Five Must-Watch Matchups for Air Force Basketball in 2019-20
The Falcons’ schedule includes a huge opportunity in the heart of Texas
Which games should Air Force have circled on their calendars in 2019-20?
It’s been 15 long seasons since Air Force won its first and only Mountain West title and, while the Falcons are still a long way from getting back to those glory days, Dave Pilipovich has built a team that could surprise people in 2019-20. Led by seniors Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan, this team finished sixth in the league last season. Nearly everybody comes back for the Falcons this year, so Pilipovich will be trotting out a lot of experienced players.
But what kinds of gains can really be expected from Air Force?
While in-game experience is certainly a benefit of returning so many players, the flipside of that coin is that teams with so many guys coming back are really getting a lot of known quantities. As pointed out by Three Man Weave, there’s not much historical evidence that teams make huge jumps in seasons where everyone comes back.
Even if the Falcons don’t make leaps and bounds in 2019-20, they should still finish right around the .500 mark in league play and overall. But to do so, they’ll need to capitalize on a few key games. Air Force has chances to grab important wins – some for building confidence and chemistry, others for bragging rights. Here are the five biggest games to watch this year.
11/12 Army (West Point, NY)
As mentioned, some of the games listed here are mostly just for bragging rights. This game certainly doesn’t have the same cachet as an Army-Navy contest – really, none of the basketball rivalries hold a candle to football – but it is a budding rivalry nonetheless. The series was picked up in 2011 after the programs met only three times previously in their histories and has been played yearly ever since. The Black Knights have won five straight after dropping the first three, so the Falcons’ seniors will be looking to get one back in West Point. Army is bringing back some talented fourth-year players of their own in Tommy Funk and Matt Wilson. Funk was an All-Patriot third team selection as a junior and has led the Patriot League in assists in two straight years. He needs 145 assists more to become the conference’s all-time leader in that category. (Funk’s career-low for a season was 155 dimes in his freshman year, so it’s a pretty good bet that he will do it.)
11/18 TCU (Fort Worth, TX)
In terms of résumé-boosters in the non-conference schedule, this is it. The Falcons will fly to Fort Worth and take on Jamie Dixon’s team that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament a year ago before making a semifinal run in the NIT. The Horned Frogs will again have all-conference guard Desmond Bane, a sleeper pick for more Big 12 hardware in 2019-20, but have suffered some significant roster turnover since the beginning of last year. Assist machine Alex Robinson and JD Miller graduated. Kouat Noi and Lat Mayen left early. Jaylen Fisher, Kaden Archie, Yuat Alok, and Kendric Davis transferred. Along with Bane, Kevin Samuel and RJ Nembhard are the only other returning players that logged real minutes for TCU last year. But Dixon has brought in talented grad transfers Edric Dennis (Texas-Arlington) and Jaire Grayer (George Mason) to provide depth and experience for this team. If the Falcons have any shot at an NCAA Tournament bid, this is a must-win game for them on the road.
12/7 Nevada (Colorado Springs, CO)
In their second early game under the Mountain West’s much-maligned new league schedule, the Falcons host Nevada in what could be a very important game. And while not everyone is happy about having to play conference games so early, Dave Pilipovich may have actually gotten a bit lucky with this draw. The Wolf Pack are in a state of flux after losing the core of their back-to-back-to-back Mountain West-winning teams. New head coach Steve Alford, making his return to the league after his ouster from UCLA, will rely on the experience of Jazz Johnson to help bring together the talent on the roster. Jalen Harris, Eric Parrish, and KJ Hymes are among the new faces that Nevada fans will grow to love – especially if they can keep the team afloat and back in contention for a fourth-consecutive league title. The Pack are expected to finish above Air Force in the Mountain West, but the blue-clad cadets could certainly throw a wrench in those plans with a well-timed haymaker here at home.