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Arena: Clune Arena
School Name: U.S. Air Force Academy
When Chris Mooney left Air Force for Richmond in early May, athletic director Hans Much, a former chemistry professor, didn't hesitate to make the boldest hire in program history. Instead of looking to the next devotee of the Princeton offense — the system that has helped Air Force win 40 games over the last two years — Mueh changed the formula.
Two weeks after Mooney's departure, Mueh hired Jeff Bzdelik, who just one year earlier had coached the Denver Nuggets in the NBA playoffs and hadn't coached in college since 1988 at Maryland-Baltimore County. "Whether or not it's pure Princeton offense didn't matter to us because it was Jeff Bzdelik," Mueh says. "It was too good an opportunity."
Whereas Bzdelik led a turnaround with the formerly miserable Nuggets before he was fired last December, he inherits an Air Force program at the peak of its powers. The Falcons, who expect to contend for the league title, return their top five scorers from a team that went 18-12 last year.
Regardless of the coach, Air Forces high hopes for this season are only as sound as center Nick Welch's left knee, which underwent a third operation over the summer. When healthy and willing to look for his own shot, the 6'8" Welch is a nearly impossible matchup for MWC centers because of his skills on the perimeter. Bzdelik will probably ask forward Jacob Burtschi to use his brawn as a complement to Welch's finesse and abandon the 3-point game — Burtschi made only 29.8 percent last season — to stay closer to the basket.
Point guard is the only position up for grabs with the departure of three-year starter Tim Keller, and it's difficult to predict who will take over until Bzdelik is more familiar with his personnel. Junior Matt McCraw certainly has the skills to run the point. His assist-to-turnover ratio last season (54-to-29) was second-best on the team behind Keller, and his ability to drive to the basket could help teammates get open looks.
But whereas Keller showed little interest in scoring last season, McCraw is Air Forces best outside shooter. His 50.9 percent mark from 3-point range last season (55-of-108) was easily tops in the Mountain West"
Air Force's other scorer in the backcourt, senior Antoine Hood, could be a candidate for the league's top individual honors. He scored a team-high 13.0 points per game last year.
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