NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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Rushed Reactions: #8 San Diego State 76, #9 St. John’s 64

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

All Smiles for San Diego State Tonight -- We Can't Score? (USA Today Images)

All Smiles for San Diego State Tonight — We Can’t Score? (USA Today Images)

  1. San Diego State was just too deep and tough. This was not the best of matchups for a shorthanded St. John’s team. With San Diego State’s depth and the tough defense that the Aztecs play, the Red Storm would have faced a tough challenge even before they lost center Chris Obekpa to suspension. The Johnnies battled hard, and to their credit, they made an effort to push the ball in transition (16 fast break points) rather than face the molasses-thick half-court defense of the Aztecs. Tired legs probably caught up with them in the second half as St. John’s only shot 1-of-6 on their second half threes. We saw this coming when the halftime box score showed that four of Steve Lavin’s group had played the entire half while eight San Diego State players had logged at least nine minutes.
  2. Rebounding was a huge concern for St. John’s but San Diego State didn’t dominate the glass. The Red Storm were a terrible rebounding team (-6.6 RPG) in Big East play this season even with Obekpa in the lineup. But for the first 20 minutes, the undersized Johnnies battled San Diego State evenly on the glass. After intermission, though, the deeper frontline of the Aztecs eventually won the day, leading them to a +13 advantage in second chance points for the contest.
  3. The Aztecs were actually good offensively. San Diego State came in with the nation’s 172nd-best offense but came out hot tonight, scoring an efficient 1.21 points per possession in a surprisingly potent 40-point first half. St. John’s is no Virginia defensively, especially without Opekpa in the paint, but the Red Storm had no answer when the Aztecs attacked. The real surprise was that San Diego State was so hot from distance, making 9-of-22 threes in tonight’s game.

Star of the Game.  Dwayne Polee II, San Diego State. The balanced Aztecs had many candidates for this award, but we will select Polee II for getting his team off to a fast start. The senior who had missed 15 games earlier this year for health reasons hit 4-of-6 threes on his way to 12 first half points, getting the Aztecs off and running.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Duke (29-4, 16-4 ACC). The top-seeded Blue Devils are rightful favorites in the South region. Not only are the Blue Devils REALLY good (they are a #1 seed for a reason), but they were fortunate enough to avoid a region with Arizona or Virginia in a year where six teams could stake legitimate claims to #1 seeds. Ignore Duke’s ignominious recent NCAA Tournament history: The Blue Devils are favorites to book the flight from Houston to Indianapolis.

Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor have to wonder which way Duke is heading after a tumultuous week (sportingnews.com)

Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Duke are the favorites to get out of the region. (Getty)

Should They Falter: #3 Iowa State (25-8, 15-6 Big 12). We’ll leap the second-seeded Zags to label Iowa State as the next most likely team to win this region. Frank Hoiberg’s club finished with a flourish, knocking off Kansas in the Big 12 championship game to put the finishing touches on a tidy resume. The bulk of this Cyclones core were contributors when they lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. There are some flaws here, particularly on the defensive end, but Hoiberg is undoubtedly anxious to push a team deep into the NCAA Tournament. This bunch could be the one to do it.

Grossly Overseeded: #4 Georgetown (21-10, 13-7 Big East). The Big East got a lot of respect this Selection Sunday. Four of the six league teams to make the field were seeded at least a line above Joe Lunardi’s final projection, while the other two (Villanova and St. John’s) were at the number Lunardi projected. Georgetown received a #4 seed from the committee (two lines above the #6 Lunardi expected) and there’s little about the Hoyas – both on the resume and on the court – that indicates they are that deserving. Their best non-conference victory came in overtime on a neutral court against Indiana. Big East work, although headlined by a defeat of Villanova, was only marginally more impressive. John Thompson III guided the Hoyas to a solid bounce-back season after missing the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but they are overvalued at this seed line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

Boise State – I just wrote a couple thousand words about the Broncos, so go read that piece if you want any longwinded explanations of why they’re the obvious pick here. In breaking San Diego State’s 29-game home winning streak, the Broncos put themselves in the driver’s seat for the conference championship and the #1 seed in the conference tournament. There was no other reasonable option.

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile. (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris, and Utah State put together a couple good wins. But let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, that’s to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, check out these numbers for the week: 24.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, and a 50% eFG. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year award, although odds are good that wasn’t his main goal.

 

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris. Utah State put together a couple good wins and I thought about going with an Aggie, but picking one meant ignoring the others. And really, let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, such is to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, for the week, check out these numbers: 24 PPG, 5 RPG, 3 APG, 2 SPG, and a 50 eFG%. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year. But odds are good, that wasn’t his main goal.

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Boise State’s Big Win Proves This Team Is Different

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 3rd, 2015

It’s Saturday night, 30 minutes after Boise State put the finishing touches on a road win at San Diego State, breaking the Aztecs’ 29-game home winning streak. Broncos’ head coach Leon Rice is in the tunnel at Viejas Arena talking about his team’s accomplishments for the day, the month, the season. And he’s looking around at the empty red seats in Viejas, his face a mixture of amazement and accomplishment. “My guys are deserving of respect,” said Rice. “They’ve won, what, 12 of their last 13 games now? In this league, that’s tough to do because of the places you have to go. Nobody beats these guys [San Diego State] here. What was it, 29 games in a row here? I mean, nobody wins here.”

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

And yet, that’s exactly what the Broncos did, even after getting off to a dreadfully slow start, scoring just eight points on their first 19 possessions (13:30 game time). Part of the slow start could certainly be chalked up to the length, athleticism, activity and intelligence of the San Diego State defense, but you can bet the intimidation factor in playing in Viejas was also a part of it. After a pregame routine featuring The Show professing its belief that its team would win; after lineup introductions that would make many NBA teams blush; after the Aztecs came out with the swagger of having played in and won countless meaningful Mountain West games in this very venue; a little nervousness was expected, especially for a team without that same prior history of success. But this Broncos team has proven themselves to be very different from their predecessors. “It’s funny, this is a team of new accomplishments,” Rice bragged, while making sure to give full credit to his players and his staff. “I mean, before this year, we’d never won at New Mexico; we’d never won at Utah State. We’d never won here. And I know how tough this place is. We have a ton of respect for this team and these fans. I mean, I come out before the game and get goosebumps looking around this place. For me to come in here and see this place and see what Coach Fisher has done here, it’s pretty fantastic. And we have so much respect for San Diego State, the win here means a lot to us.”

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O26 Weekly Awards: BYU, Derrick Marks, Bruiser Flint & Southern Miss…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

BYU pulled off a stunner in Spokane. (Young Kwak / AP)

BYU pulled off a stunner in Spokane. (Young Kwak / AP)

BYU. Want to know how to get back in the NCAA Tournament discussion? Beat the third-ranked team in the country on its own floor. Snap its nation-leading 41-game home winning streak. Ruin its chance for a No. 1 seed. That might do it. Not only was BYU’s 73-70 victory over Gonzaga on Saturday one of the biggest victories in program history, it put the Cougars right back on the right side of the bubble – a residence they had not visited in weeks. Point guard Kyle Collinsworth led the way for Dave Rose’s club, scoring 20 points, securing eight rebounds (six offensive) and coming up with two huge steals, his aggressive play setting the tone from the outset. “We made a lot of mistakes but we were so energized with each play on both offense and defense,” Rose said of his team afterward. BYU held Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer – likely the WCC Player of the Year – to just four points and never enabled Gonzaga to assemble a serious run. After picking up a solid road win at Portland earlier in the week, the Cougars are now projected to be in the field of 68 by numerous prognosticators. A run to the WCC Tournament title game would probably be enough to guarantee BYU a bid come Selection Sunday. As for Collinsworth’s thoughts on the NCAA Tournament committee and his team’s fate: “I’ll let them decide.”

Honorable Mentions: Boise State (2-0: vs. New Mexico, at San Diego State); Wichita State (2-0: at Indiana State, vs. Northern Iowa); Davidson (2-0: at Rhode Island, vs. George Washington); Northern Illinois (2-0: at Toledo, vs. Central Michigan); UC Santa Barbara (2-0: vs. UC Davis, vs. UC Irvine)

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 24th, 2015

Team of the Week

San Diego State – It’s been a couple weeks since we did this because we took last week to compile our Best in the West list, so this award encompasses not only the Aztecs’ two by-the-book wins over New Mexico and San Jose State, but also the wins from the previous week over Wyoming and Colorado State that put them atop the Mountain West standings. The San Diego State offense is starting to come around (it’s now played four straight games where it scored better than a point per possession); the Aztecs’ defense is still downright scary; and if they can find a way on Saturday to get revenge on Boise State for a beat-down earlier this month, they’ll be headed into March on quite a roll.

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Player of the Week

Winston Shepard, Jr, San Diego State – From the moment he stepped on the court for the Aztecs, it has been clear that Shepard has voluminous skills on the basketball court. His long frame and athleticism help make him a terrific defensive threat. He’s a willing and alert passer. He’s got a nice handle and the ability to use it to get into the lane and make plays. There is really only about one thing he hasn’t been particularly good at, and it’s a pretty important one: shooting the ball. However, over the past couple of weeks, the endless work that Shepard has put in in trying to improve that aspect of his game has begun to pay dividends. A career 24.5 percent three-point shooter, Shepard has made five of his last 10 shots from deep and 14 of 20 from the free throw line, and as a result, he’s averaging nearly 16 points per game over the past two weeks.

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Morning Five: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 23rd, 2015

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  1. We are hesitant to write off a Rick Pitino-coached team, but the announcement by Louisville yesterday that Chris Jones had been dismissed from the team should take away any (slim) hope they had of making a title run. The timing of the announcement–a day after Jones returned from an indefinite suspension that lasted one game to lead the team in a comeback win over Miami with 17 points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists–raises a lot of questions about what happened in less than 24 hours that could have led to his dismissal. For the Cardinals, a team already lacking scoring depth the dismissal of Jones (13.7 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game) is a crippling blow that probably limits their potential to a second weekend team although if they make it to Indianapolis it would not be the first time that Rick Pitino has surprised us.
  2. It was an interesting weekend for coaching outbursts. The more notable event happened at North Carolina where Roy Williams criticized fans on Saturday for their lack of understanding of his decision to run Four Corners as a tribute to Dean Smith and their overall apathetic nature. On some level, we can agree with Williams as UNC crowd’s are notoriously quiet (“Wine and Cheese”), but it is always dangerous to criticize the paying customers. Tim Miles took a slightly different approach as he banned the Nebraska players from entering the locker room or lounge and prevented them from speaking to the media after their 28-point loss at home to Iowa on Sunday. With the way that the team has performed this year (going from a NCAA Tournament team to one that won’t even get into any of the postseason tournaments) we can understand his frustration, but antagonizing your entire team probably isn’t the best approach.
  3. After having to sit out 61 days following an incident where he collapsed on the court, Dwayne Polee II returned to the court for San Diego State on Saturday night. Although Polee only scored 3 points in 13 minutes his return after being worked up extensively and diagnosed with an arrhythmia was a special moment for Polee and the crowd. Polee, the 2013-14 Mountain West Conference Sixth Man of the Year, was averaging  8.4 points per game so if he can return to close to full strength he could be a huge addition for the Aztecs in March. Although we will always probably nervous about hearing players in this situation return to the court it seems like the physicians in San Diego did a pretty thorough work-up of Polee.
  4. There were a couple of other notable announcements involving players over the weekend outside of Chris Jones. Aaron Cosby, who is still indefinitely suspended, announced that he will be transferring after the season and utilizing the graduate transfer waiver. Cosby, who played two years at Seton Hall before transferring to Illinois, was averaging 7.8 points per game, but doing it on absolutely atrocious shooting (29.3% from the field). Although graduate transfers are usually coveted since they can play right away and have experience we are not sure how interested programs will be in a highly inefficient player who is transferring while suspended. At Tennessee, freshman forward Jabari McGhee will redshirt this season as he continues to rehab from surgery on his right foot. McGhee, who was averaging 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds, injured the foot on December 17 and underwent surgery two days later. Instead of risking further injury, McGhee is planning on taking a medical redshirt and given the Volunteers recent tailspin it would make sense not to bring him back this year anyways.
  5. Perhaps Syracuse can try to get NCAA investigators off their case by pretending this entire season didn’t happen including Saturday’s fiasco where they retired Roosevelt Bouie‘s jersey, but presented him with a plaque that included a jersey with his name misspelled as it read “Bowie” instead of Bouie. The school did manage to spell his name right on the jersey hanging from the rafters, but it is still another embarrassing incident for the school although one that is not as likely to carry repercussions as significant as what the NCAA might hand down for their other errors. In the end, this will probably just result in Bouie getting a replacement jersey and plenty of individuals (mostly from Georgetown) having a good laugh.
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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 10th, 2015

Team of the Week

Air Force – Maybe it is proof of the power of the home-court in the Mountain West (note that Ken Pomeroy carves out an altitude exception here to the declining value of the home court). Maybe it was visiting teams overlooking the previously 2-8 Falcons, a team run down by injuries. Maybe it was just plain old college basketball craziness. But, whatever the case, Air Force invited both New Mexico and Wyoming into Clune Arena this weekend and sent both those teams packing with losses. Against the Lobos on Wednesday, they scored the final nine points of the game, holding New Mexico scoreless for nearly seven minutes down the stretch, to pull out the close win. Then over the weekend, they absolutely put it to a Larry Nance-less Wyoming squad on the way to a 23-point victory. While they’ve struggled with injuries all year long, the Falcons are now about as healthy as they’re going to get this year and seem intent on making the most of it.

Dave Pilipovich and Air Force Are Riding High After A 2-0 Week (Isaiah Downing, USA Today)

Dave Pilipovich and Air Force Are Riding High After A 2-0 Week (Isaiah Downing, USA Today)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – There were quite a few other solid candidates for this honor this week (Marek Olesinski, J.J. Avila, Rashad Vaughn and Marks’ own teammates James Webb for starters). But really, as long as Marks keeps playing as well as he currently is, I’m just going to keep him penciled in about this spot. This week, his numbers actually dipped a bit, as the length and athleticism of San Diego State gave him trouble on Sunday and held him below a 100 offensive rating for the first time since January 10. Still, Marks manufactured 19 points in a variety of ways and kept the Broncos rolling on their way to the team’s seventh-straight win. For the week, Marks average 21 points, five boards, a couple assists and a couple steals while shooting it at a 56.9 eFG%.

Newcomer of the Week

Rashad Vaughn, Fr, UNLV – The final result certainly wasn’t what Runnin’ Rebel fans wanted, as a one-point loss at Colorado State in one of the more entertaining games of the season left UNLV out in the cold. But Vaughn was spectacular early and often throughout this game, scoring 30 points on 21 field goal attempts, including six three-pointers. For the year, Vaughn sits behind only Marks among conference players in scoring average.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

UNLV – With a 2-0 week, including a road win against in-state rival Nevada, the Runnin’ Rebels got back to 4-5 in the first half of conference play. The young and talented group certainly has underachieved to this point, but each of their conference losses has been decided by two possessions or less. And with a three-game winning streak as the team takes the turn, and with opponents like Fresno State, Boise State, Wyoming and San Diego State all due a visit to the Thomas & Mack, Dave Rice’s club could be ready to turn things around down the stretch.

Following Five Conference Losses Decided By Two Possessions Or Less, UNLV And Christian Wood Could Change Their Second Half Luck (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Following Five Conference Losses Decided By Two Possessions Or Less, UNLV And Christian Wood Could Change Their Second Half Luck (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Player of the Week

Christian Wood, So, UNLV – The 6’11” sophomore, once considered a soft, perimeter-bound wanna-be just got done posting double-doubles number 11 and 12 this week, averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 boards in this week’s games. For the season, he’s not only putting up 14.4 points and 9.5 boards, but he’s boosted his shooting numbers, turned up the gas on the defensive end and found a way to earn his 70+% free throw shooting to the line at a higher rate. We’d sure still love to see him launch his 20-something-percent three-point shot far less often (he’s jacking better than two and a half threes per contest), but the light is beginning to click on for Wood.

Newcomer of the Week

Malik Pope, Fr, San Diego State – Averages of just eight points and four boards in 18 minutes per game don’t begin to do justice to the energy that the 6’10” frehman has brough to the Aztecs in his recent emergence. In the four consecutive games now that Pope has played 17 or more minutes as part of the regular rotation for Steve Fisher, San Diego State has average 1.12 points per possession. His ability to knock in threes (he’s 11/22 from deep on the year) or put the ball on the deck and go dunk on someone gives this offense some punch they sorely needed.

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