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Mountain West Basketball Update - Five Thoughts

A special Christmas Day update on your favorite basketball conference.

NCAA Basketball: Wyoming at Colorado State Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Mountain West Connection! As a token of our gratitude, I put together five thoughts on the latest happenings in the world of MWC basketball. Enjoy, and have a safe and pleasant holiday.

1 ) This Wyoming team can play

It seemed a bit pointless to spend much time previewing Wyoming prior to the start of this season. The Cowboys were in the process of ushering in first-time D-1 head coach Allen Edwards, as well as scraping for Josh Adams replacements and simply trying to recover from a pretty lackluster 2015-16 season.

The script has been flipped through 13 games this year. Wyoming needs just four more victories to tie last season’s total, and may legitimately play a part in the Mountain West title race. The frontcourt has been a pleasant surprise, most notably sophomore Justin James who leads Wyo in scoring with 16.8 points per game, doubling his per-40 minutes scoring average from last season.

Hayden Dalton has also been a bright spot. The junior stuffed the stat sheet in Friday’s game against #23 USC, recording a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds while adding six assists and two blocks. Oh, and he also sent the game into overtime with this cold-blooded triple:

Wyoming isn’t a perfect team, or even close to NCAA at-large consideration at this point, but its quick rise should put the rest of the league on notice. Given a fierce home-court advantage in Laramie, an electric tempo (9th in the nation) and one of the most frequent three-point shooting squads in the country (10th in 3PA/FGA), the Pokes are extremely dangerous.

2) Karachi Edo’s return could make Fresno State a contender

It was a mixed bag this week for the defending Mountain West champs. News broke Wednesday that five-star Australian recruit William McDowell-White would not be joining the Fresno State basketball team. McDowell-White committed in the spring, but had numerous eligibility complications that eventually proved to be too much.

The good news for the Bulldogs is the return of forward Karachi Edo. The senior missed the first 11 games of the season due to “not meeting NCAA standards,” but should waste no time elevating an FSU offense that currently ranks 167th in the country in efficiency, according to KenPom. Edo is the highest returning scorer this season for Rodney Terry, and may be able to help Fresno State close the gap on the current Mountain West front runners.

3) Marcus Marshall is exactly what Nevada needed

You could find only 10 teams in the entire country last season that connected on a lower percentage of three-point attempts than Nevada, but that was before Marcus Marshall announced he would transfer from Missouri State and make the Wolf Pack one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the nation.

Sure, he’s not alone (Cameron Oliver and D.J. Fenner have combined to go 47-98 from deep), but Marshall already has a career high in made three-pointers before even entering conference play. Marshall has knocked down 49 triples in 13 games this season, a major boost on a team that made only 84 three-pointers as a team in 18 conference games last year.

Nevada has skyrocketed from 210th in offensive efficiency to 56th this year, led by Marshall who currently leads the conference in field goals made, field goals attempted, free throws made, total points, points per game, turnover percentage, points produced, points produced per game, win shares, and offensive box plus/minus.

He’s the real deal.

4) Five teams could legitimately win the conference title...for now

Remember when San Diego State was expected to run away with another regular season Mountain West title? Well, those plans have been pushed back to a later date.

Although the Aztecs have struggled in non-conference play, Steve Fisher’s team definitely isn’t out of the mix. KenPom still calls for SDSU to muster 13 wins in conference play and finish the season with a respectable 20-10 record. The only problem? San Diego State now has some company.

The current standings leader in the conference is Nevada (11-2), which is presumably the only team that still has a possibility of picking up an at-large bid come March. The Wolf Pack don’t own a signature victory, but with two respectable losses outside of Reno and six of 11 wins coming in a non-home venue, Nevada is in about as good a shape as anyone expected coming into the year.

Now is not the time to sleep on Boise State, Wyoming, or Fresno State, either. The Broncos have avoided a complete teardown after losing four key seniors, thanks to Chandler Hutchison’s offensive transformation (17.5 points per game compared to 6.8 last season) and freshman three-point specialist Justinian Jessup.

Wyoming and Fresno State (as mentioned above) could sneak up on SDSU and Nevada if they can find a way to gel heading into non-conference season. As surprising as it may sound, both teams have enough firepower to hang with anyone in the league. We say it every year, but the Mountain West tournament will be loads of fun again in March.

5) Something needs to change with the MWC’s non-conference schedules

Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Journal published an interesting article last week on the current state of Mountain West basketball, mostly in regards to the dismal MWC/MVC Challenge weekend. The article uncovered what many might be thinking about the lackluster schedules that the conference has been piecing together the last two seasons. Graney created an outline of eight changes that could be implemented into future MWC schedules, here are a few highlights:

“Play annual exempt event” - San Jose State was the only MWC team to not appear in an exempt event this year, so this one is pretty much a given. I do agree, however. Exempt events are always great opportunities for non-home resume-building victories.

“Play three annual games on the road or at neutral sites against opponents with a three-year average of 150 or better in theRatings Percentage Index” - Of course this would be nice, but it is also difficult to implement. There are teams across the country that may have a solid RPI over a three-year stretch but lose an abundance of talent (i.e. Boise State) one year and provide a pretty soft matchup down the road.

“Schedule home-and-home series with elite mid major programs or lower Power 5s, which could include adding an additional challenge beyond the Mountain West-Missouri Valley” - Yes, please. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson needs to find a way to schedule another home-and-home with a conference that is consistently stronger than the Missouri Valley. I’m not a proponent of completely doing away with the MWC/MVC Challenge, but its previous scheduling issues need to be ironed out before it costs the conference any bids. Another home-and-home challenge would do wonders for the MWC.

“Schedule at least one game in the Central or Eastern Time Zone” - This would provide an opportunity for the conference to snatch road wins (the tournament committee loves those) in tough atmospheres. At most, it’s a learning experience that is beneficial moving forward. I like this one.

“Negotiate a home-and-home football series with a Power 5 program and include basketball game in the deal” - I have no knowledge of whether anything like this has been agreed upon in any league before, but it is definitely an interesting idea. The conference already has football games scheduled with Arizona State, Stanford, Virginia, BYU, UConn, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Wisconsin in the next two seasons - a strong list of teams that should compete for NCAA Tournament bids year in and year out. There would be a number of hoops to jump in order to agree on a football+basketball home-and-home deal, but it is something that should be investigated.