Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winning Ain't Pretty

Air Force won a basketball game Wednesday night, beating Nevada 75-70. It was an ugly game for both teams, filled with fouls, 65 combined free throws, turnovers, and sometimes sloppy play. One team had to win, and it was the Falcons. As this 2014-15 season winds down Air Force has learned some things about itself, and maybe the biggest is, Winning Ain't Pretty. Sure, sometimes you shoot 60%, play unbelievable defense and roll to an easy win. But those victories are reserved for match-ups against teams like Colorado Christian and Western State. In conference play its different. Sometimes you don't have your "A" game. Some nights the shots won't fall. On many an evening you have to throw the scouting report out the window. But you still gotta play. The Falcons have started to figure this out. Sophomore forward Hayden Graham had 12 points and 10 rebounds in that win over the Wolfpack. He said two interesting things on the post-game radio show. The first revelation was Air Force would not have won this kind of game a year ago. The second was teams have to find different ways to win. He was spot on with both observations. I have a new saying that I stole from Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer-"Embrace The Grind." That's what the Falcons did Wednesday night. They hung around, they screwed up, they fought back, they got dirty, but found a way to win. As the season comes down to a precious few games nobody wants to see it end. Teams that understand you have to get down and dirty to find wins, usually end up on top. In a season of lessons for the Air Force Mens Basketball team they're starting to understand winning ain't pretty. And, to have survived so many injuries and tough losses and find themselves just 1 game under 500 this late in the year is a testament to growing, learning, and doing what it takes to win.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Saturdays Air Force-CSU Basketball game in Fort Collins at 4pm on KVOR should be fascinating for a number of reasons. Its an in-state rivalry. Colorado State needs every win to improve its RPI rating for a possible at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament if they don't win the MWC Tournament. Air Force is playing better and hopes to be the team nobody wants to face in the Mountain West Tournament. And then there is the little skirmish back in January in Colorado Springs when the Falcons Matt Mooney punched JJ Avila after Avila put the Falcons Zach Kocur in a headlock. Mooney was properly tossed from the game. Avila was not but was suspended for his actions the next day. Mooney has played well the last 6 weeks. He is smarter and wiser on the floor, and he has a little swagger to his game. Take for example the waning moments of the Air Force-UNLV matchup when Mooney, after getting fouled late, gestured to the crowd to quiet down, ala Peyton Manning, before shooting free throws. He missed both. However he came back with 4 seconds left and calmly buried 2 free throws as the Falcons held on to win. I expect he will get hounded and booed every time he touches the ball Saturday. How will he react to that? He's a freshman, but at times has shown the calmness of a senior. I can see him hitting some shots Saturday, then running down the floor with his finger to his mouth telling the CSU crowd to be quiet. I don't think he'll do that, but if he does, that's okay. The Falcons need a little cockiness. Many times the opposition looks at Air Force as that nice team in Colorado Springs with amazing young men who are going to serve their country. That they are. But it doesn't hurt to be feisty and show some attitude and spunk. That's what Mooney did when he came to the aid of a teammate back in January when Avila was mugging Kocur. Channeled properly, that's a good thing. Mooney's nickname is Moonswag. Air Force could use some swagger Saturday in Fort Collins. It can't hurt.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fruits of Their Labor

Air Force Mens Basketball Coach Dave Pilipovich has been saying for the last 5 weeks his team is getting better. Average followers of the Falcons probably disagreed. Yes there were close games against New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV, Utah State, San Diego State (The first time around) but the losses continued to pile up. And then a breakthrough. The Falcons, who had been 1-6 in games decided by 9 points or less, knocked off New Mexico in their second match-up, in Colorado Springs 53-49. They did so by shutting out the Lobos over the last 6:40 seconds of the game. That was followed by a beat down of Wyoming(minus Larry Nance Jr) this past Saturday 73-50. Two games does not a season make. But the signs are apparent that the Falcons are better, and are playing with more poise and confidence. But this week brings two more tests. Air Force plays red hot Boise State Wednesday night at 7 in Boise on 740 KVOR, then return home against UNLV Saturday at noon. Clearly the next proving ground is winning on the road against a team you are not supposed to beat. Its late enough in the season that the freshman are now sophomores. They have seen every team once, and they now understand the thin line between winning and losing. The upperclassman realize its the time of year when the games start to run out, and for the seniors that also means an end to their college careers. They all know enough about this Air Force team to understand they can compete with anyone. Competing is one thing...Winning is another. Air Force is better. But only by winning, will the Falcons prove it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Yon and Upwards?

Max Yon is back with the Air Force Mens Basketball team. He took a leave of absence several weeks ago for personal reasons while remaining at the school, and a cadet in good standing. That left a young basketball team even younger. While Yon was gone the Falcons did beat San Jose State on the road, the school with the worst team in the conference. They offered spirited efforts against Utah State, New Mexico and UNLV but lost those 3 games. Do they win those contests with Yon on the team? I'm not smart enough to answer that. I do think the Falcons did find out more about themselves while Yon was gone. And I think that's important. With, or without Yon Air Force has discovered they can't take minutes off during a game. Its been the one consistent in an inconsistent campaign. Zach Kocur started to emerge as a reliable scorer until teams saw more of him on tape and shut him down. Hayden Graham and Matt Mooney stepped up their games while Yon was away. But can it all come together, with Max back, in the final 6 weeks of the season? Having Yon will help, but the Falcons were inconsistent even with him in the lineup. The season waits for no one, so Yon is catching a moving train, and the Falcons, on the fly, have to eliminate scoreless streaks during games. Max will help, but maybe the only way it shows up, is in the win column.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Next Year Means Nothing

Somebody recently said to me, "Well, with all the struggles the Air Force Men's Basketball team is having this year, they should be better next year." I was a little offended by that. I've had several people tell me the Falcons are simply playing for next season. I don't like that one bit. And I don't believe it. Tell Seniors Marek Olesinski, Justin Hammonds, De Lovell Earls and and the soon-to-return Max Yon this year doesn't count and the Falcons are simply preparing for next years campaign. That's insulting. Its crap. Air Force is trying to win NOW. These aren't exhibitions. Nobody else in the conference is playing for next year, not even San Jose State. They have a bevy of problems. The time to win is NOW. I get Air Force is young, and will have more experience next year. In sports, its not even "What Have you Done for me Lately" anymore. Its, "What are you doing NOW to Win?" This season isn't a dress rehearsal for 2015-16. It's about finishing the season strong, getting healthy and winning some damn games THIS YEAR. Marek, Justin, De Lovell and Max are gone in under 3 months. They don't care about next year. The guys coming back next season better not be worried about NEXT YEAR. Start Winning NOW!!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Close Doesn't Count

The Air Force Mens Basketball Season has been a trying one for Head Coach Dave PiliPovich. 4 players are out for the year with injury, and now we learn Senior Max Yon has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons. Air Force has tried to fight through all this, but the results, with a young team, have been predictable. To the Falcons credit they have been in every conference game, save 1, and with better play late in games, would not be 1-5 in the Mountain West Conference as of today as they prepare for San Diego State. But you are what you are. Air Force has lost a 4 point game to San Diego State, a 5 point game to CSU, was down 2 with 6 minutes to go against New Mexico, and lost 60-48, and last Saturday had a chance to make 2 free throws and tie Utah State with under 7 minutes left. They only made one. The Aggies would go on a 17-2 run and win easily. Now, to be fair, even some of the Falcons who are playing are less than 100% including Seniors Marek Olesinki and Justin Hammonds. The team at the moment is leaning on underclassmen like Zach Kocur, Trevor Lyons and Hayden Graham. I admire the spirit of Pilipovich who continues to say the team is getting better. They are. But the results are not showing up in the win column. Some years you have to take a step back for the program to take two steps forward. Nobody is happy Air Force is playing close, and playing good ball for 32-34 minutes a game. But this is where the Falcons find themselves. Can they turn it around this year? Yes. Has the schedule been front loaded with road games? No Question. Have injuries played a role? Without a doubt. Does Winning make everything better? Lets hope we find out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Chip on Your Shoulder

You've heard the phrase, "A Chip on Your Shoulder." It means you're carrying some attitude, even anger. I thought about this a lot after the Air Force CSU game after Freshman Matt Mooney was rightfully ejected for punching Rams player JJ Avilla in the back during a skirmish. There's no room for that in sports or anywhere else. However, there is symbolism in Mooney's action I need to address. For years the Falcons have been a basketball team that has played hard, even though they are outsized at times and out-muscled. They play against bigger, stronger, physical and more athletic clubs all the time. The Falcons worked hard and give it their all. What I am about to say is not a criticism of any players and coaches. But after watching Colorado State, and other teams physically get after the Falcons its time for Air Force to come out and play with a little more snarl in their game. I'm not saying they don't do this now, but I do believe you see it very infrequently from Air Force. I would love to see the Falcons come out with more attitude, more swagger, and more of the moxy of, "That's our ball, and this is our game, and we're gonna get in your face for 40 minutes and see who's better." Cadets are amazing people, both physically and mentally. I don't see anything wrong with having a little more chippiness or anger in their game. Too many programs see Air Force as soft. Mooney's punch was wrong. He was coming to the aid of a teammate who was being held in a headlock. That was right. Air Force almost beat CSU because they were angry after the incident. It couldn't hurt to show some of that fight and spirit the rest of the season.