Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.16.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 16th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)

Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.

#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)

ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.

#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: ESPN’s 24 Hours Of Hoops Marathon 2010

Posted by jstevrtc on November 15th, 2010

PUT. THAT COFFEE. DOWN.

For the third year in a row, ESPN is bringing us what we consider one of the great television events on the sports television calendar, the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon. That means that for the third year in a row, I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing from start to finish — and this year, we’re climbing this hoops blogger’s Everest without supplemental oxygen. That is to say…I’m going caffeine-free. More importantly, here is the schedule of games for this year’s marathon (all times Eastern):

  • 12:00 midnight — Miami (FL) at Memphis (ESPN)
  • 2:00 am — St. John’s at St. Mary’s (ESPN)
  • 4:00 am — Central Michigan at Hawaii (ESPN)
  • 6:00 am — Stony Brook at Monmouth (ESPN)
  • 8:00 am — Robert Morris at Kent State (ESPN)
  • 10:00 am — Northeastern at Southern Illinois (ESPN)
  • 12 noon — Oral Roberts at Tulsa (ESPN)
  • 2:00 pm — La Salle at Baylor (ESPN)
  • 4:00 pm — Virginia Tech at Kansas State (ESPN)
  • 5:30 pm — Marist at Villanova (ESPNU)
  • 6:00 pm — Ohio State at Florida (ESPN)
  • 7:30 pm — Miami (OH) at Duke (ESPNU)
  • 8:00 pm — Butler at Louisville (ESPN)
  • 9:30 pm — Belmont at Tennessee (ESPNU)
  • 10:00 pm — South Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN)
  • 11:00 pm — San Diego State at Gonzaga (ESPN2)
  • 11:30 pm — Pacific at UCLA (ESPNU)

The first attempt at this resulted in some hallucinations and arrhythmias as the hour got late (I had been up for 16 hours before starting the live blog) and I required a few caffeine-laden beverages. Last year, we had a technical glitch that kept us on our toes, but the live blog survived. This time, to raise the standard yet again, I’ll be sans caffeine. I know that without a webcam (we’re not that kind of site) you have no reason to believe that I’m not pounding sodas and cappuccinos and Five Hour Energy drinks by the blender-full. Since I believe RTC is the only site that’s done this all three years, well…you’ll just have to trust me. After two years, I think our relationship is in that kind of place. I hope you’ll join us right here (the live blog will continue in this post) a few minutes before midnight. Now, for my pre-live-blog meal. How’s a little turkey and wine sound?

11:47 PM Monday — Here we go. The high-def at the RTC Southern Compound is rockin’. We’ve checked the router and the internet connection to the building (which bit us in zee buttocks last year), and it appears solid. The football game is all but over (as it has been since halftime). Let’s go.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.13.10 & 11.14.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

There aren’t that many great games this weekend as most of that action was taken care of on Friday night. However, we’ve picked out three games this weekend worth monitoring. Unfortunately, two of them are not on television. Fear not however, those two games will be covered by RTC Live. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Saturday, November 13

#23 San Diego State @ Long Beach State – 7 pm (no TV, RTC Live) (***)

The Aztecs Can Compete With Almost Anyone Up Front

If you don’t know about Kawhi Leonard, you’d better get acquainted. Leonard led the Mountain West in rebounding (9.9 RPG) last year as a freshman and led his team in scoring at 12.7 PPG. A first team all-MWC preseason selection along with teammate Malcolm Thomas, Leonard may be able to vault himself into All-American territory with a great season. San Diego State was picked to win the Mountain West this year and Steve Fisher certainly has many reasons to be excited as the Aztecs return all five starters from their NCAA Tournament team. Long Beach State also had two of their players selected first team all-conference in T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware. The 49ers are led by former Gonzaga and Minnesota head coach Dan Monson and return four starters from a 17-win team. This is not a cupcake game for the Aztecs of SDSU and they’ll need to be ready to play from the get-go on the road. Ken Pomeroy predicts a five point victory for San Diego State. They should win, but you never know on the road in college basketball (especially early in the year). Leonard going up against Robinson should be a treat, though Leonard holds a 15 pound weight advantage. Robinson averaged a double-double last year and is one of the better mid-major players in the nation. Holding Leonard somewhat in check could be the key for the 49ers if they hope to score a huge upset in this one.

Weber State @ Utah State – 9 pm (no TV, RTC Live) (**)

This battle of in-state rivals may be overshadowed by the “Winning team! Losing team!” chant we saw from the Utah State crowd last year. Please excuse us if we’d like to hear that again. Utah State is the better team and returns four starters from last year’s NCAA team that won the WAC regular season. Weber State was picked to win the Big Sky conference this year behind point guard Damian Lillard who tore it up in his sophomore season to the tune of 19.9 PPG and almost four APG. WSU also returns starter Kyle Bullinger from last year’s 20-win crew. Stew Morrill has the Utah State Aggies in position to win the WAC again this year behind the senior experience of Tai Wesley (13.7/6.6/3.3 last year) and Nate Bendall (10.3/5.5). Should they not, they’ll actually have a chance to enhance their NCAA resume on the road at Georgetown. Those who follow this program know that Morrill hasn’t exactly been willing to schedule tough games away from Logan, Utah. Utah State leads the all-time series 37-25 and has won nine of the last ten. Weber State hasn’t won a game in Logan, about an hour’s drive north from Ogden, since the 1993-1994 season. We expect that to continue and if so we hope to get another earful from the Utah State fans.

Sunday, November 14

Princeton @ #1 Duke – 5 pm on ESPNU (***)

While this game doesn’t figure to be close, it’s your first opportunity to see Duke in real competition this season. Of course you’ll have many opportunities to catch the Blue Devils on one of the World Wide Leader’s networks this year, but there’s something cool about watching the defending champion and preseason favorite for the first time. Princeton enters the game at 1-0 after taking care of Rutgers in overtime on Friday night. The Tigers used only eight players and two of them didn’t even clock ten minutes of action. Their six man rotation is led by Dan Mavraides who dropped 26 points on Rutgers. He was 8-14 from the floor and a red hot 6-10 from the behind the arc. Duke will counter with just your typical college player in Nolan Smith at the two. Of course, Smith is anything by typical. An All-American candidate, the senior will team with Kyle Singler and crew in hopes of bringing back to back titles to Durham, just like the Dukies did in the early 1990’s. Duke should win this one easily but there are some things you should be watching in this game. One, the play of freshman star point guard Kyrie Irving. Two, the development of Miles and Mason Plumlee. Three, the contributions of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins off the bench for head coach Mike Krzyzewski. These three things will be key if Duke hopes to repeat this season.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. San Diego State (13-3)
  2. BYU (12-4)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. UNLV (11-5)
  5. Colorado State (9-7)
  6. Wyoming (6-10)
  7. Utah (6-10)
  8. TCU (3-13)
  9. Air Force (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jimmer Fredette, Sr, BYU (22.1 PPG, 4.7 APG)
  • G: Dairese Gary, Sr, New Mexico (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • G: Tre’Von Willis, Sr, UNLV (17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Afam Muojeke, Jr, Wyoming (16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, Soph, San Diego State (12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG)

6th Man

Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

If you aren't already, get used to seeing and hearing about Jimmer Fredette.

Impact Newcomer

Drew Gordon, Jr, New Mexico – Gordon left UCLA midway through the Bruins awful season last year after never meshing with Ben Howland and his system, and as a result, he won’t be eligible for Steve Alford until after the first semester. But Gordon showed enough talent in his years in Westwood that he will be a welcome addition for what was an undersized Lobo team last season. However, Gordon did tear the meniscus in his right knee in mid-October and, although he is not expected to miss any game action, he may miss out on valuable practice time leading up to his expected December 17 debut.

What You Need to Know

  • Best In The West? Given the Mountain West’s history as a contender for the title of the top non-BCS conference in the nation, and given that the Pac-10 is at its lowest point in memory, it’s quite possible that, at least for 2010-11, the MWC may be the best conference in the West. Last season, four MWC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and in just over a decade of existence, only once has the MWC failed to place more than one team to the Big Dance (2000-01). However, major changes are afoot in the conference, as Utah and BYU, both consistently strong basketball forces, will be leaving for the Pac-10 and WCC, respectively. Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference, but while those teams are capable of putting together strong seasons (Nevada, in particular, has  recent success on the court), they’ll be hard-pressed to replace the production of the two Utah schools.
  • Familiar Faces: When you look around the conference this season, there will be a lot of veterans up and down the rosters, as 70% of the players that averaged more than five points per game last season return. Only Utah, of the nine conference teams, will look drastically different, as they lost two starters to graduation, a third starter to transfer, and five additional bench players to transfers as well. Bolstering the general experience around the league is a flood of incoming transfers: Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu at New Mexico, Quintrell Thomas at UNLV, Hank Thorns at TCU, Wes Eikemeier at Colorado State and James Rahon at San Diego State. Not only will there be a lot of recognizable players on the court, there continues to be a lot of stability on the sidelines, as for the second consecutive year, every head coach in the MWC returns.
  • Non-conference Boost: Last season seemed to mark the first year of a new era in non-conference scheduling in the MWC. After earning a reputation as a conference whose teams would play consistently tough games, they slipped out of the top 20 in non-conference strength of schedule for a stretch from the 2006-07 season through the 2008-09 season. However, last year, the MWC addressed this in several ways. First and foremost, their teams were able to go out and get games against Pac-10 and Big 12 competition, but they were also able to get their teams in some good early-season tournaments, and they began the MWC/MVC Challenge, guaranteeing every team in the conference a matchup with a team from the Missouri Valley. That MWC/MVC Challenge will continue (the two conferences signed a four-year agreement), as will the involvement of conference teams in early-season tournaments (for instance, New Mexico plays in the Las Vegas Classic, UNLV in the 76 Classic, Colorado State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, BYU in the South Padre Island Classic, Utah in the Diamondhead Classic, Wyoming in the Cancun Classic and San Diego State in the CBE Classic – and yes, the people that run these tournaments need to consult a thesaurus for an alternative to “Classic”). Additionally, the tougher non-conference scheduling continues, with conference schools making trips to places like Spokane, Berkeley, Logan, Ann Arbor, El Paso, Dayton, Tulsa, Louisville and Kansas City over the course of the non-conference slate.

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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 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, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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Mountain West Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.  He will be reporting from the MWC Tournament throughout the weekend.

Final Standings

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (28-4, 13-3)
  3. UNLV     (23-7, 11-5)
  4. San Diego State      (22-8, 11-5)
  5. Colorado State      (16-14, 7-9)
  6. Utah       (14-16 , 7-9)
  7. TCU        (13-18, 5-11)
  8. Wyoming       (10-20, 3-13)
  9. Air Force         (9-20, 1-15)               

Superlatives

  • Player of the Year. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. In my MWC preview at the start of the year, the name Darington Hobson didn’t appear once. But, after a week or so of play, he was my first Player of the Week, an honor he went on to win four times over the course of the season. He broke onto the scene in the Lobos first game against UC Riverside with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, the type of jam-packed stat sheet that came to be expected of him over the season, as he averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists throughout. While not a pure shooter by any means, he averaged a little over a three per game (at a 38% clip), turned into a capable manager of the offense (despite averaging three turnovers a game) and was able to defend bigger players as well as match up with a smaller, quicker guards when necessary. With another year ahead of him in Albuquerque, Hobson’s not done being a force in the MWC.
  • Newcomer of the Year. Hobson. If he’s the Player of the Year, and he’s also a newcomer, it stands to reason he’s also the Newcomer of the Year.
  • Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. Sure, there was that embarrassing incident with Jonathan Tavernari at the end of the year. And sure, if this was even a little bit of a close call, I’d be throwing this thing Dave Rose’s way. But Alford took a team that lost its three leading scorers last year and rebuilt on the fly, getting solid contributions from nine different players as the Lobos ran out to a 14-1 record in the non-conference and vaulting into the top 25. However, a rough start to the MWC schedule had the Lobos 0-2 after losses at San Diego State and at home to UNLV. But Alford had his team turn it around to the tune of 14 straight wins to close out the regular season, giving the Lobos a strong argument in favor of a lofty NCAA seed. And if all that isn’t impressive enough, he did this all with only one senior on the roster (forward Roman Martinez), meaning the Lobos aren’t done howling around the top of the MWC standings.
  • Freshman of the Year. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Leonard came into the season as the most highly regarded freshman in the conference, and one of the most highly sought after recruits to sign in the MWC in years. While it took Leonard a bit of time to get truly comfortable in head coach Steve Fisher’s system, by mid-December he was dropping lines like 23/18 on Cal State Fullerton. But it wasn’t really until conference play that Leonard was fully comfortable displaying all his skills. Sure, he was a great athletic rebounder (who led the conference in rebounding with almost 10 rebounds a game), sure he could finish above the rim, but as conference play wore on you saw him bring the ball up court against pressure, take the defensive challenge against opponents as diverse as UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and New Mexico’s Martinez and Hobson, develop a face-up game and turn into a leader in the Aztec huddle. And, as is a common theme that will re-occur around the league, he is one of at least eight contributors on the SDSU team that are expected to return next season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard. Conventional wisdom has this award going to Utah’s 7’3” behemoth David Foster, who did reject his foes 113 times (4.0 blocks per game) this season. But as impressive as those numbers were, Foster wasn’t particularly good on the defensive glass and was immobile enough against quicker fours and fives in the MWC to have been a liability at times. Instead, I’m going to go with the more versatile Leonard who guarded his share of fours and fives over the season, while also taking his cracks at guys like Willis (who he was partially responsible for holding to 11-30 shooting in the Aztecs’ two games with the Rebels). Leonard also added 39 steals and 20 blocks while consistently pairing with junior Malcolm Thomas to clean the defensive glass for the Aztecs

All MWC First Team

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Standings (as of 3/5)

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (27-4, 12-3)
  3. San Diego State    (21-8, 10-5)
  4. UNLV       (22-7, 10-5)
  5. Utah          (14-15, 7-8)
  6. Colorado State      (15-14, 6-9)
  7. TCU          (13-17, 5-10)
  8. Wyoming         (10-19, 3-12)
  9. Air Force          (9-19, 1-14)

Superlatives

Team of the Week. New Mexico. The obvious answer here, as the Lobos this week knocked off BYU at the Marriott Center to clinch at least a portion of the regular season title, then followed that up by knocking off TCU back at The Pit to wrap up their MWC schedule with their 14th straight victory after starting out the conference season 0-2. The Lobos will head to Las Vegas as the #1 seed and have the potential to take home perhaps a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament should they extend their winning streak to 17.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. The junior JuCo transfer wrapped up this title, as well as my vote for the MWC Player of the Year, by leading his team to a win at BYU and a MWC title. Along the way this week, he averaged a mere 20 points, 14 rebounds (he in fact had exactly 20/14 in both games this week) and 5.5 assists, and had the key defensive play at the end of the Lobos win over BYU when he rejected Noah Hartsock’s game-tying attempt in the closing seconds.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 83 BYU 81. While this game came down to the wire and provided plenty of drama in a game for the conference regular season title, it is unfortunate that this game may be more notable for what didn’t happen than what did, specifically BYU’s junior guard Jimmer Fredette riding the pine for all but 29 seconds in the second half due to an “upset stomach.” The Cougars did have backup point Michael Loyd step up in Fredette’s absence to the tune of 19 points, but there is little doubt that the Cougars were at less than 100% effectiveness without their best player. The other story that came out of this matchup that had little to do with the game was New Mexico head coach Steve Alford aiming an insult at BYU senior forward Jonathan Tavernari after the game. Nevermind that Tavernari’s behavior in the closing minutes of the game was suspect at best, Alford was somewhat out of line. As far as the game goes, there were plenty of great moments, but most fans are left wanting a rematch in Vegas, preferably with a healthy Fredette.

Game of the Upcoming Week. The MWC Tournament Championship Game, March 13, 4pm, Versus. The remaining games in the MWC regular season schedule are all more or less snoozers, although UNLV, San Diego State and BYU will have to avoid slipping up against Wyoming, TCU and Air Force, respectively. But, at this point in the season, all eyes turn toward the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas next weekend, in what should feature some very competitive semifinals and a great final.

League Notes

At this point, there are four teams with NCAA dreams (New Mexico, BYU, UNLV and San Diego State) and a couple others (Utah and Colorado State) with their eyes on the NIT (or potentially, one of the other fourteen lesser post-season tournaments that have popped up recently – ah look, there goes another one now). While that makes for a banner season in the MWC, the concern around the league is not just getting to the tournament, but advancing. With that in mind, a brief look at how high (in terms of NCAA seedings) and how far these teams can go.

  • New Mexico – The Lobos will likely end up somewhere between a #2 and a #4 seed. If they roll through the MWC Tournament and get maybe one or two other breaks, they could potentially get up to a #2, while if they falter, say in the semifinals, they could slide to a #4. Split the difference and put ‘em down for a #3. In terms of how far they can go, clearly a team looking at those kinds of seeds has their eyes on at least the Sweet Sixteen, but a night of cold shooting especially at the foul line could cause the Lobos to underachieve. Their worst potential matchup would be with a team with a lot of size that could neutralize New Mexico’s rebounding strength, a team like Gonzaga, Wisconsin or Georgia Tech. In the end, I say this is a Sweet Sixteen team, but likely no further.
  • BYU – BYU’s lack of great wins will probably knock them down a notch or two in seeding, so even if they are able to run through the MWC Tournament, they probably get a #4 tops. More likely they are looking at a #5 and could slip to a #6. However, BYU may be a more dangerous team in the tournament than New Mexico. The Cougars are one of the most efficient teams on both sides of the court and feature not only a boatload of great shooters, but a strong bench as well, and this is a more athletic team than it is normally given credit for. BYU is also a team that can succeed not only in high-tempo games, but in slower grind-it-out games. I can see this team as a Sweet Sixteen team with a puncher’s chance of going a step further.
  • UNLV – The Rebels have enough good wins this season to more or less ensure inclusion in the tournament and they should draw a first-round battle as a seed somewhere in the #7-#9 range. Their chances of advancing depend a lot on matchups, but this is not a team that is likely to be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
  • San Diego State – The big question for the Aztecs is not so much where they will be seeded, but if they will be seeded. A big run through the MWC Tournament is the only way that Steve Fisher will be resting easy on the night of March 13, but a run to the final would at least give SDSU another quality win to hang their hat on. Either way, even if the Aztecs do get to dance, they’ll likely be doing so with a double-digit seed, somewhere from #11 (if they do win the MWC tourney) to #13 (if they are among the last teams in. I’ve got a hunch this team will get a #12 seed, and while they are athletic enough to do some damage, they’ll likely bow out quickly.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Not much else to say here that wasn’t said above. The Lobos have wrapped up their conference schedule and by the time they play again they will not have lost in over two months. Roman Martinez dropped 19 points and five threes on TCU in his senior night performance, and junior point guard Dairese Gary has been big lately as well, having averaged 21ppg over the Lobos last three games and has been clutch down the stretch, routinely being the guy getting to the line and knocking down his shots from the charity stripe in the closing minutes of games.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a week off to prepare for their trip to Vegas where they will open play with a matchup against the winner of the Air Force/Wyoming game before moving on to more challenging fare.

BYU

Looking back: BYU’s four losses on the season have come at Utah State, at New Mexico, at UNLV, and then at home against New Mexico without their best player for much of the game. They swept the season series against in-state rival Utah, and are all ready to receive a fairly high seed in the NCAA tournament. However, despite a bevy of accomplishments, it will go down as just another season if the Cougars are unable to advance out of the first round of the NCAA tournament, something they have been unable to do in the 11-year life of the MWC. The higher the seed the Cougs get, the easier it will be for them to accomplish that goal, so a strong performance in Vegas next weekend will be vital to BYU’s tournament chances.

Looking ahead: BYU wraps up the regular season by travelling to TCU on Saturday, then will face the Horned Frogs again on March 11th in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

San Diego State

Looking back: After the BYU loss, the Aztecs had just two games left on their schedule, games that they were expected to win, and they took care of the first half of that equation this week with a win over Colorado State on Wednesday. SDSU got eight straight points from junior point guard D.J. Gay to extend their lead to 33-19 at the half, and the Rams never really challenged again. Gay wound up with a team-high 16 points, while freshman forward Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and 15 rebounds and junior forward Malcolm Thomas added 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs wrap up the regular season with a trip to Air Force, then will travel to the MWC Tournament, where they will be a three-seed with a win and a four-seed if they lose and UNLV wins. Either way, they are locked into a matchup with either Colorado State or Utah in the quarterfinal, and a likely matchup with either BYU or New Mexico in the semifinal, a game which will be huge for the Aztecs NCAA tournament chances.

UNLV

Looking back: Much like the Aztecs, the Rebels are in the midst of a couple games they should win to wrap up the season and they’re halfway there, having polished off Air Force on Saturday by 30 behind a career-high 21 points to go along with eight rebounds from sophomore forward Chace Stanback. The Rebels dominated on the glass and shot 59% from the field, while lighting it up from three as well at a 48% clip. Junior guard Kendall Wallace added five threes.

Looking ahead: The Rebels can move up to the three-seed in the MWC Tournament with a season-closing win over Wyoming paired with an unlikely SDSU loss to Air Force, and like SDSU they’ll face either Colorado State or Utah in the quarters and either BYU or New Mexico in the semis. Unlike the Aztecs, the Rebels seem to already have their ticket to the NCAA tournament punched, barring a bad loss between now and then.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes are all alone in fifth place, the highest they have been this season, thanks to their win over Wyoming on Saturday coupled with a pair of Colorado State losses. Utah got 33 total points from senior Luka Drca and junior Carlon Brown, the two most capable scorers in an inconsistent lineup, and Drca in particular made this win possible with 10 of his 17 points in the last six minutes of the game. However, as if to highlight their inconsistencies, the Utes failed to have a single player score in double figures in their 20-point loss to BYU on Tuesday and the entire team when over 8:30 of game time without scoring a single point ranging from the end of the first half through the start of the second and the team shot just 27% and turned the ball over 17 times.

Looking ahead: Utah will have a chance to get back to .500 on the season and wrap up the fifth seed when they travel to Colorado State on Saturday in a battle of the middle-of-the-pack MWC teams.

Colorado State

Looking back: For the first time all season, the Rams have lost four in a row, following a week in which they dropped a couple road games after giving up big runs. Against TCU on Saturday, the Frogs finished the game on a 20-6 run to come back from an eight-point deficit with 8 minutes left to win by six. Then, at SDSU on Wednesday, the Aztecs finished the first half on a 16-6 run to take a 14-point lead into the half, from which the Rams never recovered. Junior forward Andy Ogide continued his strong play of late, however, averaging 18.5ppg and 12rpg this week. Ogide has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games, and in the one that he didn’t hit double figures, he was still the team’s leading scorer.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Utah on Saturday in a battle for the five-seed in Vegas, where they will have a tough quarterfinal matchup with either SDSU or UNLV.

TCU

Looking back: This was probably the Horned Frogs’ best week of games since early January, and when you look at the 1-1 record with just a win over Colorado State to show for it, you get why TCU is down here in the dumps. TCU did get some signs of life from senior forward Zvonko Buljan (14.5ppg/11rpg) and senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas (12.5ppg), and rode some hot shooting (7-13 from three) against CSU to the week’s lone win.

Looking ahead: The Frogs are going to get a double-dose of BYU over the next week: they’ll host the Cougs on Saturday then meet them in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys closed out Air Force late on Tuesday night with a 10-2 run to seal, well, nothing more than eighth place in the conference. But, the highlight for Heath Schroyer’s team over the back-end of the schedule has been the emergence of freshman guard Desmar Jackson as a legitimate scoring threat. Jackson had 31 in Wyoming’s loss to Utah on Saturday, then followed that up with 12 points and five assists against the Falcons, and has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys will be playing the rest of their games this season at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. They’ll face UNLV there on Saturday to wrap up their regular season schedule, then face Air Force there in the first round game of the MWC Tournament.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s been a rough season for the Falcons (again), with injuries decimating a roster that was already the least talented in the conference. And while they will likely finish up with just a 1-15 conference record (a one-game improvement over last year, mind you), they have fought it out right to the end. They put a scare into New Mexico a week ago, and this week (after getting demolished by UNLV in Colorado Springs), got to with a point of Wyoming late on Tuesday before folding down the stretch and cementing their hold on last place.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host SDSU on Saturday, then get a rematch with Wyoming, this time on a neutral court in the MWC Tournament.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on February 26th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/18):

  1. New Mexico                      26-3                       12-2
  2. BYU                                        26-3                       11-2
  3. San Diego State                20-8                       9-5
  4. UNLV                                     21-7                       9-5
  5. Colorado State                  15-12                     6-7
  6. Utah                                      13-14                     6-7
  7. TCU                                        12-16                     4-9
  8. Wyoming                            9-18                       2-11
  9. Air Force                              9-17                       1-12

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. UNLV. The Rebels get the nod here (although it could just have easily been BYU) on the basis of two absolute blowout wins over lesser MWC teams. The Rebels never trailed in drilling Colorado State by 31 on Saturday, and then led TCU by as much as 31 in the 2nd half on Wednesday before calling off the hounds and prevailing by just 16. Vegas is back on track and while the regular season conference title went away a long time ago, they still get to play the conference tournament in their own gym.

Player of the Week. Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU. Fredette averaged 24.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.5 APG in leading his Cougars to a couple wins this week on the way to setting up the MWC game of the year with New Mexico on Saturday. Fredette has averaged over 28 PPG over the last three games and 21.7 PPG over the season and has positioned himself as the likely leader in the MWC Player of the Year race (although New Mexico’s Darington Hobson may still have something to say about that) and even deserving of mention in the national POTY discussion.

Newcomer of the Week. Marshall Henderson, Fr, Utah. Henderson has been on a tear of late, having hit double figures in his last 11 games and averaging 15.9 PPG over that stretch. This week Henderson averaged 14 PPG, had four threes in a tight loss to San Diego State and led his Utes with 16 in a win over Air Force on Wednesday.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 59 Air Force 56. On the Lobos’ way to the game of the season, they seemed to have a tidy little week ahead of them, but the Falcons disabused them of that notion right quick. Air Force shot 51% from the field (including 58% in the second half) and took a 56-55 lead on a layup by senior forward Grant Parker with 27 seconds left in the game. But, the Lobos kept their poise and were able to escape by the slimmest of margins when Hobson got a putback 10 seconds later to regain the lead, and after a strong defensive possession, junior guard Dairese Gary sealed the deal with a couple free throws to reach the final margin.

Game of the Upcoming Week. New Mexico @ BYU, Versus TV, February 27th. I suppose this one just edges out Air Force at Wyoming next Tuesday, but this might be a pretty decent game itself, as the Lobos head into Provo for the game that in all likelihood will determine the regular season champion. The first matchup in Albuquerque in late January was a fiery battle, with BYU taking their first lead of the game under three minutes on a deep Fredette three before the Lobos rallied at the finish to salvage a four-point victory.  But the Lobos will be missing a key component that was present in that victory: their home crowd. It’s quite possible that will be the difference here, because although both teams will take different approaches (BYU’s strengths lie in shooting and taking care of the ball and being very efficient on both ends of the court, while New Mexico tries to make its hay with its athleticism allowing it to pound the glass and get to the line), they do seem to be very evenly matched. My pick: BYU 76, New Mexico 70, with Fredette and Hobson leading the charge for each team.

League Notes:

By this point in the season, just about everything is squared away. The BYU/New Mexico game on Saturday will decide the regular season champion (so long as both teams can take care of business on the hind end of their schedule).  San Diego State and UNLV seem poised to take third and fourth place, respectively, and each has a legitimate claim on an at-large NCAA berth (although admittedly SDSU’s claim is much more tenuous).  Utah and Colorado State have claimed the middle ground as their own and both teams are capable of springing an upset in the MWC tournament, with TCU, Wyoming and Air Force playing out the schedule with varying degrees of effort — Air Force is still plugging along, Wyoming is more or less already a month into the offseason, and TCU is still managing to show up once in a while.

Now the MWC Tournament looms, and it will be very interesting, especially if all four favorites advance to the semifinal round. The Aztecs will be the team that needs the conference’s automatic bid the most to solidify their tournament hopes, but the competition will be fierce with the two top seeds and veritable home team, the Rebels.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back: What looked like a bit of a quiet week for New Mexico produced a couple of down-to-the-wire nailbiters for the conference leader. First, they needed an offensive rebound from Hobson with less than 20 seconds left to put away last-place Air Force. Then, they got all they could handle at Moby Arena against Colorado State, but were able to dodge junior guard Adam Nigon’s six threes and sneak away with a six-point win. Once again, it was New Mexico’s ability to control the glass (the Lobos outrebounded CSU 44-32 – senior forward Roman Martinez had 12 boards and Hobson added 10 more) and to get to the free throw line (UNM was 18/23 from the FT line in the second half alone) that was the difference in giving Steve Alford’s squad their twelfth straight conference victory, tying a MWC record.

Looking ahead: This is it for the Lobo regular season. After the big game in Provo on Saturday, the Lobos return to the Pit to host TCU and to say goodbye to Martinez, their lone scholarship senior.

BYU

Looking back: BYU did their part to set up the battle for the title this week by visiting Laramie and controlling the reeling Cowboys from start to finish. The Cougars never trailed, forced 12 turnovers and outrebounded Wyoming by 12 as they coasted to a 22-point win. The next game was a bit tougher as they returned home to host San Diego State, but behind a 9-0 run near the end of the first half and a 14-2 run in the middle of the second half, they were able to take control of the game and pull away. Perhaps the key to the game for BYU was their ability to hit the glass, and they outrebounded the conference’s best rebounding team (albeit with freshman forward Kawhi Leonard – the MWC’s leading rebounder – diminished by illness). The Cougars were also able to force 16 Aztec turnovers, and those turnovers coupled with BYU’s 7/15 shooting from three contributed greatly to both big BYU runs.

Looking ahead: After the Lobo game this weekend, BYU has a tough bounce-back game on Wednesday at Utah, a team that has gelled into a solid team in recent weeks.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs had a lot riding on their game Wednesday night at BYU. While they have a strong RPI and a solid record, they really only have a pair of home wins over New Mexico and UNLV to show for it. A win at Provo probably would have been the big win to put them over the top. They still have an outside chance at an at-large at this point, and could add a neutral-site win over BYU or New Mexico in the MWC Semifinals which would be an excellent win, but to be on the safe side, the Aztecs are now in a position where winning the MWC tourney would be their best bet. The Leonard illness came at a most inopportune time for the Aztecs, as he was severely limited on Wednesday night. Before even the first TV timeout, he was having trouble breathing and just wasn’t his normal explosive self, and was held to just three points and five rebounds, one of the major reasons SDSU was outrebounded.

The Aztecs did add another victory earlier this week when junior forward Malcolm Thomas’ career-high 28 points and Leonard’s 14 points and 15 boards helped them pull out a tough one at home against Utah.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs host Colorado State on Wednesday, then wrap up the season with a trip to Air Force next Saturday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels got back in the swing of things in a big way this week, breaking a three-game losing streak with back-to-back home routs. At this point, you have to figure the Rebels are safe for an at-large on the strengths of wins over Louisville, BYU, San Diego State and at New Mexico, but its probably not as sure of a thing as some are claiming. While Utah is coming around, those two losses don’t look especially great.

But the Rebels have started to get some production out of players not named Tre’Von Willis. Junior forward Chace Stanback averaged 14 PPG this week, sophomore center Brice Massamba had five blocks against CSU and nine rebounds against TCU, and freshman guard Anthony Marshall had 12 points and ten rebounds against the Rams. The Rebels also still hope to get junior wing Derrick Jasper back from a sprained MCL suffered at the end of January, but he may not even be ready until the MWC tournament.

Looking ahead: Just a trip to Air Force for the Rebels on Saturday, then a week off before they host Wyoming the following Saturday, both games the Rebels are more than capable of winning.

Colorado State

Looking back: After a 31-point loss at UNLV on Saturday seemed to again prove that the Rams weren’t capable of staying on the court with the top teams in the MWC, they turned around and gave New Mexico a good run on Tuesday. Nigon poured in his career high 23 points, but he also got help from junior forward Andy Ogide (12 points and six rebounds) and freshman guard Dorian Green (11 points and six assists). The Rams have now lost three straight, and will need to finish their remaining schedule with a couple of wins in order to improve their chances of an NIT bid.

Looking ahead: The Rams still have one very tough remaining game, when they travel to San Diego State next Wednesday, but have very winnable games sandwiched around that: at TCU on Saturday and home against Utah (in what will likely be the battle for 5th place in the conference) on the final Saturday of the season.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes gave San Diego State a good run on Saturday, outrebounding the conference’s best rebounding team (seven Utes had at least four rebounds) and keeping things tight up to the end, although a lot of the credit for that can be given to the Aztecs and their inability to hit free throws down the stretch.  In the end, they were done in by another night of poor shooting (39% from field) and ballhandling (15 turnovers), giving Utah their fifth loss in seven games. Utah got things back on track on Wednesday, however, when they held Air Force to a season-low 43 points and just 2/17 shooting from three. Utah again controlled the glass, 30-18, and this time shot well from the field — 50% both from the field and from behind the arc.

Looking ahead: The Utes host Wyoming and then BYU this week, and are lucky enough to catch the Cougars after the New Mexico game, a trap-game of which Jim Boylen hopes his club can take advantage.

TCU

Looking back: Take a quick glance at the box score for the Horned Frogs this week and you see some things you expected to see all season, like a 21 and an 11 next to senior forward Zvonko Buljan’s name and a 25 next to sophomore guard Ronnie Moss’ name. But then you get to the turnover column and see twos, threes, and fours next to everybody’s name on the entire roster, and you get why TCU was down by as many as 31 in the second half at UNLV. In the end, the Frogs wound up with 21 turnovers, and despite those gaudy numbers in Moss and Buljan’s scoring columns, they were never really in this game.

Looking ahead: The Frogs host Colorado State on Saturday, then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday.

Wyoming

Looking back: You gotta give the Cowboys this much credit: when you saw BYU looming on the schedule a week or so ago, you probably figured the final margin would have been higher than 22. But freshman guard Desmar Jackson is still fighting and he poured in a career-high 26 points highlighted by four threes in his attempt to keep his team in the game. Jackson has been one of the very few bright spots in Laramie this season. He has averaged 12.2 PPG in conference play thus far and led the Cowboys in scoring in four out of the nine games since sophomore forward Afam Muojeke went down for the season with a knee injury.

Looking ahead: Wyoming travels to Utah on Saturday, then hosts Air Force in a battle for eighth place on Tuesday.

Air Force

Looking back: As we said in this space last week, while other teams at the back of the pack are now phoning it in, the Falcons are going down fighting. While their deliberate style and pack-it-in defense certainly allows them to keep games close, they almost stole a game they had no business being in against New Mexico on Saturday. They followed that up by fighting it out against Utah, but their inability to hit shots (just 2/17 from three) killed them.

Looking ahead: The Falcons could get out of the cellar (or at least get some company in the cellar) with a win at Wyoming on Wednesday, but they’ll also have a another chance at one of the big boys when they host UNLV on Saturday.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/18)

  1. New Mexico                      24-3                       10-2
  2. BYU                                        24-3                       9-2
  3. San Diego State                19-7                       8-4
  4. UNLV                                     19-7                       7-5
  5. Colorado State                  15-10                     6-5
  6. Utah                                      12-13                     5-6
  7. TCU                                        12-15                     4-8
  8. Wyoming                            9-17                       2-10
  9. Air Force                              9-15                       1-10

Superlatives

Team of the Week. San Diego State. While New Mexico and BYU took care of business to keep themselves in line for a showdown on February 27th for the regular season title, it was the Aztecs who made the biggest waves this week, knocking off UNLV on Saturday and getting a win in Fort Worth on Tuesday to vault ahead of Vegas in the conference standings. In the process, for the first time this season, there is some question as to who would be the next team in line for an at-large NCAA bid after the two teams at the top of the leaderboard. The Aztecs still have a chance for another big win when they travel to Provo on Wednesday, and they may need that one to solidify their NCAA chances.

Player of the Week. Billy White, Jr, San Diego State. It was a wide open contest for this honor this week, with the usual suspects all turning in one excellent game and one lesser game. So, this is a perfect week to honor someone else, a guy who put together two very good games in leading his team to the TotW honors and third place in the conference. White averaged 18 points and seven rebounds this week and had some high-flying highlights in leading the Aztecs to an important win over UNLV. White has not had the kind of statistical improvement that many in the Aztec program expected this year, although he is averaging 11 points and five rebounds per game, perhaps in part due to his running mates in the SDSU front line, freshman Kawhi Leonard and junior transfer Malcolm Thomas. But, for the Aztecs to live up to their potential, they need White to be slashing to the basket, playing above the rim and defending athletic frontcourt players, exactly what he did this week.

Newcomer of the Week. Kawhi Leonard, Fr, San Diego State. Leonard wins this one on the strength of his play against the Rebels. Leonard scored 13 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the Aztecs win on Saturday, but did so many other things to help his team win. He often brought the ball up against UNLV pressure and he spent much of the day hounding UNLV’s best player, junior guard Tre’Von Willis, into five-for-15 shooting. While New Mexico’s junior Darington Hobson is undoubtedly the MWC’s most versatile player, Leonard is growing into a legitimate threat to usurp that title.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 68, Utah 65 (OT). For much of New Mexico’s win over Utah on Saturday, it seemed like the Lobos were on the verge of pulling away. They led by as many as eight a couple times in the first half, only to have the Utes reel them back in. In the second half, the same pattern held: New Mexico jumping ahead, Utah slowly scraping back. In fact, between the 17 minute mark in the first half and the three minute mark in overtime, Utah never led, but the Utes did get back to even with under two minutes in regulation with six straight free throws, but still needed a corner three from junior guard Carlon Brown with two seconds left to send the game to overtime. Utah got the first points of the OT, about two minutes in on Brown layup, but a big three by senior forward Roman Martinez gave the Lobos back the lead for good, although they did have to survive a couple potentially game-tying threes in the waning moments by Brown and freshman guard Marshall Henderson.

Game of the Upcoming Week. San Diego State @ BYU, February 24th, CBS College Sports. Both teams have a lot to gain and a lot to lose in this matchup. If the Aztecs hope to feel somewhat comfortable with their at-large chances headed into the MWC tournament, they need to win this game (along with running the table against the rest of the lower-level MWC teams they face). If BYU wants to have a chance at winning the MWC regular season championship outright, they’ll need to win this game. While the Cougars will certainly be the favorite playing in front of a partisan Marriott Center crowd, the Aztecs have been hot lately and have enough athleticism to give BYU fits, as they showed a month ago in a close loss in front of SDSU’s home crowd.

League Notes

UNLV has now lost three games in a row and while those three games were all tough MWC battles (a loss at home to New Mexico, and road losses to San Diego State and Utah), it may be time to re-examine the Rebels’ tournament credentials. Currently sitting at 19-7 with an RPI of 44, the Rebels remaining regular season games are games that they absolutely must win:  home games against Colorado State, TCU and Wyoming wrapped around a road trip to Air Force. None of those wins is going to do a whole lot to help the UNLV resume, but a loss anywhere would kill them. Their best wins on the season are a win at New Mexico (RPI #10), home against BYU (19), Louisville (30) San Diego State (39), Nevada (68) and a road win at Arizona (89). There are no particularly bad non-conference losses (a neutral site loss to USC, RPI 82, being the worst), but the two conference losses to Utah are unhelpful, to say the least.

The good news for the Rebels is they get to play their conference tournament at home in the Thomas & Mack, giving them a nice little nudge towards capturing the MWC’s automatic bid, but assuming they don’t win the title, what do they need to do to give themselves the best chance at an at-large bid? Four more conference wins will put them at 23-7 with an RPI still somewhere in the mid-to-low 40s. In the first round of the MWC tourney, they’ll likely play either Colorado State or Utah, and a loss in that first round will have them scouting Manhattan hotel rates for a potential NIT run. Assume they win and advance to the semis, and they’ll have either New Mexico or BYU waiting for them, where a win would be very good and a loss would not be horrific. Lose in those semis and they sit at 24-8; win there and lose in the finals and 25-8, plus the additional good win might be enough. Just enough. Especially considering the eventuality that the bubble will likely tighten up if teams like Butler or Old Dominion or maybe UTEP have missteps in their own conference tournaments.

Long story short, the Rebels still have a pretty strong resume, but they would certainly love to have a redo in those Utah games.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: After last week’s two big wins, it would have been understandable if not entirely acceptable for the Lobos to be a little flat for their trip to underachieving Utah on Saturday. And while Steve Alford’s club was not as sharp as it had been the week prior, they were good enough to control the game and escape with a three-point overtime win against an improving Ute team. On Wednesday, the Lobos returned to Albuquerque for some home cooking and along the way they scored a big 22-point victory over a reeling Wyoming team. The win was Alford’s 300th Division I win in his career and was highlighted by another terrific Hobson performance: 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Martinez was also strong for the Lobos, filling the stat sheet with 13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, three steals and three threes.

Looking ahead: New Mexico host Air Force on Saturday, then has a tricky roadie to Fort Collins to face Colorado State. Win both and the Lobos likely set up a one-game playoff for the MWC regular season championship against BYU in Provo on the final Saturday of February.

BYU

Looking back: BYU had a week to stew over their loss in Vegas, and when they finally got a chance to take their frustrations out on someone wearing a different jersey, it was Air Force on the receiving end. The Cougars were on fire early, shooting 67% from the field in the first half while knocking down 10 of their 14 three-point attempts and they built up a 53-20 first half lead before cruising to a 43-point victory. Senior forward Jonathan Tavernari led the team with five threes and 19 points, with junior guard Jackson Emery just behind him with four threes and 18 points.

The Cougs second game of the week was slightly more competitive, BYU winning by only 22 over Colorado State, but while the scoring was balanced against Air Force, the CSU game was a Jimmer Fredette special. The junior guard had 36 points, with six threes and six assists for good measure. Once again the Cougars were on fire from the field, shooting 52% from the field and hitting 12 of their 25 attempts from behind the arc. Sophomore forward Noah Hartsock added his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds and he spearheaded a strong Cougar effort on the glass.

Looking ahead: One more tune-up for the Cougs when they travel to Laramie to face the Cowboys on Saturday, then into the fray with home games against San Diego State, a monster game against New Mexico and their trip to Salt Lake to face rival Utah.

San Diego State

Looking back: When the Aztecs hosted UNLV on Saturday, they knew it was a must-win game and they played like it. They outhustled the Rebels, played better defense, got contributions from up and down the roster and did it all with a calmness and confidence that belied their relative youth. They beat the Rebels on the glass (39-30), racked up all sorts of defensive gems (nine blocks, nine steals) and actually made their free throws (23/31 from the line, a vast improvement over their 60% season average. White led the team with 19 points, Leonard added his 13 points and 14 boards, but even those who didn’t rack up big numbers made contributions. Thomas had four blocks and four assists, freshman guard Chase Tapley had three steals to go along with 11 points and senior guard Kelvin Davis added a couple of threes, and in the end the Aztecs walked away with a 10-point victory. The Aztecs followed up that big win with a workmanlike effort against TCU by dominating the Horned Frogs inside. SDSU outrebounded TCU 34-24, and scored 59 of their 68 points either in the paint or at the free throw line. In the process, the Aztecs shot 61% from the field.

Looking ahead: At this point, they are all big games for the Aztecs. They host Utah on Saturday then travel to BYU on Wednesday. While the BYU game is certainly a very difficult game for SDSU, the Utes have been playing well lately, and if they get caught looking ahead to the Provo trip, the Aztecs could slip up at home.

UNLV

Looking back: A week ago at this time, the Rebels had just been whooped by New Mexico and were facing a fairly difficult week ahead with visits to San Diego and Salt Lake City. Everyone knew it would be a tough week, but not many suspected that at the end of it, the Rebs would be riding a three-game losing streak. Against the Aztecs, Vegas was exposed a bit compared to SDSU’s length and athleticism. While their quick guards like Willis and freshman Anthony Marshall kept them in it for awhile, UNLV couldn’t get a lot of good looks and wound up shooting just 35% from the field and only three of 17 from deep. The Rebels didn’t get a lot of time to recuperate from that loss before making the tough trip to the Huntsman Center on Wednesday. Once again, for the third game in a row, UNLV not only lost but was outplayed from start to finish. The Rebels never even led on Wednesday night, and beyond Willis’ 32 points, didn’t get much in the way of positive offensive contributions. UNLV stayed in the game by forcing 16 turnovers, which they converted to 22 points, but in the end Willis missed a tough challenged layup on a fast break and then a three with a guy in his face a possession later, and UNLV lost by five.

Looking ahead: The Rebels host Colorado State and TCU this week and need to get back on track immediately.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams played just once this week, and their 22-point home loss to BYU reaffirmed their position in the MWC pecking order: nowhere close to the top of the pack, but better than the dregs. In their two matchups with BYU this season, they have now lost by an average of 33, and have lost by over 20 points per game in their five matchups with the teams above them in the MWC standings. Junior forward Travis Franklin did have a nice performance against the Cougars, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists (14/7/5), and CSU did have five players score in double figures, but the Rams showed no ability to stop BYU and their struggles from behind the arc (4/17) doomed them to another blowout loss.

Looking ahead: The MWC gauntlet continues for the Rams: a roadie at an angry Vegas team on Saturday, then a chance to host New Mexico on Wednesday night.

Utah

Looking back: It has been a frustrating season for Jim Boylen and his Utes. This squad has struggled shooting the ball (just 43% from the field on the year), has yet to find a legitimate point guard (335 turnovers on the season, just 303 assists), and have had little injuries and other personnel issues bug them throughout the year. And yet, here in the middle of February, the Utes are playing their best ball of the season and have turned into a team that can rise up and bite the teams above them. UNLV has learned that lesson quite well, but even New Mexico had to consider itself fortunate to escape SLC with a win this week. Brown has struggled living up to the expectations of him as an offensive go-to guy, but this week he scored 18 points in each game and was the man down the stretch in both games. Henderson has also stepped up his game of late, averaging 15.5ppg this week, and with sophomore center David Foster able to clog up the middle defensively (he had seven blocks against a stubborn New Mexico team), the Utes are coming together on both ends of the court.

Looking ahead: Utah hits the road this week: first stop San Diego on Saturday, followed by a visit to the Air Force Academy on Wednesday.

TCU

Looking back: It’s the dog days of the season for the Horned Frogs. They’ve no chance at any type of post-season play, their coaches have started looking towards next season and their seniors only show up once a week at best (hey, sounds like my senior year… and my junior year… and… ). TCU was good enough to beat Wyoming in Laramie on Saturday. They got 21 points and seven rebounds from freshman forward Nick Cerina and senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas and junior guard Greg Hill both hit big threes down the stretch to tidy things up, but then got beat up and down the court by San Diego State on Tuesday in the most one-sided 17-point game you’d ever want to see.

Looking ahead: Just one loss for TCU this week, as they head to UNLV to get torched on Wednesday night.

Wyoming

Looking back: See above and increase exponentially. Players defecting from the program, the best player watching after knee surgery, the coach rapidly burning bridges. Good times in Laramie. This week saw the Cowboys drop to 2-10 in the conference (and just looking at that record reminds me that somehow this team beat San Diego State), and highlights for this team are few and far between. Freshman guard Desmar Jackson had 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in the loss to TCU, but followed that up with six turnovers and little else in the New Mexico loss. And junior forward Djibril Thiam had another solid week, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds this week, and has had a decent season, averaging 10 points and five rebounds over the year.

Looking ahead: BYU comes to town on Saturday. Oh boy!

Air Force

Looking back: Just another miserable team at the bottom of the standings, although you get the feeling this one might still be playing hard. Which is not necessarily good news considering they just lost by 43 in their only game this week,at BYU on Saturday. But the Falcons just couldn’t do much right in that game (22 turnovers), and BYU was rested, inspired and on fire. Freshman wing Mike Fitzgerald led the Falcons with 13 points and four threes.

Looking ahead: Things don’t get a whole lot easier for Jeff Reynolds and his team as they head to New Mexico before returning home to host Utah.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/4)

  1. BYU                                        22-2                       7-1
  2. New Mexico                      20-3                       6-2
  3. UNLV                                     18-4                       6-2
  4. San Diego State                16-6                       5-3
  5. Colorado State                  13-9                       4-4
  6. Utah                                      10-12                     3-5
  7. TCU                                        10-13                     2-6
  8. Wyoming                            9-13                       2-6
  9. Air Force                              9-12                       1-7

Superlatives

  • Team of the Week. BYU. Of the big three in the MWC, the Cougars were the only ones to play twice this week. They won both impressively over teams from the bottom half of the conference, but the biggest reason Dave Rose’s club gets this spot is they lead the conference at the turn. Everybody has played everybody once, and while there is another go-round to be had, the Cougs are halfway to the regular season conference championship.
  • Player of the Week. Jimmer Fredette, BYU. Much like his Cougars are halfway to a conference championship, Fredette is halfway to a conference player of the year award, and he did nothing to hurt his chances this week. The BYU point guard averaged 31 points and knocked down four threes in each game. Over the course of the season, Fredette has averaged 21.5 points per game (1st in the MWC), 4.9 assists per game (2nd), has racked up 32 steals (6th) and 50 three-pointers (4th), while hitting 49.5% of his threes (1st), 90.1% of his free throws (1st) and 47.4% of all field goals attempts (7th).
  • Newcomer of the Week. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Leonard has been a monster in the paint for the Aztecs in the first half of the season, combining with junior Billy White and junior transfer Malcolm Thomas to form likely the best frontcourt in the conference. Leonard averaged 14.5ppg and 9.5 rpg this week, a little more than his 12/10 that he has averaged for the season. While the freshman still steps outside of the offense from time to time and takes a head-scratcher of a three or a wild driving charge, his talent is unquestioned.
  • Game of the Week. Air Force 70, Wyoming 63. It was an ugly, ugly week in the MWC. The closest game of the week was this seven-point battle between the two worst teams in the conference, in which Air Force broke its 22-game conference losing streak. Beyond this game, all other contests were decided by an average of 18 points with the only “upset” of the week coming when Utah out-uglied Colorado State on its way to another loss in one of the worst college basketball games anyone could ever imagine.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week. BYU @ UNLV, February 6th, Versus. While this past week made for some barely watchable games around the conference, this upcoming week has plenty of intriguing games, the best of which is this Saturday afternoon rematch of a classic from a month ago. This is BYU’s last really challenging road game of the season (they traveled to New Mexico and San Diego State in the first half of the schedule), so a Cougar win here could go a long way towards inching them closer to breaking the tape at the finish line.

League Notes

So, one lap down, one lap to go, time to hand out some midseason awards?

  • Player of the Year: Fredette, BYU. Perhaps the only other player to consider here would be UNLV’s junior guard Tre’Von Willis, but that’s really just for show. Fredette is clearly the best player in the conference, and the fact that he’s leading the best team in the conference is just icing.
  • Coach of the Year: Rose, BYU. Even if this guy didn’t beat pancreatic cancer (knock on wood a hundred times over) in the offseason, he would be the pick here, getting contributions from players up and down his roster even in the short illness-related absence of our POY, folding a pre-season all-conference selection back into a role-player without so much as a hiccup, and pushing his team out to a 22-2 record in early February? He’s golden, and we’re all glad he’s around to pick this one up.
  • Newcomer of the Year: Darington Hobson, New Mexico. While Leonard has been the best freshman in the conference, Hobson takes our Newcomer award as a triple-threat, averaging 15 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 4.2 apg while leading the Lobos into the national spotlight.

All-MWC Team

  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU
  • Tre’Von Willis, UNLV
  • Darington Hobson, New Mexico
  • Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
  • Jackson Emery, BYU

Team Roundups

BYU

Looking back: The big game of the week for the Cougars was their battle with in-state rival Utah in the First Deseret Duel, or the Holy War. While the Utes are down this year, they battled the Cougs hard and BYU responded well, committing just six turnovers on the night and shooting 46% from the field and 50% from three on the night. Jimmer Fredette was on fire and finished with 36 points and Jackson Emery wound up with six steals to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. BYU followed that win up by scoring the first ten points against TCU and then coasting the rest of the way to an uneventful 20-point win during which the Cougars controlled just about every portion of the game, including outrebounding TCU 45-36, hitting 11 of their 25 threes (while limiting TCU to just 3/16 shooting) and dishing out 19 assists compared to just eight turnovers.

Looking ahead: Just one game for the Cougars as they kick off round two of the MWC schedule, but it is a big one. A win at UNLV will go a long way towards putting BYU on the #1 line in Vegas in March.

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos wrapped up a solid first half of their conference schedule with a ho-hum road win over a floundering TCU team. New Mexico got balanced scoring, with Darington Hobson re-emerging from a bit of a recent slump with a spectacular 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. Sophomore guard Philip McDonald added 18 and senior forward Roman Martinez added 16, each with three threes along the way. While the Lobos lets the Horned Frogs stick around for awhile, they pulled away in the second half mostly on the strength of 27 free throw attempts with 20 makes while holding TCU to only nine attempts and a woeful two makes.

Looking ahead: The Lobos remain a game back of BYU, but face a brutal week in the MWC with a trip to Vegas on Wednesday following a home game against San Diego State on Saturday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels had a week to prepare for their trip to Laramie on Wednesday, and it showed. They outplayed the Cowboys in every facet of the game, shooting 53% from the field (including 61% in the second half) while holding Wyoming to just 29% on the way to a 28-point victory. Senior forward Matt Shaw tied a career-high with 16 points, Willis added 15 and Chace Stanback chipped in 12 as Vegas kept pace with New Mexico a game back of first behind BYU.

Looking ahead: The Rebs have what may be the biggest two-fer of games in the entire conference schedule this week, hosting BYU on Saturday then turning around and hosting New Mexico on Wednesday. The outcome of these two games will go a long way towards clearing up the MWC regular season championship picture.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs had a standard, run-of-the-mill, two-win week, including a road win in Fort Collins in which Kawhi Leonard put up a double-double in the first half on the way to “just” 14 points and 12 rebounds. The Aztec defense really stole the show in that game as they held CSU to just 37% shooting, forced 19 turnovers, controlled the glass (40-33) and held the Rams to just 2/15 shooting from behind the arc. SDSU then returned home to host Air Force on Tuesday and controlled the game from start to finish against the outmanned Falcons. The Aztecs only hit five of their first 20 field goal attempts and still led 12-0 over nine minutes into the game. From there, Steve Fisher’s squad was nearly flawless, turning the ball over only six times while forcing 15 Air Force turnovers and even outscoring the Falcons 17-1 from the free throw line.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs travel to New Mexico on Saturday before returning home to host Wyoming on Wednesday.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams wrapped up the final week of the first half of the season in much the same way the rest of the first half of the season went: a split featuring a win over a team they should have beaten and a loss to a team that they should have lost to. The win was a 15-point victory in an ugly affair with Utah and the loss may have been just as ugly as they fell by 18 at home against New Mexico. One of the key problems for the Rams, the lack of a playmaking guard, was exposed this week as CSU accounted for a grand total of 13 assists on their 40 field goals this week. While freshman guard Dorian Green has earned a reputation as a fearless scrapper in his first college season, he’ll need to improve his passing in order to help this Ram team take the next step up from a middle-of-the-pack team.

Looking ahead: The schedule lightens up a bit for the Rams: they host Wyoming on Saturday and travel to Air Force on Tuesday.

Utah

Looking back: In what has been an up-and-down season for the Utes, this was without a doubt an out-and-out down week. The week started out with a hard-fought and scrappy effort against BYU on Saturday, which nevertheless ended in a loss, but things got really ugly when they invited Colorado State into the Huntsman Center on Wednesday night. The Utes clocked in late and clocked out early, failing to score in either the first five minutes of the game or the last five, and in the process dropped to 3-5 in the conference.

Looking ahead: Utah gets a chance to patch their bones a little this week before truckin’ on to Fort Worth on Wednesday to face TCU.

TCU

Looking back: The season began with some optimism for the Horned Frogs. They had a preseason all-conference player in senior forward Zvonko Buljan and two complimentary players they were really excited about in senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas and sophomore point Ronnie Moss and head coach Jim Christian seemed confident about his team’s chances to at least compete with the big boys in the conference. This week wrapped up a very disappointing first half of the season with the clear conclusion that such confidence has not been lived up to. TCU lost to New Mexico and BYU by a combined 36 points and thus far have only beaten the two teams below them in the standings in conference play. The trio has been solid enough, averaging a combined 39 ppg (up from 32 ppg last season), but the Frogs have never had anyone else step up to replace the 14 ppg they lost when Kevin Langford graduated last year. However, there is more talent on this team than its meager conference record would suggest and things do look slightly better in the back half of their schedule as they will get to host Utah and Colorado State.

Looking ahead: The Frogs travel to Air Force before returning home for that Utah game. While a two-win week is within reach for TCU, that Air Force game could be sneaky.

Wyoming

Looking back: The Cowboys wrapped up a pretty dreadful first half of the conference schedule with two more losses, allowing Air Force their first conference win in more than a year and then getting drilled at home by UNLV. Last week at this time, we were handing out MWC POTW honors to sophomore center Adam Waddell. However, he missed the Air Force game with a sprained ankle, and although he returned against UNLV, was completely ineffective, accounting for just three points and a rebound.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys hit the trail this week with visits to Colorado State and San Diego State.

Air Force

Looking back: The Falcons are starting to get healthy again and their win column reflects that, as for the first time in two seasons the number is something other than zero. Air Force got a career-high 23 points (to go along with seven assists) from junior guard Evan Washington, returning hero senior forward Grant Parker got 12 points and five rebounds and freshman guard Mike Lyons, a recipient of some of the extra minutes floating around in the wake of the Falcons’ early season rash of injuries, added 16 points and three three-pointers as the Falcons broke their 22-game conference losing streak by knocking off Wyoming last Saturday. While Parker is still not all the way back (as evidenced by his weak two-rebound performance against San Diego State on Tuesday), we’re starting to get a glimpse of the real Air Force team, still not great but an improving squad.

Looking ahead: Air Force hosts both TCU and Colorado State this week, two games that are not out of reach for the Falcons now. Asking for a sweep might be getting greedy, but Falcons fans have to look at this week as possible split.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 22nd, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/21):

  1. BYU                                        19-1                       4-0
  2. New Mexico                      17-3                       3-2
  3. UNLV                                     15-4                       3-2
  4. San Diego State                14-5                       3-2
  5. Colorado State                  11-7                       2-2
  6. TCU                                        10-9                       2-2
  7. Utah                                      9-9                          2-2
  8. Wyoming                            8-11                       1-4
  9. Air Force                              8-9                          0-4

Superlatives:

Team of the Week. New Mexico. Two road games (albeit against the eight and ninth place teams in the conference) and two road wins, getting back on track and breaking out of their shooting slump in a big way, knocking down 13 of their 27 three-point attempts against Air Force on Wednesday.

Player of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State. Thomas, a transfer from Pepperdine in his first year with the Aztecs, had a huge week for Steve Fisher, putting in 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out six assists in a home win against TCU before going for a career high 23 points and ripping down 13 rebounds in a road win at Utah on Tuesday as the Aztecs got right back into the picture at the top of the standings in a bunch of teams with two losses.

Newcomer of the Week. Thomas. I suppose if you’re the POTW, and you’re a newcomer, you’re also the Newcomer of the Week. Special mention to freshman Tyler Haws of BYU, who has turned into a legitimate second offensive threat for the conference-leading Cougars.

Game of the Week. San Diego State 70, Utah 68. After Utah knocked off UNLV at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday, they came back home knowing that things were not going to get a whole lot easier. And with the MWC POTW spending most of the game hanging out above the rim, grabbing rebounds, sending back opposing shots, throwing down dunks, slipping in layups around Utah’s seven-foot-five sophomore center David Foster and generally dominating the paint, the Aztecs definitely gave the Utes all they could handle. And yet, down the stretch, with the Aztecs trying to seal off a victory, the free throws clanged off the rim left and right (SDSU was 10-23 from the line over the course of the game, and just 5-11 in the final two minutes). A desperation three by junior guard Carlon Brown at the buzzer, however,  rattled off the rim and the Aztecs pulled off a key road win to wrap up a 2-0 week in the MWC.

Games of the Upcoming Week. BYU @ San Diego State, January 23rd , The MTN and BYU @ New Mexico, January 27th, The MTN. While the Cougars are off to a 4-0 start in conference, most of that damage was done in front of the home crowd at the Marriott Center. But Dave Rose and company will have to take their act on the road to face two teams sitting in the pack just behind BYU. If BYU can come through this week unscathed, you can pencil them in as the one seed in Vegas in March.

League Notes:

A couple weeks worth of conference play is in the rearview mirror, and those standings are starting to look like we expected them to look now: BYU at the top, a pack including UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State sitting within striking distance, a pack in the middle including Utah, and Wyoming and Air Force bringing up the rear. While there will be some type of shuffling throughout the year, expect those tiers to remain relatively intact.

Also of note, this week’s Utah/Wyoming game will be the last MWC game that will not be televised on either The MTN, CBS College Sports Network or Versus.

Team Roundups:

BYU

Looking back: BYU had a couple of home games against middle-of-the-pack MWC teams this week, and coasted, winning by an average of 29.5 points. The week started with a matchup with Colorado State, a battle between the final two teams with undefeated conference records. While the Rams hung around through a few TV timeouts, the Cougars posted a 12-0 run heading into the break and then went on to post a 53-25 second half romp on their way to a 44-point thrashing of CSU. They followed that up with a solid 15-point victory over Wyoming and now sit on the verge of a 20-win season before February even arrives. While junior guard Jimmer Fredette’s return from mono to have a solid week may be the most important news of the week, the continued development of Haws may be just as important to BYU’s hopes come March. This week, Haws posted a new career high of 24 points against Wyoming, and also added 11 against CSU.

Looking ahead: As mentioned above in our Game of the Upcoming Week section, this is a huge week for the Cougars with two road games against very good competition in front of very unwelcoming crowds, at San Diego State on Saturday, then at New Mexico on Wednesday.

New Mexico

Looking back: While the opponents weren’t impressive, and the Lobos continued to struggle at times, the outcomes of the game (two road wins) vaulted New Mexico back up the standings and gave them new confidence. Sophomore guard Philip McDonald was the hottest Lobo this week, averaging 20 points per game and knocking down ten threes in the process, including a career high seven as the Lobos caught fire from behind the arc in the second half against Air Force on Wednesday, after their shooting woes had continued against Wyoming on Saturday (3-19 from three). But, it was the Lobo defense that saved the day against the Cowboys as they forced 23 turnovers on the game, including turnovers on three straight possession after the Cowboys came back to tie the score at 58. New Mexico converted those three turnovers into six points and never looked back, eking out a two-point road victory.

Looking ahead: Back to the home-court advantage of The Pit, as the Lobos will host Colorado State on Saturday before hosting conference-leader BYU on Wednesday.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels emerge from the week with a 1-1 record, and remain right in the thick of things at the top of the MWC standings, but their play this week was less than impressive. While junior guard Tre’Von Willis provided most of the offensive spark for the Rebels this week (24 PPG, plus six rebounds and four assists in a loss to Utah on Saturday), it was sophomore forward Chace Stanback who took the biggest step forward this week, going for 14/10 against Utah, then pouring in 19 points, including 15 in the second half as the Rebels withstood Colorado State in Fort Collins. However, all the weaknesses that are apparent in UNLV’s lineup were on display this week, as the team went 1/12 from three in their loss at Utah and turning the ball over 16 times in allowing CSU to hang around. While Willis and Stanback have turned into the lead duo for the Rebels and sophomore point Oscar Bellfield is an excellent leader, there is precious little consistency beyond those three and that will need to change should UNLV hope to be a serious threat for the MWC title.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to TCU on Saturday, then host Air Force on Tuesday as the schedule lightens up a bit before round two of the MWC home-and-home round robin.

San Diego State

Looking back: The main takeaway from this week is a 2-0 record, including the tough road win at the Huntsman Center detailed above in our Game of the Week section. Before that, however, the Aztecs also added a home win against TCU, during which the Aztecs defense forced 20 TCU turnovers and limited the Horned Frogs to just six free throw attempts (compared to SDSU’s 25). However, as things start to tighten up as we head towards March, the Aztecs know they will have to shoot their free throws better. Over the week, the Aztecs made just 25 of their 48 free throw attempts, and over the season they rank 344th in Division I in free throw percentage, just 58.4%, a weakness that could prove deadly in close games.

Looking ahead: Just one game for the Aztecs this week, but it is a doozy as they host BYU at the Mesa on Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: A week ago at this time, the Rams were undefeated and riding high. Two losses to two of the conference’s power teams later, and CSU is back where they deserve to be: right in the middle of the MWC pack. The Rams got exposed as pretenders to the MWC crown when they visited Provo on Saturday, failing to show up at all in the second half, but to head coach Tim Miles’ credit, he had his kids ready to play at home against UNLV on Wednesday. The Rams held tight all night, forced 16 turnovers, got 20 points (including five threes) from freshman point Dorian Green, but wound up losing the game at the free throw line, making just 16 of their 28 free throw attempts while UNLV his 19 of their 23. It was made pretty clear this week that the Rams are not up to the level of the top teams in the conference, but they seem to be very capable of finishing atop the middle-of-the-pack tier.

Looking ahead: If the one-two punch of BYU/UNLV wasn’t enough, the Rams get an extra course with a trip to New Mexico on Saturday. On Wednesday, things will settle down a little as the Rams get to pick on someone their own size as they host TCU in what should be an evenly-matched battle.

TCU

Looking back: TCU’s lone conference game of the week was a trip out west to face San Diego State on Saturday, and  for a half at least things looked pretty good. The Horned Frogs were on fire in the first session, hitting 70% of their shots and six of their eight threes on the way to a nine-point halftime lead. However, they couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half, knocking down only seven of their 21 field goal attempts (although six of those seven makes were from behind the arc) and they were outscored by 14 in the second half. While the Frogs still wound up shooting at a 55% clip from behind the arc in the game, they turned the ball over 20 times and only got to the free throw line six times. On Wednesday, Jim Christian’s squad wrapped up non-conference play with a date with Texas-Pan American, and without a doubt the coach got in their ears about not relying on the three-point shot, as the Horned Frogs made a whopping 73% of their shots inside the arc on their way to a 12-point win. Sophomore point Tuffy Moss bounced back from some unsteady play last week by handing out 21 dimes this week, and senior forward Zvonko Buljan added 11.5 PPG and 9 RPG.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts UNLV on Saturday, then travels to Colorado State on Wednesday.

Utah

Looking back: This is the type of week we have predicted all along for Utah, knocking off an upper-echelon team on the road, then backing it up with a home loss. This Ute team remains only predictable in their inconsistency, and at some point this season, they will throw up a loss to Wyoming or Air Force or TCU just to prove it. In an upset victory at UNLV on Saturday, the Utes looked like a solid, veteran squad, hitting half of their field goals in the second half, hitting half of their threes over the course of the game and knocking down seven of their eight free throws in the final 90 seconds to withstand a late charge by the Rebels. They got balanced scoring (four players in double figures), they rebounded well, they played solid defense, they got six blocks from Foster, Brown knocked down some clutch threes, freshman guard Marshall Henderson added five more threes and they held on for a four point win. Three nights later, playing in front of a supportive Huntsman Center crowd, well, let’s just say things didn’t work out. They shot only 23% from the field in the first half, and despite SDSU’s best try at giving the game away (detailed in our MWC Game of the Week section above), Utah came away with a split over the week.

Looking ahead: Looking at the schedule, this looks to be a good week for the Utes, as they host Air Force before heading to Laramie to face Wyoming on Wednesday. Knowing this Utah team, don’t be surprised if they shoot 24% from the field for a game and drop one of these.

Wyoming

Looking back: Heath Schroyer had to know coming into the week that this was going to be a tough week, facing two of the elite teams in the conference. While the Cowboys played New Mexico tough in Laramie on Saturday, losing by just two despite turning the ball over 23 times, things took a bad turn early in Wednesday’s game in Provo when sophomore swing Afam Muojeke went down with a knee injury early in the first half and didn’t return. Wyoming never seemed to recover emotionally from that blow, and that combined with another 17 turnovers led to a 15-point loss at Wyoming. As of Thursday, the extent of Muojeke’s injury was not yet known, although he did miss four games earlier this year with a bruised knee.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Utah on Wednesday in their only game of the week.

Air Force

Looking back: Different week, same Air Force story; another loss (to New Mexico by 23 on Wednesday), and another injury report. Senior forward Mike McLain returned from his concussion and got 21 minutes in the New Mexico game and senior guard Avery Merriex continues to play through a broken nose after returning from a concussion. Still no sign of nor report on senior forward Grant Parker (groin injury) or sophomore center Sammy Schafer (complications from concussion). While this Falcon team never had a chance to be an elite MWC team, it would have been interesting to see where this team could have finished with a full complement of players and they could still be capable of springing an upset or two if they ever get back near full strength. Junior guard Evan Washington did break out of a slump a bit this week with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists against the Lobos.

Looking ahead: At Utah on Saturday and at UNLV on Tuesday. Looks like another brutal week for the Falcons.

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