2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Morning Five: 05.29.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 29th, 2014

morning5

  1. Yesterday, we mentioned that the class of 2014 had only recently finished announcing where they were headed. It turns out that we may have jumped the gun a little as Chris McCullough, a top-25 recruit who signed with Syracuse, is still awaiting his SAT and ACT scores (yes, he took both) to see if he will be eligible. McCullough’s journey to Syracuse has been an interesting one as he transferred from Brewster Academy to IMG Academy last season after being kicked out of the former for violating unspecified school rules. With Syracuse losing its top three players to the NBA Draft (C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, and Jerami Grant), whether or not McCullough can play next year could be a critical factor in whether or not they will be towards the top of the ACC.
  2. He is not an incoming recruit, but the announcement that Jerian Grant has been officially readmitted at Notre Dame might be the most significant move since Myles Turner announced that he was heading to Texas at the end of last month. Grant was suspended midway through last season due to academic issues and soon after his suspension the Irish fell apart going 7-13. With Grant (and his 19 points and 6.2 assists per game) returning the Irish won’t be at the top of the ACC, but he should make them a mid-tier team and could make them an upset threat particularly at home.
  3. Much like Grant’s absence late last season for Notre Dame, the injury to Larry Nance Jr derailed Wyoming’s season last year. Given Nance’s contributions to the team–leading them in scoring, rebounds, blocks, and steals–it was not surprise that his absence would have such a profound effect. Fortunately for Larry Shyatt it appears that Nance will be ready for the start of fall practice. Even though Nance tore his ACL on February 18 there was no cartilage damage or any other significant injuries so if his rehab goes well he could make them a threat in the Mountain West if he returns to form.
  4. Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins was hit in the shoulder by an errant bullet while he was back home in New York. According to reports, Cousins found himself in the middle of what appears to be a long-running battle between two street gangs. He was reportedly with a group that was not affiliated with either side when he was struck by a bullet.  Cousins, who averaged 11.0 points and 4.2 rebounds last season, is expected to recover without surgery and return to the team when they begin summer activities in June.
  5. We have seen schools do a lot of things to keep coaches, but what Arizona is attempting to do seems unique. A donor is offering football coach Rich Rodriguez, basketball coach Sean Miller, and athletic director Greg Byrne a stake in an oil and gas company (via a MLP) if they stay at the school for another eight years. Based on the current value of the shares this could be worth $6,188,000 each for Rodriguez and Miller and $3,536,000 for Byrne. The Board of Regents will vote on the contracts on June 6 at which time they would go into effect. The only catch for these three is that they have no protection if the value of the company falls. Of course, their shares could also rise significantly. With the high stakes nature of college athletics it will be interesting to see if more universities and their donors follow this model.
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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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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 4th, 2014

As we head into the final week of the season, the regular season conference championship remains very much up for grabs San Diego State and New Mexico are tied atop the standings at 14-2, four games ahead of third-place UNLV, each with one game to go prior to their showdown at Viejas Arena on Saturday evening for what figures to be a battle for the outright conference title. The Aztecs have a bit more precarious mid-week exam ahead of them, as they’ll travel to those previously mentioned Runnin’ Rebels tomorrow to renew what has become one of the better rivalries in the conference in recent years.

Team of the Week

UNLV – The Rebels bounced back from an 0-for-2 previous week to score a solid win over Colorado State and a blowout of Air Force this week, securing their credentials, at least for the time being, as the third-best team in the conference. And, there’s little doubt that this Rebel team is significantly improved from the squad that was stinking up the Thomas & Mack in a home loss to those Falcons back in the early days of 2014. Dave Rice and company are probably still in a position where their only chance at an invitation to the Big Dance involves a Mountain West Tournament win in a week’s time, but at least such a possibility is no longer just a punch line to a bad joke.

Bryce Dejean-Jones Has Helped The Runnin' Rebels Become More Stable

Bryce Dejean-Jones Has Helped The Runnin’ Rebels Become More Stable

Player of the Week

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Junior, UNLV – His teammate Khem Birch won the official conference player of the week, but we’re going to go with the team’s most consistent offensive performer, who turned in a solid week of 14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per night while knocking in shots at an efficient 54.7% eFG clip this week. Dejean-Jones has been maddening at time with erratic shot selection early in his career, but on a team without a ton of other guys capable of creating for themselves, he has been a high-volume shooter who has also significantly increased his capacity to separate a good shot from a bad one.

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Morning Five: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 20th, 2014

morning5

  1. Wyoming’s hopes of making a surprise run to the NCAA Tournament by winning the MW Conference Tournament took a huge hit yesterday when a MRI on Larry Nance Jr. revealed that he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. Nance led the team in scoring, rebounds, blocks, and steals this season so it is a devastating blow for the Cowboys. We do not know any additional details about other damage in Nance’s knee, but according to Andy Katz’s source Nance is awaiting surgical intervention on his knee.
  2. As any Wichita State fan will point out Alabama’s season has not gone according to plan. Now the Crimson Tide will likely have to play the rest of the season without forward Nick Jacobs who is taking “an indefinite leave of absence” from the team. Jacobs, the team’s third leading scorer at 8.4 points per game, had been playing regularly, but it appears that “off-the-court issues” are the reason for his leave of absence according to Anthony Grant. Jacobs is still a junior so he still can return to the Tide next season. He has been a steady scorer for the Tide during his three seasons, but has not shown a significant increase in his production while at Alabama (6.1 points per game as a freshman, 7.6 as a sophomore, and 8.4 this season). Still he would be a big loss for the team if he does not return as a result of whatever the issues are.
  3. We are sure that the last thing that some of you want to read is another piece about Duke, but Sports Illustrated‘s article about how Mike Krzyzewski has helped transform Jabari Parker‘s game is an excellent read. Told through a series of anecdotes it shows how Parker has developed from a top recruit recovering from injury to possibly the most complete player in the country outside of Doug McDermott. Perhaps what is more interesting is the interaction that he and Krzyzewski have and how Krzyzewski even at this point in his career still appears to be learning and developing.
  4. We tend to head about the big NCAA violations that schools commit. What we usually do not hear about is some of the smaller infractions–real and imagined–that they commit. The Oklahoman obtained a report of violations that Oklahoma self-reported to the NCAA including one for what appears to be a pasta bar violation (see the May 10, 2013 entry). According to the report, three student-athletes ate more than the amount the NCAA supposedly allows at a graduation dinner and the school had the students pay $3.83 (the cost over the amount allowed by the NCAA) to the charity of their choice. To their credit, the NCAA has come out and said that it does not have any such rule. So for all the criticism that the NCAA gets for the way it runs college sports it appears that sometimes the schools make it harder for themselves for no reason.
  5. According to Andy Katz, Arizona is making a push to end court storms after their two losses this season were marred by premature court storms (we don’t use our name when it is done that way). Since our site is named for something similar (done correctly) we often get asked about this. We have answered it several times and even been misquoted so here is our basic take. We understand why some people are against it (risk of injury, etc), but when done correctly (and this is partly on the school and its event staff) it is a reflection of the passion and energy that the fans have for the game. Taking that away would not necessarily detract from the game at least the on-court product, but it might affect the in-game experience for the fans who drive the sport. We won’t try to argue that college basketball has better basketball than the NBA in terms of athleticism and precision because it doesn’t, but the one thing it does have is a passion that the NBA rarely has, which you can see in the difference of the intensity of the regular season games for the two. Obviously, there need to be some limits on what fans can and cannot do at the games, but the administrators need to tread lightly or risk taking away part of what makes college basketball so special.
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Morning Five: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 19th, 2014

morning5

  1. With the way this season has been going some of the more overzealous Indiana fans might be feeling like the sky is falling and yesterday they were right as a large metal beam fell from the ceiling onto the seats yesterday. Fortunately, this happened earlier in the afternoon before their scheduled game last night. As a result and perhaps out of concern for additional danger, yesterday’s game between Iowa and Indiana was postponed. What has not been postponed is tonight’s women’s basketball against Michigan will go on as scheduled with fans kept away from the corner. We suspect that the crowd at Assembly Hall will be even thinner than usual tonight.
  2. Wyoming may have suffered a major setback late last night when Larry Nance Jr. injured his right knee in a win against Fresno State. Nance, who leads the Cowboys in scoring (15.3 per game), rebounds (8.8), blocks (2.1), and steals (1.4), was injured with 14:51 left in the game. The extent of Nance’s injury is unknown at this point, but he was on the floor for several minutes and had to be helped off unable to bear weight on that leg. We are expecting that Nance will get imaging on his knee and some sort of prognosis within the next 48 hours, but it does not look good at the time being for the Cowboys star.
  3. Chris Obekpa‘s right ankle sprain comes at a particularly bad time for St. John’s as the Red Storm have turned their season around and are at least on the bubble in many mock brackets. Obekpa’s injury–a sprain and a bone bruise–is expected to keep him out for 10 to 14 days. That will Obekpa, the team’s leading shot blocker at 3.2 per game (11th in the nation), out for Saturday’s game against Villanova and next Tuesday’s game against Xavier. Even though St. John’s was able to beat Butler easily without Obekpa their next two games will not be nearly as easy.
  4. We have heard of NCAA bracket pool winners employing a variety of deep analytic methods–picking which mascot would win a fight is a popular one–to win significant office pools. With Warren Buffett’s $1 billion perfect contest being announced a few months ago, Chris Jones of ESPN The Magazine reached out to Craig Gilmore, last year’s ESPN Tournament Challenge winner, to find out how he did it (winning the pool not going undefeated, which he didn’t). Gilmore’s strategy–four pints of Guinness–is certainly not unique (we assume at least a few college students might have had something to drink around the time they filled out their brackets), but it might be the first time we have seen it cited as a strategy. In Gilmore’s case he claims that going with his gut and not overanalyzing his bracket was the key to his success. We are expecting that we will see plenty of columns like this in the coming months with various writers trumpeting some method to help you win a billion dollars, but in the end it all comes down to one thing: luck.
  5. At this point we are very familiar with athletes using the graduate student transfer waiver. So when we heard that Aaron Bright was using it to transfer from Stanford to St. Mary’s we were not particularly surprised. That is until we tried to figure out what graduate programs St. Mary’s offered that Stanford did not. We are not trying to knock St. Mary’s which is an excellent school, but we were just curious as to what programs a school as prestigious as Stanford would not offer that a nearby school would. The best answer we have comes from RTC correspondent C.D. Bradley who pointed out that St. Mary’s offers three masters programs–Kinesiology, MA in Leadership, and MFA in Creative Writing–that Stanford does not. Honestly, we never really doubted that Bright would end up in a program that Stanford didn’t offer, but it made us wonder (even before seeing the options) how many players end up getting majors in things that they have no interest in just to obtain a graduate student waiver.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 4th, 2014

It’s the first week in February, and we’re basically halfway through the conference season (believe it or not). So for the most part this week, our Mountain West check-in will be a review of the season to this point combined with  look forward, while just touching on a handful of stories from this past week.

First, the conference race. San Diego State remains atop the standings without a blemish in conference play. They’re ranked fifth in the nation and in the RTC25 and in strong contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But New Mexico has just one conference loss and still has two games with the Aztecs remaining on its schedule. A game back of those two, you’ll find the surprise team of conference play – Nevada – sitting at 7-2. How this makes any sense is still unclear as the Wolf Pack were terrible in non-conference play and have looked every bit of their record in conference; they can no longer be regarded as fluky. Despite Nevada’s successful run in conference play, the line for serious contention for at-large consideration in this conference is drawn right between the Lobos and the Wolf Pack. Right now New Mexico looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team; whereas everybody south of the #2 spot in the conference probably needs to win the Mountain West Tournament to get a bid.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has His Aztecs Atop The Mountain West Standings And Again Inside the National Top Five. (Gus Ruelas/AP)

As for awards, Coach of the Year is the easy one – Steve Fisher is not only the heavy favorite to win the MW Coach of the Year award, but he’s probably the favorite nationally as well. Despite a less than favorable finish in our ranking of Mountain West coaches last week, Nevada’s David Carter really does deserve at least some consideration.

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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 4th, 2012

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

Mountain West Round-Up

  • It was a big week for the conference, with the Big Three (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) each further establishing their credentials, Colorado State pushing for recognition in the national polls, and Boise State and Wyoming each knocking off nationally-ranked teams and displaying the depth of the conference. Through three weeks and change of the season, the conference as a whole has a record of 53-11 (best record for a conference in the nation) and has firmly established itself as not only clearly the best conference outside of the traditional power conferences (and I mean clearly – it ain’t even close), but also likely the best conference in the west – again – surpassing the Pac-12 for at least the third consecutive season. It is early and there is a ton of basketball still to be played, but projecting way into the future, the MW looks like a lock to get four teams into the NCAA Tournament and, if the Cowboys and Broncos continue their push, could find a way to sneak a fifth and, if absolutely everything happens to fall perfectly, a sixth into the conversation. But, again, we’re getting far ahead of ourselves and will more reasonably reprise this conversation sometime around the end of January.
  • The other big story around the conference, and one that I skipped over last week out of fatigue with the whole story line, is the effect of continued conference realignment on the future of the conference. The expectation has been that beginning next season, San Diego State and Boise State will leave in order to play football in the Big East and the rest of its sports in the Big West (yeah, I’ll go ahead and call the whole thing stupid, regardless of the economics behind it). But, with the long, slow and painful dissolution of the Big East as a nationally-relevant football conference now in the terminal stages, there remains a possibility that SDSU and BSU will reconsider and remain in the Mountain West in all sports. Both schools deny any change of heart, and the fact that the MW television contract still won’t net these schools as much money as what the Big East can promise puts the odds in favor of their departure, but the athletic departments at both schools have to weigh the possibility of more defections from their new conference and the possibility of a football league that is similar in strength to the league they would be leaving. Are games against Memphis, Temple and SMU, for instance, really all that preferable to games against Colorado State, Nevada and Fresno State? The final answer remains to be seen, but at least the potential of keeping the league together remains.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – There are several potential winners here this week, but the finalists came down to the Broncos and Wyoming. Rather than cop out and name co-winners, I made the hard choice and opted to give Boise the nod on the strength of a pair of road wins, including a win over a Top 25 Creighton team that could end up being the deciding game in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge (the MW currently leads 4-3 with a pair of relatively even games remaining). The win in Omaha was highlighted by our MW Player of the Week (who you’ll see below), but was really a complete team effort, with the Broncos dominating the Bluejays on the glass, running up a 70.8% eFG and generally playing with poise while limiting good looks for Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott. And, the fact that BSU avoided an obvious letdown situation and came back four nights later to knock off Seattle on the road is more proof that this team has grown up in a hurry.

Derrick Marks, Boise State

Derrick Marks Carried His Broncos To A Win Over Creighton With 28 Second Half Points (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sophomore, Boise State – Marks was the key cog in the Broncos’ upset of Creighton Wednesday night, repeatedly exposing a Bluejay defense with plenty of doubters. Marks repeatedly beat his defender off the bounce, got into the lane and scored in a variety of ways, at one point in the middle of the second half, scoring 18 straight points for his team as they pulled away from the home team. All told he scored 28 points in the second half and carried his team home with a total of 35 on the night. Marks followed up that game with a 14-point six-steal effort against Seattle and wound up shooting at 76.9 eFG% for the week.

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Wyoming Destroys UC Santa Barbara, But Bigger Tests Loom For Cowboys

Posted by AMurawa on November 29th, 2012

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after the Wyoming-UCSB game in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

While most of the college basketball world was focused on Durham, North Carolina, and other venues in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Wednesday night, I took a drive up the coast to UC Santa Barbara to check out Wyoming and see with my own eyes if their 6-0 record compiled against weak competition was anything for Mountain West watchers to get excited about. Well, after a 68-40 demolishing of the Gauchos (a game that really wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate), the Cowboys’ record now stands at 7-0, but the evaluation of the current state of this team needs to wait for another day.

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington and His Teammates Looked Impressive Against UC Santa Barbara, But More Significant Tests Loom

Yeah, the Cowboys looked pretty good. Leonard Washington had nine points (on 3-3 shooting from the field) and four boards while having his minutes slightly limited due to a pair of frustration fouls picked up over the course of a single minute in the first half, but those numbers don’t express all that Washington was in that game. He wound up credited with four steals and two blocks on the game, but frankly, his defensive effort is not summed up by those numbers. He challenged any shots in his vicinity, ripped down rebounds around the rim, and scrapped for any loose balls in his area. On offense, it was all about attacking the rim, and he had at least a pair of massive dunks on the faces of unsuspecting Gauchos. Larry Nance, Jr. joined in on the fun himself, throwing down a monster dunk on two UCSB bigs just before the half.

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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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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 14th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.

We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).

In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.

Mountain West, Conference USA

Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference

But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.

Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.

Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.

Team of the Week

UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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