Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.
Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.
Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)
Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.
Derrick Marks couldn’t move. The UNLV celebration had begun and handshake lines were forming around him, but Marks remained motionless, eyes staring blankly ahead. Losing 11-point leads in the final three and a half minutes of a basketball game will induce a little shock sometimes, but a glance at the paralyzed Marks made it clear that that this loss ran even deeper than that. Boise State had provided a 36-minute demonstration of why it had been picked second in the MW preseason poll. The Broncos looked like the NCAA Tournament team everyone had expected at the start of the year, and Marks was at the center of it all. He scored 22 points in every which way -– step-back jumpers, mid-range leaners, acrobatic layups — giving his team firm control of the second-half flow of play. But just as Boise appeared to be assuming a handle on both game and season, that fateful closing run of the Rebels (17-2 in its totality) completely ripped away any grip they may have found. Marks’ may still be processing the Broncos’ new reality, but the jarring loss landed his team further away than ever before from their second consecutive NCAA appearance. The Boise plight may also be a Mountain West plight, as the conference is looking more and more like a two-bid league, just a season after proudly sending five teams to the Big Dance.
Derrick Marks And Company Had Things Rolling For Most Of Saturday Night. A Late UNLV Surge Stole A Win From The Broncos, And May Have Redirected The Course Of Their Season.
This season was supposed to go differently for Leon Rice’s team. Expectations are bound to be elevated when you return your top six players from an NCAA Tournament team, and the Broncos have been unable to keep pace with the increased hype. Aside from a home win over a surprisingly solid Utah team, Boise’s most impressive result came in a road victory over #111 (KenPom) Hawaii in the Diamond Head Classic. They have taken care of business against inferior opponents (14-0 vs teams outside the top 100), but Saturday’s loss dropped the Broncos to just 1-7 against teams inside the top 100. That scar will need to be touched up in the coming weeks if Boise wants at-large hope on Selection Sunday, but don’t take that ugly record at face value. Four of those losses came by four points or less (including last night), and all but one, a 15-point loss at Kentucky, came by single digits. Most every major team statistical category is within range of where it was a year ago, and the defense actually looks marginally improved. The Broncos are clearly not leaps and bounds ahead of where they were a season ago, but contrary to what the record might indicate, they don’t actually appear to be any worse.
Any time you get around to comparing one coach to another, it’s a shaky situation. Isn’t the real decision about who is the better coach decided on the court? Sure, one coach may have more talent than another, but then again, isn’t pulling in talent part of the job description? So, prior to unveiling my rankings of the coaches in the Mountain West, lets offer up some criteria. For the most part, recruiting is excluded from this analysis. The question that we’ll attempt to answer instead is this: Pick any random team in the country — you don’t know its roster or its strengths and weaknesses — which Mountain West coach would give you the best chance over this and the next couple of seasons to get the most out of those players and leave the program in the best possible place at the end?
Well, here’s one man’s take, feel free to disagree.
The Dean Of Mountain West Coaches, Steve Fisher Is Among The Best In The Nation. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Steve Fisher, San Diego State – The results speak for themselves. Not only are the Aztecs the best team in the conference this year, Fisher’s done the most unbelievable job of building a program in the conference. Seriously, his track record at SDSU may not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as elite program-builders with national titles under their belts like Lute Olson and Jim Calhoun, but this trajectory is very, very close. Put it this way: There’s one sure-fire Hall-of-Famer in this conference and it is this man. He’s head and shoulders above the rest. The knock on him when he was at Michigan was that he could recruit well but wasn’t much of a teacher or a tactician. And earlier in his career at San Diego State, he struggled with some end-game scenarios (the 2006 NCAA Tournament First Round loss to Indiana still upsets me). But these days, his record in unimpeachable. He gets his players to improve from one season to the next and throughout their careers. Even while bringing in solid talent, he gets his team to exceed expectations. The team that he puts on the court is something that his supportive community can be proud of. Not only is Fisher far and away the best coach in the Mountain West, he’s on the very short list of the best in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »
The Mountain West clearly isn’t as good as it was last year. Two teams receiving invitations to the NCAA Tournament in March seems likely. While there are some future pros in this conference, there is nobody even on the radar for an overall #1 pick like Anthony Bennett was last season. We could spend the next thousand words or so telling you all the things that the Mountain West is not, but let’s focus on this indisputable fact: It remains a pretty darn exciting league. This week, in 10 conference games, there were a total of five different overtime periods; three games were decided by just two points; and five were decided by less than two possessions. And yet, inexplicably, in a conference almost defined by the strength of its home court advantages, the road warriors once again rose up, with fully half of this week’s games won by road teams; for the year, home teams are just 21-18 in conference play.
Not To Be Repetitive, But With A Pair Of Road Wins, The Aztecs Again Win Our Team Of The Week
Team of the Week
San Diego State – When you win two road conference games in one week, you’ve got good credentials for having had the best week in the conference. When you do it in the same week that you get bumped up to #5 in the AP poll, then you’re a lock. Sure, going to San Jose State and getting a win isn’t exactly going to raise many eyebrows, but the Aztecs did what they were supposed to do there: They blew out the Spartans. And then to go from San Jose and beat Utah State in one of the toughest road environments in the country — the first ever home loss in Utah State’s long (ahem) and illustrious history in the Mountain West? That’s a serious accomplishment.
Life is not easy on the road in the Mountain West. The conference’s newest member has quickly learned the harsh reality of a league notorious for protecting its home courts, as Utah State dropped its fourth league road game in as many tries Wednesday night, falling 62-42 at UNLV. In a development typical of both conference and program, the Aggies have taken care of business in their two conference home games, but dwindling at-large hopes will only truly be resuscitated away from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. However, NCAA Tournament or not, Stew Morrill’s program should fast find comfort in its new league. An entrenched coach, a passionate fan base, and a paradigmatic home court all make Utah State a natural fit for the Mountain West. But for now, the Aggies are learning that a step up in class doesn’t always make for the smoothest transition.
After An 0-4 Road Start In MW Play, Preston Medlin And The Aggies Must Be Looking Forward To Returning Home
The last time Utah State switched leagues, it found the changeover a bit more manageable. Back in 2006, Stew Morrill led his charges from the Big West into the WAC, where they went 11-5 in their first regular season, then pushed Nevada to overtime in the WAC Tournament title game. No matter that the WAC brought a significantly enhanced reputation to the table: the Aggies belonged from the get-go. In this round of conference roulette, the MW brings a similar upgrade in class for Utah State. If geography still means anything when it comes to conference affiliation (the AAC may tell you that it doesn’t), the Aggies have positioned themselves in a western league that has to be second to only the Pac-12 in terms of desirability for the Logan, Utah, based school. It’s an elevation well-worth a season – or two, or three – of struggles on the court.
There’s a chance, Mr. or Mrs. Diehard college hoops fan, that you don’t know who Deonte Burton is. No, we aren’t talking about the Marquette swingman (although that might also be a conversation worth having, after he authored this late entry for the dunk of 2013). The Deonte Burton you need to know had produced a trio of productive individual campaigns before this 2013-14 season, but here in his final go-around, both the volume and efficiency of that production has exploded. Finding a national spotlight can be difficult when you are starring on a mediocre team in a self-proclaimed “little city” (even if it may be the “biggest little city in the world”), but it’s time for folks outside of Reno to start taking note of Nevada’s explosive senior. And if the surprising Wolfpack’s newfound winning ways somehow manage to keep up? There will be no choice but to appreciate the player at the center of the surge.
He Has Been Brilliant All Season, But Deonte Burton Put On A Special Show Wednesday Night At The Thomas And Mack Center- Even By His Lofty Standards
After a 74-71 victory over UNLV in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, Nevada is suddenly alone atop the Mountain West at 3-0. The quick start marks a drastic reversal of fortune for a team that won just three conference games all of last season, and entered 2014 with an entirely underwhelming 5-8 overall record. Wins over San Jose State (on the road) and Wyoming set the stage for the Wolfpack’s victory in the battle for the Silver State, but this latest triumph was far from guaranteed early. UNLV built an 11-point lead late in the first half, but in those critical pre-intermission minutes when second-half momentum is always on the line, Burton snatched all that impetus the Rebels had previously held. In the span of 80 seconds, three consecutive contested, step-back Burton jumpers found the bottom of the net, and the Wolfpack headed to the locker room down just two. It was as acute a pivot point in momentum as you will find, and it propelled Nevada to an 11-0 run out of the locker room. This spurt created some permanent separation, as the UNLV deficit wouldn’t shrink to below six again until the meaningless final seconds.
With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.
O26 Midseason Coach of the Year
Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)
Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Steve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton
Back at Thanksgiving, things weren’t looking especially bright for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Dave Rice’s team was just 2-3 (a record that excludes an embarrassing exhibition loss to Dixie State), and even that middling early mark may not have been representative of how quickly the team’s expectation level had deflated. Just a few weeks into the season, the Rebs appeared to be headed nowhere fast. But then, finally, things got going. Slowly at first — an easy win over Tennessee-Martin was followed by an encouraging loss at #1 Arizona (UNLV trailed by just two points with 30 seconds to go) – before things quickly accelerated, as the Rebels ripped off seven straight double-figure wins. The spurt restored much of the faith that had landed the team second in the Mountain West preseason poll, but after a puzzling, out-of-left field loss to Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night, doubts about the Rebels are again resurfacing.
Bryce Dejean-Jones 28 Point Effort Wasn’t Enough For UNLV On Saturday Night, But Continued Offensive Efficiency From The Junior Will Be Key For The Rebels
Fair warning for anyone who peeks at Air Force’s early-season schedule: There are some scarring results on there. Losses to VMI, Jackson State, and 3-10 UC Davis (#320 in the latest Pomeroy rankings) are among the eyesores, although the increasingly salubrious Falcons did enter Saturday fresh off an upset of a solid Utah State team. Still, few expected Air Force to be especially competitive in this one (including local bookmakers, who had the Falcons listed as 14.5 point underdogs).As it turns out, the Falcons proved every bit as competitive as UNLV was disappointing. In his postgame presser, head coach Dave Rice flatly stated that “this was a very disappointing effort” multiple times. Disappointing indeed, and suddenly that post-Thanksgiving Rebels’ schedule took on a slightly less rosy tint.
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
Cincinnati’s swarming defense wasn’t good enough to overcome New Mexico’s efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)
Every basketball fan understands the concept of the run, where a team strings together a series of defensive stops while scoring points on the other end. The name is appropriate for a team like Louisville, which can put up a dozen straight points in an eye blink. Cincinnati can’t really do that, particularly against a quality foe. What the Bearcats do – when the ferocity of their defense overwhelms the ineptitude of their offense for a while; or for the other team, when it doesn’t – is more like a walk. In the first half on Saturday, New Mexico walked away from Cincinnati in The Pit, outscoring the Bearcats 16-4 over a period of a little more than 10 minutes to take a 27-10 lead. Cincinnati later cut that lead to only two early in the second half, but never got it all the way back to even. The Bearcats have never been a good offensive team under Mick Cronin (KenPom had UC ranked #64 in offensive efficiency coming into the game, which would be near the top of the Cronin era), but no matter the quality of your defense, beating a good team on the road is going to be nearly impossible when you shoot 29.5 percent and score around 0.9 points per possession, as Cincinnati did in this game.
That said, the defense wasn’t good enough on Saturday either. Cincinnati was ranked #9 in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4), #12 in effective field goal defense (42.1 percent) and #2 in turnover percentage (27.5 percent) coming into the game. New Mexico brought thoroughly mediocre ranks in effective field goal offense (#128) and turnover percentage (#100), so a path to victory for the Bearcats had to include getting stops and turning over the Lobos. The Bearcats did force 15 turnovers, roughly one out of every four possessions, which might have been enough on its own had they also not allowed New Mexico to shoot 50 percent from the field. Moreover, they couldn’t get those stops when it counted. After cutting a 12-point lead down to seven with 3:29 remaining, Cincinnati allowed New Mexico to score on its next three possessions. The first of those possessions lasted 61 seconds, thanks to an offensive rebound more than 30 seconds into the shot clock that allowed another 20-plus seconds to run off. The last of those scores made it a 13-point game with a minute left, putting things out of reach. Read the rest of this entry »
With four weeks of basketball now in the books, it’s time to take a quick glance back at some of the things we thought we knew in the preseason. Some notions have proved accurate, but early results have tested a slew of preseason hypotheses that we once felt confident in. Here are a few examples, on both sides of the ledger:
We Thought We Knew…
Andy Enfield Was the New Coach Bringing Exciting Offensive Basketball to LA
There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford’s And UCLA’s First Four Weeks
We weren’t the only ones who thought it was USC, with AndyEnfield now at the helm – and not UCLA, with new head man Steve Alford — which was going to be lighting up Pac-12 scoreboards in the City of Angels this winter. Back in October, Enfield told his players, “if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Well, USC isn’t playing slow – they are 33rd nationally in possessions per game –but they are playing slower than the Bruins, which are six spots ahead of them in that category. And if this first month means anything, perhaps Enfield should have also advised any of his players who enjoy scoring, winning, or both, to plan that transfer across town. USC is 5-3, with just one win against a team in KenPom’s top 230 (!!!) and an offensive efficiency that ranks them 170th nationally. UCLA, on the other hand, is 8-0 and averaging more than 90 PPG behind the 7th-most efficient offense in the country. Now, there is a necessary asterisk here: Alford inherited significantly more talent at his disposal than Enfield did. Even so, it was Enfield – not Alford — who invited the cross-town comparisons. The Dunk City architect better have something besides his mouth working by the time USC visits Pauley Pavilion on January 5; otherwise, his Trojans are firmly at risk of getting run out of Westwood, and contrary to popular belief, there would be nothing slow about it.
The Complection of the Top of the Big 12
At this point, expecting Kansas to win the Big 12 generally equates to peeping out a Southern California window and looking for the sun in the morning. The Jayhawks may not have played their way out of the preseason expectation to win the Big 12 again this year, but they should have company at the top this time around. Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, post play deficiencies aside, have looked every bit the part of Big 12 title contenders themselves, and many would now peg the Cowboys as Big 12 favorites (including yours truly). Kansas State and Baylor were next in line after the Pokes and Jayhawks a month ago, but the Wildcats have suffered through a miserable opening month, while Baylor has looked as shaky as a 7-1 team with two top-40 victories can look, with two of those wins coming against non-D-I competition and three of the other five earned with a final margin of victory of five points or fewer. Iowa State now looks like the team ready to take a step up in class. The Cyclones, 7-0 with a pair of top-40 victories of their own, could easily enter the Big 12 season undefeated and prepared to further shake up a suddenly unpredictable conference race.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013
This is the 44th season of San Diego State basketball playing at the Division I level. In the 29 years prior to Steve Fisher arriving on campus, the Aztecs had 12 winning seasons, four postseason tournament appearances – three NCAAs and one NIT – and exactly zero postseason wins. Now they’ve made four straight NCAA Tournaments, eight straight postseason tournaments, and have turned into a fixture on the national stage. They scored their first NCAA Tournament win in 2011 and turned that into a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath and Kyle Spain turned into Kawhi Leonard and Billy White and D.J. Gay. That group turned into Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin. Those two moved on last year and now Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard and Josh Davis step up. And the Aztecs just keep on keeping on.
Fifteen Years Ago, San Diego State Basketball Was An Afterthought, Now It Is A Program
Fisher had this to say about his team’s performance this weekend in winning the Wooden Legacy while knocking off such divergent styles as Creighton and Marquette in back-to-back games: “We’ve got a group of guys that will compete and adapt and adjust. And whatever the moment is, we’ll be able to to play that way.” Take that quote out of context and he could be talking about the philosophy of the program as a whole. Back in 2005-06, with Slaughter and Heath on campus, the Aztecs were a great offensive team that liked to get out in transition and hit a lot of threes, but weren’t so good defensively. In 2010-11, they were a fantastic defensive team with Leonard and a big front line, but they were one of the slowest teams in the country. Last year it was the two-headed attack of Tapley and Franklin, and now this year, they’re great athletically and get after it on defense but aside from Thames they may have a different secondary scorer every night. Adjust and adapt and compete. And, when it comes time, next man up, get in there and get the job done.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 7th, 2013
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times? In some way, the 2012-13 regular season was the peak for the Mountain West basketball. As a conference, the MW finished third in RPI, behind only the Big Ten and the Big East, with regular season champion New Mexico finishing third nationally in that admittedly flawed rating. Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State all finished in the top 35 in RPI, while only two teams – Fresno State and Nevada – finished below 100 in that rating. And best of all, five of the nine conference teams earned invitations to the NCAA Tournament, and all five were either seed-line favorites or, in the case of Boise State, involved in a virtual coin-flip in a First Four game. But Selection Sunday was the last glimpse of glory for the conference, as only two of the conference teams made it even so far as the first weekend of the Tournament, and by the time the Sweet 16 rolled around, the MW was little more than a punchline. To put it plainly, this is a conference with a lot of doubters heading into the new season.
New Mexico’s Regular Season Success Was A Distant Memory Following An Opening Round NCAA Tournament Loss (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)
Replacing Production. To make matters worse, all of the historic powers in this conference are faced with replacing major losses. UNLV saw freshman Anthony Bennett leave on his way to becoming the number one overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, but will also have to find ways to replace transfers Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt, along with backcourt rock Anthony Marshall. New Mexico had head coach Steve Alford bail for the greener pastures of UCLA, not a week after agreeing to a big contract extension in Albuquerque, and will also have to find a replacement for breakout wing Tony Snell, who left for the NBA. Steve Fisher and San Diego State now find themselves without any remaining ties to the 2010 Sweet 16 team, as graduates Chase Tapley and James Rahon are joined on their way out the door by their own early entrant to the NBA Draft in Jamaal Franklin. And Colorado State? Geez, if you know anybody returning on the Ram basketball squad, you and I should sit down and have a beer sometime. While there is still plenty of talent around the conference, there are a lot of players who need to produce in order to make us believe.
The Final Effects of Realignment? Not too long ago, the Mountain West was a stable collection of nine teams who seemed more or less happy to be with each other, despite a flailing cable network and a mishmash of interests. Just three seasons ago, teams like Utah, BYU and TCU were cornerstones of the conference. Now, those three schools are gone. But, to be honest, the conference has to be thankful that they have who they still have. Even in the middle of last year’s basketball season, Boise State and San Diego State each had one foot out the door to the Big East (really? San Diego and Boise, east? This still bugs me after all this time) before cooler heads prevailed. Still, in an effort to replace those teams should their defection have completed, the MW snapped up Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC, and those two teams join the conference this season, marking the end to the changes in the membership of the Mountain West, at least for the foreseeable future. One significantly unfortunate side effect of all the running around – the balanced conference schedule where everybody plays everybody at home and away is a thing of the past.