Saturday, July 28, 2012

New Foes: A Preview of The New MWC Competition

Update - Midweek (likely Wednesday) an outstanding article will be posted by our very own Jason Taylor regarding player performance at the Desert Reign tournament and evaluations of returning players, as well as all the new guys who played. It's comprehensive, may release it in two parts (one this Wednesday eve, the next late Saturday). Come back then or follow on Twitter to find out when its published!

Football - love it, or count it as a sideshow to the glory of the Runnin' Rebels Basketball, it has changed the landscape of the MWC. Over the past few years solid and formidable opponents have left the Mountain West Conference. Remember the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars? Now we have -0- opponents from our neighbor state to the east. Reason - football money. The MWC brought in a few short lived competitors - The TCU Horned Frogs and Boise State Broncos, gone (TCU already gone, BSU gone next season). Then there's another usual suspect who has decided to leave - the SDSU Aztecs (next season).

Additions anyone? While other "stronger" conferences have decimated our league, there were some additions. In fact, we are only losing one this season, and gaining two - a net gain of one team (for now). The additions are Fresno State and Nevada. Let's learn a little about these new additions.

Fresno State - "The Bulldogs"

Fresno State should be familiar to many because they occasionally show up in the NCAA tournament, were kind of a cinderella back in the early 2000's, but most importantly - was the landing spot of Jerry Tarkanian after he was muscled out of UNLV (1995-2002).

Location: Fresno, CA (in a tie with Bakersfield for the armpit of California)
Venue: Save Mart Center
Capacity: 14,544
Former conference: West Coast Conference (WCC)
Head Coach: Rodney Terry
Historical series with Fresno State - UNLV leads 27-6

(Season)       (W-L)
2011-12 - 13-20
2010-11 - 14-18
2009-10 - 15-18

While known for basketball, they have seriously under-performed for quite some time. The Bulldogs seem to be excited about their recent recruiting class, and their coach is entering his second year with the team (sound familar?) Expectations for Fresno State will be minimal, they may do slightly better than bottom of the MWC, but not by much unless they line-up a cupcake non-conference schedule. More often than not - they have been the cupcake.

They return 3 of 5 starters and are quite excited about Fresno native Robert Upshaw, a 7 footer ranked #55 in the ESPN top 100 recruits (2012). They also feature Las Vegas native (Cimarron-Memorial graduate) Kevin Olekaibe, who starts for the Bulldogs. Incidently, the guy can score - he notched 43 points last sesaon vs. Seattle University in a home game. The other returning starters are Kevin Foster and Tyler Johnson.

It's hard to point to anything that the Bulldogs really do well - all of their offensive stats are ranked in the 200's among the 300 or so D-1 teams:

PPG - 65.8 / Asst PG / 11.3 Reb PG / 31.6  / FG Pct 40.9%

Defense statistics:
66.1 PPG allowed / 12.2 Asst PG allowed / 35.7 Reb PG allowed / 44.8% FG Pct allowed

So, with these kind of statistics, my knee jerk reaction is - it will feel like TCU never left, they were just replaced by Fresno State. Unless this 7 footer is named Shaquille O'Neil, we should be able to beat them both times we meet.

UNR "Nevada" - The Wolfpack

We know Nevada. We've known them for a very long time - they are our in-state rivals. Every year, we play a football game against them, and what's at stake is possession of the Fremont cannon. We have faced them in basketball every year for as long as I can remember. The bonus is now we'll face them twice a year, maybe three times if we end up playing them in the MWC tournament. Welcome to the reckoning, "Nevada"

(season)     (W-L)
2011-12 - 28-7
2010-11 - 13-19
2009-10 - 21-13

Location: Reno, NV (armpit of the United States)
Venue: Lawlor Events Center
Capacity: 11,536
Former conference: Western Athletic Conference (WAC)
Head Coach: David Carter
Historical series with UNR: UNLV leads 54-19

Despite UNLV easily beating UNR last year, they went onto a very respectable record: 28-7. That said, because of their weak conference and lack of quality wins including obviously not winning their conference tournament (lost to Louisiana Tech in the final) they ended up in the NIT and were beaten by Stanford in the quarterfinal. The Wolfpack is returning three starters: Deonte Burton, Malik Story and Jerry Evans Jr. but lost (to graduation) Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt. This is the type of team which will actually get to prove whether they can substantiate their record because they actually have to play difficult matchups. Kind of like if you made Utah State play in our conference. Likely outcome - they will not repete last season's success (duh). They would probably not repeat last seasons record even if still playing in the WAC due to the losses of Czyz and Hunt.

Here are their 2011-12 averages:
PPG: 70.3 / Asst PG 12.9 / Reb PG 37.1 / FG Pct PG 45%

PPG allowed 65.1 / Ass PG allowed 13.8 / Reb PG allowed /33.1 . FG Pct PG allowed 41.3%

The Wolfpack's most impressive statistic was rebounding (45th in the nation), but the team high rebounds statistic seesawed between Czyz and Hunt 90% of the time -- so they're taking a hit there. Unless they unleash some secret weapon, we should be able to beat them both times we meet.


Geographically speaking, we've added some semi-close but crappy locations to play basketball at. But, we've finally rounded up our in-state rival. Only time will tell if either school can provide real competition to the Runnin' Rebels, or at least help our RPI. Welcome to the big leagues Bulldogs and Wolfpack.

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