Five Must-Watch Matchups for Air Force Basketball in 2019-20

Five Must-Watch Matchups for Air Force Basketball in 2019-20

Mountain West Basketball

Five Must-Watch Matchups for Air Force Basketball in 2019-20


2/12 Boise State (Boise, ID)

The Broncos are coming off a rare down year under long-time head coach Leon Rice, but expectations are high for Boise State coming into this season. BSU is similar to Air Force in that they are both bringing back a huge amount of talent from very mediocre teams. But the Broncos have the talent edge, led by Derrick Alston (who will likely test the NBA Draft waters after this year) and sharpshooter Justinian Jessup. Because this matchup is later in the season, Rice will also have the services of Oregon transfer Abu Kigab, who will have to sit out the first semester. Likely a top-five team in the conference, Boise State is a squad that could very well find itself on the bubble in March if it plays its cards right. Air Force, however, will be looking to steal a game from them on the road. But this isn’t just about playing spoiler. This game could be a key matchup in the race for the fifth seed in the MWC Tournament – which is the last seed that receives a first-round bye.

2/29 Colorado State (Fort Collins, CO)

The in-state rivals will have already met once by this time, but with this being the last game of the regular season, this matchup will likely be the more significant of the two. Colorado State is another team that, like Boise State, is projected to finish somewhere in the middle of the Mountain West logjam between fifth and ninth place. So, like the previous game, this one could have direct implications on the race for the fifth seed. More likely, this contest will have more bearing on the seeding of the first round. A matchup with Wyoming or San Jose State would probably be the ideal outcome for a team in that first game. There’s a very real chance that this game decides who will get the seventh seed and its easier draw. The loser would likely face a team like UNLV or Fresno State in the 8/9 game. And while those teams aren’t exactly causing nightmares for anyone this offseason, they would certainly be tougher opponents than either of the Cowboys or Spartans. A win here will make one team’s life much easier.

Honorable Mention: 11/21-11/24 Junkanoo Jam (Bimini, Bahamas)

It is hard to identify just one game of the Junkanoo Jam that will be the most important. Really, the whole event has the potential to be a great bonding experience for the players, a reprieve from at least some of the rigors of life on a military campus, and a chance to snag a couple decent wins. However, last season’s trip to the Bahamas for the Bimini Jam was surely disappointing for the team, which lost to both UMBC and High Point. That showing precipitated the sixth-straight losing season in Pilipovich’s seven-year tenure. Maybe a couple a good results (and a few days on the beach during the dead of a Colorado autumn) can steer the team back in the right direction finally.

So, while Air Force will be hoping for a much better Thanksgiving weekend this time around, their competition will be much stiffer. First up is the WCC’s Loyola Marymount and their 7’4” Swedish behemoth, Mattias Markusson. After that, it’s Duquesne of the A-10. Keith Dambrot has the Dukes trending upwards for the first time in a long time, so expect that game to be a difficult battle. Lastly, the Falcons will take on Indiana State of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Sycamores were mediocre last year, but did go to Hawaii and beat Colorado and UNLV in the Diamond Head Classic.

Air Force could finish this year’s trip to the Bahamas with a record of 3-0, 0-3, or anywhere in between. They have the talent to compete, but do they have the composure to go out and execute their game plan? Using this event to prove that they can do just that would be a huge confidence booster heading into the conference season.

The Outlook

Air Force doesn’t really have a lot in the way of big games on the national level. While the Junkanoo Jam does have a nice lineup of middling mid-majors, a road trip to Fort Worth to take on TCU is really the only other game of note. The Horned Frogs are undoubtedly the Falcons highest-profile opponent in the non-conference season, but it’s difficult to envision Air Force winning that battle. Pilipovich also needs to make sure that his players have their heads on straight when Texas State comes to town after the Bobcats beat the Falcons in San Marcos last November.

But conference play is really where the success of Air Force’s season hinges. The Falcons needs to land shots against some of the teams around them in the standings. Those teams likely include New Mexico, Nevada, and Boise State ahead of the Falcons, with Colorado State, Fresno State, and UNLV not far behind. Winning some of the games above will help Air Force separate themselves from the lower tiers a bit – and could secure them easier passage in the league tournament in Las Vegas.

Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for multiple outlets, including Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.



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