For many freshmen enrolling during the summer gives them the opportunity to get acclimated to a new school while also going through workouts with their teammates. That process is of even greater importance at the service academies, where newcomers are getting used to college life that’s more demanding than your standard college campus.
Forward Garrett Thibodeaux was going through that experience at the Air Force Academy, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that the new situation wasn’t the best for him. Saturday morning it was reported by Brett Briggeman of the Colorado Springs Gazette that Thibodeaux left the program eight days into basic training, and will enroll at UTSA.
The 6-foot-8 forward was one of three newcomers who directly enrolled into the Academy (it isn’t unusual for freshmen to be sent to the Academy’s prep school for a year to help with the adjustment), and he was expected to be a contributor for the Falcons.
Thibodeaux’s exit puts a bit more pressure on some returning Falcons, particularly 6-11 center Zach Moer and 6-8 forward Joe Tuss.
An excellent shooter, Tuss is the one many within the program hope stays healthy and emerges as a Marek Olesinski-type player and allow Moer to reprise his off-the-bench role of a year ago. The rest of the potential lineup would include Hayden Graham, Zach Kocur, Trevor Lyons and someone else, either someone from the incoming group or perhaps sophomore Ryan Manning.
For UTSA, the addition of Thibodeaux gives them an additional piece in a front court that lost its best player in Jeromie Hill (16.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and second-best rebounder in Kaj-Björn Sherman (7.0 rpg). Ryan Bowie is UTSA’s best returning rebounder (5.8 rpg), but he’s a 6-foot-1 guard.
UTSA’s now added five front court players to the program in advance of the 2015-16 season, with the group consisting of junior college transfer J.R. Harris and four freshmen (including Thibodeaux).
Slowly but surely college basketball programs are releasing their full non-conference schedules. And in the case of the 11 members of the Mountain West, they now know their possible path to a regular season conference title.
Wednesday the conference released its full league schedule, with four games on December 30 marking the start of conference play. Each team will play eight opponents both home and away, with single games (one home, one away) against the other two teams to reach a total of 18 conference games.
Of the four conference games to be played December 30, Fresno State’s trip to UNLV could be the most intriguing matchup. While the Runnin’ Rebels add one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to help account for the loss of four starters, most notably Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn, Fresno State returns its top five scorers from a season ago led by senior guard Marvelle Harris.
Also on the schedule December 30 are Wyoming visiting preseason favorite San Diego State in a rematch of last year’s Mountain West tournament title game, Nevada visiting New Mexico and Utah State visiting San Jose State. The Mountain West will look to increase the number of NCAA tournament bids from last season’s total of three, which could have been even lower had the Cowboys not earned the conference’s automatic bid.
Below are the single-game matchups for each of the teams in the Mountain West. In larger conferences with unbalanced schedules, those single games can have a significant impact on the title race if head-to-head tiebreakers are needed to determine a champion.
Air Force: vs. Boise State, at San Diego State Boise State: vs. Fresno State, at Air Force Colorado State: vs. New Mexico, at Fresno State Fresno State: vs. Colorado State, at Boise State Nevada: vs. San Diego State, at San Jose State New Mexico: vs. Wyoming, at Colorado State San Diego State: vs. Air Force, at Nevada San Jose State: vs. Nevada, at UNLV UNLV: vs. San Jose State, at Utah State Utah State: vs. UNLV, at Wyoming Wyoming: vs. Utah State, at New Mexico
Context key in Matt Mooney’s transfer, bullying ‘accusations’
One of the stories that has made headlines this week has been the transfer of Matt Mooney out of Air Force.
Well, the transfer isn’t that big of a deal. It happened earlier this month, and Mooney was a freshman guard that averaged 6.9 points for a team that was irrelevant in the Mountain West race. His move isn’t a big deal to people outside of Air Force, the Mooney family and the handful of mid-major programs that are now re-recruiting him.
Q: Going to Air Force, I would assume is a much difference college experience than the normal college experience. Is that what you’re seeking, too, at this point — just a normal college experience? I mean, how long do you have to be in the military after graduating? Five years?
A: You’ve got to serve five years in the military. I honestly have no problem with the military, it’s just the Air Force Academy isn’t the same as the military. It’s a much different place. Freshman year here is really rough. It’s meant to be a year to see if you can stick it out and see if you’re ready for the military, but a lot of things go on that people don’t really realize. There’s a lot of bullying and things like that, honestly, because the system is [run] by upperclassmen. And freshmen have no power, whatsoever. It was just a rough year. It was kind of depressing, actually.
It’s just a tough place to be at. … It’s just not really what the military’s like here. Once you get out, it’s different. It’s much more relaxed. But here, it’s very controlled and very strict and disciplined. I went through six weeks of basic training. It was a tough year, to say the least.
Q: You mentioned bullying before. Are there specific examples of things that you had to do where you kind of look back and say, “Why did I have to do this?”
A: Freshmen were not allowed to wear our backpacks. We had to carry our backpacks in our left hand, and we have to run to and from class — to and from everywhere. One day, I was running to mandatory breakfast with my backpack in my left hand. I’m running there, it’s 6:45 in the morning, it’s cold. And one of the upperclassmen says I’m not running fast enough and they just dropped me and made me start doing push-ups. That’s kind of the stuff they can do. There’s a lot of examples, but that’s one of them.
Bullying is a hot-button topic these days — and rightfully so — which is why this story has made the rounds. Putting “so-and-so transferred because of bullying” in a headline is an easy way to garner some clicks, and Mooney learned the hard way that a quote taken the wrong way can make you trend on twitter.
He knows he shouldn’t have used the word ‘bullying’. I know this because he told me as much when I asked him.
But there are a couple of other important things to note here that put what Mooney said in context.
For starters, this is the way things work at many military academies. The first year a student is on campus, he or she is put through intense amounts of physical and mental stress. It’s not hard to find stories about this kind of treatment for freshmen at places like The Citadel or VMI, where freshmen are called “rats.” That’s the culture at a place like Air Force, and what didn’t get picked up as the story went viral was that Mooney said later in the interview, “All of the basketball guys, we all look out for each other. The seniors and stuff. But they’re not always around. I don’t have any of them in my squadron.”
So this wasn’t a decision based on the basketball team pushing him around. Mooney didn’t like the culture at Air Force.
How many freshman would?
More to the point, not everyone is cut out to be a military man.
And, here’s the important part, he also didn’t feel like he fit in with the way the basketball team plays. Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich runs the Princeton Offense, and Mooney told the Tribune, “I didn’t actually really know what it was like until playing in it” and “I didn’t really like playing like that.” Then throw in the fact that he also told the paper that he didn’t like how being at Air Force limited his ability to get home to see his family, and what you have is a kid that’s not happy about the school he decided to play for.
Yes, the bullying that freshmen receive at Air Force played a role in his decision, but if you actually take the time to pay attention to everything that he said, you’d realize that there was a lot more than went into it.
“The article was taken completely out of context,” Mooney said on twitter after some of his quotes started to get picked up. “I am not leaving because of ‘bullying’. USAFA is a great place with lots of great people, too.”
So there it is. The full context of Mooney’s quotes.
Take it how you will.
Air Force’s Matt Mooney, Colorado State’s J.J. Avila suspended one game apiece by Mountain West
Early in the second half of Colorado State’s 92-87 win at Air Force Saturday afternoon there was a brief skirmish, with Colorado State’s J.J. Avila placing Air Force’s Zach Kosur in a headlock and Air Force freshman guard Matt Mooney punching Avila in the back.
Mooney was assessed the penalty for striking an opponent and receiving an ejection for fighting, which carries an automatic one-game suspension under NCAA Basketball Playing Rule 10, Section 5. Avila was assessed the penalty for physical abuse of an opponent, as well as actions which either provoked conflict or involved retaliation, in violation of NCAA Basketball Playing Rule 10, Section 5, Articles 2 and 4. The conduct of both individuals also violated Sections 4.2-a. and 4.4.1 of Mountain West Rule 4 – Sportsmanship.
The “fighting” ruling on Mooney is an important one, as per NCAA rules if he were to be involved in another fight he would be suspended for the remainder of the season. Mooney, who’s averaging 7.0 points, 2.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game, will miss the Falcons’ game at New Mexico Wednesday night.
As for Avila, the Rams will be without one of the best players in the Mountain West when they host Nevada Wednesday night. Avila, who averages 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, leads Colorado State in all three of those statistical categories.
The series between Colorado State and Air Force has been a spirited one over the years, even with the Rams having won 73 of the 104 meetings. Saturday afternoon’s meeting at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs was an important one for both, with the Falcons looking to make a statement in Mountain West play and Larry Eustachy’s team having lost its last two conference games.
Colorado State looked to be well on its way to a convincing win in the early stages of the second half, leading by as much as 19 and holding a 52-36 lead with 17:35 remaining. However, the events following a Joe DeCiman missed three-pointer changed the tenor of the game. Senior forward J.J. Avila, who finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, was called for an offensive foul as he went over the back of Air Force’s Zach Kosur…but that wasn’t all.
Avila lost his balance and fell on top of Kosur, subsequently putting the Air Force forward in a headlock (believing the Kosur brought him to the ground). At that point Air Force guard Matt Mooney came to his teammate’s aid and punched Avila in the back, earning himself an ejection. The officials were able to get the players separated and to their respective benches shortly thereafter.
The final count: four technical fouls (Avila, Mooney, Air Force’s Justin Hammonds and CSU’s Tiel Daniels), one ejection (Mooney) and a combined eight free throws (Max Yon made three of Air Force’s four attempts, and John Gillon did the same for Colorado State). And Colorado State won the game by the final score of 92-87, doing so without senior guard Daniel Bejarano (strep throat).
Video credit: CTV News
Mountain West Midseason Catchup: No. 24 Colorado State leads what will be an entertaining race
College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Mountain West.
MIDSEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: J.J. Avila, Colorado State
Avila (14.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.2 apg) currently leads CSU in points and rebounds and is second on the team in assists. He’s ranked in the top ten in the Mountain West in each of those categories while also shooting 54.8% from the field. There have been a lot of good performers in the conference thus far, but his all-around impact wins Avila this designation.
THE ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM
Derrick Marks, Boise State: Averaging 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, the senior guard is also shooting 52.3% from the field and 58.1% from beyond the arc.
Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico: Delaney (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) ranks in the top ten in both scoring and rebounding, and he’s also shooting nearly 54 percent from the field.
Christian Wood, UNLV: Vaughn may be the team’s leading scorer, but Wood (14.6 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.2 bpg) is the lone player in the Mountain West averaging a double-double.
Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: The preseason pick to win league POY is averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field.
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. Colorado State deserved more preseason respect than they received from many pundits. While some had a good idea of what Larry Eustachy’s transfer-laden group was capable of, they were picked to finish fifth in the preseason media poll (NBCSports.com picked them to finish second). Thus far it’s been thirteen up, thirteen down for the undefeated Rams who are off to the best start in school history. Seniors Daniel Bejarano and J.J. Avila have been good leaders for this group, and newcomers such as Gian Clavell, Stanton Kidd and John Gillon have contributed as well. The question now is whether or not this group can win the program’s first regular season conference title since 1990, and they’ve shown themselves capable of doing so in non-conference play.
2. San Diego State’s still searching for solutions offensively. While the focus of many has been the Aztecs’ struggles shooting the basketball, their issues on the offensive end of the floor begin with the caliber of shots they’re finding. Obviously accounting for the loss of Xavier Thames wasn’t going to be easy, but thus far the pick and roll game that was so successful last season hasn’t been as effective in 2014-15. What also hasn’t helped San Diego State are their health issues, with Dwayne Polee II now out of the lineup indefinitely and Aqeel Quinn, Matt Shrigley and Malik Pope all having missed time themselves (and Zylan Cheatham looking likely to redshirt). The good news for SDSU is that they still defend at a high level, and that will keep them in the Mountain West race.
3. Larry Nance Jr. is back to full strength for an entertaining Wyoming squad. Nance, who tore his ACL in mid-February, was the preseason pick to win Mountain West POY but there were questions as to whether or not he would hit the ground running for the Cowboys. Averaging 14.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game he’s been good and so have the Cowboys, who enter conference play with an 11-2 record. For too often people associate “entertaining” basketball with a high tempo, but Wyoming doesn’t run and with high-flyers Nance and Josh Adams they’re incredibly fun to watch. They’ve been more efficient on both ends of the floor than they were last season, and Wyoming also ranks fourth nationally in two-point field goal percentage (58.4%).
THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW
1. The growth of UNLV’s underclassmen. Freshman Rashad Vaughn and sophomore Christian Wood have played well for Dave Rice’s team, with Vaughn leading the Mountain West in scoring (18.1 ppg) and Wood (10.0) being the lone player in the league averaging double-digit rebounds per game. But they aren’t the only youngsters to keep an eye on in conference play, as freshmen Patrick McCaw and Jordan Cornish have also contributed. The growth of these players will determine just how well the Runnin’ Rebels finish in the Mountain West.
2. Anthony Drmic’s back and Derrick Marks’ production at Boise State. Drmic hasn’t played since Boise State’s win over Saint Mary’s on December 6 because of a back injury, but the Broncos are off to a 10-3 start thanks in large part to the play of Marks. Averaging 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, Marks is playing the most consistent (and efficient) basketball of his Boise State career. Both missed Boise State’s 48-45 loss to Loyola (IL) two days before Christmas, with Marks nursing a sprained ankle. When will Drmic return? And can he and Marks lead the way for a group expected to contend once back on the court?
3. Will Cullen Neal be able to return for New Mexico? Neal suffered a badly sprained ankle during the Puerto Rico Tipoff in mid-November and hasn’t played since, with head coach Craig Neal (also his father for those who somehow didn’t know) stating that a medical redshirt was possible. Neal’s injury was one of many for the Lobos during non-conference play, but despite those personnel issues they went 8-4 thanks in large part to improved play on the defensive end. If Neal can’t return Hugh Greenwood, who was supposed to spend the majority of his time off the ball this season, runs the show and fellow senior Deshawn Delaney will need to continue to score as he has for most of non-conference play.
1. Colorado State will win the Mountain West. For as well as the Rams have played offensively, with the newcomers giving Avila and Bejarano the consistent help they didn’t have last season, there’s still room for growth defensively. Look for the Rams to get the job done and win their first regular season conference title in 25 years.
2. Utah State manages to finish .500 (or better) in league play. With Fresno State performing as they have (and Cezar Guerrero proving to be even more valuable than imagined in his absence), there’s room for a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference to make a run at a 9-9 (or better) league record. Give me the Aggies, with Jalen Moore (15.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) being the Mountain West’s most improved player and freshman David Collette (58.8% FG) averaging 14.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
3. The Mountain West gets three NCAA tournament bids. Colorado State and, offensive struggles aside, San Diego State should hear their names called Selection Sunday. But who else gets in? Boise State, UNLV and Wyoming will all look to strengthen their respective cases in the next two-plus months, and it may come down to which team performs best in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
NCAA: Colorado State, San Diego State, Wyoming
NIT: UNLV, New Mexico
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Boise State, Utah State, Air Force, Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State (Spartans are ineligible for postseason play)