Nov. 7, 2006
The Air Force Falcons open their 2006-07 season this Friday, Nov. 10 when they host the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions at 7:30 p.m. The Falcons are coming off their best season in program history with a 24-7 record and thier second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three seasons.
Clune Arena (5,834), USAFA, Colo.
KVOR AM 740 in Colorado Springs. KVOR's Jim Arthur handles the play-by-play.
Air Force finished the 2005-06 season with a school-record 24-7 mark. The Falcons lost to Illinois, 78-69, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas-Pine Bluff was 13-16 a year ago and finished 7th in the SWAC with an 8-10 record.
Air Force is coached by Jeff Bzdelik (Illinois-Chicago, 1976), who is in his second season as head coach. Bzdelik returned to the college game last year after 15 seasons as a coach and scout in the NBA, most recently as head coach of the Denver Nuggets. Bzdelik has a collegiate career record of 49-38.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff is coached by Van Holt (Arkansas A&M, 1970), who is in his fifth season with the Golden Lions. He has a 25-87 record at the school and his career.
Air Force leads the series 2-0. The Falcons defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 63-40, on Nov. 22, 2003 at Clune Arena in the 2003-04 season opener and won 63-44 at Clune Arena last season.
The Falcons travel to Stanford University for the 2006 CBE Classic. Air Force faces Long Beach State on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. (PT). The Falcons will then face either Stanford or San Jose State on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
This season marks the 51st year of varsity basketball for Air Force. This is Air Force's eighth season in the Mountain West Conference. AFA was a member of the Western Athletic Conference for 19 years before joining the MWC in 1999.
Air Force is 20-30 all-time in season openers. The Falcons are 14-8 at home and 6-22 on the road (including neutral games). Last season, the Falcons opened the campaign with a 62-49 victory over Northern Arizona at the BCA Classic in Seattle, Wash. Air Force has won its last five home openers.
Falcons Picked Third in MWC Poll
Air Force was picked third in the 2006-07 preseason media poll released at the Mountain West Conference media day in Las Vegas, Nev., on Oct. 26. The Falcons received three first-place votes, the second-most in the conference.
School (First Place Votes), Pts 1. San Diego State (17), 192 2. BYU (1), 156 3. Air Force (3), 147 4. Utah, 114 5. New Mexico, 101 6. UNLV, 99 7. Colorado State, 68 8. Wyoming, 51 9. TCU, 27Burtschi Named Preseason All-MWC
Senior forward Jacob Burtschi was selected to the preseason All-Mountain West Conference team at the league's media day in Las Vegas, Nev. The Chickasha, Okla. product earned second-team honors by the conference following the 2005-06 season after finishing second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game, and leading the MWC with a school-record 71 steals. He needs eight steals to become AFA's career leader. Burtschi led the Falcons in rebounding at 6.1 rebounds per game, which placed him ninth in the league. This is the fourth consecutive year an Air Force player has been selected to the team. Senior Nick Welch was picked each of the past two years and Tim Keller was selected prior to the 2003-04 season. The only other MWC school to have a player on the team each of the last four years is Colorado State.
2006-07 Preseason All-MWC
Jacob Burtschi, Sr., F, Air Force
Trent Plaisted, So., F/C, BYU
Jason Smith, Jr., F, Colorado State
Mohamed Abukar, Sr., F, San Diego State
Brandon Heath, Sr., G, San Diego State
Top Returning Player
Brandon Heath, Sr., G, San Diego State
Stephen Weigh, G/F, Utah
Fourth NCAA Appearance in History
Air Force made its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season, falling to Illinois, 78-69, in the first round. The Falcons lost to North Carolina in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, 63-52, which was their first time in the "Big Dance" since 1962, when the Falcons lost in the first round, 68-66, to Texas Tech. Air Force's other appearance in the NCAA tournament was in 1960, losing in the first round to DePaul, 69-63.
24 Wins Sets New School Record
Air Force finished the 2005-06 campaign with a 24-7 record. The 24 victories are the most wins in one season in the history of the program. The previous mark was 22 set by the 2003-04 team.
Air Force has made a three-point shot in 415 consecutive games. The last time the Falcons failed to make a three-pointer was Dec. 4, 1991 in a 57-51 victory over Adams State College.
New School Record for 3s ...
The Falcons set a new school record last year for the most three-pointers made in a single season. They drained 276 long-range shots last season, bettering the old record of 266 in 2004-05.
... No. 2 in 3-Pt. Percentage
Air Force's percentage of 40.4 (276-684) from three-point range last year is the second-best by any Falcon team, behind the 1988-89 squad, which shot 40.5 percent (137-338).
... And No. 3 in FG Percentage
Air Force's field goal percentage of 48.3 percent last year is the third-best in school history and the best since 1989.
Nwaelele Tops MWC in 3-Pt. Pct. ...
Senior forward Dan Nwaelele led the MWC in three-point percentage last season, shooting 48.2% (67-139). Senior Matt McCraw, who led the league in `04-05, finished third at 43.2 percent (70-162).
... And Owns Record at FT Line
Nwaelele set a new school record last season with his 27th consecutive made free throw. He extended the record to 29 before missing late in the Georgia Tech game. Nwaelele broke the record of 26, held by Tim Keller (`01-05). Nwaelele paced the team last season from the line at 89.2 percent (58-65).
McCraw is All-Time 3-Pt% Leader
Senior guard Matt McCraw took back the top spot on Air Force's career list in three-point percentage late last season. He is shooting 46.5 percent (141-303) from behind the arc. Fellow senior Dan Nwaelele is second at 45.1 percent (97-215). Third place on the list is Raymond Dudley, the school's career scoring leader, at 39.6 percent (285-720).
No. 1 in Scoring Defense, Again
Air Force won its fourth consecutive scoring defense title in 2005-06. The Falcons allowed 54.7 points per game last season, almost one point better than the second-place team, Princeton.
Series Against Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Air Force and Arkansas-Pine Bluff have met two times, with Air Force winning both games. The Falcons defeated the Golden Eagles last season, 63-44, at Clune Arena and Air Force won 63-40 on Nov. 22, 2003 at Clune.
Falcons Receive Votes in ESPN Poll
Air Force received votes in the first ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll for the 2006-07 season. The Falcons received 26 votes, good for 33rd in the poll.
Home Win Streak at 17
The Falcons enter the season with a 17-game winning streak at Clune Arena. The team's current home-court winning streak is tied for the fourth-longest in the nation with Iowa. The current winning streak includes 10 MWC games.
Non-Conference Home Streak at 25
The Falcons enter the 2006-07 season with a 25-game winning streak at home against non-conference opponents. With its 77-42 victory over IPFW on Dec. 31, 2005. Air Force solidified its fourth consecutive undefeated non-conference season at Clune Arena last season. The last loss at home to a non-Mountain West team at Clune Arena was to Tennessee Tech on Dec. 29, 2001 (64-44).
Nearly Unbeatable at Clune
The Falcons have been close to unbeatable at Clune Arena the last three seasons. Including the final home game of the 2002-03 season (a 68-60 victory over New Mexico), Air Force has won 41 of its last 42 home games. The team was 13-0 in `03-04, 12-1 in `04-05 (lost to Utah, 65-56) and 15-0 last season. In addition, the Falcons have won 22 of their last 23 MWC games at Clune Arena. AFA's 40-1 home record since the beginning of the 2003-04 season is the second-best in the country for winning percentage, behind Gonzaga, who is 39-0.
For the first time in three years, the Air Force men's basketball team will enter a basketball season with the same head coach that finished the previous campaign. And what a campaign it was!! Jeff Bzdelik, who had not been a head coach in the collegiate game since the late 80's, returned on May 18, 2005 and led the Falcons to their best season ever and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, Bzdelik will man the sidelines again in '06-07.
Also returning are eight of the team's top nine scorers from last year's squad as well as the 2003-04 Mountain West Conference co-player of the year, Nick Welch, who missed the entire '05-06 season after receiving a medical turnback from the Academy following surgery in September of 2005.
Welch, who started all 30 games as a junior in '04-05, finished second on the team in scoring and rebounding that season, averaging 12 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He finished in the top 10 in the MWC in steals (7th), assists (8th) and 3PT% (8th) and helped the Falcons to an 18-12 record. He is one of six seniors on the squad this season, including tri-captains Jacob Burtschi, Matt McCraw and Ryan Teets. John Frye and Dan Nwaelele round out the largest senior class in recent history.
Burtschi, who has started every game the past two seasons, averaged a career-best 12.4 points per game during the 2005-06 campaign and set a new single-season school record with 71 steals. He was a second-team all-MWC selection after leading the team in rebounding at 6.1 per game, including a career-best 13 against IPFW and TCU. The Chickasha, Okla., product, who became the first Falcon with two double-doubles in the same season since 2001, was named CBS' Chevrolet Player of the Game for Air Force in the NCAA Tournament against Illinois.
McCraw, meanwhile, averaged 10.8 points per game last season and is the school's career leader in three-point percentage at 46.5 percent (141-303). He finished third in the MWC in three-point shooting, making 43.2 percent of his attempts after leading the conference as a sophomore in '04-05. A native of Lakewood, Calif., McCraw is third on AFA's career free-throw shooting list at 83.7 percent.
Teets, from Springboro, Ohio, appeared in 13 games last season as a junior. He averaged 1.2 points per game and made five of his seven field goal attempts. In addition, he posted a career-high two steals in the team's NCAA Tournament game vs. Illinois.
Nwaelele showed off his excellent shooting touch last season, leading the MWC in three-point percentage at 48.2 percent (67-139). He enters the '06-07 campaign second on the school's career three-point shooting list, behind teammate McCraw, at 45.1 percent. He started all 31 games a year ago and was an honorable mention all-conference pick. His 89.2 percent shooting from the free-throw line is the second-best for one season in school history and he set a new school record by making 29 consecutive shots from the charity stripe.
Frye, who entered the '05-06 season with 29 minutes of action in his career, silenced all the questions about whether he could replace Welch at the center position by starting every game and averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 26 points at Navy and pulled down a career-best 13 rebounds against Lamar. His best performance of the season may have come against ACC team Georgia Tech, when he scored 18 points and pulled down six rebounds in a 54-46 Falcon victory. Frye also blocked 32 shots, the third-most in a single season in school history.
The junior class is led by Tim Anderson, who seems to be the front runner to replace first-team all-MWC selection Antoine Hood in the backcourt. Anderson appeared in every game last season and scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in AFA's 75-49 blowout over TCU at Clune Arena. Considered one of the best defenders on the team, Anderson was fourth on the squad in steals with 27 and second with eight blocked shots.
Juniors Keith Maren, Eric Kenzik and Adam Hood are back after combining for 33 appearances in '05-06. Maren averaged 1.7 points and just under one rebound per game in 11 games, while Kenzik had nine points and nine rebounds in 12 appearances. Hood, the younger brother of the graduated Antoine, played in 10 games and scored five points.
Andrew Henke leads the group of three sophomores on the roster in '06-07. He played in 25 games last season as a backup guard and gained valuable experience. Henke averaged 2.5 points per game and shot 43 percent (12-28) from three-point range. He posted career-highs of 10 points against UCCS and four rebounds versus IPFW.
Anwar Johnson is back after playing in nine games as a freshman. One of the most athletic players on the team, Johnson scored four points and grabbed five rebounds last year. Matt Holland, who did not appear with the varsity last season, rounds out the list of returners.
The roster boasts two highly-regarded freshmen this season. Grant Parker is a 6-8 forward out of Cherry Creek High School in Aurora, Colo. He led the Bruins to the state championship game as a senior and was named to the all-tournament team. Parker averaged just under 20 points per game his senior campaign. Avery Merriex joins the Falcon program from East High School in Denver, Colo., where he led his team to a state championship as a junior and a trip to the semifinals his senior campaign.
The 2006-07 schedule is highlighted by the first meeting with in-state rival Colorado since 1979. The two teams will play in Boulder on Nov. 18. The Falcons will also face '06 NCAA Tournament team George Washington in the first round of the Cable Car Classic at Santa Clara and appear in the College Basketball Experience Classic opening with Long Beach State on Nov. 14. If the Falcons win two games at Stanford, they will advance to the CBE Classic championship round in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 20-21.
Other non-conference highlights include the season opener on Nov. 10 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Clune Arena and a game against Wake Forest of the ACC at the Colorado Springs World Arena on Nov. 29.
Once again, the Falcons will play 16 games against MWC foes, opening on Jan. 3 against Colorado State in Fort Collins. The 2007 MWC Championships will be held from March 6-10 in Las Vegas, Nev.