Mountain West basketball rolls into the third week of February, and with the regular season championship already decided in favor of the San Diego State Aztecs, some clarity is settling in for how the conference tournament might shake out, and who remains in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Aztecs are running this show, and what’s ahead feels like a formality at this point, but let’s dive into the state of Mountain West men’s basketball.
1. San Diego State - 26-0 (15-0), #1 NET
Champs. The Aztecs wrapped up the regular season conference title before Valentine’s Day, which is nothing short of absurd. Their historic run continued by blasting both New Mexico and Boise State this past week. Let’s cut the crap: it would be a seismic stunner to see anyone other than the Aztecs win the conference tournament. Or, really, even beat the Aztecs at this point. The Aztecs close the regular season with UNLV and Colorado State at Viejas and travel to Reno, but this team has national championship aspirations.
2. Utah State - 21-7 (10-5), #41 NET
The job isn't done, but the Aggies are starting to breathe a little easier. A strong sweep this past week, including wins on the road in Ft. Collins and Fresno, has this program feeling like an at-large berth is there for the taking. The remaining regular season schedule is a cake walk, and as long as Utah State avoids an early exit in Vegas, it’s okay to start shopping for dancing shoes. That win at Colorado State was enormous for a team that can’t afford another loss. (famous last words) I think the Mountain West will be a two-bid league.
3. Nevada - 16-10 (9-5), #89 NET
We have now reached the NIT candidates portion of the power rankings. The Wolf Pack slide into 3rd primarily because Colorado State and Boise State lost this past weekend, but Nevada also ranks 3rd in the NET Rankings amongst its conference foes. A few tests remain, including a showdown in Reno against San Diego State, but Nevada is having a decent season. Replacing the Martin bros era teams was a difficult task, but the conference darling of recent years hasn’t seen a major drop off. Do they have an upset in them next week when the Aztecs come to town?
4. Colorado State - 18-9 (9-5), #97 NET
What an odd week for the Rams. Still sitting in 3rd place in the conference standings, Colorado State dropped a heartbreaker at home against Utah State (Craig Thompson silently fist-pumping), then needed a furious second half comeback to avoid an upset against rival Wyoming. Colorado State has been one of the positive developments of the season in the MWC, and while a two-bid conference remains a highly likely, the Rams still have a long shot at the big dance if they can upset the Aztecs at Viejas (yes, I said looong shot).
5. Boise State - 17-10 (9-6), #96 NET
I’m not sure what to do with Boise State. The Broncos are still ranked in the top 100 of the NET Rankings. They smoked Air Force midweek, but frankly looked nowhere near up to the task of taking on San Diego State. Out-played and out-coached first-to-final whistle, the Broncos didn’t look like a top half of the conference team on Sunday. After flirting with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the conference standings, suddenly the Broncos are in a fight with UNLV for the final bye in the conference tournament. A tricky road game at San Jose State awaits midweek.
6. UNLV - 13-14 (8-6), #129 NET
It was a week of mixed results for Otzelberger’s Rebels. A home loss to Nevada stun, but notched a decent win at The Pit in the “battle of the MWC basketball programs that need to do better”. The Rebels have a tough remaining schedule, but that regular season finale against Boise State is starting to look like it might be a play-in game for who earns the final conference bye week.
7. New Mexico - 17-10 (6-8), #140 NET
Blasted at Viejas, home loss to UNLV. Bleh. This program has gone through the grinder in the newspaper headlines in recent months, and frankly it sucks. Make no mistake about it: the Mountain West’s regression in perception nationally in basketball can be partially tied to the Lobos falling from mid-major status. It’s all downhill from here in these power rankings. Nevada and Boise State are on tap for the Lobos this week.
8. Fresno State - 9-17 (5-10), #166 NET
I suppose it could be worse? The Bulldogs won at San Jose State, but dropped the home game against the Aggies over the weekend. Youth and a brutal schedule are hindering this program, hence the relatively decent NET ranking. Air Force and Wyoming at home in the final weeks might add some confidence.
9. Air Force - 10-16 (4-10), #209 NET
Wrecked at Boise, but managed to beat San Jose State. Cannot undue the damage of the 2019-2020 season for the Falcons. Expected better, but room for improvement is growing thin with the season coming to a close. 10 conference losses, with more likely to come, is beneath what many expected from this team.
10. San Jose State - 7-19 (3-11), #280 NET
The Spartans played Fresno State and Air Force close. I’ve got nothing beyond that. They slot in at 10th over Wyoming because of their conference win total. I suppose 7-19 is still somewhat of an improvement compared to recent years for the Spartans, and they’re not being blown out repeatedly, but it’s still not pretty.
11. Wyoming - 6-20 (1-13), #297 NET
You just couldn’t resist, huh Cowboys? A dreadful season delivered one more gut punch, as the Pokes lead their heated rival Colorado State by double-digit points in the second half, only to lose altogether. This season cannot die soon enough for the Laramie boys.
It’s almost March! Thoughts on these rankings or anything else Mountain West basketball related? Comment below.