Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 9th, 2016

It’s a week of callbacks in the Mountain West check-in because a lot of the things we talked about last week at this time proved particularly relevant in the interim. Before we jump into team-by-team breakdowns, however, let’s hit the big story: San Diego State going a long way toward wrapping up at least a share of the regular season title for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Aztecs knocked off New Mexico on Saturday night, bumping their conference record to 11-0 and establishing a three-game lead over the Lobos in the loss column with seven games remaining. It wasn’t a dominant win and the Aztecs needed a fortunate (but not egregious) call with 12.9 seconds left to have a chance to tie the game. But, credit to Steve Fisher’s bunch, they made the most of the second chance by nailing a three from Malik Pope to send the game to overtime and then taking care of business from there. With the win, San Diego State continued its ascension up to #44 in the RPI and #64 in KenPom. What this all means is that there is some lingering hope around the conference that a second NCAA Tournament bid is possible. That would of course have to mean some team will knock off the Aztecs in the conference tournament, but six of those 11 conference wins have been decided by only one possession. In other words, if the luck factor in close games reverts to the mean, the Aztecs will have some losses coming between now and Selection Sunday.

With Saturday Night's Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

With Saturday Night’s Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (18-6, 9-0) – Last week we dug into the Aztecs’ ongoing streak of what was then 159 straight wins (and 224 out of 225) when leading games with five minutes left to play. Since that post, the Aztecs found themselves ahead two more times with five minutes left, and in both games, with the outcome with a minute to go was severely in doubt. Against Colorado State, it was the Rams turning it over on three consecutive possessions and a contested layup at the buzzer that came up short. Against New Mexico it was a poorly executed in-bounds and a technically incorrect (but completely understandable) call. But here we stand with the streak now at 161 games. It’s not exactly on par with UCLA’s 88-game winning streak. Or DiMaggio’s hitting streak. But it is sort of mind-boggling. And I’ll certainly take it over the Globetrotters. One other note from the week: big men Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol combined to play 85 minutes and between them went 10-of-13 from the field, scored 20 points, grabbed 21 boards and blocked five shots. However, despite 13 feet and five inches of frontcourt goodness, the pair earned exactly zero free throw attempts.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 2nd, 2016

Its been too darn long since we’ve done one of these, so let’s do this right and get caught up on the Mountain West. We’re basically halfway through conference play with eight of the 11 teams having played at least nine conference games, and San Diego State has clearly established itself as the conference’s best team — off to a 9-0 start that gives them a game-and-a-half lead over two-loss New Mexico. Before we get into the team-by-team rundowns, let’s take a moment to congratulate the conference on the fact that, in an era of the horrors of unbalanced scheduling in large conferences, its brass made sure that the league’s top four teams (San Diego State, New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV) play each other twice. Sure, it’s easier to set that up when the league only has 11 teams (where you only miss a home-and-away schedule against two conference foes), but regardless of how, that part of the schedule is right this year.

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (16-6, 9-0) – I wrote plenty about the Aztecs yesterday, so go read that article first. But, there’s also the matter of San Diego State’s 17 million straight wins when leading with five minutes remaining in a game (actually, the number now stands at 159 straight). Now, that number sounds impressive, and it is (Mark Zeigler noted three weeks ago that the next longest streak in the conference is at 14 wins). But even more impressively, that time 160 games ago when the Aztecs lost a game after leading at the five-minute mark was when Wyoming hit six threes in the final 4:12 to outscore the Aztecs 24-8 over that stretch. Even crazier: That loss broke another long 65-game Aztec streak of winning games when they were ahead at the five-minute mark. By my math, San Diego State is 224-1 in the last 225 games where it led at the five-minute mark. Go read that excellent Zeigler article about the streak. There’s a lot more great stuff in there too.
San Diego State's History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

San Diego State’s History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

  • New Mexico (13-8, 6-2) – After getting handled by the Runnin’ Rebels in UNLV’s first game post-Dave Rice a couple weeks back, the Lobos came back and got surprised by Wyoming in The Pit. It was easy to write New Mexico off at that time, and wins at San Jose State and at home against Air Force did nothing to change that idea. But Saturday night in Boise changed this up indeed. Behind a 30 points from Elijah Brown and 21 from Tim Williams, the Lobos had a terrific offensive night, kept their turnovers in check and served notice that despite some early season bumps and bruises, they were going to stick around for awhile. In that loss to Wyoming, sophomore point guard Cullen Neal suffered a concussion and missed the win over San Jose State, but in the two games since then, Neal played his best back-to-back games of the season, averaging 11.5 efficient points and a combined six assists to three turnovers.

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Checking In On… The Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 12th, 2016

It’s been a couple weeks since we’ve done one of these because of holidays and real life, but it is time to jump back in as plenty has gone down in the Mountain West since Christmas. We’ll get to all the goings-on around individual teams below, but if you need a one-sentence summary of the season so far, here you go: Barring completely unforeseen circumstances, the winner of the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas will be the conference’s sole representative in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, the league’s second year of existence. And to show just how wacky this league is this year, I’d probably bunch four teams ahead of the pack as favorites to win that tournament. Of those four, three are undefeated in league play. The fourth – UNLV, hasn’t won a conference game and just fired its head coach, Dave Rice. We will get the first two matchups of the year among those four teams this week, so let’s jump into the mess that is the Mountain West.

UNLV's Midseason Separation With Dave Rice Is Apropos For A Messy Year In The Mountain West (Getty Images/E. Miller)

UNLV’s Midseason Separation With Dave Rice Is Apropos For A Messy Year In The Mountain West. (Getty Images/E. Miller)

Power Rankings

1. Boise State (12-4, 3-0)The Broncos are a bright spot. Riding a nine-game winning streak (the seventh-longest streak in the nation), they’re the team that ratings systems like the most. In KenPom, they’re just a notch above the rest of the conference at #79, but their RPI of #49 makes them seem like they have a chance to earn an at-large bid. But, in terms of quality wins, a home win over Oregon is about all there is. And additional quality wins just aren’t coming on the league schedule. Maybe if that nine-game winning streak turns into 16 or something. And maybe if the Broncos run away with the conference at something like 16-2, they could sustain a loss in the conference tourney and still dance, but that’s a whole lot of maybes for a program that won the regular season Mountain West title last year and was “rewarded” by the selection committee with a road game in the First Four. As far as on the court happenings, by now you probably know all about James Webb and Anthony Drmic. Nick Duncan has become a cult figure and if you read this here spot, Mikey Thompson has been a regular feature for four years. But the biggest reason for optimism may be the recent play of sophomore Chandler Hutchison. Coming into Boise last season as the most highly touted recruit in program history, he bumped around and never looked fully comfortable in his 12.3 MPG. Early in the non-conference season, his level of comfort didn’t look all that different and it wasn’t insane to question why he was so highly regarded of a recruit. Well, in three conference games, he’s put on a show. It’s definitely a small sample size, but he’s got the highest offensive rating in conference play thus far after averting 9.3 PPG and 4 RPG while shooting a 67.7% eFG in 23.6 MPG. More important than those numbers, he’s looked comfortable, he’s attacked the rim and flashed his athleticism and is beginning to get it on the defensive end of the court. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 22nd, 2015

There’s plenty of on-court news that we’ll get to below, but the big news from the last week was from the conference office. As the Mountain West announced that the conference tournament will remain at the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas through at least 2019, not so hidden in that announcement was the corresponding news that only the top eight teams in the final league standings will be making the trip. First, the venue. While nearly everyone in the conference is supportive of playing the conference tournament in Vegas because of the clear entertainment draw and centralized location, the particulars of playing on UNLV’s home court remain controversial. San Diego State coach Steve Fisher is a vocal opponent of that location, but subsidies for rent on the Thomas & Mack as well as hotel rooms make the decision a virtual economic necessity.

Las Vegas

The Mountain West Tournament will remain in Las Vegas, but fewer teams will be invited.

However, the paring down of invitees is more of a head-scratcher. Sure, commissioner Craig Thompson points to an invitation to the conference tourney as a reward for a strong regular season, but with an eye toward the fan experience, part of the fun of the conference tournament is having everybody at the same venue. Further, just in terms of planning a Vegas vacation in mid-March with weekdays in play, less notice for teams near the cut line does not bode well for maximum attendance. For example, the conference has had 11 members for the past two seasons. In 2013-14, there was a tie for eighth place, with just a one-game drop to ninth. Last season, there were three games separating spots #7 through #10. This year, KenPom currently projects sixth place in the conference at 9-9 with three more teams projected to go 8-10. In all of those scenarios, teams wouldn’t really be clinching a spot for an invitation to the conference tournament until the final week of the regular season, making it more difficult for fans to get time off work to head to Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2015

Last week we were bemoaning the fact that the conference’s early season struggles had put it clearly behind the eight-ball. For example, in naming our top five non-conference wins, we had to include UNLV’s win over Cal Poly and Boise State’s win over UC Irvine. This week, however, following the Runnin’ Rebels defeat of Oregon, not only does the Mountain West have another fine scalp, the league has also got a team in those same Rebels with the makings of a legitimate at-large resume. Now, there’s a long, long way between here and Selection Sunday, but at least we can say there is some hope that the Mountain West is something more than a conference-tourney-winner take all one-bid league. And along the way, we’re ready to vault UNLV right into the role of the conference favorite.

UNLV's Most Recent Resume Win Has Dave Rice And Co. As Conference Favorites

UNLV’s Most Recent Resume Win Has Dave Rice And Co. As Conference Favorites.

 Power Rankings

  1. UNLV (7-1) – A technically neutral-site win over Oregon on Friday night gives the Runnin’ Rebels the two best non-conference wins in the Mountain West, arguably three of the top five and put them on the national top 25 radar. What’s more, that game against Oregon showed a lot of the things that have been missing around Vegas in recent years. First, there was far more ball movement that the nine assists on 26 made field goals would have you believe. Second, there was camaraderie and chemistry, all the signs of a group of teammates that actually get along with each other. And third, there were productive coaching adjustments and coherent offensive strategies against changing defenses. Ongoing doubts about Dave Rice’s ability to pull it all together for this team are still reasonable, but there is plenty of reason for hope. And with a trip to Wichita State tonight followed on down the line by dates with Arizona State and Arizona, we’ll continue to get chances to test that hope. Exciting times for the Rebs. Read the rest of this entry »
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Other 26 Previews: Mountain West Conference

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

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Boise State Won The Conference Title Last Year, But Was Rewarded With A Road Game In The NCAA Tournament (Charlie Litchfield/IPT)

Boise State Won The Conference Title Last Year, But Was Rewarded With A Road Game In The NCAA Tournament (Charlie Litchfield/IPT)

Respect. If this conference isn’t careful, it could be on the verge of losing all of the respect it has built up over the course of a long period of competitive basketball. Last season, following Wyoming’s surprise Mountain West Tournament victory, the league went into Selection Sunday hoping to land four teams in the field of 68. Instead, the Cowboys were joined by San Diego State and a woefully underseeded Boise State (regular season champion relegated to a road game against Dayton in the First Four), while Colorado State and its three seniors were entirely left behind. Since 2011, when the conference put two teams (San Diego State and BYU) into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the league has been afforded plenty of respect by the Selection Committee with 14 invitations over the past four seasons. But during that stretch, the Mountain West has also combined to go just 6-14 in the NCAA Tournament, a full six wins below expectations based on its seed line. Worse yet, the conference has dipped from top five conference RPI rankings in 2013 to #10 in 2014 and #13 last season. Not good.

Non-Conference Slate. Part of upping those RPI numbers has to do with scheduling smartly in the non-conference schedule. Back when the Mountain West was earning five NCAA Tournament invitations, some of the credit for that Selection Sunday success had to go to the conference programs massaging their schedules to boost their RPI profiles. It seemed like there was a collective effort to avoid scheduling terrible RPI anchors and, while also scheduling several tough teams with good RPIs, avoiding a brutal schedule to harm the all-important win/loss records. This year? As Matt Stephens of The Coloradoan showed on Monday, if you average the 2014-15 RPIs of this year’s opponents, nobody in the league plays a schedule with an average RPI of stronger than 100th. That’s not good. UNLV has the toughest non-conference slate, with UCLA, Oregon, Wichita State, Arizona State and Arizona dotting the schedule, but those tests are also dragged down by some of the dregs of Division I basketball (Southern Utah, Prairie View A&M, South Dakota). Long story short: the Mountain West has seemingly scheduled it’s way behind the eight-ball from the get-go this season.

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Ranking the Pac-12’s Top 20 Non-Conference Games: Part I

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 22nd, 2015

Part I contains games #20 – #11. Check back later today for the top 10 non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams.

Last season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, UCLA had the toughest non-conference strength of schedule among Pac-12 teams, good for 91st in the nation. Beyond the Bruins, only Stanford (136th), Utah (155th) and Arizona (180th) finished among the top 200. As a conference, those are obscene numbers. We talked a lot last year about the state of the game and watchability and the like, and yet, when a major conference like the Pac-12 can’t be bothered to play halfway decent opponents in their elective games, that is a sure sign that something is wrong in the game. This year, things should be somewhat better but it is still a mixed bag. Big ups to teams like Utah, UCLA and Arizona State for scheduling well outside of league play, but several other teams still missed the mark. Arizona, for instance, a program never known for ducking quality competition, has a decent-ish schedule, but one that is missing its typical oomph. Oregon State, a team seemingly on the rise with good returning talent coupled with a big recruiting class, has a schedule where, arguably, a home game against Valparaiso is the second-toughest game on the slate. You’ve got to do better, Beavs.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

Larry Krystkowiak and Utah, In Particular, Have Done An Excellent Job Scheduling

With all this in mind, we’re going to check in on the 20 best games we’ll see before the conference slate kicks in around the turn of the calendar year. A couple caveats: First, we’re doing this using MLB All-Star game rules, so every team gets an appearance here; and second, games that are the first game in a multi-game tournament get bonus points. Without further ado, let’s count one man’s picks for the Pac-12 non-conference games to watch.

20. 11/26 USC vs Wichita State in Orlando, FL (Advocare Invitational) – In the Thanksgiving weekend tournament formerly known as the Old Spice Classic (among other things), the Trojans get to swing for the fences against the Shockers. While it would indeed be a shock if Andy Enfield’s bunch advances to the semifinals, this game will serve as a great barometer for USC’s improvement. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Wednesday Night

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on March 18th, 2015


The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 66 to 16 in the next five days… let’s analyze the final two play-in games this evening.

#16 Robert Morris vs. #16 North Florida — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

North Florida Will Play Their First Division 1 Postseason Game Wednesday. Don't Be Surprised If They Parlay Their Debut Into A Friday Matchup With Duke.

North Florida Will Play Their First Division I Postseason Game Wednesday — Don’t Be Surprised If They Parlay Their Debut Into A Friday Matchup With Duke. (

Robert Morris, tournament champions of the NEC, will take on Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament champions North Florida in Dayton tonight. This game will play undercard to the “Dayton in Dayton” drama (co-starring Boise State) set to unfold later. The winner will make the move into the 64-team bracket to take on Duke in Charlotte on Friday. Robert Morris had to know it was headed to Dayton the moment the Colonials upset St. Francis (NY) and earned the automatic berth, but North Florida might be surprised at its appointment in Dayton. After a 23-11 season that featured a December victory at Purdue, the Ospreys are now the first Atlantic Sun team to ever receive the First Four assignment. An RPI in the 160s had to be the incriminating component of the North Florida resume, even as their KenPom ranking of #127 values them ahead of an Eastern Washington team that netted a #13 seed. The Ospreys’ big lineup – five of seven regulars are 6’6” or taller – will serve them well against the smaller Colonials, but it’s 6’1” Dallas Moore who makes North Florida go. The all-Atlantic Sun performer averaged 15.4 points and 3.9 assists per game in leading UNF to that pair of Atlantic Sun titles. Expect Moore and the Ospreys to look by the bracketing slight and embrace the unique opportunity that a First Four can offer. Just three days after accepting the program’s inaugural NCAA Tournament bid, North Florida should be in good shape to snag its first Tournament victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Florida

#11 Boise State vs. #11 Dayton — East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.

Dayton gets to play at home in tonight's First Four. (

Dayton Plays at Home in Tonight’s First Four. (Getty)

These teams are very similar in two notable respects: Both overcame key personnel losses early in the season and both were rooked by the Selection Committee. Dayton – which dismissed two of its most important frontcourt players back in December – somehow became the last at-large team above the cut-line, despite most bracketologists projecting the Flyers as a #8 or #9 seed. As a result, Boise State – which lost shooting guard Anthony Drmic less than one month into the season – must now win a true road game (at University of Dayton Arena) in order to advance. If this matchup were played on a neutral floor, it would be hard to figure which squad has the edge; the Broncos and Flyers are ranked 39th and 40th in KenPom, respectively, and each sits firmly among the top-75 teams in America in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Boise State’s Derrick Marks (19.3 PPG) will be the best offensive player on the floor, a supremely talented scorer with a vastly-improved outside shot (44% 3FG), while Dayton boasts an entire lineup of guys adept at beating opponents off the dribble and earning trips to the free throw line (third-highest free throw rate in college hoops). Considering the Flyers’ utter lack of depth and relatively short turnaround, Boise State would probably have the slight leg up under normal circumstances. But home court advantage is a very real thing, and Dayton fans come out in bunches. Look for Archie Miller’s group to ride that support to its fourth NCAA Tournament victory in the last two years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Dayton

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Mountain West Superlatives and Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 11th, 2015

With the Mountain West Tournament tipping off today in Las Vegas, let’s get warmed up by offering our season superlatives and previewing what to expect this week in the desert.

Player of the Year

Derrick Marks, Senior, Boise State – Marks averaged better than 20 points per night in conference play, leading his Broncos to their first-ever Mountain West regular season title despite the loss of co-pilot Anthony Drmic prior to conference play. Turning into a prolific and efficient three-point threat in his senior campaign, Marks was not only the conference’s top scorer, but he did a little of everything for the Broncos — turning up his game defensively; acting as a valuable conduit for the team’s offense; performing as a locker room leader.

Derrick Marks' Game Blew Up In His Senior Year (AP Photo)

Derrick Marks’ Game Blew Up In His Senior Year (AP Photo)

All-Mountain West

First Team

  • G Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State (19.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.9 SPG) – If you’re Player of the Year, you’re on the all-conference team, right?
  • G Marvelle Harris, Jr, Fresno State (16.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – Playing away from the spotlight in the California’s Central Valley, Harris was a versatile scorer for the Bulldogs.
  • F J.J. Avila, Sr, Colorado State (16.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 57.5 eFG%) – The Rams’ leader in the frontcourt, a physical interior threat with a surprising skill set.
  • F Larry Nance Jr., Sr, Wyoming (16.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 53.4 eFG%) – For the second straight season, midseason health problems cost the versatile Cowboy a run at conference POY.
  • F Christian Wood, So, UNLV (15.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.8 BPG) – Eighteen double-doubles and an enhanced offensive game earn Wood a first-team spot despite a lack of team success.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

Boise State – I just wrote a couple thousand words about the Broncos, so go read that piece if you want any longwinded explanations of why they’re the obvious pick here. In breaking San Diego State’s 29-game home winning streak, the Broncos put themselves in the driver’s seat for the conference championship and the #1 seed in the conference tournament. There was no other reasonable option.

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile. (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris, and Utah State put together a couple good wins. But let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, that’s to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, check out these numbers for the week: 24.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, and a 50% eFG. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year award, although odds are good that wasn’t his main goal.


Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris. Utah State put together a couple good wins and I thought about going with an Aggie, but picking one meant ignoring the others. And really, let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, such is to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, for the week, check out these numbers: 24 PPG, 5 RPG, 3 APG, 2 SPG, and a 50 eFG%. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year. But odds are good, that wasn’t his main goal.

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