Las Vegas…..The Mountain West Mens Basketball Tournament opens Wednesday, and for the Air Force Falcons this tournament and this year, is so different. For this team, more than any other squad in the tournament, the next week is a chance to show they really are better. 8 conference wins was a step forward this season. 3 conference road wins was an improvement as well. But, in my mind, the bloom comes off those roses if the Falcons don’t advance to the semifinals on Friday. I told someone Sunday, in all the years of Air Force Basketball in the Mountain West, the Joe Scott Era, the 2 years with Jeff Bzdelik, in those halcyon days, the Falcons never played on Friday in the tournament. NEVER. One year under Scott they won the regular season conference titile, yet lost in the opening round. Under Bzdelik at one time they were 17-1, but never advanced to Friday. I mentioned in this blog earlier this year the “Glass Ceiling” which was trying to beat a good team on the road. Air Force did that, at Fresno State. The next barrier, in my opinion, is advancing to play in the semifinals on Friday. Air Force could not be in a better position. They face the #11 seed San Jose St, and if they win, then take on Fresno State, whom they defeated earlier this year. I know you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk, before you can run, but the time for the Falcons to sprint is now. This team has the potential. And outside of a no-show performance Saturday in Boise, is playing excellent basketball at the right time. But at the end of the day, the best memories are made, with the most on the line. ITS TIME.
So, we talked in this space about Air Force taking the next step with its basketball program by beating a good team on the road. So they roll in to Fresno State and come out with a 3 point win. After taking care of San Jose State next Saturday, the next challenge awaits-winning 3 straight this season. That opportunity is Saturday in Wyoming against the Cowboys, who lost at Fresno State Wednesday night. This team’s confidence has grown. Part of the reason is Lavelle Scottie. He has been on fire the last 3 weeks of the season and should have been named the Conference Player of the Week this week. But more than points, Scottie has been vocal on the floor with his teammates. He and Chris Joyce got into each others grill Saturday following a defensive breakdown. He challenged AJ Walker after he missed several free throws late in the Fresno State matchup. The Falcons have not had that kind of on the floor vocal, in-your-face leadership in a long, long, long, time.
Looking ahead-3 games left. Saturday at Wyoming, Tuesday at home vs Nevada, and next Saturday at struggling Boise State. Can Air Force win 2 of 3? They should. Then what about the Wolfpack? Tuesday night in the home finale the Falcons host Nevada. The Cadet Wing reportedly will be there. As talented as the Wolfpack are, they, at times are very undisciplined on offense and throw up 3’s like Santa Claus tossing candy canes during a Christmas parade. Air Force can beat Nevada at Clune, with the Cadets doing their thing, and with Lavelle Scottie doing his, and with scoring in the backcourt from the suddenly resurgent Caleb Morris and AJ Walker. This team has grown, and grown up. These 3 games could really define what the Falcons do in the Mountain West Tournament in mid March.
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Another great effort by the Air Force Basketball team in Las Vegas Tuesday night against U-N-L-V. A tight game, tense moments, and a chance, as it turned out, to be tied for 5th in the conference with a win. And, and, and….another road loss. This Falcon Basketball team has shown improvement, but has been inconsistent. It has a bevy of talent, 90% of which is returning next year. But until they beat a GOOD team on the road, it won’t matter. Thus, the Glass Ceiling. The first chance for the Falcons do that was in San Diego a few weeks ago. But a slow start doomed them to a loss. Tuesday night, it was the Runnin Rebels, who came in leaking oil, having lost 4 of 5. But again, the Falcons found a way to give one away. They committed 15 turnovers, 9 in the second half, most unforced. In all of sports, the hardest thing to do is win on the road in College Basketball. No one can explain it. It just is. But if Air Force wants to be a team in the upper half of the Mountain West, that’s the hill they have to conquer. They had 2 road wins in conference last year, vs San Jose State and CSU and both were not GOOD teams when Air Force played them. Tuesday night the Falcons played GREAT basketball for 39 minutes. But still lost. Until The Falcons beat good teams on the road they will finish in the second half of the conference and finish below 500. This program can, in my opinion win 16-18 games every year. I’m optimistic Air Force can still beat good teams away from Clune Arena this year. 2 more chances remain this year…At Fresno State and Boise State, along with a road contest at improving Wyoming. Can painful lessons learned in Las Vegas Tuesday translate to road wins later this year? We shall see.
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After the Falcons were blown out at home against Colorado State Saturday February 2nd I drove home wondering what’s next for this team. They had won 4 of 5 MW games, with the lone loss a respectable showing against #6 Nevada. They played a poor first half against San Diego State and lost by 15, but I thought they had a great shot against CSU, and then with games against Wyoming, and on the road at faltering UNLV, believed Air Force could really put together a nice run. Saturday, a combination of a poor start, and an injury to leading scorer Lavelle Scottie, and off the court challenges for second leading scorer Ryan Swan doomed the Falcons. But it wasn’t even the loss to the Rams they had me thinking, it was how they lost. Again, Air Force came out with no energy, no enthusiasm, no urgency. I get tired of writing those words, but I have seen enough games to know when Air Force comes out early and plays desperate they can be a very good team. And when they don’t, they struggle. In the last 4 games they have fallen behind by double figures in the first half. Yes, they have won 2 of those games, but only because they started the second halves of those games like they should started the first halves. And with the regular season winding down, in a conference that isn’t as strong as its been in recent years, and with a Falcon team that has the potential to be the best squad Dave Pilipovich has had in 8 years, I just wonder if the Falcons can re-discover that magic out of the locker room to open games with. There’s still time to find it, but it has to come from within, and those 15 players in the White and Silver. The calendar is a not so gentle reminder that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
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Don’t look now, (and it’s still early in conference play) but the Air Force Men’s Basketball team has really started to come together and play the type of ball Dave Pilipovich envisioned coming into the season. Another home double digit conference victory January 22nd, beating Boise State 74-60. I asked Pilipovich what the difference has been since being overwhelmed at Colorado State 2 weeks ago. He said they have been tougher on the players during practice and the kids have responded by playing a tougher brand of basketball. And not just physically. The Falcons have been tougher between the ears. Wednesday night they trailed by 13 with about 4 minutes left in the half. Then Lavelle Scottie turned up his game and hit back to back 3’s followed by a 2 pointer. That started a 16-3 run and just like that Air force was tied at halftime. The Falcons hit big shots in the second half and pulled away for the 14 point win. After the game Scottie told me the team hasn’t had an identity but feels they are starting to develop one, and he thinks it a defensive identity. As I watch the Falcons I see Air Force doing a better job defending the 3 point shot, specifically not everybody sagging into the late to stop a 2 point try, but staying on guys on the 3 point line, making them take contested 3’s. And this team , all of a sudden is tougher to play against, and has some grit to its game. I said a couple weeks back Air Force wasn’t a tough team to play against, and they weren’t playing with a snarl. They are now, and they are a more physical team than they’ve been. Sometimes it’s not about X’s and O’s. It’s about desire and “want to” and urgency and energy. I’ve seen more of it the last 4 games than the previous 14. It’s a good trend for Air Force. And all those attributes I just mentioned are things these players can control every game. The Falcons believe, and they are getting results. It’s still just mid-season and a lot can happen, but this team is making its move and no one in the conference better take them for granted.
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So, we talked in this space about Air Force taking the next step with its basketball program by beating a good team on the road. So they roll in to Fresno State and come out with a 3 point win. After taking care of San Jose State next Saturday, the next challenge awaits-winning 3 straight…MORE
Another great effort by the Air Force Basketball team in Las Vegas Tuesday night against U-N-L-V. A tight game, tense moments, and a chance, as it turned out, to be tied for 5th in the conference with a win. And, and, and….another road loss. This Falcon Basketball team has shown improvement, but has been inconsistent.…MORE
After the Falcons were blown out at home against Colorado State Saturday February 2nd I drove home wondering what’s next for this team. They had won 4 of 5 MW games, with the lone loss a respectable showing against #6 Nevada. They played a poor first half against San Diego State and lost by 15,…MORE