Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

As we turn the corner on the non-conference portion of the college basketball season and head into conference play, we’re going to spend this week’s Mountain West check-in summing up what the teams around the conference have done so far and what we can expect from them here on out. As a whole, it has been a successful run through non-conference play for the MWC’s member institutions. San Diego State remains undefeated and is a top-10 team nationally. BYU has lost just once and remains in the top 25. UNLV had some early success before a couple of slip-ups dropped them out of the rankings for a time, but they are back in this week as our #25 team. Elsewhere around the conference, there have been ups and downs, although the ups have outweighed the downs. The schools have combined to post a 94-34 record and are the fifth rated conference in the RPI, ahead of traditional power conferences like the SEC and Pac-10.  Outside of the big three schools, a couple of other teams – New Mexico and Colorado State – have thrown their hats into the ring as potential NCAA Tournament teams, while the rest of the conference is more or less resigned to using the rest of the season to improve their teams and give their programs a jumping off point for future seasons.

Team of the Non-Conference Schedule:  San Diego StateIs there any other choice here? A 15-0 record, a #6 ranking in the most recent RTC poll, a school-record winning streak and the second longest winning streak in the country, behind defending champion and current #1, Duke? Of course they get the credit for the best Mountain West team in the non-conference slate. But a closer look reveals a chink or two in their armor. Last year, they were getting to the free throw line at a solid rate, but this year they have struggled to get to the line on a consistent basis. Last year, they were a dominant offensive rebounding team; this year, they are just very good. And while their three-point shooting has inched up a half-a-percent from last season, this is still a team that is capable of an 0-18 night from behind the arc, as they proved against Cal Poly. The other concern is that this team sometimes plays down to its level of competition, as they showed against San Francisco and IUPUI last week, when they were outrebounded in both games by inferior competition. They got away with that in non-conference play, but repeat performances against lower-tier MWC teams like Utah or TCU may result in losses instead of closer-than-expected wins. All that being said, when the Aztecs are going good, they are as fun as any team in the country to watch and have enough talent to make a run to Houston if everything breaks right.

Player of the Non-Conference Schedule:  Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Despite getting the attention of the opposition’s best defender (or two) every night, he’s averaging 24 points a night for the Cougars, shooting it at 47.5% from the field, while handing out a team-high 4.4 assists per game. What’s more, in close contests he’s upped his game, scoring over 28 points per night in those decided by ten points or less. And he’s done it all with a confidence and smoothness that has rubbed off on his teammates, as BYU has coasted to a 14-1 start. And with one final trip around the Mountain West, you get a feeling that he’s barely getting warmed up. With MWC guards having lived the nightmare of trying to stop Fredette in the past, you can bet coaches around the conference have spent hours over the summer trying to dream up ways to slow him down. While it remains to be seen how successful they’ll be (the odds are on “not very”), it sure will be fun to watch.

All Non-Conference Team

  • G Jimmer Fredette, BYU – 24.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.2 RPG
  • G Dairese Gary, New Mexico – 13.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.4 RPG
  • F Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State – 15.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.6 APG
  • F Will Clyburn, Utah – 19.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG
  • F Andy Ogide, Colorado State – 15.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG

Newcomer of the Non-Conference Schedule: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – While the non-conference slate has been an up-and-down affair for the Utes (with a lot of those downs coming lately), Clyburn has been a revelation. He leads the team in points, rebounds, steals, threes, minutes played and three-point percentage, has never failed to score in double figures and has notched four double-doubles on the season. With Jim Boylen’s club struggling through injuries and inexperience, one has trouble imagining where this Ute club would be without this junior college transfer. Even as Utah fights to get healthy, expect Boylen to keep leaning heavily on the versatile Clyburn throughout conference play.

Game of the Week: Dayton 76 New Mexico 73, 2OT – Not only did the Lobos and the Flyers play a pretty darn interesting game on New Year’s Day, they also played a pretty important one. With New Mexico lacking a truly good win and Dayton in no position to scoff at the possibility of another one, these two teams battled end-to-end for 50 minutes before a winner was decided. Dayton torched the nets from deep, with 13 three-pointers on the day, but at the end of regulation it was Lobo freshman Kendall Williams who was the star, stringing together several clutch plays to force extra time. Things slowed down in the extra periods, as both teams seemed to run out of gas, and in the second overtime, New Mexico only managed two points. The game was decided, fittingly, by a Dayton three, but the Lobos had a couple of good chances to even things up go by the boards. First, Dairese Gary lost track of the shot clock following a Steve Alford timeout, then on the next possession, Williams missed a driving shot on the other end. And yet, with three seconds left and down three, the Lobos got one final chance when Williams slammed the second of two free throws off the rim, grabbed his own board and was able to step back to the three-point line for one last attempt, which fell unceremoniously short at the buzzer.

Game of the Upcoming Week: BYU @ UNLV, 1/5, 6PM PST, CBS College Sports – Conference play kicks off today, and in the coming weeks you’re going to see a lot of the names BYU, UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico here. And while any matchup between any of those teams will be games to look forward to (and pretty much required viewing for readers of this particular check-in), there aren’t going to be a whole lot of games more appealing than BYU’s final regular season visit to the Thomas & Mack for one last go-round with the Rebels. You can bet the UNLV fans will be raucous and ready to go as they send BYU off with one last tussle in Sin City (before the MWC tournament, that is). On the court, the Rebels will throw wave after wave of athletic guards at Jimmer Fredette, with Oscar Bellfield, Justin Hawkins, Anthony Marshall and Tre’Von Willis all getting their shot at slowing the All-American candidate. The Rebels will pressure the ball and try to get it out of Fredette’s hands, hoping to force turnovers and get out in transition, but in the meantime perhaps opening the way for Jackson Emery to improve upon his 36% clip from behind the arc. Vegas has also been somewhat susceptible on the glass, so they’ll need to hit the boards hard if they’re going to knock off the Cougs for the ninth straight time at the Thomas & Mack.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (15-0): The perception is that the Aztecs are golden. They’ve looked spectacular in some of their big chances at grabbing the national spotlight, posting a win over Gonzaga at the end of ESPN’s 24-Hour Hoop Marathon, and tacking on strong wins over St. Mary’s, Wichita State and Cal in their other television games. With an insanely talented frontline of Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, paired with the team’s bulldog, point guard D.J. Gay, when the Aztecs are going good, they are about as impressive as anyone in the country. Throw in guard Chase Tapley (the fifth member of the starting lineup), three-point specialist James Rahon and a handful of capable bench contributors and Steve Fisher has all the makings for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. There are some cracks related to inconsistent effort, and there is the concern that maybe this Aztec team is reading its own press clippings, so no one should be surprised if the Aztecs maybe drop a couple of games in the early going in conference play (with a surprising one perhaps mixed in there somewhere). But if Fisher can get this team to compete hard night-in and night-out, it will take a special attempt to knock this team off.  

A Look Ahead: The Aztecs get started in conference play with a trip to TCU on Wednesday and a trip to Utah on Saturday. Follow that up with a return home to host UNLV before a trip to The Pit to face New Mexico and I’m going to go out on a limb and call a 2-2 conference start for the Aztecs, although I have absolutely no idea which are the two wins and which are the two losses. Those potential losses could be good for SDSU in the long run, assuming that they get the attention of this talented squad. Nevertheless, this team was the favorite to win the conference at the start of the year, and it remains the favorite with conference play closing in.

2. BYU (14-1): The Cougars added four more wins since we last talked behind a few more sparkling Jimmer Fredette performances (28 points and five threes in a six-point win over Weber State, 25 points and four threes in a 21-point win over UTEP and 34 points, four threes and six assists in a eight-point win over Buffalo). The UTEP win was particularly impressive as BYU, after trailing 17-6 almost midway through the first half, caught fire after a Fredette spark to mount a 33-9 run to close the half. It all started with a Fredette three that was followed by a three from Noah Hartsock. Follow that up with another Fredette three, throw in a Fredette dunk and then another three and the Cougs had erased an 11-point deficit in no time on the way to a blowout win. And that’s been the story of the BYU squad to this point. Fredette has led the team in scoring in all but two games and is averaging 24.4 very efficient yet still often spectacular points. Jackson Emery has struggled a bit to find his shot (although he came alive with six threes to match his six steals against UTEP), but he’s still Fredette’s main wing man. However, sophomore Brandon Davies has taken a big step forward, averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds thus far. There are plenty of other Cougars that make big contributions, however, as nine players average at least ten minutes per game. BYU looks pretty safe at this point in terms of NCAA positioning, but really wins over Utah State, Arizona and St. Mary’s are the only significant victories.  

A Look Ahead: Conference play kicks off in exciting fashion with the Cougars final regular season road-trip as a member of the MWC to the Thomas & Mack Center for a meeting with UNLV. On Saturday, the Cougars have their conference home-opener when Air Force comes calling, before the basketball edition of the Holy War tips off next Tuesday. Dave Rose’s squad remains the most likely candidate to step up into the running for the conference crown should SDSU falter.

3. UNLV (12-2): What was supposed to be a major test for the Runnin’ Rebels turned into an anticlimactic mess when Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended prior to their matchup with UNLV. The Rebels took advantage of their absence and pulled out a four-point victory in Kansas City in a game that bordered on unwatchable at times. Both teams combined to go 5-25 from deep while turning the ball over 35 times, but despite Vegas getting dominated on the glass (43-26), they got a big three by Oscar Bellfield late in the game to preserve their margin of victory. The Rebs followed that performance up by utterly taking apart Central Michigan last Thursday, forcing 24 Chippewa turnovers and holding them to 34% from the field. Lon Kruger’s club has had an up-and-down season to this point, looking quite impressive in skating to a 76 Classic championship before dropping back-to-back games against Louisville and UC Santa Barbara. The Rebels have made their way with pressure defense and balanced scoring (five players average more than nine points per game), but last year’s leader, guard Tre’Von Willis is just starting to round back into shape after missing a couple early games due to suspension. The Rebels hold wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech to go with the blemished K-State win, but remain a strong bet to get to the NCAA Tournament and at least contend for the MWC crown.  

A Look Ahead: The focus turns toward the visit from BYU on January 5 to get things started in conference play, with TCU due in Vegas on Saturday. The following Wednesday, the Rebels will travel to San Diego State for another big test early in the conference schedule, meaning that by the time UNLV has three conference games in the books, we’ll know a whole lot about them.

4. New Mexico (11-3): The last two weeks have been the most meaningful of the Lobo non-conference slate. With Drew Gordon getting eligible and some decent matchups in the Las Vegas Classic followed by tough two-game road trip, we’re starting to get a look at the defending champions at full strength and the early returns are of a good, not great, team. In the Las Vegas Classic, they looked strong in their semifinal win over Colorado, but then had to play from behind in the championship game against Northern Iowa and could never quite get over the hump. Then this week, UNM went to Lubbock and escaped with a one-point win against the Red Raiders before heading to Dayton  on New Year’s and losing a hard-fought double-overtime contest. Steve Alford continues to get production from all over his roster, with the main constant being senior point guard Dairese Gary, who nearly willed his team to a come-from-behind win against UNI (he scored the Lobos’ last eight points to get them within a point at 61-60, but a couple mistakes on either end of the court down the stretch sealed UNM’s fate) then kept the Lobos in it against Dayton by going for 19 points, eight assists and just one turnover in 47 minutes. To this point, the New Mexico resume is pretty light. Wins over Arizona State and Colorado are the best things on the slate, but they are still something of a work in progress, with Gordon still getting comfortable and freshmen Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk coming on fast. There has been some scary news out of Albuquerque though, as sophomore forward Emmanuel Negedu has been sidelined for the last two weeks after the defibrillator in his heart registered an irregular reading. Negedu has been ruled out for the next three weeks so that a cardiologist can do more tests on Negedu, but this is definitely a bad turn of events after he was just starting to become a force on the boards in early December.  

A Look Ahead: The Lobos wrap up their non-conference slate with a quickie against CS Bakersfield on Wednesday. After that, it is all conference play with a trip to Wyoming preceding visits by Colorado State and San Diego State. With little meat on the non-conference bones, the Lobos need to add some wins over SDSU, BYU and UNLV during conference play to be in play on Selection Sunday.

5. Colorado State (10-4): Just over two weeks ago, the Rams were sitting at an unimpressive 4-3, and were having trouble getting any traction. Losses to Sam Houston State and Colorado were the most representative outcomes on the resume, and this had the look of your typical middle-of-the-pack MWC team, rather than the potential contender CSU fans had hoped for. Over Christmas week, however, the Rams gave their followers a glimpse of the team they hoped for, ripping off three straight wins in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, including solid wins over Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi. Then last week, CSU traveled to San Francisco for the Hilltop Challenge and was on their way to another successful week before Hampton’s Kwame Morgan dropped 29 points and six threes on the Rams, including one with 0.8 seconds remaining to send Todd Miles and his team back to Fort Collins with a loss. With their non-conference play done, that win over Southern Miss remains the only thing they really have going for them, with three questionable losses in the record book. While CSU should certainly continue playing once the MWC Tournament is over in one postseason tournament or another, they’ll need to take down some pretty big scalps in MWC play to have a chance at the Big Dance.  

 

A Look Ahead: Conference play opens with a visit from Wyoming tonight before they get a week off to prepare for a visit to New Mexico for a big test for the two teams hoping to separate themselves out from the rest of the field as contenders for post-season inclusion.

6. TCU (9-6): It had been a quiet 17-day stretch for the Horned Frogs, with only a win over Northwestern State, in which four Frogs scored in double figures and Ronnie Moss led the way with 22 points and five assists. In that game, point guard Hank Thorns sustained a scary knee injury and had to be carried off the court, but later tests revealed just a sprain and Thorns was able to return this week for the Frogs when they got back to work with three games in six days. Unfortunately, while the TCU football team was making noise in Pasadena, the basketball squad limped to a 1-2 record on the week and lost Moss to injury. Moss sustained a concussion during TCU’s 69-66 loss at Tulsa, then sat out their nine-point loss at Rice.  Jim Christian’s team does have some relatively good wins on their resume, knocking off USC at home, Texas Tech on the road and Bradley on a neutral court, but losses to Nebraska, Rider, Massachusetts and Northern Iowa paired with this week’s losses likely doom the Frogs’ postseason hopes. 

 

A Look Ahead: It is a brutal San Diego State/UNLV two-fer to open the MWC schedule, and in order for TCU to have a shot, they’ll likely need to have Thorns and Moss at full-strength, a scenario which seems unlikely.

7. Utah (7-7): The Utes went to Honolulu last week with a chance to test their progress against some very good teams around the country. They limped back home to Salt Lake City with an 0-3 record in a tournament that started out bad and got progressively worse. An opening round loss to Butler in a hard-fought game was not an unreasonable result, but the Utes followed that up with a lost to the tournament’s host, Hawai’i.  And then, as a capper, the Utes posted an unacceptable loss to San Diego on Christmas Day, the Torreros’ first win against a Division I opponent on the season. This past week Utah wrapped up their non-conference play with a trip to Portland. But, after a strong first half, the Pilots shot 61% from the field in the second half and outscored the Utes by 17 to take down a nine-point win. Junior Will Clyburn was again the best player on the floor for Jim Boylen these last two weeks, averaging over 18 points and eight rebounds a game, but with injuries continuing to mess with Boylen’s rotation, he didn’t get consistent help. Senior Jay Watkins’ back injury again caused him to miss a couple games, and junior center David Foster was limited at times this week as well. There was some good news on the injury front as freshman J.J. O’Brien returned from a stress fracture, playing a combined 28 minutes in the Butler and San Diego games, but sitting out the middle game in Honolulu. With Utah’s big move to the Pac-10 looming in the offseason, with a 14-17 record in the rearview mirror and with Utah’s history of having a short leash on its basketball coaches, Boylen has to regard the rest of this season as a pretty serious exam. Two years back lies a MWC championship, but the Utah athletic department can’t be pleased with the trajectory of this program.

A Look Ahead: The Utes open conference play at Air Force on 1/5 before receiving consecutive visits from the top two teams in the conference, with San Diego State and BYU on their way to the Huntsman Center, making that opener at Air Force even more important.

8. Air Force (9-4): All things considered, for a team that lost to a Division III school (Colorado College) in their second game, the Falcons have had a pretty acceptable non-conference slate. Yes, their best win is over maybe, Evansville or CS Northridge, and there are some ugly losses there, but head coach Jeff Reynolds at least has a young core of players who have been making progress and, unlike last season, mostly staying healthy. Sophomore Taylor Broekhuis did miss two of the Falcons last three games with a concussion, but he is back now and he, along with fellow sophomore Mike Lyons and Todd Fletcher have all settled into starting roles. Junior Tom Fow and seniors Evan Washington and Derek Brooks provide veteran leadership on the team, and it seems everybody has the ability and opportunity to lead this team in scoring on any given night. This team is in no position to threaten for an upper-division MWC finish, and any post-season hopes are overly optimistic, but there are at least some pieces to grow on here, and with the ever-present Academy effort, this Falcon team will sneak up on somebody up top and surprise them. It just won’t happen often. A more realistic goal for Air Force is a seventh place finish – if they can get that, consider this a successful season.

A Look Ahead: Conference play begins, and the Falcons get thrown right into the fire: Utah, at BYU, UNLV, at San Diego State. Yikes.

9. Wyoming (7-7): After a three-game winning streak a couple weeks back, the Cowboys got back on track with a six-point home loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay before Christmas, before bouncing back with a win over Kennesaw State. Desmar Jackson extended his streak of double-digit scoring output to eleven straight games, and he has been a consistent offensive weapon for head coach Heath Schroyer, despite turning the ball over too much (3.3 turnovers per game) and shooting a low percentage from deep, where he is just four of 26 on the season. Wyoming players continuing to bomb from behind the arc has been a continuing theme this season, with eight players having taken more than 18 three-pointers on the season and only one of those players having hit more than 30% from back there (Francisco Cruz, 44.7%). In fact, there are only six schools in Division I shooting a lower percentage from behind the arc than Wyoming, yet they continue to shoot a third of their shots from distance. At this point in the season, the roster needs a makeover, as does the bench. Expect the Cowboys to limp along through the rest of the season, sew up last place before we turn the calendar into March, and clean house in the offseason.

A Look Ahead: Conference play starts at Colorado State, then back home against New Mexico, and by the middle of January, the Cowboys should be well on their way to a brutal conference record.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2010

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

[ed note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night’s games.]

A Look Back

Just like everywhere else, it was a sleepy week around the conference in terms of the number of games, as the student-athletes leaned more to the student side of the equation this week. TCU hasn’t even played a game since the last time we did this, and only two teams around the conference, UNLV and Wyoming, played more than one game this week. But still, there were some eventful games around the conference as, among other things, the number of undefeated teams in the conference dropped again after UCLA upset BYU at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, leaving San Diego State as the sole remaining unblemished team. The Aztecs, meanwhile, took UC Santa Barbara out behind the woodshed just days after the Gauchos handed UNLV their second loss of the year in improbable fashion. Elsewhere, New Mexico is now whole, getting junior forward Drew Gordon eligible for his first game of the year, and the four-team race for the conference title is fully joined, with SDSU remaining the favorite.

  • Team of the Week: San Diego State – There was just one game for the Aztecs this week, but they handled it with ease, as they had six players score in double figures on the way to a 26-point blowout of a UC Santa Barbara team that had just done in UNLV three days earlier. The Aztecs bounced back from their first really bad shooting night of the season against Cal Poly last Monday by shooting lights out against the Gauchos, going for a 66.7 effective field goal percentage, including 12 threes on 24 attempts – quite the turnaround from the 0-18 effort against Cal Poly. Of some concern for head coach Steve Fisher was his Aztecs were outrebounded by the Gauchos, including an 18-11 margin on the offensive glass, but that is easily glossed over when you’re shooting at such a remarkable clip. The Aztecs now sport the second-longest winning streak in the nation (behind Duke’s 20-game run), and have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the MWC teams as the favorite for the regular season conference title.
  • Player of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four threes, including the game-winner with 11 seconds left, capping a furious second-half comeback against Boise State. Yup – That’ll earn the Player of the Week award. Clyburn continued his spectacular season this week with perhaps his most complete game of the year (although given some of the lines he’s posted, it’s a tough task to pick just one) and he continues to lead the Utes in points, rebounds, steals, threes and three-point shooting percentage.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Clyburn.
  • Game of the Week: UC Santa Barbara 68, UNLV 62 – While the Utah win over Boise State perhaps had the most exciting ending, and the BYU-UCLA game had its share of action as well, this curious loss by the Rebels at home against UCSB deserves a closer look. This was a game of widely varied statistics, with each side doing some things very well and some things very poorly on the way to this final score. For instance, in just looking at the field goal percentages, you would think that UCSB won this game by more than six points as they hit 50% of their shots while the Rebs just hit 29%. To make matters worse for UNLV, they hit just six of their 29 three-point attempts and only hit 20 of their 34 free throw attempts. But that’s only the start of the numbers explaining how UNLV stayed in this game – they got to the line twice as often as the Gauchos, and, they killed UCSB on the boards, with 24 offensive rebounds (although given their shooting percentages, there were certainly a lot of offensive rebounds to be had). UNLV used their defensive pressure to force 25 UCSB turnovers but gave too many back, spilling the milk 17 times themselves. All things considered, this Rebel team is showing all the signs of being the team we thought they were at the start of the season, a squad that doesn’t feature a lot of great shooters, but a team that is going to defend hard and try to outwork their opponents. Unfortunately for them on this night, their shooting was bad enough to overcome any good they could do on defense.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (12-0): They’re the #5 team in the nation according to the RTC poll. They’re the only remaining undefeated team in the conference. They’ve got the second-longest winning streak in college basketball, and they’ve got what appears to be a downhill slide to a 15-0 record prior to their MWC opening trip to TCU in two weeks. Darn right they’re the top team in these power rankings. They are without a doubt, the team to beat in the conference. But, despite their success so far, and despite being superior to the rest of the conference, they’re going to lose some games in conference play and they’ve got more than a couple of all-out battles looming ahead of them. So far, they’ve done what they have needed to do, but bigger tests await.

A look ahead: The Aztecs play in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, in a field that is anything but classic. There’s a matchup with San Francisco tonight and the second neutral-site matchup with IUPUI on the season – the Aztecs won by 15 in Oxford, Ohio a month ago.

2. BYU (10-1): The Cougars traveled to Anaheim for the Wooden Classic and had some trouble with the physicality of UCLA. The Bruins did a pretty good job in corralling Jimmer Fredette (and he still had 25 – what does that tell you?), and BYU had no good answer for the frontline play of UCLA as Josh Smith, in particular, gave the Cougs’ more slender frontline players all sorts of trouble. Dave Rose and company got some good news this week, as Chris Collinsworth played for the first time in over three weeks due to an ankle injury, and led the team with seven rebounds in relief of Noah Hartsock, who was still a little groggy following a concussion that he sustained last weekend against Arizona.

A look ahead: BYU gets to stay close to home for the holidays, with an in-state trip to Weber State on Tuesday followed by a visit from UTEP on Thursday.

3. UNLV (10-2): The Rebels’ loss to UCSB is detailed above, but they got a chance to get back to winning when they beat up on Southern Utah this weekend. Despite a 22-point win in which they never trailed, the Rebels again struggled shooting the ball, hitting just three of their 16 three-point attempts in this game, putting them at just nine of 45 on the week. Carlos Lopez notched a double-double with career highs in both points (12) and rebounds (11), while sophomore guard Anthony Marshall also went for a career-high 17 points. Knocking off Southern Utah while struggling from behind the arc is one thing, but for the Rebels to have a chance against Kansas State tonight, they’ll need to regain their touch from deep.

A look ahead: Kansas State tonight then Central Michigan on December 30, and then all these preliminaries are out of the way and an incredibly appealing matchup with BYU on January 5 awaits.

4. New Mexico (9-1): The games themselves were forgettable this week, as the Lobos dispatched with Longwood and Citadel by an average of over 31 points per game, but the players were of interest. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon played his first game as a member of the team in the last of those two games and contributed 11 points in 20 minutes, while five other players scored in double figures at some point this week (none of them named Dairese Gary). Picking a key player on this squad is difficult because not only do somewhere north of ten players play on any given night, but many can contribute. It was freshman Kendall Williams with 20 points, six assists and three steals against Longwood, while junior Phillip McDonald led with 17 points, six rebounds and three threes against the Citadel, but altogether a total of six players have led the team in scoring on the season, four have led in rebounding and three have led in assists. There isn’t anything on the Lobo schedule so far that indicates a quality win, but things start to get a little more interesting over the next couple of weeks.

A look ahead: The remainder of the UNM non-conference schedule is not exactly a murderer’s row, but things do pick up a little bit, starting with a pair of games in the Las Vegas Classic, starting with a matchup with Colorado on Wednesday, followed the next night by a matchup with either Northern Iowa or Indiana.

5. Utah (7-3): We mentioned the big Utah come-from-behind win over Boise State above when we awarded our MWC Player of the Week to Will Clyburn, but he got plenty of help from his teammates in that game. Four other Utes scored in double figures and the team tallied ten total blocks on the night, including three by sophomore wing Shawn Glover who has been up and down for Jim Boylen. Glover added 12 points and nine rebounds against the Broncos, while playing a season-high 30 minutes, but has also played five games this year where he failed to garner 20 minutes. With normal starter Jay Watkins still limited due to an ongoing back injury, and with freshman J.J. O’Brien not ready after a stress fracture (he may be ready for some minutes this week), Glover has a chance at more minutes, and if he can continue to contribute like he did this week, he may earn himself more minutes as the season progresses.

A look ahead: Christmas in paradise for the Utes, as they head to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, but they’d better bring their A-games with them as Butler awaits as their first opponent on Wednesday night.

6. TCU (7-4): No news for the Horned Frogs, as they haven’t played in nine days due to finals.

A look ahead: TCU returns to the court tonight against Northwestern State before earning another week off.

7. Colorado State (5-3): The Rams played their first game since December 11 last night and worked through some of their rust on the way to a 14-point victory over Northern Colorado whom CSU has thoroughly owned over the course of their 75-year rivalry. Wes Eikmeier led the Rams with a career-high 17 points, and the Rams earned their margin of victory basically by outscoring the Bears 27-11 from the free throw line. It was a successful, but by no means particularly impressive, return to action, but things pick up for CSU from here.

A look ahead: Tim Miles packs his team up for a trip to Cancun for the Governor’s Cup, where they’ll face Appalachian State in the opening round before likely facing Ole Miss in round two, assuming both teams win their openers.

8. Air Force (7-2): The Falcons padded their gaudy record with an 11-point victory over 0-10 Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday behind a season-high 24 points from sophomore Michael Lyons. After falling behind in the first half, UAPB used a burst of six threes in a hurry to spark a 20-6 run to tie the game at 36 at the 14:22 mark of the second half. But Air Force responded strongly with a 14-4 run and UAPB was never really heard from again. Sophomore center Taylor Broekhuis continued his strong recent play with 11 points and eight rebounds, and he has now scored in double figures in every outing this season save his seven-point performance in a win over Wofford.

A look ahead: The Falcons travel to Flagstaff for a matchup with Northern Arizona on Wednesday for their only game of the week.

9. Wyoming (6-6): A three-game winning streak for the Cowboys! Yes, they were wins over Denver, Western State (of Division-II fame) and Centenary, who are a combined 3-30, but when you’ve got losses to North Florida, South Dakota and UC Irvine on your resume, you take those wins and don’t look back. The Cowboys were solid in these games, with four players scoring in double figures in the first two games, but those two games couldn’t have been more different. Against Denver, Wyoming shot just four three pointers the entire game, while against Western State, they boosted 29. However, the one thing the two games had in common was the Cowboys getting after the glass early and often, outrebounding Denver 32-13 and Western State 48-33. Against Centenary last night, the Cowboys were back to bombing from deep (connecting on just six of 21 attempts), but they made their hay by outscoring their opponents 20-5 from the free throw line. While the Cowboys’ performance continues to be all over the map, at least Heath Schroyer seems to have settled into a rotation.

A look ahead: The Cowboys host Wisconsin-Green Bay on Wednesday, still not playing world-beaters, but a significant upgrade in the level of competition over the last three games.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2010

 

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

A Look Back

  • As we hit that December downhill slide into conference play, we’re seeing the number of undefeated teams around the country decline.  The Mountain West is no different, as their population of teams with unblemished records fell from three to two when UNLV got tripped up by a trip back east for an early-morning battle with Louisville. San Diego State and BYU remain undefeated, with each getting a win over a Pac-10 foe this week, and they’re gaining more and more national exposure as both teams inch up the rankings. Downstream from the big boys at the top of the conference sits New Mexico, firmly entrenched in its own tier behind the top three teams and ahead of the rest of the conference, capable of taking a step forward and contending for a NCAA tournament bid. The next tier down is made up of some middle-of-the-road teams (Utah, TCU, Colorado State, Air Force) who won’t pose much of a threat to the top tier teams in conference play. And, Wyoming makes up the bottom tier all by itself – that is a bad, bad team.
  • Team of the Week: BYU – There were a couple of big tests for top-tier MWC teams this week, and while the Runnin’ Rebels got caught, the Cougars played their best game of the season in knocking off Arizona in front of a neutral-in-name-only crowd in Salt Lake City. Senior Jimmer Fredette was unstoppable for BYU (and we’ll get to his exploits in a just a little bit) while a mish-mash of Cougar frontline players combined to slow the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams, limiting him to just 13 points on nine field goal attempts. While BYU looked good in their previous nine wins, that Arizona win was the first time on the season where they looked like a team that was as good as, if not better than, last year’s vintage.
  • Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – The week started for Fredette with a homecoming game, as the Cougars traveled to Glens Falls, New York, to face Vermont in the Hometown Classic, a return to Fredette’s old stomping grounds. There had to be a ton of pressure on Fredette, playing in front of a sold-out Glen Falls Civic Center, with everybody hoping to see the All-American candidate at his best. While lesser players may have shrunk under the watching eyes, or worse yet, forced up bad shots and played out of control, Fredette delivered the goods, going for a game-high 26 points while still playing within the offense and handing out five assists along the way for good measure. For an encore, back in front of a newer era of Fredette fans in Salt Lake City, he didn’t quite reprise last year’s 49 against Arizona, but he still went for a season-high 33 points and a new career-high nine rebounds. While Jimmer is a strong candidate to be mentioned in this space every single week, on this particular week, he was an absolute no-brainer.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Sammy Yeager, Jr, TCU – In four weeks, we’ve now had three different players take down this award (Utah’s Will Clyburn is our only two-time winner), and all three of them have been junior-college transfers. And, coming on the heels of New Mexico’s Darington Hobson taking a similar route to the MWC Player of the Year last season, this juco-transfer-turned-impact-player story has become a familiar one around the conference. Yeager earned this week’s mention with six three-pointers over the Horned Frogs’ two games, including his career-high 22 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and three threes in TCU’s win over Texas Tech. While Yeager has been up and down over the course of the season (witness his 17 and 19-point performances in wins over SMU and Bradley wrapped around an 0-5 night in a loss to Rider), he has shown that he is a key performer for the Frogs. In their three losses, Yeager is a combined 5-23, while shooting at a 50% clip in their seven wins.
  • Game of the Week: Louisville 77, UNLV 69 – The Rebels’ loss at the Yum! Center is the game from which we learned the most this week. While part of the UNLV can be attributed to the trip east and the early-morning game time, there were some question marks exposed for Lon Kruger’s team. First and foremost, while the balanced scoring and shared leadership on the team has been mentioned, even in this space, as a strength for UNLV, when things started going south on Saturday, there was no one player who the rest of the team looked to for guidance. You would expect that player would be senior guard Tre’Von Willis, a first-team All-MWC selection after last season, or maybe junior forward Chace Stanback, the Rebs’ leading scorer thus far this season. But instead, as Louisville pulled away late in the second half, the ball was just as likely to be in the hands of Anthony Marshall or Derrick Jasper – fine players both, but neither with a history of being the go-to guy on this team. While sharing the load equally is all fine and good in December, the Rebels will need to identify a guy, or a couple of guys, who are ready to step up and take the reins when others seem unsure.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: BYU vs. UCLA in Anaheim, 12/18, 2:30 PM PST, FSN – Finals week, and non-conference doldrums, set in this week. Beyond this game, the most attractive games are UC Santa Barbara’s sampling of the best the MWC has to offer (UCSB at UNLV on Wednesday and then at San Diego State on Saturday), but this game, part of the Wooden Classic, could be interesting. Jimmer Fredette will give the Bruin guards quite a test, but again the Cougar frontcourt should be tested. While the Bruins don’t have anyone quite the caliber of Derrick Williams (who the Cougars handled last Saturday), they do have a trio of capable frontcourt players who should challenge BYU’s depth and versatility along the front line.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (10-0) – With the Aztecs’ win over Cal last Wednesday, Steve Fisher has posted his best start to a season in his 20 years as a head coach and SDSU has posted its best start in the 90 years of Aztec basketball. Along with the fast start comes plenty of accolades, as they’re ranked #9 in RTC’s top 25. However, despite all the success, there are still some concerns for this team. Last season, they were outrebounded very rarely; this season, they have been far less dominant on the glass. In the Cal game for instance, the Bears won the battle of the boards 38-28. Elsewhere, the Aztecs simply aren’t getting to the line very often – perhaps a blessing in disguise for a team that shoots in the mid-60s from the line – but it is a symptom of the team relying on the outside shot more this year than last. The fact that the Aztecs are shooting 36.7% from behind the arc (quite an improvement from last year’s 31.8%) makes it understandable, but it will be interesting to see how the Aztecs respond if the three-ball goes cold. A good first look at that occurred on Monday night when, with starters Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley out due to flu-like symptoms, the Aztecs combined to go 0/18 from deep. Senior point guard D.J. Gay was particularly awful (0-7 from three), but he still was able to make plays by penetrating, drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he made all eight of this free throws.

A look ahead: A slow week everywhere, and no exception for the Aztecs as they only host UC Santa Barbara on Saturday

2. BYU (8-0) – Just about everything that needed saying about the Cougar week is detailed above, but an injury report is also in order. Sophomore Chris Collinsworth still remains day-to-day with an ankle injury, although at this point he hasn’t played since November 23. Noah Hartsock took a blow to the chin in the Arizona game and suffered a concussion and lacerations in his mouth, and he too should be regarded as day-to-day.

A look ahead: The trip to the Wooden Classic for a matchup with UCLA is the only action of the week for the Cougars.

3. UNLV (9-1) – We detailed the Rebels’ loss to Louisville above, but they also had another somewhat tight game earlier in the week against Boise State. Despite leading by 16 with just over three minutes left, the Rebels had to hang on for dear life, escaping with just a three-point win in a game in which they turned the ball over 22 times (they turned it over 40 total times in their two games this week) and were outrebounded 34-30 by the Broncos.  

A look ahead: Some home-cooking should do UNLV much good, as they host UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday and Southern Utah on Saturday.

4. New Mexico (7-1) – While that one-loss record looks awful pretty, closer inspection shows very little in terms of quality wins, and the one loss to Cal seems iffier following the Bears’ subsequent struggles putting the ball in the hoop. But, the Lobos are healthy now, their freshmen have gotten some games under their belts and Drew Gordon is ready to get his first action of the season this week. Now, Steve Alford to this point has been quite generous handing out minutes – 11 players average ten or more minutes a game thus far – and that rotation will have to be tightened up a bit with conference play approaching, but by the time January rolls around, this should be a team that is coming up in the rearview mirrors of SDSU, BYU and UNLV very quickly.

A look ahead: New Mexico hosts Longwood and the Citadel as part of the Las Vegas Classic, with the latter being Gordon’s first game.

5. TCU (7-3) – The Horned Frogs had their little impromptu Big 12 invitational this week, traveling to Lubbock and Lincoln and coming away with an acceptable split. Against Texas Tech, this tiny TCU team dominated on the boards, outrebounding the Red Raiders 48-34 (including grabbing an amazing 23 on the offensive end) on the way to a win. On Saturday, though, the tables were turned as the Cornhuskers won the battle of the boards 38-26 and TCU only got to the line five times all night (making just one) as Nebraska pulled away with an 18-3 run midway through the second half.

A look ahead: A week off in Fort Worth before returning to the court 12/21 against Northwestern State.

6. Colorado State (4-3) – The Rams knew this was going to be a tough week as they also battled a pair of Big 12 teams, with games against Colorado and Kansas. CSU hung tough with Colorado on Wednesday and even forced overtime, but lost in the end after turning the ball over more than twice as often as the Buffaloes and being outscored by 21 from the free throw line. Against the Jayhawks on Saturday, CSU kept it close through the first half, despite several times where KU seemed on the verge of running away, but Tim Miles’ bunch was able to at least put off the eventual blowout to the second half, eventually falling by 21.

A look ahead: Nothing until next Monday’s game against Northern Colorado.

7. Utah (6-3) – The Utes earned a perfectly acceptable split this week, knocking off Pepperdine at home before losing to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday night. Will Clyburn continued his strong play with 17 points and 10.5 rebounds per game (and throw in seven steals in the Pepperdine game), but Utah never really figured out the Wolverines defense, turned the ball over 16 times in a relatively slow-paced game and never recovered after digging themselves a 17-point halftime deficit.  

A look ahead: Boise State comes to town on Friday night for a preview of the two school’s matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 22.

8. Air Force (6-2) – The Falcons had a sneaky tough trip to Dayton to face Wright State on Wednesday, and the Raiders more or less had their way with the Academy, forcing 20 turnovers, winning the battle on the glass and producing from deep. After having to deal with the weather on their way back home, the Falcons were able to bounce back in their win over North Carolina Central on Saturday, jumping out to a 40-20 halftime lead before coasting down the back stretch with four players scoring in double figures on the game.

A look ahead: A Saturday game with Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the only appointment on the docket this week.

 

9. Wyoming (3-6) – Just one game this week for the Cowboys, a Friday trip to UC Irvine for the first ever matchup between the two schools, but head coach Heath Schroyer had to be questioning the scheduling of this road game on the flight back home after UCI just took apart Wyoming, hitting 58.3% of their shots, including ten three-pointers. Five Anteaters scored between 12 and 15 points and the Cowboys lost their latest in what is becoming a long line of embarrassing games.

A look ahead: Denver on Tuesday and Western State on Friday. You know Cowboy fans who were looking ahead at the schedule back in October were penciling in a couple of wins here. I say they get one, and should be quite thankful with that.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the MWC and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

The start of the 2010-11 season has been just about everything the Mountain West commissioner’s office could hope for after a tumultuous offseason. After almost two weeks of play, five MWC teams remain undefeated and the nine conference teams have posted a combined 25-6 record with the four biggest contenders for postseason berths a combined 13-1, a New Mexico loss at Cal the only blemish.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – The Aztecs have been busy thus far, posting an early 5-0 record including four wins in the CBE Classic. The highest profile win for Steve Fisher’s squad was a road victory over Gonzaga during the ESPN College Hoops Tipoff Marathon, when SDSU showed the rest of the college basketball world what MWC followers already knew: this team is pretty darn good. Perhaps even more impressive for the Aztecs is that their 5-0 record has come entirely on the road thus far, with their first home game scheduled for this Friday when they host San Diego Christian of the NAIA.

Player of the Week

Kawhi Leonard (Sophomore), San Diego State – It’s very likely that you’ll be seeing either Leonard or Jimmer Fredette’s name in this space most weeks this season. While Fredette’s 25.7 point per game average thus far has certainly left him deserving of this honor this time around, and while Leonard’s Aztec teammate Billy White may have had the biggest single performance of the young season, the nod goes to Kawhi here. He’s led his team in rebounding every night out, never failing to grab double digit boards thus far, he’s averaged 18.8 points per contest, and has even displayed his versatility and ever-improving skill set, pairing three steals with four three-pointers in SDSU’s win over IUPUI on Sunday.

Newcomer of the Week

Will Clyburn (Junior), Utah – Last year about this time, it was New Mexico’s junior college transfer Darington Hobson who was making a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with in the MWC. A year later, Utah has its own juco transfer making waves around the Rockies. On a Ute roster featuring eight new faces, it is Clyburn’s who has shone most brightly, leading Utah in scoring in each of their three games, averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while knocking down five of his 12 attempts behind the arc along the way. Last year’s Lobos were picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team last year before Hobson’s emergence catapulted them to a conference title. For the Utes to entertain similar aspirations, Clyburn will need to keep up his early pace.

Game of the Week

San Diego State 79, Gonzaga 76 – For only the fifth time in the 82 games in the history of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, a visiting team came in and defeated the Bulldogs on their home court. Behind a career-high 30 points from Aztec senior forward Billy White (on 14-18 shooting and paired with nine rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end), San Diego State built up a lead as high as ten before hanging on down the stretch and withstanding a similarly outstanding 35-point effort by Zag senior guard Steven Gray to wrap up a big win that will be a feather in the Aztec cap come Selection Sunday.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Utah at Utah State – The Aggies of Utah State have already given a MWC team all they could handle this season, when they went into BYU’s Marriott Center and fought the Cougars to the bitter end in an entertaining game, but this time around they get to welcome the Utes into the Smith Spectrum in Logan for another in-state battle. Utah is looking to prove that they are on the way back from last year’s disastrous collapse, but with a bevy of young and relatively untested newcomers, the trip to Logan could be daunting

Power Rankings

  1. San Diego State (5-0): Aside from the heroics of Billy White and Kawhi Leonard detailed above, the Aztecs have also gotten a big boost from a Santa Clara transfer, sophomore guard James Rahon. Rahon lived up to his reputation as a deadly three-point shooter early in his career in red and black, knocking down three straight threes in the middle of the second half of a tightly contested battle at Long Beach State to break the game open and put the Aztecs on their way to their first win of the season. On the season he is averaging a shade under ten points per night and converting three-point attempts at a sparkling 52.9% clip. Likewise, senior point guard D.J. Gay has shown his leadership abilities, time and again making big plays to spark game-deciding runs for the Aztecs. While Rahon has lived up to his rep as a three-point bomber, Gay has added his own deadly three-point shot to an already strong arsenal, having knocked down 11 of his 22 attempts thus far. If those two can maintain anywhere near that kind of pace, the Aztecs will be looking at a very favorable seed come March, as their imposing frontline has been all that was previously advertised.
  2. BYU (3-0): Coming into the season, the Cougars pretty much knew what they were going to get from their backcourt tandem of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. So far, Emery has been off to a slow start, averaging just nine points per game and struggling to find his shooting touch, to the tune of 34.6% from the field and 27.8% from behind the arc. But head coach Dave Rose has no worries about Emery’s game coming around in due time. His concerns prior to the season were with an eye towards the rest of the team, specifically in the front court. In the early going, junior Noah Hartsock and sophomore Chris Collinsworth have done a lot to ease Rose’s mind. Hartsock stepped up immediately, exploding out of his reserve role in the opener to post a career-high 21 points, then backing that up with 15 points and four blocks against Utah State. Collinsworth, for his part, has been rock-solid, averaging seven rebounds per game and throwing in 8.3 points per game, with a high of 15 points in the Cougars blowout of Chicago State. While BYU still has some work to do figuring out all their roles, Hartsock and Collinsworth have already shown that the talent is there.
  3. UNLV (3-0): It was a rocky offseason in Sin City, with dismissals, suspensions and injuries scarring the landscape, but three games in, all those rough patches are in the past, with the Rebels having just posted one of the more impressive MWC victories in the early season, a 68-65 victory over visiting Wisconsin. Last year’s leading scorer, senior guard Tre’Von Willis, sat out the first two games of the season (easy wins over second-rate competition) as a result of offseason legal difficulties, before returning in a reserve role against Wisconsin, but it was juniors Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield who provided the biggest performances for head coach Lon Kruger in the win over the Badgers. Each player knocked down four threes, with Stanback totaling 25 points and Bellfield notching 18. UNLV’s ability to knock down the three had been a question mark in the lead up to the season, but both players have done their best to answer that query, with Bellfield having hit seven of his 12 attempts (58.3%) and Stanback six of his 15 (40%). While Willis was not a major factor in his return to action, he did hand out five assists in his 23 minutes of play.
  4. New Mexico (2-1): The Lobos have faced probably the most consistently tough lineup of games of any MWC in the young season, and perhaps not surprisingly for a young team, have looked pretty strong at home and downright awful in their one road trip. Given that the New Mexico roster is missing junior guard Phillip McDonald due to a partially torn elbow ligament (he is currently day-to-day), is waiting on the services of incoming transfer Drew Gordon (eligible December 17) and is breaking in four new freshmen (including two freshmen starters) and a sophomore transfer, Emmanuel Negedu who, you know, basically died a year ago, I’m not going to ding the Lobos too hard for their 25-point loss at Berkeley, especially considering they looked good in defeating Arizona State at The Pit a few days before  that, but Steve Alford and company are definitely having some growing pains in adjusting to life without Darington Hobson and Ramon Martinez. While some difficulty in the non-conference schedule is understandable, the Lobos have a relatively light schedule between now and the end of December when they play in the Las Vegas Classic (a matchup against Colorado and then the winner of Indiana/Northern Iowa), then travel to Texas Tech and Dayton prior to conference play. New Mexico will need to have things straightened out by then, lest they get out of non-conference play with only the Arizona State victory to point to.
  5. Colorado State (2-0): For now I’ll stick with the Rams at the number five spot, if only because their season still seems to be a week away. Thus far, the Rams have hosted Arkansas-Pine Bluff and traveled to Denver, posting workmanlike wins each time, with seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin leading the way with almost identical numbers: 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, one assist, and 1.5 steals each in their first two games. The Rams host Sam Houston State on Saturday before their first big test of the season next Wednesday when they host Drake. The soft early schedule has allowed head coach Tim Miles to get a look at plenty of his roster, with 12 players having averaged at least eight minutes per game. In the early season, such a rotation is working out, but the Rams will have to prune the minutes of several players as the year progresses.
  6. Utah (3-0): With all the turnover on the Ute roster in the offseason (six players left the program with eligibility remaining, while eight newcomers joined the squad), there were bound to be plenty of questions about this team’s ability to win. Three games in, Jim Boylen’s squad has at least proven itself capable of winning games at home against teams it is supposed to beat. Along the way, Boylen has had some of his fresh blood step up and announce that they are ready to play, with Will Clyburn, our newcomer of the week, leading the way. Elsewhere, junior college transfer Josh Watkins has taken over the point guard position without skipping a beat, averaging 15.7 points and five assists per game, while holdovers Jay Watkins and Jason Washburn have been solid in the frontcourt. While it remains to be seen if this year’s cast has the talent that last year’s underachievers did, it seems clear that this will be a more consistent and hard-working bunch than last season’s neurotic cast-offs.
  7. TCU (3-2): This year’s early MWC candidate for team most in need of psychiatric treatment is the Horned Frogs. Five games in, this looks like a team capable of wild mood swings, capable of wrapping a 20-point victory over cross-town rival SMU and a six-point neutral-site win over a good Bradley team around a stinker of a 15-point loss against Rider. The Frogs are going to be exciting at times, with their mighty-mite backcourt of 6’2 Ronnie Moss and 5’9 Hank Thorns. Thorns, a transfer from Virginia Tech in his first year of eligibility in Fort Worth, has led the team in assists in four of their first five games, and in three of those four games, he dropped ten dimes. Moss, for his part, has looked excellent playing off the ball, scoring in double figures in all five TCU games, while hitting 45% from the field and 41% from deep. The frontcourt is undersized, but 6’6 wing Garlon Green and a pair of junior college transfers, 6’5 J.R. Cadot and 6’4 Sammy Yeager, have all shown a willingness to help out on the glass. They’ll need to keep that up and get some help from more traditional frontcourt players for the Frogs to contend in a tough conference.
  8. Wyoming (2-2): There had been some talk that last year’s underachieving season for the Cowboys was as much a reflection of some bad luck with injuries as it was with some inherent problems with the makeup of the team. Four games into the season, and with a pair of one-game suspensions for primary offensive weapons Afam Muojeke and Desmar Jackson already in the rearview mirror, with a starting lineup that remains in a state of flux, with a team that consistently racks up more turnovers than it does assists, and with the resultant losses to North Florida and Northern Colorado (the first time in 21 games since 1937 that Northern Colorado has beaten Wyoming) in the record books, it’s time to face the facts that this team just isn’t very good, that head coach Heath Schroyer is just not working out and that the Wyoming basketball program is in need of a reboot. Unfortunately, that reboot is still probably four months away.
  9. Air Force (2-1): As bad as the state of the Wyoming program is, they haven’t lost to a D-III school yet. The same cannot be said of the Falcons, who dropped an overtime affair with Colorado College last Wednesday. They were able to take care of Tennessee State and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, but there is simply not enough talent on this roster for this team to be competitive. Players like versatile senior Evan Washington, senior forward Tom Fow and sophomore guard Michael Lyons are good hardworking kids, but this year’s edition of the Falcons are more suited to the Big Sky level of talent than the Mountain West. Head coach Jeff Reynolds will get the most out of this roster, but for him to be comfortable as the head coach at the Academy, he’ll need to recruit a higher level of talent.

A Look Ahead

While the battle in the Beehive State may be the game of the week, Utah will follow that up with another interesting game when they host Oral Roberts on Saturday. There are also plenty of other interesting events around the conference as three other MWC teams compete in early season tournaments. UNLV plays in the most high-profile of the three when they compete in the 76 Classic (opening round game against Tulsa, either Murray State or Stanford in the next round and a potential matchup with Virginia Tech in the final), but BYU will play in the South Padre Island Invitational (against South Florida and then either St. Mary’s or Texas Tech) and Wyoming will get beat down by Missouri in the Cancun Challenge before advancing to likely lose to either Providence or La Salle.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

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

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. San Diego State (13-3)
  2. BYU (12-4)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. UNLV (11-5)
  5. Colorado State (9-7)
  6. Wyoming (6-10)
  7. Utah (6-10)
  8. TCU (3-13)
  9. Air Force (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jimmer Fredette, Sr, BYU (22.1 PPG, 4.7 APG)
  • G: Dairese Gary, Sr, New Mexico (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • G: Tre’Von Willis, Sr, UNLV (17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Afam Muojeke, Jr, Wyoming (16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, Soph, San Diego State (12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG)

6th Man

Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

If you aren't already, get used to seeing and hearing about Jimmer Fredette.

Impact Newcomer

Drew Gordon, Jr, New Mexico – Gordon left UCLA midway through the Bruins awful season last year after never meshing with Ben Howland and his system, and as a result, he won’t be eligible for Steve Alford until after the first semester. But Gordon showed enough talent in his years in Westwood that he will be a welcome addition for what was an undersized Lobo team last season. However, Gordon did tear the meniscus in his right knee in mid-October and, although he is not expected to miss any game action, he may miss out on valuable practice time leading up to his expected December 17 debut.

What You Need to Know

  • Best In The West? Given the Mountain West’s history as a contender for the title of the top non-BCS conference in the nation, and given that the Pac-10 is at its lowest point in memory, it’s quite possible that, at least for 2010-11, the MWC may be the best conference in the West. Last season, four MWC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and in just over a decade of existence, only once has the MWC failed to place more than one team to the Big Dance (2000-01). However, major changes are afoot in the conference, as Utah and BYU, both consistently strong basketball forces, will be leaving for the Pac-10 and WCC, respectively. Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference, but while those teams are capable of putting together strong seasons (Nevada, in particular, has  recent success on the court), they’ll be hard-pressed to replace the production of the two Utah schools.
  • Familiar Faces: When you look around the conference this season, there will be a lot of veterans up and down the rosters, as 70% of the players that averaged more than five points per game last season return. Only Utah, of the nine conference teams, will look drastically different, as they lost two starters to graduation, a third starter to transfer, and five additional bench players to transfers as well. Bolstering the general experience around the league is a flood of incoming transfers: Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu at New Mexico, Quintrell Thomas at UNLV, Hank Thorns at TCU, Wes Eikemeier at Colorado State and James Rahon at San Diego State. Not only will there be a lot of recognizable players on the court, there continues to be a lot of stability on the sidelines, as for the second consecutive year, every head coach in the MWC returns.
  • Non-conference Boost: Last season seemed to mark the first year of a new era in non-conference scheduling in the MWC. After earning a reputation as a conference whose teams would play consistently tough games, they slipped out of the top 20 in non-conference strength of schedule for a stretch from the 2006-07 season through the 2008-09 season. However, last year, the MWC addressed this in several ways. First and foremost, their teams were able to go out and get games against Pac-10 and Big 12 competition, but they were also able to get their teams in some good early-season tournaments, and they began the MWC/MVC Challenge, guaranteeing every team in the conference a matchup with a team from the Missouri Valley. That MWC/MVC Challenge will continue (the two conferences signed a four-year agreement), as will the involvement of conference teams in early-season tournaments (for instance, New Mexico plays in the Las Vegas Classic, UNLV in the 76 Classic, Colorado State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, BYU in the South Padre Island Classic, Utah in the Diamondhead Classic, Wyoming in the Cancun Classic and San Diego State in the CBE Classic – and yes, the people that run these tournaments need to consult a thesaurus for an alternative to “Classic”). Additionally, the tougher non-conference scheduling continues, with conference schools making trips to places like Spokane, Berkeley, Logan, Ann Arbor, El Paso, Dayton, Tulsa, Louisville and Kansas City over the course of the non-conference slate.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 3/5)

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

Superlatives

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

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

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

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

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

League Notes

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

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

Team Roundups

New Mexico

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

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

BYU

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

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

San Diego State

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

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

UNLV

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

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

Utah

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

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

Colorado State

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

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

TCU

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

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

Wyoming

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

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

Air Force

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

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

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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 jstevrtc on January 29th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/28):

  1. BYU                                        20-2                       5-1
  2. New Mexico                      19-3                       5-2
  3. UNLV                                     17-4                       5-2
  4. San Diego State                14-6                       3-3
  5. Colorado State                  12-8                       3-3
  6. Utah                                      10-10                     3-3
  7. TCU                                        10-11                     2-4
  8. Wyoming                            9-11                       2-4
  9. Air Force                              8-11                       0-6

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. New Mexico. For the second week in a row, it’s the Lobos who win this prize, with this week’s biggest scalp that of the number 12 team in the country, BYU. The Lobos have now won five games in a row and put themselves back in the thick of things in the MWC race, just a game back in the loss column, despite their recent shooting woes.

Player of the Week. Adam Waddell, Soph, Wyoming. There was plenty of competition here this week: Dairese Gary averaged 21 points and 4.5 assists in leading the team of the week to a win over previously-unbeaten-in-conference BYU, Tre’Von Willis went for 30 in a tough road win for UNLV, and Jimmer Fredette continued to be outstanding, averaging 30 PPG this week. But Waddell gets the nod, thanks to his big numbers on Wednesday night: 22 rebounds (a MWC record) while putting in 12 points, all despite leaving midway through the second half with a badly sprained ankle which may keep him out of the Cowboys’ next game.

Newcomer of the Week. Desmar Jackson, Fr, Wyoming. Jackson stepped up in the absence of Wyoming’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Afam Muojeke, who underwent season-ending surgery for a torn patellar tendon in his left knee this week. The freshman from Warren, Ohio scored 21 points in just 20 minutes, continuing what is becoming a bit of a trend for Jackson, stepping up when Muojeke can’t go, as Jackson had 22 points in Muojeke’s first game out after bruising the same knee in late November.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 76, BYU 72. It’s likely that the BYU/San Diego State game from Saturday was the better game. It featured long runs by both teams, and really came down to the last possession, but this game had a little something extra throughout which that one didn’t: atmosphere. While the Aztecs played with fire throughout their loss to the Cougars and proved themselves quite capable of being mentioned along with the other elites at the top of the conference, the Lobos were able to finish out in front of a wild and raucous Pit crowd. After the Lobos led for 20 straight minutes, the Cougs came back to tie the game at 46 early in the second half, but they weren’t able to grab the lead back until around the three-minute mark on a deep (26-feet or so) three by Fredette. Then, sophomore guard Philip McDonald hit a tough runner with the shot-clock running out, got fouled, and knocked down the free throw. Sophomore forward A.J. Hardeman followed that up with an offensive stick-back. Gary added a 45-foot drive in the halfcourt that led to a finger roll, then proceeded to knock down multiple clutch free throws down the stretch as the Lobos handed BYU their first conference loss.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Utah @ BYU, Saturday January 30th, The MTN. The MWC quiets down slightly this week, as both New Mexico and UNLV only play once, but the Marriott Center will be jumping on Saturday night for the Holy War. While the Utes probably don’t have the firepower or the consistency to be able to take down the Cougars, especially coming off their first loss, you can bet there will be plenty of intensity on display as they attempt it.

League Notes:

Next week at this time, the first half of the conference season will be in the books and the teams will turn the corner and start looking towards the conference tournament and postseason play. While BYU and New Mexico appear to be locks to get into the NCAA tournament (RPIs of 19 and 12, respectively and KenPom ratings of 4 and 41), and UNLV has positioned themselves well to get a third MWC bid (RPI 35, KenPom 53), San Diego State (RPI 43, KenPom 65) will need to make a run in the second half of their year, and likely add another quality win or two (over either BYU, New Mexico or UNLV) to be strongly considered.  Even if they achieve that, it could be at the expense of UNLV. The Aztecs’ best non-conference win was over Arizona, and although they added a win over New Mexico in the MWC opener, their tight loss to BYU at the Viejas Center on Saturday night may come back to haunt them on Selection Sunday.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: The Cougars went on the road this week for a couple of tough conference games, and while they came away with their first conference loss, they probably feel okay about the week’s outcomes. The roadtrip started with a visit to San Diego State on Saturday, and the Cougars came out hot, building up a 22-10 lead early before the Aztecs came storming back. BYU responded with a 15-0 run midway through the second half to seemingly put the game away before the Aztecs came back again. But in the end, Fredette hit a great swooping scoop shot in the lane near the end of the shotclock with under 30 seconds to play, and sophomore swing Charles Abouo got a big block on the defensive end to seal the game for the Cougars. While things didn’t turn out that way in Albuquerque on Wednesday (detailed in the Game of the Week section above), the Cougars fought hard in likely the toughest environment they will encounter this season and were right there within three in the last minute. The youngest Cougs didn’t play very well against New Mexico (freshman Tyler Haws, for instance, was just three of eight from the field), and junior guard Jackson Emery remains mired in a slump (4-19 from the field and just 1-13 from behind the arc this week), but while a trip to Vegas looms on the not-too-distant horizon, the back-half of the conference schedule is a bit easier than the front.

Looking ahead: BYU hosts Utah and TCU this week before heading to UNLV on February 6th.

New Mexico

Looking back: The win against BYU was the big story of the week, but it wouldn’t have meant much had the Lobos slipped up against Colorado State last Saturday. Coach Steve Alford made sure his team didn’t look past the Rams, and the Lobos dominated on the glass (48-30), then went on a big 16-1 run before the end of the first half to get the Lobos most of the way to their 82-64 victory. The Lobos have had several players step up from week to week to take the reigns for this squad this year.  It was McDonald in the first couple games, then junior swing Darington Hobson made his presence known; senior forward Roman Martinez led the team in scoring four straight games in early December, and Hardeman turned it on at the start of conference play.  But this week was all Gary, not only leading the team in scoring and assists, but knocking down clutch free throws all over the place, hitting 22 of his whopping 27 free throw attempts this week, and harassing BYU’s Fredette and Haws into just 11-29 shooting.

Looking ahead: The Lobos wrap up their MWC front nine (er, um… eight?) with a visit to TCU on Saturday, then get a week to prepare for San Diego State on February 6th.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels’ duo of Willis and Chace Stanback continue to lead the way, Willis contributing 21.5 PPG and Stanback averaging 15.5 PPG this week in wins at TCU and at home against Air Force. But the big news of the week was junior swing Derrick Jasper spraining his left MCL in the Air Force win, an injury likely to sideline Jasper all of February, pushing his return right up against the start of the MWC tournament. The Rebels responded well to the Jasper injury, outscoring the Falcons 39-26 in the second half on their way to a 10-point come-from-behind victory, sparked by junior guard Kendall Wallace hitting his first four threes of the second half. With the BYU loss on Wednesday, the Rebels move within a game (in the loss column) of first place.

Looking ahead: Short week for the Rebs, but a long trip to Wyoming awaits. Then they return home to host BYU in what figures to be a fight for first place.

San Diego State

Looking back: It was only a one-game week, but it was a tough one for the Aztecs. In an up-again, down-again battle against BYU on Saturday, the buzzer went off with the Aztecs on the down-again side. While the Aztecs dominated BYU inside (40-18 margin in points-in-the-paint), they were unable to get to the line — in fact, both teams combined for only 18 free throws, a stat that made for a very fun game to watch — and were unable to control Fredette, who went for 33 points on 11-19 shooting and 5-8 from behind the arc. While SDSU has gotten tons of production out of its front line, their backcourt play has been inconsistent. They haven’t had a guard notch more than five assists this month, junior point D.J. Gay is shooting just 37% from the field this season, and has only a 1.6-to-1 assist to turnover ratio thus far. While it seems certain that head coach Steve Fisher will stick with Gay at the point, freshman Chase Tapley may be the better option. Tapley shoots 48% from the field, has a 2.1 A/TO ratio, defends better, rebounds better, and has significantly better offensive efficiency numbers than Gay. If the Aztecs hope to make a serious run at the NCAA tournament, moving to Tapley as their primary point guard seems to be a necessary move. But don’t hold your breath waiting on that move.

Looking ahead: SDSU travels to Colorado State on Saturday before returning to the Mesa to host Air Force on Tuesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: This was the type of week that the Rams can expect most of the rest of the way. Face a team like New Mexico, expect a loss; face a team like TCU, gut out a win. Coach Tim Miles has done an excellent job of getting the most out of his group of players, a somewhat limited bunch. So, this week, after the Rams were shut down offensively and destroyed on the glass by a more talented and athletic New Mexico team, they rededicated themselves to working on the glass and getting some easy hoops against TCU. The results? Junior forward Andy Ogide grabbed ten boards to go with 14 points, junior forward Travis Franklin added nine boards and freshman forward Greg Smith got six more to go with a career-high 15 points as CSU controlled the game inside, outscoring TCU in the paint 32-14 and scoring 16 points off TCU turnovers.

Looking ahead: The Rams host San Diego State on Saturday, then travel to Salt Lake City to face the Utes on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back: Yup. We said it here last week, just like we said it here a month or so back. Utah is as capable of beating a top-notch team (as they did when they beat UNLV on the road on January 16th) as they were of losing to a bottom-feeder. Well, they lost to their bottom feeder, losing to Wyoming on Wednesday, even though it was in Laramie. What’s more, they lost to Wyoming while the Cowboys’ best player watched with a knee injury. More and more, it looks like the Utes’ main problem (and clearly their problems are plural) is at the point. While they are not a great shooting team, they have players that can score (witness junior Carlon Brown’s 31 – including a strong 22 in the second half – against Wyoming, and freshman Marshall Henderson’s 22 earlier in the week in a win over Air Force), but they just don’t have a guy who is a born distributor. Brown and senior Luka Drca have made the effort, but they just aren’t capable of running the point at this level. Unfortunately for coach Jim Boylen, there isn’t a ready point who is going to walk through the door this season, so the Utes will have to make do with what they have.

Looking ahead: The Utes travel down the road to Provo for the basketball version of the Holy War on Saturday night, then return home to host Colorado State on Wednesday.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs opened their week by hosting UNLV on Saturday, and they gave the favored Rebels a bit of a scare. With just over a minute to play, senior forward Zvonko Buljan converted a three-point play to bring TCU within a bucket at 72-70. Unfortunately for the Frogs, UNLV scored the last seven points of the game (all on free throws) to seal the win. While TCU stayed in the game on the strength of their three-point shooting (11-27 from three), they were unable to stop the Rebels inside of the arc, allowing UNLV to shoot an amazing 74% on two-point field goals. Jim Christian’s squad then traveled from Fort Worth to Fort Collins to face CSU on Wednesday, but Buljan failed to make the trip due to “personal reasons.” TCU could have used him as they fell by six to the Rams and shot just 35% from the field along the way. Sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss had 21 in a losing cause, but only two of those 21 came in the second half.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts New Mexico on Saturday, and Buljan remains questionable to play in that game, although coach Christian reports that he is healthy. The Frogs will then wrap up a rough week with a road trip to BYU on Wednesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: Last week at this time, the extent of the injury was not known. Now, however, with Muojeke out for the season, it is time for the Cowboys to see who is going to step up and carry the team down the stretch as coach Heath Schroyer tries to find some players to build around for the future. Waddell and Jackson were the first to throw their hats in the ring, but junior forward Djibril Thiam (16 points), sophomore guard A.J. Davis (10 points) and sophomore guard JayDee Luster (five assists) all contributed strong games in Wyoming’s win over Utah on Wednesday. With only one senior on the team (forward Ryan Dermody), the Cowboys will have a chance to get some much needed experience for players up and down the roster in the second half of the conference season.

Looking ahead: Wyoming faces Air Force on Saturday before traveling to UNLV on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: After six long weeks watching, senior forward and leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker finally returned from injury for the Falcons this week, and his impact was immediately felt. While Parker only played 15 minutes in a loss to Utah on Saturday, he returned to play 31 minutes at UNLV on Tuesday. Parker has not yet returned to form he showed early in the season, but he did contribute 11 points and seven rebounds in the what was the Falcons’ best performance of the conference season, a ten-point loss to UNLV. No one expects Parker’s presence to spark the Falcons to a wild second-half run to the .500 mark, but it will be interesting to see what this Falcon team looks like when healthy. The combination of Parker and junior guard Evan Washington was solid early in the season, and the addition of some now more seasoned younger players who got some run in Parker’s stead (such as freshman Mike Fitzgerald, junior Derek Brooks and junior Tom Fow) could give Air Force a chance to trip up some of the middle-of-the-pack teams.

Looking ahead: The Falcons get to test out that theory right-quick, as they host Wyoming on Saturday, before traveling to San Diego State on Tuedsay.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 22nd, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/21):

  1. BYU                                        19-1                       4-0
  2. New Mexico                      17-3                       3-2
  3. UNLV                                     15-4                       3-2
  4. San Diego State                14-5                       3-2
  5. Colorado State                  11-7                       2-2
  6. TCU                                        10-9                       2-2
  7. Utah                                      9-9                          2-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-11                       1-4
  9. Air Force                              8-9                          0-4

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Two road games (albeit against the eight and ninth place teams in the conference) and two road wins, getting back on track and breaking out of their shooting slump in a big way, knocking down 13 of their 27 three-point attempts against Air Force on Wednesday.

Player of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State. Thomas, a transfer from Pepperdine in his first year with the Aztecs, had a huge week for Steve Fisher, putting in 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out six assists in a home win against TCU before going for a career high 23 points and ripping down 13 rebounds in a road win at Utah on Tuesday as the Aztecs got right back into the picture at the top of the standings in a bunch of teams with two losses.

Newcomer of the Week. Thomas. I suppose if you’re the POTW, and you’re a newcomer, you’re also the Newcomer of the Week. Special mention to freshman Tyler Haws of BYU, who has turned into a legitimate second offensive threat for the conference-leading Cougars.

Game of the Week. San Diego State 70, Utah 68. After Utah knocked off UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday, they came back home knowing that things were not going to get a whole lot easier. And with the MWC POTW spending most of the game hanging out above the rim, grabbing rebounds, sending back opposing shots, throwing down dunks, slipping in layups around Utah’s seven-foot-five sophomore center David Foster and generally dominating the paint, the Aztecs definitely gave the Utes all they could handle. And yet, down the stretch, with the Aztecs trying to seal off a victory, the free throws clanged off the rim left and right (SDSU was 10-23 from the line over the course of the game, and just 5-11 in the final two minutes). A desperation three by junior guard Carlon Brown at the buzzer, however,  rattled off the rim and the Aztecs pulled off a key road win to wrap up a 2-0 week in the MWC.

Games of the Upcoming Week. BYU @ San Diego State, January 23rd , The MTN and BYU @ New Mexico, January 27th, The MTN. While the Cougars are off to a 4-0 start in conference, most of that damage was done in front of the home crowd at the Marriott Center. But Dave Rose and company will have to take their act on the road to face two teams sitting in the pack just behind BYU. If BYU can come through this week unscathed, you can pencil them in as the one seed in Vegas in March.

League Notes:

A couple weeks worth of conference play is in the rearview mirror, and those standings are starting to look like we expected them to look now: BYU at the top, a pack including UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State sitting within striking distance, a pack in the middle including Utah, and Wyoming and Air Force bringing up the rear. While there will be some type of shuffling throughout the year, expect those tiers to remain relatively intact.

Also of note, this week’s Utah/Wyoming game will be the last MWC game that will not be televised on either The MTN, CBS College Sports Network or Versus.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: BYU had a couple of home games against middle-of-the-pack MWC teams this week, and coasted, winning by an average of 29.5 points. The week started with a matchup with Colorado State, a battle between the final two teams with undefeated conference records. While the Rams hung around through a few TV timeouts, the Cougars posted a 12-0 run heading into the break and then went on to post a 53-25 second half romp on their way to a 44-point thrashing of CSU. They followed that up with a solid 15-point victory over Wyoming and now sit on the verge of a 20-win season before February even arrives. While junior guard Jimmer Fredette’s return from mono to have a solid week may be the most important news of the week, the continued development of Haws may be just as important to BYU’s hopes come March. This week, Haws posted a new career high of 24 points against Wyoming, and also added 11 against CSU.

Looking ahead: As mentioned above in our Game of the Upcoming Week section, this is a huge week for the Cougars with two road games against very good competition in front of very unwelcoming crowds, at San Diego State on Saturday, then at New Mexico on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: While the opponents weren’t impressive, and the Lobos continued to struggle at times, the outcomes of the game (two road wins) vaulted New Mexico back up the standings and gave them new confidence. Sophomore guard Philip McDonald was the hottest Lobo this week, averaging 20 points per game and knocking down ten threes in the process, including a career high seven as the Lobos caught fire from behind the arc in the second half against Air Force on Wednesday, after their shooting woes had continued against Wyoming on Saturday (3-19 from three). But, it was the Lobo defense that saved the day against the Cowboys as they forced 23 turnovers on the game, including turnovers on three straight possession after the Cowboys came back to tie the score at 58. New Mexico converted those three turnovers into six points and never looked back, eking out a two-point road victory.

Looking ahead: Back to the home-court advantage of The Pit, as the Lobos will host Colorado State on Saturday before hosting conference-leader BYU on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels emerge from the week with a 1-1 record, and remain right in the thick of things at the top of the MWC standings, but their play this week was less than impressive. While junior guard Tre’Von Willis provided most of the offensive spark for the Rebels this week (24 PPG, plus six rebounds and four assists in a loss to Utah on Saturday), it was sophomore forward Chace Stanback who took the biggest step forward this week, going for 14/10 against Utah, then pouring in 19 points, including 15 in the second half as the Rebels withstood Colorado State in Fort Collins. However, all the weaknesses that are apparent in UNLV’s lineup were on display this week, as the team went 1/12 from three in their loss at Utah and turning the ball over 16 times in allowing CSU to hang around. While Willis and Stanback have turned into the lead duo for the Rebels and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield is an excellent leader, there is precious little consistency beyond those three and that will need to change should UNLV hope to be a serious threat for the MWC title.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to TCU on Saturday, then host Air Force on Tuesday as the schedule lightens up a bit before round two of the MWC home-and-home round robin.

San Diego State

Looking back: The main takeaway from this week is a 2-0 record, including the tough road win at the Huntsman Center detailed above in our Game of the Week section. Before that, however, the Aztecs also added a home win against TCU, during which the Aztecs defense forced 20 TCU turnovers and limited the Horned Frogs to just six free throw attempts (compared to SDSU’s 25). However, as things start to tighten up as we head towards March, the Aztecs know they will have to shoot their free throws better. Over the week, the Aztecs made just 25 of their 48 free throw attempts, and over the season they rank 344th in Division I in free throw percentage, just 58.4%, a weakness that could prove deadly in close games.

Looking ahead: Just one game for the Aztecs this week, but it is a doozy as they host BYU at the Mesa on Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: A week ago at this time, the Rams were undefeated and riding high. Two losses to two of the conference’s power teams later, and CSU is back where they deserve to be: right in the middle of the MWC pack. The Rams got exposed as pretenders to the MWC crown when they visited Provo on Saturday, failing to show up at all in the second half, but to head coach Tim Miles’ credit, he had his kids ready to play at home against UNLV on Wednesday. The Rams held tight all night, forced 16 turnovers, got 20 points (including five threes) from freshman point Dorian Green, but wound up losing the game at the free throw line, making just 16 of their 28 free throw attempts while UNLV his 19 of their 23. It was made pretty clear this week that the Rams are not up to the level of the top teams in the conference, but they seem to be very capable of finishing atop the middle-of-the-pack tier.

Looking ahead: If the one-two punch of BYU/UNLV wasn’t enough, the Rams get an extra course with a trip to New Mexico on Saturday. On Wednesday, things will settle down a little as the Rams get to pick on someone their own size as they host TCU in what should be an evenly-matched battle.

TCU

Looking back: TCU’s lone conference game of the week was a trip out west to face San Diego State on Saturday, and  for a half at least things looked pretty good. The Horned Frogs were on fire in the first session, hitting 70% of their shots and six of their eight threes on the way to a nine-point halftime lead. However, they couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half, knocking down only seven of their 21 field goal attempts (although six of those seven makes were from behind the arc) and they were outscored by 14 in the second half. While the Frogs still wound up shooting at a 55% clip from behind the arc in the game, they turned the ball over 20 times and only got to the free throw line six times. On Wednesday, Jim Christian’s squad wrapped up non-conference play with a date with Texas-Pan American, and without a doubt the coach got in their ears about not relying on the three-point shot, as the Horned Frogs made a whopping 73% of their shots inside the arc on their way to a 12-point win. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss bounced back from some unsteady play last week by handing out 21 dimes this week, and senior forward Zvonko Buljan added 11.5 PPG and 9 RPG.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts UNLV on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back: This is the type of week we have predicted all along for Utah, knocking off an upper-echelon team on the road, then backing it up with a home loss. This Ute team remains only predictable in their inconsistency, and at some point this season, they will throw up a loss to Wyoming or Air Force or TCU just to prove it. In an upset victory at UNLV on Saturday, the Utes looked like a solid, veteran squad, hitting half of their field goals in the second half, hitting half of their threes over the course of the game and knocking down seven of their eight free throws in the final 90 seconds to withstand a late charge by the Rebels. They got balanced scoring (four players in double figures), they rebounded well, they played solid defense, they got six blocks from Foster, Brown knocked down some clutch threes, freshman guard Marshall Henderson added five more threes and they held on for a four point win. Three nights later, playing in front of a supportive Huntsman Center crowd, well, let’s just say things didn’t work out. They shot only 23% from the field in the first half, and despite SDSU’s best try at giving the game away (detailed in our MWC Game of the Week section above), Utah came away with a split over the week.

Looking ahead: Looking at the schedule, this looks to be a good week for the Utes, as they host Air Force before heading to Laramie to face Wyoming on Wednesday. Knowing this Utah team, don’t be surprised if they shoot 24% from the field for a game and drop one of these.

Wyoming

Looking back: Heath Schroyer had to know coming into the week that this was going to be a tough week, facing two of the elite teams in the conference. While the Cowboys played New Mexico tough in Laramie on Saturday, losing by just two despite turning the ball over 23 times, things took a bad turn early in Wednesday’s game in Provo when sophomore swing Afam Muojeke went down with a knee injury early in the first half and didn’t return. Wyoming never seemed to recover emotionally from that blow, and that combined with another 17 turnovers led to a 15-point loss at Wyoming. As of Thursday, the extent of Muojeke’s injury was not yet known, although he did miss four games earlier this year with a bruised knee.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Utah on Wednesday in their only game of the week.

Air Force

Looking back: Different week, same Air Force story; another loss (to New Mexico by 23 on Wednesday), and another injury report. Senior forward Mike McLain returned from his concussion and got 21 minutes in the New Mexico game and senior guard Avery Merriex continues to play through a broken nose after returning from a concussion. Still no sign of nor report on senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury) or sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion). While this Falcon team never had a chance to be an elite MWC team, it would have been interesting to see where this team could have finished with a full complement of players and they could still be capable of springing an upset or two if they ever get back near full strength. Junior guard Evan Washington did break out of a slump a bit this week with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists against the Lobos.

Looking ahead: At Utah on Saturday and at UNLV on Tuesday. Looks like another brutal week for the Falcons.

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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 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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