Friday, March 7, 2014

Tourney Time

End of the season basketball tournaments are fascinating. If you are team thats had a really really good year, you are in the NCAA Tournament and all you are playing for is a good seed. So the end of the year conference tournament has some importance for you. If you have been an up and down squad you hope for 3-4 days you play the best basketball of the year and get to the title game with an upset in mind. For a team like Air Force, who has struggled the last month, this is not about making a token appearence Wednesday in the Mountain West Tournament and bowing out. Call me crazy, and maybe I am, but I still feel this team has a run left in them, and unfinished business. I look at how they went through the first half of the Mountain West Schedule, and its easy to see more than flashes. You see consistent minutes from a young team playing hard. The second half of the season has been rough, no question. The Falcons are having a tough time making shots, teams are really drilling down on leading scorer Tre Coggins, and the Falcons are facing a lot of zone defense, and can't seem to shoot teams out of it. But The Thomas & Mack Center in Vegas has been an interesting place for Air Force. They beat UNLV there earlier this year. They tend to play well on that floor. And in my mind, it all boils down to a simple solution-make shots. If the Falcons start hitting shots just watch their confidence zoom. No one is expecting Air Force to go far based on the 2nd half of the season. But if Air Force regains their shooting touch they will not be an easy out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Let Er Fly"

Air Force Basketball Coach Dave Pilipovich has watched his team lose a number of close games, shoot poorly, and, at times, show a lack of confidence this season. At his press conference this past Monday he said he told his team he wanted them to just play basketball, and not worry about shot selection. He said he wanted his team to "get back in the sandbox and have fun." If the Falcons win over Wyoming Wednesday was a result of his marching orders, then maybe there's a run left in the Falcons. Air Force hit critical free throws late, and came up with several defensive stands to beat the Cowboys 55-53. Sophomore Guard Tre Coggins told me after the game as things were tight down the stretch Air Force was relaxed because of what his head coach told the team Monday. The Falcons weren't afraid to make mistakes, or take bad shots. They just played basketball, and they earned a hard fought, gut check win over the Cowboys. Its not easy to win in Laramie. Air Force is only the 3rd team to do it this year alongside New Mexico and SMU. And yes, Wyoming is missing their star center Larry Nance. But its still difficult to win at the Arena Auditorium. What frustrates Air Force fans is the Falcons have shown more than once a talent level to win a number of games this year. That hasn't happened with as much regularity as everyone had hoped. But as this season winds down maybe the Falcons and Pilipovich have hit on something. Maybe its less about shot selection and statistics and zone defense and maybe more about just playing, shoot the ball, and lets see what happens. It was in Wyoming and it turned out well for the Falcons.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Time for a Run

There are basketball games that, after a loss, you look back on lots of mistakes. And then there are games where a team makes one or two more plays than you and wins. The Air Force game against San Diego State last Saturday falls into the latter catagory. The Falcons played hard and had trimmed a double digit defecit down to 4 with a bit more than 2 minutes left. But a missed shot by the Aztecs turned into an offensive rebound and a basket leading to a 3 point play and the Falcons fell. But look at the box score and you see how hard Air Force played. They survived a horrible night from Trey Coggins who was just 2-12 from the field. They were outrebounded by just 1. The Falcons were steady against the Aztecs halfcourt press, and if they make 1 or 2 more plays Air Force beats the then #5 team in the nation. Thats how fine the line is between winning and losing. And while losing hurts and there are no moral victories, I thought the Falcons grew as a team during that game. Air Force has 5 regular season games left beginning this Saturday at home against Nevada. The Wolfpack lost at home Wednesday night to San Jose State, who up until then was winless in the conference. Then its a road game Tuesday night at Wyoming where the games are always tight, against a Cowboys team that sadly just lost Center Larry Nance for the rest of the year to a torn knee ligament. Then its a home game against up and down UNLV, a team Air Force defeated in Las Vegas in early January. If the Falcons can learn from their recent 6 game losing streak, and remember games like San Diego State, a late season run is certainly possible. Listen to Saturdays game at 2 on 740 KVOR, and for a chance to win tickets to the game go to KVOR.com and register under the contest tab.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Will It Take?

The Air Force Mens Basketball team has come so close in so many games this season. But the results, in many cases, have been the same. Close losses to CSU, Fresno State, Boise State and Nevada on the road have been paired with tough setbacks at home against Wyoming, and again, Colorado State. And in virtually all those cases, the Falcons have fallen apart in the last several minutes. Its tough to write that, and I know for Dave Pilipovich, tougher to watch that. But the tape don't lie. Brent Briggeman from the Gazette has a great stat: During the Falcons 6 game losing skid they have been outscored in the final 5 minutes of regulation,(and Overtime) 88-40. Those numbers are huge-no stops on the defensive end and a lack of offense when Air Force has the ball. But the problem is not on the floor so much as it is mentally. Lose composure game after game and it becomes a deep rut, a valley, you can't get out of. There's only so much coaching that can help. Its up to the 15 players who uniforms say Air Force to figure it out. There's time to do that this year. Can it start against San Jose State Wednesday Night? Listen to the game at 8 on 740 KVOR.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Pain of Losing

Over 19 years of calling Air Force Mens Basketball games I have seen some tough losses by the Falcons. Saturdays loss on the road at Nevada was right up there under the "Painful" heading. The Falcons had the ball and a 2 point lead with 28 seconds left. The Wolfpack tied it, and then outscored the Falcons 15-2 in overtime for the win. Those kinds of losses stay with you, no matter what people say. How you treat that adversity is the difference between losing more tough games or learning from the setback and going on a winning streak. The Falcons can go from cold to hot to cold so fast its incredible. After 9 conference games Air Force is 3-6, and I've seen enough good things in the 6 losses to say they could be 5-4 at this point. Thats whats so frustrating. Playing consistently for 40 minutes. Its fleeting for the Falcons, and no matter what you may see or hope, the Falcons are still 3-6 in the Mountain West. Air Force is back home Wednesday Night against Fresno State. In sports it helps to have, at times, a short memory. It also helps to remember the pain of losing, but only if you do enough good things to avoid that same pain. Thats the charge for Air Force. Otherwise its a lost season of opportunity.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Road Test

Next up 2 road games for the Air Force Mens Basketball Team....Wednesday Night at Boise State. Saturday afternoon at Nevada. If you want to make waves, and get attention and show you are a better basketball team, you win on the road in the Mountain West. Now granted, The Falcons are still young in terms of playing experience. But losses by 6, 6, 7 and 7 points in conference play certainly show this team is capable of winning anywhere. But until those losses become wins it will be a struggle. As time and game situation dictate the Falcons have to be mentally tougher in all areas of the game...shooting, ball handling, defense, and rebounds. And just as important is finishing in the top 5 of the conference because you get a first round bye in the tournament. Yes, its too early to start talking about that, but its never too early to position yourself in the upper half of the Mountain West.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Crawling, Walking, Running

After the Air Force mens Basketball team lost to Wyoming this past Wednesday I talked with junior Forward Kam Williams. The Falcons have lost 4 Conference games by 6, 6, 7, and 7 points. I asked him how do you turn close losses like Wyoming into close wins. Williams replied, "Like Coach said, we gotta grow up." Air Force played at times like a veteran team against the Cowboys, opening up a 15 point halftime lead in the first half. But from then on, in the words of Head Coach Dave Pilipovich, "We got cute." The Falcons threw out their chest and said, "Look at us." They played soft, without as much fire, confident Wyoming would not mount a challenge. Wrong. The Cowboys stayed the course, with their second leading scorer in foul trouble, and their head coach back in Laramie on doctors orders. Late in the 2nd half the young Falcons looked unsure, hesitant, and tentative, and wound up losing, falling to 3-4 in conference play. I got the feeling after talking in the postgame with Pilipovich that he's seen enough. Almost as if he has seen this version of the team the last couple of weeks after an excellent 2-0 start in conference play. That quick burst out of the gate has given fans and media reason to be optmistic about this season. But I also believe it may have given the players a bit of a false sense of how the rest of the season could play out. Pilipovich is one of the rising stars on the national coaching scene. He is an excellent coach and motivator. He will get this team back on track. These Falcons have the potential to be very good this year. But they can't act the part. They have to show it every game, for 40 minutes. They just can't show up and live off two early season surprise wins. You learn how to win by learning from tough losses. You learn to walk as a baby after falling a few times. Can the Falcons go from walking to running this year? Thats the question.