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Air Force Falcons 2006-07 -- Season Outlook
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 college head coach since the late 80's, returned to the collegiate game 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. Bzdelik led Air Force to the “Big Dance” for the second time in the past three seasons. The Falcons put up a good fight against nationally ranked Illinois before falling 78-69. In addition to a school-record 24 wins, Air Force won its fourth consecutive national scoring defense title, holding its opponents to 54.7 points per game. Along with Bzdelik, eight of the team's top nine scorers from last season return 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 numerous surgeries prior to the season. 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. Welch 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, and arguably most talented, 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-Mountain West Conference 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 at 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 freethrow 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 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 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 fourth-highest total 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 four 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. Hunter Myers, who played in seven games, and Matt Holland, who did not appear with the varsity last season, round out the list of returners.
The roster boasts four highly-regarded freshmen this season. Grant Parker is a 6-8 forward out of Cherry Creek High School in Denver, 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. Zach Walker joins the Falcon program from St. Mark’s School in Dallas, Texas, where he led his team to a conference championship as a junior and was named all-conference his senior campaign. Mike McLain (Portland, Ore.) and Brian Scheller (North Canton, Ohio) round out the freshman class.
The 2006-07 schedule is very competitive, as the Falcons will face at least five teams that played in the postseason last year. The slate 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 (formerly known as the Guardians Classic) at Stanford, opening with Long Beach State. If the Falcons win both games at Stanford, they will advance to the CBE Classic semifinals and championship in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 20-21 with the three other regional winners. The other three regional hosts are Duke, Texas Tech and Marquette. 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.
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