MW Tournament could be a wild one

The Mountain West came up with a hashtag for its conference basketball tournament this year: #MWMadness.

That may be a good way to describe how the men’s tournament plays out this year.

2016 Mountain West Tournament

2016 Mountain West Tournament

Of course, as I say this watch it be chalk all the way through. But if the regular season was any indication, expect the unexpected.

No. 2 seed Fresno State seems to be the popular pick as the Bulldogs seem to be playing the best basketball of all the teams. Top seed San Diego State quietly just gets it done.

Boise State and New Mexico have the talent to win this tournament, but so do lower seeds like Colorado State, UNLV, Utah State and yes, even Wyoming — although the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to win four games in four days with seven scholarship players available.

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UW-San Diego State men’s basketball Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question and answer session with Mark Zeigler, who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune, on Wednesday’s game with the University of Wyoming.

Tipoff is at 9 p.m. MT at Viejas Arena in San Diego.

Follow on Twitter: @sdutzeigler

Despite a loss at Boise State Sunday, San Diego State is tied for first in the Mountain West and currently hold the tiebreaker with Wyoming. Are the Aztecs the best team in the MW in your opinion?

I still think so. I’m not saying they’re a great team by any stretch, just the least mediocre team in an increasingly mediocre league. If they play defense like they can and make a

Mark Zeigler

Mark Zeigler

few shots, they’re very good (ask Utah State). If they play defense like they can and shoot like they usually do (poorly), they just scrape by. If they don’t play elite defense and don’t make shots, they lose 61-46 at Boise State. The one advantage they have over the rest of the field is the schedule, with Wyoming, Colorado State and Boise State all at home down the stretch, plus games against San Jose State and Nevada. I think they get to 14 wins, which should be enough for at least a share of the title if not outright.

 

We know the Aztecs are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and that they often struggle to shoot the ball. But why do they struggle to shoot the ball? is it shot selection, is it mental? What are your thoughts on that?

They had a stretch where it seemed like every player they recruited was categorized as “athletic wing, can’t shoot.” That is definitely part of it. Not having Dwayne Polee II hurts, since he was their best perimeter threat at the end of last season (making more than 50 percent of his 3s over the final month). Freshman Trey Kell was billed as having one of the best perimeter strokes in the prep class of 2014, and so far that hasn’t materialized. Matt Shrigley has been streaky. The shots they get aren’t horrible, since teams generally sag and clog the paint, almost daring them to fire away. But they also have shown the capacity to make them in bunches (ask Air Force), and there was a recent four-game stretch where they ranked in the Top 10 nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage.

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UW-San Diego St. 3 things to watch, along with notes, quotes and prediction

Three things to watch tonight as the 25th-ranked Wyoming Cowboys host San Diego State at 9 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie:

1. Ball security: San Diego State leads the MW in turnovers forced with 15 per game. UW averages around 11, but had 13 and 17, respectively, in games last week against Boise State and Colorado State. The Cowboys can’t give the Aztecs extra possessions off turnovers.

2. Crashing the glass: San Diego State has about a six-rebound advantage on UW, although the Cowboys — in terms of defensive rebounds — have done a good job this season. UW must hold its own on the glass, and not allow San Diego State a lot of second-chance points.

3. Who makes some perimeter shots?: Meaning for UW as you know that San Diego State, and its 1-3-1 zone, will try to pack the middle to take away senior forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Derek Cooke Jr. Someone, or multiple guys, will need to make some outside shots to either take the Aztecs out of that zone or loosen it up.

For more on the game, here is my video preview:


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UW-San Diego State men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Mark Zeigler, who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune, for Wednesday’s game with the 25th-ranked University of Wyoming. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @sduzeigler

What is the latest on the condition of senior forward Dwayne Polee II after collapsing during a game earlier this season, and how has his absence impacted the Aztecs?

Mark Zeigler

Mark Zeigler

Polee is at nearly every practice, sitting on the sideline and watching. Coach Steve Fisher put it like this: “He’s still in that medical maze.” He’s seen an array of specialists, and Fisher said it will be at least another five to seven days before they sit down and aggregate all the test results and medical opinions. I still think it’s as much an if as when proposition on his return, but the earliest we’d probably see him in uniform, you’d think, would be several more weeks.

 

Has anyone stepped up in your opinion with Polee out, or who do you think needs to moving forward?

It’s probably too early to say, but Matt Shrigley has been moved into the starting lineup (in place of freshman Trey Kell) and played well against New Mexico, showing he can do more than just sit on the perimeter and make 3s. Winston Shepard also had probably the best game of his career against New Mexico, certainly the best half of his career (16 points, 7 of 8 shooting, six rebounds). Polee was not playing particularly well when he went down, and Fisher had moved him out of the starting lineup. But without him, the bench is incredibly inexperienced (only 3.2 points per game from last season) and the Aztecs lose their most athletic player. He also was the top of the 1-3-1 zone defense that was so instrumental in winning the regular-season Mountain West title last season.

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UW-San Diego State men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Tod Leonard, who helps cover San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune, about Tuesday night’s game with the University of Wyoming at 9:05 p.m. at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @sdutleonard

How surprised are you that San Diego State is No. 5 in the nation, undefeated in the MW and winners of 20 straight games? Wasn’t this supposed to be somewhat of a transition season for the Aztecs?

With the Mountain West Player of the Year from last season, Jamaal Franklin, leaving one season early for the NBA, there seemed to be a consensus in the Mountain West that this would be a transition season. The Aztecs were picked by the coaches to finish fourth in the conference. Nobody, including San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, saw a 20-game winning streak or 10-0 start in the MW coming. The team is young, and point guard Xavier Thames, who had a history of back trouble, needed to fill Franklin’s role and the Aztecs had to get a big contribution from sophomore forward Winston Shepard. Both have produced, and 6-feet-10 sophomore Skylar Spencer has come up big on the inside defense with 54 blocked shots in the past 20 games.

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UW-San Diego State postgame thoughts

I would a liar if I said I saw that coming.

Wyoming holds No. 15 San Diego State (14th in the coaches poll) to 28.8 percent shooting and 2 of 18 from 3-point range, and finds enough ways to score for a 58-45 win in front of 9,573 fans Saturday night at the Arena-Auditorium — the largest home crowd in nearly eight years.

I thought if Wyoming had any chance to win it would have to play good defense, but I even though that’s what this team does night in and night out, I didn’t think it could score enough points.

But this isn’t the first time this team has proved me wrong.

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Thoughts on All-MW men’s hoops team

Here is the link to the All-Mountain West men’s basketball team and other honorees:

http://www.themwc.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/030512aad.html

I was fortunate to vote on this, and I had four of the five players on both the first and second teams, including UW junior forward Leonard Washington. He’s UW’s highest All-MW pick since senior guard Brandon Ewing made the first team in 2008-09.

I didn’t vote for senior point guard JayDee Luster as the Defensive Player of the Year, but it was well-deserved. When coach Larry Shyatt says he’s the best defender he’s coached in his 40 years on the job, that really says something.

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UW-San Diego State Q&A

I am still in Orlando, Fla., for the Associated Press Sports Editors winter conference and contest judging event. Not trying to rub it in to those of you back in Wyoming, but the weather is a lot better here. … Windy, but in the 70s.

Anyway, I caught up with Mark Zeigler who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune and I asked him five questions on Wednesday’s Wyoming-SDSU game.

With San Diego State’s recent struggles, is the team wearing down because of a lack of depth with only nine scholarship players? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but it certainly looks that way. Two things I have noticed that would indicate accumulated fatigue are players getting stuck in screens far more often than earlier in the season, and flatter jump shots. Both point to tired or heavy legs. And the nine scholarship players is deceiving. One rarely plays. Another plays but only because a guard has to come off the bench and there’s no one else. Another is DeShawn Stephens, who was cut from his high school team and, while an incredibly inspirational story, is in just his third year of organized basketball (and first at the Division I level). So when Jamaal Franklin sat out the Air Force game with a sprained ankle and Garrett Green, his replacement in the starting lineup, sprained an ankle midway through the second half, they in reality were down to four experienced players who get meaningful minutes.

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Coaches like MW balance at midway point

The second half of Mountain West play begins Saturday for the league’s eight men’s basketball teams, and the eight coaches have been impressed with what the league has done so far.

“You don’t see a huge separation,” said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, whose team is ranked 13th nationally and is in first place in the MW at 20-3 overall and 6-1 in the league.

“Even though a team like Boise State has yet to win (a league game), they’ve without any reservation could e 3-4 or 4-3 with a blink of an eye. That’s good.”

Boise State lost to at San Diego State by two last week, and at home to No. 14 UNLV in overtime. 

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Video: Steve Fisher

In basketball mode this weekend as I post some video with some of the Mountain West’s men’s basketball coaches. Fisher has been at San Diego State since the MW was formed. He mentioned one of the best players he coached against was current New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who was sitting directly across from Fisher when I did this interview.