While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.
Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.
The ACC:When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.
The tumult of conference realignment has hit few conferences harder than it has the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, but as we prepare to set sail on the 2013-14 season, both leagues again loom as the best college basketball has to offer outside the now “power seven” conferences. We touched on each league a little bit in yesterday’s Morning Five, but storylines abound in two leagues that have generated plenty of national buzz in recent years. Both are expected to maintain holds in the upper echelon of the mid-major hierarchy, but offseason membership changes have left things less certain than usual, especially in the A-10. The constant churn of programs jumping from conference to conference has left leagues in varying states of disarray, and 2013-14 finds both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 at a crossroads. The challenges are different in each situation, but with the relatively uncertain future of today’s college basketball’s climate, another strong season in comparison with the high-majors would go a long ways towards stabilizing each of these traditionally strong conferences.
Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West
This season’s iteration of the Mountain West is bigger, but is it better? The preseason poll released Tuesday offered confirmation of the general consensus surrounding newcomers Utah State and San Jose State: Stew Morrill and the Aggies should be a factor in the top half of the conference, while the Spartans, despite their eye-catching new floor, are likely to be MW doormats. But even if Utah State matches or exceeds expectations in their conference debut, the conference as a whole will struggle to replicate the success of 2012-13 – those good old days when the MW was number one in conference RPI (no typo). The trio at the top of this year’s preseason poll all have a chance at replicating, or even improving upon, their successful campaigns of a year ago.
The return of preseason MW POY Kendall Williams and first teamer Alex Kirk has left New Mexico as the conference’s presumptive favorite: the Lobos earned all but one of 24 first place votes. A talented but overhauled UNLV squad scooped up that final first place vote, while Boise State’s return of nearly every key contributor earned the Broncos enough acclaim to tie for second with the Rebels in the poll. The Morning Five highlighted another talented San Diego State roster that sits behind those three teams in the eyes of the media, and let’s face it — it’s probably time we start giving Steve Fisher the benefit of the doubt – the Aztecs are an annual factor out west. But behind the Aztecs and Aggies (Utah State was picked to finish fifth) lies much of the intrigue in this year’s MW. A season ago, the four non-Tournament teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada) were all extremely competitive, especially on their home floors. Their strength was a big reason for that heady conference RPI. This year’s bottom half again appears feisty, with a couple of teams – Nevada (#9) and Fresno State (#8) appearing especially undervalued in the preseason evaluations. Nobody – inside our outside the league — is expecting the MW to finish atop the conference RPI again this season. But another solid campaign, on the heels of that banner season of a year ago, would be awfully sound validation of a league unprepared to leave the national consciousness anytime soon.
The biggest news in the college hoops universe on Tuesday without a doubt sent a shudder through the spines of the rest of the country’s basketball powerhouses. Class of 2014 wing Kelly Oubretweeted that he will be attending Kansas next season, which taken by itself may not be a remarkable piece of information. But the fact that the top-10 recruit chose KU after visiting Lawrence for Late Night in the Phog last weekend, and the additional fact that he cancelled his official visit to Kentucky next week for Big Blue Madness, and the third fact that Kansas head coach Bill Self has signed four top-20 prospects in the last 12 months… well, let’s just say that Self has never had trouble winning with good talent. What will he be able to do with great talent? Oubre is a great early pickup for the Jayhawks and his commitment may just be the tip of the iceberg in Lawrence — top-five prospects Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are visiting soon and KU is reported as one of the purported “package deal’s” four finalists (along with Duke, Baylor and Kentucky). We’ll have more on the topic of Oubre and Bill Self’s hot hand in recruiting later today.
That’s for next year, what about this season? The two highest-quality basketball leagues that are not members of the “power seven” conferences released their preseason polls and all-conference teams on Tuesday. The new-look Atlantic 10features a 13-team field with high expectations for Shaka Smart’s VCU program, chosen as the #1 team (with 19 first-place votes) in its first year in the league. Jim Crews’ Saint Louis squad was the only other team to earn #1 votes (five), but we’re certain that this league will not be a cake walk for either team — the A-10 always produces one of the nuttiest regular season slates in college basketball. The conference’s five-member preseason first team features two VCU players, guard Treveon Graham and forward Juvonte Reddic. La Salle, sitting quietly in third place in the preseason poll, placed three players on the league’s three preseason teams, more than any other squad. Keep an eye on the Explorers this year.
Across the country, the Mountain Westreleased its preseason poll as well, and even with the loss of former head coach Steve Alford, New Mexico appears to be the team to beat (grabbing all but one #1 vote). The remaining #1 vote went to UNLV, tied for second with Boise State, with head coach Dave Rice looking to replace a whole lot of talent that didn’t quite mesh well together. The MW was sensible enough to pick only a single preseason team of six players, with New Mexico placing preseason POY Kendall Williams as well as center Alex Kirk on the squad. Boise had a couple selections as well, wing Anthony Drmic and guard Derrick Marks. UNLV’s Khem Birch and Nevada’s Deonte Burton filled out the group. The quiet team in this year’s Mountain West is San Diego State, picked fourth — Steve Fisher’s team has not finished below that spot in the regular season standings in nearly a decade (2004-05), so even though the Aztecs also lost a great deal of talent, we’d expect that they too will be heard from.
We’re not going to be one of those schadenfreude types who takes great pleasure in the misfortune of others, but we heard more than a few snickers in the background earlier this week when news was released that Murray State’s Zay Jacksonhad torn both the ACL and LCL in his right knee during a recent practice and will miss the entire season. If the name sounds familiar to you, it should; Jackson made international headlines for all the wrong reasons a little over a year ago when he was videotaped running his car into another person after a verbal altercation in a Walmart parking lot. He served a total of 60 days in jail on assault and wanton endangerment charges, and at least from reports surrounding the Murray program this year, he had grown up and put the incident behind him. His father had also passed away recently, so we certainly wish him well going forward and hope that he uses his rehabilitation time wisely.
We’ve written previously about the NFL’s recent trend in looking at some of college basketball’s better athletes to fill some out its roster spots, especially at the tight end position, and the world is starting to take notice. New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham, an explosive but otherwise average forward on the Miami (FL) basketball teams of the late 2000s, just won the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award, the first ever given to a tight end in its nearly 3o-year history. His September of work resulted in 26 receptions and six touchdowns to help the Saints off to a quick 4-0 start, and as this article describes, guys like he, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron are completely changing the concept of the position in NFL circles. We’ve known all along that college basketball’s best athletes are some of the most versatile and skilled in the world — it’s interesting that both homegrown and other sports around the globe are starting to take notice.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Mountain West Championship game between New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas.
Three Key Takeaways.
America: Meet Tony Snell. Those of us that have been watching the Mountain West religiously for the past three years are quite familiar with the unique combination of talent that Snell possesses: a 6’7” wing with even better length, terrific defensive ability, the ability to run off screens at an elite level, and can knock down open looks at a great rate — not to mention the jump-out-of-the-gym hops and a decent handle as well. This afternoon, he put all of that on display for a national audience. The question about him has always been whether he is too nice to be a great competitor, but that was not in doubt today: 21 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five threes and a great blow-by in the closing moments as well.
Live By The Three, Die By The Three. The Rebels shot the ball 59 times on Saturday afternoon; 31 of those (a full 52.5%) came from deep. In the second half it was even worse with 17 of their 29 attempts (58.6%) coming from beyond the arc and another healthy chunk perimeter jumpers just inside it. For awhile, that worked out, as Bryce Dejean-Jones had a couple stretches where he caught fire and the Rebels were right in the game. But when that faucet got turned off, the Rebels faded. There are definitely good shooters on this team, with Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt the best among them, but both of those guys have a tendency to take too many shots and, more disturbingly, to take bad shots. Then there’s Anthony Bennett, a physical specimen with a fantastic inside/out game who too often forgets about the inside half of that equation. For the Rebs to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, they need to find better balance offensively.
New Mexico’s NCAA Tournament Viability. I’ve been among the doubters of the Lobos of late, in part because I haven’t entirely trusted their ability to get consistent offensive production from their guards. Today, to understate things, that was not a concern. We’ve talked about Snell, but Kendall Williams was tremendous as well, handing out seven assists, running the team well, and scoring 12 points. Then there’s Hugh Greenwood who had three early three-pointers and then never scored again. But, Greenwood did so many other things well, grabbing seven boards, handing out five assists and limiting Anthony Marshall’s production. Despite the 29 wins to this point, it has been something of an up-and-down year offensively to this point, but heading into the NCAA Tournament, this team is playing its best ball.
Star of the Game. Tony Snell. Five minutes into the game, you would have figured Anthony Bennett was going to be the guy. He had his team’s first 11 points in often spectacular ways, but his star faded quickly. Snell, however, played his best after the break, logging all 20 minutes, making five of seven shots (including three threes) and coming up with the big offensive play whenever his team needed a bucket.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report from The MW Tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday evening.
While other people around the country have been anointing New Mexico as a legitimate possibility for a #1 seed and a contender for a deep March run, I’ve been reluctant to buy in completely due to the inconsistent offensive production they get from their guards. Between Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood, the Lobos get an average of 33.4 points per night, but from one night to the next, you never really know what you’re going to get. Williams dropped 46 against Colorado State to great acclaim, then followed that up with 15 points over the next two games. Greenwood (who, to be fair, is not meant to be a prolific scorer), followed up his season-high 17 points against USC with a pair of four-FGA games. And Snell? For all his immense talent (and make no mistake, the kid has the potential to be on the very short list of best players in this conference), you not only never know what you’re going to get from him offensively on a game-to-game basis, you can see wildly divergent performances within the same game – or even the same half. Tonight, we got the good Tony Snell early, as he knocked down his first four shots, including a couple threes, on the way to 11 points out of the gate. He then proceeded to miss his next seven shots from the field and scored just four more points the rest of the way – all from the free-throw line (although, to be fair, New Mexico makes scoring from the charity stripe a priority). But the good news, and the fact that will keep the Lobos in more games than not, is that all of these guys buy in defensively. Even when Snell either isn’t finding shots or isn’t knocking them down, he – and Williams, and Greenwood – are active and aware defenders. If the Lobos can find a way to get regular consistent production offensively out of these guards, they are a threat to play well into March, and possibly April. But there is also the possibility that Snell, Williams and Greenwood all turn in lackluster offensive performances in the same game and they get bounced early. They got the job done tonight, against a short-handed and over-matched team, but is this type of effort going to get the job done against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
New Mexico Is Undeniably A Strong Defensive Team, But They Need Tony Snell and Their Backcourt To Be Consistent Scorers (AP Photo)
While New Mexico is the national story, the story inside the gym was Wyoming’s hustle and determination in keeping the game as close as possible for as long as possible. While this game was never seriously in doubt, the Cowboys were playing for keeps tonight. I lost count of the number of times multiple players on their team got down on the court to get after loose balls, they were consistently selling out on the defensive end and just generally leaving it all out on the court. Their star forward and senior leader Leonard Washington was in foul trouble almost throughout, but recognizing that his team didn’t stand a chance without him, head coach Larry Shyatt kept bringing him back far before you would otherwise suspect; for instance, he was in the game for a long stretch in the first half with three fouls and was brought back into the game almost immediately after picking up his fourth just five minutes into the second half. Still, the grizzled veteran, playing through a back injury that clearly limited him, fouled out with more than seven minutes remaining, effectively sealing the game. Shyatt is still convinced that the Cowboys and their top-70 RPI will earn an invitation to some post-season tournament, otherwise college basketball has seen the last of Washington (and no, he is not, contrary to popular belief, an eighth-year senior), so let’s pause to salute one of the country’s hardest-working, most-versatile players in recent years. Here’s Larry Shyatt on his senior, playing through injury: “For seven games now, he has tried to give this school, this team, this state everything he’s had. He’s the first to admit, like yesterday, he just doesn’t have it right now. The back is just at a point where, the greatest gift he has is lift, and he doesn’t have lift right now. I tell you what, I owe him a lot of respect for the level of toughness he’s tried to show. I just wish he could have performed like Leonard these last six or seven games.” Check out these senior year stats for a minute: 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, all while playing in one of the nation’s most down-tempo systems. And, somehow, I left him off of not just my All-Mountain West first team, but also off the second team. I was completely wrong on that one. And I have no idea how, or why I did that.
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
Does Virginia want to make the NCAA Tournament? Since beating Duke almost two weeks ago, the Cavaliers have lost to Boston College and Florida State and barely escaped Maryland in overtime on Sunday in a game that each team tried to give away multiple times. The more and more I look at Virginia’s resume, the more I think this team will be in the NIT. It has gotten to the point where there are too many bad losses to overcome, barring a run this week in the ACC Tournament. The Hoos have a couple things going for them, mainly the win over Duke and the victory at Wisconsin in November. Home wins over North Carolina, NC State and bubble buddy Tennessee also help but Tony Bennett’s club has a stunning EIGHT bad losses on its resume. Virginia went 11-7 in the ACC but went 0-3 against Colonial Athletic Association teams. Go figure. From an efficiency perspective, this is a strong team that plays stifling defense, has a couple of great players in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to go along with a solid supporting cast. The resume lacks some punch though and Virginia has a lot of work to do this week in Greensboro. The Cavs will likely open with NC State on Friday, a game they really need to win.
Tony Bennett will sweat it out this week
One team fighting with Virginia for a tournament berth is Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were eliminated from the Sun Belt Tournament by Florida International on Sunday and now have to sit and sweat out the next five days. Kermit Davis’s team finished with an impressive 28-5 overall record and lost just once over a 20-game conference schedule, on the road in overtime to Arkansas State (the next best team in the league). Davis has been with the program since 2002 and has built it up to respectable mid-major status. Is this a team worthy of a chance at a bid? Absolutely. The question is, will it get one? If I were on the selection committee, I’d probably have to say no unfortunately. Despite doing what it was supposed to do in its conference, Middle Tennessee didn’t do much out of conference. Yes, it beat two SEC teams (Mississippi and Vanderbilt), but neither of those teams is making the NCAA Tournament (unless the Rebels have a great conference tournament). But the real reason why I’d leave Middle Tennessee out is the fact that it was not competitive against Florida or Belmont, two of its better non-conference opponents. A competitive showing in either game would likely have changed my mind. In addition, the Blue Raiders lost a tough one in overtime to Akron. Those are missed opportunities that may end up costing this team a chance to dance.
The fact that Stony Brook had to go on the road in the America East Tournament is a travesty. The Seawolves won the conference by three full games and their reward was a road trip to face #4 seed Albany in its own gym. It’s not right. I realize these smaller conferences don’t have the budgets that the power leagues do but would it be so difficult to host the tournament at whichever school wins the regular season title? Is that too much to ask? Instead, the America East picked Albany to host the quarterfinals and semifinals with the championship being hosted by the higher seed. The final part makes sense but the rest of it seems like bizarro world. Stony Brook had a stellar year, going 23-6 (14-2) in regular season play. Hopefully Steve Pikiell’s team will be rewarded with a nice seed in the NIT and maybe even a home game! Read the rest of this entry »
In this week’s RTC Podblast, we tackle Championship Fortnight with a detailed look at a number of the Other 26 league tournaments around the country. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) is our host, but we also bring in the RTC O26 correspondent, I. Renko (@irenkohoops), to help dissect some of the more notable tourneys tipping off this week and next. The schedule of topics is below if you feel like jumping around. Later this week we’ll do our traditional podcast, and next week we’ll absolutely be breaking down each of the power conference tournaments with our cast of microsite correspondents around the country.
0:00-4:23 – Gonzaga the Best O26 Team, But Not the Best Team in the Country
4:23-6:03 – MW and A-10 Are Elite Conferences
6:03-11:07 – St. Louis and New Mexico Battle for Next Best O26 Team
11:07-14:55 – Other 26 Teams Looking Good for At-Large Bids
14:55-17:24 – The Curious Case of Louisiana Tech
17:24-20:37 – Teams That Can Make Noise… If They Get In
20:37-23:14 – MW and A-10 are the Tourneys to Watch
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!
Team of the Week
San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.
Player of the Week
Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.
Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)
Newcomer of the Week
Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.
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.
Steve Fisher may have the best team in the Mountain West (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
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 »
Welcome to the 10th episode of the 2012-13 version of the RTC Podcast. We’re in the heart of the season and there’s no shortage of things to talk long and hard about, so this week — with Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), per usual, as our host — we went a little long with discussion of such wide-ranging topics as who was snubbed on the Wooden Award midseason watch list, whether Louisville is a legitimate #1 team, and what’s going with those nutty basketball programs in the City of Angels. The entire outline of the podcast is located below, so feel free to skip around.
Check back on Friday of this week for our shorter RTC Podblast, which will run down some of the action from this week and look ahead to the weekend’s biggest games. And don’t forget to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after each recording. Thanks!
0:00-6:47 – Duke Falls for the First Time – What’s next for them and NC State
6:47-10:57 – Michigan Falls for the First Time – What’s next for them and Ohio State
10:57-15:02 – How Do the Top Big Ten Teams Stack Up?
15:02-18:13 – Louisville – Nation’s New Number One
18:13-24:07 – USC Fires Kevin O’Neill
24:07-28:01 – The Most Watchable and Unwatchable Teams
28:01-32:59 – VCU Fun to Watch But How Good Are They?
32:59-35:44 – UCLA Rights the Ship
35:44-39:04 – Pac-12 Hierarchy
39:04-42:00 – Mountain West Discussion/Week Preview
42:00-43:47 – NC State-Maryland preview
43:47-44:42 – Minnesota-Michigan preview
44:42-54:27 – Wooden Award Discussion/Wrap
We welcome any and all feedback on these podcasts including topics for future discussion or if you want to send us any questions for our “May Not Be From Actual Listeners” segment. Hit us up at email@example.com or @rushthecourt on Twitter.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
One week of conference play is in the books and, yeah, we pretty much got confirmation that this season is going to be just about as interesting as we expected it to be. A couple of overtime games, a buzzer-beater and top 25-caliber match-ups filled the schedule with only a few snoozers (not coincidentally, all featuring at least one of the new conference teams) mixed in for variety. There were amazing plays that had the entire college basketball world buzzing, there were headscratching performances, and there were exhilarating games. And, we’ve still got eight full weeks of conference play remaining.
Team of the Week
Boise State – Beating out its more celebrated brethren San Diego State and New Mexico, the Broncos take the honor this week on the strength of the best road win in the conference this week, a buzzer-beating win over previously undefeated Wyoming on Wednesday night. Playing without four players who were suspended prior to the game, the Broncos fought, scraped and clawed, coming back from a 10-point second-half deficit to build up a seven-point lead with under three minutes to play, only to see that lead disappear again with just eight seconds left on the clock. And then, arguably the hottest player in the nation, Jeff Elorriaga, drilled a three-pointer from the left corner as time expired (his second three in the final 30 seconds, sixth on the night and 30th in his last 50 attempts over five games) to end Wyoming’s unbeaten streak and propel BSU to a thrilling opening night win.
Player of the Week
Mike Fitzgerald, Senior, Air Force – Apologies to Alex Kirk (21 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 61.5% eFG), but sometimes tough decisions need to be made. And, in spots like this, the tie goes to the senior, and certainly the underdog. Fitzgerald started the week strong for the Falcons, posting a career high 30 points (including 23 after the break) in helping the Academy come back from a three-point halftime deficit to earn a conference-opening win over Nevada. Saturday, while the outcome wasn’t quite as enjoyable for Falcons fans, Fitzgerald helped keep his team in it against UNLV for 45 minutes, adding another 22 points in an overtime loss. For the week, Fitzgerald made 14 of 20 shots from the field, including seven three-pointers (good for an 87.5% eFG) and hit 17-of-18 from the charity stripe while chipping in six rebounds per night.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
It was a pretty quiet week on the hardwood around the conference, with just nine total games played by conference teams, eight of which resulted in wins, with six of those wins decided by an average of 27.3 points. Air Force absorbed the lone loss by getting drilled at Richmond, while Wyoming completed its perfect pre-conference slate by squeaking past SMU in Dallas. Elsewhere, Colorado State notched a couple of solid home wins by taking care of UTEP and St. Bonaventure.
The most intrigue in the conference over the past week came again in the court of conference realignment as the possibility of San Diego State remaining in the conference after this season is still up in the air. Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune has the most comprehensive rundown of the decision facing SDSU and the Mountain West, and after reading that, I’d put the odds somewhere south of 50% that the Aztecs will be playing in the MW come 2013-14. But, the odds are still higher than they were before Boise State opted to remain in the conference. Regardless of which way the Aztecs decide, it is probably a pretty good bet that if the Mountain West exists in some form a decade from now, it will look much, much different than it does now. Regardless of whether the conference’s giving in to Boise’s demands for special treatment turns out to be a good decision or bad, the odds are strong that it will cause some problems down the road. The Mountain West was formed when the 16-team WAC proved unsavory to some of the conference’s elite teams; it’s possible that somewhere in the future, further upheaval spawns a new home for many of the current MW teams.
San Diego State And The Show Are A Hot Basketball Commodity, But Is This Their Last Mountain West Season?
Putting all of that aside for now, good times await for the Mountain West. Conference play tips off tonight and with six teams eyeing potential NCAA Tournament consideration, we’re in for yet another great season. Further down, we’ll take a look at what each team has accomplished in the non-conference slate, and what they need to improve upon from here on out.
Team of the Week
Wyoming – The Cowboys only played one game this week, and that one game was against an SMU team that has a 22-point loss to Rhode Island and a 13-point neutral-site loss to Arkansas-Little Rock on its resume. But in going to Dallas and emerging with a hard-fought three-point win, the Cowboys put the finishing touches on a perfect 13-0 non-conference slate, good for the best start in the history of the program. Just how good the Cowboys are in relation to the rest of the conference, let alone the rest of the nation, remains to be seen. A home win over Colorado and a road win at Illinois State are nice pieces, but more significant tests await.