Mountain West Tournament Diary: Semifinal Friday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Less than two minutes into the nightcap on semifinal Friday night, New Mexico found itself in a hole, down 12-0 to UNLV on the Rebels’ home court, a place where UNLV had not lost since last year’s Mountain West Tournament. Not only were they clicking on all cylinders (they had gotten threes from Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall and a couple of old-fashioned three-point plays from Oscar Bellfield), but the Lobos looked awful, struggling to do simple things like catch the ball. But the Lobos responded. “They gave us a good punch in the face right there to start the game,” said head coach Steve Alford. “But there’s a lot of game left.  They scored 17 points in the first three minutes of the half, then only scored 17 points the last 17 minutes of the half.  After that initial barrage of points, we settled down and played extremely good defense.” The Lobos packed their defense in, dared the Rebels to hit threes against them, and that dare paid off. UNLV started three-for-three from deep in the first four minutes, then made just five of their 21 attempts over the final 36 minutes. UNM didn’t try to force anything defensively (in fact, they forced just three turnovers on the night), but made the Rebels have to score over them.

Demetrius Walker, New Mexico

Demetrius Walker Helped The Lobos Climb Out Of An Early Hole (AP)

More importantly, however, the Lobos dominated the Rebels inside. Led by RTC MW Player of the Year Drew Gordon (who hit eight of 10 field goal attempts on his way to 19 points and 13 boards), New Mexico grabbed 85% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 26.9% on the offensive end, while outscoring the Rebels in the paint, 30-18. Senior Brice Massamba was generally solid for UNLV, scoring six points and adding nine rebounds before fouling out after 34 minutes, but the rest of their frontcourt was largely absent. Mike Moser had solid stretches at the start and at the end of the game, but was largely invisible in the middle three-quarters of the game, winding up with just three rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Senior Chace Stanback hit a three on the first offensive possession of each half, but beyond that produced almost literally nothing (one point, one rebound and one assist the rest of the game), a concern as the Rebels head to the NCAA Tournament next week.

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Mountain West Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by AMurawa on March 8th, 2012

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

Tournament Bracket


Coming into the year, we thought we had a couple really good teams in New Mexico and UNLV, and six other teams with more questions marks than answers. Four months later, add San Diego State to the list of really good teams, but add the other five teams in the conference as, at a minimum, pretty good. Only Air Force and Boise State end the season with losing records, and each of those teams has risen up and played one of the top three tough at some point, with the Falcons even pulling off a win over San Diego State. There are four teams (so far) with 20 or more wins and it looks more and more like Colorado State, with home wins over each of the top three teams in the conference, will join them in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Wyoming and TCU both remain strong candidates for NIT inclusion. All told, this was an excellent encore performance for a conference that was coming off their best season on the national stage, especially given the turmoil surrounding the Mountain West’s hits and misses in the conference realignment game. In short, despite a few bumps and bruises along the way, the MW is still alive and well. At least for now.

Final Standings

  1. San Diego State      24-6      10-4
  2. New Mexico            24-6      10-4
  3. UNLV                         25-7        9-5
  4. Colorado State       19-10      8-6
  5. TCU                            17-13      7-7
  6. Wyoming                  20-10     6-8
  7. Air Force                   13-15      3-11
  8. Boise State                13-16      3-11

Superlatives

Player of the Year. Drew Gordon, Senior, New Mexico. This was a tight race, with Gordon, UNLV’s Mike Moser and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin all neck and neck at the finish line. But, I’ll always hold true to the theory that when in doubt, a tie goes to the senior. And I’ll still gladly make the argument that Gordon edges out the other two on his own merits as well. The one thing that all three players do well is rebound the ball, but Gordon is the best of the three. Franklin is more capable of creating his own shot than Gordon, but Gordon generally plays within himself and is more efficient offensively; likewise, while Moser has a perimeter jumper that is missing from Gordon’s game, it doesn’t go far enough to make up for the other advantages that the Lobo star has. And, defensively, Gordon is significantly more polished than either of his younger competitors. The race is very close, and in no way am I denigrating either Moser or Franklin. But likewise, I don’t want to take the easy way out and just call it a three-way tie. Call Gordon the better of equals.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon Earns Our MW Player Of The Year In A Close Race (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Coach of the Year. Steve Fisher, San Diego State. It has been a year of great coaching jobs in the Mountain West as well, but the race here is slightly less contentious. While we give Gordon the MW POY award by a nose, Fisher wins this by a full body length over guys like Jim Christian, Larry Shyatt, and Tim Miles. Christian and Shyatt took teams with basically the same personnel as last year and led a complete 180, while Miles took a team that lost three of its best players and has them a nose ahead of where they were last year. Meanwhile, Fisher took a team that lost its four leading scorers, including NBA First Round pick Kawhi Leonard, off a Sweet 16 team and led a ragtag bunch that included a undermanned frontline (Tim Shelton and his three knee surgeries, basketball novice Deshawn Stephens, and graduate transfer Garrett Green) to an unlikely Mountain West title. Along the way, he helped transform Chase Tapley from a role player into a team leader and a go-to scorer and Jamaal Franklin from a little-used reserve to a big-name player on the national scene. Oh, and then there’s the whole conference title and national top 25 ranking. That’s nice too.

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Tracking The Four: Regular Season Recap, Postseason Prospects

Posted by EJacoby on March 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest — Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV — by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

It was a wild ride for our four teams this year, yet the most important games are just beginning. All four teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament and will have high hopes to do some damage in the postseason. But before Selection Sunday comes, let’s take a look at how each team finished its regular season and what its prospects are for postseason play. Murray State, of course, finished its regular season early and already completed its postseason tournament as part of one of the mid-major leagues that began Championship Week last weekend. The Racers are OVC champions and we will preview their NCAA Tournament outlook while looking at the other three teams’ conference tourney prospects.

Murray State Racers

Murray State Took Down the OVC and Looks Strong Heading into the Big Dance (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Racers are on fire since losing their only game of the season and continue to look better and better. They finished off the season with impressive wins at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech. That earned them a double-bye in the OVC Tournament where they only had to win one game before the finals, and oddly enough the two teams that Murray matched up with in the conference bracket were the two teams with which it had ended the season. Victories over Tennessee Tech (a blowout) and Tennessee State (a nailbiter) proved that this team can win in a variety of ways and that it is peaking heading into postseason play.
  • Resume Review – Murray State finishes tied with the nation’s best overall record at 30-1, which could be the outright best record if neither Syracuse nor Kentucky wins its conference tournaments. The Racers finished 17-1 against OVC competition with an RPI of #24. They went 3-0 against the RPI top-50, with good wins at Memphis and against Southern Miss on a neutral floor. Their only loss was a ‘bad’ one, at home against Tennessee State’s #117 RPI. Murray State’s Pomeroy/Sagarin/BPI/LRMC rankings are as follows: #45/#40/#33/#29. Very solid all-around.
  • Seed Projection – Since all of its games are now completed, we can start projecting Murray State’s NCAA Tournament seed accurately. This team is looking like a #5 or #6 seed according to the consensus bracketologists around the country, though I believe it is closer to a #4 than it is a #6. A #5-seed seems about right, which could possibly mean they’d play in Nashville or Louisville for their first two rounds next week.
  • Player DevelopmentsIsaiah Canaan is the runaway OVC Player of the Year and will receive consideration for national All-America teams as the stellar guard continues to play at an elite level. He averaged 19.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per gamein his final five contests and continues to shoot lights out from three. Ivan Aska has struggled down the stretch, failing to record double-digit scoring or rebounding games in any of his last five. Murray State will desperately need his contributions against the bigger opponent it is likely to draw in the first round.
  • Notable Numbers - Murray State’s +10.5 adjusted scoring margin is very similar to other potential #5- or #6-seeds like Louisville, Vanderbilt, and St. Mary’s. The Racers finished the season with the sixth-best three-point shooting percentage in the country (40.6%) and allowed opponents to shoot just 29.5% from three, ranked 16th best. That’s a tremendous margin. This team also finished with a top-15 free throw rate, true shooting percentage, and steal percentage. The Racers want to send high pressure defensively to look for steals, get out in transition, and hit open threes. This helps hide the fact that they are such a small team inside.
  • Preview & Predictions! – All that’s left for this team is the Big Dance. Therefore, it’s really impossible to predict success without seeing the bracket. However, I don’t think this team is going to be upset in its first game unless it gets a really rough matchup. Assuming a #5 seed, Murray should draw one of the middling bubble teams from a power conference, and it just has to hope it gets someone like Tennessee or Northwestern rather than someone like UConn (sporting great size). From there, we need to see the matchups before declaring whether this team could make the Sweet Sixteen.

Syracuse Orange

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Orange finished on a 10-game winning streak and have locked up an NCAA Tournament #1 seed regardless of what happens in the Big East Tournament. The Orange will receive a double-bye and don’t need to play until Thursday, where they will already be in the quarterfinals. Their final five wins were all by 10 points or less, so the scoring margins have not been dominant but the experience of closing out close games should be just as important for Syracuse going forward.
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Tracking The Four: Hitting the Home Stretch

Posted by EJacoby on February 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

The final week of the regular season is upon us. One of our teams, Murray State, even begins its postseason as the Ohio Valley Conference tournament begins later in the week. This is a crucial time for teams to build confidence and polish their resumes heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at how all of our teams are playing right now as they head into the home stretch.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Anthony Marshall and UNLV Are Locked In Again (Las Vegas Sun/S. Morris)

  • Trending UP Because… – After dropping two in a row, the Rebels recovered nicely with back-to-back double digit wins in the past seven days. More importantly, their top conference competitor lost both its games, setting up for a crazy finish to this season. UNLV (24-6, 8-4 MW) is tied with New Mexico and San Diego State atop the Mountain West with just two games to play. The Runnin’ Rebs have still lost three straight road games and will look to end that streak when they head to Colorado State on Wednesday.
  • This Week’s Key CogChace Stanback. The swingman led the team in scoring in both wins last week, averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. The senior shot a fantastic 9-13 from three-point range in the victories.
  • Play of the Week – After a turnover, Anthony Marshall misses the layup but Mike Moser finishes strong with a putback jam against Boise State on Wednesday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice on getting the win over Air Force on Saturday: “It was very important to us to get our swagger back. Our swagger is our defensive intensity.”
  • Handicapping the Race - Who’s going to win the Mountain West? The Rebels have a tough draw down the stretch with bubble team Colorado State on the road, followed by Wyoming at home in the season finale, a team they lost to earlier this season. New Mexico, meanwhile, gets two home games against the bottom feeders of the conference.
  • Stats Central – UNLV’s average scoring margin of +19.4 points in home games this year ranks 11th in the country. But its road margin is just +2.0, hence the 6-6 record in true road games this season.
  • What’s Next? – As mentioned, the Rebels take a trip to Colorado State on Wednesday (10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) before drawing Wyoming at home on Saturday (10:00 PM ET, The Mountain) to finish their regular season.

Murray State Racers

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Tracking The Four: Voices of…

Posted by EJacoby on February 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

The ‘wildcard’ version of TT4 is back, and this week we take a look at the voices of each team. Below you’ll find key quotes throughout the season from players, coaches, and media members who cover each of our four squads. With just three games remaining (or less) for each team in the regular season, it’s an appropriate time to take the pulse of the programs before they head into the home stretch:

Tom Crean Has Had Much to Say This Season for the Surprising Hoosiers (AP Photo/A. Colwell)

Indiana Hoosiers

  • “They’ve been punking us the past couple years and we realized that. This year we had to go toe-to-toe with them.” Guard Victor Oladipo, 12/31 (after win over Ohio State)
  • “Our mindset is next man up.  We know that a lot of different people at different times can step up and make a play that helps us win games on either offense or defense.  We have done a good job of being unselfish and worrying only about getting the win.” Guard Jordan Hulls, 1/3
  • “The bottom line is this team gritted it out again. They have won 14 games 14 different ways with a lot of room for improvement, and I’m excited about them.” Coach Tom Crean, 1/5
  • “We can’t be satisfied with moral victories.” Center Cody Zeller, 1/18
  • “I think the most difficult thing to swallow from one game to another, though, is simply the consistency of this basketball team in recent weeks. You really just don’t know what you’re going to get from week to week, game to game, minute to minute. And that’s what I find to be the big difference between the 15-1 start and the 2-5 record since then. It comes down to consistency. And it’s across the board.” Beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star, 2/2
  • “If you’re going to get physical with [Zeller], he’s going to respond. The only soft thing about Cody is that he’s soft-spoken on the court, but other than that he’s a tough, tough person.” Coach Tom Crean, 2/9

Murray State Racers

  • “Coach has a great personality and he cares about our team more than anything, and the same way he cares about us we care about him and we try to go out and play as hard as we can for him.” Guard Isaiah Canaan, 12/15
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Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to Slip

Posted by EJacoby on February 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

After cruising along with a top 10-15 ranking for much of the season, UNLV is facing its first patch of serious adversity now, having lost three of its last four games (all on the road). Last week, the Rebels took a loss against a mediocre TCU team and followed that up with a blowout at the hands of New Mexico. UNLV all of a sudden finds itself a distant second in the Mountain West conference standings. Meanwhile, Indiana suffered another slip-up on the road, but Syracuse escaped in their task away from home. Murray State had the best week of all with a massive victory over St. Mary’s in the BracketBuster game, so let’s start things off with the positive trending Racers this week:

Murray State Racers

Murray State is Soaring Right Now After Taking its Only Loss (AP Photo/J. Wright)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’ve recovered well after dropping their only game of the season. Since falling to Tennessee State at home on February 9, the Racers (26-1, 13-1 OVC) have played their best ball and capped it off with a dominant win against St. Mary’s in the primetime ESPN BracketBuster matchup on Saturday. They still have two road games remaining against the best the OVC has to offer, but Murray State is undoubtedly headed to the NCAA Tournament now, and they certainly passed the national-audience eye test as a team with some weapons that can do damage offensively.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. He led the team in scoring with an 18.0 PPG average in the past week, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals as well. The senior guard carried the Racers with 25 points in their Wednesday win at Southeast Missouri State.
  • Play of the Week – This ESPN announcer has now idea how to pronounce Isaiah Canaan’s name (it’s CAN-non, like the weapon), but watch this sweet alley-oop from the star guard to Brandon Garrett for a big-time dunk.
  • Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked about how the win over St. Mary’s could help his team’s postseason seed: “If we can finish the season strong, it gives us a chance to get a good seed. But, regardless of where you’re seeded – five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 – you’re going to play somebody good.”
  • Can’t Win For Losing? - It’s starting to look like taking a loss was the best thing that could have happened to this team. By losing at home, Murray State removed the pressure off its back to run the table, and the Racers have played much better since the public doubted their legitimacy as a Tournament team. The win against St. Mary’s was their toughest opponent in over two months and the least amount of points they’ve allowed in over six weeks.
  • Stats Central – For the season the Racers are now shooting 41.3% from three and allowing opponents to shoot just 29.2% in that area. A massive gap, Murray ranks in the top 20 nationally in both statistics.
  • What’s Next? – Murray State finishes the regular season this week with two challenging road games. First is a rematch at Tennessee State on Thursday (8:00 PM ET, ESPNU) against the only team it has lost to this season. Then the Racers travel to Tennessee Tech on Saturday (8:30 PM ET) against the team ranked fourth in the OVC. Both are losable games, but Murray should win if it can play at the level it has over the past week and a half.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – The Orange avoided a bad loss by escaping Rutgers with a 10-point win on Sunday. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 Big East) remains a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as long as it doesn’t suffer a losing streak down the stretch.
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Tracking The Four: Racers’ Pursuit of Perfection Ends Early

Posted by EJacoby on February 14th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

It was only a matter of time. Murray State had been narrowly escaping against OVC competition in the past few games, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that the Racers lost their first game of the year on Thursday against a Tennessee State team ranked second in the conference standings. The loss certainly hurts the team’s postseason seeding and kills off the major story that was the undefeated season, but the team may actually benefit from shedding that spotlight off their back. They have a quick turnaround with their most challenging week of the season upcoming. Elsewhere, Syracuse just completed a monster week of wins, and UNLV and Indiana handled business with big home victories. Let’s get to this week’s outlook:

Syracuse Orange

C.J. Fair Was Huge for Syracuse Against Louisville, One of Three Big Wins This Week For the Orange (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • Trending UP Because… – They had an awesome week, solidifying themselves as a top team in the land alongside Kentucky. Cuse played tight games against Georgetown and at Louisville, but great late-game execution lead to victories. Throw in Saturday’s win over Connecticut and the Orange are now 26-1 and 13-1 in the Big East, looking like a near-lock for a #1 seed come March Madness.
  • This Week’s Key CogKris Joseph. Who said this team doesn’t have a go-to guy? Joseph scored 29 points, including the game-winning three in overtime, in Wednesday’s win over Georgetown. He averaged a team-high 17.0 points per game in the three victories.
  • Play of the Week – A sweet alley-oop from Scoop Jardine to C.J. Fair from nearly half court was a momentum builder in Saturday’s win over UConn.
  • Talking Point – Coach Jim Boeheim talked about Monday’s ugly win at Louisville, which ended with a score of 52-51: “You can either give the defenses credit or say it was a bad offensive game. We’re going to look on the bright side and say it was a real defensive struggle tonight.”
  • Erasing History - The Orange had lost seven straight games to Louisville heading into Monday’s matchup, and it looked like the streak was going to reach eight when the team trailed by five points with under 4:00 to play. But Jardine and Joseph, two seniors who have never beaten the Cards, were able to erase that history and taste their first ever victory against Rick Pitino’s squad when they closed out the game with strong defense.
  • Stats Central – Monday’s victory was nothing to write home about. Syracuse averages a conference-leading 111.9 offensive efficiency in Big East games, but they only recorded an 89.7 rating in the game against Louisville. Nonetheless, they held the Cardinals to an 87.9 efficiency themselves and walked way with a one-point road victory.
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play just once this week, at Rutgers on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, ESPN) against a struggling Scarlet Knights team. However, Rutgets has already defeated Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame at home this season, and the RAC has become a tough place to play.

Murray State Racers

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 14th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.

We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).

In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.

Mountain West, Conference USA

Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference

But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.

Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.

Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.

Team of the Week

UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… The Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 8th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

  • We have suspected since late November or so that the bottom half of this conference was pretty darn good, but we still figured that when push came to shove it would be UNLV, San Diego State, and New Mexico mostly dominating the other five teams in the league. And yet, last Saturday we saw the Aztecs fall to an undersized Colorado State club, while this week it was UNLV’s turn, as they lost a tough roadie at Wyoming on Saturday night. Along the way, both SDSU and UNLV have had other struggles with Air Force and Boise State, two teams who are a combined 1-13 in the Mountain West.
  • The lone team in the conference that has been taking care of business on a regular basis lately has been New Mexico, winning its last four games by an average of more than 26 points. The only problem there, however, is the Lobos were uncompetitive at UNLV and folded in the second half of a home game with SDSU. So, for now, it appears that New Mexico is playing the best ball in the conference, but they will need to prove themselves against the Aztecs and the Rebels next week before we can really take them seriously.

Midseason Roundup

  • Saturday’s slate in the Mountain West represented the halfway mark in the conference season. San Diego State sits atop the conference with a 6-1 record, with New Mexico and UNLV a game back and Wyoming and Colorado State, two teams who are at least in the NCAA at-large discussion, a game back from there.
  • Looking forward to some of the postseason awards, it looks like UNLV’s Mike Moser (14.5 PPG/11.5 RPG), who leads the conference in rebounding and is fourth in scoring, is the favorite for the Mountain West’s Player of the Year honor, with San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin (16.0 PPG/7.2 RPG) and Chase Tapley (15.9 PPG/4.2 RPG/2.1 SPG) perhaps the only other names in the mix right now.
Mike Moser, UNLV

Mike Moser Is The Leader At The Turn For Mountain West Player of the Year (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

  • For Coach of the Year, there are several names that deserve to be considered. SDSU’s Steve Fisher may be the favorite at this point, rebuilding a team on the fly after losing four of five starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team, but he’s just one of many MW coaches who are excelling this year. UNLV’s Dave Rice took over in Vegas when Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma, and he not only didn’t skip a beat, he seems to be on the verge of turning the Rebels back into a consistent national power again.  At Wyoming, new head coach Larry Shyatt has completely turned around the culture in Laramie, taking a team that was a 10-21 disaster last year and building a hard-nosed consistent bunch out of largely the same cast of characters. Meanwhile, Tim Miles has taken a completely undermanned Ram team with no player over 6’6” earning significant playing time and put them in good position to possible earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Heck, even Jim Christian at TCU is working wonders. Last year the Horned Frogs lost 14 of their last 15 games; this year they’ve got pretty much the same crew and they’re now 13-9 with a chance of a better than .500 record (although their remaining schedule is brutal). While Fisher is the odds-on favorite to take down the honor, all of those coaches are doing great jobs.
  • The Freshman of the Year award is a bit more muddled. Early on, it looked like Boise State’s Anthony Drmic would run away with it, but he hit a wall midseason and has struggled lately; he shot a 57.7 eFG% in the non-conference slate, but is now hitting just 36.5% in conference play. New Mexico’s Hugh Greenwood has made a big splash in Albuquerque after taking over the point guard duties early in the season, but his effectiveness has taken a hit since an ankle injury in early January, and he’s not yet back to the same player. Boise’s Derrick Marks is averaging 9.0 points per game and has come on strong of late, but he is still a fairly up-and-down player. Then there’s TCU’s Kyan Anderson, who went for 22 points against SDSU this weekend and who figures to be an impact player for the Frogs in the future, but whose overall numbers this season don’t really merit FOTY consideration. If you expand the definition out to Newcomer of the Year, there are all sorts of good options (Leonard Washington at Wyoming, Xavier Thames at San Diego State, and, the clear cut winner, Moser), but halfway through conference play, the FOTY award is still very much up for grabs.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, the Lobos take home the honors here on the strength of a 2-0 record over lesser Mountain West teams; the twist this week was that they scored both of those wins on the road. UNM started the week by scoring a 39-point win at Air Force in which they dominated almost every aspect of the game, then they wrapped it up with a 16-point win at Boise State. The theme for the week was balance, with six different players scoring in double figures this week, but particular highlights included Hugh Greenwood’s 10-point, 10-rebound double-double against Boise State and Demetrius Walker’s 11-point, eight-rebound outing against Air Force.

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Leonard Washington, Jr, Wyoming – For the second time in three weeks, Washington earns our POTW. His best game of the week came in a disappointing loss at TCU, but Washington was excellent there, hitting 8-10 field goal attempts, including a three-pointer, for a 21-point, six rebound outing. He backed that up by fighting Mike Moser to a draw in the Cowboys’ Saturday-night upset of UNLV, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven boards while setting a general tone of confidence throughout the game.

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington & His Teammates Gave Wyoming Fans Plenty To Cheer About (Andrew Carpenean/AP)

Game of the Week

Wyoming 68, UNLV 66 – Of all the great games around the country on Saturday, this one was my personal favorite, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout the second half. The Cowboys led by as much as eight in the first half, before squandering it, rebuilding it, and squandering it again. But the effort from Wyoming never waned, as they fought off a tough UNLV team. The Rebels time and again tried to out-physical the Cowboys, with Oscar Bellfield in particular hounding point guard JayDee Luster all over the court. But they kept on fighting, diving after loose balls, hustling through and around screens and working on the glass. In the end, it was a complete team effort for the Cowboys, as four of the five starters scored between 14 and 16 points, with each contributing excellent defensive effort. In the end, the home crowd was rewarded with a big upset victory, leading to perhaps the slowest RTC in the history of RTCs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tracking The Four: Syracuse Gets Melo & Its Swagger Back

Posted by EJacoby on February 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

What made Syracuse look so beatable in the past three games? Perhaps the answer is as simple as we thought, and Orange big man Fab Melo is just that important to the team’s success. He returned on Saturday and the Orange completely ran St. John’s off the floor in a performance worthy of a number one team. Meanwhile, Indiana and UNLV each split their two-game schedules full of tough road matchups. Murray State continues to cruise along undefeated and is getting closer to its big matchup with St. Mary’s. Let’s see how each team got it done this week:

Syracuse Orange

Michael Carter-Williams Had the Memorable Highlight from Syracuse's Dominant Win Last Week (AP Photo)

  • Trending UP Because… – They put together perhaps their best performance of the season on Saturday by scoring nearly 100 points on the road at St. John’s in their only game of the week. Center Fab Melo returned from suspension for the game and had a solid individual performance (14 points, two blocks, 5-6 shooting), but it’s the collective play of the team’s defense and transition offense that is more telling of his impact. The Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) held its opponent to 38% shooting on two-point attempts, whereas they were allowing an average of 44.4% in three games without him. Melo was on the receiving end of several lobs in transition as the team consistently found easy offense in the 95-70 win. The Cuse look to have their swagger back and will try to keep up this strong form with two home games this week.
  • This Week’s Key CogMichael Carter-Williams. This week was a reminder of how truly deep this team is. Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s All-American freshman averaging just 12 minutes per game this season, and he looked like the best player on the floor during his 17 minutes against St. Johns’s. The frosh had 13 points on 5-6 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover in limited playing time.
  • Play of the Week – This was a no-brainer, as our guy Carter-Williams throws down a vicious dunk in transition that was one of the top plays of the week.
  • Talking PointMelo talked about his return to the team after a three-game suspension: “I had fun. It felt good to be back on the court with my teammates. I felt a little rusty and I wanted to do everything at once but Coach told me to slow down and I did.”
  • Coaching Legend - Jim Boeheim continues his ascent up the coaching wins list. Saturday’s victory was the coach’s 879th career victory, tying him with Dean Smith for third all-time. The only men ahead of him are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, with Knight’s 902 victories a very passable number next year.
  • Stats Central – Although Kentucky owns a near unanimous top ranking, the Orange have the far more impressive overall resume. If the season ended today (which, of course, it doesn’t), then Cuse would be the top overall seed of the NCAA Tournament, boasting the #1 RPI ranking and 12 victories over RPI Top 100 teams. Kentucky has seven Top 100 wins, by comparison.
  • What’s Next? – Syracuse has two tough opponents this week, but both games are at home. First comes rival Georgetown on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET, ESPN), followed by struggling Connecticut on Saturday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Hoyas look like the second best team in the Big East right now, and the Huskies could be playing for their postseason lives come this weekend. It’s never easy against these talented conference rivals.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They did lose last week to a team in the mid-70’s of the RPI, but it was a two-point loss in Laramie against tough conference foe Wyoming. The Rebels had several chances to tie or win the game on their final possession of the game, and we can’t knock the team very much for this tight road game. They also easily disposed of Colorado State earlier in the week at home. UNLV (21-4, 5-2 MW) remains in good shape in the Mountain West and has a huge matchup coming up on Saturday.
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Tracking The Four: NBA Prospecting

Posted by EJacoby on February 3rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent & regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Fans, writers, and analysts aren’t the only ones watching games these days. As the second half of the conference season heats up, more and more NBA scouts also have their eyes peeled to the college game to track how players perform in big games. During the NCAA Tournament and after the season is typically when you’ll hear NBA talks pertaining to players, but those in tune with the draft already know the relative value of many players. This week’s TT4 Wildcard breaks down which players on our four teams have a shot to play at the next level. There’s plenty of time left for guys’ stock to go up or down, as well. Let’s do some NBA prospecting:

Top Prospects:

There are no surefire lottery (Top 14) picks on any of our four teams, but there are a couple of players who will make a definite push for consideration:

Scouts are Taking Note of Cody Zeller's Productive Freshman Season (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

  • Cody Zeller, Indiana – He’s only a freshman, and it seems like a sure bet that the big man will be returning to Indiana next season to improve with an even stronger team. But if he were to declare for this year’s NBA Draft, Zeller would likely go in the top 20 picks. Looking further down the road, the big man should have a great chance at being a lottery pick in the 2013 Draft. NBADraft.net currently has Zeller rated as their 13th best overall college prospect, and they have him slotted as a top five selection in 2013. With a smooth game and rock solid fundamentals on both ends, Zeller has been perhaps the most productive freshman in the country this season, averaging 15 points, 6.3 boards, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks on an outstanding 65.2% field-goal percentage. He should only continue to improve as he gets stronger and more confident.
  • Mike Moser, UNLV – Our other player with major intrigue is the Runnin’ Rebels leading man, Moser. A top 50 recruit a couple of years ago, Moser was a quick transfer out of UCLA as a freshman and has stormed onto the scene as a redshirt sophomore this season for UNLV. He’s 6’8” and a freak rebounder with tremendous athleticism — his 11.6 RPG leads the Mountain West and is third in the nation. He also has perimeter skills and range out to the three-point line, hitting 30-87 on three-pointers this season. The combination of strength and skill for an athlete his size has Moser as the #22 overall college prospect at Draft Express. They have him slotted as a top 20 pick in the 2012 Draft, though we’d expect him to come back for another season and have a chance to go even higher in 2013.

First Round Fliers:

The following group of players all have something obvious in common, besides the fact that they could be NBA first-round picks. Take a look:

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Tracking The Four: UNLV Enters Top 10, Indiana Nearly Drops Out Entirely

Posted by EJacoby on January 31st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

This week in TT4, the team out in Vegas has entered the top 10 in the RTC rankings. UNLV continues to impress, this time getting it done with back-to-back gritty overtime wins on the road. Meanwhile, Syracuse escaped for a win with some help from the referees, and Murray State found out whom they’re playing in BracketBusters for a major upcoming challenge. Our only team trending downward, Indiana, scored 50 points in a loss and 103 points in a win in consecutive games, and we’ll try to make sense of it all. With plenty of important news to get to, let’s jump into this week’s breakdown:

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

The High-Flying Runnin' Rebels are Finally Being Recognized as a Top Team (AP Photo/J. Gurzinski)

  • Trending UP Because… – It wasn’t pretty, but they survived two road tests in the past week with victories at Boise State and Air Force. Now, the Runnin’ Rebels (20-3, 4-1 MW) are in the RTC Top 10 and are knocking on the Top 10 door of the AP and USA Today Polls as well. Most bracket projections have Dave Rice’s team as a #3 seed, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you see this team play. Tough tests remain, and a few losses surely await in the competitive Mountain West, but UNLV is proving to be one of the most explosive teams in America.
  • This Week’s Key CogMike Moser. For the second straight week and fifth time this season, a Reb was named MW Player of the Week. This time it was Moser, for the third time, after he averaged 22.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 51.7% from the field in two road victories.
  • Play of the Week – Check out Oscar Bellfield’s set-up to Moser for the alley oop in this highlight against Air Force on Saturday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Rice drove home the point that he was happy with the road win at Air Force, no matter how much the team struggled at times: “The bottom line is, we found a way to win. We got huge stops down the stretch when we needed them and made huge offensive plays as well. Now we’re back fighting for a conference title again.”
  • Sick Performance - Moser not only dominated the Falcons on Saturday, but he also put up a career-high 21 rebounds with 18 points in the Wednesday win at Boise State — all while he was ill. The forward was battling a sore throat and head cold and had been vomiting before the game, yet still came through with one of his best games of the season.
  • Stats CentralChace Stanback had the worst shooting performance of his career on Saturday (1-10 from the field, two points), but he contributed in other ways with six rebounds, four assists, and four steals, including the crucial one with two seconds remaining to seal the victory.
  • What’s Next? – The Rebels have two tough matchups this week, first a home game against Colorado State on Wednesday (10:30 PM ET), followed by a road date at Wyoming on Saturday (4:00 PM ET). CSU is ranked #15 in the RPI and a current NCAA bubble team while Wyoming is 12-2 at home this season. Both games are televised on The Mountain TV Network.

Murray State Racers

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