Mountain West Tournament: Preview & Odds

March 11th, 2009

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:


Mountain West Tournament

The bottom two teams meet in the opening round of the MWC Tournament, hosted on UNLV’s home court in Las Vegas.









Brigham Young












New Mexico






San Diego St.


















Texas Christian






Colorado St.






Air Force






BYU is the conference favorite, but the winner of a potential New Mexico-Utah semifinal would also have a good chance of taking the title. UNLV’s home advantage should see it past SDSU and could propel it all the way to the auto-bid.


#1 –Brigham Young Cougars (24-6, 12-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.156

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)


BYU has been one of the country’s more interesting teams, playing only two power conference teams, and losing both games, but staying fairly close in each one. It’s been the best team in the conference, but not by much, and will potentially face a big semifinal challenge against the hosts. The Cougars have been very good defensively, holding opponents to just 30% behind the arc, and as good on the defensive glass as any team on the country. Their offense hasn’t been as good, but is still pretty solid, they shoot very well and rarely turn the ball over. While they are strong on the defensive glass, they haven’t done the same on the offensive end, which has limited their effectiveness a little.


Players to watch:

6-7 SR Lee Cummard, 17.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 57.8 eFG% - On a team of excellent shooters, Cummard is probably the best, hitting 57% inside and 40% outside. He also brings a lot of other skills to the game, a very good rebounder who can dish out some assists without turning it over. While other players on the team do these latter things better than Cummard, none combine them the way he does.


6-2 SO Jimmer Fredette, 16.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, 55.5 eFG% - Fredette has scored well of late, and boasts the team’s best assist rate, to go with some very effective shooting.




#2 – Utah Utes (21-9, 12-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.108

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2005 (Sweet Sixteen)


The Utes were set in the conference lead in mid-February, having run off an eight-game winning streak, but dropped two games on tough road trips to BYU and New Mexico to end up second. The Utes are sublime shooters, 52% from two and 41% from three, but aren’t the best offensive team in the conference, as they’ve committed a lot of turnovers. They’ve been average overall defensively, but  have one of the most interesting pair of stats of any team in the country; Utah is one of the country’s elite defensive rebounders, and one of its worst at forcing turnovers, so it doesn’t manage to have a big possession advantage. It defends the inside very well, but is vulnerable to threes.


Players to watch:

7-2 SR Luke Nevill, 16.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 60.5 eFG% - Nevill may not be a player who gets a lot of national press, but he’s one of the best big men around, one of the MWC’s best scorers, and the conference’s best rebounder and shot-blocker. One thing he does especially well for a 7-2 player is earn points at the free throw line; not only does he get there a lot, he shoots nearly 80% once there.


6-8 SR Shaun Green, 10.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 62.5 eFG% - Green is a big man who can compete well on the glass, and is a very good outside shooter who does well when he does take the ball inside the arc.



#3 – New Mexico Lobos (21-10, 12-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.142

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2005 (1st Round)


The Lobos will likely cause a headache for the committee come Selection Sunday; they’ve been the second best team in the MWC, but did very little out of conference. They have had the league’s best offense, no small achievement when you consider Utah and BYU. New Mexico shoots well, especially behind the arc, rarely coughs the ball up, and gets to the free throw line often. It’s been pretty strong defensively as well; it’s decent at stopping shots  but is best at gaining a possession advantage, forcing a lot of turnovers and dominating the defensive glass.


Players to watch:

6-5 SR Tony Dandridge, 15.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 50.8 eFG% - New Mexico’s leading scorer, Dandridge is an inside player who takes a large chunk of the team’s shots, and also earns a good number of points at the line. He doesn’t do much in the other parts of the box-score, but rarely turns the ball over.


6-6 JR Roman Martinez, 11.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 59.4 eFG% - Martinez leads the team in rebounding, and while he doesn’t take a lot of shots, he’s a dangerous scorer inside and out.


#4 – San Diego St. Aztecs (21-8, 11-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.064

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)


San Diego St. is somewhat behind the three leading teams in the conference, but is still a quality team that can cause the top seeds trouble.  It plays a fairly slow paced style, and does its best work inside, shooting over 50% from two and doing well on the offensive boards. The Aztecs have been better when on defense, not overly strong in any one area, but not with any major weaknesses either. They were excellent at forcing turnovers in non-conference play, but have not been as effective in the MWC.


Players to watch:

6-5 SR Kyle Spain, 14.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 50.7 eFG% - Spain leads the Aztecs in scoring, he’s a shooting specialist who hits 87% from the line and 41% from behind the arc, but has struggled with his percentage from two.


6-6 SR Lorenzo Wade, 13.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 50.0 eFG% - Last year’s top scorer for the Aztecs, Wade returned to the team after burglary charges against him were dismissed, and has been an excellent scoring complement to Spain in that time.



#5 – UNLV Rebels (21-9, 9-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.039

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


UNLV will need to take advantage of its home-court advantage to make enough tournament progress to get to the NCAA tournament, as its EM standing matches its seeding, 5th. Of the Rebels’ seven conference losses, only one came at the Thomas & Mack, but that one loss came to their first-round opponent, SDSU. The Rebs have had a very strong defensive showing, preventing opponents from making inside shots and getting them to cough up the ball, but their progression will depend on getting more from their offense, which has been clearly worse than that of the top four teams. UNLV doesn’t make many shots inside, and struggles at the free-throw line, but can score well on the perimeter.


Players to watch:

6-6 SR Rene Rougeau, 11.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 56.0 eFG% - Rougeau is an excellent player who is just 3rd on the Rebels in scoring, but does a lot of things besides score that make him a major asset. He leads the team in rebounding, steals and blocks, and takes his offensive chances very effectively inside.


6-4 SO Tre’Von Willis, 11.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 44.9 eFG% - Willis is a very good player at the free throw line, which partially makes up for his relatively poor shooting percentage from inside the arc.



#6 – Wyoming Cowboys  (18-12, 7-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.058

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2002 (2nd Round)


The Cowboys have been stuck in the middle of the conference standings, unable to get wins against most of the top teams, but taking care of business against the teams below them. Offensively, they’ve been just a little behind the leading schools, thanks to their national-best ability to get to the free throw line, where they’ve managed to hit 72% of their many attempts. Wyoming’s problems have been defensive, as they have had a lot of trouble controlling opponents inside, and have one of the country’s worst turnover rates.


Players to watch:

6-2 SR Brandon Ewing, 18.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 51.3 eFG% - Ewing leads the conference in minutes played, and makes good use of those minutes, also leading the league in both scoring and assists. He’s not a great shooter from the field, but gets to the free throw line extremely often, and makes 83% of attempts once there. He’s also a very good ball control guard, as in addition to his assists, he commits very few turnovers.


6-3 SR Sean Ogirri, 14.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 60.6 eFG% - A Wichita St. transfer, Ogirri is one of the conference’s best shooters, over 40% from behind the arc, where most of his shots originate.



#7 – Texas Christian Horned Frogs (14-16, 5-11) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.087

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1998 (1st Round)


A good start for TCU, 4-1 to open the MWC season, just fell apart down the stretch, and it has won just once since mid-January. It’s played some close games, though, so it’s likely to have a better chance of winning at least a game than you might expect from a 5-11 team. The Horned Frogs have shot poorly, hitting threes at just a 31% clip, and haven’t been able to get back many of their own misses. They’ve also struggled to defend shots, especially inside, where opponents shoot nearly 55%, but have managed to compete on the defensive glass.


Players to watch:

6-9 JR Zvonko Buljan, 12.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG,  54.7 eFG% - The Croatian big man  has been one of the MWC’s top rebounders, and a monster on the defensive glass in particular. He also has a very good offensive game, a high-percentage inside shooter who can also hit threes at a good clip.


6-8 SR Kevin Langford, 13.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG,  51.8 eFG% - The Frogs’ leading scorer tends to score in bunches, rather than consistently, but when he’s on he can really put up a big number. He’s one of the best players in the country at getting to the stripe, where he fares well at 78%.




#8 – Colorado St. Rams (9-21, 4-12) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.160

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2003 (1st Round)


A perennial below-.500 team, Colorado St. has had a tough season, getting just one win against the top six teams and, despite a similar record to TCU, significantly worse than the seven seed by EM standards. The Ram offense has been decent, making up for some poor shooting from the field with good ball control and free-throw shooting. However, its defense has easily been the worst in the conference, providing little resistance to opponents. This has been especially bad inside, where they’ve allowed nearly 58% of attempts to go in.


Players to watch:

6-0 SR Marcus Walker, 17.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 47.5 eFG% - Walker is one of the conference’s best scorers, but isn’t a particularly efficient player. He’s a decent shooter, but scores so much because of his large role in the offense. His shooting inside the arc is an area that has really fallen off in his senior year, dropping nearly 10%.


6-6 SO Andre McFarland, 8.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 53.2 eFG% - McFarland isn’t a big scorer, but is Colorado St.’s most efficient offensive player, and the best three-point threat the Rams have.



#9 –Air Force Falcons (9-20, 0-16) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.235

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006  (1st Round)


Air Force came close to the biggest MWC upset of the season twice, playing close games at UNLV and BYU, but ultimately couldn’t get that elusive conference win. Its problem has been the worst offense in the league, which, when combined with one of the country’s slowest paces, leads to an average of barely 50 points in conference games. The Falcons actually make a decent percentage from three, where most of their  shots come from, but just can’t get enough possessions, turning the ball over a lot and getting back very few misses. They do better on the defensive glass, but don’t force a lot of misses themselves,  and are especially weak behind the arc, where opponents have shot 39%.


Players to watch:

6-6 SR Andrew Henke, 12.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 56.6 eFG% - Henke has led the Falcons in scoring, and averaged more than 20 points over his last four games. He’s a good three-point shooter who distributes the ball well, but commits a few too many turnovers.  


6-6 SR Matt Holland, 10.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 62.3 eFG% - Holland is one of Air Force’s offensive bright spots, taking most of his shots from behind the arc, and hitting well over 40% of them, while also shooting 62% inside. He’s not the best long-distance shooter on the team, but he’s the only guy who combines inside and outside play this well.



My statistical all-Mountain West team:

Brigham Young SR G Lee Cummard, 17.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 57.8 eFG%

Wyoming SR G Brandon Ewing, 18.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 51.3 eFG%

UNLV SR G Rene Rougeau, 11.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 56.0 eFG%

Brigham Young JR G/F Jonathan Tavernari, 16.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 53.1 eFG%

Utah SR C Luke Nevill, 16.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 60.5 eFG%



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