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Notes and observations as Air Force basketball opens Mountain West play at New Mexico

December 26, 2017 Updated: December 26, 2017 at 4:40 pm
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photo - Air Force guard Trevor Lyons goes up for a shot between the defense of Utah State guard Henry Bolton, left, and forward David Collette during the second half Saturday, Feb. 27, 2015, at Clune Arena on the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.   (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Air Force guard Trevor Lyons goes up for a shot between the defense of Utah State guard Henry Bolton, left, and forward David Collette during the second half Saturday, Feb. 27, 2015, at Clune Arena on the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Air Force opens Mountain West play at New Mexico at 7 p.m. Wednesday, closing a rough run through the season’s first two months.

Playing a schedule that ranked 344th, the Falcons (6-6) haven't beaten a Division I foe since Dec. 2 and are 325th (out of 351) in RPI.

Here’s a quick look at Air Force and the conference it will be traversing over the next 18 games.

The biggest problem

Shooting. Shooting. And shooting. The Falcons rank ninth (out of 11) in the Mountain West with a .423 shooting percentage. When games against Division II Western State and NAIA Johnson & Wales are removed, that percentage drops to .384 – which would rank No. 344 nationally. If this doesn’t improve, teams are likely to suffocate the Falcons on the inside with zone defenses that negate the impact of the motion offense. This isn’t a team that will survive off-shooting nights, and those have been more the norm than exception through the first 10 games against Division I opponents.

The MVP

Trevor Lyons. With apologies to Ryan Manning, who leads the team in scoring (11.4 ppg) and rebounding (4.9 rpg), it’s Lyons who has played the most minutes (31.9 mpg) and has easily been the best shooter, knocking down 45.2 percent of his 3-point attempts. He also leads in steals and assists while ranking second in rebounds and third in scoring. It would seem the best formula for success will be for Lyons to become more assertive, take more shots and become a more focal point of the offense.

The rotation

Roles for the Falcons have been fluid, and will likely continue that way until the answers become evident. Jonathan DeWane’s game against Johnson & Wales (22 points on 10-of-12 shooting) could open more time for the 6-foot-8 sophomore center. Senior Jacob Van had fallen to bit playing time before he made 5 of 8 shots (including 4 of 4 3s) over the past two games and he suddenly looks like a key contributor again. As the team looks for scorers, expect anybody who displays the ability to find the bottom of the net to get more opportunities.

The league

The Mountain West, at least its top half, is as good as it has been in recent years. By RPI, No. 23 Nevada (11-3), No. 29 Boise State (8-2) and No. 55 San Diego State (8-3) lead the way. No. 101 UNLV (11-2), No. 112 Wyoming (9-4), No. 129 Colorado State (7-6) and No. 147 Fresno State (10-3) could also make noise. Overall, the league went 76-51 against Division I competition. The top wins belonged to San Diego State, which beat then-No. 12 Gonzaga on Thursday and Nevada’s victory over Rhode Island, which represents the league’s lone win over a top-25 RPI team. The league’s breakout individual star has been UNLV freshman Brandon McCoy, a projected first-round pick, who has scored a league-best 18.9 ppg.

The Lobos

New Mexico (5-8) has largely struggled in its first year under coach Paul Weir, who has faced Air Force in each of the past two seasons while at New Mexico State (once as a head coach, once as an assistant). The Lobos’ only victories since Nov. 29 came against Rice and Prairie View A&M teams that are a combined 3-21. Guards Sam Logwood (13.8 ppg), Chris McNeal (12.1 ppg) and Troy Simons (9.8  ppg) have carried the scoring load for New Mexico.

The numbers

3-2

Air Force’s record in Mountain West openers under coach Dave Pilipovich.

4-4

Air Force’s record vs. New Mexico over the past eight meetings.

22

Consecutive losses for Air Force in road Mountain West games.

74.8

Free-throw percentage for Air Force, 55th-best in the nation.

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