- A new upper tier in the MW
Out with the old, in with the new. For the first time in the last five years, the top tier in the MW doesn’t feature SDSU, UNM, or UNLV. In fact, it includes none of them. In the past week, the top tier of the MW has come into focus: Nevada, Fresno State, and Utah State. Nevada is currently the #5 team in the country and has received attention as a Final Four dark horse behind the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline. Under first year coach Justin Hutson, the Bulldogs have instituted a more aggressive man-to-man defense and Deshon Taylor and Auburn transfer New Williams have solidified their backcourt. Utah State added multiple options down low to help take the weight of junior wunderkind guard Sam Merrill. Variety is good for the conference in the long-term.
2. Justin James
Pick a statistical category and you’ll probably find Justin James leading it or in the top three. James’ decision to come back to school for his senior year looks more brilliant by the day as he continues to dominate opposing teams. Over his last four games, he’s averaging 26 points, twelve rebounds, and nearly five assists per game. He’s still trying to develop more of his shooting, averaging four three point attempts per game, and getting to the line more. He’s developed into the same type of all-around force at the four spot that Wyoming hasn’t had since Larry Nance. He turned into a pretty good pro too.
3. Paul Weir’s press conference
Paul Weir is typically one of the more mild-mannered and even keel coaches in the MW. After Tuesday night’s 78-75 loss to Colorado, Weir answered a question and abruptly ended the postgame presser by walking out. In the two years Weir has been at UNM, he routinely steps in front of the program and takes the responsibility for his players when anyone, fans or media, begin spouting off about how the team under performs. This is the first time where I’ve seen Weir genuinely at a loss and exasperated at his team’s play. This isn’t, nor should it be, a team that is this inconsistent defensively. Through all of this, Weir ultimately steps up and shields his players from the onslaught, which is his job. Good for him.
4. Bizarro Mountain West
As Eli Boettger pointed out, this year’s edition of the Mountain West is abnormal. Historically abnormal. The top is better than it has ever been, with the exception of the 2010-11 season when both SDSU and BYU finished the season in the top 10. Meanwhile, the middle and bottom tiers of the conference have a larger gulf between them and the top that in recent years. It’s been incredibly easy to pinpoint who the middle/bottom tier in the Mountain West is because of some of the woeful losses they’ve taken. This conference season will be strange from the 3-8 spots in the standings.
The Mountain West is unusually imbalanced this season. The table below shows the national KenPom ranking of each MWC team based on conference ranking. Nevada is about 31 spots higher than the "average" first-place MWC team, but the rest of the league is about 19 spots worse. pic.twitter.com/AMcOHzYZjk— Eli Boettger (@boettger_eli) December 12, 2018
5. Coaches thanking their fans
UNM’s Paul Weir has done it in postgame press conferences and interviews, USU’s Craig Smith has done it over Twitter, and UNR’s Eric Musselman thanks students before the game. They’ve all gone out of their way to thank their fans for showing up and being proud, steady supporters of their program. Crowds can make the difference between a winning team being hard to beat at home and impossible to beat at home. The Pit and Viejas Arena get the national acclaim, but don’t count out the Spectrum in Logan or the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
6. Fresno State’s December Schedule
I understand that it’s hard to schedule games in December, with teams not wanting to travel and budget restrictions meaning you can’t really get good games without the money for it. On one hand, the fact that the Bulldogs managed to get six home games in December is impressive. Even more so, they aren’t all scrimmage caliber. They’ve played Pacific and Weber State already, with a rebuilding Cal coming to the Save Mart Center next week. Good for Coach Hutson, departed coach Rodney Terry and the Bulldogs athletic department for getting one of the tougher league schedules in December.
7. Air Force’s Princeton Offense
Coach Dave Pilipovich is the second longest tenured coach in the Mountain West. He’s been steady at the helm of the Falcons, being able to squeeze more out of less. His coaching acumen, his team’s discipline, and the majesty of the Princeton offense always seem to give teams headaches. While surfacing the vast expanse of the Internet, I found this beauty below: a thirteen minute compilation of Air Force’s offense over the years at its finest under Pilipovich. Yes, I did watch the whole thing.
8. UNM & Wyoming supporting women’s hoops
The two MW teams that are in the top 50 in the nation in attendance for women’s hoops. The Lady Lobos and Cowgirls both averaged over 2,500 fans per game last year. Both teams have seen their attendance hold steady this season, with the potential for growth once the conference season begins. For UNM in particular, the Lobos are averaging over 4,500 fans per game, good for top 20 in the nation. It’s awesome when fans support “non-revenue” sports with the same intention and fandom that we reserve for men’s basketball.
9. Controversy surrounding Jalen McDaniels
McDaniels, the Aztecs star sophomore forward, was named in a civil suit this week, following some very serious allegations. The university has already determined that McDaniels will stay enrolled, stay on the team, and keep suiting up. I really hope the athletic department knows something that the rest of us don’t, but either way, not a good week for San Diego State and their star forward. Anytime cases involving criminal or civil court come up, I’m not entirely sure that the best message to send is “nothing changes until we know something for sure.” It leaves open a lot of room for scrutiny and a bad look for the whole university later on.
10. The Runnin’ Rebels starting lineup
UNLV looks like they will be without starting forward Shakur Juiston in their upcoming matchup with BYU. For the first time this season, coach Menzies will be forced to use a different starting lineup. It may be something worth considering for the Rebels, because their starting lineup just hasn’t been working. They bring a considerable amount of talent off the bench, including breakout sophomore guard Amauri Hardy. For a team that lost nail biters to Cincinnati and Illinois while losing at home to Valparaiso, shaking things up may not be the worst idea to jump start a team that is as talented as it inconsistent.
BONUS: I’ll be starting a series next week where I dive into a player per week from each team and explore the different parts of their game. Each week, I’ll let you, the readers, decide. Here’s the first choice:
Cowboy or Ram?
This poll is closed
G Hunter Maldonado (Soph./UW)
G Anthony Masinton-Bonner (Jr./CSU)