Rushed Reactions: #10 Stanford 58, #7 New Mexico 53

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins reacts to a call during the first half of a second-round game against New Mexico in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 21, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Much like their coach, the Cardinal played with an intensity that propelled them in the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  1. New Mexico flops again in March. Make it two seasons in a row that the Lobos have lost to a lower-seeded team in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, #3 New Mexico looked awful in an upset loss to #14 Harvard. The seed differential wasn’t quite as large this time around, but the loss (and the performance) were again really disappointing. For a team that came in winners of 15 of 17 and boasting a MW Tournament title, this is another stunning loss. The Lobos just looked awful all game long and certainly didn’t deserve to win it. What a waste of talent and potential.
  2. Stanford made its own momentum. The Cardinal raced out of the gate to a 20-4 lead just 6:22 into the game despite an early tip-off in front of a relatively small crowd. A 17-0 run did the trick. New Mexico went scoreless for 5:29 during that stretch and didn’t make a field goal for a period that lasted more than seven minutes. Stanford’s star guard Chasson Randle scored nine of his 11 first-half points during the early surge. Stanford had everything clicking for the first 15 minutes or so until New Mexico closed the half on an 8-0 run to make it a 32-27 ball game heading into the locker room. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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X-Factors DeShawn Delaney, Dwayne Polee Unlikely March Stars for Mountain West Powers

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2014

With San Diego State and New Mexico earning semifinal victories Friday night, the MW title game match-up that everyone expected came to fruition, albeit with some new faces occupying starring roles along the way. SDSU’s Dwayne Polee may have been voted the MW’s Sixth Man of the Year earlier in the week, but the junior transfer from St. John’s had only scored in double figures four times in 2014 before he erupted for a game high 18 points against UNLV last night. Meanwhile, New Mexico swingman Deshawn Delaney had only scored in double figures four times all season before last night, but the bouncy junior’s season-high 14 points was a major key in New Mexico’s narrow escape against Boise. Xavier Thames and Cameron Bairstow will still be the names on the marquee in advance of today’s MW title clash, but roles change throughout the course of a season, and both Polee and Delaney are proving this week in Vegas that the two best teams in the MW may have found new weapons heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Dwayne Polee Poured In 18 Points Against UNLV And Is Elevating His Game At Just The Right Time -- Might He Be The Key To An Aztec Tournament Run?

Dwayne Polee Poured In 18 Points Against UNLV And Is Elevating His Game At Just The Right Time — Might He Be The Key To An Aztec Tournament Run?

Polee has now played 18+ minutes in each of the Aztecs’ last seven games, and especially in the midst of Winston Shepard’s continued struggles (2-of-11 FG last night), will play a key role on offense moving forward. Detractors have long argued that SDSU is one Xavier Thames off night away from an ugly NCAA Tournament demise, but Polee may be the one Aztec with an offensive game varied enough to pick up the slack for Thames. His freakish length and athleticism make him a terror in the open floor, but he knocked down three of his five three-point attempts against UNLV, and has shot 40 percent from long range from February on. Polee’s greatest strengths will always be his disruptive defensive ability and open-court prowess on offense, but even a moderately capable floor-spacing option will help an Aztec offense that overly depends on Thames already, and Polee is beginning to show signs of becoming a consistent complementary jump shooter.

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Mountain West Quarterfinal Roundup

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

Wednesday was a busy day at the Thomas and Mack, with eight quarterfinalists battling for Friday reservations in the MW Tournament semis. Like they have all season, San Diego State and New Mexico found a way to distance themselves from the rest of the league on Thursday, but UNLV and Boise State were forced to work a little harder for their spot in the semifinals. Here are a few thoughts from each of the four MW quarterfinals:

San Diego State-Utah State

No surprises in the opener today. Five days after securing the conference regular season title, San Diego State made clear their intentions to double-dip with a MW Tournament crown, waxing Utah State 73-39. Balance and unselfishness were the themes of the day for the Aztecs, as SDSU had seven different players contribute six or more points, while 19 of their 24 field goals were assisted. Xavier Thames’ season high seven assists paced SDSU in that category. It was a solid day for the Mountain West Player of the Year (who also chipped in 15 points), who also added a season-high seven assists. Steve Fisher obviously hasn’t invented the concept of a scoring point guard here, but the tidbit is a subtle reminder of just how reliant the Aztecs are on their point guard to score the ball. San Diego State’s slow-tempo offense is also built around offensive rebounding and opportunistic finishing, and only three teams assist on a fewer percentage of field goals than the Aztecs. It’s an unconventional offensive formula, but at least on this day, Steve Fisher’s offense kept pace with their spirit-crushing defense.

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

Utah State wasn’t supposed to beat San Diego State, but they also weren’t supposed to lose by 33. It’s been that kind of season for Stew Morrill’s club, who has underachieved significantly in their first go-around in the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the folks up in Logan, the departure of four senior starters means that things may get worse before they get better, but the decades of consistency under Morrill should eventually translate into Mountain West success. As for the possible continuation of this season, the CBI or CIT may come calling for the 18-14 Aggies, but there is no guarantee that the man in charge is ready to accept a bid. When asked about postseason plans after today’s demolition, Morrill’s rhetorical question said it all about this Utah State season — “who the hell are we to think we might go to the postseason?” Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Questions Previewing the Mountain West Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Bennet Hayes on March 12th, 2014

RTC Mountain West correspondent Andrew Murawa and national columnist Bennet Hayes will both be in Las Vegas this week for coverage of the Mountain West Tournament. San Diego State and New Mexico appear to be on a crash course for a third and final meeting in the tournament final, but there are plenty of questions worth asking before play kicks off on Wednesday afternoon. Murawa and Hayes weigh in below on four of the most pressing.

Which is the most dangerous team outside of New Mexico and San Diego State?

Could "Khem Kong" And A Raucous Thomas And Mack Center Crowd Propel UNLV To An Unexpected Mountain West Tournament Run?

Could “Khem Kong” And A Raucous Thomas And Mack Center Crowd Propel UNLV To An Unexpected Mountain West Tournament Run?

AM:  UNLVWell, I jumped the gun and got my answers in first, so while Bennet gets stuck having to make a case for someone besides UNLV, I get to tell you why the Runnin’ Rebels – you know, the team playing the Mountain West tournament on its own home floor – has the best chance to win this thing. And honestly, even if they weren’t playing at the Thomas & Mack, the Rebels would still be my pick, even if they’re still something of a longshot compared to the two favorites. They’ve been inconsistent all year, and that isn’t going to change, but in Bryce Dejean-Jones and Deville Smith, they’ve got offensive firepower, and in Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith, they’ve got the hard-working defensive grinders in place. This team should have been better than it was this year and the conference tournament would be a good place for Dave Rice’s crew to turn things around. For what it’s worth, UNLV has won the MW tournament three times at the Thomas & Mack, but the most recent is six years ago; maybe they’re due?

BH: Boise StateIn all likelihood, to win the Mountain West title this week, you will have to beat both New Mexico and San Diego State. No team was able to accomplish that feat in the regular season, but if there’s a team in Vegas capable of doing it, it’s the Broncos. They split with New Mexico in the regular season (winning in Boise) and lost two games to the Aztecs by a total of five points, so don’t let their 9-9 conference record fool you – this team can compete with anyone in the MW. Of course, they’ve proven capable of losing to almost anyone in the conference as well (see: Saturday against Air Force), but Las Vegas offers Boise a chance at a clean slate. Four wins in Vegas would go a long ways towards erasing the disappointment of a season that began with high hopes.

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The RTC Mountain West Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 10th, 2014

Not only did the Mountain West regular season title come down to the final moments of the season, but the Player of the Year race was held in the balance until late Saturday night. Below, one man’s opinion on the best in the Mountain West.

Player of the Year

Xavier Thames, Senior, San Diego State – With 12 minutes left in the conference regular season and New Mexico up 16 at Viejas Arena, Cameron Bairstow looked like he had a hammer-lock on the POY award. A 26-7 run later, the Aztecs were conference champions and now Thames is the pick as the league’s MVP. But don’t believe for a second that this is a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision based largely on recentness; this was just a race that was neck and neck all season long, and Thames was the one to nose the finish. Bairstow winds up leading the conference in scoring, averaging better than three points a game more than Thames, but the Aztec point guard was not only his team’s leading scorer (16.9 PPG), but he was also their lead playmaker (3.0 APG), their most important defender on a top-ten defense nationally, and their rock down the stretch of close games. Down the stretch Saturday night, as Bairstow was held to a single point over the final 12 minutes of the game, Thames scored 10 points, as well as collecting two steals, two assists and a rebound in leading his team to a win. Bairstow had an excellent year, and the improvement in his game deserves plenty of recognition, but he also played with two other guys who deserve strong consideration for a first-team all-conference spot. For Thames, he was the Aztecs’ main guy and the one most responsible for their regular season conference title.

In Helping His Team Cut Down the Nets On Saturday Night, Xavier Thames Earned the RTC Mountain West Player of the Year (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

In Helping His Team Cut Down the Nets On Saturday Night, Xavier Thames Earned the RTC Mountain West Player of the Year. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

Coach of the Year

Steve Fisher, San Diego State – This one doesn’t require nearly as much of an explanation. Fisher took a team that was picked by the media to finish fourth in the conference (full disclosure, RTC picked them 2nd), a team that had to replace four of its six leading scorers, including all-conference types Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, and turned this Aztec team into a national top ten team. At times it seemed like he was doing it with smoke and mirrors, but facts remain: 27-3; losses only at home to Arizona and on the road to Wyoming and New Mexico; regular season conference championship; and a likely top-four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sounds like a Coach of the Year to me.

All-Conference

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What San Diego State’s Win Over New Mexico Says About Their Postseason Chances

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 10th, 2014

By now, if you care, you know already: San Diego State put together an impressive late-game run to overcome a 16-point deficit to knock off New Mexico on Saturday night, earning the Mountain West conference regular season title and thrilling the capacity Viejas Arena crowd. It was a great game, a great scene and a great encapsulation of all that we love about college basketball.

The Show Rushes The Court Following The Aztecs' Stunning Win Over New Mexico Saturday Night

The Show Rushes The Court Following The Aztecs’ Stunning Win Over New Mexico Saturday Night.

For San Diego State, the run at the end of the game was indicative of what they’ve done all year. Back in February, we wrote that what made this team special was their ability to do what they wanted to do on the court and prevent their opponents from doing what they wanted to do. However, for most of the middle part of the game, it was New Mexico that was having their way. They were pounding the ball inside with big guys Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, and with 12 minutes remaining in the game, that duo had outscored the Aztecs 33-25 by themselves. And then came the 1-3-1 zone, a last resort from Aztec head coach Steve Fisher to prevent those Lobo bigs from doing them in. And it worked to a T. Bairstow had only a single free throw after that point, New Mexico only scored seven points the remainder of the game (three of which came on a meaningless Kendall Williams three at the buzzer) and the Aztecs finished on a wild 26-7 run to earn the title. There were 18 possessions when the game was still in doubt after the Aztecs switched to a 1-3-1 zone; in those 18, they forced eight turnovers and five missed threes (for completeness’ sake, the other five possessions included a pair of missed two-point jumpers, a total of one-for-four from the free throw line and – the lone bit of good – a Deshawn Delaney corner three).

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Tournament Implications Will Barely Register When San Diego State and New Mexico Fight For MW Title

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 7th, 2014

With Selection Sunday a mere nine days away, analysts across the country will spend the next week-and-a-half weighing in on the relative merits of a slew of bubble teams that, if we are being honest, could pass for mediocre far more capably than they could elite. Someone out there will be outraged at the thought of an 11-loss team with defeats to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific being excluded from the Big Dance (BYU). Another pundit will fail to comprehend an NCAA Tournament that doesn’t include a team that spent much of February in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and still possesses a losing conference record (Oklahoma State). And Dick Vitale, quite surely, will find no possible scenario in which Florida State could miss the Tournament – after all, they had to play Duke in Cameron! Bubble opinions are already flying left and right, and hey, why not – they are an unequivocally fun element of this whole March Madness thing college basketball has going on. But beyond the microscope that discerns who is and isn’t in that upper echelon of average, there is still meaningful basketball being played that has absolutely nothing to do with an invite to March Madness. Regular season conference titles count, folks, and on Saturday night, New Mexico and San Diego State, both 15-2 in the Mountain West, will compete for one of those championships.

Xavier Thames And The Aztecs Impressively Finished Off UNLV Last Night To Set Up A Titanic Saturday Clash With New Mexico For The Mountain West Title

Xavier Thames And The Aztecs Impressively Finished Off UNLV Last Night To Set Up A Titanic Saturday Clash With New Mexico For The Mountain West Title

Wednesday night, San Diego State put the final touches on the setup for this de facto Mountain West championship game by pulling away late from UNLV in a 73-64 win at the Thomas & Mack Center. The tie score with five minutes to play meant there was no extension of the Aztecs’ mind-bending winning streak when leading with five to play (115 wins and counting…), but the Mountain West’s premier closers once again dominated the waning moments of a tight contest. Completing the season sweep of the Rebels now leaves Steve Fisher’s club one redemptive win away from earning its third regular season title in the last four years, but unlike the 2011 and 2012 crowns, they would be sharing this one with no one else.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIV

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on February 26th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Wichita State Deserves a Number One Seed

There is a vocal group out there making it known that Wichita State should not receive a top seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. They argue that the 30-0 Shockers “haven’t played anyone” and that alone should disqualify Gregg Marshall’s team from landing on the No. 1 seed line when the brackets are released two and a half weeks from now. We can debate the merits of the RPI all we want, but the fact is it remains one of many important selection criteria. Wichita State’s non-conference schedule ranks No. 34 in that metric, which is actually pretty good. By comparison, it is only four spots lower than Georgetown, a middling Big East team about whose schedule people have been raving. Perception is indeed a funny thing.

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don't get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don’t get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Wichita State cannot control the strength of its own league, which also happened to lose Creighton to conference realignment this season. There is something to be said, however, for taking every team’s best shot each and every night and still winning with relative ease. The Shockers beat the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Indiana State, in convincing fashion in Wichita and won the return meeting in Terre Haute comfortably. Out of conference, the Shockers challenged themselves with games at Saint Louis, Tulsa and Alabama, along with a visit by Tennessee to Wichita (Note: Game was played off campus and not at the Roundhouse). Wichita State also played BYU in a two-day event at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The Shockers have certainly not faced a murderer’s row type of schedule, but at 30-0 with a top 35 non-conference slate, that is good enough to be rewarded with a No. 1 seed. In the next two weeks you will hear a lot of pundits talk about tournament resumes, good wins and bad losses. Just remember, Wichita State doesn’t have any bad losses. It has NO losses, period. Dear Selection Committee: Do the right thing and give this team a No. 1 seed!

Jim Boeheim’s Meltdown Masks Syracuse’s Real Issue

Say the word “Syracuse” this week and most people will immediately think of Jim Boeheim’s classic meltdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the iconic Orange coach was ejected from a regular season or postseason game for the first time in 38 years as a head coach. While that was certainly a memorable moment, it masks the nosedive that Syracuse’s offense has taken over its last four games. Over the Orange’s first 24 contests, they recorded an offensive efficiency below 102.1 points per 100 possessions just twice (in wins over Miami and North Carolina). Over the last four games, Syracuse’s offensive efficiency has been 92.5, 94.3, 99.6 and 88.6. Ironically the 99.6 number was in the loss to Duke, but the Blue Devils are the best offensive team Syracuse has faced all season.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 18th, 2014

It’s February 18. Valentine’s Day has come and gone, as has President’s Day. We’ll flip the calendar to March in less than two weeks. There are exactly three weeks of conference play remaining. In other words: In case you haven’t noticed, another season has almost entirely slipped past us. But, over these final three weeks there is a lot still to be decided. Our twosome at the top of the conference — San Diego State (11-1) and New Mexico (10-2) — each dropped a game this week, but with their first of two remaining regular season battles on Saturday and with both schools yet to visit third-place UNLV, there could be a lot of movement atop the leader board. The other big spot to look at in the standings is fifth place. Why? Because the top five seeds will all get first-round byes at the Mountain West Tournament, while the other six teams will be competing an extra day for a chance to get to Thursday’s quarterfinals. Right now, Wyoming and Nevada are in the fourth and fifth spots, but Boise State and Fresno State lurk just behind. And speaking of those Broncos, last week we talked about the climb they face if they are going to get back in the conversation for an at-large NCAA bid. Give them credit because they got off on the right foot, knocking off New Mexico by a point in Boise last Wednesday night, bringing their record in games decided by two possessions or fewer since Christmas to 2-6.

Anthony Drmic Helped Lead Boise State To Its Best Win Of The Year, Over New Mexico Last Wednesday (Adam Eschbach, Idaho Press-Tribune)

Anthony Drmic Helped Lead Boise State To Its Best Win Of The Year, Over New Mexico Last Wednesday (Adam Eschbach, Idaho Press-Tribune)

Team of the Week

Wyoming – When you welcome a top five team into your arena and come away with a solid win, as the Cowboys did last Tuesday night against San Diego State, you’ve got a strong head start in the race for my Team of the Week. Wyoming turned on the offense against a great Aztecs defense and got big nights out of just about everyone who saw the floor, with Riley Grabau in particular coming up big when most needed. The Cowboys followed that up by going on the road and uglying one out over a bad San Jose State team to improve to 7-5 in conference play. And once again, head coach Larry Shyatt has his team overachieving.

Player of the Week

Khem Birch, Junior, UNLV – He only played once, but what a game it was, as the junior big man fell just one additional blocked shot short of a triple-double against Utah State on Saturday as he helped his Runnin’ Rebels win their sixth game in seven outings. Birch dominated the middle with 10 defensive boards (and a couple on the offensive end) and nine blocks in helping to limit the Aggies inside while also jump-starting UNLV’s transition game.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on February 11th, 2014

We’re in the back stretch of conference play and, as we have expected for the past couple months, we now have clear separation between the top two teams in the conference – San Diego State and New Mexico, which have combined for only one conference loss – and the rest of the pack. Nevada dropped a pair of road games; UNLV lost on the road; and Wyoming dropped a pair as well, giving the second place Lobos a three-game lead in the loss column over the third-place team. Even more clearly, this looks like a two-bid league come March, barring a big surprise in the conference tournament. The third highest-rated team in the RPI is Boise State, checking in at #68 following a heartbreaker against the Aztecs.

A Dagger Of A Three From Dwayne Polee Leaves Boise State In Dire Straits (Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman)

A Dagger Of A Three From Dwayne Polee Leaves Boise State In Dire Straits. (Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman)

Let’s play a fun game of “let’s pretend” and say that the Broncos catch fire, win out in conference play and get to the championship game in Vegas before bowing out to either San Diego State or New Mexico. Never mind that this team hasn’t shown any indication that its capable of that type of streak, but that would put them at 24-10 with a win over New Mexico in the regular season and a win over the Lobos again (although possibly San Diego State) in the MW Tournament semifinal. That would give them two wins over New Mexico as by far their best wins of the season, with Utah – currently ranked #103 in RPI – ranks as their next best win. Not exactly the resume of an NCAA Tournament team.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – In a week where three conference schools scored a road win as part of a 2-0 week, the Aztecs had the most impressive road win by going to Boise State, roaring back from a 13-point deficit in the middle of the second half, then getting a big go-ahead three-pointer from Dwayne Polee with five seconds left to break the Broncos’ spirit. The Aztecs followed that up by coming home and handing it to Nevada in workmanlike fashion while in the process tying a school-record 20-game winning streak.

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#rushthetrip Day One: The Pit Delivers

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 6th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

New Mexico’s famed stomping grounds “The Pit” marked the first stop on my #rushthetrip. Considering I tacked on some 600 miles to the journey with this eastern loop into New Mexico, getting to Albuquerque was quite clearly a priority. And why wouldn’t it be? The Pit has long been one of college basketball’s most-prized stages, and Sports Illustrated even ranked the Lobos’ home floor as the 13th greatest venue of the 20th century – not just in college basketball, mind you, but in all of sports. I think the relatively obscure location also offers an element of intrigue – The Pit possesses that hidden gem feel to it, what with Albuquerque’s relatively isolated post on New Mexico’s high desert and the wide open spaces all around. End summary: this was a place I had to find a way to get to.

Even A Little Snow Couldn't Keep Things Quiet Inside The Pit

Even A Little Snow Couldn’t Keep Things Quiet Inside The Pit

Oh but the weather gods didn’t make it easy. A rare New Mexican snowstorm (or so I heard) turned a seven-and-a-half hour drive into something closer to 10, but I arrived at the arena with a few minutes to spare. Emphasis on few. Honestly, though, the later arrival time probably worked out for the best, as walking down the ramp to the floor into an already-buzzing Pit offered a truly imposing first impression. When Deshawn Delaney led the home team down onto the floor (an odd leader, I agree), I couldn’t help but harken back to a John Feinstein observation after he visited there, when he likened the combatants to Roman gladiators, “emerging into a wall of sound.” The snow may have been falling outside and the opponent was a less-than-intimidating Wyoming team, but the combination of arena noise and the emerging-out-of-nowhere, sharply descending gateway to the floor, created an entrance fit for Spartacus.

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