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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very true about CSU being a trap. They need to win that one, make a good showing against BYU on the road, then hold serve at home the last two.

It's a tall order, but if they do all that, they'll have a .500 record in league. You'd have to consider that a successful season given what they lost and the low preseason expectations. In fact, looking over the entire history of AFA basketball, that would qualify as one of their better seasons ever!

Stats Dr said...

Jake,

Your blog's are on target and as good as always. I don't know why the cadets are staying away. There is a core group of cadets that comes to games, and a core group of season ticket holders that come, but the rest of the 'fans' are disappointing. The guys play good basketball, there should be more fans in the stands rooting them on...and yes, the players do do more at an Academy than most Div 1 program contemporaries and in that light, folks should be proud and supportive of where the program is right now.

Name me another Div 1 program that has 20 win seasons year after year that's not located in North Carolina? We've had great success and are poised to continue that success, I wish the fans would come out and see our guys effort and results.

What did you think about the refs last night? They seemed very inconsistent to me but I may be biased. I thought they were really protecting New Mexico and trying to ensure the MWC has 3 teams vying for the NCAA. What was the line on the game? Did one of the refs have an outside interest? (how's that for conspiracy theory?). Just a few recollections burned in my brain, Tim's carry call on a break-away? Gimme a break! Tim gets janked down by the jersey, no call. JR Giddens gets "touched" and its a foul...boo!! Am I seeing the game through eyes too biased?

Thanks for your coverage of AF BB and FB, its always good and insightful!

jake.schaller said...

Hi guys,

Yes, if AF finds a way to win Saturday and then sweep its last two home games, that would be an extremely successful season. If the Falcons went 8-8 and finished maybe 5th in the league, they would have to be considered the surprise team of the MWC. They were picked eighth of nine teams by the media in the preseason, and most people thought six wins would be pretty close to a best-case scenario.
And think about this: 8-8 would be only a two-game drop off from last season when AFA set a school record for victories but finished 10-6 in conference.
As for the refs -- there were some pretty bad calls the other night, but I've thought the quality of the officials' work this season has been consistently crummy. And I don't think by any stretch the refs cost AF the game.
Carrying is a point of emphasis for refs right now, so maybe that's part of why Anderson got called for it against NM. I thought it was an understandable call at first, and David Ramsey, sitting right next to me, thought it was bad. After the replay, it was clear he was right and I was wrong.
The lesson, as always, never disagree with the old sage of The Gazette.

Anonymous said...

Please continue to disagree with Ramsey!