Non-conference play is officially over and it was a pretty good one for the Mountain West. Every team has a winning record and there are six teams ranked in the top 100 of the NET rankings. Colorado State has established itself as the top team in the conference, with San Diego State being a possible second-best team. But after those two, there are a lot of question marks with teams that have similar records and resumes. As conference play starts, we will finally get our questions answered about the teams in what appears to be the deepest Mountain West in a while. Here are this week’s rankings:
1) Colorado State
The Rams stay atop of our weekly power rankings after moving up to No. 20 in Monday’s AP Top 25 poll. Unfortunately due to COVID, their last two games were canceled, and the conference opener against New Mexico has been postponed. They aren’t scheduled to play again until Jan. 4 against Air Force. Despite the inactivity in recent weeks, Colorado State has built up a solid resume and is essentially a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
2) San Diego State
Compared to the other teams in the Mountain West, the one thing San Diego State has going for them is that they do not have a bad loss. Its three losses this year, BYU, Michigan, and USC, are all projected into the NCAA Tournament in many bracketology projections. That has slightly separated them from the other teams in the top half of the standings, but we will see how the Aztecs fare as they open up Mountain West play at UNLV on New Year’s Day.
3) Utah State
At 9-4, Utah State remains in third in the rankings. In Joe Lunardi’s recent bracketology predictions, he had the Aggies as one of the first four teams out. Which is a familiar place for the Aggies after living dangerously on the bubble for the last three years. The opening night loss to UC Davis will be heavily considered if they are on the bubble come March, but one thing the Aggies have going for them is the experience of winning the conference and making a run in the conference tournament that the other teams might lack, with their current rosters.
4) Boise State
The Broncos picked up a huge win on the road against Washington State, a team that had been in Lunardi’s bracketology as a bubble team, but has since faded out. If it wasn’t for the losses to UC Irvine and CSU Bakersfield, it would be interesting to see if Boise State would be in any bracketology projections. What’s been helping the Broncos this season has been their defense, as they are just one of three teams to average under 60 points allowed per game.
5) Fresno State
The team that has been leading the Mountain West in defense all year has been the Fresno State Bulldogs. While the Bulldogs are in third place in the standings and one of three teams with double-digit wins (10-3), they do not have any impressive wins on their resume. So, as conference play starts, we’ll find out how good Fresno State really is with their conference opener at Boise State tonight.
The Wolf Pack did not start conference play yet, as their game against San Jose State was postponed due to COVID issues within the Spartan program. Instead, they have scheduled a replacement game at Kansas tomorrow night. Despite having many games canceled or postponed, the Wolf Pack appears to be turning a corner. With the help of Grant Sherfield, who is averaging 20 points per game, and three other Wolf Pack players who are averaging more than 10 points per game. If Nevada has a good showing or even beats Kansas, that could be a sign to see how they will perform against the conference and teams ahead of them in the rankings.
The Cowboys had an impressive showing at the Diamond Head Classic, with wins against Northern Iowa and South Florida. They suffered a three-point loss to Stanford, but it was still a good showing by Wyoming. Just like Fresno State, there are not a lot of big wins on Wyoming’s resume as they sit at 11-2. We will see if the Cowboys are contenders in the conference with their opening five-game stretch, beginning with Boise State on New Year’s Day.
The Runnin’ Rebels easily put away San Diego in their last game before their Christmas break. With Bryce Hamilton and Donovan Williams combining for half of the team’s points in their 80-57 win against the Toreros, it looks like Kevin Kruger is finding a second scoring option with Williams, to go along with Hamilton. Just like many teams on this list, UNLV beat the teams they were favored against and lost to the teams they were underdogs too. UNLV opens with San Diego State at home on New Year’s Day, and that will be the big test to see where the Runnin’ Rebels are and how much they have improved after playing a tough non-conference schedule.
9) New Mexico
The Lobos have been impacted by COVID as their game against Colorado State has been postponed due to COVID issues in the Rams’ program. It would have been a good test for New Mexico to get nationally-ranked Colorado State at home, to open conference play against a team coming off a COVID break. But instead, the Lobos will have to wait to open conference play at Nevada on New Year’s Day. New Mexico has shown a lot of potential on offense as being one of just four teams in the conference to score 1,000 total points so far.
10) Air Force
The Falcons have lost three straight games after starting 7-1. All three losses have been by at least 18 points and Air Force has not scored more than 48 points in any of the three losses. Of all the teams in the conference that had impressive starts early on, Air Force has the most question marks because their non-conference schedule was so weak. And we are seeing what this team really is as the year winds down. Their first three conference games are against Utah State and at Fresno State and Colorado State.
11) San Jose State
COVID has put a pause on the Spartan basketball program with COVID cases that have postponed their first three conference games. The pause is definitely a blow to a team that was showing signs of improvement under Tim Miles in his first season. We will see if this long pause impacts San Jose State going forward in their first games returning to action. Their next game is scheduled to be on Jan. 11 at Fresno State