Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Standings (as of 12/23)
- New Mexico 12-1
- UNLV 12-1
- BYU 12-1
- San Diego State 9-3
- Colorado State 8-4
- Air Force 6-4
- TCU 6-6
- Wyoming 6-6
- Utah 5-7
Team of the Week. BYU – The Cougars split their time this week between Provo and Las Vegas and came out of the week with a Vegas Classic title to show for it. After coasting against Wagner easily at home (especially after a 22-4 run to start the game) and then hanging a 57-point whooping on Eastern Washington, BYU then survived a run-and-gun battle with Nevada before dispatching of Nebraska easily in the final behind torrid shooting as the Cougars shot 67% from field in first half on way to 49-35 halftime lead and 61% shooting for the game.
Players of the Week. Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, BYU. I can’t pick one of these guys and leave the other one unmentioned. Just can’t do it. While both were very quiet in the win over Wagner, each exploded in the Cougars’ three remaining Vegas Classic games, Fredette averaging 26 points and five assists and Emery averaging 21 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and four threes in those three games. These two have become the dynamic duo for a potent BYU offense.
Newcomer of the Week. Chace Stanback, UNLV – Stanback, a transfer from UCLA, has been a steady influence for the Rebels so far this year, doing a little bit of everything to help a guard-heavy team from the frontcourt. This week was no different as he averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game to help UNLV advance to the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawai’i.
Game of the Week. BYU 110, Nevada 104 – The score alone makes this one the easy pick for game of the week, especially when you check out the box score and find that this game didn’t go to a few overtimes like the score suggests. Both teams were on fire all night. BYU shot 63% from the field, Nevada 59%, and the teams combined to go 13-28 from three. But the difference in the game was likely BYU’s ability to hit 27 of their 28 free-throw attempts to hold off the Wolfpack. Three Cougars set career highs in this game, with Fredette going for 33, Emery pouring in 25, and freshman Tyler Haws adding 20.
Games of the Upcoming Week. Texas Tech @ New Mexico – This matchup lost a little bit of its luster when Texas Tech lost its first game of the year against Wichita State last Saturday, and Oral Roberts hung the first loss of the year on the Lobos on Wednesday night, but this still remains a meeting between a 10-1 Red Raider squad and a 12-1 Lobo squad, both of whom like to get up and down the floor and play an exciting brand of basketball. This game could feature some very interesting matchups, with each team’s leading scorers (New Mexico junior Darington Hobson and Texas Tech junior Mike Singletary) figuring to see a lot of each other throughout the game. The toughest matchup for the Red Raiders may be in finding someone to stick with Roman Martinez on the perimeter when the Lobos get penetration from Hobson, junior guard Dairese Gary and others.
For the most part, it was just a really ugly week for the MWC. Aside from BYU’s win in the Vegas Classic and UNLV’s success in the first couple rounds of the Diamond Head Classic (and really, despite their names, neither of the fields at those tournaments deserved the “Classic” label), there was carnage all around. New Mexico survived an upset bid by Creighton, only to slip up at Oral Roberts for their first loss of the year. Utah lost to Illinois State and Pepperdine (yes, Pepperdine, a team who improved their record to 4-10 with that win over Utah). Air Force fell to Northern Arizona. TCU got drilled by Houston. San Diego State looked lost against Arizona State. Colorado State couldn’t take advantage of a weakened UCLA team. And, Wyoming fell apart in the second half at Northern Iowa, and in the process the MWC lost the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (although, given the results, perhaps they ought to switch the conference billings in the title) 5-4.
Looking back: While the next couple New Mexico matchups against Texas Tech and Dayton looked to be far sexier games than this week’s slate, no one expected either a home game against Creighton or a trip to Oral Roberts to be easy. The week got off to a slow start with a tough first half against Creighton with the Lobos shooting 20% in the first half and finding themselves behind by 12 at the break. But the Lobos picked up the effort in the second half, and despite continued cold shooting, fought back to grab an inspired five-point win. Against Oral Roberts, the Lobos got off to a similar slow start, trailing by as much as 14 in the first half, but this time after fighting back to get in the game, their opponent fed off their home crowd and responded with a 10-0 run that provided the eventual margin of the game. While the Lobos are still a dangerous team to face, they will have to turn their shooting around, as team leaders Hobson and Martinez combined to shoot 18/56 from the field in the two games this week.
Looking ahead: New Mexico will get a chance to bounce back against strong competition when the host Texas Tech next Tuesday and then Dayton on New Year’s Day to wrap up a tough non-conference schedule.
Looking back: The Rebels bounced back from their first loss of the season with a grind-it-out victory over Weber State and a blowout of overmatched South Carolina-Upstate to start the week before heading to Hawai’I for the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, where they continued their roll with wins over SMU and Hawai’i. UNLV’s balanced scoring continued as seven different players scored in double figures at least once in these four games. Tre’Von Willis missed the game against SC-Upstate with a sprained ankle, but returned for the first two rounds of the Diamond Head games.
Looking ahead: UNLV will face USC (Southern California, that is, not South Carolina) in the Diamond Head Final on Christmas Day, then doesn’t play another game until opening the conference season on January 6th at BYU.
Looking back: While it was mostly sunshine and flowers for the Cougars this week (as detailed above in the superlatives section), the disappearance of senior Jonathan Tavernari as an offensive threat for this team remains somewhat puzzling. While Tavernari has always been streaky, there usually have been hot streaks to match the cold streaks (often in the same game, or even the same half). Last year he averaged almost 16 ppg and over 7 rpg, but after a slow start to the season, he headed off to the bench and has been heard of very little since then. For instance, as BYU was hanging 91 on Eastern Washington on their way to the biggest win over a D-1 school in the program’s history, Tavernari got off the bench for five quiet minutes. As the Cougars racked up another 110 against Nevada, Tavernari got plenty of time – 29 minutes – but managed only five field goal attempts and four rebounds. While it remains to be seen if he will regain a key role in Dave Rose’s offense, so far it seems like a long fall for a guy who was supposedly considering entering the NBA draft in the offseason.
Looking ahead: BYU travels to Arizona on Monday, then hosts Eastern New Mexico to wrap up its non-conference schedule.
San Diego State
Looking back: The Aztecs had a couple tough road games this week and came away with a split in a pair of tight game. After a game at Arizona State on Saturday, during which the Aztecs struggled to find any consistent offense against the Sun Devil zone, en route to 24 turnovers and a three-point loss despite a furious rally in the second half to scrape back from an 18-point deficit, San Diego State visited Drake on Tuesday for their MWC/MVC Challenge game. The Aztecs controlled the glass (much as they did against Arizona State) and got balanced scoring (really, as they have all season), but needed overtime and some unlikely clutch free throw shooting to outlast Drake, 76-73. Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard continued to be a terror on the glass the week, grabbing 11 rebounds in each game, and juniors Billy White (9.5 rpg this week) and Malcolm Thomas (9 rpg this week) lent a hand.
Looking ahead: The Aztecs have wrapped up the significant portion of their non-conference schedule, as home games against UC Riverside (12/29) and Division III Pomona-Pitzer (12/31) are all that remains before they open conference play on January 9th at Wyoming.
Looking back: The Rams started their week out by extended their winning streak to four with a win over Northern Arizona behind 22 points and six rebounds from junior forward Travis Franklin, and the team’s ability to force NAU into 20 turnovers. However, in a trip to Pauley Pavilion to face struggling UCLA, while the Rams still forced turnovers, they were unable to find a go-to player offensively down the stretch while the Bruins went on a 29-9 run to break open a game that Colorado State had controlled for 31 minutes. The Rams shot a mere 36% from the field in the 2nd half, and allowed a poor UCLA offense to shoot 60% in the same time span, as all five Bruin starter scored in double figures on their way to a 12 point victory.
Looking ahead: Colorado State travels to face Fresno State on Monday, then returns home to host Yale on New Year’s Eve in their final non-conference game of the regular season.
Looking back: Air Force spent the week without leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker, who missed his third consecutive game this week with a groin injury, but were fortunate enough to have junior forward Tom Fow step up with consecutive career highs this week, 15 points in a home loss to Northern Arizona, then 30 points in a win over UC Davis. Senior forward Mike McLain also helped fill the void left by Parker, averaging 8.5 rebounds this week.
Looking ahead: The Falcons travel to El Paso to participate in the Sun Bowl Invitational, where they will face a tough Niagara team in the first round before facing either UTEP or Norfolk State in their second game of the weekend. Although there has been no official word on the status of Parker for the tournament, he could play in both games.
Looking back: TCU’s up-and-down season continued in unspectacular fashion this week with a 27-point win over NAIA member St. Gregory’s, before heading to Houston to get bombed by the Cougars. While senior forward Edvinas Ruzgas was able to light up the lesser competition to the tune of 32 points, Houston was able to hold him to 12 points on 4-12 shooting. Turnovers were a big problem for the Horned Frogs this week, as they coughed it up 20 times against St. Gregory’s and another 18 against the Houston. Possibly more disturbing? Only forcing four turnovers against the up-tempo Cougars.
Looking ahead: TCU hosts Northern Colorado and Rice in the final prep for conference play. While both games are winnable for the Frogs, the Northern Colorado team they’ll meet on New Year’s Eve should not be overlooked.
Looking back: To get right to the point, this Cowboy team is very young. With only one senior on the team and only two upperclassmen, coach Heath Schroyer had to expect some struggles and growing pains early. Well, he’s got exactly what he expected. While the Cowboys have been good enough to beat teams like Northern Colorado and Loyola Marymount earlier in the season and South Dakota this week, they have only been good enough to hang with the stronger programs for 20 minutes before falling off in the second half. The Cowboys displayed this tendency against Tennessee last week, and repeated it last night at Northern Iowa. Wyoming hung right with the Panthers for one half, then got outscored by 17 in the second half on the way to an 18-point loss. Afam Muojeke led the Cowboys with 19.5 ppg this week, even tossed in five threes against South Dakota, but Wyoming is still struggling in the half court offense, accounting for only three assists (with no one recording more than one assist) compared to 17 turnovers against Northern Iowa.
Looking ahead: Wyoming hosts Akron and Adams State in the final tune-ups of the non-conference schedule.
Looking back: Utah’s struggles continued this week as they dropped both of their games, extending their losing streak to three. To top it off, the Utes lost sophomore center David Foster to an ankle sprain in the first of those losses (at home to Illinois State) and missed junior forward Jay Watkins in both games due to an abdominal strain. If there was good news this week, it was the strong play of junior guard Carlon Brown, normally a starter for the Utes who came off the bench in both games this week. Brown shot the ball well in both games and averages 18 points per game this week, but has the tendency to play out of control at times and turn the ball over. While turnovers have been a problem for the Utes, the only real consistency they’ve had at all this season is in the inconsistency. They have struggled shooting at times (including 4-19 3pt shooting against Illinois State), they have struggled on the glass (getting outrebounded by Pepperdine in their game last night 45-26, and 18-9 on the offensive glass), they have struggled defensively at times and they have struggled with ballhandling.
Looking ahead: The Utes get a chance to right the ship by hosting Texas-San Antonio on Tuesday, then travel to Baton Rouge for a matchup with LSU on January 2nd to wrap up their non-conference schedule