Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

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

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

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

Player of the Week

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

 

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

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Boise State’s Big Win Proves This Team Is Different

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

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

O26 Team of the Week

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 24th, 2015

Team of the Week

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

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Player of the Week

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

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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 10th, 2015

Team of the Week

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

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

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

Player of the Week

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

Newcomer of the Week

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

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

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

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

Player of the Week

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

Newcomer of the Week

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

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2015

Team of the Week

Wyoming – The Cowboys only played one game, but boy was it a doozy. They hosted New Mexico on Saturday and prevailed in dramatic fashion in a game where the win probabilities swung dramatically on a regular basis, not including a Larry Nance three-quarter court shot at the regulation buzzer that seemed to go halfway down before rattling out. Still, not to be denied, the Cowboys won the game on a steal and dunk at the end of overtime that was dramatic and amazing. With every game that gets checked off the schedule, Dunk Town Laramie is beginning to look like a team of destiny.

Larry Nance's Slam Just Before Time Expired In Overtime Sealed A Stunning Win For Wyoming (Wyoming Athletics)

Larry Nance’s Slam Just Before Time Expired In Overtime Sealed A Stunning Win For Wyoming (Wyoming Athletics)

Player of the Week

Hugh Greenwood, Sr, New Mexico – A week ago in this column, I wrote negatively about Mr. Greenwood for what I’m sure must be the first time. Since then, he posted his second- and third-highest scoring games of his career and became a national phenomenon in shooting down a hateful and small-minded Twitter troll in a postgame press conference. For the week, the averages are 22.5 points, six boards, a couple assists, 11-of-17 shooting from three and an 82.7% eFG in a pair of games that were just a joy to watch. And were it not for little mistakes late against Wyoming, it would have been a darn near perfect week. But in the grand scheme of things, Greenwood’s week hit all the buttons we love in college sports. A senior leader bouncing back from a slump to help his team to a hard-fought road win in the middle of the week in the face of personal issues far more important than anything having to do with a silly old game. And then, on the weekend, in another hostile road environment in what will surely go down as one of the handful of regular season games I recall fondly from this season, Greenwood was a major factor in just about every key play down the stretch of regulation and on through overtime. In the end, it didn’t go his team’s way. But there was nobody in the country who was more fun to watch this week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Believe it or not, we’re only six weeks from March. The Mountain West has six teams within one game of the top of the standings, so let’s dig into this week’s awards and power rankings.

Team of the Week

Boise State – Following an 0-3 start to conference play, as part of a four-game slide, with senior star Anthony Drmic lost for the season due to injury, things looked bleak in Boise. But this week, the Broncos rebounded in a big way, scoring an overtime home win over UNLV, then going on the road to The Pit and scoring a big win away from home and putting themselves back in the conversation. Head coach Leon Rice got big contributions from up and down his roster (as you’ll see below) and, with the schedule easing up a bit this week, Boise State has a chance to begin its climb back up the standings.

Derrick Marks Has Always Been A Good Scorer, But He's Taken His Game Up A Level As A Senior (AP Photo)

Derrick Marks Has Always Been A Good Scorer, But He’s Taken His Game Up A Level As A Senior. (AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – In the wake of the Drmic injury and the announcement that he would be done for the year, not only did Marks have to remake his role on this roster, but he had to do so at a time when he was dealing with his own injury. Now, he’s apparently back to full strength and, goodness is he playing well. He’s without a doubt, the conference’s best pure scorer. And that’s saying a lot when guys like Marvelle Harris and Larry Nance and Rashad Vaughn are roaming Mountain West courts. Last year, in this selfsame space, we regularly ripped Marks for settling for jumpers and launching too many threes that he couldn’t hit and failing to create for teammates. All of those apparent weaknesses in his game appear to have been fixed. He’s attacking more and getting midrange jumpers; when he does take the three, he can hit it now (oh boy, can he ever – 49% on the year so far); and while he’ll never be a true point guard, he’s regularly drawing defenses and kicking the ball to the open man. His improvement this season has been stupendous. And this week was the culmination, as he average 29.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting a 54.8 eFG%.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Boise State, Mikh McKinney, Jay Spoonhour & Appalachian State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 21st, 2015

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

O26 Team of the Week

Boise State. When senior leader and preseason all-conference guard Anthony Drmic was ruled out for the season in late December, it looked as if the wheels might come off at Boise State. The Broncos, which were picked fourth in the preseason in the Mountain West, lost four straight games to begin the New Year – including its first three conference contests – and only once managed to score over a point per possession without their 6’6’’ wing. “The margin for error is really slim without Anthony,” head coach Leon Rice said before his team welcomed UNLV to town on Tuesday. With the talented Runnin’ Rebels on deck before a tricky road trip to The Pit on Saturday, it looked as if things might get worse for Rice’s club before they get better. Luckily, Derrick Marks and James Webb III had other plans.

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports)

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness/USA TODAY Sports)

In a game broadcast remotely by ESPN, Marks gave Boise State offensive life against UNLV, scoring 28 points (on a whopping 26 attempts) and responding to any would-be Rebels’ runs with big shots of his own. After the visitors grabbed a late two-point lead, the senior calmly attacked the lane, stopped on a dime and hit a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos – which had dropped their last three contests that were decided by six points or less – came up with enough winning plays, including a flurry of steals at around the two-minute mark, to eke out an 82-73 victory. “That monkey has been flipped off our backs and thrown to the ground, no question,” Rice said of his teams relieving victory. Webb, an athletic forward whose minutes have picked up dramatically in Drmic’s absence, added 12 points and 15 rebounds in the win, including a high-flying breakaway dunk in overtime. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Team of the Week

Wyoming – Two tough games and two hard-fought wins over Colorado State and Boise State bring the Cowboys’ record to 15-2 on the season and 4-0 in conference play, putting them along atop the Mountain West standings. They’ve won seven in a row now, and have been rewarded with a spot in the AP poll for the first time since March 15, 1988, back in the days of Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner. No surprise then that, with apologies to Theo Ratliff, the Cowboys may have their best individual player since those days in Larry Nance, who continued his fine play with averages of 16.5 points, 8 boards, 3.5 assists, and 2 blocks on a 70.6 eFG%. He’s not our player of the week this week, but he’s beginning to gain some separation on the Conference Player of the Year front.

Larry Nance and Dunk Town Laramie Sit Atop The Mountain West Standings (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Larry Nance and Dunk Town Laramie Sit Atop The Mountain West Standings (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Player of the Week

Marvelle Harris, Jr, Fresno State – A 40-point game in the much more high scoring NBA is a feat worth talking about. A 40-point game in the ever-slowing game of college basketball? Forget talking, let’s throw a party. Harris played all 40 minutes in Reno on Saturday afternoon against Nevada, and gave his Bulldogs a show to remember. He was 14/23 on the night from the field, including five three-pointers in the mix. He scored 16 of the Bulldogs’ first 18 points of the second half, helping to turn an eight-point lead at half into a 13-point margin, and then knocked down clutch free throws down the stretch to help his squad hang on. He’s now gone for 20 or more six times this season, and for the week averaged 29 points, five boards and four assists, while shooting a 66.2 eFG%. Best yet, he’s doing it as a part of a winning streak.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 6th, 2015

As conference play begins around the nation, the Mountain West appears as wide open at the top of the standings as it has been in some time. Let’s dig into this week’s awards and power rankings.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – It wasn’t a very fun non-conference slate around Albuquerque, with injuries and inexperience compounding en route to a loss at Grand Canyon as the topper for a rough early season. But things started to look up in the Lobos’ first week of conference play, with not just two wins, but a win over Top 25 Colorado State on Saturday evening. After taking their lumps early in the season, newcomers Sam Logwood, Jordan Goodman and Tim Jacobs, in particular, had their share of impressive performances this week, while just about everybody on the team had something to feel good about. Well, everybody, that is, except sophomore guard Cullen Neal, who will miss the rest of the season due to his ankle injury that has kept him sidelined since the third game of the season.

Sam Logwood Had A Break-Out Game In The Lobos Win Over Colorado State (Roberto Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

Sam Logwood Had A Break-Out Game In The Lobos Win Over Colorado State (Roberto Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Sr, Wyoming – Nance all but willed his team to a 2-0 start in conference play, averaging 23.5 points, 9.0 boards, 2.0 blocks, 1.5 steals and 1.5 assists per game while playing all but two of the Cowboys’ 80 minutes of action this week. Oh, and throw in a 64.8% eFG while less than year removed from a torn ACL. Stud.

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