Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Battle for Fifth

Heading into Saturday’s Mountain West Conference men’s basketball games, Air Force is tied for fifth place in the league with Utah and TCU (all three teams are 6-7 in conference play).

Moving into fourth place is unlikely for Air Force as San Diego State resides there with an 8-6 record and a game in hand. The Falcons face the Aztecs in both teams’ regular season finale, but San Diego State plays host to Colorado State (winless in league play) on Saturday. The Aztecs should wrap up at least fourth place with a victory over the Rams.

A slide all the way into eighth is impossible. Even if Air Force loses its final three games and Wyoming (in eighth at 4-10) wins both of its last two games, including a tilt at BYU, the teams would be tied and the Falcons hold the tiebreaker.

So it seems like Air Force will finish between fifth and seventh. Can the Falcons take fifth?

I figure it will take them winning two of three down the stretch and Wyoming upsetting Utah. Here’s how:

The remaining schedules for the teams vying for the fifth spot are as follows:

-Utah: at Wyoming, vs. Colorado State, at UNLV
-Air Force: at BYU, vs. TCU, vs. San Diego State
-TCU: at UNLV, at Air Force, vs. BYU

If we assume that each team will lose games to BYU and UNLV, the top two teams in the league, then here’s how the race looks:
-Utah (6-8) with games at Wyoming and against Colorado State
-Air Force (6-8) with games against TCU and San Diego State
-TCU (6-9) with a game at Air Force

If we further assume Utah will beat Colorado State, then the race comes down to three games:
-Utah at Wyoming (this Saturday)
-TCU at Air Force (next Wednesday)
-San Diego State at Air Force (a week from Saturday)

So if Wyoming upsets Utah, the Utes will finish 7-9. And if Air Force holds serve at home, it will finish 8-8.

Here’s the not-so-funny part for Air Force fans. The Nos. 2-4 seeds (which will face the Nos. 5-7 seeds in the first round of the conference tournament) still are up for grabs. So finishing sixth or seventh could arguably get the Falcons a better first-round match-up.

Confused yet? Me too. I’m starting to think “taking it one game at a time” is not so bad a cliché. We can worry about this a week from now.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Colorado State Review

Yes, Air Force was facing the worst team in the Mountain West Conference – one that had lost 12 straight.

And, OK, the Rams are using some players who probably are better suited for intramurals than Division I basketball.

And, sure, Moby Arena with less than 4,000 fans – and more than a few supporting the Falcons – isn't The Pit or Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But don’t underestimate the importance of Air Force’s 61-59 victory over the Rams on Saturday, especially the way the Falcons won.

Without their best stuff.

Air Force missed 14 of its first 17 3-pointers, including some wide open looks that the Rams almost dared them to take. “I haven’t seen the tape,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said a few minutes after the game, “but I would have to say that every shot we took that was a 3 was wide open, they just didn’t go in.”

In addition, Tim Anderson struggled again, going 3-for-8 from the field, and the Rams shot the lights out early, building confidence and momentum with every 3.

But, like a fighter who finds himself a step slow in a bout, Air Force hung on and did its best to minimize the Rams’ punishment. The Falcons saved their energy and, when given openings, unleashed flurries of points to steal momentum.

Yes, it was Colorado State. But good teams don’t lose to cellar-dwelling squads, and they find ways to win even when things aren’t going exactly right. Air Force is trying to become a good team, and Saturday was a big step in the right direction.

Other Thoughts:

-After Saturday’s games, the Falcons are 6-7 in the Mountain West Conference and in sixth place, a half-game in front of TCU (5-7) and a half-game behind Utah (6-6).

The top of the conference is tight too, as BYU (10-2) leads second-place UNLV (9-3) by a game. The Runnin’ Rebels have a half-game lead on surging New Mexico (9-4), which leads San Diego State (8-5) by a game.

So Air Force’s first-round opponent in the conference tourney is still up in the air. I think the best match-up for the Falcons might be the Aztecs and after that – crazy as it sounds – UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels will play on their home floor in the tourney, but they are the one team Air Force matches up with size-wise. And the Falcons have given UNLV fits of late, winning at home and pushing UNLV to the brink on the road.

Utah is a pretty good possibility as an opponent, and I think Air Force might like another shot at the Utes. The one team I think the Falcons do not want to see is New Mexico.

-Eric Kenzik played his second straight solid game for the Falcons Saturday. He scored just six points in 10 minutes, but his pair of 3-pointers helped keep Air Force afloat in the first half when Colorado State couldn’t seem to miss from the perimeter.

-The game’s top highlight, in my opinion? Andrew Henke trying to throw down a dunk over 7-foot Stuart Creason. Henke didn’t quite jam it, but he picked up the foul and somehow banked the ball in anyway.

-Just eight turnovers for Air Force on Saturday. That means in three of the past five games, the Falcons have made eight or less.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Football Banquet Highlights

Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun had high praise for his 2007 squad at the team’s banquet, held Friday night at The Broadmoor.

Calhoun noted that he played for a baseball team that reached the Little League World Series and an academy team that was ranked No. 5 in the country and that he was on the coaching staff of a Denver Broncos team that went 14-2 in the regular season and played in the AFC Championship game.

But, he said, “I’ve never been part of a group that came as close to maxing out their physical ability than this team.”

Calhoun had praise for each senior who was introduced (see below), including Drew Fowler and Garrett Rybak, who shared the prestigious Brian Bullard Memorial Award (Given to the player who displays the qualities that typified the late Bullard – unselfishness, 110 percent effort, total team commitment and pride in his role on the team whether he’s a starter or not).

Players vote on the Bullard Award. Calhoun said there were about seven players who received six or more votes.

“It’s one of those years you almost could have given it to the whole class,” Calhoun said. “But the two that were chosen were absolutely tremendous selections.”

But while Friday night was all about celebrating the Falcons’ remarkable 2007 season and the standout senior class that helped make it possible, Calhoun also had some thoughts on what many expect to be a down year in 2008.

“Initially, you may have some concerns about this year,” Calhoun told the crowd at the banquet. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to be fine in 2008. ... We’re going to be tough, we’re going to be talented and we’re going to win because we have academy kids.”

Senior Superlatives
Here are some excerpts of what Calhoun said about the players who made up the Class of 2008:

-CB Carson Bird: “Just a remarkable season.”

-QB Shaun Carney: “If there’s one word that sticks out about this kid, it’s ‘leader.’’ ... A guy that’s a winner and a guy that you absolutely want to be the quarterback of your football team.”

-DE Josh Clayton: Provided “great, great leadership” for a defensive front that excelled.

-TE Chris Evans: “’Tremendous attitude and a strong contributor on special teams.”’

-LB Drew Fowler: “You’re around Drew Fowler for a while and right away you find out he’s genuine right until he hits the football field and you find out he wants to put a dent in your nose.”
-S Bobby Giannini: “The last six games of this season, he played as well as any defensive back in the conference. ... A class act and a great young man.”

-C Blaine Guenther: “This guy’s a football player. ... He’s every bit deserving of first-team all-conference.”

-RB/WR Chad Hall: “He always makes sure that if any praise comes his way, he deflects it to the Air Force Academy and his teammates.” Calhoun also described his effort in making two blocks on Jim Ollis’ 71-yard run against TCU: “To me, that’s Chad Hall.”

-WR Devin Hart: “We always talk about complete people, this is a quality leader within the cadet wing.”

-T Dan Holder: “He’s one of those guys you just naturally gravitate towards.”

-LB Julian Madrid: “This is a guy that right away you can tell these guys love having him as a teammate.” He said Madrid “defied any kind of logic” by coming back from his knee injury.

-TB Kip McCarthy: “He’s a guy that his teammates knew was totally dependable.”

-WR Mike Moffett: “He played both Z and X receiver, and he was smart enough and tough enough and dedicated enough that there was no problem at all.”

-T Chris Monson: “He probably made as much improvement as anyone on our football team.”

-T Caleb Morris: “What comes to mind right away is the kind of heart Caleb has.”

-LS Tony Norman: “Not only was he an excellent long-snapper, but any time he was involved in coverage he excelled.”

-TB Jim Ollis: “Perseverance. That’s all there is to it when you talk about Jimmy Ollis. ... The last three games he played as well as any tailback in the country.”

-FB Scott Peeples: “He’s got a quick wit, and he makes you laugh. ... Scott filled a variety of roles.”

-LB John Rabold: “Outside of the bow tie (which Rabold wore to the banquet), I love this guy. Just had a phenomenal season.” When it comes to statistics, Rabold had “hands down the biggest impact on the defensive side of the ball in the conference.”

-LB Austin Randle: “He’s one of those guys that always has a smile on his face until he gets on the football field, which you love.”

-WR Mark Root: “Excellent blocker, caught the ball well, ran excellent routes, smart, tough and another classy kid.”

-CB Garrett Rybak: “He’s a guy you’re exceptionally proud of.”

-LB Aaron Shanor: “One of those guys that really found his stride the last eight games of the season.”

-TB Chad Smith: “Just a tough kid, I don’t know any other way to put it.”

-CB Nathan Smith: “A guy who played a bunch on special teams and always was ready to step in” at cornerback.

-FB Ryan Williams: “No way I could brag about this guy’s toughness too much. ... A great, great football player, and an even tougher kid.”

Other Notes

-Seniors Carney and Fowler will coach at the academy next year. Guenther and Hall – and perhaps Bird – will coach at the prep school.

-During his remarks, academy superintendent Lt Gen John F. Regni noted the deal signed earlier that day by The mtn. and DirecTV. It elicited cheers and applause from the audience. “This is huge for us,” Regni said. “From a recruiting standpoint, it’s big.”

-Calhoun on new assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Matt Wallerstedt, who Calhoun hired to replace the departed Brian Knorr. “He was raised in an Air Force family. His dad was a fighter pilot. His dad flew F-4s. ... A guy that was a tremendous football player. ... He’ll do a great job. We were lucky as can be to get him.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Mexico Review

Air Force needed to play close to perfect – and with unmatched enthusiasm – to beat New Mexico on Thursday night.

It did neither.

So the result, predictably, was a 17-point home loss to arguably the hottest team in the Mountain West Conference.

Air Force showed some heart to come back from a double-digit first half deficit, but was sloppy and flat after halftime. Once the Falcons fell behind by double digits again, they became a bit impatient, coach Jeff Reynolds said. They took some shots too early in the shot clock, not allowing the offense to produce better looks.

Other thoughts:
- It’s time to start Andrew Henke in place of Matt Holland.

More for Holland than for Henke.

Let me explain.

Holland has started all 25 of the Falcons’ games this year and has been one of their more pleasant surprises.

But he has played just 9, 5, 10 and 9 minutes in the past four games, respectively. The past three games he’s started the second half on the bench.

Now, I know Reynolds likes the “energy” that Henke provides off the bench. And I know he and Henke recently discussed Henke starting and they decided against it. And I know that Utah’s Johnnie Bryant has had lots of success playing a sixth-man role for the Utes.

But …

On Wednesday night against New Mexico, Holland was replaced by Henke just 1 minute, 13 seconds into the game. Does it do Holland any good to play 73 seconds before getting yanked? I say no.

He’s played just 33 minutes the past four games combined. Two of the Falcons’ other starters played that many or more on Wednesday night. So he’s got to know he’s a starter in name only. And I would imagine that's hurting his confidence.

So wouldn’t bringing him off the bench be the perfect solution? Instead of playing a couple minutes to start the game and then going to the bench for the remainder of the half, why not allow him to provide the energy and spark off the bench? I’ve got to believe that he would feel a whole lot more comfortable with his place on the team if he was playing 5-10 minutes as a bench player instead of a starter. I think it would just change his whole mindset.

And how about playing Holland and Henke at the same time? Henke for one of the starting guards and Holland at the three-spot?

- I remember last year, when the Clune Arena win streak was nearing 30 games, doing a piece on the building and Air Force’s recent success there. Several coaches – including Jeff Bzdelik – noted that home-court advantages start with the players. In other words, no matter how loud or big or quirky or intimidating an arena is, it doesn’t guarantee victories without a good team playing on its floor.

I think that’s part of what’s happened this year. Air Force enjoyed a remarkable home-court advantage when it had its most impressive collection of talent at the academy. Most of those players now are gone. The team is rebuilding, and the players must help rebuild the aura of dominance on their home floor.

But I can’t let the fans off the hook either. Clune had its lowest attendance for a Mountain West Conference game on Wednesday night. Saturday against Wyoming the excuses for poor attendance were the great weather, the three-day weekend and the great skiing conditions in the mountains. What was the excuse Wednesday night? For the second straight game, there was zero electricity from the fans at the start of the game.

- Saturday's game at Colorado State sets up as a major trap game. The Rams are 0-11 in conference but played TCU tough Wednesday night. Air Force can't afford to start slowly or look past this game at all or it will be in big trouble.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wallerstedt on way to AFA

Air Force will add former Kansas State assistant Matt Wallerstedt to its football coaching staff, academy associate athletic director for communications Troy Garnhart confirmed Tuesday.

Wallerstedt, who spent two years with the Wildcats, will fill the vacancy created when assistant head coach Brian Knorr accepted a position at Wake Forest last week. Knorr coached the Falcons’ inside linebackers.

Wallerstedt played linebacker at Kansas State from 1984 to 1987 and earned honorable mention All-American honors in 1987. He coached linebackers in his two seasons at his alma mater and also served as the Wildcats’ recruiting coordinator during the 2006 season and their special teams coordinator in 2007.

Before returning to his alma mater, Wallerstedt spent two seasons as Akron’s associate head coach, linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. His nearly 20-year coaching career also included a six-season stint at Wyoming (1997-2002).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wyoming Review

Dateline: Clune Arena, 6:44 left in the first half.

Wyoming’s Eric Platt has just made a 3-pointer, Wyoming is up 25-13, Air Force is reeling, Clune Arena is silent and the Falcons’ three-game losing streak is starting to look like just the beginning of a dreadful end-of-season collapse.

Admit it – no matter how big an Air Force fan you are, if you were watching the game you thought the same thing.

Things looked awful, didn’t they?

There was a good explanation, Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. The team was emotionally, physically and mentally drained – still – from its loss to UNLV on Tuesday.

Said Reynolds: “Coming into the game today, our staff was extremely concerned about whether or not we had left everything we had in Vegas. I told the guys the other day, and I really believe this, I mean it, I was fortunate enough back in 1981 to coach in the NCAA Tournament at James Madison University. And we played North Carolina in the first round, Michael Jordan’s freshman year, they went on to win it. The final score was 56-52, and up until the Las Vegas game the other night, I don’t know that I’d ever been involved in a game where both teams played that hard. We left it in Vegas. We started the (Wyoming) game out, we had no energy – no energy on the defensive end, no energy on the offensive end. And we were just walking in sand. And there’s really nothing you can do about that, the kids were emotionally and physically drained.”

So how in the world did they turn things around so dramatically and eventually go on to win 72-66?

“We made some substitutions, and we talked about, ‘Hey we’ve got to do something to get our energy going,’” Reynolds said. “And we brought the guys that weren’t a little leg-weary off the bench, and they sort of got going. We made one little defensive change, we just started trapping the ball on the first point-to-wing pass, and it created a little energy for us.”

And that little energy became a lot of energy. Air Force finished the first half on a 19-6 run to take a 32-31 lead into halftime. The Falcons then scored on eight of their first 11 possessions of the second half to take command of the game.

It was a dramatic turnaround.

And necessary.

Had the Falcons lost today, they would have taken a four-game losing streak into Wednesday’s game against a New Mexico team that blew them out earlier this year and now seems to be peaking. After that, a trap game at Colorado State. Then a trip to BYU.


Air Force needed to stop the skid before it got out of control. And it did.

Other thoughts:
-Andrew Henke is starting to have the impact on this team that many expected him to have.

I hate to go cliché on you, but Henke is “playing within himself.”

How’s he doing that?

1. He’s picking his spots carefully and wisely. Henke isn’t forcing up shots just to get them. He’s taking shots in rhythm and within the flow of the offense.

2. He’s begun driving the basketball more frequently. As Reynolds noted after the game, he has added the shot-fake-and-drive and shot-fake, one dribble and pull-up jumper to his arsenal. Teams had recognized how good a 3-point shooter Henke is and were doing everything they could to keep him from getting looks from the perimeter. Now that he has shown an ability to get to the hoop and score from mid-range, he’s opened up some more shots for himself from behind the 3-point arc.

3. He’s not passing the ball with reckless abandon as much. Henke sees the court and the game incredibly well – I’ve even floated the idea that he could play the point next year. But at times that leads him to throw passes that are open but that rate a 10.0 on the difficulty scale. He’s cut back on those, evidenced by his zero turnovers the last two games.

-So apparently the Falcons were feeling a hangover from the UNLV game in the opening 10-15 minutes on Saturday. What was the crowd’s excuse? I’d heard louder and more rowdy groups at chess matches. There’s a push to refer to the arena as “The Chamber.” During the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s game it was more like “The Library.”

And what’s up with Section 8? The only reason that name still works is because there are eight cadets up there for games.

-Good sign that Air Force was able to play so well against UNLV and beat Wyoming with – by his standards – subpar offensive performances by leading scorer Tim Anderson. In the two games, Anderson made just 7 of 23 shots from the floor.

-Evan Washington has run through the wall – if he ever really hit it in the first place. After going 3 for 24 and scoring just 12 points in a five-game stretch, Washington has made 14 of 23 shots in his last three games and scored 32.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Knorr Leaving

Air Force assistant head football coach Brian Knorr is leaving the academy to take a job at Wake Forest, according to a source with knowledge of the move, who asked to remain anonymous.

Knorr, a 1986 academy graduate, also coached the Falcons’ inside linebackers this year and played a key role in recruiting. The 2007 season was his sixth overall at Air Force and his third since returning to the academy from Ohio University, where he coached from 1995 to 2004, the last four years as the Bobcats’ head coach.

Knorr, who lettered three years at the academy as a quarterback, will join Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, who coached at the academy from 1984 to 1994. Grobe and Knorr coached together at Ohio, and Knorr succeeded Grobe as head coach there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

UNLV Review

By far the most intense and entertaining game the Falcons have played since the start of the conference schedule – and maybe the whole season.

Said Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds: “It was a heavyweight bout. We took their shots and punched right back and just missed some execution down the stretch. “

Air Force should be proud of the performance it gave Tuesday night in Las Vegas.

Facing a team that has been extremely difficult to beat on its home court, the Falcons embraced the hostile environment and gave UNLV everything it could handle. Air Force played as well as it has all year, given the opponent and the circumstances, and trailed by just four until a desperation 3-pointer doomed them with less than a minute to play.

But this is – to channel Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins – Division I basketball. It ain’t intramurals. So no matter how well Air Force played or how hard it tried, the score doesn’t change: UNLV 58, Air Force 51.

That’s the harsh reality for this team. Anyone who watched Air Force bumble through a loss to Northern Illinois in late November or get blown out at Utah in early January knows the team has improved dramatically.

But they need something to show for it. They need a marquee victory - as opposed to the moral ones they’ve stockpiled in recent weeks – to give them positive reinforcement.

This next stretch, which includes winnable games at home against Wyoming (Saturday) and New Mexico (next week) before a road game at Colorado State, could provide the opportunity for that reinforcement.

Other thoughts
-Air Force slipped into seventh place in the conference with Tuesday night’s loss. If the regular season ended today, that would put the Falcons in a Mountain West Conference quarterfinal game against UNLV.

The Falcons are 1-1 against UNLV and they seem to give the Rebels fits. But I think Air Force would have a better chance to post its first Mountain West Conference Tournament victory if it faced San Diego State, Utah or New Mexico in the first round and the court truly was neutral. That probably means Air Force will have to creep back into fifth or sixth place by the end of the regular season.

-Reynolds told me at the morning shootaround Tuesday that Derek Brooks had been playing well in practice and had earned playing time. Sure enough, with 16:29 left in the first half, Brooks entered the game. He scored only two points but played 11 minutes and, given the opponent and the environment, acquitted himself very well. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact he makes the rest of the year.

-Andrew Henke began the season hot, scoring in double figures in seven of the Falcons’ first eight games. He was up and down from there and had scored in double figures only once in conference play before last Saturday’s game against Utah, when he posted 11.

Tuesday against the Rebels, however, he played as good a game as he’s played all year – a team-high 15 points, including four 3-pointers, six boards and three assists with no turnovers.

Those numbers – specifically the points and 3s – were even more impressive if you saw the kind of defense that UNLV was playing on Henke. The Rebels’ Curtis Terry was in Henke’s face trying to deny him the ball even when Henke was several feet behind the 3-point line. And Terry wouldn’t leave Henke to help out teammates.

Henke has gotten that kind of treatment for most of the conference season and that likely won’t change. But he’s done a good job of late of taking advantage of his limited opportunities and also not forcing too many shots.

-Tim Anderson also had no turnovers despite the amount of ball-handling he did in the face of aggressive, hands-on pressure from the Rebels, specifically Wink Adams.

Anderson has emerged as a scorer this year, and he always has been known as a good defender. But don’t overlook his court vision and passing. He has a knack for the backdoor pass, and that was never more evident than early in the second half when he threaded a bounce pass through traffic to Eric Kenzik for a layin.

-Not sure how it looked on TV, but if you thought you saw a cloud of smoke in the arena in the first half, it wasn’t your television playing tricks on you. The cloud was the remnants of the fireworks display in the UNLV pre-game introductions.

Only Vegas.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Utah Review

I’ve gotten a bunch of e-mails from fans regarding Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds’ post-game comments to Jim Arthur on the radio. I didn’t hear them, but I gather they were very similar to what he said to the print and television folks in the media room.

Here are some excerpts of what he said to us.

“Utah was tougher than we were today. They were mentally tougher, they got to the loose balls and the rebounds and they were better prepared and better coached.”

“I felt our team played hard. That’s all I can ask them to do, they did that for me. … I felt like we played hard. I’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”

“I thought we distributed the ball very well. I thought we attacked the rim very well. As a coach I just was calling the wrong plays. "

“As a coach you wonder if you’re running the wrong system for the guys because we got good shots, and they just didn’t go in. As a coach you’ve got to make an adjustment. I didn’t make an adjustment. I can’t blame it on the kids, I did a bad job. Simple as that. They were better prepared, they out-toughed us. That’s my fault. Hard to swallow. "

I don’t pretend to know if Reynolds was trying to take the blame off his inexperienced players to protect them and try to preserve their confidence or if he really believed it was his fault or if it was some combination of the two.

I do know that Reynolds is as emotional and passionate a coach as I ever have covered – and that he’s wound tighter than just about any coach I’ve ever covered. I think that comes out at times in his post-game dealings with the media. I think he is extremely hard on himself and takes every loss like it was a loss in the national championship game.

His team was picked to finish next-to-last in the league, but I think he still feels the pressure of expectations created by the Falcons’ success the last few years. Especially because this is his first season.

Other Thoughts
- Back in football season, I remember some of the players saying after a loss that they couldn’t let it “beat us twice.”

That’s part of the task that faces the Air Force men’s basketball team this week.

Facing UNLV Tuesday on its home court, where the Rebels have been outstanding, will be difficult enough. So Air Force must make sure there’s no hangover from the loss to the Utes.

And that will be tough. Air Force seemed in control in the first half, but they squandered a 10-point lead quickly in the second half. It marked the first time the Falcons have been unable to follow a loss with a victory. And it came at home, where Air Force’s dominance seems to be fading.

I don’t necessarily think Air Force is headed for a downward spiral if it loses on Tuesday. But the Falcons at least need to play well to keep some semblance of confidence heading into a stretch in which they should be favored to win some games. They’ll face Mountain West Conference bottom-feeders Wyoming (at home) and Colorado State (on the road) as well as New Mexico (at home).

-Thought Andrew Henke played as well as he’s played all year in the first half against Utah. In the second he took just one shot before his ill-fated 3-pointer with about 25 seconds left. That was a shot that probably shouldn’t have been taken. But, again, that’s probably inexperience.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

San Diego State Review

Air Force men's basketball coach Jeff Reynolds hates when his team is compared to the academy’s record-breaking 2006-07 squad.

For good reason. That team featured six experienced seniors, four of whom were starters who had played together for years and were the common thread in the academy’s resurgence.

But in the spirit of keeping things in perspective, consider this: Last year’s team, with all its talent and experience, was blown out at San Diego State by 21 points.

This year’s team lost by 11. But more importantly, the Falcons played with the most heart and tenacity I’ve seen this year. The defense was intense and in-your-face and made the Aztecs work hard. And I liked the team’s demeanor from the morning shootaround to warm-ups to the game. Focused, confident and all business.

Of course none of the above matters without some buckets.

Air Force struggled mightily to score Wednesday night against the Aztecs, making just 13 of 42 shots from the floor and just 4 of 18 3-pointers for 38 points – its second-lowest total of the year. So in four conference losses, the Falcons have managed 36, 44, 53 and 38 points on a combined 51-of-158 shooting (32.3 percent) from the floor, including 21-of-75 shooting (28 percent) from 3-point range.

That’s not going to get it done. Reynolds knows it.

“At this stage of the game, I think we’ve got to become better offensively if we’re going to make a push in the league,” he said. “We’ve got to do that. I think we’re sound and solid defensively, but when you score 38 points and you shoot 31 percent from the field (as the Falcons did against San Diego State), you’re not going to win a lot of games in this league.”

Reynolds also was disappointed Air Force didn’t get to the free-throw line more. The Falcons attempted 13, but “we never got into the bonus until almost the game was over,” he said.

It’s been said before, but junior guard Anwar Johnson has to find a way to finish around the rim. He is so gifted athletically and has made some incredible moves to scoot past defenders and contort himself to the rim. But then – almost as if he doesn’t know what to do once he gets there – he misses the layup or the dunk. He and freshman Evan Washington, who went scoreless for the second straight game after scoring in each of the Falcons’ first 19, combined to shoot 0-for-9.

So offense is a problem, but if you had told me earlier this year that Air Force would be 4-4 at the midway point of league play, I wouldn’t have believed you – especially after the debacle at Utah.

Air Force has a favorable schedule the rest of the way, playing five of its eight remaining games at Clune Arena. If the Falcons can hold serve at home and steal a game on the road, they likely won’t win the league, but they’ll have succeeded in shocking it – their goal all along.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Spring Practice Dates

In honor of Super Bowl Sunday, some Falcon Football news – Air Force’s spring practice dates.

The Falcons will hold their first practice on March 4 and hold seven more sessions before spring break. Air Force will reconvene on April 1 for the first of eight more sessions – the last the Spring Game on April 12.

Here’s the full list of practices. Air Force built in gaps between practices to allow for inclement weather.

March 4
March 5
March 7
March 8
March 11
March 12
March 18
March 19
April 1
April 2
April 4
April 5
April 8
April 9
April 11
April 12 (Spring Game)

In addition, the Air Force football banquet will be held Feb. 22 at the Broadmoor.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

TCU Review

I think it’s safe to say at this point that nobody should read too much into any one game the Air Force men’s basketball team plays this year.

The Falcons were blown out at Utah by 21 in their Mountain West Conference opener and boy, oh, boy did it look like it’d be a long league season. Until the next game when they knocked off UNLV – the team picked to finish second in the league in the preseason.

They were rocked by New Mexico at The Pit and the offense looked anemic. Until the next game when the Falcons scored 75 – tied for the second-most they’ve put up all season – in a victory over Colorado State.

They suffered their worst home loss since 2001 to BYU, and it looked like the beginning of the end with a tough stretch ahead. Until today when Air Force defeated TCU, 56-46.

It’s going to be that kind of year – up and down, up and down. That’s what we should expect, especially with an inexperienced team.

TCU Quick Thoughts:

-Overall, just a huge victory considering what’s up next. Even if the Falcons lose at San Diego State on Wednesday – and the Aztecs are very tough to beat at home – they’d be 4-4 halfway through the league season. Not bad, considering this team was picked to finish eighth in a nine-team league.

-I wrote below in my BYU Review/TCU Preview about Tim Anderson’s stellar defense. It was on display again today as he made two steals and, according to stats the Falcons keep, seven deflections.

Anderson again played like a MWC Player of the Year candidate today, lifting his game when it mattered most. After TCU went on a 10-2 run to close within a point late in the game, Anderson calmly drained a 3-pointer. Two possessions later, he drained another, and the lead was back up to seven.

And check out this three-possession sequence early in the second half:

TCU Ball: Anderson blocks shot
AF Ball: Anderson makes no-look touch pass to Keith Maren for a layin.
TCU Ball: Anderson makes steal

BYU’s Lee Cummard might end up taking the POY award, but Anderson’s got to be in the discussion.

-Air Force is very fortunate TCU's Henry Salter did not play.

-Not a great performance by the TCU student section. When your top cheer is "Air Force [rhymes with tux]," that's pretty lame.

-Anwar Johnson’s late-game dunk hopefully gives him some confidence around the rim – especially after being rejected on a dunk attempt earlier in the game and blowing the dunk late in the BYU game.

It was a pretty impressive dunk, though, as jams go. And just as impressive was Andrew Henke’s first-half dunk when he drove the baseline and threw it down with two hands.

Friday, February 1, 2008

BYU Review/Pre-TCU

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I posted something on this blog.

My bad.

Anyway, I’ll be providing game reviews from here on out, so here’s a mini-BYU Review along with some additional thoughts going into a pivotal stretch for the Falcons.

As David Ramsey pointed out in his column after the BYU game, everything was set up for the Falcons Wednesday night – home crowd, star player of the opposing team under the weather and a week off to prepare.

And Air Force still lost. Disappointing for fans, for sure, but maybe that’s about what should have been expected.

The thing about this Air Force team is that when it’s shooting the lights out – which it’s capable of doing – and playing good defense, it can look very, very good. The problem is shooting is a big-time variable. And you can’t really rely on it to carry you all the time. Last year’s team is a perfect example. Look at the UNLV game in Vegas when the Falcons desperately hoisted 39 3s and lost by 10.

So here’s the point – those top-notch shooting nights that lead to quality wins probably raise expectations to unrealistic levels. No matter how good this team has looked on certain nights, there also have been dismal losses to Northern Illinois and Colorado and the escape (helped by a generous no-call and then call) against Radford.

An 8-8 season still would be a big-time triumph.

Some other quick thoughts:

-Tim Anderson has been scoring in bunches lately, so it’s easy to overlook the best part of his game: His defense.

Anderson’s hands always seem to be in the way or poking a ball out of an opponent’s hands. His feet are deceptively quick. And he has uncanny anticipation that allows him to flash into passing lanes and make steals. A case in point was his theft with just less than 7 minutes to play in the first half of the BYU game. He made an aggressive break, swiped an inbounds pass and went for a layin.

One conference coach told me last year that he voted for Anderson as the defensive player of the year in the league. He might get some more votes this year.

-Anwar Johnson is wonderfully athletic. He has made some jaw-dropping moves to get to the hole this year.


Once he gets there …

Perhaps the ability to finish is an innate gift like having a nose for the ball (like Anderson has on defense). But maybe he can learn it. If he can, Air Force will have an important piece to its offensive puzzle.

-Tomorrow’s game is huge if Air Force wants to have any prayer of staying in the conference race.

Look what’s up after the Falcons face TCU, one of the only teams in the league that’s better this year than it was last year:

at San Diego State (where the Aztecs are tough to beat and last year clobbered Air Force by 21 points)

v. Utah (a team that blew out the Falcons earlier this year)

at UNLV (another team that’s tough to beat at home.

Is tomorrow’s game a must-win? Only if Air Force wants any part of the race for the league title.