This Mountain West basketball season has been nothing short of perplexing, exasperating and flat-out confusing. Just over two weeks into conference play, almost every team has a quality win and a loss it shouldn’t have suffered.
It isn’t all bad news, however. I can confirm that no matter what, there WILL be a team representing the Mountain West in March. Gotta love autobids.
Here’s why I can and can’t trust each of the Mountain West contenders.
Why we can trust the Wolf Pack: This is the deepest team in the Mountain West. I would make the argument that Cameron Oliver and Marcus Marshall are the best 1-2 punch in the conference, even better than New Mexico’s Tim Williams and Elijah Brown. Nevada easily possesses the most efficient offense in the MWC, which helps combat its somewhat lackluster defense. This squad can put up points in bunches.
Why we can’t trust the Wolf Pack: Maybe Nevada has figured it out, but I’m still not sure how and why it trailed New Mexico by 25 and needed one of the most dramatic upsets in college basketball history to top an average Lobo squad. The Wolf Pack are very fortunate to only have one dent on its conference schedule to this point.
Why we can trust the Broncos: Chandler Hutchison has quickly transformed from a decent role player on a NIT team to the go-to scorer on a potential NCAA Tournament team. Hutchison has recorded 12 games this season with at least 10 points and seven rebounds, something he did only three times all of last season. If the Broncos can get Austin, Duncan and Jessup to chip in on the offensive side on a frequent basis, this team should win the Mountain West.
Why we can’t trust the Broncos: This is still a very young squad that might go through some growing pains. The bulk of the depth of this team either includes underclassmen or guys that don’t have much experience at this level. BSU was cruising until it ran into the brick wall of Fresno State on Saturday, a game that the Broncos trailed by more than 20 at one point. I’m not worried about Boise State, because winning on the road in this conference is tough, but the Broncos need to maximize their consistency.
San Diego State
Why we can trust the Aztecs: Maybe we have finally approached the point in the season where the preseason MWC favorite puts it all together. SDSU has won two consecutive games, returns its x-factor in Malik Pope after sitting out the past few weeks, and is favored by KenPom to win each of its last 13 league matchups. There is too much talent on this team for it to never reach its fullest potential at any point this season. Watch out.
Why we can’t trust the Aztecs: This isn’t your typical 2010’s Aztecs defense. San Diego State ranked in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency the previous four seasons, but are 41st this year - unusual territory for a Steve Fisher team. This would be fine if the Aztecs could muster consistent scoring on the offensive side, but the offense has been a debacle this year. Jeremy Hemsley and Trey Kell, the two best SDSU players, have had their moments but remain extremely inconsistent. Surprisingly, San Diego State ranks 54th in the country in three-point attempt frequency, despite shooting at the 207th-best clip. The offense remains the Achilles’ heel.
Why we can trust the Rams: Prentiss Nixon, Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo have morphed into one of the Mountain West’s premier trios. Easily the three best offensive players on the team, the three Rams all score over 1.07 points per possession and can occasionally connect from deep. CSU has yet to score a quality win this year (Colorado ended up being the worst team in the Pac-12) so we will see what the Rams can do over the final weeks. There are some likable aspects to this team, though.
Why we can’t trust the Rams: CSU loses nearly half of its scholarship players in the coming days. Che Bob, Kimani Jackson and Devocio Butler (all JUCO transfers) failed to meet the required 2.0 GPA that would allow full participation in the second semester, which begins January 17th. On a team that already lacks depth and may have impending suspensions due to the fallout of Saturday’s New Mexico debacle, this team may have to operate on just six or seven rotational players for quite a while.
Why we can trust the Lobos: If New Mexico gets to the line more than its opponent, it almost always wins. The only exception this season has been the Nevada collapse, where it missed six key free throws down the stretch. The Lobos are 2nd in the country in free throw attempt frequency, as Elijah Brown and Tim Williams get to the charity stripe as much as anyone. When New Mexico draws fouls and is connecting at the line, it can beat anyone.
Why we can’t trust the Lobos: What is up with this team? New Mexico starts off conference play with two nice victories - a home win over the defending MWC champs and a road dub over San Diego State. New Mexico looks like a contender, right? Nope. The Lobos inexplicably lose to, what I think, is the worst team in the conference in Utah State. Then, the “Surprise in WiesPies” where UNM somehow squanders a 25-point second half lead to Nevada and follow it up with another blown lead in the final minutes against UNLV. Nothing would surprise me going forward.
Which Mountain West team do you trust? Feel free to leave a comment below or tweet at @MWCConnection and @boettger_eli on Twitter.