The key to Air Force men's basketball competing in the deep Mountain West has been clear all along – hold serve at home and steal a few on the road.
The Falcons may have no better opportunity to pick up a road win than this.
Air Force (11-6, 2-2 MW) travels to face potentially weary Wyoming (15-3, 2-3) at 8 p.m. Saturday. The Cowboys’ five starters averaged 36 minutes at UNLV late Thursday night in a 62-50 loss. Air Force, on the other hand, cruised past nonconference New Orleans 90-48 on Wednesday, with the starters averaging just 19 minutes.
It further complicates matters for the Cowboys that the quick turnaround will allow fewer than 48 hours to prepare for Air Force’s unique motion offense. That’s how Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt chose to approach the week, opting not to let preparation for Air Force interfere with the routine in advance of the game in Las Vegas.
“With our team, at least how I read them, is they want to focus only on the next game,” Shyatt said.
Shyatt specifically set up his nonconference schedule to prepare for these situations, including a mid-November tournament that included games three consecutive days.
“They’re going to be ready,” Air Force senior Todd Fletcher said. “Their coach will have them ready.”
Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, understanding the role schedules and travel play in this part of the season, joked early this week that he hoped the Cowboys would encounter even more travel difficulties.
“I hope it goes into 12 overtimes,” Pilipovich said. “And I hope they have jet problems. And then I hope it snows 20 inches before they get to campus. Then we’ll be there Saturday to play.”
Even without any outside factors, Air Force stacks up well in this matchup. The Falcons’ Achilles’ heel has not been contending so much with height but with bulk. Wyoming’s strongest insider players – Leonard Washington (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) and Larry Nance Jr. (6-8, 210) – are not the kind of bruisers who have been so troublesome.
Results against common opponents also favor the Falcons. Wyoming lost at home to Boise State, while Air Force led the Broncos by as many as 20 and beat them by 11. Wyoming wasn’t particularly competitive at UNLV, while Air Force had chances at the end of regulation and overtime to beat the Rebels.
Further, Wyoming is a defensive team that goes just seven players deep. That makes the quick turnaround more of a factor, particularly since Air Force has 12 players who average more than nine minutes. If that defensive intensity isn’t as strong, the Cowboys’ key advantage is neutralized.
Will any of this matter and help Air Force win just its fifth conference road game in the past five seasons?
“I’ll tell you at about 10 o’clock on Saturday night,” Shyatt said.