Conference play began in full this past week and there were quite a few surprises. Okay, so there was one big surprise. The rankings are in order of the standings.
1. Fresno State (2-0)
The Bulldogs won both of their conference games last week, and did so convincingly. They hammered San Jose State by twenty points and then beat Colorado State by eleven on Saturday. In both games, the Bulldogs got additional help beyond their back court. Nate Grimes set a career high with 19 against SJSU and senior Sam Bittner chipped in fifteen to beat the Rams. The Bulldogs shut down both teams from the three-point arc, which will be key going forward.
Up next: 1/9 @ Utah State, 1/12 vs. Nevada
2. New Mexico (2-0)
They opened the year by beating Air Force 65-58 last Wednesday, where their defense held the Falcons to 2 of 19 from beyond the arc and forced fourteen turnovers. The Lobos then pulled off the biggest stunner of the opening week and potentially of all conference play. They hammered Nevada at the Pit 85-58. The Wolf Pack started slow, per usual, but the Lobos prevented the comeback and stretched their lead as large as 29 in the second half. The biggest change for Paul Weir’s squad in the two victories: they started to play more zone defense. In their two games with it, opponents have shot 44% from the field and just 16% from beyond the arc.
Up next: 1/8 vs. UNLV, 1/12 @ Colorado State
3. Boise State (2-0)
The Broncos won both their games without RJ Williams hitting double figures or shooting better than 35% from three-point range as a team. The Broncos dispatched Wyoming in Laramie 69-55 last Wednesday. Last Saturday, the Broncos pulverized San Diego State 88-64 in Boise. The Broncos got a career-high thirty points from sophomore Derrick Alston in the win. It was a two-fer for the blue and orange last Saturday, as Oregon transfer Abu Kigab announced he would transfer to Boise State as well.
Up next: 1/12 @ San Jose State
4. UNLV (2-0)
The Rebels made some changes headed into conference play, and they worked. UNLV fought back for a come from behind victory over Colorado State, 78-76, in their opener. Sophomore guard Amauri Hardy earned his first career start and seems to have taken the leap that the Rebels needed. On Saturday, freshman guard Joel Ntambwe set a career high, dropping 31 points on Wyoming in the Rebels’ 68-56 win. They didn’t look outstanding in week one, but they won the games they should have.
Up next: 1/8 @ New Mexico
5. Nevada (1-1)
The Wolf Pack started off conference play by trouncing Utah State 74-49 in Reno, in a game where they were in control from the get go. Jordan Caroline notched another double-double in the win over the Aggies. Their trip to the Pit didn’t exactly go well; they lost 85-58. It was the worst shooting performance of the season for the team, where they shot a measly 33% from the field. Of more concern going forward: the Wolf Pack started slow and couldn’t catch up and they struggled with the Lobos’ zone all night. It will be interesting to see if more teams try that going forward.
Up next: 1/9 vs. San Jose State, 1/12 @ Fresno State
6. Utah State (1-1)
Handcuffed by an aggressive Wolf Pack defense, the Aggies went to Reno and got stomped 74-49 while committing 23 turnovers. They rebounded with a strong 79-62 victory over Air Force last Saturday. It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Aggies, who out rebounded the Falcons 37-16. They’ve been better on the boards than their opponents in all of their games, except for the Nevada game.
Up next: 1/9 vs. Fresno State, 1/12 @ Wyoming
7. Colorado State (0-2)
The Rams coughed up a lead on the road, losing 78-76 to UNLV on a goaltending call with 1.2 seconds left. They followed that up with a 78-67 loss at Fresno State. It was a tough week for the Rams, who were the only team that had to play both conference games on the road in week one. Nico Carvacho continues to dominate for Colorado State. He had two more double-doubles this week, bringing his total to nine for the season. He’s the leading rebounder in Division I right now, at nearly thirteen per game.
Up next: 1/8 vs. Air Force, 1/12 vs. New Mexico
8. Air Force (0-2)
The Falcons lost both of their games last week, failing to get any offense going with consecutive nights of poor shooting. In their 65-58 loss to New Mexico, the Falcons shot just 38% from the field, and clanked their way to 2 of 15 from three point range. They were short handed in their 79-62 loss at Utah State, but still weren’t able to shoot the ball well. On a positive note, the Falcons have been able to cut down on their turnover problems as of late.
Up next: 1/8 @ Colorado State, 1/12 vs. San Diego State
9. Wyoming (0-2)
The Cowboys dropped both of their games last week, but more due to the lack of personnel than being outplayed. The Cowboys lost 69-55 at home to Boise State and 68-56 on the road to UNLV. In both games, Justin James played all forty minutes and Trace Young played 33 minutes plus. Young, who was supposed to redshirt this season, has scored in double figures in all three games for the Pokes.
Up next: 1/8 @ San Diego State, 1/12 vs. Utah State
10. SDSU (0-1)
The Aztecs are in free fall. They played just once this past week, getting eviscerated by the Broncos, 88-64. They continue to not be able to guard anybody; the Broncos shot 57% from the field and became the fifth opponent to shoot 50% or better against the Aztecs. The Aztecs defense has been getting noticeably worse and it is beginning to look more like a non-stop decline rather than a blip on the radar.
Just now reading that "Dutch" Dutcher made his #SDSU players off-limits to that raucous, one-man traveling media horde after the beatdown at Boise last night.— Bernie "Doc El Cajon" Wilson (@berniewilson) January 6, 2019
Not a good look for a squad spiraling out of control & something they wouldn't do across town.
Up next: 1/8 vs. Wyoming, 1/12 @ Air Force
11. San Jose State (0-1)
The Spartans got scorched at home by Fresno State, 73-53, in their conference opener. Trailing 29-25 in the first half, they lost ground by giving up an 18-0 run to the Bulldogs to close the first half and never got closer than thirteen again. After making encouraging progress, the Spartans have taken a step back by losing their last two games by an average of 25 points. Teams seem to have keyed in on stopping Noah Baumann from getting open and no one else has really stepped up to fill the scoring void.
Up next: 1/9 @ Nevada, 1/12 vs. Boise State