Mountain West Tournament Day 1: What We Learned
Boise State, New Mexico and Air Force pick up victories
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All three higher seeds take home wins on Wednesday
The first day of the Mountain West Tournament is in the books. Below are the three biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s action.
Air Force is a legitimate darkhorse
Air Force still is not a team I want to mess around with in a single-game elimination tournament. The Falcons were off to a rocky started early against San Jose State, trailing 13-0 to the 11th-seeded Spartans. Things quickly turned around, though, as Air Force outscored SJSU 36-15 the rest of the half to take a lead into halftime. The Academy ran wild in the second period, unloading for 51 points in the final 20 minutes to seal a 31-point victory. Air Force continues to be a team that is just flat-out scary. Dave Pilipovich’s team has nights where it catches fire from deep, plays tremendous defense, or sees a player not named Lavelle Scottie or Ryan Swan have a breakout performance (Chris Joyce had a career-high 20 points Wednesday). Next up is Fresno State, a squad that the Falcons have already managed to stun once this season. Can they do it again?
There still isn’t a team as hit-or-miss as New Mexico
We’re in mid-March and I still don’t know what to make of New Mexico. Funny how the team that has a 27-point win over Nevada as well as a 7-point loss to San Jose State is a bit erratic, huh? We saw both the good and bad from the Lobos that we’ve witnessed all year on Wednesday. New Mexico sunk itself into a deep hole against Wyoming, trailing by 16 in the first half. Vance Jackson heated up as the game progressed and that was all she wrote for the Cowboys. The UConn transfer finished with 26 points, drilling a three-pointer that put UNM ahead for the first time at 49-47 with 9:47 to play.
Justin James will be missed
I can’t say enough about Justin James. The Wyoming senior didn’t have the season he would have hoped for after returning to Laramie following the pre-draft workouts in the spring. Even though Wyoming had a rough year, James will be regarded as one of the best players in the conference’s 20-year history. James had to take the lead for a team that saw three senior starters graduate last year, suffered injury after injury this season, and just had a tough time getting any sort of positive momentum throughout conference play. Nevertheless, James delivered, averaging 21.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game, playing 38.2 minutes a night. His performance this season night in and night out was nothing short of admirable.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.