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Mountain West Notebook

January 14, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

A New Year, A New Season

Ah yes, the New Year is upon us, which means college basketball’s second season is starting. Obviously, what I am referring to is the start of conference play. Most conferences tipped it off this weekend, but since the Mountain West only plays fourteen league games, it has another week before things get busy in the league. Regardless, now is a good time to look back on the season so far and give you my thoughts and observations on the teams and players of the Mountain West.

Team Observations

Strongest Team: UNLV (10-2)

This was the toughest category, as there are six teams that have valid reasons for being picked. A week ago, BYU had it wrapped up, but losses to Oklahoma State and San Francisco (gulp!) kissed it goodbye. Wyoming, Utah and San Diego State have played extremely well lately, but early losses still linger. UNLV has beaten the teams they needed to beat (even on the road) and have only lost to Wisconsin and Stanford, two quality teams. Thus, they get the nod.

Weakest Team: New Mexico (4-7)

This choice was obvious since the Lobos are the only team with a losing record. They have played some good teams, but they simply are not getting much production out of anyone besides Ruben Douglas.

Biggest Surprise: Colorado State (11-3)

If you ignore the Thanksgiving Day weekend, the Rams have played good, consistent basketball all season long. As expected, their frontcourt is one of the best in the league, but it’s their backcourt that has stepped up and made them into a contender.

Biggest Disappointment: New Mexico (4-7)

Once again, the Lobos win this fairly easily. If their newcomers had performed as expected, and Senque Carey had not been injured, they probably would have a winning record.

Most Improved: Colorado State (11-3)

The Rams only need to win one more game to match last season’s total. Need I say more?

Most Overrated: Wyoming (11-2)

Oh, I can hear them screaming in Laramie already! Granted, the Cowboys have played well despite all their injury problems and will still be reckoned with in conference play. However, they have two bad losses (to Charleston and Washington) versus one good win (Texas Tech). Plus, most of their games have been at home and they have struggled on the road. Losing Marcus Bailey will also hurt them as the season progresses.

Most Likely to Turn it Around: San Diego State (8-3)

I’m cheating a little bit here since they have really played well since the Arizona game. Despite that, the Aztecs finally have their team intact and freshman Evan Burns is really coming on strong now that he understands Steve Fisher’s system.

Most Likely to Fade Away: Air Force (8-4)

It’s simple math! Somebody besides New Mexico is going to have to lose games. The Falcons simply don’t have the men up front to handle the big frontcourts in this league. Despite that, this scrappy bunch will not go down to defeat very easily.

Most Impressive Win: Utah over Alabama, 51-49 (December 30)

After getting dominated by Gonzaga early in the season, there was no way I would have given the Utes a shot against the Tide. Just goes to show you how much they have improved in half a season!

Player Observations

Top Player: Marcus Banks, UNLV

My preseason player of the year is not disappointing me. The Rebels’ point guard is averaging 19 points, 5.3 assists and 3.6 steals per game. He is simply the most exciting and dangerous player in the league!

Top Stiff: Chad Bell, New Mexico

The junior center has all the physical tools to be a star, but has yet to produce in his career. He’s regressed some more this season, averaging only two points and two rebounds per game.

Most Exciting: Marcus Banks, UNLV

He is one of the few players in the country that can electrify a crowd even when his shot isn’t falling. Defensively, his quick hands cause havoc for opposing point guards, which also helps him zip passes to open teammates for easy baskets.

Biggest Disappointment: Chris McMillan, Wyoming

Considering that he started at point guard for three straight seasons prior to his injury, I would have thought he is capable of producing more than one point and two assists per game.

Most Improved: Tim Keller, Air Force

The sophomore guard has tripled his scoring average from last season (15 points per game), and is a big part of the Falcons stingy defense with two steals per game.

Most Overrated: Tony Bland, San Diego State

This season should be the senior guard’s moment to shine, but inconsistency continues to hinder his progress. With senior Mike Mackell stepping up, and freshman Evan Burns coming on strong, he may end up being the Aztecs third option real soon.

Most Underrated: Matt Nelson, Colorado State

Despite an early season injury, the Rams’ sophomore center has consistently put up solid numbers since his return. Fellow big man Brian Greene is also in the same underrated boat, but he’s been up and down this season, so the nod goes the Nelson.

Freshman with Biggest Impact: Evan Burns, San Diego State

His 21 points in 18 minutes against Florida Atlantic is just a prelude of things to come for this talented youngster. Here’s hoping we get to see him beyond this season.

Junior College Player with Biggest Impact: Rafael Aruajo, BYU

He is one of the main reasons the Cougars have started so strongly, and I mean “strongly!” Despite all his strength, he has got good footwork and a soft touch to boot. He is quickly becoming the Cougars’ main inside threat.

Transfer with Biggest Impact: Tim Frost, Utah

After a successful two-year stint at Portland, the big center has played beyond expectations and has given the Utes a needed scoring option on the inside.

This Week’s MWC Heat-Miser Award

Richard Chaney, Utah

17 points, 7-9 shooting, 4 rebounds in 17 minutes versus Weber State

With inept play from their starters, the Ute freshman came off the bench to provide the difference in Utah’s win over Weber State. He, along with fellow freshmen Bryant Markson and Tim Drisdom, give the Utes a promising future.

This Week’s MWC Snow-Miser Award

Andy Birley and Michael Morris, Colorado State’s starting backcourt

7 points, 3-10 shooting, 1 assist, 6 turnovers versus Purdue

The Rams’ backcourt finally fell apart after playing so well this season. The hostile Purdue crowd may have intimidated them and the Boilermaker guards fed off it, causing turnover after turnover in their 84-56 rout of the Rams.


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