ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lyons has the talent to be an all-conference guard
Dave Pilipovich wasn’t mad when he saw his team picked in a preseason media poll to finish last in the nine-team Mountain West Conference.
Instead, he said it’s a sign of just how good the league has become. After all, if his Falcons, a team returning four senior starters from last year’s 13-16 squad including all-league caliber guard Michael Lyons, are truly the worst the league has to offer, then Pilipovich thinks the rest of college basketball better watch out.
“That’s a credit to the conference,” said Pilipovich, who went 2-6 last season after replacing former coach Jeff Reynolds in early February.
Pilipovich acknowledged that while the preseason ranking didn’t hurt his feelings, they may have gotten under the skin of his veteran-heavy team.
“I think that pushed their button a little bit, challenged them a little bit more,” Pilipovich said.
If the Falcons are going to use that motivation and make any noise this season, it will likely be because they have almost as much continuity and experience in the starting unit as any team in the league. On top of that, they’re motivated to get back into a postseason tournament.
“They are driven,” Pilipovich said of his senior class. “They’ve been together for a long time, and they’ve been through some good times and maybe some not-so-good times. You throw in the fifth senior of Kyle Green (off the bench last year) and that’s a close group of players who have been through a lot. They’re excited about this last season, their last go-around.”
Lyons has the most talent on the Air Force roster. The 6-5 guard was a second-team All-MWC selection a season ago and averaged 15.6 points in the 23 games he played. While the Lobos held Lyons to single-digit scoring in both regular-season games last year, he managed 17 in the MWC tournament loss to the Lobos in Las Vegas, Nev.
Pilipovich says Lyons has worked the entire offseason on shoring up the holes in his game.
“He has been just wanting to be the best player he can be knowing this is his last season,” Pilipovich said. “He has worked extremely hard on his deficient areas – defensively, guarding the ball, rebounding, help-side defense. He’s worked extremely hard on his ball-handling, on his perimeter shooting. He’s a different player now than he was in March, and all for the better. … We’re expecting some great things from him.”
Falcons Return 5 Seniors
Air Force at a glance
- Head coach: Dave Pilipovich (2-6 in one season* at Air Force and overall)
- 2011-12 record: 13-16, 3-11 MWC (0-3 vs. UNM)
- Returning starters: G Michael Lyons, F Mike Fitzgerald, C Taylor Broekhuis, G Todd Fletcher
- Key players lost: G Taylor Stewart
- Key newcomers: G Cam Michael
- This season vs. UNM: Feb. 6 in Albuquerque, March 9 at Air Force Academy
- Of note: Air Force has two players from New Mexico on its roster in 6-4 sophomore shooting guard Scott Adler (Mesilla Valley Christian School in Las Cruces) and 6-8 sophomore forward Marek Olesinski (Roswell High).
*Pilipovich took over the Falcons for the final eight games of last season.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles previewing UNM men’s basketball opponents for this season. Coming Sunday: Boise State
— This article appeared on page D5 of the Albuquerque Journal