Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 19th, 2013

Last year about this time, the Mountain West’s record as a collective was 27-3. Sure, there wasn’t a large number of top shelf wins among those 27, but they were wins. This year the teams are a combined 19-12. UNLV lost by 21 at home to UC Santa Barbara. Colorado State got drilled by 32 at Gonzaga. Nevada lost at home to Pacific. Fresno State lost by 21 at Pitt. Air Force has lost to Jackson State and VMI. And newcomer San Jose State has lost to everybody it has faced, and that certainly hasn’t been a murderer’s row. Last year, the conference as a whole rode its strong RPI numbers, built up by a collection of a mostly good teams, to a best-ever five NCAA Tournament bids. This year, it remains to be seen just how good teams the teams at the top are, while the middle of the conference seems significantly weaker than it was last year, and the bottom of the conference even worse. Too long, didn’t read? The takeaway is there isn’t a chance in a million that the Mountain West sends five teams dancing this year.

Team of the Week

Utah State – The Aggies are one of the newcomers in the conference, but they’re off to a fine start, having won all three of their games including one over USC and another over that UCSB team that beat up on MW heavyweight UNLV. Behind veteran trio Spencer Butterfield, Preston Medlin and Jarred Shaw, Utah State looks like it will have an easy transition to its new conference.

Cameron Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Cameron Bairstow, Sr, New Mexico – There may not be a player in the country who has improved as much as Bairstow in his four years in Albuquerque. As a freshman, he was notable only for his below-the-rim, scrappy style, as he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game and fewer than three points per outing. But thus far this season, the 6’9” Aussie has been almost unstoppable, averaging 25.5 points, eight rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, all while shooting 78.3 percent from the field. Oh, and not to be outdone, his frontcourt mate Alex Kirk has double-doubled in both his games on the way to 20 points and 12 rebounds per game averages.

Newcomer of the Week

Paul Watson, Fr, Fresno State – The 6’6” freshman out of Phoenix doesn’t have the type of body yet to lead you to believe he would succeed playing up front in major college basketball. But out of necessity, Watson has been forced to play the role of a big man for the Bulldogs. And, so far so good, as he’s averaged five rebounds a night, has scored both around the basket and from deep, and has eaten up minutes. There’s a big future for this Dog.

Power Rankings

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Morning Five: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 5th, 2013

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  1. UNLV got some good news yesterday as it was announced that Bryce Dejean-Jones, their leading returning scorer, had suffered a strained hamstring during Friday night’s exhibition loss and not something more significant. There is no timetable for Dejean-Jones’s return, but it appears that the staff is hopeful that he will be ready for the team’s opener on Friday against Portland State although we are not sure how much weight to put on their hope. With the loss of three double-digit scorers UNLV will need Dejean-Jones, a transfer from USC who averaged 10.3 points last year, to return quickly to give the team some stability and veteran leadership.
  2. Similar to UNLV, Providence got some good news on the injury front as they found out that starting point guard Kris Dunn did not suffer a significant injury to his surgically repaired right shoulder during their exhibition win on Friday night. This comes after the team got back the results of a MRI on that shoulder on Monday although they are not releasing more detailed results. Officially Dunn is listed as “day-to-day” and much like USC with Dejean-Jones the Providence staff is hopefully that Dunn will be available for their opener on Friday against Boston College and like Dejean-Jones they will be counting on Dunn to lead their team.
  3. UNLV also got some more good news from the NCAA yesterday. With all of the other hardship waivers being approved we have been somewhat confused as to why it took so long for the NCAA to approve Kevin Olekaibe‘s hardship waiver (likely due to timing of submission and the amount of NCAA staff available to review waivers), but yesterday the NCAA finally approved Olekaibe’s hardship waiver. Olekaibe, who 17.8 points per game two years ago at Fresno State before seeing his production decline sharply last season, applied for a hardship waiver due to his father’s illness (currently on hospice and is unable to speak or move his lower body according to reports. At this point Olekaibe and UNLV still have one more hurdle to get past before he can play for the Rebels as they need the Mountain West to approve the intra-conference transfer before Olekaibe can play. Unless Fresno State raises some objection we cannot imagine that the Mountain West will want the negative publicity that will fall upon it if it refuses Olekaibe’s waiver.
  4. With only a few days until the start of the season, plenty of groups are coming out with their preseason awards (ours will be up soon). Yesterday, two of the biggest groups released their picks as the Associated Press revealed its All-American picks and the USBWA released its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award Preseason Watch List. Neither list had any particularly shocking picks, but the AP All-Americans will probably generate the most controversy with its picks. Marcus Smart was a unanimous selection and was joined by Doug McDermott, Mitch McGary, Andrew Wiggins, and Russ Smith.  Smart and McDermott seem like obvious choices and you will have a hard time finding anybody arguing against them. Wiggins is a near-consensus  pick too although you might find some questioning him since he has not played a college game yet. Smith will probably also garner quite a bit of support too coming off a national championship, but McGary might generate some criticism particularly from Kentucky where you could make a pretty solid case for Julius Randle over McGary particularly given McGary’s uneven play last season.
  5. It turns out that T. Boone Pickens is not the only person willing to buy every available ticket to produce a sell-out as Indiana Pacers star (and former Fresno State star) Paul George appears to have bought every remaining ticket for Fresno State’s home opener against Cal State Northridge on November 16 and is giving them away for free. While some reports are suggesting that George bought all 15,596 seats in the arena that seems unlikely for a couple of reasons: (1) it would imply that none of the seats had been sold, which seems unlikely given the boosters that every school has and (2) George said he “only” paid $7,000 for his allotment of tickets–even with a group discount less than 50 cents a ticket is difficult to fathom. Still it is nice gesture and we hope that Fresno State has a full house that night thanks to George’s gesture.
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Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: California and Stanford

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 4th, 2013

In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’ve been breaking down all 12 non-conference slates over the last few weeks. Up next: the Bay Area schools.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

California

Three Games In The Maui Invitational And A Trip To Creighton Highlight Mike Montgomery And Company's Out Of Conference Slate (credit: Mark J. Terrill)

Three Games In The Maui Invitational And A Trip To Creighton Highlight Mike Montgomery And California’s Out-of-Conference Slate (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Cream of the Crop: vs. Syracuse (#14), vs. Minnesota (#34), @ Creighton (#24)

California will face two of those three teams. The Golden Bears play either Syracuse or Minnesota in the second round of the Maui Invitational on November 26. The Orange finished 2012-13 with a record of 30-10, which included six wins over ranked opponents as well as a six-point victory against Cal in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Gophers started last season 15-1 but were handled by Florida in their second game of the NCAAs. The only known game on this list is a December 22 trip to Omaha to face Creighton, which will be Cal’s last game before Christmas break. The Bluejays topped Mike Montgomery’s team by a score of 74-64 last December in Berkeley, so they’ll look to return the favor this time around against the new Big East opponent. Creighton is loaded in the backcourt with both Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs returning.

Solid Names: Denver (#66), Oakland (#152), vs Arkansas (#95), UC Irvine (#126), Nevada (#173), Fresno State (#135)

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New Memberships in the A-10 and Mountain West: Can These Leagues Sustain Success?

Posted by BHayes on October 10th, 2013

Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) is an RTC national columnist.

The tumult of conference realignment has hit few conferences harder than it has the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, but as we prepare to set sail on the 2013-14 season, both leagues again loom as the best college basketball has to offer outside the now “power seven” conferences. We touched on each league a little bit in yesterday’s Morning Five, but storylines abound in two leagues that have generated plenty of national buzz in recent years. Both are expected to maintain holds in the upper echelon of the mid-major hierarchy, but offseason membership changes have left things less certain than usual, especially in the A-10. The constant churn of programs jumping from conference to conference has left leagues in varying states of disarray, and 2013-14 finds both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 at a crossroads. The challenges are different in each situation, but with the relatively uncertain future of today’s college basketball’s climate, another strong season in comparison with the high-majors would go a long ways towards stabilizing each of these traditionally strong conferences.

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

This season’s iteration of the Mountain West is bigger, but is it better? The preseason poll released Tuesday offered confirmation of the general consensus surrounding newcomers Utah State and San Jose State: Stew Morrill and the Aggies should be a factor in the top half of the conference, while the Spartans, despite their eye-catching new floor, are likely to be MW doormats. But even if Utah State matches or exceeds expectations in their conference debut, the conference as a whole will struggle to replicate the success of 2012-13 – those good old days when the MW was number one in conference RPI (no typo). The trio at the top of this year’s preseason poll all have a chance at replicating, or even improving upon, their successful campaigns of a year ago.

The return of preseason MW POY Kendall Williams and first teamer Alex Kirk has left New Mexico as the conference’s presumptive favorite: the Lobos earned all but one of 24 first place votes. A talented but overhauled UNLV squad scooped up that final first place vote, while Boise State’s return of nearly every key contributor earned the Broncos enough acclaim to tie for second with the Rebels in the poll. The Morning Five highlighted another talented San Diego State roster that sits behind those three teams in the eyes of the media, and let’s face it — it’s probably time we start giving Steve Fisher the benefit of the doubt – the Aztecs are an annual factor out west. But behind the Aztecs and Aggies (Utah State was picked to finish fifth) lies much of the intrigue in this year’s MW. A season ago, the four non-Tournament teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada) were all extremely competitive, especially on their home floors. Their strength was a big reason for that heady conference RPI. This year’s bottom half again appears feisty, with a couple of teams – Nevada (#9) and Fresno State (#8) appearing especially undervalued in the preseason evaluations. Nobody – inside our outside the league — is expecting the MW to finish atop the conference RPI again this season. But another solid campaign, on the heels of that banner season of a year ago, would be awfully sound validation of a league unprepared to leave the national consciousness anytime soon.

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Morning Five: 09.09.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 9th, 2013

morning5

  1. A rough offseason just got a lot worse for Fresno State. The Bulldogs who already lost Kevin Olekaibe to transfer and dismissed Robert Upshaw now appear to have lost former Kansas commit Braeden Anderson for a significant amount of time after Anderson and walk-on Kyle Jackson were involved in what has been been described as a “serious car accident” that left one person dead. Information on Anderson is limited at this time, but according to reports he has a neck injury, but has movement in all of his extremities while Jackson escaped relatively unharmed. Obviously, basketball is a distant second to Anderson’s help at this time so we wish him and the other survivors involved in the accident a speedy recovery.
  2. It was not too long ago (or a very long time depending on your point of view) that the public and the sports media nearly lost its mind with Nevin Shapiro’s allegations about NCAA violations at Miami. So the lack of media attention given to the report that Sports Illustrated was set publish details of  widespread NCAA violations committed at Oklahoma State is somewhat interesting. On one hand the allegations all conveniently fall outside the NCAA’s statute of limitations so the NCAA cannot do anything about it (we think, but we thought the same think with Penn State). Still the reported violations are so widespread and the reaction to the Yahoo! Miami report was so over-the-top that the lack of media reaction here has been somewhat jarring. It may speak to way we have been desensitized to scandals after what happened at Penn State or perhaps the indignation will come once the actual report is released.
  3. Yesterday, the Naismith Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony and while nearly all of the inductees had significant college basketball careers the three that are most pertinent to us were the coaches–Rick PitinoJerry Tarkanian, and Guy Lewis. Pitino needs no introduction especially since he is still coaching and just won a national title earlier this year, but we have to say the moment must have been particularly sweet for Tarkanian and Lewis, both of whom many felt should have been inducted years ago. We went over the cases for both several months ago when the decisions regarding induction were still being debated by the Selection Committee. In any event, we would like to congratulate all of the inductees.
  4. Over the past few weeks we have seen the NCAA make several announcements regarding player eligibility that have raised eyebrows. Perhaps none have done so more than the ones regarding transfers with hardship waivers as many observers have been quick to point out the lack of consistency between some of the decisions that have been made. As expected several writers wrote about this topic, but if you want check out a few of the more nuanced takes we would suggest the following three takes: Andy Glockner, Dana O’Neil, and John Infante. All three writers offer slightly different takes, but they are all more thoughtful than what we have typically seen.
  5. The past six months have been interesting ones for Kevin Ware. He went from being a key cog in the NCAA title favorites to being one of the enduring memories of this year’s NCAA Tournament after he suffered a compound fracture during Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke. After that there were a series of rumors claiming that Ware had been suspended from the team (subsequently refuted). Now it appears that Ware’s return to the court will be delayed at least until early 2014 according to Rick Pitino. Given the depth the Cardinals have they should be able to withstand Ware’s absence early in the season although they will certainly need him when March rolls around.
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Morning Five: 06.12.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 12th, 2013

morning5

  1. As you probably already noticed yesterday was APR Day, the day that college administrators dread and one that spawns countless columns about inequities in the system. There were no major surprises in terms of which teams were ineligible and the biggest news of the day was probably the fact that Connecticut is eligible for the NCAA Tournament again despite having a four-year APR below 930 as they showed enough improvement that they were still able to qualify. The more interesting aspect of APR Day is that it led to several interesting articles such as those by Andy Glockner and Myron Medcalf that speak to issues beyond just educating/graduating athletes and are reflective of education in this country.
  2. The decisions on where conferences decide to play their conference tournament games has never been of particular interest to us since they are typically played at a neutral site and are based on purely financial reasons. Having said that the decision by the American Athletic Conference to play its first conference tournament in Memphis is an interesting one as it will essentially give Memphis a homecourt advantage with an automatic NCAA Tournament bid on the line. Typically conferences of the expected power of the AAC avoid playing at a non-neutral location for a variety of reasons including the benefit given to a team that is playing at home. It will be interesting to see where the conference decides to put its postseason tournament going forward if schools feel that Memphis is granted an unfair advantage.
  3. Yesterday we linked to an article about increasingly onerous transfer restrictions on players. We did not mention it specifically in our post, but as the article we linked to mentions players are able to get around this by opting not to tak e a scholarship at their new school. It happens infrequently, but in the case of a player like Kevin Olekaibe sometimes the circumstances are severe enough that the player is willing to pay his own way. In Olekaibe’s case the rising senior announced that he was transferring from Fresno State to UNLV even though he was not allowed to transfer within the Mountain West Conference if he accepted a scholarship. Olekaibe’s reason for transferring and hoping for a transfer waiver that would allow him to play right away is that he wants to be closer to his father who is paralyzed from the waist down and is unable to speak because of two strokes that he has had. The way that transfer waivers have been granted lately we would be surprised if the NCAA turned his request down.
  4. In the wake of San Antonio’s win over Miami last night, Seth Wickersham’s article on the Spurs success being a condemnation on the state of grassroots basketball in America will probably become a bigger talking point. While we can agree that American basketball has many issues to improve on (the outsized influence of certain individuals at the AAU level being one of the most prominent) it is worth noting that the US continues to be far and away the most prolific country in the world in terms of producing basketball talent and that goes beyond just the national teams we send out every year. The gap between the depth of our talent and that of other countries is probably more significant than you might appreciate from watching international competition. Another key point that the article conveniently glosses over is that Spurs star Tim Duncan is actually a product of the American basketball system that the article criticizes as he played four years of college.
  5. We are not sure if the Bernie Fine case will ever end. The former Syracuse assistant coach’s defamation lawsuit against ESPN is heading to federal court now and it appears that Fine and his lawyers are targeting the corporation at this time and no longer pursuing charges against the reporters involved in reporting the story. As anybody who has followed the case over the past two years knows the entire case has been extremely messy and Fine’s accusers have been questionable at best in terms of the reliability and consistency of their statements. At this point we imagine that Syracuse views this case the same way that many media members do in that we just wish it would end.
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Mountain West Season Wrap-Up and Tournament Preview

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2013

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

Tournament Bracket

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Final Standings

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

Superlatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on March 5th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

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

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

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

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

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

Player of the Week

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

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2013

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

Conference Round-Up

For weeks and weeks the constant talk around the conference was of confusion; who is the best team, where is the separation? Now, all of a sudden we look up with still a full two weeks remaining in conference play and, barring a collapse, New Mexico is going to take home at least a piece of the conference title (and a #1 seed in the conference tournament) and is a strong favorite to earn the regular season title outright. Along the way, Steve Alford has probably sealed up the MW Coach of the Year award, while teams like Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State look locked into NCAA Tournament bids. In other words, what was once a confusing mess (and I mean that word in a good way) of a conference is now pretty much crystal clear. Yeah, we still have to settle who exactly gets what seeds, both in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament bracket, but New Mexico has clearly separated itself from the pack.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

New Mexico – While it is not yet sealed, the Lobos went a long way towards earning themselves a Mountain West regular season title this week when they went into Fort Collins, interrupted Colorado State’s 27-game home winning streak and came away with an impressive road win. We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about what the Lobos can’t do and where their weaknesses may lie, but this far along this much is apparent: These Lobos are tough and they know how to win ballgames.

Kendall Williams' Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win

Kendall Williams’ Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win

Player of the Week

Kendall Williams, Junior, New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, there is no serious debate about the winner here as Williams went for 46 points, knocking down 10 increasingly improbable three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything for the Lobos in one of the greatest individual performances anywhere in the nation this season. For a guy who hadn’t scored more than 20 since December 22, it was also one of the most unlikely performances, but it is a glimpse into the type of ceiling this ridiculously talented junior has.

Newcomer of the Week

Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State – While the Rams came up on the short end of  the stick in both of their games this week, it wasn’t due to lack of production from their senior transfer. Iverson was his typical efficient self, averaging 20 points, 12.5 boards and 34.5 minutes per game of action this week.

Despite Colton Iverson's Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

Despite Colton Iverson’s Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)

Game of the Week

UNLV 61, Colorado State 59 – Both Colorado State games this week were wildly entertaining. But while the outcome of the New Mexico game was hardly in doubt in the final minute, this battle in Vegas went down to the wire. After getting outscored by 11 in the first half, the Rams came out of the halftime locker room on fire, scoring 19 of the first 27 points in the second half to get back to even with still more than 13 minutes to play. When Dorian Green knocked down a pair of free throws with just under two minutes in the game, the Rams were up two and looked to be in good position to earn a big road win. But the Rams would never score again, while allowing a Bryce Dejean-Jones offensive rebound and putback to tie the game. And then an Anthony Marshall jumper with a waning shot and game clock sealed the deal and sent the home crowd home happy.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 19th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

As we look forward to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas in just three weeks from now, we can also begin to look forward to future MW tourneys there, as this past week the conference announced that it approved a deal to keep the conference tourney in the Thomas & Mack Center for at least three more years after this March. And while the conference, fans, and media are all pleased, there are plenty of Mountain West coaches who, though unsurprised, are not happy with this arrangement. Steve Alford and Larry Shyatt are just two of the coaches who have gone on record opposing having to play for the league’s automatic bid on the home court of league rival UNLV, but with the MW Tourney having previously flopped in Denver and now an unmitigated success in Las Vegas (for example, this year the conference reports record ticket sales), odds are strong that the tournament location won’t be changing anytime soon.

The Thomas & Mack Center Will Be The Home Of The Mountain West Tournament For The Foreseeable Future (

The Thomas & Mack Center Will Be The Home Of The Mountain West Tournament For The Foreseeable Future (AP)

As for this year’s tourney, now that we finally have some separation at the top of the conference, it looks like a two team race for the #1 seed in Vegas come March. With San Diego State dropping a pair of games and UNLV getting bitten by Air Force on the road, New Mexico and Colorado State now sit atop the conference standings, three games in the loss column ahead of UNLV, SDSU and Air Force. While this weekend’s game between those two at Fort Collins will go a long way towards determining that winner, we’ve still got a lot of basketball to play.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Colorado State – The Rams got a big final minute from Dorian Green on Wednesday night to knock off San Diego State in Fort Collins, then went on the road Saturday and held on for a rare road win over Air Force. Larry Eustachy’s bunch is still making its hay by dominating teams on the glass; they haven’t had an offensive rebound percentage lower than 35% since January 2, and they’re regularly turning those second chance opportunities into points, putting the Rams in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency. And yet, despite perhaps the best rebounding team in memory, a rotation loaded with experienced seniors, and a six-game winning streak (as well as 27 home wins in a row), for some reason people are still a little leery about this team. Nevertheless, if they can extend that home winning streak to 28 on Saturday night against New Mexico, regardless of what happens tomorrow night at UNLV, the Rams should be the conference favorite.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

Another week down the drain and we’re now officially four weeks away from the start of the Mountain West Tournament (well, three weeks and six days by the time this gets published). And, as time passes, some things are becoming more clear and some things are just as confusing as they were weeks ago. For instance: quick, who’s the best team in the conference?

New Mexico’s got a claim on first place as of now, but they’re coming off a season-series-evening loss to UNLV and they’ve already put up a horrendous 34-point offensive (in more than one way) output against San Diego State. The Rebels, for their part, have looked really good in their home win against New Mexico and their road win at San Diego State, but this is a team that just this week lost at Fresno State, the worst team in the conference. The Aztecs? Their backcourt is beat up and their still facing road trips to Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State. Oh, and they’re entering that stretch already a game back of the Lobos and a half-game behind Colorado State. And as for the Rams, despite the fact that they made the AP Top 25 for the first time in just under 60 years, they’ve still got plenty to prove themselves, with a history of struggling away from home, especially against quality opponents. But, for now, I’m going to go out on a limb and put CSU at the top of the pack, based on a whim. But hey, give me credit at least for not taking the easy way out and declaring this a four-way tie for first atop my power rankings.

Who's The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State's As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura, AP Photo)

Who’s The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State’s As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura/AP Photo)

So, that’s the clear as mud part. What parts of this conference are starting to round into understandable shape? Well, that pipe dream back a few weeks ago about six teams making the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. Wyoming and head coach Larry Shyatt have done great things over the past two seasons in Laramie, but they’re getting eaten alive in conference play (2-7 so far) and it would take a complete 180 for them to have a prayer of NCAA consideration come March. Meanwhile, Air Force, which had been so hot the last time we talked, just got done dropping a couple of road games, most damningly to Nevada on Saturday. They needed a lot of stuff to break their way, and while they’re certainly not completely dead yet, I’ve got to see them make some serious noise, especially on the road, in order to think they belong even on the periphery of the conversation. And that leaves Boise State as the potential fifth Mountain West team. There isn’t a lot of room for error for the Broncos, but I, for one, have a hard time believing they won’t be among the field of 68 when the brackets get announced.

Elsewhere, you can start engraving Anthony Bennett’s name on the Freshman of the Year trophy, if you want to get a head start. And the list of serious Player of the Year candidates are limited as well; right now Jamaal Franklin has to be the odds on favorite to defend his title, with Bennett maybe his strongest competitor. As for Coach of the Year, that one is still wide open and will likely be determined in part by how the race at the top of the conference shakes out.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

San Diego State – The Aztecs didn’t leave Viejas Arena this week, but they also didn’t lose, something that only one other Mountain West team (Colorado State, who played just one game) can say. The Aztecs dodged a bullet against Boise State, but then came out and put away Fresno State with a dominating second-half performance. While still not back to full-strength (Xavier Thames, for one, remains limited, although Chase Tapley nears 100%), the Aztecs find themselves just a game back of first place with a chance this week to take a couple huge steps towards a conference title. Of course, those huge steps include going on the road to Colorado State and UNLV, but let’s put it this way: if SDSU wins these games, they’re in very good shape.

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