The national title game is set for tonight and we feel fairly confident in saying that nobody saw this one coming on Selection Sunday. Connecticut proved that its victory over Florida in December was no fluke as they beat the Gators by a surprisingly large margin. In the second semifinal, Kentucky continued its goal of giving every single person in the state of Kentucky a heart attack with its fourth straight nail-bitter as they beat Wisconsin by one thanks to yet another late three-pointer by Aaron Harrison. So now we find ourselves in the strange situation of watching two of the most prominent programs in college basketball play for the title as a #7 and #8 seed.
For the sake of Wake Forest fans we hope their new administration got it right with their decision to hire Danny Manning. Manning is best known for leading carrying Kansas to 1988 NCAA title and his time in the NBA, but he also has ties to North Carolina as he went there for high school before a move to Kansas that would have made Twitter explode if it happened today. Manning has coached at Tulsa for two years leading the team to the NCAA Tournament despite losing several players to transfer when he took the job. Manning certainly has a big enough name to get the attention of recruits (or at least their coaches), but the question is whether he can make Winston-Salem a destination for top recruits in an increasingly competitive ACC.
It did not take Ohio very long to move on from the Jim Christian era as they announced the hiring of North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips over the weekend. Phillips compiled a 134-84 record in seven seasons at North Dakota State including two NCAA appearances (2009 and 2014) and one NCAA Tournament victory (this year). Outside of the on-court success Phillips had his push for a bigger and better job was undoubtedly helped by his time serving as the director of basketball operations at Wisconsin under Bo Ryan and his personality that made him a media darling during the opening weekend (you can be sure that his celebration after North Dakota State’s win over Oklahoma win be included in “One Shining Moment” tonight).
It appears that the new target for the public’s ire with regard to unreasonable transfer restrictions will be Nevada based on their limits for Cole Huff‘s transfer. Huff is certainly a solid player as he averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season as a sophomore, but we do not understand why a school would restrict his movement so much. Huff is prohibited from transferring to any Mountain West, West Coast, or Pac-12 school as well as any schools that are on Nevada’s scheduled this coming season. So essentially Huff, who is from California, is prohibited from transferring to a school in the Pacific or Mountain time zones. To a degree we can understand limiting a transfer if the school feels like some tampering took place, but this seems excessive.
So about that whole unionization movement… Kain Colter might have won in court (at least at the first level), but now it appears that the players at Northwestern might not even step up to unionize according to football coach Pat Fitzgerald. One of our issues with Colter’s involvement from the beginning was that he essentially did not have any skin in the game since he had already exhausted his eligibility before coming forward. While a vote not to unionize would not permanently cripple the movement it would be a very ugly public setback and would only serve to reinforce the difficulty any such movement would have. To add to that, Mark Emmert also came out yesterday stating that unionization would be a “grossly inappropriate solution” to the issues that college athletics face. As we said before, this has a very long way to go before we see any significant changes.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on February 11th, 2014
We’re in the back stretch of conference play and, as we have expected for the past couple months, we now have clear separation between the top two teams in the conference – San Diego State and New Mexico, which have combined for only one conference loss – and the rest of the pack. Nevada dropped a pair of road games; UNLV lost on the road; and Wyoming dropped a pair as well, giving the second place Lobos a three-game lead in the loss column over the third-place team. Even more clearly, this looks like a two-bid league come March, barring a big surprise in the conference tournament. The third highest-rated team in the RPI is Boise State, checking in at #68 following a heartbreaker against the Aztecs.
A Dagger Of A Three From Dwayne Polee Leaves Boise State In Dire Straits. (Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman)
Let’s play a fun game of “let’s pretend” and say that the Broncos catch fire, win out in conference play and get to the championship game in Vegas before bowing out to either San Diego State or New Mexico. Never mind that this team hasn’t shown any indication that its capable of that type of streak, but that would put them at 24-10 with a win over New Mexico in the regular season and a win over the Lobos again (although possibly San Diego State) in the MW Tournament semifinal. That would give them two wins over New Mexico as by far their best wins of the season, with Utah – currently ranked #103 in RPI – ranks as their next best win. Not exactly the resume of an NCAA Tournament team.
Team of the Week
San Diego State – In a week where three conference schools scored a road win as part of a 2-0 week, the Aztecs had the most impressive road win by going to Boise State, roaring back from a 13-point deficit in the middle of the second half, then getting a big go-ahead three-pointer from Dwayne Polee with five seconds left to break the Broncos’ spirit. The Aztecs followed that up by coming home and handing it to Nevada in workmanlike fashion while in the process tying a school-record 20-game winning streak.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 14th, 2014
Go home Mountain West, you’re drunk! How else to explain looking at the standings two weeks in and seeing Nevada – they of the eight non-conference losses, including to such luminaries as Pacific, Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, and New Orleans – alone atop the conference standings? How about Boise State and UNLV, two teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids prior to the season, sitting back at 1-2? How about the worst team in the conference, San Jose State, giving New Mexico everything the Lobos can handle? How about the conference, home of terrific home court advantages up and down the West, sporting just a combined 10-9 record in league play so far? How about a San Diego State team in a rebuilding year with a work-in-progress offense carrying the banner for the conference with a top 15 ranking in the most recent RTC Top 25? Face it. Not a lot in this conference makes a ton of sense this year. And it is fascinating.
Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play. (US Presswire)
Team of the Week
Nevada – This team was – not to put too fine a point on it – awful in the non-conference. They didn’t share they ball, they couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t defend. Less patient athletic directors may have begun their next coaching searches before Christmas. Now, while we’ve still no reason to suspect that the Wolf Pack are actually going to challenge for the conference title, much less an NCAA Tournament bid, these guys have turned into a real team. You actually want to find a way to watch them just to see what’s going on. They’ve got an NBA talent in Deonte Burton; they’ve got newcomer A.J. West providing some toughness up front; and they’ve got a handful of talented ancillary parts. And with sophomore Marqueze Coleman now back from injury, they’re starting to get back to whole. And – get this – they’re actually allowing less than a point per possession in four conference games. Maybe you can believe in this team, at least for a little while.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
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.
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)
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.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Nine teams, six in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament invitation, four with a good claim on a Top 25 spot — It is safe to say that the Mountain West, while maybe not having the elite teams that the Big Ten does, is the most competitive conference in the country from top to bottom. We’ve had three overtime games in two weeks and another five games decided by single figures. And, just when you’re ready to count out one team (like for instance, Air Force following a 39-point loss at Colorado State), they bounce back and score a big win (like those Falcons did against Boise State over the weekend). Conversely, we’ve seen a team like UNLV score a major road win over their biggest rival, San Diego State, then come back and struggle on the road. While the road environments in this conference are brutal, so far we’ve seen road teams have good success (road teams have won six of the 16 conference games played), such that it is looking like specific match-ups and timing may have as big of an impact on the outcomes of games as venue does. Two weeks in, everybody in the conference has at least one win and everybody, save for conference-leading New Mexico, has at least one loss. In other words, buckle up, because it is going to be a wild ride, and in all likelihood, this conference is not going to be settled until the final week of the regular season.
Team of the Week
Colorado State – After taking intra-state rival Air Force out behind the woodshed on Wednesday, the Rams welcomed UNLV into Moby Arena on Saturday for the headlining MW game of the weekend. Despite Colton Iverson’s offensive struggles and Wes Eikmeier’s foul trouble, CSU rode Dorian Green’s offensive explosion (24 points, including four threes, along with five assists and five boards) to its second straight win over the Rebels. The Rams hit 10 straight free throws in the final four minutes of the game and held UNLV to just two points on six possessions to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point win.
With Colton Iverson Struggling And Wes Eikmeier In Foul Trouble, Dorian Green Had His Best Game Of The Year (Dawn Madura/The Coloradoan)
Player of the Week
Anthony Marshall, Senior, UNLV – While Air Force’s Michael Lyons had the game of the week in the conference (37 ridiculously efficient points against Boise on Saturday), Marshall was the most consistent performer this week, averaging 20.5 points, four assists, seven rebounds and two steals while willing his Rebels to a road win at San Diego State. After the Rebels went more than five minutes without scoring, and in the process turned a nine-point lead into a three-point deficit, Marshall took over, scoring nine of the next 13 Rebels points and getting the lead back. Marshall followed that game up with an equally impressive effort against CSU, scoring 15 second half points in trying to earn his Rebels a secondstraight conference road win.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West conference.
A Look Back
Mountain West teams have been involved in three high profile events thus far this season – the San Diego State/Syracuse aircraft carrier debacle, the New Mexico win at the Paradise Jam, and UNLV hosting Oregon, Cincinnati and Iowa State at the Global Sports Classic. In two of those three events, the MW team went home with a loss. So, here we are getting ready to head into December and the only two MW wins over teams in Ken Pomeroy’s present top 50 are UNLV’s win over Iowa State (#48) and UNM’s win over Connecticut (#49). Now, there are still some chances out there, but as of right now, there ain’t a whole lot of meat on the bones for the conference’s overall resume. I’m sure the same can be said at plenty of places around the country, but MW fans have sure got to be rooting for SDSU to take care of business against UCLA, and for teams like Boise State and Air Force to fare well against Creighton and Wichita State, respectively, this week as the meat of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge takes place.
Team of the Week
Colorado State – The Rams get the nod on the strength of a pair of decent road wins, at Denver and at Washington, followed up by a win last night back in the cozy confines of Moby Arena over Northern Colorado. None of those count as spectacular wins, but the impressive thing is that CSU seems to go about winning their games in a different, and possibly more sustainable fashion this year than they did last year. Last year it was a perimeter-oriented attack with guys like Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green using the majority of possessions, en route to a offense-first, defense-when-we-get-around-to-it style. This year, though the offense is still quite efficient, the defense is much improved. And the particulars are drastically different. For example, last year, in part due to the seventh-smallest lineup in the nation, the team eschewed rebounding and focused on working their way to a good first shot. This year, they’re third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and second in defensive rebounding percentage. Don’t expect those lofty rankings to hold – the competition will get better, especially come conference play – but it seems clear that Larry Eustachy is taking a much different approach to the Rams than the previous coach, Tim Miles, did. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but different. More down the page a bit. Read the rest of this entry »