Michael Lyons

Air Force moves into 2nd place in MWC by beating No. 22 San Diego State

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Michael Lyons finished with 20 points, five boards and four assists and Todd Fletcher chipped in with 13 points and five assists as Air Force held serve on their home floor, knocking off No. 22 San Diego State 70-67.

The win was just the third time in 81 tries that Air Force has beaten a ranked opponent. The last time? Last season, when they also beat the Aztecs at home.

More importantly, however, Air Force moves to 5-2 in the rugged Mountain West Conference after winning their fifth straight game, putting them all alone into second place for the time being. Who saw that coming three weeks ago? It may be a short-lived tenure near the top of the league standings, however, as the Falcons have a brutal stretch coming up — at New Mexico, at Nevada, Colorado State, UNLV, at Boise State and Wyoming, with a return trip to San Diego State and a second game against the Lobos to close out the conference season.

Those are eight games where the Falcons are susceptible to getting knocked off, but such is life in this league. And if Dave Pilipovich’s team has done anything during the past month, they’ve proven capable of competing in this conference.

You see, Air Force plays a difficult style to matchup with. Pilipovich runs a Princeton-esque system with his own wrinkles added, but the bottom line is that the Falcons shoot a lot of threes and throw a lot of backdoor passes. They like to get up and down the floor more than in year’s past as well, and if there’s anything that’s more difficult than defending a Princeton-style offense, it’s trying to do so when your defense doesn’t have a chance to get set.

This is a group that has to be taken seriously.

It may be too early to call them a legitimate contender — it’s not a stretch to say that their gaudy league record is partially a result of a friendly schedule thus far.

Air Force heads to Albuquerque on Wednesday with first place in the MWC on the line. The fact that’s actually a true statement is a testament to how far that program has come.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.