week. Good on Thorns, but with that frontcourt production, the 1-5 record is not surprising.

A look ahead: The Frogs travel to New Mexico on Wednesday, and then host Air Force on Saturday.

9. Wyoming (8-11, 1-4): A 21-point loss to Air Force. Sure, the Falcons are an improved team this year, and the Cowboys have lost some players to injuries. But against TCU and Air Force, the two teams with whom the Cowboys could reasonably expect to compete, they have lost by an average of 19.5 points per contest. Now Heath Schroyer and company do get a chance to reprise those matchups in front of a home crowd later in the season, but things are not good in the Wyoming basketball program right now.

A look ahead: And as bad as things have been in Laramie, a visit from UNLV and then a trip to San Diego to face the Aztecs are not exactly the kinds of medicine you prescribe to an injured patient. Hello, 1-6.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 19th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

  • San Diego State and BYU continued to get separation from the rest of the pack this week, adding three more wins between them and hurtling us one week closer to an epic matchup between the two favorites in Provo on January 26. While BYU’s one game this week was a big 25-point win over intrastate rival Utah (more on that game later), the Aztecs posted the two most impressive wins of the week, getting a home win over UNLV in a slugfest before traveling to New Mexico and getting a 10-point up-tempo win in perhaps their toughest road trip of the season to date (which is saying a lot for a team who has now won 11 games away from the Viejas Arena this season).
  • Team of the Week: San Diego State – We’ve pointed out in this space before that sometimes this season, the Aztecs have been guilty of not giving great effort against some of the lesser teams on their schedule. They’ve been known to come out of the chutes a little slow. And while they’ve killed people on the offensive glass, they have been less than impressive on the other backboards at times. None of that was a problem this week. The Aztecs controlled the boards on both ends of the floor against UNLV on Wednesday. They fought and scrapped and harassed Rebel players from the opening jump to the final buzzer in scraping out a six-point win. Then on Saturday, used a completely different up-tempo, fast-breaking, three-point drilling style in overwhelming the Lobos in one of the toughest places to play in America. Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas, and D.J Gay were all on top of their games this week, and with Duke being upset on Wednesday, the Aztecs now own the longest winning streak in the nation, with a 19-0 record.
  • Player of the Week: Kawhi Leonard, Sophomore, San Diego State – Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate. In a week where Jimmer Fredette posted 47 points, four rebounds, six assists, and two steals on 16-28 shooting with six threes mixed in there, I don’t for a second feel bad about handing the Player of the Week award (and all the glories that accompany it) to someone else. Especially when that someone else posted two dominant double-doubles in one of the tougher back-to-back sets of games of conference play. Leonard averaged 17 points and 16 rebounds this week, and those numbers alone are impressive enough. But throw in four assists in each game. Throw in a total of 16 trips to the line on the week. Throw in harassing defense that limited guys like Philip McDonald and Tre’Von Willis – guys listed in their rosters as guards – to a combined 4-16 from the field for 15 total points, more than eight below their combined average, and you’ll see why Leonard is right there with Fredette in the race for the MWC Player of the Year.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Drew Gordon, Junior, New Mexico – This. No, really. Check this out. That alone had me abusing my TiVo remote’s rewind-button repeatedly on Saturday evening. In a game chock full of spectacular plays, that one was beyond the pale. Aside from the highlight reel stuff, Gordon was absolutely dominant in that game, playing his best game as a Lobo, and really, his best game as a collegiate. Against the hyper-athletic Aztec frontline, Gordon kept his Lobos in the game by drawing fouls across the SDSU frontcourt and scoring at will with a combination of feathery-soft jump hooks and athletic putbacks on his way to 23 points and 14 boards. After taking some time to get comfortable with his new squad, the UCLA transfer averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds this week, and while the Lobos are looking up at .500 in conference play, the combination of Gordon and senior point guard Dairese Gary could be a scary proposition down the stretch.
  • Game of the Week: San Diego State 87, New Mexico 77 – Have you checked this out yet? My goodness. Down the stretch, this game wasn’t exactly a nailbiter, but there was so much great basketball in this game that I wouldn’t mind going back and watching this one again. Aside from Gordon’s crazy dunk, there was Leonard throwing down a sick dunk on one possession, then coming back down on the very next possession and knocking down a confident three in the face of a Lobo defender, a pair of plays that had to have the NBA scouts in attendance drooling. Then there was the Gay/Gary duel, which made me realize how much I am going to miss those two bulldogs after a couple more months. Gay was outstanding, knocking down seven threes (including a runner at the half-time buzzer to cap a stellar stretch), but also getting to the line with ease and handing out a steady four assists along the way. Then there was Gary’s 23 points, seven assists and four threes as he and Gordon did everything possible to keep the Lobos within striking distance. While the game was never in doubt down the stretch, the play in the meat of the game was enthralling. Last year, the teams’ roles were pretty much reversed, with UNM off to the fast start in the front half of the season and SDSU just beginning to round into shape at the start of conference play. When they met in a classic semifinal matchup in the MWC Tournament, it was SDSU riding steady improvement through February and March who was able to rise up and grab the MWC automatic bid. Don’t be surprised if SDSU and New Mexico meet in the 1/4 matchup in this year’s MWC Semis with the Lobos needing to win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, and don’t be surprised to see another classic battle.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: New Mexico at UNLV, 1/12, 1PM PST, Vs. – With San Diego State and Brigham Young well-established as the favorites in the conference, this is a battle between the next tier of teams. After starting out an impressive 9-0, the Rebels have now lost four of their last nine games and are in need of a confidence-boosting win. The Lobos currently sit at 1-2 in the conference and have yet to score a major win on the season – a win in Vegas on Saturday would be their first big notch on their potential NCAA Tournament resume. But beating the Rebs at home is easier said than done. They’ll need Gordon to reprise his dominating play this week and exploit a somewhat soft UNLV underbelly, while Gary will need to withstand the harassing Rebel defensive pressure on the perimeter. For the Rebels, it would help if they could find someone to knock down a couple perimeter jumpers. With so much on the line for both teams, this could be a rockfight.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (19-0, 4-0): We’ve talked about Leonard and Gay above, so it’s time to check out some other Aztecs here. First, senior Malcolm Thomas has been a great frontcourt pairing with Leonard. He doesn’t need a lot of offense run for him to be effective, he’s plenty capable of converting his nearly three offensive rebounds per game into easy offense and he converts a high percentage of his shots from the field. He brings it on a consistent basis on the defensive end, getting after the defensive glass while also blocking more than two shots a game. Then there’s senior Billy White, who has been quiet of late. He blew up for 30 points and nine rebounds as the Aztecs made a name for themselves early in the season against Gonzaga, but since then he has been quiet. He has scored in double figures just twice in the last month and hasn’t grabbed more than five rebounds since before Thanksgiving. While White doesn’t need to be a big scorer or rebounder for SDSU to be effective, they do need consistent contributions out of him for them to live up to their potential. If he can get back to being an effective third option offensively (behind Leonard and Gay), SDSU’s got a deep March run to look forward to.

A look ahead: The Aztecs host Air Force on Wednesday before getting a bye this weekend in advance of next Wednesday’s colossal trip to BYU.

2. BYU (17-1, 3-0): So, yeah, there was that Fredette 47-point outburst. It was real, and it was spectacular. But it’s just Jimmer. You almost expect those kinds of performances out of him by now. 34 here, 39 there, 22 is a bit of a slow night, make up for it with 49. Ho hum. Oh, and he broke the 2000-point plateau in his career at BYU in the Utah game, and it is not out of the question that he could catch Danny Ainge for the all-time mark. Well, we’ve got 12 more regular season games worth of Fredette and you better get a glimpse of him whenever you can at this point. There are worse ways for a basketball fan to spend a couple of hours. While Fredette’s big game got all the ink, four other Cougars scored in double figures against the Utes, including Jackson Emery who went for 20 and hit a couple of milestones as well, breaking Ainge’s all-time steals record and hitting the 1000-point mark in his Cougar career. On Tuesday night, BYU notched a 26-point win over TCU in which each of their five starters scored in double figures for the second straight game.

A look ahead: After a slow week last week, BYU makes a sneaky-tough trip to Colorado State, a game in which head coach Dave Rose will need to make sure his boys aren’t looking ahead to the visit from the Aztecs.

3. UNLV (14-4, 2-2): The Rebels bounced back from their loss at SDSU with a 12-point win at Air Force. Playing without senior Tre’Von Willis, who missed the game with a knee injury, the Rebels played uninspired ball for most of the first 30 minutes and found themselves trailing by five at the under-eight timeout. But they picked things up defensively down the stretch, held the Falcons scoreless for over six minutes and knocked down their free throws in the end to earn a tough road win. Chace Stanback led the way for UNLV with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Derrick Jasper grabbed 11 more rebounds and handed out six assists.

A look ahead: The Rebels host Colorado State and New Mexico in a pretty tough one-two homestand. Willis is expected to be a game-time decision for the CSU game on Wednesday.

4. New Mexico (13-5, 1-2): While the Lobos have been unable to gather up any momentum to this point on their schedule, you can see this team is starting to get dangerous. Everybody around the conference knows how good Gary is, but now with Gordon beginning to play lights out, the Lobos have two major offensive threats, each of whom is effective on the defensive end. Freshmen wing Kendall Williams and center Alex Kirk have each turned it on at times over the last couple weeks, but each is still susceptible to inconsistency. Then there’s junior Philip McDonald, who remains a bit of an enigma. Head coach Steve Alford relegated him to coming off the bench in their seven-point home win over Colorado State this week, after a series of lackluster performances. However, he responded against the Rams by posting a career-high-tying 27 points. Figuring that McDonald had taken the hint, Alford put him back in the starting lineup against SDSU and he was relatively invisible again, missing all five of his field goal attempts and posting just six points. It’s anybody’s guess where he goes from here, but he’ll need to get going for the Lobos to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid.

A look ahead: Road trips to Utah and UNLV loom; a road sweep is a dream scenario, a split is perfectly acceptable (although at some point, they’ll need to win some road games against quality competition), and an 0-2 week dooms the Lobos to NIT contention.

5. Colorado State (12-5, 2-1): After dropping the game at The Pit, the Rams returned home and took care of TCU in a solid game. Sophomore point guard Dorian Green (15 PPG) and senior forward Andy Ogide (13.5 PPG, 8 RPG) were the big names this week, but the head coach Tim Miles has to be wondering what happened to Travis Franklin. Since the senior scored 67 points in three games in Hawai’i during the Diamond Head Classic, he has only scored a total of 51 points in the last six games and he has only attempted five field goals per game over that span. He picked things up in the TCU game, going for 14 points on five-of-nine shooting, but the Rams could sure use a more longer-term contribution from Franklin.

A look ahead: CSU travels to UNLV on Wednesday, then hosts BYU on Saturday. Good luck.

6. Air Force (10-6, 1-2): After taking the middle of the week off, the Falcons hosted UNLV on Saturday and were golden for about 32 minutes. Unfortunately, over the next seven minutes they were, well, the opposite of golden. They failed to score for 6:35, gave up a 13-0 Rebel run over that span, and never recovered. While there were any number of factors that contributed to their loss (beyond, you know, not scoring for 6:35), the Falcons struggled most in two areas: rebounding and free throw shooting. While their inability to rebound effectively was not a surprise, their 12/25 shooting from the line was glaring, given their 71% clip prior to the UNLV game.

A look ahead: The Falcons travel to San Diego State on Wednesday for an interesting one. Air Force will likely get killed on the glass, because Air Force always gets killed on the glass and SDSU always kills people on the glass. But, the Falcons will ugly the game up, keep the numbers of possessions to a minimum, and if they can make their shots, could hang around for 30 minutes or so. Or they could lose by 40. Who knows? After that they return back home to host Wyoming in a game that even the most die-hard MWC fan could be excused for missing.

7. Utah (8-10, 1-3): Here’s the thing: a 25-point home loss to the hated in-state rival is never a good thing. Letting the hated in-state rival’s stud guard go for 47? Worse yet, all that happening in the last matchup as conference foes? Pretty disastrous. But, underneath all of that, there were little signs of good things around the Ute program this week. Jim Boylen’s club bounced back from that loss to whip Wyoming on the road. Junior center David Foster, last year’s MWC Defensive Player of the Year, has now played 25 or more minutes for three straight games, something that had only happened one other time all season, and in the process he blocked eight shots and grabbed 23 rebounds. And junior wing Will Clyburn continued his strong season with 47 points, 16 rebounds and six threes on the week. But, turnovers continued to haunt the Utes, most obviously in the BYU game when they turned the ball over 22 times and forced just five. While the problems with the Utah program extend beyond the point guard play, that position is a pretty good microcosm for their struggles: between juniors Josh Watkins and Chris Kupets, there are three more turnovers than assists on the season.

A look ahead: Utah hosts New Mexico, then travels to TCU on Saturday.

8. TCU (10-9, 1-3): The Horned Frogs won at home and lost on the road last week, knocking off Wyoming and losing to Colorado State. The line of the week definitely came from Ronnie Moss, posting 27 points, ten rebounds (not bad for a 6-2 guard), four steals and six threes against Wyoming. Point guard Hank Thorns also made a splash, totaling 19 assists on the week, while freshman forward Amric Fields contributed 14.5 points per contest. The Frogs followed the ten-point loss at Colorado State with a rough road trip to BYU to start this week and headed back to Fort Worth with a 26-point loss for their effort. Moss did go for 27 points again and Thorns had ten more assists, but the game was never competitive.

A look ahead: The Frogs welcome Utah into the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Saturday in a game which should help clear up the bottom of the MWC standings.

9. Wyoming (8-10, 1-3): I like to be positive around here. Sure, there are always some negative stories around college basketball, but college hoops fans generally don’t like to dwell on those things. We want to take about kids maturing into good players, coaches getting the most out of their student-athletes and the fun and excitement surrounding the sport we love. In that spirit, I’d like to take you back a couple of weeks ago when Francisco Cruz hit a buzzer-beater for an upset win over New Mexico that lifted the spirits of an entire program, albeit briefly. We can get to this week’s two losses by an average of 17.5 points and the news that junior Afam Muojeke – the team’s leading scorer from last season – will miss the remainder of this year with a ruptured patellar tendon, at some later date.

A look ahead: Wyoming gets the middle of the week off, then travels to Colorado Spring for a meeting with Air Force on Saturday.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

With the first week of conference play in the books, we’ve already had a big battle between a couple of the favorites, an upset of a team hoping to make its case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament field and quite a few other interesting battles around the conference. The big statement of the week was BYU’s trip to UNLV on Wednesday night, where the Cougars came away with their first win in their last nine games against UNLV in the Thomas & Mack behind a sparkling 39-point performance by Jimmer Fredette, who has now officially thrown his hat into the ring as a National Player of the Year candidate. Fredette threw in seven increasingly improbable threes in getting the big Running Rebels off of BYU’s collective back, with backcourt mate Jackson Emery adding six more for good measure, as BYU pulled away in the second half and then withstood a too-late UNLV run to hold on for the big win. Given BYU’s struggles at the Thomas & Mack, that win was something of a surprise, but Wyoming defending their homecourt and knocking off New Mexico on Saturday may be the big take-away from the weekend. The Cowboys limped through their non-conference schedule, but were able to deliver a big early blow to the Lobos at-large hopes when junior Francisco Cruz hit the buzzer-beating game winner following the Cowboys’ second offensive rebound of their final possession. Elsewhere, form more or less held true.

  • Team of the Week: BYU – It cannot be overstated how big of a win the Cougars pulled off against UNLV last Wednesday. In terms of this year’s regular season conference race, the win over the Running Rebels clearly establishes BYU as the “1-A” to San Diego State’s “1”. But on a bigger scale, it is a large mental hurdle that has been cleared by Dave Rose and his squad. Not only is it the first win by any player on this roster over UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center, it is also the first win of its kind of the Rose era at BYU. Including last year’s crushing 70-66 loss in the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinals and two other losses to UNLV in MWC Tournament finals, BYU had lost at UNLV eight times in the last five seasons. And those losses came in all manner of ways, from the 75-74 battle in 2009 to the 70-41 shellacking in 2008. The Cougars found all sorts of different ways to leave Vegas on a losing skid – a feeling I’m sure plenty of us can relate to. But now, with a 16-1 record and a convincing win over their nemesis, perhaps BYU can leave their doubts behind in Vegas and use that win as a springboard for the rest of the season.
  • Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Just a typical week for Fredette: 61 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, ten three-pointers in 21 attempts and a whole host of wow-inducing, TiVo-rewinding, and soul-crushing (for his defenders, at least) buckets. At this point, he’s taken down this award four times, and with his nearly 25 points per night, you can expect to see his name pop up here a few more times in his final couple months as one of the most exciting college basketball players in the land. And, if you’re not planning on doing so already, make it a point to watch this guy play at least once a week for the rest of the season. Every remaining BYU game is televised somewhere, and believe me, this guy is as close to must-see-TV as it gets in college hoops this season.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Francisco Cruz, Junior, Wyoming – There hasn’t been much to write home about coming out of Wyoming basketball these last couple years. On the heels of last year’s 10-21 eight-place finish, the Cowboys struggled to a .500 record in non-conference play this year. But in their home conference opener on Saturday night, “Paco” hit the game-winning shot that, at least temporarily, put smiles on the faces of concerned Wyoming players, coaches, and fans. His overall numbers this week won’t blow you away (10.5 PPG, 3-11 from three), but the JuCo transfer from Nogales, Mexico has thus far been the sole consistent shooter on a Cowboy team limited by injuries and inexperience, knocking down 42% of his three-pointers and 89% of his free throws. He won’t amaze you with his athleticism, but if you give this dead-eye shooter a clean look from deep – or even a contested look off a scramble for a loose rebound in the closing seconds, as in the case of the New Mexico game – odds are he’ll make you pay.
  • Game of the Week: Wyoming 67, New Mexico 66 – Let’s start here with just over a minute left, with the Cowboys up 64-61and New Mexico, who had been carried by senior point guard Dairese Gary all day long, coming out of a timeout. With everybody in the place thinking Gary would be the guy called on to make a play, the Lobos found freshman forward Alex Kirk popping out to the three-point line and stroking the jumper to tie the game. On the next possession, Cowboy sophomore Desmar Jackson drove wildly to the hoop and missed an out-of-control runner, but in shades of things to come, the Lobos were unable to secure the ball, allowed Jackson to retrieve it and draw a foul to get to the line, where he made one of two to give Wyoming the lead back. New Mexico came back, however, this time behind Gary, who drew a foul of his own and made both buckets to regain the lead for the Lobos, setting up Wyoming’s final possession. With about ten seconds left, Cruz launched a three from the corner, which bounced harmlessly away, but the Lobos, without the services of big men A.J. Hardeman and Drew Gordon who had both previously fouled out, were again unable to secure the rebound. Wyoming’s Daylen Harrison found the ball and put up his own attempt at a game winner, which again clanged off the rim. This time the ball found its way back to Cruz, who threw up an off-balance, desperation prayer at the buzzer which dropped in and wound up as the game-winner for the Cowboys.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UNLV @ San Diego State, 1/12, 7PM PST, CBS College Sports – A week ago, it was UNLV and BYU kicking off conference play, but this time around San Diego State gets the first of its two big tests this week, when the Running Rebels come calling to Viejas Arena for what is likely the Aztecs biggest test of the season so far. With Lon Kruger’s squad having already dropped a game at home, they’ll look to steal a road game against the conference favorite to get back into the mix of teams at the top of the conference. Two keys to this game will be rebounding and three-point shooting, a couple areas where both teams can struggle at times. While SDSU is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, grabbing 37.8% of their own misses, they have struggled at times this season cleaning their defensive glass. UNLV hasn’t been particularly good rebounding at either end, so the Aztecs’ big and athletic frontline could have a chance to gain a significant advantage on the glass. From behind the arc, both teams rank lower than 200th in the nation in three-point percentage, but each team has a player who can hit from deep as SDSU’s James Rahon and UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield are both shooting at a greater than 40% clip from three. In the end, if either team can establish significant advantages in either of those areas, that could be the difference in the game.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (17-0, 2-0): At this point, the Aztecs are going to get everybody’s best shot – and they might as well get used to it, so long as that unblemished record and lofty national ranking continues. This week, both TCU and Utah gave SDSU at least one good half, before fading a bit coming out of the locker room. But once again, the Aztecs struggled a bit on the glass. While they dominated on the offensive boards, grabbing 35% of all available offensive rebounds, they allowed their opponents to grab over 30% of their own offensive rebounds. Another running theme for Steve Fisher’s club is their inability to get to the line consistently. Against TCU, they only earned six free throw attempts, before getting there 18 times against Utah. To be fair, given the way the Aztecs shot against Utah (they made just eight of their 18 attempts), perhaps it is understandable that they avoid the charity stripe, but with their size and athleticism, this SDSU team should be earning drastically more free-throw attempts than they currently are. Yes, the undefeated streak continues, and yes, this team is right there with the most talented teams in the country, but if the Aztecs don’t do a better job controlling the glass and getting to the free throw line, that goose egg on the right side of their record is going to disappear very soon.

A look ahead: After hosting the Running Rebels on Wednesday, the Aztecs head to Albuquerque for one of the tougher road trips in the MWC. Two wins this week would be a mighty impressive result, while two losses is not an impossibility.

2. BYU (16-1, 2-0): After knocking off UNLV in the conference opener, the Cougars were riding high. So it came as no particular surprise that BYU, while remaining in control throughout, looked uninspired and workmanlike in beating Air Force by ten on Saturday. Fredette followed up his 39-point performance in Vegas with a quiet 22-point effort, while junior scrapper Noah Hartsock double-doubled and added a couple three-pointers for good measure. Sophomore forward Brandon Davies completed a strong week as well, averaging 12.5 points and eight rebounds in the two wins.

A look ahead: The Cougars head to Salt Lake for their big intrastate battle with Utah before enjoying a bye on Saturday. San Diego State’s visit to the Marriott Center looms in the minds of MWC fans, but that matchup is still two weeks away.

3. UNLV (13-3, 1-1): The BYU loss is a bit concerning, but could be easily swept aside by Rebel fans with an under-the-breath muttering of “Fredette” and an eye-roll, but in reality, for about 20 minutes in the middle of that game, UNLV was getting whooped up and down the court by a significantly better team. Their vaunted defense did little to slow BYU’s guards during that run (the Cougars wound up with only one more turnover on the game than the Rebels) and their offense sputtered when they had to rely on their half-court offense. UNLV did bounce back to thrash TCU on Saturday, forcing 23 turnovers and getting plenty of easy looks in transition, but they’ll need to be able to do that against teams like BYU and SDSU in order to prove that they can be a threat come March.

A look ahead: Living on the road this week, with the big battle against SDSU on Wednesday preceding a sneaky matchup with Air Force on Saturday. If the Rebels can keep free and clean in these two, they’ll be right back in the conversation with SDSU and BYU at the top of the conference.

4. New Mexico (12-4, 0-1): Weird week for the Lobos. While all the rest of their MWC brethren were kicking off conference play on Tuesday and Wednesday, New Mexico was knocking CS Bakersfield around to the tune of a 40-point blowout. Alex Kirk broke Kenny Thomas’ New Mexico record for points scored in a game by a freshman with a 31-point explosion and Drew Gordon double-doubled, but given the overmatched opposition, the game meant little. When they did get around to opening conference play, they stumbled against Wyoming, turning the ball over 19 times. Dairese Gary kept the Lobos in the game with 24 points, and Chad Adams helped out by hitting all three of his three-point attempts, but aside from those two, the rest of the New Mexico players combined to make just 13 of their 34 field goal attempts. In the end, it is just one bad loss, eerily familiar to Wyoming’s upset of San Diego State at the start of conference play last season. The lesson here for Steve Alford to preach is that this is a loss that can be overcome, much like SDSU did last year, and you can never, ever, overlook anyone in conference play.

A look ahead: With the loss to Wyoming in their rearview mirror, the Lobos have a chance to make a big splash in the MWC this week, with Colorado State and San Diego State both visiting the Pit where New Mexico has gone 15-1 the last two seasons.

5. Colorado State (11-4, 1-0): At this point, the Rams have to be considered right there with New Mexico in a mini-tier of teams below the top three in the conference, teams who still have a ways to go before they can feel like they’ve made their case for at-large inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. While UNM has the loss to Wyoming under their belts, CSU started off conference play with a 13-point home win against those very same Cowboys. Senior Adam Nigon led the way in the opener with seven three-pointers for his 21 points and sophomore Pierce Hornung grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds as they bounced back from a 13-point first half deficit to run away in the second half. For the Rams to have any prayer at an at-large bid, they’ll need to continue to beat the teams at the bottom half of this conference while sneaking up on a couple teams above them. 

A look ahead: The road trip to New Mexico is a good chance for the Rams to separate themselves from the Lobos, with a TCU visit to Fort Collins following on Saturday.

6. Air Force (10-5, 1-1): The Falcons start out conference play with a brutal stretch, with BYU, UNLV and San Diego State the opponents in successive games. That stretch made their opener with Utah all the more important, and the Falcons responded well, keeping things close throughout and then making big plays down the stretch. After a well-fought game, it looked like Air Force was on the verge of letting the Utes get away with a road victory, when junior Will Clyburn hit two straight threes to give Utah a 67-66 lead with under three minutes to play. But, sophomore guard Mike Lyons converted a three-point play opportunity –  perhaps the most important points of his game and career-high 26 – with just under two minutes left to give the Falcons a lead which they never again relinquished. The next time down the floor, senior Derek Brooks hit a three and the Falcons made their free-throws down the stretch and when the buzzer sounded, they had an eight-point win to start conference play. In their ten-point loss to BYU on Saturday, Lyons again led the way with 14 points, but despite a valiant effort, Air Force was simply outclassed by the Cougars.

A look ahead: Home against UNLV, then a road trip to San Diego State. The good news about this run of games is that once they get through these, they’ll have a series of far-more-manageable opponents.

7. TCU (9-8, 0-2): It’s a brutal start to conference play for the Horned Frogs, as they faced the conference favorite Aztecs to open and an angry UNLV team in game two. TCU hung around with SDSU for a half, trailing by just a 29-26 margin at the break, but a 13-0 Aztec run in the second half broke that game open. Their trip to Vegas went down the chutes much more quickly, however, as 14 first half turnovers doomed the Frogs to a 49-28 halftime deficit. All in all, it was a terrible week for junior guard Ronnie Moss, who had 16 turnovers this week – including ten in the UNLV game alone – and hit just seven of his 23 field goal attempts. Sophomore Garlon Green led TCU in scoring this week, averaging 12 points per game.

A look ahead: This week’s slate looks much more manageable, with a visit by Wyoming to the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum backed up by their trip to Colorado State on Saturday.

8. Utah (7-9, 0-2): Following the tough loss to Air Force, the Utes came out and battled the #6 team in the country, San Diego State, to a standstill for much of their meeting. At the half, Utah led 34-33, but four second-half threes by SDSU’s D.J. Gay – each part of a larger Aztec run – led to the Utes coming up nine-points short of an upset. While there is no such thing as a moral victory at this level of competition, head coach Jim Boylen had to be pleased with the way his team played. Junior center David Foster got just his third start of the season and freshman J.J. O’Brien his sixth after each has battle injuries in the early going, and they provided size up front to allow the Utes to compete with SDSU’s frontline. But it was juniors Josh Watkins and Will Clyburn who led the way on the stat sheet, with Watkins going for a game-high 24 points and Clyburn adding 17 points and ten rebounds in the loss.

A look ahead: The Utes host BYU in their last go-round at the Huntsman Center as conference foes on Wednesday night. On Saturday, they battle Wyoming for the right to be listed as the eight-best team in the conference in this space next week.

9.  Wyoming (8-8, 1-1): The win over New Mexico was such a good thing for this program that even Lobo fans had to smile for a split second at the celebration following the Cruz buzzer-beater. Given the depths to which this program has sunk over the course of last season and this year’s non-conference schedule, given the injuries to vital players, given the roster defections, you could almost see the weight lift off the shoulders of head coach Heath Schroyer as the shot fell through the net. And, aside from the win, there was more good news that Cowboy fans were able to take away from the game on Saturday, as junior center Adam Waddell, who has struggled with tendinitis in his Achilles’ Heel over this winter, had his most effective game of the season, playing 23 minutes (his second-highest total of the season), scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds (both season highs). It remains to be seen if this is the first step on his way back to regular action, or if this was an island of health in a sea of injury, but for now, Cowboy fans can have some hope for Waddell’s future. The same cannot be said for junior Afam Muojeke, who missed Saturday’s game with continued complications from his patellar tendon injury at the end of last season. Muojeke has played in ten of Wyoming’s 16 games, but has never been near 100% this season and his status going forward remains to be seen.

A look ahead: Wyoming travels to TCU, then returns home to host Utah in a couple of games that should show us where these teams near the bottom of the standings are in relation to one another.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

 
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

As we turn the corner on the non-conference portion of the college basketball season and head into conference play, we’re going to spend this week’s Mountain West check-in summing up what the teams around the conference have done so far and what we can expect from them here on out. As a whole, it has been a successful run through non-conference play for the MWC’s member institutions. San Diego State remains undefeated and is a top-10 team nationally. BYU has lost just once and remains in the top 25. UNLV had some early success before a couple of slip-ups dropped them out of the rankings for a time, but they are back in this week as our #25 team. Elsewhere around the conference, there have been ups and downs, although the ups have outweighed the downs. The schools have combined to post a 94-34 record and are the fifth rated conference in the RPI, ahead of traditional power conferences like the SEC and Pac-10.  Outside of the big three schools, a couple of other teams – New Mexico and Colorado State – have thrown their hats into the ring as potential NCAA Tournament teams, while the rest of the conference is more or less resigned to using the rest of the season to improve their teams and give their programs a jumping off point for future seasons.

Team of the Non-Conference Schedule:  San Diego StateIs there any other choice here? A 15-0 record, a #6 ranking in the most recent RTC poll, a school-record winning streak and the second longest winning streak in the country, behind defending champion and current #1, Duke? Of course they get the credit for the best Mountain West team in the non-conference slate. But a closer look reveals a chink or two in their armor. Last year, they were getting to the free throw line at a solid rate, but this year they have struggled to get to the line on a consistent basis. Last year, they were a dominant offensive rebounding team; this year, they are just very good. And while their three-point shooting has inched up a half-a-percent from last season, this is still a team that is capable of an 0-18 night from behind the arc, as they proved against Cal Poly. The other concern is that this team sometimes plays down to its level of competition, as they showed against San Francisco and IUPUI last week, when they were outrebounded in both games by inferior competition. They got away with that in non-conference play, but repeat performances against lower-tier MWC teams like Utah or TCU may result in losses instead of closer-than-expected wins. All that being said, when the Aztecs are going good, they are as fun as any team in the country to watch and have enough talent to make a run to Houston if everything breaks right.

Player of the Non-Conference Schedule:  Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Despite getting the attention of the opposition’s best defender (or two) every night, he’s averaging 24 points a night for the Cougars, shooting it at 47.5% from the field, while handing out a team-high 4.4 assists per game. What’s more, in close contests he’s upped his game, scoring over 28 points per night in those decided by ten points or less. And he’s done it all with a confidence and smoothness that has rubbed off on his teammates, as BYU has coasted to a 14-1 start. And with one final trip around the Mountain West, you get a feeling that he’s barely getting warmed up. With MWC guards having lived the nightmare of trying to stop Fredette in the past, you can bet coaches around the conference have spent hours over the summer trying to dream up ways to slow him down. While it remains to be seen how successful they’ll be (the odds are on “not very”), it sure will be fun to watch.

All Non-Conference Team

  • G Jimmer Fredette, BYU – 24.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.2 RPG
  • G Dairese Gary, New Mexico – 13.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.4 RPG
  • F Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State – 15.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.6 APG
  • F Will Clyburn, Utah – 19.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG
  • F Andy Ogide, Colorado State – 15.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG

Newcomer of the Non-Conference Schedule: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – While the non-conference slate has been an up-and-down affair for the Utes (with a lot of those downs coming lately), Clyburn has been a revelation. He leads the team in points, rebounds, steals, threes, minutes played and three-point percentage, has never failed to score in double figures and has notched four double-doubles on the season. With Jim Boylen’s club struggling through injuries and inexperience, one has trouble imagining where this Ute club would be without this junior college transfer. Even as Utah fights to get healthy, expect Boylen to keep leaning heavily on the versatile Clyburn throughout conference play.

Game of the Week: Dayton 76 New Mexico 73, 2OT – Not only did the Lobos and the Flyers play a pretty darn interesting game on New Year’s Day, they also played a pretty important one. With New Mexico lacking a truly good win and Dayton in no position to scoff at the possibility of another one, these two teams battled end-to-end for 50 minutes before a winner was decided. Dayton torched the nets from deep, with 13 three-pointers on the day, but at the end of regulation it was Lobo freshman Kendall Williams who was the star, stringing together several clutch plays to force extra time. Things slowed down in the extra periods, as both teams seemed to run out of gas, and in the second overtime, New Mexico only managed two points. The game was decided, fittingly, by a Dayton three, but the Lobos had a couple of good chances to even things up go by the boards. First, Dairese Gary lost track of the shot clock following a Steve Alford timeout, then on the next possession, Williams missed a driving shot on the other end. And yet, with three seconds left and down three, the Lobos got one final chance when Williams slammed the second of two free throws off the rim, grabbed his own board and was able to step back to the three-point line for one last attempt, which fell unceremoniously short at the buzzer.

Game of the Upcoming Week: BYU @ UNLV, 1/5, 6PM PST, CBS College Sports – Conference play kicks off today, and in the coming weeks you’re going to see a lot of the names BYU, UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico here. And while any matchup between any of those teams will be games to look forward to (and pretty much required viewing for readers of this particular check-in), there aren’t going to be a whole lot of games more appealing than BYU’s final regular season visit to the Thomas & Mack for one last go-round with the Rebels. You can bet the UNLV fans will be raucous and ready to go as they send BYU off with one last tussle in Sin City (before the MWC tournament, that is). On the court, the Rebels will throw wave after wave of athletic guards at Jimmer Fredette, with Oscar Bellfield, Justin Hawkins, Anthony Marshall and Tre’Von Willis all getting their shot at slowing the All-American candidate. The Rebels will pressure the ball and try to get it out of Fredette’s hands, hoping to force turnovers and get out in transition, but in the meantime perhaps opening the way for Jackson Emery to improve upon his 36% clip from behind the arc. Vegas has also been somewhat susceptible on the glass, so they’ll need to hit the boards hard if they’re going to knock off the Cougs for the ninth straight time at the Thomas & Mack.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (15-0): The perception is that the Aztecs are golden. They’ve looked spectacular in some of their big chances at grabbing the national spotlight, posting a win over Gonzaga at the end of ESPN’s 24-Hour Hoop Marathon, and tacking on strong wins over St. Mary’s, Wichita State and Cal in their other television games. With an insanely talented frontline of Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, paired with the team’s bulldog, point guard D.J. Gay, when the Aztecs are going good, they are about as impressive as anyone in the country. Throw in guard Chase Tapley (the fifth member of the starting lineup), three-point specialist James Rahon and a handful of capable bench contributors and Steve Fisher has all the makings for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. There are some cracks related to inconsistent effort, and there is the concern that maybe this Aztec team is reading its own press clippings, so no one should be surprised if the Aztecs maybe drop a couple of games in the early going in conference play (with a surprising one perhaps mixed in there somewhere). But if Fisher can get this team to compete hard night-in and night-out, it will take a special attempt to knock this team off.  

A Look Ahead: The Aztecs get started in conference play with a trip to TCU on Wednesday and a trip to Utah on Saturday. Follow that up with a return home to host UNLV before a trip to The Pit to face New Mexico and I’m going to go out on a limb and call a 2-2 conference start for the Aztecs, although I have absolutely no idea which are the two wins and which are the two losses. Those potential losses could be good for SDSU in the long run, assuming that they get the attention of this talented squad. Nevertheless, this team was the favorite to win the conference at the start of the year, and it remains the favorite with conference play closing in.

2. BYU (14-1): The Cougars added four more wins since we last talked behind a few more sparkling Jimmer Fredette performances (28 points and five threes in a six-point win over Weber State, 25 points and four threes in a 21-point win over UTEP and 34 points, four threes and six assists in a eight-point win over Buffalo). The UTEP win was particularly impressive as BYU, after trailing 17-6 almost midway through the first half, caught fire after a Fredette spark to mount a 33-9 run to close the half. It all started with a Fredette three that was followed by a three from Noah Hartsock. Follow that up with another Fredette three, throw in a Fredette dunk and then another three and the Cougs had erased an 11-point deficit in no time on the way to a blowout win. And that’s been the story of the BYU squad to this point. Fredette has led the team in scoring in all but two games and is averaging 24.4 very efficient yet still often spectacular points. Jackson Emery has struggled a bit to find his shot (although he came alive with six threes to match his six steals against UTEP), but he’s still Fredette’s main wing man. However, sophomore Brandon Davies has taken a big step forward, averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds thus far. There are plenty of other Cougars that make big contributions, however, as nine players average at least ten minutes per game. BYU looks pretty safe at this point in terms of NCAA positioning, but really wins over Utah State, Arizona and St. Mary’s are the only significant victories.  

A Look Ahead: Conference play kicks off in exciting fashion with the Cougars final regular season road-trip as a member of the MWC to the Thomas & Mack Center for a meeting with UNLV. On Saturday, the Cougars have their conference home-opener when Air Force comes calling, before the basketball edition of the Holy War tips off next Tuesday. Dave Rose’s squad remains the most likely candidate to step up into the running for the conference crown should SDSU falter.

3. UNLV (12-2): What was supposed to be a major test for the Runnin’ Rebels turned into an anticlimactic mess when Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended prior to their matchup with UNLV. The Rebels took advantage of their absence and pulled out a four-point victory in Kansas City in a game that bordered on unwatchable at times. Both teams combined to go 5-25 from deep while turning the ball over 35 times, but despite Vegas getting dominated on the glass (43-26), they got a big three by Oscar Bellfield late in the game to preserve their margin of victory. The Rebs followed that performance up by utterly taking apart Central Michigan last Thursday, forcing 24 Chippewa turnovers and holding them to 34% from the field. Lon Kruger’s club has had an up-and-down season to this point, looking quite impressive in skating to a 76 Classic championship before dropping back-to-back games against Louisville and UC Santa Barbara. The Rebels have made their way with pressure defense and balanced scoring (five players average more than nine points per game), but last year’s leader, guard Tre’Von Willis is just starting to round back into shape after missing a couple early games due to suspension. The Rebels hold wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech to go with the blemished K-State win, but remain a strong bet to get to the NCAA Tournament and at least contend for the MWC crown.  

A Look Ahead: The focus turns toward the visit from BYU on January 5 to get things started in conference play, with TCU due in Vegas on Saturday. The following Wednesday, the Rebels will travel to San Diego State for another big test early in the conference schedule, meaning that by the time UNLV has three conference games in the books, we’ll know a whole lot about them.

4. New Mexico (11-3): The last two weeks have been the most meaningful of the Lobo non-conference slate. With Drew Gordon getting eligible and some decent matchups in the Las Vegas Classic followed by tough two-game road trip, we’re starting to get a look at the defending champions at full strength and the early returns are of a good, not great, team. In the Las Vegas Classic, they looked strong in their semifinal win over Colorado, but then had to play from behind in the championship game against Northern Iowa and could never quite get over the hump. Then this week, UNM went to Lubbock and escaped with a one-point win against the Red Raiders before heading to Dayton  on New Year’s and losing a hard-fought double-overtime contest. Steve Alford continues to get production from all over his roster, with the main constant being senior point guard Dairese Gary, who nearly willed his team to a come-from-behind win against UNI (he scored the Lobos’ last eight points to get them within a point at 61-60, but a couple mistakes on either end of the court down the stretch sealed UNM’s fate) then kept the Lobos in it against Dayton by going for 19 points, eight assists and just one turnover in 47 minutes. To this point, the New Mexico resume is pretty light. Wins over Arizona State and Colorado are the best things on the slate, but they are still something of a work in progress, with Gordon still getting comfortable and freshmen Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk coming on fast. There has been some scary news out of Albuquerque though, as sophomore forward Emmanuel Negedu has been sidelined for the last two weeks after the defibrillator in his heart registered an irregular reading. Negedu has been ruled out for the next three weeks so that a cardiologist can do more tests on Negedu, but this is definitely a bad turn of events after he was just starting to become a force on the boards in early December.  

A Look Ahead: The Lobos wrap up their non-conference slate with a quickie against CS Bakersfield on Wednesday. After that, it is all conference play with a trip to Wyoming preceding visits by Colorado State and San Diego State. With little meat on the non-conference bones, the Lobos need to add some wins over SDSU, BYU and UNLV during conference play to be in play on Selection Sunday.

5. Colorado State (10-4): Just over two weeks ago, the Rams were sitting at an unimpressive 4-3, and were having trouble getting any traction. Losses to Sam Houston State and Colorado were the most representative outcomes on the resume, and this had the look of your typical middle-of-the-pack MWC team, rather than the potential contender CSU fans had hoped for. Over Christmas week, however, the Rams gave their followers a glimpse of the team they hoped for, ripping off three straight wins in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, including solid wins over Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi. Then last week, CSU traveled to San Francisco for the Hilltop Challenge and was on their way to another successful week before Hampton’s Kwame Morgan dropped 29 points and six threes on the Rams, including one with 0.8 seconds remaining to send Todd Miles and his team back to Fort Collins with a loss. With their non-conference play done, that win over Southern Miss remains the only thing they really have going for them, with three questionable losses in the record book. While CSU should certainly continue playing once the MWC Tournament is over in one postseason tournament or another, they’ll need to take down some pretty big scalps in MWC play to have a chance at the Big Dance.  

 

A Look Ahead: Conference play opens with a visit from Wyoming tonight before they get a week off to prepare for a visit to New Mexico for a big test for the two teams hoping to separate themselves out from the rest of the field as contenders for post-season inclusion.

6. TCU (9-6): It had been a quiet 17-day stretch for the Horned Frogs, with only a win over Northwestern State, in which four Frogs scored in double figures and Ronnie Moss led the way with 22 points and five assists. In that game, point guard Hank Thorns sustained a scary knee injury and had to be carried off the court, but later tests revealed just a sprain and Thorns was able to return this week for the Frogs when they got back to work with three games in six days. Unfortunately, while the TCU football team was making noise in Pasadena, the basketball squad limped to a 1-2 record on the week and lost Moss to injury. Moss sustained a concussion during TCU’s 69-66 loss at Tulsa, then sat out their nine-point loss at Rice.  Jim Christian’s team does have some relatively good wins on their resume, knocking off USC at home, Texas Tech on the road and Bradley on a neutral court, but losses to Nebraska, Rider, Massachusetts and Northern Iowa paired with this week’s losses likely doom the Frogs’ postseason hopes. 

 

A Look Ahead: It is a brutal San Diego State/UNLV two-fer to open the MWC schedule, and in order for TCU to have a shot, they’ll likely need to have Thorns and Moss at full-strength, a scenario which seems unlikely.

7. Utah (7-7): The Utes went to Honolulu last week with a chance to test their progress against some very good teams around the country. They limped back home to Salt Lake City with an 0-3 record in a tournament that started out bad and got progressively worse. An opening round loss to Butler in a hard-fought game was not an unreasonable result, but the Utes followed that up with a lost to the tournament’s host, Hawai’i.  And then, as a capper, the Utes posted an unacceptable loss to San Diego on Christmas Day, the Torreros’ first win against a Division I opponent on the season. This past week Utah wrapped up their non-conference play with a trip to Portland. But, after a strong first half, the Pilots shot 61% from the field in the second half and outscored the Utes by 17 to take down a nine-point win. Junior Will Clyburn was again the best player on the floor for Jim Boylen these last two weeks, averaging over 18 points and eight rebounds a game, but with injuries continuing to mess with Boylen’s rotation, he didn’t get consistent help. Senior Jay Watkins’ back injury again caused him to miss a couple games, and junior center David Foster was limited at times this week as well. There was some good news on the injury front as freshman J.J. O’Brien returned from a stress fracture, playing a combined 28 minutes in the Butler and San Diego games, but sitting out the middle game in Honolulu. With Utah’s big move to the Pac-10 looming in the offseason, with a 14-17 record in the rearview mirror and with Utah’s history of having a short leash on its basketball coaches, Boylen has to regard the rest of this season as a pretty serious exam. Two years back lies a MWC championship, but the Utah athletic department can’t be pleased with the trajectory of this program.

A Look Ahead: The Utes open conference play at Air Force on 1/5 before receiving consecutive visits from the top two teams in the conference, with San Diego State and BYU on their way to the Huntsman Center, making that opener at Air Force even more important.

8. Air Force (9-4): All things considered, for a team that lost to a Division III school (Colorado College) in their second game, the Falcons have had a pretty acceptable non-conference slate. Yes, their best win is over maybe, Evansville or CS Northridge, and there are some ugly losses there, but head coach Jeff Reynolds at least has a young core of players who have been making progress and, unlike last season, mostly staying healthy. Sophomore Taylor Broekhuis did miss two of the Falcons last three games with a concussion, but he is back now and he, along with fellow sophomore Mike Lyons and Todd Fletcher have all settled into starting roles. Junior Tom Fow and seniors Evan Washington and Derek Brooks provide veteran leadership on the team, and it seems everybody has the ability and opportunity to lead this team in scoring on any given night. This team is in no position to threaten for an upper-division MWC finish, and any post-season hopes are overly optimistic, but there are at least some pieces to grow on here, and with the ever-present Academy effort, this Falcon team will sneak up on somebody up top and surprise them. It just won’t happen often. A more realistic goal for Air Force is a seventh place finish – if they can get that, consider this a successful season.

A Look Ahead: Conference play begins, and the Falcons get thrown right into the fire: Utah, at BYU, UNLV, at San Diego State. Yikes.

9. Wyoming (7-7): After a three-game winning streak a couple weeks back, the Cowboys got back on track with a six-point home loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay before Christmas, before bouncing back with a win over Kennesaw State. Desmar Jackson extended his streak of double-digit scoring output to eleven straight games, and he has been a consistent offensive weapon for head coach Heath Schroyer, despite turning the ball over too much (3.3 turnovers per game) and shooting a low percentage from deep, where he is just four of 26 on the season. Wyoming players continuing to bomb from behind the arc has been a continuing theme this season, with eight players having taken more than 18 three-pointers on the season and only one of those players having hit more than 30% from back there (Francisco Cruz, 44.7%). In fact, there are only six schools in Division I shooting a lower percentage from behind the arc than Wyoming, yet they continue to shoot a third of their shots from distance. At this point in the season, the roster needs a makeover, as does the bench. Expect the Cowboys to limp along through the rest of the season, sew up last place before we turn the calendar into March, and clean house in the offseason.

A Look Ahead: Conference play starts at Colorado State, then back home against New Mexico, and by the middle of January, the Cowboys should be well on their way to a brutal conference record.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

[ed note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night’s games.]

A Look Back

Just like everywhere else, it was a sleepy week around the conference in terms of the number of games, as the student-athletes leaned more to the student side of the equation this week. TCU hasn’t even played a game since the last time we did this, and only two teams around the conference, UNLV and Wyoming, played more than one game this week. But still, there were some eventful games around the conference as, among other things, the number of undefeated teams in the conference dropped again after UCLA upset BYU at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, leaving San Diego State as the sole remaining unblemished team. The Aztecs, meanwhile, took UC Santa Barbara out behind the woodshed just days after the Gauchos handed UNLV their second loss of the year in improbable fashion. Elsewhere, New Mexico is now whole, getting junior forward Drew Gordon eligible for his first game of the year, and the four-team race for the conference title is fully joined, with SDSU remaining the favorite.

  • Team of the Week: San Diego State – There was just one game for the Aztecs this week, but they handled it with ease, as they had six players score in double figures on the way to a 26-point blowout of a UC Santa Barbara team that had just done in UNLV three days earlier. The Aztecs bounced back from their first really bad shooting night of the season against Cal Poly last Monday by shooting lights out against the Gauchos, going for a 66.7 effective field goal percentage, including 12 threes on 24 attempts – quite the turnaround from the 0-18 effort against Cal Poly. Of some concern for head coach Steve Fisher was his Aztecs were outrebounded by the Gauchos, including an 18-11 margin on the offensive glass, but that is easily glossed over when you’re shooting at such a remarkable clip. The Aztecs now sport the second-longest winning streak in the nation (behind Duke’s 20-game run), and have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the MWC teams as the favorite for the regular season conference title.
  • Player of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four threes, including the game-winner with 11 seconds left, capping a furious second-half comeback against Boise State. Yup – That’ll earn the Player of the Week award. Clyburn continued his spectacular season this week with perhaps his most complete game of the year (although given some of the lines he’s posted, it’s a tough task to pick just one) and he continues to lead the Utes in points, rebounds, steals, threes and three-point shooting percentage.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Clyburn.
  • Game of the Week: UC Santa Barbara 68, UNLV 62 – While the Utah win over Boise State perhaps had the most exciting ending, and the BYU-UCLA game had its share of action as well, this curious loss by the Rebels at home against UCSB deserves a closer look. This was a game of widely varied statistics, with each side doing some things very well and some things very poorly on the way to this final score. For instance, in just looking at the field goal percentages, you would think that UCSB won this game by more than six points as they hit 50% of their shots while the Rebs just hit 29%. To make matters worse for UNLV, they hit just six of their 29 three-point attempts and only hit 20 of their 34 free throw attempts. But that’s only the start of the numbers explaining how UNLV stayed in this game – they got to the line twice as often as the Gauchos, and, they killed UCSB on the boards, with 24 offensive rebounds (although given their shooting percentages, there were certainly a lot of offensive rebounds to be had). UNLV used their defensive pressure to force 25 UCSB turnovers but gave too many back, spilling the milk 17 times themselves. All things considered, this Rebel team is showing all the signs of being the team we thought they were at the start of the season, a squad that doesn’t feature a lot of great shooters, but a team that is going to defend hard and try to outwork their opponents. Unfortunately for them on this night, their shooting was bad enough to overcome any good they could do on defense.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (12-0): They’re the #5 team in the nation according to the RTC poll. They’re the only remaining undefeated team in the conference. They’ve got the second-longest winning streak in college basketball, and they’ve got what appears to be a downhill slide to a 15-0 record prior to their MWC opening trip to TCU in two weeks. Darn right they’re the top team in these power rankings. They are without a doubt, the team to beat in the conference. But, despite their success so far, and despite being superior to the rest of the conference, they’re going to lose some games in conference play and they’ve got more than a couple of all-out battles looming ahead of them. So far, they’ve done what they have needed to do, but bigger tests await.

A look ahead: The Aztecs play in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, in a field that is anything but classic. There’s a matchup with San Francisco tonight and the second neutral-site matchup with IUPUI on the season – the Aztecs won by 15 in Oxford, Ohio a month ago.

2. BYU (10-1): The Cougars traveled to Anaheim for the Wooden Classic and had some trouble with the physicality of UCLA. The Bruins did a pretty good job in corralling Jimmer Fredette (and he still had 25 – what does that tell you?), and BYU had no good answer for the frontline play of UCLA as Josh Smith, in particular, gave the Cougs’ more slender frontline players all sorts of trouble. Dave Rose and company got some good news this week, as Chris Collinsworth played for the first time in over three weeks due to an ankle injury, and led the team with seven rebounds in relief of Noah Hartsock, who was still a little groggy following a concussion that he sustained last weekend against Arizona.

A look ahead: BYU gets to stay close to home for the holidays, with an in-state trip to Weber State on Tuesday followed by a visit from UTEP on Thursday.

3. UNLV (10-2): The Rebels’ loss to UCSB is detailed above, but they got a chance to get back to winning when they beat up on Southern Utah this weekend. Despite a 22-point win in which they never trailed, the Rebels again struggled shooting the ball, hitting just three of their 16 three-point attempts in this game, putting them at just nine of 45 on the week. Carlos Lopez notched a double-double with career highs in both points (12) and rebounds (11), while sophomore guard Anthony Marshall also went for a career-high 17 points. Knocking off Southern Utah while struggling from behind the arc is one thing, but for the Rebels to have a chance against Kansas State tonight, they’ll need to regain their touch from deep.

A look ahead: Kansas State tonight then Central Michigan on December 30, and then all these preliminaries are out of the way and an incredibly appealing matchup with BYU on January 5 awaits.

4. New Mexico (9-1): The games themselves were forgettable this week, as the Lobos dispatched with Longwood and Citadel by an average of over 31 points per game, but the players were of interest. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon played his first game as a member of the team in the last of those two games and contributed 11 points in 20 minutes, while five other players scored in double figures at some point this week (none of them named Dairese Gary). Picking a key player on this squad is difficult because not only do somewhere north of ten players play on any given night, but many can contribute. It was freshman Kendall Williams with 20 points, six assists and three steals against Longwood, while junior Phillip McDonald led with 17 points, six rebounds and three threes against the Citadel, but altogether a total of six players have led the team in scoring on the season, four have led in rebounding and three have led in assists. There isn’t anything on the Lobo schedule so far that indicates a quality win, but things start to get a little more interesting over the next couple of weeks.

A look ahead: The remainder of the UNM non-conference schedule is not exactly a murderer’s row, but things do pick up a little bit, starting with a pair of games in the Las Vegas Classic, starting with a matchup with Colorado on Wednesday, followed the next night by a matchup with either Northern Iowa or Indiana.

5. Utah (7-3): We mentioned the big Utah come-from-behind win over Boise State above when we awarded our MWC Player of the Week to Will Clyburn, but he got plenty of help from his teammates in that game. Four other Utes scored in double figures and the team tallied ten total blocks on the night, including three by sophomore wing Shawn Glover who has been up and down for Jim Boylen. Glover added 12 points and nine rebounds against the Broncos, while playing a season-high 30 minutes, but has also played five games this year where he failed to garner 20 minutes. With normal starter Jay Watkins still limited due to an ongoing back injury, and with freshman J.J. O’Brien not ready after a stress fracture (he may be ready for some minutes this week), Glover has a chance at more minutes, and if he can continue to contribute like he did this week, he may earn himself more minutes as the season progresses.

A look ahead: Christmas in paradise for the Utes, as they head to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, but they’d better bring their A-games with them as Butler awaits as their first opponent on Wednesday night.

6. TCU (7-4): No news for the Horned Frogs, as they haven’t played in nine days due to finals.

A look ahead: TCU returns to the court tonight against Northwestern State before earning another week off.

7. Colorado State (5-3): The Rams played their first game since December 11 last night and worked through some of their rust on the way to a 14-point victory over Northern Colorado whom CSU has thoroughly owned over the course of their 75-year rivalry. Wes Eikmeier led the Rams with a career-high 17 points, and the Rams earned their margin of victory basically by outscoring the Bears 27-11 from the free throw line. It was a successful, but by no means particularly impressive, return to action, but things pick up for CSU from here.

A look ahead: Tim Miles packs his team up for a trip to Cancun for the Governor’s Cup, where they’ll face Appalachian State in the opening round before likely facing Ole Miss in round two, assuming both teams win their openers.

8. Air Force (7-2): The Falcons padded their gaudy record with an 11-point victory over 0-10 Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday behind a season-high 24 points from sophomore Michael Lyons. After falling behind in the first half, UAPB used a burst of six threes in a hurry to spark a 20-6 run to tie the game at 36 at the 14:22 mark of the second half. But Air Force responded strongly with a 14-4 run and UAPB was never really heard from again. Sophomore center Taylor Broekhuis continued his strong recent play with 11 points and eight rebounds, and he has now scored in double figures in every outing this season save his seven-point performance in a win over Wofford.

A look ahead: The Falcons travel to Flagstaff for a matchup with Northern Arizona on Wednesday for their only game of the week.

9. Wyoming (6-6): A three-game winning streak for the Cowboys! Yes, they were wins over Denver, Western State (of Division-II fame) and Centenary, who are a combined 3-30, but when you’ve got losses to North Florida, South Dakota and UC Irvine on your resume, you take those wins and don’t look back. The Cowboys were solid in these games, with four players scoring in double figures in the first two games, but those two games couldn’t have been more different. Against Denver, Wyoming shot just four three pointers the entire game, while against Western State, they boosted 29. However, the one thing the two games had in common was the Cowboys getting after the glass early and often, outrebounding Denver 32-13 and Western State 48-33. Against Centenary last night, the Cowboys were back to bombing from deep (connecting on just six of 21 attempts), but they made their hay by outscoring their opponents 20-5 from the free throw line. While the Cowboys’ performance continues to be all over the map, at least Heath Schroyer seems to have settled into a rotation.

A look ahead: The Cowboys host Wisconsin-Green Bay on Wednesday, still not playing world-beaters, but a significant upgrade in the level of competition over the last three games.

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