It is time for conference play for Mountain West men’s basketball team, and also the debut of my weekly power rankings. Look for these rankings on a weekly basis throughout the conference season. RPI numbers are from NCAA.com as of Dec. 26.
1. Nevada (11-3, 23 RPI): A head-scratching loss at San Francisco to end its nonconference season, but the preseason league favorite and defending regular-season and conference tournament champion earns the top spot. The Wolf Pack will be tested in its MW opener at Fresno State Wednesday. Games this week: at Fresno State, 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN3); vs. New Mexico, 3 p.m. Saturday (AT&T SportsNet).
2. Boise State (10-2, 29 RPI): The Broncos got smoked at SMU in its final nonconference game, but also racked up some nice wins. Senior Chandler Hutchison is playing like the preseason MW Player of the Year, and the supporting cast around him also has played well. Perhaps the most important statistic is Boise State leads the league in scoring defense at 64.5 points per game. Games this week: vs. Colorado State, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (CBS SportsNetwork); at UNLV, 9 p.m. Saturday (AT&T SportsNet).
3. San Diego State (8-3, 55 RPI): A two-point win at home over then No. 12 Gonzaga Dec. 21 was by far the conference’s best nonconference win. When this team is healthy, it may be the best team in the league. In coach Brian Dutcher’s first season, the Aztecs remain one of the better defensive teams in the country, but are pushing the tempo more offensively and average 78.3 points per game. Games this week: at Wyoming, 7 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN3); vs. Utah State, 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3).
There’s been a lot of firsts for Wyoming men’s basketball this season.
A first-year coach.
First-year players, and others with bigger roles.
Five UW players will go through another first Wednesday when the No. 7 seed Cowboys (18-13) play No. 10 Air Force (11-20) at 2:30 p.m. MT in a first-round game. They will play in their first-ever MW Tournament game.
Two in particular are sophomore guard Justin James and junior forward Hayden Dalton. Both were on the team last year, but were suspended prior to the tournament after being cited by Laramie police for drug use. James and Dalton are UW’s two leading scorers at 15.5 and 12.5 points per game, respectively.
“It hurt knowing I couldn’t be out there helping my team in some way. This year I’m ready to play,” James said.
Needless to say, UW needs both players to have good games Wednesday, but perhaps the biggest area is ball security. James and Dalton lead UW in turnovers. Between both, they average about five turnovers per game, and many of them are careless turnovers that can easily be avoided.
As Wyoming gets set to begin play in the Mountain West Tournament at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday against Air Force, it appears — and this isn’t breaking news — that the MW will again be a one-bid league to the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, San Diego State went 16-2 in MW play and was the top seed in the MW Tournament. It lost to Fresno State in the tournament’s championship game, and played in the NIT. Nevada won this year’s regular-season MW title, and although its RPI entering the MW Tournament is 36, the Wolf Pack seemingly has to win the tournament to get to the NCAAs.
Right, wrong or indifferent, on a national scale the MW is a mid-major conference. The days of getting multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament, let alone five not that long ago, are gone — at least until its 11 hoops-playing members win some notable nonconference games.
First-year UW coach Allen Edwards was asked about this perception Monday, and had this to say: “Sometimes the perception hurts because of the year San Diego State (sixth seed) and New Mexico (fifth seed) has had, and probably because those guys not taking down a Power 5 team. This is a well-balanced league and we’ve been beating up on each other. Sometimes that looks bad. There are teams in this league can go into the (NCAA) Tournament and get a win. Nevada is a good team. So is Colorado State, Boise State, Fresno State. … I can go down the list all the way down to us (the seventh seed in the MW Tournament). I disagree with people saying it’s down year or a one-bid league.”
Morris Marshall’s career with the Wyoming men’s basketball team hasn’t been full of a lot of bright spots.
The 6-foot-4 guard came to UW last season from Santa Fe Junior College in Florida, and he averaged three minutes in eight games in 2015-16.
This season, with a new coach and more up-tempo offense Marshall’s role figured to increase. However, he’s dealt with a nagging shin injury since the summer. Although he’s been healthy the last few weeks, Marshall has played in only 13 games and averaged 6.5 minutes per contest.
Marshall’s final home regular-season game for the Cowboys is at 2 p.m. Saturday against San Jose State. Will he play, and how much, remains to be seen. But whether he plays or not, Marshall’s been an important part of this team according to one of its key players.
First-year Wyoming coach Allen Edwards was asked Monday why he thinks the Cowboys’ opponent Tuesday — San Diego State — has been off this season. The Aztecs enter the game 11-9 overall and 3-5 in the Mountain West. They were picked to win the conference in the preseason by the league’s head coaches and select media. I was one of those media members, and also picked the Aztecs to win it.
“I think it’s because the league is more balanced than it has been. yet they’re only losing by a few points,” Edwards said. “Last year when going through league 16-2, they got a lot of wins by close margins. This year, they’ve not found a way to do that consistently. It may look like they’re having a down year, but many of those losses could have been flipped.”
That’s a good and fair point.
San Diego State is 0-6 in games decided by six points or less, or two possessions. Four of its five MW losses has been by six points or less, including three by three points or less. The Aztecs lost their last two games by a combined four points, but held double-digit leads in both.
Saturday is the biggest game on the schedule for the Wyoming men’s basketball team. One reason is because it’s the next game on the’ schedule. But the biggest reason is up until now, this is the best team that’s come into the Arena-Auditorium this season.
UW (12-5 overall, 2-2 Mountain West) hosts Nevada (14-3, 3-1) at 4 p.m. MT, and fans can watch it online on ESPN3. Nevada is in second place in the conference behind Boise State, but has the best record in the league.
When you look at this game on paper, you see two pretty even teams.
— Nevada leads the MW in scoring (79.4 ppg), followed by UW (78.6 ppg). Both teams allow pretty much the same amount of points. Nevada allows 72.2, UW 72.9 per contest. Look for a high-scoring, entertaining game Saturday if nothing else.
Here’s the replay from my weekly live chat on University of Wyoming sports on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Lots of good questions and dialogue from Wyoming’s season-opening 40-34 triple-overtime win over Northern Illinois last week, as well as some UW hoops news as Pine Bluffs’ Hunter Thompson committed to play for the Pokes earlier this week.
I will live chat from the UW-Nebraska football game Saturday, starting at 9:45 a.m. from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. Links to the chat will be at wyosoprts.net and this blog.
For more UW sports coverage, see the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang and log on to wyosports.net.
This year marks the 50-year anniversary that Texas Western (now known as UTEP) defeated Kentucky 72-66 to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
It was the first time in the history of the game that Texas Western started five black players.
Did you know one of those Texas Western players has a tie to the University of Wyoming?
Nevil Shed ended up being an assistant coach at UW in the 1970s for coach Moe Radovich. This information came from Jim Kearns, UW communications specialist. Kearns said Shed was likely one of the first, if not the first, black coaches at UW.
That game will be aired twice this week on ESPN networks, will full coverage of every basket. The first airing is at 5:30 p.m. MT on ESPN. It will re-air at 9 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2.