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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Contrary Opinion: UCLA Story Salacious, But Nothing New Here

Posted by AMurawa on February 29th, 2012

Yesterday about this time, when news broke that George Dohrmann would be publishing a “highly negative” piece about the UCLA basketball program, there were plenty of people who immediately expected the worst. I, for one, figured that today I’d be writing about potential NCAA violations and speculating on who may be the next basketball coach for the Bruins. While the Sports Illustrated piece is certainly not something that is going to be framed and hung on the wall in Ben Howland’s office, compared to those previous expectations, Bruin fans can take a deep breath and relax. Sure, there are loads and loads of very unflattering portraits of former and current players, and mostly of Howland, but still the most damning fact against Howland is a 14-18 record in 2010 and a 16-13 record right now; this Dohrmann piece just explains how the program got to that point. And while there are plenty of salacious details and anecdotes, none of them really change what we already knew about the UCLA program before yesterday.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland Was Painted In An Unflattering Light, But There Were No Great Revelations (Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire)

At the bottom of this piece, the finger points squarely at problems with a couple of recruiting classes — the groups of 2008 and 2009. The 2008 class featured guys like Jerime Anderson, Drew Gordon and J’Mison Morgan, while the 2009 class ominously included Reeves Nelson, but also Anthony Stover, among others. There are allegations of drug use among these players (and other players on recent UCLA teams), but the bottom line problem was Howland’s inability to sufficiently discipline these players for their numerous missteps. The poster child here is, of course, Nelson. There are stories seemingly by the barrelful about how bad of a teammate he was. After 2010 recruit Matt Carlino sustained a concussion early in his freshman year causing him to miss time, Nelson repeatedly railed on him for being soft, called him “concussion boy” and went out of his way to instigate contact with Carlino during practices, eventually helping to drive Carlino out of the program. Nelson also had repeated altercations in practice with another eventual UCLA transfer, Mike Moser. There are reports of Nelson abusing people all over the Bruin program, from student managers all the way up to assistant coaches. And all that is just scratching the surface of what is in the article, knowing full well that there are plenty of incidents that didn’t make the piece and never even reached Dohrmann’s ears. And, until this season, Howland did nothing about it.

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SI Story Highlights UCLA’s Downfall Through Ben Howland’s Shameful Lack of Control

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

The historic UCLA basketball program is in a shocking lull right now, and Sports Illustrated magazine has an upcoming feature story on why it’s not just because of poor performance on the court. George Dohrmann’s piece has been released on SI.com for an early look, and it is a must-read for all the telling details and anecdotes about the Bruins’ culture from the past five seasons. We’ll give you our reaction to the investigative piece and why coach Ben Howland might not last another season in Westwood.

Here's The Magazine Title Page of the Upcoming Story in Sports Illustrated (SI App)

Mike Moser, UNLV’s star player and the nation’s sixth-leading rebounder; Chace Stanback, the Runnin’ Rebels’ second-leading scorer with the nation’s seventh best three-point shooting percentage; Drew Gordon, New Mexico’s dominant forward and double-double machine; and Matt Carlino, averaging 13.0 points and 4.7 assists for BYU. What do they all have in common? Each of these players was once a highly touted recruit for coach Ben Howland at UCLA before transferring from the program to become star players elsewhere in the West. The departure of these four players is one of the reasons why the Bruins currently sit in sixth place in a weak Pac-12, looking at missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years and just four years removed from a run of three consecutive Final Four appearances. The feature story in Sports Illustrated set for publication later this week details why these players left campus, what kinds of unfortunate treatment other former players received, and how UCLA has struggled so badly recently, referencing mainly the ignorance of head coach Howland towards detrimental player actions.

Dohrmann’s piece, which includes interviews with over a dozen former players and team managers, highlights a general culture of recent disarray surrounding the Bruins’ basketball program. Dohrmann’s interviewees offered “a detailed inside account of how seemingly minor problems, if left unaddressed, can quickly sabotage even a storied program led by one of the nation’s most respected coaches.” The piece details how Howland, though incredibly knowledgeable of the game, fostered poor relationships with his players both on and off the court. The coach ran practices with a double standard, often ridiculing lesser players for mistakes they made while letting similar errors slide when made by stronger players. The reason, as some in the article suggested, was that Howland was afraid of upsetting star players to the point that they might transfer or leave for the NBA as soon as possible. Off the court, players would go out of their way to avoid Howland, such as one player opting to take the stairs if he ever saw the coach waiting for an elevator.

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Checking In On… The Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on February 28th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

A week ago, we were all but ready to hand New Mexico the regular season title and the #1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Two road losses later, the Lobos have given back their two-game lead and with two conference games remaining on everybody’s schedule, we have five teams within two games of the first place. But, primarily, we are back to where we were after the first run through the conference: three teams (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tied atop the conference standings, each looking like a good team, but none looking great.

Still, despite the tumult at the top of the conference, all three of those teams look like absolute locks to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament (and pretty good seeds at that). UNLV leads the way with an RPI of 11, while SDSU and UNM are among a bunch of MW teams with RPIs in the late 20s or early 30s. The big question in the conference revolves around the third of those teams, Colorado State, which sits ahead of the other two with an RPI of 27 (SDSU is at 28, UNM at 34).

However, a closer look at the Rams find them sitting squarely on the bubble. They have a couple really good wins over SDSU and UNM, but those two games are the entirety of their positives. Beyond that they have some middling wins over RPI 51-100 teams and an unfortunate last second loss to Boise State (RPI 166) dragging them down. However, compare them to say, BYU, South Florida, Washington, or Arizona – all teams with whom the Rams are ostensibly competing for a spot, and CSU’s got a slightly better set of numbers going for them. See below, where we compare CSU to other bubble teams in record, RPI, strength of schedule, and record against various subsets of the RPI (with the best numbers in each column in bold). In RPI and SOS, the Rams have clearly better numbers than anybody else on this list, while their record against top-50 RPI teams is behind only Dayton and Saint Joseph’s here.

Team Record RPI SOS vs. RPI 1-25 vs. RPI 1-50 vs. RPI +100
Colorado State 16-10 26 5 0-3 2-5 10-2
Arizona 21-9 71 110 0-2 1-3 17-1
BYU 22-7 50 113 1-3 1-5 17-2
Dayton 18-10 60 54 2-0 3-3 10-3
Miami 17-10 47 38 2-4 2-7 13-0
Northwestern 17-11 40 10 1-6 2-9 11-0
Oregon 20-8 52 79 0-1 0-5 18-1
South Florida 17-11 45 30 0-5 1-7 12-3
St. Joseph’s 19-11 51 34 1-1 2-5 12-3
Washington 20-8 53 81 0-2 0-4 17-0

 

As for TCU, the team that is almost the hottest team in the conference, having won four of five including wins over Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico, with only a last-second loss to Boise State as a recent blemish … they’re a good story, but even with four wins against top-50 RPI teams, they need to win the Mountain West Tournament to have a chance to go dancing.

Team of the Week

TCU – As mentioned above, the Horned Frogs are 4-1 in their last five games, with only a heartbreaking last-second loss to Boise State a week ago as a strike against them. This week, Jim Christian’s club went to Colorado Springs and, using an Amric Fields three-pointer with 18 seconds left, knocked off Air Force at Clune Arena. They followed that up by welcoming New Mexico into Fort Worth on Saturday and outfighting and outshooting the Lobos. Six different Frogs hit three-pointers, J.R. Cadot outworked Drew Gordon on the offensive glass and Hank Thorns dished out nine assists as TCU battled New Mexico to a draw on the boards and outgunned them from the field (they had a true shooting percentage of 63.1%). As a result, TCU sits just a game back of the three leaders in the conference and with a visit from SDSU scheduled for Saturday, they have a fighting chance of moving up the leaderboard even further.

Player of the Week

Jamaal Franklin, Sophomore, San Diego State – With apologies to TCU’s J.R. Cadot (15.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG), we are going to reward Franklin for his transcendent game while willing his Aztecs over CSU on Saturday night. In that game, Franklin went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds (the latter a new career high, the former tying a career high) and scored 13 of his team’s last 16 points, including going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line after the final media timeout. Coupled with a solid game earlier in the week when coming back from an ankle injury against Wyoming, Franklin, who averaged 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, earned the honor.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 21st, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

If you were to sum up the past week of the Mountain West in a slightly altered movie title, “How The (Mountain) West Was Won” would be the slam dunk choice. We’ve still got two weeks of conference play left, and the conference race is yet to be officially decided, but New Mexico went a long way towards sewing up the regular season title this week by getting revenge on both San Diego State and UNLV, going into Montezuma Mesa and knocking off the Aztecs, then returning home and putting a hurting on the Rebels on Saturday morning. Those wins, coupled with a pair of losses by SDSU and UNLV to lower-tier MW teams (Air Force and TCU) leaves the Lobos with a two-game conference lead with four games remaining. Prior to this week, the Lobos appeared to be in the NCAA Tournament, but certainly in the back half of the rankings. Now they’re all but guaranteed a spot in the field and are looking at a pretty solid seed.

Meanwhile, SDSU and UNLV still sport solid NCAA Tournament resumes and should have no trouble getting into the field, barring a complete collapse down the stretch (and even with a complete collapse, they’d still both be at least in the discussion), while Colorado State and Wyoming, who had been angling for their own at-large spot in the field, seem to be tailing off. Wyoming lost both of its games this weekend in particularly unappealing fashion, while Colorado State fell at Boise State on Wednesday before handing the Cowboys one of their losses this week. CSU still boasts an RPI of #30, but has little else in the positive column aside from a home win against SDSU. Still, these days when you look at the bubble, teams like North Carolina State, Arizona, Oregon and South Florida are all among either the last four teams in or first four out (according to Zach Hayes’ bracketology this week) and none of those teams have either the RPI or the quality win that CSU has.

It is also interesting to note that with the sudden resurgence of cellar dwellers Boise State and Air Force (who are a combined 5-1 over the last two weeks), there are again no teams in the Mountain West with losing records on the season.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – No need to think about this decision at all this week: UNM knocked off the two other teams in the top tier of the conference, opened up a commanding two-game lead in the race for the regular season title and in doing so also put themselves in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed in the MW Tournament in March. If the final standings are at all similar to what we’ve got right now, that means that UNLV and SDSU will be on the same side of the bracket, potentially meeting in the semifinal, while the Lobos will get a far easier (though still potentially dangerous) opponent in their semifinal matchup. We’ll get to Drew Gordon’s big week shortly, but also wanted to highlight sophomore guard Kendall Williams for a bit here too. Williams hasn’t made that big leap forward that was perhaps unreasonably expected of him in his second year, but he was certainly big in the win over SDSU on Wednesday, hitting five increasingly difficult three-pointers on his way to tying his career-high of 21 points.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon Skying High For A Rebound Was A Familar Sight This Week (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

Player of the Week

Drew Gordon, Sr, New Mexico – The traditional stats are pretty impressive: two double-doubles against ranked teams, averages of 22 points and 18.5 rebounds per game, 20-of-35 from the field. The rebounding numbers jump out, and they’re even more impressive when you look at them as a percentage. On the offensive glass, there were 61 total opportunities for Gordon to grab a rebound last week; he grabbed 10 of them, or 16.4%, a figure that would put him in the top ten nationally if carried out over the course of a season. Defensively he was even better. There were 65 opportunities for him to grab a defensive board last week; he grabbed 27 of them, or 41.5% an astronomical number that is almost ten percentage points ahead of Thomas Robinson, the best defensive rebounder in the land. Gordon almost single-handedly controlled the glass for the Lobos this weekend, as no other player on his team grabbed more than four rebounds in the past two games. Without a doubt, Gordon is playing his best basketball of his career as his final year plays out.

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Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to Slip

Posted by EJacoby on February 21st, 2012

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

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

Murray State Racers

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

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

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – The Orange avoided a bad loss by escaping Rutgers with a 10-point win on Sunday. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 Big East) remains a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as long as it doesn’t suffer a losing streak down the stretch.
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Night Line: Meet New Mexico, the Mountain West’s Most Complete Team

Posted by EJacoby on February 16th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

In a two-day span, the entire complexion of the Mountain West conference has changed. Those who don’t think that’s a big deal should consider that the MW is actually the fifth strongest league in the country according to cumulative conference RPI, ranking above both the Pac-12 (no surprise there) and the ACC. It appeared as if UNLV was the team to beat in this league, but a shocking loss to TCU on Tuesday night left the door open for the winner of Wednesday’s showdown between the other two top competitors to get a leg up in the race. New Mexico wound up victorious in this matchup, winning at Viejas Arena over No. 18 San Diego State to add a huge road win to its resume and move into sole possession of first place in the conference. The Lobos host UNLV at home this weekend in the final matchup between the Mountain West’s ‘big three’ teams, and a win in The Pit will make the title race theirs to lose. The only MW team of the three that’s not currently ranked in any top 25 poll, Steve Alford‘s squad may actually be the most complete team of the bunch.

Steve Alford's Lobos are Rising to the Top of the Mountain West Conference (AP Photo/I. Brekken)

Wednesday night was a revenge victory for the Lobos, who were thoroughly beaten by San Diego State in Albuquerque back on January 18. New Mexico returned the favor by jumping out to an early lead and extending it to double digits in the second half to a point where the home team could not mount a big enough comeback. Shockingly, the Lobos got it done this time while seeing nothing from their top playmaking guard, Tony Snell, who was held scoreless in the game after he had only scored three points in their first matchup. But that’s what separated these two teams on this night — SDSU got virtually nothing from its top guard Chase Tapley, and the Aztec offense completely stalled for long stretches. New Mexico, meanwhile, was just fine without Snell as their other stars shined and a multitude of other players added important contributions. UNM certainly proved that they were the deeper and more complete team on Wednesday night.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.15.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s a national affair tonight, as two big games take place about 3,000 miles away, from Miami to San Diego. You’ll get to watch the Tar Heels play on the road against a hungry opponent and two of the top Mountain West teams line up looking to continue the streak of great games taking place in that conference race. Here’s the breakdown:

#7 North Carolina at Miami- 8:00 PM ET on ESPN (****)

Tyler Zeller is Running Full Speed Ahead as ACC Player of the Week Heading into Tonight (AP Photo/G. Broome)

  • If it wasn’t for the final four-minute collapse against Duke last week, this Tar Heels team would be rolling right now and in position to shoot for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish. Instead, they dropped that game at home and need to build momentum back up, as well as their overall profile. Many mock brackets have Carolina on the 3-line this week. A road win here at surging Miami will not be easy, but the Tar Heels should be able to get it done if they stick to their guns offensively. Both teams have big front lines that will match up one-on-one, but UNC has the better playmakers. Tyler Zeller has been awesome lately and should be able to use his agility against the thicker Reggie Johnson inside. If he draws Kenny Kadji, he will look to use his experienced post moves against the jumpy shot-blocker. Carolina has the size advantage on the wings and will need Reggie Bullock to step up offensively to take advantage. Harrison Barnes will be monitored closely by the U’s top wing defender Durand Scott, so watch how aggressive Barnes chooses to be. Defensively, UNC needs to stay out of foul trouble against an aggressive though not very efficient Miami attack.
  • A win tonight would all but lock up Miami’s status as an at-large entry to the NCAA Tournament, as they have a questionable overall profile but are certainly on the rise. To get this win, the Hurricanes need to play strong on the defensive end. They have the athletes in Kenny Kadji (1.8 BPG), Reggie Johnson (1.1 BPG), and Durand Scott (6’5” guard, 1.1 SPG) to make plays on that end. Freshman guard Shane Larkin averages 1.8 steals per night and will look to bother Kendall Marshall on the perimeter all night. On their own end, Miami has a balanced attack but must use better shot selection. They have four players in double-digit scoring but rank just sixth in the conference in offensive efficiency and seventh in field goal percentage. Making shots is their ticket to a serious shot at victory tonight.
  • UNC is a five-point favorite tonight, but Miami has the goods to take this upset if they can make shots on their home floor. A rocking crowd tonight would be a huge boost. I think Carolina presents too many problems on both ends of the floor and will walk away with a win tonight, though it should be tight.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.26.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 26th, 2012

  1. One of the running themes of life in the Pac-12 this season has been important players leaving their teams, for one reason or another, in the middle of the season. There have been dismissals, academic problems, and abrupt transfers, and there have been enough of them to put together a pretty strong team: try Josh Watkins, Jabari Brown, Keala King, Reeves Nelson and Richard Solomon on for size. Aside from the debilitating headache any coach immediately suffers upon so much as seeing those five names together, that’s an awful lot of talent that has disappeared from Pac-12 rosters just since the start of the season.
  2. Along those same lines, UCLA has been hurt by transfers more than any other Pac-12 program. Currently, former Bruins Drew Gordon, Mike Moser, Chace Stanback, and Matt Carlino are playing – and excelling – at other Division I programs. Throw in J’Mison Morgan, who is redshirting at Baylor after playing limited minutes there last season, and Nelson, who turned pro in Europe rather than transfer, and the Bruins have had a significant talent drain. BruinsNation goes through all the transfers and looks at the causes and effects of the decisions of these players to transfer out of Ben Howland’s program.
  3. As an antidote for the above two stories which may leave a bad taste in your mouth, we turn to a great story about California center Robert Thurman, a former walk-on who is making a big impact for the Golden Bears in the wake of Solomon’s academic ineligibility. Against Washington on Thursday night, the “Thurmanator” posted career-highs of 16 points and seven rebounds helping Cal spring the road upset. Coming into the year, Thurman didn’t expect to have much of a role on this team beyond just working hard in practice, but going forward he will be an important piece on the Bear team.
  4. When Washington visits Arizona State tonight, both teams will have key players regarded as questionable for action. For the homestanding Sun Devils, Trent Lockett has missed the two games after spraining an ankle early in the second half against Oregon State a couple weeks back, and although he is making progress, there is no new update on his status. For the Huskies. C.J. Wilcox has missed U-Dub’s last three games with a stress fracture in his hip. He’ll go through some tests prior to the game on Thursday and will be a game-time decision, based largely on the amount of pain he feels, but may remain out until the Huskies head to Tucson on Saturday.
  5. Lastly, a little something that has little or no effect on the play on the court: snazzy new uniforms for Arizona. Nike announced on Wednesday that they had created new uniforms for nine programs who have won national championships (Arizona, Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Syracuse along with the women’s teams from Baylor and Connecticut) that those teams will wear at specially selected games this season. Arizona will wear their “Hyper Elite Platinum” unis at home against UCLA on February 25.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 24th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

  • Coming into the week, three Mountain West teams appeared in the RTC Top 25, but it was New Mexico, who was ranked #25, that had the biggest chance to make a splash, getting a crack at the other two teams: San Diego State at home and UNLV on the road. Following an 0-2 week, however, there are more questions than answers in Albuquerque, as the once impressive Lobo defense took a huge step back, allowing 1.25 points per possession in their two games this week.
  • In the wake of UNM’s failures, for the time being, it is a two-team race at the top, with San Diego State holding a slim edge on UNLV based on their home win over the Rebels in the conference opener. But, with both teams firmly in the top 25, the Aztecs and the Rebels look like sure bets to go dancing come March.
  • Back of the lead pack, we have Wyoming and Colorado State each sitting at 2-1 after the Cowboys handing the Rams their first conference loss in their first conference road game. Air Force and TCU each sit at 1-2, while Boise State has settled into the role of basement dweller.

Team of the Week

San Diego State  In order for one team to separate itself from the pack atop the conference, contenders for the conference title needed to be able to defend their home court and steal a win on the road against the other contenders. So far, Steve Fisher and the Aztecs are off to a great start. Not only did they open the conference season with a home win over UNLV and follow that up this Saturday with a workmanlike win over Air Force, they bisected those wins with an impressive road win at New Mexico, an outcome that not only served to improve the Aztecs to 3-0, but to kick the Lobos down a notch. Enough cannot be said about the job that Fisher has done with not only this program, but this specific team.

After losing the bulk of last year’s record-setting team, this year’s Aztecs haven’t slowed down, as junior guard Chase Tapley has taken the leap from role player to lead guard, Jamaal Franklin has emerged as a star in the making after playing a bit part last year and Xavier Thames came back from his transfer year in exile to prove his tremendous abilities. Throw in gritty contributions from guys like Tim Shelton (he of the five knee surgeries), DeShawn Stephens (playing just his third season of organized basketball), Garrett Green (a graduate transfer from LSU) and James Rahon (who struggled early with a lingering ankle injury and is just now hitting with consistency), and Fisher’s got a good thing going down on Montezuma Mesa.

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington Was A One-Man Wrecking Crew On The Glass For Wyoming This Week (photo credit: Andy Carpenean/WyoSports)

Leonard Washington, Jr., Wyoming – With apologies to UNLV’s Anthony Marshall, who also just killed it this week, we’ve got to give this one to Washington, who was a one-man wrecking crew for the Cowboys last weekend. Things started out innocently enough on Wednesday night, when Washington had 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals in a road win at Air Force, but digging a little bit deeper into those numbers showed a sign of things to come, as Washington alone grabbed 46.4% of all the potential Cowboy defensive rebounds. Saturday night against an undersized Colorado State team, Washington upped that number to 55.9% and added a personal 22.3% offensive rebound percentage – a number some entire teams in the league would consider a fine effort. Washington wound up with 32 points and 14 rebounds (both career highs) in a performance dominant enough to allow us to completely forget about the two banked-in threes near the end of the Cowboys’ 19-point win.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.18.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 18th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good conference matchups tonight across the country. We will give you full breakdowns of the two best games to watch, including a big-time Big East matchup early in the evening. Check the comments section for other games to track tonight!

Cincinnati at #12 Connecticut – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Yancy Gates and UC Are Trending Up, Up, Up (AP)

  • Cincinnati is an impressive 4-1 in true road games this season, including victories at Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown. They have played at an increasingly high level and are 9-1 since the brawl against Xavier that left several players suspended. At full strength now, the Bearcats will not be intimidated in Gampel Pavilion and will look to establish their physical defense early in the game. Mick Cronin’s team gives up just 58.8 points per game on the season and is strong with the ball, averaging a +5.5 in turnover margin. On the offensive end, Sean Kilpatrick has developed into a true scorer this season (16.2 PPG) and will look to establish an inside-out game with Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG) to put the UConn defense in a difficult position. Establishing their brand of physical game early on will give Cincinnati a chance to win another big road game.
  • UConn has had their ups and downs this season, though the Huskies are still undefeated at home and have perhaps the most talented roster in the Big East. It’s looking like Ryan Boatright will not be available tonight as he’s being investigated by the NCAA, which could be a significant blow to the Huskies’ offense. The freshman, averaging about 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game, is adept at creating his own shot, but then again UConn has been dealing with suspensions and off-court issues all season and should be fine without him. Stud big man Andre Drummond continues to improve and gain confidence, averaging 15 points, 12 boards, and 2.5 blocks in his previous two games. Going inside early and often has been working for the Huskies, allowing Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) to create his own shot without the defense keyed in on him all the time. Allowing just 36.8% field goal shooting in conference, UConn can match the defensive brand of basketball that Cincinnati brings to this game.
  • There are some great matchups to watch in this game, including Kilpatrick vs. Lamb on the wing as explosive scorers and Gates vs. Drummond inside as a clash of interior styles. Who wins tonight could come down to who is making the most shots, which seems obvious, but really applies here between two teams with similar physical defenses and offensive playmakers. Give Connecticut the advantage at home.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

At long last, Mountain West conference play is finally here. And after the long wait, the opening weekend did not disappoint in the least.

  • The conference opener between San Diego State and UNLV was the sole matchup between ranked teams across the nation on Saturday, and it was everything that could be expected of it and more. But, we’ll get to that shortly.

Jamaal Franklin Was Outstandings Against UNLV (AP)

  • Elsewhere around the league, Colorado State knocked off TCU in a wild double overtime affair in Fort Collins, while New Mexico and Air Force came up with impressive road wins over Wyoming and Boise State, respectively. While those later two games may not have been all that competitive down the stretch, after one weekend we’re even more sure of the idea that this is going to be a fun season to watch in the MW. Not only do the three teams at the top – San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV – figure to be in for a stirring battle for the top spot in the league, but the five other teams in the conference feature good athletes, fun styles and some very solid teams. In past years, let’s be honest, there were teams in this conference that were almost unbearable to watch (Wyoming the last couple of years, TCU last season, Air Force a couple years back, even Utah last year). This year, I fully expect to be able to tune into any single Mountain West game on the schedule and be thoroughly entertained. Stay tuned, this is going to get fun.

Team of the Week

  • San Diego State – All of the winners this week deserve a mention here, what with New Mexico going on the road and getting past a game Wyoming team, Air Force handling Boise State in their opener despite still playing without their best player – Michael Lyons – down with an ankle injury, and Colorado State fighting through a blown lead late and a couple nail-biting overtimes to finally dispense with TCU. But, we’ve got to give the Aztecs this recognition this week if for no other reason than as a welcome back to the land of the living. You see, since December 4, SDSU has been stuck playing teams like Elon, Redlands, San Diego Christian and, most recently, coming back from a seven-point second-half deficit to winless Chicago State. But, after being off the radar for about a month and a half, Steve Fisher’s club came back to their first game against significant competition without missing a beat. Jamaal Franklin continued his breakout sophomore season with arguably his most important performance of his career, James Rahon broke out of his season-long slow-down with a sparkling 22-point performance, the backcourt of Xavier Thames and Chase Tapley fought the tough and athletic UNLV backcourt to a draw, and even Tim Shelton made significant contributions above and beyond what his relatively tame stat line would indicate. In short, if you had forgotten the Aztecs in recent months, you can hardly be blamed, but now it is time to make sure this team is on your radar again.
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