At the halfway point of the Mountain West Conference men’s basketball schedule, all you need to know is what happened last Saturday.
San Diego State and UNLV, the teams picked in the preseason media poll to finish first and second in the league, respectively, lost to Air Force and Boise State, the teams picked to finish last and second to last in the league, respectively.
What everyone suspected about the depth of this league has turned out to be true. And trying to figure out the league race is just part of the headache. Player and coaching honors are head-scratchers, too.
No. 15 New Mexico at UNLV, 7 p.m.TV: NBC Sports NetworkRadio: 770 AM
Nevertheless, here we go with some midconference schedule honors:
Player of the Year
JAMAAL FRANKLIN, Jr., G/F, San Diego State
UNLV’s Anthony Bennett and Boise State’s Derrick Marks are clearly on a second tier for now, but could play their way back into this conversation.
Franklin’s numbers are on pace to enable him to repeat as Mountain West Player of the Year.
In league games, Franklin leads in scoring (18.3 points per game), is second in rebounding (8.2), third in steals (1.6), sixth in assists (3.4) and ranks in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, 3-pointers made, assist-to-turnover ratio and minutes played.
Lobo fans won’t like hearing this, but it is possible the league’s No. 1 team not only won’t have any first-team All-Mountain West selections, but may also struggle to get players onto the second team.
Just look at the numbers.
Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Hugh Greenwood (maybe even Tony Snell if he returns to full health soon) all at least have a case to be made for the second team, but so do at least eight other league players who might have better overall stats.
While the Lobos have taken pride in the fact that a different player steps up to the plate every night, that doesn’t lend itself to season-long individual honors. It’s tough to have it both ways.
By season’s end, it’s safe to assume a Lobo or two will solidify a second-team spot, but it could also almost be a team-first badge of honor if this team wins a regular-season championship without a first- or second-team honoree.
Here are the top five players at the midway point for first-team All-Mountain West, with 11 more players to follow that could be in the first- or second-team picture in March:
♦ Jamaal Franklin, Jr., G/F, San Diego State: First in scoring, second in rebounding and pulling away as the league’s Player of the Year for the second straight season.
♦ Michael Lyons, Sr., G, Air Force: Averaging 16.1 points per league game, is third in the league in field-goal percentage (48.1) and second in free-throw shooting (87.0).
♦ Derrick Marks, So., G, Boise State: No. 2 in league in scoring (17.3 points per league game) and shooting (48.2 percent). Top 10 in assists, steals, free-throw shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio.
♦ Anthony Bennett, Fr., F, UNLV: Unbelievable talent averaging 15.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and leading the league in field-goal percentage (49.0) while facing double teams.
♦ Colton Iverson, Sr., C, Colorado State: Only MWC player averaging a double-double (12.1 points, 11.1 rebounds). Defensive force, too.
Honorable mentions: Anthony Drmic, Boise State; Dorian Green and Pierce Hornung, Colorado State; Hugh Greenwood, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams, UNM; Anthony Marshall, UNLV; Deonte Burton and Malik Story, Nevada; Tyler Johnson, Fresno State; and Leonard Washington, Wyoming.
Coach of the Year
STEVE ALFORD, New Mexico
Had Air Force upset the Lobos on Wednesday, this would have been an easy midseason pick of Falcons head coach Dave Pilipovich.
Instead, the Lobos do what they’ve done all year and remind everyone that while there are great little stories around the league and other teams with NBA-caliber players, all this team does is keep winning games.
At some point, it’s just hard to ignore how impressive UNM has been.
As of Thursday, UNM (20-3, 7-1 MWC) had an RPI of No. 6 against national strength of schedule of No. 4, according to a replication by RealTimeRPI.com. The Lobos are the only team in the conference ranked nationally and have been alone in first place in the standings since the second week of the league play.
All this despite being a team that prepared all offseason and four games into this season with a four-guard scheme that was essentially tossed out the window in November.
Yet, there has been reluctance – nationally, in the league and locally – to give the Lobos the credit their body of work demands.
Part of that stems from the lack of a go-to, clear-cut star. There is no Drew Gordon, Jamaal Franklin, Darington Hobson or Anthony Bennett on this team, but this may be the deepest, most versatile and adaptable-to-any-style team Alford has had. Does that make the Lobos more March ready than previous teams? Probably.
But it’s also hard to ignore just how bad this team has looked on offense a few times. The 34 points UNM put up against San Diego State and the 44 in the game against Saint Louis weren’t just bad in the Alford era, they were two of the program’s worst in the nearly three decades of the shot-clock era.
Confidence in a team whose one weakness thus far is the basis of the entire sport – you know, shooting the basketball – is understandably hard to come by.
And yet, the Lobos simply keep winning, which is a credit to Alford, associate head coach Craig Neal and the entire UNM staff.
But this is an honor that is hardly wrapped up. Both Pilipovich – if AFA manages to stay in contention in the second half – and Larry Eustachy of Colorado State – if the Rams break through with that elusive big road win and maybe even a share of the regular-season title – could have pretty compelling arguments come March.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal