Where 2011-12 Happens: Reason #22 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 13th, 2011

Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!

#22 – Where DJ Game Winner Happens


We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.

Share this story

Conference Tournament Daily Diary: Thursday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2011

RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West.  Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site.  Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week.  Today’s coverage:  ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West & Pac-10.

ACC Tournament – by Kellen Carpenter

  • Miami-Virginia.  This was a truly bizarre game that I’m still not sure makes any sense.  Greensboro Coliseum was surprisingly packed for a 12 pm game between the 8 and 9 seed. Both teams boasted sizable and vocal fanbases who were each treated to a game of runs. Miami jumped out ahead, leading by six at the half, and then one of the weirdest second halves I have ever seen happened. Miami only scored eight points over the first 18 minutes of the second half. Virginia, rallying strongly, jumped out to a 50-39 lead with 2:15 left on the clock. Then Miami went nuts.  No, really. I’m still not sure what happened. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy by a series of weird, truly improbably events. Miami cut the eleven point deficit and forced an overtime which the Hurricanes suddenly dominated and walked away with a truly unexpected win. For a the first game of the ACC Tournament, it was not just a dinger, but a hum-dinger. Whenever you can get a crowd of Floridians and Virginians to scream their heads off in the early afternoon in North Carolina, you’ve put on quite a show. Beyond that, nothing about this game mattered.
  • Wake-BC.  After the drama of the Miami and Virginia game, any game with a team that had only managed to win one ACC game over the course of the season was bound to be a letdown. What was surprising to me, was the letdown in crowd energy. Winston-Salem, home of Wake’s campus, is a mere 20 minutes away, yet it seemed like the Demon Deacons had fewer fans present than Miami. Boston College had a very small and quiet contingent who seemed happy to quietly watch as the Eagles just took apart Wake. It really wasn’t much of a game, with the hyper-efficient Boston College offense firing on all cylinders (well, excepting the Raji cylinder). Reggie Jackson scored 27 points on 13 shots. Joe Trapani scored 22 points on 12 shots.  Nicholas Biko scored 21 points on 12 shots. Wake Forest’s porous defense could do little to stop them, and their impotence on the offensive end doomed them. Freshman Travis McKie was a bright spot, going 6-8 in the first half while the rest of his team struggled. But, for some stupefying reason, McKie only got two shots in the second half, one of these being a put-back dunk of his own manufacture. If there is a silver lining to that second half, it’s the fact that Wake actually managed to outscore BC, 36-34. Sadly, this was clearly not enough to make up for the 16 point deficit incurred in the first half. My favorite part of this game, was clearly the few, loud Wake Forest fans sitting directly behind me. One woman seemed particularly keen on trying to coach Travis McKie’s admittedly poor free throw shooting (2-5). Every time he got to the line she would yell “Bend your knees! Follow through!” If only he had listened? The season is mercifully over for Wake, and BC will get it’s chance at tougher competition tomorrow when they take on Clemson.
  • NC State-Maryland.  There were, as you might expect, an alarming number of loud, red-wearing people at this game. Maryland jumped out to an early lead which energized/enraged these loud, red-wearing fans. In response, the N.C. State band played Cee-Lo’s “Eff You,” which, when you think about it, is a perfect pep band song: catchy and insulting to the other team, while the lack of singing effectively makes it family friendly. Well-played, Wolf Pack band. That said, the pep band arrangement of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song was pretty excellent as well. And if the bands played with flair, the teams did too. There was more speed, athleticism, and acrobatic drives on display in this game than in the first two games combined. Cross-overs, spin moves, and behind the back dribbles on the fast break had the crowd frequently on its collective feet. Does Tracy Smith have the MVB (Most Valuable Beard) of this tournament? It’s hard to see anyone overtaking him. Maryland looked in command the whole game, but since Miami’s Miracle, there was a palpable nervousness in the crowd until the buzzer finally went off.
  • Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech controlled this game from the start and once it became clear that Georgia Tech could never catch up, the crowd that had gathered for the previous game started to vanish. Virginia Tech’s fans were consistently loud and even when the Hokies’ lead exceeded twenty, the fans took every call against them as if the game depended on it. Meanwhile, the Georgia Tech fans seemed resigned to his fate. Georgia Tech never managed to score more than a point per minute in the first half. It was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a tournament setting, and remember, I watched the Wake Forest game earlier today. Virginia Tech played well enough, but I couldn’t help but be concerned about the minutes that the starters were playing. Malcolm Delaney played 39 minutes despite the massive lead VT held throughout. He only sat for the final minute of the game and that was after he had taken a needless hard foul. You have to wonder how such long minutes on consecutive days are going to affect the Hokies hopes of going deep into this tournament. Well, you don’t have to worry, but I would.

Big East Tournament – by Rob Dauster

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Live: Mountain West Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2011

Games #185-188.  RTC Live is in Vegas for a big-time afternoon of MWC basketball in the desert.

While the Mountain West Tournament started on Wednesday night with the 8/9 game between TCU and Wyoming, the meat of the matter kicks off Thursday with an interesting set of quarters beginning at noon in Vegas. BYU will get things started in the morning by facing TCU, a matchup which the Cougars should have little trouble with. The second quarterfinal of the day between Colorado State and New Mexico may be the most interesting one. The loser of that game is almost certainly NIT bound (at best), while the winner gets a crack at BYU in the semifinals where a win would go a long way towards getting them back into the NCAA at-large conversation. In the evening, we’ve got San Diego State and Utah kicking off at 6pm PST, followed by UNLV, playing in front of a largely partisan and raucous home crowd, against Air Force. It should be the beginning of a fun three days in Vegas, and we hope you’ll stop in to chat about some good MWC hoops.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Weekly Bracketology: 01.24.10

Posted by zhayes9 on January 24th, 2011

Zach Hayes is RTC’s official bracketologist.


Last Four In: Butler, Colorado State, Oklahoma State, UCLA.

Last Four Out: Dayton, Colorado, Wichita State, UAB.

Next Four Out: Washington State, George Mason, UCF, Kansas State.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: JaJuan Leaves Penn State Wanting…

Posted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2011

The Lede.  It was a big night of college basketball around the landscape, but there wasn’t much too surprising among the top teams; no, tonight’s focus is mostly on the unranked folks — teams like Colorado State, Marshall, Indiana State and Memphis.  Oh, and a 6’9 senior who some are touting as a NPOY candidate — him too.

JaJuan Johnson Gets It Done (AP/M. Conroy)

Your Watercooler MomentJaJuan Johnson Saves Purdue, Enters NPOY Debate.  The hope for players who make it all the way to their senior season is that they improve their game every year.  Purdue’s Johnson has shown exactly that kind of progression, going from a spot-minute backup to a dominant force in the paint in three-plus seasons.  Oh, and also outside the paint — you see, JJJ has added a jumper to the point where he’s taken 22 threes and made seven (31.8%) this year, which may not seem all that impressive until you realize that he had put up an oh-fer in his previous three seasons (0-10).  In tonight’s game against Penn State, with his team desperately needing to avoid a three-game losing streak, Johnson received a pass on the right elbow just a shade inside the arc.  In years past, he may have hesitated or looked to pass; this year he confidently shot the ball at the rim where it found nothing but net, giving Purdue a one-point lead and essentially the win with three seconds left.  With his season averages of 21/8/2 BPG on 51% shooting, Johnson has re-opened his consideration as a serious NPOY candidate.  We’re certainly not against the idea — other than perhaps Jared Sullinger, there’s probably no better big man in the country.  With six weeks left in the season, if the impressive young center can put the Boilermakers on his back and lead them to a Big Ten title, he’ll certainly be right there with the others in a wide-open field.  Check out his superb evening in the clip below.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Ohio State at #1.  The Buckeyes wore it well.  After several closer-than-expected games in the last two weeks, Ohio State dominated Iowa tonight by turning up the defense and holding the Hawkeyes to only 48 points tonight in an easy win.  Things will change quickly, however, as seven of OSU’s next nine opponents are currently ranked beginning with a trip to Champaign this weekend where we predicted earlier today that Thad Matta’s team will take its first loss of the year.
  • Texas.  Wow.  We knew there was a reason somewhere inside our head why we threw $10 on the Horns to win it all last weekend.  When Texas is hitting shots like they were tonight against Texas A&M — and especially Jordan Hamilton, who was 10-14 — they’re an excellent basketball team.  Among the teams hovering around the top ten, we’d argue that Rick Barnes’ team might have the most upside of any team in the second half of the season.  They already defend like crazy, holding TAMU to 42% tonight but ultimately winning the game in the first five minutes by running out to a dominant early 20-5 lead; the only issue is the occasionally spotty offense, but with Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Gary Johnson all capable of putting up numbers, we’re slowly starting to really warm up to this team.  Big time home win tonight against the streaking Aggies.p
  • Louisville’s Resilience.  We’re not sure how they’re continuing to do it, but they’re continuing to do it.  Louisville has been banged up and rotating new players into the lineup all season, and yet they continue to win games in remarkable ways.  Just a few days after the amazing comeback win over Marquette, the Cardinals ripped apart St. John’s, using Pitino’s trademark pressure defense and (what else?) three-point shooting (13-26) to terrorize Steve Lavin’s guards.  We’ve said it before, but this Louisville team reminds us more and more of some of Pitino’s early Kentucky teams — you wondered where the talent on the floor was, and before you knew it, you were down fifteen points after a barrage of turnovers and threes.  At 4-1 already in the Big East, you have to give him credit for another tremendous start under duress.
Share this story

ATB: Meet Lamar’s Mike James, the New Human Microwave

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2011

The Lede.  There were quite a few good games on the tube tonight, mostly in the Big East and Big Ten, but ultimately all of the better teams won.  But the big story on this early January evening came from Beaumont, Texas, as a player with the most common of names pulled off a supremely uncommon occurrence — a 50-point game.  And he did it while coming off the bench.

Meet Mike James, the Newest Human Microwave (B. Wright)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Unlikeliest 50-point Night of All-Time? Tonight someone named Mike James, a reserve guard for Lamar whose season and career high coming into tonight’s game with something called Louisiana College was 16 points, put on a Superman cape, ripped open a can of spinach and ate his Wheaties when he raised up off the bench on this particular evening.  Twenty-eight minutes later, the 6’1 junior college transfer from Eastern Arizona had nailed eleven threes en route to a 52-point explosion that seems to have come out of nowhere, as he entered the game averaging a mere 10.7 PPG in about fifteen minutes of action.  Perhaps just as impressive as his ability to score was his ability to shoot, as James managed to throw up 35 field goal attempts in those 28 minutes, an average of 1.25 per minute (we assume the four fouls were necessitated to rest his shooting arm).  James’ ridiculous performance is the best bench scoring output nationally in fourteen years (UT-San Antonio’s Roderick Hall had 52 off the pine in 1997), but for insiders familiar with his game (not us), such rapid-fire cannoning isn’t all that unusual.  The player who calls himself “the real MJ” via his Twitter account certainly has a scorer’s attitude, having led his juco league in scoring with a 25.9 PPG average last year and receiving interest from a number of schools including Santa Clara, Nebraska and Detroit.  He surfaced at Lamar because he reportedly liked the warm weather in Texas, perhaps knowing that the milder climate would keep his hand hot for those moments when he had the green light off the bench.  Tonight appeared to be that night.  Something tells us we’re going to be hearing from this new “MJ” again.  (for a glimpse of his athleticism, check out this clip on his YouTube page)

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Big Ten Favorites.  It wasn’t easy but both Ohio State and Minnesota avoided upsets tonight against Big Ten bottom-dwellers Iowa and Indiana, respectively.  OSU’s Thad Matta wasn’t happy with his team’s defense for the second straight game, but having a player like Jared Sullinger inside can make up for many defensive lapses — his 24/12 on the interior was something that Iowa was simply not equipped to handle.  OSU has started off the Big Ten slate with two easier opponents, even if on the road, but Minnesota has had no such luck, having to travel to Madison and East Lansing prior to tonight’s game at home against Indiana.  Trevor Mbakwe, the next best glass-eater in the league after Sullinger, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and blocked five shots to help his Gophers come back from a nine-point second half deficit and effectively save Tubby Smith’s team from an untenable 0-3 start in the conference race.
  • Colorado State as Spoiler.  It’s no secret that the Mountain West has designs on getting four teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year — San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and New Mexico.  Four other schools are simply not very good — TCU, Utah, Wyoming and Air Force.  But Colorado State, with senior forward Andy Ogide (16/7) leading the way, is the mid-pack team none of the top four can afford to lose to if they want to take the MWC crown and earn that high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  CSU’s win over Wyoming tonight confirms that the rest of the MWC’s fortunes may ultimately rest on how well the top four handle the Rams in their home-and-home series this year.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s 43.  On most other night’s LaceDarius Dunn’s 43-point performance would be the headliner, but Mike James’ 52 off the bench displaced the Baylor guard’s outstanding evening.  Dunn nailed ten threes (on 18 attempts) and put the Bears on his back down the stretch of tonight’s game against Morgan State when they really needed him.  For Baylor to reach its goals this season, they’re going to need Dunn to occasionally do so, especially on the nights where Perry Jones and some of the others fail to step up.  He’s been relatively quiet this year, but his averages of 23/5/2 APG while shooting 42% from deep (two-thirds of his shots are treys) are All-American worthy.

and Misses.

Share this story

RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Plains/Mountains Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX)

  • LaceDarius Dunn* – Sr, G – Baylor. Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: there’s no news. We know that in order for him to be an Impact Player for this region and to indeed fulfill the promise that’s implied when your name pops up on all sorts of pre-season All-America teams, LaceDarius Dunn has to actually see the floor, and as of right now he’s still suspended from competition. He’s practicing, he’s attending classes, but that suspension from games of any kind is indefinite, so what Dunn is doing most is waiting. So are we, because we want to see the guy play some more, and soon. We’ve backed LaceDarius since his first moments on the Baylor campus and we’ve enjoyed watching him grow as a basketball player during his time there. Dunn was a factor right from the start in Waco, averaging 13.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 22 MPG as a freshman, and he’s only gotten more impressive each season. You could see his confidence grow by the game through his sophomore year as he tacked a couple of points onto that scoring average (15.7 PPG) and took on more responsibility. Last season was probably the school’s best since 1950 and earned the Bears their best year-end ranking ever (#10), and Dunn was the centerpiece along with Ekpe Udoh. The unquestioned team leader, Dunn put his scoring gift on full display, contributing 19.6 PPG (33rd in the nation) in just over 32 MPG. Because of his quickness and his deep shooting range, he represents the ultimate defensive conundrum. If you play up on him, he’s by you. If you give him a cushion — and he doesn’t need much space at all — he’ll drill you from range. If you get physical, not only will he match you (Dunn is a disturbingly solid 6’4, 205), but he’ll be more than happy to repair to the free throw line (85.7% last season) and bleed you to death with paper cuts. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his game is that shooting accuracy. If Dunn can see the rim, he’s in range, and he has no qualms about letting it sail. He nailed 116 threes last season, a single-season record for the school. His next trey will be his 300th, and he’s already hit more of them than any other Baylor player. Those 299 threes put him 91 bombs away from breaking the Big 12 record of 389 held by Texas’ A.J Abrams, and seeing as how Dunn has had no problem breaking 100 the past two seasons, we think he’ll get there. Considering all that, his overall shooting percentage becomes that much more impressive. He shot 45.2% last year and has posted a 44.9% mark for his Baylor career. This brings up the question, again: how do you guard this man? It’ll be fun to watch Big 12 opponents make a go of it this season, that’s for sure — we just have to get the guy on the floor and past this current situation regarding the alleged assault. Because of the strange, conflicting stories from some of the people involved and the paucity of other details that have emerged about this matter, we’re not sure where the truth lies or what outcome would constitute justice. We just hope it’s one that results in LaceDarius Dunn playing basketball as soon and as much as possible.

If Dunn Keeps His Head, He Could Be Baylor's first AP All-American First Teamer

  • Jacob Pullen – Sr, G – Kansas State. Expectations, much?  The last time Jacob Pullen’s Kansas State Wildcats were ranked as high as they are in the Preseason Coaches Poll (#3), John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts.  The year was 1959, and the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament (regrettably, the Cats lost to Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati in the regional finals).  In large part due to the big-shot making abilities of the six-foot guard who has a great chance to re-write the K-State record books this season, Frank Martin’s KSU squad is poised to make a run at its first Final Four since the 60s and its first Big 8/12 conference title since the 70s.  Pullen, the Big 12 Preseason POY as voted on by the coaches, is expected to run more of the point now that last year’s starter at that position Denis Clemente has graduated, but his ability to successfully play either the one or the two position is well-documented by league opponents.  Let’s be honest, though; with Pullen mimicking the scorer’s mentality of other height-challenged combo guards that have come before him, it doesn’t matter what “position” head coach Frank Martin puts him in.  The Beard (which is rounding into form for the season, incidentally) will have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time, just as he did in a 34-point explosion against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in the NCAA second round last season and in multiple overtimes in another win (and 28-point performance) against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen.  It’s not very easy to stop a player who can routinely go for 20+ against some of the best defensive coaches in the country (16 times last year), but the one thing you do not want to do against Pullen is leave him open from behind the arc.  Make him put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim.  He’s not a traditional dead-eye shooter by any stretch, but he can torch it from outside when he finds a groove — seven threes against UNLV and BYU; six against Alabama, Xavier, Baylor and South Dakota.  Last year he tied Askia Jones’ school-record of 110 threes in a season because he’s learned how to pick his spots appropriately, exhibited by the nearly 40% conversion rate he enjoyed (a significant improvement from his 30% and 34% he shot from deep in his first two years in Manhattan).  Perhaps reflecting the grit of his fiery head coach, Pullen is also an elite defender, having been selected as a member of the six-man Big 12 all-defensive team last year.  Put all of this together — the  scoring, the defense, the grit, the BEARD — and you’re faced with the simple fact that the K-State guard is on the short list of a dozen or so players who are in contention for 1st team All-American and national Player of the Year honors in 2010-11.  The better he plays, the more likely it is that the fortunes of Kansas State basketball is on its way to reclaiming some of its ancient glory and make comparisons with teams a half-century ago completely moot.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Making Sense of the Mountain West/WAC Debacle

Posted by rtmsf on August 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

When last we left the BYU-instigated MWC/WAC soap opera, the Cougars’ plans to escape the MWC in favor of football independence and a WAC home for all other sports had been thwarted by Fresno State and Nevada’s decisions to leave the WAC for the MWC, leaving the six remaining WAC schools twisting in the wind and BYU, although still a desirable quanitity, undecided as to where it would wind up. In the days since, some of the details of the MWC-induced defections have surfaced, some new rumors have arisen and the futures of the WAC and BYU remain undecided. And so, a recap of the events and whispers of the last few days:

Our Money is on Thompson (left) In This One (Idaho Statesman)

  1. Thursday morning, WAC commissioner Karl Benson gave his first public comments on the Fresno State and Nevada decisions to leave the conference, and he promptly blasted them, saying that their decisions were “selfish acts” that left the conference’s future very much in doubt. He also clarified that Nevada president Milt Glick did not, in fact, sign the agreement that would have levied a $5 million penalty on the institution for leaving the conference, but did give a verbal agreement to the proposition, and Benson expects that the verbal agreement will be binding. Fresno State’s president John Welty, along with the presidents of the other six WAC institutions, signed the agreement. According to Benson, the two institutions will have to pay up within 60 days. Furthermore, because both schools missed the July 1 deadline for filing to leave the WAC, they will be expected to play the next two seasons in the conference before heading to the Mountain West.
  2. It also came out on Thursday that Utah State had also been invited to join the MWC, but had turned it down, partially due to the $5 million buyout and in part because they wanted to be in the same conference as BYU. Since then, it has been reported that Utah State is again in negotiations with the MWC about possible membership, and since Nevada and Fresno State have already left the WAC, the $5 million buyout penalty is no longer in effect. If Utah State winds up leaving the WAC, it will likely be the final nail in the coffin, as the WAC needs six members who have been together for five continuous years in order to retain its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. If USU leaves, the WAC would be down to five teams, and it would be the next little domino that would push the remaining WAC schools to plan a different future.
  3. While Utah State looks to take care of itself, Hawai’i is contemplating its own future sans the WAC, and that future may include independence, football-wise. Given the difficult travel logistics in scheduling Hawai’i, they may be better off scheduling a combination of road guarantee-games, a handful of home-and-home series and several games at the ends of seasons welcoming BCS squads as sort of a pre-Bowl bowl game. For other sports, including basketball, Hawai’i is considering perhaps joining a conference like the WCC, although the attractiveness of adding such a geographic outlier to any smaller conference is very much in question.
  4. If, by some stroke of luck, the WAC is able to keep all six of its remaining institutions on board (and about the only reasonable selling point they have now is that they could split the $10 million that may be owed by Fresno State and Nevada among the remaining teams), the WAC is still looking at taking a huge step backwards. With very few desirable FBS football schools in the west as potential targets for the conference, among the schools being discussed as possible additions to the conference are names like Cal Poly, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, none of whom have been major factors in Division I men’s basketball.
  5. The biggest outstanding question in all of this mess is at BYU: after triggering this landslide, where exactly do they wind up? Commissioner Benson remains hopeful that BYU will still be coming to the WAC, but at this point that is little more than wishful thinking – there is absolutely no reason for BYU to take its non-football sports to that mess anymore. If football independence is still on the table, the only way that will happen is if BYU agrees to join the WCC for its non-football sports, however BYU has very little in common with the schools in that conference. While all of those WCC schools are religious schools, they are all also very small schools, but BYU has an enrollment of more than 30,000 students. In the end, while nothing is set in stone yet, MWC officials have become more and more confident over the past few days that BYU will wind up back in the MWC, at least until it comes up with a better plan a few years down the road.
  6. One interesting rumor that has been bandied about the past couple of days has been a potential MWC/Conference USA agreement to join forces in some as yet undetermined way. Among the possibilities discussed have been a full merger of the two leagues (23 teams), a combination of the most-desirable teams into something like a 20-team league, an alliance between the two leagues resulting in a championship game between the two conferences with the winner of that game earning a BCS bid, or simply a scheduling alliance between the two conferences. At this point, all of this is conjecture, but there was a “strategic” meeting between officials from both conferences on Thursday, although MWC commissioner Craig Thompson claimed that it was a previously planned meeting that had nothing to do with the events of the previous days.  This claim that should be taken with a grain of salt, given that Thompson also suggested this week that the invitations of Fresno State and Nevada to join the MWC had nothing to do with the rumors of BYU’s plans to leave for the WAC.

So, while there is plenty still to be sorted out here, we presently stand with a Mountain West Conference that looks like this (or at least will look like this in 2012): Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV and Wyoming, with the possibility that the addition of Utah State (bringing the conference to 12 teams) will create a very strong basketball conference of relatively like-minded institutions all reasonably well geographically suited to one another. The fact that the football side of the conference looks solid as well is just an ancillary bonus (at least to this basketball-minded blog). However, even if BYU slinks back to the MWC for a few additional years, they are still very much the squeaky wheel here, unsatisfied with their current crowd. While having their own dedicated cable network, The MTN, is a plus for the conference, there is still the feeling that relying solely on that channel, plus a handful of games on CBS College Sports Network and Versus, the conference is leaving money on the table. However, that television contract is going nowhere soon, as it runs through the 2015-16 season. At some point, BYU is going to find a more suitable partner for its plans, and when that happens, the MWC will be saying goodbye to BYU all over again, this time for good.

Share this story

BYU Sets Off New Wave of Realignment Positioning

Posted by rtmsf on August 18th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor. 

The Who, What, When, Where and Why

Just when you thought we were done with conference realignment talk, at least for the summer, out of nowhere comes a stunner that rocks the Mountain West Conference and could set in motion a new chain of events that could leave us without what had turned into arguably the best non-BCS conference in the nation.  No official announcement has been made, but as of mid-day on Wednesday, it seemed that BYU would leave the MWC beginning in 2011, play football as an independent and join up with the WAC for all other sports. The Salt Lake Tribune has reported the move as a “done deal,” pending approval by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the owner of the school.  However, the Mountain West, fighting for its life, immediately responded by officially inviting Fresno State and Nevada to join the conference, invitations which, if accepted, would pretty much cripple the WAC before BYU even arrived, and perhaps forcing BYU to reconsider the wisdom of such a move.

Maybe BYU Can After All?

BYU has been displeased with the television revenues associated with the Mountain West Conference and their dedicated cable television network, The Mountain, estimated to be somewhere around $2 million last season for football only. Comparatively, Utah, which just received and accepted in June an invitation to join the Pac-10, is expected to take home somewhere north of $15 million a season in football television revenues when it begins play in that league  in 2011. BYU was apparently shocked that it was passed over when the Pac-10 expanded, and shocked again when the Big 12 passed on inviting the school as well, so it began exploring the possibility of taking the matter into its own hands.

BYU already has its own television network, and athletic director Tom Holmoe notes that it has its own state-of-the-art broadcast facility and equipment, including their own HD production truck.  “There is nothing better than that west of the Mississippi. Nothing. For broadcasting,” said Holmoe at a meeting with reports on the BYU campus on July 16, according to Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune. “And it is first class. The things that we can do with that, the opportunities and possibilities. Nobody in the country has that ability.” Aside from the prospect of broadcasting their own games, BYU is reportedly in negotiations with ESPN for its football rights.

Is the Mountain West Kaput?

The invitations issued by the MWC to Fresno State and Nevada make a lot of sense in not only strengthening the MWC but also perhaps killing the BYU defection before it starts.  The specifics of these invitations still need to be sorted out, as the MWC has a couple of things going against it:  (1) the remaining WAC schools reportedly signed an agreement just last week that imposes a $5 million buyout penalty on any school leaving the conference in the next five years; and, (2) the WAC has a television contract with ESPN that may be more attractive (if presently slightly less financially rewarding) than The Mountain. It is unknown at this time whether the MWC in the interest of self-preservation has attempted to sweeten the pot for Fresno State and Nevada by potentially ponying up some cash to pay their buyout fees or if other machinations are in the works. It had been reported earlier in the day that Fresno State and Nevada had already declined offers to join the MWC.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Mountain West Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.  He will be reporting from the MWC Tournament throughout the weekend.

Final Standings

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (28-4, 13-3)
  3. UNLV     (23-7, 11-5)
  4. San Diego State      (22-8, 11-5)
  5. Colorado State      (16-14, 7-9)
  6. Utah       (14-16 , 7-9)
  7. TCU        (13-18, 5-11)
  8. Wyoming       (10-20, 3-13)
  9. Air Force         (9-20, 1-15)               

Superlatives

  • Player of the Year. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. In my MWC preview at the start of the year, the name Darington Hobson didn’t appear once. But, after a week or so of play, he was my first Player of the Week, an honor he went on to win four times over the course of the season. He broke onto the scene in the Lobos first game against UC Riverside with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, the type of jam-packed stat sheet that came to be expected of him over the season, as he averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists throughout. While not a pure shooter by any means, he averaged a little over a three per game (at a 38% clip), turned into a capable manager of the offense (despite averaging three turnovers a game) and was able to defend bigger players as well as match up with a smaller, quicker guards when necessary. With another year ahead of him in Albuquerque, Hobson’s not done being a force in the MWC.
  • Newcomer of the Year. Hobson. If he’s the Player of the Year, and he’s also a newcomer, it stands to reason he’s also the Newcomer of the Year.
  • Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. Sure, there was that embarrassing incident with Jonathan Tavernari at the end of the year. And sure, if this was even a little bit of a close call, I’d be throwing this thing Dave Rose’s way. But Alford took a team that lost its three leading scorers last year and rebuilt on the fly, getting solid contributions from nine different players as the Lobos ran out to a 14-1 record in the non-conference and vaulting into the top 25. However, a rough start to the MWC schedule had the Lobos 0-2 after losses at San Diego State and at home to UNLV. But Alford had his team turn it around to the tune of 14 straight wins to close out the regular season, giving the Lobos a strong argument in favor of a lofty NCAA seed. And if all that isn’t impressive enough, he did this all with only one senior on the roster (forward Roman Martinez), meaning the Lobos aren’t done howling around the top of the MWC standings.
  • Freshman of the Year. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Leonard came into the season as the most highly regarded freshman in the conference, and one of the most highly sought after recruits to sign in the MWC in years. While it took Leonard a bit of time to get truly comfortable in head coach Steve Fisher’s system, by mid-December he was dropping lines like 23/18 on Cal State Fullerton. But it wasn’t really until conference play that Leonard was fully comfortable displaying all his skills. Sure, he was a great athletic rebounder (who led the conference in rebounding with almost 10 rebounds a game), sure he could finish above the rim, but as conference play wore on you saw him bring the ball up court against pressure, take the defensive challenge against opponents as diverse as UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and New Mexico’s Martinez and Hobson, develop a face-up game and turn into a leader in the Aztec huddle. And, as is a common theme that will re-occur around the league, he is one of at least eight contributors on the SDSU team that are expected to return next season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard. Conventional wisdom has this award going to Utah’s 7’3” behemoth David Foster, who did reject his foes 113 times (4.0 blocks per game) this season. But as impressive as those numbers were, Foster wasn’t particularly good on the defensive glass and was immobile enough against quicker fours and fives in the MWC to have been a liability at times. Instead, I’m going to go with the more versatile Leonard who guarded his share of fours and fives over the season, while also taking his cracks at guys like Willis (who he was partially responsible for holding to 11-30 shooting in the Aztecs’ two games with the Rebels). Leonard also added 39 steals and 20 blocks while consistently pairing with junior Malcolm Thomas to clean the defensive glass for the Aztecs

All MWC First Team

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Standings (as of 3/5)

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (27-4, 12-3)
  3. San Diego State    (21-8, 10-5)
  4. UNLV       (22-7, 10-5)
  5. Utah          (14-15, 7-8)
  6. Colorado State      (15-14, 6-9)
  7. TCU          (13-17, 5-10)
  8. Wyoming         (10-19, 3-12)
  9. Air Force          (9-19, 1-14)

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. The obvious answer here, as the Lobos this week knocked off BYU at the Marriott Center to clinch at least a portion of the regular season title, then followed that up by knocking off TCU back at The Pit to wrap up their MWC schedule with their 14th straight victory after starting out the conference season 0-2. The Lobos will head to Las Vegas as the #1 seed and have the potential to take home perhaps a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament should they extend their winning streak to 17.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. The junior JuCo transfer wrapped up this title, as well as my vote for the MWC Player of the Year, by leading his team to a win at BYU and a MWC title. Along the way this week, he averaged a mere 20 points, 14 rebounds (he in fact had exactly 20/14 in both games this week) and 5.5 assists, and had the key defensive play at the end of the Lobos win over BYU when he rejected Noah Hartsock’s game-tying attempt in the closing seconds.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 83 BYU 81. While this game came down to the wire and provided plenty of drama in a game for the conference regular season title, it is unfortunate that this game may be more notable for what didn’t happen than what did, specifically BYU’s junior guard Jimmer Fredette riding the pine for all but 29 seconds in the second half due to an “upset stomach.” The Cougars did have backup point Michael Loyd step up in Fredette’s absence to the tune of 19 points, but there is little doubt that the Cougars were at less than 100% effectiveness without their best player. The other story that came out of this matchup that had little to do with the game was New Mexico head coach Steve Alford aiming an insult at BYU senior forward Jonathan Tavernari after the game. Nevermind that Tavernari’s behavior in the closing minutes of the game was suspect at best, Alford was somewhat out of line. As far as the game goes, there were plenty of great moments, but most fans are left wanting a rematch in Vegas, preferably with a healthy Fredette.

Game of the Upcoming Week. The MWC Tournament Championship Game, March 13, 4pm, Versus. The remaining games in the MWC regular season schedule are all more or less snoozers, although UNLV, San Diego State and BYU will have to avoid slipping up against Wyoming, TCU and Air Force, respectively. But, at this point in the season, all eyes turn toward the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas next weekend, in what should feature some very competitive semifinals and a great final.

League Notes

At this point, there are four teams with NCAA dreams (New Mexico, BYU, UNLV and San Diego State) and a couple others (Utah and Colorado State) with their eyes on the NIT (or potentially, one of the other fourteen lesser post-season tournaments that have popped up recently – ah look, there goes another one now). While that makes for a banner season in the MWC, the concern around the league is not just getting to the tournament, but advancing. With that in mind, a brief look at how high (in terms of NCAA seedings) and how far these teams can go.

  • New Mexico – The Lobos will likely end up somewhere between a #2 and a #4 seed. If they roll through the MWC Tournament and get maybe one or two other breaks, they could potentially get up to a #2, while if they falter, say in the semifinals, they could slide to a #4. Split the difference and put ‘em down for a #3. In terms of how far they can go, clearly a team looking at those kinds of seeds has their eyes on at least the Sweet Sixteen, but a night of cold shooting especially at the foul line could cause the Lobos to underachieve. Their worst potential matchup would be with a team with a lot of size that could neutralize New Mexico’s rebounding strength, a team like Gonzaga, Wisconsin or Georgia Tech. In the end, I say this is a Sweet Sixteen team, but likely no further.
  • BYU – BYU’s lack of great wins will probably knock them down a notch or two in seeding, so even if they are able to run through the MWC Tournament, they probably get a #4 tops. More likely they are looking at a #5 and could slip to a #6. However, BYU may be a more dangerous team in the tournament than New Mexico. The Cougars are one of the most efficient teams on both sides of the court and feature not only a boatload of great shooters, but a strong bench as well, and this is a more athletic team than it is normally given credit for. BYU is also a team that can succeed not only in high-tempo games, but in slower grind-it-out games. I can see this team as a Sweet Sixteen team with a puncher’s chance of going a step further.
  • UNLV – The Rebels have enough good wins this season to more or less ensure inclusion in the tournament and they should draw a first-round battle as a seed somewhere in the #7-#9 range. Their chances of advancing depend a lot on matchups, but this is not a team that is likely to be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
  • San Diego State – The big question for the Aztecs is not so much where they will be seeded, but if they will be seeded. A big run through the MWC Tournament is the only way that Steve Fisher will be resting easy on the night of March 13, but a run to the final would at least give SDSU another quality win to hang their hat on. Either way, even if the Aztecs do get to dance, they’ll likely be doing so with a double-digit seed, somewhere from #11 (if they do win the MWC tourney) to #13 (if they are among the last teams in. I’ve got a hunch this team will get a #12 seed, and while they are athletic enough to do some damage, they’ll likely bow out quickly.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Not much else to say here that wasn’t said above. The Lobos have wrapped up their conference schedule and by the time they play again they will not have lost in over two months. Roman Martinez dropped 19 points and five threes on TCU in his senior night performance, and junior point guard Dairese Gary has been big lately as well, having averaged 21ppg over the Lobos last three games and has been clutch down the stretch, routinely being the guy getting to the line and knocking down his shots from the charity stripe in the closing minutes of games.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a week off to prepare for their trip to Vegas where they will open play with a matchup against the winner of the Air Force/Wyoming game before moving on to more challenging fare.

BYU

Looking back: BYU’s four losses on the season have come at Utah State, at New Mexico, at UNLV, and then at home against New Mexico without their best player for much of the game. They swept the season series against in-state rival Utah, and are all ready to receive a fairly high seed in the NCAA tournament. However, despite a bevy of accomplishments, it will go down as just another season if the Cougars are unable to advance out of the first round of the NCAA tournament, something they have been unable to do in the 11-year life of the MWC. The higher the seed the Cougs get, the easier it will be for them to accomplish that goal, so a strong performance in Vegas next weekend will be vital to BYU’s tournament chances.

Looking ahead: BYU wraps up the regular season by travelling to TCU on Saturday, then will face the Horned Frogs again on March 11th in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

San Diego State

Looking back: After the BYU loss, the Aztecs had just two games left on their schedule, games that they were expected to win, and they took care of the first half of that equation this week with a win over Colorado State on Wednesday. SDSU got eight straight points from junior point guard D.J. Gay to extend their lead to 33-19 at the half, and the Rams never really challenged again. Gay wound up with a team-high 16 points, while freshman forward Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and 15 rebounds and junior forward Malcolm Thomas added 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs wrap up the regular season with a trip to Air Force, then will travel to the MWC Tournament, where they will be a three-seed with a win and a four-seed if they lose and UNLV wins. Either way, they are locked into a matchup with either Colorado State or Utah in the quarterfinal, and a likely matchup with either BYU or New Mexico in the semifinal, a game which will be huge for the Aztecs NCAA tournament chances.

UNLV

Looking back: Much like the Aztecs, the Rebels are in the midst of a couple games they should win to wrap up the season and they’re halfway there, having polished off Air Force on Saturday by 30 behind a career-high 21 points to go along with eight rebounds from sophomore forward Chace Stanback. The Rebels dominated on the glass and shot 59% from the field, while lighting it up from three as well at a 48% clip. Junior guard Kendall Wallace added five threes.

Looking ahead: The Rebels can move up to the three-seed in the MWC Tournament with a season-closing win over Wyoming paired with an unlikely SDSU loss to Air Force, and like SDSU they’ll face either Colorado State or Utah in the quarters and either BYU or New Mexico in the semis. Unlike the Aztecs, the Rebels seem to already have their ticket to the NCAA tournament punched, barring a bad loss between now and then.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes are all alone in fifth place, the highest they have been this season, thanks to their win over Wyoming on Saturday coupled with a pair of Colorado State losses. Utah got 33 total points from senior Luka Drca and junior Carlon Brown, the two most capable scorers in an inconsistent lineup, and Drca in particular made this win possible with 10 of his 17 points in the last six minutes of the game. However, as if to highlight their inconsistencies, the Utes failed to have a single player score in double figures in their 20-point loss to BYU on Tuesday and the entire team when over 8:30 of game time without scoring a single point ranging from the end of the first half through the start of the second and the team shot just 27% and turned the ball over 17 times.

Looking ahead: Utah will have a chance to get back to .500 on the season and wrap up the fifth seed when they travel to Colorado State on Saturday in a battle of the middle-of-the-pack MWC teams.

Colorado State

Looking back: For the first time all season, the Rams have lost four in a row, following a week in which they dropped a couple road games after giving up big runs. Against TCU on Saturday, the Frogs finished the game on a 20-6 run to come back from an eight-point deficit with 8 minutes left to win by six. Then, at SDSU on Wednesday, the Aztecs finished the first half on a 16-6 run to take a 14-point lead into the half, from which the Rams never recovered. Junior forward Andy Ogide continued his strong play of late, however, averaging 18.5ppg and 12rpg this week. Ogide has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games, and in the one that he didn’t hit double figures, he was still the team’s leading scorer.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Utah on Saturday in a battle for the five-seed in Vegas, where they will have a tough quarterfinal matchup with either SDSU or UNLV.

TCU

Looking back: This was probably the Horned Frogs’ best week of games since early January, and when you look at the 1-1 record with just a win over Colorado State to show for it, you get why TCU is down here in the dumps. TCU did get some signs of life from senior forward Zvonko Buljan (14.5ppg/11rpg) and senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas (12.5ppg), and rode some hot shooting (7-13 from three) against CSU to the week’s lone win.

Looking ahead: The Frogs are going to get a double-dose of BYU over the next week: they’ll host the Cougs on Saturday then meet them in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys closed out Air Force late on Tuesday night with a 10-2 run to seal, well, nothing more than eighth place in the conference. But, the highlight for Heath Schroyer’s team over the back-end of the schedule has been the emergence of freshman guard Desmar Jackson as a legitimate scoring threat. Jackson had 31 in Wyoming’s loss to Utah on Saturday, then followed that up with 12 points and five assists against the Falcons, and has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys will be playing the rest of their games this season at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. They’ll face UNLV there on Saturday to wrap up their regular season schedule, then face Air Force there in the first round game of the MWC Tournament.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s been a rough season for the Falcons (again), with injuries decimating a roster that was already the least talented in the conference. And while they will likely finish up with just a 1-15 conference record (a one-game improvement over last year, mind you), they have fought it out right to the end. They put a scare into New Mexico a week ago, and this week (after getting demolished by UNLV in Colorado Springs), got to with a point of Wyoming late on Tuesday before folding down the stretch and cementing their hold on last place.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host SDSU on Saturday, then get a rematch with Wyoming, this time on a neutral court in the MWC Tournament.

Share this story

Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/18)

  1. New Mexico                      24-3                       10-2
  2. BYU                                        24-3                       9-2
  3. San Diego State                19-7                       8-4
  4. UNLV                                     19-7                       7-5
  5. Colorado State                  15-10                     6-5
  6. Utah                                      12-13                     5-6
  7. TCU                                        12-15                     4-8
  8. Wyoming                            9-17                       2-10
  9. Air Force                              9-15                       1-10

Superlatives

Team of the Week. San Diego State. While New Mexico and BYU took care of business to keep themselves in line for a showdown on February 27th for the regular season title, it was the Aztecs who made the biggest waves this week, knocking off UNLV on Saturday and getting a win in Fort Worth on Tuesday to vault ahead of Vegas in the conference standings. In the process, for the first time this season, there is some question as to who would be the next team in line for an at-large NCAA bid after the two teams at the top of the leaderboard. The Aztecs still have a chance for another big win when they travel to Provo on Wednesday, and they may need that one to solidify their NCAA chances.

Player of the Week. Billy White, Jr, San Diego State. It was a wide open contest for this honor this week, with the usual suspects all turning in one excellent game and one lesser game. So, this is a perfect week to honor someone else, a guy who put together two very good games in leading his team to the TotW honors and third place in the conference. White averaged 18 points and seven rebounds this week and had some high-flying highlights in leading the Aztecs to an important win over UNLV. White has not had the kind of statistical improvement that many in the Aztec program expected this year, although he is averaging 11 points and five rebounds per game, perhaps in part due to his running mates in the SDSU front line, freshman Kawhi Leonard and junior transfer Malcolm Thomas. But, for the Aztecs to live up to their potential, they need White to be slashing to the basket, playing above the rim and defending athletic frontcourt players, exactly what he did this week.

Newcomer of the Week. Kawhi Leonard, Fr, San Diego State. Leonard wins this one on the strength of his play against the Rebels. Leonard scored 13 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the Aztecs win on Saturday, but did so many other things to help his team win. He often brought the ball up against UNLV pressure and he spent much of the day hounding UNLV’s best player, junior guard Tre’Von Willis, into five-for-15 shooting. While New Mexico’s junior Darington Hobson is undoubtedly the MWC’s most versatile player, Leonard is growing into a legitimate threat to usurp that title.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 68, Utah 65 (OT). For much of New Mexico’s win over Utah on Saturday, it seemed like the Lobos were on the verge of pulling away. They led by as many as eight a couple times in the first half, only to have the Utes reel them back in. In the second half, the same pattern held: New Mexico jumping ahead, Utah slowly scraping back. In fact, between the 17 minute mark in the first half and the three minute mark in overtime, Utah never led, but the Utes did get back to even with under two minutes in regulation with six straight free throws, but still needed a corner three from junior guard Carlon Brown with two seconds left to send the game to overtime. Utah got the first points of the OT, about two minutes in on Brown layup, but a big three by senior forward Roman Martinez gave the Lobos back the lead for good, although they did have to survive a couple potentially game-tying threes in the waning moments by Brown and freshman guard Marshall Henderson.

Game of the Upcoming Week. San Diego State @ BYU, February 24th, CBS College Sports. Both teams have a lot to gain and a lot to lose in this matchup. If the Aztecs hope to feel somewhat comfortable with their at-large chances headed into the MWC tournament, they need to win this game (along with running the table against the rest of the lower-level MWC teams they face). If BYU wants to have a chance at winning the MWC regular season championship outright, they’ll need to win this game. While the Cougars will certainly be the favorite playing in front of a partisan Marriott Center crowd, the Aztecs have been hot lately and have enough athleticism to give BYU fits, as they showed a month ago in a close loss in front of SDSU’s home crowd.

League Notes

UNLV has now lost three games in a row and while those three games were all tough MWC battles (a loss at home to New Mexico, and road losses to San Diego State and Utah), it may be time to re-examine the Rebels’ tournament credentials. Currently sitting at 19-7 with an RPI of 44, the Rebels remaining regular season games are games that they absolutely must win:  home games against Colorado State, TCU and Wyoming wrapped around a road trip to Air Force. None of those wins is going to do a whole lot to help the UNLV resume, but a loss anywhere would kill them. Their best wins on the season are a win at New Mexico (RPI #10), home against BYU (19), Louisville (30) San Diego State (39), Nevada (68) and a road win at Arizona (89). There are no particularly bad non-conference losses (a neutral site loss to USC, RPI 82, being the worst), but the two conference losses to Utah are unhelpful, to say the least.

The good news for the Rebels is they get to play their conference tournament at home in the Thomas & Mack, giving them a nice little nudge towards capturing the MWC’s automatic bid, but assuming they don’t win the title, what do they need to do to give themselves the best chance at an at-large bid? Four more conference wins will put them at 23-7 with an RPI still somewhere in the mid-to-low 40s. In the first round of the MWC tourney, they’ll likely play either Colorado State or Utah, and a loss in that first round will have them scouting Manhattan hotel rates for a potential NIT run. Assume they win and advance to the semis, and they’ll have either New Mexico or BYU waiting for them, where a win would be very good and a loss would not be horrific. Lose in those semis and they sit at 24-8; win there and lose in the finals and 25-8, plus the additional good win might be enough. Just enough. Especially considering the eventuality that the bubble will likely tighten up if teams like Butler or Old Dominion or maybe UTEP have missteps in their own conference tournaments.

Long story short, the Rebels still have a pretty strong resume, but they would certainly love to have a redo in those Utah games.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: After last week’s two big wins, it would have been understandable if not entirely acceptable for the Lobos to be a little flat for their trip to underachieving Utah on Saturday. And while Steve Alford’s club was not as sharp as it had been the week prior, they were good enough to control the game and escape with a three-point overtime win against an improving Ute team. On Wednesday, the Lobos returned to Albuquerque for some home cooking and along the way they scored a big 22-point victory over a reeling Wyoming team. The win was Alford’s 300th Division I win in his career and was highlighted by another terrific Hobson performance: 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Martinez was also strong for the Lobos, filling the stat sheet with 13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, three steals and three threes.

Looking ahead: New Mexico host Air Force on Saturday, then has a tricky roadie to Fort Collins to face Colorado State. Win both and the Lobos likely set up a one-game playoff for the MWC regular season championship against BYU in Provo on the final Saturday of February.

BYU

Looking back: BYU had a week to stew over their loss in Vegas, and when they finally got a chance to take their frustrations out on someone wearing a different jersey, it was Air Force on the receiving end. The Cougars were on fire early, shooting 67% from the field in the first half while knocking down 10 of their 14 three-point attempts and they built up a 53-20 first half lead before cruising to a 43-point victory. Senior forward Jonathan Tavernari led the team with five threes and 19 points, with junior guard Jackson Emery just behind him with four threes and 18 points.

The Cougs second game of the week was slightly more competitive, BYU winning by only 22 over Colorado State, but while the scoring was balanced against Air Force, the CSU game was a Jimmer Fredette special. The junior guard had 36 points, with six threes and six assists for good measure. Once again the Cougars were on fire from the field, shooting 52% from the field and hitting 12 of their 25 attempts from behind the arc. Sophomore forward Noah Hartsock added his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds and he spearheaded a strong Cougar effort on the glass.

Looking ahead: One more tune-up for the Cougs when they travel to Laramie to face the Cowboys on Saturday, then into the fray with home games against San Diego State, a monster game against New Mexico and their trip to Salt Lake to face rival Utah.

San Diego State

Looking back: When the Aztecs hosted UNLV on Saturday, they knew it was a must-win game and they played like it. They outhustled the Rebels, played better defense, got contributions from up and down the roster and did it all with a calmness and confidence that belied their relative youth. They beat the Rebels on the glass (39-30), racked up all sorts of defensive gems (nine blocks, nine steals) and actually made their free throws (23/31 from the line, a vast improvement over their 60% season average. White led the team with 19 points, Leonard added his 13 points and 14 boards, but even those who didn’t rack up big numbers made contributions. Thomas had four blocks and four assists, freshman guard Chase Tapley had three steals to go along with 11 points and senior guard Kelvin Davis added a couple of threes, and in the end the Aztecs walked away with a 10-point victory. The Aztecs followed up that big win with a workmanlike effort against TCU by dominating the Horned Frogs inside. SDSU outrebounded TCU 34-24, and scored 59 of their 68 points either in the paint or at the free throw line. In the process, the Aztecs shot 61% from the field.

Looking ahead: At this point, they are all big games for the Aztecs. They host Utah on Saturday then travel to BYU on Wednesday. While the BYU game is certainly a very difficult game for SDSU, the Utes have been playing well lately, and if they get caught looking ahead to the Provo trip, the Aztecs could slip up at home.

UNLV

Looking back: A week ago at this time, the Rebels had just been whooped by New Mexico and were facing a fairly difficult week ahead with visits to San Diego and Salt Lake City. Everyone knew it would be a tough week, but not many suspected that at the end of it, the Rebs would be riding a three-game losing streak. Against the Aztecs, Vegas was exposed a bit compared to SDSU’s length and athleticism. While their quick guards like Willis and freshman Anthony Marshall kept them in it for awhile, UNLV couldn’t get a lot of good looks and wound up shooting just 35% from the field and only three of 17 from deep. The Rebels didn’t get a lot of time to recuperate from that loss before making the tough trip to the Huntsman Center on Wednesday. Once again, for the third game in a row, UNLV not only lost but was outplayed from start to finish. The Rebels never even led on Wednesday night, and beyond Willis’ 32 points, didn’t get much in the way of positive offensive contributions. UNLV stayed in the game by forcing 16 turnovers, which they converted to 22 points, but in the end Willis missed a tough challenged layup on a fast break and then a three with a guy in his face a possession later, and UNLV lost by five.

Looking ahead: The Rebels host Colorado State and TCU this week and need to get back on track immediately.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams played just once this week, and their 22-point home loss to BYU reaffirmed their position in the MWC pecking order: nowhere close to the top of the pack, but better than the dregs. In their two matchups with BYU this season, they have now lost by an average of 33, and have lost by over 20 points per game in their five matchups with the teams above them in the MWC standings. Junior forward Travis Franklin did have a nice performance against the Cougars, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists (14/7/5), and CSU did have five players score in double figures, but the Rams showed no ability to stop BYU and their struggles from behind the arc (4/17) doomed them to another blowout loss.

Looking ahead: The MWC gauntlet continues for the Rams: a roadie at an angry Vegas team on Saturday, then a chance to host New Mexico on Wednesday night.

Utah

Looking back: It has been a frustrating season for Jim Boylen and his Utes. This squad has struggled shooting the ball (just 43% from the field on the year), has yet to find a legitimate point guard (335 turnovers on the season, just 303 assists), and have had little injuries and other personnel issues bug them throughout the year. And yet, here in the middle of February, the Utes are playing their best ball of the season and have turned into a team that can rise up and bite the teams above them. UNLV has learned that lesson quite well, but even New Mexico had to consider itself fortunate to escape SLC with a win this week. Brown has struggled living up to the expectations of him as an offensive go-to guy, but this week he scored 18 points in each game and was the man down the stretch in both games. Henderson has also stepped up his game of late, averaging 15.5ppg this week, and with sophomore center David Foster able to clog up the middle defensively (he had seven blocks against a stubborn New Mexico team), the Utes are coming together on both ends of the court.

Looking ahead: Utah hits the road this week: first stop San Diego on Saturday, followed by a visit to the Air Force Academy on Wednesday.

TCU

Looking back: It’s the dog days of the season for the Horned Frogs. They’ve no chance at any type of post-season play, their coaches have started looking towards next season and their seniors only show up once a week at best (hey, sounds like my senior year… and my junior year… and… ). TCU was good enough to beat Wyoming in Laramie on Saturday. They got 21 points and seven rebounds from freshman forward Nick Cerina and senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas and junior guard Greg Hill both hit big threes down the stretch to tidy things up, but then got beat up and down the court by San Diego State on Tuesday in the most one-sided 17-point game you’d ever want to see.

Looking ahead: Just one loss for TCU this week, as they head to UNLV to get torched on Wednesday night.

Wyoming

Looking back: See above and increase exponentially. Players defecting from the program, the best player watching after knee surgery, the coach rapidly burning bridges. Good times in Laramie. This week saw the Cowboys drop to 2-10 in the conference (and just looking at that record reminds me that somehow this team beat San Diego State), and highlights for this team are few and far between. Freshman guard Desmar Jackson had 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in the loss to TCU, but followed that up with six turnovers and little else in the New Mexico loss. And junior forward Djibril Thiam had another solid week, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds this week, and has had a decent season, averaging 10 points and five rebounds over the year.

Looking ahead: BYU comes to town on Saturday. Oh boy!

Air Force

Looking back: Just another miserable team at the bottom of the standings, although you get the feeling this one might still be playing hard. Which is not necessarily good news considering they just lost by 43 in their only game this week,at BYU on Saturday. But the Falcons just couldn’t do much right in that game (22 turnovers), and BYU was rested, inspired and on fire. Freshman wing Mike Fitzgerald led the Falcons with 13 points and four threes.

Looking ahead: Things don’t get a whole lot easier for Jeff Reynolds and his team as they head to New Mexico before returning home to host Utah.

Share this story