Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 29th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/28):

  1. BYU                                        20-2                       5-1
  2. New Mexico                      19-3                       5-2
  3. UNLV                                     17-4                       5-2
  4. San Diego State                14-6                       3-3
  5. Colorado State                  12-8                       3-3
  6. Utah                                      10-10                     3-3
  7. TCU                                        10-11                     2-4
  8. Wyoming                            9-11                       2-4
  9. Air Force                              8-11                       0-6

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. New Mexico. For the second week in a row, it’s the Lobos who win this prize, with this week’s biggest scalp that of the number 12 team in the country, BYU. The Lobos have now won five games in a row and put themselves back in the thick of things in the MWC race, just a game back in the loss column, despite their recent shooting woes.

Player of the Week. Adam Waddell, Soph, Wyoming. There was plenty of competition here this week: Dairese Gary averaged 21 points and 4.5 assists in leading the team of the week to a win over previously-unbeaten-in-conference BYU, Tre’Von Willis went for 30 in a tough road win for UNLV, and Jimmer Fredette continued to be outstanding, averaging 30 PPG this week. But Waddell gets the nod, thanks to his big numbers on Wednesday night: 22 rebounds (a MWC record) while putting in 12 points, all despite leaving midway through the second half with a badly sprained ankle which may keep him out of the Cowboys’ next game.

Newcomer of the Week. Desmar Jackson, Fr, Wyoming. Jackson stepped up in the absence of Wyoming’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Afam Muojeke, who underwent season-ending surgery for a torn patellar tendon in his left knee this week. The freshman from Warren, Ohio scored 21 points in just 20 minutes, continuing what is becoming a bit of a trend for Jackson, stepping up when Muojeke can’t go, as Jackson had 22 points in Muojeke’s first game out after bruising the same knee in late November.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 76, BYU 72. It’s likely that the BYU/San Diego State game from Saturday was the better game. It featured long runs by both teams, and really came down to the last possession, but this game had a little something extra throughout which that one didn’t: atmosphere. While the Aztecs played with fire throughout their loss to the Cougars and proved themselves quite capable of being mentioned along with the other elites at the top of the conference, the Lobos were able to finish out in front of a wild and raucous Pit crowd. After the Lobos led for 20 straight minutes, the Cougs came back to tie the game at 46 early in the second half, but they weren’t able to grab the lead back until around the three-minute mark on a deep (26-feet or so) three by Fredette. Then, sophomore guard Philip McDonald hit a tough runner with the shot-clock running out, got fouled, and knocked down the free throw. Sophomore forward A.J. Hardeman followed that up with an offensive stick-back. Gary added a 45-foot drive in the halfcourt that led to a finger roll, then proceeded to knock down multiple clutch free throws down the stretch as the Lobos handed BYU their first conference loss.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Utah @ BYU, Saturday January 30th, The MTN. The MWC quiets down slightly this week, as both New Mexico and UNLV only play once, but the Marriott Center will be jumping on Saturday night for the Holy War. While the Utes probably don’t have the firepower or the consistency to be able to take down the Cougars, especially coming off their first loss, you can bet there will be plenty of intensity on display as they attempt it.

League Notes:

Next week at this time, the first half of the conference season will be in the books and the teams will turn the corner and start looking towards the conference tournament and postseason play. While BYU and New Mexico appear to be locks to get into the NCAA tournament (RPIs of 19 and 12, respectively and KenPom ratings of 4 and 41), and UNLV has positioned themselves well to get a third MWC bid (RPI 35, KenPom 53), San Diego State (RPI 43, KenPom 65) will need to make a run in the second half of their year, and likely add another quality win or two (over either BYU, New Mexico or UNLV) to be strongly considered.  Even if they achieve that, it could be at the expense of UNLV. The Aztecs’ best non-conference win was over Arizona, and although they added a win over New Mexico in the MWC opener, their tight loss to BYU at the Viejas Center on Saturday night may come back to haunt them on Selection Sunday.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: The Cougars went on the road this week for a couple of tough conference games, and while they came away with their first conference loss, they probably feel okay about the week’s outcomes. The roadtrip started with a visit to San Diego State on Saturday, and the Cougars came out hot, building up a 22-10 lead early before the Aztecs came storming back. BYU responded with a 15-0 run midway through the second half to seemingly put the game away before the Aztecs came back again. But in the end, Fredette hit a great swooping scoop shot in the lane near the end of the shotclock with under 30 seconds to play, and sophomore swing Charles Abouo got a big block on the defensive end to seal the game for the Cougars. While things didn’t turn out that way in Albuquerque on Wednesday (detailed in the Game of the Week section above), the Cougars fought hard in likely the toughest environment they will encounter this season and were right there within three in the last minute. The youngest Cougs didn’t play very well against New Mexico (freshman Tyler Haws, for instance, was just three of eight from the field), and junior guard Jackson Emery remains mired in a slump (4-19 from the field and just 1-13 from behind the arc this week), but while a trip to Vegas looms on the not-too-distant horizon, the back-half of the conference schedule is a bit easier than the front.

Looking ahead: BYU hosts Utah and TCU this week before heading to UNLV on February 6th.

New Mexico

Looking back: The win against BYU was the big story of the week, but it wouldn’t have meant much had the Lobos slipped up against Colorado State last Saturday. Coach Steve Alford made sure his team didn’t look past the Rams, and the Lobos dominated on the glass (48-30), then went on a big 16-1 run before the end of the first half to get the Lobos most of the way to their 82-64 victory. The Lobos have had several players step up from week to week to take the reigns for this squad this year.  It was McDonald in the first couple games, then junior swing Darington Hobson made his presence known; senior forward Roman Martinez led the team in scoring four straight games in early December, and Hardeman turned it on at the start of conference play.  But this week was all Gary, not only leading the team in scoring and assists, but knocking down clutch free throws all over the place, hitting 22 of his whopping 27 free throw attempts this week, and harassing BYU’s Fredette and Haws into just 11-29 shooting.

Looking ahead: The Lobos wrap up their MWC front nine (er, um… eight?) with a visit to TCU on Saturday, then get a week to prepare for San Diego State on February 6th.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels’ duo of Willis and Chace Stanback continue to lead the way, Willis contributing 21.5 PPG and Stanback averaging 15.5 PPG this week in wins at TCU and at home against Air Force. But the big news of the week was junior swing Derrick Jasper spraining his left MCL in the Air Force win, an injury likely to sideline Jasper all of February, pushing his return right up against the start of the MWC tournament. The Rebels responded well to the Jasper injury, outscoring the Falcons 39-26 in the second half on their way to a 10-point come-from-behind victory, sparked by junior guard Kendall Wallace hitting his first four threes of the second half. With the BYU loss on Wednesday, the Rebels move within a game (in the loss column) of first place.

Looking ahead: Short week for the Rebs, but a long trip to Wyoming awaits. Then they return home to host BYU in what figures to be a fight for first place.

San Diego State

Looking back: It was only a one-game week, but it was a tough one for the Aztecs. In an up-again, down-again battle against BYU on Saturday, the buzzer went off with the Aztecs on the down-again side. While the Aztecs dominated BYU inside (40-18 margin in points-in-the-paint), they were unable to get to the line — in fact, both teams combined for only 18 free throws, a stat that made for a very fun game to watch — and were unable to control Fredette, who went for 33 points on 11-19 shooting and 5-8 from behind the arc. While SDSU has gotten tons of production out of its front line, their backcourt play has been inconsistent. They haven’t had a guard notch more than five assists this month, junior point D.J. Gay is shooting just 37% from the field this season, and has only a 1.6-to-1 assist to turnover ratio thus far. While it seems certain that head coach Steve Fisher will stick with Gay at the point, freshman Chase Tapley may be the better option. Tapley shoots 48% from the field, has a 2.1 A/TO ratio, defends better, rebounds better, and has significantly better offensive efficiency numbers than Gay. If the Aztecs hope to make a serious run at the NCAA tournament, moving to Tapley as their primary point guard seems to be a necessary move. But don’t hold your breath waiting on that move.

Looking ahead: SDSU travels to Colorado State on Saturday before returning to the Mesa to host Air Force on Tuesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: This was the type of week that the Rams can expect most of the rest of the way. Face a team like New Mexico, expect a loss; face a team like TCU, gut out a win. Coach Tim Miles has done an excellent job of getting the most out of his group of players, a somewhat limited bunch. So, this week, after the Rams were shut down offensively and destroyed on the glass by a more talented and athletic New Mexico team, they rededicated themselves to working on the glass and getting some easy hoops against TCU. The results? Junior forward Andy Ogide grabbed ten boards to go with 14 points, junior forward Travis Franklin added nine boards and freshman forward Greg Smith got six more to go with a career-high 15 points as CSU controlled the game inside, outscoring TCU in the paint 32-14 and scoring 16 points off TCU turnovers.

Looking ahead: The Rams host San Diego State on Saturday, then travel to Salt Lake City to face the Utes on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back: Yup. We said it here last week, just like we said it here a month or so back. Utah is as capable of beating a top-notch team (as they did when they beat UNLV on the road on January 16th) as they were of losing to a bottom-feeder. Well, they lost to their bottom feeder, losing to Wyoming on Wednesday, even though it was in Laramie. What’s more, they lost to Wyoming while the Cowboys’ best player watched with a knee injury. More and more, it looks like the Utes’ main problem (and clearly their problems are plural) is at the point. While they are not a great shooting team, they have players that can score (witness junior Carlon Brown’s 31 – including a strong 22 in the second half – against Wyoming, and freshman Marshall Henderson’s 22 earlier in the week in a win over Air Force), but they just don’t have a guy who is a born distributor. Brown and senior Luka Drca have made the effort, but they just aren’t capable of running the point at this level. Unfortunately for coach Jim Boylen, there isn’t a ready point who is going to walk through the door this season, so the Utes will have to make do with what they have.

Looking ahead: The Utes travel down the road to Provo for the basketball version of the Holy War on Saturday night, then return home to host Colorado State on Wednesday.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs opened their week by hosting UNLV on Saturday, and they gave the favored Rebels a bit of a scare. With just over a minute to play, senior forward Zvonko Buljan converted a three-point play to bring TCU within a bucket at 72-70. Unfortunately for the Frogs, UNLV scored the last seven points of the game (all on free throws) to seal the win. While TCU stayed in the game on the strength of their three-point shooting (11-27 from three), they were unable to stop the Rebels inside of the arc, allowing UNLV to shoot an amazing 74% on two-point field goals. Jim Christian’s squad then traveled from Fort Worth to Fort Collins to face CSU on Wednesday, but Buljan failed to make the trip due to “personal reasons.” TCU could have used him as they fell by six to the Rams and shot just 35% from the field along the way. Sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss had 21 in a losing cause, but only two of those 21 came in the second half.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts New Mexico on Saturday, and Buljan remains questionable to play in that game, although coach Christian reports that he is healthy. The Frogs will then wrap up a rough week with a road trip to BYU on Wednesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: Last week at this time, the extent of the injury was not known. Now, however, with Muojeke out for the season, it is time for the Cowboys to see who is going to step up and carry the team down the stretch as coach Heath Schroyer tries to find some players to build around for the future. Waddell and Jackson were the first to throw their hats in the ring, but junior forward Djibril Thiam (16 points), sophomore guard A.J. Davis (10 points) and sophomore guard JayDee Luster (five assists) all contributed strong games in Wyoming’s win over Utah on Wednesday. With only one senior on the team (forward Ryan Dermody), the Cowboys will have a chance to get some much needed experience for players up and down the roster in the second half of the conference season.

Looking ahead: Wyoming faces Air Force on Saturday before traveling to UNLV on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: After six long weeks watching, senior forward and leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker finally returned from injury for the Falcons this week, and his impact was immediately felt. While Parker only played 15 minutes in a loss to Utah on Saturday, he returned to play 31 minutes at UNLV on Tuesday. Parker has not yet returned to form he showed early in the season, but he did contribute 11 points and seven rebounds in the what was the Falcons’ best performance of the conference season, a ten-point loss to UNLV. No one expects Parker’s presence to spark the Falcons to a wild second-half run to the .500 mark, but it will be interesting to see what this Falcon team looks like when healthy. The combination of Parker and junior guard Evan Washington was solid early in the season, and the addition of some now more seasoned younger players who got some run in Parker’s stead (such as freshman Mike Fitzgerald, junior Derek Brooks and junior Tom Fow) could give Air Force a chance to trip up some of the middle-of-the-pack teams.

Looking ahead: The Falcons get to test out that theory right-quick, as they host Wyoming on Saturday, before traveling to San Diego State on Tuedsay.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 22nd, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/21):

  1. BYU                                        19-1                       4-0
  2. New Mexico                      17-3                       3-2
  3. UNLV                                     15-4                       3-2
  4. San Diego State                14-5                       3-2
  5. Colorado State                  11-7                       2-2
  6. TCU                                        10-9                       2-2
  7. Utah                                      9-9                          2-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-11                       1-4
  9. Air Force                              8-9                          0-4

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Two road games (albeit against the eight and ninth place teams in the conference) and two road wins, getting back on track and breaking out of their shooting slump in a big way, knocking down 13 of their 27 three-point attempts against Air Force on Wednesday.

Player of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State. Thomas, a transfer from Pepperdine in his first year with the Aztecs, had a huge week for Steve Fisher, putting in 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out six assists in a home win against TCU before going for a career high 23 points and ripping down 13 rebounds in a road win at Utah on Tuesday as the Aztecs got right back into the picture at the top of the standings in a bunch of teams with two losses.

Newcomer of the Week. Thomas. I suppose if you’re the POTW, and you’re a newcomer, you’re also the Newcomer of the Week. Special mention to freshman Tyler Haws of BYU, who has turned into a legitimate second offensive threat for the conference-leading Cougars.

Game of the Week. San Diego State 70, Utah 68. After Utah knocked off UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday, they came back home knowing that things were not going to get a whole lot easier. And with the MWC POTW spending most of the game hanging out above the rim, grabbing rebounds, sending back opposing shots, throwing down dunks, slipping in layups around Utah’s seven-foot-five sophomore center David Foster and generally dominating the paint, the Aztecs definitely gave the Utes all they could handle. And yet, down the stretch, with the Aztecs trying to seal off a victory, the free throws clanged off the rim left and right (SDSU was 10-23 from the line over the course of the game, and just 5-11 in the final two minutes). A desperation three by junior guard Carlon Brown at the buzzer, however,  rattled off the rim and the Aztecs pulled off a key road win to wrap up a 2-0 week in the MWC.

Games of the Upcoming Week. BYU @ San Diego State, January 23rd , The MTN and BYU @ New Mexico, January 27th, The MTN. While the Cougars are off to a 4-0 start in conference, most of that damage was done in front of the home crowd at the Marriott Center. But Dave Rose and company will have to take their act on the road to face two teams sitting in the pack just behind BYU. If BYU can come through this week unscathed, you can pencil them in as the one seed in Vegas in March.

League Notes:

A couple weeks worth of conference play is in the rearview mirror, and those standings are starting to look like we expected them to look now: BYU at the top, a pack including UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State sitting within striking distance, a pack in the middle including Utah, and Wyoming and Air Force bringing up the rear. While there will be some type of shuffling throughout the year, expect those tiers to remain relatively intact.

Also of note, this week’s Utah/Wyoming game will be the last MWC game that will not be televised on either The MTN, CBS College Sports Network or Versus.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: BYU had a couple of home games against middle-of-the-pack MWC teams this week, and coasted, winning by an average of 29.5 points. The week started with a matchup with Colorado State, a battle between the final two teams with undefeated conference records. While the Rams hung around through a few TV timeouts, the Cougars posted a 12-0 run heading into the break and then went on to post a 53-25 second half romp on their way to a 44-point thrashing of CSU. They followed that up with a solid 15-point victory over Wyoming and now sit on the verge of a 20-win season before February even arrives. While junior guard Jimmer Fredette’s return from mono to have a solid week may be the most important news of the week, the continued development of Haws may be just as important to BYU’s hopes come March. This week, Haws posted a new career high of 24 points against Wyoming, and also added 11 against CSU.

Looking ahead: As mentioned above in our Game of the Upcoming Week section, this is a huge week for the Cougars with two road games against very good competition in front of very unwelcoming crowds, at San Diego State on Saturday, then at New Mexico on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: While the opponents weren’t impressive, and the Lobos continued to struggle at times, the outcomes of the game (two road wins) vaulted New Mexico back up the standings and gave them new confidence. Sophomore guard Philip McDonald was the hottest Lobo this week, averaging 20 points per game and knocking down ten threes in the process, including a career high seven as the Lobos caught fire from behind the arc in the second half against Air Force on Wednesday, after their shooting woes had continued against Wyoming on Saturday (3-19 from three). But, it was the Lobo defense that saved the day against the Cowboys as they forced 23 turnovers on the game, including turnovers on three straight possession after the Cowboys came back to tie the score at 58. New Mexico converted those three turnovers into six points and never looked back, eking out a two-point road victory.

Looking ahead: Back to the home-court advantage of The Pit, as the Lobos will host Colorado State on Saturday before hosting conference-leader BYU on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels emerge from the week with a 1-1 record, and remain right in the thick of things at the top of the MWC standings, but their play this week was less than impressive. While junior guard Tre’Von Willis provided most of the offensive spark for the Rebels this week (24 PPG, plus six rebounds and four assists in a loss to Utah on Saturday), it was sophomore forward Chace Stanback who took the biggest step forward this week, going for 14/10 against Utah, then pouring in 19 points, including 15 in the second half as the Rebels withstood Colorado State in Fort Collins. However, all the weaknesses that are apparent in UNLV’s lineup were on display this week, as the team went 1/12 from three in their loss at Utah and turning the ball over 16 times in allowing CSU to hang around. While Willis and Stanback have turned into the lead duo for the Rebels and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield is an excellent leader, there is precious little consistency beyond those three and that will need to change should UNLV hope to be a serious threat for the MWC title.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to TCU on Saturday, then host Air Force on Tuesday as the schedule lightens up a bit before round two of the MWC home-and-home round robin.

San Diego State

Looking back: The main takeaway from this week is a 2-0 record, including the tough road win at the Huntsman Center detailed above in our Game of the Week section. Before that, however, the Aztecs also added a home win against TCU, during which the Aztecs defense forced 20 TCU turnovers and limited the Horned Frogs to just six free throw attempts (compared to SDSU’s 25). However, as things start to tighten up as we head towards March, the Aztecs know they will have to shoot their free throws better. Over the week, the Aztecs made just 25 of their 48 free throw attempts, and over the season they rank 344th in Division I in free throw percentage, just 58.4%, a weakness that could prove deadly in close games.

Looking ahead: Just one game for the Aztecs this week, but it is a doozy as they host BYU at the Mesa on Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: A week ago at this time, the Rams were undefeated and riding high. Two losses to two of the conference’s power teams later, and CSU is back where they deserve to be: right in the middle of the MWC pack. The Rams got exposed as pretenders to the MWC crown when they visited Provo on Saturday, failing to show up at all in the second half, but to head coach Tim Miles’ credit, he had his kids ready to play at home against UNLV on Wednesday. The Rams held tight all night, forced 16 turnovers, got 20 points (including five threes) from freshman point Dorian Green, but wound up losing the game at the free throw line, making just 16 of their 28 free throw attempts while UNLV his 19 of their 23. It was made pretty clear this week that the Rams are not up to the level of the top teams in the conference, but they seem to be very capable of finishing atop the middle-of-the-pack tier.

Looking ahead: If the one-two punch of BYU/UNLV wasn’t enough, the Rams get an extra course with a trip to New Mexico on Saturday. On Wednesday, things will settle down a little as the Rams get to pick on someone their own size as they host TCU in what should be an evenly-matched battle.

TCU

Looking back: TCU’s lone conference game of the week was a trip out west to face San Diego State on Saturday, and  for a half at least things looked pretty good. The Horned Frogs were on fire in the first session, hitting 70% of their shots and six of their eight threes on the way to a nine-point halftime lead. However, they couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half, knocking down only seven of their 21 field goal attempts (although six of those seven makes were from behind the arc) and they were outscored by 14 in the second half. While the Frogs still wound up shooting at a 55% clip from behind the arc in the game, they turned the ball over 20 times and only got to the free throw line six times. On Wednesday, Jim Christian’s squad wrapped up non-conference play with a date with Texas-Pan American, and without a doubt the coach got in their ears about not relying on the three-point shot, as the Horned Frogs made a whopping 73% of their shots inside the arc on their way to a 12-point win. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss bounced back from some unsteady play last week by handing out 21 dimes this week, and senior forward Zvonko Buljan added 11.5 PPG and 9 RPG.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts UNLV on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back: This is the type of week we have predicted all along for Utah, knocking off an upper-echelon team on the road, then backing it up with a home loss. This Ute team remains only predictable in their inconsistency, and at some point this season, they will throw up a loss to Wyoming or Air Force or TCU just to prove it. In an upset victory at UNLV on Saturday, the Utes looked like a solid, veteran squad, hitting half of their field goals in the second half, hitting half of their threes over the course of the game and knocking down seven of their eight free throws in the final 90 seconds to withstand a late charge by the Rebels. They got balanced scoring (four players in double figures), they rebounded well, they played solid defense, they got six blocks from Foster, Brown knocked down some clutch threes, freshman guard Marshall Henderson added five more threes and they held on for a four point win. Three nights later, playing in front of a supportive Huntsman Center crowd, well, let’s just say things didn’t work out. They shot only 23% from the field in the first half, and despite SDSU’s best try at giving the game away (detailed in our MWC Game of the Week section above), Utah came away with a split over the week.

Looking ahead: Looking at the schedule, this looks to be a good week for the Utes, as they host Air Force before heading to Laramie to face Wyoming on Wednesday. Knowing this Utah team, don’t be surprised if they shoot 24% from the field for a game and drop one of these.

Wyoming

Looking back: Heath Schroyer had to know coming into the week that this was going to be a tough week, facing two of the elite teams in the conference. While the Cowboys played New Mexico tough in Laramie on Saturday, losing by just two despite turning the ball over 23 times, things took a bad turn early in Wednesday’s game in Provo when sophomore swing Afam Muojeke went down with a knee injury early in the first half and didn’t return. Wyoming never seemed to recover emotionally from that blow, and that combined with another 17 turnovers led to a 15-point loss at Wyoming. As of Thursday, the extent of Muojeke’s injury was not yet known, although he did miss four games earlier this year with a bruised knee.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Utah on Wednesday in their only game of the week.

Air Force

Looking back: Different week, same Air Force story; another loss (to New Mexico by 23 on Wednesday), and another injury report. Senior forward Mike McLain returned from his concussion and got 21 minutes in the New Mexico game and senior guard Avery Merriex continues to play through a broken nose after returning from a concussion. Still no sign of nor report on senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury) or sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion). While this Falcon team never had a chance to be an elite MWC team, it would have been interesting to see where this team could have finished with a full complement of players and they could still be capable of springing an upset or two if they ever get back near full strength. Junior guard Evan Washington did break out of a slump a bit this week with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists against the Lobos.

Looking ahead: At Utah on Saturday and at UNLV on Tuesday. Looks like another brutal week for the Falcons.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/14):

  1. BYU                                        17-1                       2-0
  2. Colorado State                  11-5                       2-0
  3. UNLV                                     14-3                       2-1
  4. TCU                                        9-8                          2-1
  5. Utah                                      8-8                          1-1
  6. New Mexico                      15-3                       1-2
  7. San Diego State                12-5                       1-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-9                          1-2
  9. Air Force                              8-8                          0-3

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. UNLV. The Rebels started the week 0-1 in conference, with a trip to The Pit looming and tough matchup with San Diego State in their home opener to follow. As we stand now, the Rebels have a two-game winning streak, hae started to have players find their consistent roles and have shown themselves to be the main challenger to BYU’s MWC-favorite role.

Player of the Week. Tre’Von Willis, Jr, UNLV. Willis was strong all week, while averaging 21.5 PPG in UNLV’s two wins, but he really won this award in the second half of the San Diego State game on Wednesday night, when he went for 17 of his 23 points, including nine straight about ten minutes into the half to break open a 50-50 tie and send UNLV on their way to a victory.

Newcomer of the Week. Brandon Davies, Fr, BYU. With the Cougars’ leading scorer, junior point guard Jimmer Fredette, limited by strep throat and mononucleosis this week, Dave Rose needed someone to step up and contribute. And, as has happened repeatedly this season for BYU, the call was heeded, this time by Davies — an energetic, athletic power forward. Davies tossed in 14 impressive points against UTEP on Saturday, including eight straight after the Miners cut the BYU lead to two with just under six minutes to play. Davies followed up that performance with his first double-double of his college career against Air Force on Wednesday, notching 11 points while grabbing ten rebounds.

Game of the Week. Wyoming 85, San Diego State 83. With just under five minutes remaining on Saturday night, Wyoming fans at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie were gathering their belongings to head out into the cold, if they hadn’t left already. Their Cowboys were on their way to their second straight home conference loss to start the season, down 14 to San Diego State, after having previously shaved their 14-point halftime deficit to as little as three early in the half. However, when Aztec freshman forward Kawhi Leonard missed an ill-advised three on one end, and Cowboy sophomore swing Afam Muojeke drilled a three on the other, Cowboy fans on the fence about leaving were given some reason to stick around. Then freshman guard Arthur Buoedo picked the pocket of Aztec senior point D.J. Gay, and Muojeke dropped in a pull-up three to cut the lead to eight. Long story short, when sophomore point JayDee Luster knocked down his second three in the last minute (and third in the last three minutes), the Cowboys had finished off a startling comeback, coming all the way back to knock off the Aztecs, 85-83.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Colorado State @ BYU, January 16th, The MTN. The two MWC teams who remain undefeated in conference play meet up Saturday night in Provo. While the Cougars have shown they are a team to be reckoned with, both in-conference and nationally, the Rams still have quite a bit to prove, having earned their undefeated conference record at the expense of the lower end of the conference.

League Notes:

Every team has now started conference play in the MWC, and while there is a lot of basketball left, we can draw some conclusions about the relative strength of teams from their early conference and non-conference play. Thus far, BYU remains the favorite, with UNLV just a half-step behind. While the Rebels did fight the Cougars to the bitter end in Provo, BYU was at less than full strength due to Fredette’s illness. New Mexico and San Diego State are both young and talented teams that can put together phenomenal games from time to time, but may lack the consistency to compete for a conference title. However, both squads are in excellent position with regards to their tournament resumes, with the Lobos having an edge over the Aztecs due to their non-conference play. In the middle of the pack, Utah and Colorado State look to be the next tier of teams, with Air Force, TCU and Wyoming bringing up the rear.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: The story of the week for the Cougs has continued to be Fredette’s battle with strep throat and mono. Fredette missed the UTEP game on Saturday, but did return to face Air Force on Wednesday, albeit in a limited role off the bench. However, in his stead, other players have taken over when called upon. It was Jonathan Tavernari in the conference opener against UNLV last week. Davies played well enough to earn Newcomer of the Week honors, but freshman Tyler Haws was right on his heels, averaging 15 PPG this week and matching two career highs on Saturday with 20 points and 11 rebounds in El Paso. And it was junior guard Jackson Emery on Wednesday night, dropping 21 points and five three-pointers against Air Force.

Looking ahead: The Cougars get to stay close to home this week, hosting Colorado State in our MWC Game of the Week on Saturday and Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams had just one game this week, and made the most of it in their home conference opener against Air Force on Saturday. While both teams struggled a bit in the first half (CSU 39% from the field, AF 26%), shots started to fall in the 2nd half, with the Rams shooting 65% and the Falcons hitting 62%. But whether the teams were shooting hot or cold, the Rams were clearly the better team, outscoring the Falcons by 11 in each half behind scrappy defense (forced 18 AF turnovers), solid offense (only nine Ram turnovers), aggressive play (CSU got to the line 27 times, compared to Air Force’s 11 free throw attempts) and balanced offensive production (junior forward Andy Ogide led all scorers with 13, junior Travis Franklin added another 11).

Looking ahead: The Rams put their undefeated conference record (earned by beating possibly the two worst teams in the conference) on the line against some significantly more stout competition, with a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday and a chance to host UNLV on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s two wins this week vaulted them back up the conference standings, but it is the manner in which it happened that likely most pleases head coach Lon Krueger. While the Rebels got a strong week out of our conference POTW Willis, they also got an excellent week out of sophomore forward Chace Stanback, who averaged 16/7 and showed a command of the offense that had been missing earlier in the season. Throw in junior guard Derrick Jasper stuffing the stat sheet wherever needed, junior guard Kendall Wallace knocking down seven threes in Albuquerque, and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield handing out 13 assists over the week and this Rebel team seems to be coming together just in time to make a strong conference run.

Looking ahead: UNLV hosts Utah on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State to face a Ram team currently tied for first in the conference.

TCU

Looking back: TCU has been maddeningly inconsistent so far this year, thus far having failed to put together more than a two-game win streak, or even a two-game losing streak. So, this week’s results shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise: a blowout loss on the road at Utah on Saturday and a squeaker win over Wyoming at home on Tuesday. Against Utah, leading scorers sophomore Ronnie Moss and senior Zvonko Buljan combined to shoot 4-23 from the field as the team was outscored 36-21 in the second half, allowing Utah to pull away to a 20-point win. The Horned Frogs did bounce back against Wyoming, holding off a charge at the end by the Cowboys and getting 22 points from senior swingman Edvinas Ruzgas. But, Moss’ poor shooting (and perhaps poor decision-making) continued as he put up 14 three-point attempts and made only three, while turning the ball over three times.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to San Diego to face the Aztecs on Saturday before returning home to host Texas-Pan American in the MWC’s final non-conference game of the regular season.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes had to wait the longest to get their conference play underway, but they were well-prepared when they did, as they handed TCU a 20-point loss at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. Senior guard Luka Drca scored all 14 of his game-high points in the second half as Utah outscored the Horned Frogs by 15 in the second half. However, the Utes then walked into a hornet’s nest on Wednesday as they visited 0-2 New Mexico in The Pit and came away with a 17-point beatdown. The Utes still have failed to find a consistent offensive threat. Drca followed up his opener with seven points on 3-9 shooting. Junior guard Carlon Brown scored just four points on four field goal attempts. And even freshman guard Marshall Henderson, who led the team with 12, only hit three of his 11 shots, as the team combined to shoot just 35% from the field and 58% from the line.

Looking ahead: Doesn’t get any easier for the Utes. They’ll face UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday before hosting San Diego State on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: Until conference play began, the Lobos had been a high-flying, high-octane offense, routinely scoring in the 80s on their way to a 14-1 record. But, when they opened league play at San Diego State, they put up a season-low in points, scoring only 64. And against UNLV on Saturday, the Lobos season low dropped again as they scored just 62 in The Pit behind 36% shooting from the field and 22% from behind the arc. While the Lobos were able to bounce back with a big win over Utah on Wednesday, they did so in spite of just 10-31 shooting from their big three of senior Roman Martinez and juniors Darington Hobson and Dairese Gary. Head coach Steve Alford has to be pleased with his team’s ability to win games even when the shots aren’t falling (done on Wednesday by both making more free throws than their opponent took and putting together two killer runs – a 10-0 run to close the first half and a 13-1 run late in the second half to put the game away), but heads will rest much lighter around Albuquerque when the shooting percentages go back up.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a chance to feast on some of the weaker teams of the MWC this week, but they’ll have to do it on the road, traveling to Wyoming on Saturday and Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: After collapsing in the last five minutes of their game at Wyoming on Saturday (detailed above), the young Aztecs didn’t have a lot of time to regroup, having to travel to Vegas to face the Rebels on Wednesday. But, the troubles that plagued SDSU in their loss at Laramie followed them down the Rockies, namely, turning the ball over too much (39 turnovers in their two games this week) and failing to finish games (getting outscored by 16 in the second half of both games). Leonard continued his strong play this week, averaging 19/11, but has been inconsistent as well, turning the ball over six times against Wyoming and making some questionable decisions at time. Gay has also struggled a bit this week, especially against the talented backcourt of UNLV, turning the ball over five times and failing to get his offense running smoothly for long stretches.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs return to Montezuma Mesa to host TCU on Saturday before traveling to Salt Lake City to face Utah on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys avoided the dreaded 0-2 conference start at home on Saturday by roaring back from 14 down with under five minutes to play to knock off San Diego State. Muojeke had 10 points in the final five minutes (on his way to 30 for the game) and sophomore point guard Luster added nine points, all on three, in the same time span as part of a 24-8 run to win the game. The Cowboys tried to catch lightning in a bottle twice in one week at TCU on Tuesday, falling behind against by as much as 14, rallying to within a point following a Muojeke three-point play with 35 seconds left, but failing to convert three field goal attempts down the stretch in a 62-59 loss.

Looking ahead: A scary week looms for Heath Schroyer and his squad, as the Cowboys will host a hungry 0-2 New Mexico team on Saturday before traveling to Provo to face BYU on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons are still playing severely short-handed with three starters out, but did get some good news this week as senior forward Mike McLain and senior guard Avery Merriex were both able to return from concussions (at least temporarily in McLain’s case – he played on Saturday, but skipped Wednesday’s game). That little bit of good news, however, was tempered by the results on the court, as Air Force lost to Colorado State and BYU by a combined 40 points. The Falcons did get some production out of freshman swingman Mike Fitzgerald (who hit seven threes during the week), but a team that was already likely the least talented team in the league with a full roster desperately needs to get healthy in order to compete in the MWC.

Looking ahead: With still no firm date as to the potential returns of senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury), sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion) or sophomore swingman Taylor Stewart (broken wrist, out until mid-February at least), the Falcons will have to forge ahead, hosting New Mexico on Saturday in their only game of the week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/7)

  1. BYU                                        15-1                       1-0
  2. San Diego State                12-3                       1-0
  3. Colorado State                  10-5                       1-0
  4. TCU                                        8-7                          1-0
  5. Utah                                      7-7                          0-0
  6. New Mexico                      14-2                       0-1
  7. UNLV                                     12-3                       0-1
  8. Air Force                              8-6                          0-1
  9. Wyoming                            7-8                          0-1

Superlatives

Team of the Week. BYU – The Cougars not only continued to prove they were a MWC title contender this week, but they did so in true team fashion, having bench players step up and make big contributions in the absence of some stars. With junior guard Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery both missing some time this week, BYU had guys like junior point Michael Loyd Jr and sophomore forward Noah Hartsock (not to mention a familiar name we’ll mention one paragraph down) step up and carry the team to a big win over UNLV in their conference opener, following a drubbing of overmatched Eastern New Mexico. With Fredette and Emery’s health issues considered to be minor (both played in the UNLV game, but were limited), the confidence gained by some of these role players will only strengthen BYU’s chances in the long run.

Player of the Week. Jonathan Tavernari, Sr, BYU. Tavernari has made the All-MWC Third Team for two years running, following his Freshman of the Year award three years back, and this season was a consensus First Team All-MWC selection. However, the Brazilian Bomber got off to a rough start and had his confidence shaken early, and by the end of December, he was coming off the bench, and even then only for spot minutes and to very little effect. Against UNLV, that all changed, for one night at least. With Fredette severely limited in the second half, and with the Rebels threatening to steal the conference opener at the Marriott Center, JT came through big with 14 of his 17 points in the second half, adding in nine rebounds and igniting the crowd and the rest of his team as the Cougars held off the visitors. Much credit to Tavernari for shrugging off his early struggles, remaining a team player despite his sagging minutes and showing great senior leadership in a key early-conference battle.

Newcomer of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State – This transfer from Pepperdine was all set to take home the POTW honors until Tavernari’s performance late Wednesday night. But Thomas’ effort in defending the Aztec home court advantage against New Mexico in the conference opener should not be diminished. Thomas posted 18 points and 15 rebounds, and had a run of seven straight often spectacular points as SDSU pulled away from New Mexico late in the game on Tuesday. Thomas has teamed with freshman Kawhi Leonard to give the Aztecs a formidable interior presence in the paint, averaging 18 rebounds a game between the two newcomers.

Game of the Week. BYU 77, UNLV 73 – As the Cougars and Rebels come down the stretch on Wednesday night, reigning MWC POTW Fredette can do nothing more than watch, sidelined by strep throat and an allergic reaction to some medicine. The Rebs build up a bit of a lead, but the Cougars get back-to-back threes by Tavernari and freshman Tyler Haws to go back up by one. UNLV fights back and builds up a five point lead as junior guard Tre’Von Willis looks to be on the verge of taking over, but BYU comes back again, regains the lead on another Tavernari three, Loyd hits an acrobatic off-balance layup, Emery hits a tough jumper from the free-throw line at the end of a hectic possession and when all is said and done, the Cougars had put together an 11-2 run to wrest control of the game away and wrap up a tough victory in their conference opener.

Games of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ New Mexico, January 9th,  Vs. – One of these two teams, both considered contenders for the MWC title and possible at-large NCAA tournament berths, will start out the MWC 0-2. While it wouldn’t be a death knell for either squad (and for the Rebels starting out the conference schedule with two road games against two of the four best teams in the conference never looked to be a picnic), nobody in either program wants to deal with that situation. This game will be as vicious as an early-January MWC game can be.

League Notes

  • As has been noted since before the season began, this is a very young league with newcomers littering rosters around the conference. With conference play beginning, all those fresh faces are getting their first taste of what it means to play on the road in raucous unfriendly arenas. While some newcomers have taken to the challenge with relative ease (see Colorado State’s freshman guard Dorian Green going for 15 points and three threes in leading his Rams to a road win), others have yet to find their footing (see New Mexico’s JuCo transfer Darington Hobson hitting just four of his 17 shots and turning the ball over five times in a road loss at San Diego State). While a conference championship cannot be won this early in the season, a team that is unprepared to play on the road could lose one awful early.
  • With conference play underway for everyone except Utah, the MWC has just about wrapped up its non-conference slate, although BYU still has a trip to UTEP this weekend and TCU will host Texas-Pan American (1/20). The MWC has posted a 89-38 record thus far against the rest of the country and is 11-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups

BYU

Looking back: After mopping up the Marriott Center floor with Eastern New Mexico last Saturday, a game in which neither Fredette nor Emery played, the Cougars took care of UNLV in their conference opener in a game detailed in the Game of the Week section above. BYU has shown themselves to be a very deep team thus far, with eight players having scored in double figures thus far and five different players leading the team in rebounding for a game.

Looking ahead: BYU will wrap up their non-conference play this weekend with a tough road trip to El Paso to face the athletic Miners before continuing their MWC play with a trip to Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs got their MWC season underway in strong fashion, knocking off New Mexico in their opener behind a monster performance by Thomas who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, including seven straight points as the Aztecs pulled away from New Mexico late on Tuesday. While it was an impressive win, it didn’t come without some bad news, as junior forward and Aztec leading scorer Billy White went down with a high ankle sprain late in the first half. White’s status for the immediate future is not presently known. Earlier in the week, the Aztecs wrapped up their non-conference season with a standard-issue drubbing of Division II also-ran Pomona-Pitzer.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs will spend the next week on the road, visiting Wyoming on Saturday, then heading to UNLV on Wednesday before heading home to host TCU next Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: CSU opened its MWC season by going on the road to Wyoming and controlling the game from start to finish on the way to a ten point win. Four Rams scored in double figures, led by junior forward Andy Ogide who had 22 points, six rebounds and three steals. The Rams shot 60% from the field in the second half and got three three-pointers  each from Green and junior guard Adam Nigon. The Rams also added a 22-point victory over Yale last weekend, but got some bad news this week as sophomore guard Jesse Carr decided to petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt for this season due to a stress fracture in his pelvis that he suffered at the end of last season.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Air Force on Saturday, then get the week off to prepare for a trip to Provo to face the Cougars next Saturday.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs coasted through an easy first half in the conference opener against Air Force on Wednesday, taking a 13 point lead into the locker room, but needed an 11-0 run after the Falcons came back to tie the game at 44 just before the final television timeout in order to defend their home court. While the outcome looked pretty for coach Jim Christian’s squad, the game was anything but. TCU shot just 38% from the field on the night and hit just five of their 21 three-point attempts, but did manage to take care of the ball, turning the ball over just nine times. Senior Zvonko Buljan continues to lead the team, throwing up 14 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday and adding another 12 points and nine rebounds in a 12-point non-conference victory over Rice last Saturday.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to Utah for the Utes’ conference opener on Saturday, then host Wyoming on Tuesday night.

Utah

Looking back: Utah wrapped up its nonconference schedule on Saturday with an exciting come-from-behind victory over the Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge. The Utes were able to dodge great performances by senior forward Tasmin Mitchell (19pts, 12rebs) and junior forward Storm Warren (21pts, 9rebs) as they came from 12 back in the second half to take the lead from LSU for good on a Carlon Brown three with 1:11 remaining. Utah was led by senior guard Luka Drca, who had 14 points and five assists, sophomore center David Foster (seven blocks) and Brown, who added 12. There was some bad news for the Utes this week, however, as senior forward Kim Tillie (who went for ten points and seven rebounds against LSU), had knee surgery and is expected to be out about three weeks.

Looking ahead: Utah will be the last MWC to kick off conference play when it hosts TCU on Saturday. They will then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday and UNLV next Saturday for a couple serious conference litmus tests.

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos kicked off their conference play with a trip to the Mesa to face San Diego State on Tuesday, and looked every bit the young team playing its first conference road game. Hobson was particularly terrible, playing out of control at times and hitting only four of his 17 field goal attempts while turning the ball over five times. While the Lobos stuck around for the better part of 35 minutes, they never got their offense on track and were left behind when Aztec forward Malcolm Thomas took over. Earlier in the week, the Lobos wrapped up their non-conference play with a tight home victory over a tough Dayton team when Hobson went for 15/8/7.

Looking ahead: New Mexico gets to return to the friendly confines of The Pit for the next couple games (UNLV on Saturday and Utah on Wednesday), before traveling to face some of the lower levels of the MWC the following week.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels played their first game in almost two weeks when they lost at BYU on Wednesday night. And while they faded down the stretch, not scoring a field goal in the last 5:55, they certainly looked sharp early, holding BYU to just 27% shooting in the first half. However, the Rebels were outrebounded by the Cougars on both ends of the floor and failed to get much offensively from anyone but Willis, who had 24 points despite seven turnovers.  Sophomore point Oscar Bellfield was strong as well, handing out nine assists, but Vegas failed to get any consistent offensive production from the rest of their roster.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to the Pit on Saturday in a pretty huge game for this early in the conference schedule against New Mexico. They’ll then host San Diego State on Wednesday and Utah next Saturday, wrapping up a brutal start to their MWC schedule.

Air Force

Looking back: While every team in the country has injuries at this point in the season, things are starting to get ridiculous in Colorado Springs. Senior forward Mike McLain took an elbow to the head late in their conference-opening loss to TCU on Wednesday night, and came away with a concussion for his troubles, likely keeping him out of the Falcons next game, making him the fourth Falcon currently on the injured list. Leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker has missed the last seven games (and remains doubtful). Sophomore center Sammy Schafer hasn’t played since late November due to complications with a concussion. Senior guard Avery Merriex is just another Falcon starter with a concussion, but throw in a broken nose for a raise. And sophomore swing and part-time starter Taylor Stewart will be out for the next six weeks after having surgery on a broken wrist this week.

Looking ahead: Things don’t figure to get a whole lot easier for the Air Force MASH squad, as they travel to Colorado State on Saturday then return home to face BYU on Wednesday. If any of the injured Falcons is likely to play in either of those games, it is Merriex, who at least traveled with the team to the TCU game, unlike Parker, Schafer and Stewart.

Wyoming

Looking back: Four games into the MWC season, and the Cowboys are the only team to lose a home game. In fact, they are the only team in the conference (aside from Utah, who has yet to play) that have never led in a conference game as TCU led from post to pole on Wednesday (although the Cowboys kept within shouting distance much of the night). The Cowboys did get a bit of an influx of talent as redshirt freshman guard Arthur Buoedo played his first game in a Cowboy uniform against TCU (after being suspended by the NCAA for the first 14 games of the season) and contributed 15 points. Buoedo will be counted on to contribute some offense in the place of sophomore forward Afam Muojeke, who has seen his minutes decline in the wake of poor decision-making and cold shooting, getting just 18 minutes on Wednesday and making just one of his six shots.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys host San Diego State on Saturday in what becomes a very important game for a team not wanting to fall to 0-2 in the league after two home games. The Cowboys will then travel to TCU on Tuesday before returning home to host another tough home game against New Mexico.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 1st, 2010

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

Standings (as of 12/30):

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

Superlatives:

Team of the WeekNew Mexico – Hard to pick one given the slim pickings this time of year, but we’ll give the nod to New Mexico (rather than BYU for destroying Arizona in epic fashion on Monday) for handling a solid Texas Tech team in impressive fashion.  The Lobos had five players score in double figures, led by junior Darington Hobson who had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.  They led by 12 at the half, and following a brief Red Raider run to start the second half, coasted to a 15 point victory at the Pit.  Freshman wing Curtis Dennis also provided a spark with strong defense, hustle plays and 16 points along the way.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU –  Fredette got going early and often against Arizona on Tuesday night, pouring in 49 points (on 16-23 shooting, including 9-13 from three), while adding seven rebounds and nine assists for one of the most complete games that anybody across the country has put up this season.  Fredette’s explosion was the most points scored in BYU history, and the most points scored in the history of the McKale Center.

Newcomer of the Week: Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – Hobson takes home his third NOTW award from this space with his performance against Texas Tech detailed above.  He has been simply amazing at times this year, an incredibly versatile force who can grab a strong rebound at one end of the floor, weave his way up court and either find an open Lobo for an easy finish, complete the play himself with either a gliding finger-roll or a pull-up three or settle back in to run the half court offense.  If you haven’t had a chance to see Hobson yet this season, look him up when you get a chance, as all but one Lobo game the rest of the season will be televised somewhere, mostly on The MTN.

Game of the Week: Air Force 77 Niagara 71 – Okay, it was a slow week, and between some big blowout wins by MWC powers and some ugly losses, there weren’t a whole lot of contenders for this title.  We’ll give the nod here to the Falcons, who had five players score in double figures on the way to building up to a lead as big as 10.  But the Purple Eagles came strong down the stretch, pulling to within one with under a minute to play, but Air Force was able to maintain its lead by knocking down its free throws in the end.  Junior guard Evan Washington continued his strong play for the Falcons, racking up 19 points and eight boards, while junior forward Tom Fow added 17.

Games of the Upcoming Week: UNLV @ BYU, January 6th – While the MWC season opens a day earlier in San Diego, this will give us a good look at two of the contenders for the MWC crown.  Both teams feature strong perimeter games and tough defenses, but it may come down to who can control the paint and the glass with guys like BYU’s Noah Hartsock, Chris Miles and James Anderson battling it out with UNLV’s Matt Shaw, Darris Santee and Chace Stanback for interior control.

League Notes:

It’s been a slow week around the Mountain West, with only Air Force playing more than once, and with the non-conference slate wrapping up and the conference games set to begin, it is time to look at how the teams have positioned themselves with an eye towards the NCAA tournament.  The conference as a whole took a step forward with respect to their strength of the non-conference schedule, which helps the teams at the top of the conference continue to build their resumes through the conference season, but has left the bottom of the conference likely already out of the chase for even the lesser postseason tournaments.  Despite the much-talked-about weakness of the Pac-10 this season, the MWC still only ranks as the seventh strongest conference in the nation (just ahead of the A-10 and C-USA, according to KenPom, through December 29), having compiled a 81-38 (through Wednesday) record thus far this season, but having fallen to 10-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back: New Mexico’s difficult non-conference schedule continued this week as they handed Texas Tech their second loss of the season, detailed above.

While there is still one more big hurdle in their non-conference play, Steve Alford’s squad has already notched victories over Louisiana Tech, Cal, Texas A&M, Creighton and Texas Tech and done more than enough to consider their pre-conference play a rousing success.  Hobson has emerged as a dominant force in the conference, and there is enough talent surrounding him to make New Mexico a legitimate national threat.

Looking ahead: The Lobos host Dayton on New Year’s Day for another shot at a quality non-conference victory before beginning their conference schedule on Tuesday at San Diego State.

New Mexico has established itself as a co-favorite (along with BYU) to win the MWC regular season title and has laid the groundwork for an almost certain NCAA bid.  They have enough versatile parts (four different players in the rotation that can run the point, a host of talented wings, athletic defenders) to cause matchup problems for bigger teams, but may be a little thin in the paint, with only sophomores Will Brown and A.J. Hardeman providing legitimate interior presences.  And, perhaps more than anything else, this is an incredibly young team, with only one senior (wing Roman Martinez) seven freshmen and sophomores in their rotation, leaving some questions as to how this team will be able to fare under the pressure of March.

BYU

Looking back: Just one game for the Cougars this week, but they made sure to supply plenty of excitement to tide the fans over until conference play begins with a 99-69 win over Arizona at the McKale Center, the largest loss an Arizona team had experienced in the history of that venue.  But that wasn’t the only record set that night as junior guard Jimmer Fredette went off for 49 points (detailed above).

While New Mexico got most of the press in the MWC due to their extended undefeated run, BYU has slipped under the radar a bit on their way to currently being ranked number five in the most recent KenPom rankings, with their biggest win over Arizona State and their only loss on the road at Utah State.

Looking ahead: The Cougars have a cupcake against Eastern New Mexico before opening their conference season at home against UNLV (1/6).  They’ll then travel to UTEP (1/9) for their final non-conference game of the season in a game that may be their biggest test of the season so far.

BYU has been among the most efficient teams on both ends of the floor thus far this season, and while Fredette deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit for that, junior guard Jackson Emery has been a revelation thus far this season as well, thus far ranking second in the nation in both Effective Field Goal Percentage (73%) and True Shooting Percentage (74.9%).  While it may be too soon to tell if he can keep up that kind of pace, BYU seems like a sure thing. They should compete for a conference title, and still have plenty of leeway to capture an at-large bid should they come up a bit short.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s last game in the non-conference schedule was the championship game of the inaugural Diamond Head Classic against USC on Christmas Day, and the Rebels had some of their weaknesses exposed as USC proved to be the more physical team.  The Trojans were able to slow the pace of the game down and held Vegas to 34% shooting from the field including a paltry 5/22 from three-point.

When all is said and done, the Rebels come out of the non-conference portion of their schedule with a nice looking 12-2 record, but deeper examination shows only a win over Louisville as the best win on the schedule for the Rebs.  While there is nothing that could be considered a bad loss, the Rebels will have to have a strong conference performance to improve their potential at-large resume.

Looking ahead: The Rebels will find out at lot about themselves at the start of their Mountain West schedule, as they will travel to face BYU (1/6) and New Mexico (1/9) in their first two conference games before returning home to host San Diego State (1/13) and Utah (1/16).

While the half-court offense for the Rebels is definitely a question mark, there is no doubt that this is a very good defensive team, and this is a team that will likely make its stand by forcing turnovers defensively while controlling the ball offensively; Vegas is not a team that is going to give a lot of games away.  Further, this is a team that should improve over the season as their newcomers (two transfers and two freshmen among their rotation) get used to their new teammates and system.  The Rebels may not have the horses to compete with New Mexico and BYU for the conference title, but they should be a tournament-contender all season long.

San Diego State

Looking back: San Diego State’s lone game of the week was a closer-than-should-have-been squeaker over UC Riverside.  The Aztecs led by as many as 10 in the second half, but Riverside got back within a point on a Kyle Austin jumper with 44 seconds left.  Austin had a game-tying three-point attempt blocked by junior Malcolm Thomas blocked in the waning moments and SDSU escaped with a five-point win.

The Aztecs have one more cupcake remaining in their non-conference schedule and seem poised to take an 11-3 record into the conference schedule, but have no real impressive wins under their belt yet.  Wins over teams like Arizona and Fresno State were impressive, hard-fought wins, but the two best teams that the Aztecs faced, Saint Mary’s and Arizona State, handed them two of their three losses.

Looking ahead: SDSU will face Pomona-Pitzer on New Year’s Eve to complete their non-conference schedule, then will host New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference opener on Tuesday.

Like other teams around the conference, the Aztecs have a lot of new faces this year in the form of freshmen, transfers and even returning players taking on new roles.  As the season has progressed, players have settled into their roles and the team has improved steadily from week to week, and has turned into a very strong team on the glass, especially on the offensive end.  While they will take a strong record into conference play, they still have plenty of work to do to shore up their postseason resume, and will likely need a strong third-place MWC finish combined with a win or two over opponents like BYU, New Mexico or UNLV in order to make their odds of an at-large tournament bid more realistic.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams traveled to Fresno on Monday, and, as unlikely as it may seem, the plane trip to Fresno may have been the highlight of the week.  Because once the ball was in the air, the Rams were largely absent.  They made just five of 28 field goal attempts in the first half, missed all ten of their threes and were down 36-13 after 20 minutes of play.  If that weren’t bad enough, they slept through the opening few minutes of the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to score the first 11 of the half, and found themselves down 34 points on the way to a 23-point embarrassment.

While the Rams built up a little confidence in early December with a four game winning streak, they have now lost two straight and find themselves a game away from conference play with an exciting win over Colorado as their high point.

Looking ahead: CSU hosts Yale on New Year’s Eve before opening conference play with a trip to Wyoming (1/6) and a home game against Air Force (1/9).  If the Rams hope to make any splash in MWC play this year, those first two games against teams that they can beat are musts.

The Rams have some upside, with three freshmen (guard Dorian Green and forwards Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung) that they are excited about, but seem destined for a lower division MWC finish.  They simply don’t have the athletes or consistency to play with the premier teams in the conference, but with a little luck could make a run at a CBI or one of the other seven (I believe) post-season college basketball tournaments.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s possible Air Force had the most interesting week of all the MWC teams, as they competed in the final non-conference tournament of the season, the Sun Bowl Invitational at El Paso.  The Falcons showed well for themselves, knocking off a tough Niagara team in the semifinal round before losing to host UTEP in the championship. Once again, the Falcons played without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who has now missed the last five games with a groin injury.  Sophomore center Sammy Schafer has also now missed nine straight games with complications from a concussion.  No firm return date is set for either player at this point.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host Texas-Pan American on Saturday then kick off their MWC play at TCU on Wednesday.  If all goes well, Parker and Schafer could possibly return for the MWC opener.

While the current 7-5 record may not look all that pretty, you have to give credit to the Falcons for mostly beating the teams that they were supposed to beat (with the exception of Northern Arizona) and even sneaking in an upset.  While the majority of the Falcons’ wins so far have been over the weak-sisters of Division I (and even lesser divisions) like UC Davis, Prairie View A&M and Dickinson State, they snuck in a win on a neutral court over a good Niagara team this past week.  While coach Jeff Reynolds should harbor no illusions about being a NCAA tournament contender (barring an unlikely run through the MWC tournament), the Falcons have improved from last season.  They’ll need to finish near .500 in a tough MWC, however, in order to have any chance for a non-NCAA tournament postseason bid.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs became the third MWC team to lose to Northern Colorado, as they fell to the Bears on Wednesday night by 11.  After a close first half, a 14-4 run gave Northern Colorado a comfortable working margin and the Frogs were never within a possession of the lead the rest of the game.

For a fairly talented team that looked like a solid middle-of-the-pack MWC at the beginning of the year, the month of December has been tough for the Frogs as they have only posted one win over a Division I school in five tries, adding a win over an NAIA school along the way.  While fairly effective offensively and featuring several very skilled players, they have been absolutely abysmal defensively, ranking near the bottom of Division I in a variety of statistics, and their only wins on the season have come against the dregs of D-I.  The Horned Frogs have played a very difficult schedule in the early season (KenPom ranks it the 36th toughest schedule in the nation), but have thus far shown an inability to hang with good teams.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts Rice in their final non-conference game on Saturday, then hosts Air Force on Wednesday in their conference opener.

With a 6-7 record at this point, TCU would have to play their conference schedule above .500 to have postseason hopes.  Given their defensive struggles to this point, that seems increasingly unlikely.  While they feature an very good offensive point in sophomore Ronnie Moss, an excellent shooter in senior Edvinas Ruzgas, a skilled big man in senior Zvonko Buljan and a hustling glue-guy in sophomore Kevin Butler, they lack the athleticism to guard effective offensive teams well enough to compete with the elite MWC teams.

Wyoming

Looking back: Wyoming’s home court advantage at 7000-plus feet of elevation didn’t seem so scary Wednesday night as Akron was the team to finish strong, posting a 16-7 run in the final four minutes to finish off the Cowboys.  Wyoming played without freshman point guard JayDee Luster who sat out with an injured shoulder, and Akron’s tiny point Humpty Hitchens got off for 16 points and three three-pointers to lead the Zips.

While Wyoming plays at one of the highest tempos in the nation, their offense has been horribly inefficient, averaging significantly less than a point per offensive possession.  While some key injuries (to Luster, who has yet to be healthy this season, and sophomore leading scorer Afam Muojeke, who missed four games with a knee injury) and the overall youth of the team (eight sophomores and freshmen among the 10-man rotation) are to blame for some of it, this just isn’t a very talented Wyoming team.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Adams State on Saturday to round out their conference schedule and likely get them back to .500 for the season before hosting Colorado State in their MWC opener on Wednesday.

The Cowboys are another in a line of teams at the bottom of the MWC conference who have dug themselves a hole in their non-conference play.  They’ll need to compile a .500 or better record against a tough conference to give themselves a chance at any type of postseason play (the NCAAs are out of the question), and given their inability to get quality possessions offensively, there is no reason to suspect that the Cowboys are capable of playing .500 ball the rest of the way.  Likely, the rest of this season will be dedicated to finding out who they have that they can build upon next year, especially with Luster and fellow freshman guard Desmar Jackson.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes got things headed back in the right direction by hanging one on a solid Texas-San Antonio team Tuesday night.  Sophomore center David Foster returned from a turned ankle to block six shots, while senior Luka Drca added 19 points and the Utes held UTSA to 33% shooting and only three assists on their 16 field goals en route to a 22 point Utah win.

It’s been a disappointing early season for the Utes, still fighting to get back to .500 after a recent three-game skid and some bad losses (Idaho, Seattle, Pepperdine) throughout the schedule.  The Utes have been terribly inefficient offensively, have struggled shooting the ball (especially from deep) and have even struggled on the glass, which is completely unacceptable for one of the tallest teams in the country.  And yet, the Utes have shown that they are talented enough to play with some good teams, having defeated Utah State and Michigan at home and Illinois on a neutral court.

Looking ahead: The Utes wrap up non-conference play with a trip to Baton Rouge on Saturday for a battle of underperforming teams.  Conference play starts with a home game against TCU on the following Saturday, backed up by a trip to the Pit to face the Lobos on January 13th.

About the only thing to be sure of for the rest of the Ute season is inconsistency.  Coach Jim Boylen is an excellent teacher, so the Utes are sure to get improvement out of its younger players, but the lack of consistent outside shooting up and down the roster seems destined to doom this Utah basketball squad to mediocrity.  There is enough talent and size here to be sure that the Utes will probably knock off teams like BYU, New Mexico and UNLV at some point this season, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see wins like that followed with losses to teams like Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming.  And yet, if this team gets hot at the right moment in March, they could certainly win three games in three days and find themselves dancing.  But don’t hold your breath.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

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

Standings (as of 12/23)

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

Superlatives

Team of the Week. BYU – The Cougars split their time this week between Provo and Las Vegas and came out of the week with a Vegas Classic title to show for it. After coasting against Wagner easily at home (especially after a 22-4 run to start the game) and then hanging a 57-point whooping on Eastern Washington, BYU then survived a run-and-gun battle with Nevada before dispatching of Nebraska easily in the final behind torrid shooting as the Cougars shot 67% from field in first half on way to 49-35 halftime lead and 61% shooting for the game.

Players of the Week. Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, BYU. I can’t pick one of these guys and leave the other one unmentioned. Just can’t do it. While both were very quiet in the win over Wagner, each exploded in the Cougars’ three remaining Vegas Classic games, Fredette averaging 26 points and five assists and Emery averaging 21 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and four threes in those three games. These two have become the dynamic duo for a potent BYU offense.

Newcomer of the Week. Chace Stanback, UNLVStanback, a transfer from UCLA, has been a steady influence for the Rebels so far this year, doing a little bit of everything to help a guard-heavy team from the frontcourt. This week was no different as he averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game to help UNLV advance to the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawai’i.

Game of the Week. BYU 110, Nevada 104 – The score alone makes this one the easy pick for game of the week, especially when you check out the box score and find that this game didn’t go to a few overtimes like the score suggests. Both teams were on fire all night.  BYU shot 63% from the field, Nevada 59%, and the teams combined to go 13-28 from three. But the difference in the game was likely BYU’s ability to hit 27 of their 28 free-throw attempts to hold off the Wolfpack. Three Cougars set career highs in this game, with Fredette going for 33, Emery pouring in 25, and freshman Tyler Haws adding 20.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Texas Tech @ New Mexico – This matchup lost a little bit of its luster when Texas Tech lost its first game of the year against Wichita State last Saturday, and Oral Roberts hung the first loss of the year on the Lobos on Wednesday night, but this still remains a meeting between a 10-1 Red Raider squad and a 12-1 Lobo squad, both of whom like to get up and down the floor and play an exciting brand of basketball. This game could feature some very interesting matchups, with each team’s leading scorers (New Mexico junior Darington Hobson and Texas Tech junior Mike Singletary) figuring to see a lot of each other throughout the game. The toughest matchup for the Red Raiders may be in finding someone to stick with Roman Martinez on the perimeter when the Lobos get penetration from Hobson, junior guard Dairese Gary and others.

League Notes

For the most part, it was just a really ugly week for the MWC. Aside from BYU’s win in the Vegas Classic and UNLV’s success in the first couple rounds of the Diamond Head Classic (and really, despite their names, neither of the fields at those tournaments deserved the “Classic” label), there was carnage all around. New Mexico survived an upset bid by Creighton, only to slip up at Oral Roberts for their first loss of the year. Utah lost to Illinois State and Pepperdine (yes, Pepperdine, a team who improved their record to 4-10 with that win over Utah). Air Force fell to Northern Arizona. TCU got drilled by Houston. San Diego State looked lost against Arizona State. Colorado State couldn’t take advantage of a weakened UCLA team. And, Wyoming fell apart in the second half at Northern Iowa, and in the process the MWC lost the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (although, given the results, perhaps they ought to switch the conference billings in the title) 5-4.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: While the next couple New Mexico matchups against Texas Tech and Dayton looked to be far sexier games than this week’s slate, no one expected either a home game against Creighton or a trip to Oral Roberts to be easy. The week got off to a slow start with a tough first half against Creighton with the Lobos shooting 20% in the first half and finding themselves behind by 12 at the break. But the Lobos picked up the effort in the second half, and despite continued cold shooting, fought back to grab an  inspired five-point win. Against Oral Roberts, the Lobos got off to a similar slow start, trailing by as much as 14 in the first half, but this time after fighting back to get in the game, their opponent fed off their home crowd and responded with a 10-0 run that provided the eventual margin of the game. While the Lobos are still a dangerous team to face, they will have to turn their shooting around, as team leaders Hobson and Martinez combined to shoot 18/56 from the field in the two games this week.

Looking ahead: New Mexico will get a chance to bounce back against strong competition when the host Texas Tech next Tuesday and then Dayton on New Year’s Day to wrap up a tough non-conference schedule.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels bounced back from their first loss of the season with a grind-it-out victory over Weber State and a blowout of overmatched South Carolina-Upstate to start the week before heading to Hawai’I for the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, where they continued their roll with wins over SMU and Hawai’i. UNLV’s balanced scoring continued as seven different players scored in double figures at least once in these four games. Tre’Von Willis missed the game against SC-Upstate with a sprained ankle, but returned for the first two rounds of the Diamond Head games.

Looking ahead: UNLV will face USC (Southern California, that is, not South Carolina) in the Diamond Head Final on Christmas Day, then doesn’t play another game until opening the conference season on January 6th at BYU.

BYU

Looking back: While it was mostly sunshine and flowers for the Cougars this week (as detailed above in the superlatives section), the disappearance of senior Jonathan Tavernari as an offensive threat for this team remains somewhat puzzling. While Tavernari has always been streaky, there usually have been hot streaks to match the cold streaks (often in the same game, or even the same half). Last year he averaged almost 16 ppg and over 7 rpg, but after a slow start to the season, he headed off to the bench and has been heard of very little since then. For instance, as BYU was hanging 91 on Eastern Washington on their way to the biggest win over a D-1 school in the program’s history, Tavernari got off the bench for five quiet minutes. As the Cougars racked up another 110 against Nevada, Tavernari got plenty of time – 29 minutes – but managed only five field goal attempts and four rebounds. While it remains to be seen if he will regain a key role in Dave Rose’s offense, so far it seems like a long fall for a guy who was supposedly considering entering the NBA draft in the offseason.

Looking ahead: BYU travels to Arizona on Monday, then hosts Eastern New Mexico to wrap up its non-conference schedule.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs had a couple tough road games this week and came away with a split in a pair of tight game. After a game at Arizona State on Saturday, during which the Aztecs struggled to find any consistent offense against the Sun Devil zone, en route to 24 turnovers and a three-point loss despite a furious rally in the second half to scrape back from an 18-point deficit, San Diego State visited Drake on Tuesday for their MWC/MVC Challenge game. The Aztecs controlled the glass (much as they did against Arizona State) and got balanced scoring (really, as they have all season), but needed overtime and some unlikely clutch free throw shooting to outlast Drake, 76-73. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard continued to be a terror on the glass the week, grabbing 11 rebounds in each game, and juniors Billy White (9.5 rpg this week) and Malcolm Thomas (9 rpg this week) lent a hand.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs have wrapped up the significant portion of their non-conference schedule, as home games against UC Riverside (12/29) and Division III Pomona-Pitzer (12/31) are all that remains before they open conference play on January 9th at Wyoming.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams started their week out by extended their winning streak to four with a win over Northern Arizona behind 22 points and six rebounds from junior forward Travis Franklin, and the team’s ability to force NAU into 20 turnovers. However, in a trip to Pauley Pavilion to face struggling UCLA, while the Rams still forced turnovers, they were unable to find a go-to player offensively down the stretch while the Bruins went on a 29-9 run to break open a game that Colorado State had controlled for 31 minutes. The Rams shot a mere 36% from the field in the 2nd half, and allowed a poor UCLA offense to shoot 60% in the same time span, as all five Bruin starter scored in double figures on their way to a 12 point victory.

Looking ahead: Colorado State travels to face Fresno State on Monday, then returns home to host Yale on New Year’s Eve in their final non-conference game of the regular season.

Air Force

Looking back: Air Force spent the week without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who missed his third consecutive game this week with a groin injury, but were fortunate enough to have junior forward Tom Fow step up with consecutive career highs this week, 15 points in a home loss to Northern Arizona, then 30 points in a win over UC Davis. Senior forward Mike McLain also helped fill the void left by Parker, averaging 8.5 rebounds this week.

Looking ahead: The Falcons travel to El Paso to participate in the Sun Bowl Invitational, where they will face a tough Niagara team in the first round before facing either UTEP or Norfolk State in their second game of the weekend. Although there has been no official word on the status of Parker for the tournament, he could play in both games.

TCU

Looking back: TCU’s up-and-down season continued in unspectacular fashion this week with a 27-point win over NAIA member St. Gregory’s, before heading to Houston to get bombed by the Cougars. While senior forward Edvinas Ruzgas was able to light up the lesser competition to the tune of 32 points, Houston was able to hold him to 12 points on 4-12 shooting. Turnovers were a big problem for the Horned Frogs this week, as they coughed it up 20 times against St. Gregory’s and another 18 against the Houston. Possibly more disturbing? Only forcing four turnovers against the up-tempo Cougars.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts Northern Colorado and Rice in the final prep for conference play. While both games are winnable for the Frogs, the Northern Colorado team they’ll meet on New Year’s Eve should not be overlooked.

Wyoming

Looking back: To get right to the point, this Cowboy team is very young. With only one senior on the team and only two upperclassmen, coach Heath Schroyer had to expect some struggles and growing pains early. Well, he’s got exactly what he expected. While the Cowboys have been good enough to beat teams like Northern Colorado and Loyola Marymount earlier in the season and South Dakota this week, they have only been good enough to hang with the stronger programs for 20 minutes before falling off in the second half. The Cowboys displayed this tendency against Tennessee last week, and repeated it last night at Northern Iowa. Wyoming hung right with the Panthers for one half, then got outscored by 17 in the second half on the way to an 18-point loss. Afam Muojeke led the Cowboys with 19.5 ppg this week, even tossed in five threes against South Dakota, but Wyoming is still struggling in the half court offense, accounting for only three assists (with no one recording more than one assist) compared to 17 turnovers against Northern Iowa.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Akron and Adams State in the final tune-ups of the non-conference schedule.

Utah

Looking back: Utah’s struggles continued this week as they dropped both of their games, extending their losing streak to three. To top it off, the Utes lost sophomore center David Foster to an ankle sprain in the first of those losses (at home to Illinois State) and missed junior forward Jay Watkins in both games due to an abdominal strain. If there was good news this week, it was the strong play of junior guard Carlon Brown, normally a starter for the Utes who came off the bench in both games this week. Brown shot the ball well in both games and averages 18 points per game this week, but has the tendency to play out of control at times and turn the ball over. While turnovers have been a problem for the Utes, the only real consistency they’ve had at all this season is in the inconsistency. They have struggled shooting at times (including 4-19 3pt shooting against Illinois State), they have struggled on the glass (getting outrebounded by Pepperdine in their game last night 45-26, and 18-9 on the offensive glass), they have struggled defensively at times and they have struggled with ballhandling.

Looking ahead: The Utes get a chance to right the ship by hosting Texas-San Antonio on Tuesday, then travel to Baton Rouge for a matchup with LSU on January 2nd to wrap up their non-conference schedule

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/16):

  1. New Mexico 11-0
  2. UNLV 8-1
  3. BYU 8-1
  4. San Diego State 8-2
  5. Colorado State 7-3
  6. Air Force 5-3
  7. TCU 5-5
  8. Utah 5-5
  9. Wyoming 5-5

Superlatives:

Team of the Week.  New Mexico – As the lone remaining undefeated team in the Mountain West, this one is a no-brainer.  The Lobos combined a hard-fought semi-neutral site win over Texas A&M in Houston with an absolute blowout of Northern Arizona yesterday to improve their record to 11-0, and, especially against Northern Arizona, were the epitome of a team, with all ten of the players who got minutes scoring, and eight players scoring more than eight points.

Player of the Week.  Roman Martinez, Sr, New Mexico – It’s a clean sweep for New Mexico at this point, with Darington Hobson taking home the first two POTWs and Roman Martinez grabbing the last two.  Martinez wins the award this week by averaging 19.5 PPG and knocking down eight more three-pointers, to bring his season total to 40 while shooting 55% from behind the arc.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/4)

  1. New Mexico    7-0
  2. UNLV    6-0
  3. BYU     5-1
  4. San Diego State   5-2
  5. TCU    5-3
  6. Air Force    3-2
  7. Colorado State    4-3
  8. Utah      3-4
  9. Wyoming     3-4

Superlatives

Team of the Week. UNLV The Running Rebels had the toughest week of any Mountain West team, playing two down-to-the-wire games against two major national programs in Louisville and Arizona, and came through with their perfect record intact.

Player of the Week. Darrington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – The nod goes to Hobson for the second week running, after he turned in a monstrous 22 points and 15 rebounds against Cal Wednesday night. Coupled with a 21/10/5 asst game in the Lobos visit to Hawaii, Hobson looks to have a lock on the MWC Player of the Week.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson. Again.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 11/26)

  1. New Mexico   (5-0)
  2. BYU     (4-0)
  3. UNLV    ( 4-0)
  4. Air Force     (2-1)
  5. TCU     (4-2)
  6. Colorado State   (3-2)
  7. San Diego State     (3-2)
  8. Utah     (2-2)
  9. Wyoming    (2-2)

Superlatives

Team of the week.  New Mexico – this could have been UNLV or BYU in this spot, but the nod goes to the Lobos for their sheer volume, hoisting five wins before Thanksgiving, including the win over their in-state rival, four impressive wins over mid-to-low major programs and a Basketball Traveler’s World Vision Classic title.

Player of the week.  Darrington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – Hobson has been a versatile wonder for Steve Alford so far this season. The 6-7 JuCo transfer from the College of Eastern Utah has done a little bit of everything for the Lobos. Just check out these stuffed stat lines: 16 pts/7 rebs/6 asts vs. UC Riverside; 17 pts/7 rebs/5 asts vs. New Mexico State; 14 pts vs. Nicholls State; 30 pts/10rebs/3 3s vs. Louisiana Tech; and 11 pts/6 rebs/5 asts vs. Miami (OH). With numbers like those, it is no wonder that Hobson won the MVP award at the World Vision Classic and the player-of-the-week award from the MWC.

Newcomer of the week.  Hobson.

Game of the week.  Utah vs. Utah State: A classic in-state matchup between two strong programs came right down to the wire as the Utes dodged 27 points and a potentially game-tying three from Aggie senior point guard Jared Quayle in the waning moments of a 68-67 Utah victory. Carlon Brown led the Utes with 22 points (on 8/19 shooting), and Luka Drca kicked in 11 points and six assists.  RTC Live was there in case you missed it.

Game of the upcoming week. Louisville @ UNLV: The Rebels have looked strong so far, especially in the backcourt, but they will need to get some strong contributions from their frontcourt talent in order to give the Cardinals a run for their money. The backcourt battles between the Rebels young stable of talent and Louisville guards such as seniors Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles,  Jerry Smith and Reginald Delk and freshman Peyton Siva should be quite fun.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #7 – Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2009

seasonpreview

Andrew Murawa of The Great Leap Backward is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. BYU 12-4
  2. UNLV 11-5
  3. San Diego State 10-6
  4. Utah 10-6
  5. New Mexico 9-7
  6. TCU 7-9
  7. Wyoming 6-10
  8. Colorado State 5-11
  9. Air Force 2-14

All-Conference Team:

  • Jimmer Fredette (G), Jr, BYU (16.2ppg, 4.0 apg)
  • Carlon Brown (G), Jr, Utah (9.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)
  • Afam Muojeke (F), Soph, Wyoming (13.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
  • Jonathan Tavernari (F), Sr, BYU (15.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
  • Zvonko Buljan (C), Sr, TCU (12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg)

6th Man: Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (8.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

Impact Newcomer: Derrick Jasper, Jr, UNLV

mtn west logoWhat You Need to Know.  The Mountain West Conference is consistently one of the top high mid-major conferences in the country. In just over a decade in existence, the MWC has only failed to finish among the top 10 conferences in terms of RPI just once (2005-06), and only once in the conference’s history has it failed to advance more than one team to the NCAA tournament (2000-01). Six of its nine member schools feature campuses above 4,000 feet in elevation, and that, coupled with some small, raucous arenas, make MWC arenas a tough place for visiting teams to play.

New look league: Only five of last year’s top 20 scorers in the conference, and only one of last year’s top ten in minutes played, return. Last year, the Mountain West Conference was dominated by veterans, but despite their absence, coaches around the league have plenty of incoming talent to get excited about. For every Luke Nevill, Lee Cummard, Wink Adams, Kyle Spain or Brandon Ewing that has moved on, a Derrick Jasper, Malcolm Thomas, Kawhi Leonard, Shawn Glover or JayDee Luster has arrived.  As a result, every team in this league has questions that will need to be answered between now and March. Who can BYU get to step in and take up the slack that the graduation of Lee Cummard leaves? Can gigantic sophomore David Foster fill the hole in the paint for Utah left by Luke Nevill? Can UNLV get enough production from its frontcourt to help their strong backcourt?  Can Steve Fisher’s San Diego State squad not underachieve for once? Is New Mexico’s Phillip McDonald ready to become a star in this league?

Stability remains: While there has been a lot of turnover in terms of players in the MWC, the guys patrolling the sidelines will look remarkably similar. In an era of seemingly rampant coaching turnover, the MWC boasts nine returning coaches, three of whom (UNLV’s Lon Kruger, San Diego State’s Fisher and New Mexico’s Steve Alford) have more than 350 career wins.  BYU fans should feel particularly pleased to see their head coach, Dave Rose, return. Rose was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just after the end of last season, but has been fortunate enough to have received a clean bill of health following treatment and surgery in the offseason.

Non-conference boost: One area where the conference has gone downhill recently has been in the strength of its collective non-conference schedule. In the early 2000s, the MWC was consistently in the top 10 conferences in terms of non-conference schedule strength, but have slid to the point where their non-conference schedule strength the past three years has been out of the top 20. It would appear, however, that the conference has made a concerted effort to improve those numbers this year. In addition to the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (which will give MWC teams a chance to compete against a mid-major conference of similar historical strength), you’ll find tough games against both major conferences and respected mid-major programs littering the schedules. From tough roadies against national powers like Arizona, LSU and UCLA to sneaky matchups against other mid-majors like Utah State, St. Mary’s and Oral Roberts, the MWC has gone a long way towards beefing up their early-season schedules.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Mountain Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2009

impactplayers

Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest and Upper Midwest) are located here.

It’s time for the eighth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of somewhat forgotten states that have lots of land but relatively few players that we’re calling the Mountain Region.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Mountain Region (CO, UT, WY, MT, ID)

mountainimpact

(ed. note:  since this region has a scarcity of BCS schools, we’re grouping all of its schools into the same pool)

  • Jimmer Fredette – G, Jr – BYU. Blessed with the one of the most memorable first names in college basketball, Jimmer Fredette emerged as one of the steadiest and most productive point guards in the nation during a breakout sophomore campaign at BYU. Fredette’s scoring average jumped 9.2 PPG from 2007-08, finishing second on the team in scoring (16.2) three-point percentage (.382) and free throw percentage (.847) while leading the Cougars in APG (4.1) and steals (50). His ranks in the Mountain West are equally impressive: fifth in scoring, third in assists, second in free throw percentage and steals while finishing fourth in minutes played. Along with multi-dimensional wing Jonathan Tavernari (below), it’ll be Fredette taking the reins of a BYU team poised to win another regular season MWC title under head coach Dave Rose. With several teams on their heels, the consistent and reliable point guard play of Fredette could prove the difference, especially in important non-conference tests vs. Utah State, Arizona State, Arizona and Nevada and the always-competitive MWC slate. Fredette managed to earn himself a spot on both the all-MWC first team and the MWC all-tournament team, and it wouldn’t shock us one bit if Fredette makes both lists in 2009-10 as well. This tough, hard-nosed competitor is one of the top point guards not only west of the Mississippi, but in the entire landscape of college basketball and should only improve in an anticipated junior season manning the Cougar ship.
  • Cory Higgins – G, Jr – Colorado. Frankly, the only bright spot on a depressing 2008-09 Colorado Buffaloes team was Cory Higgins. The 9-22 (1-15)  rebuilding project in Boulder is embarrassing and downright inexcusable for a school with their resources and attractive campus (football isn’t exactly a prettier situation). Give Higgins credit for remaining loyal to the Colorado program when he easily could have bolted for better situations. The 6’5 California native whose father, Rod Higgins, is a longtime NBA veteran, does everything for Colorado, finishing his tremendous sophomore season at 17.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, 47% FG, 83% FT and 36% 3pt. With Higgins mired in obscurity at the bottom of the Big 12, many casual fans have no clue that his all-around game matches just about anyone in the conference. Rick Barnes knows – Higgins scored 34 points on 11/20 FG in Boulder last February in a 9-point loss to Texas. Mark Turgeon knows – Higgins went for 27 points on 10/18 FG at home in early March in a 6-point loss to Texas A&M. The all-Big 12 third team selection was one of 13 players in the nation ranked first or second on their team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and the only sophomore to make that illustrious list. Sure, Colorado doesn’t provide much help in the way of talent for Higgins, but that’s not his fault. Higgins may be able to score 20-per-contest this season in Colorado. He hopes those epic performances also include a tally in the win column more often than nine times this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on the… Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008

Jordan Freemyer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky and Mountain West Conferences.

It has been an eventful and mostly successful week for teams in the Mountain West this week. Here’s a look at the three Mountain West teams that are still undefeated, along with a couple other contenders that have stumbled once so far.

BYU has gotten off to a 5-0 start so far, and only one opponent, Long Beach State, has really been able to keep the game close. None of the Cougars’ opponents are marquee names, but BYU is blowing out inferior teams as they should. Senior guard Lee Cummard leads the Cougars with 19.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game thus far, and junior forward Jonathan Tavernari has added 15.8 points and 7.4 boards per game.

This week’s schedule:

  • Saturday at Idaho State
  • Wednesday at Weber State

UNLV has also started 5-0. The Runnin’ Rebels are coming off an 80-67 victory at UTEP on Tuesday night. The other four wins for UNLV have come at home, with the toughest game coming against San Diego. Senior guard Wink Adams has carried the Runnin’ Rebels, averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.

This week’s schedule:

  • Friday vs California
  • Wednesday at Fresno State

The surprise undefeated in the Mountain West is Wyoming. The Cowboys are 3-0 on the season, taking advantage of five straight home games to start the season. Freshman forward Afam Muojeke has averaged 24 points in his first three college games and last year’s leading scorer, senior guard Brandon Ewing, is averaging 7 assists per game.

This week’s schedule:

  • Tonight vs Texas State
  • Saturday vs Denver
  • Wednesday at Boise State

Utah suffered a shocking opening night loss to Division II Southwest Baptist, but the Utes have bounced back to win their next three games, including an 82-73 victory at Ole Miss. Senior center Luke Nevill has averaged a double-double, with 18.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.

This week’s schedule:

  • Friday at Missouri State
  • Wednesday vs Oregon

The lone loss for San Diego State was less shocking, a 59-52 setback at Arizona State. The Aztecs are 2-1 with blowout wins over UC San Diego and Fresno State. Senior forward Kyle Spain has led San Diego State with 17.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

This week’s schedule:

  • Thursday vs Western Carolina
  • Wednesday at Northern Colorado
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