Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/11)

  1. New Mexico                      22-3                       8-2
  2. BYU                                        22-3                       7-2
  3. UNLV                                     19-5                       7-3
  4. San Diego State                17-7                       6-4
  5. Colorado State                  15-9                       6-4
  6. Utah                                      11-12                     4-5
  7. TCU                                        11-14                     3-7
  8. Wyoming                            9-15                       2-8
  9. Air Force                              9-14                       1-9

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Huge week for the Lobos, getting a couple hard-fought wins, including a home overtime win over San Diego State and an impressive road win at UNLV. Those wins, coupled with UNLV’s win over BYU, leave the Lobos sitting alone atop the MWC standings, having now won their last eight games after starting conference play 0-2.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. Hobson was our player of the week after the first two weeks of the regular season, but struggled a little the first time around the conference, especially with his shot and too many turnovers. This week, for the first time since 2009, that Hobson we fell in love with early in the season was back. The JuCo transfer averaged 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, five assists, and three threes, plus threw in a half-court shot at the first-half buzzer and hit the two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left against San Diego State on Saturday. When Hobson’s jumper is falling like it is right now, he’s the best player in the conference, simply because he can do so many other things with ease as well. If the Lobos hope to make a splash nationally in March, they’ll need Hobson to bring his A game.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 88, San Diego State 86 (OT). This game tipped off just as UNLV’s defeat of BYU in Vegas went final, giving the Lobos a chance to create a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Likewise, if the Aztecs had won this, there would have been a two-way tie at the top with SDSU and New Mexico tied a game back. With such a logjam at the top of the conference, it was no wonder that this game would be a wild one as well. While the level of play in the game was stellar across the board, this game really came down to a battle between Hobson and Aztec junior guard D.J. Gay. Hobson tossed in a half-court shot at the end of a back-and-forth first half to put the Lobos up five at the break, and the Lobos extended their lead as high as ten early in the second half, and after some back and forth, the lead was still ten with just two minutes remaining. But Gay went off for 11 points on his own in the last two minutes, knocking down three (increasingly improbable) threes before getting fouled on another three-attempt with his Aztecs down two with just one second left. He made two of his three attempts to send the game to OT. But Hobson was not to be denied, scoring eight points in overtime, including his two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left. Gay finished with a career-high 25 points while playing every minute of the game. Hobson, meanwhile, did take a couple minutes off, playing just 43 minutes, but still wound up with an amazing line of 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, four threes, and three steals.

Game of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ San Diego State, 2/13/10, 1pm PST, Versus. The Rebels hope to maintain their position near the top of the MWC standings, while the Aztecs still believe they have a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While that bid for the Aztecs looks unlikely at this point (their loss to Wyoming early in the MWC season was a killer, especially coupled with the lack of big non-conference wins), they still sport a strong 17-7 overall record and an RPI in the mid-40s. And, most importantly, they still have opportunities, with this home game and a trip to Provo in a couple of weeks. The roadmap to an Aztec at-large berth begins with a win over the Rebels  on Saturday, an upset of the Cougars in Provo and a run to the MWC final in March, all while taking care of business with the teams at the lower end of the conference. It is a tough road to be sure, but one this team is capable of getting done.

League Notes

We’re only a week into the second go-round in the MWC, but things have really started to clear up. New Mexico, BYU and UNLV are all more-or-less locked into NCAA bids; it would take quite a collapse for one of those teams to not be invited to dance.

The regular season championship will likely be decided February 27th when New Mexico visits BYU. New Mexico should coast from here to that game, likely riding a 12-game winning streak at that point. BYU will have to take care of a tough San Diego State team on the Wednesday before that game, but it is likely those teams will be tied atop the conference when they meet.

That leaves the Aztecs. Let’s assume they beat UNLV at home this weekend. And, let’s say they beat TCU, Utah, Colorado State and Air Force. That right there would put them at 22-7, 11-4 in conference. They win in the first round of the MWC tournament, then face the regular season champ in the semis and win that matchup too before losing in the MWC championship. Put them at 24-8 at that point with wins over New Mexico, UNLV and whoever the MWC regular season champ is, with their next best win over Arizona. Throw in a bad loss to Wyoming. RPI would likely be somewhere around 40. Is that good enough? I don’t think it is. But, what if they also get the win at BYU on February 24th? I think if they get that, they can make a good case at 25-8 with wins over every other MWC team that will make the tourney.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Two big games, two big wins, and now all alone in first place (albeit still tied in the loss column with BYU). After a week in which New Mexico got back all of the mojo it had at the start of the season, the Lobos are a shoo-in to go dancing in March. After the overtime thriller with San Diego State on Saturday, New Mexico took control from the opening tip in Vegas on Wednesday. All four of their big offensive threats (Hobson, senior forward Roman Martinez, junior guard Dairese Gary and sophomore guard Philip McDonald) scored in double figures and the Lobos absolutely destroyed the Rebels on the glass all night long, finishing with a 45-23 advantage. The Lobos also shot 52% from three and knocked down 13 of their 14 free throw attempts and, despite a late Rebel run, held on for a convincing ten-point win.

Looking ahead: In the middle of February, it can be very easy to lose your focus, especially coming off a week in which you’ve knocked off two of your biggest competitors. The Lobos travel to Utah on Saturday night, and while this is by no means a strong Ute team, they are capable of rising up and biting the ankles of some of the teams ahead of them. Just ask UNLV. After the Utah trip, the Lobos return to the Pit to host Wyoming and Air Force.

BYU

Looking back: The Cougs are itching to get back on the court. They played only once this week, and before the matinee Vegas crowd had even opened their peanuts, BYU was on their way to getting blown out. The Rebels outscored BYU 56-34 in the first half, shooting 65% from the field and 70% from three and the Cougars were never able to scrap back into the game, dropping their second conference game of the season. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette wound up with 21 points (plus seven rebounds and six assists), but shot just four of 15 from the field. Freshman forward Brandon Davies missed the UNLV game with an emergency appendectomy and is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Cougars will have had a week to chew on that loss to UNLV by the time they host Air Force on Saturday, and that can’t be good news for the outmanned Falcon squad. BYU will then travel to Colorado State on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: After putting a whooping on BYU on Saturday to move into a first-place tie, the follow-up game with New Mexico on Wednesday had to be a tough one for the Rebels. They came out of the gates flat, struggling along to a 12-point halftime deficit and, despite making a run late in the game, never seemed to fire on all cylinders. The most unforgivable sin was their lack of effort on the glass as they got outrebounded by 22, allowing the Lobos to score repeatedly on the offensive glass. The Rebels remain squarely in the thick of things near the top of the MWC leaderboard, but their loss to New Mexico relegated them to a team that needs multiple things to happen in order to win the regular season title.

Looking ahead: UNLV’s last major challenge of the regular season comes Saturday with a trip to Montezuma Mesa to face San Diego State. After that, the Rebels just need to remain focused and take care of business against the lower tier of MWC teams, beginning with a trip to Utah on Wednesday for some revenge.

San Diego State

Looking back: While the Aztecs did take New Mexico to overtime on Saturday, the dirty little secret there is that they were really outplayed rather significantly by the Lobos, right up until the time when New Mexico got a little too conservative and Gay went nuts. But, give credit to Steve Fisher’s squad for bouncing back on Wednesday with a dominating performance in knocking off reeling Wyoming. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard went for a career-high 26 points (on 10/14 shooting) plus added eight rebounds and three steals as the Aztecs led by as many as 37 in the second half on the way to a 88-57 win.

Looking ahead: Huge Saturday for the Aztecs as they host UNLV before traveling to Fort Worth to face TCU on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams are officially tops in the second tier of the Mountain West. While they don’t have the horses to play with the big boys above, they have been consistent enough to edge their way up to this fifth spot. This week, Colorado State took care of business, sprinting past Wyoming on Saturday and then edging Air Force on Tuesday, and have set themselves up nicely to potentially gain an NIT berth. Junior forward Travis Franklin was the star against Wyoming, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half. Against Air Force, it was more of a collective effort, with junior forward Andy Ogide scoring 12 and both freshman guard Dorian Green and freshman forward Greg Smith adding ten.

Looking ahead: The Rams have a week to prepare for their chance to host BYU on Wednesday and a chance to see if they have taken any steps forward since the Cougars crushed them early and often in a 91-47 game a month ago.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes began the second half of their conference schedule in much the same way they started the first half, with a solid victory over TCU. Freshman wing Marshall Henderson lit up the Frogs for 24 points on five threes and added six rebounds; junior guard Carlon Brown added 12 points. But the Utes still needed Henderson and senior guard Luka Drca to combine to go 10/10 from the free throw line in the last two minutes (both teams combined to shoot 30/33 from the line) to seal the win.

Looking ahead: Utah gets a chance to make a huge impact on the MWC race this week as they will host both New Mexico (on Saturday) and UNLV (on Wednesday). Expect them to pull off one upset this week, while they lose the other by 25 while shooting somewhere south of 30% from the field.

TCU

Looking back: If it hadn’t happened already, it definitely happened this week. Head coach Jim Christian has turned the page and started to look towards next year. With Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas in the middle of disappointing senior seasons (their play in conference has been especially depressing), it looks like the Horned Frogs are starting to see what type of pieces they have to build around for next season. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss is a given. While he has showed some inconsistency, commits too many turnovers at times and is all too likely to fall in love with his jumper, he is a talented player on both ends of the court. Junior guard Greg Hill has been getting more attention offensively of late, and while he too can be wild at times, he is a capable shooter, knocking down seven threes on his way to 23 points in a win over Air Force on Saturday. And freshman forward Nick Cerina has shown flashes of brilliance this season, despite some inconsistency. He had 17 in the loss to Utah on Wednesday. Sophomore forward Kevin Butler and freshman guard Garlon Green have also proven themselves to be pieces who can be valuable for the Horned Frogs in the future.

Looking ahead: The Frogs travel to Wyoming on Saturday then return home to host San Diego State on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: At the start of the season there was a lot of optimism around Laramie, with a fast-paced offense, some pressure defense, a budding star in sophomore Afam Muojeke, exciting incoming transfer JayDee Luster and a handful of interesting parts, there were even some Cowboy fans who whispered a bit about postseason tournaments. Some three months later, head coach Heath Schroyer is the one MWC coach squirming on the hot seat, Muojeke is lost for the season, and the Cowboy roster is in disarray. This week, sophomore guard A.J. Davis announced he was leaving the program; Davis was still the team’s third leading scorer, despite having seen his minutes drop drastically in conference play. Schroyer has now had six of his recruits leave the program in his three seasons in Laramie (Davis was the second this season – junior guard Thomas Manzano left the program in December) and in the Cowboys’ losses this week (by 16 to Colorado State and by 31 to San Diego State), they only dressed ten players, only nine of whom were on scholarship.

Looking ahead: Playing out the string, the Cowboys host TCU on Saturday, then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: Just a couple weeks back the Falcons had broken their 22-game conference losing streak, their players were starting to get healthy and optimism surrounded the program. Now, the Falcons have started a new losing streak (up to three games now), senior forward Grant Parker continues to sustain injuries (dislocated shoulder most recently, although he is still playing through it) and it seems like the same old story in Colorado Springs. The Falcons did play Colorado State strong on Wednesday, even having a possible game-tying three by junior Evan Washington with five second left, but in the end this goes in the books as another two-loss week for Air Force.

Looking ahead: This will definitely not be a two-loss week for Air Force, as they play only once, traveling to BYU on Saturday. So, it will just be a one-loss week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/4)

  1. BYU                                        22-2                       7-1
  2. New Mexico                      20-3                       6-2
  3. UNLV                                     18-4                       6-2
  4. San Diego State                16-6                       5-3
  5. Colorado State                  13-9                       4-4
  6. Utah                                      10-12                     3-5
  7. TCU                                        10-13                     2-6
  8. Wyoming                            9-13                       2-6
  9. Air Force                              9-12                       1-7

Superlatives

  • Team of the Week. BYU. Of the big three in the MWC, the Cougars were the only ones to play twice this week. They won both impressively over teams from the bottom half of the conference, but the biggest reason Dave Rose’s club gets this spot is they lead the conference at the turn. Everybody has played everybody once, and while there is another go-round to be had, the Cougs are halfway to the regular season conference championship.
  • Player of the Week. Jimmer Fredette, BYU. Much like his Cougars are halfway to a conference championship, Fredette is halfway to a conference player of the year award, and he did nothing to hurt his chances this week. The BYU point guard averaged 31 points and knocked down four threes in each game. Over the course of the season, Fredette has averaged 21.5 points per game (1st in the MWC), 4.9 assists per game (2nd), has racked up 32 steals (6th) and 50 three-pointers (4th), while hitting 49.5% of his threes (1st), 90.1% of his free throws (1st) and 47.4% of all field goals attempts (7th).
  • Newcomer of the Week. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Leonard has been a monster in the paint for the Aztecs in the first half of the season, combining with junior Billy White and junior transfer Malcolm Thomas to form likely the best frontcourt in the conference. Leonard averaged 14.5ppg and 9.5 rpg this week, a little more than his 12/10 that he has averaged for the season. While the freshman still steps outside of the offense from time to time and takes a head-scratcher of a three or a wild driving charge, his talent is unquestioned.
  • Game of the Week. Air Force 70, Wyoming 63. It was an ugly, ugly week in the MWC. The closest game of the week was this seven-point battle between the two worst teams in the conference, in which Air Force broke its 22-game conference losing streak. Beyond this game, all other contests were decided by an average of 18 points with the only “upset” of the week coming when Utah out-uglied Colorado State on its way to another loss in one of the worst college basketball games anyone could ever imagine.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week. BYU @ UNLV, February 6th, Versus. While this past week made for some barely watchable games around the conference, this upcoming week has plenty of intriguing games, the best of which is this Saturday afternoon rematch of a classic from a month ago. This is BYU’s last really challenging road game of the season (they traveled to New Mexico and San Diego State in the first half of the schedule), so a Cougar win here could go a long way towards inching them closer to breaking the tape at the finish line.

League Notes

So, one lap down, one lap to go, time to hand out some midseason awards?

  • Player of the Year: Fredette, BYU. Perhaps the only other player to consider here would be UNLV’s junior guard Tre’Von Willis, but that’s really just for show. Fredette is clearly the best player in the conference, and the fact that he’s leading the best team in the conference is just icing.
  • Coach of the Year: Rose, BYU. Even if this guy didn’t beat pancreatic cancer (knock on wood a hundred times over) in the offseason, he would be the pick here, getting contributions from players up and down his roster even in the short illness-related absence of our POY, folding a pre-season all-conference selection back into a role-player without so much as a hiccup, and pushing his team out to a 22-2 record in early February? He’s golden, and we’re all glad he’s around to pick this one up.
  • Newcomer of the Year: Darington Hobson, New Mexico. While Leonard has been the best freshman in the conference, Hobson takes our Newcomer award as a triple-threat, averaging 15 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 4.2 apg while leading the Lobos into the national spotlight.

All-MWC Team

  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU
  • Tre’Von Willis, UNLV
  • Darington Hobson, New Mexico
  • Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
  • Jackson Emery, BYU

Team Roundups

BYU

Looking back: The big game of the week for the Cougars was their battle with in-state rival Utah in the First Deseret Duel, or the Holy War. While the Utes are down this year, they battled the Cougs hard and BYU responded well, committing just six turnovers on the night and shooting 46% from the field and 50% from three on the night. Jimmer Fredette was on fire and finished with 36 points and Jackson Emery wound up with six steals to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. BYU followed that win up by scoring the first ten points against TCU and then coasting the rest of the way to an uneventful 20-point win during which the Cougars controlled just about every portion of the game, including outrebounding TCU 45-36, hitting 11 of their 25 threes (while limiting TCU to just 3/16 shooting) and dishing out 19 assists compared to just eight turnovers.

Looking ahead: Just one game for the Cougars as they kick off round two of the MWC schedule, but it is a big one. A win at UNLV will go a long way towards putting BYU on the #1 line in Vegas in March.

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos wrapped up a solid first half of their conference schedule with a ho-hum road win over a floundering TCU team. New Mexico got balanced scoring, with Darington Hobson re-emerging from a bit of a recent slump with a spectacular 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. Sophomore guard Philip McDonald added 18 and senior forward Roman Martinez added 16, each with three threes along the way. While the Lobos lets the Horned Frogs stick around for awhile, they pulled away in the second half mostly on the strength of 27 free throw attempts with 20 makes while holding TCU to only nine attempts and a woeful two makes.

Looking ahead: The Lobos remain a game back of BYU, but face a brutal week in the MWC with a trip to Vegas on Wednesday following a home game against San Diego State on Saturday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels had a week to prepare for their trip to Laramie on Wednesday, and it showed. They outplayed the Cowboys in every facet of the game, shooting 53% from the field (including 61% in the second half) while holding Wyoming to just 29% on the way to a 28-point victory. Senior forward Matt Shaw tied a career-high with 16 points, Willis added 15 and Chace Stanback chipped in 12 as Vegas kept pace with New Mexico a game back of first behind BYU.

Looking ahead: The Rebs have what may be the biggest two-fer of games in the entire conference schedule this week, hosting BYU on Saturday then turning around and hosting New Mexico on Wednesday. The outcome of these two games will go a long way towards clearing up the MWC regular season championship picture.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs had a standard, run-of-the-mill, two-win week, including a road win in Fort Collins in which Kawhi Leonard put up a double-double in the first half on the way to “just” 14 points and 12 rebounds. The Aztec defense really stole the show in that game as they held CSU to just 37% shooting, forced 19 turnovers, controlled the glass (40-33) and held the Rams to just 2/15 shooting from behind the arc. SDSU then returned home to host Air Force on Tuesday and controlled the game from start to finish against the outmanned Falcons. The Aztecs only hit five of their first 20 field goal attempts and still led 12-0 over nine minutes into the game. From there, Steve Fisher’s squad was nearly flawless, turning the ball over only six times while forcing 15 Air Force turnovers and even outscoring the Falcons 17-1 from the free throw line.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs travel to New Mexico on Saturday before returning home to host Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams wrapped up the final week of the first half of the season in much the same way the rest of the first half of the season went: a split featuring a win over a team they should have beaten and a loss to a team that they should have lost to. The win was a 15-point victory in an ugly affair with Utah and the loss may have been just as ugly as they fell by 18 at home against New Mexico. One of the key problems for the Rams, the lack of a playmaking guard, was exposed this week as CSU accounted for a grand total of 13 assists on their 40 field goals this week. While freshman guard Dorian Green has earned a reputation as a fearless scrapper in his first college season, he’ll need to improve his passing in order to help this Ram team take the next step up from a middle-of-the-pack team.

Looking ahead: The schedule lightens up a bit for the Rams: they host Wyoming on Saturday and travel to Air Force on Tuesday.

Utah

Looking back: In what has been an up-and-down season for the Utes, this was without a doubt an out-and-out down week. The week started out with a hard-fought and scrappy effort against BYU on Saturday, which nevertheless ended in a loss, but things got really ugly when they invited Colorado State into the Huntsman Center on Wednesday night. The Utes clocked in late and clocked out early, failing to score in either the first five minutes of the game or the last five, and in the process dropped to 3-5 in the conference.

Looking ahead: Utah gets a chance to patch their bones a little this week before truckin’ on to Fort Worth on Wednesday to face TCU.

TCU

Looking back: The season began with some optimism for the Horned Frogs. They had a preseason all-conference player in senior forward Zvonko Buljan and two complimentary players they were really excited about in senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas and sophomore point Ronnie Moss and head coach Jim Christian seemed confident about his team’s chances to at least compete with the big boys in the conference. This week wrapped up a very disappointing first half of the season with the clear conclusion that such confidence has not been lived up to. TCU lost to New Mexico and BYU by a combined 36 points and thus far have only beaten the two teams below them in the standings in conference play. The trio has been solid enough, averaging a combined 39 ppg (up from 32 ppg last season), but the Frogs have never had anyone else step up to replace the 14 ppg they lost when Kevin Langford graduated last year. However, there is more talent on this team than its meager conference record would suggest and things do look slightly better in the back half of their schedule as they will get to host Utah and Colorado State.

Looking ahead: The Frogs travel to Air Force before returning home for that Utah game. While a two-win week is within reach for TCU, that Air Force game could be sneaky.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys wrapped up a pretty dreadful first half of the conference schedule with two more losses, allowing Air Force their first conference win in more than a year and then getting drilled at home by UNLV. Last week at this time, we were handing out MWC POTW honors to sophomore center Adam Waddell. However, he missed the Air Force game with a sprained ankle, and although he returned against UNLV, was completely ineffective, accounting for just three points and a rebound.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys hit the trail this week with visits to Colorado State and San Diego State.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons are starting to get healthy again and their win column reflects that, as for the first time in two seasons the number is something other than zero. Air Force got a career-high 23 points (to go along with seven assists) from junior guard Evan Washington, returning hero senior forward Grant Parker got 12 points and five rebounds and freshman guard Mike Lyons, a recipient of some of the extra minutes floating around in the wake of the Falcons’ early season rash of injuries, added 16 points and three three-pointers as the Falcons broke their 22-game conference losing streak by knocking off Wyoming last Saturday. While Parker is still not all the way back (as evidenced by his weak two-rebound performance against San Diego State on Tuesday), we’re starting to get a glimpse of the real Air Force team, still not great but an improving squad.

Looking ahead: Air Force hosts both TCU and Colorado State this week, two games that are not out of reach for the Falcons now. Asking for a sweep might be getting greedy, but Falcons fans have to look at this week as possible split.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/14):

  1. BYU                                        17-1                       2-0
  2. Colorado State                  11-5                       2-0
  3. UNLV                                     14-3                       2-1
  4. TCU                                        9-8                          2-1
  5. Utah                                      8-8                          1-1
  6. New Mexico                      15-3                       1-2
  7. San Diego State                12-5                       1-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-9                          1-2
  9. Air Force                              8-8                          0-3

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. UNLV. The Rebels started the week 0-1 in conference, with a trip to The Pit looming and tough matchup with San Diego State in their home opener to follow. As we stand now, the Rebels have a two-game winning streak, hae started to have players find their consistent roles and have shown themselves to be the main challenger to BYU’s MWC-favorite role.

Player of the Week. Tre’Von Willis, Jr, UNLV. Willis was strong all week, while averaging 21.5 PPG in UNLV’s two wins, but he really won this award in the second half of the San Diego State game on Wednesday night, when he went for 17 of his 23 points, including nine straight about ten minutes into the half to break open a 50-50 tie and send UNLV on their way to a victory.

Newcomer of the Week. Brandon Davies, Fr, BYU. With the Cougars’ leading scorer, junior point guard Jimmer Fredette, limited by strep throat and mononucleosis this week, Dave Rose needed someone to step up and contribute. And, as has happened repeatedly this season for BYU, the call was heeded, this time by Davies — an energetic, athletic power forward. Davies tossed in 14 impressive points against UTEP on Saturday, including eight straight after the Miners cut the BYU lead to two with just under six minutes to play. Davies followed up that performance with his first double-double of his college career against Air Force on Wednesday, notching 11 points while grabbing ten rebounds.

Game of the Week. Wyoming 85, San Diego State 83. With just under five minutes remaining on Saturday night, Wyoming fans at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie were gathering their belongings to head out into the cold, if they hadn’t left already. Their Cowboys were on their way to their second straight home conference loss to start the season, down 14 to San Diego State, after having previously shaved their 14-point halftime deficit to as little as three early in the half. However, when Aztec freshman forward Kawhi Leonard missed an ill-advised three on one end, and Cowboy sophomore swing Afam Muojeke drilled a three on the other, Cowboy fans on the fence about leaving were given some reason to stick around. Then freshman guard Arthur Buoedo picked the pocket of Aztec senior point D.J. Gay, and Muojeke dropped in a pull-up three to cut the lead to eight. Long story short, when sophomore point JayDee Luster knocked down his second three in the last minute (and third in the last three minutes), the Cowboys had finished off a startling comeback, coming all the way back to knock off the Aztecs, 85-83.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Colorado State @ BYU, January 16th, The MTN. The two MWC teams who remain undefeated in conference play meet up Saturday night in Provo. While the Cougars have shown they are a team to be reckoned with, both in-conference and nationally, the Rams still have quite a bit to prove, having earned their undefeated conference record at the expense of the lower end of the conference.

League Notes:

Every team has now started conference play in the MWC, and while there is a lot of basketball left, we can draw some conclusions about the relative strength of teams from their early conference and non-conference play. Thus far, BYU remains the favorite, with UNLV just a half-step behind. While the Rebels did fight the Cougars to the bitter end in Provo, BYU was at less than full strength due to Fredette’s illness. New Mexico and San Diego State are both young and talented teams that can put together phenomenal games from time to time, but may lack the consistency to compete for a conference title. However, both squads are in excellent position with regards to their tournament resumes, with the Lobos having an edge over the Aztecs due to their non-conference play. In the middle of the pack, Utah and Colorado State look to be the next tier of teams, with Air Force, TCU and Wyoming bringing up the rear.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: The story of the week for the Cougs has continued to be Fredette’s battle with strep throat and mono. Fredette missed the UTEP game on Saturday, but did return to face Air Force on Wednesday, albeit in a limited role off the bench. However, in his stead, other players have taken over when called upon. It was Jonathan Tavernari in the conference opener against UNLV last week. Davies played well enough to earn Newcomer of the Week honors, but freshman Tyler Haws was right on his heels, averaging 15 PPG this week and matching two career highs on Saturday with 20 points and 11 rebounds in El Paso. And it was junior guard Jackson Emery on Wednesday night, dropping 21 points and five three-pointers against Air Force.

Looking ahead: The Cougars get to stay close to home this week, hosting Colorado State in our MWC Game of the Week on Saturday and Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams had just one game this week, and made the most of it in their home conference opener against Air Force on Saturday. While both teams struggled a bit in the first half (CSU 39% from the field, AF 26%), shots started to fall in the 2nd half, with the Rams shooting 65% and the Falcons hitting 62%. But whether the teams were shooting hot or cold, the Rams were clearly the better team, outscoring the Falcons by 11 in each half behind scrappy defense (forced 18 AF turnovers), solid offense (only nine Ram turnovers), aggressive play (CSU got to the line 27 times, compared to Air Force’s 11 free throw attempts) and balanced offensive production (junior forward Andy Ogide led all scorers with 13, junior Travis Franklin added another 11).

Looking ahead: The Rams put their undefeated conference record (earned by beating possibly the two worst teams in the conference) on the line against some significantly more stout competition, with a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday and a chance to host UNLV on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s two wins this week vaulted them back up the conference standings, but it is the manner in which it happened that likely most pleases head coach Lon Krueger. While the Rebels got a strong week out of our conference POTW Willis, they also got an excellent week out of sophomore forward Chace Stanback, who averaged 16/7 and showed a command of the offense that had been missing earlier in the season. Throw in junior guard Derrick Jasper stuffing the stat sheet wherever needed, junior guard Kendall Wallace knocking down seven threes in Albuquerque, and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield handing out 13 assists over the week and this Rebel team seems to be coming together just in time to make a strong conference run.

Looking ahead: UNLV hosts Utah on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State to face a Ram team currently tied for first in the conference.

TCU

Looking back: TCU has been maddeningly inconsistent so far this year, thus far having failed to put together more than a two-game win streak, or even a two-game losing streak. So, this week’s results shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise: a blowout loss on the road at Utah on Saturday and a squeaker win over Wyoming at home on Tuesday. Against Utah, leading scorers sophomore Ronnie Moss and senior Zvonko Buljan combined to shoot 4-23 from the field as the team was outscored 36-21 in the second half, allowing Utah to pull away to a 20-point win. The Horned Frogs did bounce back against Wyoming, holding off a charge at the end by the Cowboys and getting 22 points from senior swingman Edvinas Ruzgas. But, Moss’ poor shooting (and perhaps poor decision-making) continued as he put up 14 three-point attempts and made only three, while turning the ball over three times.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to San Diego to face the Aztecs on Saturday before returning home to host Texas-Pan American in the MWC’s final non-conference game of the regular season.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes had to wait the longest to get their conference play underway, but they were well-prepared when they did, as they handed TCU a 20-point loss at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. Senior guard Luka Drca scored all 14 of his game-high points in the second half as Utah outscored the Horned Frogs by 15 in the second half. However, the Utes then walked into a hornet’s nest on Wednesday as they visited 0-2 New Mexico in The Pit and came away with a 17-point beatdown. The Utes still have failed to find a consistent offensive threat. Drca followed up his opener with seven points on 3-9 shooting. Junior guard Carlon Brown scored just four points on four field goal attempts. And even freshman guard Marshall Henderson, who led the team with 12, only hit three of his 11 shots, as the team combined to shoot just 35% from the field and 58% from the line.

Looking ahead: Doesn’t get any easier for the Utes. They’ll face UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday before hosting San Diego State on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: Until conference play began, the Lobos had been a high-flying, high-octane offense, routinely scoring in the 80s on their way to a 14-1 record. But, when they opened league play at San Diego State, they put up a season-low in points, scoring only 64. And against UNLV on Saturday, the Lobos season low dropped again as they scored just 62 in The Pit behind 36% shooting from the field and 22% from behind the arc. While the Lobos were able to bounce back with a big win over Utah on Wednesday, they did so in spite of just 10-31 shooting from their big three of senior Roman Martinez and juniors Darington Hobson and Dairese Gary. Head coach Steve Alford has to be pleased with his team’s ability to win games even when the shots aren’t falling (done on Wednesday by both making more free throws than their opponent took and putting together two killer runs – a 10-0 run to close the first half and a 13-1 run late in the second half to put the game away), but heads will rest much lighter around Albuquerque when the shooting percentages go back up.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a chance to feast on some of the weaker teams of the MWC this week, but they’ll have to do it on the road, traveling to Wyoming on Saturday and Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: After collapsing in the last five minutes of their game at Wyoming on Saturday (detailed above), the young Aztecs didn’t have a lot of time to regroup, having to travel to Vegas to face the Rebels on Wednesday. But, the troubles that plagued SDSU in their loss at Laramie followed them down the Rockies, namely, turning the ball over too much (39 turnovers in their two games this week) and failing to finish games (getting outscored by 16 in the second half of both games). Leonard continued his strong play this week, averaging 19/11, but has been inconsistent as well, turning the ball over six times against Wyoming and making some questionable decisions at time. Gay has also struggled a bit this week, especially against the talented backcourt of UNLV, turning the ball over five times and failing to get his offense running smoothly for long stretches.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs return to Montezuma Mesa to host TCU on Saturday before traveling to Salt Lake City to face Utah on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys avoided the dreaded 0-2 conference start at home on Saturday by roaring back from 14 down with under five minutes to play to knock off San Diego State. Muojeke had 10 points in the final five minutes (on his way to 30 for the game) and sophomore point guard Luster added nine points, all on three, in the same time span as part of a 24-8 run to win the game. The Cowboys tried to catch lightning in a bottle twice in one week at TCU on Tuesday, falling behind against by as much as 14, rallying to within a point following a Muojeke three-point play with 35 seconds left, but failing to convert three field goal attempts down the stretch in a 62-59 loss.

Looking ahead: A scary week looms for Heath Schroyer and his squad, as the Cowboys will host a hungry 0-2 New Mexico team on Saturday before traveling to Provo to face BYU on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons are still playing severely short-handed with three starters out, but did get some good news this week as senior forward Mike McLain and senior guard Avery Merriex were both able to return from concussions (at least temporarily in McLain’s case – he played on Saturday, but skipped Wednesday’s game). That little bit of good news, however, was tempered by the results on the court, as Air Force lost to Colorado State and BYU by a combined 40 points. The Falcons did get some production out of freshman swingman Mike Fitzgerald (who hit seven threes during the week), but a team that was already likely the least talented team in the league with a full roster desperately needs to get healthy in order to compete in the MWC.

Looking ahead: With still no firm date as to the potential returns of senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury), sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion) or sophomore swingman Taylor Stewart (broken wrist, out until mid-February at least), the Falcons will have to forge ahead, hosting New Mexico on Saturday in their only game of the week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 1st, 2010

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

Standings (as of 12/30):

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

Superlatives:

Team of the WeekNew Mexico – Hard to pick one given the slim pickings this time of year, but we’ll give the nod to New Mexico (rather than BYU for destroying Arizona in epic fashion on Monday) for handling a solid Texas Tech team in impressive fashion.  The Lobos had five players score in double figures, led by junior Darington Hobson who had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.  They led by 12 at the half, and following a brief Red Raider run to start the second half, coasted to a 15 point victory at the Pit.  Freshman wing Curtis Dennis also provided a spark with strong defense, hustle plays and 16 points along the way.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU –  Fredette got going early and often against Arizona on Tuesday night, pouring in 49 points (on 16-23 shooting, including 9-13 from three), while adding seven rebounds and nine assists for one of the most complete games that anybody across the country has put up this season.  Fredette’s explosion was the most points scored in BYU history, and the most points scored in the history of the McKale Center.

Newcomer of the Week: Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – Hobson takes home his third NOTW award from this space with his performance against Texas Tech detailed above.  He has been simply amazing at times this year, an incredibly versatile force who can grab a strong rebound at one end of the floor, weave his way up court and either find an open Lobo for an easy finish, complete the play himself with either a gliding finger-roll or a pull-up three or settle back in to run the half court offense.  If you haven’t had a chance to see Hobson yet this season, look him up when you get a chance, as all but one Lobo game the rest of the season will be televised somewhere, mostly on The MTN.

Game of the Week: Air Force 77 Niagara 71 – Okay, it was a slow week, and between some big blowout wins by MWC powers and some ugly losses, there weren’t a whole lot of contenders for this title.  We’ll give the nod here to the Falcons, who had five players score in double figures on the way to building up to a lead as big as 10.  But the Purple Eagles came strong down the stretch, pulling to within one with under a minute to play, but Air Force was able to maintain its lead by knocking down its free throws in the end.  Junior guard Evan Washington continued his strong play for the Falcons, racking up 19 points and eight boards, while junior forward Tom Fow added 17.

Games of the Upcoming Week: UNLV @ BYU, January 6th – While the MWC season opens a day earlier in San Diego, this will give us a good look at two of the contenders for the MWC crown.  Both teams feature strong perimeter games and tough defenses, but it may come down to who can control the paint and the glass with guys like BYU’s Noah Hartsock, Chris Miles and James Anderson battling it out with UNLV’s Matt Shaw, Darris Santee and Chace Stanback for interior control.

League Notes:

It’s been a slow week around the Mountain West, with only Air Force playing more than once, and with the non-conference slate wrapping up and the conference games set to begin, it is time to look at how the teams have positioned themselves with an eye towards the NCAA tournament.  The conference as a whole took a step forward with respect to their strength of the non-conference schedule, which helps the teams at the top of the conference continue to build their resumes through the conference season, but has left the bottom of the conference likely already out of the chase for even the lesser postseason tournaments.  Despite the much-talked-about weakness of the Pac-10 this season, the MWC still only ranks as the seventh strongest conference in the nation (just ahead of the A-10 and C-USA, according to KenPom, through December 29), having compiled a 81-38 (through Wednesday) record thus far this season, but having fallen to 10-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back: New Mexico’s difficult non-conference schedule continued this week as they handed Texas Tech their second loss of the season, detailed above.

While there is still one more big hurdle in their non-conference play, Steve Alford’s squad has already notched victories over Louisiana Tech, Cal, Texas A&M, Creighton and Texas Tech and done more than enough to consider their pre-conference play a rousing success.  Hobson has emerged as a dominant force in the conference, and there is enough talent surrounding him to make New Mexico a legitimate national threat.

Looking ahead: The Lobos host Dayton on New Year’s Day for another shot at a quality non-conference victory before beginning their conference schedule on Tuesday at San Diego State.

New Mexico has established itself as a co-favorite (along with BYU) to win the MWC regular season title and has laid the groundwork for an almost certain NCAA bid.  They have enough versatile parts (four different players in the rotation that can run the point, a host of talented wings, athletic defenders) to cause matchup problems for bigger teams, but may be a little thin in the paint, with only sophomores Will Brown and A.J. Hardeman providing legitimate interior presences.  And, perhaps more than anything else, this is an incredibly young team, with only one senior (wing Roman Martinez) seven freshmen and sophomores in their rotation, leaving some questions as to how this team will be able to fare under the pressure of March.

BYU

Looking back: Just one game for the Cougars this week, but they made sure to supply plenty of excitement to tide the fans over until conference play begins with a 99-69 win over Arizona at the McKale Center, the largest loss an Arizona team had experienced in the history of that venue.  But that wasn’t the only record set that night as junior guard Jimmer Fredette went off for 49 points (detailed above).

While New Mexico got most of the press in the MWC due to their extended undefeated run, BYU has slipped under the radar a bit on their way to currently being ranked number five in the most recent KenPom rankings, with their biggest win over Arizona State and their only loss on the road at Utah State.

Looking ahead: The Cougars have a cupcake against Eastern New Mexico before opening their conference season at home against UNLV (1/6).  They’ll then travel to UTEP (1/9) for their final non-conference game of the season in a game that may be their biggest test of the season so far.

BYU has been among the most efficient teams on both ends of the floor thus far this season, and while Fredette deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit for that, junior guard Jackson Emery has been a revelation thus far this season as well, thus far ranking second in the nation in both Effective Field Goal Percentage (73%) and True Shooting Percentage (74.9%).  While it may be too soon to tell if he can keep up that kind of pace, BYU seems like a sure thing. They should compete for a conference title, and still have plenty of leeway to capture an at-large bid should they come up a bit short.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s last game in the non-conference schedule was the championship game of the inaugural Diamond Head Classic against USC on Christmas Day, and the Rebels had some of their weaknesses exposed as USC proved to be the more physical team.  The Trojans were able to slow the pace of the game down and held Vegas to 34% shooting from the field including a paltry 5/22 from three-point.

When all is said and done, the Rebels come out of the non-conference portion of their schedule with a nice looking 12-2 record, but deeper examination shows only a win over Louisville as the best win on the schedule for the Rebs.  While there is nothing that could be considered a bad loss, the Rebels will have to have a strong conference performance to improve their potential at-large resume.

Looking ahead: The Rebels will find out at lot about themselves at the start of their Mountain West schedule, as they will travel to face BYU (1/6) and New Mexico (1/9) in their first two conference games before returning home to host San Diego State (1/13) and Utah (1/16).

While the half-court offense for the Rebels is definitely a question mark, there is no doubt that this is a very good defensive team, and this is a team that will likely make its stand by forcing turnovers defensively while controlling the ball offensively; Vegas is not a team that is going to give a lot of games away.  Further, this is a team that should improve over the season as their newcomers (two transfers and two freshmen among their rotation) get used to their new teammates and system.  The Rebels may not have the horses to compete with New Mexico and BYU for the conference title, but they should be a tournament-contender all season long.

San Diego State

Looking back: San Diego State’s lone game of the week was a closer-than-should-have-been squeaker over UC Riverside.  The Aztecs led by as many as 10 in the second half, but Riverside got back within a point on a Kyle Austin jumper with 44 seconds left.  Austin had a game-tying three-point attempt blocked by junior Malcolm Thomas blocked in the waning moments and SDSU escaped with a five-point win.

The Aztecs have one more cupcake remaining in their non-conference schedule and seem poised to take an 11-3 record into the conference schedule, but have no real impressive wins under their belt yet.  Wins over teams like Arizona and Fresno State were impressive, hard-fought wins, but the two best teams that the Aztecs faced, Saint Mary’s and Arizona State, handed them two of their three losses.

Looking ahead: SDSU will face Pomona-Pitzer on New Year’s Eve to complete their non-conference schedule, then will host New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference opener on Tuesday.

Like other teams around the conference, the Aztecs have a lot of new faces this year in the form of freshmen, transfers and even returning players taking on new roles.  As the season has progressed, players have settled into their roles and the team has improved steadily from week to week, and has turned into a very strong team on the glass, especially on the offensive end.  While they will take a strong record into conference play, they still have plenty of work to do to shore up their postseason resume, and will likely need a strong third-place MWC finish combined with a win or two over opponents like BYU, New Mexico or UNLV in order to make their odds of an at-large tournament bid more realistic.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams traveled to Fresno on Monday, and, as unlikely as it may seem, the plane trip to Fresno may have been the highlight of the week.  Because once the ball was in the air, the Rams were largely absent.  They made just five of 28 field goal attempts in the first half, missed all ten of their threes and were down 36-13 after 20 minutes of play.  If that weren’t bad enough, they slept through the opening few minutes of the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to score the first 11 of the half, and found themselves down 34 points on the way to a 23-point embarrassment.

While the Rams built up a little confidence in early December with a four game winning streak, they have now lost two straight and find themselves a game away from conference play with an exciting win over Colorado as their high point.

Looking ahead: CSU hosts Yale on New Year’s Eve before opening conference play with a trip to Wyoming (1/6) and a home game against Air Force (1/9).  If the Rams hope to make any splash in MWC play this year, those first two games against teams that they can beat are musts.

The Rams have some upside, with three freshmen (guard Dorian Green and forwards Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung) that they are excited about, but seem destined for a lower division MWC finish.  They simply don’t have the athletes or consistency to play with the premier teams in the conference, but with a little luck could make a run at a CBI or one of the other seven (I believe) post-season college basketball tournaments.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s possible Air Force had the most interesting week of all the MWC teams, as they competed in the final non-conference tournament of the season, the Sun Bowl Invitational at El Paso.  The Falcons showed well for themselves, knocking off a tough Niagara team in the semifinal round before losing to host UTEP in the championship. Once again, the Falcons played without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who has now missed the last five games with a groin injury.  Sophomore center Sammy Schafer has also now missed nine straight games with complications from a concussion.  No firm return date is set for either player at this point.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host Texas-Pan American on Saturday then kick off their MWC play at TCU on Wednesday.  If all goes well, Parker and Schafer could possibly return for the MWC opener.

While the current 7-5 record may not look all that pretty, you have to give credit to the Falcons for mostly beating the teams that they were supposed to beat (with the exception of Northern Arizona) and even sneaking in an upset.  While the majority of the Falcons’ wins so far have been over the weak-sisters of Division I (and even lesser divisions) like UC Davis, Prairie View A&M and Dickinson State, they snuck in a win on a neutral court over a good Niagara team this past week.  While coach Jeff Reynolds should harbor no illusions about being a NCAA tournament contender (barring an unlikely run through the MWC tournament), the Falcons have improved from last season.  They’ll need to finish near .500 in a tough MWC, however, in order to have any chance for a non-NCAA tournament postseason bid.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs became the third MWC team to lose to Northern Colorado, as they fell to the Bears on Wednesday night by 11.  After a close first half, a 14-4 run gave Northern Colorado a comfortable working margin and the Frogs were never within a possession of the lead the rest of the game.

For a fairly talented team that looked like a solid middle-of-the-pack MWC at the beginning of the year, the month of December has been tough for the Frogs as they have only posted one win over a Division I school in five tries, adding a win over an NAIA school along the way.  While fairly effective offensively and featuring several very skilled players, they have been absolutely abysmal defensively, ranking near the bottom of Division I in a variety of statistics, and their only wins on the season have come against the dregs of D-I.  The Horned Frogs have played a very difficult schedule in the early season (KenPom ranks it the 36th toughest schedule in the nation), but have thus far shown an inability to hang with good teams.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts Rice in their final non-conference game on Saturday, then hosts Air Force on Wednesday in their conference opener.

With a 6-7 record at this point, TCU would have to play their conference schedule above .500 to have postseason hopes.  Given their defensive struggles to this point, that seems increasingly unlikely.  While they feature an very good offensive point in sophomore Ronnie Moss, an excellent shooter in senior Edvinas Ruzgas, a skilled big man in senior Zvonko Buljan and a hustling glue-guy in sophomore Kevin Butler, they lack the athleticism to guard effective offensive teams well enough to compete with the elite MWC teams.

Wyoming

Looking back: Wyoming’s home court advantage at 7000-plus feet of elevation didn’t seem so scary Wednesday night as Akron was the team to finish strong, posting a 16-7 run in the final four minutes to finish off the Cowboys.  Wyoming played without freshman point guard JayDee Luster who sat out with an injured shoulder, and Akron’s tiny point Humpty Hitchens got off for 16 points and three three-pointers to lead the Zips.

While Wyoming plays at one of the highest tempos in the nation, their offense has been horribly inefficient, averaging significantly less than a point per offensive possession.  While some key injuries (to Luster, who has yet to be healthy this season, and sophomore leading scorer Afam Muojeke, who missed four games with a knee injury) and the overall youth of the team (eight sophomores and freshmen among the 10-man rotation) are to blame for some of it, this just isn’t a very talented Wyoming team.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Adams State on Saturday to round out their conference schedule and likely get them back to .500 for the season before hosting Colorado State in their MWC opener on Wednesday.

The Cowboys are another in a line of teams at the bottom of the MWC conference who have dug themselves a hole in their non-conference play.  They’ll need to compile a .500 or better record against a tough conference to give themselves a chance at any type of postseason play (the NCAAs are out of the question), and given their inability to get quality possessions offensively, there is no reason to suspect that the Cowboys are capable of playing .500 ball the rest of the way.  Likely, the rest of this season will be dedicated to finding out who they have that they can build upon next year, especially with Luster and fellow freshman guard Desmar Jackson.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes got things headed back in the right direction by hanging one on a solid Texas-San Antonio team Tuesday night.  Sophomore center David Foster returned from a turned ankle to block six shots, while senior Luka Drca added 19 points and the Utes held UTSA to 33% shooting and only three assists on their 16 field goals en route to a 22 point Utah win.

It’s been a disappointing early season for the Utes, still fighting to get back to .500 after a recent three-game skid and some bad losses (Idaho, Seattle, Pepperdine) throughout the schedule.  The Utes have been terribly inefficient offensively, have struggled shooting the ball (especially from deep) and have even struggled on the glass, which is completely unacceptable for one of the tallest teams in the country.  And yet, the Utes have shown that they are talented enough to play with some good teams, having defeated Utah State and Michigan at home and Illinois on a neutral court.

Looking ahead: The Utes wrap up non-conference play with a trip to Baton Rouge on Saturday for a battle of underperforming teams.  Conference play starts with a home game against TCU on the following Saturday, backed up by a trip to the Pit to face the Lobos on January 13th.

About the only thing to be sure of for the rest of the Ute season is inconsistency.  Coach Jim Boylen is an excellent teacher, so the Utes are sure to get improvement out of its younger players, but the lack of consistent outside shooting up and down the roster seems destined to doom this Utah basketball squad to mediocrity.  There is enough talent and size here to be sure that the Utes will probably knock off teams like BYU, New Mexico and UNLV at some point this season, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see wins like that followed with losses to teams like Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming.  And yet, if this team gets hot at the right moment in March, they could certainly win three games in three days and find themselves dancing.  But don’t hold your breath.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

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

Standings (as of 12/23)

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

Superlatives

Team of the Week. BYU – The Cougars split their time this week between Provo and Las Vegas and came out of the week with a Vegas Classic title to show for it. After coasting against Wagner easily at home (especially after a 22-4 run to start the game) and then hanging a 57-point whooping on Eastern Washington, BYU then survived a run-and-gun battle with Nevada before dispatching of Nebraska easily in the final behind torrid shooting as the Cougars shot 67% from field in first half on way to 49-35 halftime lead and 61% shooting for the game.

Players of the Week. Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, BYU. I can’t pick one of these guys and leave the other one unmentioned. Just can’t do it. While both were very quiet in the win over Wagner, each exploded in the Cougars’ three remaining Vegas Classic games, Fredette averaging 26 points and five assists and Emery averaging 21 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and four threes in those three games. These two have become the dynamic duo for a potent BYU offense.

Newcomer of the Week. Chace Stanback, UNLVStanback, a transfer from UCLA, has been a steady influence for the Rebels so far this year, doing a little bit of everything to help a guard-heavy team from the frontcourt. This week was no different as he averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game to help UNLV advance to the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawai’i.

Game of the Week. BYU 110, Nevada 104 – The score alone makes this one the easy pick for game of the week, especially when you check out the box score and find that this game didn’t go to a few overtimes like the score suggests. Both teams were on fire all night.  BYU shot 63% from the field, Nevada 59%, and the teams combined to go 13-28 from three. But the difference in the game was likely BYU’s ability to hit 27 of their 28 free-throw attempts to hold off the Wolfpack. Three Cougars set career highs in this game, with Fredette going for 33, Emery pouring in 25, and freshman Tyler Haws adding 20.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Texas Tech @ New Mexico – This matchup lost a little bit of its luster when Texas Tech lost its first game of the year against Wichita State last Saturday, and Oral Roberts hung the first loss of the year on the Lobos on Wednesday night, but this still remains a meeting between a 10-1 Red Raider squad and a 12-1 Lobo squad, both of whom like to get up and down the floor and play an exciting brand of basketball. This game could feature some very interesting matchups, with each team’s leading scorers (New Mexico junior Darington Hobson and Texas Tech junior Mike Singletary) figuring to see a lot of each other throughout the game. The toughest matchup for the Red Raiders may be in finding someone to stick with Roman Martinez on the perimeter when the Lobos get penetration from Hobson, junior guard Dairese Gary and others.

League Notes

For the most part, it was just a really ugly week for the MWC. Aside from BYU’s win in the Vegas Classic and UNLV’s success in the first couple rounds of the Diamond Head Classic (and really, despite their names, neither of the fields at those tournaments deserved the “Classic” label), there was carnage all around. New Mexico survived an upset bid by Creighton, only to slip up at Oral Roberts for their first loss of the year. Utah lost to Illinois State and Pepperdine (yes, Pepperdine, a team who improved their record to 4-10 with that win over Utah). Air Force fell to Northern Arizona. TCU got drilled by Houston. San Diego State looked lost against Arizona State. Colorado State couldn’t take advantage of a weakened UCLA team. And, Wyoming fell apart in the second half at Northern Iowa, and in the process the MWC lost the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (although, given the results, perhaps they ought to switch the conference billings in the title) 5-4.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: While the next couple New Mexico matchups against Texas Tech and Dayton looked to be far sexier games than this week’s slate, no one expected either a home game against Creighton or a trip to Oral Roberts to be easy. The week got off to a slow start with a tough first half against Creighton with the Lobos shooting 20% in the first half and finding themselves behind by 12 at the break. But the Lobos picked up the effort in the second half, and despite continued cold shooting, fought back to grab an  inspired five-point win. Against Oral Roberts, the Lobos got off to a similar slow start, trailing by as much as 14 in the first half, but this time after fighting back to get in the game, their opponent fed off their home crowd and responded with a 10-0 run that provided the eventual margin of the game. While the Lobos are still a dangerous team to face, they will have to turn their shooting around, as team leaders Hobson and Martinez combined to shoot 18/56 from the field in the two games this week.

Looking ahead: New Mexico will get a chance to bounce back against strong competition when the host Texas Tech next Tuesday and then Dayton on New Year’s Day to wrap up a tough non-conference schedule.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels bounced back from their first loss of the season with a grind-it-out victory over Weber State and a blowout of overmatched South Carolina-Upstate to start the week before heading to Hawai’I for the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, where they continued their roll with wins over SMU and Hawai’i. UNLV’s balanced scoring continued as seven different players scored in double figures at least once in these four games. Tre’Von Willis missed the game against SC-Upstate with a sprained ankle, but returned for the first two rounds of the Diamond Head games.

Looking ahead: UNLV will face USC (Southern California, that is, not South Carolina) in the Diamond Head Final on Christmas Day, then doesn’t play another game until opening the conference season on January 6th at BYU.

BYU

Looking back: While it was mostly sunshine and flowers for the Cougars this week (as detailed above in the superlatives section), the disappearance of senior Jonathan Tavernari as an offensive threat for this team remains somewhat puzzling. While Tavernari has always been streaky, there usually have been hot streaks to match the cold streaks (often in the same game, or even the same half). Last year he averaged almost 16 ppg and over 7 rpg, but after a slow start to the season, he headed off to the bench and has been heard of very little since then. For instance, as BYU was hanging 91 on Eastern Washington on their way to the biggest win over a D-1 school in the program’s history, Tavernari got off the bench for five quiet minutes. As the Cougars racked up another 110 against Nevada, Tavernari got plenty of time – 29 minutes – but managed only five field goal attempts and four rebounds. While it remains to be seen if he will regain a key role in Dave Rose’s offense, so far it seems like a long fall for a guy who was supposedly considering entering the NBA draft in the offseason.

Looking ahead: BYU travels to Arizona on Monday, then hosts Eastern New Mexico to wrap up its non-conference schedule.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs had a couple tough road games this week and came away with a split in a pair of tight game. After a game at Arizona State on Saturday, during which the Aztecs struggled to find any consistent offense against the Sun Devil zone, en route to 24 turnovers and a three-point loss despite a furious rally in the second half to scrape back from an 18-point deficit, San Diego State visited Drake on Tuesday for their MWC/MVC Challenge game. The Aztecs controlled the glass (much as they did against Arizona State) and got balanced scoring (really, as they have all season), but needed overtime and some unlikely clutch free throw shooting to outlast Drake, 76-73. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard continued to be a terror on the glass the week, grabbing 11 rebounds in each game, and juniors Billy White (9.5 rpg this week) and Malcolm Thomas (9 rpg this week) lent a hand.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs have wrapped up the significant portion of their non-conference schedule, as home games against UC Riverside (12/29) and Division III Pomona-Pitzer (12/31) are all that remains before they open conference play on January 9th at Wyoming.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams started their week out by extended their winning streak to four with a win over Northern Arizona behind 22 points and six rebounds from junior forward Travis Franklin, and the team’s ability to force NAU into 20 turnovers. However, in a trip to Pauley Pavilion to face struggling UCLA, while the Rams still forced turnovers, they were unable to find a go-to player offensively down the stretch while the Bruins went on a 29-9 run to break open a game that Colorado State had controlled for 31 minutes. The Rams shot a mere 36% from the field in the 2nd half, and allowed a poor UCLA offense to shoot 60% in the same time span, as all five Bruin starter scored in double figures on their way to a 12 point victory.

Looking ahead: Colorado State travels to face Fresno State on Monday, then returns home to host Yale on New Year’s Eve in their final non-conference game of the regular season.

Air Force

Looking back: Air Force spent the week without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who missed his third consecutive game this week with a groin injury, but were fortunate enough to have junior forward Tom Fow step up with consecutive career highs this week, 15 points in a home loss to Northern Arizona, then 30 points in a win over UC Davis. Senior forward Mike McLain also helped fill the void left by Parker, averaging 8.5 rebounds this week.

Looking ahead: The Falcons travel to El Paso to participate in the Sun Bowl Invitational, where they will face a tough Niagara team in the first round before facing either UTEP or Norfolk State in their second game of the weekend. Although there has been no official word on the status of Parker for the tournament, he could play in both games.

TCU

Looking back: TCU’s up-and-down season continued in unspectacular fashion this week with a 27-point win over NAIA member St. Gregory’s, before heading to Houston to get bombed by the Cougars. While senior forward Edvinas Ruzgas was able to light up the lesser competition to the tune of 32 points, Houston was able to hold him to 12 points on 4-12 shooting. Turnovers were a big problem for the Horned Frogs this week, as they coughed it up 20 times against St. Gregory’s and another 18 against the Houston. Possibly more disturbing? Only forcing four turnovers against the up-tempo Cougars.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts Northern Colorado and Rice in the final prep for conference play. While both games are winnable for the Frogs, the Northern Colorado team they’ll meet on New Year’s Eve should not be overlooked.

Wyoming

Looking back: To get right to the point, this Cowboy team is very young. With only one senior on the team and only two upperclassmen, coach Heath Schroyer had to expect some struggles and growing pains early. Well, he’s got exactly what he expected. While the Cowboys have been good enough to beat teams like Northern Colorado and Loyola Marymount earlier in the season and South Dakota this week, they have only been good enough to hang with the stronger programs for 20 minutes before falling off in the second half. The Cowboys displayed this tendency against Tennessee last week, and repeated it last night at Northern Iowa. Wyoming hung right with the Panthers for one half, then got outscored by 17 in the second half on the way to an 18-point loss. Afam Muojeke led the Cowboys with 19.5 ppg this week, even tossed in five threes against South Dakota, but Wyoming is still struggling in the half court offense, accounting for only three assists (with no one recording more than one assist) compared to 17 turnovers against Northern Iowa.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Akron and Adams State in the final tune-ups of the non-conference schedule.

Utah

Looking back: Utah’s struggles continued this week as they dropped both of their games, extending their losing streak to three. To top it off, the Utes lost sophomore center David Foster to an ankle sprain in the first of those losses (at home to Illinois State) and missed junior forward Jay Watkins in both games due to an abdominal strain. If there was good news this week, it was the strong play of junior guard Carlon Brown, normally a starter for the Utes who came off the bench in both games this week. Brown shot the ball well in both games and averages 18 points per game this week, but has the tendency to play out of control at times and turn the ball over. While turnovers have been a problem for the Utes, the only real consistency they’ve had at all this season is in the inconsistency. They have struggled shooting at times (including 4-19 3pt shooting against Illinois State), they have struggled on the glass (getting outrebounded by Pepperdine in their game last night 45-26, and 18-9 on the offensive glass), they have struggled defensively at times and they have struggled with ballhandling.

Looking ahead: The Utes get a chance to right the ship by hosting Texas-San Antonio on Tuesday, then travel to Baton Rouge for a matchup with LSU on January 2nd to wrap up their non-conference schedule

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/16):

  1. New Mexico 11-0
  2. UNLV 8-1
  3. BYU 8-1
  4. San Diego State 8-2
  5. Colorado State 7-3
  6. Air Force 5-3
  7. TCU 5-5
  8. Utah 5-5
  9. Wyoming 5-5

Superlatives:

Team of the Week.  New Mexico – As the lone remaining undefeated team in the Mountain West, this one is a no-brainer.  The Lobos combined a hard-fought semi-neutral site win over Texas A&M in Houston with an absolute blowout of Northern Arizona yesterday to improve their record to 11-0, and, especially against Northern Arizona, were the epitome of a team, with all ten of the players who got minutes scoring, and eight players scoring more than eight points.

Player of the Week.  Roman Martinez, Sr, New Mexico – It’s a clean sweep for New Mexico at this point, with Darington Hobson taking home the first two POTWs and Roman Martinez grabbing the last two.  Martinez wins the award this week by averaging 19.5 PPG and knocking down eight more three-pointers, to bring his season total to 40 while shooting 55% from behind the arc.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/4)

  1. New Mexico    7-0
  2. UNLV    6-0
  3. BYU     5-1
  4. San Diego State   5-2
  5. TCU    5-3
  6. Air Force    3-2
  7. Colorado State    4-3
  8. Utah      3-4
  9. Wyoming     3-4

Superlatives

Team of the Week. UNLV The Running Rebels had the toughest week of any Mountain West team, playing two down-to-the-wire games against two major national programs in Louisville and Arizona, and came through with their perfect record intact.

Player of the Week. Darrington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – The nod goes to Hobson for the second week running, after he turned in a monstrous 22 points and 15 rebounds against Cal Wednesday night. Coupled with a 21/10/5 asst game in the Lobos visit to Hawaii, Hobson looks to have a lock on the MWC Player of the Week.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson. Again.

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