Air Force men’s basketball beat writer Brent Briggeman of the Colorado Springs Gazette exchanged email questions and answers with WyoSports about tonight’s game with the University of Wyoming at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
Look for Q&As with writers who cover UW’s Mountain West foes throughout the conference season.
Question: What are some of the biggest differences in the program now with Dave Pilipovich as coach, compared to former coach Jeff Reynolds, and how have the players accepted that?
Answer: Pilipovich has sped up the offense. In the past, Air Force would intentionally wait until 10 to 12 seconds remained on the shot clock to start looking to score. That slow-down mentality has been scrapped. “We still run the Princeton offense; we just run it faster,” Pilipovich said. The results have been obvious on the scoreboard, with Air Force scoring 90 points in consecutive games for the first time in 14 years. The players, naturally, seem to like it, but what college basketball player would object to being told to play faster and more instinctively?
Q: What makes senior guard Michael Lyons so good as one of the conference’s leading scorers, and is he one of the more underrated players in the conference?
A: I’m guessing he is among the more underrated players in the conference. After the overtime loss at UNLV, a reporter asked Lyons if this was a breakout game for him. Really? This guy has been a scorer for years and one of the best in Air Force’s history, and they were wanting to call that one a breakout game. He’s able to score on the perimeter, in transition and by either driving to the hole or making strong cuts in the offense and receiving passes from his teammates. The main thing that separates him is his ability to hit tough shots. He has a knack for knocking down shots when he’s falling back, being heavily guarded or tossing it over his head.
Q: When Air Force plays well, who else plays well, other than Lyons?
A: Senior forward Mike Fitzgerald has emerged as the top No. 2 scoring option. Fitzgerald is primarily a 3-point shooter, but he can drive and get to the free-throw line, where he has been excellent. He’s tall for a perimeter player at about 6-foot-5, so defenses can’t lose track of him as he’ll get his shot over a defender if he’s slow to pick him up. That kind of attention opens lanes for Lyons or others to cut to the hole within the offense that stresses constant motion.
Q: Did the 90-48 home win over New Orleans on Wednesday give the Falcons more confidence heading up to Wyoming?
A: The result of the game itself wasn’t a surprise. New Orleans came into the game exhausted, and no one figured it would be much of a challenge. The big thing is that the role players were able to play extended minutes in the second half and finally gain some comfort and find their offensive rhythm. This includes players like Kamryn Williams, Justin Hammonds and Tre’ Coggins, all of whom are more athletic than most Air Force players in the past. If those guys can carry over some of that comfort level, it will only improve the Falcons’ depth, which was already one of their strengths.
Q: What are the keys to Saturday’s game for both teams, and who wins?
A: Air Force saw how rough a UNLV hangover can be, as it was hammered by Colorado State a few days after returning from Las Vegas. Wyoming will have to avoid that with an extremely quick turnaround and do so while preparing for an offense that isn’t like any other in the league. For Air Force, the key will be preventing Wyoming from slowing the tempo. More possessions will mean more fouls and more exhaustion – particularly given Wyoming’s quick turnaround. If this turns into a scoring contest and a battle of depth, Air Force should have the advantage.