CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.

Player of the Week

Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian, Fresno Bee)

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)

Newcomer of the Week

Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 23rd, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

Nine teams, six in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament invitation, four with a good claim on a Top 25 spot — It is safe to say that the Mountain West, while maybe not having the elite teams that the Big Ten does, is the most competitive conference in the country from top to bottom. We’ve had three overtime games in two weeks and another five games decided by single figures. And, just when you’re ready to count out one team (like for instance, Air Force following a 39-point loss at Colorado State), they bounce back and score a big win (like those Falcons did against Boise State over the weekend). Conversely, we’ve seen a team like UNLV score a major road win over their biggest rival, San Diego State, then come back and struggle on the road. While the road environments in this conference are brutal, so far we’ve seen road teams have good success (road teams have won six of the 16 conference games played), such that it is looking like specific match-ups and timing may have as big of an impact on the outcomes of games as venue does. Two weeks in, everybody in the conference has at least one win and everybody, save for conference-leading New Mexico, has at least one loss. In other words, buckle up, because it is going to be a wild ride, and in all likelihood, this conference is not going to be settled until the final week of the regular season.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Colorado State – After taking intra-state rival Air Force out behind the woodshed on Wednesday, the Rams welcomed UNLV into Moby Arena on Saturday for the headlining MW game of the weekend. Despite Colton Iverson’s offensive struggles and Wes Eikmeier’s foul trouble, CSU rode Dorian Green’s offensive explosion (24 points, including four threes, along with five assists and five boards) to its second straight win over the Rebels. The Rams hit 10 straight free throws in the final four minutes of the game and held UNLV to just two points on six possessions to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point win.

With Colton Iverson Struggling And Wes Eikmeier In Foul Trouble, Dorian Green Had His Best Game Of The Year (Dawn Madura, The Coloradoan)

With Colton Iverson Struggling And Wes Eikmeier In Foul Trouble, Dorian Green Had His Best Game Of The Year (Dawn Madura/The Coloradoan)

Player of the Week

Anthony Marshall, Senior, UNLV – While Air Force’s Michael Lyons had the game of the week in the conference (37 ridiculously efficient points against Boise on Saturday), Marshall was the most consistent performer this week, averaging 20.5 points, four assists, seven rebounds and two steals while willing his Rebels to a road win at San Diego State. After the Rebels went more than five minutes without scoring, and in the process turned a nine-point lead into a three-point deficit, Marshall took over, scoring nine of the next 13 Rebels points and getting the lead back. Marshall followed that game up with an equally impressive effort against CSU, scoring 15 second half points in trying to earn his Rebels a secondstraight conference road win.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 9th, 2013

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

Conference Round-up

It was a pretty quiet week on the hardwood around the conference, with just nine total games played by conference teams, eight of which resulted in wins, with six of those wins decided by an average of 27.3 points. Air Force absorbed the lone loss by getting drilled at Richmond, while Wyoming completed its perfect pre-conference slate by squeaking past SMU in Dallas. Elsewhere, Colorado State notched a couple of solid home wins by taking care of UTEP and St. Bonaventure.

The most intrigue in the conference over the past week came again in the court of conference realignment as the possibility of San Diego State remaining in the conference after this season is still up in the air. Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune has the most comprehensive rundown of the decision facing SDSU and the Mountain West, and after reading that, I’d put the odds somewhere south of 50% that the Aztecs will be playing in the MW come 2013-14. But, the odds are still higher than they were before Boise State opted to remain in the conference. Regardless of which way the Aztecs decide, it is probably a pretty good bet that if the Mountain West exists in some form a decade from now, it will look much, much different than it does now. Regardless of whether the conference’s giving in to Boise’s demands for special treatment turns out to be a good decision or bad, the odds are strong that it will cause some problems down the road. The Mountain West was formed when the 16-team WAC proved unsavory to some of the conference’s elite teams; it’s possible that somewhere in the future, further upheaval spawns a new home for many of the current MW teams.

San Diego State And The Show Are A Hot Basketball Commodity, But Is This Their Last Mountain West Season?

San Diego State And The Show Are A Hot Basketball Commodity, But Is This Their Last Mountain West Season?

Putting all of that aside for now, good times await for the Mountain West. Conference play tips off tonight and with six teams eyeing potential NCAA Tournament consideration, we’re in for yet another great season. Further down, we’ll take a look at what each team has accomplished in the non-conference slate, and what they need to improve upon from here on out.

Reader’s Take

Team of the Week

Wyoming – The Cowboys only played one game this week, and that one game was against an SMU team that has a 22-point loss to Rhode Island and a 13-point neutral-site loss to Arkansas-Little Rock on its resume. But in going to Dallas and emerging with a hard-fought three-point win, the Cowboys put the finishing touches on a perfect 13-0 non-conference slate, good for the best start in the history of the program. Just how good the Cowboys are in relation to the rest of the conference, let alone the rest of the nation, remains to be seen. A home win over Colorado and a road win at Illinois State are nice pieces, but more significant tests await.

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CIO…the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2013

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

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

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Rushed Reactions: New Mexico 55, #10 Cincinnati 54

Posted by rtmsf on December 27th, 2012

rushedreactions

Some quick thoughts from tonight’s inter-regional battle between New Mexico and Cincinnati

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Unbeaten No More. Cincinnati is #8 in the AP Poll, #8 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll, and #10 in the RTC Poll this week, but we are not sure anyone actually believed the Bearcats were that good or if simply the momentum of an unbeaten campaign had put them there. They play hard and defend well, but this is a guard-heavy, flawed team. And when the guards are not hitting — the starting backcourt of Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker went 14-of-42 including an astonishing six total makes from inside the arc — Cincinnati has a lot of trouble scoring. The good news for Mick Cronin\’s team is that his squad can put the flawless record behind them as Big East play approaches. His team is good enough to finish in the top quarter of the league this season, but they have to find a way to get more balance in their offense (11 points from the front line) before we will see them pushing the upward boundaries of the polls again.
  2. Still Uncertain About New Mexico. Steve Alford’s squad is a tough team to get a read on this season. They have beaten a bunch of good-not-great teams but it is tough to discern what they actually do very well. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams are certainly capable players, but neither will take a game over in the same way that some of the other stars in the Mountain West will. Their defense and length was solid tonight, but they were playing a smallish, guard-oriented team in the Bearcats. They appear well-coached, but it\’s difficult to say how much that will matter against conference foes that already know who they are dealing with. The gut says that the Lobos are an NCAA Tournament team again — probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a #7-#10 seed — but that they are not quite in the same class with UNLV and San Diego State this season.
  3. Impressive Effort From New Mexico’s Role Players. Everyone is familiar with the talents of Lobo stars like Tony Snell and Kendall Williams (who combined for 26 points and six rebounds), but I also came away impressed with the skill and effort level of two of New Mexico’s lesser-known players, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Neither is the type of player for whom you run offensive sets, but both guys exhibited a knack for getting their hands on the ball near the basket, resulting in 22 points, 13 rebounds and an untold number of tips, scrapes, and clear-outs with their aggressive dispositions.

Star of the Game. Alex Kirk, New Mexico. As mentioned above, Kirk’s activity around the basket was impressive enough tonight on its own merits, but his proper positioning to maneuver in place to reject Sean Kilpatrick’s long jumper attempt with two seconds remaining ensured the big road win for the Lobos. Throw in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds and countless hustle points, and it was clear that the seven-foot sophomore was the difference in tonight’s game.

Quotable.

  • “I thought I had him… I coulda drove him left but I didn’t.” – Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, referring to the final play of the game where his long jumper was blocked by Alex Kirk.
  • “Sorry I’m late, I had to talk to Coach Knight. I wasn’t leaving until he said I was finished.” – New Mexico head coach Steve Alford, proving that a quarter-century of time doesn’t always change relationships.
  • “That’s why you gotta be able to dance to every dance.” – Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, on playing different styles successfully.

Sights and Sounds. For much of the game Cincinnati fans’ eyes and ears were split between the game on the court and the school’s football team playing Duke in the Belk Bowl. With all the plasma screens in the luxury boxes tuned to the football game, it was easy enough for much of the crowd to keep tabs on the Bearcats’ gridiron fortunes. When arena staff flashed that UC had taken a seven-point lead with a minute remaining, Fifth Third Arena erupted.

What’s Next. The immediate future gets no easier for either team, as both squads will suit up on New Year’s Eve for tough road games. Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh for its AFC Central Big East opener, while New Mexico continues its tour of the Midwest by traveling to St. Louis.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on November 20th, 2012

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

A Look Back

Let’s be honest. There hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot of worthwhile games on the Mountain West schedule thus far. New Mexico got a piece of Davidson during ESPN’s 24-Hour Marathon, then got three solid games in the Virgin Islands at the Paradise Jam (much more on that below), but beyond that, the only real primo television game was San Diego State and Syracuse playing in slightly better conditions than I play on most days during the summer. Still, we got our first look at some new freshmen (Anthony Bennett – good, Winston Shepard – interesting, Cameron Michael – surprising), some new transfers (Colton Iverson – good, Bryce Dejean-Jones – interesting, Allen Huddleston – surprising) and a couple of new teams (Fresno State and Nevada, who happen to have the only two losses in the conference aside from that immediately discounted SDSU game).

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

New Mexico – While everybody nationally has been talking about UNLV and San Diego State, the Lobos – the defending regular season and tournament champions in the conference – have flown under the radar. Yet, here they are with a 4-0 record, a Paradise Jam championship and arguably the conference’s best wins in the bag. Replacing Drew Gordon is going to be a collective effort as the season goes on, but not only are big guys Alex Kirk, Cameron Bairstow and freshman Nick Banyard ready to chip in any way possible, but perimeter guys like Hugh Greenwood and Kendall Williams will lend a hand on the glass as well. They certainly haven’t been pretty wins so far, but this is just a group of winners with a knack for getting things done, one way or another.

Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico

It Wasn’t Always Pretty, But Hugh Greenwood and New Mexico Earned The Paradise Jam Title Over Connecticut (Thomas Layer)

Player of the Week

Tony Snell, Junior, New Mexico – Last year, Tony Snell’s offensive game was little more than three-point attempts either in spot-up situations or running off of a screen. Almost 70% of his field goal attempts came from behind the arc. Thus far this year, Snell has shown a much more varied attack, even taking his man off the dribble from time to time. While he’s not exactly hitting shots at an exceptionally high rate early on (46.2 eFG% through four games), he’s leading the team with 17.5 points per game, has shown a good ability to find open teammates and continues to use his length to be a frustrating defensive opponent. Oh, and he’s hit a big shot or two, as we’ll get to shortly.

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Get to Know Them: Ten Players Ready to Break Out This Season

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 2nd, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Every college basketball season brings a new cast of stars. There are freshman, the super-prospects hyped up to disproportionate levels who may or may not live up to their billing. Then there are the returning players, the guys who showed flashes of stardom the previous season and are ready to truly hit their stride after an offseason honing their games. Highlighting these players doesn’t require much insight or deep thought. You know a star when you see one. Discovering under-the-radar gems, the diamonds in the rough, the players who emerge from the depths of the unknown to make a splash on the national stage, is another matter entirely. It requires a comprehensive knowledge of the game – and not just the Kentuckys and the North Carolinas and the Dukes of the world. You know those guys. The focus here is the more unheralded crop of players ready to make the leap into the general college hoops consciousness. What follows is my vain attempt at singling out those very players I described above. You may not know these names now, but by the time March rolls around, my bet is that you will.

*Editor’s note: you will notice there are no freshmen on this list. That is no mistake. This list is geared towards returning players. If you’re interested in a more freshmen-centric preview analysis, check out this list of newcomers who are “ready to play big roles on their new teams.”

Rotnei Clarke – Butler

The Bulldogs three-point shooting will improve immensely with Clarke joining the fold (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Relative to recent history, Butler did not have the best 2011-12 season. Let’s not sell the Bulldogs short: They reached the semifinals of a national postseason tournament for the third straight season. Only this time, it wasn’t the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Butler got bounced in the semifinals of the CBI, a huge downturn from the two preceding Final Four trips. Butler may never again string together that level of Tournament success, but Clarke gives Brad Stevens’ team a much better chance than it had last season. Plain and simple, Clarke, who made 91 of 208 three-point attempts in 2010-11 (he sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas), can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. And what does Butler desperately need as it enters its debut season in the A-10? Long-range shooting, where last season it finished ranked 341st in three-point field goal percentage.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Georgia

Basically any chance Georgia has of challenging in the SEC this season and making a push for an NCAA bid rests on Caldwell-Pope, whose freshman season was something of a disappointment considering the McDonalds All-American hype he brought to Athens. With a year of experience under his belt, and a greater chance to showcase his talents without being comparatively dwarfed by the likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Caldwell-Pope should blossom. Georgia doesn’t offer much help in terms of solid complementary players, so Pope will be asked to carry the load. Kentucky and Missouri are heavy favorites to challenge for the SEC crown this season, but if Pope plays to his recruiting promise, the Bulldogs are more than capable of notching a few wins against the league front-runners. NBA scouts are already drooling over the 6’4’’ guard’s potential. He’ll make good on those claims this season.

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RTC Summer School: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Mountain West.

Drew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. You can also find his musings on Twitter @amurawa.

Three Summer Storylines

  • Tectonic Movement Continues. For the second straight year, the landscape of the MW shifts. Last year it was BYU and Utah heading off to greener pastures with Boise State landing in their place. This year TCU is on its way out the door with Fresno State and Nevada on their way in. And next year Boise State and San Diego State will depart with San Jose State and Utah State coming in. All in all, this will still be a good basketball conference even after all these moving parts settle, but the loss of a rapidly improving Aztec program will be tough for MW fans to take. TCU and Boise State certainly aren’t major losses on the basketball side, but the strength of their football programs could have provided stability for the conference and the potential for improved programs on the hardwood. Between the four newcomers, each of Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State have had good runs over the course of a handful of years, but they’ll all need to prove their ability to compete with more established programs like UNLV and New Mexico, while SJSU figures to step directly into the basement of the conference.

  • The Mtn. Crumbles. On May 31, The Mtn., the Mountain West’s television network, went dark, ceasing all operations after six years. Now, say what you will about the network, a channel that eschewed HD programming, struggled with distribution and had issues with their on-air talent, but the shuttering of its doors leaves some questions for MW hoops fans. In the era of The Mtn., if you wanted to follow MW hoops, it was easy to do so. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how much exposure teams from this conference will get during the year. Sure, the MW still has deals in place to get games shown on NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but what about that Air Force/Boise State game on some random February Wednesday? Should you want to watch that game and you’re not in Idaho or Colorado, odds are pretty good you’re going to be out of luck.
  • Continued Success? For all the uncertainty about the membership of the conference, the last three years have been something of the golden age of Mountain West basketball. In the past three seasons, the MW has received 11 NCAA Tournament berths. Two years ago there were dual Sweet Sixteen appearances by BYU and SDSU. We’ve had Jimmer and Kawhi grab national headlines, while other guys like Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, Billy White and Drew Gordon, D.J. Gay and Hank Thorns, Andy Ogide and Malcolm Thomas have kept us all entertained. But, even with all of those players now gone, there is still plenty to be excited about in the conference. San Diego State and UNLV lead the way again, with both expected to start the season in the preseason Top 25. New Mexico and Colorado State, who joined the Aztecs and Rebels in the Big Dance last year, both should be in the hunt for another tourney bid, while Nevada could be a sleeper in its first season in the conference. And, as always, we could be in for another surprise or two.

Reader’s Take #1

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Bracket Prep: Louisville, New Mexico, Ohio, & Mississippi Valley State

Posted by EJacoby on March 11th, 2012

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. In this post, we have your Big East, Mountain West, MAC, and SWAC conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.

Louisville

Peyton Siva was Named Big East Tournament MVP (AP Photo/F. Franklin)

  • Big East Champion (26-9, 14-8)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#20/#18
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Louisville might be one of the toughest teams in America to project for the NCAA Tournament, by virtue of the fact that they’ve had such a schizophrenic season full of ups and downs. After winning 11 games in a row to start the season, the Cardinals then dropped five of seven. Then, after going on another hot streak to win six Big East games in a row, Louisville dropped four of its final six regular season contests before its most recent four-game surge to win the Big East Tournament. So which team should we expect to show up next week? The story will be told in the type of opponent that Rick Pitino‘s team draws.
  2. Louisville has almost no offensive firepower to speak of — six players average between nine and 14 points per game, but they can’t shoot straight (48% from two; 31% from three) and have trouble avoiding long scoring droughts — rather, the Cardinals have won 26 games through its exceptionally tough defense (ranked #2 in defensive efficiency). They cause over 15 turnovers per game and force teams into tough shots both on the interior and beyond the three-point line. In the Cardinals’ last 10 games, their opponent has only reached 60 points three times. It’s somewhat instructive, though, that Louisville went 6-4 in those games because they broke the 60-point barrier only four times themselves.
  3. We’d suggest that you be careful in presuming that a Big East Tournament champion is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament just because they’re the Big East champion. Marquette was the only solid offensive team that the Cards defeated this week, and they’re likely to face teams that can really cause them some problems in the first two rounds. As a potential #4 or #5 seed, Louisville could be matched up against a dangerous team like Long Beach State (and Casper Ware) in the first game and a team like Creighton (and Doug McDermott) in the next round. While Pitino’s defense is likely to keep the Cards in either game, they’ll have significant trouble scoring enough points down the stretch to pull out a victory, while the other teams have players who can make plays. For that reason, this is a team that you’ll want to think carefully about putting deep into your bracket — the Cardinals can be successful playing other offensively-challenged teams, but those teams tend to not play very far into March and will be few and far between.

New Mexico

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Championship Saturday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Saturday night’s Mountain West Championship game between San Diego State and New Mexico provided plenty of great storylines: the two regular season co-champions meeting in a rubber match; the two-time defending tournament champion Aztecs against a Lobo team that hadn’t won this tournament since 2005, when Ritchie McKay was still the head coach; and the battle between the top two candidates for the conference Player of the Year, the winner, Jamaal Franklin and the jilted, Drew Gordon.

Gordon had made no bones about the fact all week that he felt he deserved the individual honor and that other awards, such as Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth-Man of the Year, should have wound up in Lobo hands, and he played with a chip on his shoulder all weekend, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament on his way to the Most Outstanding Player award. But the win on Saturday night was a total team affair. Tony Snell got things off on the right track, scoring the first five points of the game and turning in his third straight double-digit scoring game after slumping through February. Freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood continued his do-whatever-it-takes style and contributed ten boards and a couple threes. And bench players Phillip McDonald, Demetrius Walker, and Cameron Bairstow all made major contributions. McDonald, who has lost minutes this season as Snell and Walker have stepped up, came off the pine and had a three, an assist, a rebound and drew a charge, all in his first couple minutes of action. Bairstow battled on the boards and at one point scored six straight points for the Lobos. And Walker, despite not making a field goal, provided energy and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon, The Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Is Mobbed By New Mexico Fans

But more than anything else, this win was about the New Mexico defense. They held San Diego State to 0.86 points per possession (the number was quite a bit lower than that until Chase Tapley went nuts late) and at times in the second half just completely froze the Aztecs out in the paint. Kendall Williams took San Diego State point Xavier Thames completely out of rhythm and Snell helped frustrate James Rahon into an 0-for-8 shooting night. Franklin, meanwhile, was hounded into six-of-14 shooting and six turnovers. And, despite wrapping up their semifinal game late in the evening on Friday night, the Lobos never showed fatigue and kept competing (and hard) right to the final whistle. They were consistently first to loose balls and always scrapping and making multiple attempts at rebounds.

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Semifinal Friday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Less than two minutes into the nightcap on semifinal Friday night, New Mexico found itself in a hole, down 12-0 to UNLV on the Rebels’ home court, a place where UNLV had not lost since last year’s Mountain West Tournament. Not only were they clicking on all cylinders (they had gotten threes from Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall and a couple of old-fashioned three-point plays from Oscar Bellfield), but the Lobos looked awful, struggling to do simple things like catch the ball. But the Lobos responded. “They gave us a good punch in the face right there to start the game,” said head coach Steve Alford. “But there’s a lot of game left.  They scored 17 points in the first three minutes of the half, then only scored 17 points the last 17 minutes of the half.  After that initial barrage of points, we settled down and played extremely good defense.” The Lobos packed their defense in, dared the Rebels to hit threes against them, and that dare paid off. UNLV started three-for-three from deep in the first four minutes, then made just five of their 21 attempts over the final 36 minutes. UNM didn’t try to force anything defensively (in fact, they forced just three turnovers on the night), but made the Rebels have to score over them.

Demetrius Walker, New Mexico

Demetrius Walker Helped The Lobos Climb Out Of An Early Hole (AP)

More importantly, however, the Lobos dominated the Rebels inside. Led by RTC MW Player of the Year Drew Gordon (who hit eight of 10 field goal attempts on his way to 19 points and 13 boards), New Mexico grabbed 85% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 26.9% on the offensive end, while outscoring the Rebels in the paint, 30-18. Senior Brice Massamba was generally solid for UNLV, scoring six points and adding nine rebounds before fouling out after 34 minutes, but the rest of their frontcourt was largely absent. Mike Moser had solid stretches at the start and at the end of the game, but was largely invisible in the middle three-quarters of the game, winding up with just three rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Senior Chace Stanback hit a three on the first offensive possession of each half, but beyond that produced almost literally nothing (one point, one rebound and one assist the rest of the game), a concern as the Rebels head to the NCAA Tournament next week.

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Checking In On… The Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on February 28th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

A week ago, we were all but ready to hand New Mexico the regular season title and the #1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Two road losses later, the Lobos have given back their two-game lead and with two conference games remaining on everybody’s schedule, we have five teams within two games of the first place. But, primarily, we are back to where we were after the first run through the conference: three teams (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tied atop the conference standings, each looking like a good team, but none looking great.

Still, despite the tumult at the top of the conference, all three of those teams look like absolute locks to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament (and pretty good seeds at that). UNLV leads the way with an RPI of 11, while SDSU and UNM are among a bunch of MW teams with RPIs in the late 20s or early 30s. The big question in the conference revolves around the third of those teams, Colorado State, which sits ahead of the other two with an RPI of 27 (SDSU is at 28, UNM at 34).

However, a closer look at the Rams find them sitting squarely on the bubble. They have a couple really good wins over SDSU and UNM, but those two games are the entirety of their positives. Beyond that they have some middling wins over RPI 51-100 teams and an unfortunate last second loss to Boise State (RPI 166) dragging them down. However, compare them to say, BYU, South Florida, Washington, or Arizona – all teams with whom the Rams are ostensibly competing for a spot, and CSU’s got a slightly better set of numbers going for them. See below, where we compare CSU to other bubble teams in record, RPI, strength of schedule, and record against various subsets of the RPI (with the best numbers in each column in bold). In RPI and SOS, the Rams have clearly better numbers than anybody else on this list, while their record against top-50 RPI teams is behind only Dayton and Saint Joseph’s here.

Team Record RPI SOS vs. RPI 1-25 vs. RPI 1-50 vs. RPI +100
Colorado State 16-10 26 5 0-3 2-5 10-2
Arizona 21-9 71 110 0-2 1-3 17-1
BYU 22-7 50 113 1-3 1-5 17-2
Dayton 18-10 60 54 2-0 3-3 10-3
Miami 17-10 47 38 2-4 2-7 13-0
Northwestern 17-11 40 10 1-6 2-9 11-0
Oregon 20-8 52 79 0-1 0-5 18-1
South Florida 17-11 45 30 0-5 1-7 12-3
St. Joseph’s 19-11 51 34 1-1 2-5 12-3
Washington 20-8 53 81 0-2 0-4 17-0

 

As for TCU, the team that is almost the hottest team in the conference, having won four of five including wins over Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico, with only a last-second loss to Boise State as a recent blemish … they’re a good story, but even with four wins against top-50 RPI teams, they need to win the Mountain West Tournament to have a chance to go dancing.

Team of the Week

TCU – As mentioned above, the Horned Frogs are 4-1 in their last five games, with only a heartbreaking last-second loss to Boise State a week ago as a strike against them. This week, Jim Christian’s club went to Colorado Springs and, using an Amric Fields three-pointer with 18 seconds left, knocked off Air Force at Clune Arena. They followed that up by welcoming New Mexico into Fort Worth on Saturday and outfighting and outshooting the Lobos. Six different Frogs hit three-pointers, J.R. Cadot outworked Drew Gordon on the offensive glass and Hank Thorns dished out nine assists as TCU battled New Mexico to a draw on the boards and outgunned them from the field (they had a true shooting percentage of 63.1%). As a result, TCU sits just a game back of the three leaders in the conference and with a visit from SDSU scheduled for Saturday, they have a fighting chance of moving up the leaderboard even further.

Player of the Week

Jamaal Franklin, Sophomore, San Diego State – With apologies to TCU’s J.R. Cadot (15.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG), we are going to reward Franklin for his transcendent game while willing his Aztecs over CSU on Saturday night. In that game, Franklin went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds (the latter a new career high, the former tying a career high) and scored 13 of his team’s last 16 points, including going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line after the final media timeout. Coupled with a solid game earlier in the week when coming back from an ankle injury against Wyoming, Franklin, who averaged 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, earned the honor.

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