Mountain West Quarterfinal Roundup

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

Wednesday was a busy day at the Thomas and Mack, with eight quarterfinalists battling for Friday reservations in the MW Tournament semis. Like they have all season, San Diego State and New Mexico found a way to distance themselves from the rest of the league on Thursday, but UNLV and Boise State were forced to work a little harder for their spot in the semifinals. Here are a few thoughts from each of the four MW quarterfinals:

San Diego State-Utah State

No surprises in the opener today. Five days after securing the conference regular season title, San Diego State made clear their intentions to double-dip with a MW Tournament crown, waxing Utah State 73-39. Balance and unselfishness were the themes of the day for the Aztecs, as SDSU had seven different players contribute six or more points, while 19 of their 24 field goals were assisted. Xavier Thames’ season high seven assists paced SDSU in that category. It was a solid day for the Mountain West Player of the Year (who also chipped in 15 points), who also added a season-high seven assists. Steve Fisher obviously hasn’t invented the concept of a scoring point guard here, but the tidbit is a subtle reminder of just how reliant the Aztecs are on their point guard to score the ball. San Diego State’s slow-tempo offense is also built around offensive rebounding and opportunistic finishing, and only three teams assist on a fewer percentage of field goals than the Aztecs. It’s an unconventional offensive formula, but at least on this day, Steve Fisher’s offense kept pace with their spirit-crushing defense.

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

Utah State wasn’t supposed to beat San Diego State, but they also weren’t supposed to lose by 33. It’s been that kind of season for Stew Morrill’s club, who has underachieved significantly in their first go-around in the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the folks up in Logan, the departure of four senior starters means that things may get worse before they get better, but the decades of consistency under Morrill should eventually translate into Mountain West success. As for the possible continuation of this season, the CBI or CIT may come calling for the 18-14 Aggies, but there is no guarantee that the man in charge is ready to accept a bid. When asked about postseason plans after today’s demolition, Morrill’s rhetorical question said it all about this Utah State season — “who the hell are we to think we might go to the postseason?” Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 18th, 2014

It’s February 18. Valentine’s Day has come and gone, as has President’s Day. We’ll flip the calendar to March in less than two weeks. There are exactly three weeks of conference play remaining. In other words: In case you haven’t noticed, another season has almost entirely slipped past us. But, over these final three weeks there is a lot still to be decided. Our twosome at the top of the conference – San Diego State (11-1) and New Mexico (10-2) — each dropped a game this week, but with their first of two remaining regular season battles on Saturday and with both schools yet to visit third-place UNLV, there could be a lot of movement atop the leader board. The other big spot to look at in the standings is fifth place. Why? Because the top five seeds will all get first-round byes at the Mountain West Tournament, while the other six teams will be competing an extra day for a chance to get to Thursday’s quarterfinals. Right now, Wyoming and Nevada are in the fourth and fifth spots, but Boise State and Fresno State lurk just behind. And speaking of those Broncos, last week we talked about the climb they face if they are going to get back in the conversation for an at-large NCAA bid. Give them credit because they got off on the right foot, knocking off New Mexico by a point in Boise last Wednesday night, bringing their record in games decided by two possessions or fewer since Christmas to 2-6.

Anthony Drmic Helped Lead Boise State To Its Best Win Of The Year, Over New Mexico Last Wednesday (Adam Eschbach, Idaho Press-Tribune)

Anthony Drmic Helped Lead Boise State To Its Best Win Of The Year, Over New Mexico Last Wednesday (Adam Eschbach, Idaho Press-Tribune)

Team of the Week

Wyoming – When you welcome a top five team into your arena and come away with a solid win, as the Cowboys did last Tuesday night against San Diego State, you’ve got a strong head start in the race for my Team of the Week. Wyoming turned on the offense against a great Aztecs defense and got big nights out of just about everyone who saw the floor, with Riley Grabau in particular coming up big when most needed. The Cowboys followed that up by going on the road and uglying one out over a bad San Jose State team to improve to 7-5 in conference play. And once again, head coach Larry Shyatt has his team overachieving.

Player of the Week

Khem Birch, Junior, UNLV – He only played once, but what a game it was, as the junior big man fell just one additional blocked shot short of a triple-double against Utah State on Saturday as he helped his Runnin’ Rebels win their sixth game in seven outings. Birch dominated the middle with 10 defensive boards (and a couple on the offensive end) and nine blocks in helping to limit the Aggies inside while also jump-starting UNLV’s transition game.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 4th, 2014

It’s the first week in February, and we’re basically halfway through the conference season (believe it or not). So for the most part this week, our Mountain West check-in will be a review of the season to this point combined with  look forward, while just touching on a handful of stories from this past week.

First, the conference race. San Diego State remains atop the standings without a blemish in conference play. They’re ranked fifth in the nation and in the RTC25 and in strong contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But New Mexico has just one conference loss and still has two games with the Aztecs remaining on its schedule. A game back of those two, you’ll find the surprise team of conference play – Nevada – sitting at 7-2. How this makes any sense is still unclear as the Wolf Pack were terrible in non-conference play and have looked every bit of their record in conference; they can no longer be regarded as fluky. Despite Nevada’s successful run in conference play, the line for serious contention for at-large consideration in this conference is drawn right between the Lobos and the Wolf Pack. Right now New Mexico looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team; whereas everybody south of the #2 spot in the conference probably needs to win the Mountain West Tournament to get a bid.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has His Aztecs Atop The Mountain West Standings And Again Inside the National Top Five. (Gus Ruelas/AP)

As for awards, Coach of the Year is the easy one – Steve Fisher is not only the heavy favorite to win the MW Coach of the Year award, but he’s probably the favorite nationally as well. Despite a less than favorable finish in our ranking of Mountain West coaches last week, Nevada’s David Carter really does deserve at least some consideration.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014

With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.

Team of the Week

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Hawaii, Javon McCrea, Leon Rice & Loyola Marymount

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 1st, 2014

Aside from some Diamond Head Classic fun and a solid slate on Saturday, the past week in college basketball was probably the lightest we will see all season, thank goodness — there were two entire days (before and after Christmas Day) that featured zero games. Luckily, the sheer quantity of contests will pick up dramatically as conference play starts up across the country this week. Despite the lack of hoops action, though, there were still several impressive performances and exciting finishes that caught our attention during the holiday week, so let’s ring in the New Year by passing out a few awards to some worthy O26 recipients.

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

O26 Team of the Week

Hawaii. Maybe because it’s the only thing on at that time, but the Diamond Head Classic has become something of a beloved Christmastime tradition for college basketball fans in recent years. Last season’s tournament featured an awesome, tournament-winning blocked-shot by Arizona, and the two years prior included top-15 upsets against unranked opponents. It’s a fun event. This year, the Classic’s host — a Hawaii team already outperforming expectations in non-conference play — made the most of its home-court advantage, nearly beating eventual runner-up Boise State and then winning back-to-back hard-fought games over quality opponents.

Last Sunday, the Warriors were a Garrett Nevels three-pointer away from knocking off the Broncos, ultimately falling 62-61 to a team that will likely compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March. It was a close-but-no-cigar kind of defeat. So how did Hawaii respond to the disappointment? By coming out the next night and winning an equally close game against Saint Mary’s, another squad with legitimate postseason potential. In a back-and-forth contest throughout, senior forward Christian Standhardinger was the eventual hero, answering a game-tying basket by the Gaels’ Beau Levesque with a baseline jumper of his own to give the Warriors a thrilling 76-74 victory. Then, on Christmas Day, Gib Arnold’s team did what it does best on the defensive end, forcing 17 turnovers and beating Oregon State in decisive fashion — the six-point margin does not indicate how much better Hawaii was — to win the consolation title. The victory was the Warriors’ first over a Pac-12 opponent in seven years and moved their record to 9-3. After handling Norfolk State on Monday night, Hawaii reached double-figure wins before January for the first time since 2001-02… the last season it reached the NCAA Tournament. A program appears on the rise in Honolulu.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #13 La Salle 80, #13 Boise State 71

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Wednesday’s play-in game between La Salle and Boise State. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Boise

Boise and La Salle Finished Off the First Four

  1. La Salle Executed Its Offense to Perfection – The Explorers feature a four-guard attack that runs something of a dribble-drive offense. They try to space the floor, drive, kick, and reverse the ball until they get a good shot, either off the dribble in the lane or from behind the three-point arc, where they shoot a healthy 37.1 percent. Tonight they executed this approach perfectly, scoring repeatedly on dribble-drives or threes off of kick outs and ball reversals. They shot 62 percent from the field and 51 percent from the three-point line. It was a highly impressive offensive performance that likely had Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber squirming in his seat.
  2. Drmic Didn’t Get Any Help — For much of the game, Boise State’s Anthony Drmic was almost single-handedly carrying the offense. The sophomore swingman finished with 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting (5-of-10 from three-point range). Derrick Marks, who averages 16.3 points per game, had just two points through the first 30 minutes of action. Marks heated up late, but by then, the Broncos were in a double-digit hole that was too steep to climb out of.
  3. La Salle Knows How to Take Care of the Ball — At various points, in an effort to slow down La Salle’s explosive offense, Boise State started applying some ball pressure, picking up three-quarter court and aggressively guarding the perimeter. It made little difference. La Salle’s experienced backcourt takes excellent care of the ball. Their turnover rate on the year is a low 17.3 percent, and they committed just 10 miscues tonight. Remember, this is a team that beat VCU and its vaunted Havoc defense on the road by eight points. They’re not easily rattled.

Star of the Game:  Junior guard Tyrone Garland may be one of the most underappreciated sixth men in the country. The Virginia Tech transfer is a whirling dervish who is a key cog in La Salle’s dribble drive attack. He never hesitates to show you what he can do off the bounce, dazzling on half-court drives and full-court breaks. He finished tonight with a team-high 22 points on an outstanding 9-of-11 field goal shooting. He added three assists and though he typically struggles with his outside shot (26.6 percent three-point shooter), he hit half of his three-point attempts tonight (2-of-4).

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by AMurawa on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

West Region

Favorite: #2 Ohio State (26-7, 16-5 Big Ten). Not to take anything away from Gonzaga, a team and a program that should be very pleased with itself for the excellent season it has had, but the Buckeyes get the nod by an eyelash. While the Zags have been coasting through WCC play for the past couple months, Thad Matta’s club has dealt with the gauntlet of the Big Ten and emerged with an eight-game winning streak, boasting wins over teams like Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State (twice). Aaron Craft, a veteran guard with plenty of great basketball in his past, is probably playing the best ball of his distinguished career. And guys like LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith are tossing in just enough offense to aid big-time scorer Deshaun Thomas. Throw in the nation’s sixth-best team in defensive efficiency and let’s make the battle-tested Buckeyes a slight favorite to repeat as a Final Four team.

Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes Have Been Through The Big Ten Gauntlet, Making Them The Slight West Regional Favorite

Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes Have Been Through The Big Ten Gauntlet, Making Them The Slight West Regional Favorite

Should They Falter: #1 Gonzaga (31-2, 18-0 WCC). It would be easy to play the contrarian here and offer up plenty of backlash to the Bulldogs’ first-ever #1 seed and name New Mexico – a pretty darn good team in their own right – as the next best team in this region. But make no mistake, Gonzaga can ball. With Kelly Olynyk, a first-team All-American favorite, the Zags have the third-most efficient offense in the nation and Mark Few’s best offensive team in his time in Spokane. And while there are some concerns about the Zags’ ability to match up defensively with big and athletic guards, this is a team that is also Few’s most efficient defensive team ever – by far. While there are plenty of potential stumbling blocks (regardless of who they face in the Round of 32, that looks like a serious rumble, for instance), the Zags definitely have the ability to reach an Elite Eight. Or better. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mountain West Season Wrap-Up and Tournament Preview

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2013

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

Tournament Bracket

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Final Standings

  1. New Mexico (26-5, 13-3)
  2. Colorado State (24-7, 11-5)
  3. UNLV (23-8, 10-6)
  4. San Diego State (21-9, 9-7)
  5. Boise State (21-9, 9-7)
  6. Air Force (17-12, 8-8)
  7. Fresno State (11-18, 5-11)
  8. Wyoming (18-12, 4-12)
  9. Nevada (12-18, 3-13)

Superlatives

Player of the Year. Jamaal Franklin, Junior, San Diego State. The fact that the Aztecs finished four games out of first place and just a game above .500 in conference play could rightfully give one pause in selecting the reigning MW Player of the Year to repeat, but with several teammates slowed by injury, Franklin stepped up his numbers almost across the board. With his minutes ticking up just slightly, his point total took a minor dip, while his rebound numbers jumped and, most impressively with point guard Xavier Thames dealing with injuries all year long, his assist averaged doubled. No, he’s nowhere near a finished product – he turns it over too much and actually got worse shooting from range – but in a conference with no dominant players, Franklin’s consistent production (he’s scored in double figures in all but one game) earns the nod. Kendall Williams and Colton Iverson were considered as well, in part due to their impact on their team’s successes, but both New Mexico and Colorado State earned their superior records on the strength of team efforts.

Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. At the start of the year, while the Lobos were considered one of three teams as favorites in the conference, they were largely seen as trailing UNLV and San Diego State. And when all is said and done, they come away with a conference title by two games. Behind a lock-down defense and a patchwork offense, the Lobos won 11 games by two possessions or less. He’s done a great job developing Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow along the frontline and got solid production out of his backcourt. And we can’t discount the job he and his staff did in putting together a schedule that earned New Mexico the fourth-ranked strength of schedule and an RPI of #2.

Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team

Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team.

Freshman of the Year. Anthony Bennett, Freshman, UNLV. During non-conference play, Bennett was regularly a double-double threat and a constant presence on the highlight reels. His numbers dipped in conference play, in part due to a late injury (he only scored in double figures in conference play nine times in 16 games) and he still hasn’t figured out how to play effectively with Mike Moser, but despite those late dips, he’s still the runaway winner of our Freshman of the Year award.

Newcomer of the Year, Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State. Entering conference play, Bennett was the favorite for the conference’s best newcomer. But while Bennett’s performance dipped, Iverson’s never did. With 13 double-doubles to his name, not only is Iverson the clear choice here, he was a strong contender for Player of the Year.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on March 5th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

It started out way back when with three teams – UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico – the teams expected to compete for the conference title. It quickly became apparent that Colorado State deserved to be among that group as well, while a few other teams – Wyoming, Boise State and even Air Force – had their moments in the sun. At one point or another in the season, seven different Mountain West teams could have reasonably dreamed of NCAA Tournament bids to come. And now, with a week remaining in conference play, many of our questions have been answered. New Mexico’s the conference champ, there will be at least four teams dancing (and probably a fifth), and it will be a disappointment if the conference doesn’t advance at least one team to the Sweet Sixteen. All told, it is without a doubt the deepest this conference has ever been. It may not have the elite teams that the conference had in 2011 when both San Diego State and BYU advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (and each were just a shot away from the Elite Eight), but there is still a strong opportunity for one of these teams to make a big run over the next month.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – While it was New Mexico that clinched the conference title outright this week, we’re going to give the nod to the Broncos, a team that went a long way towards securing an invitation to the Big Dance with wins over Nevada and Colorado State. Boise clamped down defensively this week and got big scoring outputs from Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks to ensure themselves a .500 conference record. They’d still be wise not to let up quite yet, but Leon Rice’s club has put itself in good position to earn just its sixth NCAA Tournament invitation in its history.

Derrick Marks Exploded Against Colorado State For One Of The Year's Best Offensive Displays

Derrick Marks Exploded Against Colorado State For One Of The Year’s Best Offensive Displays

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sophomore, Boise State – Way back in late November, Marks scored 18 straight points for his team in the second half of an upset at Creighton. This past week, with his team in need of another big win, Marks again went nuts in the second half, scoring 24 in a row for the Broncos and making all 11 of his shots from the field on his way to a career high 38 points in a big win over Colorado State. For the week, Marks averaged 22 points, six rebounds, 5.5 assists per game and shot a 68%  eFG.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 5th, 2013

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

Conference Round-Up

When tonight’s games wrap up, we’ll officially be halfway through the conference season. The Super Bowl is over, all eyes are on college hoops, there will be just eight games remaining on all the team’s schedules and we’re all starting to think about the madness that awaits in Vegas in early March. For the longest time this season in the Mountain West, we’ve figured there were a pool of six teams in contention for NCAA Tournament bids. And, as we get ready to round the turn, it looks like we’ve still got six teams in the mix; the surprise, however, may be which six teams those are. After we take care of our weekly honors immediately below, we’ll take a look at where each team stands as we near the halfway mark in terms of their NCAA Tournament viability.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Air Force – It was “only” a pair of home wins, but they were an impressive, and an important, pair. With wins over Fresno State and San Diego State, the Falcons put themselves within striking distance of the conference lead, all with a shot at that first place New Mexico team next up on the schedule. The former win was more a matter of just taking care of business, while the latter was truly impressive. Despite the fact that the Aztecs were hampered by injuries, Air Force withstood the full brunt of Jamaal Franklin attempting, and largely succeeding in his attempt, to take over the game. After giving up a 12-point second half lead, the Falcons had the wherewithal to answer every Aztec run and in the final seconds, they dodged a couple looks at game-tying threes, earning the Academy their very own RTC, even if it was small and relatively orderly. After weeks and weeks of having everybody overlook them, it is now time to give this team its due: with Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico all coming to Clune Arena in the back half of conference play, the Falcons have a chance (even if it is still a slim one) to win this thing.

Michael Lyons and Air Force Have Reeled Off Five Straight And Are Within A Game Of The Conference Lead (Rhona Wise, AP Photo)

Michael Lyons and Air Force Have Reeled Off Five Straight And Are Within A Game Of The Conference Lead (Rhona Wise, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Hugh Greenwood, Sophomore, New Mexico – Before we get to Greenwood, a quick mention of Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung, who made this week’s decision a tough one. Hornung averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds per game this week, double-doubling each night and even knocked down all three three-pointers he attempted against Boise State on Wednesday, bring him up to eight-for-15 on the season from deep. But, as versatile as Hornung was this week, versatility is Hugh Greenwood’s middle name (yup, Hugh Versatility Greenwood – it’s an Aussie thing, I think). The Lobo sophomore made ten of the 13 shots he attempted from the field this week, including five-of-six from deep, averaged 14 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and five assists. Oh, and during the Lobos’ trip to Laramie on Wednesday, Greenwood saved the day by knocking down the go-ahead jumper with eight seconds left and sealing the game with a pair of free throws later. After winning multiple Player of the Week awards from us last year, this is Greenwood’s first nod this year.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.

Player of the Week

Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian, Fresno Bee)

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)

Newcomer of the Week

Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.

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