One-third of the way through conference play, four teams are within a game and a half of first place Nevada. This week’s rankings are in bold and last week’s are in italics.
1. Nevada (Nevada)
The Wolf Pack swept their two games last week, but it wasn’t easy. They hung on for a 72-71 win at Boise State on Tuesday night and then had to erase yet another first half deficit to defeat Air Force 67-52. In a recurring theme, it was zone defense that nearly did in the Wolf Pack. Boise State played mostly zone in the second half to get back in the game and Air Force played zone a majority of the game, but couldn’t capitalize offensively. Jordan Caroline had two more outstanding games this week, including another double-double on Tuesday.
2. Fresno State (Fresno State)
Justin Hutson is making an early claim for coach of the year in the MW. The Bulldogs only played once last week, winning in Boise 63-53 over the Broncos. The Bulldogs defended well down the stretch, holding Boise State to just 4 of 21 from three-point range. They also recovered from a slow start and scoreless first half from Deshon Taylor. Taylor has hit double figures in scoring in four consecutive games for the Bulldogs and will need to do even more with Noah Blackwell leaving last weekend’s game early with an injury.
3. Utah State (Utah State)
The top three of the conference seems firmly entrenched, especially with Utah State sweeping their two games to improve to 4-2 in MW play. Utah State polished off San Jose State 81-63 last Wednesday, with junior guard Diogo Brito setting a career high with 23 points. Last Saturday, the Aggies welcomed Colorado State to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and freshman Neemias Queta showed up to play. The Aggies ran away from Colorado State for the 87-72 win with Queta recording a double-double.
4. UNLV (Boise State)
The Rebels split their two conference games last week, losing 106-88 at Air Force and bouncing back by pummeling San Jose State at home 94-56. In both games, UNLV shot nearly 50% from three-point range and things seem to be clicking with their new starting lineup. During conference play, the Rebels have suddenly found themselves the most efficient offense in the conference, per KenPom. They sit at 4-1 in the conference standings and look to be improving. The only thing that makes me wary is UNLV still hasn’t played anyone in the top six of the MW yet; that changes this week when the play at San Diego State this Saturday.
5. Boise State (UNLV)
The Broncos came within one Justinian Jessup miss at the buzzer of upsetting Nevada last week, falling 72-71. They’ve stuck with a zone defense so far in conference play and it’s been effective. Only one team has shot better than 45% from the field against the Broncos in conference play. The Broncos have had incredibly balanced scoring so far this season and they didn’t get in their 63-53 loss to Fresno State. Only two Broncos scored in double figures in that game, which isn’t a recipe for success for Boise State.
6. Air Force (Colorado State)
The Falcons blitzed UNLV 106-88 last week at Clune Arena, in front of a “white-out” full of energetic cadets and fans on national television. It was a sight that many in the Mountain West, and really, around the country felt compelled to tune in and see. The Falcons had never scored that many points in a conference game before, although they hit the century mark last season against New Mexico. The Falcons proceeded to then play with Nevada for the first half, before eventually falling 67-52. Honestly though, this week really felt like a turning point for Air Force. Lavelle Scottie had been the guy to watch, but the emergence of junior Ryan Swan and freshman guard AJ Walker have made this team dangerous.
7. San Diego State (New Mexico)
They played last Tuesday, beating New Mexico at home 97-77. San Diego State is a completely different team when they shoot and play at home. They’ve played two conference home games and won them by an average of 25 points and have shot 47% from three-point range between the two games. They still struggle to play defense, allowing more than 75 points for the eighth time this season against New Mexico. They’re probably the most unpredictable team in the conference because you just don’t know which team is walking into the building. It could be the team that dropped 99 on New Mexico and 91 on BYU, or the one that Boise State lit up for 88 points and got held to 48 points at Air Force.
8. Colorado State (New Mexico)
The Rams played one game last week, getting the barn doors blown off by Utah State 87-72. The Rams started slow again, a problem that has belied them all through conference play. Nico Carvacho notched his 11th double-double of the season and the Rams did put five different players in double figures. In their last two conference losses, the Rams have been -23 points in the first half. It’s tough to be a young team and build yourself an early hole.
9. New Mexico (Air Force)
The Lobos are pretty predictable. They can’t guard anybody, man-to-man or zone, it doesn’t really matter at this point. They got blitzed for 97 points in their 97-77 loss at SDSU last week. However, they beat a short-handed Wyoming squad 83-53 at the Pit to even their conference record at 3-3. If the Lobos can’t play an opponent who shoots anemically bad from three with this zone, they will lose. Here’s the breakdown:
Three conference wins: 12 for 59 (20.3%) from three-point range
Three conference losses: 23 for 51 (45.1%) from three-point range
10. San Jose State (San Jose State)
20, 39, 23, and now, 18 and 38. Those are the margins of defeat that have dropped the Spartans to 0-5 in conference play. They played Utah State at the Events Center last Wednesday, falling 81-63. Sophomore Noah Baumann went off for 29 points and drilled seven three-pointers, but the Spartans just didn’t have enough firepower to keep up. The most recent defeat was a 94-56 thumping at the hands of UNLV. Teams have figured that Baumann is the only scorer the Spartans have; only four other Spartans have recorded double digits in points through five conference games.
11. Wyoming (Wyoming)
Oh, the Cowboys. Already short-handed, they fell to 0-5 in conference play after getting blitzed by New Mexico 83-53. The Cowboys have yet to score more than 56 points in a game in conference play this season and continue to feel the pinch of only having seven scholarship players available. Even worse, Justin James left Saturday’s game with assistance, as seen below. The good news: they can try and get in the win column next week when San Jose State comes to Laramie. The bad news: it’s the only game they’re favored to win the rest of the season.
Wyoming hoops in one picture.— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 20, 2019
Senior Justin James was helped off the court w/ ice on his knee by teammates in street clothes after UNM beat Wyoming 83-53. Wyo coach Allen Edwards says he thinks James will be OK, hopes it's just a bruise from banging knees. Pic by @rosalesquique pic.twitter.com/BKoKGpF4ha