LEFT COAST LAYUPS: MOUNTAIN WEST BEGINS CONFERENCE PLAY
By Raphielle Johnson
Before the season began the question within some circles of west coast basketball was which league would grab more NCAA tournament bids: the Pac-12, which has received a total of eight bids in the last three seasons, or the Mountain West? With conference play beginning this week and six teams with at least 12 victories, the Mountain West enters January in position to at the very least duplicate its haul from last season (four bids).
Of course there are the usual suspects (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV), and with Colorado State (13-2), Boise State (12-2) and undefeated Wyoming (14-0) looking good the Mountain West may be able to grab a fifth NCAA bid. Wyoming doesn’t have the greatest profile, with their best win being a home triumph over then-ranked Colorado, but at 14-0 Larry Shyatt’s team could find themselves in position to grab a bid if they can go .500 in conference play with a couple of those wins coming over the expected (in the preseason) contenders.
One issue for the Cowboys, who open with a home game against Boise State on Wednesday night, is the fact that senior guard Luke Martinez is out with a broken bone in his right hand. That puts more on the plate of Derrious Gilmore, who was averaging 11.8 points per game through 13 games. With Leonard Washington and Larry Nance Jr. inside Wyoming should be able to hold their own in that regard, and if another perimeter scorer can step up in Martinez’s absence they have a shot.
Colorado State reached the NCAA tournament last season and the addition of 7-footer Colton Iverson has made them a more formidable outfit in the paint, as seniors Pierce Hornung and Greg Smith continue to play well in their assigned roles. The key for the Rams: shooting better from the perimeter, as their 34.7% mark from three ranks 7th in the conference. Shooting hasn’t been an issue for Leon Rice’s team however, as Boise State leads the Mountain West in both field goal and three-point percentage. And when you’ve got Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic leading the way that should come as no surprise.
Given the battles that are sure to occur in conference play it’s tough to expect all six teams to end up in the field of 68 come Selection Sunday. But if anything, the Mountain West’s hot start shows that many may have underestimated the depth of this conference in assuming that four bids would be the max. Which teams will be left standing come March? The answers begin to trickle in on Wednesday night.
Player of the Week: Wyoming forward Leonard Washington
Washington led the Cowboys to a 59-56 win over SMU last week in their only game of the week, scoring 13 of the Pokes’ final 17 points. Washington tallied 19 points and 11 rebounds as Wyoming handed the Mustangs their first home loss of the season.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
9 PM Nevada at Air Force
10 PM Boise State at No. 25 Wyoming (ROOT)
10 PM No. 24/19 UNLV at No. 25 New Mexico (CBSSN)
11:30 PM No. 16/15 San Diego State at Fresno State (TWCSN)
3 PM Fresno State at No. 25 New Mexico
6 PM No. 25 Wyoming at Nevada
8 PM Colorado State at No. 16/15 San Diego State (NBCSN)
10 PM Air Force at No. 24/19 UNLV (TWCSN)
Players of the Week: Weber State guard Scott Bamforth and Southern Utah guard Damon Heuir
Bamforth led the way for the Wildcats in two Big Sky victories, which included a season-high 22 points in their win over Northern Colorado. In wins over the Bears and North Dakota the senior averaged 20.5 points and 3.0 assists per game, shooting 10-of-15 from beyond the arc. Heuir was lights out in the Thunderbirds’ lone game last week, scoring a season’s best 30 points in Southern Utah’s win over Northern Arizona.
EWU loses leading scorer Crosgile: As if things couldn’t get any worse for Eastern Washington. Last week brought about the decision of leading scorer Justin Crosgile to transfer in order to be closer to his 3-year old son. Crosgile, who began his career at Saint Joseph’s, averaged 14.7 points per game for the Eagles this season (ranking 4th in the conference). With Collin Chiverton having to deal with the passing of his mother earlier in the season things have gone anything but smooth for the Eagles, and with Crosgile leaving the road to qualifying for the Big Sky tournament became even tougher.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday; all games on Big Sky TV unless noted otherwise)
9:05 PM Northern Arizona at Eastern Washington
9:05 PM Weber State at Southern Utah
9:05 PM Montana State at Northern Colorado (Altitude)
9:05 PM Montana at North Dakota
10:35 PM Sacramento State at Portland State
4:05 PM Montana State at North Dakota
6:35 PM Montana at Northern Colorado (Altitude)
9:05 PM Sacramento State at Eastern Washington
9:05 PM Idaho State at Southern Utah
10:35 PM Northern Arizona at Portland State
Player of the Week: Hawai’i guard Brandon Jawato
The freshman was on fire in the Warriors’ 76-61 win over UC Riverside as he made all seven of his shots from beyond the arc in scoring 21 points. For the week Jawato averaged 16.0 points per game.
Warriors make first conference trip to the mainland: Gib Arnold’s Hawai’i squad sits atop the league standings (tied with Cal Poly at 3-0) but that unblemished mark comes with a caveat: the Warriors have yet to play a conference road game. That will change this weekend as they take on two of the other expected contenders for the title, visiting UC Irvine on Wednesday night and Long Beach State Saturday. Last week Arnold went with freshmen Manroop Clair and Brandon Jawato as his starting backcourt and they played well, something that will have to continue if the Warriors are to be successful on the road. And classmate Isaac Fotu has been one of the Big West’s best newcomers, which has helped matters.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
10 PM Cal State Fullerton at Cal State Bakersfield
10 PM Cal State Northridge at Long Beach Stat e
11 PM Hawai’i at UC Irvine (ESPNU)
10 PM Cal Poly at UC Davis
10 PM UCSB at Pacific
7 PM Cal State Northridge at UC Irvine (FS Prime Ticket)
7 PM Hawai’i at Long Beach State
9 PM UC Riverside at Cal State Fullerton
10 PM Cal Poly at Pacific
10 PM UCSB at UC Davis
Player of the Week: Arizona State forward Carrick Felix
In wins over Utah and Colorado the senior averaged 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, which includes a double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds) in Sunday’s win over the Buffaloes. Four of Felix’s nine career games of scoring 20 points or more have come this season.
Colorado suffers tough loss then fails to bounce back: You’ll have a hard time finding people who don’t believe that Colorado was robbed last Thursday, as a Sabatino Chen three-pointer as time expired was ruled to have been released late. The end result was a 92-83 overtime win for No. 4 Arizona, a game that head coach Tad Boyle and his players hope doesn’t come back to haunt them on Selection Sunday. But of the two losses in Arizona the one that could prove more problematic was their 65-56 loss to Arizona State on Sunday night, with the tandem of Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski outplaying Andre Roberson and Josh Scott inside. With the LA schools visiting Boulder this week the Buffaloes cannot afford a split if they’re to be a factor in the Pac-12 race.
Schedule (Wednesday – Sunday)
10 PM Washington State at Stanford (P12N)
11 PM Washington at California (ESPN2)
9 PM No. 4 Arizona at Oregon (ESPN2)
9:30 PM UCLA at Utah (P12N)
10 PM USC at Colorado (ESPNU)
11:30 PM Arizona State at Oregon State (P12N)
Noon UCLA at Colorado (P12N)
4 PM Washington State at California (P12N)
6 PM USC at Utah (P12N)
8 PM No. 4 Arizona at Oregon State (ESPNU)
11 PM Washington at Stanford (FSN)
9 PM Arizona State at Oregon (P12N)
Player of the Week: Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk
Arguably the most improved player in the country, Olynyk put together another solid week to grab Player of the Week honors. In road wins over then-No. 22 Oklahoma State, Pepperdine and Santa Clara the redshirt junior averaged 23.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Road mojo not there for LMU last week: Max Good’s Loyola Marymount Lions were the best team in the WCC when it came to winning league games on the road last season, going 7-1 in such contests. That hasn’t carried over into the 2012-13 campaign however, as LMU lost games at BYU and Saint Mary’s last week. There’s no shame in dropping those two contests but at 7-8 on the season should there be concern that the Lions may not reach postseason play after going to the CIT last year? If Anthony Ireland, Ashley Hamilton and the rest of the Lions are to get going they have to shoot better, as LMU ranks 8th in the WCC in field goal percentage and 6th in three-point percentage. And when a team is also struggling defensively as LMU is (7th and 8th in those categories as a defense) the shooting woes become all the more problematic.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday)
9 PM Pepperdine at BYU (BYUtv)
10 PM San Diego at San Francisco (WCCsports.com)
10 PM Santa Clara at Loyola Marymount (WCCsports.com)
11 PM Saint Mary’s at No. 8/9 Gonzaga (ESPN2)
4:30 PM BYU at Santa Clara (TWCSN/CSNCA/ROOT)
10 PM Portland at Loyola Marymount (WCCsports.com)
10 PM San Diego at Pepperdine (WCCsports.com)
11 PM San Francisco at Saint Mary’s (CSNCA)
Player of the Week: Utah State guard Preston Medlin
In three games (all victories) for the Aggies, Medlin averaged 20.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest. In the 81-57 win over Texas State the senior guard hit a season-high five three-pointers on his way to scoring 21 points and grabbing six rebounds.
New Mexico State’s road struggles continue in league play: Beating Marvin Menzies’ team in Las Cruces has proved to be a tough task this season, as the Aggies boast a 7-1 record at the Pan American Center (rival New Mexico being the lone defeat). On the road however? Not so much, as New Mexico State is 0-2 in WAC road games and 1-6 overall. The Aggies were able to bounce back from defeats at the hands of UT Arlington (68-47) and Louisiana Tech (81-72) with home wins over UTSA and Texas State, but if they’re to be considered a true contender New Mexico State has to improve on the road. New Mexico State has scored more than 65 points on the road just once, that being the loss at Louisiana Tech.
Schedule (Thursday – Sunday)
8 PM Louisiana Tech at Texas State
8 PM UT Arlington at UTSA
10 PM New Mexico State at Seattle (ROOT)
10:05 PM Denver at Idaho
9:05 PM San Jose State at Utah State
3 PM UT Arlington at Texas State
6:30 PM Denver at Seattle (ROOT)
7 PM Louisiana Tech at UTSA
10:05 PM New Mexico State at Idaho
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