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Hardcourt Happenings

   by Matt Fargo - 01/08/2007

Throughout the college basketball season, Matt Fargo will be taking a look at teams that should pique your betting appetite, whether they are good or bad. We all know about Florida, North Carolina and UCLA but with 336 teams in division I college hoops, there are plenty of teams flying under the radar. Today’s session:



Air Force Falcons



Air Force burst on the scene four years ago and it doesn’t appear to be going away. The Falcons were perennial bottom feeders in the MWC but since the start of the 2003-04 season, they have strung together 79 wins including 15 already this season. This is a team that no longer flies under the radar but they are still profitable because they do everything right. And I mean everything. Air Force is coming off one of its poorer games of the season yet found a way to win against UNLV who came in with 10 straight wins.



The Princeton-style offense is the foundation for this program and that provides excellent ball control, consistency and mistake-free possessions. The Falcons are shooting 52.9 percent from the floor which is only 2nd to the Florida Gators and they are hitting 45.5 percent from behind the arc which is also second in the nation. Facing that type of efficient offense is a nightmare for teams but it doesn’t stop there as Air Force is just as good on the other end of the floor.



The Falcons are allowing only 41.7 percent from the floor which is tied for 84th and its +11.2 percent in shooting margin is 8th best in the country trailing powerhouse teams such as Florida, Connecticut and North Carolina. It is even better from long range as Air Force is +14.5 percent in three-point shooting margin which is 3rd behind Duke and Texas A&M. The Falcons have played a schedule ranked 144th which is a little above average so the numbers are not skewed due to a soft slate.



A slowdown type of offense cuts down the number of possessions which ultimately cuts down the number of turnovers. Air Force is still overachieving as it is committing a nation-low 10.2 turnovers per game while its 1.69 assist/turnover ratio is 2nd in the country trailing only Pittsburgh. It is allowing a ratio of 0.85 so it is basically an advantage of double which is unheard of. To top everything off, the Falcons are 20th in the country in free throw shooting, hitting 75.1 percent from the stripe.



If there is one liability on this team, it is rebounding as the Falcons are getting outboarded by 0.7 per game but that is an improvement from last season where they finished -4.7 rpg in rebounding margin. Getting the job done on both sides of the floor has almost given the Falcons an undefeated record this season. Their lone loss came against Duke on a neutral floor as the Blue Devils were unconscious in that game, shooting 74 percent from the floor in the first half.



Air Force is getting production from all over the floor as it has five players averaging double figures led by forward Dan Nwaelele who is averaging 14.8 ppg. The biggest piece that could take Air Force a long way is the return of center Nick Welch, the best player in 2004-05, who missed last season with knee and foot injuries. He is averaging 10.2 ppg and 3.9 rpg and his numbers should only get better. 12 of 15 players on the team have assist/turnover ratios higher than 1.00 with four above 2.00.



The question is how far can this team really go? The Falcons do not have the horses to complete with the bigger teams in the country and they don’t have the athletes to compete nightly with faster teams. However, they are smart and play sound basketball which can override a lot of things. The Falcons played Illinois tough in the NCAA Tournament last season and actually led North Carolina at halftime in their other appearance two years before that. The Falcons will have to play close to perfect come tournament time but aren’t we due for another 1985 Villanova repeat? Only time will tell.

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