It’s almost the end of the year, which means it’s almost time for conference play to fully begin in college basketball. The Mountain West is having one of its most successful basketball seasons with all of its teams with records at, or above .500. But once conference play starts, we will begin to see who the contenders for the conference title are and whose non-conference run was no fluke. With that said, here are the final power rankings of the 2020 calendar year:
1) Colorado State
Nationally ranked Colorado State finally got its dues when they were featured for the first time this season in the AP Top 25 Poll last week. And as one of the few remaining undefeated teams left in the country, they spend yet another week in the top spot of the power rankings. Unfortunately, their highly anticipated game tonight against Alabama will not happen due to COVID. A win would have all but solidified Colorado State’s spot in the NCAA Tournament, but they will have to wait and get ready for conference play instead.
2) San Diego State
The Aztecs are up in this week’s poll after a resume-building win against St. Mary’s. The Aztecs had lost to BYU, Michigan, and USC, which were all opportunities to get quality wins to help their case in March. The win against the Gaels should help the Aztecs, as they do not have any bad losses, but not as many quality wins. Despite that, San Diego State is still the best-suited challenger for Colorado State and the Mountain West title. We should expect to see the same San Diego State we are accustomed to once conference play starts.
3) Fresno State
9-2 Fresno State is up to third in this week’s rankings after wins against UC Irvine and Cal Poly. The Bulldogs have been carried by their defense, which still leads the Mountain West by allowing just 56 points per game. They are also winning their games by a large margin, as their average margin of victory is 11.8 points. Orlando Robinson is playing like an all-conference caliber player with 18.3 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. Fresno State will have the challenge of trying to back up what they have done in the non-conference season once they begin conference play against Boise State next week.
4) Utah State
The Aggies are down a couple of spots in this week’s rankings after going 2-3 so far in the month of December. They had a tough 94-75 loss against Iowa over the weekend, but despite that, they are still on the bubble and close to being in many bracketology projections for the NCAA Tournament. Utah State should win its next three games and having Justin Bean back will be key for the Aggies as they try and make another run at the NCAA Tournament.
5) Boise State
It has been a unique season for Boise State who is at 8-4 and on a five-game winning streak. They have two bad losses at UC Irvine and against CSU Bakersfield. But they also have wins against Ole Miss, Santa Clara, and played both St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis tough in close losses. They will get a chance to get their sixth straight win on Wednesday when they travel to Washington State, to face a Cougars team that is on the bubble in many NCAA Tournament projections.
Just a few weeks ago, the Wolf Pack were in last place in the rankings. But now, they have rocketed up to sixth place after winning five games in a row. Much of the credit for the Wolf Pack’s turnaround has been the play of Grant Sherfield, who was named Mountain West Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 26 points per game, seven rebounds, and 6.5 assists during Nevada’s two wins last week. Along with Desmond Cambridge and Warren Washington, there are five Nevada players in total who are averaging at least 10 points per game. If they can keep up this offensive production, they might establish themselves as legitimate threats to Colorado State and San Diego State.
Despite being 9-1, the Cowboys are in seventh place in the rankings due to performances of other teams, like Nevada. This does not diminish the job Jeff Linder has done in his second season in Wyoming. The Cowboys did get embarrassed in a 29-point loss at Arizona, their biggest non-conference game of the season. They will get a chance to redeem themselves with their next game against Stanford. And, we will learn a lot about the Cowboys once conference play starts, as they open up the new year with Boise State, at Nevada, at Fresno State, San Diego State, and at Utah State.
The Runnin’ Rebels are on a three-game winning streak. And while the opponents have not been that impressive, and while UNLV has struggled like against Omaha last week, it is still a positive sign for a team that had lost five-straight games to Division I opponents. Bryce Hamilton is playing like an all-conference player and he has been getting some help from his supporting cast. UNLV will need to keep its consistency
9) Air Force
The Falcons were off to a hot 7-1 start, but have lost their last two games by at least 18 points. They suffered losses at Montana and a 22-point defeat last Sunday at Arkansas State. Looking at their non-conference schedule, it was pretty weak, but they had jumped out to a good start and credit was due for winning seven of their first eight games. After these two recent losses, it might be uphill sledding for Air Force during conference play.
10) San Jose State
The Spartans have moved up out of the cellar after winning its last two games against Pacific and a double-digit road win at Portland. At 6-4, they have already exceeded their season win total from last year, and three of the four prior seasons. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Tim Miles has done an outstanding job his first season in San Jose State. He has laid a solid foundation that could be the beginning of a huge upswing for the Spartan program.
11) New Mexico
The Lobos have dropped to the last spot on the rankings, partly due to performances of others in the conference, like San Jose State who was worthy of moving up. But also because the Lobos are 1-3 in the month of December. There was a 77-69 loss two Sundays ago against UTEP that saw the Miners use a 16-1 run in the first eight minutes of the second half to build a huge lead. And a 90-72 loss to a good SMU team. At 6-6, it’s not the worse spot for the Lobos to be under new coach Richard Pitino, but there is certainly room for improvement in the second half of the season.