Rushed Reactions: #5 Northern Iowa 71, #12 Wyoming 54

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Seth Tuttle and The Panthers May Not Look Like A Top-20 Basketball Team, But They Are (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) )

Seth Tuttle and The Panthers May Not Look Like A Top-20 Basketball Team, But They Are (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) )

  1. Seth Tuttle, Legit. Northern Iowa’s senior big man is not a household name among non-diehard college basketball fans although he dominated against Wichita State in his first big regular season close-up. But in his first NCAA Tournament game, he put on a show for a national television audience, displaying his versatile and disruptive game. Wanna see the 6’8” center run the offense out of the high post? Look no further than his beautiful first-half dime to Jeremy Morgan (who missed the layup). Wanna see his traditional big man moves? He sealed off the longer and more athletic Larry Nance, Jr., received the lob pass and put in an easy dunk. Worried that at just 6’8” he might not be able to do that against a bigger defender? Just watch him step out to the three-point line and drill one from deep. Defensively, he’s physical, disciplined and smart, anticipating the opponent’s plays. In short, he may not be as used to the spotlight as some of the guys in major conferences, but he’s as good of a college basketball player as I’ve seen this year.
  2. Physical, Disciplined, Experienced. You watch Northern Iowa go through the layup line in the pregame and you’re sort of unimpressed. A couple lanky and unexplosive guys in the 6’8” to 6’9” range, average athleticism, small guards. And then the ball is tipped; they run their offense through Tuttle and little point guard Wes Washpun; they clamp down on defense; they pound away on the glass; they exploit defenses to find open shooters. And they’re incredibly well-coached by head coach Ben Jacobson. What does the opponent want to do? Okay, let’s not let them do that. Today it was getting the ball out of Josh Adams’ hands (he scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting) — forcing Larry Nance to either shoot jumpers or go left — and make everybody else beat them. They may not be members of the all-airport team, but these guys can beat a lot of teams in this field. And they certainly won’t beat themselves.
  3. Wyoming Second-Half Life. At the halfway mark, Northern Iowa was up 11 and the Cowboys were fortuntate to be that close. The Panthers came out of the locker room and put together a quick 8-0 run and the next thing you know they were up 21 points and the game was over. Wyoming had shown no life. Larry Nance Jr. had two field goal attempts, two turnovers, two fouls and one point. And then, over the course of four minutes, Nance scored 13 straight points including a couple threes and a couple dunks and, following a Charles Hankerson three, the Cowboys were back within seven. The comeback stalled out, but at the very least, the Cowboys got a chance for a 10-minute second half stretch to show the nation why they were a worthy addition to the Tournament field.

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Bracket Prep: Texas Southern, Harvard & Wyoming

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2015

Let’s finish off the Bracket Prep series with our reviews of each of the weekend mid-major automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. Here’s a primer on each of the most recent bid winners. The entire series can be found here.

Texas Southern

Texas Southern is going dancing for the second-straight year. (hbcubuzz.com)

Texas Southern is going dancing for the second-straight year. (hbcubuzz.com)

  • SWAC Champion (22-12, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #130/#207/#204
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -2.1
  • NCAA Seed: #15

Strength: You don’t often see SWAC teams with as much talent as Texas Southern, especially in the backcourt. Conference Player of the Year Madarious Gibbs (14.2 PPG, 4.3 APG), Marshall transfer Chris Thomas (12.6 PPG) and former Nebraska guard Deverell Biggs (11.5 PPG) are each capable scorers who can attack the basket and earn trips to the free throw line. Same goes for forward and JuCo transfer Malcolm Riley, who averaged more than 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the SWAC Tournament. Only 11 teams in college basketball get to the stripe at a higher rate than the Tigers, which is important, since they don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter (32.2% 3FG). They feature good balance, with several different players who can create offense, and it showed in the team’s upset victories over Michigan State and Kansas State back in December.

Weakness: Texas Southern lacks size and depth on the interior. Long Beach State transplant Nick Shepard is a good shot-blocker (10.1% Blk rate), but as a unit the Tigers rank 278th nationally in effective height and opponents score 58 percent of all their points from inside the arc. Imposing teams like Gonzaga, Baylor and Florida – similar in size to Arizona, which they face this week – crushed them in the paint during non-conference play. Likewise, Mike Davis’ crew struggles to clean up misses; the Bears ripped down 22 offensive rebounds against the SWAC champs on December 1.

Player to watch: Chris Thomas (12.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG). Thomas is a former five-star recruit who has the size and athleticism to compete against top-notch competition. The junior combined for 37 points in Texas Southern’s victories over the Spartans and Wildcats, the type of high-level, efficient play (57% FG) he will need to duplicate in the NCAA Tournament.

Outlook: Texas Southern has proven its ability to hang with high-major competition, but, unfortunately as a #15 seed, Arizona is far better than the Michigan States and Kansas States of the world. The Tigers should have their moments, and Mike Davis (former Indiana head man) knows what he’s doing in March, but an upset seems unlikely. Still, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances is nothing to sneeze at.

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Wyoming, Relentlessness, and a Mountain West Title

Posted by AMurawa on March 14th, 2015

Relentless. It’s the one-word answer Mountain West Tournament MVP Josh Adams chose to describe the play of his Wyoming basketball team this week. It was personified, to just choose one example, by All-Mountain West senior forward Larry Nance Jr. – a year past a torn ACL – who, early in the hard-fought second-half grind-a-thon against San Diego State, blocked a Winston Shepard layup attempt, recovered to challenge his second shot following an offensive rebound, then dove out of bounds to save the ball to his teammate. “We’ve been relentless all year,” Adams expounded on the word. “We’ve been in dogfights all year. This is the style we play. I know a lot of the critiques about us — we’re grinding it out; we’re going to lose energy – but we had a bounce in our step and were able to grind it out all the way to the end of the game, and now we’re going dancing.”

Josh Adams, Mountain West Tournament MVP, Celebrating A Championship

Josh Adams, Mountain West Tournament MVP, Celebrating A Championship

Effort. Between the 3:39 mark at the end of the first half and the 11:29 mark in the second half, Wyoming did not score. Over the course of 15 possessions, the Cowboys had five turnovers, five missed layups and three missed threes. Over that stretch, however, San Diego State was only able to turn a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead mainly because the Pokes were still selling out on every defensive possession. Five seniors and their brothers all fighting to extend their careers. It was tense. It was rough. It was difficult to watch. And it was beautiful. By the time Adams finally knocked the lid off the basket and cut the Aztecs’ lead to two, it was easy to see that the Cowboys weren’t going anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dunk Town Laramie: America’s Most Likable Team?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 13th, 2015

About four minutes into their quarterfinal win over Utah State on Thursday afternoon, Wyoming’s Larry Nance unsuccessfully attempted to throw down a dunk over his back in traffic. The next time down the court, it was a tomahawk attempt (again unsuccessful) over a couple of Utah State defenders. They were spectacularly entertaining misses. The Cowboys did, however, have more success in their attacks on the rim in the second half, throwing down four increasingly spectacular dunks as they fought back from a seven-point second half deficit to come away with the season-sustaining win. There is a reason this team has earned the moniker of Dunk Town.

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of "Dunk Town" (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of “Dunk Town” (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

“We love it,” said junior guard Josh Adams, author of the Cowboys’ most emphatic dunk on Thursday, when asked about the nickname after the game. “We fully embrace that nickname. And our fans have too.” And so has head coach Larry Shyatt. “It’s a pretty good percentage shot,” he said, a master of understatement. “I sort of like seeing [Derek Cooke’s] elbows above the rim when they drop it off to him.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2015

Team of the Week

Wyoming – The Cowboys only played one game, but boy was it a doozy. They hosted New Mexico on Saturday and prevailed in dramatic fashion in a game where the win probabilities swung dramatically on a regular basis, not including a Larry Nance three-quarter court shot at the regulation buzzer that seemed to go halfway down before rattling out. Still, not to be denied, the Cowboys won the game on a steal and dunk at the end of overtime that was dramatic and amazing. With every game that gets checked off the schedule, Dunk Town Laramie is beginning to look like a team of destiny.

Larry Nance's Slam Just Before Time Expired In Overtime Sealed A Stunning Win For Wyoming (Wyoming Athletics)

Larry Nance’s Slam Just Before Time Expired In Overtime Sealed A Stunning Win For Wyoming (Wyoming Athletics)

Player of the Week

Hugh Greenwood, Sr, New Mexico – A week ago in this column, I wrote negatively about Mr. Greenwood for what I’m sure must be the first time. Since then, he posted his second- and third-highest scoring games of his career and became a national phenomenon in shooting down a hateful and small-minded Twitter troll in a postgame press conference. For the week, the averages are 22.5 points, six boards, a couple assists, 11-of-17 shooting from three and an 82.7% eFG in a pair of games that were just a joy to watch. And were it not for little mistakes late against Wyoming, it would have been a darn near perfect week. But in the grand scheme of things, Greenwood’s week hit all the buttons we love in college sports. A senior leader bouncing back from a slump to help his team to a hard-fought road win in the middle of the week in the face of personal issues far more important than anything having to do with a silly old game. And then, on the weekend, in another hostile road environment in what will surely go down as one of the handful of regular season games I recall fondly from this season, Greenwood was a major factor in just about every key play down the stretch of regulation and on through overtime. In the end, it didn’t go his team’s way. But there was nobody in the country who was more fun to watch this week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Team of the Week

Wyoming – Two tough games and two hard-fought wins over Colorado State and Boise State bring the Cowboys’ record to 15-2 on the season and 4-0 in conference play, putting them along atop the Mountain West standings. They’ve won seven in a row now, and have been rewarded with a spot in the AP poll for the first time since March 15, 1988, back in the days of Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner. No surprise then that, with apologies to Theo Ratliff, the Cowboys may have their best individual player since those days in Larry Nance, who continued his fine play with averages of 16.5 points, 8 boards, 3.5 assists, and 2 blocks on a 70.6 eFG%. He’s not our player of the week this week, but he’s beginning to gain some separation on the Conference Player of the Year front.

Larry Nance and Dunk Town Laramie Sit Atop The Mountain West Standings (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Larry Nance and Dunk Town Laramie Sit Atop The Mountain West Standings (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Player of the Week

Marvelle Harris, Jr, Fresno State – A 40-point game in the much more high scoring NBA is a feat worth talking about. A 40-point game in the ever-slowing game of college basketball? Forget talking, let’s throw a party. Harris played all 40 minutes in Reno on Saturday afternoon against Nevada, and gave his Bulldogs a show to remember. He was 14/23 on the night from the field, including five three-pointers in the mix. He scored 16 of the Bulldogs’ first 18 points of the second half, helping to turn an eight-point lead at half into a 13-point margin, and then knocked down clutch free throws down the stretch to help his squad hang on. He’s now gone for 20 or more six times this season, and for the week averaged 29 points, five boards and four assists, while shooting a 66.2 eFG%. Best yet, he’s doing it as a part of a winning streak.

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Mountain West Quarterfinal Roundup

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

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

San Diego State-Utah State

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

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

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

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

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O26 Weekly Awards: Wyoming, Billy Baron, Brian Wardle & George Mason…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

We are officially less than one month from Selection Sunday (hooray!), so standout performances (and dreadful upsets) are now more impactful than ever on conference races and NCAA Tournament aspirations. Let’s pass out some awards to the best of the best from the O26 last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Wyoming. The Pokes began the week with their biggest home win since joining the Mountain West in 1999, and ended it with their greatest defensive effort in that same span. On Tuesday night, Wyoming notched its first victory over a top-five team in Arena Auditorium in 16 years by defeating San Diego State, 68-82, to end the Aztecs’ 20-game winning streak and prompt a well-deserved rushing of the court. Not only did the Cowboys out-shoot, out-defend and out-energize Steve Fisher’s club, but they did so with style, eschewing open jumps shots (their offense is predicated on burning the shot clock and finding the best look possible) in favor of wide open dunks, time after time down the floor. At one point, as they opened up a double-figure lead midway through the second half, the team was exuding such high-flying swagger and cool confidence that it became hard to tell if you were watching  this year’s Wyoming club or last year’s Florida Gulf Coast. And when SDSU made a late charge to pull within four at the under-one minute mark, in a moment where it seemed the league powerhouse was going to exert its will, Nathan Sobey went ahead and threw down a transition slam — what else? — to bury the Aztecs for good. The last time Wyoming knocked off a team that highly ranked, the year was 1998, the opponent was Rick Majerus-led Utah, and the Cowboys’ head coach was… Larry Shyatt. The first time around.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

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

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

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

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

Team of the Week

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

Player of the Week

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

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Ranking the Mountain West Coaches

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 30th, 2014

Any time you get around to comparing one coach to another, it’s a shaky situation. Isn’t the real decision about who is the better coach decided on the court? Sure, one coach may have more talent than another, but then again, isn’t pulling in talent part of the job description? So, prior to unveiling my rankings of the coaches in the Mountain West, lets offer up some criteria. For the most part, recruiting is excluded from this analysis. The question that we’ll attempt to answer instead is this: Pick any random team in the country — you don’t know its roster or its strengths and weaknesses — which Mountain West coach would give you the best chance over this and the next couple of seasons to get the most out of those players and leave the program in the best possible place at the end?

Well, here’s one man’s take, feel free to disagree.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

The Dean Of Mountain West Coaches, Steve Fisher Is Among The Best In The Nation. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

  1. Steve Fisher, San Diego State – The results speak for themselves. Not only are the Aztecs the best team in the conference this year, Fisher’s done the most unbelievable job of building a program in the conference. Seriously, his track record at SDSU may not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as elite program-builders with national titles under their belts like Lute Olson and Jim Calhoun, but this trajectory is very, very close. Put it this way: There’s one sure-fire Hall-of-Famer in this conference and it is this man. He’s head and shoulders above the rest. The knock on him when he was at Michigan was that he could recruit well but wasn’t much of a teacher or a tactician. And earlier in his career at San Diego State, he struggled with some end-game scenarios (the 2006 NCAA Tournament First Round loss to Indiana still upsets me). But these days, his record in unimpeachable. He gets his players to improve from one season to the next and throughout their careers. Even while bringing in solid talent, he gets his team to exceed expectations. The team that he puts on the court is something that his supportive community can be proud of. Not only is Fisher far and away the best coach in the Mountain West, he’s on the very short list of the best in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014

With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.

Team of the Week

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013

We’ve talked about it a lot around these parts this year, since before the season even began — so many Mountain West teams putting all their eggs in a very small scheduling basket. For instance, Utah State’s only really quality non-conference game was its rivalry game with BYU. After losing that one, it was assured that their best win prior to the calendar flipping over to conference play would be at UC Santa Barbara – a good victory for sure, but not one to pin your NCAA Tournament hopes on. To make matters worse, Utah State backed up that BYU loss with a home loss to Pacific. So now the Aggies sit at 5-2; they’re lucky to have an RPI in the low 40s; and they face the prospect of needing a very strong run through the Mountain West on their first go-round in order to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament talk later this year.

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don't Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune)

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don’t Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)

Likewise, Boise State went out and put together a schedule not befitting for a squad with borderline Top 25 talent and arguably the best team in school history. Certainly, they’re in the midst of the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, what with a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night followed by a visit from an undefeated Saint Mary’s team on Saturday. But, as could have been expected, the Broncos struck out against the talented Wildcats, getting killed on the glass and at the rim and not being able to find enough good clean looks from deep against their long and athletic guards. Now all their hopes for a quality non-conference win get pinned on Saturday’s game against the Gaels. Again, on the basis of six wins in seven games, the Broncos are fortunate to have an RPI of #40, but with no resume wins in the non-conference, those four conference games against New Mexico and San Diego State in conference will loom large.

You see, it is only the Aztecs and the Lobos who have succeeded in coming away with some quality wins in the non-conference. SDSU has scalps from Creighton and Marquette, while New Mexico’s got UAB and Cincinnati on the wall already, with Kansas in Kansas City looming on Saturday and Marquette up the following Saturday. None of the victims of the Lobos or Aztecs are elite teams, but they’ve at least helped their teams to RPIs of #11 and #17, respectively. At the quarter-pole of the year, those two squads are alone among Mountain West teams on the good side of the resume ledger.

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