With 2013 winding to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was in college basketball. There were too many memorable moments to recount ‘em all, but here’s our honor roll for the last calendar year — a list laced with games, plays, and performances that will long struggle to escape our memory banks.
Best Game: Michigan vs. Kansas, NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen
Trey Burke’s Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013′s Prevailing Memories
Gonzaga-Butler may have given us the best final seconds of regulation (see below), and Louisville-Notre Dame definitely donated the most riveting 25 minutes of action after regulation, but when talking games of the year, Michigan vs. Kansas was simply unmatched when it came to elevated stakes and elite talent. We won’t soon forget Trey Burke’s comeback-capping, game-tying three to force overtime, but it would be a shame if that’s all that lived on from this classic. Sweet Sixteen match-ups between national title contenders don’t come around every March; would you have bet against Kansas to get to Championship Monday if Burke’s three hadn’t found the bottom of the net on that Friday night?
Honorable Mention:Gonzaga at Butler, Louisville at Notre Dame.
Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.
The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take fromNBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.
Player Name:Jamaal Franklin
School:San Diego State
Height/Weight: 6’5”/190 lbs.
NBA Position:Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Projected Draft Range:Mid to Late First Round
Jamaal Franklin is not one to lack in confidence, but will his manic, aggressive game translate to the NBA?
Overview: After highly productive sophomore and junior seasons, Jamaal Franklin decided the time was now to depart San Diego State for the NBA Draft. The explosive wing helped key the continued success of Steve Fisher’s program, as the Aztecs earned top eight seeds in the NCAA Tournament in each of Franklin’s three seasons there. There is little that is prototypical about Franklin’s game. He is a scoring wing who struggles to shoot the ball from deep (just 28% from three-point range last season) but rebounds the ball as productively as any big (his 26.4% defensive rebound rate was 10th nationally a year ago). Franklin’s unconventional game will undoubtedly undergo some tweaking at the next level, as whispers of an improved jump shot and the nature of the bigger, more athletic front lines in the league should have him spending more time on the perimeter. Adjustments will be needed to reach his potential, but if Franklin continues to display the hyper-competitiveness and endless motor that fueled his prodigious collegiate efforts, whichever team ends up using a selection on the 2012 MW POY should end up a happy buyer indeed.
Will Translate to the NBA: Pairing Franklin’s natural competitiveness with his athletic ability makes him an NBA-ready defender from the get-go. He also graded out very well in measurements at the combine (despite not participating in any activities due to an ankle injury), and although just 6’5”, his seven-foot wingspan should allow him to see time at both the two and the three in the NBA. And while you can rest assured that Franklin will not be rebounding at the clip we witnessed at San Diego State, that length, combined with his superb bounciness, will make him an above-average rebounder from the wing early in his NBA career.
If this was baseball, a batting average of .333 would represent Hall of Fame type numbers. Back in November when our group of RTC pollsters and hoop experts selected their preseason All-America teams, just five names lived up to expectations that we originally had placed on them: Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Ohio State’s DeShaun Thomas, Michigan’s Trey Burke, and Kansas’ Jeff Withey. In fact, the only player who was named to the preseason All-America First Team and finished there was McDermott. If there is one thing to take away from this exercise, it’s that projecting player performance is far from an exact science.
McDermott Was Our Only Preseason First Teamer Who Stayed There
The 10 players we selected as preseason All-Americans who failed to live up to our hype were: Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum — let’s remember McCollum missed more than half the season due to injury — UNLV’s Mike Moser, Missouri’s Phil Pressey, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, North Carolina’s James Michael McAadoo, North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, and Florida State’s Michael Snaer. It would be foolish to think that most of these players did not have exceptional seasons — look no further than Canaan, who averaged 21.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 4.3 APG for the Racers this year. He had a very good senior season, but it’s not his fault that a guy like Victor Oladipo came out of nowhere to prove he was one of the best players in the country. Of course, there were a few disappointments, and we can look right at Mitchell as the most obvious example. Whether fair or not, expectations were probably too high for Mitchell, who many project to be a future NBA player. Mitchell averaged 13.0 PPG and 8.5 RPG, but his team slogged to a rough 12-20 season.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the players who met or exceeded our expectations this season. After tallying up the votes from our nine experts, here are the 2012-13 RTC All-America Teams.
Note on methodology: voters took postseason performance into consideration. Players earned three points for a First Team vote, two points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote. Burke, Porter, and Oladipo were consensus First Team All-America selections.
First Team All-America
No Doubt Burke Won Over Many With His March Performances (AnnArbor.com)
Trey Burke, SO, Michigan (consensus) (18.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, 1.6 SPG, 3.1 A/TO). After spearheading arguably the nation’s most potent offense during the regular season, Burke was named a First Team All-American by the AP. His virtuoso performance in the South Region semifinal against Kansas where he singlehandedly brought Michigan back in the final minutes of regulation supplanted himself as not just a surefire First Teamer here at RTC, but perhaps the National Player of the Year as well. More than just his knack for hitting the big shot, Burke’s most impressive attribute may be as a distributor; boasting a 3.1 A/TO ratio is downright impressive given the responsibility John Beilein has bestowed upon him in running the offense.
Otto Porter Jr., SO, Georgetown (consensus) (16.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 48.0% FG, 42.2% 3FG). Many often lamented Georgetown’s stagnant Princeton-style offense as the reason for its lack of production, but imagine where the Hoyas may have been this season without Porter. The sophomore emerged as one of the nation’s best players after consecutive games in Brooklyn where he led Georgetown past then #11 UCLA and nearly upset top-ranked Indiana the following night. Porter was expected to be a key cog for Georgetown this season after averaging just south of 10.0 PPG as a freshman, but his outburst was a surprise to many this year. His stark improvement with his three-point shot — a 22.6% to 42.2% increase — has made Porter a much more complete player, and bodes well for his future at the next level.
Victor Oladipo, JR, Indiana (consensus) (13.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 59.9% FG, 44.1% 3FG). A role player in his first two seasons at Indiana, Oladipo emerged as Indiana’s best and most valuable player as a junior, surpassing more celebrated teammate Cody Zeller in that regard. While his offensive game improved in nearly every department — how often is it that a guard shoots 60% from the field? — it was Oladipo’s defense which made him an invaluable part of Tom Crean’s team. There may not be a better on-ball wing defender in the country as Oladipo created havoc — to borrow a term from Shaka Smart — on the perimeter. In looking at just his statistics, one would think Oladipo is a 6’10 power forward given his high shooting percentage and rebounding totals; that’s what makes him such a unique and dominant player.
Doug McDermott, JR, Creighton (26) (23.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 54.8% FG, 49.0% 3FG, 87.5% FT). Perhaps the most prolific and talented offensive player in college basketball, it came as no surprise to find McDermott’s name on the First Team All-America list. His shooting percentages in all three departments are off the charts, and were a big reason Creighton was tops in the nation in team 3FG% and third in 2FG%; McDermott went off for 20+ points in 26 of his 36 games this season. While his defensive and athletic abilities are both question marks, there’s no denying that McDermott is a natural scorer who is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. Assuming he returns for his senior season, McDermott will most likely eclipse the 3,000-point mark as a collegian which has only been done seven times in history.
Kelly Olynyk, JR, Gonzaga (24) (17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 62.9% FG). Playing behind Robert Sacre and Steven Gray for his first two seasons at Gonzaga, Olynyk averaged just 12.3 MPG as a freshman and 13.5 MPG as a sophomore. For his redshirt junior season, however, he owned the frontcourt. A legit seven-footer, Olynyk runs the floor like an athletic forward and scores in a variety of ways. His 62.9% FG was especially impressive considering he spent a fair amount of time outside of the paint in Gonzaga’s offense. He was the biggest reason that Gonzaga ascended to its first-ever #1 ranking in the polls and commensurate #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #7 San Diego State and #10 Oklahoma in Philadelphia. You can also find Brian at @botskey.
Three key takeaways:
The Mountain West picks up a much-needed win. In what has been an otherwise disappointing tournament for MWC teams, one of the conference’s better clubs was able to get on the board and advance. The win move the Mountain West’s record to 2-3 and the Aztecs have the potential to do even more with a tough (but still a #15 seed) Florida Gulf Coast team waiting in the wings on Sunday. Colorado State is the only other remaining standard bearer for the Mountain West and will go to battle in an interesting game with Louisville on Saturday. Given what has transpired and the matchups ahead, San Diego State is likely the final hope for the Mountain West.
Surprise, surprise, Steve Fisher has his team playing well in the NCAA Tournament. Fisher’s squad advanced to the Round of 32 Friday evening. (AP)
San Diego State was impressive defensively. The Aztecs have been a good defensive team all year but they did a fantastic job shutting down second-leading scorer Steven Pledger and the Oklahoma supporting cast. San Diego State has the #15 defensive efficiency in America and it showed tonight. The Aztecs don’t have many players with a lot of height on their team but most of them have great length and quickness, something that bothered the Sooners all night long. Oklahoma shot just 39.7% and scored only 22 points in the second half as the Aztecs locked in defensively. San Diego State also dominated the glass, 40-29, the final task in closing out defensive possessions.
It was a good year for Oklahoma. Lon Kruger got what had been a deflated Oklahoma program into the NCAA Tournament in only his second season in Norman. However, Kruger will lose three of his key player in Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald. The recruiting class coming in is decent but it’s not going to make a huge difference next season. The Sooners may take a step back in 2013-14 but this season was still a strong building block for the future. Kruger has had success pretty much everywhere he has coached so I’d expect Oklahoma to continue to improve its program in the years to come after a successful 2012-13 campaign.
Star of the Game: Romero Osby, Oklahoma. Although it was in a losing effort, Osby poured in 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, single-handedly keeping the Sooners within striking distance for the majority of the game. San Diego State did a great job on Pledger and nobody else could get it going for OU. If it was not for Osby, this would have been a big time blowout.
#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS
Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.
Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)
The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown
#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.
The Hoyas surpassed everyone’s expectations this season and won a share of the Big East regular season title and the No. 1 overall seed in the Big East Tournament where they lost in the semifinals to Syracuse. The Hoyas were in contention for a No. 1 seed before losing to Villanova down the stretch and not reaching the title game in the conference tournament. Instead the selection committee rewarded their excellence with a No. 2 seed in a winnable region and a first-round date with the Eagles and their rabid fan base.
It doesn’t take a basketball expert to understand Otto Porter’s importance to Georgetown (M. Sullivan/Reuters)
Region: South Seed: No. 2 Record: 25-6 (14-4 Big East) Matchup: v. Florida Gulf Coast University in Philadelphia
Key Player: Let’s face it, to call anyone other than Otto Porter the key player for the Hoyas would be forcing it as the athletic sophomore is the at the center of the team’s success this season. Porter is a first-team All-American, the team’s leading scorer (16.3 PPG) and rebounder (7.4 RPG) and three-point shooter (42.7 3PT%) who just so happens to be capable of defending multiple positions well to boot. He might be the most important player in the entire tournament if you consider what type of team Georgetown would be without him. As long as he plays as well as he did during conference play, the Hoyas should make a run, and if he rises to the occasion and turns it up another notch, well the rest of the South Region and the bracket better look out. Read the rest of this entry »
Jeff Capel had it working in Norman. Building off the success of his predecessor Kelvin Sampson, Capel took the Sooners to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2007 and 2008. Heading into practice, the 2008-09 season had all the makings of a season to remember. The Sooners boasted the future #1 pick of next year’s NBA Draft coupled with Willie Warren, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, not to mention the return of veteran contributors Taylor Griffin and Tony Crocker. They won 30 games that year before eventually losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion North Carolina.
Since 2009? Nothing.
For the first time since this guy suited up, the Sooners are dancing. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
But it was only a matter of time before a program like Oklahoma would rise again. Lon Kruger, known as a fixer of ailing programs, has the Sooners dancing in just his second season in Norman. As the Sooners hovered around the middle of the Big 12 this year, they were searching for a leader and found it in senior Romero Osby, He’s playing the best basketball of his career, and I believe that had he not made the step from role player to lead, the Sooners may have been on the outside looking in with this Tournament. After struggling to start the year, another senior, Stephen Pledger, has turned it on as well. Oklahoma finds itself as the #10 seed in the South Region paired with #7 seed San Diego State. As a result, OU can conceivably win its first foray back into the Madness since those Griffin brothers were still wearing red uniforms together.
There were no surprises on Selection Sunday in the Big 12 Conference. Kansas earned a #1 seed after winning the league tournament this weekend. Kansas State and Oklahoma State, the two other Top 25 teams in the conference,got top-five seeds. Oklahoma and Iowa State weren’t locks, but they had decent resumes heading into Sunday and both earned at-large bids without much debate. And Baylor, after bowing out in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament to the Cowboys, was relegated to the NIT. That’s what we thought would happen. So that’s five Big 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament, representative of a good-but-not-great year in the league. In the hours after Selection Sunday, here are a few quick reactions to each team’s respective draws:
Kansas State gets Kansas City: We knew Kansas would return to the Sprint Center for the Second and Third Rounds. That was a given. But after Kansas State lost to the Jayhawks in the finals on Saturday, it certainly wasn’t a given that the committee would send the Wildcats there. Fortunately for Bruce Weber, it got a lucky draw and can now bus a few hours from Manhattan for its second round game against the winner of La Salle/Boise State. After the loss on Saturday, Weber recalled his Illinois team’s trip to nearby St. Louis for the 2005 Final Four and said he’d of course enjoy a similar home atmosphere on the first weekend of the Tournament this March. There will surely be Jayhawks blue in the stands rooting against the Wildcats, but if they make it to the Third Round, they’ll have a significant advantage against either Ole Miss or Wisconsin. There’s an argument that playing in front of a semi-home crowd adds more pressure — Weber also recalled this particular situation occurring during his days as an assistant at Purdue — but we’re not sure that holds much weight. Bottom line is, playing a few hours from home is a big deal. It matters. It changes the dynamics of the match-up. And for a #4 seed especially, it’s a really fortunate situation.
Doesn’t seem fair that the “reward” for the Cowboys is a date with the Pac-12 tournament champs.
Oklahoma State and collateral damage: Everybody’s angry that Oregon received a #12 seed. It doesn’t seem to make any logical sense, but the lost storyline here is how it affects Oklahoma State. The Cowboys now have to play the Pac-12 Tournament champions in their first NCAA Tournament game — and they’re the #5 seed, for crying out loud! Travis Ford’s team could not have drawn a worse #12 seed. It’s criminal, really. Oregon won at UNLV, beat Arizona and knocked off UCLA twice. You could argue that Oregon’s almost as good a team as Oklahoma State, based on both pure talent and resume. Life ain’t fair, is it?
No worries for Iowa State and Oklahoma: They did it. They got in, both as #10 seeds. The bubble wasn’t very strong this year (which seems to be a trend during the past five years or so, whatever that means for college basketball), but after the Big 12 Tournament, these two teams were far from locks. Oklahoma looked like it might be in trouble after completely imploding in a loss to the Cyclones in the quarterfinals, and then Iowa State went out and hardly competed with Kansas in the semifinals. The committee gave them difficult match-ups: Oklahoma faces San Diego State, and Iowa State will play Notre Dame. Both of those teams have been ranked in the Top 25 at some point this year and may be a little bit underseeded. But the important thing is that both ISU and OU got in. For the Sooners, it’s a notable accomplishment for Lon Kruger in just his second year. It’s been a quick rebuilding process, that’s for sure, but we’d expect nothing less from Kruger. And Fred Hoiberg did a nice job with this team after losing Royce White, Chris Allen and Scott Christopherson. The Cyclones are a fun, high-octane team that could surprise some people if they knock down some threes (you know they love to shoot them). Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
New Mexico (26-5, 13-3)
Colorado State (24-7, 11-5)
UNLV (23-8, 10-6)
San Diego State (21-9, 9-7)
Boise State (21-9, 9-7)
Air Force (17-12, 8-8)
Fresno State (11-18, 5-11)
Wyoming (18-12, 4-12)
Nevada (12-18, 3-13)
Player of the Year. Jamaal Franklin, Junior, San Diego State. The fact that the Aztecs finished four games out of first place and just a game above .500 in conference play could rightfully give one pause in selecting the reigning MW Player of the Year to repeat, but with several teammates slowed by injury, Franklin stepped up his numbers almost across the board. With his minutes ticking up just slightly, his point total took a minor dip, while his rebound numbers jumped and, most impressively with point guard Xavier Thames dealing with injuries all year long, his assist averaged doubled. No, he’s nowhere near a finished product – he turns it over too much and actually got worse shooting from range – but in a conference with no dominant players, Franklin’s consistent production (he’s scored in double figures in all but one game) earns the nod. Kendall Williams and Colton Iverson were considered as well, in part due to their impact on their team’s successes, but both New Mexico and Colorado State earned their superior records on the strength of team efforts.
Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. At the start of the year, while the Lobos were considered one of three teams as favorites in the conference, they were largely seen as trailing UNLV and San Diego State. And when all is said and done, they come away with a conference title by two games. Behind a lock-down defense and a patchwork offense, the Lobos won 11 games by two possessions or less. He’s done a great job developing Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow along the frontline and got solid production out of his backcourt. And we can’t discount the job he and his staff did in putting together a schedule that earned New Mexico the fourth-ranked strength of schedule and an RPI of #2.
Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team.
Freshman of the Year. Anthony Bennett, Freshman, UNLV. During non-conference play, Bennett was regularly a double-double threat and a constant presence on the highlight reels. His numbers dipped in conference play, in part due to a late injury (he only scored in double figures in conference play nine times in 16 games) and he still hasn’t figured out how to play effectively with Mike Moser, but despite those late dips, he’s still the runaway winner of our Freshman of the Year award.
Newcomer of the Year, Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State. Entering conference play, Bennett was the favorite for the conference’s best newcomer. But while Bennett’s performance dipped, Iverson’s never did. With 13 double-doubles to his name, not only is Iverson the clear choice here, he was a strong contender for Player of the Year.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
As we look forward to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas in just three weeks from now, we can also begin to look forward to future MW tourneys there, as this past week the conference announced that it approved a deal to keep the conference tourney in the Thomas & Mack Center for at least three more years after this March. And while the conference, fans, and media are all pleased, there are plenty of Mountain West coaches who, though unsurprised, are not happy with this arrangement. Steve Alford and Larry Shyatt are just two of the coaches who have gone on record opposing having to play for the league’s automatic bid on the home court of league rival UNLV, but with the MW Tourney having previously flopped in Denver and now an unmitigated success in Las Vegas (for example, this year the conference reports record ticket sales), odds are strong that the tournament location won’t be changing anytime soon.
The Thomas & Mack Center Will Be The Home Of The Mountain West Tournament For The Foreseeable Future (AP)
As for this year’s tourney, now that we finally have some separation at the top of the conference, it looks like a two team race for the #1 seed in Vegas come March. With San Diego State dropping a pair of games and UNLV getting bitten by Air Force on the road, New Mexico and Colorado State now sit atop the conference standings, three games in the loss column ahead of UNLV, SDSU and Air Force. While this weekend’s game between those two at Fort Collins will go a long way towards determining that winner, we’ve still got a lot of basketball to play.
Team of the Week
Colorado State – The Rams got a big final minute from Dorian Green on Wednesday night to knock off San Diego State in Fort Collins, then went on the road Saturday and held on for a rare road win over Air Force. Larry Eustachy’s bunch is still making its hay by dominating teams on the glass; they haven’t had an offensive rebound percentage lower than 35% since January 2, and they’re regularly turning those second chance opportunities into points, putting the Rams in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency. And yet, despite perhaps the best rebounding team in memory, a rotation loaded with experienced seniors, and a six-game winning streak (as well as 27 home wins in a row), for some reason people are still a little leery about this team. Nevertheless, if they can extend that home winning streak to 28 on Saturday night against New Mexico, regardless of what happens tomorrow night at UNLV, the Rams should be the conference favorite.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
When tonight’s games wrap up, we’ll officially be halfway through the conference season. The Super Bowl is over, all eyes are on college hoops, there will be just eight games remaining on all the team’s schedules and we’re all starting to think about the madness that awaits in Vegas in early March. For the longest time this season in the Mountain West, we’ve figured there were a pool of six teams in contention for NCAA Tournament bids. And, as we get ready to round the turn, it looks like we’ve still got six teams in the mix; the surprise, however, may be which six teams those are. After we take care of our weekly honors immediately below, we’ll take a look at where each team stands as we near the halfway mark in terms of their NCAA Tournament viability.
Team of the Week
Air Force – It was “only” a pair of home wins, but they were an impressive, and an important, pair. With wins over Fresno State and San Diego State, the Falcons put themselves within striking distance of the conference lead, all with a shot at that first place New Mexico team next up on the schedule. The former win was more a matter of just taking care of business, while the latter was truly impressive. Despite the fact that the Aztecs were hampered by injuries, Air Force withstood the full brunt of Jamaal Franklin attempting, and largely succeeding in his attempt, to take over the game. After giving up a 12-point second half lead, the Falcons had the wherewithal to answer every Aztec run and in the final seconds, they dodged a couple looks at game-tying threes, earning the Academy their very own RTC, even if it was small and relatively orderly. After weeks and weeks of having everybody overlook them, it is now time to give this team its due: with Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico all coming to Clune Arena in the back half of conference play, the Falcons have a chance (even if it is still a slim one) to win this thing.
Michael Lyons and Air Force Have Reeled Off Five Straight And Are Within A Game Of The Conference Lead (Rhona Wise, AP Photo)
Player of the Week
Hugh Greenwood, Sophomore, New Mexico – Before we get to Greenwood, a quick mention of Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung, who made this week’s decision a tough one. Hornung averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds per game this week, double-doubling each night and even knocked down all three three-pointers he attempted against Boise State on Wednesday, bring him up to eight-for-15 on the season from deep. But, as versatile as Hornung was this week, versatility is Hugh Greenwood’s middle name (yup, Hugh Versatility Greenwood – it’s an Aussie thing, I think). The Lobo sophomore made ten of the 13 shots he attempted from the field this week, including five-of-six from deep, averaged 14 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and five assists. Oh, and during the Lobos’ trip to Laramie on Wednesday, Greenwood saved the day by knocking down the go-ahead jumper with eight seconds left and sealing the game with a pair of free throws later. After winning multiple Player of the Week awards from us last year, this is Greenwood’s first nod this year.