Air Force’s 2-0 start in the Mountain West, and why you need to know Tre Coggins

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Air Force was not expected to be the worst team in the Mountain West this season. That honor was bestowed upon San Jose State, a team making their debut in the conference while coming off of a 9-20 season as a member of the WAC.

But the Falcons were still picked 10th in a league of 11 teams, and rightfully so. They went 8-8 in league play last year and returned around 20% of their scoring. Most notably, starting point guard Todd Flethcer and all-MWC scoring guard Michael Lyons both graduated. What was left for head coach Dave Pilipovich was a group of last season’s role players, with holes in the lineup getting filled with freshmen.

To make matters worse, three key members of the Air Force rotation missed time early in the season. Starting forward Justin Hammonds took a leave of absence from the team to work on his academics and sat out two games already this year while leading rebounder Kamryn Williams and DeLovell Earls both missed extended periods of time to start the season.

And, ironically enough, that may be the biggest reason that the Falcons have started the MWC season 2-0 with wins over Utah State and at UNLV.

That sounds convoluted, but it’s quite simple, really.

“Because [our veterans] didn’t play early, we had other players that we hard to play,” head coach Dave Pilipovich told in a phone interview. “That meant more minutes for Tre Coggins, Max Yon, Marik Olesinski. Some guys off the bench. That’s given them some experience heading into conference play.”

“Now those guys have come back and have given us more leadership on the floor. But you can’t substitute for experience.”

Coggins has made the most of his opportunity, turning himself into arguably the most improved player in the league. As a freshman playing behind Fletcher, the 6-foot-2 Coggins averaged just 2.4 points in a little more than 10 minutes per game. This season, he’s playing nearly 35 minutes a night and scoring 16.7 points while shooting 43.2% from beyond the arc.

Not even the coaching staff saw that coming.

“We knew he had a chance to be a lead guard for us and have some success, but to the point he’s having it? No. His scoring ability has surprised us,” Pilipovich said, crediting the experience of learning from Fletcher as a freshman and witnessing Lyons’ work habits first-hand. “In the preseason, we threw the ball to him in the first practice and said, ‘this is your team now.'”

And while Coggins has taken advantage of the opportunity, he hasn’t been alone.

Both Yon and Olesinski have seen their scoring jump by more than 10 points-per-game while combining to hit 40 threes on the season, shooting better than 38% from beyond the arc. With those three playing well, the return of Hammonds, Williams and Earls could not have come at a more perfect time.

That’s a huge part of the reason for this 2-0 in league play, but there’s more at play.

You see, Air Force runs a Princeton-style offense. That makes them one of the toughest teams in the conference to prepare. You can watch it on film and you can practice against your second team running through the sets, but until you’ve seen it in person, it’s difficult to truly understand just how hard it is to guard a team running the Princeton.

The game against Utah State was the first for the Aggie’s as a member of the MWC. UNLV, as talented as they are, has a roster full of new additions. That, according to Pilipovich, played as much of a role in the wins as AFA’s effort and execution did.

“We can catch people off guard,” he said.

And not just opposing teams. Air Force picked off a couple of the MWC’s big boys last season, but a 1-7 performance in league games on the road cost them dearly. The Falcons are already 1-0 on the year away from Clune Arena, picking up that win at the Thomas & Mack Center, only the second time AFA has done that is 22 years.

Said Pilipovich with a laugh, “they’re young enough that they don’t know better.”

The 2018 NCAA tournament bracket looks wide open after a wild opening weekend

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The wild opening weekend of the 2018 NCAA tournament is finally in the books.

The bracket officially turns its attention to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight this week as teams are trying to punch tickets to San Antonio during an especially wide-open year.

Major upsets, double-digit seeds advancing into the Sweet 16 and the loss of all four top seeds in the South Regional means there’s still plenty of action to watch over the next several weeks.

Here’s how the updated bracket looks after the first weekend of March Madness.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: Four top three seeds fall

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Caleb Martin was, once again, a monster for Nevada on Sunday.

He finished with 25 points. He handed out seven assists. He put the No. 7-seed Wolf Pack on his back and carried them back from a 22-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of a game that looked like it was lost.

It was impressive.

But he’s not our player of the day. His teammate Josh Hall is. Because he’s the one that grabbed this offensive rebound and scored this put back and sent Nevada into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

That lead was Nevada’s first lead of the game.


  • JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: 28 points. Five steals. Five assists. Four boards. Eight turnovers for Marshall’s Jon Elmore. Jevon Carter was terrific this weekend.
  • T.J. STARKS, Texas A&M: While Tyler Davis and Big Bob Williams combined for 26 points and 22 boards, it was Starks that was the star for the Aggies on Sunday, finishing with 21 points and five assists in a blowout win over UNC.


No. 9-seed Florida State erased a 12-point deficit in the final 10 minutes to send No. 1-seed Xavier back to the Queen City. Both Xavier and Cincinnati blew late leads on Sunday.

It was not a pretty game, but No. 11-seed Syracuse knocked off No. 3-seed Michigan State in a game where the Spartans completely forgot how to make a jump shot.


Playing without their starting center, who is recovering from a broken elbow, Purdue’s Dakota Mathias buried this shot to send in-state rival Butler home:


Michigan State shot 8-for-38 from three on Sunday afternoon, which was the major reason that the Spartans found a way to lose to Syracuse in the second round.

But one of the eight threes that they did hit was this one:


Auburn never stood a chance. No. 5-seed Clemson led by 41 points at one points as they sent Bruce Pearl’s boys packing.

The dream died. No. 16 UMBC lost to No. 9 Kansas State, ending their “run” in the NCAA tournament at two games.

VIDEO: Roy Williams reflects on recent run: ‘Those kids on the court were my salvation’

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North Carolina head coach Roy Williams took a moment to reflect on a special three-year run after the Tar Heels were eliminated from the 2018 NCAA Tournament with a blowout loss to No. 7 seed Texas A&M on Sunday.

After back-to-back national title game appearances and a championship win last season, Williams grew quite fond of seniors like Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson. Williams also mentioned some of the tumultuous circumstances surrounding the program from the past few years as he maintained that his players helped him through a difficult stretch in his life.

Speaking to reporters at the postgame press conference, Williams tried to subdue the emotion in his voice as he talked about this Tar Heels team.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 betting odds and national title futures

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With four more top threes falling out of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, here are the updated national title futures and betting odds in the NCAA tournament.

Odds via

Villanova: 4/1
Duke: 6/1
Michigan: 8/1
Kentucky: 8/1
Kansas: 10/1
Gonzaga: 12/1
Purdue: 15/1
West Virginia: 22/1
Texas Tech: 25/1
Nevada: 100/1
Texas A&M: 100/1
Loyola Chicago: 100/1
Clemson: 125/1
Kansas State: 125/1
Syracuse: 125/1
Florida State: 150/1

No. 5 West Virginia earns blowout win over in-state rival No. 13 Marshall

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West Virginia completely dominated in-state rival and No. 13 seed Marshall for a 94-71 second-round win in the NCAA tournament on Sunday night.

The No. 5 Mountaineers (26-10) made it back to the Sweet 16 for the second straight campaign, and for the third time in four years, as senior guard and All-American Jevon Carter had another monster outing with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals.

West Virginia went 12-for-25 from three-point range and crashed the glass for 15 offensive rebounds during an impressive offensive performance. It’s also notable that head coach Bob Huggins changed up his defensive approach during some of this game from the usual “Press” Virginia. Going to a 1-2-2 zone to disrupt Marshall’s high-powered offense, 6-foot-8 Lamont West was stationed at the top of the zone as his length gave the Thundering Herd offense issues.

West Virginia, and Carter in particular, look like they mean business with the way they played this opening weekend. While many teams in the field had either upset losses or close scares, the Mountaineers won by an average margin of victory of 20 points in two wins this weekend. West Virginia only faced a No. 12 and No. 13 seed, but the Mountaineers never let off the gas the entire weekend.

Marshall (25-11) was a fun team to watch in this tournament because of its uptempo offense and propensity to shoot deep three-pointers. America learned about junior guard Jon Elmore and his ridiculous range in the Thundering Herd’s upset win over No. 4 seed Wichita State on Friday afternoon.

But Elmore (15 points) and fellow guard C.J. Burks (12 points) struggled to knock down shots in this one as they combined to go 7-for-27 from the field on Sunday. Ajdin Paneva led Marshall with 18 points as he was the team’s only consistent offensive option.

The Thundering Herd were blown out by a superior team on Sunday, but Dan D’Antoni’s ballclub was one of the most pleasant surprises of this tournament. After winning the Conference USA tournament and eliminating the Shockers in the Big Dance, D’Antoni has established some legitimate credibility for his program. And with minimal seniors on the roster, Marshall could be in position to make another run to the tournament next season.

With the win, West Virginia advances to play No. 1 seed Villanova in the East Regional in Boston on Friday night. After getting multiple chances to tie the game on the final possession and failing to convert during a memorable loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 last season, the Mountaineers will have a lot of motivation when they tip against the Wildcats.

The backcourt matchup between Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Carter might also be the most riveting individual matchup of the entire tournament. Not only are Brunson and Carter both All-Americans this season, but they’re also former AAU teammates who are very familiar with each other’s games.

In a Sweet 16 full of unusual matchups and surprise teams, the Villanova/West Virginia game is appointment television.