Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 11th, 2015
With the Mountain West Tournament tipping off today in Las Vegas, let’s get warmed up by offering our season superlatives and previewing what to expect this week in the desert.
Player of the Year
Derrick Marks, Senior, Boise State – Marks averaged better than 20 points per night in conference play, leading his Broncos to their first-ever Mountain West regular season title despite the loss of co-pilot Anthony Drmic prior to conference play. Turning into a prolific and efficient three-point threat in his senior campaign, Marks was not only the conference’s top scorer, but he did a little of everything for the Broncos — turning up his game defensively; acting as a valuable conduit for the team’s offense; performing as a locker room leader.
Derrick Marks’ Game Blew Up In His Senior Year (AP Photo)
G Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State (19.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.9 SPG) – If you’re Player of the Year, you’re on the all-conference team, right?
G Marvelle Harris, Jr, Fresno State (16.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – Playing away from the spotlight in the California’s Central Valley, Harris was a versatile scorer for the Bulldogs.
F J.J. Avila, Sr, Colorado State (16.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 57.5 eFG%) – The Rams’ leader in the frontcourt, a physical interior threat with a surprising skill set.
F Larry Nance Jr., Sr, Wyoming (16.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 53.4 eFG%) – For the second straight season, midseason health problems cost the versatile Cowboy a run at conference POY.
F Christian Wood, So, UNLV (15.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.8 BPG) – Eighteen double-doubles and an enhanced offensive game earn Wood a first-team spot despite a lack of team success.
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)
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.
San Diego State Needed This More Than Arizona. And they weren’t able to get it, in large part because of the same old bugaboo that has limited Steve Fisher’s teams the last few seasons: offensive production. From the 9:17 to the 0:18 mark of the second half, the Aztecs scored a grand total of three points on a Skylar Spencer free throw and a Trey Kell jumper. What will cause Steve Fisher to lose even more sleep over this loss tonight is that Arizona only moderately took advantage of the drought (going from a one-point deficit to a six-point lead) — opportunities were there, and Fisher mentioned as much in the postgame press conference. But far too often, the Aztecs simply don’t know what to do with the basketball on the offensive end other than to give it to Winston Shepard (14 points, six rebounds) and ask him to create something. There’s more on a possible remedy to that problem below, but the bigger takeaway here is that this was a winnable game that could have really bolstered the Aztecs’ seed line in March when they have another gaudy record that people are uncertain about. Arizona, on the other hand, will play Gonzaga and Michigan in coming weeks to bolster its bona fides as the Wildcats position themselves for another #1 seed in the West Region.
Stanley Johnson is the Real Deal. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the all-around abilities of Johnson in his Tournament MVP performance, or his relative nonchalance while dominating the action here in Maui. With four California state titles under his belt, Johnson was as well-decorated as they come heading into college. But his demeanor on the floor is so unflappable that, incessant chewing of the mouth guard aside, it belies his relative inexperience in a college uniform. In what was easily the poorest shooting night of his young career (4-14 FG), he still found plenty of ways to impact the game beyond scoring (which he made up for at the line): nine rebounds, including five offensive; three big steals; a block; an assist. Sean Miller said after the game that Johnson has only recently — the last month or so — started to understand what it takes to be successful at this level: “He couldn’t have won Tournament MVP a month ago.” God help us all once he puts it all together. He’s a game-changer in the best possible way.
The Offensive Development of Trey Kell Will Make or Break the Aztecs. San Diego State will beat a bunch of teams with its defense alone, but in order for this group to break through and realistically become a Final Four contender, Fisher needs Trey Kell to become his second reliable scoring threat. Dwayne Polee is a nice third guy in an offense — the kind of player who is best served when defenses aren’t designed to specifically stop him — but Kell showed through three games in Maui that he is more than capable of putting up nice numbers (14.7 PPG on 60% FG and 76% FT) for a team that ranks among the slowest-paced 20 percent of all Division I teams. The question is really whether he can do it reliably. Shepard, as talented and versatile of a player as he is, needs a teammate who can take the offensive pressure off of him, and the freshman clearly has the stones (hitting the big four-point play to give SDSU its final life with 18 seconds remaining) to make a run at it. Mark this down: If Kell becomes an all-Mountain West caliber player this season, San Diego State will play in the NCAA’s second weekend and have a favorable match-up’s chance at the program’s first Final Four.
Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014
Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:
Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?
VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)
The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.
San Diego State… And Everyone Else. Last season it was the Aztecs and New Mexico who fought tooth and nail all season long for conference supremacy until it was decided on the final night of the season in San Diego when a late 26-7 run from the Aztecs erased a 16-point Lobo lead and earned the Aztecs an outright conference title. This year, with those Lobos down their only three double-digit scorers from last season, there is no clear-cut contender to the Aztecs’ throne. San Diego State is the only Mountain West team deserving of consideration for being placed among the top 25 teams in the country and, unless somebody else proves their worth, may be the only team going dancing come March. Sure, Steve Fisher’s crew will have plenty of questions to answer along the way, but given the steadiness of this program in recent years, the Aztecs are significant title favorites in this conference.
San Diego State Looks Like A Strong Bet To Repeat As Conference Champion.
As for the “everyone else” part, Boise State, Colorado State and UNLV appear to be the next group of teams in a tier behind the Aztecs. Maybe one of them can separate itself from the pack and challenge the Aztecs, but each of these teams will rely heavily on newcomers to fill in big gaps on their roster. The Broncos will need production from young frontcourt players to replace the nation’s best offensive rebounder. The Rams have four Division I transfers expected to play big roles. And the Rebels? Well, it isn’t all that much of an overstatement to say that everyone is new.
Taking Care of Non-Conference Business. Last year, the conference got in trouble early when Boise State, UNLV, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada and Wyoming all struggled mightily in non-conference play, coming out of November and December with little or nothing to show for their efforts. If this conference hopes to turn things around this season and get more than just the Aztecs and maybe one other team into the Big Dance, they need to score quality wins early in the season. Keep an eye on these games, for instance: Read the rest of this entry »
It’s the first week in February, and we’re basically halfway through the conference season (believe it or not). So for the most part this week, our Mountain West check-in will be a review of the season to this point combined with look forward, while just touching on a handful of stories from this past week.
First, the conference race. San Diego State remains atop the standings without a blemish in conference play. They’re ranked fifth in the nation and in the RTC25 and in strong contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But New Mexico has just one conference loss and still has two games with the Aztecs remaining on its schedule. A game back of those two, you’ll find the surprise team of conference play – Nevada – sitting at 7-2. How this makes any sense is still unclear as the Wolf Pack were terrible in non-conference play and have looked every bit of their record in conference; they can no longer be regarded as fluky. Despite Nevada’s successful run in conference play, the line for serious contention for at-large consideration in this conference is drawn right between the Lobos and the Wolf Pack. Right now New Mexico looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team; whereas everybody south of the #2 spot in the conference probably needs to win the Mountain West Tournament to get a bid.
Steve Fisher Has His Aztecs Atop The Mountain West Standings And Again Inside the National Top Five. (Gus Ruelas/AP)
As for awards, Coach of the Year is the easy one – Steve Fisher is not only the heavy favorite to win the MW Coach of the Year award, but he’s probably the favorite nationally as well. Despite a less than favorable finish in our ranking of Mountain West coaches last week, Nevada’s David Carter really does deserve at least some consideration.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013
We’ve talked about it a lot around these parts this year, since before the season even began — so many Mountain West teams putting all their eggs in a very small scheduling basket. For instance, Utah State’s only really quality non-conference game was its rivalry game with BYU. After losing that one, it was assured that their best win prior to the calendar flipping over to conference play would be at UC Santa Barbara – a good victory for sure, but not one to pin your NCAA Tournament hopes on. To make matters worse, Utah State backed up that BYU loss with a home loss to Pacific. So now the Aggies sit at 5-2; they’re lucky to have an RPI in the low 40s; and they face the prospect of needing a very strong run through the Mountain West on their first go-round in order to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament talk later this year.
Preston Medlin And Utah State Don’t Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)
Likewise, Boise State went out and put together a schedule not befitting for a squad with borderline Top 25 talent and arguably the best team in school history. Certainly, they’re in the midst of the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, what with a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night followed by a visit from an undefeated Saint Mary’s team on Saturday. But, as could have been expected, the Broncos struck out against the talented Wildcats, getting killed on the glass and at the rim and not being able to find enough good clean looks from deep against their long and athletic guards. Now all their hopes for a quality non-conference win get pinned on Saturday’s game against the Gaels. Again, on the basis of six wins in seven games, the Broncos are fortunate to have an RPI of #40, but with no resume wins in the non-conference, those four conference games against New Mexico and San Diego State in conference will loom large.
You see, it is only the Aztecs and the Lobos who have succeeded in coming away with some quality wins in the non-conference. SDSU has scalps from Creighton and Marquette, while New Mexico’s got UAB and Cincinnati on the wall already, with Kansas in Kansas City looming on Saturday and Marquette up the following Saturday. None of the victims of the Lobos or Aztecs are elite teams, but they’ve at least helped their teams to RPIs of #11 and #17, respectively. At the quarter-pole of the year, those two squads are alone among Mountain West teams on the good side of the resume ledger.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013
Hooray! The Mountain West has its hero. November is in the books and the conference finally has a victory worth crowing about under its collective belt. In fact, San Diego State scored a couple really meaningful wins this week at the Wooden Legacy, knocking off both Creighton and Marquette to earn the tournament title. Still, I for one have yet to put a MW team in my weekly national Top 25. I’ve considered New Mexico previously and have kept them just on the outside looking in. Boise State also remains in the back of my mind, where they’ll stay until they play anybody of note. And the Aztecs were among my final cuts this week. So what leaves SDSU still needing to prove itself? I know they’re going to defend like nuts all year long and stay in games that way, but I just don’t believe that Xavier Thames is going to be able to knock down shots at his current rate forever, and aside from him, there aren’t a whole lot of polished offensive players on this team. Still, there is no denying that the Aztecs have looked awfully good so far this year and are beginning to earn the benefit of my doubt.
Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)
Team of the Week
San Diego State – We’ll get to Thames shortly, but there have been a lot of guys stepping up for this squad who deserve attention. J.J. O’Brien has been the most regular second option for the Aztecs, averaging nearly 14 points per game before a hand injury limited his production on Sunday. Matt Shrigley has emerged from his redshirt year to display not only a nice shooting touch but a good game off the bounce. Winston Shepard has clearly worked on his body and his game in the offseason, and he’s well on his way to becoming a great college player. And true freshman Dakarai Allen is out of the gates with a strong start to his college career. Even if Thames does slow down a bit, there are some options here who could pick up the slack.
This time of year is always preview heavy (we’ll start rolling out our own previews later today), and Athlon Sports breaks down Oregon in this piece. As they point out in the opening, Dana Altman and the Ducks are faced with another quick rebuilding effort, piecing together a roster full of experienced transfers that will keep the Ducks in the top third of the league despite losing key players like E.J. Singler and Arsalan Kazemi. The top priority this October will be finding a player in the post who can make up for the loss of Kazemi’s rebounding ability, and the guy that will get the first crack at it is sophomore Ben Carter. Oregon will take the court on October 27 against Northwest Christian to open its exhibition season and will face Georgetown on November 8 at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, to start regular season play.
Up the road in Corvallis, there are not a lot of preseason previews being published on Craig Robinson‘s Oregon State team, but the omnipotent presidential connection talk still hovers around the program. Robinson embraces it, though, enjoying the publicity that it brings to the school. “The one thing I know is that everybody knows the president’s brother-in-law works for Oregon State University,” said Robinson. “That’s great for a college.” It certainly doesn’t hurt recruiting, but the Beavers head coach will need to start showing better results on the court if he wants to stick around much longer in Corvallis.
California Golden Blogshas spent the last week previewing each facet of the 2013-14 Golden Bears, and this piece takes a look at the group of guards in Berkeley. Senior Justin Cobbs and sophomore Tyrone Wallace are slated to lead Cal at the one and two positions, not a bad combination with Cobbs’ outside shooting and Wallace’s perimeter defense. Click here to view the preview of Cal’s inexperienced post players, and click here to see the outlook on the wings. California opens its regular season on November 8 against Coppin State.
Shhhh. It’s that time of year for secret scrimmages, and one of the better ones this October (as far as we know), featured San Diego State at Stanford on Sunday. We will probably never know a result of the meeting, but if it does come out, know that senior Xavier Thames and sophomore Winston Shepard were questionable for San Diego State in that game. In the regular season, the Aztecs will host Arizona and Washington at Viejas Arena, with the possibility of a meeting with Arizona State in Fullerton.
We close with a fun video from Oregon, made by the Pit Crew student section and starring Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. If you are unfamiliar with the Vine Dunk Cam videos, take a few minutes, check out this one, and this one, and have a good chuckle. Oh, the things we resort to in the offseason.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
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.
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)
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.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.