Wow!! What a great year in the Mountain West Conference!! The Wyoming Cowboys finished the season at 20-11 mark and are hosting North Dakota State in the 1st Round of the CBI. Five games to win a championship!!
Our league was tough, competitive and exciting all year long. Ranked #5 in the RPI, we put four teams (out of 8) into the NCAA Tournament. As many of you begin to fill out your brackets, here is a brief scouting report on our four representatives:
Picked to win our league in the preseason, the Lobos did not disappoint. New Mexico tied for the regular season championship and cut down the nets last weekend in Las Vegas.
UNM was arguably the most complete team in the league. They have great size at all positions and were by far the deepest, boasting 10 or 11 guys that could play substantial minutes for Coach Alford. Drew Gordon, one of the top big men in our league is a double-double machine and playing really well. Kendall Williams and Tony Snell give the Lobos a potent back court as Williams is a high energy slasher, while Snell is an assassin from 3pt.
Offensively, New Mexico will pick its spots to run, but loves to run quick hitters. If successful, the Lobos will run the same play sometimes 2 or 3 times in succession. Defensively, this is where these guys win games. Their physicality in both the front court and back court wear down opponents. Because of their depth, it seems like they never take a play off!! If UNM can continue to defend and get solid bench production from guys like Demetrius Walker, this could be a team that could make a major run to the second weekend of the tournament.
San Diego State
What a job Coach Fisher and company did this year for the Aztecs. While many analysts thought they would be down after the departure of almost their entire starting five, San Diego State claimed a share of the MWC regular season title while coming up short to New Mexico in the Championship game.
While some may say SDSU is too young or too undersized, these guys may make up the toughest team in the league. They refuse to lose and are the type you definitely want on your side in a back alley brawl. The Aztecs boast the MWC Player of the Year, sophomore Jamaal Franklin. With a “junk yard dog” mentality, Franklin is one of the most determined slashers in the country. He is never afraid to take (and make) the game winning shot and when it seems like the team’s energy level drops, Franklin is there to pick it up.
SDSU does a masterful job at controlling tempo. They can
play fast or slow. Their toughness on defense is their
identity. It seems like when they need a stop, they get
it. From an offensive standpoint, the Aztecs are a simple
group, utilizing just a few sets that start out of a
“Horns” set. Because they play four guards
at one time, they pose matchup problems for lots of traditional
bigs. If San Diego State can play against a team without lots
of size, they could make a serious run in the tournament.
Although their guys are young, winning has become a culture there
and the Aztecs have the ability to make some noise.
(Credit: San Diego State Athletics)
Although they didn’t win the league, the Rebels probably had the most raw talent. Their style of play, personnel, and identity is just like their city …an absolute show.
“Let’s Run” is UNLV’s motto, and boy do they live up to their creed. Makes, misses – it doesn’t matter…UNLV is bringing it. Their break starts with their best player, 6’8 Mike Moser, a long, athletic 4-man who is one of the tops in the nation in double-doubles. From a backcourt standpoint, UNLV has the perfect balance. PG Oscar Bellfield is a senior veteran, SG Anthony Marshall is a tough, emotional slasher, and SF Chace Stanback is a 3pt killer.
UNLV’s bread and butter is the 3pt line. If you are not on edge or careful (see North Carolina in December), UNLV can EASILY knock down 12+ three pointers in one game. They hunt them in transition, but will run lots of sets out of ball screens to get fill behind threes. From a defensive standpoint, UNLV will reach, grab and gamble to get steals. It’s almost like they know the refs won’t call EVERYTHING so they take extra chances. Live ball turnovers fuel the Rebels’ offense and get them going.
If UNLV can knock down 3’s and can keep the tempo of the game up, they have as much talent as anyone in the NCAA Tournament. Whoever they go up against, it will be imperative to make them take tough 2’s and get disrupt their ball screen offense.
One of the teams on America’s bubble, CSU enters the NCAA Tournament a very dangerous sleeper to make a run. As one of the nation’s top 3pt shooting teams, the Rams are extremely precise and well coached. They were almost impossible to beat in Ft. Collins, boasting a 7-0 record in league play at Moby Arena.
With nobody over 6-7 in CSU’s rotation, the Rams rely on a terrific and determined backcourt, as well as a tough, blue collar frontcourt. First team All MWC Wes Eikmeier is a sniper and terrific scorer. With the ability to shoot off of the bounce or the catch, Eikmeier is the one player who can get his own shot off any place, any time. PG Dorian Green does an outstanding job of running the team, but also is a major threat from a catch and shoot standpoint from behind the arc, while driving to get to the FT line as well. At PF, 6’5 Pierce Hornung is one of my favorite players in our league. He brings a “lunch pail” mentality and is a human floor burn. He makes all the hustle plays and is a terrific glue guy.
CSU definitely has an offensive mentality. The Rams are a well oiled machine and when allowed to run their offense, are very potent. They are terrific in balling ahead in transition for layups and 3’s. Their motion offense consists of assortments of pin downs and hand offs, as well as ball screens that keep you on edge. From a defensive standpoint, CSU tries to “Ice” ball screens and keep you from running your pick and rolls. Although they are not a big team, they have great toughness when they need to get a stop.
If CSU’s back court is on, look out. Because of how dangerous they are from the 3pt line, they are the prototypical tourney team to upset two teams and make a run to the Sweet 16. Just like playing UNLV, it will be important to keep the Rams inside the arc andforce them into tough 2’s.
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