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.”
- 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.