Some Notes from the Mountain West & WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s games.

Mountain West Tournament Quarters

  • After a long day and a drive from Los Angeles, I got into the Thomas & Mack Center to see TCU down only four to BYU just about halfway through the second half. Just a couple of minutes later, the Cougars had extended the lead to double figures and the only intrigue left was how much Jimmer Fredette would score. TCU threw everything they had at him, including sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss just wrapping his arms around Fredette’s waist at times, but it was no use. Fredette did it every way: deep threes, pull-up jumpers, taking it to the hole and, of course, hitting 23 of his whopping 24 free throw attempts on his way to 45 points (a MWC Tournament record), including 30 in the second half. And, if that weren’t enough, he added six assists as well.
  • Inside of a minute into the UNLV/Utah game, it was obvious it was going to be a physical game. Both teams tried to exploit the other teams inside, and Utah did so to the tune of 36 free throw attempts (of which they made 31). But if the Utes weren’t getting to the line, they were building a chimney; they made just 13 of their 40 field goal attempts, mostly because UNLV defenders were in their faces constantly.
  • It’s been said before I’m sure, so you won’t mind if I say it again: UNLV getting to play this tournament on their home court every year is a huge advantage. While there were pockets of Utah fans, this was little different than a UNLV home game.
  • After the Utes got three unanswered threes (by Marshall Henderson, Luka Drca and Chris Hines) wrapped around a David Foster rejection to cut what was a 13-point Rebel lead to just four at the half, the start of the second half was electric in the arena. But an early 12-3 run by the Rebels broke things back open and the rest of the half was the Runnin’ Rebels living up to their nickname.

WAC Tournament Quarters

(1) Utah State 84, (8) Boise State 60

  • If Utah State has a weakness it’s against pressure defenses. Boise State was able to hang in the game at halftime trailing by just five by turning the Aggies over and getting easy baskets in transition.
  • If you’ve followed WAC basketball at all this season you may wonder why Utah State’s Brian Green hits his elbow and points to the sky after every game. The answer? “These are my guns, I just reload them.” Green unloaded for 18 against Boise State, which was tied for the game high with both Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams.
  • Boise State fans don’t really like Greg Graham. Will he be joining Hawaii’s Bobby Nash in the WAC coaches unemployment line?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/11)

  1. New Mexico                      22-3                       8-2
  2. BYU                                        22-3                       7-2
  3. UNLV                                     19-5                       7-3
  4. San Diego State                17-7                       6-4
  5. Colorado State                  15-9                       6-4
  6. Utah                                      11-12                     4-5
  7. TCU                                        11-14                     3-7
  8. Wyoming                            9-15                       2-8
  9. Air Force                              9-14                       1-9

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Huge week for the Lobos, getting a couple hard-fought wins, including a home overtime win over San Diego State and an impressive road win at UNLV. Those wins, coupled with UNLV’s win over BYU, leave the Lobos sitting alone atop the MWC standings, having now won their last eight games after starting conference play 0-2.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. Hobson was our player of the week after the first two weeks of the regular season, but struggled a little the first time around the conference, especially with his shot and too many turnovers. This week, for the first time since 2009, that Hobson we fell in love with early in the season was back. The JuCo transfer averaged 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, five assists, and three threes, plus threw in a half-court shot at the first-half buzzer and hit the two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left against San Diego State on Saturday. When Hobson’s jumper is falling like it is right now, he’s the best player in the conference, simply because he can do so many other things with ease as well. If the Lobos hope to make a splash nationally in March, they’ll need Hobson to bring his A game.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 88, San Diego State 86 (OT). This game tipped off just as UNLV’s defeat of BYU in Vegas went final, giving the Lobos a chance to create a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Likewise, if the Aztecs had won this, there would have been a two-way tie at the top with SDSU and New Mexico tied a game back. With such a logjam at the top of the conference, it was no wonder that this game would be a wild one as well. While the level of play in the game was stellar across the board, this game really came down to a battle between Hobson and Aztec junior guard D.J. Gay. Hobson tossed in a half-court shot at the end of a back-and-forth first half to put the Lobos up five at the break, and the Lobos extended their lead as high as ten early in the second half, and after some back and forth, the lead was still ten with just two minutes remaining. But Gay went off for 11 points on his own in the last two minutes, knocking down three (increasingly improbable) threes before getting fouled on another three-attempt with his Aztecs down two with just one second left. He made two of his three attempts to send the game to OT. But Hobson was not to be denied, scoring eight points in overtime, including his two game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left. Gay finished with a career-high 25 points while playing every minute of the game. Hobson, meanwhile, did take a couple minutes off, playing just 43 minutes, but still wound up with an amazing line of 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, four threes, and three steals.

Game of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ San Diego State, 2/13/10, 1pm PST, Versus. The Rebels hope to maintain their position near the top of the MWC standings, while the Aztecs still believe they have a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While that bid for the Aztecs looks unlikely at this point (their loss to Wyoming early in the MWC season was a killer, especially coupled with the lack of big non-conference wins), they still sport a strong 17-7 overall record and an RPI in the mid-40s. And, most importantly, they still have opportunities, with this home game and a trip to Provo in a couple of weeks. The roadmap to an Aztec at-large berth begins with a win over the Rebels  on Saturday, an upset of the Cougars in Provo and a run to the MWC final in March, all while taking care of business with the teams at the lower end of the conference. It is a tough road to be sure, but one this team is capable of getting done.

League Notes

We’re only a week into the second go-round in the MWC, but things have really started to clear up. New Mexico, BYU and UNLV are all more-or-less locked into NCAA bids; it would take quite a collapse for one of those teams to not be invited to dance.

The regular season championship will likely be decided February 27th when New Mexico visits BYU. New Mexico should coast from here to that game, likely riding a 12-game winning streak at that point. BYU will have to take care of a tough San Diego State team on the Wednesday before that game, but it is likely those teams will be tied atop the conference when they meet.

That leaves the Aztecs. Let’s assume they beat UNLV at home this weekend. And, let’s say they beat TCU, Utah, Colorado State and Air Force. That right there would put them at 22-7, 11-4 in conference. They win in the first round of the MWC tournament, then face the regular season champ in the semis and win that matchup too before losing in the MWC championship. Put them at 24-8 at that point with wins over New Mexico, UNLV and whoever the MWC regular season champ is, with their next best win over Arizona. Throw in a bad loss to Wyoming. RPI would likely be somewhere around 40. Is that good enough? I don’t think it is. But, what if they also get the win at BYU on February 24th? I think if they get that, they can make a good case at 25-8 with wins over every other MWC team that will make the tourney.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Two big games, two big wins, and now all alone in first place (albeit still tied in the loss column with BYU). After a week in which New Mexico got back all of the mojo it had at the start of the season, the Lobos are a shoo-in to go dancing in March. After the overtime thriller with San Diego State on Saturday, New Mexico took control from the opening tip in Vegas on Wednesday. All four of their big offensive threats (Hobson, senior forward Roman Martinez, junior guard Dairese Gary and sophomore guard Philip McDonald) scored in double figures and the Lobos absolutely destroyed the Rebels on the glass all night long, finishing with a 45-23 advantage. The Lobos also shot 52% from three and knocked down 13 of their 14 free throw attempts and, despite a late Rebel run, held on for a convincing ten-point win.

Looking ahead: In the middle of February, it can be very easy to lose your focus, especially coming off a week in which you’ve knocked off two of your biggest competitors. The Lobos travel to Utah on Saturday night, and while this is by no means a strong Ute team, they are capable of rising up and biting the ankles of some of the teams ahead of them. Just ask UNLV. After the Utah trip, the Lobos return to the Pit to host Wyoming and Air Force.

BYU

Looking back: The Cougs are itching to get back on the court. They played only once this week, and before the matinee Vegas crowd had even opened their peanuts, BYU was on their way to getting blown out. The Rebels outscored BYU 56-34 in the first half, shooting 65% from the field and 70% from three and the Cougars were never able to scrap back into the game, dropping their second conference game of the season. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette wound up with 21 points (plus seven rebounds and six assists), but shot just four of 15 from the field. Freshman forward Brandon Davies missed the UNLV game with an emergency appendectomy and is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Cougars will have had a week to chew on that loss to UNLV by the time they host Air Force on Saturday, and that can’t be good news for the outmanned Falcon squad. BYU will then travel to Colorado State on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: After putting a whooping on BYU on Saturday to move into a first-place tie, the follow-up game with New Mexico on Wednesday had to be a tough one for the Rebels. They came out of the gates flat, struggling along to a 12-point halftime deficit and, despite making a run late in the game, never seemed to fire on all cylinders. The most unforgivable sin was their lack of effort on the glass as they got outrebounded by 22, allowing the Lobos to score repeatedly on the offensive glass. The Rebels remain squarely in the thick of things near the top of the MWC leaderboard, but their loss to New Mexico relegated them to a team that needs multiple things to happen in order to win the regular season title.

Looking ahead: UNLV’s last major challenge of the regular season comes Saturday with a trip to Montezuma Mesa to face San Diego State. After that, the Rebels just need to remain focused and take care of business against the lower tier of MWC teams, beginning with a trip to Utah on Wednesday for some revenge.

San Diego State

Looking back: While the Aztecs did take New Mexico to overtime on Saturday, the dirty little secret there is that they were really outplayed rather significantly by the Lobos, right up until the time when New Mexico got a little too conservative and Gay went nuts. But, give credit to Steve Fisher’s squad for bouncing back on Wednesday with a dominating performance in knocking off reeling Wyoming. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard went for a career-high 26 points (on 10/14 shooting) plus added eight rebounds and three steals as the Aztecs led by as many as 37 in the second half on the way to a 88-57 win.

Looking ahead: Huge Saturday for the Aztecs as they host UNLV before traveling to Fort Worth to face TCU on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams are officially tops in the second tier of the Mountain West. While they don’t have the horses to play with the big boys above, they have been consistent enough to edge their way up to this fifth spot. This week, Colorado State took care of business, sprinting past Wyoming on Saturday and then edging Air Force on Tuesday, and have set themselves up nicely to potentially gain an NIT berth. Junior forward Travis Franklin was the star against Wyoming, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half. Against Air Force, it was more of a collective effort, with junior forward Andy Ogide scoring 12 and both freshman guard Dorian Green and freshman forward Greg Smith adding ten.

Looking ahead: The Rams have a week to prepare for their chance to host BYU on Wednesday and a chance to see if they have taken any steps forward since the Cougars crushed them early and often in a 91-47 game a month ago.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes began the second half of their conference schedule in much the same way they started the first half, with a solid victory over TCU. Freshman wing Marshall Henderson lit up the Frogs for 24 points on five threes and added six rebounds; junior guard Carlon Brown added 12 points. But the Utes still needed Henderson and senior guard Luka Drca to combine to go 10/10 from the free throw line in the last two minutes (both teams combined to shoot 30/33 from the line) to seal the win.

Looking ahead: Utah gets a chance to make a huge impact on the MWC race this week as they will host both New Mexico (on Saturday) and UNLV (on Wednesday). Expect them to pull off one upset this week, while they lose the other by 25 while shooting somewhere south of 30% from the field.

TCU

Looking back: If it hadn’t happened already, it definitely happened this week. Head coach Jim Christian has turned the page and started to look towards next year. With Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas in the middle of disappointing senior seasons (their play in conference has been especially depressing), it looks like the Horned Frogs are starting to see what type of pieces they have to build around for next season. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss is a given. While he has showed some inconsistency, commits too many turnovers at times and is all too likely to fall in love with his jumper, he is a talented player on both ends of the court. Junior guard Greg Hill has been getting more attention offensively of late, and while he too can be wild at times, he is a capable shooter, knocking down seven threes on his way to 23 points in a win over Air Force on Saturday. And freshman forward Nick Cerina has shown flashes of brilliance this season, despite some inconsistency. He had 17 in the loss to Utah on Wednesday. Sophomore forward Kevin Butler and freshman guard Garlon Green have also proven themselves to be pieces who can be valuable for the Horned Frogs in the future.

Looking ahead: The Frogs travel to Wyoming on Saturday then return home to host San Diego State on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: At the start of the season there was a lot of optimism around Laramie, with a fast-paced offense, some pressure defense, a budding star in sophomore Afam Muojeke, exciting incoming transfer JayDee Luster and a handful of interesting parts, there were even some Cowboy fans who whispered a bit about postseason tournaments. Some three months later, head coach Heath Schroyer is the one MWC coach squirming on the hot seat, Muojeke is lost for the season, and the Cowboy roster is in disarray. This week, sophomore guard A.J. Davis announced he was leaving the program; Davis was still the team’s third leading scorer, despite having seen his minutes drop drastically in conference play. Schroyer has now had six of his recruits leave the program in his three seasons in Laramie (Davis was the second this season – junior guard Thomas Manzano left the program in December) and in the Cowboys’ losses this week (by 16 to Colorado State and by 31 to San Diego State), they only dressed ten players, only nine of whom were on scholarship.

Looking ahead: Playing out the string, the Cowboys host TCU on Saturday, then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: Just a couple weeks back the Falcons had broken their 22-game conference losing streak, their players were starting to get healthy and optimism surrounded the program. Now, the Falcons have started a new losing streak (up to three games now), senior forward Grant Parker continues to sustain injuries (dislocated shoulder most recently, although he is still playing through it) and it seems like the same old story in Colorado Springs. The Falcons did play Colorado State strong on Wednesday, even having a possible game-tying three by junior Evan Washington with five second left, but in the end this goes in the books as another two-loss week for Air Force.

Looking ahead: This will definitely not be a two-loss week for Air Force, as they play only once, traveling to BYU on Saturday. So, it will just be a one-loss week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/14):

  1. BYU                                        17-1                       2-0
  2. Colorado State                  11-5                       2-0
  3. UNLV                                     14-3                       2-1
  4. TCU                                        9-8                          2-1
  5. Utah                                      8-8                          1-1
  6. New Mexico                      15-3                       1-2
  7. San Diego State                12-5                       1-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-9                          1-2
  9. Air Force                              8-8                          0-3

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. UNLV. The Rebels started the week 0-1 in conference, with a trip to The Pit looming and tough matchup with San Diego State in their home opener to follow. As we stand now, the Rebels have a two-game winning streak, hae started to have players find their consistent roles and have shown themselves to be the main challenger to BYU’s MWC-favorite role.

Player of the Week. Tre’Von Willis, Jr, UNLV. Willis was strong all week, while averaging 21.5 PPG in UNLV’s two wins, but he really won this award in the second half of the San Diego State game on Wednesday night, when he went for 17 of his 23 points, including nine straight about ten minutes into the half to break open a 50-50 tie and send UNLV on their way to a victory.

Newcomer of the Week. Brandon Davies, Fr, BYU. With the Cougars’ leading scorer, junior point guard Jimmer Fredette, limited by strep throat and mononucleosis this week, Dave Rose needed someone to step up and contribute. And, as has happened repeatedly this season for BYU, the call was heeded, this time by Davies — an energetic, athletic power forward. Davies tossed in 14 impressive points against UTEP on Saturday, including eight straight after the Miners cut the BYU lead to two with just under six minutes to play. Davies followed up that performance with his first double-double of his college career against Air Force on Wednesday, notching 11 points while grabbing ten rebounds.

Game of the Week. Wyoming 85, San Diego State 83. With just under five minutes remaining on Saturday night, Wyoming fans at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie were gathering their belongings to head out into the cold, if they hadn’t left already. Their Cowboys were on their way to their second straight home conference loss to start the season, down 14 to San Diego State, after having previously shaved their 14-point halftime deficit to as little as three early in the half. However, when Aztec freshman forward Kawhi Leonard missed an ill-advised three on one end, and Cowboy sophomore swing Afam Muojeke drilled a three on the other, Cowboy fans on the fence about leaving were given some reason to stick around. Then freshman guard Arthur Buoedo picked the pocket of Aztec senior point D.J. Gay, and Muojeke dropped in a pull-up three to cut the lead to eight. Long story short, when sophomore point JayDee Luster knocked down his second three in the last minute (and third in the last three minutes), the Cowboys had finished off a startling comeback, coming all the way back to knock off the Aztecs, 85-83.

Games of the Upcoming Week. Colorado State @ BYU, January 16th, The MTN. The two MWC teams who remain undefeated in conference play meet up Saturday night in Provo. While the Cougars have shown they are a team to be reckoned with, both in-conference and nationally, the Rams still have quite a bit to prove, having earned their undefeated conference record at the expense of the lower end of the conference.

League Notes:

Every team has now started conference play in the MWC, and while there is a lot of basketball left, we can draw some conclusions about the relative strength of teams from their early conference and non-conference play. Thus far, BYU remains the favorite, with UNLV just a half-step behind. While the Rebels did fight the Cougars to the bitter end in Provo, BYU was at less than full strength due to Fredette’s illness. New Mexico and San Diego State are both young and talented teams that can put together phenomenal games from time to time, but may lack the consistency to compete for a conference title. However, both squads are in excellent position with regards to their tournament resumes, with the Lobos having an edge over the Aztecs due to their non-conference play. In the middle of the pack, Utah and Colorado State look to be the next tier of teams, with Air Force, TCU and Wyoming bringing up the rear.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: The story of the week for the Cougs has continued to be Fredette’s battle with strep throat and mono. Fredette missed the UTEP game on Saturday, but did return to face Air Force on Wednesday, albeit in a limited role off the bench. However, in his stead, other players have taken over when called upon. It was Jonathan Tavernari in the conference opener against UNLV last week. Davies played well enough to earn Newcomer of the Week honors, but freshman Tyler Haws was right on his heels, averaging 15 PPG this week and matching two career highs on Saturday with 20 points and 11 rebounds in El Paso. And it was junior guard Jackson Emery on Wednesday night, dropping 21 points and five three-pointers against Air Force.

Looking ahead: The Cougars get to stay close to home this week, hosting Colorado State in our MWC Game of the Week on Saturday and Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams had just one game this week, and made the most of it in their home conference opener against Air Force on Saturday. While both teams struggled a bit in the first half (CSU 39% from the field, AF 26%), shots started to fall in the 2nd half, with the Rams shooting 65% and the Falcons hitting 62%. But whether the teams were shooting hot or cold, the Rams were clearly the better team, outscoring the Falcons by 11 in each half behind scrappy defense (forced 18 AF turnovers), solid offense (only nine Ram turnovers), aggressive play (CSU got to the line 27 times, compared to Air Force’s 11 free throw attempts) and balanced offensive production (junior forward Andy Ogide led all scorers with 13, junior Travis Franklin added another 11).

Looking ahead: The Rams put their undefeated conference record (earned by beating possibly the two worst teams in the conference) on the line against some significantly more stout competition, with a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday and a chance to host UNLV on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s two wins this week vaulted them back up the conference standings, but it is the manner in which it happened that likely most pleases head coach Lon Krueger. While the Rebels got a strong week out of our conference POTW Willis, they also got an excellent week out of sophomore forward Chace Stanback, who averaged 16/7 and showed a command of the offense that had been missing earlier in the season. Throw in junior guard Derrick Jasper stuffing the stat sheet wherever needed, junior guard Kendall Wallace knocking down seven threes in Albuquerque, and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield handing out 13 assists over the week and this Rebel team seems to be coming together just in time to make a strong conference run.

Looking ahead: UNLV hosts Utah on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State to face a Ram team currently tied for first in the conference.

TCU

Looking back: TCU has been maddeningly inconsistent so far this year, thus far having failed to put together more than a two-game win streak, or even a two-game losing streak. So, this week’s results shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise: a blowout loss on the road at Utah on Saturday and a squeaker win over Wyoming at home on Tuesday. Against Utah, leading scorers sophomore Ronnie Moss and senior Zvonko Buljan combined to shoot 4-23 from the field as the team was outscored 36-21 in the second half, allowing Utah to pull away to a 20-point win. The Horned Frogs did bounce back against Wyoming, holding off a charge at the end by the Cowboys and getting 22 points from senior swingman Edvinas Ruzgas. But, Moss’ poor shooting (and perhaps poor decision-making) continued as he put up 14 three-point attempts and made only three, while turning the ball over three times.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to San Diego to face the Aztecs on Saturday before returning home to host Texas-Pan American in the MWC’s final non-conference game of the regular season.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes had to wait the longest to get their conference play underway, but they were well-prepared when they did, as they handed TCU a 20-point loss at the Huntsman Center on Saturday. Senior guard Luka Drca scored all 14 of his game-high points in the second half as Utah outscored the Horned Frogs by 15 in the second half. However, the Utes then walked into a hornet’s nest on Wednesday as they visited 0-2 New Mexico in The Pit and came away with a 17-point beatdown. The Utes still have failed to find a consistent offensive threat. Drca followed up his opener with seven points on 3-9 shooting. Junior guard Carlon Brown scored just four points on four field goal attempts. And even freshman guard Marshall Henderson, who led the team with 12, only hit three of his 11 shots, as the team combined to shoot just 35% from the field and 58% from the line.

Looking ahead: Doesn’t get any easier for the Utes. They’ll face UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday before hosting San Diego State on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: Until conference play began, the Lobos had been a high-flying, high-octane offense, routinely scoring in the 80s on their way to a 14-1 record. But, when they opened league play at San Diego State, they put up a season-low in points, scoring only 64. And against UNLV on Saturday, the Lobos season low dropped again as they scored just 62 in The Pit behind 36% shooting from the field and 22% from behind the arc. While the Lobos were able to bounce back with a big win over Utah on Wednesday, they did so in spite of just 10-31 shooting from their big three of senior Roman Martinez and juniors Darington Hobson and Dairese Gary. Head coach Steve Alford has to be pleased with his team’s ability to win games even when the shots aren’t falling (done on Wednesday by both making more free throws than their opponent took and putting together two killer runs – a 10-0 run to close the first half and a 13-1 run late in the second half to put the game away), but heads will rest much lighter around Albuquerque when the shooting percentages go back up.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a chance to feast on some of the weaker teams of the MWC this week, but they’ll have to do it on the road, traveling to Wyoming on Saturday and Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: After collapsing in the last five minutes of their game at Wyoming on Saturday (detailed above), the young Aztecs didn’t have a lot of time to regroup, having to travel to Vegas to face the Rebels on Wednesday. But, the troubles that plagued SDSU in their loss at Laramie followed them down the Rockies, namely, turning the ball over too much (39 turnovers in their two games this week) and failing to finish games (getting outscored by 16 in the second half of both games). Leonard continued his strong play this week, averaging 19/11, but has been inconsistent as well, turning the ball over six times against Wyoming and making some questionable decisions at time. Gay has also struggled a bit this week, especially against the talented backcourt of UNLV, turning the ball over five times and failing to get his offense running smoothly for long stretches.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs return to Montezuma Mesa to host TCU on Saturday before traveling to Salt Lake City to face Utah on Tuesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys avoided the dreaded 0-2 conference start at home on Saturday by roaring back from 14 down with under five minutes to play to knock off San Diego State. Muojeke had 10 points in the final five minutes (on his way to 30 for the game) and sophomore point guard Luster added nine points, all on three, in the same time span as part of a 24-8 run to win the game. The Cowboys tried to catch lightning in a bottle twice in one week at TCU on Tuesday, falling behind against by as much as 14, rallying to within a point following a Muojeke three-point play with 35 seconds left, but failing to convert three field goal attempts down the stretch in a 62-59 loss.

Looking ahead: A scary week looms for Heath Schroyer and his squad, as the Cowboys will host a hungry 0-2 New Mexico team on Saturday before traveling to Provo to face BYU on Wednesday.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons are still playing severely short-handed with three starters out, but did get some good news this week as senior forward Mike McLain and senior guard Avery Merriex were both able to return from concussions (at least temporarily in McLain’s case – he played on Saturday, but skipped Wednesday’s game). That little bit of good news, however, was tempered by the results on the court, as Air Force lost to Colorado State and BYU by a combined 40 points. The Falcons did get some production out of freshman swingman Mike Fitzgerald (who hit seven threes during the week), but a team that was already likely the least talented team in the league with a full roster desperately needs to get healthy in order to compete in the MWC.

Looking ahead: With still no firm date as to the potential returns of senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury), sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion) or sophomore swingman Taylor Stewart (broken wrist, out until mid-February at least), the Falcons will have to forge ahead, hosting New Mexico on Saturday in their only game of the week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 1st, 2010

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

Standings (as of 12/30):

  1. New Mexico 13-1
  2. BYU 13-1
  3. UNLV 12-2
  4. San Diego State 10-3
  5. Colorado State 8-5
  6. Air Force 7-5
  7. TCU 6-7
  8. Wyoming 6-7
  9. Utah 6-7

Superlatives:

Team of the WeekNew Mexico – Hard to pick one given the slim pickings this time of year, but we’ll give the nod to New Mexico (rather than BYU for destroying Arizona in epic fashion on Monday) for handling a solid Texas Tech team in impressive fashion.  The Lobos had five players score in double figures, led by junior Darington Hobson who had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.  They led by 12 at the half, and following a brief Red Raider run to start the second half, coasted to a 15 point victory at the Pit.  Freshman wing Curtis Dennis also provided a spark with strong defense, hustle plays and 16 points along the way.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU –  Fredette got going early and often against Arizona on Tuesday night, pouring in 49 points (on 16-23 shooting, including 9-13 from three), while adding seven rebounds and nine assists for one of the most complete games that anybody across the country has put up this season.  Fredette’s explosion was the most points scored in BYU history, and the most points scored in the history of the McKale Center.

Newcomer of the Week: Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – Hobson takes home his third NOTW award from this space with his performance against Texas Tech detailed above.  He has been simply amazing at times this year, an incredibly versatile force who can grab a strong rebound at one end of the floor, weave his way up court and either find an open Lobo for an easy finish, complete the play himself with either a gliding finger-roll or a pull-up three or settle back in to run the half court offense.  If you haven’t had a chance to see Hobson yet this season, look him up when you get a chance, as all but one Lobo game the rest of the season will be televised somewhere, mostly on The MTN.

Game of the Week: Air Force 77 Niagara 71 – Okay, it was a slow week, and between some big blowout wins by MWC powers and some ugly losses, there weren’t a whole lot of contenders for this title.  We’ll give the nod here to the Falcons, who had five players score in double figures on the way to building up to a lead as big as 10.  But the Purple Eagles came strong down the stretch, pulling to within one with under a minute to play, but Air Force was able to maintain its lead by knocking down its free throws in the end.  Junior guard Evan Washington continued his strong play for the Falcons, racking up 19 points and eight boards, while junior forward Tom Fow added 17.

Games of the Upcoming Week: UNLV @ BYU, January 6th – While the MWC season opens a day earlier in San Diego, this will give us a good look at two of the contenders for the MWC crown.  Both teams feature strong perimeter games and tough defenses, but it may come down to who can control the paint and the glass with guys like BYU’s Noah Hartsock, Chris Miles and James Anderson battling it out with UNLV’s Matt Shaw, Darris Santee and Chace Stanback for interior control.

League Notes:

It’s been a slow week around the Mountain West, with only Air Force playing more than once, and with the non-conference slate wrapping up and the conference games set to begin, it is time to look at how the teams have positioned themselves with an eye towards the NCAA tournament.  The conference as a whole took a step forward with respect to their strength of the non-conference schedule, which helps the teams at the top of the conference continue to build their resumes through the conference season, but has left the bottom of the conference likely already out of the chase for even the lesser postseason tournaments.  Despite the much-talked-about weakness of the Pac-10 this season, the MWC still only ranks as the seventh strongest conference in the nation (just ahead of the A-10 and C-USA, according to KenPom, through December 29), having compiled a 81-38 (through Wednesday) record thus far this season, but having fallen to 10-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back: New Mexico’s difficult non-conference schedule continued this week as they handed Texas Tech their second loss of the season, detailed above.

While there is still one more big hurdle in their non-conference play, Steve Alford’s squad has already notched victories over Louisiana Tech, Cal, Texas A&M, Creighton and Texas Tech and done more than enough to consider their pre-conference play a rousing success.  Hobson has emerged as a dominant force in the conference, and there is enough talent surrounding him to make New Mexico a legitimate national threat.

Looking ahead: The Lobos host Dayton on New Year’s Day for another shot at a quality non-conference victory before beginning their conference schedule on Tuesday at San Diego State.

New Mexico has established itself as a co-favorite (along with BYU) to win the MWC regular season title and has laid the groundwork for an almost certain NCAA bid.  They have enough versatile parts (four different players in the rotation that can run the point, a host of talented wings, athletic defenders) to cause matchup problems for bigger teams, but may be a little thin in the paint, with only sophomores Will Brown and A.J. Hardeman providing legitimate interior presences.  And, perhaps more than anything else, this is an incredibly young team, with only one senior (wing Roman Martinez) seven freshmen and sophomores in their rotation, leaving some questions as to how this team will be able to fare under the pressure of March.

BYU

Looking back: Just one game for the Cougars this week, but they made sure to supply plenty of excitement to tide the fans over until conference play begins with a 99-69 win over Arizona at the McKale Center, the largest loss an Arizona team had experienced in the history of that venue.  But that wasn’t the only record set that night as junior guard Jimmer Fredette went off for 49 points (detailed above).

While New Mexico got most of the press in the MWC due to their extended undefeated run, BYU has slipped under the radar a bit on their way to currently being ranked number five in the most recent KenPom rankings, with their biggest win over Arizona State and their only loss on the road at Utah State.

Looking ahead: The Cougars have a cupcake against Eastern New Mexico before opening their conference season at home against UNLV (1/6).  They’ll then travel to UTEP (1/9) for their final non-conference game of the season in a game that may be their biggest test of the season so far.

BYU has been among the most efficient teams on both ends of the floor thus far this season, and while Fredette deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit for that, junior guard Jackson Emery has been a revelation thus far this season as well, thus far ranking second in the nation in both Effective Field Goal Percentage (73%) and True Shooting Percentage (74.9%).  While it may be too soon to tell if he can keep up that kind of pace, BYU seems like a sure thing. They should compete for a conference title, and still have plenty of leeway to capture an at-large bid should they come up a bit short.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s last game in the non-conference schedule was the championship game of the inaugural Diamond Head Classic against USC on Christmas Day, and the Rebels had some of their weaknesses exposed as USC proved to be the more physical team.  The Trojans were able to slow the pace of the game down and held Vegas to 34% shooting from the field including a paltry 5/22 from three-point.

When all is said and done, the Rebels come out of the non-conference portion of their schedule with a nice looking 12-2 record, but deeper examination shows only a win over Louisville as the best win on the schedule for the Rebs.  While there is nothing that could be considered a bad loss, the Rebels will have to have a strong conference performance to improve their potential at-large resume.

Looking ahead: The Rebels will find out at lot about themselves at the start of their Mountain West schedule, as they will travel to face BYU (1/6) and New Mexico (1/9) in their first two conference games before returning home to host San Diego State (1/13) and Utah (1/16).

While the half-court offense for the Rebels is definitely a question mark, there is no doubt that this is a very good defensive team, and this is a team that will likely make its stand by forcing turnovers defensively while controlling the ball offensively; Vegas is not a team that is going to give a lot of games away.  Further, this is a team that should improve over the season as their newcomers (two transfers and two freshmen among their rotation) get used to their new teammates and system.  The Rebels may not have the horses to compete with New Mexico and BYU for the conference title, but they should be a tournament-contender all season long.

San Diego State

Looking back: San Diego State’s lone game of the week was a closer-than-should-have-been squeaker over UC Riverside.  The Aztecs led by as many as 10 in the second half, but Riverside got back within a point on a Kyle Austin jumper with 44 seconds left.  Austin had a game-tying three-point attempt blocked by junior Malcolm Thomas blocked in the waning moments and SDSU escaped with a five-point win.

The Aztecs have one more cupcake remaining in their non-conference schedule and seem poised to take an 11-3 record into the conference schedule, but have no real impressive wins under their belt yet.  Wins over teams like Arizona and Fresno State were impressive, hard-fought wins, but the two best teams that the Aztecs faced, Saint Mary’s and Arizona State, handed them two of their three losses.

Looking ahead: SDSU will face Pomona-Pitzer on New Year’s Eve to complete their non-conference schedule, then will host New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference opener on Tuesday.

Like other teams around the conference, the Aztecs have a lot of new faces this year in the form of freshmen, transfers and even returning players taking on new roles.  As the season has progressed, players have settled into their roles and the team has improved steadily from week to week, and has turned into a very strong team on the glass, especially on the offensive end.  While they will take a strong record into conference play, they still have plenty of work to do to shore up their postseason resume, and will likely need a strong third-place MWC finish combined with a win or two over opponents like BYU, New Mexico or UNLV in order to make their odds of an at-large tournament bid more realistic.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams traveled to Fresno on Monday, and, as unlikely as it may seem, the plane trip to Fresno may have been the highlight of the week.  Because once the ball was in the air, the Rams were largely absent.  They made just five of 28 field goal attempts in the first half, missed all ten of their threes and were down 36-13 after 20 minutes of play.  If that weren’t bad enough, they slept through the opening few minutes of the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to score the first 11 of the half, and found themselves down 34 points on the way to a 23-point embarrassment.

While the Rams built up a little confidence in early December with a four game winning streak, they have now lost two straight and find themselves a game away from conference play with an exciting win over Colorado as their high point.

Looking ahead: CSU hosts Yale on New Year’s Eve before opening conference play with a trip to Wyoming (1/6) and a home game against Air Force (1/9).  If the Rams hope to make any splash in MWC play this year, those first two games against teams that they can beat are musts.

The Rams have some upside, with three freshmen (guard Dorian Green and forwards Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung) that they are excited about, but seem destined for a lower division MWC finish.  They simply don’t have the athletes or consistency to play with the premier teams in the conference, but with a little luck could make a run at a CBI or one of the other seven (I believe) post-season college basketball tournaments.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s possible Air Force had the most interesting week of all the MWC teams, as they competed in the final non-conference tournament of the season, the Sun Bowl Invitational at El Paso.  The Falcons showed well for themselves, knocking off a tough Niagara team in the semifinal round before losing to host UTEP in the championship. Once again, the Falcons played without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who has now missed the last five games with a groin injury.  Sophomore center Sammy Schafer has also now missed nine straight games with complications from a concussion.  No firm return date is set for either player at this point.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host Texas-Pan American on Saturday then kick off their MWC play at TCU on Wednesday.  If all goes well, Parker and Schafer could possibly return for the MWC opener.

While the current 7-5 record may not look all that pretty, you have to give credit to the Falcons for mostly beating the teams that they were supposed to beat (with the exception of Northern Arizona) and even sneaking in an upset.  While the majority of the Falcons’ wins so far have been over the weak-sisters of Division I (and even lesser divisions) like UC Davis, Prairie View A&M and Dickinson State, they snuck in a win on a neutral court over a good Niagara team this past week.  While coach Jeff Reynolds should harbor no illusions about being a NCAA tournament contender (barring an unlikely run through the MWC tournament), the Falcons have improved from last season.  They’ll need to finish near .500 in a tough MWC, however, in order to have any chance for a non-NCAA tournament postseason bid.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs became the third MWC team to lose to Northern Colorado, as they fell to the Bears on Wednesday night by 11.  After a close first half, a 14-4 run gave Northern Colorado a comfortable working margin and the Frogs were never within a possession of the lead the rest of the game.

For a fairly talented team that looked like a solid middle-of-the-pack MWC at the beginning of the year, the month of December has been tough for the Frogs as they have only posted one win over a Division I school in five tries, adding a win over an NAIA school along the way.  While fairly effective offensively and featuring several very skilled players, they have been absolutely abysmal defensively, ranking near the bottom of Division I in a variety of statistics, and their only wins on the season have come against the dregs of D-I.  The Horned Frogs have played a very difficult schedule in the early season (KenPom ranks it the 36th toughest schedule in the nation), but have thus far shown an inability to hang with good teams.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts Rice in their final non-conference game on Saturday, then hosts Air Force on Wednesday in their conference opener.

With a 6-7 record at this point, TCU would have to play their conference schedule above .500 to have postseason hopes.  Given their defensive struggles to this point, that seems increasingly unlikely.  While they feature an very good offensive point in sophomore Ronnie Moss, an excellent shooter in senior Edvinas Ruzgas, a skilled big man in senior Zvonko Buljan and a hustling glue-guy in sophomore Kevin Butler, they lack the athleticism to guard effective offensive teams well enough to compete with the elite MWC teams.

Wyoming

Looking back: Wyoming’s home court advantage at 7000-plus feet of elevation didn’t seem so scary Wednesday night as Akron was the team to finish strong, posting a 16-7 run in the final four minutes to finish off the Cowboys.  Wyoming played without freshman point guard JayDee Luster who sat out with an injured shoulder, and Akron’s tiny point Humpty Hitchens got off for 16 points and three three-pointers to lead the Zips.

While Wyoming plays at one of the highest tempos in the nation, their offense has been horribly inefficient, averaging significantly less than a point per offensive possession.  While some key injuries (to Luster, who has yet to be healthy this season, and sophomore leading scorer Afam Muojeke, who missed four games with a knee injury) and the overall youth of the team (eight sophomores and freshmen among the 10-man rotation) are to blame for some of it, this just isn’t a very talented Wyoming team.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Adams State on Saturday to round out their conference schedule and likely get them back to .500 for the season before hosting Colorado State in their MWC opener on Wednesday.

The Cowboys are another in a line of teams at the bottom of the MWC conference who have dug themselves a hole in their non-conference play.  They’ll need to compile a .500 or better record against a tough conference to give themselves a chance at any type of postseason play (the NCAAs are out of the question), and given their inability to get quality possessions offensively, there is no reason to suspect that the Cowboys are capable of playing .500 ball the rest of the way.  Likely, the rest of this season will be dedicated to finding out who they have that they can build upon next year, especially with Luster and fellow freshman guard Desmar Jackson.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes got things headed back in the right direction by hanging one on a solid Texas-San Antonio team Tuesday night.  Sophomore center David Foster returned from a turned ankle to block six shots, while senior Luka Drca added 19 points and the Utes held UTSA to 33% shooting and only three assists on their 16 field goals en route to a 22 point Utah win.

It’s been a disappointing early season for the Utes, still fighting to get back to .500 after a recent three-game skid and some bad losses (Idaho, Seattle, Pepperdine) throughout the schedule.  The Utes have been terribly inefficient offensively, have struggled shooting the ball (especially from deep) and have even struggled on the glass, which is completely unacceptable for one of the tallest teams in the country.  And yet, the Utes have shown that they are talented enough to play with some good teams, having defeated Utah State and Michigan at home and Illinois on a neutral court.

Looking ahead: The Utes wrap up non-conference play with a trip to Baton Rouge on Saturday for a battle of underperforming teams.  Conference play starts with a home game against TCU on the following Saturday, backed up by a trip to the Pit to face the Lobos on January 13th.

About the only thing to be sure of for the rest of the Ute season is inconsistency.  Coach Jim Boylen is an excellent teacher, so the Utes are sure to get improvement out of its younger players, but the lack of consistent outside shooting up and down the roster seems destined to doom this Utah basketball squad to mediocrity.  There is enough talent and size here to be sure that the Utes will probably knock off teams like BYU, New Mexico and UNLV at some point this season, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see wins like that followed with losses to teams like Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming.  And yet, if this team gets hot at the right moment in March, they could certainly win three games in three days and find themselves dancing.  But don’t hold your breath.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/10)

  1. New Mexico      9-0
  2. UNLV     7-0         
  3. BYU        7-1
  4. San Diego State    7-2         
  5. Air Force      5-2         
  6. Colorado State     6-3
  7. Utah     5-4         
  8. TCU      5-4
  9. Wyoming   4-4         

Superlatives

Team of the Week. Utah – I’m not sure why, but I’m just fascinated with this team. There’s no real point guard here, but there are several different guys that can handle a little and make an amazing play, only to follow it up by turning it over on consecutive possessions. Their most athletically-gifted player (junior Carlon Brown) can do a ton of useful things, but unfortunately, shooting from the outside consistently is not one of them. They have a 7’3 monster in the middle in sophomore David Foster, and can run out a starting five that goes 6’4, 6’5, 6’7, 6’10, 7’3, and yet they get outrebounded by Idaho State. They can go through a whole game with only a handful of assists one night, then have senior guard Luka Drca run the offense like a dream the next. And here we are, almost a month into the season, and I still have no idea what to expect from this team. Head coach Jim Boylen could pull an Izzo and get this team together to compete for a conference title. Or more likely, they mix in a handful of wins over teams like BYU, New Mexico and UNLV with sleepy losses to Air Force, Wyoming and Colorado State on the way to a middle-of-the-pack finish. Either way, give credit to the Utes for pulling it together long enough to string together a couple wins this week, including a strong performance against slumping Michigan on Wednesday night.

Player of the Week. Roman Martinez, Sr, New Mexico – Three times we’ve caught up with the MWC, and three times a Lobo has taken home these honors. Martinez gets the nod this week after Darrington Hobson’s previous two wins, following a week in which nets from Albuquerque to San Diego have cowered in fear under Martinez’s gaze. In two games, Martinez knocked down 13 three pointers (on just 17 attempts) and racked up an average of 23.5 points a game.  Throw in eight rebounds and five steals against New Mexico State, and a couple more wins for his undefeated team and things are looking up down in The Pit.

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