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Air Force basketball balances academics, rest as it navigates season's frantic final stretch

February 23, 2018 Updated: February 23, 2018 at 5:17 pm
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C.J. Siples is finishing his homework as quickly as possible these days, understanding the consequences if he doesn’t.

It’s not a fear of being late with an assignment for the Air Force senior, but being late to bed.

“I’m definitely trying to get to bed earlier,” Siples said. “That’s the big thing.”

The Falcons (10-16, 4-10 Mountain West) face Utah State on Saturday in the second of a five-games-in-11-days stretch to close the regular season. Two days after facing the Aggies (14-14, 7-8), Air Force will host Fresno State in a makeup game from the contest lost because of the government shutdown in January. Two days after that they travel to Wyoming. The Falcons then finish at home against San Jose State on March 3.

Making matters more complicated was a full academic load in recent days as they traveled to face UNLV and Boise State. Thirteen players returned to exams Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Academics wear them out because they care so much,” coach Dave Pilipovich said.

Pilipovich has cut down practice time in an effort to save legs, though the players have seized that extra time for extended shooting work.

It’s against this backdrop that Air Force – picked in the preseason to finish last in the 11-team Mountain West – will make one last attempt to move up in the standings from its current spot at No. 9.

Looking behind the Falcons, San Jose State (3-23, 0-15) is already locked into last place. Colorado State (11-18, 4-12) has lost 10 straight since coach Larry Eustachy was placed on administrative leave. The Rams trail Air Force by one game (with AFA owning the tiebreaker) as they have just two games remaining – including a trip to first-place Nevada. CSU's past four losses have come by 5, 11, 21 and 33 points as its downward spiral in a tumultuous season has become increasingly pronounced.

Looking ahead in the standings, the Falcons can only realistically – if not mathematically – catch the Aggies. San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming are 8-7 in league games, sitting 3 ½ games in front of Air Force. Because the Aztecs and Runnin’ Rebels swept Air Force, they would own the tiebreaker and still take a better seed than the Falcons even if they lost their remaining three games while Air Force won its last four. Wyoming can still technically be caught, but everything would have to go correctly for the Falcons to make that happen.

If Air Force wins Saturday, it would make it highly likely that the No. 8 vs. 9 game in the Mountain West Tournament would also be between the Falcons and Aggies – with the winner then likely taking on Nevada in the second round.

The picture is starting to become clear as the conference enters its final week. The challenge for Air Force will be to find enough sleep to keep their eyes clear enough to see the finish line during a frantic final stretch.

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