Kyle Ringo of The Dagger writes that Kansas is rounding into form, and after Monday’s takedown of Iowa State despite 24 turnovers, it’s hard to deny that the Jayhawks are beginning to click. It feels like we’ve all seen this movie before: Kansas stumbles just enough in the early going for many among the media to ponder whether this will finally be the year that someone else takes the Big 12, only for Bill Self and company to knock some sense into all of us by MLK Day. We may be just two weeks into conference play, but the Jayhawks appear to be showing all the doubters why they continue to receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to predicting the Big 12′s pecking order.
Tying up one final loose end from Monday’s marquee battle, Sports Illustrated‘s Brian Hamilton contends that Iowa State needs to improve its shooting if it wants to stay in contention. Based on the Cyclones’ 31.4 percent performance from the floor, it’s reasonable to come to that conclusion, but it also makes sense to simply chalk up their bad shooting night to a sterling defensive effort on the part of the Jayhawks. It would be helpful if ISU could challenge more shots in the paint, but since it isn’t realistic to expect Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to sprout four inches overnight, Fred Hoiberg will have to rely on what he has it his disposal, which, as a reminder, isn’t so bad.
Yesterday, we talked about Kansas State needing to keep Cameron Clark from going off on Wednesday, and judging by Clark’s 1-of-9 evening at Bramlage Coliseum (and a 72-66 victory for the Wildcats), it’s safe to say that Bruce Weber’s team executed its game plan to perfection. The win was an important one for K-State, in need of a bounceback win over a fellow bubble team after the beating handed down by the Jayhawks on Saturday. Somewhat suddenly, the Wildcats find themselves at 3-1 in conference play with a pair of very winnable games (vs. West Virginia and at Texas) coming up next.
It may be hard to tell due to TCU‘s health problems, but the Horned Frogs are improving, according to the Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson. While season-ending injuries to Devonta Abron and Aaron Durleyhave kept TCU from reaching its potential, they aren’t of much solace to headcoach Trent Johnson. Still, there are silver linings in Amric Fields and Jarvis Ray’s development, and Kyan Anderson is an under-the-radar point guard. While no one expects them to beat Oklahoma State tonight, it will be interesting to see whether the Horned Frogs can make it somewhat competitive.
Lastly, Baylor‘s athletic department will host a rally tomorrow in support of both its nationally-ranked basketball teams. As part of the festivities, the general public is encouraged to bring new or gently-used coats to donate to local homeless shelters, and Whataburger will provide nourishment to students. Hey, anytime we can plug a charity effort while buzz-marketing a regional fast food chain, we have to do it.
The rapid maturation of Kansas center Joel Embiid was on display once again in the Jayhawks’ big win over Georgetown on Saturday. Embiid scored 17 points on just four shots, harassing the Hoyas into foul trouble throughout the game. Without injecting his draft stock into the conversation, it remains downright scary where Embiid could be come March if he continues to develop at the current rate.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford acknowledges how good his team already is, but like any coach in the country right now, he knows that there’s plenty of room for improvement. The Cowboys have continued to roll along and still figure to contend for the Big 12 crown, but unlike Kansas, Iowa State and even Baylor, Oklahoma State hasn’t grabbed many national headlines away from their home court. That’s not always a bad thing, though, as pressure to perform can derail a lot of teams.
West Virginia has had plenty of chances to make a positive statement this season, but while they were never expected to live in the upper echelon of the Big 12, their season so far has been a complete dud. Sunday’s home loss to Purdue just put the Mountaineers under more pressure to overachieve once conference play gears up, and Bob Huggins won’t argue that his team still has plenty of work to do.
A concerted effort to be more aggressive on the glass has been big for Kansas State after a rough start to their season, and it paid dividends once again in the Wildcats’ big weekend win over Gonzaga. Bruce Weber’s team collected at least 71 percent of available defensive rebounds for the third straight time on Saturday, and with a limited scoring arsenal at their disposal, preventing second-chance buckets will be one of the keys if the Wildcats are to win an uphill battle towards an at-large bid.
TCU point guard Kyan Anderson was crucial as he helped dig his team out of a double-figure deficit against Tulsa over the weekend. Oddly, of the Horned Frogs’ seven wins against D-I opponents this season, two of them have come over the Golden Hurricane, which plays in a different conference. TCU is unlikely to find many Tulsas lying around the Big 12 this season, however, so it’s a good thing they were able to get those two wins.
Where We Left Off:TCU’s first season in the Big 12 changed no one’s mind that the reason the Horned Frogs were the newest members of the Big 12 started with football and ended with the fact the school sits in the middle of the Dallas Metroplex. They never made much noise in the Mountain West, making a few NIT appearances in the 90s while still looking for their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1987. Most people predicted a steep learning curve after joining the Big 12, and most people would be correct. There was one bright spot last season, however, as the Horned Frogs stunned the college basketball world when they knocked off Kansas 62-55 at home on February 6. It was one of two conference victories for the Horned Frogs last season, and they finished a game behind Texas Tech for last place.
Trent Johnson Continues His Rebuilding Effort at TCU This Season. (AP)
Positives: Four-star recruit and freshman Karviar Shepherd was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA in early July, which appeared to end all hopes for a successful season for the Horned Frogs. Surprisingly, though, Shepherd won his appeal a few weeks later and was cleared to play this season. The 6’10”, 225-pound center had an impressive offer sheet coming out of high school that included Kansas, Marquette, Oklahoma State, Texas and UCLA. The Dallas native’s decision to stay home and play in Fort Worth gave instant credibility to head coach Trent Johnson‘s program, and could potentially lead to more highly sought-after Dallas recruits down the line. Joining Shepherd will be last year’s leading scorer Kyan Anderson, who averaged 12 points per game and was on the Bob Cousy Award watch list last season, recognized as one of the best point guards in the country. The duo should lead the Horned Frogs to a few more wins in the Big 12 this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Nate Kotisso is aBig 12 writer for Rush The Court. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.
We’re taking a look back on a team-by-team basis at the 2012-13 season. Next up: TCU.
Final Record: 11-21 (2-16)
The Expectations: What a confusing offseason it must have been for fans of TCU basketball. Granted, hoops on campus may not have had much of a fan base to begin with but the changes were intriguing. In 2011-12, the Horned Frogs enjoyed their first season above the .500 mark (18-15) since winning 21 games in 2004-05. They finished fifth in a Mountain West that sent the four teams in front of them to the NCAA Tournament. They also had the MW Freshman (Kyan Anderson) and Sixth Man of the Year (Amric Fields) coming back to school. This was easily looking like Jim Christian’s best year but sensing his time there was nearing due to his poorly performing teams before, he took the Ohio job when it was vacated by John Groce. TCU was of course entering its first year as a member of the Big 12 conference which, competition-wise, would be a step up from teams in the Mountain West. Trent Johnson, who pretty much did his best Jim Christian impression, left LSU to take the TCU job. Johnson has had experience coaching and succeeding at a private schools like TCU (see Stanford) but after losing standouts Hank Thorns Jr. and J.R. Cadot to graduation, 2012-13 was all about starting from scratch.
Trent Johnson couldn’t tear himself away from the color purple. (TCU360.com)
The Actual Result: TCU won its season opener against a Cal Poly team that would steal a win at UCLA just two weeks later. After taking care of Centenary, the Horned Frogs dropped their first game of the season to Larry Brown and crosstown rival SMU. One clear problem facing the team was scoring the basketball. They lost back-to-back games to Houston and Tulsa, posting 48 and 49 points, respectively. There was also the Northwestern game where TCU lost by 24 points and only managed to put only 31 on the board. Despite this, they finished off the non-conference portion of their schedule with three straight wins to enter conference play at 9-4.
Conference play felt like one nightmare after another. In those 16 losses, TCU’s average margin of defeat was 17.9 points per game but they did have their moment in the sun. The first came against Kansas on February 6. The Jayhawks’ confidence was shaken a bit. They had been able to get by Texas and West Virginia on the road in games that were closer than they should have been, but had gotten some comeuppance after Markel Brown and Oklahoma State marched into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and left with an 85-80 win. On that Wednesday night in the Metroplex, though, Kansas started slowly and allowed TCU to control the game wire-to-wire in what I consider to be the biggest upset in the Big 12 era (dating back to 1996). It was anything but a sparkling performance for the Horned Frogs. TCU shot better as a team than KU but it made the same number of field goal attempts (18) as the Jayhawks, missed 16 free throws and lost the battle of the boards by 10. It also marked the first and likely final time the Topeka YMCA will get name-checked by Bill Self at a press conference. That will be the safest bet in the history of safe bets.
We don’t have many of these rankings left this season, but the Big 12 isn’t getting any easier to decipher as we inch closer to March (less than four weeks until Selection Sunday). The Big 12 still has a good chance to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but Baylor and Iowa State don’t have much margin for error the last three weeks of the regular season. The Cyclones are a consensus #10 seed and the Bears are an #11 seed on the latest Bracket Matrix mock bracket. The top of the conference is more of a mess, though. Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Kansas State are 9-3 but it doesn’t mean there isn’t distinctness with each record. For instance, Kansas State is 1-2 against the other first place teams while Kansas is 2-1. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, is 1-1 but plays host to the Kansas schools in the coming weeks. They are also fortunate in that two of their final three road games are against West Virginia and TCU. And that’s why the Cowboys are #1 this week.
Back On Top: Marcus Smart Is Playing As Well As Anyone In The Big 12. (AP)
1) Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week: W 91-67 at Texas Tech, W (OT) 84-79 vs Oklahoma
This Week: Wednesday vs Kansas, 8:00 PM, Saturday at West Virginia, 1:00 PM
Rundown: After struggling around the turn of the year and dropping three out of four, the Cowboys began playing like their talent suggests and are winners of eight of their last nine games. They have an opportunity on Wednesday to become the first Big 12 team to sweep Bill Self in a season as the Jayhawks come into Gallagher-IBA Arena, where the Cowboys have won two out of three against the Jayhawks dating back to 2007-08.
Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Marcus Smart: Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five steals in the upset over Kansas on Feb. 2. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and five steals against Texas a week later, and on Saturday against Oklahoma, Smart finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the overtime victory.
2) Kansas (21-4. 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week: W 83-62 vs Kansas State, W 73-47 vs Texas
This Week: Wednesday at Oklahoma State, 8:00 PM, Saturday vs TCU, 3:00 PM
Rundown: It doesn’t really matter that top-10 teams have been consistently falling the last few weeks, but it can give Kansas fans a small sense of relief knowing that every perceived top team in the country has its flaws as well as the Jayhawks, who rebounded nicely last Monday with a 21-point win over Kansas State when they desperately needed a 21-point win. Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma State could decide the Big 12 championship.
Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Ben McLemore: McLemore had 30 points against Kansas State on 9-13 shooting, a cool 69.2%. In seven of his last ten games he shot over 50% from the floor. But he can still do more, attempting 10 or less shots in six of those games. Shoot the ball, Ben.
3) Kansas State (20-5, 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week: L 83-62 at Kansas, W 81-61 vs Baylor
This Week: Tonight vs West Virginia, 8:00 PM, Saturday at Texas, 7:00 PM
Rundown: Monday’s loss at Kansas hurt, but it wasn’t all that unexpected. If they can take care of Baylor on the road on March 2, there’s still a chance the Wildcats could be 14-3 heading into the final regular season game at Oklahoma State on March 9. The remaining schedule sets up that well for K-State, with their next five games against the bottom five teams in the conference.
Player Stepping Up: Sophomore G Angel Rodriguez: He has a 2.5:1 Assist to Turnover Ratio on the season and is averaging an efficient 19.6 PPG his last three games. In that stretch, he is 46.3% from the floor and 41.6% from three-point range.
It’s not too early to call tonight’s game between Kansas and Kansas State the Game Of The Year in the Big 12. Not with first place on the line and a chance for K-State to put the Jayhawks two games back with only seven games remaining. As for our rankings, there was a big shakeup this week with teams #1-#6, as each squad in that group either moved up or down from last week’s list. Most notable was the ascent of the Wildcats, who take the top spot for the first time this season. I decided to hold off on the Bracket Matrix Projected NCAA Tournament Seeds this week because it hasn’t been updated since Saturday’s games.
Rodney McGruder Needs A Big Game Tonight Against Kansas In Allen Fieldhouse (AP)
1) Kansas State (19-4, 8-2 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week: W 68-59 at Texas Tech, W 79-70 vs. Iowa State
This Week: Tonight at Kansas, 8:00 PM CST, Saturday vs. Baylor, 6:00 PM
Rundown: They earned the split with Iowa State with a 79-70 win over the Cyclones on Saturday and have now won four in a row and 12 of their last 14. Rodney McGruder carried K-State with 22 points and five assists against Iowa State on Saturday and averaged 20 points per game this week. If he continues on that pace coupled with Kansas’ recent struggles, a road-team split with the Jayhawks isn’t out of the question.
Reason to be optimistic: They’re playing solid defense as of late, holding three of their last four opponents under 60 points, and any concerns with Frank Martin’s players not buying into Bruce Weber’s system are long gone at this point. Not only has McGruder stepped up offensively, but sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez averaged 16.5 PPG last week as well.
2) Oklahoma State (17-5, 7-3)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week: W 69-67 (OT) vs. Baylor, W 72-59 at Texas
This Week: Wednesday at Texas Tech, 6:00 PM, Saturday vs. Oklahoma, 12:30 PM
Rundown: The Cowboys have been a little unlucky in that their two biggest wins — vs. North Carolina State in November and at Kansas last week — were quickly watered down. North Carolina State, then #6 in the country, lost two games later to Michigan. Kansas dropped two more games in a row, including to dreadful TCU, after losing to OSU. Even so, the Cowboys have won six out of seven games thanks to junior guard Markel Brown, who has averaged 16.7 PPG in that stretch.
Reason to be optimistic: Oklahoma State has more NBA talent than any other team in the Big 12. Coupled with the confidence they undoubtedly have gained with their recent wins against Iowa State, Kansas, and Baylor, the Cowboys could be quite dangerous in March.
After things slowed down around the holidays, the schedule picked up this week and we found out a lot about the teams in the Big 12. Kansas is beatable but resilient after rallying to take care of Temple in Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas State’s upset of Florida last month is starting to look less like a fluke. Oklahoma State’s upset of North Carolina State in November is, however, beginning to look like a fluke. Baylor showed it has the talent to compete for a top spot in the standings, while Texas still looks lost without Myck Kabongo. And oh yeah, TCU is as bad we thought.
Don’t Look Now, But Bruce Weber Has Kansas State Challenging For Second Place in the Big 12 (AP Photo/M. Conroy)
1) Kansas (12-1, 0-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week: W 69-62 vs. Temple
This Week: Wednesday vs Iowa State, 6:00 PM CST, Saturday at Texas Tech, 3:00 PM
Rundown: Every year, Kansas seems to have one close call at home in the non-conference season. Saturday was no different as Temple took the lead late in the second half before the Jayhawks rallied to win, 69-62.
Player Stepping Up: Senior G Travis Releford: Releford is the best perimeter defender on the roster and has been great offensively lately, shooting over 80% from the field and averaging 13.7 points per game in the last four games.
2) Kansas State (12-2, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week: W 70-50 vs. South Dakota, W 73-67 vs. Oklahoma State
This Week: Saturday at West Virginia, 12:30 PM
Rundown: It is still to early to make any bold statements, but Saturday’s win over Oklahoma State brought the Wildcats into the discussion for second best team in the Big 12.
Player Stepping Up: Senior G Rodney McGruder: He leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game and had 28 points in the big win over OSU over the weekend.
Each day for the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. First up, Danny Spewak (@dspewak) breaks down the league’s newbie: TCU. The Horned Frogs were not a unanimous choice among the Big 12 microsite writers to finish last in the conference, but we’re guessing we still won’t find much argument with this selection.
2011-12 record: 18-15 overall, 7-7 Mountain West
Key Contributors Lost: G Hank Thorns, G J.R. Cadot, F Craig Williams
Head Coach: Trent Johnson, 1st season
Projected Finish: 10th
Trent Johnson Takes on the Biggest Reclamation Project of His Career
Trent Johnson has problems. The team he inherits in Fort Worth finished in the lower third of Division I basketball in almost every defensive statistical category in 2011-12. He has no proven scorers, no proven shooters and only a handful of experienced upperclassmen. It will not be an easy season for the TCU Horned Frogs, but that has nothing to do with the change in conference affiliation or the mystical power of the Big 12. This squad played in a league with four NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, and it knocked off three of those teams — Colorado State, New Mexico and UNLV — on its home floor. The Horned Frogs won on a neutral floor against Virginia in November, defeated Texas Tech at home (hey, it’s a Big 12 school at least), and played a total of five power conference teams before entering Mountain West play. And remember, that league actually finished above the ACC in conference RPI rankings and sat just two slots below the Big 12. The sudden move to the Big 12 will not cause a mass panic among TCU’s players. They’ve seen good players and good teams before. They’ve played at The Pit and in front of hostile crowds. The problem is not the Big 12 — the problem is simply Trent Johnson’s lack of overall play-makers and proven leaders. He made a splash earlier this month by outbidding Bill Self, Scott Drew and Rick Barnes for Class of 2013 prep center Karviar Shepherd, but that’s the future. Before Johnson can channel the success he enjoyed at Nevada, Stanford and during the early part of his tenure at LSU, he’ll need to build this program very slowly.
In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — an update on TCU.
TCU Horned Frogs
2011-12 record: 18-15 overall 7-7 Mountain West
All summer long, TCU has heard the same party line from the rest of the Big 12: You can’t compete in this conference. Not after losing your top two scorers. Not with little to no basketball tradition and a 7,000 seat arena still in the preliminary stages of a much-needed renovation. Trent Johnson faces a difficult task in his first season with the Horned Frogs, but amidst all the criticism and condescending tones from fellow Big 12 contingents, he has nothing to lose in 2012-13. The roster looks bleak, sure. But before Johnson faded a bit into obscurity at middling LSU, he had built a reputation as a terrific basketball coach at Nevada and Stanford. After some initial success in Baton Rouge, he immediately went into rebuilding mode and never quite recovered. So it’s easy to forget he coached Robin and Brook Lopez at Stanford, and it’s easy to forget he reached the Sweet Sixteen at Nevada and recruited standout Nick Fazekas. This man can coach, and he’ll spend the summer tyring to prove that to his new team.
This Arena Needs a Renovation To Compete in the Big 12
Summer Orientation: So Hank Thorns and J.R. Cadot are gone after starting every game in the backcourt a year ago and leading the team in scoring by a wide margin. Big deal. Seriously, though. It is. Johnson will need overall development from his cast of returning players (more on them later), but he’ll also rely a little heavier on his newcomers. Clyde Smith and Charles Hill, a pair of 6’2’’ freshmen guards, will slide right into the roster in the backcourt. Smith, more of a scorer than a distributor, can shoot the heck out of the ball from mid-range and beyond the arc. Hill is more of a defensive stopper, the kind of clichéd, high-IQ player with an ability to play both guard spots down the road. Aaron Durley, a late signee by Johnson, certainly looks the part of a Big 12 center at 6’10’’. He originally committed to Marquette, but as a Texas native, he wanted to stay closer to home. If you watch the Little League World Series – and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t? — you may remember Durley from 2005 when his fellow Little Leaguers marveled at his size. This guy’s so famous already, he has an extremely detailed Wikipedia page. Luckily for TCU fans, Durley chose to pursue basketball instead. He’s known for his jump hook, and that should work well in combination with his height against Big 12 competition. He’s not a dominant rebounder and needs to add weight, but he can run the floor very well and is said to have great hands.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
A week ago, we were all but ready to hand New Mexico the regular season title and the #1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Two road losses later, the Lobos have given back their two-game lead and with two conference games remaining on everybody’s schedule, we have five teams within two games of the first place. But, primarily, we are back to where we were after the first run through the conference: three teams (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tied atop the conference standings, each looking like a good team, but none looking great.
Still, despite the tumult at the top of the conference, all three of those teams look like absolute locks to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament (and pretty good seeds at that). UNLV leads the way with an RPI of 11, while SDSU and UNM are among a bunch of MW teams with RPIs in the late 20s or early 30s. The big question in the conference revolves around the third of those teams, Colorado State, which sits ahead of the other two with an RPI of 27 (SDSU is at 28, UNM at 34).
However, a closer look at the Rams find them sitting squarely on the bubble. They have a couple really good wins over SDSU and UNM, but those two games are the entirety of their positives. Beyond that they have some middling wins over RPI 51-100 teams and an unfortunate last second loss to Boise State (RPI 166) dragging them down. However, compare them to say, BYU, South Florida, Washington, or Arizona – all teams with whom the Rams are ostensibly competing for a spot, and CSU’s got a slightly better set of numbers going for them. See below, where we compare CSU to other bubble teams in record, RPI, strength of schedule, and record against various subsets of the RPI (with the best numbers in each column in bold). In RPI and SOS, the Rams have clearly better numbers than anybody else on this list, while their record against top-50 RPI teams is behind only Dayton and Saint Joseph’s here.
vs. RPI 1-25
vs. RPI 1-50
vs. RPI +100
As for TCU, the team that is almost the hottest team in the conference, having won four of five including wins over Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico, with only a last-second loss to Boise State as a recent blemish … they’re a good story, but even with four wins against top-50 RPI teams, they need to win the Mountain West Tournament to have a chance to go dancing.
Team of the Week
TCU – As mentioned above, the Horned Frogs are 4-1 in their last five games, with only a heartbreaking last-second loss to Boise State a week ago as a strike against them. This week, Jim Christian’s club went to Colorado Springs and, using an Amric Fields three-pointer with 18 seconds left, knocked off Air Force at Clune Arena. They followed that up by welcoming New Mexico into Fort Worth on Saturday and outfighting and outshooting the Lobos. Six different Frogs hit three-pointers, J.R. Cadot outworked Drew Gordon on the offensive glass and Hank Thorns dished out nine assists as TCU battled New Mexico to a draw on the boards and outgunned them from the field (they had a true shooting percentage of 63.1%). As a result, TCU sits just a game back of the three leaders in the conference and with a visit from SDSU scheduled for Saturday, they have a fighting chance of moving up the leaderboard even further.
Player of the Week
Jamaal Franklin, Sophomore, San Diego State – With apologies to TCU’s J.R. Cadot (15.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG), we are going to reward Franklin for his transcendent game while willing his Aztecs over CSU on Saturday night. In that game, Franklin went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds (the latter a new career high, the former tying a career high) and scored 13 of his team’s last 16 points, including going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line after the final media timeout. Coupled with a solid game earlier in the week when coming back from an ankle injury against Wyoming, Franklin, who averaged 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, earned the honor.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
We have suspected since late November or so that the bottom half of this conference was pretty darn good, but we still figured that when push came to shove it would be UNLV, San Diego State, and New Mexico mostly dominating the other five teams in the league. And yet, last Saturday we saw the Aztecs fall to an undersized Colorado State club, while this week it was UNLV’s turn, as they lost a tough roadie at Wyoming on Saturday night. Along the way, both SDSU and UNLV have had other struggles with Air Force and Boise State, two teams who are a combined 1-13 in the Mountain West.
The lone team in the conference that has been taking care of business on a regular basis lately has been New Mexico, winning its last four games by an average of more than 26 points. The only problem there, however, is the Lobos were uncompetitive at UNLV and folded in the second half of a home game with SDSU. So, for now, it appears that New Mexico is playing the best ball in the conference, but they will need to prove themselves against the Aztecs and the Rebels next week before we can really take them seriously.
Saturday’s slate in the Mountain West represented the halfway mark in the conference season. San Diego State sits atop the conference with a 6-1 record, with New Mexico and UNLV a game back and Wyoming and Colorado State, two teams who are at least in the NCAA at-large discussion, a game back from there.
Looking forward to some of the postseason awards, it looks like UNLV’s Mike Moser (14.5 PPG/11.5 RPG), who leads the conference in rebounding and is fourth in scoring, is the favorite for the Mountain West’s Player of the Year honor, with San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin (16.0 PPG/7.2 RPG) and Chase Tapley (15.9 PPG/4.2 RPG/2.1 SPG) perhaps the only other names in the mix right now.
Mike Moser Is The Leader At The Turn For Mountain West Player of the Year (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
For Coach of the Year, there are several names that deserve to be considered. SDSU’s Steve Fisher may be the favorite at this point, rebuilding a team on the fly after losing four of five starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team, but he’s just one of many MW coaches who are excelling this year. UNLV’s Dave Rice took over in Vegas when Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma, and he not only didn’t skip a beat, he seems to be on the verge of turning the Rebels back into a consistent national power again. At Wyoming, new head coach Larry Shyatt has completely turned around the culture in Laramie, taking a team that was a 10-21 disaster last year and building a hard-nosed consistent bunch out of largely the same cast of characters. Meanwhile, Tim Miles has taken a completely undermanned Ram team with no player over 6’6” earning significant playing time and put them in good position to possible earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Heck, even Jim Christian at TCU is working wonders. Last year the Horned Frogs lost 14 of their last 15 games; this year they’ve got pretty much the same crew and they’re now 13-9 with a chance of a better than .500 record (although their remaining schedule is brutal). While Fisher is the odds-on favorite to take down the honor, all of those coaches are doing great jobs.
The Freshman of the Year award is a bit more muddled. Early on, it looked like Boise State’s Anthony Drmic would run away with it, but he hit a wall midseason and has struggled lately; he shot a 57.7 eFG% in the non-conference slate, but is now hitting just 36.5% in conference play. New Mexico’s Hugh Greenwood has made a big splash in Albuquerque after taking over the point guard duties early in the season, but his effectiveness has taken a hit since an ankle injury in early January, and he’s not yet back to the same player. Boise’s Derrick Marks is averaging 9.0 points per game and has come on strong of late, but he is still a fairly up-and-down player. Then there’s TCU’s Kyan Anderson, who went for 22 points against SDSU this weekend and who figures to be an impact player for the Frogs in the future, but whose overall numbers this season don’t really merit FOTY consideration. If you expand the definition out to Newcomer of the Year, there are all sorts of good options (Leonard Washington at Wyoming, Xavier Thames at San Diego State, and, the clear cut winner, Moser), but halfway through conference play, the FOTY award is still very much up for grabs.
Team of the Week
New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, the Lobos take home the honors here on the strength of a 2-0 record over lesser Mountain West teams; the twist this week was that they scored both of those wins on the road. UNM started the week by scoring a 39-point win at Air Force in which they dominated almost every aspect of the game, then they wrapped it up with a 16-point win at Boise State. The theme for the week was balance, with six different players scoring in double figures this week, but particular highlights included Hugh Greenwood’s 10-point, 10-rebound double-double against Boise State and Demetrius Walker’s 11-point, eight-rebound outing against Air Force.
Player and Newcomer of the Week
Leonard Washington, Jr, Wyoming – For the second time in three weeks, Washington earns our POTW. His best game of the week came in a disappointing loss at TCU, but Washington was excellent there, hitting 8-10 field goal attempts, including a three-pointer, for a 21-point, six rebound outing. He backed that up by fighting Mike Moser to a draw in the Cowboys’ Saturday-night upset of UNLV, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven boards while setting a general tone of confidence throughout the game.
Leonard Washington & His Teammates Gave Wyoming Fans Plenty To Cheer About (Andrew Carpenean/AP)
Game of the Week
Wyoming 68, UNLV 66 – Of all the great games around the country on Saturday, this one was my personal favorite, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout the second half. The Cowboys led by as much as eight in the first half, before squandering it, rebuilding it, and squandering it again. But the effort from Wyoming never waned, as they fought off a tough UNLV team. The Rebels time and again tried to out-physical the Cowboys, with Oscar Bellfield in particular hounding point guard JayDee Luster all over the court. But they kept on fighting, diving after loose balls, hustling through and around screens and working on the glass. In the end, it was a complete team effort for the Cowboys, as four of the five starters scored between 14 and 16 points, with each contributing excellent defensive effort. In the end, the home crowd was rewarded with a big upset victory, leading to perhaps the slowest RTC in the history of RTCs. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
Coming into the week, three Mountain West teams appeared in the RTC Top 25, but it was New Mexico, who was ranked #25, that had the biggest chance to make a splash, getting a crack at the other two teams: San Diego State at home and UNLV on the road. Following an 0-2 week, however, there are more questions than answers in Albuquerque, as the once impressive Lobo defense took a huge step back, allowing 1.25 points per possession in their two games this week.
In the wake of UNM’s failures, for the time being, it is a two-team race at the top, with San Diego State holding a slim edge on UNLV based on their home win over the Rebels in the conference opener. But, with both teams firmly in the top 25, the Aztecs and the Rebels look like sure bets to go dancing come March.
Back of the lead pack, we have Wyoming and Colorado State each sitting at 2-1 after the Cowboys handing the Rams their first conference loss in their first conference road game. Air Force and TCU each sit at 1-2, while Boise State has settled into the role of basement dweller.
Team of the Week
San Diego State – In order for one team to separate itself from the pack atop the conference, contenders for the conference title needed to be able to defend their home court and steal a win on the road against the other contenders. So far, Steve Fisher and the Aztecs are off to a great start. Not only did they open the conference season with a home win over UNLV and follow that up this Saturday with a workmanlike win over Air Force, they bisected those wins with an impressive road win at New Mexico, an outcome that not only served to improve the Aztecs to 3-0, but to kick the Lobos down a notch. Enough cannot be said about the job that Fisher has done with not only this program, but this specific team.
After losing the bulk of last year’s record-setting team, this year’s Aztecs haven’t slowed down, as junior guard Chase Tapley has taken the leap from role player to lead guard, Jamaal Franklin has emerged as a star in the making after playing a bit part last year and Xavier Thames came back from his transfer year in exile to prove his tremendous abilities. Throw in gritty contributions from guys like Tim Shelton (he of the five knee surgeries), DeShawn Stephens (playing just his third season of organized basketball), Garrett Green (a graduate transfer from LSU) and James Rahon (who struggled early with a lingering ankle injury and is just now hitting with consistency), and Fisher’s got a good thing going down on Montezuma Mesa.
Player and Newcomer of the Week
Leonard Washington Was A One-Man Wrecking Crew On The Glass For Wyoming This Week (photo credit: Andy Carpenean/WyoSports)
Leonard Washington, Jr., Wyoming – With apologies to UNLV’s Anthony Marshall, who also just killed it this week, we’ve got to give this one to Washington, who was a one-man wrecking crew for the Cowboys last weekend. Things started out innocently enough on Wednesday night, when Washington had 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals in a road win at Air Force, but digging a little bit deeper into those numbers showed a sign of things to come, as Washington alone grabbed 46.4% of all the potential Cowboy defensive rebounds. Saturday night against an undersized Colorado State team, Washington upped that number to 55.9% and added a personal 22.3% offensive rebound percentage – a number some entire teams in the league would consider a fine effort. Washington wound up with 32 points and 14 rebounds (both career highs) in a performance dominant enough to allow us to completely forget about the two banked-in threes near the end of the Cowboys’ 19-point win.