To order your 2005 Athlon Sports annual and receive $1 off plus free shipping courtesy of SI.com, click here.
When Chris Mooney left Air Force for Richmond in early May, athletic director Hans Mueh, 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 helped Air Force win 40 games over the past two years -- Mueh changed the formula.
Two weeks after Mooney's departure, Mueh hired Jeff Bzdelik, who 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 power. 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 Force's high hopes for this season were only as sound as center Nick Welch's left knee. Those hopes took a serious blow when Welch underwent his second operation in less three months and was forced out for the entire season. Bzdelik will look to forward Jacob Burtschi to use his brawn 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 Force's best outside shooter. His 50.9 percent mark from 3-point range last season (55-of-108) was 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.