Air Force v UNLV

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 NBCSports.com 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.”

Prosecutors detail allegations against Creighton’s Watson

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 21: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays receives and ovation before their game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at CenturyLink Center on January 21, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Former Creighton star Maurice Watson appeared in front of a Douglas County judge Monday after turning himself into authorities Sunday following the issuance of a warrant for his arrest Thursday on the charge of first-degree sexual assault.

Watson’s bail was set at $750,000, which he would have to produce 10 percent of to be released from jail.

Prosecutors also detailed some of the allegations against Watson from the night of Feb. 3, when a 19-year-old woman alleges he raped her. Graphic details of the prosecution’s allegations can found here.

Watson’s attorneys said he denies the allegations.

Creighton said Sunday that Watson is barred from campus and not enrolled as a student, according to the Omaha World-Herald.  The Bluejays announced last week that Watson, who has been sidelined since tearing his ACL last month, had been suspended.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga drops to fourth

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few (Getty Images)
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Gonzaga feel from first to fourth in the latest Coaches Poll after suffering its first loss of the season over the weekend.

Kansas moves into the top spot with UCLA and Villanova tied at No. 2.

The Bulldogs lost 79-71 to BYU at home after winning the first 29 games of the season.

The Jayhawks have won six-straight heading into Monday’s tilt with Oklahoma.

Here’s the full poll:

1. Kansas (23)

2. UCLA (3)

2. Villanova (5)

4. Gonzaga (1)

5. North Carolina

6. Oregon

7. Louisville

8. Arizona

9. Kentucky

10. West Virginia

11. Baylor

12. Florida

13. Notre Dame

14. Duke

15. Butler

16. Purdue

17. Florida State

18. Saint Mary’s

19. SMU

20. Cincinnati

21. Wisconsin

22. Wichita State

23. Virginia

24. Iowa State

25. Miami

AP Poll: Kansas moves to No. 1, Villanova 2nd, UCLA 3rd

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 14:  Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after a foul during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Allen Fieldhouse on January 14, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas is the new No. 1 in The Associated Press college basketball poll.

The Jayhawks (26-3) moved up two places to the top spot, receiving 58 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel.

Kansas is the sixth school to be No. 1 this season. The Jayhawks were on top last season for five weeks, including the final three polls of the season.

Villanova (27-3) remained second despite losing to Butler last week. The Wildcats were No. 1 on two ballots. UCLA (26-3), which was No. 1 on three ballots, moved up from fifth to third after its win over Arizona on Saturday.

Gonzaga (29-1) fell to fourth after losing its first game of the season, an upset by BYU on Saturday. The Zags, who had been No. 1 for the last four polls, received two first-place votes.

North Carolina moved from eighth to fifth and was followed by Oregon, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Here’s the full top 25″

  1. Kansas (58)
  2. Villanova (2)
  3. UCLA (3)
  4. Gonzaga (2)
  5. North Carolina
  6. Oregon
  7. Arizona
  8. Louisville
  9. Kentucky
  10. West Virginia
  11. Baylor
  12. Florida
  13. Butler
  14. SMU
  15. Florida State
  16. Purdue
  17. Duke
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Notre Dame
  20. St. Mary’s
  21. Wichita State
  22. Wisconsin
  23. Virginia
  24. Iowa State
  25. Miami

NBC announces the launch of TOMBOY, a documentary project on gender in sports

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Earlier this month, NBC announced the launch of TOMBOY, a multi-platform documentary project that aims to elevate the conversation about gender in sports told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives. The first-of-its-kind integrated initiative culminates with a special one-hour documentary, also titled TOMBOY, which will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, nationally distributed NBCSN, and select NBC Owned Television Stations in March.

You can view the trailer for the project above, and browse through the myriad of pieces that have already been released over the course of the last two weeks here.

“We are excited to share the stories of some of the most remarkable female athletes in the world,” said Ted Griggs, President, Group and Strategic Production & Programming Leader for NBC Sports Regional Networks. “TOMBOY aims to elevate, invigorate and inspire the conversation about gender in sports, and we’re proud to create a platform for open, candid discussion featuring a variety of perspectives.”

Bracketology: Gonzaga holds on to No. 1 Seed

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 9: #5 Nigel Williams-Goss of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives past #10 Brandon Brown and #15 Stefan Jovanovic of the Loyola Marymount Lions, on his way to the basket at Gersten Pavilion on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
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Yes, Gonzaga lost a home game to BYU.  Although somewhat surprising, it doesn’t yet knock the once-beaten Bulldogs from their No. 1 Seed in the West Region.  What it does do, however, is open to door for the Pac-12 champion (or someone else) to overtake the Zags,  especially if they slip again in the West Coast Conference tournament.  As an example … should Oregon win out and claim the Pac-12 tournament, the Committee would have to determine the hierarchy between the Ducks and the Zags.

Championship Week is upon us.  The next two weeks are important for both the top and bottom of the bracket.

Bubble Notes:

By sheer volume, the number of teams in play for at-large berths with double-digit losses is quite rare.  Thus, the math for several bubble teams is becoming increasingly tough to manage.  On the flip side, it’s potentially good news for teams like Wichita State, Illinois State, and Middle Tennessee State should they fall a game short in their conference tournaments.  We’ll just have to see where we stand on selection weekend.

UPDATED:  February 27, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. USC | South Region
  • Rhode Island vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

MIDWEST – Kansas City            EAST New York 
Tulsa Buffalo
1) KANSAS 1) VILLANOVA
16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE 16) NC CENTRAL / MT ST. MARY’S
8) South Carolina 8) DAYTON
9) Northwestern 9) Michigan State
Milwaukee Orlando
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) ILLINOIS STATE 12) NC-WILMINGTON
4) PURDUE 4) Florida
13) VALPARAISO 13) MONMOUTH
Orlando Tulsa
6) Wisconsin 6) SMU
11) California / Rhode Island 11) Syracuse
3) Florida State 3) Baylor
14) EAST TENNESSEE ST 14) WINTHROP
Salt Lake City Indianapolis
7) Creighton 7) Maryland
10) Wichita State 10) Xavier
2) Arizona 2) Louisville
15) SOUTH DAKOTA 15) FLA GULF COAST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Virginia Tech 8) Michigan 
9) VCU 9) Arkansas
Greenville Buffalo
5) Minnesota 5) Cincinnati
12) NEVADA 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) Duke 4) West Virginia
13) PRINCETON 13) VERMONT
Milwaukee Indianapolis
6) Iowa State 6) Oklahoma State
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) USC / Seton Hall
3) Butler 3) KENTUCKY
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Sacramento Sacramento
7) Miami-FL 7) Saint Mary’s
10) Marquette 10) Providence
2) OREGON 2) UCLA
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) BUCKNELL

NOTES on the BRACKET: Kansas is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Villanova, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Wichita State, Providence, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): USC, Seton Hall, California, Rhode Island

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Illinois

Next four teams OUT (at large): TCU, Houston, Indiana, Georgia

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall

Big 12 (5): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): DAYTON, VCU, Rhode Island

American (2): SMU, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)