CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

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

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 5th, 2013

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

Conference Round-Up

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.

Reader’s Take

 

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)

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.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.

Player of the Week

Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian, Fresno Bee)

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)

Newcomer of the Week

Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

One week of conference play is in the books and, yeah, we pretty much got confirmation that this season is going to be just about as interesting as we expected it to be. A couple of overtime games, a buzzer-beater and top 25-caliber match-ups filled the schedule with only a few snoozers (not coincidentally, all featuring at least one of the new conference teams) mixed in for variety. There were amazing plays that had the entire college basketball world buzzing, there were headscratching performances, and there were exhilarating games. And, we’ve still got eight full weeks of conference play remaining.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – Beating out its more celebrated brethren San Diego State and New Mexico, the Broncos take the honor this week on the strength of the best road win in the conference this week, a buzzer-beating win over previously undefeated Wyoming on Wednesday night. Playing without four players who were suspended prior to the game, the Broncos fought, scraped and clawed, coming back from a 10-point second-half deficit to build up a seven-point lead with under three minutes to play, only to see that lead disappear again with just eight seconds left on the clock. And then, arguably the hottest player in the nation, Jeff Elorriaga, drilled a three-pointer from the left corner as time expired (his second three in the final 30 seconds, sixth on the night and 30th in his last 50 attempts over five games) to end Wyoming’s unbeaten streak and propel BSU to a thrilling opening night win.

Player of the Week

Mike Fitzgerald, Senior, Air Force – Apologies to Alex Kirk (21 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 61.5% eFG), but sometimes tough decisions need to be made. And, in spots like this, the tie goes to the senior, and certainly the underdog. Fitzgerald started the week strong for the Falcons, posting a career high 30 points (including 23 after the break) in helping the Academy come back from a three-point halftime deficit to earn a conference-opening win over Nevada. Saturday, while the outcome wasn’t quite as enjoyable for Falcons fans, Fitzgerald helped keep his team in it against UNLV for 45 minutes, adding another 22 points in an overtime loss. For the week, Fitzgerald made 14 of 20 shots from the field, including seven three-pointers (good for an 87.5% eFG) and hit 17-of-18 from the charity stripe while chipping in six rebounds per night.

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Big 12 M5: 12.28.12 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 28th, 2012

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  1. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com is back with his first Bracketology of the year. He predicts his field as if the season ended today, not based on how he thinks teams will do the rest of the season. The Big 12 has six teams in Palm’s field: Kansas (#1 seed), Oklahoma State (#6), Kansas State (#8), Baylor (#11) Oklahoma (#12) and Iowa State, a #12 seed playing in one of the four play-in games. As Palm notes, the Jayhawks are the only #1 seed remaining from his preseason bracket. Duke is the overall No. 1 seed.
  2. Bill Self turned 50 on Tuesday. Self is one of the best coaches in the country and is relatively young compared with what he has already accomplished. He will surpass 500 wins this season and is on pace to win his 900th game in about 15 years, according to Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd in this article yesterday. But Self shot down any talks of catching Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski someday. “I don’t think that I’ll want to coach near that long,” Self told Dodd. While it seems natural for a coach as successful as Self to stay on the sidelines for another two decades like Coach K, Jim Boeheim or Jim Calhoun, those instances of great coaches staying in the game well into their 60s and 70s are few and far between. If Kansas fans have Self patrolling the sideline for another decade, they should be ecstatic.
  3. The idea of playing four games simultaneously next season in Cowboy Stadium looks to be dead, the Detroit Free Press and Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com have reported. It was the original plan of Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis, the creator of the first aircraft carrier game last season. Being in Dallas, the Texas Longhorns seemed to be one of the eight teams who would participate, but there were just too many obstacles to overcome. It would have been a television nightmare (a television nightmare I would have watched, admittedly) and like college athletics have shown us recently, if it won’t work on TV, it probably won’t work at all.
  4. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated gave us his top five freshmen wings in a video segment last week, and Kansas guard Ben McLemore came in at No. 5. “Self has made clear,” Davis said. “That he (McLemore) is the one that needs to carry Kansas deep into March.” Davis is spot on. While Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, and Travis Releford provide senior leadership for the Jayhawks this season, it will be the play of McLemore that will determine if Kansas makes the Final Four. They might not make it deep into March with McLemore playing well, but they are certain to not advance if he plays poorly.
  5. Many people might have forgotten about former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy by now. He was fired in 2003 after a night partying in Columbia, Missouri, following a loss at Mizzou. He sat out a year, went to rehab, and landed at Southern Mississippi, where he took the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament last season. Now at Colorado State, he has guided the Rams to a 10-2 start while coming up on a decade of sobriety. It is hard to imagine the coach in both of the stories linked are the same man.
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Morning Five: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 14th, 2012

  1. As we have said before several times recently the Big East is on the verge of blowing up and now it looks like the only question is how it will be done. According to various unnamed sources, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova have agreed to leave the Big East and conducted a teleconference with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco yesterday morning to discuss the issue. At this point all that appears to be standing in the way is discussion over exit fees and what will probably be some legal wrangling by the schools in the Big East being left behind. The seven schools will be eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament if they form a new conference together. What happens next is anybody’s guess (other departing Big East schools could be able to bypass exit fees and the waiting period) and this move will probably trigger more poaching and what can best be described as a free-for-all.
  2. Louisville center Gorgui Dieng could return earlier than expected from his fractured scaphoid. According to Rick Pitino, Dieng will begin practicing on Sunday and could play as early as December 22 against Western Kentucky. We would not expect Dieng to be on the court much for that game, but should be back at full strength for their December 29 match-up against a disappointing Kentucky team that you know Pitino would love to blow out. While the Cardinals are still a top 10 team without Dieng, his presence on the interior should boost them to another level and into the discussion with Indiana and Duke as the top team in the country.
  3. It isn’t just players who get suspended. Sometimes it is the coach as was the case with Rutgers coach Mike Rice as he was suspended for 3 games without pay and fined $50,000 by the school for a violation of the athletic department’s conduct policy. According to the school the punishment is related to the use of inappropriate language. We have no idea what he could have said outside of a game that would have warranted such a penalty (cursing barely even registers compared to what some coaches say to officials and something sexist or racist would most likely result in calls for a coach’s resignation).
  4. If you had not already noticed from some of his recent quotes (and his team’s record), things are not going that well for Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik. Things have apparently gotten bad enough for Bzdelik that he and the producers of his weekly radio show have decided to stop taking live callers on the show. While the show’s producers are doing this under the guise of trying to eliminate long-winded callers and preaching, it is pretty clear that this would not happen if the team was a little more successful. If you want to hear how bad things have been on Bzdelik’s show, check out the YouTube clip from last week’s show (the particularly confrontational segments are highlighted in the uploader’s comments if you don’t want to sit through all 30 minutes).
  5. Andy Glockner had two interesting columns on a pair of coaches with very different public reputations. The first (by a minute) was on the evolution of Larry Eustachy, the Colorado State coach who is best known for his time at Iowa State (more specifically some pictures of him inebriated with coeds). For those of you who don’t remember the specific incident, Eustachy’s nadir was about as low as a coach can go without having criminal charges. After helping rebuild Southern Mississippi, Eustachy has walked into a Colorado State program that many feel is primed for a NCAA Tournament run, but has to deal with a change in coaching and personality. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mike Krzyzewski, who is as close to an active coaching deity as there is in any American sport at this time. When he broke Bob Knight’s record for Division I wins last November, plenty of writers penned columns asking which coach was the most likely to match him. The answer: nobody. Now with Krzyzewski approaching 1,000 wins (he could be very close at the end of next season), Glockner asks the question of which coach has the best chance of getting near Krzyzewski and the answer is not one of the young guns you might expect.
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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on November 27th, 2012

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

A Look Back

Mountain West teams have been involved in three high profile events thus far this season – the San Diego State/Syracuse aircraft carrier debacle, the New Mexico win at the Paradise Jam, and UNLV hosting Oregon, Cincinnati and Iowa State at the Global Sports Classic. In two of those three events, the MW team went home with a loss. So, here we are getting ready to head into December and the only two MW wins over teams in Ken Pomeroy’s present top 50 are UNLV’s win over Iowa State (#48) and UNM’s win over Connecticut (#49). Now, there are still some chances out there, but as of right now, there ain’t a whole lot of meat on the bones for the conference’s overall resume. I’m sure the same can be said at plenty of places around the country, but MW fans have sure got to be rooting for SDSU to take care of business against UCLA, and for teams like Boise State and Air Force to fare well against Creighton and Wichita State, respectively, this week as the meat of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge takes place.

Reader’s Take

Team of the Week

Colorado State – The Rams get the nod on the strength of a pair of decent road wins, at Denver and at Washington, followed up by a win last night back in the cozy confines of Moby Arena over Northern Colorado. None of those count as spectacular wins, but the impressive thing is that CSU seems to go about winning their games in a different, and possibly more sustainable fashion this year than they did last year. Last year it was a perimeter-oriented attack with guys like Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green using the majority of possessions, en route to a offense-first, defense-when-we-get-around-to-it style. This year, though the offense is still quite efficient, the defense is much improved. And the particulars are drastically different. For example, last year, in part due to the seventh-smallest lineup in the nation, the team eschewed rebounding and focused on working their way to a good first shot. This year, they’re third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and second in defensive rebounding percentage. Don’t expect those lofty rankings to hold – the competition will get better, especially come conference play – but it seems clear that Larry Eustachy is taking a much different approach to the Rams than the previous coach, Tim Miles, did. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but different. More down the page a bit. Read the rest of this entry »

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on November 6th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and a Pac-12 microsite writer. You can occasionally find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

Top Storylines

  • Major Mountain? No one is going to confuse the Mountain West with the ACC or the Big East, but fans of this conference are getting used to the fact that its best teams are regularly relevant on the national scene. In the past three years, while a conference like the Pac-12 has been fortunate to get a mere eight NCAA Tournament bids, the MW has earned 11, more than any other non-BCS league. Two seasons ago there were a pair of Sweet Sixteen performances and a national sensation in Jimmer Fredette, while this year suggests the chance at success approaching that magical year, with two teams – UNLV and San Diego State – ranked in the top 20 of the recently released USA Today preseason poll and a couple more teams in the “others receiving votes” category.
  • New, new, new. One of the reasons for the MW’s continued success has been the ability of the conference, and its member institutions, to roll with the rapid changes in the basketball landscape. That’s reflected this season in a pair of new teams in the league – Fresno State and Nevada climb aboard while TCU drops out – as well as a host of new impact players. Aside from four ESPN top 100 freshmen this season (including the #7 prospect, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett), the conference welcomes in a handful of Division I transfers, like Khem Birch (UNLV, via Pitt), James Johnson (SDSU, via Virginia), J.J. O’Brien (SDSU, via Utah), Dwayne Polee (SDSU, via St. John’s) and Colton Iverson (Colorado State, via Minnesota), who are expected to make big impacts this season.
  • More television exposure? Last year’s MW television schedule featured seven regular season games on the ESPN family of networks, and one game on CBS. Of course, 91 other regular season games were televised on other national cable networks of one kind or another. But, with the shuttering of The Mtn., the conference’s cable network, this year’s television schedule is quite different. As far as national exposure on the big boy channels, things aren’t going to change much, with six conference appearances on ESPN networks. To make matters worse, instead of having every regular season conference game televised, channels like CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network on the Time Warner Cable Sportsnet will pick and choose MW games. All told, just 53 games features MW conference teams are scheduled for television on a national cable network, with 21 of those headed to the TWC channel which currently sports limited distribution.

Reader’s Take I

 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. San Diego State (12-4)
  2. UNLV (11-5)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. Colorado State (9-7)
  5. Nevada (8-8)
  6. Air Force (6-10)
  7. Wyoming (6-10)
  8. Fresno State (5-11)
  9. Boise State (4-12)
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Three Coaches in New Positions Ready To Take Off Running

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 30th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Coaching changes are powerful developments. They can ignite struggling programs, send promising ones on a downward spiral, and have drastic implications (both good and bad) for the administrators who made them. Sometimes, a regime change preserves a middling trajectory established by the previous coach, in which case another switch is likely forthcoming. Otherwise, why hire a new coach in the first place? In any case, this offseason brought few radical coaching changes. That’s mostly because there weren’t many significant changes to be made – Illinois, Kansas State, LSU and South Carolina headlined the list. The average college basketball fan will find little intrigue in that selection. It doesn’t exactly project “excitement” or “allure.” Even so, the hires made are no doubt transformative endeavors for the programs that occasioned them. They wanted a change of direction, found a coach who shared that vision, matched vacancy with proscribed fit – and voila! Some of these new faces in new places will have a better chance of succeeding right away, and thus validating their new position. Missouri’s Frank Haith, one of the most widely criticized hires in years, personified the seamless transition. He made it work from the moment he arrived in Columbia. The next question is who has the best chance to do that this season. Trying to decipher which coaches can succeed right away requires keen insight, situational knowledge and a bit of guesswork. Because most changes are made to improve the previous coach’s way of running things, most new guys don’t inherit the best situations. Instead, they are hired to improve from the flaws of the previous regime. Anyway, in the interest of sparing you from a more drawn-out coaching hire lecture, here are three coaches poised to thrive in their new stomping grounds.

Ohio: Jim Christian
Previous job: TCU
Replacing: John Groce
 

The Bobcats are set to continue their recent success under Christian, who has plenty of experience in the MAC (photo credit: US Presswire).

Over the past half decade and change, we’ve come to know Ohio as the sporadic NCAA Tournament outfit you absolutely dread seeing your favorite team matched up with in a first-round setting. In 2010, they took down three-seed Georgetown. Last season, the Bobcats raised their Giant Killer profile to a whole new level, beating four-seed Michigan and 12-seed South Florida before dropping an overtime decision in the Sweet Sixteen to one-seed North Carolina. That’s the kind of run that puts your program on the map,  and puts your coach squarely on the wish list of hiring programs across the country. It granted John Groce a move up the conference coaching ladder, into the rugged Big Ten, where he’ll attempt to use his up-tempo offense and Chicago recruiting ties to pump some life into a downward-trending Illinois. Losing Groce hurts, but his replacement is no less capable of continuing the Bobcats’ recent Tournament success. On its face, the hiring of Jim Christian is nothing to get excited about. A ho-hum four-year tenure at TCU preceded his newest position, where he compiled a 38-58 record and failed to generate the type of fundamental culture shift required to lift the Horned Frogs out of their current state. As credentials go, his tenure in Fort Worth hardly inspires confidence. But if you look beyond his recent history in the Mountain West, and delve into the breadth of his college hoops coaching career, the move to bring in Christian makes absolute sense.

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RTC Summer School: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Mountain West.

Drew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. You can also find his musings on Twitter @amurawa.

Three Summer Storylines

  • Tectonic Movement Continues. For the second straight year, the landscape of the MW shifts. Last year it was BYU and Utah heading off to greener pastures with Boise State landing in their place. This year TCU is on its way out the door with Fresno State and Nevada on their way in. And next year Boise State and San Diego State will depart with San Jose State and Utah State coming in. All in all, this will still be a good basketball conference even after all these moving parts settle, but the loss of a rapidly improving Aztec program will be tough for MW fans to take. TCU and Boise State certainly aren’t major losses on the basketball side, but the strength of their football programs could have provided stability for the conference and the potential for improved programs on the hardwood. Between the four newcomers, each of Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State have had good runs over the course of a handful of years, but they’ll all need to prove their ability to compete with more established programs like UNLV and New Mexico, while SJSU figures to step directly into the basement of the conference.

  • The Mtn. Crumbles. On May 31, The Mtn., the Mountain West’s television network, went dark, ceasing all operations after six years. Now, say what you will about the network, a channel that eschewed HD programming, struggled with distribution and had issues with their on-air talent, but the shuttering of its doors leaves some questions for MW hoops fans. In the era of The Mtn., if you wanted to follow MW hoops, it was easy to do so. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how much exposure teams from this conference will get during the year. Sure, the MW still has deals in place to get games shown on NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but what about that Air Force/Boise State game on some random February Wednesday? Should you want to watch that game and you’re not in Idaho or Colorado, odds are pretty good you’re going to be out of luck.
  • Continued Success? For all the uncertainty about the membership of the conference, the last three years have been something of the golden age of Mountain West basketball. In the past three seasons, the MW has received 11 NCAA Tournament berths. Two years ago there were dual Sweet Sixteen appearances by BYU and SDSU. We’ve had Jimmer and Kawhi grab national headlines, while other guys like Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, Billy White and Drew Gordon, D.J. Gay and Hank Thorns, Andy Ogide and Malcolm Thomas have kept us all entertained. But, even with all of those players now gone, there is still plenty to be excited about in the conference. San Diego State and UNLV lead the way again, with both expected to start the season in the preseason Top 25. New Mexico and Colorado State, who joined the Aztecs and Rebels in the Big Dance last year, both should be in the hunt for another tourney bid, while Nevada could be a sleeper in its first season in the conference. And, as always, we could be in for another surprise or two.

Reader’s Take #1

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Morning Five: 04.12.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 12th, 2012

  1. Last night the college basketball world was hijacked by announcements from Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel about where they would he headed next season. The news from Muhammad’s camp leaked before he could announce that he was headed to UCLA while the news out of the Noel camp was a little bit of misdirection as initial reports suggested he was headed to Georgetown when in fact he was headed to Kentucky. While the decision by Noel may help decide next year’s national championship, Muhammad’s arrival in Westwood could help save Ben Howland’s job as he should make the Bruins one of the best teams out west the moment he steps foot on campus. Of course, if they are not…
  2. Let’s give it up for Gary Parrish, a voice of supreme reason. When Muhammad announced for UCLA last night, many college basketball fans around the country had trouble understanding why a top prospect would choose a program coming off a rough season where fan support is lukewarm at best rather than one of the more rabidly supported programs located in Lexington or Durham. But, as Parrish notes (and notwithstanding that two of the top 10 or so players in the NBA are Howland guys), the answer at least partially lies in the powerful influence that the major shoe companies have on elite prospects behind the scenes. Muhammad is an adidas guy and UCLA is an adidas program. But before anyone starts singing sour notes about this obvious example of subtle coercion, Parrish notes that it happens every single year with a number of top prospects. There’s perhaps no greater an example than NPOY and Final Four MOP Anthony Davis — a Nike kid who ended up at a Nike school just one recruiting season ago. If Parrish is reading this, we’d love to see a list of these ‘coincidences,’ from say, the last decade or so.
  3. We wrote Tuesday that Baylor had successfully played a compelling game of risk/reward in building its men’s basketball program to an elite level. The assumption underlying that thesis was that the NCAA would accept Baylor’s self-imposed penalties for exceeding mandated limits on phone calls and text messages to recruits from 2007-10 — the standard “probation” of recruiting restrictions as to time/place, loss of scholarships, etc. Sure enough, the NCAA did just that on Wednesday, accepting Baylor’s penalties and tacitly agreeing with our contention that the ends (recruiting enough studs to achieve two Elite Eights in three seasons) more than justify the means.
  4. So let’s get this straight… Colorado State reportedly offered its open head coaching job to former Oregon head man Ernie Kent earlier this week, but it was nixed by an unknown high-ranking school administrator. So the back-up plan became to hire the guy who was once photographed partying with students while at Iowa State? We don’t know what the real story is here, and no disrespect at all is intended to Larry Eustachy (who has clearly turned his life around by doing well at Southern Miss), but goodness, something doesn’t smell right in Fort Collins. For what it’s worth, Kent says he was never offered the job by CSU and therefore it could not have been rescinded, but he also clearly wants to get back into coaching and it wouldn’t help his prospects to cause a ruckus over this situation.
  5. Not every Pac-12 schools got good news on Wednesday. Well, Arizona got both good and bad news, with Sean Miller’s program announcing that two players were transferring in and two others were leaving after the semester. The headliner is that Josiah Turner, a former top 10 recruit from the class of 2011, is leaving Tucson for a destination unknown — his freshman season was marred by suspensions and inconsistent play at the point guard slot. Junior center Kyryl Natyazhko is also leaving Arizona, choosing to head back to Europe to pursue professional opportunities there. The good news it that the Wildcats will welcome Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell, a rising junior who averaged 11 points, six assists and four rebounds per game last season, and Matt Corcheck, a junior college transfer who will have three years of eligibility remaining. With Turner, Alex Oriakhi, Trey Ziegler and several others transferring this offseason, it’s a good year to have an extra scholarship lying around unused.
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The View From The Couch

Posted by SMoore on March 15th, 2012

By Steve Moore (@smoore1117)

We’re coming to you live from my living room, where days have been taken off from work, and the big-screen is flickering to life.

Of course, we missed the beginning of today’s action, due to my four-month-old son’s need to eat and have his diaper changed. He just doesn’t get it.

Anyway, while the RTC crew has things covered from the various arenas, I’ll take you through the best two days in sports in the same way as 99% of America: from the couch. We apologize in advance for the baby vomit smell or if the crying drowns out Verne Lundquist.

The plan is to focus less on Xs and Os, and more on the broadcast, announcers, commercials and coaches’ hairpieces. You know, the important stuff. If this works out, we’ll be back for a look at the night session later this evening.

And yes, I know I’m not Bill Simmons. I make way more money than him, anyway.

1:28 p.m.: We’re early in the second half of Murray State-Colorado State. I’ve been watching for a while, but had my hands tied with baby bottles and burp rags.

1:30: Love starting with Lundquist and Raftery. To be honest, I don’t have a problem with nearly any of the CBS announcing crews. But I mean come on, who doesn’t love Raftery. They both do a good job making it seem like they knew ANYTHING about either of these teams before yesterday.

1:31: Am I the only one who is bothered by these generic black/natural courts the NCAA insists on installing now at every site? There was something cool about immediately knowing which site you were watching. Every time they show “The Shot”, I take pride in recognizing the Spectrum floor. I could tell you instantly that Tyus Edney’s memorable dash was in Boise, because of the garish floor they had there. This just seems so sterile. It’s … it’s so … NCAA.

The NCAA Redfines Sterile

The NCAA Redfines Sterile

The Site of Edney's Magical Run

1:40: Colorado State can shoot threes, but I feel like this is going to just slowly drift away from them. Murray State should not have been a 6 seed anyway.

1:41: We now have a third game in progress, with Louisville/Davidson going on TBS. The last hour has been like watching a single game. Now is when it gets really fun.

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