Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- A lot of people are pumping up the Mountain West Conference this season and rightly so. Trailing only the Big Ten and Big East in the Pomeroy ratings, the Mountain West has seven of its nine teams in the top 100. Two Mountain West teams made the AP top 25 this week (New Mexico and San Diego State) while another (UNLV) is knocking on the door. That said, I don’t believe there is a single elite team in this league. The parity in this league makes for great action night after night but I would be surprised if any of these teams makes a legitimate run at the Elite Eight or Final Four. San Diego State and UNLV probably have the best potential to advance in the NCAA Tournament but each has too many flaws to make a serious run in my opinion. San Diego State does a number of things well but I question its ability to score against good competition and get a bucket when it is really needed. I think the Aztecs are the best in the Mountain West but their lack of size and occasional scoring issues will be their downfall. As for UNLV, it may have the most talent of any team in the league. But talent doesn’t always equal wins. Anthony Bennett is a flat out stud but the Rebels struggle against teams that can match their athleticism but also against teams that can slow it down and make it a half court game. UNLV’s turnover issues and shaky play away from Las Vegas are also major causes for concern. It always seems that whenever the Rebels look like they’re about to turn the corner, they lose. The win at San Diego State was a positive but UNLV gave it right back by losing to Colorado State three days later. This has been a trend for UNLV over the years as it just can’t seem to sustain a high level of play. A questionable or disappointing loss always seems to follow a nice win. New Mexico is an interesting team. Steve Alford has built a nice program in Albuquerque but I have been down on this team for the better part of the season despite its record. The Lobos really struggle to score, as evidenced by the putrid 34 points they put up in Saturday’s blowout loss at San Diego State. It’s disappointing because they have talented guards and a solid big man in Alex Kirk. Similar to UNLV, New Mexico often has a letdown after a period of strong play. The Lobos started 12-0 then lost at home to South Dakota State. Then they went on the road and beat Cincinnati, only to lose the next game in uncompetitive fashion to St. Louis. Then they won four straight (including at Boise State and vs. Colorado State) before getting blown out by the Aztecs. Until New Mexico proves it can consistently beat good teams, I will have my doubts. The Mountain West is really fun to watch but don’t get carried away about the league’s postseason prospects.
- One team out west that I feel does have the potential to go deep is Gonzaga. I do have a few concerns about the Bulldogs but I really do believe this is the best team Mark Few has ever assembled in Spokane. The Zags have the perfect balance with talented guards and strong players around the rim. Kelly Olynyk is having a spectacular season coming off a redshirt year and he anchors a strong frontcourt that also features the uber-athletic Elias Harris. Gonzaga is tough to match up with because it can score in so many different ways. If you zone the Zags, you risk Kevin Pangos dropping a ton of threes on you while giving up a lot of offensive rebounds. If you play man-to-man, Pangos can penetrate and dish to the big men at will or Gonzaga will run him off ball screens for plenty of good looks from deep. Gonzaga, with the nation’s fourth-ranked offensive efficiency, is incredibly difficult to contain on that end of the floor. The Bulldogs have been held under 70 points only five times in 21 games. The way to beat Gonzaga is to be physical and take advantage of its very average defense. Few’s team struggles to defend ball screens and is vulnerable against teams with a rugged style of play. You often get a lot of rugged, slow it down games in the NCAA Tournament and Gonzaga is going to have to sure up its defense by March in order to survive. That said, Gonzaga’s offensive prowess is a huge asset and one that should carry it to at least two NCAA Tournament victories in a perfect world. Of course, the world isn’t perfect and basketball games, more than any other sport, are often determined by match-ups. Read the rest of this entry »