WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Brent Briggeman, who covers Air Force men’s basketball for The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Wyoming (18-9 overall, 4-9 Mountain West) plays at Air Force (15-10, 6-6) at 7 tonight at Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy.
Question: Air Force won’t win the Mountain West regular-season title, but remains in the hunt for an upper-half finish. Are the Falcons one of the best stories in the conference after being picked to finish last in the preseason?
Answer: The team clearly thinks it is. Coach Dave Pilipovich has used those conference predictions as a constant motivator throughout the season, posting them in the locker room where they are an ever-present reminder of what others think of the team. The improved performance has led to some of the biggest crowds since Air Force’s NCAA Tournament teams of the mid-2000s. It’s always tricky to build programs at the academy between the academic standards, the disadvantage of not being able to add transfers and the post-graduate military commitment, so anytime a revenue sport can enjoy a resurgence it tends to be a big deal around the institution.
Q: Is senior guard Michael Lyons a Player of the Year candidate, and if so, what do you think he needs to do to win it?
A: I doubt he’ll win it, but I think he should be a first-team selection along with Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State, Colton Iverson of Colorado State, Anthony Bennett of UNLV and Kendall Williams of New Mexico. I don’t think another player is as important to his team. The team just didn’t look the same when Lyons was injured and otherwise ineffective during a loss at Boise State last week. He’s a special player and the most creative scorer I’ve ever covered.
Q: In Air Force’s 57-48 win at Wyoming last month, it held the Cowboys to 33.3 percent shooting. Was that the result of the Falcons’ zone defenses or did they do anything else well to frustrate Wyoming?
A: Wyoming made just 5-of-28 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range in that game and simply looked cold. What Air Force does best on defense is use its team approach to make up for what it lacks in size against bigger competition. If teams are hitting from the outside it tends to stretch out that zone, open more looks on the inside and snowball into a lot of points. Wyoming wasn’t hitting those outside shots to where it could put itself into position to dictate what Air Force could do on that end of the floor.
Q: Center Taylor Broekhuis had 16 points and made 3-of-4 3-point shots at Wyoming. Has he done a lot of that this season or was that more of a one-time thing?
A: Broekhuis is shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range and that’s a major part of his offense. Air Force has traditionally sought big men who can shoot from the outside, and that’s what Broekhuis brings more than a strong inside presence. He’s really a center in name only, as the constant motion in Air Force’s offense leaves him with 3-point opportunities far more often than looks in the post. He’s reached double figures in scoring 11 times this season, so a strong offensive output from him is far from a rarity.
Q: What are the keys for both teams in this game, and how do you see the game playing out?
A: If Lyons is healthy and on, and either Todd Fletcher or Mike Fitzgerald establishes a strong No. 2 option early Air Force will be tough to beat at home (where they have lost only to Wichita State and CSU, both by three points). If Wyoming remains dedicated to attacking on the inside and can find one or two hot shooters, it will stay in the game.