Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2010

 

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

A Look Back

  • As we hit that December downhill slide into conference play, we’re seeing the number of undefeated teams around the country decline.  The Mountain West is no different, as their population of teams with unblemished records fell from three to two when UNLV got tripped up by a trip back east for an early-morning battle with Louisville. San Diego State and BYU remain undefeated, with each getting a win over a Pac-10 foe this week, and they’re gaining more and more national exposure as both teams inch up the rankings. Downstream from the big boys at the top of the conference sits New Mexico, firmly entrenched in its own tier behind the top three teams and ahead of the rest of the conference, capable of taking a step forward and contending for a NCAA tournament bid. The next tier down is made up of some middle-of-the-road teams (Utah, TCU, Colorado State, Air Force) who won’t pose much of a threat to the top tier teams in conference play. And, Wyoming makes up the bottom tier all by itself – that is a bad, bad team.
  • Team of the Week: BYU – There were a couple of big tests for top-tier MWC teams this week, and while the Runnin’ Rebels got caught, the Cougars played their best game of the season in knocking off Arizona in front of a neutral-in-name-only crowd in Salt Lake City. Senior Jimmer Fredette was unstoppable for BYU (and we’ll get to his exploits in a just a little bit) while a mish-mash of Cougar frontline players combined to slow the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams, limiting him to just 13 points on nine field goal attempts. While BYU looked good in their previous nine wins, that Arizona win was the first time on the season where they looked like a team that was as good as, if not better than, last year’s vintage.
  • Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – The week started for Fredette with a homecoming game, as the Cougars traveled to Glens Falls, New York, to face Vermont in the Hometown Classic, a return to Fredette’s old stomping grounds. There had to be a ton of pressure on Fredette, playing in front of a sold-out Glen Falls Civic Center, with everybody hoping to see the All-American candidate at his best. While lesser players may have shrunk under the watching eyes, or worse yet, forced up bad shots and played out of control, Fredette delivered the goods, going for a game-high 26 points while still playing within the offense and handing out five assists along the way for good measure. For an encore, back in front of a newer era of Fredette fans in Salt Lake City, he didn’t quite reprise last year’s 49 against Arizona, but he still went for a season-high 33 points and a new career-high nine rebounds. While Jimmer is a strong candidate to be mentioned in this space every single week, on this particular week, he was an absolute no-brainer.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Sammy Yeager, Jr, TCU – In four weeks, we’ve now had three different players take down this award (Utah’s Will Clyburn is our only two-time winner), and all three of them have been junior-college transfers. And, coming on the heels of New Mexico’s Darington Hobson taking a similar route to the MWC Player of the Year last season, this juco-transfer-turned-impact-player story has become a familiar one around the conference. Yeager earned this week’s mention with six three-pointers over the Horned Frogs’ two games, including his career-high 22 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and three threes in TCU’s win over Texas Tech. While Yeager has been up and down over the course of the season (witness his 17 and 19-point performances in wins over SMU and Bradley wrapped around an 0-5 night in a loss to Rider), he has shown that he is a key performer for the Frogs. In their three losses, Yeager is a combined 5-23, while shooting at a 50% clip in their seven wins.
  • Game of the Week: Louisville 77, UNLV 69 – The Rebels’ loss at the Yum! Center is the game from which we learned the most this week. While part of the UNLV can be attributed to the trip east and the early-morning game time, there were some question marks exposed for Lon Kruger’s team. First and foremost, while the balanced scoring and shared leadership on the team has been mentioned, even in this space, as a strength for UNLV, when things started going south on Saturday, there was no one player who the rest of the team looked to for guidance. You would expect that player would be senior guard Tre’Von Willis, a first-team All-MWC selection after last season, or maybe junior forward Chace Stanback, the Rebs’ leading scorer thus far this season. But instead, as Louisville pulled away late in the second half, the ball was just as likely to be in the hands of Anthony Marshall or Derrick Jasper – fine players both, but neither with a history of being the go-to guy on this team. While sharing the load equally is all fine and good in December, the Rebels will need to identify a guy, or a couple of guys, who are ready to step up and take the reins when others seem unsure.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: BYU vs. UCLA in Anaheim, 12/18, 2:30 PM PST, FSN – Finals week, and non-conference doldrums, set in this week. Beyond this game, the most attractive games are UC Santa Barbara’s sampling of the best the MWC has to offer (UCSB at UNLV on Wednesday and then at San Diego State on Saturday), but this game, part of the Wooden Classic, could be interesting. Jimmer Fredette will give the Bruin guards quite a test, but again the Cougar frontcourt should be tested. While the Bruins don’t have anyone quite the caliber of Derrick Williams (who the Cougars handled last Saturday), they do have a trio of capable frontcourt players who should challenge BYU’s depth and versatility along the front line.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (10-0) – With the Aztecs’ win over Cal last Wednesday, Steve Fisher has posted his best start to a season in his 20 years as a head coach and SDSU has posted its best start in the 90 years of Aztec basketball. Along with the fast start comes plenty of accolades, as they’re ranked #9 in RTC’s top 25. However, despite all the success, there are still some concerns for this team. Last season, they were outrebounded very rarely; this season, they have been far less dominant on the glass. In the Cal game for instance, the Bears won the battle of the boards 38-28. Elsewhere, the Aztecs simply aren’t getting to the line very often – perhaps a blessing in disguise for a team that shoots in the mid-60s from the line – but it is a symptom of the team relying on the outside shot more this year than last. The fact that the Aztecs are shooting 36.7% from behind the arc (quite an improvement from last year’s 31.8%) makes it understandable, but it will be interesting to see how the Aztecs respond if the three-ball goes cold. A good first look at that occurred on Monday night when, with starters Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley out due to flu-like symptoms, the Aztecs combined to go 0/18 from deep. Senior point guard D.J. Gay was particularly awful (0-7 from three), but he still was able to make plays by penetrating, drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he made all eight of this free throws.

A look ahead: A slow week everywhere, and no exception for the Aztecs as they only host UC Santa Barbara on Saturday

2. BYU (8-0) – Just about everything that needed saying about the Cougar week is detailed above, but an injury report is also in order. Sophomore Chris Collinsworth still remains day-to-day with an ankle injury, although at this point he hasn’t played since November 23. Noah Hartsock took a blow to the chin in the Arizona game and suffered a concussion and lacerations in his mouth, and he too should be regarded as day-to-day.

A look ahead: The trip to the Wooden Classic for a matchup with UCLA is the only action of the week for the Cougars.

3. UNLV (9-1) – We detailed the Rebels’ loss to Louisville above, but they also had another somewhat tight game earlier in the week against Boise State. Despite leading by 16 with just over three minutes left, the Rebels had to hang on for dear life, escaping with just a three-point win in a game in which they turned the ball over 22 times (they turned it over 40 total times in their two games this week) and were outrebounded 34-30 by the Broncos.  

A look ahead: Some home-cooking should do UNLV much good, as they host UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday and Southern Utah on Saturday.

4. New Mexico (7-1) – While that one-loss record looks awful pretty, closer inspection shows very little in terms of quality wins, and the one loss to Cal seems iffier following the Bears’ subsequent struggles putting the ball in the hoop. But, the Lobos are healthy now, their freshmen have gotten some games under their belts and Drew Gordon is ready to get his first action of the season this week. Now, Steve Alford to this point has been quite generous handing out minutes – 11 players average ten or more minutes a game thus far – and that rotation will have to be tightened up a bit with conference play approaching, but by the time January rolls around, this should be a team that is coming up in the rearview mirrors of SDSU, BYU and UNLV very quickly.

A look ahead: New Mexico hosts Longwood and the Citadel as part of the Las Vegas Classic, with the latter being Gordon’s first game.

5. TCU (7-3) – The Horned Frogs had their little impromptu Big 12 invitational this week, traveling to Lubbock and Lincoln and coming away with an acceptable split. Against Texas Tech, this tiny TCU team dominated on the boards, outrebounding the Red Raiders 48-34 (including grabbing an amazing 23 on the offensive end) on the way to a win. On Saturday, though, the tables were turned as the Cornhuskers won the battle of the boards 38-26 and TCU only got to the line five times all night (making just one) as Nebraska pulled away with an 18-3 run midway through the second half.

A look ahead: A week off in Fort Worth before returning to the court 12/21 against Northwestern State.

6. Colorado State (4-3) – The Rams knew this was going to be a tough week as they also battled a pair of Big 12 teams, with games against Colorado and Kansas. CSU hung tough with Colorado on Wednesday and even forced overtime, but lost in the end after turning the ball over more than twice as often as the Buffaloes and being outscored by 21 from the free throw line. Against the Jayhawks on Saturday, CSU kept it close through the first half, despite several times where KU seemed on the verge of running away, but Tim Miles’ bunch was able to at least put off the eventual blowout to the second half, eventually falling by 21.

A look ahead: Nothing until next Monday’s game against Northern Colorado.

7. Utah (6-3) – The Utes earned a perfectly acceptable split this week, knocking off Pepperdine at home before losing to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday night. Will Clyburn continued his strong play with 17 points and 10.5 rebounds per game (and throw in seven steals in the Pepperdine game), but Utah never really figured out the Wolverines defense, turned the ball over 16 times in a relatively slow-paced game and never recovered after digging themselves a 17-point halftime deficit.  

A look ahead: Boise State comes to town on Friday night for a preview of the two school’s matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 22.

8. Air Force (6-2) – The Falcons had a sneaky tough trip to Dayton to face Wright State on Wednesday, and the Raiders more or less had their way with the Academy, forcing 20 turnovers, winning the battle on the glass and producing from deep. After having to deal with the weather on their way back home, the Falcons were able to bounce back in their win over North Carolina Central on Saturday, jumping out to a 40-20 halftime lead before coasting down the back stretch with four players scoring in double figures on the game.

A look ahead: A Saturday game with Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the only appointment on the docket this week.

 

9. Wyoming (3-6) – Just one game this week for the Cowboys, a Friday trip to UC Irvine for the first ever matchup between the two schools, but head coach Heath Schroyer had to be questioning the scheduling of this road game on the flight back home after UCI just took apart Wyoming, hitting 58.3% of their shots, including ten three-pointers. Five Anteaters scored between 12 and 15 points and the Cowboys lost their latest in what is becoming a long line of embarrassing games.

A look ahead: Denver on Tuesday and Western State on Friday. You know Cowboy fans who were looking ahead at the schedule back in October were penciling in a couple of wins here. I say they get one, and should be quite thankful with that.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.10-12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 10th, 2010

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Friday’s schedule is barren but Saturday has a bunch of terrific matchups. Two ACC conference games highlight a soft Sunday to close out the weekend. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#13 UNLV @ Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)

Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are a surprising 7-0 but when you really look at their schedule you realize they haven’t played top teams. Louisville’s best win is over Butler, a team clearly not even near the level it was last year. Including Butler, Louisville’s opponents have an aggregate record of just 25-31. That changes on Saturday when 9-0 UNLV heads to the KFC Yum! Center. The Rebels have already played five games away from home so they’ll be ready for a tough environment. UNLV is a strong team on both sides of the ball but they’ve really piled up the numbers on offense. They’re in the top ten in effective field goal percentage behind Chace Stanback and his 59% shooting. Stanback is a 6’8 wing/forward type player who can cause a lot of problems for the opponent matching up with him. His game extends to the three point arc as well, hitting 41% of his treys this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Pitino puts Rakeem Buckles (10/9) or Terrence Jennings (56% FG) on Stanback. Buckles is the better rebounder so Louisville may not want him drifting away from the basket trying to defend UNLV’s leading scorer. Buckles has made significant strides in his sophomore season, a theme seen throughout Louisville’s starting lineup. Pitino’s top five scorers have increased their scoring by a total of 31 PPG, making up for a lot of what they lost from last year’s team. We recall Pitino saying he’d have a bunch of guys averaging 8-15 PPG and that’s exactly what he has so far. Louisville is a strong defensive club, rated eighth in defensive efficiency. UNLV gets a lot of points from two point range (#5 in two point %) so Louisville will have to live up to their defensive billing in order to win. The Cardinals rank in the top ten in three point defense and effective field goal percentage against so UNLV point guard Oscar Bellfield (53% from three) has to have a good game controlling the ball and getting quality shots for himself and his teammates. Louisville will look to use their pressure defense to push the pace and create turnovers. Pitino said he’s been using a 24-second shot clock in practice so expect Louisville to really get up and down the floor looking for extra possessions. The Cardinals like to shoot a lot of three’s but they aren’t very good at it (32%). Mike Marra should hoist the most, averaging nine three point attempts per game while converting just 30% of the time. With Tre’Von Willis back in the fold, Lon Kruger can go nine-deep if he so chooses. Fresh legs will be needed against Louisville and could play a role late in the second half. UNLV should look to get to the free throw line to stop the flow of the game and take advantage of a Louisville team rated just #252 in opponents’ free throw attempts per field goal attempts. The Cardinals should have an edge on the boards (42 RPG) as UNLV struggles to keep opponents off the offensive glass. This is going to be a really good game, one that may come down to the very end. Louisville will probably be favored to win at home but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Runnin’ Rebels pick up a key road victory, either.

Wisconsin @ Marquette – 2:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

This annual rivalry is one of the most underrated in the country. Wisconsin holds a 63-53 edge but there’s an added twist this season. Marquette freshman Vander Blue originally committed to Wisconsin before signing with Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles giving Marquette a valuable piece for the future. Each team has a star player going at it in this one, Marquette’s Jimmy Butler and Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer. They’re similar, but Leuer is taller and has a better three point game. The UW big man shoots 48% from deep and is the key man in Bo Ryan’s deliberate offensive system. With Marquette giving up 39% shooting from three on average, expect Leuer and his Badger teammates to have a big game from long range. Wisconsin’s tempo is one of the slowest in the country but they run their offense well and take terrific care of the basketball with Jordan Taylor running the show at the point guard position. Taylor has a stunning 3.92 assist to turnover ratio and teams with Leuer to provide Wisconsin with just under half of their points. Taylor is also a strong defender who will look to disrupt Marquette’s offensive flow. With Dwight Buycks questionable for this game (he did not play Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Buzz Williams will turn to the inexperienced Junior Cadougan who missed most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Wisconsin is solid just about everywhere but they’re vulnerable on the three point line. Unfortunately for Marquette, they shoot just 31% as a team from three and that’s where Darius Johnson-Odom comes in. When hot, the dynamic junior can be one of the best shooters you’ll see. He broke out against Milwaukee on November 27 (29 points, 5-7 from three) but struggled in the two games since. For the year DJO is shooting just 29% from three, down almost 20% from last season’s 47% mark. He can get it going at any time though and that’s what makes this game unpredictable. If Johnson-Odom is on, Marquette has an even better chance to pick up a home win over their rival. Tuesday night’s Marquette game saw Vander Blue break out, scoring 21 points on 9-13 shooting. However it also included the loss of Joseph Fulce, an important glue guy for Marquette. The 6’7 Fulce went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, the same knee that had been giving him problems before. How Marquette responds to the loss of one of their emotional leaders will be important in this game. Don’t expect Wisconsin to get to the foul line much at all so they’ll have to make up for that disadvantage with strong defense and efficient offensive sets. Marquette is third in the country in keeping opponents off the line while Wisconsin is near the bottom of D1 in getting there. The Badgers are a very good rebounding team and they should hold an edge there against smaller Marquette. Though inexperienced, Cadougan is a talented player who’s capable of replacing Buycks at the point if necessary. Look for Marquette to use Butler and fellow forward Jae Crowder inside the arc, trying to penetrate the stout Wisconsin defense. Rivalry games are usually close and this one figures to be no exception. There are a lot of unknowns on the Marquette side in this game but it would be a very big resume-building win if they can get it in front of the home folks at the Bradley Center.

SEC/Big East Invitational: #11 Tennessee @ #3 Pittsburgh (CONSOL Energy Center) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (*****)

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

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

A Look Back

After a strong early start to the season for the Mountain West as a whole, the wheat has begun to separate from the chaff. Utah and Colorado State gave the first hint this week that they may be pretenders rather than contenders, while BYU and UNLV posted early-season tournament wins, proving their qualifications for being considered among the favorites in the conference. While it was BYU and San Diego State who were considered 1 and 1-A (not necessarily in that order) coming into the season, the Runnin’ Rebels have thrown their hat into the ring and it looks like, as November winds its way down, we could have tri-favorites come conference play, with New Mexico, and waiting-to-be-eligible transfer Drew Gordon, a step or two back.

On a larger scale, the biggest news in the conference this week was the announcement on Monday that TCU would be joining the Big East beginning with the 2012-13 season. While obviously a huge deal on the football side of the equation, frankly the loss of the Horned Frogs basketball program will hardly register much notice. However, for the overall health of the conference, this is a major setback. Basically the conference has traded BYU, Utah and TCU for Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada. While the three newcomers are very good collegiate sports programs, the overall strength of the conference has taken a step back since mid-summer.

Team of the Week: UNLV – It’s not that we didn’t know that the Rebels were going to be good this season, it’s just that they had some questions that needed answering first. We wondered about their three-point shooting ability and they’ve shown us that they are a more consistent three-point shooting team this season than last (despite the loss of sharp-shooter Kendall Wallace for the season to a torn ACL). We wondered about their interior play and Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas has shown, when capable of staying out of foul trouble, an ability to defend the post, rebound well on both ends of the floor, and even score with some efficient posts moves. Following a pretty impressive run through a merely average field in the 76 Classic, this Rebel team seems poised to compete for a MWC crown.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette (Senior), BYU – While UNLV’s Chace Stanback took down the Most Outstanding Player hardware at the 76 Classic, Fredette gets the nod in this space in part due to two game-winning plays in a couple tight games at the South Padre Invitational. On Friday night, with his Cougars deep in a double-overtime battle with South Florida, Fredette got into the lane after much effort, drawing the interest of most of the USF defense before finding Noah Hartsock for a game-winning baseline jumper. Oh, and throw in a season-high 32 points for Fredette, to go nicely with five threes, five steals and four assists. Not to be outdone, the next night the senior went for 24 points, four assists and three more steals, and this time hit the game-winner himself, a three with 11 seconds left to give the Cougars a win over St. Mary’s and a South Padre Island Invitational championship to boot.

Newcomer of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – While the Utes may have been exposed a bit this week, Clyburn certainly wasn’t. The junior college transfer has still led the Utes in scoring every night out this season, and he averaged another 18.5 points per game this week, while hitting his first double-double with a 21-point and 10-rebound outing in a loss to Oral Roberts on Saturday. Clyburn leads the Utes in scoring, rebounds, steals, and threes, and gets to the line more than any of his teammates and converts at an 88.9% clip.

Game of the Week: BYU 77, South Florida 75 (2OT) – We talked about the game winner in this game above, when we handed out our POTW award to Jimmer Fredette, but that was just the capper on an all-around great game. Early in the second half, the Cougars found themselves down ten to the Bulls, before Fredette scored ten points in under four minutes to get the Cougars back in striking distance and regaining the lead a few minutes later on a Fredette three. From there, Jackson Emery caught fire for the Cougars, scoring 14 of the next 15 points for BYU, with four three-pointers mixed in there, but they still could not shake the stubborn Bulls, needing a three from Charles Abouo with 33 seconds left and a defensive stop to send the game to the first overtime. The first OT was a back and forth affair, with Fredette and USF’s Jawanza Poland trading threes in the final minute to force a final OT and the Fredette/Noah Hartsock heroics. As if this battle wasn’t enough for Cougar fans, the next night against St. Mary’s, while requiring no overtime to settle upon a winner, was just about as exhilarating of a win.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (6-0): This was a very quiet week for the Aztecs, with only a matchup on Friday against San Diego Christian (NAIA), in what was the Aztecs’ first home game of the season. After raising last year’s MWC Tournament championship banner before the game, SDSU trudged through an uninspired game that was still tied 13 minutes in. The Aztecs eventually turned it on and coasted to a 19-point win that told us little or nothing about either team.

A look ahead: The competition gets much stiffer this week, although the Aztecs won’t have to leave the cozy confines of Montezuma Mesa when they host St. Mary’s on Wednesday and Wichita State on Saturday.

2. BYU (6-0): After destroying Mississippi Valley State in Provo in an utter mismatch, the Cougars headed to the South Padre Island Invitational, where they won both of their games by a combined total of three points over some solid competition in South Florida and St. Mary’s. However, even the most die-hard BYU homer is not going to confuse the Bulls or the Gaels with Final Four contenders. As a result, it is clear the Cougars still have some work to do to live up to their potential. While some remain givens, freshman Kyle Collinsworth has been up and down in the early going, although he did add 10 points against St. Mary’s. Up front Noah Hartsock and sophomores Brandon Davies and Chris Collinsworth have had their moments, but none have been the consistent force in the low post or on the glass that would take some of the pressure off of the Cougar backcourt. Wing Charles Abouo has done a lot of the dirty work for BYU, actually leading the team in rebounding with 6.7 per night despite his 6’4 frame, but he is a limited offensive player. For the Cougars to compete with the best in this conference, Dave Rose will need to find consistent contributors beyond Fredette and Emery.

A look ahead: This is the week of tough roadies around the conference, as BYU will be challenged with a trip to Omaha to face Creighton, followed by a supposedly neutral-site game in what will be heavily partisan Salt Lake City against Hawai’i.

3. UNLV (6-0): Sure, the Rebels walked through the competition at the 76 Classic. But a closer look shows wins over Tulsa and Murray State teams who, while good solid teams, aren’t exactly finished products or hyper-talented squads. On top of that, while the Rebs also handled a very good Virginia Tech team, the Hokies did their part in giving that game away, turning the ball over 18 times and hitting just nine of their 21 free throws. If Virginia Tech shoots a reasonable percentage from the line and turns the ball over a few less times (granted, the vast majority of those turnovers weren’t unforced errors), that is easily a game decided by a possession or two at the end. Now, none of that is meant to take anything away from Lon Kruger and his team – they’ve certainly looked awfully good in the early going – but just to add a measure of sanity to the hype surrounding the hot Rebels. They’ve certainly showed that they are capable of contending for a MWC title, but they’ll have more chances on down the line in non-conference play to show their national credentials.

A look ahead: The Rebels turn into the road warriors this week with a trip to Bloomington to face Illinois State in the opening night of the MWC/MVC Challenge, then head back to their home state to face Nevada in Reno on Saturday.

4. New Mexico (4-1): The Lobos coasted through a relatively light week, posting wins of 22 points over Northwood and 29 points over San Diego. The big news of the week was the return of junior shooting guard Phillip McDonald from a partially torn elbow ligament. Elbow injury or no, McDonald wasted no time in testing out his shooting stroke, hoisting 15 attempts from the field and ten from behind the arc in his first game back, although he connected on just five field goals and three three-pointers for 13 points, although he did at six rebounds. Sophomore point guard Jamal Fenton was the high scorer in the San Diego game, hitting four threes on the way to a career-high 16 points. In both games, the Lobos closed the first halves strongly (15-2 run to close the half against Northwood, 23-5 run against San Diego), then sailed home to easy wins.

A look ahead: Not an easy week for the Lobos, with a road trip to Carbondale to face Southern Illinois, followed by the road portion of their home-and-away matchup with in-state rival New Mexico State. These are two games the Lobos should win, but given their youth, road games of any type can be difficult, as their lone previous road trip of the year, a 25-point loss to Cal, proved.

5. TCU (4-2): Aside from TCU’s defection from the conference, they did score a couple good wins on the hardwood this week with a 16-point victory over Houston and a 12-point win over USC. Ronnie Moss led TCU in both games with 17 and 20 points respectively and has yet to fail to score in double figures on the season. With defendable losses to Rider and Bradley on the season, the Horned Frogs are right in the mix of things in the middle of the pack of the MWC with Utah and Colorado State, but even with some early season success, there are some glaring weaknesses here, namely poor defensive efficiency and an inability to get to the line offensively. While they have improved those numbers a bit from last season’s awful numbers, and while they’ve patched other holes from last year (committing too many turnovers and not forcing enough, for two), the undersized Frogs will need to improve on the defensive end in order to jump up the standings.

A look ahead: A breather with a home game against Prairie View A&M before welcoming Northern Iowa into Fort Worth for a good test.

6. Colorado State (2-1): Maybe blame it on the Rams playing just their third game of the season and first game in over a week. Maybe blame it on too much turkey. Or maybe just step back and admit that this Ram team, who some thought might push for a fifth NCAA bid from the MWC, is just not ready for prime-time. Whichever way you choose, it was easy to see that CSU was just outclassed in their own arena by Sam Houston State. Gilberto Clavell led four Bearkats in double figures with 29 points and nine rebounds on 10-14 from the field and 9-11 from the line as Sam Houston dominated the Rams 40-29 on the glass and got to the line 41 times to CSU’s meager 17. The fact is, the best team in Moby Arena on Saturday night won the game. While Tim Miles’ squad is an undersized bunch, that is no excuse for the way they were outhustled and outmanned inside, and seniors like Andy Ogide, Travis Franklin and Andre McFarland will need to improve their toughness for this Ram team to take the next step.

A look ahead: Colorado State gets to stay at home this week, welcoming Drake and Fresno State into Fort Collins. While neither of their opponents is much of a threat to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, both will provide good tests for the Rams and a good opportunity for the team to rebuild its confidence.

7. Utah (3-2): Rough week for the Utes at they got their first good look at a higher caliber of competition. First up was the always tough road trip to Logan for in-state rival Utah State, where the Aggies owned Utah on the glass and at the line, winning the rebounding battle 45-32, while outscoring the Utes 39-13 from the charity stripe. Next Oral Roberts visited the Huntsman Center, and while Utah did compete better inside, they were simply outshot this time around. Junior college transfers Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins continue to lead the Utes, with each having scored in double figures in all five Utah games, but the rest of the rotation is unsettled. Last year’s MWC defensive player of the year, David Foster, is still racking up blocks with ease – he’s averaging three blocks a game – but he’s only playing 15 minutes a night due to tendinitis in his knee. That’s not the only health-related problem the Utes have had, as freshman J.J. O’Brien suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and will be out until late December, while senior forward Jay Watkins has been working through a back injury.  

A look ahead: Utah host Fresno State on Tuesday before traveling to Peoria for a matchup with Bradley over the weekend, a couple good challenges for the team.

8. Air Force (3-1):The Falcons week consisted entirely of one of the most head-scratching wins of the year, when they knocked off Wofford, a tournament team from last season who returns most of its production. Wofford has gotten kicked in the teeth some early in the season, with losses to Minnesota, Clemson, Georgetown and Xavier already on the books, but this loss to Air Force is truly astounding. Somehow Wofford managed to dominate on the glass to the tune of a 50-27 rebounding advantage and, more staggering still, a 24-2 edge on the offensive glass. Yet, Air Force still managed to get to the line a season high 29 times and, better yet, shoot 51% from the field while holding Wofford to under 34%. Senior Tom Fow and sophomore Mike Lyons led the Falcons with 18 each and senior Evan Washington added 14 points, six rebounds and three steals as AFA fans entertain the idea of finishing somewhere other than ninth place for the first time in three seasons.

A look ahead: The Falcons host Cal State Northridge and Evansville, games in which, frankly, given the Wofford score, just about anything could happen.

9. Wyoming (2-4): Since we last checked in with the Cowboys, they’ve shown some little bit of progress. Sure, they lost a couple more games along the way, but they competed with #10 Missouri for a full 40 minutes before falling by ten at the Cancun Challenge, then back the next night and fought hard against a surprising 5-1 Providence team, only to be undone by Vincent Council’s 29 points and perfect 16/16 night from the line. Sure, they are still wildly undisciplined (see sophomore Desmar Jackson’s nine turnovers against Mizzou – although, certainly better players than him have turned the ball over nine times against the pressure of a Mike Anderson-coached team) and severely underperforming (I understand Afam Muojeke is not all the way back from his knee injury, but how that talented of an offensive player can score just 13 points in 47 minutes on 4/15 shooting in Cancun is beyond me), but they played both of those teams closer than they played North Florida or Northern Colorado. That’s progress, right?

A look ahead: The Cowboys play sort of a weird road game when they head to South Dakota on Wednesday, then return home for their MWC/MVC game with Indiana State on Saturday. A split this week is a good week. A 2-0 week? Keep dreaming.

 

Game of the Upcoming Week

Wichita State @ San Diego State, 12/4, 7 PM PST, The Mtn. – This week’s Mountain West schedule is chock-full of interesting games: UNLV visits Nevada for an in-state rivalry, San Diego State hosts St. Mary’s, and the MWC/MVC Challenge gets underway, with BYU at Creighton, UNLV at Illinois State and New Mexico at Southern Illinois some of the highlights. But we’ll take this battle between two teams picked prior to the season as favorites in their respective conferences. Given Wichita State’s strikeout in their battle with Connecticut in Maui, this borders on a must-win game for the Shockers’ at-large hopes, while this is the second tough test in week for Steve Fisher’s Aztecs.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the MWC and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

The start of the 2010-11 season has been just about everything the Mountain West commissioner’s office could hope for after a tumultuous offseason. After almost two weeks of play, five MWC teams remain undefeated and the nine conference teams have posted a combined 25-6 record with the four biggest contenders for postseason berths a combined 13-1, a New Mexico loss at Cal the only blemish.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – The Aztecs have been busy thus far, posting an early 5-0 record including four wins in the CBE Classic. The highest profile win for Steve Fisher’s squad was a road victory over Gonzaga during the ESPN College Hoops Tipoff Marathon, when SDSU showed the rest of the college basketball world what MWC followers already knew: this team is pretty darn good. Perhaps even more impressive for the Aztecs is that their 5-0 record has come entirely on the road thus far, with their first home game scheduled for this Friday when they host San Diego Christian of the NAIA.

Player of the Week

Kawhi Leonard (Sophomore), San Diego State – It’s very likely that you’ll be seeing either Leonard or Jimmer Fredette’s name in this space most weeks this season. While Fredette’s 25.7 point per game average thus far has certainly left him deserving of this honor this time around, and while Leonard’s Aztec teammate Billy White may have had the biggest single performance of the young season, the nod goes to Kawhi here. He’s led his team in rebounding every night out, never failing to grab double digit boards thus far, he’s averaged 18.8 points per contest, and has even displayed his versatility and ever-improving skill set, pairing three steals with four three-pointers in SDSU’s win over IUPUI on Sunday.

Newcomer of the Week

Will Clyburn (Junior), Utah – Last year about this time, it was New Mexico’s junior college transfer Darington Hobson who was making a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with in the MWC. A year later, Utah has its own juco transfer making waves around the Rockies. On a Ute roster featuring eight new faces, it is Clyburn’s who has shone most brightly, leading Utah in scoring in each of their three games, averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while knocking down five of his 12 attempts behind the arc along the way. Last year’s Lobos were picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team last year before Hobson’s emergence catapulted them to a conference title. For the Utes to entertain similar aspirations, Clyburn will need to keep up his early pace.

Game of the Week

San Diego State 79, Gonzaga 76 – For only the fifth time in the 82 games in the history of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, a visiting team came in and defeated the Bulldogs on their home court. Behind a career-high 30 points from Aztec senior forward Billy White (on 14-18 shooting and paired with nine rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end), San Diego State built up a lead as high as ten before hanging on down the stretch and withstanding a similarly outstanding 35-point effort by Zag senior guard Steven Gray to wrap up a big win that will be a feather in the Aztec cap come Selection Sunday.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Utah at Utah State – The Aggies of Utah State have already given a MWC team all they could handle this season, when they went into BYU’s Marriott Center and fought the Cougars to the bitter end in an entertaining game, but this time around they get to welcome the Utes into the Smith Spectrum in Logan for another in-state battle. Utah is looking to prove that they are on the way back from last year’s disastrous collapse, but with a bevy of young and relatively untested newcomers, the trip to Logan could be daunting

Power Rankings

  1. San Diego State (5-0): Aside from the heroics of Billy White and Kawhi Leonard detailed above, the Aztecs have also gotten a big boost from a Santa Clara transfer, sophomore guard James Rahon. Rahon lived up to his reputation as a deadly three-point shooter early in his career in red and black, knocking down three straight threes in the middle of the second half of a tightly contested battle at Long Beach State to break the game open and put the Aztecs on their way to their first win of the season. On the season he is averaging a shade under ten points per night and converting three-point attempts at a sparkling 52.9% clip. Likewise, senior point guard D.J. Gay has shown his leadership abilities, time and again making big plays to spark game-deciding runs for the Aztecs. While Rahon has lived up to his rep as a three-point bomber, Gay has added his own deadly three-point shot to an already strong arsenal, having knocked down 11 of his 22 attempts thus far. If those two can maintain anywhere near that kind of pace, the Aztecs will be looking at a very favorable seed come March, as their imposing frontline has been all that was previously advertised.
  2. BYU (3-0): Coming into the season, the Cougars pretty much knew what they were going to get from their backcourt tandem of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. So far, Emery has been off to a slow start, averaging just nine points per game and struggling to find his shooting touch, to the tune of 34.6% from the field and 27.8% from behind the arc. But head coach Dave Rose has no worries about Emery’s game coming around in due time. His concerns prior to the season were with an eye towards the rest of the team, specifically in the front court. In the early going, junior Noah Hartsock and sophomore Chris Collinsworth have done a lot to ease Rose’s mind. Hartsock stepped up immediately, exploding out of his reserve role in the opener to post a career-high 21 points, then backing that up with 15 points and four blocks against Utah State. Collinsworth, for his part, has been rock-solid, averaging seven rebounds per game and throwing in 8.3 points per game, with a high of 15 points in the Cougars blowout of Chicago State. While BYU still has some work to do figuring out all their roles, Hartsock and Collinsworth have already shown that the talent is there.
  3. UNLV (3-0): It was a rocky offseason in Sin City, with dismissals, suspensions and injuries scarring the landscape, but three games in, all those rough patches are in the past, with the Rebels having just posted one of the more impressive MWC victories in the early season, a 68-65 victory over visiting Wisconsin. Last year’s leading scorer, senior guard Tre’Von Willis, sat out the first two games of the season (easy wins over second-rate competition) as a result of offseason legal difficulties, before returning in a reserve role against Wisconsin, but it was juniors Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield who provided the biggest performances for head coach Lon Kruger in the win over the Badgers. Each player knocked down four threes, with Stanback totaling 25 points and Bellfield notching 18. UNLV’s ability to knock down the three had been a question mark in the lead up to the season, but both players have done their best to answer that query, with Bellfield having hit seven of his 12 attempts (58.3%) and Stanback six of his 15 (40%). While Willis was not a major factor in his return to action, he did hand out five assists in his 23 minutes of play.
  4. New Mexico (2-1): The Lobos have faced probably the most consistently tough lineup of games of any MWC in the young season, and perhaps not surprisingly for a young team, have looked pretty strong at home and downright awful in their one road trip. Given that the New Mexico roster is missing junior guard Phillip McDonald due to a partially torn elbow ligament (he is currently day-to-day), is waiting on the services of incoming transfer Drew Gordon (eligible December 17) and is breaking in four new freshmen (including two freshmen starters) and a sophomore transfer, Emmanuel Negedu who, you know, basically died a year ago, I’m not going to ding the Lobos too hard for their 25-point loss at Berkeley, especially considering they looked good in defeating Arizona State at The Pit a few days before  that, but Steve Alford and company are definitely having some growing pains in adjusting to life without Darington Hobson and Ramon Martinez. While some difficulty in the non-conference schedule is understandable, the Lobos have a relatively light schedule between now and the end of December when they play in the Las Vegas Classic (a matchup against Colorado and then the winner of Indiana/Northern Iowa), then travel to Texas Tech and Dayton prior to conference play. New Mexico will need to have things straightened out by then, lest they get out of non-conference play with only the Arizona State victory to point to.
  5. Colorado State (2-0): For now I’ll stick with the Rams at the number five spot, if only because their season still seems to be a week away. Thus far, the Rams have hosted Arkansas-Pine Bluff and traveled to Denver, posting workmanlike wins each time, with seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin leading the way with almost identical numbers: 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, one assist, and 1.5 steals each in their first two games. The Rams host Sam Houston State on Saturday before their first big test of the season next Wednesday when they host Drake. The soft early schedule has allowed head coach Tim Miles to get a look at plenty of his roster, with 12 players having averaged at least eight minutes per game. In the early season, such a rotation is working out, but the Rams will have to prune the minutes of several players as the year progresses.
  6. Utah (3-0): With all the turnover on the Ute roster in the offseason (six players left the program with eligibility remaining, while eight newcomers joined the squad), there were bound to be plenty of questions about this team’s ability to win. Three games in, Jim Boylen’s squad has at least proven itself capable of winning games at home against teams it is supposed to beat. Along the way, Boylen has had some of his fresh blood step up and announce that they are ready to play, with Will Clyburn, our newcomer of the week, leading the way. Elsewhere, junior college transfer Josh Watkins has taken over the point guard position without skipping a beat, averaging 15.7 points and five assists per game, while holdovers Jay Watkins and Jason Washburn have been solid in the frontcourt. While it remains to be seen if this year’s cast has the talent that last year’s underachievers did, it seems clear that this will be a more consistent and hard-working bunch than last season’s neurotic cast-offs.
  7. TCU (3-2): This year’s early MWC candidate for team most in need of psychiatric treatment is the Horned Frogs. Five games in, this looks like a team capable of wild mood swings, capable of wrapping a 20-point victory over cross-town rival SMU and a six-point neutral-site win over a good Bradley team around a stinker of a 15-point loss against Rider. The Frogs are going to be exciting at times, with their mighty-mite backcourt of 6’2 Ronnie Moss and 5’9 Hank Thorns. Thorns, a transfer from Virginia Tech in his first year of eligibility in Fort Worth, has led the team in assists in four of their first five games, and in three of those four games, he dropped ten dimes. Moss, for his part, has looked excellent playing off the ball, scoring in double figures in all five TCU games, while hitting 45% from the field and 41% from deep. The frontcourt is undersized, but 6’6 wing Garlon Green and a pair of junior college transfers, 6’5 J.R. Cadot and 6’4 Sammy Yeager, have all shown a willingness to help out on the glass. They’ll need to keep that up and get some help from more traditional frontcourt players for the Frogs to contend in a tough conference.
  8. Wyoming (2-2): There had been some talk that last year’s underachieving season for the Cowboys was as much a reflection of some bad luck with injuries as it was with some inherent problems with the makeup of the team. Four games into the season, and with a pair of one-game suspensions for primary offensive weapons Afam Muojeke and Desmar Jackson already in the rearview mirror, with a starting lineup that remains in a state of flux, with a team that consistently racks up more turnovers than it does assists, and with the resultant losses to North Florida and Northern Colorado (the first time in 21 games since 1937 that Northern Colorado has beaten Wyoming) in the record books, it’s time to face the facts that this team just isn’t very good, that head coach Heath Schroyer is just not working out and that the Wyoming basketball program is in need of a reboot. Unfortunately, that reboot is still probably four months away.
  9. Air Force (2-1): As bad as the state of the Wyoming program is, they haven’t lost to a D-III school yet. The same cannot be said of the Falcons, who dropped an overtime affair with Colorado College last Wednesday. They were able to take care of Tennessee State and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, but there is simply not enough talent on this roster for this team to be competitive. Players like versatile senior Evan Washington, senior forward Tom Fow and sophomore guard Michael Lyons are good hardworking kids, but this year’s edition of the Falcons are more suited to the Big Sky level of talent than the Mountain West. Head coach Jeff Reynolds will get the most out of this roster, but for him to be comfortable as the head coach at the Academy, he’ll need to recruit a higher level of talent.

A Look Ahead

While the battle in the Beehive State may be the game of the week, Utah will follow that up with another interesting game when they host Oral Roberts on Saturday. There are also plenty of other interesting events around the conference as three other MWC teams compete in early season tournaments. UNLV plays in the most high-profile of the three when they compete in the 76 Classic (opening round game against Tulsa, either Murray State or Stanford in the next round and a potential matchup with Virginia Tech in the final), but BYU will play in the South Padre Island Invitational (against South Florida and then either St. Mary’s or Texas Tech) and Wyoming will get beat down by Missouri in the Cancun Challenge before advancing to likely lose to either Providence or La Salle.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.17.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 17th, 2010

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The college basketball world can relax a bit tonight after a full day of hoops yesterday. The action picks up in full force again on Thursday and Friday after two fairly interesting games this evening. All times eastern.

Murray State @ Mississippi – 8 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)

The Racers of Murray State knocked off Vanderbilt in a memorable first round NCAA Tournament game last season so Mississippi better be on full alert tonight. Murray State is being talked about again as a possible mid-major surprise again in the tournament and why not? They return five of their seven top scorers from last year’s team that won 31 games and the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State only lost by two to national runner-up Butler, certainly an impressive showing for a #13 seed. They also played a good California team tight on the road, falling by only five in their season opener last year. They are coming off a 50-39 victory over East Tennessee State on Monday night in which they held the Buccaneers to 33% from the floor and 10% from three. B.J. Jenkins led all scorers with 14 points and shot 3-4 from deep. The Rebels are 1-0 though they struggled a bit with Arkansas State in their season opener. Star senior Chris Warren is back and hopes to lead Ole Miss to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. Gone from last year’s team, however, are Terrico White, Eniel Polynice and Murphy Holloway. Those three combined to average 34/16/6 for Andy Kennedy last season so players like Zach Graham and Terrance Henry are going to have to step into primary roles for the Rebels this year. Warren had to will his team to victory the other night by scoring 20 of his 26 points after halftime as Ole Miss was down eight at the break. Mississippi is not a particularly good defensive team while Murray State is just that. On offense it’s quite the opposite as Murray struggles to score and the Rebels rank #29 in offensive efficiency. Something has to give tonight and usually (but not always) defense wins out. Ole Miss is going to have to control the boards and minimize turnovers in order to win. The Racers were outrebounded by ETSU and generally are not that good on the glass. The Rebels need to exploit that advantage in order to create more possessions and therefore more opportunities to score. Conversely, Murray excels at creating turnovers which will get them some extra possessions that they may lose in the rebounding battle. The Racers were #16 in turnover percentage last year and currently lead the nation in that category so far this season. This game figures to be very close as the teams are opposites of each other and will try to go after each other’s weaknesses. Mississippi prefers to play with a fairly quick pace while Murray is content with a slow, grinding game. Whichever team imposes their style for the majority of the game stands a good chance of winning. We just might pick Murray State to come up with a nice road victory (and RPI booster) this evening.

Utah State @ BYU – 9 pm on The Mtn. (Mountain West Sports Network) (***)

This Game, Won by USU Last Year, is Always a War

If you look at the statistics on Ken Pomeroy’s site from last season, these two teams were remarkably similar. They were two of the top three 3-point shooting teams in the entire country last year and both were in the top 12 in effective field goal percentage as well. BYU also led the nation in free throw shooting while Utah State wasn’t far behind, ranking #12. Dave Rose leads his BYU team into another season of high expectations behind do-it-all player Jimmer Fredette. Fredette averaged 22 PPG last season leading the Cougars to a thrilling first round win over Florida in the NCAA Tournament. Key players Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock also return for the men from Provo, Utah. The Aggies return two of their best players as well in Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams. Each team is 1-0 on the young season but Utah State struggled against another in-state rival over the weekend, Weber State. It is always difficult to win at the Marriott Center as the crowd is about as raucous as it gets in college basketball. They’ll most certainly be up and ready for this battle for the state of Utah. These two teams have played 226 times with BYU holding a 135-91 edge. However, Utah State won the last meeting on its home floor in Logan. Trying to contain Fredette will be paramount for the Aggies and coach Stew Morrill but hardly any team has been able to do that recently. Utah State did hold him to 5-15 shooting last year but he still managed to score 19 points. Expect a lot of threes to go up and to be made in this game tonight, though each team struggled mightily from the arc in their first game. When a lot of threes are attempted, long rebounds often result. BYU is not a good offensive rebounding team because of that so if Utah State can control the defensive boards they will have many more opportunities to score. The keys for the Aggies in last year’s win were getting to the line (+10 points there) and rebounding (+6). Everything else was fairly even and USU won by ten points, the margin from the foul line. BYU is favored at home, though only by six and a half points. We expect this to be a close game for 30 minutes with the Cougars gradually pulling away from the Aggies down the stretch. That isn’t to say Utah State can’t win (they certainly can), but winning on the road at BYU is something that rarely happens.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

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

Predicted Order of Finish

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

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

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

6th Man

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

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

Impact Newcomer

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

What You Need to Know

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 3/5)

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

Superlatives

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

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

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

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

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

League Notes

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

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

Team Roundups

New Mexico

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

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

BYU

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

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

San Diego State

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

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

UNLV

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

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

Utah

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

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

Colorado State

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

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

TCU

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

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

Wyoming

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

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

Air Force

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

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 2/18)

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

Superlatives

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

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

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

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

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

League Notes

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

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

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

Team Roundups

New Mexico

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

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

BYU

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

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

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

San Diego State

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

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

UNLV

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

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

Colorado State

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

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

Utah

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

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

TCU

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

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

Wyoming

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

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

Air Force

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

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

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

Standings (as of 1/7)

  1. BYU                                        15-1                       1-0
  2. San Diego State                12-3                       1-0
  3. Colorado State                  10-5                       1-0
  4. TCU                                        8-7                          1-0
  5. Utah                                      7-7                          0-0
  6. New Mexico                      14-2                       0-1
  7. UNLV                                     12-3                       0-1
  8. Air Force                              8-6                          0-1
  9. Wyoming                            7-8                          0-1

Superlatives

Team of the Week. BYU – The Cougars not only continued to prove they were a MWC title contender this week, but they did so in true team fashion, having bench players step up and make big contributions in the absence of some stars. With junior guard Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery both missing some time this week, BYU had guys like junior point Michael Loyd Jr and sophomore forward Noah Hartsock (not to mention a familiar name we’ll mention one paragraph down) step up and carry the team to a big win over UNLV in their conference opener, following a drubbing of overmatched Eastern New Mexico. With Fredette and Emery’s health issues considered to be minor (both played in the UNLV game, but were limited), the confidence gained by some of these role players will only strengthen BYU’s chances in the long run.

Player of the Week. Jonathan Tavernari, Sr, BYU. Tavernari has made the All-MWC Third Team for two years running, following his Freshman of the Year award three years back, and this season was a consensus First Team All-MWC selection. However, the Brazilian Bomber got off to a rough start and had his confidence shaken early, and by the end of December, he was coming off the bench, and even then only for spot minutes and to very little effect. Against UNLV, that all changed, for one night at least. With Fredette severely limited in the second half, and with the Rebels threatening to steal the conference opener at the Marriott Center, JT came through big with 14 of his 17 points in the second half, adding in nine rebounds and igniting the crowd and the rest of his team as the Cougars held off the visitors. Much credit to Tavernari for shrugging off his early struggles, remaining a team player despite his sagging minutes and showing great senior leadership in a key early-conference battle.

Newcomer of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State – This transfer from Pepperdine was all set to take home the POTW honors until Tavernari’s performance late Wednesday night. But Thomas’ effort in defending the Aztec home court advantage against New Mexico in the conference opener should not be diminished. Thomas posted 18 points and 15 rebounds, and had a run of seven straight often spectacular points as SDSU pulled away from New Mexico late in the game on Tuesday. Thomas has teamed with freshman Kawhi Leonard to give the Aztecs a formidable interior presence in the paint, averaging 18 rebounds a game between the two newcomers.

Game of the Week. BYU 77, UNLV 73 – As the Cougars and Rebels come down the stretch on Wednesday night, reigning MWC POTW Fredette can do nothing more than watch, sidelined by strep throat and an allergic reaction to some medicine. The Rebs build up a bit of a lead, but the Cougars get back-to-back threes by Tavernari and freshman Tyler Haws to go back up by one. UNLV fights back and builds up a five point lead as junior guard Tre’Von Willis looks to be on the verge of taking over, but BYU comes back again, regains the lead on another Tavernari three, Loyd hits an acrobatic off-balance layup, Emery hits a tough jumper from the free-throw line at the end of a hectic possession and when all is said and done, the Cougars had put together an 11-2 run to wrest control of the game away and wrap up a tough victory in their conference opener.

Games of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ New Mexico, January 9th,  Vs. – One of these two teams, both considered contenders for the MWC title and possible at-large NCAA tournament berths, will start out the MWC 0-2. While it wouldn’t be a death knell for either squad (and for the Rebels starting out the conference schedule with two road games against two of the four best teams in the conference never looked to be a picnic), nobody in either program wants to deal with that situation. This game will be as vicious as an early-January MWC game can be.

League Notes

  • As has been noted since before the season began, this is a very young league with newcomers littering rosters around the conference. With conference play beginning, all those fresh faces are getting their first taste of what it means to play on the road in raucous unfriendly arenas. While some newcomers have taken to the challenge with relative ease (see Colorado State’s freshman guard Dorian Green going for 15 points and three threes in leading his Rams to a road win), others have yet to find their footing (see New Mexico’s JuCo transfer Darington Hobson hitting just four of his 17 shots and turning the ball over five times in a road loss at San Diego State). While a conference championship cannot be won this early in the season, a team that is unprepared to play on the road could lose one awful early.
  • With conference play underway for everyone except Utah, the MWC has just about wrapped up its non-conference slate, although BYU still has a trip to UTEP this weekend and TCU will host Texas-Pan American (1/20). The MWC has posted a 89-38 record thus far against the rest of the country and is 11-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups

BYU

Looking back: After mopping up the Marriott Center floor with Eastern New Mexico last Saturday, a game in which neither Fredette nor Emery played, the Cougars took care of UNLV in their conference opener in a game detailed in the Game of the Week section above. BYU has shown themselves to be a very deep team thus far, with eight players having scored in double figures thus far and five different players leading the team in rebounding for a game.

Looking ahead: BYU will wrap up their non-conference play this weekend with a tough road trip to El Paso to face the athletic Miners before continuing their MWC play with a trip to Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs got their MWC season underway in strong fashion, knocking off New Mexico in their opener behind a monster performance by Thomas who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, including seven straight points as the Aztecs pulled away from New Mexico late on Tuesday. While it was an impressive win, it didn’t come without some bad news, as junior forward and Aztec leading scorer Billy White went down with a high ankle sprain late in the first half. White’s status for the immediate future is not presently known. Earlier in the week, the Aztecs wrapped up their non-conference season with a standard-issue drubbing of Division II also-ran Pomona-Pitzer.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs will spend the next week on the road, visiting Wyoming on Saturday, then heading to UNLV on Wednesday before heading home to host TCU next Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: CSU opened its MWC season by going on the road to Wyoming and controlling the game from start to finish on the way to a ten point win. Four Rams scored in double figures, led by junior forward Andy Ogide who had 22 points, six rebounds and three steals. The Rams shot 60% from the field in the second half and got three three-pointers  each from Green and junior guard Adam Nigon. The Rams also added a 22-point victory over Yale last weekend, but got some bad news this week as sophomore guard Jesse Carr decided to petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt for this season due to a stress fracture in his pelvis that he suffered at the end of last season.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Air Force on Saturday, then get the week off to prepare for a trip to Provo to face the Cougars next Saturday.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs coasted through an easy first half in the conference opener against Air Force on Wednesday, taking a 13 point lead into the locker room, but needed an 11-0 run after the Falcons came back to tie the game at 44 just before the final television timeout in order to defend their home court. While the outcome looked pretty for coach Jim Christian’s squad, the game was anything but. TCU shot just 38% from the field on the night and hit just five of their 21 three-point attempts, but did manage to take care of the ball, turning the ball over just nine times. Senior Zvonko Buljan continues to lead the team, throwing up 14 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday and adding another 12 points and nine rebounds in a 12-point non-conference victory over Rice last Saturday.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to Utah for the Utes’ conference opener on Saturday, then host Wyoming on Tuesday night.

Utah

Looking back: Utah wrapped up its nonconference schedule on Saturday with an exciting come-from-behind victory over the Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge. The Utes were able to dodge great performances by senior forward Tasmin Mitchell (19pts, 12rebs) and junior forward Storm Warren (21pts, 9rebs) as they came from 12 back in the second half to take the lead from LSU for good on a Carlon Brown three with 1:11 remaining. Utah was led by senior guard Luka Drca, who had 14 points and five assists, sophomore center David Foster (seven blocks) and Brown, who added 12. There was some bad news for the Utes this week, however, as senior forward Kim Tillie (who went for ten points and seven rebounds against LSU), had knee surgery and is expected to be out about three weeks.

Looking ahead: Utah will be the last MWC to kick off conference play when it hosts TCU on Saturday. They will then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday and UNLV next Saturday for a couple serious conference litmus tests.

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos kicked off their conference play with a trip to the Mesa to face San Diego State on Tuesday, and looked every bit the young team playing its first conference road game. Hobson was particularly terrible, playing out of control at times and hitting only four of his 17 field goal attempts while turning the ball over five times. While the Lobos stuck around for the better part of 35 minutes, they never got their offense on track and were left behind when Aztec forward Malcolm Thomas took over. Earlier in the week, the Lobos wrapped up their non-conference play with a tight home victory over a tough Dayton team when Hobson went for 15/8/7.

Looking ahead: New Mexico gets to return to the friendly confines of The Pit for the next couple games (UNLV on Saturday and Utah on Wednesday), before traveling to face some of the lower levels of the MWC the following week.

UNLV

Looking back: The Rebels played their first game in almost two weeks when they lost at BYU on Wednesday night. And while they faded down the stretch, not scoring a field goal in the last 5:55, they certainly looked sharp early, holding BYU to just 27% shooting in the first half. However, the Rebels were outrebounded by the Cougars on both ends of the floor and failed to get much offensively from anyone but Willis, who had 24 points despite seven turnovers.  Sophomore point Oscar Bellfield was strong as well, handing out nine assists, but Vegas failed to get any consistent offensive production from the rest of their roster.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to the Pit on Saturday in a pretty huge game for this early in the conference schedule against New Mexico. They’ll then host San Diego State on Wednesday and Utah next Saturday, wrapping up a brutal start to their MWC schedule.

Air Force

Looking back: While every team in the country has injuries at this point in the season, things are starting to get ridiculous in Colorado Springs. Senior forward Mike McLain took an elbow to the head late in their conference-opening loss to TCU on Wednesday night, and came away with a concussion for his troubles, likely keeping him out of the Falcons next game, making him the fourth Falcon currently on the injured list. Leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker has missed the last seven games (and remains doubtful). Sophomore center Sammy Schafer hasn’t played since late November due to complications with a concussion. Senior guard Avery Merriex is just another Falcon starter with a concussion, but throw in a broken nose for a raise. And sophomore swing and part-time starter Taylor Stewart will be out for the next six weeks after having surgery on a broken wrist this week.

Looking ahead: Things don’t figure to get a whole lot easier for the Air Force MASH squad, as they travel to Colorado State on Saturday then return home to face BYU on Wednesday. If any of the injured Falcons is likely to play in either of those games, it is Merriex, who at least traveled with the team to the TCU game, unlike Parker, Schafer and Stewart.

Wyoming

Looking back: Four games into the MWC season, and the Cowboys are the only team to lose a home game. In fact, they are the only team in the conference (aside from Utah, who has yet to play) that have never led in a conference game as TCU led from post to pole on Wednesday (although the Cowboys kept within shouting distance much of the night). The Cowboys did get a bit of an influx of talent as redshirt freshman guard Arthur Buoedo played his first game in a Cowboy uniform against TCU (after being suspended by the NCAA for the first 14 games of the season) and contributed 15 points. Buoedo will be counted on to contribute some offense in the place of sophomore forward Afam Muojeke, who has seen his minutes decline in the wake of poor decision-making and cold shooting, getting just 18 minutes on Wednesday and making just one of his six shots.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys host San Diego State on Saturday in what becomes a very important game for a team not wanting to fall to 0-2 in the league after two home games. The Cowboys will then travel to TCU on Tuesday before returning home to host another tough home game against New Mexico.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on January 1st, 2010

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

Standings (as of 12/30):

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

Superlatives:

Team of the WeekNew Mexico – Hard to pick one given the slim pickings this time of year, but we’ll give the nod to New Mexico (rather than BYU for destroying Arizona in epic fashion on Monday) for handling a solid Texas Tech team in impressive fashion.  The Lobos had five players score in double figures, led by junior Darington Hobson who had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.  They led by 12 at the half, and following a brief Red Raider run to start the second half, coasted to a 15 point victory at the Pit.  Freshman wing Curtis Dennis also provided a spark with strong defense, hustle plays and 16 points along the way.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette, Jr, BYU —  Fredette got going early and often against Arizona on Tuesday night, pouring in 49 points (on 16-23 shooting, including 9-13 from three), while adding seven rebounds and nine assists for one of the most complete games that anybody across the country has put up this season.  Fredette’s explosion was the most points scored in BYU history, and the most points scored in the history of the McKale Center.

Newcomer of the Week: Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico – Hobson takes home his third NOTW award from this space with his performance against Texas Tech detailed above.  He has been simply amazing at times this year, an incredibly versatile force who can grab a strong rebound at one end of the floor, weave his way up court and either find an open Lobo for an easy finish, complete the play himself with either a gliding finger-roll or a pull-up three or settle back in to run the half court offense.  If you haven’t had a chance to see Hobson yet this season, look him up when you get a chance, as all but one Lobo game the rest of the season will be televised somewhere, mostly on The MTN.

Game of the Week: Air Force 77 Niagara 71 – Okay, it was a slow week, and between some big blowout wins by MWC powers and some ugly losses, there weren’t a whole lot of contenders for this title.  We’ll give the nod here to the Falcons, who had five players score in double figures on the way to building up to a lead as big as 10.  But the Purple Eagles came strong down the stretch, pulling to within one with under a minute to play, but Air Force was able to maintain its lead by knocking down its free throws in the end.  Junior guard Evan Washington continued his strong play for the Falcons, racking up 19 points and eight boards, while junior forward Tom Fow added 17.

Games of the Upcoming Week: UNLV @ BYU, January 6th – While the MWC season opens a day earlier in San Diego, this will give us a good look at two of the contenders for the MWC crown.  Both teams feature strong perimeter games and tough defenses, but it may come down to who can control the paint and the glass with guys like BYU’s Noah Hartsock, Chris Miles and James Anderson battling it out with UNLV’s Matt Shaw, Darris Santee and Chace Stanback for interior control.

League Notes:

It’s been a slow week around the Mountain West, with only Air Force playing more than once, and with the non-conference slate wrapping up and the conference games set to begin, it is time to look at how the teams have positioned themselves with an eye towards the NCAA tournament.  The conference as a whole took a step forward with respect to their strength of the non-conference schedule, which helps the teams at the top of the conference continue to build their resumes through the conference season, but has left the bottom of the conference likely already out of the chase for even the lesser postseason tournaments.  Despite the much-talked-about weakness of the Pac-10 this season, the MWC still only ranks as the seventh strongest conference in the nation (just ahead of the A-10 and C-USA, according to KenPom, through December 29), having compiled a 81-38 (through Wednesday) record thus far this season, but having fallen to 10-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups:

New Mexico

Looking back: New Mexico’s difficult non-conference schedule continued this week as they handed Texas Tech their second loss of the season, detailed above.

While there is still one more big hurdle in their non-conference play, Steve Alford’s squad has already notched victories over Louisiana Tech, Cal, Texas A&M, Creighton and Texas Tech and done more than enough to consider their pre-conference play a rousing success.  Hobson has emerged as a dominant force in the conference, and there is enough talent surrounding him to make New Mexico a legitimate national threat.

Looking ahead: The Lobos host Dayton on New Year’s Day for another shot at a quality non-conference victory before beginning their conference schedule on Tuesday at San Diego State.

New Mexico has established itself as a co-favorite (along with BYU) to win the MWC regular season title and has laid the groundwork for an almost certain NCAA bid.  They have enough versatile parts (four different players in the rotation that can run the point, a host of talented wings, athletic defenders) to cause matchup problems for bigger teams, but may be a little thin in the paint, with only sophomores Will Brown and A.J. Hardeman providing legitimate interior presences.  And, perhaps more than anything else, this is an incredibly young team, with only one senior (wing Roman Martinez) seven freshmen and sophomores in their rotation, leaving some questions as to how this team will be able to fare under the pressure of March.

BYU

Looking back: Just one game for the Cougars this week, but they made sure to supply plenty of excitement to tide the fans over until conference play begins with a 99-69 win over Arizona at the McKale Center, the largest loss an Arizona team had experienced in the history of that venue.  But that wasn’t the only record set that night as junior guard Jimmer Fredette went off for 49 points (detailed above).

While New Mexico got most of the press in the MWC due to their extended undefeated run, BYU has slipped under the radar a bit on their way to currently being ranked number five in the most recent KenPom rankings, with their biggest win over Arizona State and their only loss on the road at Utah State.

Looking ahead: The Cougars have a cupcake against Eastern New Mexico before opening their conference season at home against UNLV (1/6).  They’ll then travel to UTEP (1/9) for their final non-conference game of the season in a game that may be their biggest test of the season so far.

BYU has been among the most efficient teams on both ends of the floor thus far this season, and while Fredette deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit for that, junior guard Jackson Emery has been a revelation thus far this season as well, thus far ranking second in the nation in both Effective Field Goal Percentage (73%) and True Shooting Percentage (74.9%).  While it may be too soon to tell if he can keep up that kind of pace, BYU seems like a sure thing. They should compete for a conference title, and still have plenty of leeway to capture an at-large bid should they come up a bit short.

UNLV

Looking back: UNLV’s last game in the non-conference schedule was the championship game of the inaugural Diamond Head Classic against USC on Christmas Day, and the Rebels had some of their weaknesses exposed as USC proved to be the more physical team.  The Trojans were able to slow the pace of the game down and held Vegas to 34% shooting from the field including a paltry 5/22 from three-point.

When all is said and done, the Rebels come out of the non-conference portion of their schedule with a nice looking 12-2 record, but deeper examination shows only a win over Louisville as the best win on the schedule for the Rebs.  While there is nothing that could be considered a bad loss, the Rebels will have to have a strong conference performance to improve their potential at-large resume.

Looking ahead: The Rebels will find out at lot about themselves at the start of their Mountain West schedule, as they will travel to face BYU (1/6) and New Mexico (1/9) in their first two conference games before returning home to host San Diego State (1/13) and Utah (1/16).

While the half-court offense for the Rebels is definitely a question mark, there is no doubt that this is a very good defensive team, and this is a team that will likely make its stand by forcing turnovers defensively while controlling the ball offensively; Vegas is not a team that is going to give a lot of games away.  Further, this is a team that should improve over the season as their newcomers (two transfers and two freshmen among their rotation) get used to their new teammates and system.  The Rebels may not have the horses to compete with New Mexico and BYU for the conference title, but they should be a tournament-contender all season long.

San Diego State

Looking back: San Diego State’s lone game of the week was a closer-than-should-have-been squeaker over UC Riverside.  The Aztecs led by as many as 10 in the second half, but Riverside got back within a point on a Kyle Austin jumper with 44 seconds left.  Austin had a game-tying three-point attempt blocked by junior Malcolm Thomas blocked in the waning moments and SDSU escaped with a five-point win.

The Aztecs have one more cupcake remaining in their non-conference schedule and seem poised to take an 11-3 record into the conference schedule, but have no real impressive wins under their belt yet.  Wins over teams like Arizona and Fresno State were impressive, hard-fought wins, but the two best teams that the Aztecs faced, Saint Mary’s and Arizona State, handed them two of their three losses.

Looking ahead: SDSU will face Pomona-Pitzer on New Year’s Eve to complete their non-conference schedule, then will host New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference opener on Tuesday.

Like other teams around the conference, the Aztecs have a lot of new faces this year in the form of freshmen, transfers and even returning players taking on new roles.  As the season has progressed, players have settled into their roles and the team has improved steadily from week to week, and has turned into a very strong team on the glass, especially on the offensive end.  While they will take a strong record into conference play, they still have plenty of work to do to shore up their postseason resume, and will likely need a strong third-place MWC finish combined with a win or two over opponents like BYU, New Mexico or UNLV in order to make their odds of an at-large tournament bid more realistic.

Colorado State

Looking back: The Rams traveled to Fresno on Monday, and, as unlikely as it may seem, the plane trip to Fresno may have been the highlight of the week.  Because once the ball was in the air, the Rams were largely absent.  They made just five of 28 field goal attempts in the first half, missed all ten of their threes and were down 36-13 after 20 minutes of play.  If that weren’t bad enough, they slept through the opening few minutes of the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to score the first 11 of the half, and found themselves down 34 points on the way to a 23-point embarrassment.

While the Rams built up a little confidence in early December with a four game winning streak, they have now lost two straight and find themselves a game away from conference play with an exciting win over Colorado as their high point.

Looking ahead: CSU hosts Yale on New Year’s Eve before opening conference play with a trip to Wyoming (1/6) and a home game against Air Force (1/9).  If the Rams hope to make any splash in MWC play this year, those first two games against teams that they can beat are musts.

The Rams have some upside, with three freshmen (guard Dorian Green and forwards Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung) that they are excited about, but seem destined for a lower division MWC finish.  They simply don’t have the athletes or consistency to play with the premier teams in the conference, but with a little luck could make a run at a CBI or one of the other seven (I believe) post-season college basketball tournaments.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s possible Air Force had the most interesting week of all the MWC teams, as they competed in the final non-conference tournament of the season, the Sun Bowl Invitational at El Paso.  The Falcons showed well for themselves, knocking off a tough Niagara team in the semifinal round before losing to host UTEP in the championship. Once again, the Falcons played without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who has now missed the last five games with a groin injury.  Sophomore center Sammy Schafer has also now missed nine straight games with complications from a concussion.  No firm return date is set for either player at this point.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host Texas-Pan American on Saturday then kick off their MWC play at TCU on Wednesday.  If all goes well, Parker and Schafer could possibly return for the MWC opener.

While the current 7-5 record may not look all that pretty, you have to give credit to the Falcons for mostly beating the teams that they were supposed to beat (with the exception of Northern Arizona) and even sneaking in an upset.  While the majority of the Falcons’ wins so far have been over the weak-sisters of Division I (and even lesser divisions) like UC Davis, Prairie View A&M and Dickinson State, they snuck in a win on a neutral court over a good Niagara team this past week.  While coach Jeff Reynolds should harbor no illusions about being a NCAA tournament contender (barring an unlikely run through the MWC tournament), the Falcons have improved from last season.  They’ll need to finish near .500 in a tough MWC, however, in order to have any chance for a non-NCAA tournament postseason bid.

TCU

Looking back: The Horned Frogs became the third MWC team to lose to Northern Colorado, as they fell to the Bears on Wednesday night by 11.  After a close first half, a 14-4 run gave Northern Colorado a comfortable working margin and the Frogs were never within a possession of the lead the rest of the game.

For a fairly talented team that looked like a solid middle-of-the-pack MWC at the beginning of the year, the month of December has been tough for the Frogs as they have only posted one win over a Division I school in five tries, adding a win over an NAIA school along the way.  While fairly effective offensively and featuring several very skilled players, they have been absolutely abysmal defensively, ranking near the bottom of Division I in a variety of statistics, and their only wins on the season have come against the dregs of D-I.  The Horned Frogs have played a very difficult schedule in the early season (KenPom ranks it the 36th toughest schedule in the nation), but have thus far shown an inability to hang with good teams.

Looking ahead: TCU hosts Rice in their final non-conference game on Saturday, then hosts Air Force on Wednesday in their conference opener.

With a 6-7 record at this point, TCU would have to play their conference schedule above .500 to have postseason hopes.  Given their defensive struggles to this point, that seems increasingly unlikely.  While they feature an very good offensive point in sophomore Ronnie Moss, an excellent shooter in senior Edvinas Ruzgas, a skilled big man in senior Zvonko Buljan and a hustling glue-guy in sophomore Kevin Butler, they lack the athleticism to guard effective offensive teams well enough to compete with the elite MWC teams.

Wyoming

Looking back: Wyoming’s home court advantage at 7000-plus feet of elevation didn’t seem so scary Wednesday night as Akron was the team to finish strong, posting a 16-7 run in the final four minutes to finish off the Cowboys.  Wyoming played without freshman point guard JayDee Luster who sat out with an injured shoulder, and Akron’s tiny point Humpty Hitchens got off for 16 points and three three-pointers to lead the Zips.

While Wyoming plays at one of the highest tempos in the nation, their offense has been horribly inefficient, averaging significantly less than a point per offensive possession.  While some key injuries (to Luster, who has yet to be healthy this season, and sophomore leading scorer Afam Muojeke, who missed four games with a knee injury) and the overall youth of the team (eight sophomores and freshmen among the 10-man rotation) are to blame for some of it, this just isn’t a very talented Wyoming team.

Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Adams State on Saturday to round out their conference schedule and likely get them back to .500 for the season before hosting Colorado State in their MWC opener on Wednesday.

The Cowboys are another in a line of teams at the bottom of the MWC conference who have dug themselves a hole in their non-conference play.  They’ll need to compile a .500 or better record against a tough conference to give themselves a chance at any type of postseason play (the NCAAs are out of the question), and given their inability to get quality possessions offensively, there is no reason to suspect that the Cowboys are capable of playing .500 ball the rest of the way.  Likely, the rest of this season will be dedicated to finding out who they have that they can build upon next year, especially with Luster and fellow freshman guard Desmar Jackson.

Utah

Looking back: The Utes got things headed back in the right direction by hanging one on a solid Texas-San Antonio team Tuesday night.  Sophomore center David Foster returned from a turned ankle to block six shots, while senior Luka Drca added 19 points and the Utes held UTSA to 33% shooting and only three assists on their 16 field goals en route to a 22 point Utah win.

It’s been a disappointing early season for the Utes, still fighting to get back to .500 after a recent three-game skid and some bad losses (Idaho, Seattle, Pepperdine) throughout the schedule.  The Utes have been terribly inefficient offensively, have struggled shooting the ball (especially from deep) and have even struggled on the glass, which is completely unacceptable for one of the tallest teams in the country.  And yet, the Utes have shown that they are talented enough to play with some good teams, having defeated Utah State and Michigan at home and Illinois on a neutral court.

Looking ahead: The Utes wrap up non-conference play with a trip to Baton Rouge on Saturday for a battle of underperforming teams.  Conference play starts with a home game against TCU on the following Saturday, backed up by a trip to the Pit to face the Lobos on January 13th.

About the only thing to be sure of for the rest of the Ute season is inconsistency.  Coach Jim Boylen is an excellent teacher, so the Utes are sure to get improvement out of its younger players, but the lack of consistent outside shooting up and down the roster seems destined to doom this Utah basketball squad to mediocrity.  There is enough talent and size here to be sure that the Utes will probably knock off teams like BYU, New Mexico and UNLV at some point this season, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see wins like that followed with losses to teams like Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming.  And yet, if this team gets hot at the right moment in March, they could certainly win three games in three days and find themselves dancing.  But don’t hold your breath.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by jstevrtc on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (as of 12/16):

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

Superlatives:

Team of the Week.  New Mexico – As the lone remaining undefeated team in the Mountain West, this one is a no-brainer.  The Lobos combined a hard-fought semi-neutral site win over Texas A&M in Houston with an absolute blowout of Northern Arizona yesterday to improve their record to 11-0, and, especially against Northern Arizona, were the epitome of a team, with all ten of the players who got minutes scoring, and eight players scoring more than eight points.

Player of the Week.  Roman Martinez, Sr, New Mexico – It’s a clean sweep for New Mexico at this point, with Darington Hobson taking home the first two POTWs and Roman Martinez grabbing the last two.  Martinez wins the award this week by averaging 19.5 PPG and knocking down eight more three-pointers, to bring his season total to 40 while shooting 55% from behind the arc.

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