March 12, 2009 - 9:00 pm
(1) BRIGHAM YOUNG
• RECORD: 24-6, 12-4 Mountain West Conference
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WINS: Utah State, at Tulsa
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Lee Cummard. The 6-foot-7-inch senior guard has scored 20 or more points 10 times this season. He ranks in the league’s top 10 in nine statistical categories.
• FAST FACT: In eight of the nine years of the MWC tournament, BYU or the team that eliminated the Cougars won the title. BYU, the top seed for the third consecutive year, was beaten by UNLV in the last two championship games.
• COACHSPEAK: “For the most part, these tournaments are really exciting for the lower seeds, and then the high seeds are trying to fight off teams that are getting another shot at them.” — Dave Rose
• RECORD: 21-9, 12-4 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WINS: Gonzaga, Louisiana State
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Luke Nevill. A 7-2 senior from Australia, Nevill leads the league in rebounding (8.9 per game) and blocked shots (82) and ranks second in field-goal percentage (.605). He has a league-leading 12 double-doubles this season.
• FAST FACT: The Utes rank No. 12 in the Ratings Percentage Index. Their strength of schedule was boosted by nonconference games against California, Oklahoma, Utah State, Gonzaga and LSU.
• COACHSPEAK: “It’s just unbelievable. Nobody’s talking about it — what this team has done, who we’ve played. We set the standard for the league, how you get into the NCAA Tournament, who you have to play and how you should run your program, in my opinion.” — Jim Boylen
(3) NEW MEXICO
• RECORD: 21-10, 12-4 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WINS: Mississippi, New Mexico State
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Tony Danridge. The fifth-year senior guard scored 29 points in each of his past two games, victories over Utah and Wyoming. He has averaged 22.4 points during the Lobos’ current five-game winning streak.
• FAST FACT: New Mexico has its first conference title in 15 years, since winning the 1994 Western Athletic Conference championship. The Lobos were in the MWC tournament play-in game two years ago.
• COACHSPEAK: “We don’t really pay too much attention to predictions. We were picked to finish fifth in the league, and we finished first.” — Steve Alford
(4) SAN DIEGO STATE
• RECORD: 21-8, 11-5 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WIN: Cal State Northridge
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Kyle Spain. In two victories over UNLV this season, the 6-5 senior forward averaged 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. He made 3 of 6 3-pointers in each game. He led the Aztecs in scoring in 15 of 29 games.
• FAST FACT: Seven of San Diego State’s eight losses came to teams ranked 58th or higher in the RPI, and six of those were on the road.
• COACHSPEAK: “I have no idea. I pay little attention, and yet as I spin the dial and pick up the paper, you can’t help but see what people are saying.” — Steve Fisher, on his team’s NCAA Tournament chances. San Diego State went to the National Invitation Tournament the past two years.
• RECORD: 21-9, 9-7 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WINS: Arizona, at Louisville
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Wink Adams. The senior guard slumped in the Rebels’ final three regular-season games, scoring a total of 23 points and shooting 9-for-33. In three MWC tournament victories last year, he averaged 24 points and shot 24-for-44.
• FAST FACT: The Rebels have a 22-1 record in their opening game of a conference tournament.
• COACHSPEAK: “I think four would be a great year and a fair number. I think four teams are deserving.” — Lon Kruger, who is 8-2 in the MWC tournament, on how many of the league’s teams should make the NCAA field of 65.
• RECORD: 18-12, 7-9 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WIN: Northern Iowa
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Ewing. The senior point guard leads the conference in scoring (18.6) and assists (5.3). During the 10-year history of the MWC, no player has led the league in both scoring and assists.
• FAST FACT: Among the 343 Division I teams, Wyoming was second in the nation in free throws made (607) and fifth in free throws attempted (833) at the start of the week.
• COACHSPEAK: “I love this team. I just want to keep playing as long as we can. We have to find an answer for Tony Danridge, which is easier said than done.” — Heath Schroyer, on today’s matchup against Danridge and New Mexico.
(7) TEXAS CHRISTIAN
• RECORD: 14-16, 5-11 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WINS: Wichita State, at Texas Tech
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Zvonko Buljan. The 6-9 forward, from Split, Croatia, and Vincennes (Ind.) University, was voted conference Newcomer of the Year.
• FAST FACT: Senior forward Kevin Langford has started 90 consecutive games, scoring in double digits in 66 of them. He is 14th on TCU’s career scoring list with 1,222 points.
• COACHSPEAK: “The one thing I could promise was that these guys would play their hearts out every night, and I think they did. Did we play the smartest or very well at times? No. But did we play hard every time and never quit? Yes.” — Jim Christian
(9) AIR FORCE
• RECORD: 10-20, 1-16 MWC
• BEST NONCONFERENCE WIN: at Northern Colorado
• PLAYER TO WATCH: Andrew Henke. The senior guard scored 18 points Wednesday in a first-round win against Colorado State. He has averaged 19.3 over his past six games.
• FAST FACT: Air Force lost its final four regular-season games by an average of only four points. The Falcons lost 11 of their first 12 conference games by double digits.
• COACHSPEAK: “Our team has showed some improvement in the last four or five games. We’ve been in every game and had a chance to win every game.” — Jeff Reynolds
MATT YOUMANS/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL