The Mountain West basketball season is still quite young, but teams are already starting to separate themselves a bit. Here’s a look at the temperature status of each of the eleven teams so far.
HOTTER THAN FIRE:
The Wolfpack are the #5 team in the country and continue to fire on all cylinders, following a 14-point victory at Loyola (IL) on Wednesday night. Their average margin of victory so far this season is 21 points. For a mid-major team, their schedule isn’t watered down either. The win over Loyola (IL) is big road win and they beat Brigham Young University in their season opener. They were a scary team last year when they were only seven players deep. This year, they got deeper with the additions of guard Jazz Johnson and forward Jordan Brown.
The rebuilding Aggies are 4-1 so far, coming off a nail biting loss at Arizona State University in Tempe. Everyone around the Mountain West knew that senior guard Sam Merrill would continue to be the offensive focal point, averaging over 20 PPG. However, the pleasant surprise for coach Craig Smith’s team has been the effective post play from the triumvirate of senior Dwayne Brown Jr., senior Quinn Taylor, and freshman Neemias Queta. Combined, they’ve averaged 29 points and 19 rebounds a game.
THE MERCURY CAN’T DECIDE:
We don’t really know how good Marvin Menzies’ squad is so far this season. The schedule hasn’t been particularly tough. Yet. The good news: they’re 4-1 and sophomore forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong has made a sizable impact with increased minutes for the Rebels. The bad news: they still have to play the University of Cincinnati, University of Illinois, and BYU.
Justin Hutson takes over for the departed Rodney Terry and has the Bulldogs out to a 3-2 start. They played well at the Wooden Classic over the holidays, finishing 3rd after beating Northwestern and Hawaii. Senior transfer guard Braxton Huggins is averaging nearly 20 PPG and has taken over the alpha dog role in the backcourt for the Bulldogs.
Well, the Lobos can definitely score. As a team, they average over 88 PPG, good for tenth in Division I overall. They’re 3-1 so far this season and senior guard Anthony Mathis is averaging over 15 PPG so far. However, their defense has been suspect so far this season, especially against opposing guards. We also are still awaiting on if Kansas transfer Carlton Bragg will become eligible, which might solve some of those issues. They have a three game stretch in December where they play at in-state rival New Mexico State, then at the Pit versus Colorado and Saint Mary’s.
The Broncos had a rough start to the season, they paid in-state opponent Idaho State $90,000 to come down and play, and then promptly lost 72-70 to the aforementioned Tigers. They’ve suffered a couple of close losses and were completely manhandled by a surprisingly good Drake Bulldogs team in the MVC-MW challenge on Tuesday night. JUCO transfer RJ Williams has been a great addition in the Bronco backcourt, but this team is getting hammered by injuries right now. Come back to me when they’re healthy.
San Diego State:
They beat Jackson State and Texas Southern by over 30 points at Viejas Arena. They lost to Duke and Iowa State by nearly 30 points in Maui. They came back from a 20 point deficit to beat Xavier in Maui. Coach Dutcher’s Aztecs are arguably the biggest unknown in the conference at this point. Sometimes they look like the preseason #2 team in the MW, other days they look like a team that lost leading seniors Malik Pope and Trey Kell and haven’t figured out how to replace them yet.
WINTER IS APPROACHING:
They’re probably the most balanced team in the league, scoring-wise. They have seven different players averaging over nine points per game, and junior big man Nico Carvacho is averaging a double-double so far this season. Their 4-3 record is littered with results that haven’t given a clear picture of how good, or not good, this team is. They played Mike Daum and South Dakota State close, played Montana State way too close, but hammered Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Colorado Christian to start the season.
The Falcons have one win over a Divison I foe this season, a three-point victory over the University of South Dakota. Junior forward Lavelle Scottie was generally regarded as their best player coming in, but their other junior forward Ryan Swan has impressed so far by averaging over 11 PPG for the Falcons. As a team, they haven’t shown a lot in the shooting department. They are the worst team in the MW in 3 point shooting at 36% and only one extra made free throw prevents them from being last in free throw percentage at 64.7%.
The rebuild under coach Allen Edwards takes full shape this season. The Cowboys are still trying to find their rhythm after losing the majority of the scoring from last season. Senior guard Justin James decided to come back to school and sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado has stepped into a secondary role on offense for the Pokes. They’re coming off a see-saw victory over Richmond University at the Fort Myers Tipoff and don’t play another true road game until conference play starts.
San Jose State: Brandon Clarke is starting at Gonzaga University. Ryan Welage is the swingman at Xavier University. Jaycee Hillman and Keith Fisher III are at Illinois State University. Guard Terrell Brown is at New Mexico State University. The talent exodus has hit the Spartans hard over the past two seasons, and it really makes me wonder “what could have been?” if this core had hung around. Instead, they’re 229th in team scoring at 72.3 PPG and have yet to defeat a Division I foe this season. The silver lining to all this: all five of their losses have been by less than 10 points, including a couple of games that went down to the wire.
Do you agree or disagree with these assessments? Let us know in the comments section.