Mountain West Notebook
by Bob Thurman
Everyone Tips Off
All the teams in the Mountain West tipped off their season this past week. All in all, the conference started off fairly well going 8-3 against decent competition. Colorado State got the conference going last weekend by sweeping IPFW, Florida Atlantic and Cleveland State in the Dell BCA Invitational. Forward Brian Greene won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 21 points per game. Brigham Young also started the season well with a 71-56 win over Toledo and a 73-64 win over Kansas State. The Cougars were simply too strong on the wings with Travis Hansen and Mark Bigelow leading the way. Wyoming, Utah and UNLV also won their openers as well.
Of the three losses, two were expected. Air Force could not keep up with the athleticism of Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, losing 65-47. New Mexico was up 13 early in the second half against the always-tough California Bears. However, the Bears pounded the ball inside against the undersized Lobos in the second half and came away with a 76-68 victory. The other loss was quite a shock. Eastern Washington came into San Diego Saturday night and upset the Aztecs 75-70. Seniors Mike Mackell and Tony Bland scored half of the team’s points, but the rest of team floundered and the Aztecs started the season with a really bad loss. This team is very young and incomplete, so it will be shaky at times. Things should improve next month when transfers Travis Hanour and Chris Manker become eligible, but the real prize is if freshman Evan Burns will be eligible. Once again, the NCAA is dragging their feet, but the hope is he’ll be playing sometime next month.
The holiday tournaments kick into high gear this week. The most anticipated matchup will be in Maui, where Utah hooks up with Gonzaga. Both teams have huge frontlines and there should be plenty of physical play down low. However, the outcome will be determined by which team’s backcourt takes care of the ball better. Utah’s highly regarded freshman point guard Tim Drisdom will be matched against the Zags steady Blake Stepp, in what could be an early schooling for the youngster. Also, the three point line will be nine inches farther from the basket, so it could pose a challenge to both of these excellent shooting teams. If the Utes get past the Zags, then they may face Indiana, who ended their season last March in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It should be a challenging week for the Utes.
Up in Alaska, Wyoming will face Charleston in the first round of the always-exciting Great Alaska Shootout. If the Cowboys make it to the final, they could end up playing highly ranked Michigan State for the championship. Wyoming seems to always struggle with quality teams like this, so it would be quite a confidence boost for them and a quality win for the conference that could help in the long run. Be sure to stay up to watch these games!
This Week’s Heat-miser Award
Marcus Bailey, Wyoming
23 points, 9-15 FG, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists versus Denver
The preseason Player of the Year in the Mountain West got off to a great start against Denver. Besides his ability to get into the paint, it is his rebounding and defense that makes him a special player. Keep an eye on him up in Alaska!
This Week’s Snow-Miser Award
Vernard Jenkins, Air Force
1 point, 0-2 FG, 1 assist, 3 turnovers versus Louisville
The Falcons’ team co-captain needs to start contributing as a senior if the Academy wants to compete in this tough conference. Hopefully, the quick and athletic backcourt of Louisville taught him a few lessons for the near future.