Must-win for Air Force? No, but very important

Published: January 22, 2014, 7:24 pm, by Brent Briggeman

Air Force’s game against Wyoming tonight is as important a game as the Falcons have played in a while. Certainly this season.

I’ve heard Air Force fans calling the game a “must-win,” and I don’t agree with that assessment, simply because this is not an all-or-nothing season. It’s a team driven by its juniors and a sophomore, so growth is the goal more than any kind of instant gratification.

That having been said, the Mountain West have proven to either be down or at least have a high amount of parity this year. The league’s “dominant” team has been San DiegoState, which is 5-0 and 16-1 overall. The Aztecs’ conference victories have come by 10, 3, 8, 8 and 11 points. They aren’t blowing anybody out. Nobody in the conference is.

Which brings us to Air Force. Dave Pilipovich’s team has shown remarkable improvement over the past month, and for the month before that as well. They are healthy, athletic and, if they continue to improve at the current rate, could be dangerous in the conference tournament.

That’s why this game is so important. If Air Force loses what seems to be a winnable game against Wyoming – particularly with coach Larry Shyatt out with an illness – then it have lost four of five and would hit the road for tough trips to BoiseState and Nevada. A win would put the Falcons at 4-3 in the conference and in position that if it wins one of those road matches, it would go into a favorable portion of the schedule in strong position to finish in the league’s top five.

And that has to be the goal. A 6-through-11 seed means it would take four wins in four days at the Mountain West tournament for an NCAA Tournament berth (and that’s Air Force’s only shot at a tournament berth, given its nonconference struggles and low strength of schedule).

It’s crazy that we’re even considering such things, considering where this team was at the beginning of the season, but the expectations have changed as the team has improved. The conversation would probably halt and return solely to growth without a victory.