CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

CIO header

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

Conference Round-up

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

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

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

Player of the Week

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

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

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

Newcomer of the Week

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

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RTC Summer School: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

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

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

Three Summer Storylines

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

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

Reader’s Take #1

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Tracking The Four: Racers’ Pursuit of Perfection Ends Early

Posted by EJacoby on February 14th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

It was only a matter of time. Murray State had been narrowly escaping against OVC competition in the past few games, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that the Racers lost their first game of the year on Thursday against a Tennessee State team ranked second in the conference standings. The loss certainly hurts the team’s postseason seeding and kills off the major story that was the undefeated season, but the team may actually benefit from shedding that spotlight off their back. They have a quick turnaround with their most challenging week of the season upcoming. Elsewhere, Syracuse just completed a monster week of wins, and UNLV and Indiana handled business with big home victories. Let’s get to this week’s outlook:

Syracuse Orange

C.J. Fair Was Huge for Syracuse Against Louisville, One of Three Big Wins This Week For the Orange (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • Trending UP Because… – They had an awesome week, solidifying themselves as a top team in the land alongside Kentucky. Cuse played tight games against Georgetown and at Louisville, but great late-game execution lead to victories. Throw in Saturday’s win over Connecticut and the Orange are now 26-1 and 13-1 in the Big East, looking like a near-lock for a #1 seed come March Madness.
  • This Week’s Key CogKris Joseph. Who said this team doesn’t have a go-to guy? Joseph scored 29 points, including the game-winning three in overtime, in Wednesday’s win over Georgetown. He averaged a team-high 17.0 points per game in the three victories.
  • Play of the Week – A sweet alley-oop from Scoop Jardine to C.J. Fair from nearly half court was a momentum builder in Saturday’s win over UConn.
  • Talking Point – Coach Jim Boeheim talked about Monday’s ugly win at Louisville, which ended with a score of 52-51: “You can either give the defenses credit or say it was a bad offensive game. We’re going to look on the bright side and say it was a real defensive struggle tonight.”
  • Erasing History - The Orange had lost seven straight games to Louisville heading into Monday’s matchup, and it looked like the streak was going to reach eight when the team trailed by five points with under 4:00 to play. But Jardine and Joseph, two seniors who have never beaten the Cards, were able to erase that history and taste their first ever victory against Rick Pitino’s squad when they closed out the game with strong defense.
  • Stats Central – Monday’s victory was nothing to write home about. Syracuse averages a conference-leading 111.9 offensive efficiency in Big East games, but they only recorded an 89.7 rating in the game against Louisville. Nonetheless, they held the Cardinals to an 87.9 efficiency themselves and walked way with a one-point road victory.
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play just once this week, at Rutgers on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, ESPN) against a struggling Scarlet Knights team. However, Rutgets has already defeated Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame at home this season, and the RAC has become a tough place to play.

Murray State Racers

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 14th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.

We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).

In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.

Mountain West, Conference USA

Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference

But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.

Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.

Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.

Team of the Week

UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

At long last, Mountain West conference play is finally here. And after the long wait, the opening weekend did not disappoint in the least.

  • The conference opener between San Diego State and UNLV was the sole matchup between ranked teams across the nation on Saturday, and it was everything that could be expected of it and more. But, we’ll get to that shortly.

Jamaal Franklin Was Outstandings Against UNLV (AP)

  • Elsewhere around the league, Colorado State knocked off TCU in a wild double overtime affair in Fort Collins, while New Mexico and Air Force came up with impressive road wins over Wyoming and Boise State, respectively. While those later two games may not have been all that competitive down the stretch, after one weekend we’re even more sure of the idea that this is going to be a fun season to watch in the MW. Not only do the three teams at the top – San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV – figure to be in for a stirring battle for the top spot in the league, but the five other teams in the conference feature good athletes, fun styles and some very solid teams. In past years, let’s be honest, there were teams in this conference that were almost unbearable to watch (Wyoming the last couple of years, TCU last season, Air Force a couple years back, even Utah last year). This year, I fully expect to be able to tune into any single Mountain West game on the schedule and be thoroughly entertained. Stay tuned, this is going to get fun.

Team of the Week

  • San Diego State – All of the winners this week deserve a mention here, what with New Mexico going on the road and getting past a game Wyoming team, Air Force handling Boise State in their opener despite still playing without their best player – Michael Lyons – down with an ankle injury, and Colorado State fighting through a blown lead late and a couple nail-biting overtimes to finally dispense with TCU. But, we’ve got to give the Aztecs this recognition this week if for no other reason than as a welcome back to the land of the living. You see, since December 4, SDSU has been stuck playing teams like Elon, Redlands, San Diego Christian and, most recently, coming back from a seven-point second-half deficit to winless Chicago State. But, after being off the radar for about a month and a half, Steve Fisher’s club came back to their first game against significant competition without missing a beat. Jamaal Franklin continued his breakout sophomore season with arguably his most important performance of his career, James Rahon broke out of his season-long slow-down with a sparkling 22-point performance, the backcourt of Xavier Thames and Chase Tapley fought the tough and athletic UNLV backcourt to a draw, and even Tim Shelton made significant contributions above and beyond what his relatively tame stat line would indicate. In short, if you had forgotten the Aztecs in recent months, you can hardly be blamed, but now it is time to make sure this team is on your radar again.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 10th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

One of the unpleasant side effects of the recent spate of conference realignment maneuverings was this year’s MW being left with just eight teams, meaning a 14-game conference schedule is all that is required to complete a full home-and-away round-robin. Meaning that while conferences like the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12, all of whom play 18-game conference schedules, have been going at it for two weeks now, the MW is just now gearing up to kick off conference play this weekend. And, in the meantime, the last two weeks have yielded some absolutely horrendous matchups for MW teams as their schedule-makers had a hard time finding quality opponents at this time of the year.

So, in lieu of looking back to a week in which a four-point TCU win over Rice and a six-point Wyoming win over Utah Valley are the “highlights,” let’s take a look back at a pretty impressive non-conference performance for the Mountain West. Overall the conference has posted a 94-26 record on the season thus far, good for a .783 winning percentage and a conference RPI of six. UNLV leads the way for the conference, currently ranking 13th in the RPI with their big win over then-#1 North Carolina highlighting their tournament resume. Colorado State is, quite surprisingly, the second highest RPI team in the conference, checking in at #27, but the Rams have nothing on their schedule that would qualify as a marquee win, although their one-point win over Colorado is looking better by the day. The other two teams that have their eyes set on a possible NCAA Tournament bid are San Diego State (RPI #45) and New Mexico (RPI #64). The Aztecs sport wins over California, Arizona, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara, but haven’t played anybody of interest in more than a month. The Lobos struggled out of the gate with two pretty unattractive losses in their first four games, but have now won 12 straight, with wins over Saint Louis, Missouri State and Oklahoma State mixed in there.

Team of the Non-Conference

Moser Has Been Outstanding in a UNLV Uniform (LV Sun/S. Morris)

UNLV – It is hard to argue with UNLV here. They’ve got the single best win – their November 26 upset of North Carolina – out of any of the MW teams, the highest RPI, and they head into conference action ranked 12th in the latest RTC top 25. Throw in wins over California, Illinois and 13 other teams, with the only losses coming at Wichita State and at Wisconsin and the Rebels have put themselves in a position where they would need to somehow take an unprecedented dive in conference play in order to miss the NCAA Tournament. And, given the fact that they’ve done all this while breaking in a first-time head coach in Dave Rice, this has been an excellent first half of the season for the Runnin’ Rebels.

Player of the Non-Conference

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on December 27th, 2011

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

It’s been a relatively quiet week around the Mountain West as teams took a bit of a break to celebrate the holidays. However, despite just eight games in the past week, we’ve had three fairly significant injuries. Boise State was the team hardest hit, as it lost freshman wing Igor Hadziomerovic to a broken foot and will likely play the rest of the season without him, while fellow freshman Anthony Drmic, the team’s leading scorer, missed the Broncos’ visit to Iowa with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile, Air Force lost is leading scorer, Michael Lyons, early in its visit to Spokane to face Gonzaga to a sprained ankle of his own. He never returned to a game in which the Falcons possibly could have challenged the Bulldogs, and the worst-case scenario for Lyons is not a good one. Since he sustained a high-ankle sprain, he could miss as many as six weeks, but a lot depends on how he reacts. It is possible he could be back as soon as this weekend, but ideally he would be back by January 14 when the Falcons travel to Boise State to open the conference season.

Another prominent MW player missed a game this week for a different reason, however, as New Mexico’s Kendall Williams sat out the Lobos’ Thursday game against UMKC as punishment from head coach Steve Alford for a poor academic fall semester. Williams is not in any way academically ineligible, and certainly the Lobos did just fine without him against middling competition, but give credit to Alford for laying down the law.

Team of the Week

UNLV – The Runnin’ Rebels take this honor down for the second straight week on the strength of its demolition of California on Friday. UNLV used a 31-12 run to close the first half to build a 20-point halftime lead, then led by as many as 27 in the second half before coasting home to a 17-point win. Anthony Marshall led the way in style with 22 points, nine rebounds, and three steals, while Oscar Bellfield handed out 11 assists and the Rebels dominated every facet of the game. UNLV still has to travel to Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield in their non-conference (along with hosting Central Arkansas), but if everything holds up, they should enter conference play with a 16-2 record, including wins over North Carolina, Illinois and California and a good shot at a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Dorian Green, Colorado State

Dorian Green Had A Career Game For CSU Against Northern Colorado, Knocking Down Eight Threes (photo credit: Sam Noblett, The Rocky Mountain Collegian)

Player of the Week

Dorian Green, Jr, Colorado State – Green caught absolute fire Thursday night for the Rams, hitting eight-of-ten three-pointers and 11-of-16 from the field while exploding for a career-high 36 points in a win over Northern Colorado. After an excellent freshman season in Fort Collins, Green took a step back last season, seeing his scoring and shooting numbers take a healthy dip. But in his third season, Green has been rock-solid shooting the ball, hitting 58.7% of his three-point attempts this year. He’s also picked up his rebounding numbers for the third year running, (even adding his first-career double-digit rebounding game against Duke a couple weeks back) while helping out with the ballhandling duties and providing an explosive offensive threat in a Ram backcourt made up of multiple excellent shooters.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.16.11 to 12.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 16th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With Dead Week mercifully over, we finally have some good games to enjoy this Saturday despite Sunday being a very slow day in the hoops world.

#6 Baylor @ BYU – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on BYU TV (****)

Perry Jones Leads Baylor into Provo Saturday (AP)

  • The Bears have had difficulty on the road in past seasons but they already passed one important test, demolishing Northwestern in Chicago a couple weeks ago. This game, however, will be an even better measure to see where the highly-rated Bears are really at. The Marriott Center is a notoriously difficult place to play but Baylor has a clear talent edge in this game. BU welcomes Gary Franklin, now eligible after the first semester, to an already highly skilled roster. Franklin didn’t play all that well at California last season but he was a four star recruit out of high school. He should help the Bears out at the point guard position, a place where turnovers are still an issue. Baylor averages 16 turnovers a game and that will be dangerous playing on the road against a team like BYU that likes to push the pace. 5.8 of those 16 turnovers come from the point guard position so Scott Drew is hoping that Franklin can help handle the ball. How Franklin will fit in alongside Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton remains a question mark.
  • BYU’s top six scorers are all 6’5” or taller, an important factor against the length and athleticism of Baylor’s front line. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo do the bulk of the damage for Dave Rose, as those three are his top scorers and rebounders. Hartsock in particular has been outstanding, scoring in double figures in every game thus far. All three will have to play well in order for BYU to pull the upset because Baylor’s front court is strong, deep and talented. With Quincy Acy blocking 3.3 shots a game, BYU’s big men should find it more difficult to score inside on Saturday. The Cougars have to get their outside game going as well. Baylor’s defense is very average against the three and BYU has three big deep threats, Abouo, Stephen Rogers and Brock Zylstra. Going up against the top-ranked interior defense in the nation, BYU needs its outside shots to fall in order to win. However, the Cougars can’t afford to settle for threes if they aren’t falling. They must get something going in the paint, even against such a strong defense, in order to balance out their offense.
  • This is an important game for both clubs. Baylor has played only two teams of note so far while BYU’s best win is over a mediocre Oregon team. Baylor shoots well (49.1% FG) but the biggest difference this season has been its defense. The Bears allow only 33.3% shooting inside the arc and their defensive efficiency has been terrific. Both teams get most of their offense from their respective front courts but Baylor may have the ultimate edge with Cory Jefferson off the bench. He adds some scoring punch and, more importantly, rebounding and depth for the Bears. For the Cougars to win, they’ll have to force turnovers to get points in transition because it’ll be awfully tough to score inside in the half court. In addition to making its threes, BYU must rebound well and get to the line while putting the Baylor big men in foul trouble. However, BYU ranks #295 in free throw rate and Baylor doesn’t foul too often. Although BYU rarely loses at home, this is a game Baylor can win. There are some who still doubt the Bears but a win here would put them on their way towards legitimate national recognition.

Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida (at Sunrise, FL) – 2:30 PM EST Saturday on FSN (***)

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on December 13th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

This week marked the start of a relatively quiet time in the Mountain West schedule. With the MW/MVC Challenge and early season tournaments a thing of the past, and with the combination of finals, holidays and a late start to conference play, we’re treated to almost a month worth of sleepy matchups. We’ve still got a handful of interesting games, however, like the UNLV-Wisconsin matchup this past week, or the upcoming Rebels’ matchups with Illinois and Cal (other games of note include New Mexico-Oklahoma State and Boise State-Iowa). But for every one of those types of games, we’ve got a UC Riverside-San Diego State or Sioux Falls-Wyoming snoozefest to keep us in check. Despite the fact that the Mountain West currently ranks fourth among all conferences in RPI, you can expect that the anticipated dive in strength of schedule over the next month will hurt the conference’s member institutions when it comes to selection and seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Team of the Week

Michael Lyons, Air Force

Air Force, Led By Michael Lyons, Won Both Their Games This Week By An Average Of 16 Points (Julie Jacobson/AP)

  • Air Force – The Falcons are my team of the week, almost by default. They are the only team in the conference to win two games this week, and they did so in convincing fashion, knocking off Wright State by 21, then taking care of Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 12. The Falcons used suffocating defense to limit WSU to just 9-of-46 shooting from the field and coasted enough to allow a whopping 17 players to get playing time in the game. Senior guard Michael Lyons led the way in both games, and is now averaging 19 points (best in the conference) and 5.4 rebounds per game (#11 in the conference), while Mike Fitzgerald busted out with six threes on his way to a career-high 19 against UAPB. The Academy is now 5-2 on the season, with the two losses (to Colorado and Drake) coming by a combined total of just five points.

Player of the Week

  • DeShawn Stephens, Jr, San Diego State – In a week where there was no runaway winner, we’re going to take this opportunity to recognize Stephens, a junior college transfer in his first year on Montezuma Mesa. With the Aztecs woefully thin up front to begin with, more minutes opened up for Stephens when senior big man Tim Shelton was limited to just seven minutes by yet another knee injury in their game against cross-town foe San Diego. Stephens, a quick learner who didn’t play basketball in high school, responded with 16 points and nine rebounds in the Aztecs win, and should be in line for more minutes from here on out, as he is already arguably the best SDSU big man.

Newcomer of the Week

  • Stephens – The 6″8″, 215-pound Los Angeles native is also converted 7-of-8 shots in the victory over San Diego.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.09.11 to 12.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It is road test Saturday as Kentucky and Ohio State face strong tests in Bloomington and Lawrence while a fierce intra-city rivalry plays out on the hardwood in Cincinnati. Also, Duke faces a challenge from Washington at MSG while Wisconsin and Gonzaga look to get back on the right track on their home floors. [Editor's Note: There will be no Set Your TiVo on Monday due to the barren nature of that night’s schedule as most schools transition into finals week. We will resume on Tuesday.]

#6 Duke vs. Washington (at New York, NY) – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (***)

Duke is Back at MSG For Another Great Game (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

  • Duke returns to Madison Square Garden for the second time this year to take on a Washington team that also will be playing its second game in the building after a thrilling game against Marquette on Tuesday night. This game will be up-tempo and you can expect guard-heavy Duke to try to take advantage of Washington’s inability to defend the three-point shot. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly can all knock down the triple at a high rate and they’re the reasons why the Blue Devils rank #19 in that department. They’ll be shooting against a Huskies defense that ranks a paltry #262 (37.1%) against the trifecta. The Huskies used a zone at times against Marquette earlier this week. That may be effective at stopping Duke inside, but the Blue Devil guards can shoot right over it. If Lorenzo Romar goes man-to-man, his team will have to fight its way through the tremendous screening action that is a huge part of Duke’s offense, allowing shooters to get open with ease. If Duke knocks down its threes, it’ll be a long early afternoon for Washington.
  • The defensive matchups don’t look good for Washington, so you would have to think the Huskies will need to put up a lot of points in order to win. They certainly can do that against Duke’s perimeter defense, but the key will be Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox making a bunch of threes to offset the barrage that may come from the Duke shooters. Washington has the height and athleticism necessary to neutralize and even take advantage of Duke in the paint with Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant which will force the Blue Devils to make shots. Offensively, UW’s guards have to be able to penetrate to open up some outside shots while getting N’Diaye and Gant some easy buckets around the rim. That means Abdul Gaddy and (especially) Tony Wroten can’t turn the ball over. The freshman is certainly talented but he turns it over more than four times per game.
  • This is a big chance for Washington (4-3) to snag a crucial victory with hardly anything of note left on its non-conference schedule. Washington must rebound the basketball and push the pace as much as possible. The Huskies do a very good job on the boards, outrebounding Duke by an average of 10 RPG coming into the game. The Huskies need to be tough around the basket on both ends of the floor and should not be afraid to foul Mason Plumlee when he receives the ball in the post. Plumlee is a 42.3% foul shooter and should be in for a battle around the basket. While Washington may not be able to defend the three-ball straight up, the Huskies’ length and athleticism has the potential to bother Duke’s guards. Rivers can break down a defense at will but Curry is susceptible to shaky ballhanding and turnovers. If Washington can rattle Curry and put points on the board, they’ll be in the game for the long haul. We’re looking for a closer than expected game but still have to favor the Blue Devils because of their three-point shooting and the partisan crowd sure to fill Madison Square Garden.

Cincinnati @ #7 Xavier – 12:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • The Crosstown Shootout is one of the perennially underrated rivalries in the game. While the teams aren’t always great, the basketball is intense between two schools that don’t particularly care for one another. Xavier is the better team but can’t afford to take the Bearcats lightly. The Musketeers needed second half rallies to defeat Vanderbilt and Purdue before going on the road and winning at Butler this past Wednesday. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons do most of the work for this team but the X-men will need an interior presence against Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates. Gates is a load inside but Kenny Frease should be able to match up with him, at least on the defensive end. If Chris Mack’s squad can limit Gates, who is struggling with only 15 total points scored in his last two games, Xavier will be well on its way to a win at the Cintas Center.
  • Cincinnati plays terrific defense but Mick Cronin’s team really struggles to score. The Bearcats have a stunning lack of depth for a team that is supposed to contend for an upper tier finish in the Big East. Since it is putting up only 64 PPG, Cincinnati has to win games with its defense. The good news is Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon can hit from deep with some level of consistency but they’ll face their toughest test to date against a Xavier defense allowing only 25.5% shooting from the three-point line. If the shots don’t fall, Cincinnati doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially if Gates continues his lackluster play of late. To win, the Bearcats must shoot well but they also have to control the glass and the pace of the game. Holloway loves to push the ball, penetrate and get to the line where he’s an 86.2% shooter. He averages nearly ten free throw attempts per game and it’s vital that Cincinnati keep him off the charity stripe if it is to win.
  • These teams are similar with regards to their defense and toughness but Xavier is a more talented and deeper version of Cincinnati. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, it’s hard to see the Musketeers dropping this game. For the Bearcats to have a chance to pull it out, Gates has to be the player he was towards the end of last season when he was putting up 20+ points a night. In addition, Cashmere Wright can’t be turning the ball over at the rate (3.3 per game) he has so far this season. We may be making a mistake since it is a rivalry game, but Xavier by 10-15 points seems like a good bet.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

A Look Back

Coming into the season, New Mexico and UNLV were the clear favorites to be the class of the conference this season, with the other six teams in the conference were littered with question marks. After a little more than a week of the regular season, UNLV has more than lived up to expectations while New Mexico has already stumbled once (to in-state rival New Mexico State) and has generally looked shaky at best. Around the rest of the conference, San Diego State has been the most active, already completing six games and losing only a road game to Baylor, RTC’s #11 team in the country. TCU pulled off a big surprise with a win over Virginia in the Paradise Jam (nevermind the fact that it backed up that breakthrough with a loss to Norfolk State). Air Force is undefeated through three games, sweeping the All-Military Classic with wins over Army and Virginia Military. And then, there’s our team of the week, below.

Team of the Week

Boise State – All apologies to UNLV, who has looked excellent in its four games so far, but the nod here goes to the Broncos, who have impressed in their first three games as members of the Mountain West. They’ve played nobody of note, but at least they’ve handled those three teams (Colorado Christian, Utah and Cal State Northridge) with ease, winning the three games by an average of 38 points per outing. Despite replacing three starters with a roster chock-full of newcomers, BSU has had three different players lead the team in scoring in its three games, and it has had seven different players score in double figures at least once. They’ve got bigger tests ahead (starting tonight with a trip to Long Beach State), but they have sure started well.

Player of the Week

Chase Tapley, Junior, San Diego State – There are a lot of possibilities here, including Tapley’s sophomore teammate Jamaal Franklin who has been outstanding, but we will go with Tapley for his across-the-board production and efficiency. In six games, Tapley has averaged 16.5 points per game, while contributing nearly five rebounds a night, 2.5 assists per outing and more than three steals a night, all while shooting 47.8% from the field and 53.1% from three-point range. In the Aztecs lone loss, it was Tapley who kept them in shouting distance, posting a career-high 28 points while hitting eight of his ten three-point attempts in their loss to Baylor.

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RTC Conference Primers: #7 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 31st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences; he is also a staffer on the Pac-12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Tectonic Shifts in the MW: As the landscape of college sports continues to shift, the Mountain West continues to change. This year, the conference is without BYU and Utah for the first time in its history. Aside from the fact that the state of Utah was sort of the center of the conference for many years, the impact on the basketball side of things cannot be overstated. In the 12 years that the two schools were a part of the conference, they won five outright regular season titles between them and twice shared the regular season title. TCU will join the two Utah schools as ex-MW members after this year when it joins the Big 12.
  • Temporary Fixes? As old schools depart, new schools come in. Boise State joins the conference this season, although there are already rumors that its stay may be short-lived, as other conferences including the Big 12 and the Big East, woo the Broncos. Fresno State and Nevada are due to join the conference in 2012-13, but as the ground continues to move under the feet of college athletics, one never knows what changes will come next.
  • Scheduling: With just eight conference teams this year, each team will play just 14 conference games. So while the Pac-12 and Big Ten and other major conferences are kicking off games against their conference rivals on or before New Year’s, MW schools will wait until the middle of January to get into conference play, filling the interim with games against schools like Johnson & Wales, Texas-Pan American, Nebraska-Omaha, Houston Baptist, San Diego Christian and Utah Valley. This is not a good thing for a conference, not a good thing for the fans, and not a good thing for college basketball.
  • Changes On The Sidelines: Aside from having a new team in the conference, we’ve got a couple returning teams with new coaches. The most high profile coaching change comes at UNLV with Lon Kruger gone for Oklahoma, and Dave Rice, the former associate head coach under Dave Rose at BYU, returning to Vegas where he played and served as an assistant under Jerry Tarkanian. The other coaching change is at Wyoming, where Larry Shyatt returns to town after spending the last several years as the associate head coach at Florida.

Drew Gordon Looks to Lead New Mexico to a Mountain West Title

  • New Favorites. Last year, it was more or less a two-horse race for the conference title between BYU and San Diego State. This year, there is no BYU and SDSU has graduated its four most important players. As a result, it looks to be two new horses who head the pack in search of a conference title with UNLV and New Mexico far and away the favorites. In the MW preseason basketball poll, the Lobos got 22 of the 26 first place votes from the media, with the Rebels snagging the other four. Those two schools also dominated the all-conference team selections, each putting two players on the list.
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