Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Air Force

"Winning basketball games in a military college is as perilous a way to earn a living as exists in American coaching." Conroy on coaching at a military academy.

The statement is supported by Conroy's alma mater The Citadel which enters it's game against Davidson this same evening with a record of 6-12, having still never reached the NCAA tournament. Additionally, Army has still never reached the NCAA tournament. Only the Naval Academy has had a level of basketball success as a military institution, having reached the NCAA tournament 9 times.

Air Force's two recent NCAA appearances and 17-1 mark and number 13 ranking this year has defied the long odds that plague military schools. The Falcons have won 13 straight games with a 17-1 record. They have large margin victories over Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Stanford and Colorado - all from major conferences. The latest Bracketology lists the Falcons as a #3 seed in the future NCAA tournament. The same seed line as Duke, Pittsburg, and Clemson.

Six years ago the Air Force basketball program was a joke. It traditionally finished dead last in the conference. Joe Scott brought the Princeton offense with him and Air Force made the NCAA tournament his last season. He left after the successful season, saying exactly what Conroy wrote above - the Academy just had too many strikes against it and it really wasn't possible to consistently win there. A year ago, Jeff Bdzilik took over, tweaked the Princeton offense and made the NCAA tournament again. This year, the Falcons have gone beyond even the wildest Zoomie fans expectations. Their only loss was against Duke.

Utah has lost six straight games, it's the longest losing streak Utah has had in 56 years. The talk on the local radio shows is that Coach Ray Giacoletti's job may be in jeopardy if things don't turn around quickly.

What happened next is exactly why basketball games are played. Utah takes the lead early expands it to 15 points and never relinquishes it. Utah center Luke Neville goes 8 for 8 scores 18 points, the Utes shoot 70% from the field, Neville uses his height advantage and dominates against the smaller Falcons. Air Force does show a lot of fight, hitting five straight three point baskets or plays down the stretch to cut the deficit to five points, but ultimately, Utah doesn't fold, withstands the rally and uses their home court advantage to pull away to a totally unexpected 85-79 victory. The improbability of the victory causes dozens of fans to storm the court after the victory. The rematch will be February 14th in Colorado Springs.

The Citadel also lost tonight 79-54 to Davidson. Their record drops to 6-12. This weekend Army and Navy will play on Saturday and Sunday in a new scheduling format utilized by the Patriot League.

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