Tuesday, March 11, 2008

BlogDog Bracketology

Basketball isn’t the BlogDog’s game.

He’s a football prognosticator – as evidenced by his sterling 8-4 mark picking Air Force games during the 2007 regular season. (Note: I’m not counting his pick of Air Force over Cal in the Armed Forces Bowl on his official record because his pick was made in suburban Maryland during the holidays under the supervision of the BlogWife. BlogDog was out of his element and confused).

But there’s a simple reason why the BlogDog is qualified to fill out a Mountain West Conference men’s basketball tournament bracket:

The tournament’s being held in Las Vegas.

BlogDog knows when playing blackjack that he always should split aces, never split face cards and double down when he has 11 (or when he has 10 or 9 and the dealer has a bust card). And when playing poker, he’ll go all-in pre-flop, then make the rest of the table fold with an intimidating growl.

He’s pure Vegas.

(Note two: For those of you just finding this blog, the BlogDog is my dog, Norm. Because I enjoy reading prognostication columns – and because The Gazette does not permit me, as a beat writer, to make picks on games – I pressed Norm into service. He correctly picked three of Air Force’s first four games, and a star was born.)

In football, Norm’s picks were determined by a “best three-out-of-five” system. I’d put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons were facing that week in front of Norm, and whichever one Norm went to first – best three out of five times – was the team he thought would win.

But this is March Madness. One and done. So Norm picked just once on each game.

And, yes, he picked the football helmets, even though this is basketball.

His picks are below. He likes the Falcons to win their first-ever MWC Tournament game, Utah to upset New Mexico and BYU and UNLV to meet in a rematch of last year’s final.

BlogDog’s Picks:

Play-in Game

Wyoming over Colorado State


BYU over Wyoming

Air Force over San Diego State

Utah over New Mexico


BYU over Air Force
UNLV over Utah


Monday, March 10, 2008

All-MWC Teams Announced

The Mountain West Conference announced its all-league teams today. Air Force senior guard Tim Anderson was named to the second team. He also won Defensive Player of the Year honors.

A list of the teams and individual honors is below.

2007-08 All-Mountain West Conference
First Team

G J.R. Giddens (New Mexico, Sr.)
G/F Lee Cummard (BYU, Jr.)
G Wink Adams (UNLV Jr.)
F Lorrenzo Wade (San Diego State, Jr.)
F/C Trent Plaisted (BYU, Jr.)

Second Team
G Tim Anderson (Air Force, Sr.)
G Marcus Walker (Colorado State, Jr.)
G Johnnie Bryant (Utah, Sr.)
G Brandon Ewing (Wyoming, Jr.)
C Luke Nevill (Utah, Jr.)

Third Team
G/F Curtis Terry (UNLV, Sr.)
F Jonathan Tavernari (BYU, Soph.)
F Ryan Amoroso (San Diego State, Jr.)
F Billy White (San Diego State, Fr.)
F Kevin Langford (TCU, Jr.)

Honorable Mention: G Chad Toppert (New Mexico, Jr.), F Joe Darger (UNLV, Jr.), G Rene Rougeau (UNLV, Jr.), G Brent Hackett (TCU, Sr.), C Daniel Faris (New Mexico, Jr.)

Individual Awards
Co-Players of the Year

Lee Cummard (BYU, Jr.)
J.R. Giddens (New Mexico, Sr.)

Defensive Player of the Year
Tim Anderson (Air Force, Sr.)

Newcomer of the Year
Marcus Walker (Colorado State, Jr.)

Freshman of the Year
Billy White (San Diego State)

Coach of the Year
Lon Kruger (UNLV)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

San Diego State review

With its 46-43 victory over San Diego State on Saturday, Air Force guaranteed a fifth straight winning season, completed a .500 campaign in the Mountain West Conference and secured fifth place in the league.

Not a bad way to send out the seniors.

To the untrained eye, a fifth-place finish in a nine-team league doesn’t seem like much to celebrate. But to those who know what Air Force lost from its record-setting 2006-07 team, it was significant accomplishment.

The Falcons had just one starter back from last season’s squad and were picked to finish eighth in the league. And after getting blown out by Utah in their league opener, even four victories seemed like a stretch.

But Air Force, while seemingly overmatched and undermanned against almost every team in the league, found a way overachieve and win eight games.

A sign in the Falcons’ locker room reads, “Shock the League.”

Mission accomplished.

Other Thoughts:
- The MWC’s postseason awards will be handed out tomorrow afternoon. Will anyone from Air Force earn recognition?

The top candidate is Tim Anderson, who I think is probably a borderline first-team All-MWC selection. If the awards came out at the half-way point of league play, I think Anderson would have been a lock and even had an argument for Player of the Year. But his numbers dropped off significantly in the second half of the season, and that definitely will hurt him.

However, if voters look beyond points per game, he has a good shot. Anderson, who also is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, has been the Falcons’ top defender and one of the best defensive players in the league the last two years.

Andrew Henke’s late-season explosion makes him a candidate for possible third-team honors. And Evan Washington is a candidate for Freshman of the Year, but San Diego State’s Billy White – who twice has been named the league’s Player of the Week – likely will run away with that honor.

So how about Jeff Reynolds? He’s definitely in the discussion for Coach of the Year. He took over a team that lost four starters and close to 75 percent of its scoring from the previous year and guided it to a .500 record and a fifth-place finish – three spots better than where it was picked to finish.

I think it will probably come down to Reynolds, UNLV’s Lon Kruger and New Mexico’s Steve Alford.

Kruger, like Reynolds, had to replace four starters. And Kruger also had to deal with losing all his big men for various reasons and converting his team to a small-ball squad.

Alford, meantime, got through to J.R. Giddens and got the talented but previously disappointing player to fulfill his potential. And he guided a team that finished in the MWC cellar a year ago to a third-place finish.

- With Saturday’s victory (and Utah’s loss to UNLV Saturday), Air Force managed to avoid streaking New Mexico in the first round of the MWC tournament. That’s a good thing, but the Falcons still have a pretty difficult task in front of them. As will be discussed in an article in Tuesday’s edition of The Gazette, the Falcons have to beat the same team twice in six days. It will not be easy.

- Toughness award from Saturday’s game goes to Washington. In the first half, he had his legs taken out when he went up for a rebound, and he landed hard on his side. It looked like it could have resulted in a bad injury, but Washington popped right up and on the very next possession completed a three-point play. Then, with just seconds remaining in the game, he was pulled to the floor by San Diego State center Ryan Amoroso after grabbing a rebound. But he settled himself and made one of two free throws to push the Falcons’ advantage to three with 1.1 seconds left.

- What a physical game. Reynolds said he thought the Falcons’ game at UNLV was more physical than Saturday’s game, and I guess that’s true. But Saturday was pretty rough. In addition to his jersey grab on Washington, Amoroso also ran over Anderson earlier in the game. I thought a flagrant foul could have been assessed for either play.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Practice Update

Air Force held its fourth spring football practice on Saturday.

It looked like it.

The Falcons lined up in incorrect formations, put the ball on the ground, rolled shotgun snaps to quarterbacks, overthrew passes and jumped offside.

But, as coaches and players know, that’s to be expected early in spring. Especially with such an inexperienced team.

“I think what you’re going to find, especially in the first half of spring, you’re going to take these first seven practices and you’ve got so much teaching that your execution and the speed at which you operate is not where you want it,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “And yet if it was, you wouldn’t need to practice. We need to practice.”

“That’s obviously going to happen,” Air Force sophomore strong safety Chris Thomas said of the mistakes. “It’s the beginning of the year, we've got a lot of young guys and we're doing a lot of things we haven’t done before.”

Other Notes:
- Sophomore Eric Herbort, who entered spring listed as the backup quarterback behind junior Shea Smith, worked with the first-team offense on Saturday.

“He practiced better than Shea did on Friday,” Calhoun said. “That’s something that we evaluate daily, and it’s not just at that position. I think that position probably gains the most attention, but that’s across the board, and it’ll be that way probably until the middle of August – we’re going to have a depth chart that bumps around a good bit.”

- Sophomore tailback Brenton Byrd also entered spring practices listed as a backup, but with Savier Stephens being held out of practice because of a possible hernia, Byrd has gotten a chance to play with the starters.

Byrd has been “much better than he was in the fall,” Calhoun said. “He carries the ball better. I think he just plays more physical than he did in the fall. And part of that is he’s going into his fourth year at the academy. He’ll be a junior, plus he had a year at the prep school.”

Both Calhoun and Thomas said freshman Kyle Lumpkin has had some good moments at tailback.
- Starting Z receiver Ty Paffett did not practice on Saturday. Calhoun did not reveal his injury but said Paffett should be back next week. Starting cornerback Kevin Rivers also didn’t practice. He pulled a hamstring in a track meet last week, Calhoun said.

- Play of the day: A reception of about 20 yards by tight end Steve Shaffer. The freshman was running to his right but reached across his body to snag a pass thrown behind him. Also impressive were a pair of hits, one by Thomas on freshman receiver Brett Skene and one by freshman outside linebacker Mark Mosby on freshman Kyle Halderman.

- Two new coaches on the field Saturday: Chad Hall and Drew Fowler.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Carney Update

By the time I got done speaking with men’s basketball coach Jeff Reynolds on Thursday, the Air Force football team already had wrapped up its second spring practice.

So no practice report today. But I did get to catch up with former Falcons QB Shaun Carney.

Carney, as those who check this blog remember all too vividly, suffered a gruesome career-ending injury in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31. Near the end of the third quarter, Carney ran right, then planted his right leg with designs on running over the one Cal player between him and the end zone. But as Carney took on that player, he was hit from behind and his leg was hit from the side.

The result was a dislocated knee cap, damage to ligaments in the knee cap and ACL, MCL and PCL tears.

Carney finally had surgery last Thursday after waiting a couple of months for swelling to subside. The surgery included “about five hours of actual cutting time,” Carney said, with about two or three more for “prepping and cleaning up.”

Carney’s PCL and ACL were removed. An Achilles from a cadaver was used for his PCL, and a tendon from the back of Carney’s right hamstring was sliced off and used for his ACL. He also had a microfracture procedure done on his femur – tiny holes were drilled into his femur, allowing blood and bone marrow to seep out and help build up cartilage.

Carney, who said he watched the replay of his injury on YouTube, stayed awake for about two hours of the surgery and watched the procedure on the monitor that doctors were using.

The pain in his leg, Carney said, now is “way worse” than it was in the weeks before surgery.

“They put four screws in there too, that’s how they have to get the ACL and PCL in there,” he said. “You can feel them moving around a little bit. So it’s a lot more painful than I expected.”

Carney will be in a wheelchair or on crutches for the next seven or so weeks. Then he will start rehabilitation and “eventually start jogging around July or August,” he said. “I could probably play basketball on that thing by November, but it won’t be real strong until next February.”

He will, however, be able to walk down the aisle at his wedding June 28.

And despite his limited mobility, Carney will be on the field next week helping with the Falcons’ spring practices (he will serve as a graduate assistant coach next year).

“I’m really excited,” he said. “Looking forward to getting out there any way I can and getting in the quarterbacks' ears a little bit.”

TCU Review

It wasn’t always pretty (I’ll get to what I found ugly in a minute), but Air Force kept the potential of finishing .500 in the Mountain West Conference alive with a 57-36 victory over TCU on Wednesday night.

If Air Force can beat San Diego State on Saturday at Clune Arena – a difficult task, especially considering the Aztecs will have had a week off to prepare – the Falcons will finish 8-8 in league play. And if UNLV beats Utah, Air Force will claim fifth place in the Mountain West. That would be pretty impressive for a team with just one starter back and hardly any others with any significant experience.

And consider this, strange as it may seem: An 8-8 league record would be only a two-game drop off from last season, when Air Force won a school-record 26 games overall and had arguably its best team in history.

So here’s what was to like against TCU: It starts with Andrew Henke. The 6-foot-6 junior guard/forward poured in a career-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Henke has expanded his game, matured and blossomed in the second half of conference play. Consider:

In the first half of conference play, Henke averaged 7.4 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting, including 33.3 percent from 3-point range. In the seven games since, he’s averaged 14.9 points on 49.3 percent shooting, including 54.5 from 3-point range.

He’s become the Falcons’ top offensive threat, as Tim Anderson’s production has dropped off in the second half of league play. Perhaps feeling fatigued from his hefty minutes, Anderson has averaged just 9.2 points the past seven games on 31.3 percent shooting (22.2 from 3-point range). He averaged 17.0 points on 47.2 percent shooting (46.3 from 3-point range) in the first half of conference play.

The Falcons’ defense also gets some credit for helping force TCU into an absolutely atrocious shooting performance. Air Force carried out its plan to perfection, denying Kevin Langford (the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer) touches inside and keeping Brent Hackett from driving – though allowing Hackett to fire bricks from 3-point range.

So what wasn’t to like? Too many first-half turnovers. Missing 11 of 21 free throws. And, most troublesome, the Falcons’ apparent lack of a killer instinct.

Air Force went up 13-0 as the Horned Frogs clanked their first eight shots from the floor.

And that’s when an elite team, playing on its home court, buries its opponent. It stretches its lead to a demoralizing 20 and puts the game away by halftime.

But the Falcons, once ahead, seemed to put it on cruise control. Sloppy play ensued, and before you knew it, they’d let TCU back in the game. To Air Force’s credit, it protected its double-digit lead in the second half. The Horned Frogs had something to do with that, however, as they could not make a shot.

Other Thoughts
-A victory over San Diego State on Saturday not only would give the Falcons a .500 record in league play and – depending on what happens with the Utah-UNLV game – a potential fifth-place finish. It also would give the Falcons just their second victory over one of the league’s top-tier teams.

So far, Air Force’s home victory over UNLV stands as its most impressive victory in league play – and overall, for that matter. The Falcons’ other six conference triumphs came over the Mountain West’s bottom-feeders – two each over winless CSU, Wyoming and TCU.

-Would’ve liked to have seen Phillip Brown play Wednesday night, at least for 3-4 minutes, after how well he played against BYU. I know Keith Maren has had a great season and he played well Wednesday and you want to go with your experienced senior. But I thought Brown could have benefited from a second straight game with some playing time.

-We didn't fit this in the paper: Junior guard Anwar Johnson handed out a career-high six assists.

-TCU looked like the most improved team in the league early this season. Now? Yikes. The Horned Frogs clearly missed suspended guard Henry Salter on Wednesday night, but 26.2 percent from the floor? The people they pull down from the stands for the shooting contests during timeouts look better than TCU does right now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Are You Ready for Some (Spring) Football?

After a reserve defensive player picked off a pass in the flat late in Air Force’s first spring practice on Tuesday evening, one defensive coach looked at another.

“Who is that?”

For much of the day, that was a good question.

There have been the usual assortment of number changes – quarterback Eric Herbort went from 8 to 7, Savier Stephens from 42 to 2, Kyle Halderman from 83 to 4, Ken Lamendola from 54 to 47, to name a few. But there were a whole bunch of new faces on the field with the standout Class of 2008 gone and the freshmen who played on the JV last year now playing with the varsity.

How quickly those new faces develop will tell a lot about this year.

With that said, here are some initial impressions from Day One:

- Heard running backs coach Jemal Singleton scream “Finish the play!” a few times. The players were in helmets and shorts, but even when a back is touched down or corralled for a stop, Singleton wants him to keep going and sprint another 20 or so yards.

- Best play of the day: A deep pass down the right sideline from Herbort to receiver Spencer Armstrong. It covered about 45 to 50 yards, and the ball was right on the money.

- Shortly after that play, Will McAngus, a freshman quarterback, hit receiver Dal Shealy on a similar pattern.

- I think the Falcons should be in pretty good shape at the X and Z receivers. At X there’s Sean Quintana, who will be a junior and started some games last year, and Armstrong. And when Air Force uses them together, they make a good pair. Quintana is sure-handed and the perfect possession receiver, while Armstrong is a legitimate deep threat. Also on Tuesday, sophomore Chaz Demerath, a 6-foot-2 freshman, made a nice play when a deep pass was thrown to the wrong shoulder. Demerath adjusted and made the grab.

At Z, Ty Paffett likely will start. He came on strong at the end of last season and played Z when Chad Hall was taking snaps at tailback. Also, look for his backup, Kyle Halderman, to make some plays too.

- Still waaaaay too early to talk too much about the QBs. But both Herbort and Shea Smith looked solid. And freshman Ben Cockran can sling it. Lots of heat on his throws.

- The first-team defense showed great enthusiasm, screaming each time it came on the field during team drills. It will be interesting to see what the defense is like this year. The Falcons are stacked up front with six experienced guys back on the defensive line, and Air Force should be set at safety with sophomore Chris Thomas (I think poised for a run at first-team All-MWC honors) and free safety Aaron Kirchoff (who started several games last season).

But the success of the defense will depend on the LBs and CBs. Air Force has a returning starter at one OLB spot (senior-to-be Hunter Altman) and Andre Morris, Jr. (who started one game last year as a freshman) likely will man the other OLB spot. But Air Force will have two brand new inside linebackers, and two new corners. Reggie Rembert, who started one game last year, will man one side of the field. Kevin Rivers, a senior next year, is penciled in at the other corner spot. Rivers was in a red jersey (injured) on Tuesday and did not practice.

- The Mountain West Conference should release its football schedule soon. Air Force should hope its 2008 conference slate doesn’t look like last season’s. In 2007 the Falcons faced the top three teams in the conference plus Navy in the first month of the season. For as young and inexperienced as the 2008 squad will be, it would benefit greatly by playing a couple of the league’s lesser teams early.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Football Spring Depth Chart Released

Air Force head football coach Troy Calhoun released his initial depth chart heading into spring practice.

It appears below (Starters in bold).

Note: Each player’s class is what he will be in 2008 - e.g. quarterback Shea Smith currently is a junior, but he is listed on the chart as a senior.

WR- X 81 Sean Quintana, Jr.

26 Spencer Armstrong, Sr.

TE 88 Travis Dekker, Sr.
85 Keith Madsen, Sr.

LT 79 Keith Williams, Sr.
70 Matt Markling, So.

LG 57 Nick Charles, Jr.
64 Jake Morrow, So.

C 63 Andrew Pipes, Sr.
65 Michael Hampton, Jr.

RG 62 Peter Lusk, Jr.
67 Tyler Weeks, Sr.

RT 60 Chris Campbell, Jr.

78 Ben Marshall, So.

QB 14 Shea Smith, Sr.

7 Eric Herbort, Jr.

FB 25 Todd Newell, Sr.
43 Justin Moore, Jr.

TB 2 Savier Stephens, So.
22 Brenton Byrd, Jr.

WR-Z 19 Ty Paffett, Sr.
4 Kyle Halderman, So.

LE 93 Ben Garland, Jr.

95 Jake Paulson, Sr.

NG 56 Jared Marvin, Sr.
76 Stephen Larson, Jr.

RE 91 Ryan Kemp, Sr.
90 Rick Ricketts, So.

OLB 36 Andre Morris, Jr., So.
92 Myles Morales, Jr.

ILB 45 John Falgout, Jr.
55 Clay Bryant, Jr.

ILB 48 Brandon Reeves, Sr.

47 Ken Lamendola, So.

OLB 32 Hunter Altman, Sr.
37 William Kuechler, So.

CB 6 Kevin Rivers, Sr.
20 Devon Ford, Jr.

CB 8 Reggie Rembert, So.
18 Elliott Battle, So.

SS 34 Chris Thomas, Jr.
30 Luke Yeager, Sr.

FS 23 Aaron Kirchoff, Sr.
29 Luke Hyder, Jr.

PK 13 Ryan Harrison, Sr.

94 Zachary Bell, So.

P 13 Ryan Harrison, Sr.
98 Brandon Geyer, Jr.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hoops player Summerfield leaves academy

Air Force freshman men’s basketball player Mark Summerfield has left the team and the academy “for good,” he said Sunday.

“Things didn’t work out,” Summerfield said from his home in West Virginia. “More or less it was overall the military-type stuff and other personal reasons.”

Summerfield, a 6-foot-3 guard, is the third member of the original eight-player freshman class to leave the academy. Tom Parks left in early September and Tyler Burke left in mid-December.
In addition, three players on the Air Force Academy Preparatory School’s basketball team were expelled recently, and three others were placed on probation.

Air Force spokesman Brett Ashworth said because of the Federal Privacy Act and the fact that Summerfield has not yet withdrawn officially, academy personnel could not comment on his departure. Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds, who said on Feb. 21 that Summerfield was not practicing because of “personal issues,” could not be reached for comment.

Summerfield played six minutes in four games this season and scored three points.

“It was a typical freshman year, not getting too much playing time and stuff,” Summerfield said. “I think it might have helped if I had played more, might have given me a little more incentive to stay, but that’s not really the main reason. Basketball was some of it but not nearly all of it.”

Saturday, March 1, 2008

BYU Review

Midway through the first half, things looked pretty good for the Falcons.

After falling behind 9-1 in one of the most hostile environments in the Mountain West Conference, Air Force put together a 13-5 run to tie the game at 14 with 9:31 left in the half. The Falcons then played right with the league’s best team for about the next six minutes.

But 12- to 13-minute stretches of good basketball aren’t enough. Especially against the best team in the league. Especially on that team’s home floor.

And especially when those stretches are followed with stretches that resemble the Falcons' last three-and-a-half minutes of the first half and first 10-and-a-half of the second.

During that time, the Falcons were outscored 37-7, they made just two field goals and they got points on just five of 26 possessions. BYU, meanwhile, got points from six players, made 3-pointers on four straight possessions and built a 32-point lead.


“We lost them in transition a bunch of times, and we were scrambling on defense and they did a great job of finding the open man, making extra passes,” Air Force junior guard/forward Andrew Henke said. “They did everything. And then we didn’t come down and execute on the offensive end.”

Air Force plays well enough to keep up with the best teams in the league for stretches. But – right now – the Falcons not good enough to do it for entire games.

Other Thoughts
-Talk about a glimpse of the future. Midway through the first half, Air Force had three freshmen on the floor – guard Evan Washington, who has started every game this year; forward Derek Brooks, who has played in four of the Falcons’ last five games; and center Phillip Brown, who played for the first time this year.

-What a debut by Brown. The 6-foot-7 center from Georgia was a heralded recruit, but his development was slowed because he missed a good chunk of practices early in the year (the coaching staff held him out so he could concentrate on academics). But Brown has earned playing time in practice, Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said, and was rewarded Saturday night.

And despite playing in one of the league’s toughest venues and against one of its best post players (Trent Plaisted) for much of the time he was on the floor, Brown was effective. Six points, four boards and three blocks. Pretty good.

-Not surprised by the technical foul called on Reynolds. Actually surprised he hadn’t gotten one earlier this season, the way he gets after the refs. Saturday he was maybe one more complaint away from getting a second “T” and getting tossed.