The first full two weeks of the college basketball season is complete, and there have already been some newsworthy developments in the Mountain West. I assessed each team’s respective start on a classic A-F grading basis, relative to preseason projections. Just because a team has a higher grade than another team does not necessarily mean it is better.
Air Force Falcons
MVP: Jacob Van (12.3 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.41 points per possession, 64.3% 3P, 91.7% FT)
Air Force jumped out to its first 5-0 start since 2013 before dropping both of its matchups in the Savannah Invitational. Neither Akron or East Carolina are powerhouses by any means, so coming up winless against both squads on a neutral court shows that Air Force isn’t ready for the next step. The Falcons have three top 150 KenPom games (@ New Mexico State, Missouri State, Colorado) remaining on the non-conference schedule, so the 10th-best three-point shooting team in the nation will have its chances for a statement win prior to league play.
Boise State Broncos
MVP: Chandler Hutchison (18.4 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 63.3% FG, 32.1% DR)
Double-digit losses to Charleston and Mississippi State were anything but impressive, but BSU was able to salvage its east coast trip by ripping off 91 points against Western Michigan last Sunday in the Charleston Classic. The trek will only get tougher for this young Broncos team. Boise State is in Eugene Monday night as they battle #13 Oregon (4-2), return home to take on SMU (4-2) and then head to southern Indiana to play Evansville (2-4). Chandler Hutchison and Paris Austin are off to tremendous starts to their respective seasons, combining to convert 57 of their 91 field goal attempts - a 62.6% clip.
Colorado State Rams
MVP: Emmanuel Omogbo (13.5 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 29.8% DR)
Sure, the Rams are 5-1, but they are also without their best player and three of those victories are against Fort Lewis (non-NCAA), Alcorn State (344th in KenPom) and Maryland Eastern Shore (339th in KenPom). Gian Clavell, who was projected to be a top 5 player in the conference this season, was arrested three days before CSU’s season opener and has been suspended indefinitely. The Rams have meaningful games this week against Colorado and Wichita State, so we will get a good idea of how strong Larry Eustachy’s squad is in the early going.
MVP: Jahmel Taylor (13.2 PPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.33 points per possession, 57.1% 3P)
I don’t mean to slam Fresno State (their fans are going through enough right now with the hire of Jeff Tedford), but c’mon now...Prairie View A&M? Times are tough after losing Marvelle Harris...and Karachi Edo...and William McDowell-White, but there is no reason why Fresno State should already have losses to Prairie View A&M and CSU Bakersfield five games into the season. The Bulldogs did manage to pick up a road victory against a Pac-12 team in Oregon State over the weekend, but the damage is already done. Daunting road games against Marquette and Oregon remain on the schedule. At-large hopes are over.
Nevada Wolf Pack
MVP: Marcus Marshall (20.4 PPG, 3.6 APG)
The Wolf Pack suffered a heartbreaking loss in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage as the Iona Gaels drilled a buzzer-beater to top Nevada in the championship game. UNR is currently 5-2 on the season, with the other loss coming in the opener where Saint Mary’s pounded the Wolf Pack by 18. Nevada has only one potential tournament-boosting game on its schedule in Washington (Dec 11), but the Huskies appear far from an NCAA Tournament-type team at this point. Marcus Marshall (25 threes) and Cameron Oliver (9.8% block percentage) have been instant impacts for UNR.
New Mexico Lobos
MVP: Tim Williams (20.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.32 points per possession, 64.8% FT Rate)
A neutral-site victory against Virginia Tech or Dayton would have been invaluable to New Mexico’s tournament resume, but instead the Lobos will be tasked with upset aspirations in late December against Arizona if it hopes to muster anything worthwhile in non-conference play. Unlike Fresno State, New Mexico hasn’t lost any games that they shouldn’t, and Tim Williams is actually outperforming preseason MW POY Elijah Brown to this point. New Mexico should be fine.
San Diego State Aztecs
MVP: Jeremy Hemsley (19.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.93 points allowed per possession)
Here we are again, San Diego State. The Aztecs laid a massive egg in the tip-off marathon game in Spokane against Gonzaga, but responded nicely last week with a convincing 12-point victory over California. Not many expected SDSU to upset Gonzaga in their house, but with Arizona State as the only other notable team remaining on the non-conference schedule, the Aztecs will be rooting hard for California from here on out to keep a quality win on San Diego State’s tournament resume. It’s their only hope.
San Jose State Spartans
MVP: Brandon Clarke (15.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 53.3% FG)
I’m going to give San Jose State the benefit of the doubt. Not only did the Spartans stay within 10 points of #15 Saint Mary's for 28 minutes (on the road, too), SJSU notched a double-digit win over a Pac-12 school on Sunday. Yes, it was Washington State, the Cleveland Browns-equivalent of Power-5 basketball, but it is one of Dave Wojcik’s better victories to date. This team is only two years removed from going 2-28 (with both wins against non-NCAA schools), so the progress is evident.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
MVP: Jalen Poyser (18.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.27 points per possession, 43.9% 3P)
UNLV came up flat in its home opener against South Alabama, but have looked solid ever since. The Rebs have a win over Western Kentucky, and the only other loss was a four-point defeat to an undefeated TCU team. UNLV still has to face Arizona State (4-2), Duke (6-1), Oregon (4-2) and Kansas (5-1) in non-conference, but it shouldn’t be as uncompetitive as we originally expected. Menzies should be content with what he has seen thus far.
Utah State Aggies
MVP: Jalen Moore (16.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.24 points per possession, 44.4% 3P)
Utah State cruised in its first four games but was absolutely railed in Cancun by Purdue (85-64) and Texas Tech (75-51). The Aggies committed 30 turnovers combined in the losses and Jalen Moore was the only USU player to score in double figures in both games. Utah State has only one top 150 opponent remaining on its non-conference schedule in BYU, a team that has allowed 206 points in its last two games (losses to Valparaiso and Utah Valley).
MVP: Justin James (17.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 55.4% FG, 30.4% Usage)
Although Jason McManamen is off to an awful shooting start (27.5% from the field), the Cowboys haven’t looked bad at all for a team that is ushering in a new head coach and moving on from losing one of the conference’s best players. Wyoming pushes the pace (71.6 possessions per game) and jacks up threes (10th in 3PA/FGA), which is likely the ideal fit for the team’s current personnel. Wyoming is 340th in three-point percentage, but don’t expect McManemen (44.7% 3P last year) and Jeremy Lieberman (34.2% 3P last year) to struggle for long.