After the second week of conference play, we can glean a little more from the results. On to the rankings.
The Wolf Pack dominated San Jose State on Wednesday night, 92-53. The Wolf Pack used a 60 point second half to run away from the over matched Spartans. After shooting woefully in his first two conference games, Caleb Martin caught fire and dropped 23 points in 25 minutes. The bigger result last week was Nevada grinding a 74-64 win at Fresno State. The Wolf Pack grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, highlighted by a 19 point, 16 rebound effort from senior Jordan Caroline. The scariest thing about Nevada is that they have a lot of room to get better. They’ve shot 122 three pointers in four games, making just 28% of them in conference play. That’s tenth in the conference, ahead of only San Diego State.
2. Fresno State
The Bulldogs had split results this past week, going 1-1. They led for five seconds against Utah State, but it was the last five seconds after Braxton Huggins buried this game-winner for the 78-77 road win. The Bulldogs welcomed to Nevada to the Save Mart Center last Saturday, falling 74-64. Despite the split, senior guard Braxton Huggins has scored 33 and 25 points against the best two opponents the Bulldogs will face in conference play. Don’t forget about junior Nate Grimes either. He notched his third double-double in four conference games against the Wolf Pack.
3. Utah State
The Aggies were seconds away from a clean sweep this past week, until Braxton Huggins broke their hearts at the Spectrum. Utah State rebounded by stomping Wyoming 71-55 last Saturday for their first win in Laramie since the Kennedy administration. The Aggies started slow, scoring just eight points in the opening ten minutes, but then got hot. It didn’t hurt that the Aggies only turned the ball over seven times either. Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta continue to be the anchors for Utah State on the offensive and defensive ends, respectively. Queta, in particular, has the seventh highest win share in the conference, which isn’t bad for a freshman.
4. Boise State
The Broncos took care of business last weekend, beating San Jose State 87-64. The Broncos are undefeated in conference play and have looked better with every game. They’ve had three different leading scorers in three conference games and are excelling despite minimal contributions from RJ Williams. Boise State is finally healthy and have cut down on the turnovers in conference play.
The Rebels are the other undefeated team in conference play, after beating New Mexico 80-69 last Saturday in the Pit. Senior guard Kris Clyburn had a season high 25 points in the win and the Rebels shot 50% from the field, their best performance since mid-November. The 3-0 start is a good thing for Coach Menzies, but it doesn’t feel sustainable. The bright side is that UNLV could be 5-0 at the end of next week, as they travel to Air Force and play San Jose State at home.
6. Colorado State
Something has clicked for the Rams offensively. They hung 87 points on the Falcons last Tuesday and blitzed New Mexico on Saturday for a 91-76 win to even their conference record at 2-2. The Rams have finally started to get contributions from players other than JD Paige and Nico Carvacho, which is unlocking a whole new level of success for the Rams. The only downside going forward is their schedule: they have to play at Utah State and at Nevada this week.
7. New Mexico
The Lobos took one step forward by beating Nevada, and two steps back losing to UNLV and Colorado State. They scrapped their man defense in favor of zone, especially given its success against Nevada. The only downside: teams seem to have figured that out too. The worst three-point shooting team in the conference dropped 81 points on the Lobos and then Colorado State dropped 91 points on them. It isn’t all because teams are firing away from three point range, that’s the concerning part.
Between the second half of the UNLV loss on Tuesday and first half of the CSU loss on Saturday, Lobo opponents scored 56 points in the paint.— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 13, 2019
8. San Diego State
This one is a struggle. I thought about slotting them ninth, considering their recent 62-48 loss and stink bomb at Air Force. However, they did hammer Wyoming 84-54 last Wednesday, led by a Jalen McDaniels double-double. They’re trying to play zone defense more often to protect a short bench and disguise some atrocious defense. They’re 1-2 in conference play and the lone win was over a Wyoming team that dresses seven scholarship players. The Aztecs have gone from the preseason number two to a near meltdown.
9. Air Force
The Falcons broke into the win column in conference play by beating the Aztecs 62-48. They got double-doubles from Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan in their win. Freshman guard AJ Walker nearly matched his career high in points, but he had to settle for a 19 point effort. The biggest thing moving forward is the Falcons taking care of the ball, as they had fewer than ten turnovers for just the second time all season last Saturday.
10. San Jose State
The Spartans had a rough week. They got waxed 92-53 by Nevada and blasted by Boise State 87-64. Between the two games, the difference between the first and second half is stunning. They were -12 in the first half and a whopping -50 in the second half. The Spartan offense hasn’t looked good, especially since Michael Steadman’s touches are disappearing. The Spartans are trying to integrate their freshman more, with the Anigwe-Knight-Chappell trio all hitting double figures in minutes played.
The Cowboys are 0-4 in conference play and they just don’t have the firepower to keep up. They are still running with a short bench and haven’t cracked 60 points in a game in conference play yet. In an effort to bolster their bench, they added walk-on Haize Fornstrom. The Cowboys are trying to work with the pieces they have, but it’s been tough so far. Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson is 50% from three-point range in conference play and is emerging as a good secondary piece for the Pokes. Beyond that, the outlook is grim for the brown and gold.