Though it’s still early in the Mountain West face-offs with 5-6 games in, a general compare and contrast of the entirety of the conference seems about right at this juncture with most teams showing who and what they are and will be.
Idealistically, we ultimately want enough of our teams to get recognized nationally and at least a few of our teams to get asked to the dance. Realistically, only our top tier have a clear chance.
Typically, in the pre-season and based on the previous season, the upper and lower tiers of any conference, or league at this level and above, are mathematically and observationally “easier” to rank and predict than the glut of mid-section teams with more similar stats, players and records, which is the case here with all of the above for the Mountain West.
The TOP TIER:
MWC expectations are following suit up to now with Nevada, Boise and SDSU leading the way. Each have faced typical letdowns by either short game stints of complacency and experiencing close games with lesser teams. This is a normal aspect for any team, of course, where coaching makes a difference; think Nevada’s Eric Musselman and his deep NBA experience.
Any NCAA tourney bid potential should come from this group of three, which may be 1 or 2 bids at best with Nevada and Boise a good bet at this point.
For the Mountain West as a whole, we’d all want both to get in there and to go deep in the madness of March.
Nevada was the pre-season favorite to win the MWC again this season for several reasons. They are also currently undefeated in Mountain West play this season.
- 14 straight wins against Mountain West opponents
- 4 players - Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin and Kendall Stephens are averaging double digit scoring per game
- They have more players among the top-ranked in MW offense and defense
Jordan Caroline was the expected stalwart, and is performing well, along with Caleb Martin. They basically have the team talent and depth to make a good run if March is in the cards for the Wolfpack.
Boise’s success, so far, has revolved around one of last year’s top MWC players, guard Chandler Hutchison, who chose to forgo the NBA draft and remain for his senior year. Hutchison is among the top 10 in the MWC in points, assists, rebounds and steals per game. His career game-high, 44 points, just came against the Aztecs this past Saturday (1/13/18) in a thrilling win.
Justinian Jessep was an expected strong counterpart to Hutchison and has kept the star-promise so far, as has Christian Sengfelder and Alex Hobbs.
San Diego State has high expectations as usual, though last year was a big letdown from those predictions. Also, they’ll have a chance at the end of February to avenge the just recent, heart-breaking lost to the Broncos.
Still this year, hope and energy was renewed with first-year head coach Brian Dutcher. Malik Pope, Devin Watson and Trey Kell are leading the way offensively with a great team scoring. Team defense is also solid overall.
The LOG JAM AREA
Wyoming, Fresno State, UNLV, Utah State, Colorado State and New Mexico are currently in the middle of the pack in the MWC standings.
The Cowboys are expected to have a winning record this season. Currently, at the top of the middle of the pack with a good win over SDSU and a come-from-behind win vs. Fresno, the Cowboys should be confident and in the thick of it at season’s end.
Forwards Justin James, last year’s MWC sixth man of the year, and Hayden Dalton were the projected lead horses towards a good season and haven’t disappointed so far.
The Bulldogs were expected to be a bit higher up at this point, but have had some early scoring issues in the paint and at the basket - considering they have a formidable rotation of good shooting guards, though undersized, with Jaron Hopkins, Deshon Taylor and Jahmel Taylor.
Jaron Hopkins, considered one of the top guards in the country, was out a few games with a back injury. His absence has likely hampered the offense and may still be a concern. In the few MW games so far, they should be pushing the offensive pace more vs. the half court sets they’ve been falling into.
Considering the Runnin’ Rebels finished at the bottom last season, they have a highly-touted and highly productive Freshman center, Brandon McCoy, who’s almost been averaging a double-double, as of this writing.
Last year’s leading Rebel scorer, Jovan Mooring, has been MVP-like along with play-makers, Shakur Juistin and Jordan Johnson.
UNLV has had some consistency problems where lower-tier teams had success neutralizing McCoy by focusing in on the Freshman and disrupting the offense. They can get into lulls where a team like the SJSU Spartans ran them tight into overtime, though they managed to squeak out the win.
The Aggies are up higher than projected for now in the standings with Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill at the helm. Sophomore guard McEwen is first team all-conference material, but will need more help all-around to move up into the chase. Case in point, the Aggies were just blasted by the Wolfpack in their most recent game this past Saturday (1/13/18).
The Rams have had the furthest fall from grace given the loss of key players who were big contributors towards a second-place finish last year.
Currently, near the bottom of the standings, it is Junior point guard Prentiss Nixon leading the way as expected and unless he has a stellar year and the defense picks up, the Rams will remain towards the lower half of the conference.
The Lobos are living and dying by the 3 this year with almost 600 attempts to date. They’re doing a little better than expected so far in the early MW season standings with first year coach Paul Weir.
Though defense is questionable, team scoring is balanced across the board with a majority of the roster close to and at low double digit, per game scoring.
Besides Senior guard, Antino Jackson, the Lobos don’t look to have enough depth and talent to make any real run for contention.
BRINGING UP THE REAR
The Falcons have been beat soundly by equal or lesser teams, but then played very tough just recently against UNLV and Nevada, which can be confusing with who they are and what they can be. Coach?
Lavelle Scottie & Trevor Lyons are leading the way with under-classman Keaton Van Soelen and sophomore Ryan Swan.
San Jose State
The Spartans had disruptions well before this season with the resignation of their head coach and a former star-player transferring to Gonzaga.
First-year head coach, Jean Prioleau, is still trying to craft the identity of the team and the scheme and floor balance to react better in real-time with each game.
In their struggle to find and maintain consistency, the Spartans are most notably turnover-plagued.
Noah Baumann and Ryan Welage are the offensive threats with Jaycee Hillsman and Oumar Barry providing energy and spark off the bench.