Mountain West preview: Falcons hope versatility paves way for success
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Air Force has never gotten a ton of respect when it comes to the Mountain West media poll, and this year was no exception.
The Falcons, who finished 12-21 last year including 4-14 in Mountain West play, were picked to finish last. Ten of those losses were by eight points or less.
“I think we’re going to surprise some teams this year,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said at the recent Mountain West Media Summit in Las Vegas. “If we stay healthy mentally and physically, we can surprise some people. We were pretty good at home both nonconference and in conference.
“We have a lot of versatility. We can go big or small, experienced or less experienced. Defense will dictate a lot of what we do.”
One thing Air Force needs to do is learn how to win away from Clune Arena.
In the last two years, the Falcons are 2-24 on the road. If Air Force wants to be taken seriously, it needs to get better away from home.
On a positive note, the Falcons lost just two starters and four players overall to graduation. The two starters — forward Hayden Graham (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and guard Zach Kocur (9.7, 4.3) — will be tough to replace.
Center Frank Toohey (10.7, 4.5), guard Jacob Van (10.6, 2.5) and Trevor Lyons (7.4, 3.2) all return, and all figure to start. Other top returnees are forward Ryan Manning (5.7, 1.6), Lavelle Scottie (5.4, 3.2), Pervis Louder (3.7, 1.2) and Dane Norman (3.4, 3.2).
“Scottie is a stout kid,” Pilipovich said. “He is more of a streak shooter.”
Manning, who has a quick release, attempted and made the third-most 3-pointers (34-for-93). The Falcons, who aren’t blessed with great height, attempted 22 3-pointers a game last season, and that won’t change.
The Falcons are carrying 19 players — 13 lettermen and six freshmen — on this year’s roster. Eleven players made at least one start last season.
Pilipovich said the large roster will give him plenty of options. He’s pleased by what he saw in the off-season.
“We are a lot stronger physically,” he said. “We put in a lot of work in the weight room in the off-season.
“They are challenging each other. We have a group of 12 (coming back) and five of those 12 can put the ball on the floor (and score). We came back stronger and better.”
The Falcons opened nonconference play with a close home win over Texas State.
Pilipovich said a fast start is possible with four home games to start the season. Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Pacific are upcoming before the Falcons hit the road to play Colorado, Indiana State in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge and Denver.
“Our nonconference schedule is stronger than it was last year and the year before,” Pilipovich said.