Mountain West Tournament Diary: Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2012

Game of the Day

On Monday, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was named the Mountain West Player of the Year (nevermind the fact that we at RTC gave Drew Gordon the nod) after a blazing conclusion to the regular season. On the first day of postseason play in the conference, Franklin reminded everybody just how good he can be.

With the shot clock turned off and Boise State having run back to tie their quarterfinal game with the Mountain West regular season champion, the Aztecs called a timeout and set up a play that everybody in the Thomas & Mack Center knew was headed Franklin’s way. The Broncos tried to deny him the ball, but San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames got him the ball, and then, as Franklin is known to do repeatedly in practices, he counted down the final seconds on the clock and threw up a prayer at the buzzer, this time over the hands of two Boise State defenders. And the prayer was answered, as the ball settled softly into the net, advancing the Aztecs to Friday night’s semifinal.

Head coach Steve Fisher painted the picture of Franklin playing the part of a kid on a playground or in his back yard, knocking down imaginary game winners against a clock of his own making. During practices, the Aztecs have a period of spot shooting and, according to Fisher at the end of that session, “Jamaal waits and waits and waits and he shoots one as the clock hits zero.  If he makes it, he falls down,” mimicking a buzzer-beating celebration. All the practice has paid off for Franklin, as twice now this year, he has scored game-winners as time expired. “Everyone in the gym knew who the last shot was going to,” said Boise State freshman guard Derrick Marks, fighting through tears. “So, Xavier Thames passed the ball, I was supposed to go double and he just made an incredible shot.” Franklin commended the Boise State defense, saying it was a “very tough look. X did a great job giving me the ball because they denied me all the way out to basically halfcourt.  My first object was to get to the rim, but they kind of double‑teamed me and I just shot the three.”

San Diego State was in that dogfight down the stretch in part because they helped a game Boise State get back in the game. The Aztecs were up 11 with under six minutes left, but down the stretch they missed layups, missed free throws and turned the ball over three times, the most memorable one coming when Chase Tapley turned it over in the backcourt, leading directly to the game-tying layup for the Broncos on a nice dish from freshman Anthony Drmic to sophomore Thomas Bropleh. Tapley was, however, a hero most of the day for the Lobos, at one point scoring 10 out of 12 San Diego State points and contributing 20 points (including four threes) and numerous under-the-radar plays.

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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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RTC Summer Updates: Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 2nd, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Mountain West correspondent, Andrew Murawa.

Reader’s Take I

Summer Storylines

  • A New Look League: In the aftermath of last summer’s conference shake-ups, the Mountain West is a slimmer volume this year than last, and will look even different next year. Last year’s regular season champion, BYU, is off to pursue football independence, with membership in the West Coast Conference for basketball and some other sports a byproduct of that decision. Secondly, Utah jumped at the opportunity to become a member of the new Pac-12 conference. In the 12 years in which the two Utah schools were a part of the MWC (okay, since its unveiling of their new logo in July, the league office wants the conference to be abbreviated as MW, rather than MWC, and we’ll try to do that from here on), they won a combined five outright regular season titles between them (BYU three, Utah two) and twice shared the regular season titles. However, the MW did not sit idly by and let its conference dissolve when the Utah schools left. It snapped up Boise State to give the Mountain West eight teams in the 2011-12 campaign, with Fresno State and Nevada due to join in 2012-13 just as TCU departs for the Big East. In the long run, the three losses are bigger than the three additions, but the newcomers are strong enough to keep the MW chugging along.
  • Coaching Shuffle: We knew heading into the offseason that there would be at least one new coach in the conference, as Wyoming pulled the trigger on firing Heath Schroyer during the middle of the conference season. In late March they announced the hiring of Larry Shyatt, an associate head coach at Florida, back for his second stint as the head man in Laramie. But when Lon Kruger announced a day later that he had accepted the head coaching job at Oklahoma, arguably the most attractive job in the conference opened up at UNLV. Ten days later, UNLV announced the hiring of Dave Rice, most recently the associate head coach to Dave Rose at BYU, but previously a player and assistant coach under Jerry Tarkanian in Vegas. With Rice’s brother, Grant Rice, the head coach at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High – not coincidentally the high school of 2012 top ten recruit Shabazz Muhammad – the hiring opens further inroads for the Rebels with local recruits. To tie everything up in a nice little bundle, Schroyer was hired by Rice as one of his new assistants, along with former Rebel star Stacey Augmon and former SDSU assistant Justin Hutson.
  • Transfer Hotbed: Every year, the Mountain West seems to be the landing spot for some big transfers, guys who have struggled in their first stop in a BCS conference and who are ready to start over a rung down the ladder. UCLA as a feeder school for the conference is a well-worn path, having sent Chace Stanback to UNLV and Drew Gordon to New Mexico in recent years. This year, another former Bruin will be active in the MW, with forward Mike Moser joining Stanback in Las Vegas for the Rebels. No less than five other former-Pac-10 players will show up on MW rosters this season, with Drew Wiley (formerly of Oregon) joining Boise State, Demetrius Walker (formerly of Arizona State) joining New Mexico, and Xavier Thames (formerly of Washington State) joining San Diego State, all of whom will be eligible this season. Arizona’s Daniel Bejarano and USC’s Bryce Jones also announced transfers to Colorado State and UNLV, respectively, but neither will be eligible until the 2012-13 season. UNLV also welcomes former Marquette point Reggie Smith to compete with incumbent point guard Oscar Bellfield this season, while CSU inked former Minnesota center Colton Iverson, eligible in 2012-13. Then there’s the Aztecs, who signed Utah transfer J.J. O’Brien and St. John’s transfer Dwayne Polee. While O’Brien will sit out a year, Polee, who attended Los Angeles’ Westchester High, has applied for a hardship waiver, given that his mom is suffering from an undisclosed medical condition. While these waivers aren’t often granted, if it happens in this case, Polee could be a big boost for the Aztecs’ 2011-12 hopes.

Steve Fisher maxed out an experienced team in 2011, but will need former role players to step up this season. (Kent Horner/Getty Images)

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Mountain West Report Card

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2011

 

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap: It was a banner year for the Mountain West despite the turbulence of the offseason that will see two of the standard-bearers of the conference (Utah and BYU) leave for arguably greener pastures this summer with TCU following them out the door the following summer. The two teams leading the conference this season, BYU and San Diego State, posted a combined 66-8 record this year and were constants in the national top ten making the Sweet 16 before bowing out in tight contests. In addition to having two of the country’s top teams the conference also had arguably the nation’s top player in BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who led the country in scoring, regularly producing eye-popping, shake-your-head-in-disbelief moments and becoming a household name in Utah and beyond. UNLV joined the conference leaders in the NCAA Tournament, but tripped up in ugly fashion before losing head coach Lon Kruger to Oklahoma over the weekend. Colorado State and New Mexico had their hopes pinned on NCAA Tournament bids, but came up a little short. Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the biggest collection of talent in the history of this conference and likely the high water mark. While there is not a whole lot of love lost between either followers of the conference or executives in the MWC and BYU, there is little doubt that the loss of both of the Utah schools from its ranks will leave a major hole.

It was clearly the year of the Jimmer in the Mountain West

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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 MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

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

A Look Back

After a strong early start to the season for the Mountain West as a whole, the wheat has begun to separate from the chaff. Utah and Colorado State gave the first hint this week that they may be pretenders rather than contenders, while BYU and UNLV posted early-season tournament wins, proving their qualifications for being considered among the favorites in the conference. While it was BYU and San Diego State who were considered 1 and 1-A (not necessarily in that order) coming into the season, the Runnin’ Rebels have thrown their hat into the ring and it looks like, as November winds its way down, we could have tri-favorites come conference play, with New Mexico, and waiting-to-be-eligible transfer Drew Gordon, a step or two back.

On a larger scale, the biggest news in the conference this week was the announcement on Monday that TCU would be joining the Big East beginning with the 2012-13 season. While obviously a huge deal on the football side of the equation, frankly the loss of the Horned Frogs basketball program will hardly register much notice. However, for the overall health of the conference, this is a major setback. Basically the conference has traded BYU, Utah and TCU for Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada. While the three newcomers are very good collegiate sports programs, the overall strength of the conference has taken a step back since mid-summer.

Team of the Week: UNLV – It’s not that we didn’t know that the Rebels were going to be good this season, it’s just that they had some questions that needed answering first. We wondered about their three-point shooting ability and they’ve shown us that they are a more consistent three-point shooting team this season than last (despite the loss of sharp-shooter Kendall Wallace for the season to a torn ACL). We wondered about their interior play and Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas has shown, when capable of staying out of foul trouble, an ability to defend the post, rebound well on both ends of the floor, and even score with some efficient posts moves. Following a pretty impressive run through a merely average field in the 76 Classic, this Rebel team seems poised to compete for a MWC crown.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette (Senior), BYU – While UNLV’s Chace Stanback took down the Most Outstanding Player hardware at the 76 Classic, Fredette gets the nod in this space in part due to two game-winning plays in a couple tight games at the South Padre Invitational. On Friday night, with his Cougars deep in a double-overtime battle with South Florida, Fredette got into the lane after much effort, drawing the interest of most of the USF defense before finding Noah Hartsock for a game-winning baseline jumper. Oh, and throw in a season-high 32 points for Fredette, to go nicely with five threes, five steals and four assists. Not to be outdone, the next night the senior went for 24 points, four assists and three more steals, and this time hit the game-winner himself, a three with 11 seconds left to give the Cougars a win over St. Mary’s and a South Padre Island Invitational championship to boot.

Newcomer of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – While the Utes may have been exposed a bit this week, Clyburn certainly wasn’t. The junior college transfer has still led the Utes in scoring every night out this season, and he averaged another 18.5 points per game this week, while hitting his first double-double with a 21-point and 10-rebound outing in a loss to Oral Roberts on Saturday. Clyburn leads the Utes in scoring, rebounds, steals, and threes, and gets to the line more than any of his teammates and converts at an 88.9% clip.

Game of the Week: BYU 77, South Florida 75 (2OT) – We talked about the game winner in this game above, when we handed out our POTW award to Jimmer Fredette, but that was just the capper on an all-around great game. Early in the second half, the Cougars found themselves down ten to the Bulls, before Fredette scored ten points in under four minutes to get the Cougars back in striking distance and regaining the lead a few minutes later on a Fredette three. From there, Jackson Emery caught fire for the Cougars, scoring 14 of the next 15 points for BYU, with four three-pointers mixed in there, but they still could not shake the stubborn Bulls, needing a three from Charles Abouo with 33 seconds left and a defensive stop to send the game to the first overtime. The first OT was a back and forth affair, with Fredette and USF’s Jawanza Poland trading threes in the final minute to force a final OT and the Fredette/Noah Hartsock heroics. As if this battle wasn’t enough for Cougar fans, the next night against St. Mary’s, while requiring no overtime to settle upon a winner, was just about as exhilarating of a win.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (6-0): This was a very quiet week for the Aztecs, with only a matchup on Friday against San Diego Christian (NAIA), in what was the Aztecs’ first home game of the season. After raising last year’s MWC Tournament championship banner before the game, SDSU trudged through an uninspired game that was still tied 13 minutes in. The Aztecs eventually turned it on and coasted to a 19-point win that told us little or nothing about either team.

A look ahead: The competition gets much stiffer this week, although the Aztecs won’t have to leave the cozy confines of Montezuma Mesa when they host St. Mary’s on Wednesday and Wichita State on Saturday.

2. BYU (6-0): After destroying Mississippi Valley State in Provo in an utter mismatch, the Cougars headed to the South Padre Island Invitational, where they won both of their games by a combined total of three points over some solid competition in South Florida and St. Mary’s. However, even the most die-hard BYU homer is not going to confuse the Bulls or the Gaels with Final Four contenders. As a result, it is clear the Cougars still have some work to do to live up to their potential. While some remain givens, freshman Kyle Collinsworth has been up and down in the early going, although he did add 10 points against St. Mary’s. Up front Noah Hartsock and sophomores Brandon Davies and Chris Collinsworth have had their moments, but none have been the consistent force in the low post or on the glass that would take some of the pressure off of the Cougar backcourt. Wing Charles Abouo has done a lot of the dirty work for BYU, actually leading the team in rebounding with 6.7 per night despite his 6’4 frame, but he is a limited offensive player. For the Cougars to compete with the best in this conference, Dave Rose will need to find consistent contributors beyond Fredette and Emery.

A look ahead: This is the week of tough roadies around the conference, as BYU will be challenged with a trip to Omaha to face Creighton, followed by a supposedly neutral-site game in what will be heavily partisan Salt Lake City against Hawai’i.

3. UNLV (6-0): Sure, the Rebels walked through the competition at the 76 Classic. But a closer look shows wins over Tulsa and Murray State teams who, while good solid teams, aren’t exactly finished products or hyper-talented squads. On top of that, while the Rebs also handled a very good Virginia Tech team, the Hokies did their part in giving that game away, turning the ball over 18 times and hitting just nine of their 21 free throws. If Virginia Tech shoots a reasonable percentage from the line and turns the ball over a few less times (granted, the vast majority of those turnovers weren’t unforced errors), that is easily a game decided by a possession or two at the end. Now, none of that is meant to take anything away from Lon Kruger and his team – they’ve certainly looked awfully good in the early going – but just to add a measure of sanity to the hype surrounding the hot Rebels. They’ve certainly showed that they are capable of contending for a MWC title, but they’ll have more chances on down the line in non-conference play to show their national credentials.

A look ahead: The Rebels turn into the road warriors this week with a trip to Bloomington to face Illinois State in the opening night of the MWC/MVC Challenge, then head back to their home state to face Nevada in Reno on Saturday.

4. New Mexico (4-1): The Lobos coasted through a relatively light week, posting wins of 22 points over Northwood and 29 points over San Diego. The big news of the week was the return of junior shooting guard Phillip McDonald from a partially torn elbow ligament. Elbow injury or no, McDonald wasted no time in testing out his shooting stroke, hoisting 15 attempts from the field and ten from behind the arc in his first game back, although he connected on just five field goals and three three-pointers for 13 points, although he did at six rebounds. Sophomore point guard Jamal Fenton was the high scorer in the San Diego game, hitting four threes on the way to a career-high 16 points. In both games, the Lobos closed the first halves strongly (15-2 run to close the half against Northwood, 23-5 run against San Diego), then sailed home to easy wins.

A look ahead: Not an easy week for the Lobos, with a road trip to Carbondale to face Southern Illinois, followed by the road portion of their home-and-away matchup with in-state rival New Mexico State. These are two games the Lobos should win, but given their youth, road games of any type can be difficult, as their lone previous road trip of the year, a 25-point loss to Cal, proved.

5. TCU (4-2): Aside from TCU’s defection from the conference, they did score a couple good wins on the hardwood this week with a 16-point victory over Houston and a 12-point win over USC. Ronnie Moss led TCU in both games with 17 and 20 points respectively and has yet to fail to score in double figures on the season. With defendable losses to Rider and Bradley on the season, the Horned Frogs are right in the mix of things in the middle of the pack of the MWC with Utah and Colorado State, but even with some early season success, there are some glaring weaknesses here, namely poor defensive efficiency and an inability to get to the line offensively. While they have improved those numbers a bit from last season’s awful numbers, and while they’ve patched other holes from last year (committing too many turnovers and not forcing enough, for two), the undersized Frogs will need to improve on the defensive end in order to jump up the standings.

A look ahead: A breather with a home game against Prairie View A&M before welcoming Northern Iowa into Fort Worth for a good test.

6. Colorado State (2-1): Maybe blame it on the Rams playing just their third game of the season and first game in over a week. Maybe blame it on too much turkey. Or maybe just step back and admit that this Ram team, who some thought might push for a fifth NCAA bid from the MWC, is just not ready for prime-time. Whichever way you choose, it was easy to see that CSU was just outclassed in their own arena by Sam Houston State. Gilberto Clavell led four Bearkats in double figures with 29 points and nine rebounds on 10-14 from the field and 9-11 from the line as Sam Houston dominated the Rams 40-29 on the glass and got to the line 41 times to CSU’s meager 17. The fact is, the best team in Moby Arena on Saturday night won the game. While Tim Miles’ squad is an undersized bunch, that is no excuse for the way they were outhustled and outmanned inside, and seniors like Andy Ogide, Travis Franklin and Andre McFarland will need to improve their toughness for this Ram team to take the next step.

A look ahead: Colorado State gets to stay at home this week, welcoming Drake and Fresno State into Fort Collins. While neither of their opponents is much of a threat to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, both will provide good tests for the Rams and a good opportunity for the team to rebuild its confidence.

7. Utah (3-2): Rough week for the Utes at they got their first good look at a higher caliber of competition. First up was the always tough road trip to Logan for in-state rival Utah State, where the Aggies owned Utah on the glass and at the line, winning the rebounding battle 45-32, while outscoring the Utes 39-13 from the charity stripe. Next Oral Roberts visited the Huntsman Center, and while Utah did compete better inside, they were simply outshot this time around. Junior college transfers Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins continue to lead the Utes, with each having scored in double figures in all five Utah games, but the rest of the rotation is unsettled. Last year’s MWC defensive player of the year, David Foster, is still racking up blocks with ease – he’s averaging three blocks a game – but he’s only playing 15 minutes a night due to tendinitis in his knee. That’s not the only health-related problem the Utes have had, as freshman J.J. O’Brien suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and will be out until late December, while senior forward Jay Watkins has been working through a back injury.  

A look ahead: Utah host Fresno State on Tuesday before traveling to Peoria for a matchup with Bradley over the weekend, a couple good challenges for the team.

8. Air Force (3-1):The Falcons week consisted entirely of one of the most head-scratching wins of the year, when they knocked off Wofford, a tournament team from last season who returns most of its production. Wofford has gotten kicked in the teeth some early in the season, with losses to Minnesota, Clemson, Georgetown and Xavier already on the books, but this loss to Air Force is truly astounding. Somehow Wofford managed to dominate on the glass to the tune of a 50-27 rebounding advantage and, more staggering still, a 24-2 edge on the offensive glass. Yet, Air Force still managed to get to the line a season high 29 times and, better yet, shoot 51% from the field while holding Wofford to under 34%. Senior Tom Fow and sophomore Mike Lyons led the Falcons with 18 each and senior Evan Washington added 14 points, six rebounds and three steals as AFA fans entertain the idea of finishing somewhere other than ninth place for the first time in three seasons.

A look ahead: The Falcons host Cal State Northridge and Evansville, games in which, frankly, given the Wofford score, just about anything could happen.

9. Wyoming (2-4): Since we last checked in with the Cowboys, they’ve shown some little bit of progress. Sure, they lost a couple more games along the way, but they competed with #10 Missouri for a full 40 minutes before falling by ten at the Cancun Challenge, then back the next night and fought hard against a surprising 5-1 Providence team, only to be undone by Vincent Council’s 29 points and perfect 16/16 night from the line. Sure, they are still wildly undisciplined (see sophomore Desmar Jackson’s nine turnovers against Mizzou – although, certainly better players than him have turned the ball over nine times against the pressure of a Mike Anderson-coached team) and severely underperforming (I understand Afam Muojeke is not all the way back from his knee injury, but how that talented of an offensive player can score just 13 points in 47 minutes on 4/15 shooting in Cancun is beyond me), but they played both of those teams closer than they played North Florida or Northern Colorado. That’s progress, right?

A look ahead: The Cowboys play sort of a weird road game when they head to South Dakota on Wednesday, then return home for their MWC/MVC game with Indiana State on Saturday. A split this week is a good week. A 2-0 week? Keep dreaming.

 

Game of the Upcoming Week

Wichita State @ San Diego State, 12/4, 7 PM PST, The Mtn. – This week’s Mountain West schedule is chock-full of interesting games: UNLV visits Nevada for an in-state rivalry, San Diego State hosts St. Mary’s, and the MWC/MVC Challenge gets underway, with BYU at Creighton, UNLV at Illinois State and New Mexico at Southern Illinois some of the highlights. But we’ll take this battle between two teams picked prior to the season as favorites in their respective conferences. Given Wichita State’s strikeout in their battle with Connecticut in Maui, this borders on a must-win game for the Shockers’ at-large hopes, while this is the second tough test in week for Steve Fisher’s Aztecs.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2010

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

A Look Back

The start of the 2010-11 season has been just about everything the Mountain West commissioner’s office could hope for after a tumultuous offseason. After almost two weeks of play, five MWC teams remain undefeated and the nine conference teams have posted a combined 25-6 record with the four biggest contenders for postseason berths a combined 13-1, a New Mexico loss at Cal the only blemish.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – The Aztecs have been busy thus far, posting an early 5-0 record including four wins in the CBE Classic. The highest profile win for Steve Fisher’s squad was a road victory over Gonzaga during the ESPN College Hoops Tipoff Marathon, when SDSU showed the rest of the college basketball world what MWC followers already knew: this team is pretty darn good. Perhaps even more impressive for the Aztecs is that their 5-0 record has come entirely on the road thus far, with their first home game scheduled for this Friday when they host San Diego Christian of the NAIA.

Player of the Week

Kawhi Leonard (Sophomore), San Diego State – It’s very likely that you’ll be seeing either Leonard or Jimmer Fredette’s name in this space most weeks this season. While Fredette’s 25.7 point per game average thus far has certainly left him deserving of this honor this time around, and while Leonard’s Aztec teammate Billy White may have had the biggest single performance of the young season, the nod goes to Kawhi here. He’s led his team in rebounding every night out, never failing to grab double digit boards thus far, he’s averaged 18.8 points per contest, and has even displayed his versatility and ever-improving skill set, pairing three steals with four three-pointers in SDSU’s win over IUPUI on Sunday.

Newcomer of the Week

Will Clyburn (Junior), Utah – Last year about this time, it was New Mexico’s junior college transfer Darington Hobson who was making a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with in the MWC. A year later, Utah has its own juco transfer making waves around the Rockies. On a Ute roster featuring eight new faces, it is Clyburn’s who has shone most brightly, leading Utah in scoring in each of their three games, averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while knocking down five of his 12 attempts behind the arc along the way. Last year’s Lobos were picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team last year before Hobson’s emergence catapulted them to a conference title. For the Utes to entertain similar aspirations, Clyburn will need to keep up his early pace.

Game of the Week

San Diego State 79, Gonzaga 76 – For only the fifth time in the 82 games in the history of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, a visiting team came in and defeated the Bulldogs on their home court. Behind a career-high 30 points from Aztec senior forward Billy White (on 14-18 shooting and paired with nine rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end), San Diego State built up a lead as high as ten before hanging on down the stretch and withstanding a similarly outstanding 35-point effort by Zag senior guard Steven Gray to wrap up a big win that will be a feather in the Aztec cap come Selection Sunday.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Utah at Utah State – The Aggies of Utah State have already given a MWC team all they could handle this season, when they went into BYU’s Marriott Center and fought the Cougars to the bitter end in an entertaining game, but this time around they get to welcome the Utes into the Smith Spectrum in Logan for another in-state battle. Utah is looking to prove that they are on the way back from last year’s disastrous collapse, but with a bevy of young and relatively untested newcomers, the trip to Logan could be daunting

Power Rankings

  1. San Diego State (5-0): Aside from the heroics of Billy White and Kawhi Leonard detailed above, the Aztecs have also gotten a big boost from a Santa Clara transfer, sophomore guard James Rahon. Rahon lived up to his reputation as a deadly three-point shooter early in his career in red and black, knocking down three straight threes in the middle of the second half of a tightly contested battle at Long Beach State to break the game open and put the Aztecs on their way to their first win of the season. On the season he is averaging a shade under ten points per night and converting three-point attempts at a sparkling 52.9% clip. Likewise, senior point guard D.J. Gay has shown his leadership abilities, time and again making big plays to spark game-deciding runs for the Aztecs. While Rahon has lived up to his rep as a three-point bomber, Gay has added his own deadly three-point shot to an already strong arsenal, having knocked down 11 of his 22 attempts thus far. If those two can maintain anywhere near that kind of pace, the Aztecs will be looking at a very favorable seed come March, as their imposing frontline has been all that was previously advertised.
  2. BYU (3-0): Coming into the season, the Cougars pretty much knew what they were going to get from their backcourt tandem of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. So far, Emery has been off to a slow start, averaging just nine points per game and struggling to find his shooting touch, to the tune of 34.6% from the field and 27.8% from behind the arc. But head coach Dave Rose has no worries about Emery’s game coming around in due time. His concerns prior to the season were with an eye towards the rest of the team, specifically in the front court. In the early going, junior Noah Hartsock and sophomore Chris Collinsworth have done a lot to ease Rose’s mind. Hartsock stepped up immediately, exploding out of his reserve role in the opener to post a career-high 21 points, then backing that up with 15 points and four blocks against Utah State. Collinsworth, for his part, has been rock-solid, averaging seven rebounds per game and throwing in 8.3 points per game, with a high of 15 points in the Cougars blowout of Chicago State. While BYU still has some work to do figuring out all their roles, Hartsock and Collinsworth have already shown that the talent is there.
  3. UNLV (3-0): It was a rocky offseason in Sin City, with dismissals, suspensions and injuries scarring the landscape, but three games in, all those rough patches are in the past, with the Rebels having just posted one of the more impressive MWC victories in the early season, a 68-65 victory over visiting Wisconsin. Last year’s leading scorer, senior guard Tre’Von Willis, sat out the first two games of the season (easy wins over second-rate competition) as a result of offseason legal difficulties, before returning in a reserve role against Wisconsin, but it was juniors Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield who provided the biggest performances for head coach Lon Kruger in the win over the Badgers. Each player knocked down four threes, with Stanback totaling 25 points and Bellfield notching 18. UNLV’s ability to knock down the three had been a question mark in the lead up to the season, but both players have done their best to answer that query, with Bellfield having hit seven of his 12 attempts (58.3%) and Stanback six of his 15 (40%). While Willis was not a major factor in his return to action, he did hand out five assists in his 23 minutes of play.
  4. New Mexico (2-1): The Lobos have faced probably the most consistently tough lineup of games of any MWC in the young season, and perhaps not surprisingly for a young team, have looked pretty strong at home and downright awful in their one road trip. Given that the New Mexico roster is missing junior guard Phillip McDonald due to a partially torn elbow ligament (he is currently day-to-day), is waiting on the services of incoming transfer Drew Gordon (eligible December 17) and is breaking in four new freshmen (including two freshmen starters) and a sophomore transfer, Emmanuel Negedu who, you know, basically died a year ago, I’m not going to ding the Lobos too hard for their 25-point loss at Berkeley, especially considering they looked good in defeating Arizona State at The Pit a few days before  that, but Steve Alford and company are definitely having some growing pains in adjusting to life without Darington Hobson and Ramon Martinez. While some difficulty in the non-conference schedule is understandable, the Lobos have a relatively light schedule between now and the end of December when they play in the Las Vegas Classic (a matchup against Colorado and then the winner of Indiana/Northern Iowa), then travel to Texas Tech and Dayton prior to conference play. New Mexico will need to have things straightened out by then, lest they get out of non-conference play with only the Arizona State victory to point to.
  5. Colorado State (2-0): For now I’ll stick with the Rams at the number five spot, if only because their season still seems to be a week away. Thus far, the Rams have hosted Arkansas-Pine Bluff and traveled to Denver, posting workmanlike wins each time, with seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin leading the way with almost identical numbers: 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, one assist, and 1.5 steals each in their first two games. The Rams host Sam Houston State on Saturday before their first big test of the season next Wednesday when they host Drake. The soft early schedule has allowed head coach Tim Miles to get a look at plenty of his roster, with 12 players having averaged at least eight minutes per game. In the early season, such a rotation is working out, but the Rams will have to prune the minutes of several players as the year progresses.
  6. Utah (3-0): With all the turnover on the Ute roster in the offseason (six players left the program with eligibility remaining, while eight newcomers joined the squad), there were bound to be plenty of questions about this team’s ability to win. Three games in, Jim Boylen’s squad has at least proven itself capable of winning games at home against teams it is supposed to beat. Along the way, Boylen has had some of his fresh blood step up and announce that they are ready to play, with Will Clyburn, our newcomer of the week, leading the way. Elsewhere, junior college transfer Josh Watkins has taken over the point guard position without skipping a beat, averaging 15.7 points and five assists per game, while holdovers Jay Watkins and Jason Washburn have been solid in the frontcourt. While it remains to be seen if this year’s cast has the talent that last year’s underachievers did, it seems clear that this will be a more consistent and hard-working bunch than last season’s neurotic cast-offs.
  7. TCU (3-2): This year’s early MWC candidate for team most in need of psychiatric treatment is the Horned Frogs. Five games in, this looks like a team capable of wild mood swings, capable of wrapping a 20-point victory over cross-town rival SMU and a six-point neutral-site win over a good Bradley team around a stinker of a 15-point loss against Rider. The Frogs are going to be exciting at times, with their mighty-mite backcourt of 6’2 Ronnie Moss and 5’9 Hank Thorns. Thorns, a transfer from Virginia Tech in his first year of eligibility in Fort Worth, has led the team in assists in four of their first five games, and in three of those four games, he dropped ten dimes. Moss, for his part, has looked excellent playing off the ball, scoring in double figures in all five TCU games, while hitting 45% from the field and 41% from deep. The frontcourt is undersized, but 6’6 wing Garlon Green and a pair of junior college transfers, 6’5 J.R. Cadot and 6’4 Sammy Yeager, have all shown a willingness to help out on the glass. They’ll need to keep that up and get some help from more traditional frontcourt players for the Frogs to contend in a tough conference.
  8. Wyoming (2-2): There had been some talk that last year’s underachieving season for the Cowboys was as much a reflection of some bad luck with injuries as it was with some inherent problems with the makeup of the team. Four games into the season, and with a pair of one-game suspensions for primary offensive weapons Afam Muojeke and Desmar Jackson already in the rearview mirror, with a starting lineup that remains in a state of flux, with a team that consistently racks up more turnovers than it does assists, and with the resultant losses to North Florida and Northern Colorado (the first time in 21 games since 1937 that Northern Colorado has beaten Wyoming) in the record books, it’s time to face the facts that this team just isn’t very good, that head coach Heath Schroyer is just not working out and that the Wyoming basketball program is in need of a reboot. Unfortunately, that reboot is still probably four months away.
  9. Air Force (2-1): As bad as the state of the Wyoming program is, they haven’t lost to a D-III school yet. The same cannot be said of the Falcons, who dropped an overtime affair with Colorado College last Wednesday. They were able to take care of Tennessee State and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, but there is simply not enough talent on this roster for this team to be competitive. Players like versatile senior Evan Washington, senior forward Tom Fow and sophomore guard Michael Lyons are good hardworking kids, but this year’s edition of the Falcons are more suited to the Big Sky level of talent than the Mountain West. Head coach Jeff Reynolds will get the most out of this roster, but for him to be comfortable as the head coach at the Academy, he’ll need to recruit a higher level of talent.

A Look Ahead

While the battle in the Beehive State may be the game of the week, Utah will follow that up with another interesting game when they host Oral Roberts on Saturday. There are also plenty of other interesting events around the conference as three other MWC teams compete in early season tournaments. UNLV plays in the most high-profile of the three when they compete in the 76 Classic (opening round game against Tulsa, either Murray State or Stanford in the next round and a potential matchup with Virginia Tech in the final), but BYU will play in the South Padre Island Invitational (against South Florida and then either St. Mary’s or Texas Tech) and Wyoming will get beat down by Missouri in the Cancun Challenge before advancing to likely lose to either Providence or La Salle.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. San Diego State (13-3)
  2. BYU (12-4)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. UNLV (11-5)
  5. Colorado State (9-7)
  6. Wyoming (6-10)
  7. Utah (6-10)
  8. TCU (3-13)
  9. Air Force (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jimmer Fredette, Sr, BYU (22.1 PPG, 4.7 APG)
  • G: Dairese Gary, Sr, New Mexico (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • G: Tre’Von Willis, Sr, UNLV (17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Afam Muojeke, Jr, Wyoming (16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, Soph, San Diego State (12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG)

6th Man

Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

If you aren't already, get used to seeing and hearing about Jimmer Fredette.

Impact Newcomer

Drew Gordon, Jr, New Mexico – Gordon left UCLA midway through the Bruins awful season last year after never meshing with Ben Howland and his system, and as a result, he won’t be eligible for Steve Alford until after the first semester. But Gordon showed enough talent in his years in Westwood that he will be a welcome addition for what was an undersized Lobo team last season. However, Gordon did tear the meniscus in his right knee in mid-October and, although he is not expected to miss any game action, he may miss out on valuable practice time leading up to his expected December 17 debut.

What You Need to Know

  • Best In The West? Given the Mountain West’s history as a contender for the title of the top non-BCS conference in the nation, and given that the Pac-10 is at its lowest point in memory, it’s quite possible that, at least for 2010-11, the MWC may be the best conference in the West. Last season, four MWC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and in just over a decade of existence, only once has the MWC failed to place more than one team to the Big Dance (2000-01). However, major changes are afoot in the conference, as Utah and BYU, both consistently strong basketball forces, will be leaving for the Pac-10 and WCC, respectively. Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference, but while those teams are capable of putting together strong seasons (Nevada, in particular, has  recent success on the court), they’ll be hard-pressed to replace the production of the two Utah schools.
  • Familiar Faces: When you look around the conference this season, there will be a lot of veterans up and down the rosters, as 70% of the players that averaged more than five points per game last season return. Only Utah, of the nine conference teams, will look drastically different, as they lost two starters to graduation, a third starter to transfer, and five additional bench players to transfers as well. Bolstering the general experience around the league is a flood of incoming transfers: Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu at New Mexico, Quintrell Thomas at UNLV, Hank Thorns at TCU, Wes Eikemeier at Colorado State and James Rahon at San Diego State. Not only will there be a lot of recognizable players on the court, there continues to be a lot of stability on the sidelines, as for the second consecutive year, every head coach in the MWC returns.
  • Non-conference Boost: Last season seemed to mark the first year of a new era in non-conference scheduling in the MWC. After earning a reputation as a conference whose teams would play consistently tough games, they slipped out of the top 20 in non-conference strength of schedule for a stretch from the 2006-07 season through the 2008-09 season. However, last year, the MWC addressed this in several ways. First and foremost, their teams were able to go out and get games against Pac-10 and Big 12 competition, but they were also able to get their teams in some good early-season tournaments, and they began the MWC/MVC Challenge, guaranteeing every team in the conference a matchup with a team from the Missouri Valley. That MWC/MVC Challenge will continue (the two conferences signed a four-year agreement), as will the involvement of conference teams in early-season tournaments (for instance, New Mexico plays in the Las Vegas Classic, UNLV in the 76 Classic, Colorado State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, BYU in the South Padre Island Classic, Utah in the Diamondhead Classic, Wyoming in the Cancun Classic and San Diego State in the CBE Classic – and yes, the people that run these tournaments need to consult a thesaurus for an alternative to “Classic”). Additionally, the tougher non-conference scheduling continues, with conference schools making trips to places like Spokane, Berkeley, Logan, Ann Arbor, El Paso, Dayton, Tulsa, Louisville and Kansas City over the course of the non-conference slate.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Plains/Mountains Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX)

  • LaceDarius Dunn* – Sr, G – Baylor. Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: there’s no news. We know that in order for him to be an Impact Player for this region and to indeed fulfill the promise that’s implied when your name pops up on all sorts of pre-season All-America teams, LaceDarius Dunn has to actually see the floor, and as of right now he’s still suspended from competition. He’s practicing, he’s attending classes, but that suspension from games of any kind is indefinite, so what Dunn is doing most is waiting. So are we, because we want to see the guy play some more, and soon. We’ve backed LaceDarius since his first moments on the Baylor campus and we’ve enjoyed watching him grow as a basketball player during his time there. Dunn was a factor right from the start in Waco, averaging 13.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 22 MPG as a freshman, and he’s only gotten more impressive each season. You could see his confidence grow by the game through his sophomore year as he tacked a couple of points onto that scoring average (15.7 PPG) and took on more responsibility. Last season was probably the school’s best since 1950 and earned the Bears their best year-end ranking ever (#10), and Dunn was the centerpiece along with Ekpe Udoh. The unquestioned team leader, Dunn put his scoring gift on full display, contributing 19.6 PPG (33rd in the nation) in just over 32 MPG. Because of his quickness and his deep shooting range, he represents the ultimate defensive conundrum. If you play up on him, he’s by you. If you give him a cushion — and he doesn’t need much space at all — he’ll drill you from range. If you get physical, not only will he match you (Dunn is a disturbingly solid 6’4, 205), but he’ll be more than happy to repair to the free throw line (85.7% last season) and bleed you to death with paper cuts. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his game is that shooting accuracy. If Dunn can see the rim, he’s in range, and he has no qualms about letting it sail. He nailed 116 threes last season, a single-season record for the school. His next trey will be his 300th, and he’s already hit more of them than any other Baylor player. Those 299 threes put him 91 bombs away from breaking the Big 12 record of 389 held by Texas’ A.J Abrams, and seeing as how Dunn has had no problem breaking 100 the past two seasons, we think he’ll get there. Considering all that, his overall shooting percentage becomes that much more impressive. He shot 45.2% last year and has posted a 44.9% mark for his Baylor career. This brings up the question, again: how do you guard this man? It’ll be fun to watch Big 12 opponents make a go of it this season, that’s for sure — we just have to get the guy on the floor and past this current situation regarding the alleged assault. Because of the strange, conflicting stories from some of the people involved and the paucity of other details that have emerged about this matter, we’re not sure where the truth lies or what outcome would constitute justice. We just hope it’s one that results in LaceDarius Dunn playing basketball as soon and as much as possible.

If Dunn Keeps His Head, He Could Be Baylor's first AP All-American First Teamer

  • Jacob Pullen – Sr, G – Kansas State. Expectations, much?  The last time Jacob Pullen’s Kansas State Wildcats were ranked as high as they are in the Preseason Coaches Poll (#3), John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts.  The year was 1959, and the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament (regrettably, the Cats lost to Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati in the regional finals).  In large part due to the big-shot making abilities of the six-foot guard who has a great chance to re-write the K-State record books this season, Frank Martin’s KSU squad is poised to make a run at its first Final Four since the 60s and its first Big 8/12 conference title since the 70s.  Pullen, the Big 12 Preseason POY as voted on by the coaches, is expected to run more of the point now that last year’s starter at that position Denis Clemente has graduated, but his ability to successfully play either the one or the two position is well-documented by league opponents.  Let’s be honest, though; with Pullen mimicking the scorer’s mentality of other height-challenged combo guards that have come before him, it doesn’t matter what “position” head coach Frank Martin puts him in.  The Beard (which is rounding into form for the season, incidentally) will have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time, just as he did in a 34-point explosion against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in the NCAA second round last season and in multiple overtimes in another win (and 28-point performance) against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen.  It’s not very easy to stop a player who can routinely go for 20+ against some of the best defensive coaches in the country (16 times last year), but the one thing you do not want to do against Pullen is leave him open from behind the arc.  Make him put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim.  He’s not a traditional dead-eye shooter by any stretch, but he can torch it from outside when he finds a groove — seven threes against UNLV and BYU; six against Alabama, Xavier, Baylor and South Dakota.  Last year he tied Askia Jones’ school-record of 110 threes in a season because he’s learned how to pick his spots appropriately, exhibited by the nearly 40% conversion rate he enjoyed (a significant improvement from his 30% and 34% he shot from deep in his first two years in Manhattan).  Perhaps reflecting the grit of his fiery head coach, Pullen is also an elite defender, having been selected as a member of the six-man Big 12 all-defensive team last year.  Put all of this together — the  scoring, the defense, the grit, the BEARD — and you’re faced with the simple fact that the K-State guard is on the short list of a dozen or so players who are in contention for 1st team All-American and national Player of the Year honors in 2010-11.  The better he plays, the more likely it is that the fortunes of Kansas State basketball is on its way to reclaiming some of its ancient glory and make comparisons with teams a half-century ago completely moot.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on February 26th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/18):

  1. New Mexico                      26-3                       12-2
  2. BYU                                        26-3                       11-2
  3. San Diego State                20-8                       9-5
  4. UNLV                                     21-7                       9-5
  5. Colorado State                  15-12                     6-7
  6. Utah                                      13-14                     6-7
  7. TCU                                        12-16                     4-9
  8. Wyoming                            9-18                       2-11
  9. Air Force                              9-17                       1-12

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. UNLV. The Rebels get the nod here (although it could just have easily been BYU) on the basis of two absolute blowout wins over lesser MWC teams. The Rebels never trailed in drilling Colorado State by 31 on Saturday, and then led TCU by as much as 31 in the 2nd half on Wednesday before calling off the hounds and prevailing by just 16. Vegas is back on track and while the regular season conference title went away a long time ago, they still get to play the conference tournament in their own gym.

Player of the Week. Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU. Fredette averaged 24.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.5 APG in leading his Cougars to a couple wins this week on the way to setting up the MWC game of the year with New Mexico on Saturday. Fredette has averaged over 28 PPG over the last three games and 21.7 PPG over the season and has positioned himself as the likely leader in the MWC Player of the Year race (although New Mexico’s Darington Hobson may still have something to say about that) and even deserving of mention in the national POTY discussion.

Newcomer of the Week. Marshall Henderson, Fr, Utah. Henderson has been on a tear of late, having hit double figures in his last 11 games and averaging 15.9 PPG over that stretch. This week Henderson averaged 14 PPG, had four threes in a tight loss to San Diego State and led his Utes with 16 in a win over Air Force on Wednesday.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 59 Air Force 56. On the Lobos’ way to the game of the season, they seemed to have a tidy little week ahead of them, but the Falcons disabused them of that notion right quick. Air Force shot 51% from the field (including 58% in the second half) and took a 56-55 lead on a layup by senior forward Grant Parker with 27 seconds left in the game. But, the Lobos kept their poise and were able to escape by the slimmest of margins when Hobson got a putback 10 seconds later to regain the lead, and after a strong defensive possession, junior guard Dairese Gary sealed the deal with a couple free throws to reach the final margin.

Game of the Upcoming Week. New Mexico @ BYU, Versus TV, February 27th. I suppose this one just edges out Air Force at Wyoming next Tuesday, but this might be a pretty decent game itself, as the Lobos head into Provo for the game that in all likelihood will determine the regular season champion. The first matchup in Albuquerque in late January was a fiery battle, with BYU taking their first lead of the game under three minutes on a deep Fredette three before the Lobos rallied at the finish to salvage a four-point victory.  But the Lobos will be missing a key component that was present in that victory: their home crowd. It’s quite possible that will be the difference here, because although both teams will take different approaches (BYU’s strengths lie in shooting and taking care of the ball and being very efficient on both ends of the court, while New Mexico tries to make its hay with its athleticism allowing it to pound the glass and get to the line), they do seem to be very evenly matched. My pick: BYU 76, New Mexico 70, with Fredette and Hobson leading the charge for each team.

League Notes:

By this point in the season, just about everything is squared away. The BYU/New Mexico game on Saturday will decide the regular season champion (so long as both teams can take care of business on the hind end of their schedule).  San Diego State and UNLV seem poised to take third and fourth place, respectively, and each has a legitimate claim on an at-large NCAA berth (although admittedly SDSU’s claim is much more tenuous).  Utah and Colorado State have claimed the middle ground as their own and both teams are capable of springing an upset in the MWC tournament, with TCU, Wyoming and Air Force playing out the schedule with varying degrees of effort — Air Force is still plugging along, Wyoming is more or less already a month into the offseason, and TCU is still managing to show up once in a while.

Now the MWC Tournament looms, and it will be very interesting, especially if all four favorites advance to the semifinal round. The Aztecs will be the team that needs the conference’s automatic bid the most to solidify their tournament hopes, but the competition will be fierce with the two top seeds and veritable home team, the Rebels.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back: What looked like a bit of a quiet week for New Mexico produced a couple of down-to-the-wire nailbiters for the conference leader. First, they needed an offensive rebound from Hobson with less than 20 seconds left to put away last-place Air Force. Then, they got all they could handle at Moby Arena against Colorado State, but were able to dodge junior guard Adam Nigon’s six threes and sneak away with a six-point win. Once again, it was New Mexico’s ability to control the glass (the Lobos outrebounded CSU 44-32 – senior forward Roman Martinez had 12 boards and Hobson added 10 more) and to get to the free throw line (UNM was 18/23 from the FT line in the second half alone) that was the difference in giving Steve Alford’s squad their twelfth straight conference victory, tying a MWC record.

Looking ahead: This is it for the Lobo regular season. After the big game in Provo on Saturday, the Lobos return to the Pit to host TCU and to say goodbye to Martinez, their lone scholarship senior.

BYU

Looking back: BYU did their part to set up the battle for the title this week by visiting Laramie and controlling the reeling Cowboys from start to finish. The Cougars never trailed, forced 12 turnovers and outrebounded Wyoming by 12 as they coasted to a 22-point win. The next game was a bit tougher as they returned home to host San Diego State, but behind a 9-0 run near the end of the first half and a 14-2 run in the middle of the second half, they were able to take control of the game and pull away. Perhaps the key to the game for BYU was their ability to hit the glass, and they outrebounded the conference’s best rebounding team (albeit with freshman forward Kawhi Leonard – the MWC’s leading rebounder – diminished by illness). The Cougars were also able to force 16 Aztec turnovers, and those turnovers coupled with BYU’s 7/15 shooting from three contributed greatly to both big BYU runs.

Looking ahead: After the Lobo game this weekend, BYU has a tough bounce-back game on Wednesday at Utah, a team that has gelled into a solid team in recent weeks.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs had a lot riding on their game Wednesday night at BYU. While they have a strong RPI and a solid record, they really only have a pair of home wins over New Mexico and UNLV to show for it. A win at Provo probably would have been the big win to put them over the top. They still have an outside chance at an at-large at this point, and could add a neutral-site win over BYU or New Mexico in the MWC Semifinals which would be an excellent win, but to be on the safe side, the Aztecs are now in a position where winning the MWC tourney would be their best bet. The Leonard illness came at a most inopportune time for the Aztecs, as he was severely limited on Wednesday night. Before even the first TV timeout, he was having trouble breathing and just wasn’t his normal explosive self, and was held to just three points and five rebounds, one of the major reasons SDSU was outrebounded.

The Aztecs did add another victory earlier this week when junior forward Malcolm Thomas’ career-high 28 points and Leonard’s 14 points and 15 boards helped them pull out a tough one at home against Utah.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs host Colorado State on Wednesday, then wrap up the season with a trip to Air Force next Saturday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels got back in the swing of things in a big way this week, breaking a three-game losing streak with back-to-back home routs. At this point, you have to figure the Rebels are safe for an at-large on the strengths of wins over Louisville, BYU, San Diego State and at New Mexico, but its probably not as sure of a thing as some are claiming. While Utah is coming around, those two losses don’t look especially great.

But the Rebels have started to get some production out of players not named Tre’Von Willis. Junior forward Chace Stanback averaged 14 PPG this week, sophomore center Brice Massamba had five blocks against CSU and nine rebounds against TCU, and freshman guard Anthony Marshall had 12 points and ten rebounds against the Rams. The Rebels also still hope to get junior wing Derrick Jasper back from a sprained MCL suffered at the end of January, but he may not even be ready until the MWC tournament.

Looking ahead: Just a trip to Air Force for the Rebels on Saturday, then a week off before they host Wyoming the following Saturday, both games the Rebels are more than capable of winning.

Colorado State

Looking back: After a 31-point loss at UNLV on Saturday seemed to again prove that the Rams weren’t capable of staying on the court with the top teams in the MWC, they turned around and gave New Mexico a good run on Tuesday. Nigon poured in his career high 23 points, but he also got help from junior forward Andy Ogide (12 points and six rebounds) and freshman guard Dorian Green (11 points and six assists). The Rams have now lost three straight, and will need to finish their remaining schedule with a couple of wins in order to improve their chances of an NIT bid.

Looking ahead: The Rams still have one very tough remaining game, when they travel to San Diego State next Wednesday, but have very winnable games sandwiched around that: at TCU on Saturday and home against Utah (in what will likely be the battle for 5th place in the conference) on the final Saturday of the season.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes gave San Diego State a good run on Saturday, outrebounding the conference’s best rebounding team (seven Utes had at least four rebounds) and keeping things tight up to the end, although a lot of the credit for that can be given to the Aztecs and their inability to hit free throws down the stretch.  In the end, they were done in by another night of poor shooting (39% from field) and ballhandling (15 turnovers), giving Utah their fifth loss in seven games. Utah got things back on track on Wednesday, however, when they held Air Force to a season-low 43 points and just 2/17 shooting from three. Utah again controlled the glass, 30-18, and this time shot well from the field — 50% both from the field and from behind the arc.

Looking ahead: The Utes host Wyoming and then BYU this week, and are lucky enough to catch the Cougars after the New Mexico game, a trap-game of which Jim Boylen hopes his club can take advantage.

TCU

Looking back: Take a quick glance at the box score for the Horned Frogs this week and you see some things you expected to see all season, like a 21 and an 11 next to senior forward Zvonko Buljan’s name and a 25 next to sophomore guard Ronnie Moss’ name. But then you get to the turnover column and see twos, threes, and fours next to everybody’s name on the entire roster, and you get why TCU was down by as many as 31 in the second half at UNLV. In the end, the Frogs wound up with 21 turnovers, and despite those gaudy numbers in Moss and Buljan’s scoring columns, they were never really in this game.

Looking ahead: The Frogs host Colorado State on Saturday, then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: You gotta give the Cowboys this much credit: when you saw BYU looming on the schedule a week or so ago, you probably figured the final margin would have been higher than 22. But freshman guard Desmar Jackson is still fighting and he poured in a career-high 26 points highlighted by four threes in his attempt to keep his team in the game. Jackson has been one of the very few bright spots in Laramie this season. He has averaged 12.2 PPG in conference play thus far and led the Cowboys in scoring in four out of the nine games since sophomore forward Afam Muojeke went down for the season with a knee injury.

Looking ahead: Wyoming travels to Utah on Saturday, then hosts Air Force in a battle for eighth place on Tuesday.

Air Force

Looking back: As we said in this space last week, while other teams at the back of the pack are now phoning it in, the Falcons are going down fighting. While their deliberate style and pack-it-in defense certainly allows them to keep games close, they almost stole a game they had no business being in against New Mexico on Saturday. They followed that up by fighting it out against Utah, but their inability to hit shots (just 2/17 from three) killed them.

Looking ahead: The Falcons could get out of the cellar (or at least get some company in the cellar) with a win at Wyoming on Wednesday, but they’ll also have a another chance at one of the big boys when they host UNLV on Saturday.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/11)

  1. New Mexico                      22-3                       8-2
  2. BYU                                        22-3                       7-2
  3. UNLV                                     19-5                       7-3
  4. San Diego State                17-7                       6-4
  5. Colorado State                  15-9                       6-4
  6. Utah                                      11-12                     4-5
  7. TCU                                        11-14                     3-7
  8. Wyoming                            9-15                       2-8
  9. Air Force                              9-14                       1-9

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Huge week for the Lobos, getting a couple hard-fought wins, including a home overtime win over San Diego State and an impressive road win at UNLV. Those wins, coupled with UNLV’s win over BYU, leave the Lobos sitting alone atop the MWC standings, having now won their last eight games after starting conference play 0-2.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. Hobson was our player of the week after the first two weeks of the regular season, but struggled a little the first time around the conference, especially with his shot and too many turnovers. This week, for the first time since 2009, that Hobson we fell in love with early in the season was back. The JuCo transfer averaged 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, five assists, and three threes, plus threw in a half-court shot at the first-half buzzer and hit the two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left against San Diego State on Saturday. When Hobson’s jumper is falling like it is right now, he’s the best player in the conference, simply because he can do so many other things with ease as well. If the Lobos hope to make a splash nationally in March, they’ll need Hobson to bring his A game.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 88, San Diego State 86 (OT). This game tipped off just as UNLV’s defeat of BYU in Vegas went final, giving the Lobos a chance to create a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Likewise, if the Aztecs had won this, there would have been a two-way tie at the top with SDSU and New Mexico tied a game back. With such a logjam at the top of the conference, it was no wonder that this game would be a wild one as well. While the level of play in the game was stellar across the board, this game really came down to a battle between Hobson and Aztec junior guard D.J. Gay. Hobson tossed in a half-court shot at the end of a back-and-forth first half to put the Lobos up five at the break, and the Lobos extended their lead as high as ten early in the second half, and after some back and forth, the lead was still ten with just two minutes remaining. But Gay went off for 11 points on his own in the last two minutes, knocking down three (increasingly improbable) threes before getting fouled on another three-attempt with his Aztecs down two with just one second left. He made two of his three attempts to send the game to OT. But Hobson was not to be denied, scoring eight points in overtime, including his two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left. Gay finished with a career-high 25 points while playing every minute of the game. Hobson, meanwhile, did take a couple minutes off, playing just 43 minutes, but still wound up with an amazing line of 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, four threes, and three steals.

Game of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ San Diego State, 2/13/10, 1pm PST, Versus. The Rebels hope to maintain their position near the top of the MWC standings, while the Aztecs still believe they have a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While that bid for the Aztecs looks unlikely at this point (their loss to Wyoming early in the MWC season was a killer, especially coupled with the lack of big non-conference wins), they still sport a strong 17-7 overall record and an RPI in the mid-40s. And, most importantly, they still have opportunities, with this home game and a trip to Provo in a couple of weeks. The roadmap to an Aztec at-large berth begins with a win over the Rebels  on Saturday, an upset of the Cougars in Provo and a run to the MWC final in March, all while taking care of business with the teams at the lower end of the conference. It is a tough road to be sure, but one this team is capable of getting done.

League Notes

We’re only a week into the second go-round in the MWC, but things have really started to clear up. New Mexico, BYU and UNLV are all more-or-less locked into NCAA bids; it would take quite a collapse for one of those teams to not be invited to dance.

The regular season championship will likely be decided February 27th when New Mexico visits BYU. New Mexico should coast from here to that game, likely riding a 12-game winning streak at that point. BYU will have to take care of a tough San Diego State team on the Wednesday before that game, but it is likely those teams will be tied atop the conference when they meet.

That leaves the Aztecs. Let’s assume they beat UNLV at home this weekend. And, let’s say they beat TCU, Utah, Colorado State and Air Force. That right there would put them at 22-7, 11-4 in conference. They win in the first round of the MWC tournament, then face the regular season champ in the semis and win that matchup too before losing in the MWC championship. Put them at 24-8 at that point with wins over New Mexico, UNLV and whoever the MWC regular season champ is, with their next best win over Arizona. Throw in a bad loss to Wyoming. RPI would likely be somewhere around 40. Is that good enough? I don’t think it is. But, what if they also get the win at BYU on February 24th? I think if they get that, they can make a good case at 25-8 with wins over every other MWC team that will make the tourney.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Two big games, two big wins, and now all alone in first place (albeit still tied in the loss column with BYU). After a week in which New Mexico got back all of the mojo it had at the start of the season, the Lobos are a shoo-in to go dancing in March. After the overtime thriller with San Diego State on Saturday, New Mexico took control from the opening tip in Vegas on Wednesday. All four of their big offensive threats (Hobson, senior forward Roman Martinez, junior guard Dairese Gary and sophomore guard Philip McDonald) scored in double figures and the Lobos absolutely destroyed the Rebels on the glass all night long, finishing with a 45-23 advantage. The Lobos also shot 52% from three and knocked down 13 of their 14 free throw attempts and, despite a late Rebel run, held on for a convincing ten-point win.

Looking ahead: In the middle of February, it can be very easy to lose your focus, especially coming off a week in which you’ve knocked off two of your biggest competitors. The Lobos travel to Utah on Saturday night, and while this is by no means a strong Ute team, they are capable of rising up and biting the ankles of some of the teams ahead of them. Just ask UNLV. After the Utah trip, the Lobos return to the Pit to host Wyoming and Air Force.

BYU

Looking back: The Cougs are itching to get back on the court. They played only once this week, and before the matinee Vegas crowd had even opened their peanuts, BYU was on their way to getting blown out. The Rebels outscored BYU 56-34 in the first half, shooting 65% from the field and 70% from three and the Cougars were never able to scrap back into the game, dropping their second conference game of the season. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette wound up with 21 points (plus seven rebounds and six assists), but shot just four of 15 from the field. Freshman forward Brandon Davies missed the UNLV game with an emergency appendectomy and is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Cougars will have had a week to chew on that loss to UNLV by the time they host Air Force on Saturday, and that can’t be good news for the outmanned Falcon squad. BYU will then travel to Colorado State on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: After putting a whooping on BYU on Saturday to move into a first-place tie, the follow-up game with New Mexico on Wednesday had to be a tough one for the Rebels. They came out of the gates flat, struggling along to a 12-point halftime deficit and, despite making a run late in the game, never seemed to fire on all cylinders. The most unforgivable sin was their lack of effort on the glass as they got outrebounded by 22, allowing the Lobos to score repeatedly on the offensive glass. The Rebels remain squarely in the thick of things near the top of the MWC leaderboard, but their loss to New Mexico relegated them to a team that needs multiple things to happen in order to win the regular season title.

Looking ahead: UNLV’s last major challenge of the regular season comes Saturday with a trip to Montezuma Mesa to face San Diego State. After that, the Rebels just need to remain focused and take care of business against the lower tier of MWC teams, beginning with a trip to Utah on Wednesday for some revenge.

San Diego State

Looking back: While the Aztecs did take New Mexico to overtime on Saturday, the dirty little secret there is that they were really outplayed rather significantly by the Lobos, right up until the time when New Mexico got a little too conservative and Gay went nuts. But, give credit to Steve Fisher’s squad for bouncing back on Wednesday with a dominating performance in knocking off reeling Wyoming. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard went for a career-high 26 points (on 10/14 shooting) plus added eight rebounds and three steals as the Aztecs led by as many as 37 in the second half on the way to a 88-57 win.

Looking ahead: Huge Saturday for the Aztecs as they host UNLV before traveling to Fort Worth to face TCU on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams are officially tops in the second tier of the Mountain West. While they don’t have the horses to play with the big boys above, they have been consistent enough to edge their way up to this fifth spot. This week, Colorado State took care of business, sprinting past Wyoming on Saturday and then edging Air Force on Tuesday, and have set themselves up nicely to potentially gain an NIT berth. Junior forward Travis Franklin was the star against Wyoming, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half. Against Air Force, it was more of a collective effort, with junior forward Andy Ogide scoring 12 and both freshman guard Dorian Green and freshman forward Greg Smith adding ten.

Looking ahead: The Rams have a week to prepare for their chance to host BYU on Wednesday and a chance to see if they have taken any steps forward since the Cougars crushed them early and often in a 91-47 game a month ago.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes began the second half of their conference schedule in much the same way they started the first half, with a solid victory over TCU. Freshman wing Marshall Henderson lit up the Frogs for 24 points on five threes and added six rebounds; junior guard Carlon Brown added 12 points. But the Utes still needed Henderson and senior guard Luka Drca to combine to go 10/10 from the free throw line in the last two minutes (both teams combined to shoot 30/33 from the line) to seal the win.

Looking ahead: Utah gets a chance to make a huge impact on the MWC race this week as they will host both New Mexico (on Saturday) and UNLV (on Wednesday). Expect them to pull off one upset this week, while they lose the other by 25 while shooting somewhere south of 30% from the field.

TCU

Looking back: If it hadn’t happened already, it definitely happened this week. Head coach Jim Christian has turned the page and started to look towards next year. With Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas in the middle of disappointing senior seasons (their play in conference has been especially depressing), it looks like the Horned Frogs are starting to see what type of pieces they have to build around for next season. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss is a given. While he has showed some inconsistency, commits too many turnovers at times and is all too likely to fall in love with his jumper, he is a talented player on both ends of the court. Junior guard Greg Hill has been getting more attention offensively of late, and while he too can be wild at times, he is a capable shooter, knocking down seven threes on his way to 23 points in a win over Air Force on Saturday. And freshman forward Nick Cerina has shown flashes of brilliance this season, despite some inconsistency. He had 17 in the loss to Utah on Wednesday. Sophomore forward Kevin Butler and freshman guard Garlon Green have also proven themselves to be pieces who can be valuable for the Horned Frogs in the future.

Looking ahead: The Frogs travel to Wyoming on Saturday then return home to host San Diego State on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: At the start of the season there was a lot of optimism around Laramie, with a fast-paced offense, some pressure defense, a budding star in sophomore Afam Muojeke, exciting incoming transfer JayDee Luster and a handful of interesting parts, there were even some Cowboy fans who whispered a bit about postseason tournaments. Some three months later, head coach Heath Schroyer is the one MWC coach squirming on the hot seat, Muojeke is lost for the season, and the Cowboy roster is in disarray. This week, sophomore guard A.J. Davis announced he was leaving the program; Davis was still the team’s third leading scorer, despite having seen his minutes drop drastically in conference play. Schroyer has now had six of his recruits leave the program in his three seasons in Laramie (Davis was the second this season – junior guard Thomas Manzano left the program in December) and in the Cowboys’ losses this week (by 16 to Colorado State and by 31 to San Diego State), they only dressed ten players, only nine of whom were on scholarship.

Looking ahead: Playing out the string, the Cowboys host TCU on Saturday, then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: Just a couple weeks back the Falcons had broken their 22-game conference losing streak, their players were starting to get healthy and optimism surrounded the program. Now, the Falcons have started a new losing streak (up to three games now), senior forward Grant Parker continues to sustain injuries (dislocated shoulder most recently, although he is still playing through it) and it seems like the same old story in Colorado Springs. The Falcons did play Colorado State strong on Wednesday, even having a possible game-tying three by junior Evan Washington with five second left, but in the end this goes in the books as another two-loss week for Air Force.

Looking ahead: This will definitely not be a two-loss week for Air Force, as they play only once, traveling to BYU on Saturday. So, it will just be a one-loss week.

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