Rushed Reactions: #5 Northern Iowa 71, #12 Wyoming 54

Posted by Andrew Murawa 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.

Seth Tuttle and The Panthers May Not Look Like A Top-20 Basketball Team, But They Are (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) )

Seth Tuttle and The Panthers May Not Look Like A Top-20 Basketball Team, But They Are (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) )

  1. Seth Tuttle, Legit. Northern Iowa’s senior big man is not a household name among non-diehard college basketball fans although he dominated against Wichita State in his first big regular season close-up. But in his first NCAA Tournament game, he put on a show for a national television audience, displaying his versatile and disruptive game. Wanna see the 6’8” center run the offense out of the high post? Look no further than his beautiful first-half dime to Jeremy Morgan (who missed the layup). Wanna see his traditional big man moves? He sealed off the longer and more athletic Larry Nance, Jr., received the lob pass and put in an easy dunk. Worried that at just 6’8” he might not be able to do that against a bigger defender? Just watch him step out to the three-point line and drill one from deep. Defensively, he’s physical, disciplined and smart, anticipating the opponent’s plays. In short, he may not be as used to the spotlight as some of the guys in major conferences, but he’s as good of a college basketball player as I’ve seen this year.
  2. Physical, Disciplined, Experienced. You watch Northern Iowa go through the layup line in the pregame and you’re sort of unimpressed. A couple lanky and unexplosive guys in the 6’8” to 6’9” range, average athleticism, small guards. And then the ball is tipped; they run their offense through Tuttle and little point guard Wes Washpun; they clamp down on defense; they pound away on the glass; they exploit defenses to find open shooters. And they’re incredibly well-coached by head coach Ben Jacobson. What does the opponent want to do? Okay, let’s not let them do that. Today it was getting the ball out of Josh Adams’ hands (he scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting) — forcing Larry Nance to either shoot jumpers or go left — and make everybody else beat them. They may not be members of the all-airport team, but these guys can beat a lot of teams in this field. And they certainly won’t beat themselves.
  3. Wyoming Second-Half Life. At the halfway mark, Northern Iowa was up 11 and the Cowboys were fortuntate to be that close. The Panthers came out of the locker room and put together a quick 8-0 run and the next thing you know they were up 21 points and the game was over. Wyoming had shown no life. Larry Nance Jr. had two field goal attempts, two turnovers, two fouls and one point. And then, over the course of four minutes, Nance scored 13 straight points including a couple threes and a couple dunks and, following a Charles Hankerson three, the Cowboys were back within seven. The comeback stalled out, but at the very least, the Cowboys got a chance for a 10-minute second half stretch to show the nation why they were a worthy addition to the Tournament field.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

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 afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Texas Southern, Harvard & Wyoming

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2015

Let’s finish off the Bracket Prep series with our reviews of each of the weekend mid-major automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. Here’s a primer on each of the most recent bid winners. The entire series can be found here.

Texas Southern

Texas Southern is going dancing for the second-straight year. (hbcubuzz.com)

Texas Southern is going dancing for the second-straight year. (hbcubuzz.com)

  • SWAC Champion (22-12, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #130/#207/#204
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -2.1
  • NCAA Seed: #15

Strength: You don’t often see SWAC teams with as much talent as Texas Southern, especially in the backcourt. Conference Player of the Year Madarious Gibbs (14.2 PPG, 4.3 APG), Marshall transfer Chris Thomas (12.6 PPG) and former Nebraska guard Deverell Biggs (11.5 PPG) are each capable scorers who can attack the basket and earn trips to the free throw line. Same goes for forward and JuCo transfer Malcolm Riley, who averaged more than 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the SWAC Tournament. Only 11 teams in college basketball get to the stripe at a higher rate than the Tigers, which is important, since they don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter (32.2% 3FG). They feature good balance, with several different players who can create offense, and it showed in the team’s upset victories over Michigan State and Kansas State back in December.

Weakness: Texas Southern lacks size and depth on the interior. Long Beach State transplant Nick Shepard is a good shot-blocker (10.1% Blk rate), but as a unit the Tigers rank 278th nationally in effective height and opponents score 58 percent of all their points from inside the arc. Imposing teams like Gonzaga, Baylor and Florida – similar in size to Arizona, which they face this week – crushed them in the paint during non-conference play. Likewise, Mike Davis’ crew struggles to clean up misses; the Bears ripped down 22 offensive rebounds against the SWAC champs on December 1.

Player to watch: Chris Thomas (12.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG). Thomas is a former five-star recruit who has the size and athleticism to compete against top-notch competition. The junior combined for 37 points in Texas Southern’s victories over the Spartans and Wildcats, the type of high-level, efficient play (57% FG) he will need to duplicate in the NCAA Tournament.

Outlook: Texas Southern has proven its ability to hang with high-major competition, but, unfortunately as a #15 seed, Arizona is far better than the Michigan States and Kansas States of the world. The Tigers should have their moments, and Mike Davis (former Indiana head man) knows what he’s doing in March, but an upset seems unlikely. Still, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances is nothing to sneeze at.

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Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

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Wyoming, Relentlessness, and a Mountain West Title

Posted by AMurawa on March 14th, 2015

Relentless. It’s the one-word answer Mountain West Tournament MVP Josh Adams chose to describe the play of his Wyoming basketball team this week. It was personified, to just choose one example, by All-Mountain West senior forward Larry Nance Jr. – a year past a torn ACL – who, early in the hard-fought second-half grind-a-thon against San Diego State, blocked a Winston Shepard layup attempt, recovered to challenge his second shot following an offensive rebound, then dove out of bounds to save the ball to his teammate. “We’ve been relentless all year,” Adams expounded on the word. “We’ve been in dogfights all year. This is the style we play. I know a lot of the critiques about us — we’re grinding it out; we’re going to lose energy – but we had a bounce in our step and were able to grind it out all the way to the end of the game, and now we’re going dancing.”

Josh Adams, Mountain West Tournament MVP, Celebrating A Championship

Josh Adams, Mountain West Tournament MVP, Celebrating A Championship

Effort. Between the 3:39 mark at the end of the first half and the 11:29 mark in the second half, Wyoming did not score. Over the course of 15 possessions, the Cowboys had five turnovers, five missed layups and three missed threes. Over that stretch, however, San Diego State was only able to turn a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead mainly because the Pokes were still selling out on every defensive possession. Five seniors and their brothers all fighting to extend their careers. It was tense. It was rough. It was difficult to watch. And it was beautiful. By the time Adams finally knocked the lid off the basket and cut the Aztecs’ lead to two, it was easy to see that the Cowboys weren’t going anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dunk Town Laramie: America’s Most Likable Team?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 13th, 2015

About four minutes into their quarterfinal win over Utah State on Thursday afternoon, Wyoming’s Larry Nance unsuccessfully attempted to throw down a dunk over his back in traffic. The next time down the court, it was a tomahawk attempt (again unsuccessful) over a couple of Utah State defenders. They were spectacularly entertaining misses. The Cowboys did, however, have more success in their attacks on the rim in the second half, throwing down four increasingly spectacular dunks as they fought back from a seven-point second half deficit to come away with the season-sustaining win. There is a reason this team has earned the moniker of Dunk Town.

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of "Dunk Town" (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of “Dunk Town” (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

“We love it,” said junior guard Josh Adams, author of the Cowboys’ most emphatic dunk on Thursday, when asked about the nickname after the game. “We fully embrace that nickname. And our fans have too.” And so has head coach Larry Shyatt. “It’s a pretty good percentage shot,” he said, a master of understatement. “I sort of like seeing [Derek Cooke’s] elbows above the rim when they drop it off to him.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Tourney Primers: Big Sky

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big Sky Tournament

Dates: March 12-14

Site: Dahlberg Arena (Missoula, MT)

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What to expect: Montana clinched the top seed and earned the right to play in its own building, which is bad news for everyone else; the tournament host has won this event five years running. But the Big Sky is also more competitive than it has been in years, with Eastern Washington (co-champions), Sacramento State and Northern Arizona all finishing tied or within a game of the Grizzlies. The Eagles, which snapped Indiana’s 43-game non-conference home winning streak in November, are an especially dangerous team – lethal from behind the arc and proven on the road. Jim Hayford’s bunch was the only Big Sky unit to win in Missoula this season. In reality, the conference race became so unpredictable towards the end of the year that it’s hard to give an advantage to any one contender outside of Montana’s obvious home-court edge.

Favorite: Montana. Montana won eight of its last nine games to end the regular season and now welcomes its Big Sky comrades to Dahlberg Area, where it was 8-1 in conference play. The Grizzlies parlayed home-court advantage into a pair NCAA Tournament appearances in both 2012 and 2013, and while this year’s group might not be as good as those teams, it’s hard to argue with history – especially in a league where home teams went 66-42 in 2014-15.

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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: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2015

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  1. Last week was a tough one for the college basketball world as it not only mourned the loss of Dean Smith, but also the loss of Jerry Tarkanian. We mentioned Smith’s passing last week and his death was followed by an outpouring of stories of his impact both on and off the court. While Smith might have been the archetype of the ideal coach that the NCAA would like to hold up, Tarkanian was the anti-establishment figure. Tarkanian may be best remembered for his days roaming the sidelines at UNLV with his towel in his hand (or often in his mouth), but he should also be remembered for being an outspoken critic of the NCAA. Now some of this was due to his outright disregard for some of the NCAA’s rules, but perhaps more importantly it attempted to shine a light on some of the NCAA’s hypocrisy. So while you take time to marvel at his on-court achievements (706 wins, a NCAA title, and four Final 4 appearances) you should also note his willingness to speak out even when his views were unpopular.
  2. What appeared to be a promising season for Seton Hall has quickly fallen apart as they have lost 8 of their past 11 games after opening the season with a 12-2 record. The latest hit came on Wednesday when they announced that Jared Sina would be transferring. Sina, a 6’2″ sophomore guard from New Jersey who was averaging 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game, had started 23 of the team’s 24 games to that point. Although neither the school nor Sina would address questions related to his departure it appears to be related to issues with his teammates. Given the way this season has gone for the Pirates that would not be surprising and frankly would explain some of what has happened to them in the past six weeks.
  3. While the news is obviously minor compared to that of Jerry Tarkanian’s passing, UNLV suffered another blow last week when they announced that Rashad Vaughn will be out indefinitely with a torn meniscus in his left knee. The injury is expected to keep Vaughn, a 6’6″ freshman guard who leads the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game, until at least the Mountain West Tournament. Although Vaughn might not be generating that much national attention it is worth noting that he was third among freshman in the country in scoring at the time of his injury trailing only D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor. Based on the reports out of UNLV it seems like Vaughn will recover from this, but we would be concerned because this is the same knee he injured as a senior in high school and was forced to miss two months recovering.
  4. There were two other notable injuries/illnesses. The first and more significant one is Larry Nance Jr. who is out with what is reported to be mononucleosis with a return date potentially on February 25. Nance, who leads the team in scoring (16.3) and rebounding (7.2), missed the end of last season with a torn ACL and Wyoming subsequently fell apart. Although they are already a bubble team our bigger concern would be for Nance particularly given his recently disclosed history of Crohn’s and the medication he is on with the mononucleosis diagnosis. The other notable injury is Andrew Chrabascz, who is expected to miss 2-4 weeks after breaking his hand in Butler‘s loss to Villanova yesterday. Chrabascz, who averages 11.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, played much of the game with the injury.
  5. We write about players getting in legal trouble fairly frequently here, but rarely do so when it is a coach mainly because it does not happen to the latter as often. However, when the case is as public as that involving Jerrance Howard at Kansas we notice.  Howard, widely regarded as one of the nation’s top recruiters, has been suspended for two weeks after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana. Although the arrest happened last July, Bill Self was not made aware of it until Wednesday when Howard pleaded guilty. It will be interesting to how the arrest and Howard’s decision to not disclose the matter for such a long time will affect his ability to get a head coaching job.
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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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