General improvement and roster augmentations for Air Force basketball have patched the burst pipes.
The Falcons were outscored by a gusher of 18.4 points per game in their first 10 conference contests. The past eight have seen them outscored by a mere trickle of 4.9 per game.
Games at Colorado State on Saturday and Monday will test this against water at full pressure and give the Falcons a chance to flood the Rams’ aspirations in the process.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing if we can be the same team,” Air Force (5-17, 3-15 Mountain West) coach Joe Scott said. “Be that same team that plays that same way.”
CSU (14-4, 11-3) is ranked No. 45 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, which are used as a guide for tournament selection. That places them on the bubble. They are also in the thick of the race for a Mountain West championship.
Coach Niko Medved’s team has been led sophomore forward David Roddy (15.9 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game) and guards Isaiah Stevens (14.9 ppg, 5.9 assists per game) and Kendle Moore (10.7 ppg, 1.5 steals per game). They haven’t played since Feb. 6 because of COVID-19 cancelations, and face New Mexico (Wednesday) and go to Nevada (Friday) in makeup games to close the season.
The Rams' NCAA hopes could perhaps survive a loss to Nevada if they followed that with a deep run in the Mountain West Tournament, but a loss to the Falcons or Lobos would be difficult to overcome.
“It’s definitely a fun role to be in,” Air Force freshman Joe Octave said of his team’s position this weekend. “We’re looking to play spoiler.”
The Falcons see these games as no less important. Since junior forward Abe Kinrade came back from an injury and sophomores Carter Murphy and Camden Vander Zwaag regained eligibility along with their good standing as cadets, the team has played better. Also, A.J. Walker has averaged 19.8 points over the past eight games. Octave was the latest to emerge, scoring 18 points in 17 minutes in a victory over New Mexico on Wednesday. His previous career-high had been five points.
Scott suddenly has nine contributing players to shuffle around and the team has become competitive – at least against the middle and bottom tier of a clearly three-tiered conference. Colorado State is in that top tier.
The Falcons want to see how all of this translates into a good team as they look to build momentum for the tournament, and they want to learn more about what they have as they enter the first offseason in Scott’s return to the program. Only seniors Chris Joyce, Ameka Akaya and Keaton Van Soelen will be lost to graduation, so defining roles carries importance beyond the next few weeks.
Will the patches hold under pressure at Moby Arena in Fort Collins?
“Obviously, going to play against one of the best teams in the league,” Scott said, “you really find out those answers.”