Mountain West Season Wrap-Up and Tournament Preview

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2013

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

Tournament Bracket

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Final Standings

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

Superlatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on March 5th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

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

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

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

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

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

Player of the Week

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

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

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

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

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

Player of the Week

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

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

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

Newcomer of the Week

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

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

One week of conference play is in the books and, yeah, we pretty much got confirmation that this season is going to be just about as interesting as we expected it to be. A couple of overtime games, a buzzer-beater and top 25-caliber match-ups filled the schedule with only a few snoozers (not coincidentally, all featuring at least one of the new conference teams) mixed in for variety. There were amazing plays that had the entire college basketball world buzzing, there were headscratching performances, and there were exhilarating games. And, we’ve still got eight full weeks of conference play remaining.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – Beating out its more celebrated brethren San Diego State and New Mexico, the Broncos take the honor this week on the strength of the best road win in the conference this week, a buzzer-beating win over previously undefeated Wyoming on Wednesday night. Playing without four players who were suspended prior to the game, the Broncos fought, scraped and clawed, coming back from a 10-point second-half deficit to build up a seven-point lead with under three minutes to play, only to see that lead disappear again with just eight seconds left on the clock. And then, arguably the hottest player in the nation, Jeff Elorriaga, drilled a three-pointer from the left corner as time expired (his second three in the final 30 seconds, sixth on the night and 30th in his last 50 attempts over five games) to end Wyoming’s unbeaten streak and propel BSU to a thrilling opening night win.

Player of the Week

Mike Fitzgerald, Senior, Air Force – Apologies to Alex Kirk (21 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 61.5% eFG), but sometimes tough decisions need to be made. And, in spots like this, the tie goes to the senior, and certainly the underdog. Fitzgerald started the week strong for the Falcons, posting a career high 30 points (including 23 after the break) in helping the Academy come back from a three-point halftime deficit to earn a conference-opening win over Nevada. Saturday, while the outcome wasn’t quite as enjoyable for Falcons fans, Fitzgerald helped keep his team in it against UNLV for 45 minutes, adding another 22 points in an overtime loss. For the week, Fitzgerald made 14 of 20 shots from the field, including seven three-pointers (good for an 87.5% eFG) and hit 17-of-18 from the charity stripe while chipping in six rebounds per night.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.14.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 14th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Conference season has leveled the playing field as the remaining unbeaten teams have all lost. The Big Ten schedule is proving to be an absolute gauntlet and the Mountain West is nothing to sneeze at. Both leagues have stellar games this week along side a few other notable match-ups from around the nation. Let’s get to the breakdowns:

#1 Louisville at Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

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  • The Louisville Cardinals are moved into the top spot in the nation after losses this weekend by Duke and Michigan and a loss by Arizona earlier last week. Their first game as #1 will be no easy contest as they head to Connecticut in a tough Big East road match-up. The Huskies are coming off a significant win at Notre Dame, which rarely loses at home, but it looks like UConn has their number, as they account for ND’s only two losses at home in the last two and a half years. UConn guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier will be the focus of this game, as they face intense pressure from the Louisville defense. Up to this point in the season, both players have protected the ball quite well, particularly Napier who is only giving it up on 11% of his possessions. They must be able to handle the press however in order to give the team a chance to win this game. Also, keep an eye on UConn’s Tyler Olander. He went 8-9 from the field against Notre Dame going for 16 points and 7 rebounds. He will be surrounded by very athletic big men on Louisville. UConn needs him to produce against Gorgui Dieng and company to take some pressure off the guards. The difference in this game may actually be Louisville on the offensive boards. The Huskies rank 298th in defensive rebounding percentage. With the Cardinals throwing Dieng, Chane Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear at the glass on the offensive end, it’s going to be tough for UConn to prevent second chance points. However, if they can limit turnovers, they have a shot to win at home.

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Morning Five: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 10th, 2013

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  1. Yesterday morning we mentioned the pending imaging studies on Ryan Kelly (foot)and Laurence Bowers (knee). Even though it seems like most of the concern from the public was for Bowers (likely due to the fact that he missed last season with an injury to his other knee) it was Kelly who appears to have suffered the more significant damage as he will be out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury to his right foot. With no additional information on what Kelly’s injury is we will not even bother speculating as to how long he will be out other than to say that we doubt he will be playing at North Carolina State on Saturday. Meanwhile, Bowers will be held out for the next two games and then be reevaluated after an MRI revealed that he had a sprained MCL in his right knee and nothing more serious. While Bowers will miss the next two games he could be back just in time for the Tigers’ showdown in Gainesville with Florida.
  2. Some of you may be a little perplexed by how much time Luke Winn spend on free throws in his power rankings this week, but he also has some interesting non-free throw shooting analysis including some statistics that suggest that Jeff Withey could be having a better defensive season than Anthony Davis did last year and looks at how much worse Phil Pressey is in pick-and-roll situations this season without the type of shooters he had last season. If numbers make your eyes glaze over and you are into more juvenile humor (see his sidenote about J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison for an example), Mark Titus has his own power rankings that provide inside in the way that only The Shark can. Overall, their rankings are fairly similar with the exception of Arizona as Titus, who isn’t just looking at the numbers (just kidding, Luke), considers their game against Colorado to essentially be a loss.
  3. Boise State picked up a huge win yesterday night as they knocked Wyoming from the ranks of the unbeatens, but they may have ended the night as losers after they suspended Derrick MarksMikey ThompsonKenny Buckner, and Darrious Hamilton indefinitely just before their trip to Wyoming. Marks, the team’s leading scorer, is obviously a huge loss, but both Thompson and Buckner both see significant playing time in a rotation that is not particularly deep. While the Broncos escaped with a last second win last night, the loss of these players will make things extremely difficult for them in a challenging Mountain West Conference.
  4. As if things were not bad enough for Illinois State, which has started 0-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference after coming in as a potential threat to Creighton, things appear to be on the way to getting worse before they get better as the team announced yesterday that it had suspended senior guard Tyler Brown indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. After starting 9-3 with their three loses coming against stiff competition (three-point overtime loss versus Northwestern, three-point loss at Louisville, and a 14-point loss against Montana in which the Redbirds led by three with five minutes left), the team has completely fallen apart. While their first two losses in conference (by two at Indiana State and by seven against Creighton) are excusable their next two losses, which came against Northern Iowa and Missouri State, have raised some serious questions about the team. We are not sure how the loss of their second leading scorer (15.3 points per game) will do anything, but make things worse, but perhaps Brown’s absence will bring the team closer together and get them back on track.
  5. Now that we are about halfway through the season, it is a good time to reevaluate which conference games are worth your attention as there have been some significant surprises both for better and for worse. To that end, Jeff Borzello counts down the 30 best conference games this season. Now this list comes with the caveat that Borzello didn’t want to feature the same teams over and over again or this could have easily turned into a countdown of the best Big Ten games. One thing that is definitely worth pointing out is that several of these games are coming up very soon including three this Saturday.
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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 18th, 2012

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

Conference Round-Up

Much like everywhere else around the country, it was an exceedingly slow week in the Mountain West. Between last Tuesday and last night, just 10 games were played involving MW teams. Two teams in the conference haven’t played a game since we last did this. And, with the exception of the two games played by Fresno State, the MW teams have escaped unblemished against largely mediocre teams. As a result, your weekly MW rundown may be a little lighter than normal.

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But the big news around the conference may be the ripples from the Big East breakdown that are reaching the Mountain West’s shores. While for now, San Diego State and Boise State are maintaining their intentions to follow through on their plans to join the Big East beginning next season, you just know that behind the scenes, both schools are seriously weighing their options. As the MW Connection details here, there are basically three options for these two schools: (1) head to the Big East as planned, regardless of the diminishing state of the conference, for football, with the rest of their sports in the Big West; (2) remain in the Mountain West and possibly bring other schools with them; or (3) go independent in football and keep other sports in the Big West. Obviously, the people involved in making these decisions know a lot more about the financials of these decisions than me, but for what it’s worth, while the Big East is in the middle of negotiating a new television contract, the MW remains locked into its current contract with CBS through 2016, and the network has an additional option to extend that contract to 2019. Of greater concern to the MW than whether they are able to keep BSU and SDSU around may be whether they are able to fend off advances from other conferences. For instance, the Big East, which may in the interest of self-preservation and establishing a western outpost to satiate the likes of BSU, SDSU, SMU and Houston, take a shot at teams from the conference. There may not be a lot of fat on the football bones of the teams remaining here, but if the Big East can poach, say, UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State they will (aside from really needing a re-branding) be able to cobble together a strong basketball conference. But, who am I kidding? Up until this week, basketball was rarely mentioned in this whole realignment fiasco, except to note that basketball doesn’t matter.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Nevada – Yay! Home wins over Cal Poly and San Francisco! Rejoice! OK, so those wins aren’t suddenly going to turn the Wolf Pack into an NCAA Tournament contender, but given that this is a team with losses to UC Irvine, Marshall, Drake and Pacific on its record, not to mention several other near-misses, the fact that Nevada handled that level of competition by an average of double-figures is a sign of progress. As is the fact that they finally showed some semblance of aggressiveness on the glass, grabbing nearly 40% of offensive rebound opportunities this week, and better than 80% on the defensive end. Jerry Evans was particularly effective, grabbing 14 total rebounds against Cal Poly.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 4th, 2012

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

Mountain West Round-Up

  • It was a big week for the conference, with the Big Three (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) each further establishing their credentials, Colorado State pushing for recognition in the national polls, and Boise State and Wyoming each knocking off nationally-ranked teams and displaying the depth of the conference. Through three weeks and change of the season, the conference as a whole has a record of 53-11 (best record for a conference in the nation) and has firmly established itself as not only clearly the best conference outside of the traditional power conferences (and I mean clearly – it ain’t even close), but also likely the best conference in the west – again – surpassing the Pac-12 for at least the third consecutive season. It is early and there is a ton of basketball still to be played, but projecting way into the future, the MW looks like a lock to get four teams into the NCAA Tournament and, if the Cowboys and Broncos continue their push, could find a way to sneak a fifth and, if absolutely everything happens to fall perfectly, a sixth into the conversation. But, again, we’re getting far ahead of ourselves and will more reasonably reprise this conversation sometime around the end of January.
  • The other big story around the conference, and one that I skipped over last week out of fatigue with the whole story line, is the effect of continued conference realignment on the future of the conference. The expectation has been that beginning next season, San Diego State and Boise State will leave in order to play football in the Big East and the rest of its sports in the Big West (yeah, I’ll go ahead and call the whole thing stupid, regardless of the economics behind it). But, with the long, slow and painful dissolution of the Big East as a nationally-relevant football conference now in the terminal stages, there remains a possibility that SDSU and BSU will reconsider and remain in the Mountain West in all sports. Both schools deny any change of heart, and the fact that the MW television contract still won’t net these schools as much money as what the Big East can promise puts the odds in favor of their departure, but the athletic departments at both schools have to weigh the possibility of more defections from their new conference and the possibility of a football league that is similar in strength to the league they would be leaving. Are games against Memphis, Temple and SMU, for instance, really all that preferable to games against Colorado State, Nevada and Fresno State? The final answer remains to be seen, but at least the potential of keeping the league together remains.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – There are several potential winners here this week, but the finalists came down to the Broncos and Wyoming. Rather than cop out and name co-winners, I made the hard choice and opted to give Boise the nod on the strength of a pair of road wins, including a win over a Top 25 Creighton team that could end up being the deciding game in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge (the MW currently leads 4-3 with a pair of relatively even games remaining). The win in Omaha was highlighted by our MW Player of the Week (who you’ll see below), but was really a complete team effort, with the Broncos dominating the Bluejays on the glass, running up a 70.8% eFG and generally playing with poise while limiting good looks for Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott. And, the fact that BSU avoided an obvious letdown situation and came back four nights later to knock off Seattle on the road is more proof that this team has grown up in a hurry.

Derrick Marks, Boise State

Derrick Marks Carried His Broncos To A Win Over Creighton With 28 Second Half Points (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sophomore, Boise State – Marks was the key cog in the Broncos’ upset of Creighton Wednesday night, repeatedly exposing a Bluejay defense with plenty of doubters. Marks repeatedly beat his defender off the bounce, got into the lane and scored in a variety of ways, at one point in the middle of the second half, scoring 18 straight points for his team as they pulled away from the home team. All told he scored 28 points in the second half and carried his team home with a total of 35 on the night. Marks followed up that game with a 14-point six-steal effort against Seattle and wound up shooting at 76.9 eFG% for the week.

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Who Won the Week? Notre Dame, Prairie View and Athletic Departments Seeking Cash…

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2012

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Notre Dame

Heisman Trophy candidate and star linebacker Manti Te’o celebrates the Irish’s victory (Photo credit: US Presswire).

On top of emphatic wins over St. Francis and Chicago State, the Fighting Irish capped a three-win week with a 64-50 victory over reigning NCAA champion Kentucky for their 41st win in their last 42 games in South Bend. In what shouldn’t have been described as an upset – the Irish were 1.5 point favorites — Notre Dame held the Wildcats to 40 percent shooting from the field and managed to keep the pace of the game slow, making Kentucky grind out possessions as they put up their lowest-scoring game of the season by 18 points. In each of the Fighting Irish’s three games, senior forward Jack Cooley finished with a double-double, capped off with 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats. (Cooley has six double-doubles in eight games this season.) For a team that doesn’t play a true road game until the Big East schedule, Notre Dame needed to make a non-conference statement, and did so emphatically.

(Related winners: Cooley, the Big East. Related losers: Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow, who only played nine minutes in Thursday’s loss and may have already played himself out of John Calipari’s rotation.)

LOSER: UCLA

In the time since this column was last published, the Bruins have been a bastion of bad news on and off the court. They took an ugly loss to Cal Poly of the Big West at home at the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion (or is that Poly Pavilion now?), and then capped that off with the transfers of swingman Tyler Lamb and talented-but-overweight center Joshua Smith. Yes, the Bruins still have more talent than nearly every other team in the country, but it looks more and more like it can’t come together and play defense. After a few troubled years for coach Ben Howland, underachieving with the talent he has could spell the end of his tenure in Westwood.

(Related winners: Cal Poly; Lamb and Smith for escaping; point guard Larry Drew II, who has been thriving and will get an even better chance for success as the Bruins run the floor more. Related losers: Howland, UCLA fans.)

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RTC Summer School: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Mountain West.

Drew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. You can also find his musings on Twitter @amurawa.

Three Summer Storylines

  • Tectonic Movement Continues. For the second straight year, the landscape of the MW shifts. Last year it was BYU and Utah heading off to greener pastures with Boise State landing in their place. This year TCU is on its way out the door with Fresno State and Nevada on their way in. And next year Boise State and San Diego State will depart with San Jose State and Utah State coming in. All in all, this will still be a good basketball conference even after all these moving parts settle, but the loss of a rapidly improving Aztec program will be tough for MW fans to take. TCU and Boise State certainly aren’t major losses on the basketball side, but the strength of their football programs could have provided stability for the conference and the potential for improved programs on the hardwood. Between the four newcomers, each of Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State have had good runs over the course of a handful of years, but they’ll all need to prove their ability to compete with more established programs like UNLV and New Mexico, while SJSU figures to step directly into the basement of the conference.

  • The Mtn. Crumbles. On May 31, The Mtn., the Mountain West’s television network, went dark, ceasing all operations after six years. Now, say what you will about the network, a channel that eschewed HD programming, struggled with distribution and had issues with their on-air talent, but the shuttering of its doors leaves some questions for MW hoops fans. In the era of The Mtn., if you wanted to follow MW hoops, it was easy to do so. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how much exposure teams from this conference will get during the year. Sure, the MW still has deals in place to get games shown on NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but what about that Air Force/Boise State game on some random February Wednesday? Should you want to watch that game and you’re not in Idaho or Colorado, odds are pretty good you’re going to be out of luck.
  • Continued Success? For all the uncertainty about the membership of the conference, the last three years have been something of the golden age of Mountain West basketball. In the past three seasons, the MW has received 11 NCAA Tournament berths. Two years ago there were dual Sweet Sixteen appearances by BYU and SDSU. We’ve had Jimmer and Kawhi grab national headlines, while other guys like Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, Billy White and Drew Gordon, D.J. Gay and Hank Thorns, Andy Ogide and Malcolm Thomas have kept us all entertained. But, even with all of those players now gone, there is still plenty to be excited about in the conference. San Diego State and UNLV lead the way again, with both expected to start the season in the preseason Top 25. New Mexico and Colorado State, who joined the Aztecs and Rebels in the Big Dance last year, both should be in the hunt for another tourney bid, while Nevada could be a sleeper in its first season in the conference. And, as always, we could be in for another surprise or two.

Reader’s Take #1

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2012

Game of the Day

On Monday, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was named the Mountain West Player of the Year (nevermind the fact that we at RTC gave Drew Gordon the nod) after a blazing conclusion to the regular season. On the first day of postseason play in the conference, Franklin reminded everybody just how good he can be.

With the shot clock turned off and Boise State having run back to tie their quarterfinal game with the Mountain West regular season champion, the Aztecs called a timeout and set up a play that everybody in the Thomas & Mack Center knew was headed Franklin’s way. The Broncos tried to deny him the ball, but San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames got him the ball, and then, as Franklin is known to do repeatedly in practices, he counted down the final seconds on the clock and threw up a prayer at the buzzer, this time over the hands of two Boise State defenders. And the prayer was answered, as the ball settled softly into the net, advancing the Aztecs to Friday night’s semifinal.

Head coach Steve Fisher painted the picture of Franklin playing the part of a kid on a playground or in his back yard, knocking down imaginary game winners against a clock of his own making. During practices, the Aztecs have a period of spot shooting and, according to Fisher at the end of that session, “Jamaal waits and waits and waits and he shoots one as the clock hits zero.  If he makes it, he falls down,” mimicking a buzzer-beating celebration. All the practice has paid off for Franklin, as twice now this year, he has scored game-winners as time expired. “Everyone in the gym knew who the last shot was going to,” said Boise State freshman guard Derrick Marks, fighting through tears. “So, Xavier Thames passed the ball, I was supposed to go double and he just made an incredible shot.” Franklin commended the Boise State defense, saying it was a “very tough look. X did a great job giving me the ball because they denied me all the way out to basically halfcourt.  My first object was to get to the rim, but they kind of double‑teamed me and I just shot the three.”

San Diego State was in that dogfight down the stretch in part because they helped a game Boise State get back in the game. The Aztecs were up 11 with under six minutes left, but down the stretch they missed layups, missed free throws and turned the ball over three times, the most memorable one coming when Chase Tapley turned it over in the backcourt, leading directly to the game-tying layup for the Broncos on a nice dish from freshman Anthony Drmic to sophomore Thomas Bropleh. Tapley was, however, a hero most of the day for the Lobos, at one point scoring 10 out of 12 San Diego State points and contributing 20 points (including four threes) and numerous under-the-radar plays.

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Mountain West Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by AMurawa on March 8th, 2012

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

Tournament Bracket


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

Final Standings

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

Superlatives

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

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

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

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

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