When Bzdelik left for Colorado (and later Wake Forest) the Falcons' hoops fortunes sagged. In recent years it's been more of a struggle on the hard court, and this year's Falcons were not expected to change much of that. Head Coach Jeff Reynolds was let go late last season and AFA finished 13-16 overall, just 3-11 in MW play and tied for last place. Air Force was picked ninth out of nine teams in this year's preseason poll. Yet someone forgot to tell the players and new head Coach Dave Pilipovich they were supposed to be a non-factor in the conference race...because as we near the end of January, here they are.
The Falcons won AT Wyoming last Saturday (57-48) and defeated Fresno State last night (62-50). Air Force is now on a four-game win streak and tied for second with a 4-2 mark in Conference play. A break or two, and they might be tied at 5-1, considering AFA lost in overtime AT nationally-ranked UNLV on January 12th. The win in Laramie was their second straight road win over the Cowboys. True to form, they did it with a scrambling, hustling effort on defense.
"Sometimes we don't even know what we're playing," Pilipovich told the media afterwards. "How's the other team know?"
Air Force has already beaten Boise State as well as the Cowboys this season, meaning that the two teams most observers have pegged as having the best shot at giving the Mountain West a fifth team in this year's NCAA tournament have each already fallen to the Falcons.
Maybe the most impressive thing about AFA's current four-game win streak is that it began right after a 39-point beat-down at the hands of Colorado State in Fort Collins. It was after a similar loss at Moby Arena last season that Reynolds was let go, and the team did not respond immediately. This year, it's been a different story. As bounce-backs go, you'd be hard pressed to do better.
The best news for Air Force fans? They won at Wyoming while not playing their best game. Coming in as the 11th-best three-point shooting team in the nation, the Falcons hit only 5-of-15 from long range against the Pokes, but scored an uncharacteristic 24 points in the paint. They also held the Cowboys to just 33 percent shooting and a meager 18 percent from behind the arc. That's what contenders do.
Can Air Force stay in the race? We'll find out as the calendar turns to February. After Wednesday's visit from Fresno State to end this month, Air Force hosts preseason favorite San Diego State and then visits Conference leader New Mexico, both of whom are currently ranked, in a four-day span. Win one of those two, and Air Force could stay in the race right up until the finish line.