1. New Mexico playing zone defense
The Lobos have struggled mightily on defense all season, especially man defense. Statistically speaking, their mostly man defense, full court press scheme had put them in the bottom third of Division I in defensive metrics and led to some pretty ugly shellackings. Coach Weir instituted a change to start conference play, shifting to a zone defense look in the half court. The Lobos will still press, but their fallback option has changed. The zone defense has been the catalyst for their two most efficient defense games all season, per KenPom, and has them off to a 2-1 start in conference play.
2. Nico Carvacho
The junior forward for the Rams is having an absurd season. He’s a complete monster on the boards, averaging nearly thirteen a game. The last MW player to average that many rebounds per game? Some dude named Andrew Bogut for Utah in 2004, right before he went #1 in the NBA Draft. Carvacho has nine double-doubles and is continuously refining his craft in the post. He has put up some dominating stat lines this season and has been the focal point for the Rams this season. During UNLV’s win last week, one of the main reasons the Rebels came back is because they held Carvacho scoreless for the final seven minutes. In terms of an NBA future, Carvacho is a guy that may get drafted late or not at all, but has all the tools to impress at the next level.
3. Wyoming’s development philosophy hits a snag
The Pokes are down to just seven scholarship players at the moment, which presents numerous problems, apart from being woefully undermanned in the MW. The Cowboys’ recruiting niche has been to sign a solid, raw recruit in order to develop him into a star player by the time he graduates.
Jordan Naughton was a two-star recruit. Hunter Thompson was a three-star recruit. Larry Nance Jr. came to Wyoming instead of a MAC or MAAC school. Hayden Dalton was a JUCO recruit that came to the school via word of mouth.
This brings us to true freshman Trace Young. He was a three-star recruit and the plan was for Wyoming to redshirt him, develop him, and let him have room to grow. Instead, he’s been pressed into service early. The returns have been there: hitting a buzzer-beater to beat Dixie State and averaging double figures across three games.
The short bench is going to cost the Cowboys an extra year of Trace Young, which stinks for Coach Edwards in the long run.
4. Great ticketing options for fans
The MW is in a down year, and attendance traditionally takes a hit when teams are losing. However, the conference as a whole is trying to combat this by enticing fans with some amazing deals. Colorado State and San Diego State had some great holiday options for fans. Now, Air Force takes a turn and has offered this beauty ahead of their Saturday tilt versus San Diego State.
I love when teams do promotions that make it a cheaper, family-friendly price point to come to games. These are the kinds of things that get local communities more involved in a program.
5. The lack of a middle-class in the Mountain West
According to KenPom, if you’re bad in the MW, you’re going to be really bad. Over the last six seasons, the league has never more than two teams finish with five or fewer wins in conference play. According to KenPom, the conference could have as many as four teams that finish that low this season. Personally, this is the biggest indictment on how the conference is suffering a dry spell this season. Already, seven of the thirteen conference games have been decided by twenty points or more. Only having one or two quality teams isn’t great, but it hurts more when four of your eleven members are ranked 241st or lower in KenPom.
6. Alternate uniforms meaning something
Last Saturday, New Mexico unveiled a new uniform that acted as an homage to the state and its nickname, the Land of the Rising Sun.
They are the second team in the MW to feature a uniform that honors local history, as the Aztecs wear a special turquoise uniform to honor the local Kumeyaay tribe and have done so at one home game per season. Coupled with the green V decal that Fresno State uses to pay tribute to the farming communities in the Central Valley, I love that teams use fashion choices that pop like this as a way to honor the communities they represent.
7. Geoff Grammer vs. His Daughter’s Piggy Bank
The Lobos beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal made his picks for Mountain West games last season and kept track, as a beat writer is prone to do. Except, he added a wrinkle: he pitted his guesses against his daughter’s piggy bank coin flip. It became part of MW Twitter lore for its humor and how adorable it was. To cap the season off, his daughter’s piggy bank ended up with a better record. This season, #teamcoin tries to defend its championship and it is an absolute must-follow for MW hoop fans.
Grammer's Guesses for Tuesday's 3 Mountain West games (7-3 on season):— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 9, 2019
• Air Force +4.5
• Wyoming +13.5
• UNM -4
My daughter's lucky #TeamCoin coin flip from her lucky piggy bank (4-6 on season):
• Colorado State -4.5
• Wyoming +13.5
• UNLV +4#mwbb pic.twitter.com/5G4yn7b4YB
8. Television and Streaming
The television contract for the Mountain West expires soon, and the conference is looking for other options. It’s a diverse conference with major metropolitan markets like San Diego and Las Vegas, regional hub markets like Denver and Boise, or more local markets like Logan and Laramie. Essentially, there won’t be a television and media deal that everyone agrees on. There are a million options available, especially with the popularity of “cutting the cord” and streaming options. The MW is currently utilizing Stadium as a streaming option, but there are some serious decisions coming up for Craig Thompson and company.
9. Ticketed vs. turnstile attendance
One of my bigger pet peeves when it comes to college athletics is how ticketing revenues are used to justify spending athletics. It’s a great idea, right up until you find out the numbers make no sense and can’t be proved. Attendance is broadly defined in NCAA terms and includes support staff, bands, and other people that are “in attendance”, but aren’t paying spectators. Reported attendance is different than the number of people that actually show up. This is a major problem because increased attendance numbers are used to justify extensions, higher salaries, athletic spending, and ticket hikes.
10. Playing the walk-ons
Seven of thirteen conference games have been at least twenty point blowouts. This translates into a lot of garbage time at the end of games. Garbage time is when I believe coaches should let the walk-ons play. They grind it out during practice, without a scholarship, and rarely get to play. For instance, Aztec walk-on Michael Sohikish didn’t get to play when SDSU got pummeled by 25 points in Boise last week. In a game like that, give them the playing time and don’t risk hurting your rotation players.