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Mountain West men's basketball: Team-by-team capsules

BRENT BRIGGEMAN Updated: January 7, 2013 at 12:00 am

A team-by-team look at the Mountain West, which opens play Wednesday:

 

AIR FORCE (8-4)

Coach: Dave Pilipovich

Last year: 13-16 (3-11, tied for seventh in MW)

Best nonconference win: at Army (76-65)

Leaders: Michael Lyons (19.6 ppg, 5.2 rpb), Todd Fletcher (4.1 apg)

Overview: The Falcons didn’t notch a big win in the nonconference and they weren’t embarrassed, leaving them pretty well as expected heading into the Mountain West – a team that won’t be expected to do much but that won’t be a surprise if it knocks off a few of the top dogs. Lyons has grown into a prolific scorer, improving each season in that respect. The key will be developing the next wave of talent, led by sophomores DeLovell Earls and Justin Hammonds. If those two and freshmen like Tre Coggins, Cameron Michael and Zach Moer can make strides then Pilipovich’s first full season will have great value even without much to show for it in the standings.

Quoting Pilipovich: “We scheduled those four (quality nonconference foes) and hoped we could win one of them. I hope it’s going to help us a lot. Hopefully when the ball gets thrown up we’re ready.”

 

BOISE STATE (12-2)

Coach: Leon Rice

Last year: 13-17 (3-11, tied for seventh in MW)

Last year vs. Air Force: 1-1

Dates against the Falcons: 2 p.m. Jan. 19 at AFA; 6 p.m. Feb 20 at BSU

Best nonconference win: at Creighton (83-70)

Leaders: Derrick Marks (16.3 ppg, 4.0 apg), Ryan Watkins (7.2 rbp)

Overview:  Four starters returned and the Broncos seem to have adjusted in their second year in the league. Boise State is the only team to defeat Creighton and lost 74-70 in a tight game at Michigan State. The Broncos enter league play riding a six-game winning streak and ranked No. 32 in the RPI.

Quoting Rice: “We’re making progress. We’re doing well with our abilities. We’re playing well together. When you’re winning games that seems to go right along with it. We have to keep getting better defensively to play in this league. There are probably a lot of teams that are ahead of us in that aspect right now.”

 

COLORADO STATE (13-2)

Coach: Larry Eustachy

Last year: 20-12 (8-6, fourth in MW)

Last year vs. Air Force: 2-0

Dates against the Falcons: 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at CSU; 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at AFA

Best nonconference win: at Washington (73-55)

Leaders: Colton Iverson (14.7 ppg), Pierce Hornung (10.2 rpg), Dorian Green (3.8 apg)

Overview:  Eustachy's story just keeps getting better. He was near the top of the profession when he built Iowa State into the Big 12 Champion and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but alcoholism soon led to his downfall. He rebuilt his career at Southern Mississippi and seems the perfect person to take a Rams’ program on the upswing and turn it into a power. His first year has seen Colorado State top its record for nonconference victories (previously 11) and run its home winning streak to 22 in a row.  

Quoting Eustachy (from The Associated Press): “I think the only crime somebody can commit when they find themselves in the gutter is to not get out of it. I’m really proud that I held myself accountable. But there’s a microscope on you. A lot of people are waiting for a guy to screw up again. What’s great about this country, though, is this: People love second chances.”

 

FRESNO STATE (6-7)

Coach: Rodney Terry

Last year: 13-20 (3-11, seventh in WAC)

Last year vs. Air Force: N/A, programs haven't played since 2001

Dates against the Falcons: 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at AFA; 8 p.m. March 2 at FSU

Best nonconference win: at Long Beach State (69-61)

Leaders: Tyler Johnson (10.8 ppg, 2.0 apg), Kevin Foster (6.8 rpg)

Overview:  Like Boise State (and TCU before that) this is a football school that entered the conference for that reason and may take a while to find  its way in basketball. The Bulldogs are the league’s only team with a losing record, but all but one of those losses came by single digits – including a two-point loss at Texas and a seven-point loss at Colorado. Shooting has been the primary culprit, as Fresno State ranks last in the league at 40 percent. However, it has better than 50 percent over its past two games and Terry feels those woes are behind the team.

Quoting Terry: “I’d like to think we’re getting close. I’d like to think that at some point we’ll make the play to be on the winning side instead of on the flip side of that. At some point we’re going to have one of those signature wins where our guys get over the hump and are able to move forward.”

 

NEVADA (9-5)

Coach: David Carter

Last year: 28-7 (13-1, first in WAC)

Last year vs. Air Force: N/A, the programs have never met

Dates against the Falcons: 7 p.m. Wednesday at AFA; 4 p.m. Feb. 9 at Nevada

Best nonconference win: at Washington (76-73)

Leaders: Malik Story (16.7 ppg), Jerry Evans Jr. (4.9 rpg), Deonte Burton (3.0 apg)

Overview:  A switch to a four-guard lineup after a 4-4 start launched the Wolf Pack into 5-1 run. Carter feels the change has allowed them to get off to better starts, improve balance and give a spark to the defense. With the lowest strength-of-schedule rank among conference teams, Nevada is still a bit of an unknown as it enters its first Mountain West season. Junior point guard Deonte Burton is projected by NBADraft.net to go with the first pick in the second round of this year's NBA Draft.

Quoting Carter: “My biggest concern is winning every game at home. We have to protect home because road games are going to be very, very difficult.”

 

NEW MEXICO (13-2)

Coach: Steve Alford

Last year: 28-7 (10-4, tied for first in MW)

Last year vs. Air Force: 2-0

Dates against the Falcons: 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at NM; 4 p.m. March 9 at AFA

Best nonconference win: at Cincinnati (55-54)

Leaders: Kendall Williams (14.9 ppg, 4.7 apg), Alex Kirk (7.5 rpg)

Overview:  New Mexico scheduled what Alford called the toughest nonconference slate in school history – the 11th toughest in the nation – and notched wins over UConn and Cincinnati (both on the road) that may factor heavily at Tournament selection time. Alford has successfully morphed from college star to hot-shot young coach to Big 10 bust to consistent winner. His time at New Mexico has included three league titles in the past four seasons and a 2-2 record in NCAA Tourney games.

Quoting Alford: “There’s stability in our league in regards to coaches. You’re getting programs where coaches have been at their institution for a while and they’re starting to put their stamp on things. Part of that is the recruitment of higher-level players. That’s what makes this league fun.”

 

SAN DIEGO STATE (12-2)

Coach: Steve Fisher

Last year: 26-8 (10-4, tied for first in the MW)

Last year vs. Air Force: 1-1

Dates against the Falcons: 1 p.m. Feb. 2 at AFA; 9:30 p.m. March 6 at SDSU

Best nonconference win: At UCLA (78-69)

Leaders: Jamaal Franklin (17.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.5 apg)

Overview:  With four starters back – led by reigning conference Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin – the Aztecs were picked as the preseason conference favorite by both the coaches and the media. Fisher is 258-160 in his 13 years at San Diego State and 455-243 in 21 overall seasons (not accounting for any vacated victories), including his run with the Fab Five at Michigan. Both nonconference losses came to teams ranked in the top 10 (Syracuse and Arizona).

Quoting Fisher: “We’re a good team. We’re a team that’s got a nice blend of youth and experience. I think any time you’ve had success in the past it really helps you when you move forward and that’s been good for us. We expect to win because we’ve won before.

 

UNLV (12-2)

Coach: Dave Rice

Last year: 26-9 (9-5, third in MW)

Last year vs. Air Force: 2-0

Dates against the Falcons: 8 p.m. Saturday at UNLV; 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at AFA

Best nonconference win: at California (76-65)

Leaders: Anthony Bennett (19.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Anthony Marshall (5.4 apg)

Overview:  Freshman Anthony Bennett (a 6-foot-7, 240 pound forward) is projected as a top-five pick in this year's NBA draft. Mike Moser dislocated his elboy Dec. 9 in a win at Cal and hasn’t returned to the form that earned him all-conference honors last year and put him on the preseason All-America watch list this year, but Rice said he’s close to 100 percent. The Runnin’ Rebels should have the size advantage, but that may not always be a good thing in a league that is primarily guard-oriented and may be able to use its quickness to create mismatches.

Quoting Rice: “I’ve been in the league all but one year since the inception of the league and this is by far the most competitive and strongest it has ever been.”

 

WYOMING (13-0)

Coach: Larry Shyatt

Last year: 21-12 (6-8, sixth in MW)

Last year vs. Air Force: 1-1

Dates against the Falcons: 8 p.m. Jan. 26 at WYO; 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at AFA

Best nonconference win: Colorado (76-69)

Leaders: Leonard Washington (15.1 ppg, 8.8 RPG), Derrious Gilmore (3.2 apg)

Overview: The victory over the Buffaloes was the highlight, and there weren't many others for one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the nation. The Cowboys survived with a 59-56 victory over Larry Brown-led SMU on Jan. 2 to complete a perfect run through an early-season schedule that included the likes of UCSB (twice), South Dakota, Northern Colorado and Illinois State. The perfect start no doubt has Laramie energized, but it remains to be seen if the soft slate has the team prepared for a tough conference.

Quoting Shyatt: “I reached out to every BCS conference commissioner and team in hopes of having a home-and-home with any. In fact I’ve even reached out and offered 2-for-1s. I just haven’t found any, including many friends I have, that want to bring their teams up here between December and February. So, we’re trying to play the best schedule we can play with teams that want to play us both home and away.”

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