Just as the Mountain West's beat writers have done with football (check out the latest here), the conference's basketball beat writers will be putting together a collection of notes from the league's teams this season. Here is the first of the year, check it out:
The first-game jitters will be there Friday for coach Dave Pilipovich, but it won’t be anything like last year.
For the second consecutive season the Falcons will open the season against Army in the All-Military Classic. When they did so last year, they had no idea what to expect as they took the floor with a team that had lost its top seven players from the previous year and had lost an exhibition game to NCAA Division II Regis.
This year’s team features five seniors – DeLovell Earls, Justin Hammonds, Marek Olesinski, Kamryn Williams and Max Yon – who have started a combined 140 games.
Just like that, the Falcons are back to having a veteran squad.
"Last year we had a lot of question marks, a lot of green. We just didn’t know what to expect,” Pilipovich said. “This year I think we have a better understanding of who we are, maybe substituting and putting different combinations together. You can say something in practice and they know what we mean. Last year it was, ‘What?’ Now they’ve been through it and they understand.”
Air Force did win that game at Army last year, the first victory in a season that saw the Falcons go 12-18 overall and 6-12 in the Mountain West.
Does experience immediately translate into more victories? It has in the past at Air Force, but that will have to play out in a season that begins on Friday.
Season-openers: at Army, 6 p.m. MT Friday (Patriotleague.tv); vs. VMI or Citadel, TBA, Saturday; vs. Colorado Christian, 7 p.m. Nov. 19 (Mountain West Network -- online).
--Brent Briggeman, The Gazette
The Broncos will be without senior guard Derrick Marks for one of their two games this weekend at the season-opening LMU Classic in Los Angeles.
On Nov. 1 before the team's first exhibition game, the school announced that Marks and sophomore Dez Trent would be suspended that night and for Nov. 7's exhibition because of a team rules violation. In addition, Marks will be suspended either Friday or Saturday, while Trent will be suspended the other game.
"We have standards, and we have things we want to hold these guys to ... I'm always trying to teach these guys and make them better, just because they're seniors doesn't mean they can't keep getting better," coach Leon Rice said.
Marks is ninth in Boise State career scoring with 1,291 points and was an honorable mention all-Mountain West selection last season. He has practiced fully this fall, recovered from surgery on a torn meniscus he suffered in May. Trent scored 52 points in 116 minutes played as a true freshman.
Only one player taller than 6-foot-8 was used regularly by the Broncos last season, but the team signed three newcomers 6-10 or taller, plus has a 6-9 forward coming off a redshirt.If senior Anthony Drmic averages 16.3 ppg over 32 games, he'll break the school career scoring record of 1,994 (Tanoka Beard, 1989-93).
Season-opener: vs. University of San Diego (at Loyola Marymount), 4:30 p.m. MT Friday; at Loyola Marymount, 6 p.m. MT Saturday; vs. Montana, 8 p.m. MT Tuesday.
--Dave Southorn, Idaho Statesman
The Rams have a true point guard for the first time since 2008, but he won’t be starting when they open the season Saturday against Montana. That responsibility, for now, rests with the team’s leading returning rebounder, Daniel Bejarano.
Bejarano, who started at point for Colorado State in its exhibition win over Fort Lewis, said Tuesday that coach Larry Eustachy has told him he’ll be playing point guard until senior transfer Antwan Scott out of Grambling State gets acclimated better with practice. Scott has been recovering from foot surgery and hasn’t been able to practice fully with the Rams during the past month.
Scott recorded one point and an assist in eight first-half minutes against Fort Lewis, but ran the offense flawlessly. When he entered the game with 12 minutes, 18 seconds remaining until halftime, Colorado State led 10-7. Within five minutes, that lead extended to 27-9.
Season-opener: vs. Montana, 8 p.m. MT Saturday (ROOT)
--Matthew Stephens, Fort Collins Coloradoan
There’s no question what the storyline entering the season is: How do you replace 67 percent of your scoring after the departures of program pillars Kendall Williams, the 2013 Mountain West Player of the Year; Cameron Bairstow, now playing with the Chicago Bulls; and Alex Kirk, now playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Simple answer for second-year head coach Craig Neal is you probably don’t. But the hopes in Albuquerque were at least to mitigate the drop-off when they signed first team junior college All-American Jordan Goodman in the offseason. The 6-foot-9 guard/forward is a matchup nightmare when healthy, the problem is Goodman isn't.
A seemingly minor June surgery to remove calcium deposits in his knee has yet to properly heal, and Goodman has had a lengthy list of nagging injuries pile up while rehabbing. He missed both exhibition games, will miss Friday’s season opener and is doubtful for Game No. 2 on Sunday. Neal had said earlier this week he didn’t see Goodman playing before December, then backed off that date later in the week.
If healthy, the hope is the Lobos might still have a chance to remain in the upper tier of the league. Without Goodman, there are big concerns.
Season openers: vs. Idaho State, 8 p.m. MT Friday (ROOT); vs. Cal State-Fullerton, 7 p.m. MT Sunday (ROOT).
-- Geoff Grammer, Albuquerque Journal
SAN DIEGO STATE
Sophomore wing Matt Shrigley won’t play because he broke a bone in his left elbow in an exhibition game last Friday after a hard fall and flagrant foul against Division II Point Loma Nazarene.
The 6-foot-6 Shrigley was trying to turn a midcourt steal into a breakaway dunk, and Sea Lions guard Judd Welgringer – a transfer from Drake – chased him down from behind and swept at the ball while he was in the air. Shrigley is expected to miss four weeks or about eight games, but that includes No. 25 Utah on Nov. 18 and the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week.
Aztecs fans, as you might imagine, were not amused. An expletive-laced tweet was directed at Welfringer on the Twitter account operated by “The Show” student section. Others have demanded that SDSU never play the local Div. II school again, in any sport.
"You can say, ‘It’s an exhibition game and how can it happen in an exhibition game? He had a breakaway layup,' " Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "I watched it. I don’t think there was any malice or intent to hurt anybody on the play at all."
Shrigley took the high road as well: “Yeah, it’s a bummer, it’s a setback. But it’s only four weeks. It could be worse It’s a sport and injuries happen. This one just happened to look bad.”
Shrigley was expected to play major minutes off the bench after showing significant improvement in preseason practice, where he was the Aztecs’ most accurate perimeter threat and at times the best player on the floor. Sophomore Dakarai Allen, a 6-5 sophomore, is the most likely candidate to replace him in the rotation, but he’s more of a slasher than shooter (he didn’t attempt a 3-pointer last season).
One person it probably won’t be is 6-10 freshman Malik Pope, a five-star recruit with a silky 3-point stroke. His practice participation was noticeably increased Monday, but Fisher insisted that was decided before Shrigley’s injury as part of a plan to assess his progress, not accelerate it, as he recovers from breaking the same leg twice in high school. He’s still weeks – not days – away from seeing live game action, and chances are Shrigley will play before him.
Season-opener: vs. Cal State Northridge, 8 p.m. MT Friday
--Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN JOSE STATE
The Spartans have no choice but to set internal goals for their second season of rebuilding under coach Dave Wojcik.
The Spartans are ineligible for the postseason -- including the Mountain West Tournament -- because of APR sanctions they hope and insist will be a one-year problem. San Jose State's single-year score of 807 for the 2012-13 year was largely a result of the housecleaning Wojcik had to perform when he was hired to elevate the talent level on the roster.
The early returns have been positive for a pair of newcomers. Six-foot-11 German import Leon Bahner started both of the team’s exhibition games and averaged 10.5 rebounds, including a 14-rebound effort his last time out. Darryl Gainor, a 6-2 guard, scored 15 points off the bench both nights.
Bahner provides some much needed size, and the Spartans hope their young team can gain experience so they’ll be ready to compete in 2015-16 when the APR sanctions are hopefully lifted.
Season-opener: vs. Bethesda, 6 p.m. MT Friday (Spartan Digital Network); vs. Portland, 2 p.m. MT Sunday (Spartan Digital Network)
-- Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
The Aggies won both exhibition games against Division II foes, but neither was easy. Coach Stew Morrill was even a bit surprised the Aggies ran their streak to 15 straight exhibition victories.
The 2014-15 campaign is going to be interesting. With no starters back and just four players with any experience, there are bound to be some moments that will have Morrill and fans shaking their heads.
"It’s the most inexperienced team I’ve had in 29 years as a head coach," Morrill said. "I’m not sure what that means. We’ve got a lot of new guys that are eager; they are going to try hard, but not a lot of experience.”
Then there is the schedule. Utah State plays five games in 13 days to begin the season. Three of those contests are road games, and two are long travel days from Logan in Illinois State and Mississippi State.
"If you are ever going to have a schedule that made sense for a team, this ain’t it," Morrill said. "You would like to have this schedule when you have a really experienced team.
"It’s a really good pre-conference schedule that we can hopefully grow from. I will be surprised if we don’t have our bumps and bruises. It’s the nature of where we are.”
The only player back with significant playing time is forward Jalen Moore. He will counted on heavily, but Morrill keeps reminding the media that he is only a sophomore. Moore has said he is trying to prepare to be a leader.
“We need to work on executing our offense a little bit more,” Moore said. “The guys are still getting used to playing in here (Spectrum) in front of a lot of people, which they will need to get used to before Friday. It’s going to be really crowded in here. We will be OK, just need to relax a little bit."
Season-opener: vs. Weber State, 7 p.m. MT Friday (MW Network -- online); at Illinois State, 5 p.m. MT Sunday (RedbirdHD.tv)
--Shawn Harrison, The Herald Journal
The Cowboys open their season and newly renovated Arena-Auditorium at 2 p.m. Sunday against Northern Colorado.
Wyoming held two closed scrimmages in the preseason at Utah and at home against Division II Metro State.
"I really think we've established a solid defensive team at this point, meaning at the beginning of the possession and in transition," coach Larry Shyatt said. Our habits in terms of close outs and block outs have improved. Against Utah and Metro our defensive rebounding was improved."
Shyatt was especially pleased with the way senior forward Larry Nance Jr. played defensively against Metro State, and helped "captain" the team defensively. Nance was last season's Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West, and will play his first game Sunday since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament his right knee Feb. 18 at home against Fresno State.
Shyatt added that Nance is still finding his rhythm offensively, but is expected to be ready for the opener.
Shyatt said he and his staff are in the process of defining roles for players for this season, and that will continue through the middle of the week. Some roles are well defined, such as with UW's top four returning players in senior guard Riley Grabau, junior guard Josh Adams, Nance Jr. and senior forward Derek Cooke Jr. -- guys who logged a lot of minutes last season and in past seasons.
"I'm a softy, and what you would like to do when you have the type of kids we have is give them all what they want, but that doesn't happen with any of the ball clubs around the country," Shyatt said. "What you always remind them is to put team goals ahead of yourself, especially on a day when things aren't going well for you. If you do that, that's the mindset of a team that can reach is fullest potential."
Shyatt said freshman guard Alex Aka Gorski suffered a small fracture on the tip of a finger on his non-shooting hand last Friday, and did not play in the Metro State scrimmage. Shyatt is not sure how long Gorski will be out, but he also said the injury "is just a small bump in the road."
Shyatt also said sophomore guard Trey Washington III (ankle) is improving, but is still a week or two away from being back.
Season-opener: vs. Northern Colorado, 2 p.m. MT Sunday (MW Network -- online); vs. Western State, 7 p.m. Nov. 18.
--Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle