RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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O26 Midseason Awards: Jeff Jones, Kyle Collinsworth, 10 All-Americans…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2015

With conference play having begun in most leagues across the country, it‘s time now to pass out some midseason superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next couple months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones – Old Dominion. The Old Dominion basketball program took a sharp turn in 2013 when – after more than a decade of sustained success – the school fired its longtime coach, Blaine Taylor, during a 5-25 campaign in which the coach’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. In came Jones after spending 13 seasons at American, and immediately things turned around as the Monarchs went 18-18 last season and reached the CBI semifinals. But perhaps even the most optimistic Old Dominion fan couldn’t have envisioned how quickly the team would go from the dregs of the CAA to the cream of Conference USA; at 12-1 with wins over LSU, VCU, Georgia State and Richmond, the Monarchs have cracked the Top 25 and should be in the at-large discussion by season’s end. How has Jones orchestrated such a sharp turnaround? Campbell transfer Trey Freeman has helped. The 6’2’’ point guard paces the team with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, with Jones calling him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached” after the team’s victory over LSU in November. The success has been the result of more than just Freeman, though, as the Monarchs have thoroughly bought into Jones’ system, predicated on patient offense and tough man-to-man defense – the latter of which has held opponents to 0.91 points per possession so far, the best mark in C-USA. Likewise, Jones deserves credit for his ability to seamlessly integrate both Freeman and George Mason transfer Jonathan Arledge into a deep cohort of returnees. The head man said in an interview recently (regarding his first year at the program), “We just needed to make people understand it would take some hard work [and] it would take some time, but we were going to just try to be as patient as we could moving forward.” “Time” and “patience,” sure, but it’s taken not even two full seasons for Jones to completely revamp and re-energize things in Norfolk; and for that, he earns our Midseason Coach of the Year honors.

Honorable Mentions: Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa; Bob McKillop – Davidson; Porter Moser – Loyola (IL); Keno Davis – Central Michigan; Mark Few – Gonzaga; Eddie Payne – USC Upstate

O26 Midseason Player of the Year

BYU's versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

BYU’s versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Kyle Collinsworth – BYU. It feels a little weird deeming Collinsworth O26 Midseason Player of the Year when his teammate, Tyler Haws, is college basketball’s third-leading scorer. But remember how BYU looked last March without Collinsworth after he went down with a torn ACL? The Cougars were crushed by Oregon in what should have been a competitive #7/#10 NCAA Tournament match-up. The point guard’s versatility, defense and toughness – not to mention eye-popping numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment – make Collinsworth the glue that holds BYU together and the player worthy of our midseason honor. “He is a really effective player in so many different areas of the game,” head coach Dave Rose said recently. At 6’6’’, there are few players (perhaps no player) who do what Collinsworth does: Not only is he the facilitator for the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense, but he also serves as BYU’s best rebounder and defender, leading the team in assists, rebounds and steals. At this point, the junior’s impressive across-the-board averages (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG) are overshadowed only by his record-setting triple-double pace. With three already under his belt, Collinsworth needs just one to tie and two more to break the single-season NCAA mark. That all-around ability has allowed Rose to utilize a four-guard lineup in recent weeks, a move that’s enabled BYU to hit its stride just as WCC play heats up – evidenced by the team’s 99-68 drubbing of San Francisco on Saturday. “Kyle’s a big reason because he can rebound as well as any guard in the country. To have him on the floor, you have a guard that’s a great rebounder,” Rose noted. With Collinsworth healthy and playing at an incredibly high level, the Cougars should return to the Big Dance this March.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Sycamores, Kyle Collinsworth, Bob McKillop & Fresno State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 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

Indiana State. The Sycamores entered the week 4-8, having lost seven straight games against Division I programs, including the last two – home defeats to Eastern Illinois and UMKC – against teams ranked well below 200th in KenPom. Sure, three key seniors did graduate in the offseason and Greg Lansing’s program was picked sixth in the Missouri Valley, but the first two months of 2014-15 failed even to live up to those modest expectations. Conference play can do funny things to a basketball team, and it certainly did something to the Sycamores this past week; despite all signs pointing the other way, Indiana State upended two of the MVC’s better squads to begin its league slate.

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Lansing’s club opened the week on the road against shorthanded-but-talented Illinois State, a good team (which beat Old Dominion by 19 in November) with a 91 percent chance of winning, according to KenPom. But despite those long odds, and although it had not beaten the Redbirds in Normal since 2011, Indiana State came out hot from the perimeter (43 percent from behind the arc), limited Illinois State top-scorer Daishon Knight to just five points, and overcame a halftime deficit to pull off the road upset. Neither team managed more than 0.90 points per possession – “We’ve always been a program that wins ugly games,” Lansing said afterwards – but the Sycamores produced enough late buckets and a big, last-second block to secure the victory. “That’s a really good start for us beating a good team.” Next up was Evansville on Sunday, a team fresh off a win over 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa on New Year’s Day. Again substantial underdogs and again hitting from the three-point line, the Sycamores kept pace with the Aces all afternoon and ultimately forced overtime tied at 70. Momentum swung towards Indiana State when Evansville big man Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out with 3:20 left in the extra period, and another big defensive play – this time a Devonte Brown steal – put Lansing’s group up for good. Big man Jake Kitchell led the way for Indiana State with 21 points and 11 rebounds.  “A lot of us struggled at the start of the year, including me. Guys are playing better now and the results are showing,” Lansing noted after the game. Indeed. One week ago, his team looked like it’d be hard-pressed to win two conference games all season. Now? The Sycamores sit coolly atop the MVC standings at 2-0. “It’s only a couple of wins, but we’re happy with them.”

Honorable Mentions: New Mexico (2-0: vs. Fresno State, vs. Colorado State); Coastal Carolina (2-0: at High Point, vs. Charleston Southern); St. Francis-Brooklyn (2-0: vs. Columbia, at Sacred Heart); BYU (3-0: vs. Portland, at Santa Clara, at San Francisco); Idaho (2-0: vs. Idaho State, vs. Weber State) Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear Utah: Seriously, Can You Learn How to Close the Door?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2014

Against Wichita State, it was sort of heartwarming; Utah getting that close-game monkey off their back (they had been 3-9 in games decided by two possesions or less since Delon Wright put on a Utah uniform at the start of last season). The fact that they had to blow a comfortable lead in the waning moments to make the game close to begin with was forgivable givne the final result. Against BYU on Wednesday night, heartwarming turned into heartburn.

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Really, by the time this game reached the first TV timeout early in the first half, there was no doubt as to who was the better team, who had more talent. Sure, BYU’s Tyler Haws is an elite scorer capable of keeping his team in a lot of games it has no business being in. And Kyle Collinsworth? Goodness. I have neither the time nor the imminent desire to list all the things I love about that dude’s game. But beyond that, the rest of that BYU roster is more or less indistinguishable from any other random team that will likely be on the periphery of NCAA Tournament discussion in a few months. They’ve got some decent parts (Anson Winder is nice, Chase Fischer is flammable, some passable bigs), but on a whole, there ain’t a whole lot to write home about beyond those two.

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Morning Five: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2014

morning5

  1. The 2004 USC football team might have some company soon after Dan Kane’s latest piece on the North Carolina academic scandal showed just how pervasive the academic fraud was on the 2005 North Carolina basketball team that won the national title. According to Kane, five members of that team–four of whom are labeled as “key players”–enrolled in 35 bogus classes with nine of them in the fall semester and 26 in the spring semester when they were on their way to winning the national title. The names of those five individuals have not been released, but we think it is safe to assume that Rashad McCants was one of them since he has come clean with his involvement in it. As for the other three “key players” they would have to include at least one other pretty big name as that UNC team only have seven players other than McCants even score 100 points the entire season. Regardless of which players were actually involved we cannot imagine the NCAA handling this any other way than to vacate that national title.
  2. Three teams–Virginia, Mississippi, and San Diego State–will be without significant pieces to start the season. At Virginia, junior forward Evan Nolte (2.8 points per game last season) and sophomore guard London Perrantes (5.5 points and team-leading 3.8 assists per game last season) were suspended for two preseason scrimmages and the team’s season-opener at James Madison for violation of team rules over the summer. At Mississippi, senior forward Aaron Jones (team leader with 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocker per game last season) was suspended for three games–an exhibition game and the first two regular season games–following a violation of team rules. The issue at San Diego State is not a suspension instead it is an injury as sophomore forward Matt Shrigley (5.2 points per game last season) will be out for a month after suffering a “small fracture” in his left elbow after being on the receiving end of a flagrant foul during an exhibition game.
  3. In this space we talk a lot about players getting suspended. What we don’t talk about very often is coaches having the sit out suspension. So that makes the decision by Kennesaw State to suspend Jimmy Lallathin for one game for a self-reported violation by the program interesting. What makes it even more interesting (or amusing depending on your point of view) is that Lallathin’s has not even coached a game as the official head coach yet. He did go 3-13 over the final two months of last season acting as an interim coach following the departure of Lewis Preston on January 3. And just to make the suspension a little more bizarre, the Kennesaw State administration decided to suspend Lallathin for the second game of the season–against California–so he will be available for their season-opener–against Syracuse.
  4. It always seems like the NCAA comes down to the wire with its decision regarding the eligibility of certain players. The case of Louisville freshman Shaqquan Aaron appears to be no different as he is still waiting to receive a response from the NCAA with the Cardinals opener coming up on Wednesday. Aaron, a top-30 recruit, reportedly submitted the final documents for the NCAA to review on Friday (truthfully, in most cases the timing of these decisions is probably more the fault of the player and his family than the NCAA) and is hopeful that he will get a (positive) response in time for Wednesday’s game against Minnesota. Even if he doesn’t start for the Cardinals, his presence should add some depth to the Cardinals in an area they need some more help.
  5. With all this talk of who won’t be available to start the season and who shouldn’t have been able to play nearly a decade ago, we do have one bit of positive news on Monday as BYU forward Kyle Collinsworth was cleared to play again after tearing his right ACL at the end of last season. Collinsworth, who averaged 14 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game last season while being named All-WCC, is a huge addition for the Cougars even if he is not back to full strength when the season starts. He probably won’t be enough to make the Cougars competitive with Gonzaga this season, but should make them a threat for second place in the conference and a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Oregon 87, #10 BYU 68

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

All game long, Elgin Cook and Oregon were one step ahead. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

All game long, Elgin Cook and Oregon were one step ahead. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon’s reserves played an important role. Dana Altman has used his bench very effectively all season and that continued against BYU. Redshirt sophomore forward Elgin Cook, a Milwaukee native, turned in a career-best performance at the Bradley Center. Cook finished the afternoon with 23 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes. The Ducks also received a boost off the bench from senior guard Jason Calliste. Calliste entered the afternoon as the team’s most consistent bench player, averaging 12.4 points per game in limited minutes, and that did not change against BYU. Calliste finished with 14 points and four assists in 26 minutes. The senior also displayed his free throw shooting prowess, as he was 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. To advance in March, you normally need good play from your bench to win. Cook and Calliste provided that against BYU and that is a major reason why the Ducks advanced to the round of 32.
  2. Oregon actually performed well on the defensive end of the court. Oregon’s defense was a concern all season, but it actually equated itself quite well in Thursday’s victory. Part of the reason why the Ducks were able to build a first half lead that was never relinquished was because BYU shot just 28.1 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. The Cougars ended the afternoon at just 32.8 percent from the field, as the Oregon defense made it difficult for them to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. BYU guard Matt Carlino had a forgettable afternoon. He struggled all game to finish just 4-of-16 from the field. BYU leading scorer Tyler Haws also had difficulties getting on track and finished just 7-of-18 from the field. While it would be inappropriate to say the Oregon defense is “fixed” after just one game, the Ducks’ effort on that side of the court Thursday afternoon certainly gives the team something to build upon as the Tournament continues. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 03.13.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2014

morning5

  1. It did not take Loyola Marymount long to move on from the Max Good era. Just one day after firing Good (we are not even sure if they waited 24 hours) they hired Mike Dunlap to be their next coach. Dunlap is a Loyola Marymount graduate so it seems like a good fit. Dunlap has  “NBA” coaching experience as he was the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2012-13 season, but probably is best known to college basketball fans as the interim coach at St. John’s during the 2011-12 season while Steve Lavin was recovering from his prostate cancer treatment.
  2. We wonder how long it will take Auburn to find a replacement for Tony Barbee after they fired him yesterday. Barbee was informed of the decision after his team lost its opening game in the SEC Tournament so he could tell his players in the locker room since it would probably be the last time they would meet with the student being on Spring Break. Barbee finished with a 48-75 record, which by itself was probably worthy of being fired, but the poor attendance at the games only compounded it. We will be interested to see who the school targets because even though the SEC is technically a major conference we would not consider the position that desirable although we could see a coach using it as a stepping stone.
  3. Much of the focus on the injury front this week will be directed at Joel Embiid’s back, but that will not be the most significant injury on Selection Sunday. Instead, BYU sophomore starting guard Kyle Collinsworth‘s knee might be the most scrutinized injury in the Selection Committee room. Collinsworth, who is average 14 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game, injured his right knee during the second half of BYU’s loss to Gonzaga on Tuesday night. Yesterday he underwent an MRI that revealed an ACL tear and he will miss the remainder of the season. With the Cougars firmly on the bubble in many brackets before Collinsworth’s injury, the MRI results likely mean that BYU is heading to the NIT.
  4. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, the bracket, and the safeguards now in place to prevent the bracket from being leaked, Jeff Eisenberg has an excellent look into how the NCAA keeps the bracket a secret. For those of you not familiar with the story behind this, in 2010 an anonymous poster on a Maryland message board posted many of the details on that year’s bracket almost an hour before they were publicly revealed. With the networks spending nearly $1 billion a year we understand their desire to maintain secrecy, but some of the details about how the NCAA tries to keep the bracket a secret until it is publicly released seem ridiculous.
  5. When we saw the new adidas uniforms we were surprised by how different the Baylor uniforms were and wondered whether they would be able to play in them. It turns out that the NCAA feels the same way and says that Baylor cannot wear their new uniforms. It appears that the thing that made the NCAA refuse to accept these uniforms was the phrase “Sic ‘Em” since it is not part of the school’s name or mascot. It is interesting that this is what made the NCAA put its foot down after it allowed several schools to wear ridiculous uniforms.
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For How Long Can Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino Mask BYU’s Problems?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 26th, 2013

Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s BYU-Texas game from the CBE Classic in Kansas City.

In the first half of BYU’s 86-82 win over Texas Monday night, it was Matt Carlino. Following intermission, Tyler Haws made all the noise. The Cougars’ two best scorers combined for 45 points, and Haws hit the enduring shot of the game, an off-balance runner 19 feet away from the basket with the shot clock expiring to give BYU a late three-point lead. Escaping with a win in a match-up that featured 18 ties and 21 lead changes, Brigham Young washed out the gross taste left in its mouth by a loss to Iowa State last week. When the Cougars’ offense is rolling, hitting shots in fewer than five dribbles and moving the ball quickly around the floor, it’s a joy to watch. Individual scorers like Carlino and Haws, who scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, make college basketball worth watching this season.

But, BYU’s rebounding. Oh, their rebounding.

BYU (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/MCT)

BYU Can Have a Great Season, But Rebounding And Defense Are Once Again Worrisome (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Zone defenses like the one BYU deployed as it tried to combat Texas’ athleticism are prone to giving up offensive boards, as any Syracuse or Baylor fan will readily tell you. But the apathy that the Cougars showed on the glass isn’t something you’ll see very often this year. Texas shot just 37.8 percent from the floor, but the Longhorns rebounded 17 of their misses which led to 24 second-chance points. Texas center Cameron Ridley had one of the best games of his career, gathering 10 rebounds to go with 12 points and a menacing six blocks. There was no mistaking the advantage he had down low.

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Stanford Isn’t Ready For The Limelight Yet

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 12th, 2013

Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s Stanford vs. BYU game in Palo Alto. 

The season isn’t even a week old and there is still plenty of time to make improvements, but considering the preseason expectations as well as the prolonged NCAA Tournament drought and coaching uncertainty within the program, Stanford’s home game last night against BYU was one the Cardinal really needed to win. It might not have been the Cardinal’s marquee non-conference match-up — that will be a game against Michigan right before Christmas — but it was a nationally televised opportunity for the program to make an early statement against a potential NCAA Tournament team.

Johnny Dawkins Is On The Hot Seat And He Didn't Do Much To Silence His Critics Last Night (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Johnny Dawkins Is On The Hot Seat And He Didn’t Do Much To Silence His Critics Last Night (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Instead, in front of a listless home crowd that was repeatedly drowned out by the BYU contingent, the Cardinal fell flat, losing 112-103 and allowing the Cougars to basically do whatever they wanted to offensively. Led by guards Matt Carlino (26 points on 8-0f-16 shooting), Kyle Collinsworth (14 points and nine assists), and Tyler Haws (31 points on 10-of-18 shooting), the Cougars shot better than 53 percent from the field and repeatedly got into the lane and pushed the tempo to find easy baskets. On the other end of the floor, Stanford scored a lot of points, but they never looked comfortable attacking BYU’s zone defense and, despite its obvious size advantage, ended up settling for a lot of long and contested jump shots.

Don’t make the mistake of pinning all of the blame on Stanford’s shortcomings, because the Cougars are a really good team. Haws is a legitimate All-American candidate and when Carlino and Collinsworth get going and are able to create offense by attacking the rim, BYU is going to be tough to stop. But Stanford wasn’t overmatched in any facet of the game, they just looked confused and uncertain on both ends of the floor while some of head coach Johnny Dawkins‘ moves exacerbated the issues.

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Mountain West Report Card

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2011

 

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap: It was a banner year for the Mountain West despite the turbulence of the offseason that will see two of the standard-bearers of the conference (Utah and BYU) leave for arguably greener pastures this summer with TCU following them out the door the following summer. The two teams leading the conference this season, BYU and San Diego State, posted a combined 66-8 record this year and were constants in the national top ten making the Sweet 16 before bowing out in tight contests. In addition to having two of the country’s top teams the conference also had arguably the nation’s top player in BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, who led the country in scoring, regularly producing eye-popping, shake-your-head-in-disbelief moments and becoming a household name in Utah and beyond. UNLV joined the conference leaders in the NCAA Tournament, but tripped up in ugly fashion before losing head coach Lon Kruger to Oklahoma over the weekend. Colorado State and New Mexico had their hopes pinned on NCAA Tournament bids, but came up a little short. Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the biggest collection of talent in the history of this conference and likely the high water mark. While there is not a whole lot of love lost between either followers of the conference or executives in the MWC and BYU, there is little doubt that the loss of both of the Utah schools from its ranks will leave a major hole.

It was clearly the year of the Jimmer in the Mountain West

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Mountain West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West conference. With the MWC tourney tipping off Wednesday, get set with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and tournament preview.

MWC Wrap-Up

For the top four seeds, the MWC Tournament is of great importance, with Colorado State the team with the most on the line. The Rams sit firmly on the bubble for an NCAA at-large invitation, and while winning the whole thing and the automatic bid that goes along with it would be their best bet, prevailing wisdom indicates that if they can take care of New Mexico in the quarterfinals and then upset BYU in the semifinals, Tim Miles’ club will have gone a long way towards punching its ticket. Meanwhile, for the top-seeded Cougars, they’ve still got some things to prove. In the wake of last week’s dismissal of its best interior player, Brandon Davies, for a BYU honor code violation, the Cougars hopes of possibly earning a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament have disappeared. However, where they will wind up seeded remains a real question – a good showing in the MWC Tournament and a run to the championship could still earn them a #2 seed, while an early exit could confirm the doubts of the NCAA Selection Committee and relegate them to a #3 or even a #4 seed. For San Diego State, they’ve still got plenty to prove as well. Their best wins on the season are over Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and a season-sweep of UNLV – good wins, but certainly not great. However, if SDSU can add another win over UNLV and get the BYU monkey off of its back, it could prove its credentials as a possible #2 seed. And then there’s UNLV, a team that has had a roller coaster ride of an offseason. If they can defend their homecourt in the conference tournament and come away with an MWC title, they could wind up as high as a #6 seed (assuming they knock off SDSU and BYU along the way), while an earlier exit could relegate them to a #9 or so. For seeds five through nine in the MWC Tournament, the stakes are clear: win the title or consider your options for the “other” postseason tournaments. New Mexico has a good shot at an NIT bid, should they fail to win three games in Las Vegas, while the rest of the bottom five seeds will determine whether to call it quits or consider possible invitations from the CBI or CIT.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

A Look Back

Last Wednesday, after Wyoming, in front of their home crowd, improbably stuck right with the #7 team in the nation, BYU, for 39-plus minutes, MWC fans were treated to an epic battle between two very good teams, one with its ticket all but punched for the NCAA Tournament, the other with its resume still very much in doubt. In the end, D.J. Gay’s clutch shot as the clock wound down followed by his play on Colorado State’s last-ditch effort sealed the road victory for San Diego State, just the latest in a streak of big plays at crunch time for the wily senior. The Rams, however, bounced back on Saturday with a closer-than-expected road win of their own over Wyoming. Elsewhere around the conference, New Mexico beat Air Force in Colorado Springs on Tuesday and Air Force came back with their own road win – their second in a row following 20 straight conference road losses – with their win over Utah on Saturday. If you’re not counting at home, that makes five road wins in eight conference games this week, but in the end, the teams at the top of the conference by and large keep piling up the wins, giving the MWC five times who at least have aspirations for at-large NCAA Tournament selections. With talented veteran rosters across the conference, this may be the high water mark for the conference, with stalwarts Utah and BYU (and TCU, a non-factor basketball-wise) heading to higher ground next season. And, on Monday, we got news of the firing of Wyoming’s head coach, Heath Schroyer, an announcement that was only potentially surprising because of the timing. With Utah and TCU also struggling through some recent hard times on the hard court, and with their impending departure, Jim Boylen and Jim Christian have to be looking over their shoulder as well.

Team of the Week: BYU – It’s hard to pick out one team this week, but we’ll go with the Cougars largely on the strength of their impressive handling of UNLV at the Marriott Center on Saturday. BYU built up a 12-point halftime lead, then coasted through much of the second half behind 29 points from Jimmer Fredette on his way to grabbing the mantle of the all-time leading scorer in Mountain West history, passing San Diego State’s Brandon Heath. Fredette also added seven assists and made all 16 of his free throw attempts as the Cougars prevailed in a game that was not exactly a thing of beauty. Couple that win with their surprisingly difficult win over Wyoming on Wednesday and it’s just another 2-0 week for the Cougars.

Player of the Week: Kawhi Leonard, Sophomore, San Diego State and Jimmer Fredette, Senior, BYU – Nobody in the conference came out and stole this week’s award, so I’m going to split the recognition between the two candidates for MWC Player of the Year (yes, I know Fredette’s winning this thing going away right now). At the surface, both of these guys had great weeks. Fredette scored 55 points in his two games, while Leonard had 23 points and 25 rebounds on the week. But closer examination reveals flaws for each. Leonard made just ten of his 27 shots, turned the ball over as many times as he handed out assists and missed both of his three-point attempt, while Fredette was just 13-35 from the field and 3-16 from deep, and had nine turnovers to his eight assists. And despite those flaws, these two share the Player of the Week award, in recognition not only for the things they did well this week, but also all that they’ve done well over the season.

Newcomer of the Week: Hank Thorns, Junior, TCU – It hasn’t been a fun season in Fort Worth, but Thorns has been a bright spot. The 5’9 transfer from Virginia Tech leads the conference in assists, with 6.4 dimes per game. This week he added eight more assists in a seven-point loss at San Diego State, but he’s also been adding more of a scoring punch, in the wake of the suspension of the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer, Ronnie Moss. This week Thorns had 16 points, and while TCU is in the middle of a six-game losing streak, Thorns has averaged 12 points and nine assists in the three games since Moss’ suspension.

Game of the Week: San Diego State 56, Colorado State 54 – Playing in front of an emboldened Moby Arena crowd, the Rams were out to prove that they were no pretender. And for 39 minutes and about 50 seconds, they fought the #6 team in the nation to a draw. And then D.J. Gay broke the hearts of the Rams and their 7,353 screaming fans. I linked to it above, but it is good enough to watch again. After CSU’s Travis Franklin tied the game at 54 with a strong move to the basket with 10 seconds left, Gay took the inbounds pass, calmly dribbled up court, and, in front of head coach Steve Fisher who had opted to let Gay go to work on his own rather than call a timeout, he knocked down a step-back jumper in the face of CSU’s Dorian Green. And then, not to be outdone, he got back on defense and intercepted Adam Nigon’s Hail Mary pass as time expired, reminding everyone around the conference why Gay is so important to his team.

Game of the Upcoming Week: New Mexico (16-7, 4-4) at Colorado State (16-7, 6-3), 2/12, 6PM PST, The Mtn. – On a day when San Diego State visits UNLV, I’ll take this game as the more important game, the more competitive game and the more exciting game. I may have been a little slow to the party, but I’m finally on board with the Rams as a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender, and I’ve also been waiting on the Lobos to turn the corner as well. At this point, all signs point to the corner having been turned, so we could be in for a serious battle here. The possibility of a Drew Gordon-Andy Ogide battle up front should be enough to get any college hoops fan interesting, but it could be the battle between Lobo senior point Dairese Gary and Ram sophomore guard Dorian Green that could decide things. Green surprisingly got the best of Gary in the first go-round, holding the Lobo leader scoreless in 34 minutes, but it was Gordon’s 16-rebound dominance on the glass that put the Lobos over the top at The Pit. This time around, the Rams will have the home court advantage, but it is unlikely they’ll be able to shutout Gary again. The winner here sneaks ahead in the battle for the MWC’s potential fourth Tournament bid, but people around the conference have been whispering giddily about the possibility of five teams in the Big Dance.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (23-1, 8-1): While the Aztecs did come out of the week with two wins, they also got a bit of a scare on Saturday night when starting guard Chase Tapley and reserve forward Tim Shelton both left the game in the first half with injuries – Tapley’s a sprained ankle and Shelton’s a foot injury. Neither player returned to the game and both sat on the bench with protective boots on their feet in the second half, but later X-rays revealed no broken bones in either player’s case. Shelton, who has had knee injuries end two seasons in his time in San Diego, underwent an MRI on Monday to determine if there was any ligament or tendon damage.

A look ahead: The Aztecs host Utah tonight before traveling to UNLV for a big collision on Saturday.

2. BYU (22-2, 8-1): In recent weeks, this space has turned into a “Cougars Who Aren’t Named Jimmer” section, and we’ll go back to that well here. While Jackson Emery continued his strong play (27 points, five threes and seven steals this week), Saturday’s win over UNLV featured a strong showing from sophomore forward Stephen Rogers, who went for 12 points, a career-high eight rebounds and two three-pointers in 21 minutes. Rogers’ chance at significant playing time came after freshman Kyle Collinsworth and junior James Anderson both left the game with injuries – Collinsworth a concussion and Anderson a separated shoulder. While Brandon Davies was a huge factor in the Cougars win over Wyoming on Wednesday, with 20 points and nine rebounds, he was limited by foul trouble on Saturday and struggled home to just four points, his only non-double-digit scoring effort since conference play began.

A look ahead: Sneaky week for the Cougars, with a trip to Air Force on Wednesday and then a visit from Utah for the final MWC edition of the basketball version of the Holy War on Saturday.

3. Colorado State (16-7, 6-3): The Rams played two games decided by five total points this week, and came away with a 1-1 split and a host of believers around the MWC. Rather unbelievably, CSU actually outrebounded the Aztecs, holding them to a mere five rebounds and a 14.3 offensive rebounding percentage. Andy Ogide led the way with 12 rebounds to go with his 18 points, but the Rams were done in by their ability to score against the suffocating SDSU defense, posting just a 38.5 effective field goal percentage. Against Wyoming on Saturday, there was a little bit of a hangover in effect, as Ogide was in foul trouble throughout and scored just 11 points, as the Ram starters combined to go 14-38 from the field. However, they were bailed out by their depth, as CSU’s bench outscored the Wyoming reserves by a 23-3 margin. Sophomore Pierce Hornung led the way with ten points and 11 rebounds, his first career double. As a whole, the bench combined to make ten of their 17 field goal attempts.

A look ahead: The Rams get a mid-week bye in advance of their battle with New Mexico on Saturday.

4. UNLV (17-6, 5-4): It’s a good thing for the Rebels that they took care of business against Utah on Wednesday, because they never had a chance against BYU on Saturday afternoon. While the Rebs were impressive on the glass against the Cougars (they grabbed almost 40% of all available offensive rebounds, and were solid on the defensive glass), their inability to hit shots on a consistent basis continues to plague them. Against BYU they posted just a 35% effective field goal percentage, and for the season they are just a shade above 50% in that category, good for 110th in the nation. Worse yet, they are shooting less than 30% from three, 318th in the nation. Their defense continues to be elite (they’re ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency), but unless they can somehow start putting the ball in the hoop, they’re a non-entity come March. Quintrell Thomas led the way against Utah with 15 points and 16 boards, while Anthony Marshall’s 16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against BYU was the only good thing the Rebs had going that day. Chace Stanback continues to be the leading scorer on the team, and he’s scored in double figures in six straight games, but UNLV fans keep waiting for last year’s Tre’Von Willis to show up. In his four games back since a knee injury kept him out of a couple games, he has only shot 35.9% from the field and averaged 12 points per game, and his quickness and ability to challenge defenders and get to the line is a pale imitation of the Willis from ’09-’10.

A look ahead: The Rebels visit TCU on Wednesday, with a chance to build up their confidence before heading into a huge home game with the Aztecs on Saturday. If the Rebels are going to get their mojo back, it has to start on Saturday by breaking SDSU’s three-game win streak in the series.

5. New Mexico (16-7, 4-4): After a terrible 1-4 start in conference play, the Lobos have now strung together three straight wins to get back to .500. This week they went to Air Force and looked impressive in helping head coach Steve Alford to his 400th career win, before getting a weekend bye. Drew Gordon led the way with 17 points and six rebounds, Dairese Gary added eight assists and the Lobos won by 14.

A look ahead: The Lobos host Wyoming on Wednesday in what is bound to be an emotional game for the Cowboys in their first game without head coach Heath Schroyer. If the Lobos can get through that game, their battle with Colorado State on Saturday will be huge.

6. Air Force (13-9, 4-5): In the home loss against New Mexico, the Falcons were just outclassed. But on Saturday, they played a strong game at Utah and came away with a five-point win. Against the bigger and stronger Utes, the Falcons went against type and hit the glass hard and effectively, grabbing a sparkling 90.6% of all defensive rebounds and a solid 24.3% of the offensive rebounds. Sophomore Zach Bohannon impressed, posting career highs in points (12), rebounds (8) and assists (5) and the Falcons led every step of the way after ripping off a 14-2 run to break a 2-2 tie early in the game.

A look ahead: Air Force’s sole game of the week is a visit from BYU on Wednesday night. They slow it down, ugly the game up and try to control Fredette in the hopes of keeping in contact as far as the under-four timeout. If they can do that much, anything can happen down the stretch.

7. Utah (10-13, 3-6): The head coach at Utah prior to Jim Boylen was Ray Giacoletti. He won a MWC championship in his first season and advanced the Utes to a Sweet 16. Two straight 6-10 years later, he was the ex-Utah coach. This is Boylen’s 4th season as the head coach in Salt Lake City. In his second year, his Utes won the MWC championship before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last season, they finished 7-9. But with the Utes stepping up to the Pac-10 next season, last season’s mass exodus of players not too far back in the rearview mirror, and with history saying the Utah athletic department isn’t fond of consecutive losing seasons for its basketball program, it might be a good idea for the Utes to finish this season strongly if Boylen expects to be back next year. This week’s two losses, especially the home loss against Air Force on Saturday during which the home crowd did not hesitate to show its displeasure, did not do Boylen any favors. Yes, he’s had to deal with a nearly complete roster overhaul that has been exacerbated by injuries, and he’s a well-respected man in his profession, but if the Utes don’t finish this season strongly, you can bet the athletic department will be entertaining thoughts of a new head coach.

A look ahead: Given the above, this week is absolutely brutal. A trip to San Diego State tonight, a trip to Provo to face BYU on Saturday, and in all likelihood, a 3-8 conference record come Sunday morning.

8. TCU (10-14, 1-8): Much like the Utes, the Horned Frogs have a transition to a higher level of basketball in the near future, as they’ll join the Big East in ’12-’13. With head coach Jim Christian, now in his third season, having never posted a winning record in Fort Worth, he can’t be resting all too comfortably, especially given the fact that he has just suspended his best player in Ronnie Moss, a player who in all likelihood will not wear a Horned Frog uniform again. The fact is, this roster is pretty devoid of talent, and doesn’t compare favorably with even some of the truly bad teams at the bottom of the Big East. If TCU decides that Christian isn’t the man for the future of this program, do they decide to go a different way immediately, giving the new head coach a couple years worth of recruiting before being thrown into the Big East gauntlet? Or does Christian get one more year to turn it around, with the Horned Frogs using a new head coach in 2012 to generate some type of buzz before heading into the Big East? My educated guess? Given that Christian still has four years on his contract – after receiving a two-year extension following his first season in Fort Worth – given that the basketball is clearly a distant second in importance to the TCU football program (and may even be third behind baseball), and given that the previous head coach left the program in total disarray, I suspect Christian will get another season. An added bonus: if the Horned Frogs do wind up with a new head coach in their first year in the Big East, that’s a good excuse for their inability to keep up with the big boys of college basketball.

A look ahead: UNLV visits Fort Worth on Saturday, then the Frogs visit Laramie in a spectacular preview of the 8/9 game at the MWC Tournament.

9. Wyoming (8-15, 1-8): At Wyoming, they no longer have the same decision to make that the two programs above have to make. Schroyer is gone, assistant coach Fred Langley has been promoted to interim coach and the only decision that remains to be made is who is next. The early leader is BYU associate head coach Dave Rice, but Wyoming has a nice head start on searching for a new head man. As for the Schroyer era, the final tally stands at 49-68 over the course of almost four years, but his lasting legacy may be cleaning up the academic and off-court performance of the team. Given the substandard facilities at Wyoming, Schroyer was fighting an uphill battle the whole way, but he never got any momentum going. It was somewhat surprising that he was fired in the middle of the season, as all indications were that any decisions about his future would be made after the season, but there was no real suspense as to whether he would return or not. The ironic part is, this firing came after a week in which the Cowboys played BYU down to the wire, then gave Colorado State all they could handle before coming up short.

A look ahead: Wyoming travels to New Mexico for their first game in the Langley era, then return home to host TCU on Saturday.

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