Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wild, wild (Mountain) West

Cleaning out the old notebook after Wednesday’s Mountain West Conference basketball media day.

I am not permitted to take part in the media poll per our paper’s rules, but I think my fellow scribes and the TV folks did a pretty good job with it. As BYU coach Dave Rose pointed out, BYU probably got a lot of first-place votes because it is the defending champ and there really is no clear favorite. Rose termed the league “as wide open as I can remember it being.”

I also agree with San Diego State coach Steve Fisher that six teams could win the league – BYU, UNLV, New Mexico, Utah, San Diego State and Wyoming. Yes, I’m leaving Air Force off that list for now, although I think the Falcons have a chance to be a pretty solid team.

Some quick-hit thoughts on the teams …

BYU: Certainly the favorite going in, but the Cougars are vulnerable. They lost the league’s Player of the Year (Keena Young), along with Austin Ainge – a clutch performer who brought a lot of confidence and moxie to the floor – and sharpshooter Mike Rose. Big losses.

UNLV: The Rebels will be inexperienced and rely a lot on guard Wink Adams. Watch out for 6-foot-8 forward Lamar Roberson, a transfer from the University of Houston who sat out last season.

Utah: One of the league’s most experienced teams with four returning starters. Could make noise, but much will depend upon the play of 7-1 center Luke Nevill. At times he’s dominant, other times not nearly assertive enough. Save for BYU’s’ Trent Plaisted, there aren’t a whole lot of guys in the league that can match up with him physically. So is this the year he takes charge?

New Mexico: Perhaps the most intriguing team in the conference in part because of the big-name first-year coach (Steve Alford) and in part because the Lobos have arguably the most talented player in the league (J.R. Giddens). Alford said Wednesday that Giddens has been great, and Giddens is saying all the right things. Will that be true halfway through the season?

San Diego State: They lost their top two players – including Brandon Heath, the league’s all-time leading scorer – and they’ll be small. But the Aztecs always have talent, and Fisher said Wednesday this team is deepest he’s had in his nine seasons at the school. The loss of talented but troubled Jerome Habel? That might well end up being addition by subtraction for this team.

Wyoming: I would not be surprised if this team wins the conference. I like the new coach, I love the two guards (Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones), and the talented Joseph Taylor has had a good offseason, from what I have heard. Plenty of talent, lots of swagger.

TCU: Four starters back from a team that won three of its last five games last year, including the upset of Air Force that likely burst the Falcons’ NCAA Tournament bubble. And yet … I guess everyone will believe it when they see it.

Colorado State: Rebuilding year. Big time. Ten guys gone from last year.

Air Force: There is a lot of potential, and a relatively soft non-conference schedule could help build confidence. But the inexperience will be tough to overcome, especially in places like The Pit and Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium. Air Force fans were spoiled last year with a bunch of seniors that were very talented but also very experienced and poised. Jake Burtschi, Matt McCraw, Nick Welch, Dan Nwaelele – those guys oozed confidence. Tim Anderson, the team’s lone returning starter, is among the league’s marquee players (he probably belonged on the preseason All-MWC team, if only for his defense). So much depends on how former role players (specifically Anwar Johnson and Andrew Henke) handle increased burdens.

I’ll throw this out there for comments: Who do you guys think should be the preseason favorite? And where do you think Air Force should have been ranked?


Anonymous said... thoughts you've heard before:

....have to agree with a lot of what you said. BYU will be tough this year and I think Plastid (and Neville at Utah) are both going to play strong at the Post and will be the bigs of the MWC. Cummard and Testaverni will need to be solid for BYU for them to contend. Wyoming is Wyoming.....some notes from their board and articles suggest a 4 box 1 offense. 'Offense' is the key word here since I have not seen one up there 'structured' in the last 4 years. The question will be if their coach can get Ewing and Jones to play within that...AND....being an offense that is best vs man to man, can they find the shooters to be consistent outside.

For us there are several keys (maybe I should come work with you??? )....First is out of conference. It is weaker than we would have liked but it is what it is and will work to our benefit. The key to AF offense is comfortability (if that's a word) on both ends of the court. While we start off very easy vs opponents OOC, it gives us a time to gell and become proficient. We do have three highlight games as I see them w/ WSU (a NCAA player this year?), Wake and, inbetween, CU. While CU is more of a grudge match with Bzz coming back, I see it as a key matter how hard physically this game is as a matchup, can our team play team ball in an emotional setting....playing within themselves....and come out with a win. Bzz will know what we are going to can we do that with success? MWC play comes down to: holding serve here at our home court. Can we 8-0 at home? Between play and the crowd IT IS POSSIBLE. We will be tougher inside this year than people can's the 3ball and use of it that we will need to find and not struggle with.

Anonymous said...

Home court has been a huge advantage for The Academy. With all the wins they've had there the past several years there, I can't imagine them dropping more than a few home games. An easy pre-season should keep the excitement going and fans interested for the MWC games. Say The Falcons go 6-2 at home, and 2-6 on the road for a .500 record. That would be a good performance for this young group.

jake.schaller said...

I agree. I think a .500 record in conference and a win at the conference tournament would be a very successful season.