Swimming against the current of general opinion, Caleb Morris and Lavelle Scottie are happy Mountain West Conference play is beginning so soon this season.
Like, Wednesday soon.
Air Force plays at Wyoming on Wednesday, opening the conference slate about a month earlier than usual as the result of the league moving up its tournament by a week to avoid conflicts in Las Vegas. Teams will play twice in December — the Falcons also host Nevada on Saturday — and then go back to nonconference play for the rest of the month.
“I think if we could have said let’s move them all back to January, we’d do that,” said Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich, echoing the seemingly unanimous sentiment shared by league coaches at media day in October. “But we can’t.”
But Morris and Scottie, Falcons seniors, welcome the change.
“I like it, honestly,” Morris said. “It just gets us more focused earlier in the season.”
“It’s a big shift when you start conference games,” Scottie said. “All of the sudden our mindset just changes.”
That’s what happened last season. The Falcons found themselves 5-10 in early January before ripping off four wins in five games and later adding a three-game winning streak against conference foes.
The team could use a similar jump-start this year, as it has stumbled to a 3-5 record in a season filled with expectations because of that run in league play last year behind a roster that returned almost entirely intact.
Scottie said he hopes a more focused Falcons squad can stop this early slide in time to position itself for a potential postseason berth, something that requires a winning record. After this two-game foray into league play comes a largely challenging four-game stretch that starts with a visit to Denver, then home games against Johnson & Wales, Drake and UC Riverside. Drake and UC Riverside are both in the top 150, according to Real-Time RPI.
The Falcons swept Wyoming last year as the Cowboys went 8-24 (4-14 Mountain West) and finished second to last in the conference. Coach Allen Edwards’ team is struggling again this year at 3-5 and averaging just 47.2 points in those five losses.
Air Force has also suffered through sporadic play, shooting 30 percent or worse from 3-point range in its five losses. “Slippage” is what Morris and Scottie blamed — stretches when the team slipped behind and had to play catch-up.
That’s yet another issue they hope to put to rest now that conference play is upon them.
“This game,” Morris said, “brings us back focused.”