CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 9th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

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?

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.

Reader’s Take

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.

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CIO…the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2013

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

Looking Back

It’s been two weeks since we last caught up with the teams of the Mountain West, so we’ve got a lot to catch up on. All three of our favorites in the conference (San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico) have taken losses since we last did this, but at the same time, each of them has a quality win mixed in there as well. Meanwhile, the next tier of teams – Colorado State, Wyoming and Boise State – have all been blemish-free over the past two weeks. It still appears there is a drop-off between the top three and the next three, but it remains to be seen just how far that drop is. We’ve got one more week of some pretty uninspiring non-conference games before conference play tips off and we start to get some answers to our outstanding questions.

We’ve also been keeping our eye on a situation off the court, as the conference realignment shuffle continues. On New Year’s Eve, it was reported that Boise State would wisely back out of its agreement to join the rapidly dwindling football Big East and remain in the Mountain West. With Boise sticking around, suddenly San Diego State, which had been steadfast in its intentions to stick with the move to the Big East, decided it too wanted to stick around, but the Mountain West, apparently fed up with SDSU’s foot-dragging prior to that, isn’t exactly jumping back into the relationship. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reports that the MW is poking around to see if there are other schools who would be a better fit with the conference. In the end, perhaps the only thing that would keep SDSU out of the conference would be if the MW is able to persuade BYU to rejoin. In an ideal world from a basketball perspective, both of those schools would rejoin, which would bring the conference up to 12 basketball teams next year, but that would also bring the football total to 13, probably one too many. If it is a choice between BYU and SDSU, though, the Cougars are the slam dunk choice.

After A Serious Fling With The Big East, The Mountain West Conference Has Acquiesced To Boise State's Demands (BSU Athletics)

After A Serious Fling With The Big East, The Mountain West Conference Has Acquiesced To Boise State’s Demands (BSU Athletics)

All of this was made possible when CBS allowed the conference to restructure its television agreement, allowing the conference to sell games to other national networks. It should be noted that the MW did have to cave to a pretty significant request wherein Boise State’s home football games will not be a part of the conference’s television rights contracts, allowing the school to sell those games themselves. Further, Boise will still owe some sort of buyout to the Big East for their change of heart (provided such an entity still exists to pay that buyout) and the Mountain West has agreed to chip in some amount to help Boise make that payment (rest assured that such an arrangement will not be made with SDSU). While this works out for the time being in keeping the conference together and perhaps even persuading BYU to rejoin, this sort of concession to one school at the exclusion of others is the exact type of thing that drove Nebraska and Texas A&M out of the Big 12. It remains to be seen if this type of move is sustainable, but, if everything works out for the best, we could be heading back to a MW basketball slate that still features SDSU, UNLV, BYU and New Mexico as its flagship programs. It the realm of unintended consequences, is quite possible that the Big East’s Catholic Seven defection could go a long ways towards rescuing another great basketball conference.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Colorado State – The Rams swept to an impressive win in the Las Vegas Classic tournament just in advance of Christmas, winning four games in a week and capping that run off with a 36-point blowout of Virginia Tech in the championship game. They backed that up with a workmanlike 25-point win against Adams State this past weekend. We still don’t know just how good this team is after they’ve been completely remade from a guard-dominated team to one that relies on crashing the boards, and they still haven’t been tested much, but CSU fans have good reason to suspect that this iteration of the Rams is even better than last year’s tournament team.

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Night Line: Does Being The Last Unbeaten Team Really Matter?

Posted by BHayes on December 28th, 2012

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that evening’s games.

Cincinnati’s dreams of an unbeaten season, wild as they may have been, came to an end Thursday night in the Queen City. New Mexico wound up a point better in a predictably grinding contest, as Tony Snell’s fadeaway jumper with 2:28 to play would close out the scoring. No coach will be happy after a loss, but should Mick Cronin feel any extra pain tonight when realizing that his team’s dream of perfection disappeared? Should John Beilein, Mike Krzyzewski, Sean Miller and Larry Shyatt (coaches of the four remaining unbeatens) be paying any sort of attention to the pursuit of being the “Last Unbeaten Team?” If the March success of past title-holders is used as proof, it’s hard to really say how much weight the distinction deserves to hold.

Mick Cronin Shouldn\'t Lose Too Much Sleep Over Cincinnati\'s First Loss

Mick Cronin Shouldn’t Lose Too Much Sleep Over Cincinnati’s First Loss

It happens every year. The eyes of the college basketball world will begin to gain sharp focus in January or February, or perhaps if we are lucky, March. One team will lay claim to the title of “Last Unbeaten,” and for better or worse, we as college basketball fans seem to really care. Talking heads will banter about how long the run can last, where the significant hurdles lie on the schedule, and even if a perfect season is a real possibility. And this buzz doesn’t discriminate; whether you are Duke (the last unbeaten four times since Indiana’s perfect season in 1976), or Murray State (last year’s final unbeaten), the attention will follow. So we clearly do care, and look, it probably should be that way. The notion of a perfect season is a tantalizingly romantic one, having last been accomplished nearly four decades ago, when Bob Knight led an unblemished Indiana squad to a title. No matter how unlikely the perfect season may be, it’s undeniably fun to wonder if this year could be the next one. So dream away college basketball fans, but the question still remains – does this distinction really mean anything?

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Fresno State In Search of an Identity as It Heads Into Inaugural Mountain West Season

Posted by AMurawa on December 24th, 2012

As Fresno State gets ready to head into its first season in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs are a team in search of an identity. Under second-year head coach Rodney Terry, FSU has scored some recruiting coups of late, most notably center Robert Upshaw, rated the #55 recruit in the nation last year by ESPN, but also including transfer point guard Allen Huddleston and partial qualifier Braeden Anderson. But now 12 games into the season and following a 13-point loss at UCLA on Saturday night, none of those guys have made a significant impact, for various reasons, and the only thing really clear about this Fresno State team is that they’re going to make things difficult for their opponents with defense and effort.

Fresno State Head Coach Rodney Terry Is Still In The Process Of Working Things Out (Carl Edmonson, US Presswire)

Fresno State Head Coach Rodney Terry Is Still In The Process Of Working Things Out (Carl Edmonson, US Presswire)

Upshaw was the big news in the offseason as the local product made good in choosing the Bulldogs over Georgetown and other suitors. His season got off to a delayed start, though, as a leg injury pushed his debut back to late November. Since then, there have been ups and downs for the talented seven-footer. He notched 10 points, seven boards and six blocks against Washington State in 28 minutes, but each of those numbers is a season high as he has struggled with consistency of production and effort. After starting the game against UCLA, he was pulled by Terry one minute later for a discussion on the bench. “It was a matter of how you need to start the ballgame and how you need to be engaged in what we’re trying to get done,” said his head coach of the reason for the move. “He’s got to be ready to start from the outset. So we sat him down and he got a chance to see everything and he was much better the next time around.” In fact, when he got back in the game, the very first time down the court, they threw the ball into Upshaw in the post, he backed down a Wear twin and scored over him with a nice jump hook. Still, his effort and effectiveness varied the rest of the way as his next jump hook was an airball, he struggled to keep smaller guys off the glass, and he showed an inability to process double teams on the offensive end. “As a young player, he has to continue to mature,” said Terry. “Much like the young guys here at UCLA, who are learning how to play hard on the defensive end, he’s got to be able to bring it every time. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not high school anymore. It’s Division I basketball and you better be ready to compete.”

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 18th, 2012

CIO header

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

Conference Round-Up

Much like everywhere else around the country, it was an exceedingly slow week in the Mountain West. Between last Tuesday and last night, just 10 games were played involving MW teams. Two teams in the conference haven’t played a game since we last did this. And, with the exception of the two games played by Fresno State, the MW teams have escaped unblemished against largely mediocre teams. As a result, your weekly MW rundown may be a little lighter than normal.

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But the big news around the conference may be the ripples from the Big East breakdown that are reaching the Mountain West’s shores. While for now, San Diego State and Boise State are maintaining their intentions to follow through on their plans to join the Big East beginning next season, you just know that behind the scenes, both schools are seriously weighing their options. As the MW Connection details here, there are basically three options for these two schools: (1) head to the Big East as planned, regardless of the diminishing state of the conference, for football, with the rest of their sports in the Big West; (2) remain in the Mountain West and possibly bring other schools with them; or (3) go independent in football and keep other sports in the Big West. Obviously, the people involved in making these decisions know a lot more about the financials of these decisions than me, but for what it’s worth, while the Big East is in the middle of negotiating a new television contract, the MW remains locked into its current contract with CBS through 2016, and the network has an additional option to extend that contract to 2019. Of greater concern to the MW than whether they are able to keep BSU and SDSU around may be whether they are able to fend off advances from other conferences. For instance, the Big East, which may in the interest of self-preservation and establishing a western outpost to satiate the likes of BSU, SDSU, SMU and Houston, take a shot at teams from the conference. There may not be a lot of fat on the football bones of the teams remaining here, but if the Big East can poach, say, UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State they will (aside from really needing a re-branding) be able to cobble together a strong basketball conference. But, who am I kidding? Up until this week, basketball was rarely mentioned in this whole realignment fiasco, except to note that basketball doesn’t matter.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Nevada – Yay! Home wins over Cal Poly and San Francisco! Rejoice! OK, so those wins aren’t suddenly going to turn the Wolf Pack into an NCAA Tournament contender, but given that this is a team with losses to UC Irvine, Marshall, Drake and Pacific on its record, not to mention several other near-misses, the fact that Nevada handled that level of competition by an average of double-figures is a sign of progress. As is the fact that they finally showed some semblance of aggressiveness on the glass, grabbing nearly 40% of offensive rebound opportunities this week, and better than 80% on the defensive end. Jerry Evans was particularly effective, grabbing 14 total rebounds against Cal Poly.

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The RTC Podcast: Episode Three

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2012

Happy Finals week everyone! As the nation’s student-athletes scramble to put together their papers and presentations while hustling to cram for final exams, most of the college basketball world is quiet. But not us here at RTC, as we’re back with another edition of The RTC Podcast. In addition to our usual host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), we also brought in national columnist Brian Otskey (author of a weekly column, Ten Tuesday Scribbles) to chat about some of his observations through the first several weeks of the 2012-13 season. He can be found @botskey on Twitter.

On Friday of this week we’ll release our shorter (~15-20 minutes) podblast where we’ll look ahead to a busier weekend of action. Feel free to jump around using the outline below. Also make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after each recording. Thanks!

  • 0:00-5:40 – Illinois’ big road win over Gonzaga.
  • 5:40-9:25 – Gonzaga’s disappointing home loss – cause for concern?
  • 9:25-15:45 - Top of the MW looking strong again with New Mexico, UNLV and SDSU.
  • 15:45-18:27 – Wyoming, Colorado State and Boise State giving MW depth- are they for real?
  • 18:27-21:21 – What’s going on in Texas?
  • 21:21-25:27 – Who will be the last remaining unbeaten?
  • 25:27-28:15 – Where should Michigan slot within the Top Five?
  • 28:15-32:30 – How high should Cincinnati be ranked after their undefeated start?
  • 32:30-36:20 – Should New Mexico’s fast start be enough to even be in the Top 25?
  • 36:20-39:50 – What match-up do you wish we could see every year during finals week?

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 atrushthecourt@yahoo.com or @rushthecourt on Twitter.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 11th, 2012

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

Conference Round-Up

A week ago at this time, we were singing the praises of this conference, penciling four teams into the NCAA Tournament bracket and dreaming of a scenario where six teams get in. A week later, while the Mountain West is still just one of three conferences in the nation without a team with a losing record among its ranks (the Big 12 and the Big East are the other two), a couple of middle-of-the-pack teams suffered some losses that will leave pundits questioning their long-term strength. First it was Boise State, hot off a win over Creighton, slipping up on the road against Utah. On the same night, Colorado State got drilled by in-state rival Colorado, then followed that up with a stinker of a loss on the road against Illinois-Chicago. Neither team can feel particularly good about the past week, but perhaps the Rams took the worst of it. Now they’ll need to come up big in the Las Vegas Classic just prior to Christmas, hopefully getting a chance to knock off Virginia Tech in the championship of that event. Otherwise, they’ll leave non-conference play without a halfway decent win to point to.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

UNLV – The Runnin’ Rebels ran into some bumps along the road this week, but came out of it with a pair of road wins, including their best win of the year in Sunday afternoon’s battle with California. The bumps came in the form of injuries to junior forward Mike Moser, who missed his Tuesday night homecoming against Portland with a hip injury, then suffered a gruesome elbow dislocation against the Golden Bears and will be expected to miss a month. Still, the Rebs shook off that bit of bad news, got contributions from up and down the roster and look ready to rip off a run down the back stretch of non-conference play. Plenty more about UNLV down the page.

Player of the Week

Deonte Burton, Nevada

Deonte Burton Was Once Again In The Business Of Saving Nevada’s Bacon Come Crunch Time

Deonte Burton, Junior, Nevada – There haven’t been many positives in Reno this year, but Burton has been pretty amazing offensively. On Tuesday night against Pacific and despite his 25 points and four assists, he was unable to again will his Wolf Pack to victory in a close game. But on Saturday at Washington, Burton sent Abdul Gaddy to the bench early with foul trouble, snatched a career-high six steals, scored his team’s last nine points, and helped Nevada outlast the Huskies. For the week, Burton averaged 27 points, three assists, and four steals per game.

Newcomer of the Week

Anthony Bennett, Freshman, UNLV – He could have very easily taken our player of the week award, but because we know Bennett is going to have many chances at these this year, we’ve chosen to spread the love around a little bit to an equally deserving player. Bennett has been phenomenal all season long, even if Sunday was his national unveiling. He has scored in double figures in each of his seven collegiate games and has never failed to make better than 50% of his shots from the field (or the free throw line, for that matter). This week it was averages of 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and a couple steals per game that earned him this recognition. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 12.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 5th, 2012

  1. Tonight, prior to its game against Boise State, Utah will pause to commemorate the life of former head coach Rick Majerus, who died on Saturday night of heart failure. The university will observe a moment of silence, then they’ll show a video in the Huntsman Center celebrating Majerus’ time in Utah and the team will wear black patches on their uniforms for the remainder of the season. Later in the year, they’ll raise a replica of the white sweater that Majerus wore during his time there. The athletic department had tried to work out a time to have a ceremony for Majerus last season, while he was still a head coach at Saint Louis, but the two parties could never find a suitable time. Lastly, while there have been a lot of great remembrances of the coaching legend in recent days, it goes without saying that Utah fans, where Majerus enjoyed his greatest success, had a good perspective on the man, and Block U in particular laid down another in a long line of touching tributes.
  2. And speaking of the game against Boise State, that contest kicks off a big week for Utah, as they’ll also travel to face BYU on Saturday. Both games mark significant upgrades in terms of competition for the Utes, and they represent the clear high water mark of the non-conference schedule. Ken Pomeroy gives Utah a 17% chance of knocking off the Broncos and an 8% chance of winning in Provo, but more important to the program may not be the focus on earning any Ws this week, but playing up to their potential and showing improvement from last week’s split of a two-game road-trip to Texas to face SMU (a seven-point loss) and Texas State (a five-point win).
  3. On Monday, we handed out our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to C.J. Wilcox of Washington, but the official POTW award went to Arizona State’s Carrick Felix, who averaged 21 points, nine boards, nearly five assists and a couple of blocks in a pair of wins for the Sun Devils. He was the first ASU player to earn the honor since Ty Abbott won it in March 2011. After a bumpy first couple of seasons in Tempe marked by great athleticism but poor shooting, Felix has dialed in his long-range jumper in a big way this season, hitting nearly two threes a game at a 44.4% clip. As Doug Haller reports, head coach Herb Sendek attributes Felix’s improvement to perseverance and “habits of excellence” as well as understanding his strengths and being comfortable with who he is on the basketball court. Throw in the fact that Felix, a senior now, is surrounded by the most talent he’s seen in his time at ASU and there’s a good chance this run at the start of the year is not just a fluke, but the new normal.
  4. Washington has been without the services of Scott Suggs since before Thanksgiving, and they’ve been without Shawn Kemp Jr. for the entire year. But, both are nearing their returns, and if they can get through practices on Thursday and Friday without any adverse affects (a big if), they will be ready to play on Saturday against Nevada. Kemp tore a patellar tendon in his right knee back in October, and even if he is available for Saturday’s game, it will likely be for limited minutes. Suggs, who has been struggling with plantar fasciitis, is a better bet to play on Saturday, but head coach Lorenzo Romar warns that Suggs’ injury is one that could linger throughout the season.
  5. Finally, Scott Gleeson of the USA Today asked the question yesterday, is the Mountain West better than the Pac-12? Gleeson came up with the right answer, which is, “of course!” And he could have gone a step further with, “and it has been for at least three years now.” But despite three MW teams in the Top 25 compared to just one for the Pac-12 and a current 4-2 advantage on the season, we’ll get a clearer answer to the question this week as we’ll see five different match-ups between the two conferences. We already mentioned the Utah/Boise State game tonight, but there are a pair of other contests between the conferences tonight, as Colorado State visits Colorado and USC visits New Mexico. Then, over the weekend, we’ll see a couple more games, with Nevada traveling to Washington on Saturday and UNLV visiting California. And, there will be at least three other match-ups (and potentially a San Diego State/Arizona Christmas present in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic) between the conferences prior to the start of 2013, giving a large enough sample to declare a winner in the unofficial Pac-12/Mountain West Challenge. My guess on the final tally? The Pac-12 finishes strong and pulls out a 9-6 record in the long run, with Colorado getting back on track tonight against Colorado State and California scoring a key win over UNLV on Sunday.
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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 4th, 2012

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

Mountain West Round-Up

  • It was a big week for the conference, with the Big Three (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) each further establishing their credentials, Colorado State pushing for recognition in the national polls, and Boise State and Wyoming each knocking off nationally-ranked teams and displaying the depth of the conference. Through three weeks and change of the season, the conference as a whole has a record of 53-11 (best record for a conference in the nation) and has firmly established itself as not only clearly the best conference outside of the traditional power conferences (and I mean clearly – it ain’t even close), but also likely the best conference in the west – again – surpassing the Pac-12 for at least the third consecutive season. It is early and there is a ton of basketball still to be played, but projecting way into the future, the MW looks like a lock to get four teams into the NCAA Tournament and, if the Cowboys and Broncos continue their push, could find a way to sneak a fifth and, if absolutely everything happens to fall perfectly, a sixth into the conversation. But, again, we’re getting far ahead of ourselves and will more reasonably reprise this conversation sometime around the end of January.
  • The other big story around the conference, and one that I skipped over last week out of fatigue with the whole story line, is the effect of continued conference realignment on the future of the conference. The expectation has been that beginning next season, San Diego State and Boise State will leave in order to play football in the Big East and the rest of its sports in the Big West (yeah, I’ll go ahead and call the whole thing stupid, regardless of the economics behind it). But, with the long, slow and painful dissolution of the Big East as a nationally-relevant football conference now in the terminal stages, there remains a possibility that SDSU and BSU will reconsider and remain in the Mountain West in all sports. Both schools deny any change of heart, and the fact that the MW television contract still won’t net these schools as much money as what the Big East can promise puts the odds in favor of their departure, but the athletic departments at both schools have to weigh the possibility of more defections from their new conference and the possibility of a football league that is similar in strength to the league they would be leaving. Are games against Memphis, Temple and SMU, for instance, really all that preferable to games against Colorado State, Nevada and Fresno State? The final answer remains to be seen, but at least the potential of keeping the league together remains.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Boise State – There are several potential winners here this week, but the finalists came down to the Broncos and Wyoming. Rather than cop out and name co-winners, I made the hard choice and opted to give Boise the nod on the strength of a pair of road wins, including a win over a Top 25 Creighton team that could end up being the deciding game in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge (the MW currently leads 4-3 with a pair of relatively even games remaining). The win in Omaha was highlighted by our MW Player of the Week (who you’ll see below), but was really a complete team effort, with the Broncos dominating the Bluejays on the glass, running up a 70.8% eFG and generally playing with poise while limiting good looks for Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott. And, the fact that BSU avoided an obvious letdown situation and came back four nights later to knock off Seattle on the road is more proof that this team has grown up in a hurry.

Derrick Marks, Boise State

Derrick Marks Carried His Broncos To A Win Over Creighton With 28 Second Half Points (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sophomore, Boise State – Marks was the key cog in the Broncos’ upset of Creighton Wednesday night, repeatedly exposing a Bluejay defense with plenty of doubters. Marks repeatedly beat his defender off the bounce, got into the lane and scored in a variety of ways, at one point in the middle of the second half, scoring 18 straight points for his team as they pulled away from the home team. All told he scored 28 points in the second half and carried his team home with a total of 35 on the night. Marks followed up that game with a 14-point six-steal effort against Seattle and wound up shooting at 76.9 eFG% for the week.

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San Diego State: California’s Best Team

Posted by AMurawa on December 2nd, 2012

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after Saturday night’s John Wooden Classic between UCLA and San Diego State in Anaheim.

When asked Saturday night following San Diego State’s nine-point win over UCLA at the Wooden Classic whether the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak over teams from the state of California was proof that, for now at least, SDSU is the best college basketball program in the state, Bruin head coach Ben Howland was not about to play ball. “There are a lot of teams in California,” he said before changing the subject. When Jamaal Franklin was asked a similar question just minutes later, he wasted no time answering in the affirmative, with one caveat: “We are the best, but I’m not saying we’re the best forever.” And whether UCLA’s Howland (or USC’s Kevin O’Neill, or Cal’s Mike Montgomery, or Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett, or any other head coach of a California team whose scalp SDSU has taken recently) are ready to publicly admit it, it is hard to argue the point. Right now the Aztecs are ranked higher than anybody else in the state, and in recent history, they’re the team that has had the most success. The lone Sweet Sixteen appearance by a team from California in the past three years belongs to SDSU; arguably the most accomplished current player in the state (Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year) calls SDSU home; and as is rapidly become clear, the Aztecs have the best fan support of any team in the state this side of the Lakers.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has Taken A Program That Was Once a Non-Factor And Turned It Into The Best In the State (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

When Steve Fisher agreed to become the head coach for SDSU 14 seasons ago, the announcement was little more than a curiosity. Having taken Michigan to the mountaintop in his first six games as head coach of that program back in 1989, and then following that up with the fabled Fab Five recruiting class, Fisher was unceremoniously run out of Ann Arbor for his tenuous connection to the scandal that resulted in a vacated Final Four appearances. When he showed up in San Diego, he was taking over a program with zero history that had gone 4-22 the previous season. Two years into the job, he had a .500 ballclub on his hands, and now, in the past seven seasons, his team has racked up a 177-63 record, including the Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2010-11. But perhaps the biggest feather in Fisher’s cap has been the explosion of fan interest in the Aztecs. There was a time when this team played in the sterile and crumbling San Diego Sports Arena in front of a handful of diehard fans and maybe a small group of students. Nowadays, Viejas Arena (opened just in advance of Fisher in 1997) is regularly packed to the gills and roaring loud, in part due to its large and vocal student section, The Show. And, as Aztec fans proved Saturday night, they’re ready and willing to go on the road and change any venue within striking distance into a temporary home court; on Saturday night, of the 17,000-plus at the Honda Center, a clear majority of the fans were there to support SDSU.

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New Mexico Cruising Toward Conference Play

Posted by WCarey on December 1st, 2012

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between New Mexico and Indiana State.

New Mexico improved to 8-0 Saturday afternoon with a hard-fought 77 -68  road overtime victory over Indiana State in a Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge contest. While the Sycamores are far from the most talented team on New Mexico’s non-conference schedule, the victory signified another step towards an unbeaten non-conference slate. Prior to this afternoon’s victory, the Lobos had already scored impressive non-conference wins over Davidson, George Mason, and Connecticut. The latter two victories were earned in The Paradise Jam, a tournament which was won by New Mexico.

Steve Alford’s Team Keeps Rolling Along

While the Lobos lost standout forward Drew Gordon to graduation last spring, Steve Alford‘s squad is packed with returning talent from last season’s team that advanced to the third round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. Junior guard Kendall Williams was named to the Preseason All-Mountain West team and he has so far backed up the preseason accolade by averaging just a shade under 13 points a contest. Junior guard Tony Snell has emerged as the Lobos’ leading scorer, putting up close to 14 a contest, while his 27-point outburst against George Mason helped his team to a one-point victory. The Lobos have also seen two sophomores step up their level of play. Australian guard Hugh Greenwood has provided scrappy play all season long on both ends of the court and big man Alex Kirk has developed into a nightly double-double threat.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on November 27th, 2012

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

A Look Back

Mountain West teams have been involved in three high profile events thus far this season – the San Diego State/Syracuse aircraft carrier debacle, the New Mexico win at the Paradise Jam, and UNLV hosting Oregon, Cincinnati and Iowa State at the Global Sports Classic. In two of those three events, the MW team went home with a loss. So, here we are getting ready to head into December and the only two MW wins over teams in Ken Pomeroy’s present top 50 are UNLV’s win over Iowa State (#48) and UNM’s win over Connecticut (#49). Now, there are still some chances out there, but as of right now, there ain’t a whole lot of meat on the bones for the conference’s overall resume. I’m sure the same can be said at plenty of places around the country, but MW fans have sure got to be rooting for SDSU to take care of business against UCLA, and for teams like Boise State and Air Force to fare well against Creighton and Wichita State, respectively, this week as the meat of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge takes place.

Reader’s Take

Team of the Week

Colorado State – The Rams get the nod on the strength of a pair of decent road wins, at Denver and at Washington, followed up by a win last night back in the cozy confines of Moby Arena over Northern Colorado. None of those count as spectacular wins, but the impressive thing is that CSU seems to go about winning their games in a different, and possibly more sustainable fashion this year than they did last year. Last year it was a perimeter-oriented attack with guys like Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green using the majority of possessions, en route to a offense-first, defense-when-we-get-around-to-it style. This year, though the offense is still quite efficient, the defense is much improved. And the particulars are drastically different. For example, last year, in part due to the seventh-smallest lineup in the nation, the team eschewed rebounding and focused on working their way to a good first shot. This year, they’re third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and second in defensive rebounding percentage. Don’t expect those lofty rankings to hold – the competition will get better, especially come conference play – but it seems clear that Larry Eustachy is taking a much different approach to the Rams than the previous coach, Tim Miles, did. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but different. More down the page a bit. Read the rest of this entry »

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